The MaidAnne Murphy
A drama centred on a maid trying to hold on to her position after having served a family for 21 years.
At times, the long-suffering maid has the dead-pan intensity of a zombie as she mercilessly deals with more junior help and other annoyances. Quite menacing in tone, this film is an intriguing social commentary on the lot of a live-in domestic. The film-maker provides the servant with little identity beyond the family she works for, and almost no voice, yet with extensive power that she wields with an unrepentant wilfulness. "The Maid" serves as an intimate, neurotic and original movie.
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.
35 Shots of RumWendy Slevison
The relationship between a father and daughter is complicated by the arrival of a handsome young man.
This is a beautifully fluid, soulful film full of quiet observations about the journeys we take towards change. Simplicity and complexity are subtly juxtaposed, just as in 'real' life. Relationships and facts are hazy, crediting the viewer with enough intelligence to come to their own conclusions... often a rarity in movies these days. The intriguing character studies, together with the haunting musical score and delicate metaphors, make these "35 Shots of Rum" rich, warm, and easy to ingest.
Villa AmaliaWendy Slevison
A woman suddenly decides to leave her partner of 15 years, after finding him passionately embracing another woman.
"Villa Amalia" tells the story of a woman who confidently and dispassionately erases everything from her existing life in order to embark on a liberating journey of renewal and anonymity. This movie is almost clinical in its lack of sentiment, and no affection or empathy for the main character is ever garnered. This is obviously the director's intention, but amidst the warmth and sun of the Amalfi coast setting, it's ultimately unsatisfying to feel so cold.
A controlling sadistic man and his wife keep their three teenage children locked away from the world.
"Dogtooth" is disturbing viewing, as the stunted emotional development of the family becomes apparent. The mood is restrained as day after languid day of simple games are played out with the violent elements gradually emerging and escalating. The infantile mind games endured by the children are harrowing to watch. Their seclusion is not explained but the anguish and increasing desperation of the characters is readily understood. Distressing for audiences, and certainly not recommended for dentists.
Unmade BedsAnthony Macali
The story of two people living in the same warehouse whose paths never cross until fate steps in.
"Unmade Beds" is a stylishly quirky movie that follows Axl's quest for his father, and Vera's quest for love. The vague plot is forgotten as our characters enjoy a constant flurry of partying and having fun. These experiences are captured with a youthfulness and style that make it a unique joy to watch. Although some viewers will get swept away by the whimsical romance, others will be frustrated by the lack of concrete conclusions. This film is a refreshing piece of art and technique, despite a pacing that may put some to sleep.
The Man Who Came With The SnowWendy Slevison
A man enters a bar, sits and observes, not speaking. Gradually, the silent presence of the stranger disturbs the other customers.
This bleak film, set in Tajikistan, begins as a tableau, monochromatic but for the violent splashes of red placed artfully throughout. In stark contrast, the snow and wind rage outside, the elements as harsh as life in this place. While an interesting study in the power of stillness, this film never engages the viewer. Perhaps the severity of the setting defines it too strongly... there is just no warmth to be found.
Paper SoldierAnne Murphy
A Soviet medical officer is conflicted about his position overseeing the health of future cosmonauts.
Perhaps it was the Russian storytelling style, or the poor subtitles, but this film was mostly unintelligible; as inaccessible as the vast barren plains on which it was set. The problem may have been situational - something to do with the futility of training cosmonauts in a desolate sodden Kazakhstan campsite. Was that the point this surreal viewing experience, complete with camels, was making? If the space race was anything like this, it must have been incomprehensible and doomed for gloom.
A young man who was sentenced to 7 years on prison for robbing a post office ends up spending 30 years in solitary confinement.
"Bronson" is a sensationalised biopic of 'Britain's most violent prisoner'. The performance from the lead is both exceptionally raw and stunning in presenting the hulking brute with a penchant for chaos. The filmmaker curiously meshes violence with artistic oddities, and although entertaining, this technique also disappoints in providing any real or meaningful insight. Perhaps intentionally, we see Charles Bronson for 'what' he is, and not 'why' he is.
