SIGNIS REVIEWS APRIL 2015
BANKSY DOES NEW YORK
DIOR AND I
DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY – THEM, The
FAST AND FURIOUS 7
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR
KIDNAPPING OF MR HEINEKIN
LITTLE CHAOS, A
RUN ALL NIGHT
SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. The
SHAUN THE SHEEP
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE, THE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
x & y
BANKSY DOES NEW YORK
US, 2014, 79 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Chris Moukarbel.
One of the best-kept secrets in the world of art, or at least the world of graffiti and street art, is the identity of the British artist called Banksy. In this age of instant social media, it is amazing that over the years the identity of Banksy has not been revealed.
In 2010, there was an intriguing documentary called Banksy, Exit through the Gift Shop, a tantalising quest for the identity of Banksy but an opportunity to look at his Street Art, respond pro or con, and a chance to think about the nature of this kind of art, ephemeral or permanent, art or kitsch.
Now, several years later, Banksy is still a mystery. He is given a commission to spend a month in New York City, October 2013. He has contracted to do a piece of art each day, and fulfils the promise except for one day when the police obstruct his work.
The film makers, with no official connection with Banksy, take the opportunity to photograph each of the works of art, quite important since a number of them were removed or defaced. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, other officials and the police, take a dim view of this work, considering it a criminal offence to deface buildings with this kind of art and graffiti. The police are in pursuit and try to prevent further art events.
Audiences may be in two minds about the work itself, but the variety of art-words and art-images, actual graffiti, actual paintings and, even a brick sculpture, the Sphinx, have an immediately arresting quality. Some of the New York papers decided to ignore Banksy. One critic, with a touch of the pontificating, dismisses the work as unsubtle, kitsch and hammering home social messages. A more benign commentator is inclined to offer more favourable perspectives. On the other hand, television news across the broad range are continually commenting on the artist, his work, and public response. It makes for instant television
What is intriguing is that each day Banksy goes to an unknown location and does his work of art. There are many Banksy fans who want to see each work each day and a number who refer to themselves as Banksy Hunters, tweeting, using Facebook and Instagram, to let people know where they might find the works with crowds hurrying there. On the other hand, on one day, a stall is set up to sell Banksy works and people pass by, only a few purchasing the art – for about $50 each, which may then be worth thousands later!
The film captures the ideas and responses of many of the enthusiasts and the Hunters. Audiences can check their own responses in comparison.
Some of the works are quite simple, there is a frequent use of black silhouettes interacting with local objects like fire hydrants, with fans getting their photographs taken in front of the works. One of the most striking is a large art piece reflecting on the Wiki Leaks revelation about American forces and helicopters in Iraq shooting down agents as well as innocent bystanders with shockingly callous remarks. It is well worth Banksy doing a work visualising the implications of this vicious event.
The film is short, but always interesting, our listening to the views, watching the reactions of the fans, and the opportunity to see the variety of works and build up an impression of and response to Banksy.
US, 2014, 106 minutes, Colour.
Amy Adams, Christophe Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Danny Huston, Terence Stamp, Jon Polito, Delaney Raye, Madeleine Arthur.
Directed by Tim Burton.
There are quite a number of big eyes in this film. They are the focus of most of the paintings by Margaret Keane, who began her work in in the late 1950s and is still painting. She has done a series of pictures of waifs and given them all very big eyes, different colours but a pervading sense of black and darkness around them. They have been very popular over the decades while some of the art critics have dismissed them as kitsch.
It is a surprise to find that this is a Tim Burton film. For more than a quarter of a century, Burton has delivered a wide range of films treating the world of fantasy and vivid, often dark, imagination. While the big eyes do fit into this Burton interest, and there are some moments when Margaret Keane looks into a mirror and sees herself with big eyes, this is a fairly straightforward narrative, often very serious, but with some moments of hilarity and even zany bravado.
We might ask how this could be especially when the film opens with Margaret leaving home with a young daughter, driving away from the outer suburbs of Northern California into San Francisco and establishing herself there, interviewing for a job at a furniture factory, painting children’s illustrations on some of that furniture. But she does go outside, offering to paint portraits of passers-by. It is there that she attracts the attention of Walter Keane who is flirting with passers-by, trying to sell his paintings of Montmartre and other Paris settings. They connect, date, marry and go on a colourful honeymoon to Hawaii. Who could ask for anything more?
Margaret’s difficulty is that she does not know Walter very well – nor do we. At first he seems too good to be true but when he starts exhibiting his own and Margaret’s paintings in the corridor of a club which leads to the toilet and eventually does get some interest, it is in her paintings and not his. Uproar with the club owner brings headlines and photos.Walter makes friends with a San Francisco columnist and users story finds him. Margaret is dismayed when he claims that he did the paintings himself but, in those days, even with a confession sequence, although she is not a Catholic, where she is reminded that the husband is the head of the family, she continues to lie about the paintings to her daughter who is growing up and lets Walter take the credit for the fast-selling paintings. He even set up his own gallery, prints off posters which eager patrons want with an autograph, and then postcards of the posters.
This means that Margaret’s time and energy is devoted to work in her studio, churning out big eyes paintings. Walter even gets a commission for a painting for the 1964 World Fair in New York.
When Walter takes to fisticuffs against a critic at a society do, it is the beginning of the end.
The intriguing latter part of the film is the court case when Margaret sues Walter and a newspaper company and she and he, each has to prove that they are the artists who have made the big eyes pictures.
This would be an entertainment if it were not true. However, it is a true story.
Bringing it to life is the performance, intense but restrained, of Amy Adams as Margaret. But it is Walter who holds the limelight on screen, even as he did in real life. This is a cheerfully bombastic, sometimes over-the-top, performance from Christophe Waltz, which reaches its climax in his attempts to speak for himself in court and in his comically absurd self-defence.
In the final credits there is a photo of the real Margaret Keane along with Amy Adams.
UK, 2014, 114 minutes, Colour
Jude Law, Tobias Menzies, Jackie Whitaker, Scoot Mc Nairy, David Threlfall, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Ben Mendelsohn, Michael Smiley, Konstantin Khabenskiy, Bobby Schofield.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald.
While the Black Sea, especially out of Sebastopol, is the realistic location for this thriller, the title also means the dark depths of the sea. This is a submarine film.
Over the years there have been many fine dramas and thrillers, from 1950’s Morning Departure, with John Mills and a stiff upper lip British cast, to Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October as well is The Crimson Tide. There was also the fine German film, Das Boot. This film is not quite in the same class as these undersea thrillers but it will do as a piece of underwater entertainment.
Jude Law, who has been doing some excellent roles in recent years from his grim and quiet Karenin in the recent Anna Karenina to his boasting bluff Dom Hemingway. Here he looks strong and sturdy, shaven head, Scots accent, a man who has spent 30 years in submarines and working in salvage who is let go with a pittance by his company. His life has been l dedicated to the sea to the neglect of his wife and child who are glimpsed in a number of flashbacks. There doesn’t seem to be much else to do but drown his sorrows.
When he hears of an interesting operation, the salvage of a submarine with gold that Russia through Stalin had paid to Hitler at the beginning of World War II. This episode is visualised in surreal black and red colour during the opening credits. The captain goes to an interview, agrees to the task, collects his own crew from Britain and half the crew from Russia (played by actual Russian actors) and a quite psychotic diver from Australia, played by Ben Mendelsohn.
The film doesn’t waste much time in going into the depths and precipitating a crisis, killing and an explosion with more deaths. This does not enhance the credibility of the plot where the crew in an old Russian rust bucket submarine dive into the depths and locate the vessel. There are the usual anxieties, especially through Daniels, an executive imposed on the crew by the company (Scoot Mc Nairy in a constantly whining and whingeing performance or, rather, trying to do his best with whining and whingeing lines, irritating nonetheless).
With damage to the submarine because of the explosion, they have to find a different way to the surface, but there are also revelations of double dealing in the setup of the contract. The trek by the divers to the submarine and the discovery of corpses and of the gold, increases the motivation to succeed, despite the difficulties in transporting a piston and the gold to the submarine.
The captain decides to go to another port to surface and get away with the gold, some for everyone, but they come across a deep sea canyon which they decide to navigate.
There is quite some dissent, some violence and mayhem before a partly happy ending.
The film was directed by Kevin Macdonald, a prolific maker of documentaries, especially his Oscar-winning One Day in September about the Munich Olympics. He has also made a number of feature films including directing Forrest Whitaker to his Oscar in The Last King of Scotland. This means that his eye for effective detail makes the action in the submarine rather documentary-like. But he is quite melodramatic with the narrative fiction.
US, 2015, 120 minutes, Colour.
Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Ninja, Yo- Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp.
For years now, there has been an increasing interest in the stories about Artificial Intelligence and a range of films about robots, robotics, androids, and the possibility of creating an android with self-consciousness. In this futuristic science-fiction fable, there is a company at work in Johannesburg producing a wide range of android Robocops who keep down the crime rate.
But there are two men working in very different experiments, one an ex-army militaristic type, Vincent, played by Hugh Jackman with an Australian accent and strange brown hair, who is building a rather gigantic robot which can take to the air, survey crimes and uprisings and swoop down and fire at will to destroy the criminals (and it does get an extensive tryout). The other is an Indian South African, Deon, played by Dev Patel, now well-known for Slumdog Millionaire as well as the Best Exotic Marigold Hotels. He is desperately doing experiments which will give his androids human intellectual capacities, personality and the ability to learn.
When one of the robot police is partially destroyed, and the severe boss of the company, Sigourney Weaver, forbids both men from progressing with their work, Deon takes the shattered robot and works at home creating the desired android. The way that his programme is designed means that the android begins his life as the equivalent of a child and has to go through a process of learning.
