Beautiful KateWendy Slevison
A writer is asked to return to the family home, to say goodbye to his father who is dying.
There is so much in this stunning film that is beautiful. The performances from the male leads are superb, and it's the direction and script, from a first-time feature director, that make it possible. The cinematography perfectly captures the beauty and isolation of the homestead where the story takes place; and the music score does what the best do - enhance, while not overtaking. "Beautiful Kate" is a memorable and significant contribution to Australian film-making and viewing.
In New York City, a young counterfeiter is introduced to the world of street fighting.
"Fighting" is yet another 'underground' brawling pic that packs little punch. Don't be mislead by the title, as this movie plays more like an unconvincing character study interrupted by the odd fist-fight. Weighed down by a seriously sluggish plot, it drags on from scene to scene, evoking little feeling except making you want to throw in the towel. Brutal, bone-crunching fights are laughable, leaving the mumbling pretty-boy-lead with nothing but a few scratches on his chin. Pay the price for admission and you're in for one nasty sucker-punch.
The Young VictoriaAnne Murphy
A dramatization of the first years of Queen Victoria's rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert.
This film proceeds at a gentile and regal pace with sumptuous sets and lavish costuming as befits the era. It is to be enjoyed as a love story rather than for revealing any political machinations of the time. Romantic and majestic, "The Young Victoria" is restrained but entertaining, without indulging in any unnecessary frivolity of life at court. Perhaps a sequel with a middle-aged Victoria would deliver more intrigue and drama, or at least some hot flushes... a satisfying and elegant period piece.
Adam, a lonely man with Asperger's Syndrome, develops a relationship with his upstairs neighbour.
A somewhat eccentric addition to the romantic comedy genre, this utterly charming and insightful film deals with a condition not fully understood by most people. The title character is realistically and sensitively portrayed, while the female lead perfectly sustains him, in roles which will help raise public profile about the small yet significant segment of our society who suffers from Aspergers. This movie is a quirky, unassuming and tenderly realised story about a search for love and acceptance, something much more difficult for "Aspies" than most.
Inglourious BasterdsAndrew O'Dea
In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis.
"Inglourious Basterds" is history brazenly re-imagined. A stunning ensemble cast bask in the rich characterisation, creating a host of characters each as enthralling as the next. Some of the most memorable moments are simply 'set-piece' scenes of witty, original, and intelligent dialogue. Although used sparingly, every action sequence is a celebration of excess, and the film manages to capture cinema violence at its spectacular, blood-spattering best. Glorious!
District 9Andrew O'Dea
An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly find a kindred spirit in a government agent that is exposed to their biotechnology.
"District 9" is a compelling film of original and insightfully speculative science-fiction. An intelligent and inventive story not only keeps us enthralled, but also provides an allegorically fascinating social commentary. The filmmaker effectively combines interviews and archival footage to bring a gritty and immersive realism to screen. Intertwined in the 'mockumentary' style are vaporizing (at times literally) action sequences that both dazzle and entertain.
Public EnemiesAndrew O'Dea
The Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s.
"Public Enemies" feels like a series of tommy-gun battles and antique car chases, which although very impressive, do not constitute a good story. It's not terrible, but there's simply not enough build up to pivotal scenes, and the lead actors (who are great in their roles) are hindered by a severe lack of character development. A major annoyance is the camerawork; digitally shot, but not used to good effect. The only heist here is having to pay for admission.
The son of a courtesan retreats into a fantasy world after being forced to end his relationship with the older woman who educated him in the ways of love.
Visually impressive with sumptuous settings and costumes, this movie indulges with viewing pleasure. The characters are free of social mores in a gilded era. The central theme is love spanning a generational divide. A fading beauty contrasted with a beatified youth. Despite the setting and the situation, the pace is indolent, without the exuberance of emotional highs or troughs of despair. "Cheri" manages to be glorious, even if wistfully restrained.
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.