Boston 2002 and a team of journalists investigate decades of sexual abuse by the clergy and its systemic cover-up by the Catholic Church.
The story is familiar, and "Spotlight" hammers home the betrayal of the communities where abuse was perpetrated, often within schools and always by people who were revered and implicitly trusted. The script is excellent, bringing both respect for the victims and damnation for the cover-up. The other point this movie drives is about the value of 'old school' investigative journalism, mostly thanks to an excellent cast and a few notepads (paper ones). Spot on.
The Big ShortAnne Murphy
Three parallel stories of different men who realised how precarious the US housing and investment markets were on the eve of the Great Financial Crisis.
"The Big Short" is a bold movie that is both cynical and humourous in its fact based analysis of the loose and rampant practices of the banking system. It's as scary as it is entertaining while affirming the theory that money markets are driven by fear and greed. Unexpected vignettes serve to explain the almost inexplicable structures used in the bond market, with parody being the perfect vehicle. Could well go a little longer.
1950s New York, a shy young woman and a sophisticated older woman discover a mutual attraction after an encounter in a department store.
"Carol" proves to be as complicated as it is elegant, with a constrained mood that reflects the conservative social mores of the period. The central romance requires a discretion that is perfectly captured by the director in a series of seductively framed small moments. Every element is exquisite, from the refined costumes to the vintage period set details. The desire and longing between the two women is so palpable you can feel your own heart aching. Adulation.
The Danish GirlAnthony Macali
Based on a true story, the marriage of artist Einar Wegener comes into question when his penchant for women's clothing prompts a transformation into the female persona Lili Elbe in the 1920s.
"The Danish Girl" is a delicate film, chronicling the extraordinary life of its protagonist in a very intimate way. With art as an ongoing theme, beautiful cinematography surround the intriguing character arcs. Striking, well grounded performances capture the volatility of the central relationship, exploring the ever-confused couple in their great distress. Perhaps falling short in its emotional impact, the story does successfully highlight an absence of social progression. The entangled artist.
Joy, a divorced mother of two, overcomes financial and family trouble to become the founder of a large business dynasty by inventing the Miracle Mop.
"Joy" is a fairly basic story about the rise of an underdog - with the main character navigating failures and defying the odds to succeed. Even in Joy's case, which includes both the support and betrayal of her unconventional family, it's nothing we haven't seen before. The most surprising aspect is that a story about the creation of a mop can be so entertaining. Despite some great casting and quirky dialogue, it does suffer from a confused tonal palette, not always sure where it should be hitting the mark between comedy and drama. Some joy to be had.
A retired composer and his longtime film director friend reflect on their lives at a Swiss Spa.
"Youth" is a film that demonstrates how growing old can change your perception on life, and once seen through the quirky gaze of its main characters, the world opens up. A luxury resort is the perfect setting to host a gathering of eccentric characters, and their odd and seemingly inconsequential behaviour consumes a large portion of the running time. Touching performances are sometimes lost as we attempt to grasp the context of the narrative, which only becomes apparent towards the finale, when the commentary becomes a little more forthright. Mature and weird.
London 1912, an important chapter of the feminist movement is being played out as women protest for the right to vote.
There is a sombre tone to "Suffragette", as it outlines a significant struggle in our all too recent history. The advocates for change were seen as troublesome activists to be quashed, and this convincing film shows that change was not won without a hard fight. Having one woman at the centre of the story serves to highlight the extent of personal sacrifice made. All in all, this is a grim and earnest tale, and one well worth seeing. Radical, militant women.
The RevenantAnthony Macali
After an ugly confrontation with a grizzly bear, Hugh Glass is left for dead in the snow by his crew.
"The Revenant" is unrelenting, unflinching and brutal. It's man against the elements, against nature and fellow man. This astounding tale of survival is wrought with sadness, set against great beauty. Gruelling performances combine with breathtaking visuals to create mesmerising cinematography, amongst terrain so harsh that you feel the chill of the snow along with the awe of the immense landscape. Despite the harrowing experience, this amazing production demands expedition. Extraordinary frontier.
By the SeaAnne Murphy
The marriage of a heavy drinking writer and his wife comes under scrutiny when they holiday in a small French seaside village.
