SIGNIS REVIEWS AUGUST 2018
ANT MAN AND THE WASP
BEST OF F(R)IENDS
C’EST LA VIE
EQUALIZER 2, The
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3
MAMMA MIA, HERE WE GO AGAIN
MR STEIN GOES ONLINE/ UN PROFIL POUR DEUX
ON CHESIL BEACH
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
US, 2018, 118 minutes, Colour.
Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannevale, T.I.Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah Jojn
-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Laurence Fishburne.
Directed by Peyton Reed.
Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang must be the lowest-key superhero in the Marvel Universe. And, he spends a lot of his life and action as the diminutive Anti-Man? (though he does have some moments where he gets over-heightened, threatening boats and crowds at Fisherman’s wharf in San Francisco).
However, he was welcomed by audiences in the original film, Ant-Man, enjoying the scientific experiments whereby he could be reduced, the work of the scientist, Hank Van Dyne, played by Michael Douglas. His daughter, Hope, also played a role (Evangeline Lilly).
They are all back again, the film introduced with a prologue explaining how Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) was reduced and went into a miniature world but disappeared and has been missing for 30 years. Hank wants to mount an expedition to go to rescue her.
In the meantime, Scott has been in during two years of house arrest, an ankle bracelet for security, at home, playing with his young daughter, Cassie, and working with his associate in building up a security firm, Luis, played with comic enthusiasm by Michael Peña.
The bulk of the plot has some straightforward action. Some thugs want to get hold of Hank’s laboratory – which, like humans, can be transformed into anti-size and resurrected to life-size. Walton Goggins leads the motley crew of thugs. So, a lot of time escaping with the laboratory, warding off the criminals, continuing with the plans for rescue, the police getting involved – but, most of all with Scott being able to escape house arrest by transforming into Anti-Man? and eluding detection and pursuit.
However, this is an adventure, and it all catches up with Scott and his associates. This involves an elaborate car chase, the laboratory building suddenly coming to large life at San Francisco Bay, its going up and down – and a further complication that the daughter of a scientist-rival of Hanks has grown up able to move in in and out of space because of the reconstruction of her molecules! She is Ava/The Ghost, dangerous but potentially convertible.
Of course, there is excitement in the rescue with Hank himself going to find his wife.
The thugs are rounded up, the rather ingenuous policeman who is intrigued by Scott’s ability to do magic tricks and misdirected attention, reconciling with Scott – and, of course, a very happy Van Dyne family and Scott and his daughter.
US, 2018, 99 minutes, Colour.
Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero, Kristin Stephenson Pino, Vince Jolivette, Rick Edwards.
Directed by Justin Mc Gregor.
Tommy Wiseau is back! The perhaps-good news is that he is still a terrible actor and that seems to be what his audiences want of him. Given his performance here, it would seem that he thinks he is a very good actor. Otherwise, this film is bad news for most audiences. It is one of those seeing is disbelieving movies!
An initial appropriate piece of advice. This is a film only for those who liked the cult film, with the attribution that it is one of the worst films ever made, The Room. The star and director of that film was Tommy Wiseau who is the star of this one. His co-star, Greg Sestero, who also wrote the book about the making of The Room, is here again.
The film is directed by Justin Mc Gregor who, on the evidence of this film, might be considered a terrible director, but actually might be a very good director following the instructions of Sesterio, who wrote and produced the film, to make it as deadpan and as amateurish in performance, situations, visual style, editing and pace as possible.
Audiences who haven’t seen The Room may well know it from the James Franco film, The Disaster Artist, a film about the making of The Room, with Franco himself as Wiseau and his brother, Dave Franco, as Sestero. Franco won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for this role and was present at the ceremony at table with Wiseau himself.
One of the troubles is that Wiseau is in no way a sympathetic screen presence. His stilted delivery with a touch of accent (allegedly from Poland many decades ago), his awkward stances, and an unpleasant character, are rather alienating – although, this is the point for those who will enjoy this film. And, Greg Sestero has a very limited range as his friend, Jon. Actually, there are a couple of actors in brief supporting roles who do a decent job and show up the stars!
If you heard that the film was about the manager of a morgue who extracts gold teeth from corpses, especially Chinese in Los Angeles whose mouths seem to be filled with gold fillings, then you’d have a fairly accurate explanation of the basis of the story. He befriends, Jon, a homeless man with corny placards begging for money (Sestero himself). They actually have a scheme going whereby a crooked entrepreneur sells the boxes fall of gold teeth to make a fortune.
With a title like Best F(r)iends, we guess (rightly) that there will be a falling out. This is engineered by John’s girlfriend who gives a better performance than the two men.
And then it stops. It is now revealed that this film is Volume 1 and there is a promise/threat that there will be Best F(r)iends Volume 2 – and, taking a leaf out of the Marvel Universe movies, the final credits have extended highlights of a trailer in which Wiseau, with a wig aping Sestero’s hair, has to be seen to be believed. On the other hand, the film does not necessarily have to be seen!
Undoubtedly, this will also be a cult film, a definite curiosity item.
US, 2018, 109 minutes, Colour.
Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino, Shea Wigham, Leila Behkti.
Directed by Brad Anderson.
Beirut is Beirut is a serious and sombre film. It is political, a dramatic look at American foreign policy, the role of Israel, the PLO. It was written by Tony Gilroy who has written some very interesting serious films like Michael Clayton, Duplicity, Nightcrawler. And the star is Jon Hamm, who made such an impression on television with Mad Men and has now established a film career.
While it is a film about espionage, it is not an action-packed film. It is an appeal to a more intelligent audience and it has disappointed those who are addicted to non-stop action and have found such dialogue tedious.
The film opens in Beirut (although the filming was done in Morocco, much to the upset of some Lebanese commentators. It is 1972, commentary made about coexistence in the country between Muslims and a variety of Christians, Jon Hamm appearing as an American host, Mason, a solid politician and negotiator. He is hosting a party with his wife, a young PLO 13-year-old boy who has been adopted, more or less, by the couple helping with the serving. Suddenly the party is interrupted, officials arriving, threats, the demand to surrender the boy because his brother has been one of the terrorists at the massacre of the Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympic Games. The tensions in the situation leads to some tragic consequences.
The film then moves to 10 years later, 1982, with Mason self-employed back in the US, still in grief about his wife’s death, alcoholic, and negotiator between companies and unions. Unexpectedly, a message comes from the State Department inviting him to return to Lebanon to deal with a hostage situation. The hostage is his close friend who was involved as an authority on the night of the party 10 years earlier.
Mason is somewhat reluctant but, drawing on his skills as a negotiator, he evaluates the situation with the local American authorities, the ambassador, the complexities of the demands by the PLO for Israel to return the terrorist from the Olympic Games who has been taken by the Israelis.
