SIGNIS REVIEWS JANUARY 2019
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME
EIGHTH GRADE, THE
HOLMES AND WATSON
HOW TO SAVE YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
WILD PEAR TREE, The
US, 2008 home, 140 minutes, Colour.
Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul- Matellan II, Temuera Morrison, Michael Beach, Graham Mc Tavish, Leigh Whannell, voices of: Julie Andrews, Djimon Hounsou, John Rhys Davies.
Directed by James Wan.
mother, at Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) fled the kingdom of Atlantis and a forced marriage to take refuge with a lighthouse keeper on the coast of Maine (Temuera Morrison). The year is 1985. The narrative throughout the film comes from their son, Arthur, who tells his story, the story of his growing up and being considered a half-breed, trained by Vukru in martial skills, the plea from Atlantis that he should be the king – and his quest for the Golden Trident, his leading the various kingdoms of Atlantis to peace.
While the Superman and Batman films of the past have been triumphant for DC Comics, there have been mixed results in more recent years, especially with Superman films, Justice League films, with Suicide Squad films. Somewhere in there there have been glimpses of Aquaman.
But, with this new star vehicle, he has little to worry about except preparing for the sequel! (And, of course, during the final credits, there is a trailer.)
The great advantage of the film (with a budget of around $200 million) is the presence of Jason Momia as Arthur who becomes known as Aquaman. He is big. He is a commanding presence. But he is also a genial presence, rather more modest than many of the super heroes. And sometimes has a way with an amusing turn of phrase.
But, it also must be said, that the special effects are rather eye-boggling, almost too much of a good thing (this reviewer noting that it was the equivalent of two hours and more gorging on chocolate cake – with a fellow reviewer remarking as well, “while watching it in a sauna”).
We have never seen an Atlantis like this, vast kingdoms, vast sea creatures, let alone all the effects for vast storms, characters being able to walk and talk and breathe underwater, Aquaman lifting a submarine to the ocean surface and combating a group of father-son pirates (with the villain, mentor (Yahya Abdul-Matellan? II)) making an unexpected reappearance to combat Arthur in a village in Sicily.
The reason that Arthur finds himself in Sicily is that the daughter of one of the kings of Atlantis, Mera (Amber Heard) has rejected an arranged marriage with the King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is Arthur’s half-brother, insecure on his throne, relying on the sage advice of Vukru (Willem Dafoe), deciding to make war on earth because of its pollution of the waters but also wanting to consolidate himself as the leader of all the kingdoms of Atlantis.
Which means then that Arthur and Mera become something of a bickering romantic couple, leaping out of planes, trekking through the Sahara, experiencing the battles and special effects action in the Sicilian town. But, there is still plenty of action to go as Arthur pursues his quest, somewhat reluctantly, encouraged by the rediscovery of his mother, a dislike of Orm.
So, plenty of action – more than plenty of action – a sympathetic hero figure, romantic touches, battles in single combat and only confrontations (and the reassurance that 30 years of living underwater does nothing to harm an initially perfect complexion, though Nicole Kidman does have grey hair in the latter part of the film, but retains that flawless complexion!).
US, 2018, 124 minutes, Colour.
Sandra Bullock, Travante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, BD Wong, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Vivien Lara Blair, Julian Edwards.
Directed by Suzanne Bier.
Bird Box is an unexpected title for an apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic drama. It has been directed by Suzanne Bier, Danish director who won an Oscar for In a Better World, who has directed films in Europe and in the United States as well as the adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Night Manager.
At the opening of the film, we are introduced to a pregnant artist, Malorie (no father in view), moody, reluctantly going to visit the obstetrician, urged on by her sister (Sarah Paulson). We glimpse television stories about a disaster in Russia, crowds going berserk, mass suicides. And, within a short time, it takes over in the United States, women bashing their heads against glass windows, crowds running in the streets, vehicles hitting them, crashing into one another, vehicles on fire – and, scenes of people with madness in their eyes, glazed intensity before they go to kill themselves.
Malorie herself is in danger on the streets, almost killed, until a kind woman from a house nearby hurries out, despite her husband’s warning her not to, to help but then she is taken over, willingly gets into a flaming car.
The major part of the film concerns the range of people who have taken refuge in the house. They are a mixed group, John Malkovich as Douglas the self-centred on unwilling host, Travante Rhodes as Tom, a sympathetic worker, some of the staff from a nearby supermarket, Danielle Macdonald desperately taking refuge despite opposition, also pregnant, Jacki Weaver who proves to be a life-saving helper at the births, and, later, Tom Hollander as a mysterious refugee from an institution who does weird illustrations.
The screenplay does not give any detailed explanation of what has happened, only some suggestions, something in the air, sabotage… In fact, the filmmakers ultimately decided not to show anything of what the victims saw what, just the movement in the atmosphere, their eyes opened and transformed to death. Which means then that the survivors have to block out sight of the outside world, emerging only wearing blindfolds. It might defy realism, but the sequence where the group block the car windows, rely on the GSP to get them to the supermarket for supplies, driving over bodies and debris, does create some tension.
And, intersecting with this story is an episode, five years later, with Malorie desperate with a little boy and a little girl, explaining to them that they have to go on a voyage on the river, all of them blindfold, trusting her absolutely. This story draws attention as they experience difficulties on the river, crashing into a wreck, the boat overturning and the danger to the children, going through the rapids.
There are continual ragers around the countryside, able to see, but commenting on how wonderful the beauty is that they can see, urging others to look, to remove the blindfolds, to embrace the beauty.
There are quite a number of disasters, victims being exposed to the outside world, suicides, murders, and quite some empathy at the end towards Malorie, Tom and the children.
The final destination for Malorie and the children has touches of paradise – but, is not quite what the audience might have expected which makes the ending and the finale different, and rather touching in its way.
The film is rather long, sometimes repetitive, which may tax the impatient who want action to move along. However, for those drawn into the story, the mystery, the human experiences, the challenges, it proves to be an interesting, sometimes more humane, post-apocalyptic drama.
US, 2018, 114 minutes, Colour.
Hailee Steinfeld. Jorge Landeborg Jr, John Cena, John Ortiz, Glynn Turman, Len Cariou.
Voices of: Dylan O'Brien, Peter Cullen, Angela Bassett, Justin through.
Directed by Travis Knight.
From Hasbro toys and animation feature films and television series in the 1980s, the Transformers have become a staple of popular entertainment. A decade ago, when director Michael Bay brought his somewhat overwhelmingly extravagant style to what became a franchise of Transformer films (loud and brash), the Transformers got a new lease on life.
Which means that Bumblebee might be surprising for audiences who have not kept close tabs on the Transformer adventures as they moved more and more into a desperate future, conflict between humans and machines, attacks from outer space and human efforts in defence as well as attack.
So, Bumblebee? And why not Transformers in the title of the film? Just to reassure the fans, the film does open with some Michael Bay-type action, the Decepticons trying to take over on their planet, the Autobots being chased and persecuted…
In fact, this is an “origins story”. We are being taken back into the 1980s, literally, looks, clothes, cars, musical excerpts (except for a long tribute to Unchained Melody). The Decepticons powers that be are searching for Optimus Prime. Bumblebee (that is his Earth name rather than his letter and figures scientific name, voiced by Dylan O’Brien) is a smaller Autobot but is sent to Earth to find a refuge. Needless to say, two fierce Decepticons track him down and bring the conflict to earth – on a comparatively small scale, two Decepticons versus one Autobot (no prizes for guessing who wins). The director of this film, Travis Knight, has worked for some years in animation.
