The First GraderAnne Murphy
The true story of an 84 year-old Kenyan villager and ex Mau Mau freedom fighter who fights for his right to go to school for the first time to get the education he could never afford.
"Based on a true story" the opening credits report, so prepare to learn about Kenya's recent and bloody past. "The First Grader" revisits a brutal episode in history while focused on a redemptive story line, complete with extraordinary African backdrops. The feel good meter runs high while watching this incredible story of one man's experience and his determination to learn to read and write. Elementary.
An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.
"Trance" is a demonstration in the odd behaviours associated with art, hypnosis and love. What starts as an apparent heist film quickly transitions into a psychological thriller, challenging the audience to discover the truth. With each chapter, the story introduces new pieces of the puzzle and dissecting each revelation delivers a sense of accomplishment. Driven by a great cast of ensnaring characters, the only frustrating memory might be a plot-twist too many. A riveting piece missing perfection.
The Best Exotic Marigold HotelWendy Slevison
British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel.
This movie may well leave you dreaming of a trip to India! Set amidst the colour and vibrancy of the city of Jaipur, and featuring a delightful cast of veteran British actors, its warmth and appeal is enchanting. Yes, it may be a little contrived, but this is not a film that is trying to be clever, it is simply a charming, languidly-paced character study that is a pleasure to witness. The Marigold Hotel comes highly recommended.
City IslandAnne Murphy
Meet the Rizzos, a family that might get along a lot better if only they could tell each other the truth.
The Manhattan skyline can be seen across the water in this marvellous little film. The setting, the accents, the personalities, the attitudes, and the situations are pure boisterous New York. The central family are all ensnared in complex relationships that ring true, as drama is stirred through with good hearted comedy. "City Island" is marred by an ending that ties up the threads a little too neatly, finishing on an unnecessarily schmaltzy note - even so, this is an island in the sun.
A look at the life of serial killer John Bunting.
The world looks like a more sinister place after watching "Snowtown". The story, which recounts real events, is chilling and shows life as you wish it wasn't. The setting is a colourless and unsettling suburban landscape, all the more terrifying for its ordinariness. It's sometimes hard to tell the relationships between the characters, not that it's possible to care for any of them. The dramatic build is slow and we squirm at what's coming and, unsurprisingly, the audience becomes enmeshed in scenes so sickening that they're almost unwatchable. Snowtown is no town to be.
La Nostra VitaAnne Murphy
When tragedy befalls a construction worker he leans on his boss to give him his own site to supervise.
"La Nostra Vita" shows a slice of life for a hard working and honest man in present day Italy. Everyday struggles to navigate dilemmas involving ethics, family and friends a system where corruption is rife and how difficult it can be to do the right thing. Filmed with a hand held camera, the choppiness of the screen images highlight the topical edginess of the story-line. The audience is propelled from moment to moment as the odds stack up against the lead good-guy. Astute, perceptive film making.
City kid Ren McCormack moves to a small town where rock 'n' roll and dancing have been banned, but his rebellious spirit shakes the town up and he sets out to have the rules abolished.
This remake of the classic is bound to have its sceptics, both those who are fans of the original, as well as those who had no interest in it the first time around. All cynicism will be pushed aside however, as this film is simply too fun to not enjoy. The two young leads carry the movie with an authenticity that lifts it from the cheesy mess it could have been, and the impressive choreography gives "Footloose" an exuberance that will have you dancing in the aisles.
The GreyAndrew O'Dea
In Alaska, an oil drilling team struggle to survive after a plane crash strands them in the wild. Hunting the humans are a pack of wolves who see them as intruders.
This tale of survival is a surprisingly philosophical one. "The Grey" is still punctuated by enough action to thrill, but at its core remains a meditation on existentiality and an intelligent snapshot about man's primal will to live. Unsparingly bleak, the film's spiritual agenda is stripped as bare as the cold and wild backdrop it's set against; carried by some superb characterisation and the commanding presence of its leading man. Once more into the fray...
In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she's alive.
