King Lear (National Live Theatre)Anne Murphy
An aging King invites disaster when he abdicates to his corrupt daughters and rejects his honest one.
The UK National Theatre brings a quality stage production to the cinema screen. The extraordinary passion that underscores this much loved story is evident in the performances of the experienced cast. It's those performances, not to mention the playwright's words, which hold attention. It's an extraordinary play, although the minimalist backdrops provide a simpler visual experience than cinema goers are likely expect. The experience of watching a play on the big screen is unusual and Lear, "...still every inch a King".
Rabbit HoleWendy Slevison
Life for a happy couple is turned upside down after their young son dies in an accident.
"Rabbit Hole" wants to be an authentic and poignant exploration of grief and the differing ways in which people deal with it. Unfortunately, despite excellent performances from a fabulous supporting cast, the film feels slightly contrived and unconvincing - due mainly to the much lauded leading lady, who plays her role with about as much emotional depth as the wrinkles on her forehead. You feel as though you are watching her act the way she thinks someone might behave in such tragic circumstances. The journey through this rabbit hole just doesn't quite lead to wonderland.
127 HoursStefan Bugryn
A man gets stuck under a boulder while he ventures out alone to a canyon in Utah.
It is quite obvious the film-makers wanted the audience to feel like they were right there with the protagonist throughout this harrowingly absorbing ordeal. At times it almost feels like a 'docu-drama'. There's an abundance of uncomfortable close ups as the storyline is confined to that wretched canyon, while 'that scene' is unflinchingly realistic (you won't ever forget it!). In doing so, they created a film experience that is both gruelling and rewarding, and will leave you deep in thought afterwards. Every minute, and hour, is worth it.
An ex-con sets out to avenge his brother's death.
"Faster" is the story of a man's single-minded and bloody revenge mission. His modus operandi is cold-blooded, calculated, and chilling. In spite of this, somehow, we are on his side. Strangely, particularly given the near-silent portrayal by the lead actor, we feel sympathy and compassion for his tortured soul. The movie has other subplots, as well as an awesome car chase, but essentially it is about moving on, and as our "hero" drives off into the sunset, we find ourselves hoping that he finds peace... fast.
A drama centered on three people who are touched by death in different ways.
For a film with such promise; the director and cast are of the highest caliber, this movie really falls short on all levels. With the exception of a couple of scenes (the opening is on another level of film direction), the story, characters, and climax are all rather lame. A film on this material should force audiences to question their faith in the afterlife or the ability to communicate with the dead. Instead, it looks uninspiringly at the experiences of three individuals with no agenda on the subject presented. "Hereafter" - underwhelming in life and death.
The Next Three DaysWendy Slevison
A married couple's life is turned upside down when the wife is accused of a murder.
"The Next Three Days" is an arrogant American remake of a first-rate French film. However, the elegance of the original is completely lost in translation. Absurd, implausible, boring and disconnected are words that come to mind to describe this pretentious mishmash. Actually, the leading man has about as much charisma as a lump of mash, and this is far from his best work. The leading lady is merely forgettable. As a couple… who cares? This supposed thriller feels as though it drags on for three days - please don't waste your time.
True GritAndrew O'Dea
A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer.
"True Grit" is a film that holds the idea of a classic western in high reverence. The spectacular cinematography is a highlight in this story of retribution, and the directors' hands are clearly present; the storyline contains all the wit, deadpan humour and fleeting moments of brutality that one has come to expect from them. Although some may be dismayed at the tonal slur that is the dialogue, the language is drawling yet authentic, and we revel in the interplay between the leads, each impeccable in their roles. Gritty n' good.
Another YearAnne Murphy
A married couple, who have managed to remain blissfully happy into their autumn years, are surrounded by less contented friends, colleagues, and family.
The seasons mark the passing of "Another Year", an astutely observed study of the human condition, and the small joys and inevitable regrets that accompany aging. There is a hint of humour softening the melancholic tone of the movie. Relationships are scrutinised with realism far removed from the escapist view of life that's typical on the big screen. The audience views desolate portraits of people without props like bucket lists or golden ponds, only the inexorable ticking of time.