Bumblebee is named because he can turn himself into a yellow VW – exceedingly quickly and with quite some agility. He is found by Charlie, Hailee Steinfeld being both strong and charming, mourning her father, hostile to her mother and brother, and her mother’s boyfriend. She has mechanical skills – and so, encounters Bumblebee.
While, as has been said, there are many Transformer moments, the film that Bumblebee most resembles (and there is Steven Spielberg here as executive producer) is ET. The parallels are considerable, the bonding between the extraterrestrial and the human, shared adventures, shared problems, shared triumphs, and quite an amount of cuteness.
And, as usual, there is a fierce hawkish American military -type, here played by solid and stolid former wrestler, John Cena, who takes every opportunity to attack Bumblebee but is persuaded by an earnest scientist (John Ortiz) to persuade an aggressive general (Glynn Turman) to collaborate with the Decepticons who offer all kinds of futuristic scientific advances – but, of course, are duplicitous, utilising earthly technology with their own to summon the evil forces.
And, along with Charlie, there is the rather shy and nerdish Memo (Jorge Landeborg Jr), attracted to Charlie and only too happy to become part of her ingenious adventures in saving Bumblebee. And, mother, brother and boyfriend all help to save the day.
The fans have liked the Transformer story, have liked the bonding between Charlie and Bumblebee – so, the best of both worlds.
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
US, 2018, 106 minutes, Colour.
Melissa Mc Carthy, Richard E.Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone, Jane Curtin, Stephen Spinella, Anna Deavere Smith.
Directed by Marielle Heller.
This film offers a tour-de-force performance from Melissa Mc Carthy. From early appearances on television, she emerged in the late 2000s as a strong comic presence on the big screen in films such as Bridesmaids and Eat. In the succeeding years, she made a great number of comedies, a number of them raucous, suiting her on-screen personality. However, she did some serious rules, especially with Bill Murray in St Vincent.
In this film she has the opportunity to draw on her comic timing and mannerisms but also to be very serious. She plays an author, Lee Israel, who has published some biographies with some literary success. However, Lee Israel is an exceedingly prickly character, disappointed in life, ambitious in her writing, very quick in her negative reactions and telling off of people she does not like (which is most people).
The film is set in New York City in the early 1990s. Lee Israel is suffering from writer’s block as well as having no income, is fired from a job, goes to a party to discuss her future with her agent but is given the brush off. She cannot pay her rent, she has not enough money to take her beloved cat to the vet for treatment, is down on herself and on life.
She has written a biography of Fanny Brice and realises she has an autographed letter, framed, which she takes to a buyer with connections to collectors. The buyer is very sympathetic, Anne (Dolly Wells) who buys other letters – especially when Lee Israel gets the idea to embellish the letters with more personal detail, buying different typewriters for different authors whose letters she creates, buying old paper and treating it to make them feel more authentic. Not only does she have the Fanny Brice letter but she researches Noel Coward, imitates his signature, finds a specialist agent to sell to Coward aficionados, and, with her acerbic approach to life, forges letters from Dorothy Parker – and, at the end, an agent commenting on Parker’s wit indicates how much better, at times, Lee Israel was at being Dorothy Parker.
Down in the dumps and drinking in a bar, she encounters Jack (Richard E.Grant) whom she had encountered at a party (remembering that he urinated by mistake on the furs in the closet). They talk, they become associates, if not friends. He is a campy gay man, flirting with waiters. When Lee reveals what she has been doing, he becomes fascinated and helps her to sell letters to agents, enjoying his acting spiels of persuasion.
Eventually, there are complaints from collectors (she has inserted too much overt gay comment from Noel Coward, too much for the era) and her picture is circulated and warnings issued.
Jack is found out, collaborates with the police – and, there is some pathos as Lee goes to a lawyer, appears before the judge and makes a rather more personal and honest speech about herself than she usually does.
She gets the brainwave to write a book about what she has done – and it becomes a bestseller. Jack became ill and died in 1994. Lee Israel died in 2014.
Intriguing to enjoy a film about a character who could be so constantly unpleasant.
France, 2018, 95 minutes, Colour.
Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila, Kiddy Smile.
Directed by Gaspar Noe.
This is a film principally for those who are fans of the writer-director, originally from Argentina but working in France for many decades, Gaspar Noe. For years he has had a reputation as an “enfant terrible”, making an international impression with his 2003 drama of sexual violence, the screenplay working in backwards time, Irreversible. Amongst his other films are the significantly named, Into the Void, as well as the 3-D erotic film, Love.
Climax is not a film for those not interested in experimental content and cinema style and for those who do not know Gaspar Noe and his themes and treatment.
The setting is an unused building outside Paris where a group of young men and women, some black, some white, more women than men, gather for a contemporary dance rehearsal. There is quite some exhilaration about the dancing, the energy, the vitality, the talent. Much of it is filmed from above, offering quite a different impression of dance, pounding music, athletic moves.
When the dancers one for a break, sangria, spiced by LSD (there are angry suspicions but it is not clear who did this), is brought in and most drink it. And this is where curiosity and prurience come in, the director inviting us to share the experience of those affected by the drugs, using all kinds of cinematic techniques, again filming from above, long takes, the lights going out and only the emergency red light staying on (an infernal impression of black and red). At times the camera goes skewiff, lying on the floor, filming upside down (including a written explanation at one stage).
The principal effect of the drug and the trip is bewilderment and anger, scenes of bitter aggression, puzzle, suspicions, men and women behaving badly and stupidly. There is some brutally frank talk about sexual experience. A mother whose son is present in the building locks him in the power cupboard for safety – and then loses the key. As might be expected, there is some erotic passion, but that is only part of the overall experience.
Some have suggested that Noe’s films are not to be watched but to be experienced and there is quite some truth in that. While some of the camera work is inventive, there is a great deal in the latter part of the film where characters are almost indistinguishable, the black and red is too dark, and audience attention being whirled around in the drug frenzy – – but does go on and on.
Idiosyncratically, most of the credits come on in the middle of the first part of the film. At the end, the police arrive, checking whether people are alive or dead, suggesting that however interesting drug experience might be and what it lets loose, in real life, some order needs to be restored.
The title, Climax, then comes up large and in yellow – and out the audience walks into the fresh air to contemplate what they have just been through.
Poland, 2018, 88 minutes, Black and white.
Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Cedric Kahn, Jeanne Balibar.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.
Quite a powerful film, winner of many nominations and awards. It was co-written as well as directed by Pawel Pawlikoski who won an Oscar for his film, Ida, about a young nun discovering her Jewish antecedents and her experience as a child during World War II. This time the war is the Cold War.
The action of the film takes place from 1949-1964. At the opening, it is clear that a very drab-looking Poland (although the film is shot in striking black-and-white) is under Soviet domination. The Cold War between Eastern Europe and Western Europe (and the Iron Curtain) is a 1950s fact of life for the world.
However, the title of the film could be interpreted also as a Cold War within Poland itself, between the artistic rebels who wish to leave the country, who escape from the country and the bureaucratic officials.
Further, the title could describe the love/struggles between the two central characters, Wiktor and.Zula.
The tone is set right from the opening with a range of young men and women singing excerpts from traditional songs, Polish folklore, listened to by two officials who are auditioning for what becomes a touring company of singers and dancers. Wiktor is the principal man who auditions, a pianist, creative. His partner does her job rather objectively – but we see her later exiting from a performance, disillusioned by the forced patriotism.
One of the candidates for audition is a young girl, Zula (actress Julia Kulig persuasively growing from a young woman to a middle-aged woman), Zula. Wiktor is immediately entranced by her, hires her, and begins a relationship with her – while she becomes part of the company, learning how to sing, to dance, work in the ensemble, touring with it for many years.
