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The BoxAnthony Macali
A small wooden box arrives on the doorstep of a married couple, who know that opening it will grant them a million dollars and kill someone they don't know.
Based on a short-story, this creepy film doesn't live up to its promising premise. A lot of weird stuff happens - blood noses, gateways, lightening and other unintentionally funny moments of suspense. The score is atmospheric, performances solid, but intriguing questions of morality are lost in the frustratingly ponderous revelations. The lesson here is to stay at home in your box, perhaps watch the box, and avoid the confusion that is "The Box".
An EducationAnne Murphy
A teenage girl's life in 1960s London changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age.
A particular time and place are depicted with a nostalgic tone in this beguiling movie. Although classic in many respects, "An Education" also bestows a refreshing angle on adolescent transformation. The suave script is brought to life by mesmerising performances from the cast. Social dilemmas of the era are deftly explored in front of scenic city backdrops and meticulously created interior detail as befits the period. A curriculum of seduction and sophistication provides an outstanding education.
Wake Up SidAmit Jain
A romantic comedy involving a lazy, rich, and unmotivated slacker called Sid and a career-oriented aspiring writer.
"Wake Up Sid" is a fresh new age romance set in the urban jungle of Mumbai. A well directed feel-good movie, it has a wonderful all-star cast with a beautifully subtle soundtrack (not the typical Bollywood dance numbers). A relaxed, cool film that accurately portrays modern Indian youth while exploring events that most of us would have lived through.
A newly unemployed cellist takes a job preparing the dead for funerals.
If the subject matter were handled less reverently it could be disconcerting, and "Departures" is tender, loving, and absorbing. The symphonic soundtrack is moving, but it is the characters and their stories that will cause tears to gently spill. This film, centred on the rituals following death, is surprisingly life affirming. Reflecting Japanese sensibilities, it is contemplative and almost zen-like, avoiding melodrama while tackling some of life's most difficult passages. This departure is a welcome getaway from the everyday.
The Damned UnitedAndrew O'Dea
A look at Brian Clough's 44-day reign as the coach of Leeds United.
A compelling and often humorous biopic, this movie is a football fan's delight, and they will revel in the nostalgia and seamlessly intertwined archival footage. However, you don't necessarily have to enjoy football to enjoy this film. Essentially character-driven, most of the drama occurs off the pitch. Fantastic storytelling, rich and engaging dialogue, and a superb man-of-the-match performance from the lead actor manage to separate "The Damned United" from your typical sports flick. GOOOOOOALLL!!!
Julie & JuliaAnne Murphy
Julia Child's story of her start in the cooking profession is intertwined with blogger Julie Powell's 2002 challenge to cook all the recipes in Child's first book.
Two storylines are baked together, although about 50 years separate them, and the result is delicious. Scenes effortlessly transport the viewer in and out of the lives and kitchens of Julie and Julia, capturing a shared passion for cooking. The characters are wonderful, warm, and loving; their relationships golden roasted and close to perfect. This movie is appetizingly presented and readily devoured. As both Julie and Julia would have said... bon appetit!
Whip ItAnthony Macali
In Bodeen, Texas, an indie-rock loving misfit finds a way of dealing with her small-town misery after she discovers a roller derby league in nearby Austin.
"Whip It" is a movie about girls on skates, who find strength and delight in bumping one another on the circuit. It's unfortunate the story doesn't race as fast as our heroine Bliss, as she competes with a mother beaming with morals and a predictable plot. The familiar formula will best serve an audience of younger girls, who may gather some inspiration from this flick. Despite a team of superstar actresses, the moments of boredom outscore moments of fun.
Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he works alongside his computer, GERTY.
"Moon" is no pioneer, but is still a quietly quaint and enjoyable movie. Lacking the grandeur of most space odysseys, this film is all about Sam, and we become immersed in his isolation and apprehension. The atmosphere is boosted by an accomplished score, creating tension in tandem with the computer GERTY, whose indifferent disposition is as discomforting as his voice. It certainly won't rock science fiction, but will definately re-energise the genre.
Mao's Last DancerWendy Slevison
Based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin, who was plucked from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao's cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet.
This movie tells an extraordinary tale of passion, sacrifice and political tug-of-war, centred in Communist China and the United States in the late 70's. With all the elements of a grand saga, this story of a modest and unassuming young man discovering his love and talent for ballet is both absorbing and incredibly moving. His fight for choice, at immense personal cost, is inspiring and unfortunately still very relevant in much of the world today.
Che: Part 2Andrew O'Dea
In 1967, 'Che' leads a small partisan army to fight an ill-fated revolutionary guerrilla war in Bolivia.
"Che: Part 2" is the culmination of a fascinating journey that marks Che's ultimate downfall. This film maintains the authenticity of "Part 1", albeit with a darker, more pensive tone. It evokes a sombre sense of impending doom whilst remaining as historically faithful as possible, refusing to glamorise its subject. This uncompromising approach is refreshing, and the lead actor's enigmatic performance is truly worthy of encompassing the man who is arguably the most iconic figure of the 20th century.
Che: Part 1Andrew O'Dea
In 1956, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and a band of Castro-led Cuban exiles mobilize an army to topple the regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista.
This film is an austere portrayal of the mechanics of Che and his guerrilla war rather than an account of the man himself. His political and social ideals are interwoven - and impressively not championed - as we traverse the sumptuous Cuban landscape and share in his experience that was the armed struggle of the revolution. A stylish overture of sorts opens the film, and it sets the tone for the sprawling and vividly authentic epic that is to come.
Looking for EricAnne Murphy
Eric, a postman whose life is descending in to crisis, receives some life coaching from Eric Cantona.
For the most part, the tone of "Looking for Eric" has a steady down beat of realism as individuals within a loosely connected family tackle emotional issues including loss and depression. The cast extends beyond family to encompass important relationships with friends, heroes, and deadbeats. The plot is refreshingly unpredictable with a triumphant, if somewhat incongruent, conclusion tacked on. All is forgiven as the credits roll... the audience feels good and Eric may have found what he was looking for.
Giovanna's FatherAnne Murphy
A protective father stands by his misfit daughter after she commits a terrible crime.
Complex reactions to tragedy are explored in this story of obsession. With war as the backdrop, relationships are ravaged while Bologna is bombed. "Giovanna's Father" is not easy viewing and interest is held by the unconventional story-line. The soundtrack maintains a steady rhythm, and the use of sepia tones aids in recreating a past era of hardship. Superb performances by the lead actors are convincing and avoid being melodramatic, with the spotlight firmly on Giovanna's Father rather than the dastardly deeds of his daughter.
An updated version of the 1980 musical, centered on students of the NY Academy of Performing Arts.
The grit, heartbreak, passion and talent of the characters was the heart of the ground-breaking original movie. These elements are absent in this 'reinvention'. It is bland and soul-less, two things a film about performing arts should never be. Clearly aimed at the MTV audience, this is a sequence of performance numbers interrupted by inconsequential plot, rather than a character study in the lives of extraordinarily talented students desperate for success. More sparkler than flame, this "Fame" bungles its audition.
Van Diemen's LandAnthony Macali
The true story of Alexander Pearce, Australia's most notorious convict. In 1822, Pearce and seven fellow convicts escaped from Macquarie Harbour.
"Van Diemen's Land" plays like a horror/slasher film. The format is very simple: convicts sit by the fire hiding fears they're the next to be killed, and then proceed to walk through the forest (in the most captivating moments of the film), before one is inevitably bludgeoned to death for food. If we were able to associate more with the characters' hunger and desperation, it may have had a greater impact, but in the end it's just simple and barbaric.