SIGNIS REVIEWS APRIL 2018
ALL FOR ONE
DEATH OF STALIN, The
ISLE OF DOGS
LAST GOLDFISH, The
READY PLAYER ONE
THAT’S NOT MY DOG
WRINKLE IN TIME, A
US, 2018, 130 minutes, Colour.
Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults Thad Luckinbill, Austin Stowell, Rob Riggle, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataki.
Directed by Nikolai Fuglsig.
12 Strong is based on a true story. It portrays a mission in Afghanistan after 9/11, a secret mission which was not revealed until almost a decade later. There are photos of those involved in the mission during the final credits.
This is one of those stories of American heroism. Patriotism, obviously, is one of the key themes. This is the United States, America has been attacked, America must act. In fact, the film opens with a resume of the terrorist attacks on the United States in the 1990s, various attacks on the World Trade Centre in 1993, the attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in the late 1990s, the role of Al Qaeda, the shock of 9/11 – with the images repeated at the beginning of the film to the surprise and dismay of people watching everything on television. And then we realise that this film was made 16 years after the event.
One of those watching the television, at home with his family, is Captain Mitch Nelson. We can be confident in him because he is played by Chris Hemsworth (and, in a nice touch, his wife is played by his real-wife wife, Elsa Pataky). He is a desk man, a trainer, who wants to become involved in some action after the destruction. The authorities are not so enthusiastic but one of his friends, played by Michael Shannon, is able to influence them and a Special Forces unit is set up.
They are to go to Afghanistan, make a secret journey through the mountains, meet with the Northern Alliance, make friends with some of the warlords in order to undermine and attack the Taliban.
The action we see might seem far-fetched, an incursion into Afghanistan, into fearsome terrains, encounters with hostile tribes, clashes with the Taliban, an expert estimating that such a mission would last two years. The 12 strong team accomplishes it in under 30 days. The men also survive.
There have been quite a number of films about American presence in Afghanistan in the years after 9/11, some with a touch of satire, Rock the Kasbah, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, others more serious action films like Lone Survivor.
The screenplay sets up a conflict between the sympathetic warlord who does not approve of the American tactics and withdraws his support for a time and the very sinister-looking Taliban chief. Ultimately, there will be a confrontation between these two.
The film does not underestimate the difficulties of the mission, language, supplies, the mountain paths, the armed Taliban, the difficulties of dealing with the warlord ally. However, the Americans can summon reinforcements for bombarding the enemy. There are injuries, there are some heroics.
This film is in the tradition of those World War II films, Vietnam films, where a unit in war is the focus of action, character development and interaction, achievement with some heroism.
Hungary, 2017, 91 minutes, Black and white.
Peter Rudolf, Bence Tasnadi, Tamas Szabo Kimmel, Dora Sztarenki, Agi Szirtes, Jozsef Szarvas.
Directed by Ferenc Torok.
1945 is too grandiose a title for this film. It actually covers only one day in the life of a Hungarian village, August 12, 1945, the surrender of the Nazis now three months old, the war still waging in Asia, the dropping of the atomic bombs.
At the beginning of the film, two Jewish men arrive by train at the village, bringing some boxes which are identified as dry goods and perfumes but actually contain various artefacts which are to be buried in the cemetery in memory of the Jews who were rounded up, taken to concentration camps and killed.
This is very disturbing for many of the people in the town because they had denounced the Jews, gained documents which gave them the rights to the houses and the shops and are occupying them and are fearful of having to return them.
There is a wedding in the town that day. It is between the son of the Town Clerk and a young woman who was previously fiance of one of the locals who went to fight in the war. The Town Clerk was responsible for a lot of the deals and is apprehensive with the return of the Jewish men. He has given the drugstore to his son who is to be married.
As the day progresses, the young fiance has a relationship with his former friend, now has a new girlfriend and wants to bypass the wedding. But the young son, appreciating what is happening, and critical of his father’s behaviour, decides to leave, to go to Budapest or to the United States.
A central character is the man who was persuaded to participate in the fraud, who is now a drinker, goes to confession to a rather unsympathetic priest who seems to be endorsing the stances the Town Clerk, the film indicating Catholic Church support of the anti-Semitism.
From the Jewish perspective, the two men go through the burial process, a challenge at the gate of the cemetery by the Town Clerk but say they have come in peace and shake hands with him. To the relief of the townspeople, they leave and go to the train along with the Town Clerk’s son.
As suggested, something of an examination of conscience for the Hungarian people – and a criticism at the time of the film’s release because of the Hungarian hostility to admitting asylum seekers from Syria.
