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Film Reviews April 2012

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WAY, The


US, 2012,
Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum. Dave Franco
Directed by Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Basically, for a younger demographic.

This is the popular television series (with Johnny Depp who does an entertaining cameo this time) from the later 1980s. Almost a quarter of century later, Jonah Hill and fellow writers, have taken the core plot and more than updated it. Yes, there are the two cops (ineffectual rookies, Channing Tatum, the heartthrob from school now struggling with studies and even remembering his Miranda warnings properly, and Jonah Hill the ultra-gawky nerd with brains but finding the police training a physical challenge, are no on the first assignment, patrolling a quiet park on bicycles.

When their attempted arrest of some bikies flops, they are assigned to a special squad housed in the Church of the Aroma of Christ, a former Korean church with a Korean Jesus crucifix. It is presided over by a continually angry and swearing Ice Cube. Talking of swearing, there is much more here than on the TV series and a preoccupation with raucous comedy and frequent phallic jokes. The rookies are assigned to undercover work to find dealers and makers of a new drug (which they first watch on a You Tube clip).

Yes, they are too old for school, but, after getting their fake names mixed up, they go to the wrong courses, Jonah to sport as well as a performance of Peter Pan, Channing to science. The comedy is that each adapts to his opposite. And it is all mixed up with the pleasant dealer who gets them in on the act, with a girl who finds Jonah attractive, the fellow nerds with whom Channing feels more and more at home, with a leering sports coach, and with the bikies – which leads to shoot-outs and traffic jammed chases and explosions.

Younger audiences will find it funny, and the two do play well off each other. Older audiences may find it a bit too much to spend so much time in this school and might feel that a little of our heroes goes a fairly long way.


France, 2011,
Lola Creton, Sebastian Urzendowski,
Directed by Mia Hansen Love.

Writer-director Mia Hansen Love was not yet thirty when she made this film, after success with her earlier films, especially, The Father of My Children. In interviews, she has remarked that her films have autobiographical elements, this one in particular.

This is the story of Camille, a fatalistic romantic even as a school girl. She is in a relationship with a photographer, whose name is, rather unexpectedly, Sullivan, and declares her undying love. He however, wants some time away, to go to South American with friends and be himself. He still loves Camille but not that much. She, on the other hand, pines for him.

Eventually, she has to do something with her life. She studies and, as the years pass and Sullivan does not return, she becomes an architect, quite a creative architect, and attracts the attention of her (married) Norwegian professor. It is rather a long time rebound, but for some years, they have a relationship.

One day, she encounters Sullivan’s mother in a bus and finds that he has returned some years earlier and is living in Marseilles.

The main question of the last part of the film when Sullivan and Camille resume their relationship (and Camille shows she is adept at concealment and deception) is whether this new phase can last or this is the bitter-sweet conclusion.

The film is very French in that concentrated focus on serious characters and intense emotions. Lola Creton has to age from fifteen to her late twenties. It was a surprise to find that, though she looked older earlier in the film, she was only eighteen at the time of production. German Sebastian Urzendowski is the dark handsome Sullivan who is really out of his depth in dealing with Camille. Magne Havard Brekke is the rather egotistical professor.

The success of the film’s impact will depend on whether we can identify with Camille, her passions and her sadness, or whether she just seems obsessed and sad, and we wish she would grow out of it. But, this is how so many French dramas deal with such emotional stories.


UK, 2011,
Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Barbara Jefford.
Directed by Terence Davies.

Highly, very highly, stylised.

That can serve as a review description – but also as a warning to audiences who like their dramas straightforward, even realistic, rather than one presented as consciously contrived for dramatic effect. The latter is what Terence Davies has done in his comparatively few films, made over more than two decades. His semi-autobiographical films, Distant Voices, Still Lives (something of a masterpiece of British wartime mood insight) and the more straightforward, The Long Day Closes, had a distinctive measured pace, a selection of events that revealed characters but always in a contect that blended the real with the lights and shadows of house interiors. And then there was the musical score, sometimes classic, often popular, even with scenes of community singing in the local pub.

He drew on these characteristics for his adaptations of novels, The Neon Bible and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.

He put himself into his documentary on Liverpool for its year as European city of culture, Of Times and Places. His commentary during that film as well as in media interviews show him as rather held-in, prissy-mannered, often cutting in his remarks.

All these influences are discernible in his adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play about marriage, formality, desire for passion and memories of the war, The Deep Blue Sea, filmed in 1954 with Vivien Leigh and Kenneth More.

While the principal action takes place over one day, beginning with Hester Collier’s suicide attempt in the morning and her being left alone in the evening, the early part of the film enables us to go into Hester’s memories and how she came to this state of mind. And, during the day, there are further flashbacks which complete her story.

The film opens in the London street (about 1950), cranes up to Hester standing at the window and then moves inside. It ends with Hester again at the window, then the camera outside and tracking in reverse to a darkening evening and dwelling on some suburban ruins from the Blitz. Ruins at the end? Or, a shot of ruins knowing the London could rebuild and begin a new life?

Who is Hester Collyer? With Rattigan-Davies’? dialogue and Rachel Weisz’s powerful performance, we learn that she is a minister’s daughter who has married Sir William, now a prominent judge, but who realises that she has a passionate nature and does not find passion in her marriage. (Her mother in law, played by veteran actress, Barbara Jefford in an excellent cameo of a self-centred, son-coddling, fastidious woman, warns her against passion which makes things so ugly.)

Hester is swept off her feet (and heart) by a World War II pilot, loving him intensely even when he can’ quite manage the same emotions. He is played (with echoes of Dirk Bogarde, John Gregson, Kenneth More and all those military chappies ) by Tom Hiddleston, an actor of wide range (Loki in Thor, the sympathetic officer with the horse in War Horse, as F.Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris). The flashbacks show the feelings in their relationship. The day of the film’s action shows its limitations.

Unexpected, however, is the kindness shown by Sir William (award-winning West End theatre actor, Simon Russell Beale).

The pace of the film is very measured (unbearably slow, one reviewer regretted), attention to the framing of every shot, drawing on the atmosphere of the times, using Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto to Eddie Fisher and ‘Any Time’, and giving a thoughtful and feeling audience time enough to contemplate and to dwell on what they are watching.