One of the challenges for the audience is that particular episodes suddenly stop and the screen goes black. When the next scene appears, time has passed without the film-maker visually filling in some of the detail of events in character (but some brief verbal information). The audience has to do some work, understanding the plot details, estimating the effect that they have on the characters.
One of these changes finds Wiktor in Paris, mention of his escape from Poland. He has settled in Paris, a pianist with a group, in 1955 visiting Yugoslavia where the Polish ensemble is performing, meeting Zula once again – she has had knocked the strength or courage to escape with him – and renewing their passion, but the authorities at the concert put him on a train back to Paris.
Then it is a period of Rock around the Clock, even in Paris! Wiktor has been in some relationships, especially with a poet who has written lyrics for a song for Zula herself who has now arrived in Paris – this time an explanation given verbally that she has married an Italian from Sicily and legally left Poland. Wiktor is also writing and performing music for film scores.
Will Wiktor and Zula finally be able to live together, each of them still passionately loving despite other partnerships.
Again, a sudden time-jump, the action moves to 1964, literally cold experiences of the Cold War and, yet again, Zula encountering Wiktor with some unanticipated consequences. And a question can be asked during the final credits, does the Cold War end in defeat or not?
US, 2018, 93 minutes, Colour.
Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadi, Fred Hechinger, Imani Lewis.
Directed by Bo Burnham.
Response to Eighth Grade will depend very strongly on the age of the member of the audience as well is their perspective on the film’s subject: young adolescents, its trials and uncertainties.
It seems that its writer-director, Bo Burnham, used to be on children’s television dramatising some of these issues from a boy’s point of view. Now he tries the girl’s point of view.
For many, it will be hard to sit through, even while admiring the insights of the screenplay, the performances, noting the education issues. And, for older audiences who don’t have direct dealings with children at school, it might well be very irritating. (Yes, youngsters do talk in this way but, regrettably, dialogue full of okay, like, um, cool, totally frequently repeated, is trying to listen to.)
These comments will indicate that it is very much a film from a teenage girl’s point of view, coming to the end of her years in middle school, coming to the end of eighth grade, the prospect of moving to high school. And not only Kayla, but also her friends and those with whom she clashes, both boys and girls.
Elsie Fisher’s performance as Kayla, um, like totally, is absolutely convincing – and she herself, publicity notes, finished her eighth grade just before making this film. She is a rather introverted girl, her mother moving having moved out of the house some years earlier, her earnest father, Josh Hamilton, trying to be as understanding as he can, giving her some room to move, trying to engage her in conversation, to draw out her feelings (and generally failing and even more frequently snubbed by his daughter), sometimes staying in her room, sometimes trying to bond.
In fact, her most constant companion, as with so many of her peers, is her phone, talking, texting, instagramming, earplugs firmly plugged in all the time.
One of the very best days of her life is the excursion to the high school where one of the students there will serve as a companion. Kayla is very lucky to have Olivia, sympathetic, introducing her to friends, texting to invite Kayla to the mail…
It would seem that Kayla has had very little to do with the boys. As with other young girls, she is social-media aware of the implications of sexuality though, in fact, very ignorant. There is a tense scene where the young boy who drives her home makes advances, testing her, very much frightening her.
Kayla is encouraged by her father to be more outgoing – and, the audience is on her side when she is lined up in graduation cap and gown, suddenly leaves her place and goes to the snooty classmate who looks down her – and really tells her off! Kayla is not in irredeemable!!
Elsie Fisher was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe award. Probably this film is a must for young girls, for anxious and puzzling parents and grandparents. As those not so involved, it is, as was said earlier, not the easiest of films to sit through.
UK, 2018, 119 minutes, colour.
Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Mark Gatiss, Joe Alwyn.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.
How often have we been invited, cinematically, into the Court of Queen Anne? Into the court of the last of the Stuarts who had ruled over England and Scotland for a century, a turbulent century, especially with the execution of Charles I, the rule of Oliver Cromwell, the Restoration with Charles II, the battles in Ireland with James II, William and Mary – and Then Anne. Anne lived through 17 pregnancies but lost all her children, the end of the Stuarts, the beginning of the rulers from Hanover who became the Winsors.
If one likes costume dramas, then there is a great deal to delight the eye as we enter the palace and its sumptuous elegance – although, we might remember, that not all that far away across the Channel, everything was far more elegant, far more sumptuous in Versailles (but the English would not have been so interested at the time because they were embroiled in war with France under the Duke of Marlborough.) So, lots of lavish costumes, excessive facial make-up for men and women, large wigs galore and cinema memories of the tableau and lighting for Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.
But, The Favourite has been described as a comedy. It is worth an exploration of the many comments on the IMDb to find that it does not fit the bill for so many correspondents and their idea of comedy. It looks as though they want ha-ha, ha-ha all the time. While there are some of these moments, this is a different kind of comedy. Sardonic is a word that immediately comes to mind. Here are comic situations which have the intrinsic capacity to be tragic. Here is very bad behaviour, even from the Queen herself (particularly so), as well as courtiers who want control and power, as well as of crafty politicians in favour of war, in favour of suing for peace with France, in favour of their own hold on power. One might note that it would be funnier if it was not so potentially disastrous!
Many who did not like the film have commented on the soundtrack, quite an extraordinary mixture of musical styles, from 18th century classic to 21st-century atmospheric, sometimes just alternating beats, subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, commenting on the behaviour and action.
So, here we are at the beginning of the 18th century, the end of the Stuart era, international warfare, fops in wigs indulging in geese racing (surely one of the slowest of sports!) or wrangling in parliament. Queen Anne is eccentric, an inheritor of the divine right of kings and sometimes exercising this on whim, exhausted by the death of her children, seeking and finding solace in women courtiers, petty, tormented by gout, not the idea of a monarch. And she is played with incisive skill by Olivia Coleman.
At the title? The first favourite is Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (with her husband played by Mark Gatiss). She is tough minded, a lady Machiavelli, who continually tells the Queen how to act while allegedly deferring to her. She is also a sexual companion. Rachel Weisz is particularly strong – even maintaining some poise when she is poisoned and dragged miles behind a horse.
But, she hadn’t counted on the charm and wiles of her cousin, Abigail Hill, abused and impoverished, coming to court for a job – and a masterclass in ingratiating herself with the Queen, subtly ousting Sarah Churchill, self-satisfied with her position and power, but, ultimately, over-estimating herself. As an English lady, Emma Stone is excellent.
And a word for one of the male cast, Nicholas Hoult as Mr Harley, leader of the opposition, intriguing and an intriguer.
From the screenplay written by British Deborah Davis and worked on by Australian writer-director Tony Mc Namara, the film is full of wit (and some unexpected blunt language) but directed in continually unexpected ways by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos who has spent a decade becoming more significant internationally with Dogtooth, The Lobster, Killing of a Sacred Deer. They say that this is his most accessible film and praised and award-nominated, but, it seems, not so accessible to audience who want even more accessible comedies at the multiplex.
US, 2018, 113 minutes, Colour.
Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Antonio Kyles, Victoria Hill, Philip Ettinger, Michael Gaston, Bill Hoag.
Directed by Paul Schrader.
Definitely a film written and directed by Paul Schrader. Schrader has told stories about himself, his growing up in a Calvinist family in Michigan, first seeing a movie, a Disney, at the age of 17. The strict and sometimes puritanical principles of his Calvinist upbringing have been incorporated into the moral dilemmas of his dramas. This was true of his 1976 script for Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese.
