The GamblerAndrew O'Dea
A lit professor and gambler's debt causes him to borrow money from his mother and a loan shark.
"The Gambler" is a tale of personal redemption and the moral muddiness of gambling. Unfortunately it's difficult for an audience to sympathise with a pretentious protagonist bent on self-destruction, throwing money against the wall while failing to garner any semblance of a lesson from the experience. Despite a host of terrific performances from the supporting cast, the story feels a little over-wrought, as it meanders to a point where we end up not caring enough to be invested in the tormented anti-hero's fate. Got to know when to fold em'...
After her marriage crumbles and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed tries to put her past behind her and hikes more than a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, alone.
"Wild" brings an uplifting memoir about seeking redemption through physical challenges from the page to the screen, and is true to original text. While managing to traverse a full gamut of emotion, there are funny and even uplifting moments. It’s impossible to say if it is the walker or the rugged walk that most impresses, and even harder to resist the urge to pull on your hiking boots. Wild thing might make your heart sing.
The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul.
"Foxcatcher" is not an ordinary tale of Olympic endeavour. This story is bleak, and rarely strays from desolate tone and colourless surroundings. The striking transformations and uneasy performances from the central characters are the films greatest strength, creating tension and a sense of discomfort as the drama unfolds. With authentic wrestling and a glimpse into the lavish, the setting is good but lacks the emotion to successfully engage its audience. Not a gold-winning team.
The Theory of EverythingAnthony Macali
A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.
"The Theory of Everything" is an inspiring look into the great physicist, focusing on his endeavour rather than his achievement. With great heart and warmth, and minimal mention of science, we see a man confronted with a terrible condition and the inescapable effects on his relationship. Together with his equally resilient wife, they battle each obstacle and embrace it with good humour. The central performances are seamless, and as remarkable as they are, thankfully do not distract from the story considering the subject. The theory is sound.
American SniperAnthony Macali
U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle becomes one of the most lethal snipers in American history.
"American Sniper" is the story of a war veteran and his ongoing conflict with the before and after effects of his ceaseless tours of duty. The action is fierce as the camera lies beside the sharp-shooter. You can almost feel the long, cold gun in your very own hands, unwittingly raising questions about the necessity of all the brutality. Unrelenting short scenes fuel the adrenalin and thrill of combat, astutely contrasting against the quiet and aimless life back home. American hero.
After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he's caught by the Japanese navy.
"Unbroken" is a prisoner of war drama that shows the limits of how many beatings a single person can take. The camera is placed firmly in the thick of the action and lets the remarkable true story do the heavy-lifting, revealing an incredible, resilient man and his ever-constant fight for survival. Unsurprisingly, this film encompasses all the inspirational quotes accustomed to the genre, but thankfully these clichés don't overshadow the impact. Unrelenting.
A fading actor tries to reclaim his past glory by starting a Broadway play.
"Birdman" is a remarkable movie. Its a continuously moving story in narrative, emotion, and camera-work. It feels like one unbroken scene, pieced together with a seemingly single shot. We're situated more like an observer than an audience, peering over shoulders and watching a man's life falling apart piece by piece. More European in style than American, it's still intangibly Hollywood. The highlight is the performances, you can't walk away without remembering them. It's all really unique, almost a little absurdist at times, but definitely worth your time. High in the pecking order.
The Imitation GameAndrew O'Dea
During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code.
Part history lesson, part tragedy, "The Imitation Game" is a compelling biopic. This suspenseful drama reveals pieces of the puzzle slow and steady, with flashes of brilliance that unfortunately aren't sustained throughout. Nonetheless, with a constantly shifting chronology, it brings the remarkable legacy of the troubled mathematical genius to screen in an affecting portrait. The lead provides a sensitive portrayal in what is an empathy-stirring performance, outstanding in its awkwardness. An enigmatic man, cryptic and clever.
Maps to the StarsAnne Murphy
A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.
