Whiskey Tango FoxtrotAnthony Macali
A journalist leaves the desk job behind to become a war correspondent in Afghanistan.
"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is a sanitised version of Afghanistan, where parties and sex dissuade any thoughts of genuine fear. During the excursion, our reporter exclaims there is an obligation to report on the conflict, but she does little to heed this advice. The plot is a string of feel-good moments, where situations present plenty of opportunities to crack jokes that are too good to pass up. When it comes to the war itself, it's lightweight, so leave the political lens at home. This film is best enjoyed when you accept it for what it really is... 'Kabul. Home of the Rom-Com'. Whimsical Timid Fodder.
Eye in the SkyAnthony Macali
A military operation to capture terrorists in Kenya comes under question when the request for a drone strike to bomb the target causes a heated debate across government factions.
"Eye in the Sky" might be divisive in nature, but the thrills and tension it provides are unquestionable. Although lacking certain subtleties, it incisively poses the question: "What is an acceptable cost of life to kill a terrorist?" The conundrum is debated with great vigour from the superb global cast, creating a captivating drama. Favouring back-room politics over guns and explosions, this film successfully reveals how modern warfare is controlled by static soldiers behind computer screens. Eye for suspense.
Son of SaulAnne Murphy
In Auschwitz in 1944, prisoners made up the Sonderkommando, groups who had to dispose of the bodies of their own people.
Watching "Son of Saul" feels akin to being in hell, such is the honesty of this holocaust drama. The film-making is extraordinary in recreating the full horror of the death camps and delivering an intense cinematic experience while keeping the audience riveted to the screen. There's no looking away as we bear witness to it all through one man's eyes. We observe something more gruelling than any imagined living-torment; the overwhelming horror of an unimaginable hell on earth. Devastating.
Returning from battle Shakespeare's tragic medieval Scots hero, Macbeth, encounters three witches on a barren moor who foretell him becoming Thane of Cawdor and King hereafter.
"Macbeth" transports you to a purgatory of plotting and scheming. This is a brutal and bloody telling of the familiar story about manic ambition set against a hypnotic scenic backdrop. The words are from the original play, but sensibly pared back. The witches for example don't deliver a cackle between them, but their presence is nonetheless haunting. Consistently strong acting performances and inventive cinematography work to create an exceptional and haunting movie. All hail Macbeth.
Civil war in Georgia 1990, an Estonian man has stayed behind to harvest his crops of tangerines.
An extraordinary movie set about a ruthless civil conflict. "Tangerines" stands out as a war drama for its focus on the humanity of the characters, from ruthless mercenaries to farmers. Brotherhood and hatred are thrown together by the situation and we start questioning what is gained by fighting. This is an anti-war film after all, and it becomes apparent to the audience as we watch the climax in horror, that guns and hatred are not the answer. Pithy, sour and sweet.
American SniperAnthony Macali
U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle becomes one of the most lethal snipers in American history.
"American Sniper" is the story of a war veteran and his ongoing conflict with the before and after effects of his ceaseless tours of duty. The action is fierce as the camera lies beside the sharp-shooter. You can almost feel the long, cold gun in your very own hands, unwittingly raising questions about the necessity of all the brutality. Unrelenting short scenes fuel the adrenalin and thrill of combat, astutely contrasting against the quiet and aimless life back home. American hero.
After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he's caught by the Japanese navy.
"Unbroken" is a prisoner of war drama that shows the limits of how many beatings a single person can take. The camera is placed firmly in the thick of the action and lets the remarkable true story do the heavy-lifting, revealing an incredible, resilient man and his ever-constant fight for survival. Unsurprisingly, this film encompasses all the inspirational quotes accustomed to the genre, but thankfully these clichés don't overshadow the impact. Unrelenting.
The Imitation GameAndrew O'Dea
During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code.
Part history lesson, part tragedy, "The Imitation Game" is a compelling biopic. This suspenseful drama reveals pieces of the puzzle slow and steady, with flashes of brilliance that unfortunately aren't sustained throughout. Nonetheless, with a constantly shifting chronology, it brings the remarkable legacy of the troubled mathematical genius to screen in an affecting portrait. The lead provides a sensitive portrayal in what is an empathy-stirring performance, outstanding in its awkwardness. An enigmatic man, cryptic and clever.
