X + YAnne Murphy
A socially awkward teenage math prodigy finds new confidence and new friendships when he lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad.
A tender and affecting film about a type of genius, which comes with seeing the world in a different way. "X + Y" works on all levels thanks to an endearing cast of various misfits, none of whom can solve their own problems. The calculations are interesting but impenetrable for the average viewer. The real joy is in the discovery of something more important than mathematics. Whether you find the plot formulaic or not, it adds up.
Infinitely Polar BearAnne Murphy
A manic-depressive mess of a father tries to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters, who don't make the overwhelming task any easier.
This is a goofy, amiable story based on the experiences of the writer and director. The central family make the most of their chaotic home life and there are plenty of funny moments. As enjoyable as "Infinitely Polar Bear" is, you may be left asking 'so what?'. This movie is superficial and bordering on trite, complete with a happy ending. Limited but bearable.
Kolya, with the help with an old friend now lawyer, fights the mayor to save his home.
"Leviathan" is multi-layered Russian drama that boldly investigates themes of corruption, broken families and religion. Centering on the small family in the middle of the dispute and set in the quiet and eerily beautiful sea-side surrounds, it allows us to emotionally connect with the characters and their struggle without obstruction. Arguments and celebrations often lead to the excessive consumption of vodka, and further complications arise when the story takes unexpected turns. Deep, dark and troubled waters.
A Little ChaosThomas Jones
A female landscape-gardener is awarded the esteemed assignment to construct the grand gardens at Versailles.
Set in the days when periwigs were 'in', "A Little Chaos" depicts one of the earliest examples of a backyard blitz, as our heroine gets her hands dirty to create an outside ballroom at the Palace of Versailles. Overcoming bad weather, a saboteur, and a wheelbarrow full of skepticism, she proves to be more than just a dame in a dress. Despite this garden show including a budding romance and a buried past, ultimately it fails to grow on the audience.
A young and disoriented British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot.
Set amidst the melting pot of violence and political tension of Belfast in '71, this unconventional yet taut thriller is an introspective into the bitter conflict between Catholics and protestants at the time. There are bombs, bullets and bodies aplenty without being a prototypical action movie, and despite being a slow burn, still maintains an aura of suspense as we accompany our hero through a gritty urban war-zone; the jittery hand-held camera work lending a sense of urgency and immediacy. A willing tale from another decade.
When her father unexpectedly passes away, young Ella finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and her daughters.
This version of the classic fairy tale "Cinderella" is simply spellbinding and will enchant a new generation of little people, especially those who love dress ups. A thoroughly modern angle is that a young woman is most desired for her kindness and inner beauty. The movie brims with visible beauty too. There are spectacular magical effects, stunning vistas of the mythical kingdom, and watch for a star turn by the fairy good mother. Here's to happily ever after.
Love is StrangeAnne Murphy
After Ben and George get married, George is fired from his teaching post, forcing them to stay with friends separately while they sell their place and look for cheaper housing.
"Love is Strange" is an unforgettable story of commitment to another that is deep, honest, and real... and there's nothing strange about that. Circumstances test wider family relationships and push them to the limits, and it's emotion rather than action that is key to this story's success. The chemistry between the lead couple is loaded with genuine affection; they deliver unhurried performances that will touch your heart. Life is strange and love is true.
Inherent ViceAnne Murphy
In 1970, drug-fueled Los Angeles detective Larry "Doc" Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
"Inherent Vice" is a pleasure to watch, a perfect antidote to straight monochromatic movies. Maybe it could be a little shorter and certainly the story threads could be more coherent - some will consider those points as flaws while others will sink into their seats and revel in the ride. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts with the actors' flawless performances matched only by a superb soundtrack. Nice vice.
Still AliceAnne Murphy
A linguistics professor and her family find their bonds tested when she is diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer's Disease.
For all of its compassion and sensitivity "Still Alice" is, in part, a horror story. Anyone who has experienced the deterioration of somebody close with any form of dementia will recognise this woman’s descent into confusion and the possibility that the same could happen to any of us. It is a heartbreaking tale to watch, thanks to the talented cast who make each scene believable, and of course there is no chance of a happy ending. Still only a shell of Alice.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold HotelAnthony Macali
Sonny pursues his expansionist dream of opening a second hotel.
"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" recycles the formula of its first incarnation, and succeeds once again thanks to the vigour and humour of its cast. While the plot in this edition is not particularly grand, the beloved elderly troupe carry the drama through the colourful and gleaming streets of India, notwithstanding the addition of a few fresh faces, whose introduction could be considered the only distinction from the first film. Same cup of tea, lots of sugar.