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 FighterAnne Murphy
A look at the early years of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward and his brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980's.
If you thought stories of the boxing hero had retired to their corner, grab a ringside seat... "The Fighter" will get you in a clinch. Oddly the fighter himself is the most conventional, and possibly the least interesting character in the ensemble. There are no glass jaws among his family, brawlers all. While not landing a full body blow, the action is powerful if punishing to watch. The gloves are off, and the audience is delivered a TKO.
Black SwanStefan Bugryn
A young ballerina struggles to keep her sanity as she prepares for the lead role in 'Swan Lake'.
Walking into this movie is like going on a ride in a theme park. Your emotions are ripped from your chest and thrown around like a rag doll as you get dragged through this beautifully depressing story. It is emotionally intense, and will stir up a lot of sensations deep in the heart of many audiences. A warning; some scenes will make the squirmish writhe in their seats, as it can be very confronting. However, it is an absolute triumph in every single aspect. Only the truly stilted will walk away unmoved.
A small-town girl ventures to LA and finds her place in a neo-burlesque club run by a former dancer.
"Burlesque" is everything you might imagine - clichéd, yes. Thin on plot, yes. Largely a performance vehicle for it's leading ladies, yes. But it's more - it's entertaining escapism, and isn't that what movies are all about? The voices are incredibly rich and robust; the dance numbers are glitzy and gaudy, yet tightly choreographed and executed. The entire cast is highly watchable (even if it's just to see if the elder of those leading ladies can actually move her top lip) and combine to deliver a film that is sexy without being salacious.
An engineer and conductor race against the clock to stop an unmanned, half-mile-long freight train.
"Unstoppable" follows a long, loud train powering to a frightening destination. The journey is full of suspense courtesy of the faithful introductory clause, "inspired by true events". It's important the characters get their back story, and they get just enough service. However, the unmanned locomotive is the star, and shines in the hands of a director who loves to film fast moving objects, creating an exciting raw energy. As it weaves between the event and the news coverage, you get the feeling it is all unfolding right in front of you. And once it starts, you can't stop watching.
The DilemmaAnne Murphy
A man discovers that his best friend's wife is having an affair.
"The Dilemma" is a window into the phallocentric world of a couple of blokey blokes, and it might have been best to keep the blinds down. In a series of poorly edited improvisations, naif blockheads blunder around trying to bump into a joke. Serious themes are underdeveloped and presented with a whacky, zany tempo that leaves the effort uncomfortably mired in primitivism. It's disappointing given the plot opportunities to explore infidelity, depression, relationship, addictions, commitment and more. Insight or parody? No dilemma here mate, it's all ham.
Life During WartimeAnne Murphy
Friends, family, and lovers struggle to find love, forgiveness, and meaning in a war-torn world riddled with comedy and pathos.
First up "Life During Wartime" is set in modern day Florida, so don't let expectations be set by the title. Judging by the number of walkouts a few were misled. There is family warfare, every character is a guerrilla and their dark dreadful secrets are the weapons of destruction. This is a difficult drama, in addition to the bleak material the pace is choppy, interactions are stilted, confronting viewing but intriguing nonetheless. Forgive the title and you won't forget the movie.
A hard-living Hollywood actor re-examines his life after his 11-year-old daughter surprises him with a visit.
Not exactly entertaining, "Somewhere" is a thought provoking look at the world of show business and the people who live it. You get the impression that this depiction is closer to the real thing than the glamorized celebrity lifestyle we're used to being sold by Hollywood. There are a number of extended shots, which gives the audience the chance to think about what such a film is trying to prove, but don't expect to get any answers, here, there or anywhere.
The King's SpeechAnthony Macali
The story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.
"The King's Speech" is a masterful example of the classic transformation film, as it follows the stammering son of King George V while he learns and grows to overcome his adversity. The period is beautifully shot and detailed, capturing the new wave of the wireless and the impending prospect of war, elevating the sense of pressure and suspense. To sympathise with a King, with his gilded and lavish lifestyle on show, is an impressive accomplishment. A speech worthy of attention.
Sarah's KeyAnne Murphy
A journalist researching the 1942 Vel' d' Hiv Roundup in Paris uncovers links with Sarah, a Jewish girl, who was arrested with her parents.
