Mia MadreAnne Murphy
A film director tries to keep the camera rolling while she copes with her dying mother in her personal life.
"Mia Madre" is an intimate drama about family, raising a daughter and letting a mother leave. The central character is a film director, her movie shoot spiralling out of control while at the same time struggling to hold her personal life together. It is the recognisable lot of any working woman but it's all amplified to fit into a movie length story. Sadly there are not enough emotional hooks to keep us fully connected. Mumma Mia.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2Stefan Sgarioto
Amidst a massive family revelation that demands another Greek wedding, Toula and Ian also deal with the fact that their daughter wants move interstate for college.
It's quite easy to say that "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" is bigger, fatter and 'Greekier' than its predecessor; however there comes a point when you realise you've been just been fed re-heated leftovers. Aside from a few plot tweaks, there isn't anything actually new being brought to the table. Not that it really matters though, because just like the first serving, there are plenty of crazy family antics and corny sitcom style jokes to keep the audience satisfied. No BYO baklava required.
The WitchAnne Murphy
A devout family of Puritans, in early colonial America, are outcast from their community.
"The Witch" gets off to a flying start. Pardon the pun as there are no broomsticks involved, and this film is without humour. The story does start well and builds some tension, but ultimately fails to deliver any real spine-tingling chills. The offering is not all that satisfying as we're left to interpret the action, and it's a bit too open ended. What did happen? Does religious fervour invite evil acts? What we do know is that this is an atmospheric folk-tale, or a moralistic warning. No cackles.
London Has FallenAnthony Macali
Leaders of the world gather in London for the funeral of the Prime Minister, only to discover it's a trap.
Much like its previous rescue, "London Has Fallen" delivers exactly on what it advertises on the tin. It's a ridiculous premise, with a set of cartoon cut-out world leaders, our magnanimous hero and a litany of terrorists. The action and explosions that follow rain debris across the great British city, with cheesy jokes aplenty. High ranking officials crowd round-tables in disbelief, and the key is not to treat their political melodrama too seriously... you will find more amusement this way. Arrive with low expectations and you won't be cross. This is bloody fun.
Hail, Caesar!Anthony Macali
When movie star Baird Whitlock goes missing, production is halted on the epic feature he was working on. It's just one of the many problems for studio executive Eddie Mannix to fix.
"Hail, Caesar!" is a homage to Hollywood's Golden Era and a platform for some larger political and spiritual questions littered across the directors' back catalogue. In isolation, there are a number of amusing and entertaining scenes, but often they don't seem to service the overall picture. The film is rich in period detail and delightful characters, but there is little to take away from its wide agenda apart from the occasional chuckle. A breezy salute.
Dirty GrandpaStefan Sgarioto
Right before his wedding, an uptight young guy is tricked into driving his grandfather to Florida for Spring Break.
"Dirty Grandpa" aims to shock and horrify viewers with its crude humour and a complete disregard for boundaries. It's a combination that makes quite a violating viewing experience. The running joke throughout – where a perverted senior citizen exhibits the libido of a teenager - is made to be as uncomfortable as possible. There are laughs to be had, but they often come with that bad taste that lingers after the joke has worn off. No maturity found here.
The Danish GirlAnthony Macali
Based on a true story, the marriage of artist Einar Wegener comes into question when his penchant for women's clothing prompts a transformation into the female persona Lili Elbe in the 1920s.
"The Danish Girl" is a delicate film, chronicling the extraordinary life of its protagonist in a very intimate way. With art as an ongoing theme, beautiful cinematography surround the intriguing character arcs. Striking, well grounded performances capture the volatility of the central relationship, exploring the ever-confused couple in their great distress. Perhaps falling short in its emotional impact, the story does successfully highlight an absence of social progression. The entangled artist.
Joy, a divorced mother of two, overcomes financial and family trouble to become the founder of a large business dynasty by inventing the Miracle Mop.
"Joy" is a fairly basic story about the rise of an underdog - with the main character navigating failures and defying the odds to succeed. Even in Joy's case, which includes both the support and betrayal of her unconventional family, it's nothing we haven't seen before. The most surprising aspect is that a story about the creation of a mop can be so entertaining. Despite some great casting and quirky dialogue, it does suffer from a confused tonal palette, not always sure where it should be hitting the mark between comedy and drama. Some joy to be had.