It is also sobering to watch this kind of story realising that this is the kind of thing that is going on in many countries, thinking of the Middle East, abductions, hostage demands, threats of retaliation, the need for the negotiators to have steady nerves and ability to think through situations and potential consequences.
The screenplay takes the audience through the various steps, contact with the Israelis, then discussion with the Israelis who deny having the prisoner, though not calling off further negotiations. There are the contacts with the PLO and their status at the time, and the presence in Lebanon.
Jon Hamm is quite credible in this role, a good man, a man who suffered, a man who has lost some confidence in himself but who draws on his resources to negotiate while respecting the demands and conditions of the respective parties. His co-star in the film is Rosamund Pike as one of the members of the team in Beirut. She is a presence. She is very serious (there is nothing to suggest any levity in the situation) and supports Hamm in the process.
There is a postscript at the end with a speech in a press conference by Ronald Reagan, the President talking about peace in that area of the world while there has been Civil War during the 1970s and impending 1980s invasions of Lebanon by Israel.
A story from past decades but still of immediate relevance.
US, 2018, 135 minutes, Colour.
John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Alec Baldwin, Ryan Eggold, Laura Harrier, Jasper Paakkonen, Robert John Burke, Paul Walter Hauser, Corey Hawkins, Michael Buscemi, Harry Belafonte.
Directed by Spike Lee.
It has an understatement to say that Spike Lee is passionate about race issues in the United States. It is almost 30 years since his tough stand in Do The Right Thing. And, here he is, 30 years later, taking stands. In the meantime, he has made a great range of films, many documentaries, many dramas, even thrillers like Inside Man and Old Boy. But he continues to return to race issues. The tone is set the tone is set by a black-and-white filmed interview from the past, the dignified-looking white speaker being prompted as he is filmed, bigotry and bias pervading the speech. In fact, it is Alec Baldwin playing this speaker.
BLACKkKLANSMAN won the Grand Jury Prize, 2018, in Cannes. It also won an Ecumenical Jury Commendation at Cannes.
A first hearing of the core plot element might indicate that this is an impossible story, an African- American man in the early 1970s infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan and even becoming the head of the local chapter in Colorado Springs. However, this is based on a book by the actual Ron Stallworth, the man behind the plan. What actually happened is that Ron talked to the Klan officials on the phone and his police partner, Jewish and white, taking the same name, did all the visits, attending the meetings. And, it worked, as an undercover police operation.
The two actors are convincing in their roles, even when they act acting. John David Washington is Ron Stallworth. In fact, in real life, he is the son of Denzel Washington and, as we listen to the dialogue in the film, they seem to have identical voices. Adam Driver is Flip Zimmerman, the partner, carrying off his impersonations and his Klan rantings with fabricated enthusiasm, but with growing intensity reflecting on his Jewish background which had had no impact during his growing up.
The film opens with a sequence from Gone with the Wind. There are also some excerpts from D.W.Griffiths classic Birth of a Nation, 1916, based on a novel called The Clansmen, sympathetic to the clan, presenting the slaves and free in stereotypical fashion. There is a sequence where the local members of the Klan watch the movie with catcalls and guffaws.
Ron is a man of his times, but the first black policeman on the Colorado Springs force, seen as something of a pioneer and supported by the authorities, ridiculed by a bigoted policeman in the force. He is sent to infiltrate a black gathering to hear Stokely Carmichael (with his changed name, Kwame Ture), with a microphone and getting information for the police. He meets the president of the Association, Patrice (Laura Harrier). They argue. He is more restrained as regards the issues though getting to enthuse about the cause, especially during the powerful and steering address.
The local to members, of course, are quite a redneck collection, bigoted and uneducated about race relationships, spouting the superior of the white race with their God-given destiny (and completely oblivious of Native Americans). Their meetings are haphazard, but they are eager to go into some kind of action which would now be branded as terrorist, that includes the willingness of the wife of the most bigoted to plant a bomb at Patrice’s house.
And, at the centre of the Klan, is the Grand Wizard of the period, David Duke (Tougher Grace), with suit and tie, political ambitions, external charm, but able to rouse the rabble - despite the Klan wanting to be known as The Organisation.
Spike Lee has a very effective sequence where the Klan having a lively meeting and it is intercut with a veteran recalling his life, the death of a friend, the contempt and humiliation experienced throughout his life – all the more persuasive because the speech is given by Harry Belafonte.
There are a lot of comic touches in this disguise caper, some narrow escapes, Ron being appointed by the police chief to be the security guard for David Duke in his visit to the town… Flip Zimmerman becoming head of the local chapter. And there is a sequence of burning crosses, caps and capes, a ritual of loyalty. But, there are serious moments, images of burning crosses, photos of atrocities, the tension when the woman goes to plant the bomb.
John David Washington is completely believable in the role, engaging as he plays some scenes for laughs. He is nicely counterbalanced by Adam Driver. For those wondering about the character of Jimmy, another police officer, it is not Steve Buscemi but his younger brother Michael.
At the end, the audience sits in rather stunned silence as Spike Lee powerfully incorporates sequences from riots and deaths in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. He shows actual sequences of David Duke speaking there – and, the sequence of Donald Trump as he talks about the good and bad people on both sides of the riots.
Passionate and partisan but tantalising and often very moving.
C’EST LA VIE
France, 2017, 117 minutes, Colour.
Jean- Pierre Bacri, Jean- Paul Rouve, Gilles Lelloouche, Vincent Macaigne, Eye Haidara, Suzanne Clement, Alban Ivanov, Helene Vincent, Benjamin Lavernhe, Judith Chemla.
Directed by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano.
So, that’s life! C’est la vie!
This is one of the agreeably funny films of 2018. It was co-written and co-directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, who are extraordinary successful with the film about the invalid and his carer, Les Intouchables.
This film is not quite what might be expected from the title and expectations that this could be yet another French romantic comedy. Rather, it is the story of a day in catering for a wedding where everything could go wrong (and a lot of it does), the hassles for the manager and the staff (sometimes extreme), but where the celebration does go on and many of the guests are none the wiser.
The film also has a large cast and the casting directors have done a very good job in their selection, especially of the staff, men and women, young and old, eccentric and fairly normal, different race representations. So, this wedding celebration is a mini microcosm (though one is cautious to say this because one of the main characters, a former English teacher who has had a breakdown, comments pedantically through the whole film about precise expression, especially pointing out to unwitting users, “pleonisms”, redundancies like “starting from now” or “mini-microcosms”!).