In its elegant and often refined film-making, The Deep Blue Sea offers insight into the feelings of characters who are often very different from ourselves, who struggle with their lives and passions, often knowing they are doing wrong and hurting others but who cannot help themselves.


US, 2012,

Voices of Danny de Vito, Zac Efron, Ed Helms, Taylor Swift,
Directed by Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda.
This one is for younger, much younger audiences, so parents might have to bear up.

The Lorax, so he tells us at the opening, is the guardian of the forest and the trees (he is voiced by Danny de Vito). He recites a few of Dr Seuss’ rhyming lines to introduce the story. But, then, with some acknowledgements to the author’s writing style and the illustrations, it is straight on with a (very) American looking and sounding screenplay (with lots of ‘cool’ jargon that Dr Seuss, who died in 1991) may not have heard of or wanted to hear).

Young Ted (Zac Efron) is infatuated with Audrey (Taylor Swift). They live in a town that is completely plastic and know no better, except that Audrey is aware of trees. Ted is determined to find one for her, helped by his old gran (Betty White) who remembers them well. He escapes from the town – the inhabitants live in a cocooned community, Thneedville, like that in The Truman Show and have no desire or curiosity to go out. Ted finds The Once-ler (Ed Helms) in his grim tower. The Once-ler tells his sad story of confronting the Lorax and the animals and chopping down a tree to make an odd kind of twistable pullover, a Thneed – which then becomes the rage, and which means all the trees are destroyed and the Lorax and the animals leave.

In the meantime, Mr O’Hare? (Rob Riggle, the maniacal coach villain of 21 Jump Street), a less than pint-sized entrepreneur megalomaniac, has decided to sell fresh air in bottles to the gullible population. This leads, of course, to a confrontation with Mr O’Hare? and his huge bodyguards, to a car and bike chase and to the planting of one seed so that trees might grow again,

So, a little parable on the environment, responsibility and conservation, consumerism and exploitation and everyone doing their bit for a better society. It is geared for junior primary audiences – and, since it has made over $200,000,000 at the US box office, it must be reaching its mark. But, it is (very) American.


US, 2012,
Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, Idris Elba, Ciaran Hinds, Johnny Whitworth, Christopher Lambert,
Directed by Neveldine/ Taylor

For those who recognise the names of Neveldine and Taylor, they will know what to expect. Yes, it does have some resemblances to the much better written, acted and intriguing original Ghost Rider (2007 – and made in Melbourne). Nicolas Cage reprises his role (though a stunt double spends a lot of time riding Ghost Rider’s bike, his head a flaming skull, and his wreaking vengeance on mercenary pursuers led by Johnny Whitworth). I am not sure that Cage’s heart is in it sometimes.

But, back to Neveldine and Taylor. Their films so far are action extravaganzas, lots of flair, very showy, not too worried about characterisation, credibility or even themes and issues. It’s just go for broke. They came into our awareness with the two Crank films with Jason Statham no holds barred. Another film was the Gerard Butler computer game flashy actioner, Gamer. As we watch their films and are carried along with the energy (or exhausted by it!), the pace of the editing and the almost non-stop action, we might think that they storyboard everything, that they plan each sequence and frame, wanting them to be full and busy. So, its cinema flair for a fair bit of dramatic nonsense.

Ciaran Hinds is a devil who has made a pact with John Blaze (Cage) with the result that Blaze is possessed by the demon to wreak vengeance on whomsoever. Blaze would like to be exorcised (and, at one stage, he is), but demons are hard to shake and it is just as well the ghost rider returns otherwise the end might have been a bit of a fizz.

Oh, the plot.

The devil has impregnated a woman as part of her deal with him. There are some prophecies (spoken by whom is not explained), but the apocalypse seems to be upon the world and the devil wants his son so that he can possess him – and rule the world, of course. Blaze rescues mother and son but they keep being caught...

One fascinating aspect of this screenplay is the religious dimension, not facets of faith, but the use of religious symbols. We have monasteries of friars (Christopher Lambert is the abbott of one of them) who are alert to the prophecy. We have an itinerant priest/warrior (Idris Elba) who does the exorcism for Blaze after his confession and bringing out of his bag bread which he calls the Lamb of God and proceeds to break it and give it to Blaze in communion. I wonder what the graphic novel fans make of this. It does mean that they ought to have some knowledge of the Christian and Gospel traditions.

Just to see these scenes is not a reason to see Ghost Rider. It is really for the comics aficionados and the admirers of the extravagances of Neveldine/Taylor.


Germany, 2011
Michael Bully Herbig, Jurgen Vogel, Thekla Reuten,
Directed by Leander Haussmann

Hotel Lux is a euphemism for the rather dingy hotel in Moscow 1939. The film opens with a voiceover of the central character, a cabaret comedian from Berlin, Hans (Michael Bully Herbig) perched on the Red Star shining from the hotel roof. That is certainly different. So are the flashbacks when we see him and his Communist friend, Meyer (Jurgen Vogel) performing their act, a send-up of both Hitler and Stalin. Well, perhaps it is not so different insofar as many in the audience will think Mel Brooks and The Producers. I think Mel Brooks would be quite a fan of this film – especially since it veers into the territory charted by Jack Benny during World War II in To Be or Not to Be, mocking Hitler and the Nazis, a film that Mel Brooks and his wife, Anne Bancroft, remade in the 1980s.

As the film goes on and Hans grows a moustache, he could easily pass for a young Mel Brooks.

It is 1933 and, we remember from Cabaret, the night clubs in Berlin catered to a wide range of clients (including the Nationalist Socialist police) and it was still possible to imitate Hitler, his look, his voice and his mannerisms quite freely. That we are familiar with. It is the satire on Stalin that is new – and tellingly effective. Meyer is Hitler, Hans is Stalin.

It couldn’t last too long as ideology tightens in Germany and some anti-Semitic routines are introduced. Meyer is a Communist with his friend, , and they go underground. Hans survives until 1938 when the friendly dresser at the club gets him a fake passport. He is on his way to Hollywood. Well, not exactly. He has to escape in a hurry and finds himself in Moscow where he is mistaken for Hitler’s personal astrologer whose passport he has.

