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.
The Lego MovieAnthony Macali
An ordinary Lego construction worker, thought to be the prophesied 'Special', is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil tyrant from gluing the Lego universe into eternal stasis.
"The Lego Movie" is an amusing anti-hero story wrapped in a world of little interconnecting blocks. It's puzzling to identify the target audience; adults will revel in the nostalgia and quick-wit, while kids will delight in the fast and frenetic colour and explosions. The film-makers have exceeded expectations in capturing the wonderful creativity and fun of their subject matter, with brilliant characters and animation. Break out the toy box, Lego is awesome.
An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
"Nebraska" is the black-and-white story of a rather confused elderly man. His poignant history is revealed during an absurd adventure to the titular destination, ensuring a stop-over at the town of his birth grants us a glimpse of small-town country life. All the characters we meet are equally colourful and droll, while conveying the quiet fragility and banal habits of old age. Simple and stripped-back, the film is a winner thanks to its lovable lead. Rich in sympathy and laughter.
A story set in Santiago and centered on Gloria, a free-spirited older woman, and the realities of her whirlwind relationship with a former naval officer she meets out in a club.
There is much to like about the authenticity with which one woman's life is depicted, including the loneliness of living alone. "Gloria" is about a real character who is a complete woman. The sex scenes are a highlight with everything played au natural; the audience laughs... but maybe it is true that getting to know someone romantically is no easier at sixty that it was at sixteen. Glorious.
Blue Is the Warmest ColourAnthony Macali
Adele's life is changed when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair.
"Blue Is the Warmest Colour" is an intimate and uncompromising story about first loves, sexual discovery and desire. The camera is close-up and firmly focused on the young Adele, adding an emotional reality that leads you to believe you are watching a true story unfold. You cannot imagine any other cast playing these spirited characters, and their performances are fascinating. Some of the more graphic scenes will shock, and although the film is too long, you can't deny the amazing storytelling. Red hot.
An enterprising Saudi girl signs on for her school's Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the remaining funds she needs in order to buy the green bicycle that has captured her interest.
How women find their way in a patriarchal world underscores the story of a girl and her mother, written and directed by a woman. "Wadjda" shows life in a society where women face challenges and day-to-day struggles. There is a sense of defiance but it's diluted by resignation, and the result is a gentleness in the tone of the movie that's borne of a feminine viewpoint. Go girl.
Saving Mr. BanksAnne Murphy
Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.
You don't need to be a critic to appreciate a film about the story behind a film, or the story behind the book the film is based on. Fact, fiction and fantasy are woven together in a fabulously entertaining way. "Saving Mr. Banks" fires the imagination and reminds us of the magic of childhood; thanks in part, to the outstanding performances of the cast. It's also an unexpectedly moving tale. See it, spit spot.
August: Osage CountyAnthony Macali
A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in.
"August: Osage County" plays host to a family steeped in unresolved issues. As each character is introduced, they bring extra weight to the drama. Based on a play, there are no small parts to this story, allowing each member of the ensemble to thrive, most memorably when they sit together in a dining scene to never forget. While the film lingers towards its conclusion, there's no doubt individuals will resonate identify with parts of the narrative before the end. Funny: Sad Family.
A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.
"Philomena" is perfectly structured. It is crafted to achieve a fine balance between the wrenching despair of forced adoption 50 years ago and touching comedic present-day moments. The story is based in truth, and the facts raise ire as it's difficult to accept that this treatment of young mothers was even possible. Thankfully there is no oozing of sentimentality and the humanity portrayed by the actors ensures moving viewing.
The Spectacular NowAnne Murphy
A hard-partying high school senior's philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical "nice girl."
Some matches are made in heaven, and the romantic match central to "Spectacular Now" is made on a front lawn. That should tell you that this is a quirky but down to earth tale. The focus is on the now rather than the future, but the past looms large for the characters. Spectacular suggests grand, but it's the simplicity of the everyday that is most engaging. Then there is self-discovery, ubiquitous and inevitable in coming-of-age movies, and breathtaking here. Simply stupendous.
Thor: The Dark WorldAndrew O'Dea
Thor embarks on his most perilous journey yet against an enemy that even Asgard cannot withstand.
"Thor 2" is loaded with enough thrills and goofy-laughs to keep the fan-boys appeased. Although the story doesn't quite match the spectacle, the brisk pacing the helps to overcome brief moments where the film gets side-tracked to indulge its plethora of characters. While the leading man's hulking presence is as mammoth as the God he portrays, it's actually his on-screen brother Loki who provides most of the entertainment and intrigue. A perfectly fun visual showcase that culminates in an action-packed and other-worldly climax. Hammer-time.
Fruitvale StationAnthony Macali
The purportedly true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III on the last day of 2008.
Based on a true story, "Fruitvale Station" is the tragic chronicle of Oscar, and the frightful events of his New Year's celebration. A gritty style and clever mobile phone subtitles document the day with added authenticity, in a recollection where the characters admiringly take precedence over incident. Our protagonists aren't perfect, but their portrayals feel genuine, with a focus on family and relationships that add significant emotional weight, which becomes more apparent with the overwhelming sense of dread that arrives at the last stop. A great injustice.