The film opens amusingly with Max, the manager for catering (an excellent Jean- Paul Bacri) to special events, is discussing plans with a pleasant young couple who have thrift, even beyond-thrift, in their suggestions for their own wedding reception. His exasperated response to the invitation to his being inventive, sets the tone of humour, expectations that people have about receptions, and the professional and personal pressures on the managers.
Most of the film takes place between 2 o’clock in the afternoon and almost 6 AM the following morning. Step by step we meet all the people involved, the chefs, the substitute musician and his tantrums, the assistant manager and her seeming inability to stop bursting out angrily to any opposition, the photographer whom nobody will employ except the manager, his friend, a photographer now being redundant as all the guests line up with their phone cameras. There are quite some different types in the staff, the aforementioned former teacher who had dated the bride, a substitute brought in who is accident-prone, turning off the freezing switches when he uses his shaver, ruining the meat. And there are some Sri Lankans who provide some humour, language jokes, and finally some saving-the-night music.
The main target of spoof is the bridegroom, impossibly conceited, giving long speeches, participating in an acrobatic finale that has to be seen to be believed! At many moments, the audience might be thinking that a sequel to this film would be a reception for everyone after the divorce! How could anyone remain married to this oafish narcissist?
Very funny at times. Angers being vigorously expressed at times. But, ultimately, quite a sense of humanity underlying the quirks and foibles as well as the resilience of human nature.
THE EQUALIZER 2
US, 2018, 121 minutes, Colour.
Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Orson Bean, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Clearly The Equaliser was popular with audiences and at the box office. Hence, The Equaliser 2.
In the old days, it was Charles Bronson who was the avenging vigilante, loner righter of wrongs. In more recent times it is Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington. Not that Denzel Washington as Robert Mc Coll was a loner in the past. He worked with a team of agents, government-backed, official assassins. But, with the death of his wife, his being consumed with grief, he has gone out on his own when he sees a wrong to be righted.
This is made very clear in the opening sequence, Mc Coll travelling by train through Turkey (actually very attractive) and confronting the abductor of a child – and, anonymously restoring the child to its mother back in New York. She works in a bookshop which Mc Coll visits, buying the next volume of Proust which is working through. (Charles Bronson probably did not read Proust.)
Mc Coll now seems to be something of an Uber-driver, deeply contemplating the range of passengers with their problems, their issues, their needs – giving the audience time to watch these passengers with Mc Coll and be empathetic like him. He lives alone, has an old Jewish friend (Orson Bean) who has been searching for his long-lost sister from the Holocaust, is friendly with a Muslim gardener at his apartment block, tries to help his young African-American? neighbour (Ashton Sanders), to move him from drug-criminal friends, improve his self-esteem, foster his talent as an artist.
So, what is the violent plot element in this film? Suddenly we are in Brussels, a man arriving home to find intruders in his house, his wife at the dinner table, their both being executed. Mc Coll has a friend, Suzanne (Melissa Leo) who is sent to investigate. The criminals confront her – and, Mc Coll naturally becomes involved.
Actually, the plot is a bit complicated. Mc Coll goes back to the agency, especially his former partner, Dave (Pedro Pascal), a family man, who has thought Mc Coll dead for seven years. There are also other connections from the agency.
Then, the young artist, successful, is visiting Mc Coll’s room and he is trapped by the killers and taken as hostage. Fortunately, Mc Coll has surveillance cameras in all his rooms in his apartment and can see what is going on. The killers then realise that Mc Coll will go to the coast, to his wife’s house. They make for it – but, a hurricane is blowing in from the Atlantic, and the violent climax takes place in wind, rain and storms.
No spoiler to know that all will be well in the end – but all is well in the end for some of the minor characters as well, giving a niceness in our feelings after the brutality that we have witnessed. It is an ugly world – but everything need not be ugly.
UK, 2017, 102 minutes, Colour.
Maxine Peake, Paddy Considine, Alun Armstrong, Christine Bottomley, Stephen Graham, Tony Pitts, Lindsay Coulson.
Directed by Adrian Shergold.
Not the most engaging of titles – but it is the title for a film which has quite a lot going for it. This is a very British story, set in northern England in past decades, in the streets of a city, the touch of poverty row. But, it is the story of a character who emerges from this background to make something of herself, not without many difficulties and challenges.
This is a film about a stand-up comedian. Not an easy profession. It requires a great deal of self-confidence, even self-esteem, a sense of humour (often offbeat) which does not appeal to every audience and, we realise, audiences are hard to please and often become hostile and mocking.
In fact, the film opens with a middle-aged woman in close-up, her microphone, performing for an audience, touches of humour, but many wry touches as she talks about her family background. This performance provides a framework for the whole film, the anchor for the many flashbacks.
And the title? The central character is always referred to as Funny Cow (and, as a little girl, she is listed in the cast as Funny Calf). She is played by Maxine Peake, quite an extraordinary performance in its way, often very brash, often unrelenting, ups and downs in relationships, wanting to be a clown professionally, tongue-tied at an audition when young, stepping into the role unexpectedly and wowing her audience and not looking back. For those with more delicate sensitivities, it needs to be noted that her comedy initiatives at first, routines later, are very earthy, sex-oriented, few holds barred.
But, Maxine Peake’s presence and performance is compelling. Her background as a little girl is harsh, bullied at school but exuberant at home, her mother drinking, her father particularly brutal and whipping her but, when he unexpectedly dies, with eyes initially downcast, she exits the house and yells “Yippee!”. She has a brother and later visit him and his family but to little effect. (Stephen Graham is quite powerful in the role of the father, the embodiment of domestic violence – and also appears, much more subdued, in the role of her brother.)
She has sex in the back of a car with Bob (Tony Pitts who in fact wrote the screenplay). He too is ultimately violent – though there is a moving scene towards the end of the film when Funny Cow visit him in hospital. Her other relationship is fascinating both for herself and for the audience. She is browsing in a book shop owned by Angus, a sympathetic Paddy Considine, and they become friends, Bob threatening, but her going to live with Angus when she leaves Bob.
She uses the words about Angus and his friends, “educated” and “articulate”. She is bored by the performance of a Shakespearean play and realises that, though she is articulate, she shuns Angus’s type of education.
Alun Armstrong appears as a stand-up comedian, getting older, getting weary, trying to dissuade Funny Cow from the profession but her stepping in when finally he refuses to go on stage – which leads to a movingly fatal sequence.
And, there is her mother, sitting at home, perpetually drinking, with her daughter helping her to move away from the brutal past, get off the drink – and there are moving sequences they walk along the beach.
We don’t know where this will all lead for Funny Cow – we leave her, in her monologue, reminiscing, humorous, wondering whether lives a are fatal or whether we mould our own lives.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE
US, 2017, 93 minutes, Colour.