We don’t see much satire on Stalin on our screens, so this film is welcome. Hans becomes Stalin’s adviser (meeting in the toilet with the tap running for security) and finds himself with many privileges, though the KGB want to expose him. Meyer turns up again as does and Hans is in love with her.

How will they manage? How did Hans find himself stranded on the Red Star? That is part of the enjoyment of this comic excursion back into a very serious past.


US, 2012,
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci,
Directed by Gary Ross.

Experts (young, especially, and old) have offered reassurances that this film is a good adaptation of the first novel in her trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Given a box-office take of over 150 million dollars in five days in the US, the film is also critic-proof.

Nevertheless, all reviewers have added their two penneth worth.

Not knowing much about the novels or film except some of the hype, I was not necessarily looking forward with eager anticipation. After all, a film for young audiences about a group of youngsters involved in deadly games (literally) with only one survivor, didn’t sound the best.

However... it turns out to be an interesting and enjoyable film even for some oldies!

The popular description is still accurate but it reminds us that we shouldn’t listen too much to ‘what’ a film is about but ask ‘how’ it is dramatised.

This is a futuristic film, a dystopian society, a phrase that is getting more and more use as we see futuristic films, apocalyptic films where populations are kept under tyrannical control or the world is going to end. This film offers an ironic image of contemporary society. 74 years earlier uprisings were put down and, as punishment (and for authority’s control), each year a boy and a girl from the 12 districts are chosen by a lottery (‘a reaping’) as ‘tribute’ to be first feted (and sumptuously fed), then displayed in procession and interview on television for a population that relishes its privilege in bizarre clothes and make-up but mindlessly applauds the razzamatazz of the Hunger Games show. Of course, the Games are a deadly manifestation of Reality TV, though the organisers can intervene against the games for and against the contestants – which they do by advanced technology, even to creating virtual monsters.

So, Suzanne Collins has created a strange world that can draw in a young audience.

The film has a lot to show about society control. While the President, like Big Brother, is watching, so is the whole population, the frivolously cruel spectators watching futuristic gladiatorial combat to the death as well as the poorer inhabitants of West Virginia-like mining communities where the heroine comes from.
The dialogue is well-written and does not rely on sloppy or lazy writing. And, Jennifer Lawrence (already an Oscar nominee in her teens for Winter’s Bone) is Katniss Everdene, a strong and intelligent heroine, resourceful, thoughtful and the opposite of some of the vicious and murderous contestants. Josh Hutcherson is effective as the partner from Katniss’ district. Gary Ross, who collaborated with the author and other writers for the screenplay, has directed the film effectively. His other films include Pleasantville (with its parody and irony on television worlds is linked thematically with The Hunger Games) and the more straightforward racing film, Seabiscuit.

The supporting cast is very interesting with Elizabeth Banks (donning the bizarre costumes) as the chaperone and Woody Harrelson as a sympathetic trainer/publicist. A blue-buffed hairdo distinguishes Stanley Tucci as the play-to-the- audience-jovial TV compere. Wes Bentley as the organiser of the games looks darkly satanic with devilishly trimmed beard. Donald Sutherland is the president, quietly and murderously controlling.

While this film can be seen as a stand-alone story, Donald Sutherland turns to go up a staircase at the end – obviously there must be more.


Belgium, 2011,
Thomas Doret, Cecile de France, Jeremie Renier
Directed by Jean Pierre and Luc Dardennes.

For insight into people and into their social contexts, audiences have found the films of the Dardennes Brothers from Liege movingly and expertly made. The brothers have twice won the Palme d’Or in Cannes (for Rosetta in 1998 and for The Child in 2005). They won the Special Jury Prize for this one.

This is a brief film, running under 90 minutes, more like a short story but no less effective for that. It opens instantly with a disturbed young boy resisting the efforts of a counsellor as he rings and rings his father’s phone number – which has been disconnected. Then he runs. Cyril (Thomas Doret in a completely convincing performance, his first and so far only screen appearance) has been left at a school a month earlier and his father has disappeared. He has also sold his son’s bike.

When Cyril eludes teachers to go to his father’s last address, he takes refuge in a doctor’s waiting room, clinging to a woman so that he won’t be dragged away. This begins a new relationship which could save Cyril from himself and his disappointment with his father. The woman, Samantha, is played by that fine actress, Cecile de France.

Audiences will have formed strong opinions about Cyril and his irascible, brat-like behaviour and attitudes which are hard to take. Whether they will immediately identify with Samantha and her kindness and patience or will take a longer time to come to terms with the disturbed boy gives the film quite some emotional tension.

The impact is in the small detail: Samantha offering to take Cyril for weekends, his initial surly manner and conduct, her efforts to track down his father (Jeremie Renier, who was the irresponsible father in The Child), her taking Cyril to a fun fair with her boyfriend. Cyril is desperate for loving attention and falls in with a local gang which leads to some disastrous behaviour. Despite all this, Samantha continues to help Cyril.

Just before the end, when we might think and hope that all will be well, there are some violent moments – then Cyril riding his bike towards his future with some confidence. Not a neat ending, but hopeful for a finely made and thoughtful film.


Finland/ France, 2011
Andre Wilms, Jean- Pierre Darroussin, Kati Outinen, Blondin Miguel.
Directed by Aki Kaurismaki

While the advertising title is Le Havre, emphasising the port city of Normandy, the title in other countries includes the word ‘miracle’: Miracle in Le Havre for Denmark and Italy, Le Havre Port of Hope for Mexico. But, more of that later.

The best-known of Finnish directors, Aki Kaurismaki, has tended to make films which are both very serious and, often, very funny. He made a version of La Boheme in the 90s as well as his cult classic about a touring band with oddball hairdos, Leningrad Cowboys Go America. More recently, he has filmed rather darker stories set in Helsinki, Man without a Past and Light in the Dusk. Now he has gone to France, still serious, but with a light and humorous surface, that is very engaging.