ALL FOR ONE
Australia, 2017, 100 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Marcus Cobbledick, Dan Jones.
For cycling fans, this is a must-see documentary. For Australian cycling fans it is a must-must-see documentary. And, even for those who know practically nothing about cycling, there is an optimism and humanity underlying this story.
The fans will know Australian involvement in the main cycling events throughout the world – and the limited presence prior to the first decade of the 21st-century. However, a number of entrepreneurs who loved cycling, took the initiative, found the finance, to set up an Australian team, Greenedge Orica. And this is the story.
While the film has its quota of talking heads and commentary, there is a great deal of storytelling, enthusiastic promotion, and a focus on individual characters and their achievements.
The early part of the film shows the initial scouting for talent, training regimes, camps away from home, the varieties of expertise both physical and psychological. There is also a general bonding amongst the members of the team, quite a large group from whom star riders will be selected, others will be support and backup.
There is also mention of the main cycling events in Europe, starting with the Tour de France, the Spanish Tour, Italian rides focusing on Milan, and the Paris- Roubaix competition. There are many sequences throughout the film of all these events. There is the exhilaration of those in the lead. There is the crowding of riders at the start and their beginning to thin out. There is the endurance of the different terrains that have to be undergone. There are the technical difficulties. And, the film does not shy from the frightening crashes and the tumbling of so many riders onto the road.
The film’s screenplay also uses the chronology, with dates on the screen, from 2012 onwards, indicating the developments, some of the successes, a number of the disappointments, the camaraderie amongst the team.
Several individuals are singled out for consideration. The first is Simon Gerrans who had established himself as a rider and as a personality, especially with the Tour de France. He had great success, supported by wife and family. There is also the moving sequence where he could have continued wearing the leader’s colours but gave them to him his co-rider, Daryl Impey.
There is a focus on the two individuals. There is Matthew Heymann, older, successful but not as he would wish. There are also his injuries. The latter part of the film, that shows his almost super-human effort to overcome injuries and to compete in the Paris- Roubaix. The film shows various cyclists and managers listening to the commentary ultimately surprised and overjoyed with Heymann’s final success.
There is also the story of Esteban Chavez, a young cyclist from Colombia. He had suffered significant injuries which might have put him out of professional cycling for a long time, especially without the backup and finance of an organised team. There are several scenes of him at home and scenes of his parents, grateful to Orica for giving opportunities for their son.
He is a lively character on screen, youthful, learning English (and Australian expletives), glad to be part of the unit, training, singled out by the coach (who is very direct, abrupt, taking no prisoners) and finally being encouraged to ride. The film shows his successful ride, especially an extraordinary uphill sector and his overcoming his previous difficulties and winning.
Obviously, the story is still in progress – but the film offers an opportunity for a celebration of what could be achieved and what has been achieved.
US, 2018, 102 minutes, Colour.
Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Ramona Young, Kathryn Newton, Gary Cole, Gina Gershon, Geraldine Viswanathan, Miles Robbins, Graham Phillips, Gideon Adlon.
Directed by Kay Cannon.
Another of the increasingly popular raucous American comedies from recent years – especially when they have ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ in the title or mention Seth Rogen (who is one of the producers here).
This is one of those films where one needs to check one’s sensibilities and sensitivities at the door.
As regards sensibilities – whether one responds well to themes about American teenagers, their difficulties with their parents, their parents even greater difficulties with them, especially concerning sexual relationships and sexual activities.
As regards sensitivities – this always asks the question how are in the themes treated? And then adjectives like rude, vulgar, crass, raucous turn up in connection with the humour. And the treatment of the teens and their behaviour and language. (And, some commentators remark on toilet humour – though this one seems to have more of predilection for extensive vomit and for butt-chugging.
This is a story about three teenage girls, the 24 hours of preparation for the prom night, the prom dance itself and its aftermath, decisions made at the end of high school. It focuses on the girls’ expectations from the prom – certainly not the kind of prim and formal prom of the past! But they spend time discussing sexual relationships, Julie (Kathryn Newton) the central character determined that she will have her first sex experience, which has to be perfect, with her boyfriend, Austin. This involves the perfect hotel room, rose petals, music and quiet… Her best friend Kayla (Geraldine Visnawathan) is a sporting type, plainspoken and ready for random sexual activity. The other friend, Sam (Gideon Adlon) is a closeted lesbian with an eye on one of her fellow students.
That is the story for the teenage audience for the film. It is rather different for the adult audience – depending on their memories of what they were like at the equivalent teenage time.