The dramatic chemistry between New York Italianate Catholicism from Scorsese along with middle American Calvinism with Schrader was very well illustrated by The Last Temptation of Christ, an interpretation of a very human Jesus, struggling with his relationship with the father, his sacrificial destiny, support from and betrayal by his disciples.
30 years on from The Last Temptation, each filmmaker has returned to his roots. In 2016, Scorsese made a profound film on Catholicism in his picture of Jesuit missions in Japan in the 17th century. Schrader looks at a contemporary minister, his personal history, theology and spirituality, faith struggles, ministry and support of others, social critique of today’s society. It is there in his title, First Reformed.
In introducing his central character, Reverend Toler, he shows him writing a journal, reflecting on the power of words and the effect of expressing oneself in words. One of the books on the shelf is by Trappist Thomas Merton (later quoted in the film), A Life in Letters. The voice-over of the Journal continues throughout the film, commenting on the action, but Toler questioning himself as to understanding what he is doing, its effect on others.
This is particularly important when a young woman, Mary (Amanda Seyfried) asks him to talk with her husband (Philip Ettinger), an environmental idealist who has been in prison, he does not want a child (she is pregnant) to be brought into the contemporary world and its disaster-bent future. In fact, Toler is a listener, sensible (he has been a military chaplain), but cannot foresee the terrible consequences. Mary also finds a suicide vest with bombs in their garage. Toler takes it, hides it, not wanting Mary or her husband to be caught up with the police.
The conversation between Toler and the young man expresses current anger and anguish about climate change and denial. This is important because the situation of the film is the celebration of 250 years of the historic first Reformed Church, a second consecration, presided over by the city minister (audiences may not recognise the former Cedric the Entertainer using his actual name, Cedric Antonio Kyles). And the celebrations, the fixing of the organ, the publishing of the souvenir program and history, are all being financed by the local capitalist engineer whose factory produces all kinds of allegedly environmentally-friendly products.
In the meantime, Toler struggles with issues of prayer, the nature of prayer, discernment, the depths of faith, issues of belief, stating that wisdom is the ability to have two contrasting ideas in one’s mind, that reason will not provide solutions for problems. What is needed is courage.
Before the culmination of the film at the ceremony for the second consecration, Schrader shifts his perspective from detailed realism to a kind of magical realism, Toler and Mary, one prostrate on the other, are seen floating over the landscapes of the United States, audiences thinking environment, and their final destination, close-floating over dumps, refuse, the flotsam and jetsam of progress.
Which does prepare the audience for the finale – with audiences hoping that it will not go in the direction where it seems to be heading, dreading this. And then the film stops, black on the screen, pause, final credits.
A number have complained that this is too sudden, that they wanted a resolution. Of course, Schrader is saying that there is no conclusion, that there is the range of experience, good and bad, and the challenge to his audience to reflect, accept the challenge.
US, 2018, 100 minutes, Colour.
Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin, Sanni Mc Candless.
Directed by Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.
This is a National Geographic Documentary production. The subject, indicated by the title, Free Solo, is mountain climbing, scaling mountains without any ropes or safety gear. Obviously, a must for mountain climbers. Others may find it a very strange vicarious experience, partly exhilarating, partly dizzying, quite amazing in terms of the achievement of the central character, Alex Honnold.
Alex was a quiet boy who lived in Sacramento, California. He became interested in climbing, found that he had natural skills, climbed many mountains in the traditional way, but also began to do free solo work throughout the United States, sometimes going abroad, with scenes in this film from Morocco.
Initially, the audience might be wondering how they got all these shots and close-ups of Alex and details of his climbing. Soon we are introduced to the filmmakers, climbers themselves, Alex’s friends, especially director Jimmy Chin, and see how they climbed (with ropes and gear) to find the best places to film, perched on the side of the mountains, getting long shots, getting close-ups of Alex, very conscious that they should not distract him or disturb him, and very alert to the dangers and the reality of sudden falls and death.
The film presents quite a genial picture of Alex himself – although he is very introverted, focused, and not particularly well integrated emotionally, coming from a family which did not hug or use the word love, becoming involved with a girlfriend, Sanni Mc Candless, who finds his self-contained reserve sometimes very difficult. However, we see him speaking to students at his old school as well as his establishing a personal foundation for aid against poverty.
For those who love mountain scenery, this film is very rewarding. The ultimate destination is Yosemite Valley, the mountain face nicknamed El Capitan. By the end of the film, the audience has become familiar with various sites on the mountain, secure places, dangerous places, alarming places.
Alex plans to scale El Capitan and in free solo. However, he has some accidents and bails out in an attempt, postponing the feat for a year. We see some of his physical regimen, some information about his diet, follow his close examination of the whole route up El Capitan and his notebooks and the details of steps – as we remember that he has only two hands, two feet, eight fingers and two thumbs as his resource. And, just so that we remember the challenge, the film edits in all kinds of views from the mountain, down the steep sides, the crevices in the rocks, and the green valley far below.
For those who are prone to the touch of the vertiginous, it is something of an ordeal to watch even though we know that the attempt is going to be successful. But, the film is a tribute to the intensity of Alex Honnold, his talent, his perseverance, his illustration of what can be heroic physical achievement.
US, 2018, 130 minutes, Colour.
Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini.
Directed by Peter Farrelly.
Green Book seems an indeterminate kind of title for what is quite a significant film.
In fact, as the screenplay explains, Green Book was the title of a guide for African- Americans travelling in the south, indicating the significance of segregation, hotels and restaurants where they would be welcome and those where they would not be welcome. Many audiences in the 21st-century, perhaps even in the United States, might be shocked to discover the existence and use of this book.
In the late 1950s, Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis appeared in a landmark film about black-white relationships, The Defiant Ones, two prisoners, one black, one white, chained together as they try to escape prison. In some ways, Green Book could be seen as an equivalent of The Defiant Ones. They are not literally chained together, the black man and the white man, but there are bonds and there are bigotries that need to be broken.
The initial focus of the film is on Tony, an Italian- American working at the Copacabana club in New York City, keeping an eye on security, intervening as a bouncer to break up fights and kick out unwelcome guests when necessary. At home, he has a loving wife and family. He also has a lot of Italian relatives and friends. They are eager to give him a job when the club closes down for several months of renovations. The next focus of the film is on Dr Shirley, who summons Tony for a job interview. Dr Shirley lives in rather lavish apartments, with all kinds of decor, even a throne chair, on top of Carnegie Hall. He is a talented musician. He is also black.
It is 1962.
We have glimpsed some bigotry on Tony’s part, putting some glasses used by black tradesmen in the rubbish bin. He is not immediately attracted to the job of driving Dr Shirley, being something like a servant. However, there is some insistence and he accepts the job.
So, this is the film of a journey, physically through some states in middle America and down to the South, the deepest south. It is also a journey of two men getting to know each other as persons, realising prejudices and limitations, learning how to overcome them, having to depend on each other, and beginning a friendship (which the final credits, with photos of the actual men, indicates lasted until their deaths in 2014). One of Tony’s sons wrote the screenplay for the film.
The performances are excellent. Viggo Mortensen is at his best as Tony, loud, chain-smoking, chewing fried chicken and advising Dr Shirley to chuck the bones out of the car window, not initially appreciating Dr Shirley’s talent. Mahershala Ali, who won his Oscar for Moonlight, is a regal-mannered, self-confidently arrogant, superior who sits in the back of the car (and reminders of a reverse of Driving Miss Daisy).
One of the strengths of the screenplay is the continued conversations between the two, as they drive through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky. And one wonders why Dr Shirley would be travelling America at this stage for performances, excellent as he is, receiving the warmth of the predominantly white audiences. As they venture into the South, there are more troubles and more segregation, more relying on the Green Book.