"Sarah's Key" is a fictional account of the Holocaust that discloses events from the dark years of World War 2 in an assured manner. A contemporary story is seamlessly intertwined with one from the past as intrigue builds. The actors underplay the poignancy of both narratives, as ordinary people deal with extraordinary dilemmas and strong messages are presented without unnecessary melodrama. The past is not forgotten but sometimes needs to be unlocked.
Blue ValentineAnne Murphy
The film centres on a contemporary married couple, charting their evolution over a span of years by cross-cutting between time periods.
"Blue Valentine" is like stepping through a dream door into the spiral of a failing relationship between a husband and wife; you're drawn into the minutiae of love and frustration. The couple's interactions are intensely scrutinised, almost dissected by the camera, over a period stretching a little more than a day. The experience of watching is both compelling, and at the same time, a little like trying to breathe under water, such is its wrenching emotional grip. Valentines don't come any more blue.
June, 1982 - The First Lebanon War. A lone tank and a paratroopers platoon are dispatched to search a hostile town - a simple mission that turns into a nightmare...
"Lebanon" is a gripping ride. Shot almost exclusively from the tight confines of a rumbling tank, this movie is a superb example of minimalist filmmaking. The tension and intensity is palpable, as the film bears witness to the horrors of war, and we're left gasping for breath from the grimy, claustrophobic atmosphere. The antiwar sentiment is clear, with enough gritty action to match its political, religious and philosophical messages. Shell-shockingly good.
A Lone ScalpelAnne Murphy
A pioneering surgeon, who cares more for his patients than for the rules, conducts a liver transplant when the town's Mayor falls ill.
Set in the 1980's, this hospital drama is heavy on the hospital parts and underplays the drama side, as the well-intentioned main characters are somewhat inscrutable. Perhaps reflecting the film's cultural setting, the overall tone is matter of fact and clinical around themes of life and death. It's redeemed by its quirkier moments amid the realistically graphic operating theatre surgery scenes. That's right, Kemosabe.
Villon's WifeAnne Murphy
This enticing period melodrama depicts a long-suffering woman's relationship with her brilliant but self-destructive writer husband in post-war Tokyo.
The drama is heavy going as everyone is laden with sorrow, desire and regret against a post-war back-drop that is sombre and opportunistic. The angst of the artist is captured in the husband's role and balanced by the strong-willed determination of the wife. Much can be read between the scenes, as the drama of dark themes and hard times plays out. "Vilon's Wife" is engrossing with all of the fragile and intertwined relationships of a soap opera; wretched affairs but no divorce.
Enter the VoidStefan Bugryn
A drug dealing youth is killed in Tokyo, and drifts through the city in death watching over his sister.
"Enter the Void" is an experimental film that literally takes you on a beautiful journey through life and death. It's very dreamy and trippy, delving into a kaleidoscope of colours and pictures that can often be mistaken for an exploration of space. The narrative is powerful, often intensely emotional, and is shot almost entirely from the protagonist's view, which makes it all the more engaging. The dark themes and visual onslaught will make it hard viewing for the faint hearted, but all others will love entering the void.
Recent college graduates try to fulfil their dreams in a band and escape the monotony of regular jobs.
A coming of age movie, where adolescents try to find a life beyond the conventional one that might be expected of them. The soundtrack is loud with original music which conveys the passion of band members; and in contrast, the dull and muted tones of Tokyo reflect the plight of those same characters. Well acted and understated, it is hard not to be moved by the sentimentality and uncertainty of lives dedicated to pursuing one's dreams.
Rare ExportsAndrew O'Dea
In the depths of the Korvatunturi Mountains in Finland, 486 metres deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas.
"Rare Exports" is a clever horror comedy that presents a very dark take on the tradition of Santa Claus. The unique and intelligent premise is what drives the film, and although some may find it slow in parts, the unusual story is strangely entertaining. It has a distinct visual style set against the white and cold of remote Finland, and considering its minimal budget, the perfectly apt CGI puts most big-budget Hollywood fare to shame. Perfectly fine stocking-filler.