Andre Wilms is entertainingly deadpan and kindly as Marcel Marx who makes a precarious living shining shoes at Le Havre station and around the town - if he can get customers. The film opens with him cleaning a pair of shoes for an Italian man who is almost immediately shot off screen with Marcel telling his Vietnamese partner that fortunately the man had had time to pay. We get to know Marcel very well.

Marcel’s wife is loving and dutiful but ill and he takes her to hospital. In the meantime, he chats with local storeowners and at the local bar (with its sympathetic owner and a kind of odd chorus of bearded and tattooed patrons). When a young African escapes from a truck full of illegal immigrants and meets Marcel, Marcel takes him under his wing and hides him (except when he takes him out shoe-shining). A local busybody (veteran Jean- Pierre Leaud) reports him to the police. The world-weary inspector (the excellent Jean- Pierre Darroussin) pursues the case, confronts Marcel, and is instrumental in helping Marcel.

Kaurismaki also indulges his love for music by including a local concert and a song by a veteran singer, Little Bob.

Marcel is a kind man and has put himself out to help the African boy. When he goes to visit his wife in hospital, there is a wonderful surprise – and she uses the word ‘miracle’. A tree blossoms, a sign that goodness is rewarded. So, a fine blend of serious contemporary themes, what used to be called ‘Capraesque’ hopefulness, and some funny sardonic moments and characters. (Winner of the SIGNIS Europe award for 2011.)


US, 2012,
Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane,
Directed by Tarsem Singh.

‘Mirror, mirror’ is one of those phrases that most people can say, ‘The Queen in Snow White’. Here she is played with wry humour by Julia Roberts who seems to be enjoying herself. Whether she is the best choice for the role is another question, but here she is.

Because we all know Snow White from Disney’s first animated feature film in 1937, we have ideas of what Snow White, the Prince, the Queen and, of course, the seven dwarfs are like. Can they be portrayed by live actors. Here is the opportunity to judge.

While Julia Roberts and her sardonic remarks and vanity cruelty are central to the first part of this film, attention goes to Snow White and the dwarfs in the second part. Snow White is Lily Collins, a strong character who is attracted to the Prince (Armie Hammer) who is presented as handsome but a bit of a foolhardy hero (especially when the Queen puts him under a spell and he becomes her pet puppy). The Dwarfs have chips on their shoulders because they have been shunned by the townspeople. Their new career is waylaying coaches and stealing. While Snow White puts an end to this, they teach her some fighting and duelling tactics which come in handy when they attack the prince for the third time.

Nathan Lane is also at court as the Queen’s fawning lackey. He plays it like a Nathan Lane self-deprecating but surviving performance.

Director Tarsem Singh, with his Indian background, is not averse to flamboyant action, lavish sets and colour, and a spectacular array of costumes.

There is no major reason for seeing Mirror, Mirror, except to while away some time pleasantly enough or to see what the 21st century can make of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale.


Jean- Pierre Darroussin, Ariane Ascaride, Gerard Meylan.
Directed by Robert Guediguian.

A film about goodness, not an easy accomplishment.

Audiences can identify with the central couple in this film and get a lift from what they think and feel – and do – after a challenge to their way of life. And, it has nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway. Mt Kilimanjaro serves as an ideal goal, somewhere exotic but seemingly unattainable. It is also in the title of a popular French song which is sung in the film.

Writer-director, Robert Guediguian has been making fine films for a quarter of a century or more, usually working with his wife, Ariane Ascariade, and friends. It is the same this time. He lives in Marseilles and usually sets his stories there – although he did make a film about Francois Mitterand as well as a film about the French Resistance, The Army of Crime.

We are once again on the Marseilles’ waterfront. Workers are being laid off. Michel (Jean- Pierre Darroussin) is an official but has decided to put his name in the hat for the lottery for retrenchment, against the advice of his close friend,Raoul (Gerard Meylan). He pulls his name out and goes into retirement – which, after a busy life, he doesn’t find easy. However, he is supported by his wife of almost thirty years, Marie- Claire (Ariane Ascaride) who works in care for the homebound. Their married children and grandchildren visit for meals and are concerned.

At a joyous party for their thirtieth anniversary, with some of the retrenched men as guests, they are given a gift of money and a ticket for Kilimanjaro.

It does not end there. Playing cards one night with Raoul and his wife, who is Marie- Claire’s sister, the house is invaded by two burglars who steal their money and the ticket and bind and hurt them. By chance, later, Michel sees a clue which leads him to one of the thieves.

What follows has an enormous effect on Michel and Marie- Claire. The thief is one of the retrenched men, young, with a chip on his shoulder, highly critical of the older generation, the way they managed union matters, their being stuck in the ways of the past. The young man has two little brothers – and their mother couldn’t care less and is away working on a liner.

The goodness in the film is in how the couple deal with their anger, the fierce attitude of, Raoul, the sullenness of the young man and his tirades. The goodness concerns the two young brothers and the decision by Michel and by Marie- Claire, separately, to come to the support of the boys (despite the hostile response of their own son and daughter who want attention for their children).

The audience is immersed in the life of this part of Marseilles. The performances are fine. And the picture of kindness in human nature is positive and hopeful.


UK, 2012,
Voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton,
Directed by Peter Lord.

This is a bit of a gulity pleasure for adults, but so are most of the films from Bristol’s Aardman Studios, makers of those delightful and funny animation films, Creature Comforts and the Wallace and Grommit shorts and The Curse of the Were Rabbit. They also made Chicken Run some years ago.

Here they are with a daffy pirate story which is so full of anachronisms, that littlies might not even notice, that it makes for an imagination bending adventure. It is 1837 and Queen Victoria has just ascended the throne – and declared her hatred of pirates. In the meantime, over in Blood Island, the often charmingly incompetent Captain Pirate, his loyal Number Two and his small but motley crew are encouraging him to enter the competition again for Pirate of the Year. He has been part of it for twenty years, has never won, and is the butt of the more successful, treasure laden pirates.