Dr Shirley is also a drinker, drinking alone, and, when he is arrested one evening, further revelation about him and his aloneness. The two are stopped by the police in Louisiana and are given very bigoted treatment, especially when Tony becomes violent, something that Dr Shirley has advised against. They finish up in jail, Dr Shirley allowed his phone call and, entertainingly as we might expect, his phone call is to Robert Kennedy!
And there is worse in Birmingham, Alabama, the seemingly-civilised manners that put prejudice into practice and the underlying dislike, even racial hatred. However, there is a very engaging sequence where Dr Shirley goes to a black club and wows the audience with his piano playing.
There are many fine touches throughout the film (including Tony trying to write letters to his loving wife, Linda Cardellini, and Dr Shirley taking over the inspiration and composition).
There is so much to enjoy in Green Book as well as so much about prejudice to reflect on.
HOLMES AND WATSON
US, 2018, 90 minutes, Colour.
Will Ferrell, John C.Reilly, Rebecca Hall, Lauren Lapkus, Ralph Fiennes, Kelly Macdonald, Steve Coogan, Pam Ferris, Noah Jupe, Rob Brydon, Hugh Laurie.
Directed by Etan Cohen.
With a long, long history of Sherlock Holmes films, this successor is not absolutely (nor relatively) essential. And it is not as if Sherlock Holmes hasn’t been the subject of cinema humour before. Well, if not Sherlock himself, his fictional brother, Sigerson, the product of Gene Wilder’s imagination who starred in, wrote and directed, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother, 1975! (Sherlock and Dr Watson, the reputable Douglas Wilmer and Thorley Walters, along with Moriarty and his assistant, the reputable Leo McKern? and Roy Kinnear, balancing a cast led by Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman!).
Modesty is not a one of the main characteristics of Sherlock Holmes and his vanity is taken up here by Will Ferrell in the title role, sporting a very British accent, supported by John C.Reilly playing an enthusiastically ingenuous Dr Watson (initially intending to kill himself after returning from the wars in Afghanistan in 1881, misinterpreting Holmes’ signs that there were other ways to commit suicide by thinking that Holmes was actually encouraging him to live!
So, who is the intended audience for this spoof of Holmes and Watson, of Holmes’ methods of detection, of the pursuit of Moriarty, the ministrations of Mrs Hudson, the request by Queen Victoria to solve the case? How to tell! Conan Doyle purists, like Victoria, will not be amused – actually that’s not quite correct here, Victoria enters into the investigations (even when she is subjected to a number of unintended punches and battering) with quite some enthusiasm. So, not for purists.
For fans of Ferrell and Reilly and their longtime collaborator, Adam McKay?, perhaps one of their more disappointing efforts. (And McKay? has recently gone on to serious satire with The Big Short and his film about Dick Cheney, Vice.) There will be a little consolation with some amusing cameos, Steve Coogan suddenly appearing as a one-armed tattooist, Pam Ferris as Queen Victoria, Kelly Macdonald as not quite the image of Mrs Hudson as we have come to know, Hugh Laurie as Mycroft (communicating wordlessly with Sherlock in the silence required by the diogenes Club. Ralph Fiennes is Moriarty and a final joke about Titanic with Billy Zane as himself.
Rob Brydon has a rather thankless role as a frustrated Inspector Lestrade but Rebecca Hall seems to be enjoying herself as a Boston doctor, able to make some points about women in the professions to a rather disbelieving Holmes. It was all written and directed by Etan Cohen, not to be confused with Ethan Coen of the Coen brothers. Etan Cohen wrote Men in Black 3, Tropic Thunder and his next announced project as Mandrake the Magician with Sasha Baron Cohen (so there!).
There are a whole lot of anachronisms, of course, and some consolation during an autopsy with the playing of Unchained Melody (which also had a key role in Bumblebee).
Advertising refers to the film as “a humorous take on…”. Most critics seem to use the word unfunny in their condemnations. Allowing for some near lowest common denominator humour (rather crutch-fixated), it could be called corny.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD
US, 2019, 104 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, F.Murray Abraham, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz- Plasse, Kit Harrington, Olafur Darri Olafsson.
Directed by Don DeBlois?.
More dragons – and even more. Dragon battles, Dragon abductions.
And, dragons in love.
This is the third in the series based on novels by Cassandra Cowell. The first two were very entertaining, going back into the Viking era, into the world where dragons flew the skies, where humans and dragons could live in harmony despite ever-present dangers. There was some charm in the story of the young man, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), and his bonding with the black dragon, Toothless. There was also the strong Astrid (America Ferrera), with her eye on Hiccup but also bossing him around. There was Hiccup’s mother (Cate Blanchett), the old Stoick (Gerard Butler). And, reminding us that there were also nerds around in Viking days, the brash young ones (Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse)
They are all back again plus an arch villain, a mercenary employed by a tough Viking community to abduct dragons, Grimmel (F.Murray Abraham).
The film starts with a raid by Hiccup and co to rescue imprisoned dragons. This gives the tone to the film, a touch of darkness, the place of the dragons, the mercenaries, but the happy community of Hiccup and his family providing a refuge for dragons.
The plot thickens when the enemy find a young white Dragon and use her as a ploy to lure Toothless as they fall in love. Interventions by Grimmel, defeating Hiccup, and more battles and rescues.
It is a pleasure to see the animation and hear the voices again – but it is rather repetitious, battles and the dragons wanting to have a hidden refuge away from humans. And there is a nice little romantic footnote at the end.
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
UK, 2018, 124 minutes, Colour.
Saoirse Ronin, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, Joe Alwyn, Ian Hart, David Tennant, Jack Lowdon, Simon Russell Beale, Martin Compston, James Mc Ardle, Adrian Lester, Gemma Chan, Ismael Cruz Cordova.
Directed by Jessie Rourke.
It is almost 50 years since the film, Mary, Queen of Scots, appeared with Vanessa Redgrave in the title role and with Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth. In the meantime, there have been many films and television series about Elizabeth, but Mary has been in the background, remembered principally for the fact that she was executed.
This time the focus is quite prominently on Mary, Elizabeth being presented as something of a supporting character. The performances are very good indeed, Saoirse Ronin as Mary, from a young woman in the 1560s to her execution in 1587. Margot Robbie, rather deglamorised, even being seen with the pox, offers an interestingly different interpretation of Elizabeth.
As does the screenplay, based on more recent research on the era and these prominent regal women. In fact, the screenplay also points out that what the two women have in common is that they were monarchs in the 16th century where rulers were kings or emperors, where the expectation was to be married and produce male heirs. Mary succeeded, though not in the way she anticipated. Elizabeth did not succeed.
While the film opens with Mary’s execution, and glimpses of the two women, most of the action is in flashback, very interesting for those who enjoy historical films and their explorations and portraits.
In this interpretation of Mary, there is information about her being a Stuart, her unfulfilled marriage at a young age to the French king, assuming the manners and style of the French court, the significance of her Catholicism in the context of the Reformation (especially with the thunderings of Presbyterian John Knox in Edinburgh and his political machinations and advice), the role of the Church of England in Elizabeth’s reign. The pitting of Catholic against Protestant is a dominating feature of this film.
Early in the film there is a reference to “Matters of State” and “Matters of the Heart”. While there are some of the latter, the relationship between Elizabeth and the Earl of Dudley, Lord Darnley and his relationship with Mary, the marriage, the subsequent marriage to Bothwell, Matters of State are the dominant themes. There are also mail plots, betrayals, murders.