The Private Lives of Pippa LeeCourtney Slevison
After moving to a retirement village with her much older husband, Pippa Lee finds cause to reflect on her life and finds herself having a "very quiet nervous breakdown".
"Pippa Lee" presents us with the familiar premise of a middle-aged life unravelling in the suburbs, re-worked by a smart and assertive script. This engaging and insightful film centres on the theme of identity as a result of circumstance, with a raw and at times disarming honesty. An excellent ensemble cast makes this story of the human condition a powerful experience.
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.
About EllyWendy Slevison
A group of friends play matchmaker and a mess of seemingly innocuous deceits prove dire in their consequences.
"About Elly" is a rare and uncompromising glimpse into the lives of a group of Iranian friends on a brief seaside hiatus from their homes in Teheran. While the narrative revolves around Elly, it profoundly affects each of the other characters as they are exposed in various states of vulnerability. The austere backdrop of the Caspian Sea reflects the broiling emotion within the group as the plot relentlessly unfolds in this modest yet beautifully crafted film.
A failed medical experiment turns a man of faith into a vampire.
Take equal parts sex, love, murder, humour, religion, violence and vampires. Add one talented, visually adventurous director and a good dash of excellent acting, and you have a wild and unique cocktail called "Thirst." Drink it up, and you will definitely feel as though you have had an unusual, albeit lengthy, experience. This horror/comedy saga has so much going on that your head will be spinning by the last drop. A taste sensation not for the faint-hearted, but plenty of shocks and laughs for those brave enough to try it.
Red CliffAndrew O'Dea
Based on the events during the Three Kingdoms period in Ancient China, The Battle of Red Cliffs.
"Red Cliff" is a plush historical epic of the grandest scale. The scope is enormous and perfectly realised in sublimely sweeping battle scenes. Due in most part to this release being a condensed version of the original, some of the character development has clearly had to have made way in favour of the action sequences. However, the brilliance of the exhilirating battle choreography and dazzling effects alone are enough to render this film a period war movie of the highest quality.
Winged CreaturesAnne Murphy
A group of strangers form a unique relationship with each other after surviving a random shooting.
Normality is shattered by a horrific event and the characters fall apart in ways that beggar belief. Truth is reportedly stranger than fiction, and in this instance the clumsy storylines drawn out of the central trauma have little semblance to possible truth. PTSD reactions should be left to psychologists not scriptwriters. This is as downbeat a movie as you're ever likely to see, and all the more irksome for the condescending portrayals of the working class characters. Fly away.
Coco avant ChanelAnne Murphy
The story of Coco Chanel's rise from obscure beginnings to the heights of the fashion world.
"Coco avant Chanel" is an elaborate, elegant production with stylish backdrops and sweeping scenes of the French countryside. The trouble is the movie doesn't have depth beyond the pleasing visual ambiance. In fact it is a little unforgivable that this bio-pic is uninteresting enough to bore in parts, given the allure and achievements of the central character. Lacking 'oh-la-la' this coco is served unfashionably lukewarm.
Two LoversAnne Murphy
A Brooklyn-set romantic drama about a bachelor torn between the family friend his parents wish he would marry and his beautiful but volatile new neighbour.
This is an impressive movie, with compelling portrayals of fragile, damaged personalities that draw the viewer into the vortex of their various relationship complexities. The film maker is a deft story teller, balancing hope with hopelessness while casting a compassionate eye over the foibles, the addictions and the all too human yearnings of the characters. Moody night time NYC landscapes are traversed as assuredly as the turmoils of the lovers. Love to love.
Sunshine CleaningAnne Murphy
In order to raise the tuition to send her young son to private school, a mum starts an unusual business, a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service, with her unreliable sister.
