SIGNIS REVIEWS, FEBRUARY- MARCH 2014
3 DAYS TO KILL
ALL IS LOST
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, The
IN A WORLD…
MONUMENTS MEN, The
NYMPHOMANIAC VOLUME 1
OUT OF THE FURNACE
ROMEO AND JULIET
WINTER’S TALE, A
WOLF CREEK 2
3 DAYS TO KILL
US/France, 2013, 117 minutes, Colour.
Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hallie Steinfeldt, Connie Nielsen.
Directed by Mc G.
If you have two hours to kill, you might enjoy watching three days to kill! In fact, there is an ambiguity in the title, with a father having three days to spend with his estranged daughter, and his CIA involvement in an assassination attempt.
On the whole, the film is serious in its portrait of an ageing CIA agent, discovering that he is terminally ill, and wanting out of his work in order to re-connect with his family. His assignment is very serious indeed: an arms dealer, his agent with a dirty bomb, his accountant and other associates. But then, the film also has a lot of humorous touches, especially in the agent’s trying to deal and understand his daughter who is at school in an international college in Paris. He is also benign to an agent whom he tortures but also relies on for advice about daughters. Put the two ingredients together and stir and you come up with this film.
It has been directed with flourishes by McG who made two Charlie’s Angels films a decade ago. It is based on a story by Luc Besson, who has made some classics, like Subway but who has also provided stories for quite a lot of action films including the Transporter series and a film which plays on similar themes but much less successfully, The Family with Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer.
The agent, Ethan Renner, is played by a world-weary Kevin Costner, something he does quite well and quite convincingly. When we see him in action as an assassin, we realise that he considers it just as a job and his conscience is fixed solely on American loyalty and obeying CIA orders. He is shrewd, quick into action, but at this time he has terminal cancer, only three months to live. When his contact from the US, Vivi insists that he complete the mission he began in Belgrade, with all kinds of explosions and shootings in one of the main streets, in Paris where his estranged wife and daughter live.
Audience credulity is rather strained when we see the CIA agent in charge of the mission to kill the arms dealer. Initially prim and unremarkable in her interviews with the CIA bosses, she transforms into a combination of the vamp, femme fatale, and parody of female enemies in James Bond films. She is played by Amber Heard, far too young, it would seem, to have made such progress in the CIA ranks. However, she is not plagued by any moral scruples and insists on Renner completing his work.
On the family side there is Connie Nielsen as his wife, who still loves him despite his five-year absence and his daughter, Hallie Steinfeldt, who is that the precocious stage, falling for a senior student at school, thinking that her hair do going awry is an apocalyptic disaster.
The ending relies on an enormous coincidence, but it gets the characters together in the one place, serves as an occasion for mayhem, and, with the help of a mysterious experimental drug provided by his vamp superior, Renner may actually get some extra time with his family.
Eye-catching while on the screen, but one that will fairly quickly fall out of the memory.
300: THE RISE OF AN EMPIRE
US, 2014, 106 minutes, Colour.
Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Heady, Rodrigo Santoro, Hans Matheson, Callum Mulvey, Jack O’ Connell, David Wenham.
Directed by Noam Murro.
300, Rise of and Empire, takes up the history of the Greek confrontations with the Persians in the fifth century BC. There are allusions to the original film, 300, in the opening credits, the dead lying at Thermopolae with Leonidas amongst them. Dilios, played by David Wenham, is also a link, giving an account of what happened at Thermopolae. The other link is Leonidas’ wife, (Lena Heady who not only provides a voiceover narrative, but becomes part of the action, advocating the superiority of Sparta, but eventually leading her fleet to the action).
The King of Persia, Xerxes, who looked so strangely exotic in the original film, appears again trying to save his father, Darius, from being killed at the Battle of Marathon, then influenced by Artemisia and going through a ritual out of which he appears covered in gold and chains.
However, this film is not a sequel. Rather, it is a parallel story of what was happening in Athens and in the Bay of Salamis as the Athenians confronted the Persian fleet while the Spartans were battling at Thermopolae.
The hero of the film is Themistocles, the Athenians leader, who commands the smaller forces of Athens and their fleet. He is played by Australian, Sullivan Stapleton, commanding in appearance (though his Australian accent is less forceful than that of, say, Russell Crowe in Gladiator), clever in strategies, eliciting loyalty from friends and soldiers. The villain of the film is Artemisia, played with full force by Eva Green, a Greek woman whose family was brutalised by Greek soldiers, she herself raped and taken into slavery and ultimately rescued by a Persian – hence her being an aggressively vicious leader of the Persians. She is played as an intense, malevolent and sadistic monster, with her moments of sensuality and seduction, defying Themistocles, and ultimately facing up to him, one-on-one, both at sword point.
While there might be some inaccuracies in the history of the story, it nevertheless brings this picture of Greek history and legend to life. The main reason for this is that it uses, visually, the equivalents of the graphic novel, the graphic comic. The sets are stylised, the colour grading dark and ominous, especially during the sea battles. The photography and editing is for the equivalent of cartoon panels, the action sometimes in slow motion, even slowest motion, so that the audience has time to focus on particular panels, close-ups, but, especially, on the vivid combat scenes and death. There is a moment when there is a discussion that war is not for glory – but, with so much bloodshed and the blood spurts coming at the audience (especially if seen in 3-D), it is certainly gory.
This means that polished acting is not required. Rather, there is a great deal of posing and posturing, both with Themistocles and Artemisia, but, more especially, with Xerxes (who looks more like someone on a float in a parade rather than King of Persia).
There is a thundering score, pounding sound engineering, all creating an atmosphere which makes quite an impression whether one likes it or not.
This reviewer studied Greek and ancient history at school and was basically familiar with the plot elements – and found a certain satisfaction in seeing them come alive in graphic novel style, graphically.
ALL IS LOST
US, 2013, 107 minutes, Colour.
Directed by J.C.Chandor.
All is Lost is a film of endurance, not just because of the experiences of the lone sailor on the Indian Ocean, but also of the psychological and emotional demands made on the audience.
The plot is quite straightforward, an older American man is sailing around the world alone, finds himself 1700 miles from Sumatra and discovers that a container, falling from a ship, has collided with his yacht and has put a hole in the side. Water is getting in.
