First PositionAnne Murphy
A documentary that follows six young dancers from around the world as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world.
The physicality, athleticism and strength of mind of ballet students at the top of their art is extraordinary. Even so, in a world of reality TV competitions, the struggle to win has become all a bit clichéd. This is one for aficionados who will appreciate the achievements of the dancers, and for the rest of us this performance piece is heart-warming, if predictable, without being too tutu.
Hyde Park on HudsonAnne Murphy
The story of the affair between FDR and his cousin Daisy Suckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King of England visited New York.
The most entertaining thread of "Hyde Park on The Hudson" comes from the pronunciation of 'hot dog' by the royal couple. Disarmingly straight-faced, they consider whether to eat one. It's a small highlight in what is an otherwise lacklustre production about a philatelist president and his dowdy cousin. "How I longed for him" is typical of the narration provided, courtesy of the mooning paramour to explain what isn't apparent on the screen. The Hudson reduced to a rivulet.
Mt. ZionAnne Murphy
Turei's family are hard-working potato farm workers in rural New Zealand.
The town is Pukekohe and the year is 1979, it is hard to break away from family and community and young men have big dreams. "Mt Zion" is a modest movie that appeals with its simple earthy feel. You're left to wonder if we grow up too quickly and lose imagined possibilities. Subtitles are provided when a Maori dialect is spoken and there is the odd line of English dialogue that could use translation too, if you know what I mean bru. Singing songs of Zion.
Elspeth Dickens is stuck in an isolated farmhouse with her twin toddlers when a web-cam becomes her pathway to fame and fortune, but at a price.
It's faint praise to say that "Goddess" is a pleasant enough movie. The title suggests heavenly heights might be achieved but it is rooted in ordinariness. While this Australian production is not bad, it disappoints by not being fabulous either. It bounces around with a slightly annoying level of frivolity, finding form as a light and bright escapist production that never quite clicks into gear. Humdrum benign Mum.
North Sea TexasAnne Murphy
A teenage boy's search for love finds him fixated on the boy next door.
It's that time in life when emerging sexual desires inevitably involve the boy next door, as upsetting as that may be to his sister who also fancies the boy next door to her too. That statement about the plot, while accurate, is clumsy in comparison to the tender handling that first love receives in "North Sea Texas", a subtle and moody film. Movies in the understated style of this production often get labelled as 'little films' but there is nothing small about Texas, even when located on the Belgium coast.
In July 1979, during the Summer holidays, in a house in Brittany, a family gathered to celebrate Granny Amandine's sixty-seventh birthday.
Family's are funny when generations gather to celebrate special events, the experience an odd mix of funny-ha-ha and funny-peculiar. "Skylab" is thoroughly charming as it highlights the oddities of a family get-together, full of beautifully observed moments and interactions readily remembered from our shared histories. Missing is a stronger narrative to glue it all together and provide a point to the production; as it is, the question 'so what?' remains unanswered. Pie in the sky…
Somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, Komona a 14-year-old girl tells her unborn child growing inside her the story of her life since she has been at war.
The atrocities that surround a girl kidnapped by rebels when she was 12 years old are inhuman in their ruthlessness. Seen through her eyes, the story is a work of fiction but the situation is as credible as the one shown on screen. With its understated approach, "Rebelle War Witch" looks to be drawn from reality. Told from a child's perspective, the depiction of the fate of child soldiers is so plausible it's horrifying.
Thérèse DesqueyrouxAnne Murphy
The unhappily married woman struggles to break free from social pressures and her boring suburban setting.
Based on a classic French novel, "Therese Desqueyroux" is about the boredom of a life of privilege for a woman restrained within a marriage arranged by her family. The movie begins in 1926, but the theme of the suppression of self is timeless, the actions of the protagonist coldly calculated as her martial devotion wanes. Understated and restrained performances serve to highlight the banality of a life lived without passion. Is our fate within or beyond our control? Je ne regrette rien.