Julie’s mother, a single mother (Leslie Mann) is hyper-preoccupied with her daughter’s well-being and intentions. Kayla’s father (John Cena) is a big, tough, traditional type. Sam’s father (Ike Barinholtz) gives the impression of being a somewhat sleazy type, but does have his better moments.
So, the action is intercut between the activities of the girls and the various adventures – and mishaps – that the parents go through with their concern, arguments about whether to intervene or not, how permissive they should be, their attitude towards love?
All in all, a somewhat raucous night with a question about the ultimate decisions of the three girls (including Julie’s mother finding herself under the bed in the chosen room in the hotel anxious about whether she should stay or not).
This reviewer has been using for many years a phrase “The Judd Apatow Syndrome”. It refers to this kind of American comedy, seemingly raucously permissive at first but then moving to a more moralising tone. And Julie’s mother here is played by Leslie Mann who happens to be married to Judd Apatow. There is some moralising at the end but not all audiences will agree with the conclusions – and some have remarked that this is rather old-fashioned in its presumption that the girls have to be protected at all costs while the males can do what they like.
And so the question is raised, is this typical of contemporary American society? Of other cultures and societies around the world?
US, 2017, 89 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Alexandra Dean.
Hedy Lamarr was a successful actress of the 1930s and 1940s. The PR and media title, Bombshell, was used in promoting her and her films. Film buffs will welcome this biography. Other audiences might be wondering why the life of this actress has been resurrected in the 21st-century.
The principal reason for later interest in Hedy Lamarr has nothing to do with the movies.
The film shows that, as a little girl, Hedwig Kiesler of Vienna had a scientific frame of mind, even taking apart a music box at the age of five and putting it together again. She was interested in science and maths. Science, investigation and speculation, were hobbies for her. This continued after she fled her native Austria in 1937, going to England and then to Hollywood. Howard Hughes even built a space for her that she could use as something of a laboratory.
With a musician friend, in 1942, she speculated on what was called “frequency-hopping”. (Probably better at this stage to Google this rather than including explanations in a film review!) She sent the information to the American government who examined it but decided not to use her theories. She was not aware of patent legislation (patents lapsing after five years of nonapplication) and she lost the rights to the invention. The film is very strong on what she contributed, how she was treated, a later science apology during the Vietnam war and, articles about her theories written during the 1980s and 1990s and finally an award. The film is at pains to point out that her theory was used for all kinds of ventures including Wi-Fi?, GPS, Blu-ray…
Hedy Lamarr had appeared in the film Ecstasy in 1933 and appeared nude, incurring adverse comment from Pope Pius XI as well as Hitler. She tried for some film work in Austria but then was interviewed by Louis B. Mayer, rejecting his salary, trying again and succeeding – and making 19 films in Hollywood between 1938 and 1948 before her main success in Cecil B DeMille’s? 1949 Samson and Delilah.
Hedy Lamarr said that glamour was simply standing still and looking stupid. But, she was not stupid although she had many failed marriages, awkward relationships with her children, eventually antipathy from the media, plastic surgery with her scientific advice on it, although there is a scene from the Merv Griffin Show in 1969 where she is asked about herself and she asks a question of her fellow guest – who turns out to be Woody Allen!
Ultimately, she lived a lonely, somewhat reclusive life – although there is an amusing moment when her son is accepting her award in 1997 and his phone goes off in the middle of his speech, his mother ringing to ask how it went and his explaining that he was in the middle of it!
A belated tribute to Hedy Lamarr and her scientific interests – and an opportunity for film buffs to consider her again and see clips from some of her films. She was not the greatest actresses – more a beautiful screen presence.
THE DEATH OF STALIN
UK, 2017, 109 minutes, Colour.
Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Rupert Friend, Andrea Reisborough, Olga Kurylengo, Paddy Considine, Justin Edwards, Adrian McLoughlin?, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi, Diana Quick, Sylvie Le Touzel.
Directed by Armando Iannucci.
Cinema and television stories of the absurd, with an anchor in real life, could be a description of the work of writer-director Armando Iannucci. His satirical television series on British politics, and political minders, The Thick of It and the cinema version, In the Loop, as well as his originating the American series Veep, have had the ability to make people laugh and cringe at the same time.
It is something of the same here with his take on Soviet Russia, Stalin and his tyranny, the Soviet politburo, a 1953 setting, Stalin’s final days and his death.
Iannucci always has a serious underlining tone to his satire. He seems to work on the principle that one way of dealing with harsh realities is to let off steam through jokes.