While the sailor does attempt some kind of communication, he is really on his own and has to face the difficulties with his yacht, with his own fears, with his own competence, all by himself. The audience spends 100 minutes in his company, sharing in all his experiences, his hopes, his practical endeavours, his sightings of container ships passing and using flares but their not noticing him, a sense of final despair, that nothing can be done, even as sharks circle his boat.
This is not the kind of story that most audiences are interested in watching and they may have to force themselves to continue. Audiences who identify immediately with the sailor and with his experiences will find the film engrossing.
One of the advantages of the film is that the central character is played by Robert Redford, aged 76 at the time of filming. With his long career in front of the camera and behind it, it is satisfying to see him get this strong role at this stage of his life and career. He makes the most of it, convincing us that he is experiencing what is being shown on screen.
The screenplay and direction is by J.C.Chandor, who previously directed the Wall Street drama, Margin Call. This is quite a different film with different demands on the director, illustrating Chandor’s talent.
The film has its niche audience, but others will appreciate seeing this fine performance by Robert Redford.
CHINESE PUZZLE/ CASSE-TETE CHINOIS
France, 2013, 117 minutes, Colour.
Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cecile de France, Kelly Reilly.
Directed by Cedric Klapisch.
We might well ask why a French film, mainly set in New York, has a title such as Chinese Puzzle! Actually, the director, Cedric Klapisch, has made a trilogy with such unusual the names. The first was L’ Auberge Espagnole, which translated Pot Luck or Euro Pudding. The second was Russian Dolls, using the English phrase for the title. So, audiences alerted, we wonder what these tales could be.
They are the titles of three films with a central set of characters. At first, in L’ Auberge Espagnole, they were a set of students living together in a Spanish apartment, with all the issues of their age, relationships, hopes for the future… In Russian Dolls, they were getting older, moving into career situations, continuing with their relationship issues. Now, they are around the 40 mark and experiencing problems that make them re-assess their lives.
One of the major surprises of the film is the New York setting. What is a very French director doing when his central characters opt to live in New York rather than in France? A French concession to the United States? The director has indicated that now we have a generation which is more mobile, and is not afraid of mixing with different cultures, live in different countries, deal with international challenges. But French characters actually opting for life in the US?
Once again, the central character, Xavier, played by Romain Duris, is beset by problems. He has become a successful writer and is continually hounded by his agent in Paris. He has been married for 10 years to Wendy (Kelly Reilly from the previous films) and has two children. When he moves to New York, so does she – though they are separated and she has taken up with an American. His questions include asking his children whether they want to live in the United States, issues of completing his novel, even his search for an apartment for himself.
The other central character from the past, Martine (Audrey Tautou), also makes contact. She and her son come to America for a holiday, making all kinds of complications for Xavier and his friend, Isabelle (Cecile de France), also from the previous films, who is in a lesbian relationship, and an affair, and allows Xavier to have her apartment as a base. And it becomes more complicated as Xavier has decided that he wants to get a green card in order to work with in the US. Fortunately, he has helped a Chinese taxidriver when he was assaulted and the family is extremely grateful, one of the daughters agreeing to stand in as his wife for the card. This also involves some complications with the apartment and the Inspector who wants to see whether the marriage is genuine.
On the whole, this is a frothy French comedy – allowing for its love for the United States and New York City – and will entertain fans of the other films, wanting to see what happens in the lives of these characters.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
US, 2013, 120 minutes, Colour.
Matthew Mc Conaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Dennis O’ Hare.
Directed by Jean- Claude Vallee.
Dallas Buyers Club made quite an impact on its release at the end of 2013. It was nominated for a number of Oscars, including best film and won acting awards for Matthew Mc Conaughey as best actor and Jared Leto as best supporting actor.
This is an interesting experience rather than an enjoyable film. It takes its audience back into the 1980s, to the time of the emergence of AIDS, with puzzlement about the emergence of the illness, its origins, its causes, its communication, the prevalence among gay men, the acquiring of the disease through unprotected sex with men and women, the communication of the disease by shared needles. With the subsequent 30 years of history and the changes in treatment for AIDS, its prevalence throughout the world, the removal of much of the social stigma of the 1980s and 1990s, it is important to do some kind of examination of the situation, some kind of examination of conscience, about reactions and behaviour in those decades. It is also important to look at the developments and abuses of drugs taken to combat the virus.
We are introduced to Ron Woodruff, an electrician in Texas, a participant in rodeos (with sexual behaviour behind the barriers), a kind of self-important man-about-town, leading a carefree and somewhat dissolute life, especially as regards sexual behaviour, alcohol and drugs. When he is injured through an electrical fault, he finds himself not only in hospital but with serious doctors telling him that he has only 30 days to live, that he was infected with the AIDS virus. He reacts violently, in denial.
He does go back to hospital where he encounters a transvestite in the ward, Rayon (Jared Leto), also with AIDS from his life on the street. Ron reacts to him with homophobic outbursts – which he then experiences from his co-workers, suspicious of his behaviour.
With the help of a worker at the hospital, he finds a doctor in Mexico who is able to supply him with AZT which improves his health. However, eventual research indicates that AZT is injurious to the immune system and Ron makes further investigations about the availability of drugs, many of which are prohibited by the FDA in the United States. He starts to import from Mexico and from other countries, impersonating a priest to get them through the border, but not being effective and immediately coming under suspicion.
To continue to help people who line up at his motel door, he decides to form a club asking financial membership which enables the members to get the drugs. He is helped by Rayon and the two gradually form a strong friendship, Ron overcoming a lot of his prejudices as he deals with actual people rather than gossip and hearsay.
The film continues with interventions from the FDA officials, court cases, his improving health and Rayon’s deteriorating health. All through he has been helped by a sympathetic doctor from the hospital, played by Jennifer Garner.
Ron Woodruff eventually lived another seven years, and during those years the US government had to consider further medication to combat AIDS and the safety and health of those involved in trials as well as the many – which we know from history was numerous – who were to die from AIDS.
While Matthew Mc Conaughey is jauntily comic at times, and Jared Leto gives a moving performance, the film is not so much popular entertainment, but a film which engages the mind as well as the heart and urges us to look back over history in order to learn from it.
US, 2014, 106 minutes, Colour.
Alex Pettifer, Gabriella Wilde, Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson, Rhys Wakefield, Robert Patrick.
Directed by Shana Feste.
