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.
Grace of MonacoAnne Murphy
The story Grace Kelly's crisis of marriage and identity, during a political dispute between Monaco and France, and a looming invasion of Monaco.
We're informed that this is a fictitious account of real events and it's impossible to discern what's real and what's not. It's an intriguing story that might have worked better as complete fiction. The princess is acted with beauty and grace, pardon the pun, but there are an annoying number of full screen close-ups of her countenance. If the camera is looking for warts shouldn't it focus on a frog or the prince? Airy-fairytale.
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron SwartzAnne Murphy
The story of Aaron Schwartz, a programming prodigy and information activist, who was facing indictment under the very laws he was campaigning to change when he took his own life in 2013.
This is a must see documentary, be outraged, despair, and then promise to change the world in your own way. Who would guess that a story of technology and access to information could be so emotionally involving? If only we all had as much integrity around our ideals for a better society and the sharing of knowledge as this maligned but inspiring young man. All round brilliant.
Dallas Buyers ClubAnne Murphy
In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.
Central to the "Dallas Buyers Club" is an unusually gritty yet true journey of transformation. The hero is larger than life, a confronting combination of crass profanity and homophobia. It is said that fact is stranger than fiction, and this man's ferocious desperation for life could not have been invented. It's befitting that the lead performances are nothing short of transfixing, making this is one helluva story about tragedy and triumph. Bigger than Texas.
Mandela: Long Walk to FreedomAnthony Macali
A chronicle of Nelson Mandela's life journey from his childhood to presidency of South Africa.
Mandela was an extraordinary man, and his story moves at an extraordinary pace. The film wastes no time in rallying your sympathy, revealing some of the more surprising actions of the young leader in his battle with the unrelenting and antiquated oppression of government. We also discover the strong relationship he had with his wife, a woman equally passionate in her fight for freedom and equality, and a significant chapter in his life. Both performances are worthy of the iconic figures. It's a long walk, but a brief history lesson. Emotionally charged.
12 Years a SlaveAnthony Macali
In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
"12 Years a Slave" is more than just a black man sharing his first-hand account... it's a raw and visceral experience. This narrative isn't afraid to hide the senseless violence and bigotry of the time, revealing a truly horrifying portrait of humanity. It's a stark contrast to the beautiful visuals of the film, which also serve to scar in our memory with some of the more striking scenes. A story of equal intrigue and importance. Many years an injustice.
The Wolf of Wall StreetAndrew O'Dea
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker to his desperate fall.
This character driven story is an amoral orgy of excess fuelled by drugs, sex... and money. While being an indictment of greed, there are no moralistic judgements; instead the white-collar criminals damn themselves. Outrageous hilarity ensues as the audience are invited to revel in unbridled decadence and debauchery. A stylistic and witty film featuring remarkable performances, the only flaw is an overindulgence in running time, making it difficult to hold the audience's attention in parts. Although it huffs and puffs, it just doesn't quite blow the house down.
Saving Mr. BanksAnne Murphy
Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.
You don't need to be a critic to appreciate a film about the story behind a film, or the story behind the book the film is based on. Fact, fiction and fantasy are woven together in a fabulously entertaining way. "Saving Mr. Banks" fires the imagination and reminds us of the magic of childhood; thanks in part, to the outstanding performances of the cast. It's also an unexpectedly moving tale. See it, spit spot.
One ChanceAnthony Macali
The true story of Paul, an amateur opera singer who became a phenomenon after winning "Britain's Got Talent".
"One Chance" is the inspirational story of Paul Potts, and his competition with the forces preventing him from singing opera. Bullied at school, he received no support from his father and lacks the confidence to hold his nerve on stage. While the film only scratches at the surface of these issues, it's still uncomfortable to watch. Thankfully there are many moments of humour throughout to curb the continuous heartbreak, especially when the road to success is this long. An emotional winner.
The Fifth EstateAnthony Macali
The story of Wikileaks and its quest to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power.
Like the much maligned website, content is king in "The Fifth Estate". Behind every great idea is a great man, and the picture painted of Julian Assange is one of ego and narcissism. Surprisingly, the patchy back-stories of the characters aren't as interesting as the history of the famous site and its technical challenges. By favorably revisiting numerous articles of breaking news, the film successfully underscores the unprecedented impact of the organisation, disrupting everyone in their path minus the journalism they feed. A captivating, yet leaky, source.
Fruitvale StationAnthony Macali
The purportedly true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III on the last day of 2008.
Based on a true story, "Fruitvale Station" is the tragic chronicle of Oscar, and the frightful events of his New Year's celebration. A gritty style and clever mobile phone subtitles document the day with added authenticity, in a recollection where the characters admiringly take precedence over incident. Our protagonists aren't perfect, but their portrayals feel genuine, with a focus on family and relationships that add significant emotional weight, which becomes more apparent with the overwhelming sense of dread that arrives at the last stop. A great injustice.
Captain PhillipsAndrew O'Dea
The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 cargo ship hijacking by Somali pirates.
This evocative retelling of the MV Maersk Alabama hijacking brings the tension of a real-life hostage drama to screen. The director's trademark visceral style and realism is perfectly suited to this intense biopic, and the handheld camerawork compliments the turbulence of the situation at hand. We remain gripped by the antagonistic relationship between the two captain as the film builds to a dazzling crescendo of military operations. Anchored by superb acting, particularly the brilliant performance from the lead, "Captain Phillips" is a thrilling cinematic voyage well worth boarding.
The ButlerStefan Bugryn
The story of Cecil Gaines, who for three decades served as the chief butler in the White House for eight consecutive US Presidents.
The main problem with "The Butler" is it tries to fit too much into tight parameters, and becomes a little trying as a result. In fact, there's so much going on, it actually feels like there's nothing going on at all. The story between the lead character and his son is engaging enough, but even so, there isn't much depth to the lead himself. He is actually a little boring, much like the entire movie. You'll be better served somewhere else.