In Harlem, an overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enrol in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.
Part grimly realistic and part fairy tale, "Precious" is the gritty story of one girls nightmarish existence. There is a redemptive thread thanks to the resilient core of the central character, but that element alone is insufficient to lift the bleak realism to an entertaining level. At the same time the raw exposed mood is compromised by a couple of plot twists that swim in sentimentalism. The emotional content is as uneven as the camera work. Precious but tarnished.
In the LoopAnne Murphy
The US President and UK Prime Minister fancy a war. But not everyone agrees war is a good thing.
Incisive political satire at its best, filmed with a sense of authenticity. The realism is almost mock-umentary in style from a fly-on-the-wall perspective. The story is horrifyingly familiar, being inspired by recent political machinations. The characters are variously bumbling, vain, despicable, and witty as they form convenient alliances in the corridors and bathrooms of power. Depictions of the political forces of darkness are cynical, inspired, outrageous and hilarious. Loop the loop and laugh.
Bran Nue DaeAnne Murphy
In the summer of 1965 a young man is filled with the life of the idyllic old pearling port Broome - fishing, hanging out with his mates and his girl.
It's a pleasure to watch a colourful Australian film that doesn't skirt around serious indigenous issues. Even with its underlying messages "Bran Nue Dae" is far from sombre; humour and music are the vehicles used to stir the collective conscience of the audience. This is a funny, high-spirited and rollicking road trip with an outstanding ensemble cast. If only every day dawned so brightly...
Up in the AirAnne Murphy
With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him.
A movie for the times, "Up in the Air" is topical and astutely observed. Social satire doesn't get delivered more incisively than this perfectly balanced movie. Just when a character approaches caricature the comedic effect is turned back and some of life's big questions are plausibly presented. We respond with a collective sigh, not to mention the odd tear. Let "Up in the Air" bring you back to earth.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The SqueakquelAnne Murphy
The world famous singing pre-teen chipmunk trio return to contend with the pressures of school, celebrity, and a rival female music group known as The Chipettes.
A familiar cast of characters squeak and shrill their way through predictable slap-stick fare. Disappointingly there's little depth to the prosaic story-line, and while children will be enormously entertained by the high school antics of the warbling rodents, there is little in the goofy plot to amuse older viewers. Be warned that the best thing about this movie is the clever word play in the title. There's nothing crisp about these cheeky, chirpy chips.
Broken EmbracesAnne Murphy
Harry Caine, a blind writer, reaches this moment in time when he has to heal his wounds from 14 years back.
A film-maker has made a film where the central character is a film-maker; hence a movie is created within this movie. "Broken Embraces" is a multi-layered exploration of love, passion and deception. A tantalising production, stylish to the point of being stylised, this is truly sophisticated viewing. A elaborate timeline is used to deconstruct the typical sequence of events. Questioning where a tale begins or ends, the editor is empowered to determine the story. Embrace with enthusiasm.
Nowhere BoyAnne Murphy
A chronicle of John Lennon's childhood.
"Nowhere Boy" is an almost absorbing bio-pic telling the story of the teen years of the boy who became a member of one of the world's most influential bands. It is the little known background of the subject that makes this movie worth watching. Although apparently historically accurate and crammed with period detail, the film doesn't reveal much of a sense of the singer and song-writer we know from his later achievements. 'Nowhere Boy' becomes one of the writer's of 'Nowhere Man', and it's disappointing that the title suggests something more profound.
Bill Maher's take on the current state of world religion.
"Religulous" would be a documentary but for its unbalanced, mocking tone. Comedy is given priority over facts and there are many amusing but unnecessary cheap shots. At times the disdain of the interviewer for the people interviewed is disquieting. Not so much investigative as much as lampooning in tone, too often the aim seems to be to provoke and dismiss rather than attempting to open debate. Nonetheless the topic is bravely tackled and worth seeing for some of the 'only-in-America' tableaus. Warning: Disturbingly dogmatic.
Away We GoAnne Murphy
A couple who is expecting their first child travel around the U.S. in order to find a perfect place to start their family.
This film is a road movie at heart, and disappointingly fails to connect with the audience's heart. A lot of miles are traversed by the central couple but this is a study of people met on the journey rather than the places travelled to. The characters encountered are shallow and vulgar stereotypes, and their depiction is coloured with contempt rather than wit or insight. The resultant product is slight; funny without being funny ha-ha.