The celebrity pull of the lead actors is undeniable, and it even feels a little voyeuristic to be watching this couple as they play out their relationship as another imagined pair. "By the Sea" is intriguing and stylish, but also very long. This lengthy movie is not well served by its languid pace, and at times seems to stretch on interminably. In addition to the star power the stunning seaside setting ensures watchability. That sinking feeling.
Bridge of SpiesAnthony Macali
An American lawyer defending a Russian spy becomes part of a negotiation of prisoners.
"Bridge of Spies" begins as a curious courtroom drama, laying the foundations for a treacherous negotiation set against the Cold War, where intel and espionage rule. The period is remarkably recreated, the look and detail conveniently transporting us back in time, complete with particularly poignant scenes of the infamous Berlin Wall being erected. For a film that mostly takes place in embassies with officials drinking scotch behind closed doors, it's surprisingly engaging thanks to the fierce dialogue and air of tension. Bridge to a bygone era.
The son of the late Apollo Creed encourages Rocky Balboa out of retirement to coach him into a championship fight.
This film is a solid piece of entertainment. No new ground broken, it works by sticking to the franchise’s tried-and-true formula, veering only slightly to explore one character's dynasty. Packing the biggest punch are the performances, which are genuine, and totally engrossing. Combined with a great traditional sports drama storyline, it introduces old characters to a new audience, whilst never abandoning the loyal fans. Not a knockout, but still puts up a good fight.
In the Heart of the SeaAnthony Macali
Inspired by Moby Dick, a ship is stranded at sea after its hunt for whale oil turns sour after a confrontation with a giant sperm whale.
Being stranded at sea is a terrible experience; hungry and trapped with no end in sight. It's an ordeal similar to watching this film, so make sure you bring popcorn to stave off the hunger. "In the Heart of the Sea" stinks, and no amount of computer-generated whales and their blow-holes were going to save this ship from sinking. The story is so boring and uninvolved that you just don't care; about any of the characters, or their fate. Stay clear of this storm. Disaster of the sea.
99 HomesAnthony Macali
After being evicted from his home, a father starts working for the very real estate broker who facilitated his dispossession.
"99 Homes" is an emotionally charged story about the economic fallout of the US financial crisis, with a particular focus on the families who lose their homes. The intimate and close-up style, bolstered by the desperate and compelling performances, create a heartfelt and personal story, which is deeply empathetic. From the first eviction, the dramatic tension never lets up, and raises questions of morality at every turn. One good film.
A washed-up Chef decides to return to the kitchen, repairing his broken relationships of past.
"Burnt" combines all the common ingredients to feed a familiar story. But the audience's appetite is kept whet as the film goes deep inside the belly of the restaurant beast. The scenes set in the kitchen are hot and temperamental, with many chefs furiously cooking and plating food. The rapid editing grants the audience a genuine sense of the pace and stress of the job. While the character drama isn't so appealing, with its tired and predictable manner, it's enough to satisfy a film genre rarely explored. 3 (non-Michelin) stars.
Crimson PeakAnthony Macali
An aspiring author, haunted by the ghost of her mother, falls in love with an engineer seeking funds for a clay harversting machine.
Early in the piece, mother ghost remarks "Beware of Crimson Peak"... and sadly it's a warning to be heeded by all. This gothic romance is incredibly dull, and no amount of lavish production can bring it to life. Sure it's creepy, and certain characters are appropriately sinister, living in their haunted house brimming with broken timber, oozing red clay, and white snow. For all its effort, it achieves little in the scare or excitement stakes. A hollow tragedy.
The LobsterAnthony Macali
A man checks into a hotel and has 45 days to find a partner, or be transformed into an animal of his choosing.
The quirky premise of "The Lobster" certainly captures your attention, and for the first half at least, plays out with weirdly dark and terrific humour. The film is laden with allegory, especially in its almost cynical commentary on relationships and the brutal punishment for those who don't conform. Beautifully shot with a formidable supporting cast, it's a shame curiosity wavers towards the end of the story, as our apathy for the characters falters with the plot. The one that got away.
The WalkAnthony Macali
In 1974, French artist Philippe Petit dreams of walking a tightrope across the World Trade Centre.
"The Walk" is an amazing film that grants its audience a true appreciation of the outlandish imagination and endeavour of the feat at hand. Such simple conceit is extended to a marvellous story, revealing the outright madness of its artist and the elaborate logistics of suspending a cable 400m above the ground. The iconic Twin Towers are gloriously reconstructed, and the dizzying view from the top is both beautiful and terrifying. Spectacular visuals and brilliant 3D place you right on the wire, drawing you into a tense and deeply emotional experience. A coup to remember.
