A young and disoriented British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot.
Set amidst the melting pot of violence and political tension of Belfast in '71, this unconventional yet taut thriller is an introspective into the bitter conflict between Catholics and protestants at the time. There are bombs, bullets and bodies aplenty without being a prototypical action movie, and despite being a slow burn, still maintains an aura of suspense as we accompany our hero through a gritty urban war-zone; the jittery hand-held camera work lending a sense of urgency and immediacy. A willing tale from another decade.
A one-time police droid becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.
"Chappie" is full of intriguing ideas, but perhaps its greatest feat lies in the sense of empathy we feel for a sentient robot we know very well not to be human. The interaction between the title character and exaggerated personas of his gangster co-stars is seamless and feels absolutely genuine. Ultra-violent choreography and stunning visual effects underpin whimsical and heartfelt moments of humour. If you can forgive the flimsy narrative and embrace its sentimental intentions, this film remains an entertaining sci-fi romp. Happy Chappie.
After her marriage crumbles and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed tries to put her past behind her and hikes more than a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, alone.
"Wild" brings an uplifting memoir about seeking redemption through physical challenges from the page to the screen, and is true to original text. While managing to traverse a full gamut of emotion, there are funny and even uplifting moments. It’s impossible to say if it is the walker or the rugged walk that most impresses, and even harder to resist the urge to pull on your hiking boots. Wild thing might make your heart sing.
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.
Maps to the StarsAnne Murphy
A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.
"Maps to the Stars" is a disturbing social satire that is also an absorbing study of human character, if you can bear to watch it. The bleak yet original story is gripping for the way it gradually unfolds without revealing what happens next. It's involving thanks to the strong cast who bring the reprehensible, self-absorbed characters to life. Everyone has self-destructive tendencies but the desperate violence they wreak on each other is what's most jaw-dropping. A dark night in Tinseltown.
St. VincentAnne Murphy
A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door.
At some point the audience will realise they're watching the aging lead actor playing his elderly self, or some down-on-his-luck movie character version of himself. Don't feel like a sucker for playing along and enjoying the film. The endearing qualities of the protagonist allow you to put cynicism aside, forgive the unlikely plot elements, and be entertained by the ubiquitous fogey next door with a proverbial heart of gold. Wholly unlikely Saint.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the TombJan Di Pietro
Larry spans the globe, uniting favourite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.
The third installment of the "Night At The Museum" franchise is a fun one. There are cameos galore, all of which actively contribute to the comedy and story. You don’t need to have watched the first two to follow, and the narrative is palatable for viewers of any age. The special effects are fun but not overdone, and although the scenes do lose their way at times, they're redeemed by great performances. Come alive and enjoy the ride.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesAndrew O'Dea
Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.
Grand in its scope and ambition, "The Battle of the Five Armies" is an action-ravaged adventure saturated in the director's customary visual splendour. Pitting dragon against man, against dwarf, against elf, against orc, the battle sequences are exquisite, especially during the film's mammoth finale. Although characterisation is somewhat neglected, there's enough tension and thrills to make the journey there (and back again) a satisfying conclusion to the Hobbit trilogy... one last time.
Big Hero 6Anthony Macali
The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
"Big Hero 6" is a whiz-bang robotic romp, self-assured in its style and execution. Set in the clever and aptly titled 'San Fransokyo', we are presented with an awesome mix of colourful and futuristic animation to suit the story. The unlikely hero is an oddly marshmallow-looking invention, a functional and affable health bot whose impassive questions and incessant shuffling generate the greatest laughs. Kids and adults will escape unscathed in this action-packed adventure. Pain-free.
The One I LoveAnne Murphy
Struggling with a marriage on the brink of falling apart, a couple escapes for a weekend in pursuit of their better selves, only to discover an unusual dilemma that awaits them.
"The One I Love" is an offbeat exploration of affairs of the heart and it's amusing if not outright funny. The plot is intriguing with a premise that confounds before it unfolds, so be sure not to let anyone reveal the story before you see it. Apart from the captivating performances of the lead actors, what makes this movie so diverting is the puzzle it presents. She loves me, she loves me not.
Particle FeverJan Di Pietro
Physicists are on the cusp of the greatest scientific discovery of all time - or perhaps their greatest failure.
High drama plays out in this film through vigorous debate, ambition, and a hardcore desire to find the truth – about everything. The scientists crusading for cosmic knowledge at the core of "Particle Fever" are the real story here, and the ultimate winner is physics, as it fully consumes its worshipers. These die-hard geniuses are stuck in a fever of ignorant pursuit, hurtling towards a likely end of nothing, but relishing every second of the journey. So goes life.
The Young and Prodigious T.S. SpivetAnne Murphy
A ten-year-old scientist sets out from his family's ranch in Montana and travels across the country aboard a freight train to receive an award at the Smithsonian Institute.
