The Lady in the VanAnne Murphy
The true story of an eccentric woman who lived in her van for 15 years while parked in the driveway of a playwright.
This is one of those stories where fact is stranger than fiction. The performance from the actor who plays the lady herself is fabulous, a perfect portrayal of a lonely but cantankerous and independent woman who has her wits about her. Mystery surrounds the character, and our discoveries about her are revealed like jigsaw pieces. The full picture isn't portrayed, not in all those years. Restrained, polite, and very English. Van in no man's land.
The biography of Dalton Trumbo, a Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted for his political beliefs during the McCarthy era.
In this story, an important piece of film history is found in the hysteria of the 1940's and 50's that saw many in the industry tarred as red and barred from working for their political views. "Trumbo" speaks to the both fear and moral courage of the time, served with a generous sprinkle of humorous eccentricities. This is an engrossing tale of villains and egos with a well-acted cast of characters, each with an uncanny physical resemblance to the real person being portrayed. And the winner is...
Steve JobsAnthony Macali
A backstage look at Steve Jobs as he prepares for the launch of three of his new computer products.
"Steve Jobs" provides a startling insight into a ruthless business-man, remarkable in his vision and uncompromising in his approach, especially to his unfortunate co-workers and mystified daughter. Don't expect an in-depth discussion of the technology and evolution of Apple products... it's the little known and tumultuous father-story that takes centre stage, and it's the cunning of Jobs that really entertains. While some may find the three-act structure a little repetitive, strong dialogue and a stylish interface give this film air. A tempered innovator.
Boston 2002 and a team of journalists investigate decades of sexual abuse by the clergy and its systemic cover-up by the Catholic Church.
The story is familiar, and "Spotlight" hammers home the betrayal of the communities where abuse was perpetrated, often within schools and always by people who were revered and implicitly trusted. The script is excellent, bringing both respect for the victims and damnation for the cover-up. The other point this movie drives is about the value of 'old school' investigative journalism, mostly thanks to an excellent cast and a few notepads (paper ones). Spot on.
The Big ShortAnne Murphy
Three parallel stories of different men who realised how precarious the US housing and investment markets were on the eve of the Great Financial Crisis.
"The Big Short" is a bold movie that is both cynical and humourous in its fact based analysis of the loose and rampant practices of the banking system. It's as scary as it is entertaining while affirming the theory that money markets are driven by fear and greed. Unexpected vignettes serve to explain the almost inexplicable structures used in the bond market, with parody being the perfect vehicle. Could well go a little longer.
The Danish GirlAnthony Macali
Based on a true story, the marriage of artist Einar Wegener comes into question when his penchant for women's clothing prompts a transformation into the female persona Lili Elbe in the 1920s.
"The Danish Girl" is a delicate film, chronicling the extraordinary life of its protagonist in a very intimate way. With art as an ongoing theme, beautiful cinematography surround the intriguing character arcs. Striking, well grounded performances capture the volatility of the central relationship, exploring the ever-confused couple in their great distress. Perhaps falling short in its emotional impact, the story does successfully highlight an absence of social progression. The entangled artist.
Bridge of SpiesAnthony Macali
An American lawyer defending a Russian spy becomes part of a negotiation of prisoners.
"Bridge of Spies" begins as a curious courtroom drama, laying the foundations for a treacherous negotiation set against the Cold War, where intel and espionage rule. The period is remarkably recreated, the look and detail conveniently transporting us back in time, complete with particularly poignant scenes of the infamous Berlin Wall being erected. For a film that mostly takes place in embassies with officials drinking scotch behind closed doors, it's surprisingly engaging thanks to the fierce dialogue and air of tension. Bridge to a bygone era.
In the Heart of the SeaAnthony Macali
Inspired by Moby Dick, a ship is stranded at sea after its hunt for whale oil turns sour after a confrontation with a giant sperm whale.