That would be no problem but we have already seen some thugs and gangs around the city, taking advantage of crime possibilities, drug-pedalling and three rather dim-witted villains in debt to the gangster leader. When they have the brainwave that they should rob a bank to pay back their debts, they realise that they can get the help of a robot and so abduct the experimental android. Which means that he has a strange learning process, partly from Deon, but strongly influenced by the gangsters, their language, their stances. But, as he grows up, he has been told by his maker always to do the right thing.
Which means that there are a lot of complications, the maker trying to visit his creation and educate him well. The woman in the gang find she has maternal instincts, especially towards this chap, whom she names Chappie. But the leader of the gang is a complete moron, and a violent one as well, abandoning Chappie to the mercilessness of young gangsters on the outskirts of the city with Chappie having to find his way back, increasing his learning experience. The gangsters begin to become a shrewd and find a way of getting him to participate – and the transformation of the moronic gangster to something of a friendly hero more than strains credibility.
These two characters played by South African celebrities, Ninja and Yo- Landi Visser – using their celebrity names for their characters, but whatever their popularity, acting ability is not to the fore.
It is Dev Patel as Deon who is the most convincing. Hugh Jackman turns out to be a kind of comic-book villain, even turning off the power to all the Robocops who collapse in heaps with ultimate riots in Bedlam in the city, and Sigourney Weaver who has either to look extremely bossy or apprehensive.
The premise is quite interesting but, as the film goes along, it becomes more comic-book, even silly in some of the situations as well as the characterisations. Which is a pity because there are many things going for the film.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp, who made a huge impact with his science-fiction drama, District 9. His follow-up film, Elysium, had some interesting ideas in terms of communication between earth and a super resort satellite. But, there was some incipient silliness in that film as well. While Blomkamp is right in designing his science-fiction for a wide audience, his films need to be more intelligently stimulating rather than a reliance on some corny dialogue at times and very effective special effects.
DIOR AND I
France, 2014, 90 minutes, Colour.
Raf Simons, Pieter Mulier, Sidney Toledano, Anna Wintour, Mariel Cottillard, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Harvey Weinstein and all the staff at Dior, behind the scenes.
Directed by Frederic Tcheng.
In recent years there have been documentaries and feature films about couturier, Yves St Laurent, highlighting his work and achievement in fashion as well as a great deal of detail about his personal life. Audiences should not expect this kind of treatment or revelations in Dior and I, even though it is based on book he wrote.
At the beginning, there is voice-over with a quotation from Christian Dior declaring that there were two of him. One was his real self (born 1905), the other being his public self (starting his work at the age of 41 in 1947). Apart from some tributes to him for his work and vision, some photographs from the 1940s and 1950s, and a visit to his family home, swimming in by helicopter, that is about all we discover about Dior himself.
So, this documentary is set in the present, introducing us to Belgian Raf Simons, the man chosen to be the contemporary designer for the company (2013) which is still flourishing, has its shop in Paris as well is its offices and its ateliers. Simons had been working in men’s fashion for 10 years with a reputation of being a minimalist, which he rather plays down. His new assistant is, another Belgian, Pieter Mulier.
Then we go behind the scenes and spend most of the film there, especially in the two ateliers with their extensive staff. in fact, we get something of the main designers, their sensibilities, their business sense, the pressure on them to achieve. And there are quite a number of interviews with some of the dressmakers, men and women, and a number of the seamstresses who have worked a long time for the company, one for 39 years. Most of the time, there are some genial human behind the scenes.
However, most of the attention is given to Simons himself, a middle-aged man, always wearing black, quietly authoritative, perceived at times as authoritarian, feeling the pressure of his work and his first show in the Dior tradition. We see him relating to the staff, approving designs, changing them, selecting materials, adapting the dresses as they are in progress, feeling the pressure of time, of the demands of clients in New York, choosing a mansion for the show, making a decision to cover the walls with flowers, with the logistics of how this can be done as well as keeping the flowers fresh.
We see Pieter Mulier and his liaising with the staff, supporting Simons. And then there is the show, the choosing of models, the fittings, the walk, plans for filming, the photographs, the interviews, focusing on greeting the guests (amongst whom Marion Cotillard, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Harvey Weinstein and, even, editor Anna Wintour), hugs and kisses, with Simons finally following the models onto the catwalk, cheerful, congratulated, a sense of achievement.
For those not up to date on fashion and/or ignorant of the amount of attention in detail it has to go into the design and the making, even down to stitching hems, There is something to learn about fashion. For those who are up-to-date and delight in colour, design, the range of dresses, plenty of satisfaction!
US, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca A. Santos, Skyler Samuels, Romany Malco, Nick Eversman, Chris Wylde, Ken Jeong, Alison Janney.
Directed by Ari Sandel.
Would anybody be drawn in to see a film which was called The DUFF? Seems rather unlikely! And even when it is explained that DUFF stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend”? Possibly not. But, the producers did make the film and here it is.
Mae Whitman is very good as Bianca, the DUFF. She doesn’t realise it at first but as she explains to the audience when we initially see her first with her friends, the attractive Jess and Casey, she points out that everybody greets them and seems to miss out on her, or not notice her, or notice her and ignore her. This is especially the case with Madison (Bella Thorne) who fancies herself as the most attractive girl in the school, claims, when it suits her, Wes (Robbie Amell), the football captain and school jock, as her on-again, off-again boyfriend. Madison informs everybody that life, even at school, is a preparation for her life as a celebrity on Reality Television.
Despite the looks, she is pretty clueless about life and relationships. Which may remind us that this was the 90s equivalent of The DUFF, Clueless, Alicia Silverstone and friends at high school, making a mess of life at times but trying to put it in order. And then, almost a decade later, came Mean Girls, with Rachel Mc Adams as one of the meanest persecuting poor Lindsay Lohan until she joined them. Perhaps every decade has to have its high school mean girls movie.
Bianca is shorter than her friends, with the touch of the tubby which makes her self-conscious about the Fat in DUFF. But Wes assures her as he drops the title on her that it actually means the character in any situation who is overlooked but is approached to get access to the high-flying characters. Bianca has her own life to live, is very good at school work, has to cope with her mother (Alison Janney in yet another cleverly humorous role) who, after being left by her husband, has discovered the five stages (without open acknowledgement of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) of grieving and incorporates them into seven’s seminars dealing with stress, satirised a little, but having their place.
She also works on the school magazine, edited by Ken Jeong, an amusing performance, much, much lower key than how we found him in such films as The Hangover series. He commissions Bianca to write an article on her personal, deeply felt responses to the Homecoming Dance.
Surprisingly influenced by peer pressure, Bianca alienates her two close friends, who really are friends. She also tangles with Wes who, in fact from the childhood, has been the boy next door. While he is a jock, he is a sympathetic character, finds Madison particularly waring, is much more content chatting with Bianca.
Bianca has a crush on musician, Toby, but is awkward in talking with him. She and Wes make a deal, she helping with his studies so that he can resume his football captaincy and get sufficient grades for graduation. He offers to help her to be more sociable, with a long sequence where they go to a store and she tries on numerous dresses – only to find much later that Madison’s toadying friend is taking video of Bianca, the clothes and talking about the boyfriend. The girl does the same when Bianca takes Wes to her favourite place, and more video. As might be expected, the video makes its blatant appearance during the Homecoming Dance. Which leads into the later development of principles against cyberbullying.
In case anyone is upset because our heroine, Bianca, alienates herself from her two good friends, she does come to her senses, thank goodness. She doesn’t want to get to the dance, but her mother urges her, and there is the almost-but-not-quite ending that we expected!
Older reviewers and older audiences will find that this period of their lives is long, long gone!
France, 2013, 128 minutes, Colour.
Olivier Rabourdin, Kirill Emelyanov, Daniil Vorobyov.
Directed by Robin Campillo.
Eastern Boys is surprisingly moving film. While it focuses on teenagers and young men, migrating from Eastern European countries, with no documents, trying to survive in a city like Paris, sometimes working as prostitutes, it portrays its character with quite some humanity.
The film opens in Paris’ Gare du Nord, the imposing exterior, the very busy interior, the passengers going in and out of the station, the mixture of backgrounds, ethnic differences, a situation that ordinary people could identify with. Then the film starts to focus, with its overhead shots, at individuals, their forming small groups, forming larger groups, looking like a gang, which they are, going to enjoy takeaway food, and one of the young men going off by himself, sensing that a middle-aged businessman was loitering, watching him, wanting to proposition him. No words spoken for at least 10 minutes but the audience is strongly aware of what is happening.
When the young man, Marek, agrees to visit the man’s apartment, all seems set for a film about gay men, sexual relationships. While something of this does happen, the film has a lot more going on and a lot more going for it. There is a very disturbing sequence, especially for the businessman, Daniel, when the group of young men come to his apartment, really innovated, and, while dancing to rock music, remove all his possessions to a truck downstairs. The instigator, a Russian somewhat older than the others, nicknamed The Boss, is an intense and possibly psychotic character.
But the film is about the relationship between Marek, who reveals that his real name is Rouslan and that he is a migrant from Ukraine, though his parents worked in Chechnya and were killed there. At first, his response to Daniel is quite impassive, letting himself be a sex object for a client. But, he returns and continues to return so that the relationship becomes far more personal even in its sensuality.
There is a further surprise in the relationship between Daniel and Marek, a change of attitude, a change of behaviour, different kinds of feelings in Daniel, more paternal than sexual.