Captain PhillipsAndrew O'Dea
The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 cargo ship hijacking by Somali pirates.
This evocative retelling of the MV Maersk Alabama hijacking brings the tension of a real-life hostage drama to screen. The director's trademark visceral style and realism is perfectly suited to this intense biopic, and the handheld camerawork compliments the turbulence of the situation at hand. We remain gripped by the antagonistic relationship between the two captain as the film builds to a dazzling crescendo of military operations. Anchored by superb acting, particularly the brilliant performance from the lead, "Captain Phillips" is a thrilling cinematic voyage well worth boarding.
About TimeAnthony Macali
At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his own life.
"About Time" is one of those sweet romantic comedies designed for everybody to love, with the added gimmick of time-travel to keep the story moving forward. It's a plot device we've all seen before, but the charming set of characters allow a welcome and constant reminder to treasure every moment of our day-to-day lives. Despite the lack of originality, there's enough laughter and plenty of good-will to forgive the film for its obvious flaws. About life.
The story of Linda Lovelace, who is used and abused by the porn industry at the behest of her coercive husband, before taking control of her life.
One can imagine there is more to tell about the story of the young woman who 'starred' in a porno film that became a cultural phenomenon in the 1970's, and despite its name was not about a giraffe. The tale is sordid, ultimately it is about degradation and abuse, and it evokes empathy for the main character. The disco soundtrack is excellent and the support actors are credible as thugs in body shirts. Hard core.
Frances HaAndrew O'Dea
A story that follows a New York woman who throws herself headlong into her dreams.
"Frances Ha" is an unassuming and offbeat comedy about life, loves and messy rooms. Shot entirely in inky black and white against a New York City backdrop, the film's colour radiates from the whimsy and charm of the affable Frances. Her flawed character is an aimless yet endearing underachiever, and despite the glaring criticisms her questionable life-choices might draw, her gleeful exuberance and goofball nature has an appeal which makes her disarmingly likeable. An affectionate salute to our disjointed lives; fall for Frances.
In the year 2154, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to a grossly polarised Earth.
"Elysium" is an absorbing sci-fi adventure loaded with allegory. Although the political overtones can be heavy-handed at times, it's always refreshing to view a movie where the guns and explosions are balanced by an intelligent and relevant social conscience.The production values are superb, and impressive visuals add weight to a succession of gritty action sequences full of gory violence and splatter. While the conclusion is a little predictable, the brisk pacing and intensity make this film about dystopian class division exciting and imaginative enough to entertain.
Behind the CandelabraTom Jones
The tempestuous relationship between Liberace and his (much younger) lover is recounted.
Surprisingly, for a film about a figure as flamboyant as Liberace, it’s a little dark. The central relationship spirals into some very odd and destructive behaviour; imagine your boyfriend wanting to adopt you as his son. From the fashions and furnishings, to the stigmas surrounding homosexuality, this film accurately captures the era with which it is set. Though at times it does become a bit farcical, there are award-worthy performances all round, particularly from the man who is the candelabra.
This Is the EndAndrew O'Dea
While attending a party at James Franco's house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.
"This Is the End" is a creative comedy that plays like one stupendous inside-joke the audience is invited to. Although there are stretches of tedium at times, memorably hilarious scenes are never too far away. The self-referential and defacing style is bolstered by a witty script and a superb cast willing to mock themselves, with a host of high-profile cameos providing some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. Juvenile, crude, and funny till the end.
Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.
"Mud" is a hold-your-breath atmospheric thriller set down South in the US. As expected, the ol' boys are hardened characters seeking either redemption or revenge but this intense movie really belongs to the two wide-eyed young boys and their adventures in a grim adult world. While distracted by women, they are discovering what it takes to be a man and how the bonds forged between men prove more steadfast than other embittering relationships. Gritty.
A Gun in Each HandAnne Murphy
A series of five vignettes exploring the relationship crises of middle aged men.
This movie is a conversation starter. After watching the intimate conversations on the screen, there will much to talk about, particularly with a member of the opposite sex. "A Gun in Each Hand" is thought provoking, and we're given a fly-on-the-wall chance to witness men talking and sharing about their feelings and relationships. They are all struggling in some way and the director's slightly cynical touch is light enough that we can connect with both their desires and concerns. Straight shooters, or trying to be…
Satellite BoyTom Jones
Pete lives with his grandfather in an old, abandoned outdoor cinema in the desert. When the old drive-in is threatened with demolition, ten year old Pete takes off to the city to save his home.
This film effectively handles the topical issues of mining and land rights, capturing a real innocence on the matter. The way the young Aboriginal boys use the land and the way miners use the land are opposed, the dynamic played out without blatantly plugging any political agenda. With picture-postcard cinematography throughout, the audience can enjoy the story for what it is, as a platform for discussion, or as inspiration for your next getaway. Walkabout anyone?