Off they go to prove themselves but encounter a ghost ship, kids on a geography excursion, naturists – no one with any gold. Another failure with booty is The Beagle with a small-sized Charles Darwin who saves himself from walking the plank – well, no, he is pushed off but rescued – when he realises that Captain Pirate’s parrot is actually a dodo, not extinct. Between many jigs and many reels, off they go to London for the Royal Society competition, which the dodo wins. Darwin, kept out of the celebrations, connives with Queen Victoria who desperately wants the dodo, not for her pet zoo, as she claims, but for the revelation of something much more dastardly. Queen Victoria is the villain of the film.

The final adventure (after the Pirate King strips Captain Pirate of being Pirate of the Year at a kind of 19th century Oscar ceremony) involves Pirate Captain, Darwin, his Manzee (who communicates by holding up cards) and the crew coming to the rescue in a final combat with Victoria.
There are plenty of aside jokes if you are attentive, lots of anachronisms as mentioned and playing around with dates, and a gallery of amusing ads and signs throughout which are all shown during the final credits. The line I liked was, ‘Nothing is impossible until you really think about it!’.

The voices are excellent, Hugh Grant at his Hugh Grantish best as Captain Pirate. Martin Freeman is the loyal Number Two. David Tennant is Darwin. Imelda Staunton lets rip as Queen Victoria.

The animation is detailed and lively (and there is a 3D release of the film). There is enough for younger audiences to enjoy and the jokes and references will amuse adults.

Fortunately, we are told at the end that the characters do not relate to any real persons – any reference is purely coincidental. But, if you feel the earth rumble beneath your feet, it is not an earthquake, not a sign of tsunami. It is Queen Victoria turning, no, rapidly revolving, in her grave!


Indonesia, 2011,
Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim,
Directed by Gareth Evans.

One of the most macho films you could see. I am not sure that many female audiences would want to sit through this action film.

While the director is Welsh, and the title is in English, it is very much an Indonesian film. In fact, a reviewer remarked that it was probably true to life in its portrayal of gangsters in Jarkarta and the attempt of a police squad to take down a gang. Checking with an Indonesian priest whether this might be the case, he thought that it was.

Whether the film is accurate or not, it is a literal bone-crunching, sword-slashing, gun-toting, dead and mutilated cadaver-filled actioner. There are quite a number of martial arts fights (stretching credibility most of the time if you asked whether any human being could take all these cuts and blows – and people question The Passion of the Christ! – and then get up, one after extreme torture, and launch into the fights again). There are many more shoot-out fights.

The Raid is a correct title for the film. A small squad sets out to get into a building to flush out a ruthless gangster and his main advisers, let alone the seemingly endless supply of henchmen. But, they have been betrayed. Police corruption is a pervading theme. The police are continually picked off – at one stage we see a heap of dead police – but our hero and his assistant plus a seemingly cowardly and older officer survive beyond all expectations let alone probabilities.

We see the hero at the outset at home combining tight physical exercise with contemplation of the Quran. He is obviously sympathetic and remains so, heroic beyond possible endurance. And, then we find that the policy adviser and keeper of accounts for the gangster is his brother. That brings some complications in fights and loyalties before the end.

Just in case anyone wondered whether there was any female presence in the film: the hero’s wife is pregnant and that motivates him to survive; a man who occupies an apartment in the gangster building has a sick wife who is afraid, especially when her husband hides our her from his pursuers. But, that is it.

Of course, it should be said, that the technical expertise in the film-making, the editing and the choreography of the fights is top-notch. Favourable reviews (and The Raid has been called the action movie of the year, and rights for an American version have been paid for) talk about the craft rather than the visual and thematic brutality of the narrative.

PS. Just found a sample blog on the Internet Movie Database from adhipar in Indonesia: “This film is best seen with your group of friends who enjoy hardcore and bloody fights, so you can cheer, scream, yell, sigh together and talk about it (and probably count how many ways to die/kill people in this film) on the way home.’


US, 2012,
Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Giovanni Ribisi, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins.
Directed by Bruce Robinson.

In 1998, Johnny Depp played the journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Thompson began his journalistic career in the 1960s, investigative journalism that pulled no punches. It got the nickname, Gonzo journalism. Thompson also lived a fairly reckless life, not without a significant amount of drugs. He shot himself in 2005.

The Rum Diary was a Thompson novel about a young writer in Puerto Rico in 1960, trying to establish himself, despite a capacity for hard drinking, his rum diary. Without quite realising it, he allows himself to be swayed by a wheeler-dealer to write articles favaourable to a tourist development on the site of an American arms-testing base. He also becomes infatuated with the smooth-talking but ruthless agent’s girl-friend. The entanglement does him no good, except to test his integrity. At the same time, his newspaper is collapsing, the editor doing a run, the staff on strike.

This is the core of The Rum Diary, a thinly disguised autobiographical novel by Thompson.

It offers an opportunity to see Johnny Depp doing some serious acting, forgetting his outings as Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka and The Mad Hatter which are definitely a matter of taste.

Aaron Eckhart has no trouble in being the wheeler dealer, a smoothly nasty piece of work. Richard Jenkins is the harassed editor and Giovanni Ribisi is eccentricity personified as a drug-addled fellow journalist. Some of the scenes are stolen by Michael Rispoli as the newspaper’s photographer who gets caught up in all these adventures (and the rum).

The film was written and directed by Bruce Robinson who was one of the up and coming film-makers of the 1980s, especially with his ironic comedy, Withnail and I. However, Robinson them embarked on his own rum and drugs diary and it has taken two decades for him to move back into film-making.

The film suddenly stops and tells us that this was the beginning of a Gonzo journalistic life. We know the sequel already.


UK, 2011,
Ewan Mc Gregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked.
Directed by Lasse Halstrom.

Incongruous might be one word to react to the title of this entertaining film for older audiences. Just the right thing for a bus excursion to the local cinema.

But, it is also much more than that. Billed as a comedy, it is in the vein of old-style British comedy, not American, with an emphasis on character, dialogue and wit and an enjoyment of poking fun at authorities, government machinations and pomposity. But, it also has an underlying theme of respect for humanity, for differences and for mutual collaboration rather than mere opportunism.