Bernie is just like that 'uncle' you suspect is using his goodness to suppress a dirty secret or fetish. You can't help but like him, but at the same time you're wondering if he's wearing lingerie under his suit. This mockumentary style tale is as much about the unlikeliest of friendships, as it is about the inhabitants of the deep south and their strict moral code. It’s their commentary as the events unfold that provide much of the comedy. So entertain'n you could butter my butt and call me a biscuit.
Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he works alongside his computer, GERTY.
"Moon" is no pioneer, but is still a quietly quaint and enjoyable movie. Lacking the grandeur of most space odysseys, this film is all about Sam, and we become immersed in his isolation and apprehension. The atmosphere is boosted by an accomplished score, creating tension in tandem with the computer GERTY, whose indifferent disposition is as discomforting as his voice. It certainly won't rock science fiction, but will definately re-energise the genre.
The DuchessAnthony Macali
A chronicle of the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
"The Duchess" is a window into the intriguing life of Georgiana, a view that overlooks her reputable politics in favour of her more lascivious endeavours. Extravagant romanticism flourishes in 1700's England, a time of manners, costumes and beauty. A significant contrast to the inner turmoil that dwells in the Duke's house, burdens of birthing a male heir exact many sacrifices. Outstanding performances portray the many troubled characters of this film, in a period drama that only suffers from an imbalance of love and politics.
A man moves his two daughters to Italy after their mother dies in a car accident.
"Genova" is a considered and unsentimental movie of living through bereavement. The movie is constructed with a credible style that almost seems unscripted. The plot meanders through the moody Italian setting without unnecessary dramatic tension, moving from moment to moment the way a person coping with life after loss does. The character studies are intelligent, multi-layered portraits of grieving. It's deeply gratifying to see a difficult theme faithfully handled without unnecessary tragic overtones and no tissues required.
Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.
"Mud" is a hold-your-breath atmospheric thriller set down South in the US. As expected, the ol' boys are hardened characters seeking either redemption or revenge but this intense movie really belongs to the two wide-eyed young boys and their adventures in a grim adult world. While distracted by women, they are discovering what it takes to be a man and how the bonds forged between men prove more steadfast than other embittering relationships. Gritty.
Edge of DarknessWendy Slevison
As homicide detective Thomas Craven investigates the death of his activist daughter, he uncovers not only her secret life, but a corporate cover-up and government collusion.
Adapted from a popular British television series, "Edge of Darkness" showcases the leading man in his signature genre, the action thriller. Solidly produced, with strong performances and plenty of dramatic tension, most of the film is a satisfyingly intense ride. Unfortunately, the last section becomes somewhat chaotic, and the body count ridiculously high. A word of warning â€“ the storyline is quite complex, so concentrate or you'll be left in the dark.
Fast FiveTom Jones
Dominic and his crew find themselves on the wrong side of the law once again as they try to switch lanes between a ruthless drug lord and a relentless federal agent.
After watching this film, the drive home will feel slower than ever before and any muscles you thought you had will look more like excess skin. The cars and the men in this film put all to shame. The car chases and action sequences are non-stop, over the top, till you drop... and then some. The story, which follows a trio of crims on the run ties these amazingly shot scenes quite nicely together. If you have the need for speed, fasten your seatbelts.
A drama centred around three high school seniors - an aspiring actress, her misfit best friend, and a loner - who become engaged in an intimate and complicated relationship.
This coming of age movie covers all the social awkwardness of teenagers discovering themselves as friends and lovers. Dollops of naivety and maturity are stirred in to create realistic and likable characters that are topped up with a measure of angst and balanced out with charm. The storyline of "Dare" takes its characters through new experiences and interesting predicaments. It's a little bent yet nonetheless could cross over to a mainstream audience. Dare to be different.
World's Greatest DadAnne Murphy
A comedy about a man who learns that the things you want most may not be the things that make you happy, and that being lonely is not necessarily the same as being alone.
"World's Greatest Dad" is uncomfortable viewing centered on an unlikable teenage misfit and his apologetic, underachieving Dad. This movie is so dark it's pitch black, not to mention creepy - a parent's nightmare. Low key but high impact viewing that will stay with you. The messages about popularity and hollow celebrity will skulk at the back of your mind even if you are the world's greatest someone.