It was surprising in 1981 that celebrated film and theatre director, Franco Zeffirelli, directed the Hollywood film – with the touch of soap opera – Endless Love. It was a star vehicle for Brooke Shields in those days and Tom Cruise had a small role. The main protagonist was played by Martin Hewitt who did not have a strong career in films. But the theme song, sung by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, proved very popular at the time.
But now this is a new time and a new version of Endless Love. A number of comments have indicated that it is quite different from the novel, and the novelist himself, Scott Spencer, has recommended that people avoid this film and satisfy themselves with reading his book. Certainly, in reading some synopses of the book and of the original film, the 2014 version changes a number of the emphases.
This time the young man is played by British Alex Pettyfer, who has had some success in recent times in American films like The Butler and Magic Mike. Here he is a strong character, unlike the original, and audiences will empathise with him, a rather principled young man from the wrong side of the tracks. The focus of emotional trouble is on Jade (Gabriella Wilde), finishing her high school, sad, along with her grieving family, at the death of her older brother, the shining light of the family who died of cancer. She has been quiet, confining herself to home and study, but sees David and is attracted by him and asks her parents for a graduation party so that she can invite him to. This is the beginning of endless love for them both.
All might have been well except that Jade’s father, expertly played by Bruce Greenwood, a single-minded father, distraught at the death of his favourite son, putting down his other son who never seems to be able to please him, and, to his father’s mockery, he is studying Communications. The father now places all his attention on Jade, wanting her to be a doctor, following in his footsteps. She is willing, until she falls in love with David, and wants to spend the summer vacation with him rather than going to a medical apprenticeship. Father not pleased, to say the least.
David does have Jade’s interests at heart, and is supported by his garage-working father, played by Robert Patrick. There are some fights, a fire disaster, which brings things to a head and, finally, the possibility of a future for David and Jade, a real beginning again for an endless love.
One thing to say about Endless Love is that unlike so many of the film is about young teenagers emerging from America, which tend to be fairly crass and sexist, this one advocates genuine feelings and wants to foster mutual respect in love and in families. Which is something in American films that we should not knock.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
US, 2014, 100 minutes, Colour.
Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Soairse Ronan, Tom Wilkinson, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Matthieu Amalric, Lea Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Baliban.
Directed by Wes Anderson.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is quite an entertainment. It is the work of writer-director, Wes Anderson, who has developed a strong reputation since the 1990s and his initial films, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. This reviewer has not found his films in recent years quite to his liking, especially The Darjeeling Limited. A past favourite has been The Royal Tenenbaums.
But, here is a film which should entertain most audiences. Specialists will enjoy the Wes Anderson imagination. Audiences coming in unawares may well be taken up by its humour and its quirkiness. The quirkiness can be seen even in the construction of the film: starting with a young woman going into a cemetery and sitting by the monument to a famous author and reading the book which is the title of the film; the narrative then recedes to the 1980s with the famous author doing an interview straight to camera but interrupted by his little boy; there is a further receding in time, a younger version of the author going to the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968 for his health and meeting the owner and spending time listening to his telling the story of the hotel and his own involvement; further receding to 1932 where most of the action takes place, the vitality of the hotel in its time, the clientele, and, particularly, the concierge, Gustave H.
Anderson also uses different cameras and different ratios to present these different times, the 1932 stories using the traditional box screen.
There is quite an eclectic cast for the film, many of whom have work with Anderson in his previous films. But the centre is Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H. It one of his best performances, tightly controlled, a concierge who knows all the rules and all the manners – but also knows how to manipulate the rules for the whims of the guests while keeping his dignity (except when he surprisingly bursts into some swearing).
The other central character is young refugee from the Middle East, Tony Revelori in a very fine performance, as Zero Moustafa who becomes an apprentice to the concierge. He also shares in many of the adventures – which include getting mixed up with the rapacious son of an elderly woman who was devoted to Gustave, as well as the son’s murderous assistant, and the stealing of a painting which was bequeathed to him. This leads to police chases, arrests, and Gustave’s time in jail as well as arranging an escape.
Part of the entertainment is that the audience has no idea where all this is leading, entertaining episodes building on each other without predictability.
It is difficult, sometimes, even to recognise some of the cast, especially Tilda Swinton made up to be the 84 year old benefactress, Jeff Goldblum as the lawyer, Harvey Keitel as the prison leader. Other actors are easier to recognise and more quickly, sometimes with very brief appearances like those of Bill Murray, Owen Wilson. And Willem Dafoe proves that he can be one of the most sinister villains on screen. On the more gentle side is Saiorse Ronan is young chocolate maker who falls in love with Zero. Tom Wilkinson is the older author, Jude Law the younger. And F.Murray Abraham is excellent as the older Zero who is narrating the story.
It all takes place in a fictional central European country, reminiscent of The Prisoner of Zenda. It also has a fictitious parallels to the Nazis and the SS, led by Edward Norton, which gives some sinister tones to the proceedings.
Come to think of it, it might be well worth sitting through The Grand Budapest Hotel again.
Australia, 2013, 91 minutes, Colour.
Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahowski, Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney, Bruce Spence, Nicolas Bell, Aden Young.
Directed by Stuart Beattie.
In the final credits of this reworking of the Frankenstein Monster story, there is a thanks to Mary Shelley. It is not certain that Mary Shelley would appreciate this expression of gratitude because, while the film does use some of the elements of her classic story, it moves into the 21st century and futuristic science-fantasy.
Aaron Eckhart is, perhaps, the best looking of the cinema Frankenstein Monsters. He says he was made from eight different corpses, and he looks remarkably integrated with a very limited number of scars, especially on his face. He is an intense Monster, speaking out his animosity towards his maker, revenging himself by killing Frankenstein’s wife, Elizabeth, with the scientist pursuing the Monster to the north, eventually freezing to death and being buried by the Monster, while finding his manuscript detailing his experiments.
Attacked by a range of Demons, the Monster finds himself in the 21st century – filmed in Melbourne, utilising some of its landmarks, a tram and tram stop at the top of Bourke Street or Collins Street, a notice, Central Station, on the Arts Centre, something that the locals have found amusing but which other audiences will not notice. It is a strange city, full of decaying edifices, cathedrals and Gothic buildings for the race of Gargoyles, and then suddenly seeing some modern cars and rubbish skips in the streets. Since it is all based on a graphic novel, these imaginings we have to accept.
