Cracks in the ShellAnne Murphy
Josephine suffers from not being seen but she also does her best at not being noticed, even though she is an acting student.
It's an emotional journey from auditions and rehearsals to a performance. "Cracks in the Shell" is a movie full of emotional expression as the shy lead actor struggles to meet the expectations of her director. The young woman is pushed, and pushes herself, as she is almost consumed by her own conflicts, taking the plot beyond a coming of age movie and into the territory of a psychological drama. Raw, tough and relentless, it's little wonder cracks emerge
The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne ListerAnne Murphy
In nineteenth century Yorkshire wealthy orphan Anne Lister lives with an aunt and uncle, anxious for her to marry well and blissfully, unaware that she is a lesbian.
An historic drama based on the real and extensive diaries of the protagonist. This film is rich with country mansions, beautiful costumes and staid English sensibilities. The highlight is a female lead that is steadfast in her beliefs, refusing to be totally repressed by the expectations of society, and determined to live by her own values. No doubt the secret diaries could reveal much more about this resolute woman who wanted a wife.
China is plunged into strife as feuding warlords try to expand their power with war.
It's a simple plot that's brought to life in this epic-scaled production. The magnificent courtyards and halls of the Shaolin temple play a starring role. Add sweeping rural landscapes of China to the on-screen splendour and the characters end up as extras. There are no crouching tigers but there are astonishing displays of aerial and on-the-ground martial arts. The well executed and bloody action scenes are furiously fought, not hampered by one side being mostly monks. Even Buddhist principles need defending.
Liberal ArtsAnthony Macali
When 30-something Jesse returns to college for a professor's retirement party, he meets Zibby, a young student.
"Liberal Arts" is an unassuming study of growing up, exploring the many fears and regrets that come with growing older. For most the part, the film is set within the grounds of a college, bringing with it a loaded sense of nostalgia. The quiet setting steers all the focus on loveable pair at the centre of the film, allowing them to share their stories at their own pace. Conversations are funny, charming and sure to resonate with our own. A delightful relationship to reflect on life.
A story set in Santiago and centered on Gloria, a free-spirited older woman, and the realities of her whirlwind relationship with a former naval officer she meets out in a club.
There is much to like about the authenticity with which one woman's life is depicted, including the loneliness of living alone. "Gloria" is about a real character who is a complete woman. The sex scenes are a highlight with everything played au natural; the audience laughs... but maybe it is true that getting to know someone romantically is no easier at sixty that it was at sixteen. Glorious.
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.
War HorseAndrew O'Dea
Young Albert enlists to service in WWI after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry. Albert's hopeful journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on.
"War Horse" is most definitely a movie for those partial to the majestic beauty of horses, though it's not necessarily a prerequisite. Some may justifiably find the story a little too syrupy and sweet, but it does also take place amidst the brutal theatre of war, where thankfully the film does not shy, and the director is at his dazzling best. Others will enjoy the sentimentality of an extraordinary journey coupled with the bond between man and horse simply too difficult to resist.... if so, then giddy up.
Still WalkingAnthony Macali
A family reunites to honour their eldest son, who died saving a boy from drowning 15 years earlier.
"Still Walking" is a sombre tale of the Yokoyama family who struggle to overcome the death of beloved son Junpei and the divisive resentment it brings. Ryota finds it the hardest, never being able to meet the expectations of his gruff father as the shadow of his dead brother looms. This close-up and intimate portrait exposes all their issues, many resonating with our own, as true deep sadness is wrought in the absence of closure. The film reminds us that if we continue to walk away from our problems, we will run out of time to resolve them.
A modern-day musical about a busker and an immigrant and their eventful week, as they write, rehearse and record songs that tell their love story.
The best songs are born from grief, and in "Once" we are introduced to the loveable guy and girl, who's loneliness and music bring them together. The acoustic overtures not only signal beautiful songs, but a time of reflection to look at our own relationships. This film shows how the most unlikely of people we meet in the world may share passions and dreams similar to ours, and whose simple friendship can bring joy to our sometimes stale lives.
A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.
"Philomena" is perfectly structured. It is crafted to achieve a fine balance between the wrenching despair of forced adoption 50 years ago and touching comedic present-day moments. The story is based in truth, and the facts raise ire as it's difficult to accept that this treatment of young mothers was even possible. Thankfully there is no oozing of sentimentality and the humanity portrayed by the actors ensures moving viewing.
An EducationAnne Murphy
A teenage girl's life in 1960s London changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age.
A particular time and place are depicted with a nostalgic tone in this beguiling movie. Although classic in many respects, "An Education" also bestows a refreshing angle on adolescent transformation. The suave script is brought to life by mesmerising performances from the cast. Social dilemmas of the era are deftly explored in front of scenic city backdrops and meticulously created interior detail as befits the period. A curriculum of seduction and sophistication provides an outstanding education.
North Sea TexasAnne Murphy
A teenage boy's search for love finds him fixated on the boy next door.
It's that time in life when emerging sexual desires inevitably involve the boy next door, as upsetting as that may be to his sister who also fancies the boy next door to her too. That statement about the plot, while accurate, is clumsy in comparison to the tender handling that first love receives in "North Sea Texas", a subtle and moody film. Movies in the understated style of this production often get labelled as 'little films' but there is nothing small about Texas, even when located on the Belgium coast.
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.
Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery.