Not only does the title seem incongruous, but the idea contained in it might seem ludicrous. And, that is what the central character thinks when he is approached about working on it. He is Alfred Jones, a scientist and civil servant, not blessed with a sense of humour, single-mindedly devoted to his area of fish and fishing, an amateur when it comes to emotions and feelings. He is played by Ewan Mc Gregor with just the right touches of niceness and the ability to irritate.

A Yemeni sheik (Egyptian actor Amr Waked in a sympathetic performance) wants to import salmon into the Yemen, not just for his own pleasure (he is a devoted fly fisherman with a castle in Scotland as well) but for the possible development of agriculture and industry in his country. He is referred to as a visionary and has set up a dam and the means for salmon spawning. He is offering 50 million pounds to the UK for his scheme. (Do Yemeni sheiks have so much money?). His investment advisor is a sensible young Englishwoman, Harriet (plus a double-barrelled surname) played by Emily Blunt.

Alfred and Harriet are something of an odd couple, she convinced that the project is worthwhile and patient with and tolerant of Alfred’s rejection of the plan.

But, of course, you know that they are going to pursue the project and that we are going to be caught up in their growing enthusiasm, charmed by the Sheikh and his pointing out to the scientist who holds no brief for faith just how much we do act on faith in our lives), that we will be interested in the trips to the Yemen (Morocco locations standing in as usual), and that we hope it will be a success.

It does not all proceed as hoped for. There are fundamentalist terrorists who see the Sheikh as destroying traditions. There are bureaucratic difficulties and a revolt of British salmon fishers who refuse to let the objects of their sport migrate beyond their shores. And there is the British government. Which is where Kristin Scott Thomas comes in. She is the Prime Minister’s press officer, a wheeler-dealer with a capacity for spin that real spin doctors might envy. She has a way with words and invective as well as seizing every moment and exploiting it that would not be out of place in the series and film, In the Loop. She has done variations on this performance many times but is given so many good lines that she often steals the show – even in talking to her young children.

There is a romantic sub-plot. Harriet is in a relationship with a soldier sent to Afghanistan. Alfred takes his wife, who is a respected consultant, for granted without realising it. Again, this does not quite proceed as audiences might think, so there are elements of surprise towards the end.

The film looks good and has been directed by Swedish Lasse Halstrom who has had a twenty year career in Hollywood with such films as Cider House Rules, Chocolat and The Shipping News.


China, 2011,
Jet Li, Shengyi Huang, Raymond Lam.
Directed by Siu- Tung Ching

Western audiences are familiar with their fairy tales, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the tales from Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. However, they are not familiar with Oriental fairy tales with their quite different characters and symbols, different ways of narratives, different types of myths – and from the Buddhist traditions.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake provide an opportunity to begin to remedy this lack.

The first thing to say is that the film is very beautiful to look at. The magical locations have an aura about them. They are both real and stylised, drawing on ordinary Chinese life as well as on the religious overtones.

Jet Li is at the centre of the tale, a guru with an apprentice (somewhat ineffectual who is turned into a demon). Demons are the targets of the guru, to destroy them. They take human form as well as animal forms (sometimes akin to those in Disney films). His first confrontation with a demon sets the tone of the film. He sweeps the demon into a shell-like container and moves to discover more demons.

In the meantime, a nice but poor young man who wants to be a doctor goes with friends to the mountains to find herbs. He is confronted by a beautiful woman and falls off a crag into a lake where she rescues him and kisses him – and disappears. We knows, but he does not, that she is one of two sister demons, the Green Snake (who prefers making mischief but will soon be attracted by the transformed apprentice) and the White Snake. The mysterious woman is the White Snake.

She has fallen in love (and so has the young man), so she assumes human form, knocks him off his boat and rescues/kisses him again. She takes him to visit her family (the demons all pretending to be her loving family with a few slip-ups) and they are married.

At this stage we might think the fairy tale is over and they live happily ever after. Not in this world.

When a plague breaks out, the young man puts his ingenuity into finding a remedy. His loving wife breathes her energy into his medicines and people are healed. No happy ending here either.

The guru arrives and confronts the White Snake, aiming to destroy her. When she disappears, the young man travels to find a tree that will give a potion to reclaim her. Unfortunately, he lets loose more demons (vixens in human and vulpine form) – and the ending is far more complicated than we had hoped for.

A pleasing, magical and beautiful Chinese fairy tale.


France, 2011,
Leila Bekhti, Hiam Abbas, Saleh Bakhri,
Directed by Radu Mihaileanu.

Director Radu Mihaileanu has a Romanian Jewish background and lives in Paris. He has been interested for many years in a variety of cultures and religious backgrounds for his films. He has made a drama about Jews in Central Europe (Train of Life), about the Falashas in Ethiopia and their being considered Jewish and their being taken to Israel (Live and Become). His most recent film was the entertaining story of an orchestra from Russia playing in Paris which was also a tongue in cheek lampoon of Communism.

This time he is in north Africa, in Morocco, in a Muslim village, the dialogue spoken in Arabic.

While there is a very serious underlying theme about the place of women in traditional Muslim society – that they are not mere chattels at their husbands’ disposal – there is also a basic comedy theme, one exploited by Aristophanes millennia ago: to achieve change, women go on strike, withholding sexual relationships with their husbands.

At the centre is Leila, considered an outsider in a very self-contained village, because she came from somewhere else, though she is married to the local teacher. The government has failed to bring water directly into the village. The women have to walk into the hills to a pipe source and carry the water. This would be unthinkable for men to do. When tensions come to a head, Leila and the women go on strike. The men are baffled and angry – and seek the advice of the Imam. The women maintain their stances.

A complication arises when a journalist who had previously wanted to marry Leila arrives to study ants (and analogies are made between the insects’ behaviour and the villagers’). It creates tension in Leila’s own marriage but, eventually, an article is published and, suddenly, the government can’t do enough to help. And the women go into the city to sing and dance their theme and their protest and are welcomed.

The film is rather heavy-handed at times in making its points. But, it does remind us of the power of the modern media in mirroring society as well as being a catalyst for social change.


France, 2011,
Zoe Heran, Malonn Levana, Jeanne Disson.
Directed by Celine Sciamma.