In the midst of a con's latest scheme, a woman from his past shows up throwing his plans for a loop.
"Focus" is a glossy, fairly well-executed con story. Tension builds in a series of twists the audience won't see coming, typically key to a successful thriller. Unfortunately the sheer volume of turns in this film mean they tend to lose their impact with each new revelation. Moments of crude humour are used effectively, and there's a host of likeable characters that help distract us from an uneven plot. Never boring but not all that engaging, it's more cubic-zirconia than diamond: shiny and a little contrived... but otherwise enjoyable.
Fifty Shades of GreyAnthony Macali
Literature student Anastasia's life changes forever when she meets handsome billionaire Christian.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" is a story about the allure of wealth, and bizarre sexual contractual agreements that arise from 'dating' a wealthy man. An introduction to these politics from our two leads is assuredly the most interesting part of the film. Unfortunately the rest is a bitter disappointment, dominated by a tiring and flirtatious game of to-and-fro, a precursor to the passionless and sanitised sex that follows. Attractive leads, inadvertent laughs and very little to love. Don't submit to boredom.
What We Did on Our HolidayAnne Murphy
Explores the meaning of life and suggests how best to live and love.
While the story is all about celebrating granddad on his birthday, it's his three young grandchildren who steal almost every scene; they are as sassy as they are beguiling. The kids have access to greater intelligence, both rational and emotional, than the adults. The grownups have dibs on inappropriate outbursts, and you have to wonder if you're laughing at them, or with them? Viewing this likable movie may prompt self-reflection and if not you'll have lots of charming holiday images. Now what to do with the rest of our lives?
A ground-breaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a boy named Mason who grows up on screen before our eyes.
"Boyhood" is an epic cinematic feat, filmed over 12 years with a viewing time spanning a few hours. For all of its sweeping scope, this movie is about the small episodes that make up an ordinary life as it is lived. There's no big plot or narrative, the everyday can be unremarkable, the tone easy going and understated. A lot of ground is covered, and watching is memorable for the emotional intimacy achieved on screen. All boy no hoody.
The GamblerAndrew O'Dea
A lit professor and gambler's debt causes him to borrow money from his mother and a loan shark.
"The Gambler" is a tale of personal redemption and the moral muddiness of gambling. Unfortunately it's difficult for an audience to sympathise with a pretentious protagonist bent on self-destruction, throwing money against the wall while failing to garner any semblance of a lesson from the experience. Despite a host of terrific performances from the supporting cast, the story feels a little over-wrought, as it meanders to a point where we end up not caring enough to be invested in the tormented anti-hero's fate. Got to know when to fold em'...
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.
A fading actor tries to reclaim his past glory by starting a Broadway play.
"Birdman" is a remarkable movie. Its a continuously moving story in narrative, emotion, and camera-work. It feels like one unbroken scene, pieced together with a seemingly single shot. We're situated more like an observer than an audience, peering over shoulders and watching a man's life falling apart piece by piece. More European in style than American, it's still intangibly Hollywood. The highlight is the performances, you can't walk away without remembering them. It's all really unique, almost a little absurdist at times, but definitely worth your time. High in the pecking order.
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.
Maps to the StarsAnne Murphy
A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.
"Maps to the Stars" is a disturbing social satire that is also an absorbing study of human character, if you can bear to watch it. The bleak yet original story is gripping for the way it gradually unfolds without revealing what happens next. It's involving thanks to the strong cast who bring the reprehensible, self-absorbed characters to life. Everyone has self-destructive tendencies but the desperate violence they wreak on each other is what's most jaw-dropping. A dark night in Tinseltown.
St. VincentAnne Murphy
A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door.
At some point the audience will realise they're watching the aging lead actor playing his elderly self, or some down-on-his-luck movie character version of himself. Don't feel like a sucker for playing along and enjoying the film. The endearing qualities of the protagonist allow you to put cynicism aside, forgive the unlikely plot elements, and be entertained by the ubiquitous fogey next door with a proverbial heart of gold. Wholly unlikely Saint.
Exodus: Gods and KingsJan Di Pietro
The defiant leader Moses rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.
Moses... know him, right? Too bad if you don't! It's his story, although instead of a story, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" presents itself like a literal recounting of events. Like Moses' walk in the desert, this film is long, arduous, and is likely to cause hunger and thirst. It's always strange to watch historical figures behaving like modern folk. Ancient Egypt is recreated with astounding visuals... about all it's worth. Might be fun for "believers", but the movie gods have abandoned the rest of us.