Cherry on the CakeAnne Murphy
A lonely woman with a crushing fear of commitment attends a New Year's Eve party that puts her in an uncomfortable predicament.
"The Cherry on the Cake" is a French rom-com that reminds us what hard work the dating game is. The plot is built upon a trivial but amusing premise that gets overworked until it becomes tiresome. Girl and guy meet, but girl tires of guy until guy becomes unavailable, and then girl is interested again. If it sounds irritating in premise,then it's a even more annoying when realised on screen; if only the film was played out with more humour. No cherry picking.
Members of a world-renowned string quartet struggle to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and insuppressible lust.
When you find yourself weeping in a cinema, why is it that you cry? Is it for the life loves and losses of fictional characters or for your own fragile mortality? Something extraordinary is orchestrated when a writer and director conspire to bring a finely tuned production to the screen. Credit must also go to the talented actors who perform together seamlessly as a quartet. "Performance" is played like a concerto. Bravo!
Louise WimmerAnne Murphy
A woman wages an uphill struggle to put her life back while working several jobs as a cleaning woman and living in her car.
Realism is employed as opposed to a strong narrative structure in this film, and so we watch a series of events without a beginning, middle or end. The protagonist's plight is not explained beyond the events and encounters in her day-to-day survival of struggle. It's an uncompromising style that is perfect to depict a modern story where there is nowhere to go and certainly no room for sentimentality. 'Geez Louise'... or should that be, "Mon dieu Louise".
A doctor working in 1980s East Germany finds herself banished to a small country hospital.
"Barbara" has an austerity of style reminiscent of life in East Germany - nothing is explained or expounded upon, and the viewer is required to work out the situation for themselves as clues are gradually disclosed. Relationships are taut due to the difficulty in determining between informant and friend. Still, it's compelling to watch as intrigue builds. What looks on the surface to be a simple character study develops into an intriguing story about personal values and freedom of choice. Subtle yet barbed.
Great ExpectationsAnne Murphy
A humble orphan suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor.
"Great Expectations" could be the original coming-of-age tale, and with its themes of social class, justice, love and obsession, it is apparent the original work was written by a social critic. It's probable that those who have not read the source material will enjoy the movie the most, although reading it could be marginally quicker than the film running time. Still, it is well worth taking the time to watch this sumptuous and well acted nineteenth century London drama with its gothic overtones. Expectations exceeded.
Side EffectsAnne Murphy
A woman's world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.
Much like its characters, "Side Effects" is never in touch with reality, not that realism, per se, is necessary for a good movie. The misrepresentation of mental health problems and treatment is a little unforgivable though; an already marginalised population may be further stigmatised, and that's not entertainment. There are lots of twists and turns that build intrigue but somehow the story manages to become more preposterous with each plot revelation, and the suspension of disbelief is necessary for viewing enjoyment. Pharma meets psychodrama.
The ImposterAnne Murphy
In 1994 a 13-year-old boy disappeared without a trace from San Antonio, Texas, three and a half years later he is found alive, in a village in southern Spain with a story of kidnap and torture.
Truth is often stranger than fiction as this jaw-dropping documentary proves. The story would be disconcerting as fiction, and it is cruel and heart-wrenching as the truth. There are as many twists and turns as in a suspense-thriller, and while watching the audience will have to remind themselves that no-one could possibly make up this improbable plot. The spoiler is in the title.
The PaperboyAnne Murphy
A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate.
"The Paperboy" is a big, bold, and brash movie, with feint glimpses of beautiful. It's rare to see a US production laden with ironic social content, but there's barely an 'ism' untouched. This film goes all out, led by a cast who dare to go all the way, so don't say you weren't warned. It's the sixties and we're down South. During an unbearably steamy summer filled with the dark foreboding that lurks in the bayous, only one character grows up. Paperboy or iron man?
Anna KareninaAnne Murphy
Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.