However, as might be expected, there is still trouble to come, especially from The Boss, who has dominating roll over the group of men as, helped by Social Services, they occupy some apartments in a suburban hotel. His control extends to locking their documents, if they have any, in a locker in the hotel. When Marek attempts to retrieve some documents, The Boss responds with ferocity and quite some brutality.
The film does not end as we might have expected. There is a clash between The Boss and Daniel but the screenplay opts for a non-violent solution, in fact, one that leaves Daniel and Marek – and the audience – with quite some hope and alternate possibilities for the future and their relationship.
Director, Robin Campillo, uses his camera expertly to focus on the central characters, quite sympathetically, meaning that he tells his story with quite some feeling.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY -THEM
US, 2014, 122 minutes, Colour.
Jessica Chastain, James Mc Avoy, Nina Arianda, Jess Weixel, Bill Hader, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert.
Directed by Ned Benson.
The release of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – Them will cause some problems for film buffs who have heard that prior to the editing of this film there was a version of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby which focused on Eleanor with the caption Her and, as well, there was a version with the caption Him. Distributors have opted to release Her and Him by download and DVD and to release only Them to cinemas. For any audiences who have seen Her and Him, the selection of material edited together from the previous film in Them, will be of interest to see the intercutting of the two perspectives. For those see Them first, looking at the previous two firms might be similar to the experience of seeing a film and then reading the book on which it was based later, filling in a great deal of detail and highlighting how different perspectives can be.
One of the difficulties, dramatically, with Them is that there are some crises Eleanor’s life but it is only later in the film that we discover what they are and how significant they are. There are initially playful moments but then a rapid transition to Eleanor contemplating suicide. Her husband visits her in hospital but she opts to stay with her parents. He tries to cope, working in his restaurant which is going down in terms of customers. And he has to go to live without his sometimes cantankerous father (Ciaran Hinds).
On the surface it seems a portrait of a failed marriage but it becomes clear that husband and wife do love each other but attempts at reconciliation are ineffectual.
Jessica Chastain portrays Eleanor, in her 30s, a woman floating through life after the crisis. Her loving parents, long-married (William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert) are supportive as is her sister. She attempts to do some studies with the help of the professor (Viola Davis). James Mc Avoy portrays Conor, also in his 30s, who has grieved, adrift in his work, relying on the support of friends at the restaurant, especially Stuart (Bill Hader).
The film shows a number of attempts for each of the couple to try to understand the other, moments of betrayal, moments of love, moments of hesitation.
Finally, both Eleanor and Conor have some time away from each other, with the possibility that things might get better, a glimmer of hope rather than despair.
US, 2015, 105 minutes, Colour.
Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerard Mc Raney, Adrian Martinez, Brennan Brown, B.D. Wong, Robert Taylor.
Directed by John Requa, Glenn Ficara.
There is often something very attractive about con men and women and fraud stories on screen, the type of characters involved, their motivations, their abilities to take people in, creating fictitious stories and maintaining them. But, it is not as if we would like to encounter them in real life!
Will Smith is very smooth as Nick, consummate charming con man, who lets himself initially be taken in, it seems, by a very attractive young woman, Jess, Margot Robbie. But, when she and an accomplice attempt to blackmail him for being in a compromising situation, he turns the tables and points out how completely ineffective they are. Jess seems to be intrigued and contacts Nick and persuades him to take her on as an apprentice.
The centrepiece of the early part of the film takes place in New Orleans during the Superbowl, Nick having a squad of 30 people, involved in all kinds of tricks, deceits, and common pickpocketing, as well as those at the headquarters who count the money, package it and deliver it. There is a lengthy intriguing episode at the Superbowl when Nick and Jess encounter a wealthy Chinese businessman, B.D. Wong. They keep betting about play moves with double or nothing, until the stakes are in the millions, Nick steadily betting, Jess rather bewildered until it all becomes clear to her and to us as Nick explains his success.
Move to 3 years later, move to Argentina, after Nick has let Jess go. Nick is involved in a confidence trick dealing with formulas and engines for motor racing, employed by a millionaire, Rodrigo Santoro, who has a bullish bodyguard, Gerald Mc Raney. And then he meets Jess just as he is preparing to set up an Australian entrepreneur, Robert Taylor with as flat an accent as you could wish or not wish. Jess seems to be with the Argentinian but succumbs to Nick’s attentions – which may or may not be setups.
There is a bit of melodrama before the end, Jess abducted, Nick in trouble – and then, a strange twist which strains credibility, and all is well (not necessarily good or moral).
This is mainly glossy entertainment for a night out.
US, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T.Nelson, Alison Brie, T.I.Harris, Edwina Findley Dickerson, Ariana Neal, Paul Ben- Victor, John Mayer.
Directed by Etan Cohen.
This is one of those American comedies which will divide audiences. Many will find it very funny and enjoy the targets and the satire. Many will be repelled by various elements, especially the treatment of race themes, homophobic themes, American class themes.
In the reviews, some writers have commented that the film is attempting realism and so its exaggerations do not work. however, this is satire and spoof, not meant to be taken literally, heightened for the sake of making the points and making the jokes. It may be that the points are not well-made as intended, and the jokes are not as funny as intended. What the screenplay seems to be doing is to taking up the stereotypes and the way they are presented in the movies: class, sexuality, violence, racism. By its pairing of the two central characters and their differences, the film is actually making many points against classes, homophobia, alleged prison violence, racism.
We know that Will Ferrell has played quite a number of idiot types in his career, especially remembering Ron Burgundy, and this is a variation on the theme. His James King, living in luxury, sexy fiancee, a benign father-in-law who makes him a partner in the firm, but caught in the many stupidities of class snobbery, doing all the trendy things including exercises, and everything that is expected of a financial adviser and executive. Actually, in his chosen sphere of finance, he is very well-educated and throughout the film has a sophisticated vocabulary and turn of phrase. But his doom, and his being manipulated await him. During his engagement party, where he tries to upstage singer John Mayer, he is arrested for fraud.
In the meantime there is Kevin Hart. In some films, like Ride Along and About Last Night, his shrieking comedy routines and in-your-face personality are fairly repellent. It was interesting to see him in The Wedding Ringer, that he could subdue the eccentricities and do a credible comic performance. And this is what he does here, playing a straightforward manager of a car-wash business, pleasant wife and daughter, no criminal background, needing $30,000 to pay off the mortgage of the home.
The race jokes start when Darnell knocks on the window of James’s car and James is afraid that he is a victim of race violence. And he advises Darnell to start saving money. But, after his arrest and his fear of prison where he is sentenced to maximum security and 10 years, he decides that he needs to prepare.
The bulk of the film and the comedy are in attempts at preparing James, and Darnell, pretending he has spent time in prison, consults his cousin, Russell, for ideas. And what ensues are a number of comic routines, according to the audience’s sense of humour or not. Darnell makes James do lots of bodybuilding and exercise, trying to get him to make Mad Dog Faces to intimidate, getting the rough and crass language that is expected to be used in prison… Then there are the allegedly popular expectations that there will be a lot of homosexual exploitation among the prisoners, so a lot of discussion, a visit to a gay restaurant where James goes to a toilet for experience but a gay man does approach Darnell who offers a sympathetic ear, and later communicates by mobile phone. To cap it all, there is a scene where Darnell takes the role of an African- American, a Hispanic and a gay prisoner, stands James in the centre while he impersonates each character and their interactions.
The preparation also involves a visit to Darnell’s home where his wife persuades Darnell to tell the story of his alleged imprisonment and he recounts the plot of The Boys in the Hood. They visit Russell and all the tough African- Americans as well as going to the headquarters of a racist white bikie gang.
Meanwhile, it is not too difficult to work out that James is innocent and who has been framing him – with a scene on a yacht where James’ training comes to full force and he and Darnell overcome the villains.
This reviewer was inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the all the spoof and send-ups.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT
US, 2014, 99 minutes, Black and white.
Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Dominic Rains.
Directed by Anna Amirpour.
This is a very odd film, an independent film, and one that could have the potential for a cult following.
The film was made in the United States but the background of the director is Iranian and she has set her fantasy-drama in Iran although the settings look like downbeat American neighbourhoods.
The film was billed as the first Iranian vampire film. However, it takes some time, even in a shortish film, for the vampire to appear.
The central character is Arash, a young man who has an elderly father to look after at home, especially with the father being a drug addict. Arash also tangles with a friend who is a brutal man, a pimp, involved with drugs, especially violent in his casual relationships with women in the car and his ugly discarding of them. Once the vampire appears, he becomes an initial victim, frightening Arash.
The vampire herself seems an ordinary young woman, walking along the streets, encountering people who lead ugly lives and making a number of them victims, especially when they accost her. However, she makes friends with an older prostitute, going to her home, being looked after. At a club, she is seen by Arash and the two of them become acquaintances and even friends. Also in the scene is a young boy who initially begs money from Arash but becomes an observer of what is going on.
After the death of his father, he and the young woman find that they will have a future together. But what that future is is for the audience to anticipate rather than see.
Filmed in black and white, the film seems a throwback to the styles, especially of some Iranians films of the past, with their stark black-and-white photography, the setup of scenes, the dramatic interactions.
US, 2015, 94 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez.
Directed by Tim Johnson.
Home is a pleasant animation film from Dream Works Studios. While parents may enjoy it – or, perhaps, pleasantly tolerate it – it is targeted for a children’s audience and younger children might respond happily.
In one sense this is a variation on ET. Except that this creature’s two letters are O and H, Oh. This is a variation on ET coming to earth as well as variations on close encounters and the War of the Worlds, G-rated, of course.