A retired composer and his longtime film director friend reflect on their lives at a Swiss Spa.
"Youth" is a film that demonstrates how growing old can change your perception on life, and once seen through the quirky gaze of its main characters, the world opens up. A luxury resort is the perfect setting to host a gathering of eccentric characters, and their odd and seemingly inconsequential behaviour consumes a large portion of the running time. Touching performances are sometimes lost as we attempt to grasp the context of the narrative, which only becomes apparent towards the finale, when the commentary becomes a little more forthright. Mature and weird.
Star Wars: The Force AwakensAnthony Macali
The dark First Order face The Resistance in the hunt for BB-8, a droid harbouring a map believed to detail the location of the missing Luke Skywalker.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" makes a triumphant return, but sadly this wistful event will only leave its fans rejoicing. A new generation of amiable characters are introduced, and familiar ones welcomed back, yet the story fails to take-off. Flashy action pieces and an overpowering sense of nostalgia struggle to hide the obvious dip at the halfway mark, as the film is forced to echo and salvage elements of its past to complete its mission. A billion-dollar franchise awakens.
A washed-up Chef decides to return to the kitchen, repairing his broken relationships of past.
"Burnt" combines all the common ingredients to feed a familiar story. But the audience's appetite is kept whet as the film goes deep inside the belly of the restaurant beast. The scenes set in the kitchen are hot and temperamental, with many chefs furiously cooking and plating food. The rapid editing grants the audience a genuine sense of the pace and stress of the job. While the character drama isn't so appealing, with its tired and predictable manner, it's enough to satisfy a film genre rarely explored. 3 (non-Michelin) stars.
The LobsterAnthony Macali
A man checks into a hotel and has 45 days to find a partner, or be transformed into an animal of his choosing.
The quirky premise of "The Lobster" certainly captures your attention, and for the first half at least, plays out with weirdly dark and terrific humour. The film is laden with allegory, especially in its almost cynical commentary on relationships and the brutal punishment for those who don't conform. Beautifully shot with a formidable supporting cast, it's a shame curiosity wavers towards the end of the story, as our apathy for the characters falters with the plot. The one that got away.
Black MassAnthony Macali
The true story of James "Whitey" Bulger, who became an FBI informant to rid the Mafia competition.
The portrayal of this notorious crime figure is absolutely chilling, and the performance alone warrants the existence of this film. However the simple way the narrative recreates the key moments of his life is less affecting. Time jumps, characters arrive and inevitably go, and it often feels disconnected. So while it doesn't offer any incisive insight into this Boston baddie, apart from the fact that he was a very violent and intimidating man, a gangster flick is always fascinating. Mass murder.
A re-enactment of the harrowing Everest mountain expeditions on May 10 1996.
"Everest" boasts a big name cast, but the indisputable star role is filled by the mountain itself. The remarkable cinematography shows it as lofty and imposing and all due glory is afforded to nature. Sadly human drama is one of the understated elements. The superficial view of the impassioned and zealous characters is problematic. There are too many people with too many untold back stories, and just too many unanswered questions. Apparently 'the bigger the better' does not always hold true. Ain't no mountain high enough?
The back story to the character Peter Pan; the tale of an orphan boy who embarks on an adventure to discover his history and magical powers.
The target audience will be spell-bound by the central little boy's colourful and daring adventures. In "Pan" the CGI and 3D are used to boisterous effect. There's plenty of derring-do as rip-roaring battles follow one after another. Unfortunately the technical effects don't quite cover for the lack of storyline. The plot is missing from action and it looks like the best parts of this tale have already been told. Pan-handled.
The VisitStefan Bugryn
Two young children visit their grandparents for the first time and realise something is very wrong.
The plot twist is no new thing to cinema, and when it’s executed correctly, it can make a film feel refreshing and new. The twist in "The Visit" is incredibly clever, and breathes fresh air to a somewhat boring script after the half way mark. For a large portion of the film, it feels like everything is on repeat. If it weren't for the natural and very engaging performances from the two very young leads, it could be considered quite unentertaining. Come for the visit, stay for the surprise.
The GiftAnthony Macali
A man from the past comes back to haunt a couple, leaving wrapped presents at their doorstep.