Mary is strong-minded, sometimes capricious, relating well to her half-brother who also betrays her, fascinated by Darnley and his sexuality, enjoying the company of her ladies-in-waiting (who do do a lot of waiting outside the door), the company of Italian courtier, David Rizzio, leading her forces into battle, this is the younger Mary before her imprisonment, the plots against her by the nobles of her court.
Dramatically, the men are somewhat in the background although they wield their power. Elizabeth relies on the advice of Lord Cecil (Guy Pearce), Mary undermined by Lord Maitland (Ian Hart). The English Ambassador to the Court of Edinburgh (Adrian Lester) tries to manipulate for the English point of view. David Tennant is John Knox, bigoted and blustering.
At the end, Mary is a thwarted figure, experiencing disappointment, having a brief encounter with Elizabeth, but taken to execution – and her son, James, King of Scotland but, at Elizabeth death with no Tudor heir, King James I of England.
The film is well directed by Josie Rourke, who is experience has been more in theatre than on screen.
New Zealand, 2018, 128 minutes, Colour.
Hera Hilmer, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang, Colin Salmon.
Directed by Christian Rivers.
It is surprising to learn that mortal Engines was not successful at the box of this, given the continued popularity of this kind of adaptation of graphic novels and speculations about futures on earth. The lack of success is also surprising with Peter Jackson as the producer and the screenplay written by his collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyers, and the director, Christian Rivers, as a crucial contributor to the special effects of Peter Jackson’s successful trilogies.
So, once again, we are in a post-apocalyptic world. There is an intriguing presupposition, the towns and cities are on the move, lumbering their way through the upper atmosphere. In fact, the film opens with the large city of London pursuing a small industrial town, menacing it, overcoming it, then slicing it to pieces. The inhabitants take refuge in London, London which seems a mixture of the future as well as the present, some modern aspects, fashionable streets and cars, and a great interest in the history of the city and its museum.
However, the city of London in the air is running out of fuel. The leader (and pilot of the roving city) is Valentine, played with a mixture of relentlessness and genial charm by Hugo Weaving. His aim is to complete a transforming vast weapon, built inside a cathedral, finding the means to put the finishing touch on the creation after so many years. However, he is also challenged by a young girl, Hester (Hera Hilmer) who is determined to avenge her dead mother, a previous collaborator with Valentine.
A young man with a historical bent, Tom (Robert Sheehan) pursues Hester and finds himself a target of Valentine. They decide to take refuge beyond the last wall, reminiscent of a huge dam barrier – and the population beyond the wall consists of a blend of racial characters.
Valentine becomes ever more relentless, despite the rather renting orders of the Mayor of London (Patrick Malahide in mayoral robes), having the assistance of a white-clad scientist. On the other hand, there is a resistance group beyond the wall which means that the climax of the film will be a confrontation, planes flying, guns shooting, Hester trying to stop the deadly machine, the rebels confronting Valentine…
In its way, what’s not to like?
UK, 2018, 104 minutes, Colour.
Rohan Chand, Matthew Rhys, Freida Pinto.
Voices of: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Andy Serkis, Peter Mullan, Jack Raynor, Eddie Marsan, Tom Hollander, Louis Ashbourne Serkis.
Directed by Andy Serkis.
Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories have been a popular source for films over many decades. Sabu appeared in 1942. There was the very cheerful Disney animated feature in 1967. There was a live-action remake in 2015 by Jon Favreau, featuring voices for the animals from a wide-ranging star-list.
Now here is another live-action interpretation of Kipling. It was directed by Andy Serkis, certainly drawing on his vast experience in bringing animals and characters to the screen, going back to his appearances as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, to his work with Peter Jackson on King Kong, to his appearances as Caesar in the new series of Planet of the Apes films. (Serkis also takes the opportunity to do some voice acting as Baloo, the Bear.)
This is quite a superior version of the Jungle Book stories. And, it is more rugged than the previous versions. It brings to the screen dramatic evidence of the law of the jungle, and, especially, nature “red in tooth and claw”. The film received a more adult classification, highlighting the sense of menace. And the menace is certainly there. Which means then that this version may not be suitable for younger children, probably too frightening, but it may mean that audiences who enjoyed the stories in the past but have now grown up may well appreciate the stronger themes and messages about humans and animals.
Rohan Chand seems perfect for the 10 year-old Mowgli, abandoned in the jungle, rescued by the Panther, Bagheera (voice, Christian Bale) from the malevolent tiger, Shere Khan (voice, Benedict Cumberbatch). In fact, Rohan Chand is from New York City, appeared first as Adam Sandler’s son in Jack and Jill and has had considerable experience in films like The Hundred Foot Journey, Lone Survivor, and the Jumanji remake. No trouble for him to be so convincing acting in front of the green screen, often interacting with unseen animals.
And the animals, animatronic and not always looking absolutely realistic, are quite convincing, many seen in the assembly to accept Mowgli into the community as a man-cub wolf, genial training from Baloo, severe testing by Bagheera, endurance tests in running with the wolves, playful scenes with little monkeys tempting Mowgli with fruit. There is a genial aspect of the bonding with the various animals despite the ominous threats from Shere Khan and his giggling hyena associate.
Eventually, Mowgli will have two join the human race, something he is quite unwilling to do. In his captive cage, he gets a wise explanation from Bagheera who had spent his own time in a cage as a human pet. Matthew Rhys is a hunter who has encountered Shere Khan but has also damaged the tusk of an elephant. This all comes to quite a dramatic head as Mowgli, now armed with a knife, confronts Shere Khan, supported by rifle shots from the Hunter. And nature comes full cycle with the charge of the elephant whose task was broken.
There is rather an idealistic picture of the human community going about their tasks, their bonding, their finally accepting Mowgli. The screenplay is suggesting that, allowing for nature red in tooth and claw and human hunting, there should be mutual respect in both worlds and between the two worlds.
Mowgli certainly brings the Kipling world to life.
France, 2018, 105 minutes, Colour.
François Cluzet, François- Xavier De Maison, Julie-Anne? Roth, Pili Groyne, Toby Jones, Vincent Regan, Colin Bates, Arthur Dupont, Daphne Dumons.
Directed by Philippe Le Guay.
A film of current French concern. It was released in 2018, released in Australia during the vehement protests against the policies of President Macron, all over the France but especially in Paris and the Champs Elysee, the protesters disfiguring the Arc de Triomphe. The protests in this film are not quite spectacular but are heartfelt.
Farmers in Normandy are feeling the pinch, especially as regards imports and exports, international markets, the lack of intervention by the French government. They decide to barricade one of the main roads in and out of Normandy, the farmers and their wives and families all getting their vehicles, cars, trucks and tractors blocking the highway.
One of the unintended consequences of the blockade is that a car of Americans has to make a detour. The passenger is a famous American photographer (Toby Jones) who discovers a location in a paddock for a photo shoot. His specialty is getting groups out in the open, to undress, to photograph them nude. Hence the title of the film.
However the central character of the film is the hard pressed mayor, the always reliable François Cluzet. He has intervened to help in all the problems of the farmers and tradesmen for many years, over-devoted, his wife even leaving him. He is approached by the agents of the artist to get the inhabitants to pose for the photo. He is reluctant. Suspects that they would not be willing.
Then he gets a brainwave. What if they were to put all their efforts of protest into this photo? He gets things going, stakes out the field with posts, satisfies the whims of the artist who must have the exact mood, the exact light…. However, a lot of the drama and the comedy come from the man is interactions with the locals, some reluctant, some willing, most, however, not turning up on the day, the whole enterprise turning into a disaster.