While the story is serious, there are touches of the absurd, even of the ludicrous, in some of the dialogue and performances. Yvonne Strahowski is the human scientist, along with Nicolas Bell, working on a re-animation program at the behest of alleged entrepreneur, Wessex, who is really the arch Demon, Naberius. He Is played in familiar manner by Bill Nighy, indicating moods and attitudes simply by raising an eyebrow or giving a sideways glance. Also in the cast is Miranda Otto as the Queen of the Gargoyles and Jai Courtney as her henchman.
The colour is dark, the city is sinister, the laboratories modern. There is a reliance on special effects, especially for the explosions of the Demons and the battles with the Gargoyles.
Written and directed by cinematographer, Stuart Beattie, who directed Tomorrow When the War Began.
A variation on the theme, but certainly not the last word or image on the Frankenstein myth legend.
IN A WORLD…
US, 2013, 93 minutes, Colour.
Lake Bell, Rob Corrdry, Demetri Martin, Geena Davis,
Directed by Lake Bell.
In a World… words maybe very familiar to moviegoers who take notice of trailers for forthcoming films and the words and tone of the voice-over talent. Don La Fontaine was celebrated, in real life, for using these words in many of the introduction to the trailers. This fictitious story, based on fact, takes up the issue of who was to succeed him in doing these significant voice-overs. Hence the title, In a World…
The film is the work of actress, Lake Bell, who has written the screenplay and directed the film, as well is taking one of the central roles. She has done quite a fine job for the film and won an award at the Sundance Festival for the screenplay.
She plays one of two daughters of a vain father who fancies himself and his voice talent, tends to put down his daughters, and is taken up with a wife half his age. He also has a candidate for the new voice-over talent because he is retiring.
Carol (Lake Bell) is still diffident because of the suicide of her mother and the repressive attitudes of her father. She relies on her sister and her sister’s husband. She is also interested in a technician who records auditions, who is interested in her, but is also very diffident. In the meantime, she goes to a party thrown by a celebrity who is also after the role will. She has an attachment to him – and then finds that he is the talent.
The film takes us into a fairly isolated world, even with their own annual awards for commercials and trailers. This is quite interesting in itself, and the characters are well brought to life, even though most of them are quite unsympathetic. Geena Davis appears at the end, the producer of the new quadrilogy (instead of the expected trilogies like those for the Twilight series and Three Hunger Games).
A small, small-budget, independent film which, nevertheless, entertains in its own right.
THE MONUMENTS MEN
US, 2014, 120 minutes, Colour.
George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Desjardins, Cate Blanchett.
Directed by George Clooney.
The Monuments’ Men is very much a George Clooney film. Not only did he co-write it, he directed it and is the star. And he has gathered round him a very strong cast including Matt Damon who has worked with him many times and Cate Blanchett who worked with him in The Good German. Along with the stars, he also has some comic actors including Bill Murray and John Goodman. And, for good measure, he has the Oscar-winner for Best Actor of 2011, Jean Desjardins. There is a nod to the popularity in the United States of Downton Abbey with the presence of Hugh Bonneville.
The plot is interesting, a variation on war films, a more polite and well-mannered Dirty Dozen, for instance. The focus is on the art treasures that the Nazis were stealing all over Europe, especially those from France and Belgium, including the famous altarpiece in the Cathedral in Ghent and Michelangelo’s Madonna from to Bruges. German soldiers are invading the sacred places, interrupting the clergy, even killing them when they find that they are hiding the art treasures.
A concerned group approach President Roosevelt for permission to track down and recover the art treasures. He makes the important point of asking whether the saving of these treasures is worth a human life – with the answer that this is the historical and cultural heritage that is important for recovery after the war and for people’s cultural identity. It is interesting to note that President Truman asks the same question at the end of the war.
George Clooney portrays Stokes, the officer in charge of the operation and he has permission to recruit art experts, who are eager to enter into war action since they have been rejected because of physical disabilities. Matt Damon is Granger, who works at the Met in New York. Bill Murray is an architect. John Goodman another expert. They are put through some rigorous physical training, a bit difficult for people of John Goodman’s build and age! But this is a good opportunity for them to bond. They are joined by Hugh Bonneville, who has had his own personal difficulties in England, but is considered indispensable for the project. Once in Europe they are divided into teams of two except for Granger who goes to liberated Paris to track down a woman who worked in the Jeu des Paumes during the war years and is now considered a collaborator. She is played by Cate Blanchett.
There are several war action sequences, involving snipers, landmines, working undercover, and discovering that a lot of the art has been saved in a variety of mine shafts in Germany. With the approaching end of the war, some German squads are destroying the treasures. So, it is a race against time with some tension as the war ends, the Russians advance in Germany and the American group has to track down the most famous of the famous treasures.
While the film is quite serious in its theme, the writing is often quite humorous, American-style jokes, deadpan quips that give a kind of jaunty air to the film. For most audiences it will be a quite acceptable blend of action, adventure, with comic touches.
US, 2013, 106 minutes, Black and white.
Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacey Keech, Bob Odenkirk, Rance Howard.
Directed by Alexander Payne.
Nebraska is a very likeable film, one of the most likeable in recent years.
It was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars with nominations also for Bruce Dern and for June Squibb. Had they won, the awards would have been well-deserved.
Bruce Dern has had a long career, gaining an Oscar nomination in 1978 for Coming Home. But, he has not been a leading man, rather a character actor, and this film gives him the chance of a lifetime – and he takes it and creates a memorable character. He plays Woody, an old man, becoming confused, thinking that he has won a $1 million because he receives one of those brightly-coloured pages in the mail that trumpets that he is a winner. He does not understand these promotions, does not know the conditions, but is convinced that he has one and decides to go to Lincoln, Nebraska, to get his million dollars. He starts off by walking but is brought home by his son, with his wife ticking him off.
So, we are introduced to a ‘typical’ old man, rather gaunt, bearded and scruffy, sometimes confused, prone to keep to himself, sometimes a hard case, and an old heavy drinker. Were also introduced to his wife, a strong-minded woman, who has stayed in her marriage despite all the difficulties and certainly wears the pants in the family! The couple have two sons, one successful in television, the other a rather morose man in middle age, often feeling forlorn, separating from his girlfriend, in an okay job but just that, not relating so well to his father.
In an inspired moment, David, this younger brother (Will Forte) decides to drive his father to collect his winnings, all the time trying to persuade him that he has not won. This will be a significant journey not only for Woody but also for David. They begin to talk as they travel, the father not revealing much, David challenging him at times, opening up some leads.
