Mt. ZionAnne Murphy
Turei's family are hard-working potato farm workers in rural New Zealand.
The town is Pukekohe and the year is 1979, it is hard to break away from family and community and young men have big dreams. "Mt Zion" is a modest movie that appeals with its simple earthy feel. You're left to wonder if we grow up too quickly and lose imagined possibilities. Subtitles are provided when a Maori dialect is spoken and there is the odd line of English dialogue that could use translation too, if you know what I mean bru. Singing songs of Zion.
North Sea TexasAnne Murphy
A teenage boy's search for love finds him fixated on the boy next door.
It's that time in life when emerging sexual desires inevitably involve the boy next door, as upsetting as that may be to his sister who also fancies the boy next door to her too. That statement about the plot, while accurate, is clumsy in comparison to the tender handling that first love receives in "North Sea Texas", a subtle and moody film. Movies in the understated style of this production often get labelled as 'little films' but there is nothing small about Texas, even when located on the Belgium coast.
Somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, Komona a 14-year-old girl tells her unborn child growing inside her the story of her life since she has been at war.
The atrocities that surround a girl kidnapped by rebels when she was 12 years old are inhuman in their ruthlessness. Seen through her eyes, the story is a work of fiction but the situation is as credible as the one shown on screen. With its understated approach, "Rebelle War Witch" looks to be drawn from reality. Told from a child's perspective, the depiction of the fate of child soldiers is so plausible it's horrifying.
Thérèse DesqueyrouxAnne Murphy
The unhappily married woman struggles to break free from social pressures and her boring suburban setting.
Based on a classic French novel, "Therese Desqueyroux" is about the boredom of a life of privilege for a woman restrained within a marriage arranged by her family. The movie begins in 1926, but the theme of the suppression of self is timeless, the actions of the protagonist coldly calculated as her martial devotion wanes. Understated and restrained performances serve to highlight the banality of a life lived without passion. Is our fate within or beyond our control? Je ne regrette rien.
Members of a world-renowned string quartet struggle to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and insuppressible lust.
When you find yourself weeping in a cinema, why is it that you cry? Is it for the life loves and losses of fictional characters or for your own fragile mortality? Something extraordinary is orchestrated when a writer and director conspire to bring a finely tuned production to the screen. Credit must also go to the talented actors who perform together seamlessly as a quartet. "Performance" is played like a concerto. Bravo!
Louise WimmerAnne Murphy
A woman wages an uphill struggle to put her life back while working several jobs as a cleaning woman and living in her car.
Realism is employed as opposed to a strong narrative structure in this film, and so we watch a series of events without a beginning, middle or end. The protagonist's plight is not explained beyond the events and encounters in her day-to-day survival of struggle. It's an uncompromising style that is perfect to depict a modern story where there is nowhere to go and certainly no room for sentimentality. 'Geez Louise'... or should that be, "Mon dieu Louise".
A doctor working in 1980s East Germany finds herself banished to a small country hospital.
"Barbara" has an austerity of style reminiscent of life in East Germany - nothing is explained or expounded upon, and the viewer is required to work out the situation for themselves as clues are gradually disclosed. Relationships are taut due to the difficulty in determining between informant and friend. Still, it's compelling to watch as intrigue builds. What looks on the surface to be a simple character study develops into an intriguing story about personal values and freedom of choice. Subtle yet barbed.
Great ExpectationsAnne Murphy
A humble orphan suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor.
"Great Expectations" could be the original coming-of-age tale, and with its themes of social class, justice, love and obsession, it is apparent the original work was written by a social critic. It's probable that those who have not read the source material will enjoy the movie the most, although reading it could be marginally quicker than the film running time. Still, it is well worth taking the time to watch this sumptuous and well acted nineteenth century London drama with its gothic overtones. Expectations exceeded.
Cloud AtlasAndrew O'Dea
An exploration how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future.