This is an endearing movie in a low key 'indie' style. A beguiling cast portray a dysfunctional family facing their everyday relationship challenges. The comedy is so heartfelt that laughs catch on the way up, almost mutating into sobs, before rising as smiles. The tone is as mirthful as it is melancholic, despite the dark storylines. "Sunshine Cleaning" is the perfect antidote for messy everyday lives.
What Just Happened?Wendy Slevison
Two weeks in the life of a fading Hollywood producer who's having a rough time trying to get his new picture made.
What a disappointment. "What Just Happened" is a film boasting an amazing pedigree, but has no apparent storyline or plot, no standout performances and no characters we care anything about; not even the big-name actors playing themselves can do anything to invigorate this lifeless, pointless exercise. Unfortunately, all you are likely to think as you leave the cinema after watching this movie is "what just happened?" And the answer is... not much.
Is Anybody There?Anne Murphy
Set in 1980s seaside England, this is the story of Edward, an unusual ten year old boy growing up in an old people's home run by his parents.
The movie is charming in a traditionally British way and disappoints for not being more than a quaint period piece, albeit a recent period. A tinkly slow soundtrack accompanies a tinkly slow story. The themes of aging and death don't offer the audience more than creeping rigor mortis as the story fails to engross. See it only for the fine performance of the lead actor and be warned that nobody else is there.
Set in the summer of 1987 and centered around a recent college grad who takes a nowhere job at his local amusement park, only to find it's the perfect course to get him prepared for the real world.
Despite its 'indy' pretensions, this story has more heart than its formulaic predecessors. Sure, it might follow your typical boy meets girl scenario, but it rises above the cliché with a cast who wonderfully capture the fun, frivolity and angst of the time. Although short on the laughs it may promise, it still makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Coupled with an awesome 80's soundtrack en-loop, "Adventureland" is a charming ride about growing up and finding love.
My Year Without SexWendy Slevison
An understated look at love and life in middle-class Australian suburbia.
Watching this film feels a bit like peering in your neighbours' window and secretly watching them go about their lives. What you see is familiar in its detail, insightful in its observations, and at times confronting in its honesty. It boldly broaches the big questions, as well as the little everyday ones. Tenderly crafted, and featuring stellar performances, "My Year Without Sex" is an affirmation of the trials and tribulations of love, relationships, family and yes, sex.
Quiet ChaosAnne Murphy
A look at the strange bereavement behavior of an Italian executive.
The portrayal of loss in this film evokes W.H. Auden's poem that opens with the line "Stop all the clocks...". Everything is changed and pared back to essentials by an unexpected death. The everyday world continues on around the slowing of the central characters, drawing empathetic viewers into this well told tale. The movie is a subdued but sure-footed meditation on grieving as lives and priorities are reassessed. More contemplative than chaotic, and recommended for its heartfelt quiet.
The WindowAnne Murphy
An ill and aged author has his housekeeper preparing for the visit of his estranged son.
Related as a simple tale, this film is a gently paced contemplation of life and death. Scenes are deftly painted with an aesthetic eye. The cinema screen becomes an artist's canvas coloured with the haze of summer and reminiscences. It is a rare pleasure for the audience to be credited with the intelligence to sketch sub-plots, rather than having it all spelled out. A melancholic but unsentimental study of mortality; pausing for a view through this window is recommended.
State of PlayAndrew O'Dea
A team of investigative reporters try to solve the murder of a congressman's mistress.
This is a reasonably well-executed political thriller. Surprisingly, sharp dialogue provides witty yet sporadic comical relief, while the carefully plotted conspiracy makes for a polished although somewhat uninspired movie. Unlikely contrivances and one climatic plot twist too many mean that, at times, the film seems to meander and lack coherent direction. However, despite this state of flux, "State of Play" is redeemed by an intelligent script and moments of genuine tension that provide enough surprises, thrills, and intrigue to entertain.