Seven lost children wander the night streets while their mothers await their return home.
"Blessed" pulls no punches as it explores a day in several corrugated relationships between mothers and their children. Melbourne is the gritty urban setting, effectively underscored by a pulsing soundtrack. For a film so set on portraying realism, it is surprising that some of the intertwined storylines stretch credibility beyond the boundary of believable. This is counterbalanced by a couple of stand-out performances that could wrench a still-beating heart right of your chest. Dead-beat, down-beat, cursed, cursing and blessed.
American GangsterAnthony Macali
In 1970s America, a detective works to bring down the drug empire of a heroin kingpin.
"American Gangster" is an epic story of two people. Frank Lucas, a religious and devoted family man; and his polar opposite, Richie Roberts, the incorruptible cop, troubled at home but determined in his lonely pursuit. You can't help but take Frank's side, relishing his journey from rags to riches, and joining his vast corrupted network of cops and soldiers who succumb to greed. It's not until we see the effects of 'Blue Magic' that we're reminded his business is heroin. A brilliant and engaging crime classic.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' NestThomas Jones
Lisbeth is recovering and awaiting trial for three murders. Mikael must prove her innocence, but Lisbeth must be willing to share the details of her sordid experiences with the court.
Millennium fans will be fulfilled by this portrayal of the final book of the series. The magnitude of this story is handled well, despite feeling a little rushed at times. The quickened pace impacts on the suspense, which is never given enough time to really build. Consequently, the film feels less like a thriller and more like a courtroom drama. However, the acting is superb, the story is bold and the climax… revenge has never tasted so sweet. She's kicking nests... and goals.
Where the Wild Things AreAndrew O'Dea
A disobedient little boy sent to bed without supper creates his own world inhabited by wild creatures.
This film is a strangely endearing adaptation of the literary classic. Though some may find the story languid at times, it's redeemed by spectacular cinematography and an almost despondent poetry. Brief moments of fun and frivolity are usurped by darker, more pensive undertones as we draw an emotional parallel between Max and the exquisitely realised 'Wild Things' that echo his feelings of loneliness, fear, and frustration... and it's to be admired for embracing this childhood angst rather than simply condemning it. Let the wild rumpus start!
The Woman in BlackAnthony Macali
A lawyer travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost terrorizing the locals.
The message is clear from "The Woman in Black". Stay away, or be haunted. A mist-laden and exquisite countryside plays host to the ghost, a town riddled with scary looking kids and impending doom. The film is at its terrifying best with the lead simply exploring the dark house of his confinement. In a time when one cannot simply turn on the lights, every creak and crack builds unbearable tension. Unfortunately this apprehension doesn't last to the end. Good old-fashioned frights.
It's San Francisco in 1957, and an American masterpiece, Allen Ginsberg's Howl, is put on trial.
Real transcripts of an interview with the poet, his epic poem, and his publishers obscenity trial are all threaded together and linked with clever CGI to create "Howl". Censorship and freedom of speech are perennially rich themes but aren't allowed to become pretentious as the work is dissected by lawyers and academics. This is an intellectual and engrossing look at the voice of a discontent generation, and the movie perfectly captures the mood of the time with howls of rage, passion and despair. Uninhibited baying with delight.
A Perfect DayAnne Murphy
Bosnia and the war is over but the conflict is not, a team of aid workers need a length of rope to resolve a crisis.
"A Perfect Day" is an insightful movie that doesn't try to explain the atrocity of war. This is a deceptively simple story told from the outskirts of a landscape of devastation. There are no combat scenes but every human encounter is entrenched in a perilous battle zone. You connect with the pervading sense of hopelessness when every attempt to lend aid is thwarted, intermittently lifted by dark humour and a wry approach. Tomorrow is another day.
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.
Django UnchainedAndrew O'Dea
With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
Unbridled violence is unleashed in this Spaghetti Western, teetering between comedy and gore. The profanity and blood flow in a celebration of excess, belying the film's racial consciousness and intelligent commentary on a dark period in American history. Although undermined by elements of self-indulgence, the director also brings to "Django Unchained" a trademark penchant for witty dialogue, sharp storytelling and sublime style. Unshackled and foolishly fun.
The story of Linda Lovelace, who is used and abused by the porn industry at the behest of her coercive husband, before taking control of her life.
One can imagine there is more to tell about the story of the young woman who 'starred' in a porno film that became a cultural phenomenon in the 1970's, and despite its name was not about a giraffe. The tale is sordid, ultimately it is about degradation and abuse, and it evokes empathy for the main character. The disco soundtrack is excellent and the support actors are credible as thugs in body shirts. Hard core.
Inspired by a true story about a 27-year-old guy who learns of his cancer diagnosis.
This is an unusual and thought provoking comedy that draws humour from the tragedy at its core. The subject is handled deftly, and there is something refreshing about the fact that the laughter, or the tears, don’t feel forced. The fact that we can still laugh with this genuine approach makes the film appealing, coupled by the two likeable leads who play so well off each other. Although parts of the story may border on predictable, there is something affectingly real and touching about the emotional ramble that takes place. 70/30 you'll like 50/50.
Little Miss SunshineAnthony Macali
A troubled family go on a road trip to enter their daughter into a Young Miss America Pageant.