He does have some support from a young man, sports car driver, who has been away from the town for some years. He has also inherited the photography shop from his father. Between the jigs and the reels, we know what is going to happen – and it does! The young photographer comes to the rescue.
There is a variety of objections, the observations of a family who have moved out of Paris for life of tranquility in the country but returning to Paris, also the mayor having threatened to hang himself, rescued by the inhabitants, a finale with joyful celebrations and his presiding at a wedding.
UK, 2018, 121 minutes, Colour.
Chris Pine, Stephen Dillane, Billy Howle, Florence Pugh, Sam Spruell, Callum Mulvey, Johnny Phillips, James Cosmo, Tony Curran.
Directed by David Mackenzie.
Scottish history in the Middle Ages. This time the focus on Robert the Bruce.
In 1995, Mel Gibson’s film, Braveheart, about the rebel William Wallace, won the Oscar for Best Film and made quite an impact around the world, a sympathetic thrust for Scotland and independence, and unsympathetic thrust at England.
Outlaw/King takes up the subsequent history (including a grim reference to the execution of William Wallace). Edward I of England has conquered and has a meeting with the Scottish Lords including the two members of the Bruce clan. The Lords have agreed to loyalty that there is a deep resentment within them for the conquering by the English.
The film was directed by David Mackenzie, Scottish director, better known for smaller films like Harlem Foe, The Asylum, Perfect Sense – but moving to the United States with great success for Hell and High Water. He uses the star of that film, Chris Pine, an unlikely casting for Robert the Bruce.
However, this is a 21st-century perspective on Scottish history and of the film was released during the Brexit negotiations, with memories that Scotland voted against Britain leaving the European Union. It is interesting to speculate on these themes while watching the film. The
Stephen Dillane is very effective, sinister and dominating as Edward I. His son, the Prince of Wales, played by Billy Howle, is a callow young man, disapproved of by his father, wanting to prove himself given command but failing. (The final credits give information about the characters and the subsequent history - those familiar with Elizabeth and drama will remember the grim play, Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe.)
The King nominates a bride for Robert the Bruce, Elizabeth De Burgh (a strong performance from Florence Pugh, powerful in Lady Macbeth and The Little Drummer Girl). No love at first, then standing up for her husband in public, her capture and internment in a cage on the wall of the castle, her refusal to sign a document repudiating her husband.
Robert the Bruce Hills a former ally and submits to the bishops for their support in his cause against England. He begins to gather troops, relying on loyal officers in his campaigns, especially Lord Douglas, humiliated by Edward I. Not all the clans agree and there are various skirmishes but, after a brutal defeat when Robert the Bruce had challenged the leading knight to single combat to resolve the conflict and the English perpetrate a vicious night attack, the rebellion is truly sealed.
Edward, dissatisfied with his son, decides to ride at the head of his troops but dies. The Prince of Wales continues and amasses a force of 3000 while the Scots can only field 500. As in the battles in Braveheart, the Scots use their strategy with cunning and skill, especially the digging ditches into trenches and installing pikes.
The battle scenes are particularly grim and graphic.
Robert the Bruce united the Scots clans, a kingdom for 300 years until James I became king of England and Scotland.
SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
US, 2018, 117 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala, Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Linda Lauren Velez, Zoe Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Leiv Schreiber, Chris Pine.
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman.
There are all kinds of multi-verses in the Marvel Universe. But, audiences in 2018 were not quite expecting a Spider-verse. But, here it is – and quite some acclaim from the Spiderman fans.
This is an animated version from Sony Studios, bright and vivid colours, clearly delineated characters, and plenty of action sequences. There is a musical score, with songs that the various characters might have listened to. And there is an excellent voice cast, quite wide-ranging and some significant names (who would have suspected Lily Tomlin to be the new Aunt May!). Creator Stan Lee died at 95, just before the release of the film but, fortunately, his voice is there in an animated character who looks exactly like Stanley!
And plenty of repeats that with great power comes great responsibility!
Yes, Peter Parker is here (voiced by Jake Johnson) and quite some heroics, the admiration of the city, Spiderman costumes for sale. One is bought by a young student, African-American? father, Hispanic-American? mother. His name is Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore). He is not going to be the only Spiderman – but, audiences will like him and Peter Parker is perhaps in danger of moving to 2nd place!
Miles lives at home with his policeman father, Brian Tyree Henry, his nurse mother, Linda Lauren Velez, but his ambitious father has booked him into an uppercrust boarding school where he has to spend the week. He is very reluctant to go. And is embarrassed on the first morning at the gate when his father, sitting in the police car, calls out to him for his son to declare out loud “I Love you”. Difficulties in the school, and classes, though he meets a nice young woman, Gwanda. He also escapes to visit his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), the black sheep of the family. In an underpass, Miles is bitten by a spider and strange things begin to happen (illustrated by animated diagrams).
While there is a whole lot of action, there is a powerful scientist working on an accelerator which can move people into various universes. He is voiced by Leiv Schreiber, with his insistent associate voiced by Kathryn Hahn. However, the scientist is also the arch-villain, a bloated character with a small head, Kingpin.
There are various tangles with Peter Parker, a USB stick that Miles has to mind but which is broken, a visit with Peter Parker to his Aunt May (a very tough-vocal Lily Tomlin), the visit to a basement with the variety of Spiderman costumes.
But, the effect of the accelerator is to move Miles into different universes, discovering all kinds of Spidermen, an older Peter Parker (voiced by Chris Pine) older, disillusioned, separated from Mary Jane (Zoe Kravitz). There is also a pig, Peter Porker, a Japanese variation Peni Parker, a machine Spiderman and, a black silhouetted figure from the 1930s, trenchcoat and reading, voiced by Nicolas Cage.
Needless to say, plenty of action ensues, the confrontation with Kingpin, a revelation about Uncle Aaron, Miles’ father still annoyed with all the Spiderman interventions.
And one of those Marvel universe trailers at the end, portending Spider-verse extensions.
US, 2018, 97 minutes, Colour.
Maika Monroe, Ed Skrein, Gary Oldman.
Directed by Federico D' Alessandro.
While Tau is the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet, the film’s title is also based on the initials of the young millionaire scientist, experimenting with artificial intelligence, a latter-day Dr Frankenstein, Thomas Alex Unger.
This is an American production, made in Serbia.
Initially, the audience is introduced to a redheaded young woman walking through darkened streets, pickpocketing her way to the pawn shop. The audience sees that she is probably being stalked by an anonymous man. She returns to apartment but is then seized and abducted.
She wakes to find herself bound and gagged in the most elaborate building, luxurious, multi-rooms, laboratories, living spaces, and a glance at a cover of Forbes to explain the sinister character, Alex (Ed Skrein), an inventor working on extracting knowledge from subjects and developing lucrative international contracts. There have been several failed experiments.
The young woman, Julia (Maika Monroe), becomes the subject of experimentation, finally seeing Alex who is a young man, dapper in his manner, living in isolation, self-contained, dining well but abstemiously, no relaxation to be seen. Julia at times gets free, enlists the aid of some of the other victims but they are killed and she is re-imprisoned.
The audience is also introduced to a master computer, Tau, voiced by Gary Oldman, at times sinister, at other times subservient to Alex, gradually mellowing as he engages in conversation with Julia. Tau manages Alex’s life completely, greeting him, providing meals, giving information. He is also the instrument for Alex’s administering punishment – and, as Tau’s attitude changes when he and Julia engage in conversation, his learning what a person is, becoming friendly with Julia, her reading books to him and their exchanging knowledge about prehistoric times, and his drawing on his computer file of music that Alex has given him, his voice becomes more humane.