Andre Leon Talley.
Directed by Kate Novack.
The advertising for this documentary states that you don’t have to be a fashionista to enjoy it. But, being a fashionista is almost a prerequisite. However, as the film goes on, there are quite a number of more substantial American themes.
And, for those not in the know, who is Andre Leon Talley? First thing to say is that he is a big and imposing presence, tall when he was younger, but filling out more than amply as he grew older so that by 2016 something of a giant presence. Many would notice him at once anyway, but his choice of wardrobe is is rather spectacular, large and particularly colourful. In fact, that is true of Andre, large and particularly colourful.
There are many talking heads in this film, many from the fashion industry who express their appreciation of Andre, designers like Tom Ford and Karl Lagerfeld. There are also a number of women who have encountered him in his journalist career and a number of models, like Naomi Campbell, seen in clips of catwalk shows. In fact, there are quite a lot of talking heads. And these include editors of Vogue that Andre worked for, especially the very well-known Anna Wintour, more benign than in a number of her other documentary appearances.
Andre was born in North Carolina in 1949. He has great praise for his grandmother who brought him up, instilled in him a sense of style and class despite being African Americans in the South. She was also religious, instilling some religious values into the young Andre which he has preserved, even as he has grown much older.
He is an interesting African- American who has experienced all kinds of prejudices. He is also a gay American, less talking about his sexual preferences, letting his flamboyant and camp manner make an impression.
He became a fashion journalist, working in Paris, doing lots of interviews, contributing articles to fashion magazines, which lead him back to the United States and a substantial career at Vogue and contributing to other magazines. He has met many, many people, many, many celebrities, and has become quite a celebrity himself, a knack for appreciating colour and style, a knack for improving fashion design, and more than a definite knack for communicating his ideas and opinions - seen in his handling of television interviews.
As the film goes on, it broadens its scope from the world of fashion to the United States and its values, issues of race, issues of class, issues of prejudice. And, the film takes us up to the campaign for the presidency and the election of Donald Trump as president. It comes as a surprise to Andre and his friends, giving some insight into those who opposed Trump, expected Hillary Clinton to win, and had to deal with the outcome. (Andre is very satisfied with the way that Melania Trump wore her clothes.) Andre is a great admirer of the Obamas, and pays tribute to the style and presence of Michelle Obama.
Essential viewing only for fashion fans but, ultimately, an entertaining portrait of a self-made American celebrity in the context of the late 20th century and the early 21st century.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3: MONSTER VACATION
US, 2018, 97 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Sandberg, Kathryn Hahn, Mel Brooks, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Tara Strong, David Spade, Kevin James, Keegan- Michael Key, Chris Parnell, Jim Gaffigan.
Directed by Genndy Tatatarkovsky.
For audiences who enjoyed the goings on at the comically sinister Hotel Transylvania, this third in the series will be warmly welcomed. In fact, it will be doubly welcomed because the other two films were generally confined to the Hotel and this one moves away, well away.
A new element is introduced with an initial train ride, some of the monsters concealed with the ordinary passages passengers on their way to Budapest. But, who should arrive on the train with his anti--monster gun but the vampire Hunter, van Helsing himself. This means that there is initial confrontation – with, of course, the vampires and the monsters winning and going back to the hotel while van Helsing seems to disappear over a cliff and into the sea forever. (Not exactly, as we discover…)
While life goes on at the hotel, the passing of the decades, Drac becoming rather weary of his work at the hotel, his daughter Mavis, who is now teamed up with DJ Johnny, comes up with a practical suggestion. A holiday – an American style vacation. Just a reminder that Adam Sandler is once again enjoying himself as the voice of Drac with Selena Gomez as Mavis and Andy Samberg voicing Johnny.
They make a decision to go on a voyage – and it is something like a parallel of The Love Boat. The monsters, in all their array and disarray, the jelly blobs, Frankie Frankenstein, the invisible man and the spectacles, her enjoying the voyage and all the deck games.
However, the captain of the boat is Ericha (voiced by Kathryn Hahn). She seems to be doing a line for Drac and he is certainly ready to succumb, feeling a lot of romantic vibes. But, she reveals to the audience that she is intending to destroy Drac and that her name is actually Erica van Helsing.
There are a couple of ports on the way, an undersea volcano, a deserted island where they all have very elaborate picnic, and then the undersea city of Atlantis. This Atlantis is not unlike contemporary Las Vegas!
Everybody is enjoying the occasion, and Drac in some torment about Ericha, Mavis definitely taking a dislike to her. She has to climb a mountain through various obstacles to get a text which will help her achieve her mission., Charming as ever, Drac helps her through the obstacles and barriers, making her very emotionally confused but she delivers the text to Van Helsing who is still alive, connected to all kinds of machinery.
The conflict between the monsters and Professor is amusingly portrayed by a clash of music, Johnny the DJ helping out, Van Helsing playing on old harpsichord trying to drown out the opposition who rely on Good Vibrations and on everyone swinging to the Macarena.
Everyone, being refreshed by a sea voyage, happy to go home, romance and love in the air – and audiences wondering what they will do for Hotel Transylvania 4.
France, 2017, 114 minutes, Colour.
Omar Sy, Alex Lutz, Ana Girardot, Sabine Azema, Andrea Ferreol, Pascal Elbe, Helene Vincent, Rufus.
Directed by Lorraine Levy.
While this is a very watchable film, there is a certain uneasiness underlying the response. It concerns the conman, the nature of frauds, the effect on victims of the cons. One of the descriptions to use the central character in the original novel on which this film is based is that of “charlatan”, which is a bit more derogatory than “conman”.
The film is very, as the French might say “geniale”, and so is Knock, the conman. But there is the underlying question, when is a conman a rogue and when is he a helpful row.
The original novel was to written in the 1920s, adapted for theatre, filmed as something of a classic in 1951. The setting in this version is the 1950s, with reference to memories of World War II.
Knock is played by Omar Sy, who made such an impression in The Intouchables as well as Samba and Two is a Family (also appearing in Jurassic World and an X-Men? film). Sy can’t help but be charming – although at first he is seen being pursued by criminals to whom he owes money and being bashed. He gets away from them, taking a job on a boat to India, standing in, with the Captain’s consent, as a doctor. He has some success with patients and learns a lot, returning to Marseille in order to study medicine.
The bulk of the film takes place five years later in a very attractive Alpine village (beautifully filmed in widescreen format). He is still the conman, even though qualified, and his goal is to make money even as he helps people. And, help people he does, contrasting with the previous doctor who gave them herb teas. He gets in pleasant cahoots with the pharmacist who is not against making money either, nor his wife who becomes infatuated with Knock. At first he offers free consultations – with long lines coming. He is able to talk easily with people, the alcoholic postman, the rather harridan manager of a farm, a rich old lady, all the locals, in fact, so that business thrives.