A battle-hardened sergeant commands his 5-man Sherman tank crew on a deadly mission.
As much an 'anti-war' as it is an action film, "Fury" depicts an uncompromising and morally provocative story immersed amongst the horrors and futility of WWII. Along with an astonishing attention to detail, there is also a starkly grim authenticity to the brutality of tank warfare; and it's amidst the claustrophobia we're able to get to know the characters so intimately. Visceral and violent, brutal and unrelenting, it leaves little room for sentimentality, culminating in an extraordinary combat scene sure to leave its audience reeling. Harrowing.
A group of brave individuals risk their lives to save Virunga National Park in Congo.
"Virunga" is a vibrant national park full of life and, to much dismay, a place of death. This breathtaking parcel of land happens to fall on a large oil deposit, and the battle between preservation and money plays out extraordinarily on screen. It's a shocking juxtaposition that lets its characters share their messages, from the adorable keepers and their family of gorillas, to the faceless business men contracted to incite war. A fine example of fearless journalism and heartfelt conservation. Primeval.
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.
The Book ThiefAnne Murphy
While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others.
A German town becomes the backdrop for a story about the humanity and personal politics of ordinary people when their lives are assaulted by World War II erupting around them. The simplicity needed to tell the tale from a child's perspective is not compromised by the scale of this production, a feat that creates absorbing viewing. As a novel "The Book Thief" was a best-seller and on the screen it becomes a very moving experience. Steal a look.
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.
In DarknessAndrew O'Dea
A dramatisation of one man's rescue of Jewish refugees in the Nazi-occupied Polish city of Lvov.
"In Darkness" is an extraordinary tale of survival. The claustrophobic surroundings are grim and harrowing, a disturbing reflection of the true events upon which the story is based. Although still heavily dramatised, there is still a refreshingly raw honesty and unsentimentality to the film that is both profound and moving. Carried by an exceptional central performance, it confronts issues of morality as it seeps deep into the consciousness of the protagonist and audience alike. We can only hope there is light at the end of humanity's tunnel...
The Well Digger's DaughterAnne Murphy
A father, in pre-World War I France, is torn between his sense of honour and his deep love for his saintly daughter when she gets in trouble with the wealthy son of a shopkeeper.
A film that explores class differences, social attitudes and mores could be expected to incite ire, something "The Well Digger's Daughter" is too genteel to do. Perhaps it's due to the likeable and charming actors, the rustic French setting, old fashioned feel or simply the issues that raised eyebrows in earlier times that have less impact now. Whatever it is, all is well that ends well.
Hotel LuxAnne Murphy
Hans Zeisig, an apolitical comedian, impersonator and cabaret actor, flees with a Russian passport from Nazi-Berlin, and finds himself in Moscow staying in the legendary Hotel Lux.
Valuing humour over politics, this a comedic romp in a wartime setting. Elements of the story are grounded in fact, and the political caricatures are obviously drawn from fiction, but work well as parody. "Hotel Lux" is interesting because it centres on a part of WWII not often seen on the big screen, the relationship between Hitler and Stalin. Employing comic antics of another era, this is irreverent and entertaining... make a reservation.
Promising the MoonAnne Murphy
A woman with Alzheimers leaves her nursing home and wartime family secrets are uncovered.
Set in Germany and Latvia this movie traverses the past and present as well as the countries themselves. Regardless of the setting, "Promising the Moon" is an emotional drama rather than a war film, a portrait of the bonds between mothers and daughters, and wives and husbands. A story of reconciling strained family relationships is related with a depth of feeling that is absorbing, while a mystery is unfolded and the past is explained in this superior and well-acted production. Promises lead to obligations.
Free MenAnne Murphy
In Paris during WWII, an Algerian immigrant is inspired to join the resistance by his unexpected friendship with a Jewish man.