"Maps to the Stars" is a disturbing social satire that is also an absorbing study of human character, if you can bear to watch it. The bleak yet original story is gripping for the way it gradually unfolds without revealing what happens next. It's involving thanks to the strong cast who bring the reprehensible, self-absorbed characters to life. Everyone has self-destructive tendencies but the desperate violence they wreak on each other is what's most jaw-dropping. A dark night in Tinseltown.
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.
Exodus: Gods and KingsJan Di Pietro
The defiant leader Moses rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.
Moses... know him, right? Too bad if you don't! It's his story, although instead of a story, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" presents itself like a literal recounting of events. Like Moses' walk in the desert, this film is long, arduous, and is likely to cause hunger and thirst. It's always strange to watch historical figures behaving like modern folk. Ancient Egypt is recreated with astounding visuals... about all it's worth. Might be fun for "believers", but the movie gods have abandoned the rest of us.
Men, Women & ChildrenAndrew O'Dea
Parents and their teenagers grapple with the many ways the Internet affects their lives.
"Men, Women & Children" is a character-driven ensemble drama that provides a glimpse of our cultural evolution (or some may argue devolution) through social media. Perhaps a victim of its own scope and ambition, the exploration of this Wi-Fi culture across a multi-story narrative is thought-provoking, although the delivery is somewhat heavy-handed. The vulnerability and sentiment at the film's core is sure to divide its audience; it will either resonate or leave them with a sense of contrivance. A family conversation still worth having.
Rock the CasbahAnne Murphy
Problems arise when Sofia returns to Tangiers and her family is reunited for her father's funeral.
"Rock the Casbah" leaves a lasting memory of its stunning visual backdrops and scenery, and there's a sense of enjoying something sumptuous being put before the audience. Family relationships are at the fore of this engaging character-driven drama and there are skeletons aplenty coming out of the proverbial closet. The flow is disturbed by uneven acting performances and don't be misled by the title, while some scores are settled these are familial and not musical in nature. Rolls rather than rocks.
The Dark HorseJan Di Pietro
A man who searches for the courage to lead finds purpose and hope in passing on his gift to the children in his community.
The truth is never abandoned nor betrayed in this incredible story, as it builds roads from joy to sadness and back again in heartbeats. It deconstructs male identity, belonging, and social values in front of your eyes on the back of an outstanding cast, script, and visual style. "Dark Horse" should be lauded for its bravery, and revered for its execution. Shines bright, this is where heroes are made.
Winter SleepJan Di Pietro
A former actor runs a hotel in central Anatolia with his young wife and sister.
The Turkish landscape provides a chilling setting for this excellent drama. The script is audaciously intelligent, and demands serious investment from its audience. It's a marathon of dense dialogue that can become difficult with subtitles, but edge-of-your-seat performances will haul you through the emotional terrain and across the finish line. "Winter Sleep" addresses difficult social issues too. Poverty, health care, charity, and morality allow the director to dissect the human condition with confidence and poise. Be brave and face reality.
The DropAndrew O'Dea
Bob Saginowski finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood's past.
"The Drop" is a terse, arresting crime-thriller that explores themes of obligation and morality. Below the surface of this film is a complex character study, with great performances that are as gritty and moody as the bleak urban landscape in which it is set. The story is a slow-burn, building a sense of unease as the screws are gradually tightened. While it mightn't satisfy those accustomed to punchier underworld movies, rest assured the fuse is wired for a palpable conclusion.
U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.
As funny as it is rousing, "Pride" is not to be missed. Flamboyant meets frumpy when two disparate communities come together in difficult times, and while it's not all solidarity and sunshine their story makes for an engrossing movie. Knowing the plot is based upon recent socio-political history brings poignancy, as we watch people put aside their differences to stand together. Can one review hold more superlatives? Riotous, rampaging and romantic, just suffice to say this effort stands proud.
Two Days, One NightAnthony Macali
Sandra discovers that her workmates have opted for a pay bonus in exchange for her dismissal.