The MartianAnne Murphy
A space mission to Mars leaves an astronaut behind, thinking he perished in a fierce storm.
Forget the man in the moon, now there is a man on Mars. The notion of a person stranded in time and space on the red planet is incredible. Thanks to skillful cinematography the scenario with all of its desolation is surprisingly believable. At least "The Martian" is worthy of suspending disbelief. The best part of this sci-fi escapade; it is filled with humour and humanity, and not to mention a disco soundtrack. Take your protein pills, and put your helmet on.
A re-enactment of the harrowing Everest mountain expeditions on May 10 1996.
"Everest" boasts a big name cast, but the indisputable star role is filled by the mountain itself. The remarkable cinematography shows it as lofty and imposing and all due glory is afforded to nature. Sadly human drama is one of the understated elements. The superficial view of the impassioned and zealous characters is problematic. There are too many people with too many untold back stories, and just too many unanswered questions. Apparently 'the bigger the better' does not always hold true. Ain't no mountain high enough?
Returning from battle Shakespeare's tragic medieval Scots hero, Macbeth, encounters three witches on a barren moor who foretell him becoming Thane of Cawdor and King hereafter.
"Macbeth" transports you to a purgatory of plotting and scheming. This is a brutal and bloody telling of the familiar story about manic ambition set against a hypnotic scenic backdrop. The words are from the original play, but sensibly pared back. The witches for example don't deliver a cackle between them, but their presence is nonetheless haunting. Consistently strong acting performances and inventive cinematography work to create an exceptional and haunting movie. All hail Macbeth.
An FBI agent is co-opted into joining a special government operation against Mexican drug cartels.
"Sicario" takes us deep into an apocalyptic frontier of the war on drugs. We delve into a complex moral ground where there is no forgiveness, only bloody retribution, and where law enforcers are lawless. Brace yourself for a place where virility is king, sexism is taken for granted and racism is fact. Many lines are crossed, and the question is 'do the ends justify the means'? In either case this brilliant movie amplifies some flaws and futility in our real word. Intense.
Last Cab to DarwinAnne Murphy
A taxi driver with a terminal condition embarks on a long drive to Darwin in order to die with dignity.
"Last Cab to Darwin" is unmistakably an Australian film. You could change the towns and the countryside but the characters are true-blue types not found anywhere else in the world. The cinematography is stunning, with the road trip crossing a magnificent sunburnt country. In addition to the characters and scenery we are rewarded further by the unsentimental exploration of vexing social issues. The movie personalises ordeals, and then tackles them with heart just as any archetypal taxi driver might do. Dinky die.
Straight Outta ComptonAnthony Macali
The story of hip-hop group NWA, who grew up on the streets of LA and revolutionized rap music.
"Straight Outer Compton" is a rags to riches story with a unique hip-hop twist. This fascinating portrayal chronicles the lifetime of NWA, and looks at the blatant racism, which inspired some of their music. The cast is remarkable, eliciting genuine empathy and support in their quest to simply produce dope beats. While the film might lose its way towards the end, unsure which character's story to narrow its gaze, it doesn't affect the overall entertainment and charisma. Straight Outer History.
A Walk in the WoodsAnne Murphy
The writer, Bill Bryson, sets out to walk all 2000 miles of the Appalachian Trail with a friend from years ago.
There's plenty to laugh at as this unlikely pair of hikers set out on an extraordinary journey, tackling the unpredictable and unforgiving terrain of the wild. "A Walk in the Woods" is essentially a buddy movie exploring the pleasures of friendship. If there is something to take away from this enjoyable tale, it is the well-known life lesson that the joy is in the journey rather than the destination. Old men walking.
We Are Your FriendsAnthony Macali
An aspiring DJ sets out to produce that one special track to mark his name and launch his career.
"We Are Your Friends" offers a little plastic sachet of party life. While it doesn't shy from the unavoidable sex and drugs associated with the scene, it does ultimately settle on a story about the music. With an acute focus on electronic dance music, this film explores the ambition of youth and the art of the deejay. In one particularly joyful sequence, we are treated to a lesson in syncing rhythm and beats to the human heart. The themes might not appeal to all, but it's certainly throwaway fun. A mashup of ideas.