Two Days, One NightAnthony Macali
Sandra discovers that her workmates have opted for a pay bonus in exchange for her dismissal.
"Two Days, One Night" ponders a precarious dilemma. We learn our protagonist is wrestling a sickness, and feel the helplessness and frustration that comes living with it, amplified by a strong and palpable performance. While the setup is questionable, it enables an interesting and often unseen view of families on the weekend, and the common economic struggles they face. The quiet pace might not suit everyone, but it allows time to properly introduce the various characters, and effortlessly create an emotional connection. Lingers many days after...
What We Do in the ShadowsAnthony Macali
Follow the lives of three flatmates who are just trying to get by and overcome life's obstacles, like being immortal vampires.
"What We Do in the Shadows" demonstrates that life is hard for a vampire in Wellington. In true mockumentary style, the introduction of a wide-range of housemates is the best and funniest part of the film. The dry humour and deadpan delivery creates many laugh-out-loud moments, as it employs the classic bloodsucker traits and applies them to the modern world. While the lack of a story becomes prevalent towards the end, it doesn't last too long. They do hilarious.
The GrandmasterAndrew O'Dea
The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee.
"The Grandmaster" is a stylish Kung Fu epic, resplendent in its lush visuals and attention to period detail. Unfortunately the narrative is downright confusing, burdened by disjointed storytelling and a muddled timeline. It disappoints as a biography of its subject, flippantly passing over the opportunity for meaty characterisation in exchange for overly dramatised, prolonged cut sequences. Thankfully, the stunning and explosive fight sequences that redeem this movie, undeniably gorgeous in their choreography and artistic flair. A grand film, but hardly mastered.
A group of brave individuals risk their lives to save Virunga National Park in Congo.
"Virunga" is a vibrant national park full of life and, to much dismay, a place of death. This breathtaking parcel of land happens to fall on a large oil deposit, and the battle between preservation and money plays out extraordinarily on screen. It's a shocking juxtaposition that lets its characters share their messages, from the adorable keepers and their family of gorillas, to the faceless business men contracted to incite war. A fine example of fearless journalism and heartfelt conservation. Primeval.
Paper PlanesAnthony Macali
An imaginative children's film about a young Australian boy's passion for flight and his challenge to compete in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan.
"Paper Planes" is a laudable representative of Australian drama, reminding us of some of the more imaginative and simpler pleasures in life. With themes of grief, bullying and the importance of winning, it's difficult to dislike this innocuous outing. While it may struggle to find an audience outside of its target demographic, the performances of the adolescents and uplifting musical score will inspire a generation. Pull out the A4's... and start folding.
An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.
'Joe' is a well-revered man and surprising anti-hero to the strange dwellers of his back-wood community. He resides in a neighbourhood full of sinister characters, with troubled pasts and captivating lives. In the middle lies a relationship with the young Gary. Their exchanges form the most rewarding part of the film, as they thrive and learn from their experiences. Despite a lull towards the end, the local menaces will keep on you on edge. A hard-working performance.
A widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbor inserts herself into their household.
"Mommy" is an onerous film to watch, and the deliberate and narrow aspect ratio provides little escape from the situation or cast. The characters steal the focus, and their performances are worthy of our attention. We can feel the despair and helplessness of managing the short-tempered Steve, and the terror in knowing he could snap on a whim. It's a long and emotional sitting, with limited moments of unassuming happiness. Family first.
Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, receives a phone call on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career.
For its entirety, "Locke" sits firmly in the confines of a car... just a man and his mobile phone. While this premise might initially grab your attention, it's the great dialogue that keeps you listening, and the varied characters in his phonebook keep the conversations fresh. You genuinely fell empathy for the sorrowful Ivan in the most dramatic day of his life. The stress and tension builds with each new dial, as he tries his best to right wrongs in a restricted environment. Locked in your seat.
The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.
"Predestination" revels in the very paradoxes created in its story. The two characters at the centre are as intriguing as the subject matter, and their stories of the past make for a fascinating plot. Once swept away by the narrative, the 'time-travel' arc kicks in… and so does the confusion. It's difficult to make sense of it all upon first viewing, but time passes quickly, and the journey is enjoyable enough. Predestined to bemuse.