However, he has a flair for understanding human nature and being able to persuade the patients to help themselves. So far, so good.
The young parish priest, Alex Lutz, takes in immediate dislike to Knock. He undermines him, contradicts him, accuses him of being a liar, is on the alert to catch him out at any cost, utilising gossip and some information from the confessional to denounce him, the exact opposite of the classic “Diary of a Country Priest” by Georges Bernanos, which was screening in France in those years. This makes the film anti-clerical, (anti-clericalism having a strong French tradition), the character giving just grounds for anti-clerical responses.
There is a dramatic crisis as Knock helps a serving girl with tuberculosis, the priest capitalising on a ceremony in the church for a final confrontation with Knock, but the congregation, the townspeople turning against the priest and supporting Knock.
Entertaining, a number of the characters in the town being rather stereotyped, a more sentimental interpretation of the conman – that is the nature of the conman’s charm.
MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN
US, 2018, 114 minutes, Colour.
Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Dominic Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgaard, Colin Firth, Cher, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Jeremy Irvine, Andy Garcia, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner, Celia Imrie, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Omid Djalili.
Directed by Ol Parker.
Actually, the title might have been better with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Before. While the core of the plot takes place in the present, 10 years after the original film, most of this story is in flashback.
We get an initial shock to hear that Donna (Meryl Streep) has died the year before. There are a number of pictures of her in the house on the Greek island, but she doesn’t appear herself until the end of the film, singing a plaintive ballad, but joining in the exuberance of the final credits choreography. Her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is planning the opening of the home as a hotel, Bella Donna, in her mother’s memory.
So, this is Donna’s story, but Donna back at the end of the 1970s. She is played with exceeding vim, vigour and vitality, as well as charm, by Britain’s Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella, The Guernsey… Literary Society). And we see her first at her university graduation in the UK, the valedictory speaker, but suddenly bursting into song and taking over the whole ceremony, upstaging the vice chancellor at first (Celia Imre) but then she joining in with enthusiasm.
There are some references to Donna’s mother, a travelling singer, Ruby. Ruby, not invited to the opening of the renovated hotel, turns up and takes control of the whole show. She is played by Cher, a strikingly commanding and glamorous presence.
But, back in the past, Donna has a yearning to go to Greece. And, on the way, she encounters three young men (whom devotees are familiar with from the first film), the three potential fathers of her baby. Harry is a student in Paris. Bill is a sailor from Sweden in Greece. Sam is on a kind of Gap Experience in Greece.
While there are lots of ABBA songs, quite a number of the favourites which have become part of our psyche over the last 40 years, there are a few less familiar songs, some ballads, sung by the young Donna with the young men, some by Sophie to her absent husband Sky, doing a business course in New York (Dominic Cooper).
And, so, the screenplay involves us in the present and the preparation for the opening of the hotel, challenged by devastating storm, Sophie upset that Harry and Bill cannot come, is Sky will be absent… However, thank goodness, Christine Baranski, especially, and Julie Walters turn up as Donna’s old friends, Tanya and Rosie) and contribute to the humour of the interactions, with some Christine Baranski wisecracks.
And while the casting of the three suitors in their young days are credible enough for the older Sam, Harry and Bill, the actresses who portray the younger friends, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies, are spot on. (And Pierce Brosnan singing has not improved – that he does get to do some dancing. Colin Firth is still averse to dancing. And there is a funny joke with Stellan Skarsgaard in a fat suit as his twin brother.)
Not to forget the presence of Andy Garcia. Whether the writers wanted to have Fernando being sung in the new film or whether they wanted to give a back story to Cher and her younger days, they have been planted a plot detail to enable Cher to do a show-stopping rendition of Fernando.
As with the first one, the film is rather slight and, at times, silly. But, this will not matter too much to the potential fans, eager to hear the ABBA songs (yet again), to enjoy the story of Donna and her suitors and, nice climax, Sophie being pregnant and everybody assembling for the baptism.
(And, as a reward for those who sit through the credits, there is a joke, continued from the film, with comedian Omid Djalili at passport control.)
One local enthusiast in a Catholic paper thought that the film was ABBA-solutely wonderful, while an ABC radio reviewer said it was a terrible film – but later added “but you’re going to go out and see it anyway”. And that will probably be it all around the world.
UK/Luxembourg, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.
Elle Fanning, Maisie Williams, Douglas Booth, Steve Dillane, Tom Sturridge, Joanne Froggatt, Bel Powley, Ben Hardy, Hugh O' Conor
Directed by Haifa Al-Mansour?
Mary Shelley is synonymous with Frankenstein. This seems to be her basic reputation. However, as this film highlights, there is much more to her as a person, her life, relationships, her ideas as well as the greater range and depth of themes in Frankenstein.
This is a period drama, set in the second decade of the 19 century. It is the period of transition from the Enlightenment to the Romantic era. The Enlightenment was personified by Mary’s parents, the writer and thinker, Mary Wollstonecraft, and her father, William Godwin, thinker and novelist. They were concerned with political, Meconomic, intellectual issues, writing, discussing, instilling this search for meaning into their daughter, Mary Godwin.
During the action of this film, Mary moves from the age of 16 to the age of 18, a period of life as a teenager but a period of moving from adolescence to adulthood for Mary herself. Given the household that she grew up in and the influence of her parents, it is not surprising that we see Mary as a writer, writing in her journal, confiding in her half-sister, Claire. However, there is tension between Mary and her stepmother. This means being sent off to Scotland for some time, calming her down as well as broadening her horizons.
But, the important person in her life was the poet Percy Shelley, already published, in his 20s, a public figure. He is an apprentice to Mary’s father and she falls in love with him, with a passion that drives her beyond intellectual thought. In the household, it does not matter that they are not married (although it is a shock when Shelley’s wife, Henrietta, the accosts Mary in the street and she discovers the truth). Mary becomes pregnant but loses her child, part of the financial and accommodation difficulties that they encounter.
But the romantic figure of the time was Lord Byron and paths cross, especially when Claire is infatuated with Byron and begins an affair with him, and becoming pregnant.
The occasion of the drama for this encounter is the performance of the play, Phantasmagoria, a lecturer explaining Galvanism, the role of electricity, current enabling limbs to move – and the question of the scientist electrifying a body to make it live. Mary was interested in the science, in the philosophy, in the nature of life and possibilities of creation. And, as is well known – and was dramatised in the 1980s by Ken Russell in Gothic – the famous night on the Lake Geneva where Byron and Claire, Percy and Mary, were present with Byron’s physician, John Polidori and, to wile away the time, they were to write horror stories. Mary, with her love for ghost stories as well as science, created Frankenstein, the new Prometheus, who was to steal, like his predecessor, life from the gods through the new fire, electricity.
