The BeaverAnthony Macali
A troubled husband and executive adopts a hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating.
"The Beaver" is really funny and really sad, chipping away at a frenetic pace. The puppet is strangely hypnotic, with an accent and antics that produce most of the laughs in a performance clearly indebted to his master. We're soon reminded the situation is quite serious, and that some outlets often serve as rather unorthodox modes of therapy. While the audience might have the required patience for such, the characters do not. The son wrestles with issues of his own, pressing a sub-plot that doesn't quite work. On the whole though, this outfit is short, shrewd and deeply moving.
Rise of the Planet of the ApesWendy Slevison
An origin story set in present day San Francisco, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy.
The storyline for this movie could be the daydreams of apes that spend their lives in zoos, caged for human entertainment. Featuring remarkable CGI and motion-capture performances, in particular by the lead "ape", this is a gem for buffs, but could leave others a little underwhelmed. The human actors are rather dull, and it takes a long time to get the narrative established. However, with the apes firmly on the rise by the end of the film, stand by to 'go ape' for the upcoming sequel.
Elite Squad 2: The Enemy WithinAndrew O'Dea
A Lieutenant-Colonel in the military police force of Rio de Janeiro wages a war to vanquish the city of its drugs and corruption.
Set amongst the slums of Rio, "Elite Squad 2" is a fictionalised yet telling exploration of the harsh political reality in Brazil. A bloody and intelligent political thriller, the guns also blaze in a host of gritty but exceptionally realistic shoot-outs. Through a tale of violence, it highlights the exploitation of the poor to the corruption of the police and bureaucrats who are meant to be preventing the crime they profit from. Not quite elite, but a markedly solid effort nonetheless.
Familiar GroundAnne Murphy
Benoit lives with his invalid father while his sister, Maryse, is desperate for her husband to sell the backhoe sitting abandoned in their suburban yard.
The camera zooms in on family relationships, focussing on small interactions and exchanges. If you've ever wondered what the neighbours are doing, this film is a glimpse of them indulging in the same mundane activities as your loved ones. "Familiar Ground" is understated and wry, full of mini-moments. It manages to be unexpectedly generous too, as this little, almost deadpan, movie delivers a redemptive feel-not-bad, if not feel good, close. Familiar terrain that surprises.
Red DogWendy Slevison
Based on the true story of Red Dog, who united an outback community while in search of his master.
Watching this movie feels a bit like sitting around a camp fire listening to your mates tell a darn good yarn. It's a quintessentially Aussie experience with wonderfully personal characterisations and a truly incredible story. The first-class cinematography brings the mining area of Western Australia gloriously to life in a visual feast of red and turquoise. The human actors do a fine job of portraying the mateship that forms in the small mining towns, but of course the dog steals every scene he's in - what a talented boy! A blue ribbon for "Red Dog".
A keen look at the unusual private life of a father and his daughter, set on the fringe of society.
This is one of those movies where the audience is left in suspense, waiting with the expectation of some hidden moral message or meaning to come. Except in this film, it never does. Sure, the point might very well be the examination of a protagonist who in essence is uninteresting, or even the examination of an uninteresting man's life... unfortunately this translates to the entirety of "Curling" as well. Sitting through it will leave you wishing you were able to stick your head in the snow of its wintry backdrop than endure another drawn-out minute. Would rather cop a snowball to the face.
Over the course of a tense afternoon, a gang of five lure three younger boys into a complex street scam in order to rob them.
"Play" is based on real events that happened in Sweden. The movie is shot on location and uses untrained actors, imbibing a mockumentary tone, leaving a funny taste that it is neither fact nor fiction. The interactions between the cocky perpetrators and the intimidated targets make racial tensions uncomfortably palpable, but there's little else on offer. Interesting enough, but real-time drags like slow motion as the film goes on and on without getting anywhere. No fun.
Siblings from Japan get stranded in a small town, Littlerock, while waiting for a replacement rental car.
Viewing American culture, through the eyes of a non-English speaker is interesting but almost insufficient to maintain feature length interest. Perhaps it is the desolate location where nothing much happens, or the listless locals, but boredom stealthily encroaches. At times it feels that not enough is happening on the screen. Even so this story of strangers in a remarkably strange land is unsettling enough to hold attention, leaving a lasting imprint. It's like looking through a magnifying glass and not a kaleidoscope.
A teenage loner, who wears pyjamas to school, is befriended by the slightly oddball Vice Principal.
Perhaps the only thing more difficult than being a high-school teenager is being a teenage misfit at high school. "Terri" is an unexpectedly endearing movie, thanks to the understated but oversized performance of the protagonist and the big hearted, if crazed, turn by the Vice Principal. The honesty embedded into the portrayals of all of the characters contributes to making this disarming film an original gem. The director's eye allows for scenes as bruising as they are amusing without trading sensitivity for laughs. Go Terri.
The ConspiratorAnthony Macali
Mary Surratt is the lone female charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
"The Conspirator" is a peculiar story of injustice, made more rewarding to those with very little knowledge of its origins. We switch sides in historic pace to Mary, and mother of the unquestionable killers. The rest of the film unfolds in an enthralling manner, cutting between the prison, court-room and flashbacks to reveal the truth as our forsaken lawyer does. The period is faithful, the soft-light irksome, and the cast stellar, best epitomized by witnessing one of the best case summaries put to screen. Poorly executed title, good film.
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.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2Anthony Macali
Harry, Ron, and Hermione continue their quest of finding the Dark Lord's three remaining Horcruxes.