With Stalin, although the memories of his decades of rule of the Soviet Union are more than 60 years in the past, this film is a tale of ruthlessness as embodied in his politburo. It is all patently absurd – or is it?
Some audiences have found many of the sequences laugh-out-loud. Others have found a great deal of amusement, interior chuckles more than guffaws, and a checking on how this all relates to memories of the historical episodes and characters.
The tone is set with an orchestral concert as the opening sequence, Paddy Considine as the producer discovering, to his horror when Stalin rings asking for recording of the concert, that none was made! What to do given the military, the KGB, Stalin’s own reputation? The producer brings many of the audience back into the concert hall, rounds up people from the street to fill the seats, to record high applause, to bribe the pianist Maria (Olga Kuryenko) to repeat her performance, cope with the collapse of the conductor and do a raid on an apartment to bring and alternate conductor to do the work in his dressing gown and pyjamas.
And Stalin gets the record, plays it, has a stroke, collapses and dies.
Andy McLoughlin? does a good impersonation of Stalin – though his accent! And this is the case with all the characters in the film, the actors perform with their own natural accents, from American, to broken English, too harsh Yorkshire… Iannucci has said that Stalin’s advisers came from all over the Soviet Union.
Then the film progresses in chapters, coping with the death, the period of mourning, the funeral, and the regulations quoted about all these events especially who is to take over power. There are several contenders. The actual deputy is the rather weak Malenkov, a good performance from Jeffrey Tambor. Then there is Molotov, of cocktail fame so to speak, played as an extreme loyalist to Stalin and the Soviet, even denouncing his wife for torture, and is played by Michael Palin. Extremely prominent, but we know what will eventually happen to him, is Nikita Kruschev played, with his American accent, by Steve Buscemi.
However, as older audiences with memories of Stalinist days and the KGB will expect, there is a central focus on the head of the KGB, Beria. He is played with intensity by Simon Russell Beale, forever making lists of people to be arrested and tortured, executed, manipulating the members of the politburo, especially Malenkov, clashing tactics and ideas with Kruschev. He also has a rather unsavoury private life.
Then there is Stalin’s alcoholic and rather mad son, Vassily, played by Rupert Friend. And his rather hard daughter, Svetlana, played by Andrea Reisborough.
There are meetings, chaired by Malenkov, controlled by Beria, reluctantly agreed to by Kruschev for unanimity, the autopsy (graphic with a saw in Stalin’s cranium), his lying in state, the ceremonial of the funeral, the forbidding of crowds travel by train, and guns fired at them…
And finally, the manipulation of power, the emergence of Kruschev, the arrival of the military in the presence of General Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), the type that takes no prisoners who shoots first and then makes offhand comments.
While this is all set in the past and is an ironic look at tyranny, bureaucratic struggles, ruthlessness and struggles for power, it is interesting to think about subsequent deaths and succession issues, or, perhaps, of Russia in the present, or even the 2017-2018 history of the American President and the turnover of advisers in the White House.
US, 2018, 107 minutes, Colour.
Bruce Willis, Vincent D' Onofrio, Elizabeth Shue, Camilla Marrone, Dean Norris, Beau Knapp, Kimberly Elise, Len Cariou, Wendy Crewson.
Directed by Eli Roth.
An urban vigilante story.
In fact, the original novel, Death Wish, by Brian Garfield was published in 1972. That was the year after the release of Dirty Harry, the film which made such an impact around the world about vigilante action. And the series was very popular from the 1970s into the 1980s. The film version of Death Wish appeared in 1974, starring Charles Bronson, very popular and producing three sequels into the 1980s.
There was always a lot of discussion about vigilante films. On the one hand, dreadful crimes committed against innocent victims. On the other hand, it is the rule of law and justice for retribution. And the point is always made that, when justice and law do not fulfil expectations, the vigilantes feel the right to take retribution into their own hands.
And there is further discussion about the effect of vigilante action in the mind and emotions, as well as moral judgement, of the vigilantes. Does violent retribution against injustice achieve the cathartic effect that might be hoped for? Or is the vigilante burdened by the consequences of violence in their own character?
And there is even further discussion about the effect of the vigilantes in the minds of the public. Do they cheer the person who is able to avenge injustice, ridding the world of evil perpetrators? In this film, the vigilante is praised as the Grim Reaper. And what of copycat vigilantes who can cause their own mayhem?
In fact, all of these questions are raised in the screenplay of this version of Death Wish, based on Brian Garfield’s novel, written by writer-director, Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team).