The original novel for this film, the adapter, the director and Elle Fanning as Mary bring a strong positive female, feminist perspective to the story and the storytelling. Mary fails to get a publisher until someone agrees that it can be printed with the author as anonymous and an introduction by Shelley himself. Ultimately, the book is published under her name. Shelley dies. Mary lives another 30 years or more into the 19th century.
Elle Fanning is a strong presence as Mary, indicating the intellectual power as well is the emotions. There is an interesting British supporting cast with Douglas Booth the Shelley, Tom Sturridge almost over-romanticised as the narcissistic Byron, Steve Dillane as William Godwin, Joanne Froggatt is his second wife, Bill Powley as Claire and Ben Parker giving an interesting performance as Polidori, subservient to Byron, wanting to write a vampire story, its being published under Byron’s name, his subsequent penury and death.
An immersion into this Romantic period with all its ambiguities of ideas and emotions.
MR STEIN GOES ONLINE/ UN PROFIL POUR DEUX
France, 2017, 99 minutes, Colour.
Pierre Richard, Yaniss Lespert, Fanny Valette, Stephane all Bissot, Stephanie Crayencourt, Gustave Kerven, Macha Merill.
Directed by Stephane Robelin.
The English title for this French film, a romantic comedy with a touch of farce, is certainly more direct. Mr Stein does go online. However, there is a Gallic subtlety in the French title – one online dating identity profile but with reference to 2 men.
In recent years, there have been quite a number of comedies incorporating online dating, the comedy of odd couples meeting, the clashes of incompatibles, deceptions. While this is a case of deception, it is done with a light touch even though, theoretically, there is something bit creepy about the premise.
Mr Stein, Pierre, is played by the celebrated veteran comic actor, Pierre Richard, whose heyday was in the 1970s and 1980s, The Tall Blond Man with the One Red Shoe… There was no such thing as online dating in his time, but he enters into the spirit of the film, making it at age 82.
However, this is the story also of Alex (Yaniss Lespert), a writer who has published a short story, rather forlorn in his outlook on life, downcast look, who rescues a young woman, Juliette, who is sick in the street and drives her home on her motorbike. He would like a kiss but she is in a relationship with a businessman who is about to go to China (which she is not enthusiastic about).
Three months later, they are a couple, but he has no income although he has interviewed a producer who wants him to write some pitches for blood and gore stories. But the couple is living with Juliette’s mother who often visits her father, Pierre, giving him her computer to give him something to do because he has been stuck, allegedly agoraphobic, in his apartment since his wife of many decades died two years earlier, re-watching her on his home movies. She has the brainwave that Alex, but not revealing that he is Juliette’s boyfriend, should give him computer lessons.
Alex does. Pierre pays him. Begins to call on him for further help. Pierre is fascinated by the computer, going online, discovering dating, the audience sharing a collage of various women who respond to him, but then discovering the ideal woman, a physiotherapist called Flora who happens to live in Brussels.
How to handle the relationship? Fortunately, French literature provides a model from olden days, Cyrano de Bergerac. Pierre writes the messages. Alex goes to meet Flora. As we all expected, Alex is attracted to Flora, she to him (although initially to Pierre’s stories). Alex has to do a fair amount of inventing, but begins a relationship with Flora, the two men travelling to Brussels to meet her.
The resolution could be very serious – and, in an underlying manner, it is. This is where the touches of farce enter in, Juliette and her mother encountering Flora and misinterpreting her relationship with Pierre. Alex appears and Juliette is upset with him (although she is still attached to her boyfriend who, in fact, does return from China to look her up).
Another visit to Brussels, some truth-telling, the relationship working out as expected (and as we would like) and a pleasant little online trick played on Pierre for a happy ending all round.
ON CHESIL BEACH
UK, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.
Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howell, Anne- Marie Duff, Adrian Scarborough, Emily Watson, Samuel West.
Directed by Dominic Cooke.
Chesil Beach is on the Dorset coast.
The core action of this film, set in 1962, takes place on the beach and in the hotel on the beachfront, Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howell) walking along the pebbles on the beach, formally dressed, in fact, the aftermath of their wedding that day. They are young. They are in their early 20s. They have studied at university and had top results, Firsts. But, despite the contemporary music and the bands, and the beginning of permissiveness of the 1960s, each of them is still, in manner and reserve, back in the rather restrictive 1950s.
While this day at the beach extends over most of the film, there is almost as much time, perhaps even more, given to frequent flashbacks to build up the characters of both Florence and Edward as well as glimpses into their families.
Florence comes from a very conservative family, the father, Samuel West, an industrialist with snobbish attitudes (and mean determination to dominate everyone, especially Edward, at tennis), critical of his daughter despite giving her a financial gift and offering a job at his factory to Edward. Florence’s mother, Emily Watson, embodies and mouths the Conservative views of the day.
Edward, on the other hand, comes from working class stock in working class conditions – to the disdain and comment of Florence’s parents. Edward’s family is far more interesting to watch, a considerate father, Adrian Scarborough, twin younger daughters, and a mother who at first view, naked in the backyard rousing on her children, Anne- Marie Duff, seems quite strange. However, the sad explanation is given for her mental condition, a sudden accident on a railway station. She loves art and that sustains her with the help of her ever-caring husband and her daughters. When Florence comes into the family, she shows tenderness and sensitivity towards the mother which endears her to everyone and greatly relieves Edward.
The screenplay is based on a novel by Ian Mc Ewan, celebrated for film versions of The Comfort of Strangers, Enduring Love, The Child in Time and, especially, Atonement (which featured Saiorse Ronan). These are all films about relationships but relationships which are tested, tried, relationships which are misunderstood, which can fail.
This means that this is the bittersweet story of the relationship between Florence and Edward, at moments very bitter. And, at some moments, the audience is tested as to where they might lay some blame, strongly on Florence and her immediate response on the wedding day, and strongly on Edward and his response to Florence.
A film of love, courting, hope for marriage, regrets.
US, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Julie Cowan, Betsy West.
Many Americans would know what the initials RBG stand for. This documentary film was an opportunity for non-Americans to be introduced to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, member of the Supreme Court of the US since 1993.
She is quite the personality. On the one hand, she is somewhat shy and retiring, not blessed with a great sense of humour – but marrying Martin Ginsberg, a tax lawyer with quite a sense of humour, having two children, relishing grandchildren – but a lawyer of superior standing and talent. She is very small in stature, especially seen in photos with the other Justices, predominantly male, powerful beyond her stature.