Out in space are a race of creatures, short and squat, multi-legged or, who feel that they are being pursued by other aliens and have to be on the move, continually finding somewhere for refuge. They are led by The Captain, voiced by Steve Martin. They are all assembled, the luggage in little balloon bags, ready to go to earth. And then Oh appears. He is voiced by comedian, Jim Parsons.
Oh is the hero of the film, an exuberant creature (his fellow-creatures are definitely not exuberant), the Boovs. In one way they are considerate, they don’t want to destroy the human race, simply remove every human from the face of the earth, sucked up by vacuum and relocated, suburban houses and all, on another planet, assuming that they all want to be there, which, obviously, they don’t.
In the meantime, the Boovs settle on earth, with Oh getting an apartment, wanting to host a party but everybody avoiding it and him.
Meanwhile, there is one little girl who was not sucked up with all the humans because he had her at pig-cat on her head and the vacuum couldn’t penetrate it. She is called Tip and, surprisingly, is voiced by Rihanna. In her search for her mother (Jennifer Lopez), she comes across Oh, clashes at first, then the beginnings of friendship as he mends her car. What follows are a lot of adventures, even to capital cities around the world. Oh becomes a bit more human, learning that one can make mistakes, seeing families bonding…
When a huge hostile alien craft threatens, Oh decides to defend everyone – only to find that the threat was not nearly as great as was thought. Which means then that humans and Boovs can get to know each other, become friendly, share Earth and its cities, and even want to dance!
Of course, it was inevitable that there would be happy ending, and there is. But, isn’t there an allegory about refugees, fleeing in fear, and finally finding a welcome?
US, 2014, 122 minutes, Colour.
Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Barry Corbin, David Dencik, Evan Jones, William Fichtner, Tim Blake Nelson, John Lithgow, James Spader, Jesse Plemons, Haillee Steinfeld, Meryl Streep.
Directed by Tommy Lee Jones.
Tommy Lee Jones is now a grizzled veteran of 40 years of acting. A decade ago he directed a striking film, a Mexican-Western?, The Three Burials of Melchiades Estrada. For his next directing venture he has not moved absolute West, rather setting his story in Nebraska and a journey into Iowa. It is not exactly a western, rather a story of the 19th century in the midwest.
The screenplay explains that a homesman is a person who escorts someone to their place of origin or their final destination. The title is a bit misleading because the first homesman is actually a woman, Mary Bee, played by Hilary Swank, one of her most striking performances.
The situation is this: several women have been adversely affected by their lives in these isolated surroundings, children dying from diphtheria, a woman adversely affected by her mother’s death, another mother suffering mental disorder and killing one of her children. There is a mixed response from their husbands, not always supportive. When the local minister (John Lithgow) arranges that the three women be transported into Iowa to a caring environment under the auspices of religious minister, the husbands are somewhat unwilling, but lots are taken in the church and it is Mary Bee who gets the mission to take the women.
Mary Bee is a lonely woman, hard working on her farm, wanting to get married but men rejecting her because she is severe and because she is plain. Unexpectedly, she comes across a man accused of land grabbing, sitting on his horse, a noose around his neck tied to a tree. She frees him but does a bargain that he will accompany her on the trek. Officially, he is the homesman.
Moving through midwest landscapes, beautifully photographed, the group, with the unwilling women tied up inside a wagon that looks something like a prison cell, they encounter the elements, confronting Indians, a horseman who threatens one of the women. The effect on the homesman is that he keeps his distance in many ways, thinking of his financial reward, but moved at times to help the women and to respond to Mary Bee and her desire to be married.
Just when one thinks that all will be well after the long and arduous journey, there is a shock experience which remains significant right to the end of the film.
There are some more episodes before the homesman is able to hand over the three women, and encounter with an entrepreneur who wants to turn a isolated hotel into a significant centre (James Spader) who is on the eventual end of the homesman’s anger. When they arrive at the destination, the minister’s wife is there to meet them and receive the women. Meryl Streep must be a friend of Tommy Lee Jones. They appeared together in Hope Springs. Here she has a small cameo role, bringing some civilisation and manners to what has been a hard journey.
One of the other reasons for Meryl Streep’s appearance would be her support of one of her daughters, Grace Gummer, who plays one of the women as does Australia’s Miranda Otto.
This is a very serious story, well-told, portrait of characters who have succumbed to the hardships of their life in war, in isolation, in marriage, with children, with many hopes dashed.
Not an easy film. A little hope at the end but mainly an hour ironic temporary conclusion to the homesman’s journey.
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR
US, 2014, 88 minutes, Colour.
Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide, Keir Dullea.
Directed by Maya Forbes.
On noticing this title in the list of films about to be released, I wondered what on earth this film could be about, almost expecting to find that was an animation film for a children’s audience. The word polar led to this conclusion.
On the other hand, the word polar is more regularly heard these days as part of bi-polar. And this is the subject of this film. It is based on a true story, the story of the father of the director, Maya Forbes drawing on her own experience as a child. And, in many ways, this is a look at a bi-polar condition from the point of view of the child, not a clinical exploration, but a dramatisation of the experience of living with such a father. What makes the film also interesting is the fact that the young girl in this film, representing the director, is actually played by the director’s daughter, Imogene Wolodarsky.
The setting is the past, the 70s the 80s, when diagnoses were more limited and medication for the condition was not extensive, lithium tablets being a regular prescription.
The father, Cameron, is played by Mark Ruffalo, a very good actor who is becoming quite versatile in his choice of roles over the years. He is a sympathetic presence, even when he is frustrating in his manic behaviour, even at times, without his medication, becoming quite threatening. He spends time in an institution, then in a halfway house, but unable to live with his wife and children as a family. This puts extraordinary pressure on his wife, played by Zoe Saldana, who has to be the breadwinner, although her husband comes from a fairly wealthy Boston family and the great-grandmother pays rent but is not willing to give too much money from her trust fund.
This means that the wife has to find a job but decides that she would be better able to cope and bring in income for the family if she went to New York to study for an MBA. She does and, for 18 months, Cameron has to be the parent for the children, living in an apartment, trying to cope with routines – and routines helping him to settle. He is also good working with his hands but, at times, the girls becoming too much for him (and sometimes too much for this reviewer, being rather petulant towards their father and insensitive to him despite knowing what he was suffering).
The main part of this rather short film focuses on those 18 months in Boston, an intriguing look at how Cameron tries to deal with the situation and, ultimately, comes through successfully.
Infinitely Polar Beer is not meant to be an accurate clinical portrayal of the bi-polar condition. Rather, it is a story which asks for empathy from the audience, appreciation and understanding of how difficult it is to live with the condition, mood swings, Cameron being prone to drinking, and at times trying to escape. But, it is an important part of his life and audiences will come to some understanding of bi-polar experience through sharing in a life rather than by analysis.
US, 2014, 148 minutes, Colour.
Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Jemma Newsome, Katherine Waterston, Jeannie Berlin, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Martin Short, Peter Mc Robbie, Martin Donovan .
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
First of all, the title. Inherent Vice for those with a religious bent might sound like an alternate description of the Reformation Theology of the inner corruption of every human being, absolutely needing God’s grace. Actually, the meaning of the title is far more mundane. As the voice-over astrologist tells us, inherent vice means anything of this nature which cannot be avoided: chocolate melting, ice melting, glass cracking… How that title applies to the situations and characters of this story is a challenge to the audience. It may mean that the central character Doc, who spends a lot of his time stoned, has that particular inherent vice as well as an innate curiosity to solve crimes.
What about Incoherent? That is not a misprint for coherent! And many audiences might offer the opinion that Incoherent would be a more truthful title.
However, when one looks at some of the Private Eye films from the past, especially from the 1940s, like The Big Sleep which most commentators say they cannot logically explain, or listening to the last five minutes of The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart giving a speed-spoken explanation of what was what, who was who and why was why which is very difficult to comprehend on first listening, then incoherent is probably a relevant word.
But this film, adapted from a novel by Thomas Pynchon by the director, Paul Thomas Anderson, who has made some impressive films over the years including Boogie Nights, Punch-drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master, is not from the 1940s but, rather, from the late 1960s. No black and white here. Instead there are bright colours, a fair amount of sunlight, and re-creation of a hippie lifestyle on the California beaches of those days.
While Doc, played most effectively by Joaquin Phoenix, is no Humphrey Bogart or Dick Powell, he is in their tradition, a seedy-looking office, lots of interesting, even if shady, contacts, and a girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston) who may be a good girl or not – and some of the sex scenes later indicate that it might be “or not”. However, it is she who brings a mystery to Doc which sets him following through, getting advice from Benicio Del Toro, interviewing a man just out of prison – and finding himself waking up next to a corpse which certainly arouses police attention and suspicions. The main policeman is Bigfoot, played by Josh Brolin.
There is quite a range of cast, from Reese Witherspoon as an uptight district attorney official (except when she canoodles with Doc), a former band member who has become an undercover informant (Owen Wilson), a lewd dentist with a partiality for young women and cocaine (Martin Short) and an assortment of its citizens as well as corrupt police.
Whether the mainstream audience will respond well to this film is more than doubtful. It makes too many demands in trying to respond to the unravelling of its plot, not an immediate rapport with most of its characters, and not so much of response to these stoner times (except perhaps from those who lived through them).
The inherent vice of many of those who watch the film will be: too difficult to follow and so give up. It is a film for film buffs.
US, 2015, 119 minutes, Colour.
Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Mekhi Pfiffer, Octavia Spencer, Zoey Kravitz, Tony Goldwyn Ashley Judd, Janet McTeer?, Ray Stevenson, Maggie Q, Jonny Weston.