Prodigious? Perhaps. Beguiling? Absolutely. This movie reaches out from the screen to engage with the imaginations of the audience and it is a delightful experience to see the world through the eyes of a serious young boy. While whimsical and almost naive in style, the heart wrenching back story of a family divided by trauma directs us to regard this as a mature tale. Not only cowboys are born under a wandering wondering star.
What We Do in the ShadowsAnthony Macali
Follow the lives of three flatmates who are just trying to get by and overcome life's obstacles, like being immortal vampires.
"What We Do in the Shadows" demonstrates that life is hard for a vampire in Wellington. In true mockumentary style, the introduction of a wide-range of housemates is the best and funniest part of the film. The dry humour and deadpan delivery creates many laugh-out-loud moments, as it employs the classic bloodsucker traits and applies them to the modern world. While the lack of a story becomes prevalent towards the end, it doesn't last too long. They do hilarious.
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.
Dawn of the Planet of the ApesAndrew O'Dea
In the wake of a disaster that changed the world, the growing and genetically evolving apes find themselves at a critical point with the human race.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is darker than its predecessor, replete with themes of politics, trust, betrayal and family. This brilliantly realised science-fiction movie is both smart and exciting in narrative and amazingly splendid in visual effects, with the on-screen simians appearing just as real as their human counterparts. No monkey business here, this film is an intelligent piece of popcorn entertainment. Movie strong. People enjoy.
A widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbor inserts herself into their household.
"Mommy" is an onerous film to watch, and the deliberate and narrow aspect ratio provides little escape from the situation or cast. The characters steal the focus, and their performances are worthy of our attention. We can feel the despair and helplessness of managing the short-tempered Steve, and the terror in knowing he could snap on a whim. It's a long and emotional sitting, with limited moments of unassuming happiness. Family first.
The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.
"Predestination" revels in the very paradoxes created in its story. The two characters at the centre are as intriguing as the subject matter, and their stories of the past make for a fascinating plot. Once swept away by the narrative, the 'time-travel' arc kicks in… and so does the confusion. It's difficult to make sense of it all upon first viewing, but time passes quickly, and the journey is enjoyable enough. Predestined to bemuse.
Appropriate BehaviourAnne Murphy
Shirin is struggling to become an ideal Persian daughter, politically correct bisexual and hip young Brooklynite but fails miserably in her attempt at all identities.
Well this is 'the' city and there is plenty of sex, but there's no mascara, cocktails or designer shoes; this is a down to earth production starring real girls. Central to the story is the disintegration of a relationship, and the breakup seems to have plunged the characters into an affect-less zone with little emotion. The flat-lining and eye-rolling mostly creates a quirky mood that works partly because the film finishes before the opportunities for dialogue run out. Nothing inappropriate.
Still LifeAnne Murphy
A council case worker looks for the relatives of those found dead and alone.
If "Still Life" highlights anything, it demonstrates how much things change. Life does not stay still. This movie creates a disquieting sense of emptiness as it peers at the little that's left behind by the lonely and the alone. The story is simply presented and although it is bleak, the delivery of day by day routine is rather matter of fact. There is so little emotional connection in what's played out on the screen it's difficult for audiences to feel very much apart from melancholic. Inert.
The Two Faces of JanuaryAnne Murphy
A thriller centred on a con artist, his wife, and a stranger who try to flee a foreign country after one of them is caught up in the murder of a police officer.
A drama that unfolds while holidaying in the Mediterranean, this sophisticated thriller delivers on tension and keeps you guessing about the plot. Apparently everyone has two faces and a cool linen suit, but there's nothing too high-tech or fantastic; it is all credible and the elements combine to seduce. The absence of gimmicks means you can imagine yourself in right the picture. Bring on the rest of the year.
X-Men: Days of Future PastAndrew O'Dea
The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" is a coherent, plot-driven action film. The visual effects are stunning in this accomplished mutant showcase, complete with monumental set pieces and superb ensemble cast. The compelling narrative holds enough appeal to entertain both the average cinema-goer and comic book geek alike, and thanks to a clever script, allows this rebooted franchise to undo and rewrite the failings of its predecessors. The future is bright.
Everyday RebellionAnne Murphy
"Everyday Rebellion" follows three main stories, in the Ukraine, Wall St. and the Spanish neighbourhood assembly.
Although the film is heavy in ideology, the creativity of the protestors is inspiring, and the use of humour adds a light touch. Real footage of recent protests is used with effect. Many of the activists are readily identifiable as everyday people and the narration provides understanding of events, demystifying some the perceived rage of rebellion. You can't help wondering 'what next?' Could we do this every day?
Captain America: The Winter SoldierAndrew O'Dea
Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
"Captain America 2" is testament to big-budget blockbusters capable of delivering substance in both plot and action. Grittier than its predecessor, this well rounded sequel plays more like an espionage thriller, and surprises in its contemplativeness of political and social relevance. A host of characters are each given time to develop without disengaging the audience, complementing the lavish visual effects and explosive, bone-crunching set pieces. Stars and spangles.