At first glance, Laure (Zoe Heran) looks like a boy with her haircut, tee shirt and shorts. Actually, Laure likes to act like a boy and when she, her little (very feminine) sister and their parents move to a new home, Laure tells the children, mainly boys who are playing soccer, that her name is Mikael.

She should have known better and that it would all catch up with her. But she is only ten.

Mikael is accepted by the group. She plays well at soccer. And she gets the adoring gaze from the only other girl in the group, Lisa. For a while all goes well with her deception, though there is a crisis when the boys go off to pee and she goes into the woods. She even is able to persuade the little sister to be in on the pretence.

At one level, this is playful and charming. But, there is always the lurking fear, what happens when she is found out, how will she handle it. And what about the boys? And Lisa? And her parents?

Matters do come to a head when she has a fight with one of the boys whose mother comes for an apology.

The sequences where her mother makes Laure wear a dress and go to the boy’s home has its moments of delicacy and poignancy. The same with the hurt and disappointed Lisa.

Celine Sciamma, who directed another film about girls’ identity, Water Lillies, has created a memorable small film, which, with the completely believable performance from Zoe Heran, does communicate the feelings of a child who wants to be something other than what she is.


US, 2011,
Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Debora Kara Unger, James Nesbitt,
Directed by Emilio Estevez.

The film has the advantage of being the work of members of Martin Sheen’s family – which is for some commentators a disadvantage. On the one hand, there is Martin Sheen’s active Catholicism and social justice concerns (even to arrests). The Catholic emphasis meant that a number of critics declared that the film was Catholic propaganda. And they did not approve of that. That point needs further consideration.

The Way is El Camino, the pilgrim journey from the Pyranees across northern Spain to the shrine city of Santiago di Compostella and the tomb of the apostle, St James. This is a film of pilgrimage.

Pilgrimages are an important part of all major religions. Catholics have flocked to Rome, to Lourdes, Fatima and to less well-known shrines. Muslims make the Haj to Mecca. Hindu festivals abound. Buddhists from all around the world make their way to Tibet and to various Asian centres. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is a destination for Jews worldwide.

El Camino finds its place amongst all these pilgrimages.

For those who have walked el Camino, the film uses a great deal of location photography, the mountains, the open countryside, the villages, the towns and cities that they have experienced. A pleasing reminder. For those who wonder whether they should make the pilgrimage, they can see for themselves where they would walk and what it might be like. They would also see what the pilgrims do, how the walk affects them, the range of people they meet.

While the film has a running time of over two hours, the group is quite small, focusing particularly on four people.

Martin Sheen plays Tom, a middle-class, comfortable American, who has not seen eye to eye with his son, Daniel (played by Emilio Estevez). He cannot understand why his son would want to go to Spain and walk. The dialogue between them raises questions about what life is really for and about. When, very early in the film, news comes that Daniel has died at the beginning of his pilgrimage, his father decides to go to Spain. He further decides to go on pilgrimage himself and to scatter Daniel’s ashes at significant spots along the way.

For older audiences, Tom is a character to identify with, even when they disapprove of some of his attitudes and behaviour towards others. He comes to realise his life so far has been only a stage of his own pilgrimage and now he has the opportunity to re-assess it and change, continually reflecting on his son’s approach to life (with some imaginary sequences where Daniel appears during his father’s walk). It is also the three people that keep crossing paths with him until he eventually joins with them that are catalysts for his re-examination of his life.

Yorick Van Wagenining plays a heavy-set Dutchman who says that his motivation is to lose weight for his wife’s sake and to be ready to celebrate a family wedding. Nothing particularly religious about his reasons for being in Spain. Debora Kara Unger is a Canadian woman, rather intense and private, who smokes heavily but declares that she will give up when she reaches Compostella. A personal ascetical motive rather than religious. The group is joined by a boisterous Irish author, played by James Nesbitt, who is suffering from writer’s block but hopes, in a neo-Chaucerian way, that he will be inspired by the pilgrim stories.

As can be seen, the pilgrims do not express themselves very much in explicitly religious terms or in Christian or Catholic terms. While the Catholic and religious perspectives underlie the journey for Tom and the two priest cameos do make some themes explicit, the film is geared towards a wider audience as a thoughtful entertainment rather than propaganda – but, obviously, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez have a high regard for El Camino and what making such a pilgrimage can achieve within a person.

Emilio Estevez offers a film of wide appeal, more for adults than younger audiences, which is meant to be in both religious and humanistic terms, ‘inspirational’.


Australia, 2012,
Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price, Teresa Palmer, Anthony Starr,
Directed by Kieran Darcy- Smith

If you decided to go to see this drama because of the title, the trailer and the suggestion that this is a tale about four people living the high tourist’s life in Cambodia with something sinister happening, you would be only partly right. Most of the action takes place in Sydney and is the story of an ordinary family whose lives are disrupted by the events in Cambodia.

The early scenes of the film show Western tourists enjoying the high life in Cambodian resorts, not without indulging in alcohol and drugs. Dave (Joel Edgerton) is seen wandering the fields, bewildered. Then he and his wife, Alice (Felicity Price) are back home with their two children in their home which overlooks the cliffs and beaches of Sydney. They have two children and Alice is pregnant. Here sister, Steph (Teresa Palmer) then arrives back after trying to find her boyfriend, Jeremy (Anthony Starr) who has disappeared. They have gone to the authorities without result.

As the film unfolds, we see Dave having panic attacks, confessing an infidelity to his wife, trying to cope with her emotional reaction, ttrying to deal with Steph. The flashbacks to what actually happened in Cambodia, Dave’s erratic behaviour, the ugliness of his being exploited by local gangsters and Jeremy’s intervention, are gradually revealed. Alice has her own moment of erratic behaviour as she drives away after confronting her sister.

Moments of truth come for both Dave and Alice. For him, going to the authorities and telling the truth. For her, the birth of her baby and whether she can forgive Dave. By the end, we are quite a way from the beaches and the dives of Cambodia and firmly settled in suburban Sydney.