Directed by Robert Schwenke.
Last year audiences learnt about a post-apocalyptic world, confined to a city, with a social structure of five communities: Dauntless, Erudite, Candor, Amity, Abnegation. Individuals belong to each of the groups according to their personality and talents. in the first film of the series, based on novels by Veronica Roth, Divergent, we saw that Abnegation was eliminated, that the military types of Dauntless were in command.
The central character was Tris, played with great energy and determination by Shailene Woodley. It emerges that, though she was from an Abnegation family, she was really different and was a Divergent. The power in the city was Jeanine (Kate Winslet). One of the ways of control was simulation games, akin to some of the heroics now familiar from The Hunger Games. Tris, put through extraordinary physical paces, was drawn to Four, actual name Tobias (Theo James) and, by the end of this first episode, Tris’s parents (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd) were dead. Rebels went into exile.
With the second episode, Insurgent, we find the rebels living with the Amity group, led by Octavia Spencer. While the rebels agree not to disturb Amity, Jeanine’s forces invade the outpost with Tris and Tobias escaping, pursued by the relentless Eric (Jai Courtney). They take refuge on a goods train going to the city where again, they are confronted. Peter (Miles Teller) betrays them and Triss’ Erudite brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort) thinks he is doing right by going to work for Jeanine.
So far, so expected – except that there is a revelation that Tobias’s mother has not died when he was a little boy, as had been thought, but has fabricated her death to escape her tyrannical husband, Marcus. It is then that we realise that she is played by Naomi Watts, almost unrecognisable in a dark wig. She wants to lead a revolution with her group, and the Factionless, against Jeanine.
Then the film becomes more interesting and arresting, as Jeanine, Kate Winslet offering a performance of Aryan tyranny without any charm, is testing Divergents hoping to find the perfect candidate who embodies all the factions. The sequences where Tris goes through successive simulation experiments and demanding experiences, showing her capacities of 100% Divergent, focus the attention. We admire the ingenuity of the special effects people as they create extraordinary visual situations for the tests, especially a block of floating rooms on fire with Triss showing that she is a strong female super-hero, in her attempts to save her stranded mother.
With various twists in the plot and changing loyalties, we are introduced to a mysterious box which was in the care of Tricia’s mother and is now opened, seeming to offer good news and a happy ending and an improved future for all factions. But, then, there is one brief final scene which leaves us watching the final credits on edge, wondering where the sequels, Allegiant will lead us as the inhabitants move beyond the wall of the city. The two-part Allegiant is to come.
KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN
Netherlands/UK, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Anthony Hopkins, Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten, David Densic, Jemima West, Mark van Eeuwen, Thomas Cocquerel.
Directed by Daniel Alfredson.
Being a criminal does not necessarily being a mastermind, a mistake probably many criminals make. It is certainly a mistake that the criminals involved in this kidnapping make time and time again.
And who is Mr Heineken, the victim of the abduction? It sounds something to do with the famous Dutch beer. And that is correct. Four young men kidnapped Alfred (Freddy) Heineken, the man who built up the Heineken company. The kidnappers think that he is worth at least $60 million in ransom.
During the opening credits, Heineken is seen making a comment to one of the criminals that most people want friends and money – he makes the point that you can’t have both. And that is one of the morals of this film.
The setting is Amsterdam, 1983. In the aftermath of recession, the four young men who had been friends since school days and who had joined for business enterprises find themselves needing to borrow from a bank but unable to provide sufficient collateral for a loan. They do have a building which has been occupied by punks and hippies. Some strong arm tactics lead them into the hands of the police rather than freeing up their asset.
The father of one of the men worked for Heineken who actually sacked him but still has an enormous loyalty to him. Brainwave! Using the word brain seems something of an over-compliment. One significant idea that they have is that the kidnapping should look like the actions of the terrorist groups of time, like the Red Brigade or Baader-Meinhoff?. To emphasise this, they successfully rob a bank.
This is an international production. The conspirators are played by Jim Sturgess (UK), Sam Worthington (Australia), Ryan Kwanten (Australia), Mark van Eeuan (Holland). And Heineken himself is played with his usual intensity by Anthony Hopkins.
When the money is not forthcoming, Heineken himself is surprised and offers to pay the ransom himself, for himself and the driver who was taken with him. Of course, the four begin to get edgy as the days pass, some tempted to be violent, others preoccupied about keeping up normal appearances, visits to family, checking on Heineken’s desires, books, Chinese food…
For those not in the know, it is interesting to see how the whole plan works out, the eventual payment, the subsequent actions of the four men, the consequences for them. Interestingly, though the police are involved, the screenplay, based on the writing of investigative journalist, Peter De Vries, does not give any information about the police work except some surveillance and the response to an anonymous tip.
At the end of the film, there is substantial information given about each of the main characters, prison sentences, life after prison, criminal activity in Holland, and the continued success of Heineken himself who, on the basis of his experience, establishes a strong Security company.
Interesting enough while the film was on screen, but not one that stays in the memory.
Russian, 2014, 140 minutes, Colour.
Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov.
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev.
Leviathan is the sea beast in the book of Job, a testimony that God is more powerful than Job or any human and that is a perspective that should guide us in our lives. Leviathan is also the title of this fourth film by Andrey Zvyagintsev whom many critics are praising as one of the great directors of our times. His previous films are well worth seeing, his Venice-winning The Return, also The Banishment and his alarmingly critical view of contemporary Russian society, Elena. With Leviathan he continues his critical view.
The film is strikingly photographed, in an isolated town on the northern Russian coast. On the shore, on one of the beaches, there are the massive bones of a stranded whale skeleton. There are also the skeletons of ship hulks. And in one beautiful, but ultimately tragic sequence, there is a sequence of a whale frolicking, leaping out of and then into the vast sea. Plenty of symbolism, a lot of metaphor for what happens in the film.
We are introduced to Kolya, the very ordinary and mundane Job of the film, waiting at the railway station for an old army friend from Moscow who is going to help him in a court case against one of the town authorities who covets Kolya’s property, his house and warehouse, overlooking the sea, for commercial development.
Kolya is going to suffer from his dealings with the authority, a smug and violent man, who manipulates people and, hypocritically, kowtows to the local Russian Orthodox priest, who speaks beautiful words at a closing ceremony about Jesus and the gospel, while conniving at behaviour, the opposite of gospel values.
But, Kolya is also going to suffer at home. He is not a particularly well educated man but has skills with his hands, mending, fixing, creating. At home is his second wife whom he loves but who has ambivalent feelings for him and for his friend. Also at home is his son, Roma, a teenage boy with a bitter attitude towards his stepmother, prone to depression.
The film takes its time in developing the characters in the situations, meal sequences, a picnic which has ominous consequences, to scenes of Kolya at court, with the officials of the court reading charges at great speed and with deadly monotone, striking commentary on the role and indifference of law and its application.
Kolya is not a perfect man by any standards and, along with a number of the characters, puts away an extraordinary amount of vodka, clouding his judgement, inclining him to violence, and, at the end, he becomes a victim of his own behaviour, trapped, imprisoned, but also a victim of the avaricious authorities.
Russian film companies invested in this film but the experience of watching Leviathan makes us ask how this story relates to the Vladimir Putin era, the place of individuals, the power and greed of the oligarchs, the effect on ordinary citizens far from Moscow.
A LITTLE CHAOS
UK, 2015, 118 minutes, Colour.
Kate Winslet, Mathias Schoenhaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Helen Mc Crory, Steve Waddington, Jennifer Ehle, Rupert Penry- Jones, Phylida Law.
Directed by Alan Rickman.
A Little Chaos might be a title for a Marvel Comics action show. But that is not its meaning here at all – and it is a rather misleading title for what we actually see.
We are back in the 17th century, location Versailles. It is the era of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who is doing his utmost to make the Palace of Versailles and its grounds a shining example of architecture and design. This means that the film is quite sumptuous to look at, architecture, gardens, stately interiors, costumes and decor, with the musical score to match.
The use of the word chaos in the title is meant to indicate that there are different ways of and styles for beautiful designs, some very traditional in manner, recognisable by everyone, others that are not quite what is expected, perhaps what we might see as disturbingly beautiful, with a little chaos.
The central character, a fictitious character, Sabine, is a widow who has a reputation for her gardens, her nonconformist attitudes and taste, who is a candidate for developing a particular section of the Versailles Gardens. She is played by Kate Winslet (in between her stints as Jeanine, the rather fascist leader of the government, in the Insurgent series). She plays a strong woman here, determined, a figurehead of female accomplishment in this age.
The film was directed by actor Alan Rickman (probably best known for being Severus Snape, in the Harry Potter series). He also plays Louis XIV, a complex character, an absolute monarch, yet caught in some of the emotional tangles at his court, especially with his wife and mistresses. He is somewhat sardonic, expecting his whims to be fulfilled, but challenged in thinking and attitudes by his encounter with his new gardener.
The other central character is a designer, played by Belgian actor Mathias Schoenaarts, who has often portrayed larger than life bullish characters (Bullhead, Rust and Bone). He seems to be of the traditional school of design and supervises a lot of the changes at Versailles but is intrigued by his interview with Sabine and offers her the position. He is locked in a rather formal marriage, his dominant wife (Helen Mc Crory) does what she likes even while she wants to keep her husband under some control. And she is not impressed by Sabine let alone the emotional response of her husband to Kate and attempts to destroy the project.
While the film offers an interesting insight into the period, the formality of the several thousand people who live at Versailles and work in the court, especially the women in their sequestered area, it is also an interesting drama on the personal interaction level.
