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.
Many Kisses LaterAnne Murphy
Follows the relationships of six couples between Christmas and Valentine's Day, exploring the various ways a former romantic partner or 'ex' can shape our lives.
"Many Kisses Later" is a capricious romantic comedy pastiche, more similar in style to English films of the genre than American offerings. The relationships are well observed, even if the ensemble of characters seems almost too congenial at times. As the storylines overlap and diverge, our attention is captivated, and laughter bellows forth with almost every scene. Effervescent and entertaining, don't wait until later, enjoy many kisses now.
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.
Anvil! The Story of AnvilAnne Murphy
At 14, best friends Robb Reiner and Lips made a pact to rock together forever.
This compelling rockumentary shows the travails of best friends still together in a heavy metal band after 30 years and 13 albums. "Anvil" infuses the reality of playing to empty stadiums with the dream of what might be possible with the right record label. At the start the audience can't help but laugh at these aging, bumbling, rock dudes living the ordinary life. However, as their story unfolds the central figures are revealed as funny, despairing, humble, passionate and dogged dreamers. The spirit triumphs and the sniggering stops.
War correspondent Roger East and the young Jose Ramos-Horta travel to East Timor to investigate the murders of the Balibo Five in 1975.
"Balibo" is a deeply engrossing true story that will instil anger and distress. The film unfolds in many flashbacks, inspiring a common curiosity and sense of duty with reporter Roger East, who is diligent in his quest for the truth. To its credit, the narrative focuses on facts and details, avoiding opportunities to exploit the many emotional elements and presenting a fairly unbiased account. The power of its confessions will strike at the hearts of all Australians.
By tying thousands of balloons to his home, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen sets out to fulfil his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America.
"Up" is an imaginative film of dazzling heights and adventure. En route to the wilderness, we befriend two of the most acutely realised characters ever created. It's a pure joy to watch as their personalities and mannerisms unfold during numerous suspenseful encounters, complete with hilarious talking dogs and a particularly snappy rainbow bird. This emprise of hopes and dreams is masterfully undertaken, reminding both kids and adults to never give up.
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!
A mixture of original interviews and archival footage sheds light on the life of Mike Tyson.
This documentary is an extraordinary account of the life of Mike Tyson, told entirely by Tyson himself. No topic is off-limits, and Tyson had no say over what footage made the final cut. It is an astonishingly honest insight into a man often seen as simply a brute. He is surprisingly humble, astute, compassionate and endearingly unsophisticated. The boy from Brooklyn - child criminal, brilliant boxer, convicted rapist, recovering addict - hides nothing, takes responsibility for everything, and unexpectedly inspires admiration, empathy and emotion.
An adventurous girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home.
"Coraline" is a mesmerising story of family and imagination. The claymation is enthralling and the pain-staking detail with which it was made is awe-inspiring. Such amazement transcends to the creepy and kooky "other" world, as we're invited to explore a dark and twisted universe of characters with button-eyes and questionable morality. Although it may haunt young children, they will certainly value their parents afterwards. A wondrous fable of exploration and fantasy.
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.
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.
Drag Me to HellAnthony Macali
A loan officer ordered to evict an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse, which turns her life into a living hell.
"Drag Me to Hell" is silly, funny, and far from scary. There are some frights and jumps, often summoned by a shadowy silence broken by loud crescendos. Any moments of genuine terror are banished by absurd humour, and its this release of tension that makes the film such a joy. While the second half might not match the quality of the first, it breaks the curse of formulaic cinema and is a movie that is equally distinct and entertaining.
Every Little StepAnne Murphy
Follows the plight of real-life dancers as they struggle through auditions for the Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line".
This documentary is eminently worthy of a big screen season. Dancers take centre stage and give their all to showcase their talents, competing for an elusive 'call-back'. Their performances are determined and gritty. The audience can't forget the production is real, with dreams, tears and joy laid bare as auditions progress. "Every Little Step" is exhilarating to watch with life imitating art imitating life. Broadway that's better than Broadway.
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.
The HangoverAnthony Macali
A Las Vegas-set comedy centered around three groomsmen who lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during their drunken misadventures, then must retrace their steps in order to find him.