"Two Days, One Night" ponders a precarious dilemma. We learn our protagonist is wrestling a sickness, and feel the helplessness and frustration that comes living with it, amplified by a strong and palpable performance. While the setup is questionable, it enables an interesting and often unseen view of families on the weekend, and the common economic struggles they face. The quiet pace might not suit everyone, but it allows time to properly introduce the various characters, and effortlessly create an emotional connection. Lingers many days after...
The Young and Prodigious T.S. SpivetAnne Murphy
A ten-year-old scientist sets out from his family's ranch in Montana and travels across the country aboard a freight train to receive an award at the Smithsonian Institute.
Prodigious? Perhaps. Beguiling? Absolutely. This movie reaches out from the screen to engage with the imaginations of the audience and it is a delightful experience to see the world through the eyes of a serious young boy. While whimsical and almost naive in style, the heart wrenching back story of a family divided by trauma directs us to regard this as a mature tale. Not only cowboys are born under a wandering wondering star.
Kill the MessengerAnthony Macali
Based on a true story, A reporter becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign after he exposes the CIA's role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California.
"Kill the Messenger" gets caught up not knowing what kind of film it wants to be. Considering the alarming and hard-hitting news of the discovery, the expectant feelings of anger and discontent towards the cover-up are severely lacking. The narrative serves more as a lesson in public relations, as we watch an honourable journalist get discredited; his breakdown not as interesting as the politics. An admirable story to bring to the fore… even if the message isn't clear.
The Best of MeJan Di Pietro
A pair of former high school sweethearts reunite after many years when they return to visit their small hometown.
There have been fine romance-dramas of a similar ilk to this film, but this one falls far short of the mark. You will not learn anything, you will not feel anything; no, scratch that... you might actually love it if you keep a stack of cheap romance novels on your bedside table. The story is unbelievable in a bad way, and the key narrative events can be sniffed a mile off. Sure to polarise audiences, "The Best Of Me" is not the best of cinema.
A battle-hardened sergeant commands his 5-man Sherman tank crew on a deadly mission.
As much an 'anti-war' as it is an action film, "Fury" depicts an uncompromising and morally provocative story immersed amongst the horrors and futility of WWII. Along with an astonishing attention to detail, there is also a starkly grim authenticity to the brutality of tank warfare; and it's amidst the claustrophobia we're able to get to know the characters so intimately. Visceral and violent, brutal and unrelenting, it leaves little room for sentimentality, culminating in an extraordinary combat scene sure to leave its audience reeling. Harrowing.
Hector and the Search for HappinessAnthony Macali
A psychiatrist searches the globe to find the secret of happiness.
"Hector and the Search for Happiness" is an exotic journey about discovering oneself, which usually involves skipping from one continent to the next, navigating through stereotypes and clichés. The outset is promising, good-natured fun... before the patchy ill-directed plot wanders into the tiresome and mawkish. Exploring such a noble topic, we feel obligated to welcome the premise, but you can't help but think there's a missed opportunity to expand on the many laughs experienced. Nonetheless, the idea is cute enough to please those who will give it a chance. Still searching.
This Is Where I Leave YouJan Di Pietro
When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home.
Life isn't perfect, and the dramas and absurdities within it are manageable, so long as there is honesty and communication. "This is Where I Leave You" likens secrets to cancer, positing human beings as creatures who grow through obstacles. A noble message. This neatly wrapped package contains endearing characters who actively cancel out some expository excrement early on. Although the premise is poorly justified, it's a genuinely enjoyable story, living up to the comedy/drama promise. If we all had a portable potty to enjoy anytime, anywhere, things'd be just great.
Living Is Easy with Eyes ClosedAnne Murphy
Spain, 1966, a high-school teacher, Antonio, drives to the town of Almeria in hopes of meeting his hero, John Lennon.
The most striking aspect of this movie is the warmheartedness of the central characters, the teacher, a young woman, and a boy who has left home. On the road together they create an engaging tale, each on their own journey of discovery. Instances of random cruelty provide a caustic note and serve as a reminder of the political backdrop of a country under fascist rule. Close your eyes and this is a feel good story, but living is just not that easy.