The Strength of WaterAnne Murphy
When a mysterious stranger arrives in an isolated coastal town, 10-year-old twins are forced apart.
This film is more mood than story. The brooding characters are burdened with emotion but without anywhere to channel it. Wild New Zealand coastal landscapes are artistically captured, and the screen is laden with images that evoke dark undercurrents and equally dark overtones. The inescapable heaviness of production is not quite balanced by the simplicity that's almost necessary when dealing with big themes through the eyes of children. "The Strength of Water" is strong enough to overpower.
The Topp Twins: Untouchable GirlsAnne Murphy
A profile of the world's only comedic, singing, dancing, lesbian twin sisters.
"Topp Twins" evokes the '100% Pure New Zealand' tourist campaign that showcases the pure hearts and honest lifestyles that are recognisably typical of our imaginings of life in nuclear-free New Zealand. This documentary chronicles the careers of two remarkable characters that are both subversively and overtly political, and the tone is musical and humorous. The movie is threaded with a cabaret performance, recent and archival footage cleverly edited to tell this down to earth, and at times quite moving, story. Topp viewing.
Cold SoulsAnne Murphy
Paul is an actor who feels bogged down by his participation in a production of Chekov's play, Vanya.
"Cold Souls" has a delightfully original storyline told with a sombre, almost deadpan tone. The movie provides an intelligent and inquisitive voyage into existential angst, a surreal and introspective journey of both the familiar and the unknown. It could have been heavy going but for the well-crafted production, and the result is an entrancing and stylishly minimalistic film where the attention to detail is apparent. More 'funny peculiar' than 'funny ha ha' in style, this comedy is refreshingly soulful to boot.
A drama centered on an immigrant single mother and her teenage son in small town Illinois.
Warm and funny, "Amreeka" covers important issues of diversity and tolerance with a light and humorous touch. In fact, it is light enough to be a little heavy-handed in delivering the message that people from the middle-east are good people. The immigrant experience looks easy in this setting - a little hardship, a touch of outrage at the attitude of the locals, and each day better than the last. In the land of the free it's possible to feel homesick while smiling. Only in Amreeka?
Sister SmileAnne Murphy
A biography of Belgian nun Jeannine Deckers, who became a popular singer in the early 1960s and came out of the closet.
It's said that truth is stranger than fiction, and while the 'Singing Nun' had a very strange life, it borders on dull when stretched to fill a feature film. The story is neatly presented in chronological sequence, and beautifully filmed to capture the era. Unfortunately, this bio-pic sticks to the facts and barely scratches the surface with any deeper connection to the characters. Expect a limited life span from this disappointing tale of a one-hit wonder.
A look at the life of legendary American pilot Amelia Earhart, who disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 in an attempt to make a flight around the world.
"Amelia" is an adventurer's biopic with a central character who broke stereotypes, records, and hearts, while viewing borders as horizons. This well told story reflects all of that, and will inspire dreams bigger than the sky. The cinematography is fabulous, whether the landscape is seen looking down from a flying altitude or viewed gazing upward from the ground. The movie soars with Amelia in the pilot's seat.
The Time Traveller's WifeAnne Murphy
A romantic drama about a Chicago librarian with a gene that causes him to involuntarily time travel, and the complications it creates for his marriage.
"The Time Traveller's Wife" has an imaginative storyline centred on an incredible romance that transcends time. Something must have gone wrong in production, as the telling of this tale is unforgivably banal. This movie is such a drag viewers will find themselves wishing for an ability to time travel beyond the credits to escape the tedium. With no on-screen chemistry it's hard to even care about the time traveller's wife's husband or his wife.
A man moves his two daughters to Italy after their mother dies in a car accident.
"Genova" is a considered and unsentimental movie of living through bereavement. The movie is constructed with a credible style that almost seems unscripted. The plot meanders through the moody Italian setting without unnecessary dramatic tension, moving from moment to moment the way a person coping with life after loss does. The character studies are intelligent, multi-layered portraits of grieving. It's deeply gratifying to see a difficult theme faithfully handled without unnecessary tragic overtones and no tissues required.