"Cloud Atlas" is a sprawling, thought-provoking film that explores the consequences of our actions, based upon the premise that the choices in one life will influence the next. The scope is epic; narratives are interwoven and re-visited as it spans the centuries and into the future, requiring an utmost attentiveness throughout. The sheer ambitiousness of this movie is sure to polarise. The audience will either be baffled and exasperated by such a layered and complex story, or thrilled by the mystery and profound emotional effect left on their philosophical compass.
Side EffectsAnne Murphy
A woman's world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.
Much like its characters, "Side Effects" is never in touch with reality, not that realism, per se, is necessary for a good movie. The misrepresentation of mental health problems and treatment is a little unforgivable though; an already marginalised population may be further stigmatised, and that's not entertainment. There are lots of twists and turns that build intrigue but somehow the story manages to become more preposterous with each plot revelation, and the suspension of disbelief is necessary for viewing enjoyment. Pharma meets psychodrama.
The story of an aging couple who are crippled by the devastating effects of a stroke.
"Amour" acts like a claustrophobic, tightening grip that doesn't let you breathe until the credits roll, and is certainly an uncomfortable movie to watch. Just as one of the visiting characters states, "...I had a beautiful and sad moment with you", which is exactly what this experience feels like; an observational look at a couple's silent yet divinely emotional demise into old age. The discreet moments and absence of music can be deafening, adding to the overall and ever-increasing sense of tension and sadness. Lots of tough love for the audience.
As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
Without a preceding interest in the subject matter, "Lincoln" may struggle to win your vote. The historic period is recounted in splendid detail. Fine visuals don't aid the understanding of this important, turgid story that features a lot of bearded men arguing in dark rooms. Despite a remarkable and benevolent performance from the President, interest wanes as the long running-time draws out. Unlikely to please the majority.
Anna KareninaAnne Murphy
Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.
The sets and staging in this rendition of "Anna Karenina" are impressive, and a glow of opulence illuminates the screen. A theatre stage is used as a creative device that achieves both a contemporary feel and an historic authenticity to the mood of the production, while the dance scenes alone will ignite passions. The grand and daring love affair soars at the centre of the saga, and thankfully questions on morality and society from the original text are preserved. To die for...
A provocative exploration of female sexuality, as a well-off Parisian journalist investigates the lives of two student prostitutes for a magazine article.
This is a film that doesn't impose moralistic judgements about the sexual proclivities of the characters, but leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions. Unfortunately, not being more definitive about where 'right and wrong' lines should be drawn is something the movie will probably be judged for. The protagonists' approach is one of openness and accepting of the 'other' in herself, rather than determining to somehow be above her interview subjects. Bold feminist film-making.
When a prank caller convinces a fast food restaurant manager to interrogate an innocent young employee, no-one is left unharmed.
Knowing the events on the screen are based on real crimes provides a chill of disbelief for audiences as the scenario unfolds over a day. "Compliance" is a psychological deliberation on rank or authority and power, but mostly is a study of oppression. It is impossible to watch without thinking what you would have done in the same situation, and as much as it is tempting to dismiss people's actions as "only in America", sadly the same could happen anywhere. Deeply disturbing.
Zero Dark ThirtyAndrew O'Dea
A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
"Zero Dark Thirty" is a masterful thriller that isn't driven by an ideology or political agenda. The film serves as a dramatised yet convincing chronicle about the hunt for the world's most wanted man, made all the more authentic by an exceptionally superb cast, leads and cameos alike. While it maintains momentum with an almost clinical focus, the tension builds to a riveting finale; and even though the ending might be a foregone conclusion, the night-time incursion where they "get their man" is as exhilarating and gripping as the complex story itself. A confirmed thrill.
An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.
"Flight" begins with one of the most exhilarating cockpit sequences you will ever see, and never lets up. This tale centers on the pilot, riddled with a substance addiction, and the morality that surrounds his heroic endeavour. It's an investigation that generates further intrigue and suspense as it travels along, despite the odd scene that undermines its gravity. A truly riveting story and performance from the lead. Strap yourself in.