One immediate difference is that Paul Kersey, the Charles Bronson character of 1974 was an architect, and is now played by Bruce Willis as a surgeon, someone whose life is committed to healing. This is a very good role for Bruce Willis who appears these days, like Nicholas Cage, in a dime a dozen thrillers each year. His sympathetic wife is Elizabeth Shue. His daughter, about to go to college and full of enthusiasm, is played by Camilla Marrone.
One of the differences for Death Wish 1974 and Death Wish 2018 is the atmosphere of social media and communication technology. This time the robbers are able to photograph the address and details of their targets when they do valet servicing of cars. When the vigilantes go into action, bystanders are able to film everything on their phones. This all then goes on to the Internet instantly, seen by millions, taken up by the traditional media, print, radio and television.
Because the actors are strong, the initial tragedy seems even more devastating. Willis, portraying a good man, begins to burn interiorly, the police (portrayed sympathetically) are unable to get leads. The surgeon, time off from work, begins to track down various leads, making discoveries, going to the gun shops (again, another contemporary issue of US gun ownership and gun usage, availability of guns…).
While the initial burglary and killing is ugly, some of the sequences in the revenge are more than ugly and violent. Perhaps this is the director, Eli Roth, who began with horror films, including the Hostel series.
The other central character in the film is Paul Kersey’s brother, Frank, played by Vincent D’ Onofrio, whom the police suspect and who then tries to reason with and support his brother.
And the final moral dilemma. What do authorities do when they discover the truth – arrest the perpetrator or allow for the understandable grief and let the perpetrator go free, to continue his work of healing?
THE DIVINE ORDER
Switzerland, 2017, 97 minutes, Colour.
Marie Leuenberger, Maximilian Simonischek, Sybille Brunner.
Directed by Petra Volpe.
A significant time in Switzerland, the issue of votes for women, February 1971.
Probably this piece of information will come as a surprise to most audiences. After all, New Zealand had votes for women in the late 19th century. The suffragettes of the early part of the 20th century in the UK would have been very surprised to learn that Swiss women would not get the vote until over half a century later. And, the film adds at the end, the last Canton in Switzerland to approve votes for women did this in 1990.
To get us in a frame of mind, the film opens with the feminist movement, especially in the United States, in the 1960s and into the 1970s, glimpses of Gloria Steiner and other feminists, demonstrations and protests.
This is the story of Nora, a housewife in a remote German-speaking village where there was little awareness of feminism. But, of course, with Nora, this was to change.
The screenplay of the film cannot be described as particularly subtle. The patriarchal aspects of Swiss society are very obviously presented and, in case we don’t notice, we are continually nudged to notice. While there is a touch of parody in the presentation of the patriarchal life in the village, the role of men, the acknowledgement of men as superior, The Divine Order, there is also an acknowledgement that this is and has been reality.
The women are expected to stay at home in this village, looking after the children, doing the cooking, the cleaning (and, as Nora hoovers the living room and her cantankerous father-in-law sits reading the paper, raising his feet so that she can hoover under them without any acknowledgement of her besides this) and continually wash socks. She has two sons – who will later assert that they are boys and therefore…
Her husband works in a factory and is summoned to a meeting by an unmarried and rather dominating woman who, surprisingly, promotes him, and then gives a speech against the impending vote about women’s rights and politics. The men all agree. Later she turns up at a meeting of the women’s club, asking for donations for the cause. By this time, Nora has been made aware of the campaign for women’s suffrage and refuses to donate.
While this might cause and shock horror, Nora has read some pamphlets, appreciates how she is put upon by the men in the family, has a compassion for her sister-in-law who is even more put upon, and her sister-in-law’s daughter who wants to get out of the village, is underage, is nicknamed the village bike and who is put into an institution and then, after escaping, into prison.
In collaboration with Vroni, an older woman in the village who was in favour of the suffrage in the 1959 campaign, who has lost the restaurant she worked in for 40 years, and with Graziella, the new owner, an Italian, they plan to have a meeting about women’s rights. Even more shock horror from the men. This is compounded when the three women decide to visit Zürich to look at a protest march, get caught up in it and are photographed with a banner.
The meeting is something of a fiasco, stacked with men, the prim unmarried woman dominating the conversation and asking for a show of hands – almost unanimously against the vote for women. However, some of the women secretly agree and the movement begins to grow, leading to a Lysistrata moment (the women going on strike and leaving their husbands at home to do everything).
Coupled with this is a story about the women of the village, their ignorance about sexuality and their bodies, movements of bodily and sexual awareness (led by a Swedish expert).
On the day of the vote, the women stand outside watching while a procession of men pass through and place their ballots. The vote for women is carried.