An EducationAnne Murphy
A teenage girl's life in 1960s London changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age.
A particular time and place are depicted with a nostalgic tone in this beguiling movie. Although classic in many respects, "An Education" also bestows a refreshing angle on adolescent transformation. The suave script is brought to life by mesmerising performances from the cast. Social dilemmas of the era are deftly explored in front of scenic city backdrops and meticulously created interior detail as befits the period. A curriculum of seduction and sophistication provides an outstanding education.
Whatever WorksAnne Murphy
Attempting to impress his ideologies on religion, relationships, and the randomness of existence, lifelong N.Y. resident Boris Yellnikoff rants to anyone who will listen, including the audience.
"Whatever Works" contains all of the autobiographical elements expected from this writer-director. From the New York City neighbourhoods that form the urban backdrop, to the unlikely romantic action, it's a little predictably familiar. Enjoy the existential ponderings, the witty 'kvetching' and the laugh out loud one-liners. It is not so much a return-to-form as a return-to-the-familiar for the film-maker, an encore of what used to work.
A newly unemployed cellist takes a job preparing the dead for funerals.
If the subject matter were handled less reverently it could be disconcerting, and "Departures" is tender, loving, and absorbing. The symphonic soundtrack is moving, but it is the characters and their stories that will cause tears to gently spill. This film, centred on the rituals following death, is surprisingly life affirming. Reflecting Japanese sensibilities, it is contemplative and almost zen-like, avoiding melodrama while tackling some of life's most difficult passages. This departure is a welcome getaway from the everyday.
Julie & JuliaAnne Murphy
Julia Child's story of her start in the cooking profession is intertwined with blogger Julie Powell's 2002 challenge to cook all the recipes in Child's first book.
Two storylines are baked together, although about 50 years separate them, and the result is delicious. Scenes effortlessly transport the viewer in and out of the lives and kitchens of Julie and Julia, capturing a shared passion for cooking. The characters are wonderful, warm, and loving; their relationships golden roasted and close to perfect. This movie is appetizingly presented and readily devoured. As both Julie and Julia would have said... bon appetit!
Many Kisses LaterAnne Murphy
Follows the relationships of six couples between Christmas and Valentine's Day, exploring the various ways a former romantic partner or 'ex' can shape our lives.
"Many Kisses Later" is a capricious romantic comedy pastiche, more similar in style to English films of the genre than American offerings. The relationships are well observed, even if the ensemble of characters seems almost too congenial at times. As the storylines overlap and diverge, our attention is captivated, and laughter bellows forth with almost every scene. Effervescent and entertaining, don't wait until later, enjoy many kisses now.
Looking for EricAnne Murphy
Eric, a postman whose life is descending in to crisis, receives some life coaching from Eric Cantona.
For the most part, the tone of "Looking for Eric" has a steady down beat of realism as individuals within a loosely connected family tackle emotional issues including loss and depression. The cast extends beyond family to encompass important relationships with friends, heroes, and deadbeats. The plot is refreshingly unpredictable with a triumphant, if somewhat incongruent, conclusion tacked on. All is forgiven as the credits roll... the audience feels good and Eric may have found what he was looking for.
Giovanna's FatherAnne Murphy
A protective father stands by his misfit daughter after she commits a terrible crime.
Complex reactions to tragedy are explored in this story of obsession. With war as the backdrop, relationships are ravaged while Bologna is bombed. "Giovanna's Father" is not easy viewing and interest is held by the unconventional story-line. The soundtrack maintains a steady rhythm, and the use of sepia tones aids in recreating a past era of hardship. Superb performances by the lead actors are convincing and avoid being melodramatic, with the spotlight firmly on Giovanna's Father rather than the dastardly deeds of his daughter.
Imagine ThatAnne Murphy
A financial executive who can't stop his career downspiral is invited into his daughter's imaginary world, where solutions to his problems await.
"Imagine That" is a confused family offering, where on one hand the setting is an industry probably incomprehensible to children, and on the other is humour that is juvenile, unlikely to amuse older audience members. Mediocre on many fronts, yet incredible too, as no special effects are used in a film where an imaginary world is a major plot feature. Some movies made for the big screen go straight to a DVD release, imagine that.