There is a low key feel to the characters and scenes in "Free Men", and the storyline provides a new twist to a war plot and friendships during a time of turmoil. It has the credibility of being "based on strong evidence" which is the tag-line appended to the credits. This previously untold story is interesting viewing for historians, Francophiles and freedom fighters alike. Liberte, egalite, fraternite and the brotherhood of man.
War HorseAndrew O'Dea
Young Albert enlists to service in WWI after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry. Albert's hopeful journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on.
"War Horse" is most definitely a movie for those partial to the majestic beauty of horses, though it's not necessarily a prerequisite. Some may justifiably find the story a little too syrupy and sweet, but it does also take place amidst the brutal theatre of war, where thankfully the film does not shy, and the director is at his dazzling best. Others will enjoy the sentimentality of an extraordinary journey coupled with the bond between man and horse simply too difficult to resist.... if so, then giddy up.
The Last CircusAnne Murphy
Two clowns compete for the love of a beautiful trapeze artist.
"The Last Circus" uses a circus troupe in an allegorical presentation of the horror of the Spanish Civil War. The result is macabre and violent, yet strangely compelling viewing. There's nothing subtle in the telling of the story, it goes right over the top with absurdity, and then it could be argued that the same comic chaos underpins any war. Choosing clowns as the main characters is heavy handed imagery; both the happy clown and the sad clown are grotesque, more than entertaining. This metaphor laden effort is in need of a ring-master.
Sarah's KeyAnne Murphy
A journalist researching the 1942 Vel' d' Hiv Roundup in Paris uncovers links with Sarah, a Jewish girl, who was arrested with her parents.
"Sarah's Key" is a fictional account of the Holocaust that discloses events from the dark years of World War 2 in an assured manner. A contemporary story is seamlessly intertwined with one from the past as intrigue builds. The actors underplay the poignancy of both narratives, as ordinary people deal with extraordinary dilemmas and strong messages are presented without unnecessary melodrama. The past is not forgotten but sometimes needs to be unlocked.
June, 1982 - The First Lebanon War. A lone tank and a paratroopers platoon are dispatched to search a hostile town - a simple mission that turns into a nightmare...
"Lebanon" is a gripping ride. Shot almost exclusively from the tight confines of a rumbling tank, this movie is a superb example of minimalist filmmaking. The tension and intensity is palpable, as the film bears witness to the horrors of war, and we're left gasping for breath from the grimy, claustrophobic atmosphere. The antiwar sentiment is clear, with enough gritty action to match its political, religious and philosophical messages. Shell-shockingly good.
The MessengerAnne Murphy
An American soldier struggles with an ethical dilemma when he becomes involved with a widow.
"The Messenger" delivers emotional punches in relentless succession in a context of heartbreaking realism. More than a war film, or even a film about the army, this is a movie about loss and grief, mostly expressed by men. Harrowing exchanges made when people are at their most vulnerable are intense to witness, made no less easy by scenes where withheld emotions seethe within the characters. Thankfully there are strands of camaraderie and humour threaded throughout, and they serve to strengthen the compelling messages.
The Man Who Will ComeAnne Murphy
In the winter of 1943, Italian peasant families in an Italian village carry on with life while Nazi soldiers seek to wreak revenge on partisan fighters.
Apparently "The Man Who Will Come" is based on historic events, unfortunately that is not learned in the cinema watching the film. The film is lightly narrated leaving the viewer to piece together the story. We're not helped by the sparse dialogue or the fact that much of the action is viewed through the eyes of a child. The war atrocities depicted as the story builds are truly horrifying, stupefying the audience. Shame on mankind, whoever it is we're waiting for.
Five Minutes of HeavenAnne Murphy
The story of former UVF member Alistair Little. Twenty-five years after Little killed Joe Griffen's brother, the media arrange an auspicious meeting between the two.
"Five Minutes of Heaven" looks back at crimes committed as acts of civil war, exploring important themes of hatred and forgiveness. It's an uneven production that stumbles through some very stagy and clumsy scenes, though is fortunately redeemed by a powerful and unexpected climax. This movie is uncomfortable viewing about the lingering impacts of violence and living with indelible memories that prevent healing. Hard to glimpse heaven from hell.