Being stranded at sea is a terrible experience; hungry and trapped with no end in sight. It's an ordeal similar to watching this film, so make sure you bring popcorn to stave off the hunger. "In the Heart of the Sea" stinks, and no amount of computer-generated whales and their blow-holes were going to save this ship from sinking. The story is so boring and uninvolved that you just don't care; about any of the characters, or their fate. Stay clear of this storm. Disaster of the sea.
The WalkAnthony Macali
In 1974, French artist Philippe Petit dreams of walking a tightrope across the World Trade Centre.
"The Walk" is an amazing film that grants its audience a true appreciation of the outlandish imagination and endeavour of the feat at hand. Such simple conceit is extended to a marvellous story, revealing the outright madness of its artist and the elaborate logistics of suspending a cable 400m above the ground. The iconic Twin Towers are gloriously reconstructed, and the dizzying view from the top is both beautiful and terrifying. Spectacular visuals and brilliant 3D place you right on the wire, drawing you into a tense and deeply emotional experience. A coup to remember.
Black MassAnthony Macali
The true story of James "Whitey" Bulger, who became an FBI informant to rid the Mafia competition.
The portrayal of this notorious crime figure is absolutely chilling, and the performance alone warrants the existence of this film. However the simple way the narrative recreates the key moments of his life is less affecting. Time jumps, characters arrive and inevitably go, and it often feels disconnected. So while it doesn't offer any incisive insight into this Boston baddie, apart from the fact that he was a very violent and intimidating man, a gangster flick is always fascinating. Mass murder.
A re-enactment of the harrowing Everest mountain expeditions on May 10 1996.
"Everest" boasts a big name cast, but the indisputable star role is filled by the mountain itself. The remarkable cinematography shows it as lofty and imposing and all due glory is afforded to nature. Sadly human drama is one of the understated elements. The superficial view of the impassioned and zealous characters is problematic. There are too many people with too many untold back stories, and just too many unanswered questions. Apparently 'the bigger the better' does not always hold true. Ain't no mountain high enough?
Straight Outta ComptonAnthony Macali
The story of hip-hop group NWA, who grew up on the streets of LA and revolutionized rap music.
"Straight Outer Compton" is a rags to riches story with a unique hip-hop twist. This fascinating portrayal chronicles the lifetime of NWA, and looks at the blatant racism, which inspired some of their music. The cast is remarkable, eliciting genuine empathy and support in their quest to simply produce dope beats. While the film might lose its way towards the end, unsure which character's story to narrow its gaze, it doesn't affect the overall entertainment and charisma. Straight Outer History.
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney StoryAnne Murphy
Caroll Spinney has been Sesame Street's Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969; at 78-years-old, he has no intention of stopping.
What do you imagine the puppeteer who has spent more than forty years under a big yellow feathered costume is like? Apparently you need more than fine feathers to make a fine bird, and it helps to have a nice man in there somewhere. As the movie tells it, the nice man has a nice wife, nice kids, a nice job, and funky orange leggings. What else do you need to know? This bio-pic won't ruffle any feathers, he ain't no angry bird.
Love & MercyAnne Murphy
In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis.
"Love and Mercy" delivers plenty of good vibrations, relationship fluctuations, and the odd drug induced hallucination and a subsequent oversupply of medications. The story behind the talent of the fresh faced band is riveting. Most impressive is the depiction of the creative process, it's not easy to show how songs are imagined brought to life. The performances are brilliant, even with the challenge of two different actors playing the younger and older versions of the central character. Surf's down and up.
A documentary on the late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning in 2011.
It is hard not to be curious about Amy Winehouse and her demise, but you can't help but feel a sense of irony watching this compelling portrait of a talent who didn't come to terms with fame. Does the doomed singer's story on the big screen subject her to even more public scrutiny? Film footage, drawn from public archives and family sources, is used to create an intimate and affecting story of a woman for whom love was a losing game.
Testament of YouthAnthony Macali
A young lady decides to become a nurse on the front-line after the involvement of her fiancée and brothers in the World War.