The sets and staging in this rendition of "Anna Karenina" are impressive, and a glow of opulence illuminates the screen. A theatre stage is used as a creative device that achieves both a contemporary feel and an historic authenticity to the mood of the production, while the dance scenes alone will ignite passions. The grand and daring love affair soars at the centre of the saga, and thankfully questions on morality and society from the original text are preserved. To die for...
A provocative exploration of female sexuality, as a well-off Parisian journalist investigates the lives of two student prostitutes for a magazine article.
This is a film that doesn't impose moralistic judgements about the sexual proclivities of the characters, but leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions. Unfortunately, not being more definitive about where 'right and wrong' lines should be drawn is something the movie will probably be judged for. The protagonists' approach is one of openness and accepting of the 'other' in herself, rather than determining to somehow be above her interview subjects. Bold feminist film-making.
West of MemphisAnne Murphy
In 1993 three boys were murdered in West Memphis and three teenagers were convicted of the crime in an extraordinary failure of justice.
Holy snapping turtles, the story of attaining freedom for the men known as the 'West Memphis Three' makes a compelling documentary. The cause was picked up by so many people that this is regarded as the first case of crowd-sourced justice. The crime and the trial that followed are meticulously reviewed on the screen, stirring our values around fairness and integrity to a state of disbelief and outrage. Arkansas law enforcement stands accused of going west.
When a prank caller convinces a fast food restaurant manager to interrogate an innocent young employee, no-one is left unharmed.
Knowing the events on the screen are based on real crimes provides a chill of disbelief for audiences as the scenario unfolds over a day. "Compliance" is a psychological deliberation on rank or authority and power, but mostly is a study of oppression. It is impossible to watch without thinking what you would have done in the same situation, and as much as it is tempting to dismiss people's actions as "only in America", sadly the same could happen anywhere. Deeply disturbing.
Silver Linings PlaybookAnne Murphy
After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife.
From the beginning to the triumphant (if predictable) end, "Silver Linings Playbook" is funny and enjoyable, and has the audience wanting good outcomes in the complicated lives of the irresistible characters. The strong cast bring the story to life with a jangling frankness. Performances are quirky and comedic, rather than screw-ball hilarious, which endows a sense of realism and balance given that the movie dares to dance with themes of mental wellness. Happy to play along.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark StrangerAnne Murphy
Follows a pair of married couples, Alfie and Helena and their daughter Sally and husband Roy, as their passions, ambitions, and anxieties lead them into trouble and out of their minds.
The grass is always greener it seems, as the characters follow their hearts looking for love, or forget their senses and succumb to lust. "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" is fun but it is also a little frantic with the pace of the action matching the upbeat jazz soundtrack. There's a lot going on in this social comedy, leaving the story a little crowded. Everybody meets somebody.
A story following the relationship between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959.
The perfect time capsule of a film-making era that is fondly remembered through timeless movie classics. The larger than life director's film triumph looks to be authentically replicated, thanks mostly to the outstanding cast. The story from behind the camera is captivating. Audiences may find themselves wanting to know what happened next and more of the back story. You will certainly want to watch 'that movie' and the shower scene again. The Master of Suspense, warts and all.
Chris wants to show girlfriend Tina his world, but events soon conspire against the couple and their dream caravan holiday takes a very wrong turn.
"Sightseers" operates on two levels. Skimming along the surface is an everyday romance between two late bloomers and beneath that, with a strong undertow, is a darkly disturbing satire studded with serial crimes. The script is clever, and the characters are sharply observed. Original and almost bordering on bizarre but for the biting social comment woven through the macabre story - this is a hilarious movie. A sight well worth seeing.
Les MisérablesAnne Murphy
In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's daughter, Cosette.
You can hear the people sing. "Les Miserables" is a long song, with barely a spoken word to interrupt the stirring score. This is an operatic production of majestic proportions with a cast comprised of movie royalty who give all to their rousing performances. Sadly the connection between the central star-crossed lovers is the flimsiest construct in the film but most will forgive that and dream a dream. Vive la Révolution.