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.
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.
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.
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.
Woman In GoldAnthony Macali
Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee exiled from her country during the war, fights a legal battle to restore ownership of paintings that were stolen from her family by the Nazis.
"Woman in Gold" tells an important story rich in history, but its retelling in this feature is bland and uninspired. Relying heavily on flashbacks to give the otherwise uneventful narrative some much-needed action, the chaos of the war is captured shrewdly, stirring the emotions. While the life of this restitution battle remains decidedly one-sided, the two leads show strong and engaging performances, which ultimately make this picture worthwhile. A court battle of pure gold.
Testament of YouthAnthony Macali
A young lady decides to become a nurse on the front-line after the involvement of her fiancée and brothers in the World War.
Based on a war memoir, "Testament of Youth" lacks the emotion and passion for such an important film. The slow pace of the story is akin to a pain-killer, over time it dulls the senses. While the setting and romance are beautifully shot, they also distract from the grim reality of life during the depression, and war. There's no question against the nobility and endeavour of the main character. Sadly her underlying message gets lost in the style of delivery. Testament of patience.
U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.
As funny as it is rousing, "Pride" is not to be missed. Flamboyant meets frumpy when two disparate communities come together in difficult times, and while it's not all solidarity and sunshine their story makes for an engrossing movie. Knowing the plot is based upon recent socio-political history brings poignancy, as we watch people put aside their differences to stand together. Can one review hold more superlatives? Riotous, rampaging and romantic, just suffice to say this effort stands proud.
300 Rise of an EmpireAndrew O'Dea
Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces.
"300: Rise of an Empire" is an epic spectacle of video-game violence and gore. This stylised action fantasy retains the familiar and flashy comic-book style of the franchise, replete with blood-spattering slow motion and enough visceral excess to keep the senses engaged. Although it pales in comparison when evoking the same emotional vigour of its predecessor, the void is redeemed by the sultry, murderous heroine at its center who steals and carries the show. Not bad as a stand-alone movie, it's just missing some limbs.
Mandela: Long Walk to FreedomAnthony Macali
A chronicle of Nelson Mandela's life journey from his childhood to presidency of South Africa.
Mandela was an extraordinary man, and his story moves at an extraordinary pace. The film wastes no time in rallying your sympathy, revealing some of the more surprising actions of the young leader in his battle with the unrelenting and antiquated oppression of government. We also discover the strong relationship he had with his wife, a woman equally passionate in her fight for freedom and equality, and a significant chapter in his life. Both performances are worthy of the iconic figures. It's a long walk, but a brief history lesson. Emotionally charged.
12 Years a SlaveAnthony Macali
In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
"12 Years a Slave" is more than just a black man sharing his first-hand account... it's a raw and visceral experience. This narrative isn't afraid to hide the senseless violence and bigotry of the time, revealing a truly horrifying portrait of humanity. It's a stark contrast to the beautiful visuals of the film, which also serve to scar in our memory with some of the more striking scenes. A story of equal intrigue and importance. Many years an injustice.
Hyde Park on HudsonAnne Murphy
The story of the affair between FDR and his cousin Daisy Suckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King of England visited New York.
The most entertaining thread of "Hyde Park on The Hudson" comes from the pronunciation of 'hot dog' by the royal couple. Disarmingly straight-faced, they consider whether to eat one. It's a small highlight in what is an otherwise lacklustre production about a philatelist president and his dowdy cousin. "How I longed for him" is typical of the narration provided, courtesy of the mooning paramour to explain what isn't apparent on the screen. The Hudson reduced to a rivulet.
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.
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.
The Devil's DoubleAnthony Macali
A chilling vision of the house of Saddam Hussein comes to life through the eyes of the man who was forced to become the double of Hussein's sadistic son.
Loosely based on a true story, "The Devil's Double" offers a disturbing insight into the life of a very sick individual. Imagine a man with everything at his disposal and a perchance for fast cars, designer labels and women, acquiring them whenever, and with whatever means, he wants. This glimpse into his rich and lavish life is both captivating and startling. It becomes very clear this is a man who does not belong in this world, and his portrayal is just as astonishing as the story itself. To hell and back.
Shock Head SoulAnne Murphy
In 1903 Daniel Paul Schreber published the most celebrated autobiography of madness ever written.
"Shock Head Soul" is innovative for its use of animation alongside the dramatic reconstruction of the experiences of the protagonist. Interesting documentary techniques utilise interviews and interpretations of modern-day psychiatrists that highlight the austerity of the setting through interesting image distortions. As a result, the movie is both artistic and harrowing, much like the memoir of the high court judge it is based on, an account largely written from the confines of asylum during schizophrenic episodes. Delusional or visionary?
The ConspiratorAnthony Macali
Mary Surratt is the lone female charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
"The Conspirator" is a peculiar story of injustice, made more rewarding to those with very little knowledge of its origins. We switch sides in historic pace to Mary, and mother of the unquestionable killers. The rest of the film unfolds in an enthralling manner, cutting between the prison, court-room and flashbacks to reveal the truth as our forsaken lawyer does. The period is faithful, the soft-light irksome, and the cast stellar, best epitomized by witnessing one of the best case summaries put to screen. Poorly executed title, good film.