"The Hangover" premise is familiar and simple, the perfect breeding ground for plenty of laughter and stupidity. While the trailer might steal most of the best moments, the film is still hilarious. The characters are half as likeable as they should be, but it does make it funnier when bad stuff happens to them. It only struggles towards the ending, as jokes resort to bad cameos and slapstick. Despite a few headaches, it's still a winner.
Sunshine CleaningAnne Murphy
In order to raise the tuition to send her young son to private school, a mum starts an unusual business, a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service, with her unreliable sister.
This is an endearing movie in a low key 'indie' style. A beguiling cast portray a dysfunctional family facing their everyday relationship challenges. The comedy is so heartfelt that laughs catch on the way up, almost mutating into sobs, before rising as smiles. The tone is as mirthful as it is melancholic, despite the dark storylines. "Sunshine Cleaning" is the perfect antidote for messy everyday lives.
Set in the summer of 1987 and centered around a recent college grad who takes a nowhere job at his local amusement park, only to find it's the perfect course to get him prepared for the real world.
Despite its 'indy' pretensions, this story has more heart than its formulaic predecessors. Sure, it might follow your typical boy meets girl scenario, but it rises above the cliché with a cast who wonderfully capture the fun, frivolity and angst of the time. Although short on the laughs it may promise, it still makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Coupled with an awesome 80's soundtrack en-loop, "Adventureland" is a charming ride about growing up and finding love.
My Year Without SexWendy Slevison
An understated look at love and life in middle-class Australian suburbia.
Watching this film feels a bit like peering in your neighbours' window and secretly watching them go about their lives. What you see is familiar in its detail, insightful in its observations, and at times confronting in its honesty. It boldly broaches the big questions, as well as the little everyday ones. Tenderly crafted, and featuring stellar performances, "My Year Without Sex" is an affirmation of the trials and tribulations of love, relationships, family and yes, sex.
Quiet ChaosAnne Murphy
A look at the strange bereavement behavior of an Italian executive.
The portrayal of loss in this film evokes W.H. Auden's poem that opens with the line "Stop all the clocks...". Everything is changed and pared back to essentials by an unexpected death. The everyday world continues on around the slowing of the central characters, drawing empathetic viewers into this well told tale. The movie is a subdued but sure-footed meditation on grieving as lives and priorities are reassessed. More contemplative than chaotic, and recommended for its heartfelt quiet.
Insignificant ThingsAnne Murphy
Esmeralda is a teenager who collects little objects she finds, creating a box of insignificant treasures.
The movie unfolds through four vignettes tenderly woven together with the shared threads of lives that intersect. "Insignificant Things" explores important relationships that are undervalued and it does so with a deft touch. This is a finely tuned and detailed piece that is incisive and affecting without becoming despairing. A film so well crafted that it mesmerises is a very significant thing indeed.
Star TrekAndrew O'Dea
A chronicle of the early days of James T. Kirk and his fellow USS Enterprise crew members.
"Star Trek" is by all accounts a very successful instalment that will both entertain and appease trekkies and non-trekkies alike. Chronological events are sewn superbly into a reconstituted storyline that births an 'enterprisingly' new and exciting contemporary model. The characters are drawn carefully, remaining faithful to the Star Trek legacy, and thrive amongst an array of visually dazzling action sequences. Set phasers to fun, because this is a franchise destined to live long and prosper.
Let the Right One InWendy Slevison
Oscar, a young bullied boy, meets Eli, a beautiful girl who turns out to be a vampire.
If you thought all the original ideas for vampire movies had been used up, think again. Set in Sweden, this film uses the icy, austere conditions to illustrate and emphasise the lonely isolation of its young protagonists. This film holds nothing back as it deals with issues of first love and bullying, contrasted against the violent world of the vampire. The young stars are astonishingly good, and this innovative movie rates highly among the alumni of its genre.
The Other SideAnne Murphy
A drag queen returns, bereft, to the village and family he left 17 years ago.
The film has a rhythmic heartbeat as it traverses the delicate territories of love lost and dreams unfulfilled. It is possible to come home and still be on the other side, the other side of understanding and the other side of reconciliation. The landscape of relationship is tenderly navigated and the unrequited yearning of each character is faultlessly depicted. Watching "The Other Side" is like being subjected to open heart surgery with deft and precise incisions that lay bare the most vulnerable of places.