The action for some audiences will seem well-paced and measured (or might be called slow). It has been described as a painterly film, one which gives audiences opportunity at some length to gaze and contemplate both the simple and the complex beauty of architecture and design, of trees flowers and landscapes.
US, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Toni Collette, Thomas Hayden Church, Oliver Platt, Ryan Eggold, Nina Arianda, Joanne Woodward, Johnny Depp.
Directed by Megan Griffiths.
At one stage in the film, magazine journalist Ellie, Toni Collette, makes a remark that people who are able to live alone are “Lucky them”. Which means that she should be lucky because a lot of her time is spent alone despite her having friends, associates, and sexual relationships. But, at the opening of the film, she is far from lucky.
Toni Collette always gives a good performance as she does here. Ellie is a journalist for a magazine in Seattle, Oliver Platt playing the editor, who is becoming frustrated by Ellie’s unreliability, especially as magazines are changing, the influence of online publishing. He commissions her to do an investigation about a musician who was popular 10 years earlier, Matthew, who had made a great impact in the music world but had then suddenly withdrawn and there were reports of his death. He and Ellie had been in a relationship and his departure was emotionally hurtful for Ellie. She does not necessarily want to write this article but the editor insists that she must if she is to keep her job.
Helped by a good friend, she goes online to get some information about Matthew’s being alive or dead. She does get a lead and follows through but the informant seems rather unreliable and demands money. She actually has persuaded the editor to give her money to pay leads but she has lost the money.
Part of the job is to be a talent scout in Seattle and she comes across a man singing in the streets and is impressed by him, interviewing him, but failing to write the promised article. However, he does move in with her, sings in a club and is offered more appearances.
The tone of the film changes somewhat when an interesting if bizarre character arrives on the scene, Charlie, Thomas Hayden Church, a millionaire who had met Ellie years earlier. He is interested in all kinds of projects and wants to join Ellie in her search for Matthew, also offering to finance the search as long as he goes along, having decided that he would like to make a documentary about it. He years very (very) straight up and down, quite humourless, which makes his character interesting and a contrast with that of Ellie. They go on the road, interact with their different styles, he doing some filming, she doing the searching.
There is a surprise for the audience when she eventually does find Matthew – played by a top star in a modest cameo role, quite effective in its way. Probably his identity has come out but publicists were asking reviewers not to reveal who it was.
In many ways this is a small film, a local focus, a concentration on magazines and a changing styles, the research for articles. Citizen Kane it is not although it is somewhat in that vein – but audiences who come across the film will probably enjoy it.
Australia, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Carl Barron, Leeanna Walsman, Roy Billing, Damien Garvey.
Directed by Anthony Mir.
This is a small Australian film which deserves being seen quite widely.
This reviewer was not familiar with the work of Carl Barron, a stand-up comedian who began his working career as a labourer and moved into comedy. He has written the screenplay for this film with his colleague, director Anthony Mir, and plays the part of a fictional stand-up comedian, Manny Lewis. Carl Barron invests a great deal of intensive energy into his portrayal of Manny Lewis which inevitably raises the question how much of this film is autobiographical.
The first few moments are not quite auspicious, some examples of stand-up comedy, heard behind the credits. Not particularly funny – despite the laugh-track sounding quite hearty and rather morbid in subject.
However, as we get to know Manny Lewis, he is not the kind of person we would find enjoyable company but he is the kind of person whose screen story becomes more interesting and intriguing. He is middle-aged, unmarried, has a difficult relationship with his father whom he drives out to the country to visit now and again. He does not mingle at parties despite all the liveliness around him. He is in constant touch with his agent, played with some exuberance as well as melancholy, by Damien Garvie. There is one bright prospect, the possibility of a tour of the United States.
When Manny goes home after a party to his unit, looking out on Sydney Harbour and the Bridge, his loneliness overcomes him and looks up the phone book for phone-sex numbers. After hanging up, he dials again and is referred to Caroline who speaks with an affected sex-husky voice. The first contact is a mixed success and he will dial again and again.
In the meantime, the audience learns more than Manny does. Caroline is actually Maria, a young woman, from Gympie, making ends meet by the phone work, intending to sail to Brazil, an attractive performance from Leeanna Wiseman. By accident, she sees an interview with Manny on television and sets herself up to meet him by chance.
No one can say that Manny Lewis is not predictable. It is, even to the final fadeout. But that does not matter, because the film becomes sweeter and nicer as it goes on and, unless an audience has excised sentiment, they will find it a pleasant film.
Of course, Manny enjoys Maria’s company, the possibility for talking, going out, being himself – but, he confides more and more in Caroline, even telling her some of the mannerisms that he finds irritating in Maria! Maria does her best. Inevitably, the truth comes out with sadness for each of them.
Manny has to perform at the State Theatre in Sydney, to a very enthusiastic audience, stories and jokes about life, death and loneliness, as well as some songs, the lyrics of one relating to his experience with Maria.
The show is a success and the American producer wants him to sign a contract. His dad has come to the performance and is instrumental in apologising to his son for his harshness in the past and urging him, telling the story of his falling in love with his mother, to do the right thing.
It is almost hit and miss as Maria is on the boat for Brazil, but… (Nobody said that the film was not predictable, pleasantly so).
Canada, 2014, 139 minutes, Colour.
Anne Dorval, Antoine- Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clements.
Directed by Xavier Dolan.
On the day that this review is being written, Xavier Dolan, the precocious French-Canadian? director, has a birthday. He turns 26. Mommy is his fifth film, making an impression, building on I Killed My Mother, following with Heartbeats, Laurence Anyway, Tom at the Farm, and now this film which won the jury prize in Cannes, 2014. He himself has appeared in the four earlier films but does not act in this one. The two female members of his cast have appeared in his other films. His main actor this time is a young Canadian, Antoine-Olivier? Pilon.
The main actors are most impressive in their roles, Anne Dorval as the mother, trying to cope with her son who is ADHD, and Pilon as the teenage son, Steve. Suzanne Clements is the neighbour who helps both mother and son.
This is quite a long film, two hours and 20 minutes, and, while some of it is repetitious, it holds the attention with its dynamic characterisations, situations, interactions. At the opening, the mother, Diane, called Die, is taking her son out of an institution where he has set the kitchen on fire and caused extensive burns to one of the children. She takes him home, where he has a room, and tries to look after him, controlling his moods, urging him for his education. She herself is not well-educated and regrets this, having a fairly rough personality, quite aggressive physically and verbally in her dealings with many people, especially at institutions, and Steve inheriting some of this aggression – with racist and homophobic slurs.
Across the street is Kyla, a good woman who is having a sabbatical, she explains, from her teaching. She is at home with her husband and daughter, but has acquired a nervous impediment which makes her stammer. She makes friends with Die who asks her to mind Steve for a day – with some initial dire consequences, but Kyla is able to calm him somewhat and use her skills as a teacher to interest him in subjects which he follows through and responds so. In the meantime, Die tries to get a job as a translator of children’s books and takes on cleaning jobs as well.
Quite a lot of the film is a portrait of Die trying to cope with her son, his losing his temper, his reactions towards her, confiding in Kyla and getting some help. In the meantime, Steve is entirely unpredictable.
The film opens with some information about Canadian legislation, especially in French- Canada, where parents can take unruly children to institutions of care. This is the dilemma for Die, whether she can keep Steve at home as he grows older and more challenging or whether she should place Steve in an institution.
There is some pathos at the end with Die, after an outing to the beach with Kyla and Steve, having to make a decision and the audience sees how it affects her, Kyla moving to Toronto which is sad for Die, and Steve and his way of dealing with his mother’s decision.
Xavier Dolan is quite the director. He also writes, edits, designs costumes and writes the subtitles both in English and in French, a lot of it quite slangy given the background of the characters.
So, what will Dolan be doing in five years, 10 years, 15 years, with his life and career before him…!
RUN ALL NIGHT
US, 2015, 112 minutes, Colour.
Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Boyd Holbrook, Bruce Mc Gill, Genesis Rodriguez, Vincent D' Onofrio, Lois Smith,. Common.
Directed by Jaume Collet- Serra.
For the last six years there has been a Liam Neeson action thriller every year, sometimes two per year. He has been the lead in the three Taken films, in A Walk among the Tombstones and three films from the present director, Unknown and Non-stop. He clearly likes working with Jaume Collet- Serra.
This time he is not particularly heroic. He portrays, Jimmy, a retired hitman, working for New York gangsters. He is now alcoholic, getting old, alienated from his son, not having much to do or to hope for. His close friend from the past and into the present is also a hitman, Sean, played by Ed Harris.Here’s still on the upper, doing business, while not always agree with his crooked son and his proposals for deals, especially when they involve Eastern European thugs.
Jimmy’s son is a good man, married with daughters, coaching young African- Americans to box, and driving for a limousine service. By one of those strokes of fate or screenwriters’ contrivance, he and a young man witness some killings by Sean’s son who proceeds to track him down to kill him. His father has come to warn him and shoots the killer before he can shoot his son.
As the title indicates, the action of the film runs over one night and into the morning, opening with Jimmy wounded, lying in the woods, reflecting on the meaning of his life. It then goes into flashback.
Sean breaks the news to his grieving wife, gathers his henchmen, meets with Jimmy and vows revenge. This pits the two old men against each other both psychologically and physically. Jimmy’s son, still detesting his father, makes decisions to help him, risking murder from a hired assassin. The plot also involves the son’s wife and children, their having to go into the country to hide, but nevertheless being tracked down and threatened.
Run All Night is set in a world of violence, a world of brutality, a world where those who involve themselves in violence come to violent actions.