From dark, to darker, to pure black, the final installment does not disappoint. The excruciating build-up of Part 1 is justified in this fast-paced climax, high in tension and full of magic, action and spells that shape a siege for the ages. Every wizard is witness to the ultimate assault of good and evil, characters fighting their destinies, confronting love, life and death. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is sombre in mood but not in nature, producing an impressive finale to a much-loved epic.
Special TreatmentAnne Murphy
A world-weary psychoanalyst and a classy prostitute both struggle with relationship issues.
The premise for "Special Treatment" is intriguing, but unfortunately the film fails to leverage the plot for comic or dramatic interest. While parallels are sketched between the professions of the two main characters, the outlines drawn are insufficient to sustain audience curiosity, which is not encouraged to deepen into involvement. The supporting cast suffer in undeveloped roles, as clients and friends, they fail to bring enough colour to the screen to be appreciated as eccentric, and subsequently end up looking pitiful. Better treatment required to make this movie special.
Mozart's SisterAnthony Macali
Beginning in 1763, it follows the Mozart family's exhausting life on the road, traveling by coach from one royal court to the next.
"Mozart's Sister" is a beautiful film, mesmerising in picture and music. In a period of couture and candlelight, the Mozart siblings shine in their bewitching portrayals. For Nannerl, the message is very clear; women should not play violins, or compose. Such narrow-mindedness even causes our central character to dress as a boy at times. These examples of prejudice contribute to the film’s success, highlighting the frustrating loss of genius and talent to the hands of bigotry. This girl can play.
The Tree of LifeAnne Murphy
The story centres around a family with three boys in the 1950s.
The on-screen experience is profound while managing to be tiresomely pretentious at the same time. "Tree of Life" takes itself a little too seriously at times, boldly exploring beginnings, creation, and dinosaurs. It is also a gentle reflection on life and the relationships of children with their parents, navigated in a non-linear manner. A dream-like quality makes easy to imagine that you're watching something akin to the replay of life that we're told happens right before death... only this version doesn't 'flash' and takes its time. A tree with a captivating soul.
Little White LiesAnne Murphy
Despite suffering a traumatic accident, a group of friends go ahead with their annual beach vacation.
"Little White Lies" is an entertaining mix of comedy and drama. The film follows the cracks that appear as little pretences are revealed, straining the relationships among a group of long-time friends. It drifts along with a vacation atmosphere and a song-after-song soundtrack. You will probably wish you were a part of the tight-knit group by the seaside. Deep connections and human foibles are explored and exposed by the extraordinary French ensemble cast. Most enjoyable, and that's no lie.
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.
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 Mezières 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.
Water for ElephantsAnne Murphy
A veterinary student abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a travelling circus as their vet.
"Water for Elephants" is an atmospheric movie evoking an old-fashioned, Hollywood romantic style. Watching this circus-spectacular you might be both sorry and glad you didn't run away to join the circus. Beyond the glitter of show time under the big-top is a tough life, particularly during the Depression of the 1930's. The circus also holds an exotic allure, and the travelling show and its performers enchant as the story unfolds. The elephant steals the show, no junk in this trunk.
Get LowStefan Bugryn
An old hermit throws himself a funeral party... while he's still alive.
This thoughtful meditation on forgiveness starts out as a comedy, but unravels to become something much more poignant. The joke of the 'funeral party' lasts only briefly, while the true drama slowly creeps in. What really makes this film work is the fine acting by the three leads. The odd sense of humour, and some truly touching moments are delivered with marvellous poise by the cast. Combined with stylish music, customers and production design, it makes for a very enjoyable movie... and that's the low down!
Get LowAnne Murphy
Equal parts folk tale, fable and real-life legend about the mysterious, 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party.
"Get Low" is a good old fashioned hokey folky story with warm understated performances from a big name cast, and a mule. It's deftly crafted and charming to watch. There's a slow build around the themes of guilt and forgiveness before the eventual plot reveal. Although tears are coaxed out during the long awaited climax, this movie will be watched for the dawdling journey rather than the ending. Hard not to like but lacking real highs and lows.
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.
Angèle and TonyAnne Murphy
A fragile woman returns to the seaside town of Normandy on completing a jail term and meets a fisherman through a personal ad.
The sensitivities around relationships are captured with few words in this intimate exploration of human connections. The characters are forthright and defensive, whatever warmth they may have is not to be squandered, and their innermost temperaments are reflected in the windswept coastline and grey subdued ocean. The tone is understated and the film is all the more powerful for the simplicity with which it captures restrained expressions of longing. Tony ❤ Angele and vice versa.
The Last CircusAnne Murphy
Two clowns compete for the love of a beautiful trapeze artist.
"The Last Circus" uses a circus troupe in an allegorical presentation of the horror of the Spanish Civil War. The result is macabre and violent, yet strangely compelling viewing. There's nothing subtle in the telling of the story, it goes right over the top with absurdity, and then it could be argued that the same comic chaos underpins any war. Choosing clowns as the main characters is heavy handed imagery; both the happy clown and the sad clown are grotesque, more than entertaining. This metaphor laden effort is in need of a ring-master.
Something BorrowedThomas Jones
Friendships are tested and secrets come to the surface when terminally single Rachel falls for Dex, her best friend Darcy's fiancé.
If any actor is quoted saying it was the 'great script', which attracted them to this film, they are lying. Sure the movie promotes itself as a romantic comedy, but it fails in both genres. Every time there are glimpses of comedy, the script turns it on its head and it all becomes really deep. You almost feel sorry for the actors who try their best to make lemonade out of lemons. "Something Borrowed" will borrow your time and never give it back.