The production values of this film are very high, a very expensive look for the layout of Alex’s mansion and laboratories.
Alex is put under pressure, daily reminded of the deadline by Tau, under pressure, making demands of Julia with tasks which will give him information, Julia resisting, attempting escapes. Alex also has a mechanically constructed monstrous creature to put down any rebellion on Julia’s part.
As expected, there is a buildup to a strong climax, Julia with Tau helping her to escape, the confrontation with Alex and her severing his hand to use as a code to escape, the control taken from his building and the literal collapse and downfall of Alex and the building, and the screenplay reminding us of humanity with Tau and his confusion in the crisis, the removal of his memory, his powers surviving in a small grenade-like mechanism – and the question as to whether Julia will survive, whether Tau will survive – and will he recover his memory and have a future?
An above-average contribution to science-fiction about artificial intelligence.
US, 2018, 132 minutes, Colour.
Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carrell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Eddie Marson, Alison Pill, Shea Wigham, Lilly Rabe, Tyler Perry, Justin Kirk, Bill Camp, Fay Masterson, Lisa Gay Hamilton.
Directed by Adam Mc Kay.
With an ambiguous title that suggests evil, here is a film about Dick Cheney. It is not a love letter to Cheney, not a skerrick of fan mail except for one skerrick, his supportive stance for his gay daughter, Mary. On the one hand, this is very serious subject. On the other hand, it has many moments of Saturday Night Live sendup and satire, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, and very often, a tongue poked out.
Whether audiences will enjoy the film or not will depend on two things. One will be how old they are and how much of this 50 years of American political history they lived through and remember, moments that are vivid in their memories but which are now part of sometimes ancient history for those who are younger. Even the impact of 9/11, powerfully presented here, occurred 17 years ago.
The other factor will be the political perspective of the audience. The film has not been made for those who lean to the right (except to provoke them often enough). It is obviously a “left-leaning” film – reinforced by a sequence for those who stay for the credits with a think-tank discussing this very issue, almost coming to blows about liberal prejudice.
While there is a linear thread throughout the film, from seeing the young Dick Cheney in his old alcoholic days in the mid-1960s, to his being taken in hand by his demanding wife, Lynne (Amy Adams in a very strong performance), going to Washington and beginning a career in politics leading to almost absolute power before downfall, under the mentorship of a gung-ho Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell completely opposite to his sympathetic father in Beautiful Boy), Seeing doubled over with laughter at Cheney’s suggestion that there were moral issues to consider.
And Cheney himself? While the film opens with the anxiety of the politicians as the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, a greying, heavy Cheney, the early flashbacks help us to see Christian Bale as we recognise him, preparing us to accept him as an unrecognisable Cheney (except for some verbal reminders of Bale).
Writer-director Adam Mc Kay began his career in comedy, especially with Will Ferrell (one of the producers of this film). So, he draws on many comic devices of editing, flashbacks, the credits rolling in the middle film and then suddenly stopping because there is more to Cheney’s career!
Also compelling is Sam Rockwell as George W Bush, seen first drinking, then boyishly with the Republican nomination, munching chicken and discussing the possibility for Cheney to be Vice- President, trying to come to grips with issues about Iraq, ordering the invasion after whispers from Cheney.
Cheney takes for granted his significant political career, Chief of Staff at the White House, Secretary for Defence, easily hobnobbing with all the powers that be, CEO of Haliburton and unashamed about Iraq contracts. He reshapes the role of the Vice President from ornamental to all-powerful, George Bush happy and rather relieved. And, all the time, Lynne Cheney is by his side.
In many ways, there is almost too much to take in. We are immersed in the Nixon era, Watergate and the resignation. We are briefly immersed in Gerald Ford’s losing the election and Jimmy Carter winning. Then there is the Reagan era, the election of the first George Bush (but no mention, to all intents and purposes, Clinton and his era). For those who lived through these events, there is plenty of ticking off memories, perceptions, re-appraisals. For those for whom this is all history, they may need to go to references books (or Wikipedia) to check on numerous details.
Ultimately, the film focuses on 9/11 and consequences, Cheney taking an opportunity to promote war, to promote oil interests, to shape public opinion linking Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein, controlling information and intelligence data.
And, comparatively great was the fall thereof, heart attacks, heart transplant (and a narrative by an odd character played by Jesse Plemons, an ordinary worker, soldier in Vietnam, knocked over in an accident who tells us that he is related to Cheney in a different kind of way, his new heart!).
History has not been kind to Cheney. But, here is a powerful performance, strong cast dramatising influential political and legal characters of the period, questions raised about politicians, competence, using and abusing power, consequences for the public – and only a mention about the present incumbent of the White House, a reference to his orange hair which might be missed, although there are moments of the real Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence seen speaking in Congress.
Probably worth seeing again to absorb all the questions and all the challenges (and to enjoy the satire, for those who are “left-leaning”).
THE WILD PEAR TREE
Turkey, 2018, 188 minutes, Colour.
Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildrimlar.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
A vivid picture of life in a contemporary Turkish city.
Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has become a significant world director since 1997, his succession of films winning awards and nominations. In many ways, he is the cinema face of Turkey to the world.
On the other hand, his films are an acquired taste, well-respected at film festivals the world over, gaining release at arthouse cinemas. The Wild Pear Tree is a worthy successor to his previous films.
For an audience deciding whether to see the film, it is probably important to know that it runs for 188 minutes, a long time without a break, requiring constant attention and audiences ready for such concentration.
The director trained in photography and this is evident in the beauty of this film, the capturing of landscapes in bright colour, characters moving in the landscapes, the contrast with close-ups, especially for conversations, many very long takes during the conversations, contrasting then with rapid editing for interactions. And then the film moves towards winter, fog and darkness.
The narrative concerns a young man, Sinan, who has completed his studies and returns home, having to do a final exam for a position as a primary school teacher. He has written a memoir and is eager for it to be printed, especially in his hometown. It turns out that he is a somewhat bitter young man, repressing his angers, especially at his father who is a schoolteacher but has become an inveterate gambler, losing his house, always with a furtive and shifty look. Sinan says about himself that it is strange for writer but he does not like other people.
The narrative line is fairly basic, Sinan making connections back home with family and friends, going to his exam, having a discussion with a popular novelist, encounters with two young imams, the publication of his book and the consequences.
But the film is also strong on verbal communication. In fact, the action frequently slows down the action, intense conversations, about love and ambitions with his former girlfriend in the town, a firm call with a friend who has become a policeman, a visit to the mayor to ask for financial subsidy for his book, the challenge to the novelist and discussions about what makes great fiction, very long conversation most at some depth about religion, belief, morality and responsibility, interpretation of the Koran, with the two imams. There are also long conversations both with his mother and with his father.
However, the director brings most of the conversations alive by having movement throughout, Sinan walking throughout the countryside, through the town on his phone, in a bookshop, then the street, then across a bridge with the novelist, travelling on the road with the imams. This means that while the content is often challenging, the audience can move with it because the action is not static, but moving, enhanced by the background and the scenery.
As with all the films by the director, personal relationships are most significant. While we have the portrait of the discontented young man, his aggressiveness, his sympathy for his mother, trying to understand and appreciate his father despite his disgust and resentment about the gambling, there are interesting moments with supporting characters, a crusty grandfather, another grandfather who is an imam, a bookseller, neighbours…
Which means then that the audiences had a long immersion into the Turkish countryside, exposure to Turkish characters and their issues, and appreciation of particular questions as well as the universal aspects of human nature. And, after the three hours, a glimpse of a moment of despair, a glimpse of the moment of hope.