The film was released in 2017, the year of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, the Me Too# movement and other vigorous women’s movements – which gives even more of a resonance to this heavily-messaged film.
UK, China, 2017, 140 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Ai Wei Wei.
Aie Wei Wei is a notable Chinese artist with exhibitions all around the world. He is also had his difficulties with the Chinese authorities and has left China, now a citizen of the world. He has had films made about his art. He is also directed a film himself. He returns now to direction, not for a film about art, but for about human rights, refugees and suffering.
He and his crew visited a number of countries around the world in 2015, 2016, photographing the refugees from a wide range of countries, photographing the groups, photographing individuals. At times the artist himself is seen in various situations, sharing the experience, interviewing some of the refugees. This personalises his concern. But the appeal is made to consciences and consciousness of the audience, to empathise with the refugees, what the conditions were at home, what they have escaped from, the hardships of their journey. And, as always, there are the hardships in dealing with the authorities, government and police border patrols from the country’s where they are seeking some kind of refuge. And then there are, so often, the fences.
The film was made in European countries, Kenya, Mexico and the United States, me and Mark in Bangladesh. (There is nothing about refugees in Australia or Manus Island or Nauru – Australian audiences can draw their own conclusions.)
The photography is often very striking, the audience being taken to such varieties of countries, being asked to imagine the lives of the refugees, their past, their escapes, the hardships of the journey is, hard hearts against them, sympathetic hearts for them.
The artist includes some quotations from problems as well as a series of running headlines at the bottom of the screen reminding people of dates and places, UN resolutions, government stances against the refugees.
The following is a list of the countries where the film was made: The range of countries visited, the situations, the refugees themselves, the hardships, the repercussions, welcoming countries, hostile countries?
• Iraq, the background of the American-led invasion of 2003, later developments. ISIS, the taking of Mosul, the siege, the destruction of the streets and houses, the people, the re-taking of Mosul. Iraq and the thousands of refugees from Syria, the camps.
• Bangladesh, the Rohingya, the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. The leader and his explanations and regrets.
• Lesbos, the landing of the refugees from Syria, the numbers, their being welcomed, the camps, their journey through northern Greece, at the Macedonian border, the railway. The further walls from various countries of the Balkans? And Hungary?
• Refugees in Germany, the transformation of Templehof airport into accommodation, the interiors, safety, but the boredom for the children and the adults.
• Paris, the temporary shelters. The Jungle in Calais, the numbers of people, British Border Protection, jumping trucks and their being found out.
• The transition to Kenya, the enormous camp, the refugees from surrounding countries.
• Pakistan, taking of refugees from Afghanistan, for many decades. Returning the Afghan Nationals to their home country. The huge transport trucks. Their being accepted – not able to return to their home towns and villages. Living in the cities.
• Lebanon, the Palestinian refugees, the numbers - the Druze leader and his commentary.
• Jordan, the taking of the vast numbers of refugees from Syria, the Princess and her interview. The camps, and the number of refugees in proportion to the whole population.
• The Mediterranean, the Africans coming by boat, their treatment in Libya, the Italian rescue and landing in Italy.
I CAN ONLY IMAGINE
US, 2018, 110 minutes, Colour.
J.Michael Finley, Dennis Quaid, Brody Rose, Trace Adkins, Taegen Burns, Madeleine Carroll, Nicole Du Port, Tanya Clarke.
Directed by Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin.
In the United States, I Can Only Imagine went immediately into the box office Top 10 and, in its second week, was number three, after Pacific Rim and Black Panther. The audience which responded are the numerous Christian audiences, especially in the more evangelical communities and congregations.
To see the film in Australia, one has to search out cinemas in the so-called Bible areas of our cities.
This is a faith-based film, based on the story of the song, triple platinum in the US, the most popular religious song of recent decades, I Can Only Imagine. At the opening of the film, the composer of lyrics and music, Bart Mallard, is being interviewed by the popular singer, Amy Grant. He tells her that it took only 10 minutes to write the lyrics and to compose the music. Her response is that he did not create it so rapidly but the song is the result of a lifetime.
And so it is.
The film goes back to Bart has a 10-year-old, in 1985. He comes from Texas, lives with his mother and father, his father a violent and sometimes brutal man, his mother a victim of this brutality. Bart develops a hatred for his father, especially when his mother walks out on her family after taking Bart to a Baptist camp where he meets friends, is encouraged to journal, has religious experiences – and he writes “the best week of my life”.