Their overnight stop is with one of Woody’s brothers, Ray (Rance Howard, Ron Howard’s father). Woody is comfortable with Ray and his wife, Martha, but their oafish twin sons are mocking and try to steal the ticket for the winnings. No matter how hard David tries to dispel the news about the winnings, everybody takes this is a sign that Woody has actually won.
At night, they wander around the small town, visiting bars and eventually finding older men that Woody knew, especially his partner from the past, Ed Pegrem (Stacey Keech), who has something of a nasty streak, wanting money from Woody although he should be in debt to him and revealing some unpleasant aspects of Woody’s past. Better is the family dinner where all his brothers and their families come to Ray and Martha’s house. The visual composition of Woody and all the brothers watching TV is classic. But, some of the family also have their eye on the money, bringing up situations from the past – but finally being emphatically told off by Woody’s wife who praises his past generosity and their meanness.
There is a fine sequence where David goes to the local newspaper and meets the widow of the publisher who shows him newspapers from the past, with Woody’s photo and his Korean service, and reveals something of Woody’s past more kindly.
As might be expected, there is no money in Lincoln. However, David does an admirable gesture at the end, an acknowledgement of and a tribute to his father.
The film was directed by Alexander Payne, not a prolific director, but a fine one with different films like: Citizen Ruth (starring Bruce Dern’s daughter, Laura), election, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants. He tells a good story, spends a good yarn, and elicits great humanity from his cast. He has also opted to film in black and white, a striking use of this black and white, the vistas of the open spaces of the mid-West, wonderful close-ups of the characters, fine compositions with characters, so that one welcomes the power of black and white photography.
Enjoyable, humane, thoughtful.
US, 2014, 106 minutes, Colour.
Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy?, Nate Parker, Lupita Nyong’o.
Directed by Jaume Collett- Serra
Non-stop is in the tradition of the airport films as well as disasters on board planes. With its continual reliance on technology, it is very much taking the airport tradition into the 21st century.
The film is a star vehicle for Liam Neeson who, in his later middle age, has proven himself an action hero in the Taken series and Unknown (which was directed by Jaume Collett- Serra, who directed this film). Neeson, a strong actor at any time, has a powerful screen presence, even when he is shown to be a character with many weaknesses – in this case, depression, grief over the death of his daughter from cancer, divorce, losing his police job in New York City, drinking and smoking addiction.
He plays Bill Marcks, now a security agent on international flights. At the beginning, we see his weaknesses, yet his alertness as he goes through passport control and security with the other passengers to board his plane. He dreads take off, but once in the air, and find himself in a dire crisis, with great risk to the passengers and the plane, he combines the intensity of his commitment to solve the situation as well as his own personal anguishes.
While it is all on screen, the situation has a certain plausibility, despite its complexity and its use of mobile phones and texting. But, in retrospect, one wonders about how it all could have possibly been engineered.
On board, is Julianne Moore, sometimes a suspicious character, but someone who stands by the air Marshal during the crises. So does Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) as the main flight attendant. Interestingly, the other flight attendant is played by Lupita Nyong’o, who won the Oscar for Best Actress in a supporting role, in 12 Years a Slave.
The supporting cast draws on character actors like Scoot McNairy?, Nate Parker. Linus Roach (Priest) is one of the pilots.
Tension, of course, is most important for this kind of film and Non-stop certainly raises the tension as we watch the desperate Marshal puzzling over what is happening, enlisting the support of the two women, being muzzled because of protocols by the pilots and by his supervisor whom he talks to by phone. Even the passengers, learning more about his background, try to stage a takeover.
The special effects come into their own at the end of the film, with the handling of the bomb situation and the landing of a plane severely damaged.
In 2012, Denzel Washington portrayed a pilot who had a drinking problem and who was able to crash land a plane and save lives in Flight. A year later, Liam Neeson is there to save the day.
Better to watch this film after a flight rather than before it. Audiences outside Europe might have a wry smile when there is so much in the dialogue about how this is such a tiring long haul flight from the US to London – as long as six hours!
NYMPHOMANIAC, VOLUME 1
Denmark, 2014, 150 minutes, Colour.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skaarsgard, Shia La Bouef, Stacey Martin, Christian Slater, Connie Nielsen, Uma Thurman, Saskia Reeves.
Directed by Lars von Trier.
An enormous amount of word-of-mouth about this film. A lot of it veering towards the scandalous as well as the sexually prurient. After all, just look at the title. And then there is the factor of the writer-director, the extraordinarily eccentric but creative Danish director, Lars von Trier. Over the decades he has made a wide range of films, at one stage focusing on his Dogme principles of filming with cinematic purity and not relying on effects, lighting… This phase seems to have passed, although the different film styles that von Trier uses indicate his history of experimentation.
This is the first volume of the two-part Nymphomaniac. This first part was screened at the 2014 Berlinale. The second volume was promised for an occasion like the Cannes Film Festival. However, the two parts were screening together in special events soon after the screening in Berlin. In the months prior, an abridged version of the two parts was screened commercially.
One of the most controversial of von Trier’s films was the Antichrist, 2009. Many considered it too confronting with his treatment of the death of a child, the tensions between husband and wife and some sadistic and gruesome behaviour. However, the film could be seen as a psychological, psychosexual study and judged accordingly.
Nymphomaniac is definitely a psychological study, a study of sexual condition that has dire consequences for the nymphomaniac herself as well as the people with whom she comes in contact. This is very clear from the first volume.
The film opens with a dark screen, some noises of water falling, gradually shows us a dark street in a Scandinavian town and a man going to the local store who then discovers a woman lying on the street. He offers an ambulance but she refuses and he takes her to his home, allows her to shower and gives her a cup of tea. He, like the audience, wants to ask questions and she agrees.
What follows is an over two hour interchange between the man and the woman, flashbacks as she tells her story, starting from her infancy and sexual awareness, playing with a companion, her love for her doctor father and aware of the seeming indifference of her mother. Then with a close friend, she begins her nymphomaniac behaviour, the two of them trying to seduce as many men as they come across, having a bet about how many they can seduce during a train journey.
One of the key things is that one of the girls realises that love can be involved, whereas the nymphomaniac herself has no experience of love, no real emotions at all, a cerebral understanding of her condition and the compulsion to act out. This is visualised as she goes to work, is fired from her job, takes up with a married man and clashes with his wife, meet up again with the young man who, indifferently, took her virginity and is now an executive.