"Hugo" is a magical story for kids with a penchant for adventure. A fantastic French train station is brought to life, and thanks to some crafty 3D, delves into the gleaming maze of clocks and cogs that surround the walls. As our young characters continue to solve the puzzle, the plot strangely shifts, taking the audience in a completely new direction... to explore the birth of cinema. It's an odd division in the film, and accompanied by a few irrelevant supporting members, unsettles the enchantment of this visual treasure. All the pieces seem to fit.
Adam, a lonely man with Asperger's Syndrome, develops a relationship with his upstairs neighbour.
A somewhat eccentric addition to the romantic comedy genre, this utterly charming and insightful film deals with a condition not fully understood by most people. The title character is realistically and sensitively portrayed, while the female lead perfectly sustains him, in roles which will help raise public profile about the small yet significant segment of our society who suffers from Aspergers. This movie is a quirky, unassuming and tenderly realised story about a search for love and acceptance, something much more difficult for "Aspies" than most.
The Twilight Saga: EclipseAnthony Macali
Bella is forced to choose between her love for vampire Edward and werewolf friend Jacob.
It is made abundantly clear that "Eclipse" is about decisions. It's hard to choose between the equally attractive (and buff) leads who continuously confess their undying love. Thankfully, this tiresome triangle doesn't consume the show. A great supporting cast share their interesting back-stories and shed light on the mystical history of vampires and werewolves, building tension for the frantic action showdown. Expect the inevitable lingering kisses amongst mountain tops and fields of flowers, but this instalment offers a little more to feast upon. Your choice.
A bootlegging gang is threatened by a new deputy and authorities who want a cut of their profits.
"Lawless" is steeped in dirt and bloody vengeance, painting a grim and violent picture amongst what is a distinct and evocative recreation of depression-era America. Masterfully crafted and beautifully filmed, it's the style and attention to detail that coerces us to overlook the minor storytelling flaws that hold it back from being a potential classic. Performances from the leads as well as terrific ensemble cast are terrific, underpinned by a sublime 'hillbilly' score. Uncomfortable and unsettling, this entertaining jar o' moonshine kicks like a mule.
A Gun in Each HandAnne Murphy
A series of five vignettes exploring the relationship crises of middle aged men.
This movie is a conversation starter. After watching the intimate conversations on the screen, there will much to talk about, particularly with a member of the opposite sex. "A Gun in Each Hand" is thought provoking, and we're given a fly-on-the-wall chance to witness men talking and sharing about their feelings and relationships. They are all struggling in some way and the director's slightly cynical touch is light enough that we can connect with both their desires and concerns. Straight shooters, or trying to be…
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.
The SapphiresAnne Murphy
It's 1968, and four young, talented Australian indigenous women learn about love, friendship and war when they entertain the US troops in Vietnam.
Based on a true story, "The Sapphires" is funny and moving, but most of all it is entertaining, a tribute to the adventurous central singing group. The cast of this crowd pleaser is strong and sassy and rarely miss a beat. Political issues of the era are captured but this movie doesn’t become mired in the campaigning for change. There is sufficient daring and activism in what the women achieve in their own lives, and they sure can sing. A gem.
Crazy HeartAnthony Macali
A faded country music musician is forced to reassess his dysfunctional life during a doomed romance that also inspires him.
"Crazy Heart" has great country songs that will appeal to all fans of music. It plays as an insight of a washed-up musician - old, poor, and often drunk, with little comfort/relief but for his recollections of his time at the top and continued luck with the ladies. Perhaps the story shows too much admiration for 'Bad Blake', who gets away a little too easily with some of his lesser qualities. In the end, the film is a one-man show, with a central performance strong and charming enough to uplift the masses.
A Quiet LifeAnne Murphy
The story of a man with a dark past, that inevitably catches up with him.
Mystery is slowly brewed as the story behind the main character is revealed. Initially the plot is vague, and the viewer must sit with some uncertainty as to what is happening on the screen. The lack of story structure is a clever device that adds to the mounting suspense. Tension is maintained amid a seemingly routine domestic situation, and there are ominous hints that all is not as it seems as the violence starts to escalate. "A Quiet Life" is a well-constructed, gripping movie experience... shhh.
Rachel Getting MarriedAnthony Macali
A young woman who has been in and out from rehab for the past 10 years returns home for the weekend for her sister's wedding.
Initially, this film is very difficult to watch. The story is high in emotion, and typically these feelings are not good ones, as we see a family worn out from Kym's drug addiction and its haunting consequences. Such sentiments swirl and evolve to the titular finale, reminding us of the everlasting joys in life. "Rachel Getting Married" is a powerfully poignant film that will affect you many days later.
The Snows of KilimanjaroAnne Murphy
After celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, a couple are shattered by two young men, armed and masked, who beat them, tie them up, snatch their wedding rings and flee with their credit cards.
Inspired by Victor Hugo's poem "How Good are the Poor", this warm-hearted movie tackles some of today's social and moral issues within the setting of a small community. Our judgments of others can be black and white but, as this moving story highlights, the reality of another is never so simple. The themes are complex but the motivation of each character is uncomplicated. Let it snow.
Five Minutes of HeavenAnne Murphy
The story of former UVF member Alistair Little. Twenty-five years after Little killed Joe Griffen's brother, the media arrange an auspicious meeting between the two.
"Five Minutes of Heaven" looks back at crimes committed as acts of civil war, exploring important themes of hatred and forgiveness. It's an uneven production that stumbles through some very stagy and clumsy scenes, though is fortunately redeemed by a powerful and unexpected climax. This movie is uncomfortable viewing about the lingering impacts of violence and living with indelible memories that prevent healing. Hard to glimpse heaven from hell.