The film relies on the strength of the performances of the two leads and of Joel Kinnaman as Jimmy’s son. Music star, Common, has an unusual role as a single-minded killer for hire.
Grim stuff for fans of this kind of action thriller.
France, 2014, 118 minutes, Colour.
Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higilin.
Directed by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano.
It is reported that Les Intouchables/The Intouchables has sold over 50 million tickets around the world. Audiences responded to the story of the prisoner, I had to take care of a wheelchair-bound cranky wealthy man. The film was both sad and funny, but had pleasing emotional appeal. The directors have said there is no plan for a sequel but were content that there was going to be an American remake (seemingly the validation of the success of a French film!).
After the success of Les Intouchables, the directors did waited some years for their next film. But here it is, Samba. And they have invited their star, Omar Sy to come back and team with Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The setting is Paris and the story is that of an illegal migrant, Samba, who came 10 years earlier from Senegal and has been able to survive, living with his uncle, working in a restaurant kitchen, taking on labouring jobs, hoping to become a chef. He has been very careful and has avoided arrest but is attacked in the street, fights back and is arrested. He is detained in the internment centre – difficult and confined, but far less enclosed and repressed than contemporary Australian and off-shore detention centres.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, one of France’s leading actresses, plays Alice, who has suffered a breakdown from her high-powered job and is assisting at a clearing centre for the detainees. She accompanies an earnest young woman and interviews Samba. Alice has been warned to keep a distance, not become involved, but Samba is pleasant in the discussions so that she actually gives him her number. It comes in handy, as we might expect, when he needs some further help.
Omar Sy is quite different from his character in Les Intouchables. He is a physically big man and can take care of himself when attacked, but has a rather gentle spirit, has been working the years in France and sending home money to his mother and upset when he is detained and can’t get work to earn the money. His uncle, a rather stoic old man, works in the kitchen, gives advice to his nephew but thinks it is time for him to return home.
Over the weeks, Samba and Alice cross paths, Alice confiding in Samba the difficulties she has experienced, gaining some confidence again, prepared to go to interviews for getting the job back. Samba has been working on building sites and odd jobs and becomes friendly with Wilson, a cheerful Brazilian worker who thinks that women are attracted to the exuberant Latin American temperament. He doesn’t really look Brazilian and has to confess that his real name is one Walid and that he is from Algeria. But he is so cheerful, that nothing stops him and he sets his eyes on Alice’s companion from the office.
The film slows down a little in the middle, especially when the main characters turn up at a dance for the staff of the detention interviews, some comedy with several of the interviewers, elderly women who have struggled with foreign languages, accents, yet still try to do their best for the detainees.
There is some drama towards the end when Samba encounters a friend that he made in the detention centre, promising to track down his fiancee, which he does but has a one night stand with her and he cannot face his friend. The police pursue, they hang onto a rail over the river but both fall in – but there is still hope, the audience realising what has happened in terms of coats, but Alice and Samba’s uncle do not. Ultimately, Samba makes a decision to do the right thing.
There is a great deal of warmth in the film, a most sympathetic portrait of an illegal worker in France and the continued edge in avoiding police and discovery. With the enormous flow of migrants and refugees, legal and illegal, throughout the world, it is quite important that audiences put faces on these migrants and discover and identify with their stories.
THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
UK/US, 2015, 122 minutes, Colour.
Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Richard Gere, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle, Penelope Wilton, Tamsin Greig, Tina Desai, Shazad Latif.
Directed by John Madden.
No, not second best - rather, the accident is on ‘second’. Since we all know all about the first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and enjoyed the film, liked the characters, appreciated the exotic atmosphere in India, it is fairly obvious that we would like a second.
Most of the team are back again, except Tom Wilkinson whose character died in the first film. Most of them are ensconced comfortably in India, and, in the Hotel, although, it is emphasised, there is a roll call each morning just to make sure that everyone is still there!
Actually, the film opens in the United States, with Mrs Donnelly and Sonny driving through California, he exuberant behind the wheel, she her usual dry-commenting self. Dev Patel and Maggie Smith. They are full of enterprise, wanting to interview the board of a hotel company with the idea of opening the second hotel in Jaipur although the Americans don’t share the basic idea of retiring to India for final years and death. But they agree to send an agent to check out how the hotel is run.
Meanwhile, back in Jaipur and the oldies! Ronald Pickup’s Norman and Celia Imrie’s Madge are at work at the British club (also watering the drinks), Norman, less flirtatious, in a relationship with Carol, and Madge with the dilemma of having two local suitors. Judi Dench’s Evelyn is still working, though she mentions in passing that she is 79 – which was her actual age at the time of filming – and is checking out fabrics with local merchants, being offered a job from an international company and going to Mumbai with the local merchant for further development. Bill Nighy’s Douglas, separated from his hen-packing wife, Jean (Penelope Wilton) is taking tourists for visits to local shrines, but with his failing memory relies on an ear-piece with a young boy feeding him the information, although at one stage he rushes off to play football with his friends forgetting his duties. Actually Jean does come to India, as she says, to visit the old ruins but also to see how everyone is getting on! She has her own sad story but is happy that her daughter is coming to India to give a talk at a conference.
As for Sonny, he is busy, busy, busy, preparing for the engagement and his wedding, while his fiancée, Saina, is also busy at the hotel reception desk. Then there is his mother whom he rather keeps in check.
There are preparations for the engagement, preparations for the wedding – and, of course, a song-and-dance most colourful wedding ceremony.
But, there is still some intrigue when Richard Gere turns up and is considered the agent for inspection, even though he tells the story that he has come to write a novel. The novel turns into a real life novel as he is attracted to Sonny’s mother which does not please Sonny. Most of the staff, however, consider another visitor (Tamsin Grieg) who says she has come to look out for a place for mother as the agent. Lots of kowtowing on Sonny’s part, visits to prospective hotels, and complications and jealousies when an old friend puts in a bid for a hotel and spends a lot of time coaching Sonny’s fiancee in dancing for the celebrations.
All is well, finally, with Mrs Donnelly talking some common sense into Sonny.
This sequel has attracted large audiences and big business – but, the surprise of the first film can never be repeated and watching this film seems something akin to having a large second helping of dessert.
SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE
UK, 2015, 85 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalilli.
Directed by Mark Burton, Richard Starzac.
This is a holiday film which will entertain young audiences and keep their parents interested and amused, even though the story is very slight and a straightforward adventure of sheep and a dog in the city looking for their farmer who has a concussion, loss of memory, and is in hospital.
The films, both feature-length and short, from Aardman Studios in Bristol, have a very high reputation. A quarter of a century ago they made the short film, A Grand Day Out, following with a number of very entertaining films featuring Wallace and Gromit. Since they have been screened on television many times, most audiences may have seen the films – but repeats will entertain the youngsters who have not seen them. Their feature films include Chicken Run and Curse of the Were-Rabbit?.
Shaun the Sheep is not new to television or film. He made his debut in the third Wallace and Gromit film, A Close Shave. Then he had his own television series, a range of short films, which endeared him to audiences. Now he has his own movie!
While there is a lot of music in the background and quite a number of noises, grunts and exclamations from the characters, the film works in the vein of silent films, no spoken dialogue, character and impact relying on visuals, expressions, situations, and quite a bit of slapstick comedy.
Shaun and the small number of sheep on the farm, live their day, day by day, according to the farmer’s routine, waking up, breakfast, slamming the door and squashing his dog, getting his list of chores, rounding up the sheep – and one day shearing them including Shaun. But routine is routine, even for the sheep on the farm, and Shaun must have remembered that Aardman Studios started with A Grand Day Out. Why not a day for Shaun and the sheep!
It seems a good plan, with the farmer in his truck, but Shaun and the sheep underestimating a hill, downhill, so that the truck goes hurtling down, the farmer gets hit on the head and has to go to hospital where he loses his memory. This means that the Grand Day Out is one of rectifying the situation, tracking down the farmer, discovering him in hospital, passing a group singing in Baa- Baa’s shop, and trying to avoid the machinations the Bif Ciyt’s animal hunter. One of the enjoyable jokes, repeated, is having the sheep go round and round jumping over a barrier with the farmer and the hunter watching and gradually nodding off and falling asleep, not exactly counting the sheep, but the equivalent.
This means a lot of humorous situations, parodies of human behaviour, pratfalls and mistakes, the sheep getting themselves in tangles, and the dog doing his best to help out. Happy to say that when they get the farmer back home, and go into their routines, he gradually gets a sense of their presence, recovers and all is the same, no, better, at the farm with the dog almost always avoiding being crushed by the door.
Perhaps not the most memorable of Aardman Studios films, but certainly a welcome and popular addition.
THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE, SPONGE OUT OF WATER
US, 2015, 92 minutes, Colour.
Antonio Banderas, Voices of: Paul Tibbitt, Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass.
Directed by Paul Tibbitt.
The ideal reviewer for this film would be a six year old, girl or boy. The Australian Catholic Film Office does not have this kind of ideal reviewer on its staff, so what is an older reviewer to do! Describe the experience of watching the film with 30 of the ideal reviewers, some parents and teachers.
Actually, it is quite an experience to sit with this kind of audience to watch a film which is squarely, squarepantily, aimed at them and not their parents. Although one needs to add that the Pirate King, Burger Beard, had a face behind his thick beard and a voice that sounded familiar enough. After a minute or two, it was Antonio Banderas, so something for the parents to look forward to see how he handled working the cartoon characters, how he behaved like a villain, how he got his comeuppance and realised that it was not wise to tangle with SpongeBob? and his friends.