A brief synopsis does not do justice to how all this is presented on screen. A great deal of it is presented as realism. However, as von Trier has done in other films, he introduces diagrams and formulas represented on screen, details for parking a car which detach the audience in some ways from what is going on, or makes them think about the meaning.
In the abridged version there are some graphic sequences, but in the full versions, some explicit sexual activity is presented, sometimes in brief close-up. Information during the final credits indicate that the professional actors did not participate in these sequences but body doubles were used.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, who appeared in Antichrist and Melancholia, is Joe, the young woman who is telling her story. Stacey Martin appears as the younger Joel in the flashbacks. Stellan Skarsgaard is the man listening to the story.
Shia la Boeuf is the young businessman. But two key performances are impressive: Christian Slater as the doctor-father of Joe, especially in the sequence where he is dying in hospital; and the other is the wife of the executive who leaves her for Joe. She is played expertly by Uma Thurman who gives a performance of ‘hell hath no fury…’, bringing her two children to confront her husband and Joe, acting in an extraordinarily demented and moody fashion, a show-stopping performance, to be welcomed amongst all the sexual behaviour.
This review is only of Nymphomaniac Volume 1, some of the advertised cast have not yet appeared and the plot will lead us up to the point where Joe is confiding in the listener, exercising a kind of therapy for herself and for the audience.
OUT OF THE FURNACE
US, 2012, 106 minutes, Colour.
Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Forest Whittaker, Tom Bower, Willem Dafoe.
Directed by Scott Cooper.
This is a film which depends on word-of-mouth from audiences.
Many audiences seeing the film will find it too grim, its outlook too bleak, some of its violence too confronting, and will advise others not to go to see the film. On the other hand, film buffs who appreciate well-made films, no matter how depressing in their presentation of character and society, will recommend other buffs to see it.
The setting is an industrial area in the countryside of Pennsylvania as well is the hills of the state of New Jersey. The look of the film is wintry, iron-grey in its tone. The factories look ugly, inside and out. And the action of the film takes place in some squalid settings, especially for bare-knuckle fights, bars and clubs, and dingy houses. Commentators have noted that it is a depressing picture of the United States since the world financial collapse and a picture of the desperation of people struggling to make a living, as well as people who are exploiters and their victims. The title indicates the theme, people trying to escape from the furnace but still in the fire.
The film was written and directed by Scott Cooper who made the interesting film about travelling singers, Crazy Heart.
Apart from the effectively bleak photography and the use of the locations, the film has a fine cast. Now in his middle age, former child star, Christian Bale, has proven himself a considerable actor (Oscar for The Fighter, award nominations for American Hustle). Here, he is an ordinary man, struggling to make a living, looking out for his younger brother (Casey Affleck) who is about to go out and serve in the Middle East wars. Carelessly drinking and driving, he is responsible for the death of a child in a car accident. He serves his time and then comes out to re-establish his life. His wife (Zoe Saldana) has left him for the local police officer (Forest Whitaker). His brother has returned from his service and is a changed person, for a desperate worse. He has been involved in bareknuckle fights, trying to pay off other debts to a small-time entrepreneur (Willem Dafoe).
But, right from the beginning of the film, we have been alerted and warned. The film is introduced at a drive-in, where Woody Harrelson is brutally violent towards a woman and some of the patrons of the drive-in. Then he disappears from the film only to be reintroduced in an even more violent and brutal manner.
By this time, the audience will realise that Out of the Furnace is going to be something of a revenge film with a touch of the vigilante. And that it is the Christian Bale character, despite pleas and warnings, who will do the confronting, trying to achieve some kind of justice.
In most ways this is a film to be admired rather than enjoyed, the dirty mirror, so to speak, reflecting the downside of 21st-century American society.
US, 2014, 117 minutes, Colour.
Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Samuel L. Jackson, Marianne Jean- Baptiste.
Directed by Jose Padilha.
By the end of the 1980s, Robo Cop had not only been a film with sequels, it had become a word that was part of the English language. This was the cop who was part human and part machine. He was unleashed on to a criminal world and made his substantial physical and metallic presence felt, a crusade eliminating crime in American cities. He was played by Peter Weller.
While the concept might be much the same in 2014, there is a great deal of difference in the technology available, for the armour for Robo Cop himself, for machines doing similar work, like drones, and for the information available to Robo Cop as he goes on his mission of cleaning up Detroit.
The film starts on an interesting, somewhat satiric tone, with Samuel L. Jackson as a right-wing television compere of his own show, The Pat Novak Show. He is prone to rant and rave, and takes up the drones and machine capacities for surveillance and for keeping law and order. He has a reporter in Tehran where the drones seem to have everything under control, until some terrorist suicide attacks. Cut immediately from Tehran and a move to discussions about legislation to support the drones, support for the company which has been making them, Omni Corp, and its head and an attack on the Senator who is sponsoring a bill to outlaw them. So it can be seen that there are political issues, big business issues, the ethics of this kind of fighting machine – more especially so when the issue of the Robo Cop is announced.
In the meantime, there is a lot of crime in Detroit, especially in drug dealing, manufacture and distribution. We are introduced to a number of Detroit police, undercover, overt, indicating problems with deep cover and corruption. One of the police, Alex (Joel Kinnaman), is under some suspicion because of the death of his partner. He is determined to target and bring to justice the main drug villain in the city. Since he is going to be the Robo cop, it is inevitable that we see an attack on him, a firebomb in the car at his home, which will have such effect on his physical condition that he is like a waking dead. But, he is considered the best opportunity for developing the Robo Cop.
The film has a strong cast besides Joel Kinnaman, with Michael Keaton as the president of Omni Corp, plausible, sinister, and finally ruthless. Gary Oldman is the doctor who has been able to help patients with artificial limbs to continue their lives. It is he who is commissioned to develop the armour for the Robo Cop and to help him function as human. Jennifer Ehle is Michael Keaton’s assistant, all businesslike and unemotional. Jay Baruchel is the head of public relations, a combination of shrewdness and being a nerd. Abbie Cornish plays Robo Cop’s wife.