Bart’s father is played by Dennis Quaid, giving a strength of performance to the film. The young Bart is played by Brody Rose. The older Bart is played by J. Michael Stickley in his first film. As we hear him sing, especially when he is persuaded by a teacher, very much against his intentions, to play Curly in Oklahoma and he sings ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning’, we hear a very fine singing voice. (And learn that Michael Stickley has appeared in many Broadway productions.)
When Bart escapes from his father and from the town, he works as a technician which leads him to contact with an aspiring band who are lamenting that they have no singer. And, when Bart joins them as the singer, they begin to have great success, travelling around Texas, drawing youth audiences, responding to the ‘secular’ style of the performance but also to the tone of religious lyrics.
As is often the case in these stories about music, the connection is with Nashville, to an agent (Tracy Adkins rough and ponytailed) who is taken by the performance and organises concerts – but record company representatives feel that Bart is not good enough and the suggestion is that he go deeply into himself and discover what emerges.
This requires him to go back home, leave the band for a time, meet up with his father again and, disbelieving, finds that his father has discovered God. The challenge is for him to forgive his father – something which he had written in his camp journal when he was little. And, so a transformation begins, in Bart, in his father. And, always in the background is the young girl that he always cared for, Shannon (Madeleine Carroll) who goes to college rather than joining him on the road.
And, forced back into himself, and religiously inspired, Bart writes his significant song. The agents are impressed, they contact Amy Grant who is prepared to launch the song but, with Bart in the audience, she invites him up to sing – and, it would seem, he has never looked back after the success of the song and testimonies to its inspiration in people’s lives, marrying Shannon, reunited with his mother, rejoining his band, Mercy Me, 21 hits – and his performing at a White House Breakfast in 2017.
Critics are wary of the word “inspirational” in descriptions of films because they think/fear that this actually means “manipulative”. But there are many audiences who respond to the inspirational, who want to be moved, and find Bart Mallard’s story does this for them quite powerfully. Because the American evangelical tradition is quite extrovert, more introverted individuals and more introverted religious communities might find it a bit much even while they admire what it is doing.
IN THE FADE
Germany, 2017, 106 minutes, Colour.
Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Numan Acar, Samir Muriel Chancrin, Johannes Krisch, Ulrich Tukur, Ulrich Brandhoff, Hanna Hilsdorf.
Directed by Fatih Akin.
This is very much a film of contemporary times in Europe. It deals with issues of refugees and migrants from middle Eastern countries. It deals with hate crimes from groups of neo-Nazi sympathisers.
The writer-director himself, Fatih Akin, was born in Germany but has a Turkish background. This is very important for his films for the last 15 years, especially his award-winning (including Ecumenical Award in Cannes 2007), The Edge of Heaven.
The film opens in a prison, a tall, long-haired, prisoner is being cheered by all the men standing outside their cells. He is being freed, obviously having become a celebrity inside. On leaving, he is met by young woman and the next scene is of their being married. Already, the audience is being challenged in their attitudes towards the man, his appearance and behaviour, the marriage.
But, the film goes forward six years and everything is respectable. Nuri runs a business, he and his wife, Katia, have a small son. The boy is a perky young fellow, sparring with his mother, enjoying the company of his father. Katia leaves her boy with her husband as she goes with a friend for an afternoon at the sauna, returning to pick them up only to find that a bomb has exploded outside the office and husband and son are dead.
The film is divided into three sections. The first is called The Family, obvious enough. This is a couple who has made good, bringing up their son will, only for devastation. Katia’s mother, a rather unsympathetically aggressive woman, has been critical of her daughter’s marriage. Katia later reveals to the police that the two met when she bought marijuana from as a dealer when she was at college. Nuri’s parents, upset, intend to return to Turkey and want to take their son’s body. Katia refuses.
The next section is called Justice. Most of the takes place in the courtroom. Katia had been able to give testimony about a young woman with a bicycle whom she encountered just after she left her son at the office. The young woman and her husband are arrested, rabid racists and Neo-Nazis?. Katia is defended by a good friend who expects the obvious justice to be done. On the other hand, there is a very skilful defence lawyer, visualised as rather sinister and sounding sinister in his cross-examinations as well as his defence of the accused.
There are various legal complications in the hearings. Katja at one moment loses it and attacks the accused. When the verdict comes in, it is unexpected.
The third section of the film is called The Sea. One of the witnesses called to support the accused couple is a Greek who lies about his not being in Germany at the time of the attack. Katia has tracked him down, goes to visit his house by the sea in Greece, discovers that the two accused have come by caravan and are enjoying a holiday.