The main thing to say about the audience was that they gave no impression of being a captive audience. Rather, they seemed enthralled the whole time, only one little boy going out with his father to the toilet. It was rather surprising that they tended to be quiet rather than rowdy as well as quiet during most of the film, laughing out loud at some of the moments (of the slightly breakwind and trousers down variety) and the number of the pratfalls with people falling over or being hit, that kind of thing. (The reviewer realised that these moments with little kid giggles proliferate in so many American comedies these days, allegedly for adults, getting lots of little kid giggles with the very same incidents.)
Probably most of the young audience come prepared, watching SpongeBob? on television, comparatively long time fans. So, they knew SpongeBob? and his situation beneath the sea, the restaurant selling crab patties and Mr Krabs and its hard times, the star-shaped Patrick, Squidward, Kyle, the issue of a secret formula for making the crab patties and a nasty Plankton, SpongeBobs? old foe (although he does make good, more or less) trying to discover and steal the formula.
Whether the audience guessed it, but the parents and teachers and reviewers probably did, it’s the pirate king who has stolen the formula and is making good on it, quite profitably. This means a lot of pursuit by SpongeBob? and his friends, entering into the spirit of the thing, experiencing some strange shapes and sizes with the appearances of their characters, but with great heroics (of the suitable for six-year-old style), and they win the day.
The animation is bright and colourful, the characters clearly shaped and amusing, especially SpongeBob? himself. IMDb research reveals that not only has there been the television series but there have been several previous SpongeBob? films, some straight to video: The SpongeBob? SquarePants? Movie (with such voices as Alec Baldwini, Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Tambour and David Hasselhoff), 2004; Sponge Bob SquarePants? Spongicus, 2009. And there was a television special, SpongeBob? SquarePants?, Lights, Camera, Pants, 2005, introducing audiences to the animators and how they created the series. Not sure whether this is the kind of information that the six-year-old reviewer would have written, but each of them obviously experienced it with relish.
So, reviewed by an adult, resisting any temptation to write like the ideal young reviewer!
US, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan,.
Directed by Chris Rock.
If you have never heard of, Chris Rock, or never heard of Cedric The Entertainer, or Tracy Morgan…, this is probably not the film for you. As an extra caution, it might be added that even if you had heard them, this still might not be the film for you.
Over the decades, Chris Rock has built a substantial reputation as a stand-up comedian, and has proven himself to be something film star as well. Using the tradition of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, African-American? humour, targeting American politics, the American way of life, often with sexual innuendo – and at other times, quite explicit and crass. There is something of a glimpse of this at one stage in Top Five, but the film is really about a celebrity and how he deals with his life and its pressures.
The film opens with Andre (Chris Rock) walking along the street with a journalist, Chelsea (Rosario Dawson) talking about his life, willingly and unwillingly, some wry comments as well as wisecracks. And then we find out who Andre is. He has become something of a celebrity because of his starring role in three action-hero blockbusters. The trouble is that he plays Hammy the Bear, but concealed in his bear suit, but nonetheless he is recognised, acclaimed, signing autographs.
But he wants to be a serious actor and his new release, Uprise, has just opened with practically nobody going to see it. We are shown a clip, a story about Haitian rebels with Andre as the vigorous leader, and a massacre of white landowners. Not a masterpiece.
So, The New York Times wants an interview with him and assigns Chelsea, one of their top writers. Andre is reluctant to talk to the New York Times because their columnist, James Neilson, has targeted Andre and his performances in past years. Over a day, Chelsea follows Andre to various functions and promotions, with Andre taking the opportunity to reminisce about his life, along with memories of booze and sex early in his career (this flashback with Cedric the Entertainer, replete with some Texas mumbling and some gross behaviour). Andre also goes to see his family, a motley collection, and encounters at one stage Adam Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg and some other friends for conversation.
Are a lot of musicians and singers moving in and out of the film, many of them asked about the top five.
At the same time, Andre is trying to cope with a planned marriage on the following Saturday, his fiancee, Erica (Gabrielle Union) and devotee of Reality Television, is being filmed planning the marriage in great detail in preparation for the filming of the wedding – which seems one of the most unlikely.
Andre has been on the wagon for some years but a crisis comes about the identity of James Neilson which propels him into drinking again, face the failure of his film, question what he is really about.
While Andre is a fictitious character, any film about a stand-up comedian and actor raises the question of how much autobiography there is in it. But that is for Chris Rock fans to fathom.
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
US, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Maria Dizzia, Adam Horowitz, Charles Grodin, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Yarrow.
Directed by Noah Baumbach.
It would be very interesting to interview audiences as they came out from the screening of this film.
While the principal focus is on a married couple in their 40s, used to life, regretting that they had no children even though they had tried, would the 40s and overs identify with the couple, criticise them, learn from their experience throughout the film? It is a look at these two in comparison with a couple who is 25. If those coming out of the cinema were in their 20s, how would they react to the couple who are their peers, their attitudes towards life, their attitudes towards their elders, their reaction to living in a world of technology, often avoiding it and liking what is natural and real. And for those who are of older, there is veteran actor, Charles Grodin, playing a documentary filmmaker in his 70s.
For just over ten years, Noah Baumbach has been writing and directing films which try to go beneath their surfaces. He was particularly successful in 2006 with his family study, The Squid and the Whale. There was the portrait of people assembling for Margot at the Wedding, then the story of a middle-aged man trying to find his place in life, Greenburg, and after that the more light-hearted portrait of a young woman trying to find her place, Frances Ha.
He opens the film with quotes from Ibsen, The Master Builder, and opening the doors to the younger generation.
Here we are introduced to Josh and Cornelia, very fine performances from Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts. Their peers and friends had become preoccupied with young children, which tends to alienate Josh and Cornelia who have experienced miscarriages. Josh is lecturing on documentary film when he encounters a young couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), in their midtwenties, he an enthusiastic documentary maker, she a maker of ice cream. They keep inviting the older couple out, taking Cornelia to Hip-hop lessons, Jamie getting Josh involved in his experimental documentary, and their both agreeing to attend to a New Age mescaline-meditation-vomiting-out-of-old-attitudes weekend.
The experience has a transforming effect on the older couple, going back almost 20 years to what it was like when they were young, the experience re-invigorating them but puzzling peer friends. The experience also seen seems to transform of the younger couple, with Jamie becoming very involved in his documentary, Josh acting as cameraman, letting Jamie interview the elderly guru from his own film (played by Peter Yarrow, the Peter in Peter, Paul, Mary). There is a particularly strong sequence where an Afghanistan veteran (Brady Corbett) who has attempted to kill himself is interviewed for the documentary.
Just as the audience may be feeling really satisfied, or perhaps wondering, there are shifts in the revelations of characters and audience emotional response, everybody not quite being actually what they seem. But is it all Josh’s problem – he is rather paranoid, about his documentary, about his father-in-law, about his reputation. And is Jamie trying to exploit Josh? And how will Cornelia ultimately deal with all the changes and challenges?
x & y
UK, 2014, 111 minutes, Colour.
Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang.
Directed by Morgan Matthews.
x & y might remind audiences of chromosome symbols. Others might recognise algebra, mathematics and equations and formulas. And this is correct. This is the focus in this film – but much more.
Morgan Matthews, a prolific documentary filmmaker, directed a documentary in 2007 about the international Mathematics Olympiad and the students involved. The story stayed with him and he decided to experiment with turning the documentary material into a fiction narrative.
The centre of the film is, at first, a little boy, and then his growing into a teenager. The boy is shy, has little relationship with his mother, but bonds strongly with his father who plays with him, affirms him, lovingly encourages him. When the father is suddenly killed in a car accident, the boy seems to withdraw into himself. Audiences familiar with stories of children with autistic behaviour, will recognise that the little boy, Nathan, seems to be autistic but with a great talent for mathematics and solving puzzles.
His devoted mother, Julie (Sally Hawkins) tries to reach out the boy lacks empathy for her. When she approaches the authorities at school, they recommend that special tuition from one of the teachers who had a strong maths academic record, suffers from a form of palsy, but works with special students, Martin (Reith Spall). Nathan works with him for several years, making progress with Martin’s care and attention.
When Nathan becomes a teenager, he is played by the talented British, Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Hugo, Ender’s Game). Martin is keen that Nathan participate in the Mathematics Olympiad. Nathan agrees and goes, for the first time in a plane, to Taiwan with the British candidates for the competition. Chaperoning them is Richard (Eddie Marsan, who worked so effectively with Sally Hawkins in Mike Leigh’s Happy-go-lucky). The Chinese official has a niece who is a candidate in the competition and who makes some kind of connection with Nathan. The students are very bright, some genial and friendly, others, possibly autistic, tend to be focused on themselves and communicate arrogantly. This is all very new to Nathan, reticent during the classes, just managing to get himself as one of the chosen ones for the Olympiad.
These aspects of the film will be of interest to parents and teachers, students who are interested, particularly in mathematics, as well as anyone working with autistic children.
While Julie and Martin become very friendly, Julie feeling the need of some affection after the death of her husband and with her son’s seeming indifference, and not able to connect by touch, not even telephoning her from Taiwan – something which never occurs to him. But it is the Chinese girl who also comes to England who begins something of an emotional breakthrough for him, teenage interest in girls but autistic reticence and awkwardness in responding.
The ending is not quite what it might have been anticipated, especially as regards the competition. Not every problem is solved but it seems there is some recognition by Nathan of his mother and her love for him, some moments of incipient empathy.
The British know how to make this kind of film, quite modest in scope, a very effective cast, a low-key treatment of emotion. But hopeful.