The EagleAndrew O'Dea
In Roman-ruled Britain, a young Roman soldier endeavors to honor his father's memory by finding his lost legion's golden emblem.
Full of action-adventure appeal, "The Eagle" is a completely serviceable movie for those who like films with swords n' sandals. Based on the famously lost Ninth Legion of Rome, the plot is erratic, but is carried by actors who surprisingly acquit themselves with a good deal of restraint in delivering likeable characters. Although it may all feel a little too familiar, it's supported by some splendid cinematography that makes for an enjoyable enough story. It might not soar, but it definitely flies.
Mozart's SisterAnthony Macali
Beginning in 1763, it follows the Mozart family's exhausting life on the road, traveling by coach from one royal court to the next.
"Mozart's Sister" is a beautiful film, mesmerising in picture and music. In a period of couture and candlelight, the Mozart siblings shine in their bewitching portrayals. For Nannerl, the message is very clear; women should not play violins, or compose. Such narrow-mindedness even causes our central character to dress as a boy at times. These examples of prejudice contribute to the film’s success, highlighting the frustrating loss of genius and talent to the hands of bigotry. This girl can play.
The Princess of MontpensierAnne Murphy
Set against the savage Catholic/Protestant wars that ripped France apart in the 16th century, the action centres on the love of Marie de Mezières for her dashing cousin Henri de Guise.
This period drama is sumptuously set and fastidiously costumed. The renaissance, as far as we can tell, is faithfully reproduced and it's magnificent to watch. "Princess of Montpensier" comes complete with dashing sword fights and big bloody battles, but most interest is invested in the dilemmas of duty over love. As the drama is played out the heroine is unable to refuse the allure of true romance, a Queen of Hearts.
Get LowAnne Murphy
Equal parts folk tale, fable and real-life legend about the mysterious, 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party.
"Get Low" is a good old fashioned hokey folky story with warm understated performances from a big name cast, and a mule. It's deftly crafted and charming to watch. There's a slow build around the themes of guilt and forgiveness before the eventual plot reveal. Although tears are coaxed out during the long awaited climax, this movie will be watched for the dawdling journey rather than the ending. Hard not to like but lacking real highs and lows.
A TV mini-series, chronicling the exploits of Carlos the Jackal, edited and cut for showing as a movie.
Carlos is an interesting figure to discover more about. He comes across as an opportunistic mercenary rather than a terrorist dedicated to a cause, and what's apparent is the ego of a man who considered himself a revolutionary. Part history and part reconstruction, the use of news footage provides a documentary sense of realism. A small screen budget is evident in the uneven set quality, lighting, and the use of a hand held camera; it's all a bit bumpy. Complex politics make surprisingly tedious viewing.
Young law student Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is in love with Lotte, but Albert Kestner also laid an eye on her.
A key figure in German literature might be considered fusty as the subject of a romantic comedy. Think again, as the author, poet and philosopher is dusted off and enthused with a jaunty vigour. "Goethe!" is a heady and light-hearted costume drama. The rebellious, romantically driven figure may attract new readers, even if the historical integrity of the movie is questionable. The portrayal of the period is superb, and the exploration of the subject's early years is captivating, if shallow.
Nanga ParbatAnne Murphy
Drama about the tragic Nanga Parbat expedition by the two Messner brothers in 1970, on which Reinhold Messner's younger brother Günther died.
Nanga Parbat is a magnificent peak in the Himalaya's; this movie carrying the mountain's name was mostly shot on site, and is similarly magnificent. This is a film to be enjoyed by adventurers, not only for the stunning scenery, but also for the human story of endeavour and conquest. The spirit of the expedition and the climbers as they challenge nature are captured, as are the petty disputes among the team. Always one more mountain to climb...
The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne ListerAnne Murphy
In nineteenth century Yorkshire wealthy orphan Anne Lister lives with an aunt and uncle, anxious for her to marry well and blissfully, unaware that she is a lesbian.
An historic drama based on the real and extensive diaries of the protagonist. This film is rich with country mansions, beautiful costumes and staid English sensibilities. The highlight is a female lead that is steadfast in her beliefs, refusing to be totally repressed by the expectations of society, and determined to live by her own values. No doubt the secret diaries could reveal much more about this resolute woman who wanted a wife.
China is plunged into strife as feuding warlords try to expand their power with war.
It's a simple plot that's brought to life in this epic-scaled production. The magnificent courtyards and halls of the Shaolin temple play a starring role. Add sweeping rural landscapes of China to the on-screen splendour and the characters end up as extras. There are no crouching tigers but there are astonishing displays of aerial and on-the-ground martial arts. The well executed and bloody action scenes are furiously fought, not hampered by one side being mostly monks. Even Buddhist principles need defending.