Appropriate BehaviourAnne Murphy
Shirin is struggling to become an ideal Persian daughter, politically correct bisexual and hip young Brooklynite but fails miserably in her attempt at all identities.
Well this is 'the' city and there is plenty of sex, but there's no mascara, cocktails or designer shoes; this is a down to earth production starring real girls. Central to the story is the disintegration of a relationship, and the breakup seems to have plunged the characters into an affect-less zone with little emotion. The flat-lining and eye-rolling mostly creates a quirky mood that works partly because the film finishes before the opportunities for dialogue run out. Nothing inappropriate.
An enterprising Saudi girl signs on for her school's Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the remaining funds she needs in order to buy the green bicycle that has captured her interest.
How women find their way in a patriarchal world underscores the story of a girl and her mother, written and directed by a woman. "Wadjda" shows life in a society where women face challenges and day-to-day struggles. There is a sense of defiance but it's diluted by resignation, and the result is a gentleness in the tone of the movie that's borne of a feminine viewpoint. Go girl.
The PastAnthony Macali
An Iranian man deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland. His wife starts up a new relationship, a reality her husband confronts upon his wife's request for a divorce.
"The Past" is a minimalistic drama that firmly holds your attention from beginning to end. Through conversations of the family members, both adults and children alike, a back-story is gently realised that evokes sympathy from the audience. As certain characters are favoured, each new revelation begins to influence judgement, feeding curiosity even further. Unassuming and honest, this film feels like a genuine portrayal of a complicated relationship. Don't look back.
Mystery RoadAnne Murphy
An indigenous detective returns to the Outback to investigate the murder of a young girl.
A slow burning thriller without a backing soundtrack, the pace seems all the slower accompanied by the background silence. "Mystery Road" turns the camera on a host of social issues, from racial tensions, alcohol abuse to the dark side of the drug world, prostitution, and domestic violence... and this is only a small town. The problems are observed and not preached about - the only patronising done by the lead characters' colleagues. Disquietingly insightful. The location is certainly no mystery; this is slo-mo Australia.
I'm So Excited!Anne Murphy
When it appears as though the end is in sight, the pilots, flight crew, and passengers of a plane heading to Mexico City look to forget the anguish.
The raunchy over the top camp moments deliver the most entertaining segments, but there's not much more to "I'm So Excited". The movie under delivers to an extent that makes the title seem paradoxical. The antics in the first class cabin left this viewer enthused. The flamboyance is fun but overall the production fails to soar. I'm so excited, not.
What Maisie KnewAnne Murphy
In New York City, a young girl is caught in the middle of her parents' bitter custody battle.
The protagonist is a six year old and we see only what she witnesses and we hear only what she does. Both her resilience and her fragility are apparent. "What Masie knew" is loaded with emotion and doesn't sink into sentimentality; the tone is delightfully precocious in this uncommonly well-crafted movie. The narcissism of some of the adults comes off as brat-like, their poor behaviours glaringly transparent in contrast to the more opaque and thoughtful attitude of the child. Wise Masie.
Frances HaAndrew O'Dea
A story that follows a New York woman who throws herself headlong into her dreams.
"Frances Ha" is an unassuming and offbeat comedy about life, loves and messy rooms. Shot entirely in inky black and white against a New York City backdrop, the film's colour radiates from the whimsy and charm of the affable Frances. Her flawed character is an aimless yet endearing underachiever, and despite the glaring criticisms her questionable life-choices might draw, her gleeful exuberance and goofball nature has an appeal which makes her disarmingly likeable. An affectionate salute to our disjointed lives; fall for Frances.
The TurningAnne Murphy
A collection of 17 short films, each episode drawn from a different chapter of the book.
Each of the individual pieces to this film is a minor masterpiece, poignant in its own way, familiar stories of longing and regret in an unmistakably Australian setting. Presented as one three hour movie, "The Turning" asks much of its audience. The trouble is that the central linking thread is not always apparent, as each piece has its own writer, director and cast. It's not straightforward to spot the same characters in different stories; they’re more connected in the book than they appear on the screen. Quite a turn of events.