Silver Linings PlaybookAnne Murphy
After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife.
From the beginning to the triumphant (if predictable) end, "Silver Linings Playbook" is funny and enjoyable, and has the audience wanting good outcomes in the complicated lives of the irresistible characters. The strong cast bring the story to life with a jangling frankness. Performances are quirky and comedic, rather than screw-ball hilarious, which endows a sense of realism and balance given that the movie dares to dance with themes of mental wellness. Happy to play along.
The ImpossibleStefan Bugryn
A family is caught in the horror of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.
Whilst the production values and direction are both amazing, bringing the seemingly 'un-filmable' to life, they are a little inconsistent. There are some stagey and clichéd moments that will make you cringe momentarily, and the ending is somewhat predictable. Negatives aside, within the patchiness, there are some truly moving sequences. It's hard not to get swept away by the aching melodrama and jaw dropping realism. The tale is truly incredible, and one that is told in an impressive manner overall. Not impossible to enjoy.
Django UnchainedAndrew O'Dea
With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
Unbridled violence is unleashed in this Spaghetti Western, teetering between comedy and gore. The profanity and blood flow in a celebration of excess, belying the film's racial consciousness and intelligent commentary on a dark period in American history. Although undermined by elements of self-indulgence, the director also brings to "Django Unchained" a trademark penchant for witty dialogue, sharp storytelling and sublime style. Unshackled and foolishly fun.
Gangster SquadAnthony Macali
A chronicle of the LAPD's fight to keep East Coast Mafia types out of Los Angeles in the 1940s.
"Gangster Squad" investigates a time when the most effective way to combat violence was with more violence. The characters are menacing and hard-edged, although this strangely conflicts with the polished look of the film, clearly used to instil a sense of nostalgia for the era. The production is a little too clean and manufactured for the subject matter, robbing the story of the momentous and emotional impact it could have achieved. A talented squad do their best, and excite for the most part, but fail to captivate overall. Plastic gangsters.
A story following the relationship between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959.
The perfect time capsule of a film-making era that is fondly remembered through timeless movie classics. The larger than life director's film triumph looks to be authentically replicated, thanks mostly to the outstanding cast. The story from behind the camera is captivating. Audiences may find themselves wanting to know what happened next and more of the back story. You will certainly want to watch 'that movie' and the shower scene again. The Master of Suspense, warts and all.
Life of PiAnthony Macali
A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with a fearsome Bengal tiger.
"Life of Pi" charts an amazing story of survival, feats of courage and countless horizons. There are plenty of opportunities to gaze at majestic visuals, from exotic animals to the colours of the sea, enriched with dream-like sequences that grant the freedom to push the artistic boundaries, 3D and all. The film's biggest struggle is the amount of time spent on a life-boat, reaching a point to drive its audience sea-sick. A far from thrilling, yet nonetheless beautiful adventure.
Liberal ArtsAnthony Macali
When 30-something Jesse returns to college for a professor's retirement party, he meets Zibby, a young student.
"Liberal Arts" is an unassuming study of growing up, exploring the many fears and regrets that come with growing older. For most the part, the film is set within the grounds of a college, bringing with it a loaded sense of nostalgia. The quiet setting steers all the focus on loveable pair at the centre of the film, allowing them to share their stories at their own pace. Conversations are funny, charming and sure to resonate with our own. A delightful relationship to reflect on life.
Trouble with the CurveAnthony Macali
An ailing baseball scout in his twilight years takes his daughter along for one last recruiting trip.
Don't expect too much baseball in "Trouble with the Curve". Instead, this offering plays more like one of those 'father-daughter relationship' movies. The father, grumpy and old, is stuck in his ways, spending most of his time grumbling and moaning while watching the game he loves. His daughter, a lawyer, is busy, career driven and resentful. The performances are heartfelt, but sadly the film is a little dull, and ties all the loose ends ever so neatly. No curve balls here, this story is predictable as can be... better picks out there.