"The Gift" is the gift that keeps on giving... the creeps. Hooked from the very first interaction between our lead characters, the suspense builds as their rich and sinister backstories are revealed. Largely set in a single house, this conspicuous setting brings even more unease, in its vulnerability and realism. Interest tends to wane towards the end as the conceit becomes a little monotonous. But the film's greatest achievement is its unpredictability. You don't know how it's going to end, which is a rare cinematic gift.
We Are Your FriendsAnthony Macali
An aspiring DJ sets out to produce that one special track to mark his name and launch his career.
"We Are Your Friends" offers a little plastic sachet of party life. While it doesn't shy from the unavoidable sex and drugs associated with the scene, it does ultimately settle on a story about the music. With an acute focus on electronic dance music, this film explores the ambition of youth and the art of the deejay. In one particularly joyful sequence, we are treated to a lesson in syncing rhythm and beats to the human heart. The themes might not appeal to all, but it's certainly throwaway fun. A mashup of ideas.
Irrational ManAnne Murphy
A philosophy professor is enduring a deep and hopeless melancholy which lifts after he engineers a murder.
The existential themes from the writer/director are familiar, as is the struggle between right and wrong, which the film's protagonist faces. The material might look a little tired, but the lead actors invigorate the story and bring it to life with strong performances, despite seeing them all losing their moral bearings. "An Irrational Man" holds attention as it plays out thanks in part to the dialogue, which is engaging banter with an intellectual edge. Irrational but sound.
City of GoldAnthony Macali
A documentary about famous LA food critic Johnathon Gold.
"City of Gold" is an admirable documentary about a wonderful writer, whose commentary on food transcends boundaries in multiple ways. Apart from his utterly brilliant style, and encyclopedic knowledge and passion for his hometown, he is famous for shining the spotlight on some of the smaller restaurants. Not one to discriminate, Mr. Gold values cooking as a service to a community, and provides a telling insight into multicultural society, where food can bring people together. This guy really likes tacos.
The WolfpackAnthony Macali
Not permitted outside of their apartment, the Angulo brothers only escape is their film collection.
"The Wolfpack" is an intimate look at a large family sadly confined to the boundaries of their apartment. Home-schooled by their devoid mother, the children's only view of the outside world is through the skewed reality of cinema, which could only contribute to their weird behaviour. It's hard to watch, especially as the young brothers gradually realise the misery of their imprisoned existence. Even more heartbreaking is their tethered creative talents, limited to charming re-enactments of famous movies. An agonising insight into social suppression.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Anthony Macali
In the 1960s, an American and Russian operative must join forces to stop a nuclear bomb.
"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is all style and no substance. When these secret agents aren’t jumping and shooting at one another, they are delivering fashion advice. With this example you can appreciate the uncomplicated direction of this story. It starts off obnoxious, but slowly grows on you over the course of the mission. Everything is so nice to look at, and plot reveals are neatly constructed (and deconstructed) for the audience, leaving little to the imagination. Sleek and chic, and not so special.
Rules of the GameAnne Murphy
An employment agency in the North of France mentors young people through their job search efforts.
We follow three marginalised young people in their efforts to prepare for job interviews. It's easy to snicker at the disenfranchised youth for now knowing how to pitch their experience and skills to prospective employers. The filmmaker's fly-on-the-wall approach is even handed in that it appears non-judgemental. On the surface the struggles and responses of the kids look a bit funny, and it might have been easy to mock them, but the underlying societal issues are no laughing matter.
Malcolm is a high school geek, a virgin who loves hip hop and wants to go to Harvard, all goes awry when he and his friends have a wild encounter with the shady LA drug culture.
"Dope" is a smart coming-of-age story, packed with adventure. The movie opens energetically, rolling with the hero and his best friends. There are laughs to be had as the trio find themselves in more and more trouble. The second half loses pace and dawdles, before finishing with a heavy-handed lecture about race based assumptions. All in all, more awesome than dopey.
Force of DestinyAnne Murphy
A journey of love on a transplant waiting list.
Inspired by the life experiences of the writer/director "Force of Destiny" poignantly shows the shock of receiving a dire medical diagnosis. Thankfully the movie resists overplaying the tragic aspects of facing death, capturing more a sense of the ordinary, which makes the viewing so interesting. The everyday goes on albeit with a heightened sense of grief. Emotions are held down by the characters, as they try to cope with an unthinkable future. While the tone is restrained and sombre, the impact is forceful.