Mood IndigoAnthony Macali
A woman suffers from an unusual illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs.
"Mood Indigo" is out-there. Riding a fine line between wild creativity and self-indulgence, there are numerous moments of tedious viewing. While the setting appears to be the real world, most of the objects and people we're normally familiar with interact in very peculiar ways. The dreamlike blend of reality and quirkiness is weird, alienating the audience from the characters and their struggles. Despite the subject matter, it's a difficult story to treat seriously. You've got to be in the right mood for this perplexing mess.
Valentine RoadAnne Murphy
On February 12, 2008, in Oxnard, California, eighth-grade student Brandon McInerney shot his classmate Larry King twice in the back of the head during class.
Hours after watching "Valentine Road" tears may very well still well up; this outstanding documentary is deeply affecting. The crime is horrifying, a fourteen year old boy murdered by his classmate. The director reveals layers of complexity as the surrounding influences are explored. Society needs to change, not just one little boy who draws swastikas, after all, no-one is born homophobic. Our hearts aren't yet big enough to allow others to be themselves, and it's heartbreaking.
The RocketAnne Murphy
A boy who is believed to bring bad luck to everyone around him leads his family and two new friends through Laos to find a new home.
"The Rocket" plays as a crowd-pleaser, perhaps that's because the target audience is hard to define. The setting is post-war Laos and the protagonist is a child but there are scenes that might be confronting for children. The movie is pleasing, quite exhilarating, a crowd-pleaser must be a movie with such broad appeal that you enjoy it even if you don't identify as the target demographic. Not rocket science but it's a blast.
Pussy Riot: A Punk PrayerTom Jones
Three young women face seven years in a Russian prison for a satirical performance in a Moscow cathedral. But who is really on trial in a case that has gripped the nation and the world...
Russia is a bit cray-cray, and not in the good way. Footage of the country's response to Pussy Riot's protests is shocking. Without playing sides, this film traces the events leading up to, and following the arrest of three members of the female activist group. Through interviews with family members, and all access courtroom footage, you really get to know the women behind the brightly coloured balaclavas. They are highly articulate, resilient and funny. It's time, Free Pussy Riot!
The Best OfferAnne Murphy
A story centered on an eccentric art auctioneer and his obsession with an heiress/collector.
Movies are rarely as alluring as this mystery crime story. Not only is the clever story well told, but it's artistically portrayed on the screen, a combination that ensures it is a pleasure to watch. There's a sophisticated mix of obsession and passion; emotions often associated with art and the people who inhabit the rarified atmospheres of galleries and auction houses. The premise is intriguing enough to hold interest right up until the credits, even if you manage to anticipate the outcome. No further bidding required.
After India's father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother.
In a movie fraught with dichotomies, a mother and daughter vie for the attention mysterious uncle who is both sinister and smooth. The film is as stylish as the story is twisted. Unfortunately, the more macabre the plot becomes, the more predictable the next development is. The initially promising premise reveals itself as shallow. "Stoker" is visually stunning, almost gothic in style as is hinted at in the title, although the setting is modern day. Chilling but nothing preternatural.
Save Your Legs!Stefan Bugryn
A ragtag team of suburban cricketers get a chance to tour India.
"Save Your Legs" acts better as a postcard of India rather than the team bonding, coming-of-age drama it's meant to be. The film's intentions may be good - it's cute and charming at times - but overall the result is mostly boring, with jokes often bordering on cringe-worthy. It also becomes very predictable, one of the movie's biggest flaws, and the ending can be spotted a mile away. Though substantially well produced, it lacks any real substance... save your pennies.
The story of an aging couple who are crippled by the devastating effects of a stroke.
"Amour" acts like a claustrophobic, tightening grip that doesn't let you breathe until the credits roll, and is certainly an uncomfortable movie to watch. Just as one of the visiting characters states, "...I had a beautiful and sad moment with you", which is exactly what this experience feels like; an observational look at a couple's silent yet divinely emotional demise into old age. The discreet moments and absence of music can be deafening, adding to the overall and ever-increasing sense of tension and sadness. Lots of tough love for the audience.