Based on a war memoir, "Testament of Youth" lacks the emotion and passion for such an important film. The slow pace of the story is akin to a pain-killer, over time it dulls the senses. While the setting and romance are beautifully shot, they also distract from the grim reality of life during the depression, and war. There's no question against the nobility and endeavour of the main character. Sadly her underlying message gets lost in the style of delivery. Testament of patience.
After her marriage crumbles and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed tries to put her past behind her and hikes more than a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, alone.
"Wild" brings an uplifting memoir about seeking redemption through physical challenges from the page to the screen, and is true to original text. While managing to traverse a full gamut of emotion, there are funny and even uplifting moments. It’s impossible to say if it is the walker or the rugged walk that most impresses, and even harder to resist the urge to pull on your hiking boots. Wild thing might make your heart sing.
The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul.
"Foxcatcher" is not an ordinary tale of Olympic endeavour. This story is bleak, and rarely strays from desolate tone and colourless surroundings. The striking transformations and uneasy performances from the central characters are the films greatest strength, creating tension and a sense of discomfort as the drama unfolds. With authentic wrestling and a glimpse into the lavish, the setting is good but lacks the emotion to successfully engage its audience. Not a gold-winning team.
The Theory of EverythingAnthony Macali
A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.
"The Theory of Everything" is an inspiring look into the great physicist, focusing on his endeavour rather than his achievement. With great heart and warmth, and minimal mention of science, we see a man confronted with a terrible condition and the inescapable effects on his relationship. Together with his equally resilient wife, they battle each obstacle and embrace it with good humour. The central performances are seamless, and as remarkable as they are, thankfully do not distract from the story considering the subject. The theory is sound.
American SniperAnthony Macali
U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle becomes one of the most lethal snipers in American history.
"American Sniper" is the story of a war veteran and his ongoing conflict with the before and after effects of his ceaseless tours of duty. The action is fierce as the camera lies beside the sharp-shooter. You can almost feel the long, cold gun in your very own hands, unwittingly raising questions about the necessity of all the brutality. Unrelenting short scenes fuel the adrenalin and thrill of combat, astutely contrasting against the quiet and aimless life back home. American hero.
After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he's caught by the Japanese navy.
"Unbroken" is a prisoner of war drama that shows the limits of how many beatings a single person can take. The camera is placed firmly in the thick of the action and lets the remarkable true story do the heavy-lifting, revealing an incredible, resilient man and his ever-constant fight for survival. Unsurprisingly, this film encompasses all the inspirational quotes accustomed to the genre, but thankfully these clichés don't overshadow the impact. Unrelenting.
The Imitation GameAndrew O'Dea
During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code.
Part history lesson, part tragedy, "The Imitation Game" is a compelling biopic. This suspenseful drama reveals pieces of the puzzle slow and steady, with flashes of brilliance that unfortunately aren't sustained throughout. Nonetheless, with a constantly shifting chronology, it brings the remarkable legacy of the troubled mathematical genius to screen in an affecting portrait. The lead provides a sensitive portrayal in what is an empathy-stirring performance, outstanding in its awkwardness. An enigmatic man, cryptic and clever.
Kill the MessengerAnthony Macali
Based on a true story, A reporter becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign after he exposes the CIA's role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California.
"Kill the Messenger" gets caught up not knowing what kind of film it wants to be. Considering the alarming and hard-hitting news of the discovery, the expectant feelings of anger and discontent towards the cover-up are severely lacking. The narrative serves more as a lesson in public relations, as we watch an honourable journalist get discredited; his breakdown not as interesting as the politics. An admirable story to bring to the fore… even if the message isn't clear.
Advanced StyleAnthony Macali
Advanced Style examines the lives of seven unique New Yorkers whose eclectic personal style and vital spirit have guided their approach to aging.
"Advanced Style" is a lovely documentary that will invigorate and enliven. As it fleetingly delves into the profiles of the stylish ladies who make up this blog-inspired film, we get exposed to some deeply creative and driven elderly women that one might not normally notice walking down the street. We also learn that with age comes a great sense of humour, with the interviewees encouraged to share stories just a little more philosophical than the contents of their wardrobe. A passion for fashion.
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.