August: Osage CountyAnthony Macali
A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in.
"August: Osage County" plays host to a family steeped in unresolved issues. As each character is introduced, they bring extra weight to the drama. Based on a play, there are no small parts to this story, allowing each member of the ensemble to thrive, most memorably when they sit together in a dining scene to never forget. While the film lingers towards its conclusion, there's no doubt individuals will resonate identify with parts of the narrative before the end. Funny: Sad Family.
A 16-year-old who was raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is dispatched on a mission across Europe, tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives.
"Hanna" is a film that will divide action fans. Some will appreciate that this isn't your conventional assassin flick, as it straddles the line between art-house and mainstream cinema. Others will lament the lack of action as it takes the time to explore themes of family and coming-of-age. Although the fight and chase sequences might be sparse, they are each technically captivating, and enhanced by a brilliantly pulsating, almost hypnotic soundtrack. Surreal and wayward, but still hits the mark.
The son of a courtesan retreats into a fantasy world after being forced to end his relationship with the older woman who educated him in the ways of love.
Visually impressive with sumptuous settings and costumes, this movie indulges with viewing pleasure. The characters are free of social mores in a gilded era. The central theme is love spanning a generational divide. A fading beauty contrasted with a beatified youth. Despite the setting and the situation, the pace is indolent, without the exuberance of emotional highs or troughs of despair. "Cheri" manages to be glorious, even if wistfully restrained.
An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
"Nebraska" is the black-and-white story of a rather confused elderly man. His poignant history is revealed during an absurd adventure to the titular destination, ensuring a stop-over at the town of his birth grants us a glimpse of small-town country life. All the characters we meet are equally colourful and droll, while conveying the quiet fragility and banal habits of old age. Simple and stripped-back, the film is a winner thanks to its lovable lead. Rich in sympathy and laughter.
Mary and MaxAnne Murphy
A tale of friendship between two unlikely pen pals.
This meticulously constructed claymation is a mostly sombre film for older audiences. The characters and their surrounds are faultlessly observed, giving rise to frequent humorous moments, lifting the tone from what may have otherwise been despairingly gloomy. The predominantly monochromatic landscape serves to reinforce the serious nature of the themes of loneliness and mental illness. The movie is so finely balanced that ultimately the desperate is also oddly endearing.
The Damned UnitedAndrew O'Dea
A look at Brian Clough's 44-day reign as the coach of Leeds United.
A compelling and often humorous biopic, this movie is a football fan's delight, and they will revel in the nostalgia and seamlessly intertwined archival footage. However, you don't necessarily have to enjoy football to enjoy this film. Essentially character-driven, most of the drama occurs off the pitch. Fantastic storytelling, rich and engaging dialogue, and a superb man-of-the-match performance from the lead actor manage to separate "The Damned United" from your typical sports flick. GOOOOOOALLL!!!
The HousemaidAnne Murphy
A man's affair with his family's housemaid leads to a dark consequences.
"The Housemaid" is an erotically charged study of the ruthless politics of gender and social position. Money provides the wherewithal to dispense with morality and it is replaced with malice so calculated it's breathtaking. Power is potently portrayed. The onscreen representation of the central family's elaborate lifestyle is lavish and visually opulent. The dark suspense builds and culminates in an ending that is disquieting and memorable, with an odd epilogue tacked on the end as a jarringly surreal close. Well maid, right up to the superfluous flourish of the finish.
The Burning PlainAnne Murphy
The past and the present have a curious way of affecting one another as several people separated by time and space are about to discover.
This gripping tale is revealed as slowly as a building storm while tension builds. The movie is laden with foreboding, even if you anticipate the outcome before it's played out. The threads involving various characters weave together to reveal the anguish filled origins of the story. "Burning Plain" is moody and filled with loss and remorse, filmed against scenic backdrops that create realism and tension. The plains burn with a slow fuse to create an unforgettable movie.