Audiences will be able to identify with Dave and Alice, if not in the holiday, very much in the troubles in a marriage and how they might be resolved. The screenplay was written by the director, Kieran Darcy-Smith?, in collaboration with his wife, Felicity Price, who plays Alice.


France, 2011,
Daniel Auteuil, Astrid Berges- Frisbey, Kad Merad, Jean- Pierre Darroussin,
Directed by Daniel Auteuil

Were we to mention Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, many audiences, especially those who were charmed and fascinated by the films of the 1980s, would be on the alert. These two stories were written by the prolific Marcel Pagnol. In fact, there have been several versions of a number of Pagnol’s stories, including some written and directed by Pagnol himself. There have also been some American versions of his trilogy of life in the south of France, Marius, Fanny and Cesar.

The Well-digger’s Daughter takes us into the same area of France, Provence, as Jean de Florette. The girl of the title (Astrid Berges- Frisbey) turns eighteen as the film opens. She cares for her younger brothers and sisters and takes lunch to her well-digging father and his friend. The same day, she encounters a young aviator, son of the local store owner, who carries her across the river and back. When her father’s friend, who would like to marry the daughter, offers to take her to an air show where the young man features, she goes. An exemplary young woman, this decision leads her to some deceptions and the fate of so many young girls in stories like this.

Attention then turns to the father, his dismay at what his daughter has done, his anger at the parents of the young man, his wanting her away from the family. But, as might be guessed, when he eventually sees the baby, he is won over and wants the baby to bear his name.

It is the time of World War I and both the young man and the father’s friend go to war. There are also complications – whether the young man knew what had happened, whether he was shot down behind enemy lines, whether his parents would come to terms with the situation.

Pagnol’s stories are often about very good people (think Jean de Forette himself). There are some villains (think of the uncle and nephew in Jean de Florette and Manon). But, basically, Pagnol believes in the goodness of human nature, in forgiveness and reconciliation and that love is a foundation of life and happiness.

That villainous nephew in Jean and Manon was played by Daniel Auteuil. Since then, Auteuil has become one of France’s great actors. And, now, he has adapted the Pagnol story, directed his first film and plays the well-digger, a fine achievement. In fact, he is planning a trilogy of films on Pagnol’s Marius, Fanny and Cesar. Pagnol has found a devoted and skilled interpreter.

Filmed in beautiful settings and re-creating the period, this is well worth seeing.


UK, 2012,
Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet Mc Teer,
Directed by James Watkins.

The novel by Joanna Hill on which this film is based was a popular ghost story. A stage version opened in London in the early 1990s and was still running over twenty years later, so there were some expectations for this screen version.

On the one hand, it capitalises on a lot of familiar scary devices that jolt the audiences out of their seats. On the other, it is a rather sombre story, a character study and a tale of cruelty and vengeance. Put this all together in a very handsomely mounted period design and you have an entertaining ghost story.

Another major drawcard, especially for younger audiences (although this film comes ten years after the first Harry Potter film) is that it stars Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps. He performs his role well, the somewhat reserved young lawyer, still grieving his wife’s death, caring for his four year old son. Of course, that stretches credibility more than a little because Radcliffe was only 21 when he made this film. Nonetheless, his performance is quite effective.

An old mansion on a spit of land, separated from the mainland at high tide, is to be sold and the estate of the owner settled. It doesn’t seem a demanding job, so Arthur Kipps is sent to this gloomy, remote village and house. The villagers want him gone, but he does receive a welcome from the wealthy Mr Daily (Ciaran Hinds). It’s during the first night that things go bump and he becomes aware of the eerie presence of a woman in black.

As the film unfolds we learn more about the woman and her dead son, her exile from the village – and the deaths of children (including the Daily’s son, with his mother (Janet Mc Teer) driven mad with grief). And, while Arthur is in the village, there are more deaths. The ghost is merciless.

A film like this depends not just on scares (it is better in not relying on scary bits) but on the sustaining of an atmosphere where the audience is caught up in fear and apprehension. To this extent, The Woman in Black is a success in maintaining concern and gloom. It builds up to a ghostly climax and finale.


US, 2012,
Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, Edgar Ramirez,
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman.

Like olden days matinees, this is adventure material without too much worry about making a classic! And they haven’t.

The 2009 Clash of the Titans was not favourably reviewed because it was this same type of matinee movie (and the rather less effective 3D processing was done in post-production). It will be the same here although the 3D is much better – and it is being shown on Imax screens as well which gives it a quite spectacular presentation.

This is quoting a friend/reviewer after the preview. Someone was talking to him about the plot. He was surprised at this development because he thought the plot was simply,’Hey, there’s another monster...’. Actually, there is some basic plot surrounding the fights with the monsters. Perseus, who had defeated the Kracken in the first film, has now settled into life in a fishing village to bring up his son. He has renounced his divine origin and opted for the human part of him – perhaps that is why Sam Worthington’s accent this time is even more pronouncedly Australian, contrasting with the fine elocution of Liam Neeson as Zeus and, especially, the almost Shakespearean delivery of Ralph Fiennes as Hades. Perhaps this is the best moment to mention that Bill Nighy, mugging to more than his heart’s content as Hephaestus, has an accent from Yorkshire or somewhere up there. Edgar Ramirez as the villain, Ares, is from Venezuela and has a Hispanic touch to his accent. Rosamund Pike as Andromeda seems to come from London.

But, then, with its popular audience, who is listening to accents!

This is the twilight of the gods (they are declining in their powers and immortality and people don’t pray any more) – they seem to be an unworthy lot, especially Ares (Mars), Zeus’ son who is jealous of his half brother, Perseus (who does get to ride Pegasus into the air, twice). But this is special effects Gotterdamerung, especially Perseus’ fight with the Titan, Cronos, renewed by energy drained from Zeus and appearing in gigantic flames.

So, plenty (plenty) of fights and action, often impressive sets, a poly-accented cast, with some comedy thanks to Bill Nighy’s antics and Toby Kebbel as Poseidon’s son Agenor who seems to be channelling Russell Brand.

Box office success will rely on word of mouth rather than reviews.

Created by: malone last modification: Monday 14 of May, 2012 [06:09:50 UTC] by malone

Language: en