This eclectic bunch faces all kinds of issues on their trip. From drugs and suicide, to homosexuality and death, all scenarios that will make you cry, make you cringe and most importantly make you laugh. It highlights the value of family and camaraderie, no matter how disturbing your family might be.
The Princess of MontpensierAnne Murphy
Set against the savage Catholic/Protestant wars that ripped France apart in the 16th century, the action centres on the love of Marie de Mezičres for her dashing cousin Henri de Guise.
This period drama is sumptuously set and fastidiously costumed. The renaissance, as far as we can tell, is faithfully reproduced and it's magnificent to watch. "Princess of Montpensier" comes complete with dashing sword fights and big bloody battles, but most interest is invested in the dilemmas of duty over love. As the drama is played out the heroine is unable to refuse the allure of true romance, a Queen of Hearts.
Win WinAnne Murphy
A struggling lawyer and wrestling coach's chicanery comes back to haunt him when the teenage grandson of the client he's double-crossed comes into his life.
The good-humoured and flawed characters which populate "Win Win" are acted with refreshing individuality. The movie plays out as a down to earth and warm comedy, that is hard not to be charmed by. As the captivating plot develops, and very human problems are encountered, an almost constant tickle of laughter fills the cinema. Audience interest is engaged by the readily recognisable challenges of ordinary people and their relationships, and we're ready to empathise. Nobody loses.
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.
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 group of young vigilantes seeking revenge for a sexual betrayal fall far from grace.
From the outset, "Blame" is quite sinister. It becomes apparent quite early that the act of murder is a difficult thing, especially on a whim and in the hands of the naivety of youth. While the poor execution might raise questions from the audience, it's a suitable plot device to put strain on the determined characters. Across the group, the performances are uneven, but a chilling score chimes in at all the right moments to carry on the drama. If only the director didn’t reveal too many details to make the guesswork easy. Still, you cannot fault the tension.
Me and Orson WellesAnne Murphy
A teenager is cast in the production of "Julius Caesar" directed by a young Orson Welles in 1937.
"Me and Orson Welles" is a coming of age drama within a convincing theatrical setting. The era is authentically replicated, and the characters so well drawn the audience is transported to thinking we're watching Orson Welles in his prime. The raging genius, ruthless manipulator, and ambitious actor and director are all credibly presented. Theatre life and backstage dramas within the chaos of the production process are all used to enthral, and it's crowned by romantic intrigue. This is a well directed movie that ends with applause.
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.
Corpo CelesteAnne Murphy
Thirteen year-old Marta restlessly tests the boundaries of the catechism of the Catholic Church when her family move from Switzerland to a city in southern Italy.
The protagonist is a stranger in a strange land as she prepares for her confirmation ceremony. A naive view of the Church and the various characters that support the institution are used to question the traditions and rites of its teachings. "Corpo Celeste" gently mocks using symbolism and religious iconography rather than overtly criticising any practice. The movie is effective in that it does plant questions about socially accepted values. You'll never get to heaven...
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.
The Diary of a Teenage GirlAnne Murphy
It's the 1970s and the city is San Francisco, and teenage Minnie starts an affair with the handsomest man in the world, her mother's boyfriend
The situation is morally alarming, and the characters are authentic, so it is a relief the story is delivered without preaching or judging. We get to watch an engrossing depiction of discovering one's womanhood. It is a delight to see a story related by a young woman protagonist, especially a tale so daring and honest. We share her joy of embracing all parts of herself, including her angst and self-doubts. Remember your own teenage years?
The Spectacular NowAnne Murphy
A hard-partying high school senior's philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical "nice girl."
Some matches are made in heaven, and the romantic match central to "Spectacular Now" is made on a front lawn. That should tell you that this is a quirky but down to earth tale. The focus is on the now rather than the future, but the past looms large for the characters. Spectacular suggests grand, but it's the simplicity of the everyday that is most engaging. Then there is self-discovery, ubiquitous and inevitable in coming-of-age movies, and breathtaking here. Simply stupendous.
In 1920's France, Marguerite Dumont is a wealthy woman and aspiring Opera singer, however everyone around her is afraid to tell her she can't sing.
"Marguerite" is a story about the power of wealth and perils of social courtesies. From the onset, it's very clear the well-intentioned lover of music cannot sing, and her naivety is only matched by the cowardice of her peers. They're all afraid to tell her the truth, and it's that awkward conversation she has with everyone unfortunate enough to hear her voice that provides the most delight. But there's more to this film than purely amusing theatrics. While the point is hammered home loudly, it dolefully explores a woman yearning for her husband. Poor Marguerite.
Little DeathsAnne Murphy
Composed of disturbingly sensual and terrifying short narratives, unified by the twin themes of sex and death.
Stories that usually only live in one's imagination emerge on to the screen. The quality production has a dreamlike quality. The narrative is more creative, more hedonistic, and a little more hysterical than everyday ordinary reality; needless to say it is more enjoyable too. There is more suggested than consummated on the screen, and risqué elements are implied rather than explicit. "Little Deaths" is deftly handled so the libidinous tone doesn't sink to lewd. Good Australian film making lives a little.