Alex is dismayed to find himself in the depleted physical condition but finally agrees to his role. One of the big differences from 1987 is the technology available for him, the downloading into his brain of all the available data about criminals, DNA, fingerprinting, identification of criminals, which actually goes into overload. Once he goes into action, there is plenty for the action entertainment audience. He is on his motorbike, speeding around the city, using his inner screen to find and locate people, able to detect whether they are a threat or not, wreaking havoc ultimately on the drug boss.
But, is he able to be controlled? And what about his relationship with his wife and son? And what about changing the legislation in Washington and the lobbying of Congress men and women, Omni Corp’s financial outlay for changing legislation, aided with more haranguing by Pat Novak on his show.
Obviously this is going to lead to a crisis, shootouts, ethical crises… While there is a happy ending for Robo Cop, we are still left with Pat Novak at the end, almost a parody of commentators from Fox News and other right-wing outlets in the United States, urging the audience to develop law and order, militaristic attitudes for preserving their way of life.
Action, science fiction, futuristic imaginings, ethical issues, and a critique of some extremist media commentators.
ROMEO AND JULIET
UK, 2013, 115 minutes, Colour.
Douglas Booth, Hallee Steinfeld, Paul Giammati, Damian Lewis, Natasha Mc Elhone, Stellan Skarsgaard,
Directed by Carlo Carlei.
Romeo and Juliet has been told many times in film. It was a star vehicle for Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer, at an age much older than that of Shakespeare’s protagonists, in the 1930s. The version in the 1950s with Laurence Harvey and Susan Shentall is not so well remembered. This is in contrast with Franco Zeffirelli’s celebrated version, with Nino Rota’s, in 1968, with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Quite a different tone in Baz Lurhman’s Romeo+ Juliet in 1996, a modernised version.
This interpretation takes us back to the Renaissance era, the time of the writing of the play. Visually it is most impressive, capitalising on the art and architecture of the period.
The play has been edited by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Downton Abbey). He has shorn the text to fit it into a running time of under two hours, he has also added some ‘Shakespearean’ lines of his own.
The main difficulty with this version is in the performances, especially that of Hailee Steifeld (strong in her Oscar-nominated role in True Grit). She does not look quite the part and her delivery is not very good indeed. Douglas Booth is Romeo, who has a striking screen appearance and is certainly better in his lines than Juliet.
Damian Lewis is interesting as Capulet and Natasha MdElhone? very good as Lady Capulet. Also effective is Stellan Skaarsgard as the Prince of Verona. And Paul Giamatti is Friar Laurence.
The film was directed by Carlo Carlei whose other credits are very varied, including the dog comedy, Fluke, and the biography of Padre Pio.
Australia, 2013, 112 minutes, Colour.
Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, John Flaus, Jennifer Tovey, Robert Coleby.
Directed by John Curran.
Tracks is the film version of Robyn Davidson’s book of 1978, detailing her 1977 trek from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, past Uluru, out into the deserts, encountering some small settlements as well as aboriginal women and men. She was 27 at the time and was sponsored by the National Geographic magazine. It was an outstanding achievement.
The film visualises the trek, inviting audiences to share something of the experience of Robyn Davidson, not an easy sitting back to watch a touristic episode, but rather to feel the heat, the desert rocks and sand, the isolation, the sometimes-monotony, the irritation at the photojournalists and their intrusions, the possibility of reflecting on what she was doing and its meaning.
This means that the writer, Marion Nelson, a first-time scriptwriter and director, John Curran, have to move between drawing the audiences in with spectacular photography (by Mandy Walker), a musical score by Garth and an interesting series of episodes during the trek a well as enabling the audience to experience the outer and the inner journey through the Australian deserts.
This also means that some audiences will be willing to surrender to what the film makers put before them. But it also means that some audiences will soon tire of the journey, find it less than interesting, possibly boring, and not find Tracks the engrossing film that they might have hoped for.
Mia Wasikowska, only 23 when she made this film, four years younger than Robyn Davidson herself, has had a distinguished career, even at a young age, from Alice in Wonderland to Jane Eyre, playing Australian characters and American characters. She communicates the ccharacter of Robyn Davidson, her determination, her willingness to spend long months in the outback with camel training, persuading her family that this was something that she must do, writing to National Geographic to enlist their financial support for the trek. Younger audiences might immediately identify with her. Older audiences will look at her with interest, perhaps remembering their younger adventurous days, or concerned with how this will all turn out for the young woman.
Before she sets out on her journey, she encounters a range of characters in the outback, especially Kurt, Rayner Boch, who works with her and the camels, and John Flaus as Sallay, who also trains and encourages her. Before she leaves, she meets Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), the photographer assigned to cover her journey. She is not too enthusiastic about him, realising that she likes to be by herself, away from built-up cities, out in the desert, out in nature, living her introverted journey.
Once she is on her journey, having been excluded from the camp at Ayer’s Rock, because of her camels, and camping outside - and the audience relishing the beauty of the rock with her - the film relies on the beauty and range of the changing landscapes, the people that she meets, an old white couple who welcome and encourage her, the aborigines, especially the women who chant and invite her to dance with them, the elder who accompanies her through the sacred sites (after Rick Smolan has secretly filmed men’s business but has been discovered and Robyn is to pay the penalty of his indiscretion by having to take a longer route around the sacred sites).
There are also dramatic episodes, the camels running away, beautiful drinking water, dry riverbeds, moments of despair. However, her attitude towards Rick Smolan changes, her allowing him to photograph her, sexual moments, and reliance on him to get rid of the photographers.
Tracks, of course, can serve as a symbolic journey for anyone, as we all move through our deserts, the isolation, and longings and ambitions, the moments of relief, the moments of challenge, the moments of despair.
US, 2014, 106 minutes, Colour.
Zoe Deutch, Lucy Fry, Gabriel Byrne, Joely Richardson.
Directed by Mark Waters.
A first alert to this film was the advertising tagline, ‘They suck at school’. Had this film been a slight parody, a vampire academy instead of the police academy, this might have been the most clever part of the film.
But, there is more to it than that.
Based on a popular novel by Rachelle Mead, this is yet another contribution to the extraordinarily wide popularity of vampire stories in recent times, fostered by television’s True Blood as well as the popularity of the Twilight series. This film lies somewhere in between, veering more towards Twilight than to True Blood.
Somewhere, in a rather unlikely United States, there is an exclusive mansion which is the home to the Vampire Academy, confined, it would seem, to older teenagers and their education, both classical and in vampire law and physical arts to combat enemies. At the opening, Rose (a more than feisty and attractive Zoe Deutch) is guarding a more seemingly delicate student, Lissa (Lucy Fry). Lissa is actually a princess from a long line of vampires and is destined to be Queen – although she has fled the Academy.