Her presence on the Supreme Court, a woman, more liberal than conservative, frequently dissenting from majority opinions, has been significant for a quarter of a century. At the time of the making of this documentary, 2017, she was aged 84. And her reputation has led to a nickname, The Notorious RBG.
Most audiences for this film will be interested in her contribution to American legislation, the interpretation of legislation, changes in legislation. However, they will also learn some biographical information about the Justice. From Brooklyn, her father migrated from Ukraine, she began college studies in law in the early 1950s, the time of Senator McCarthy? and other targeting of communists. In the 1960s and 70s, she established herself as a champion of equal rights (a significant case was her promoting a widower who was bringing up his children and was not granted financial support by the government because he was not a woman). In her championing of equal rights, there was a great deal to contribute to the rights of women. She had strong human rights and legislative views on abortion choice.
A lot of the film consists of talking heads, as might be expected, supporters from both left and right, especially her personal friendship, and opera-going, with strongly conservative judge, Scalia.
But, there are many sequences of Ruth Ginsberg speeches. Central to the film is her speech before the Senate enquiry into her nomination (Edward Kennedy being seen on the panel), and later comment by Bill Clinton about his meeting her and his decision to nominate her. There is also an address to students at Fordham and/or high school in more recent years. Younger students seem particularly keen to meet her and listen to her. (There are some sequences of spoofs about her manner and behaviour from Saturday Night Live and the Justice laughing and enjoying them.)
Ruth Bader Ginsberg emerges as a very hard-working lawyer and judge, devoted to her husband of over 50 years, grief at his death from cancer, her own battles with cancer, her integrity as a judge – who publicly complained in 2016 about Donald Trump (not as if he didn’t attack personalities in his speeches and tweets). She apologised acknowledging that this was inappropriate comment from a judge.
The documentary is particularly American, aimed at an American audience, but also of interest for audiences outside the United States.
Australia, 2018, 97 minutes, Colour.
Rachael Blake, Susie Porter, Vince Colosimo, Martin Sacks, Susan Prior, Megan Dale, Bridget Webb, Will Beasley.
Directed Mairi Cameron.
The Second is not necessarily an enticing title for an audience. However, it does have meaning for the plot which concerns an author who was published her first book, an erotic memoir, and is now working on the second, comment being made about the syndrome for the writing of a second novel, and its being so difficult to write in comparison with the first.
But, we are soon alerted that there is more than one element of complexity in this plot. The author is seen being interviewed, stylishly dressed, impeccable manner, agreeable but aloof, the presumption being that this is a television interview. She is being asked about her book, whether it is completely autobiographical, whether it is accurate – and even whether it is true.
The writer (all the characters owner designated by a title rather than a personal name) is played with a mixture of playfulness and disdain by Rachael Blake. She is in the company of the publisher, Vince Colosimo (wearing glasses and quite different from many gangsters he has played on screen and television). They are travelling to and elaborate mansion in the middle of the bush owned by the writer’s father, an author, now dead. (And the film was shot in the west Darling Downs in and around Dalby and other towns.).
The couple are having an affair, he rather laid-back and urging her on because of financial difficulties, she seen at a computer, writing but having blocks. The complication is that her friend from the past, played by Susie Porter, turns up, partly takes over, relies on the past friendship with the writer when they were girls (shown in quite a number of flashbacks which gradually build up the story of the girls at 14, a young boy attracted to them, his death and the consequences). Also in the vicinity is a sullen tractor driver (Martin Sacks), the brother of the dead boy who seems to threaten the publisher.
The audience has to be on the alert, not only for the flashbacks, but, it would seem, after the publication of The Second, a lot of flash forwards. And then the question arises, and the writer vocalises, what is she actually writing while the audience sees particular incidents that she describes. So, what is actually happening in reality and what is dramatisation of the novel that is being written.
In fact, it becomes quite melodramatic, inconsistencies in the characters of the two women, the bewilderment of the publisher, his becoming a target, the ambiguous role of the neighbour…
So, this is an adult drama about relationships, an adult drama about writing and career as well as publishing, and tantalising questions about memoirs, biographies, descriptions of crimes, what is reality and what is invention, the nature of fiction.
US, 2018, 102 minutes, Colour.
Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Chin Han, Noah Taylor, Mackenna Roberts, Kevin Rankin, Roland Moller, Byron Mann, Matt O' Leary.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Ultra-towering, ultra-Inferno. Back to the spirit of the 1970s and all those disaster movies.
A warning to those who like their films to be absolutely realistic, documentary-like in the detail, all the verisimilitude of truth! They may find Skyscraper rather far-fetched. On the other hand, those who enjoy thrillers, cliff-hanging and the equivalents, won’t be worrying too much about how accurate or truthful it is but will relish the entertainment.
The film doesn’t waste any time getting into the action with a prologue where a special squad has to break a siege with a man holding children hostage. One of the consequences of the action is that our central hero, Will Sawyer, played by the almost-always welcome Dwayne Johnson (with touches of grey in his beard now), losing a leg, tended in hospital by a military nurse who also served in Afghanistan, (Neve Campbell) – then, 10 years on, happily married and two children.
And then to his new job, recommended by his partner during the siege, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), the security in the world’s tallest skyscraper, in Hong Kong. Actually, architectural design seems to have come on since towering infernos 70s. The skyscraper doesn’t look like any building we have seen – yet; and that is only the outside! It is all luxury and IT control inside the building with the IT headquarters some kilometres away (all it very important for the complications of the plot, getting rid of some of the workers, sabotaging the control).
Needless to say, wife and children will be caught in the building when the thugs arrive and set fire. While there is a lot of the expected wife and children in peril, the wife has plenty of experience on her side, is tough in her own way and uses her brains. Of course, Dwayne Johnson has to use both brawn and brains – lucky he has so much brawn because the stunts are not only far-fetched, they seem to be almost impossible! And, not only that, he has to save everyone he can single-handed, sometimes having to take off his leg, and doing things single-legged as well. And he relies on his wits as well as a lot of duct tape.
Sinister villains, a complicated plot has to their motives, a businessman who is seeing his pride and joy skyscraper going up in smoke, some betrayals, and the Hong Kong police standing aghast, misinterpreting the situation, eventually on side. And, crowds and crowds, watching TV broadcasts as well as lots of phone cameras.
The whole thing keeps good pace and, if you are in the mood for this kind of disaster film, it certainly fills the bill.
And, inventively, the credits have the title vertically beside the building,
Spain/Catalonia, 2017, 97 minutes, Colour.