When the group is captured and returned to the Academy, (St Vlad’s!) there is an explanation, with technical names, of the various layers of vampire status, of protectors and of hostile vampires who are bent on destroying the more respectable ones (who are able to get their blood supply from willing humans who volunteer!). It is only the hostiles who can be killed by silver knives. Once back at the Academy, we meet the rather surly headmistress, Olga Kuryenko, and the rather ill provost, Gabriel Byrne.
There are the variations on high school enmities and friendships amongst the vampires, Rose being rather free because she is only part of vampire and decidedly human. A visit from the Queen, a rather absurd episode as she is dressed in robes and ermine, played by Joely Richardson, challenges Lissa to live up to her expectations.
After the high school episodes, and a school dance, there is some melodrama as one of the characters reveals a sinister side and abducts Lissa. Rose, and the guard, Dmitri, to whom she is more than attracted, come to the rescue.
A final glimpse at what looks to be a field of lost souls, of sinister vampires, indicates that there could be a sequel.
A WINTERS TALE
US, 2014, 105 minutes, Colour.
Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, Will Smith, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, Kevin Corrigan, Matt Bomer.
Directed by Akiva Goldsman.
No, this is not Shakespeare. In some ways, far from it. But it is one of the oddest films to come around for a long time.
It is probably prudent for a reviewer to give a warning: anybody with any trace of cynicism should avoid this film. Even those who are not prone to cynicism may find it a bit too twee or fey.
Very early in the film, a character states that the light in the sky may be from an angel’s wing as somebody changes from being a human to becoming a star. Not your usual comment. But the film continues in this vein, with the presupposition that everyone has a miracle within them, and that they need to be alert so that they can help another person with that miracle.
In looking at the list of strong actors in the cast, one wonders what it was that attracted them when they read the script. Colin Farrell is the main actor, first seen in 2014 sequence where he is rummaging in a box and finds a nameplate for a boat, City of Justice. Then the action goes back to 1895, to Ellis Island and a family trying to migrate to the United States only to be rejected because the husband has lung problems. They want their baby to have a happy life in the United States and lower him into a little boat, City of Justice, and set him towards the New York skyline. As one did!
Most of the action, however, takes place in 1916. This time Colin Farrell (with the strangest of hairdos, no credit to the credit for hairstyling) is a thief, being pursued on the New York docks by a ferocious looking Russell Crowe, as if he had stepped out of the Gangs of New York. Fortunately for Colin Farrell, there is a beautiful white horse standing by and he senses that this is a rescue. Indeed it is as he mounts the horse and it flies over the waterfront gate – later this white horse is going to do a considerable amount of flying.
Meanwhile a young woman is suffering from consumption, Jessica Findlay Brown, cared for by her anxious father, William Hurt, and her young sister. When Farrell enters to rob the house, he encounters the young woman and it is love at first sight. Again, pursued by Russell Crowe, he mounts the horse which leads him (as might be expected) to the country house of the young woman.
No more plot except that it has many tears and Russell Crowe wreaking vengeance on Colin Farrell.
Back to 2014, Farrell is still there in New York, but his memory has gone. He draws an image of a person with red hair on the pavement, we all assuming that it is the young woman of a century before. But not quite, some twists to the plot, and encounter with a little girl (with red hair) and her mother, Jennifer Connelly. And, sure enough, Russell Crowe is still about but wants to do a Wings of Desire kind of thing and becoming human to finally destroy Farrell.
And then there is a nice pleasure for movie buffs, Eva Marie Saint, 60 years on from On the Waterfront) appears as the old (very old indeed) version of the little girl from 1916 – and all the mysteries solved, a miracle, light, and another star in the firmament.
This is an adaptation of a novel by Mark Helprin, written and directed by the veteran Akiva Goldsman, who has made some strong films (A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man – as well as The Da Vinci Cosw and Angels and Demons!) which means that it is a big surprise that he has written and directed this piece of fantasy.
WOLF CREEK 2
Australia, 2013, 105 minutes, Colour.
John Jarrett, Ryan Corr, Phillippe Klause, Shane Connor, Gerard Kennedy, Annie Byron.
Directed by Greg Mc Lean.
Wolf Creek 2 is in the same vein as the original, which received a great deal of acclaim, critically and from the public. For those who liked the original, the expectations were high, and the hope for more of the same. For those who did not see the original, this film has prologue where Mick Taylor confronts two policeman who want to fine him for speeding on an outback road, just for the fun of occupying themselves, and meet a grizzly end. Here is Mick Taylor, back again.
As with the first film, the landscapes are important, filming in South Australia and the highlighting of the crater of Wolf Creek. Again, as with the first film, the targets of Mick Taylor’s sadistic venom are overseas tourists. This time there is a couple from Germany who are treated brutally. But the main target is a young British man, caught up in the plight of the German woman by accident, and experiencing the full vicious animosity of Mick Taylor.
At times, this is a horrible film to watch, especially the treatment of the German tourist and, at great length, some sadistic antics of Mick Taylor as he tortures the young British man, Paul (Ryan Corr). The treatment of victims is different in this film, Mick Taylor playing games with his worried captive, the young man trying to prove his knowledge of Australia by singing Tie me Kangaroo down, Sport, Mick joining in with great gusto, all verses. (Mick had already been shown running over kangaroos with glee.) There are more songs, with Mick bailing out in disgust when his victim starts to sing the national anthem and there are the usual jokes about ‘girt by sea’. Then there is an Australian quiz, with sardonic references to Who Wants to be a Millionaire and the inability to phone a friend! Dennis Lillee and Don Bradman become a key to whether Paul will have a finger severed for each mistake that he makes.
More Australiana with Dame Nellie Melba singing over the final credits.
The torture genre was popular in the first decade of this century, even being referred to as ‘torture porn’. There is something in this accusation – but, as always, it depends not on what is being presented but how it is presented, and this is always debated according to audience sensibilities, offended by visual torture or able to accept it as part of the genre and storytelling.
It is a fact that there have been killers who abducted and murdered tourists. How this should be treated in fictional films is always a moot point. Greg McLean? has opted to tell this kind of story twice and, whether we like it or not, this is become part of Australian cinema history.