Laia Artigas, Paula Robles, Bruna Cusi, David Verdaguer, Monse Sanz.
Directed by Carla Simon.
There has been quite some acclaim for Summer 1993. It was actually Spain’s official entry for the Foreign Language Academy Award for 2017. And this is rather significant, given the political upheavals of the time, clashes between Spain and Catalonia, that this is a Catalonian film, spoken in that language.
As noted with the title, this is a reminiscence to Catalonia, almost a quarter of a century earlier. While there are references to homes in Barcelona, the action of the film takes place in the sunlit countryside.
On the one hand, it is a very simple film. The little girl, age 6, Frida (a strong presence and performance by the young Laia Artigas) has been staying with her grandparents while her mother died of a virus. The intention was to protect the child. Then she goes to the countryside to stay with her uncle and his wife and their little three-year-old daughter, Anna.
The issue is, of course, how does a little girl, age 6, deal with the death of her mother, the absence of motherly love, relating to her cousin and her uncle and aunt, support from the grandparents, love from a handicapped aunt. Audiences will strongly identify with little girl if they have shared something of these experiences.
On the whole, everything is sunny, Frida gets on well with her little cousin, her uncle is lovingly fatherly, her aunt has moments of tension but is still loving. And, there are the doting grandparents.
While some audiences will be caught up in the beauty and feeling of this story, others will find it rather hard to concentrate on all the small detail, the children playing together, sequences in the bath, at meals, squabbling over a gift of nightgowns from the grandparents, going for swims… Some may well find their attention wandering, appreciating what is happening, but actually finding the details somewhat tedious, even wearing.
Which means that this is a film of quality but one which can command a lot of attention could also be the subject of quite a lot of destruction in attention.
UK/US, 2018, 120 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald.
Most audiences will realise that Whitney is singer, Whitney Houston.
Interesting to note and for audiences to see, there have been two feature-links documentaries on Whitney Huston within the last two years, both directed by British documentary filmmakers, Nick Broomfield, Whitney: Can I Be Me, and now from Kevin Macdonald, Whitney.
Both films are powerful in their way, offering a portrait of the singer, considerable amount of background of her growing up in New Jersey, her singer mother, her father who left but acted as her manager, stealing from her and then suing her for millions. And there are interviews with her two brothers, their wives and other relations. There are visual images of her close friend, Robin, but no interview. As might be expected, there are some interviews with Bobby Brown, her husband, but he is very restrained and limited in what he will say (more from him in the Broomfield film). Significant in Whitney Huston’s life was her mother, her career as a singer, her mother investing energy into her daughter’s career and her daughter then moving against her.
Audiences may well be delighted with the amount of performance of songs by Whitney Huston throughout this film, quickly establishing the power of her voice, in church choirs, singing publicly, on television, her rapid rise with her topping the charts so often, her tours in the US and beyond (and a reminder that she was the first American singer to tour post-apartheid South Africa and meeting Nelson Mandela).
There is commentary on her breakthrough performance in the film, The Bodyguard, her comments, scenes photographed on sets, comment from Kevin Costner, her co-star. While the film and its song, I Will Always Love You, moved her to the realm of star power, almost immediately, there were tensions in her marriage, Bobby Brown not having the success of his wife, a succession of infidelities, press interviews and probings.
This film does not necessarily explain Whitney Huston’s use of and reliance on drugs and her moving to addiction. It offers the information, the facts becoming public, harsh reactions, her attempts at rehabilitation, even filming another movie, Sparkle, in 2011-12. However, she was just a shadow of herself in these years, disappearing, then going on tours and people walking out of concerts demanding their money back.
The film gives some background to her relationships, with agents, managers, PR personnel who speak favourably of her but with great regrets about what happened to her. Particularly tragic is the story of her daughter, whom she took on stage with her when she was little, but then neglected, the daughter becoming addicted and dying at the age of 22.
As with so many stories of talented people, this is a story of sadness despite achievement, a powerful life with decline and regrets.
US, 2017, 100 minutes, Colour.
Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Elizabeth Mc Govern, Annie Starke, Harry Lloyd.
Directed by Bjorn Runge.
A film to be recommended for those who enjoy a solid drama with intelligent performances and themes.
The title is rather blunt. And, immediately it evokes different perspectives on the role of a wife. Are we looking at tradition, the wife as the mate to her husband, subservient to him, managing the house and household, a woman who is not to have a career beyond the home? Or, is the title ironic, critical of the tradition and urging women to move beyond the tradition? These questions have been relevant her many years but, in the context of recent years about sexual abuse and exploitation of women, the story seems more than relevant. It is challenging.
The action of the film takes place mainly in 1992. The married couple, the centre of the film, Joe and Joan Castleman, have been married for 35 years. They have two children. Joan has been supportive of her husband all these decades, especially with his reputation as one of the greatest living authors and now being informed that he is to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. There is great excitement, exhilaration at the news.
While Jonathan Pryce is excellent in the role of Joe, the exuberant narcissistic novelist, this is Glenn Close’s film. It is certainly one of her best performances, a strong screen presence, her mature appearance, a strength of character, and, of course, the probing of the reality of her life in the light of her husband’s work and the possibilities that she had, but…
There are some flashbacks to the meeting of the couple (played by Harry Lord and Glenn close’s actual daughter, Annie Starke) when she was her husband’s student and had written an excellent short story, her baby sitting for him and his wife, and her love for him. This is in 1958. There are also some flashbacks to 1962 and 1968 and glimpses of their lives together and, especially, chose success in growing reputation. There is a telling scene where a successful author (Elizabeth McGovern) advises Joan to give up any thought of a career in writing, little hope in a man’s world.
The main action takes place in 1992, some drama on the plane to Stockholm, but principally the two days in the Swedish capital. Joe has no difficulty in being in the limelight. Joan prefers the shadows, not wanting him even to thank her during speeches, very embarrassed when he does. But, we might have guessed, Joe has a roving eye, even to the young woman appointed as guide. (And, in some irony, the Nobel committee are happy to have someone assigned to help Joan: for shopping and for beauty parlours!).
There is a subplot about the couple’s children. The daughter is happily married, pregnant and gives birth to the joy of the grandparents. The son is an aspiring writer (Max irons), supported by his mother, hurt by his father and his seeming neglect, and something of a dampener on the celebration. But the complication is a journalist who wants to write Joe’s biography and is shunned by Joe. He is Nathaniel, played by Christian Slater. Of course, his questions and interest raise curiosity in the audience, and the last part of the film answers the curiosity.
In the aftermath of the acceptance speech and dinner, complications arise for both Joe and Joan – which, of course, it is over to the audience to see and appreciate.