So, here comes the moral dilemma. Justice has not been done or seen to be done. Does Katia have the right to execute justice on the couple? Does she let hatred and anger consume her and ruin her life? In this last part of the film, the audience is put on the spot, morally. Are the couple so loathsome that they deserved to die? Has Katia the right to execute justice? (Even her going to a store and buying the ingredients for a nail bomb similar to what the couple and used for their sabotage?)
The questions are asked – but answered, ultimately, in a way that is comprehensible but has not necessarily been anticipated.
The German Academy award nominee for 2017, with Diane Kruger winning the Best Actress award at Cannes 2017.
ISLE OF DOGS
US, 2018, 101 minutes, Colour.
Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Courtney B.Vance, Konichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Frances Mc Dormand, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, Yoko Ono.
Directed by Wes Anderson.
An animated allegory written and directed by Wes Anderson, whose 20 year career has provided an enormous range of genre films, serious undertones, humorous overtones, all kinds of comedy and parody. He also ventured into animation with The Fantastic Mr Fox. Audiences will have their different favourite Wes Anderson films This reviewer remembering happily the Royal Tennenbaums and, especially, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The animation in this film looks a bit rough and ready, all to the film’s advantage. There is no smooth drawing for characters most of whom are dogs. The movements of the characters are not smooth either, but humorously jerky and angular. There is a great deal of attention given to the backgrounds, especially the wastelands of the actual island where the dogs are exiled. This is not a pretty-pretty location film. Which means that just visually, there is a great deal of edge.
And the voice cast! It is led by Bryan Cranston and Koyu Rankin. Many of the cast have appeared in other Wes Anderson films and are welcome back, some having much more to say than others – and, some silent!
The film has a Japanese setting – which some would-be purists object to, Americans capitalising on Japanese characters and themes. But, this seems to be too much objection. One of the writers, who voices the Mayor in the film, is Japanese. And the central character, a young lad of 12, is reminiscent of and probably a tribute to the many animated films from Studio Ghibli and other studios.
The dialogue is certainly worth listening to, full of humour, full of spoof, full of parody – but, with quite an underlying seriousness.
The film goes back into earlier centuries with history of the status of dogs in Japanese households. It leads to a revolution where the population turn against their dogs, preferring cats, and the powers that be of a leading family decree the exiling of all dogs to an island off the coast. The population seeming to agree complacently and all the dogs are rather brutally rounded up and even brutally deposited on the island where they have to survive, make do, scrounge, break friendships, fight amongst each other.
The life of the dogs on the island is often very amusing, often very challenging. The key event is the arrival of the adopted son of the Mayor taking a plane and crash landing on the island to find his pet dog. So, the film becomes something of a quest, the outlaw dog, voiced by Bryan Cranston, becoming a friend and an ally. There is also a show dog, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who has an interesting history and contributes to the quest.
Most of the reviewers spent their time talking about the animation, the cast, the humour, Wes Anderson’s perspective. But, when one comes to think about it, the film serves as a contemporary social allegory, getting rid of the dogs seems to be an allegory of any ethnic cleansing. Those who are ethnically cleansed have to move into exile as do the dogs on their island. The critique is also of the wealthy, their corrupt use of wealth and power, manipulation of the public.
This means that Isle of one works on two levels, that of popular entertainment – but, very seriously, an allegory of contemporary social injustices.
KANGAROO: A LOVE-HATE STORY
Australia, 2018, 100 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kate Mc Intyre Clere, Michael Mc Intyre.
For audiences who want to see close-ups of kangaroos, front on, profiles, individuals hopping, groups hopping, mothers with Joeys in their pouch, this film offers many opportunities.
But, a warning, this is a very strong documentary about kangaroos and their treatment in Australia, especially the hunting down of kangaroos, their being seen as “pests and plague” and their being culled, shot, not always immediately killed, and some brutal bashings.
As can be seen by the title, this is not only a partisan documentary about the kangaroo situation in Australia but it is quite militant. The directors have spent a great deal of time travelling around Australia, photographing the kangaroos, getting photos of night culls, and interviewing a great number of people.
There is great deal of reflection on the symbolism of the kangaroo and the new and the ironic comments that these two symbols, on our coins, notes, symbolically above the new Parliament house, have a history of being eliminated. Some of the Americans interviewed the film cannot understand this, offering the opinion that kangaroos a great tourist draw. And, probably for many city Australians this is true as well.
The film also traces the history of the use of kangaroo as meat, for pet food in past decades, then to using restaurants, the issues are exporting kangaroo meat and some of the bands that have occurred, for instance in Russia and in California (and subsequent Australian lobbying in both territories). It also traces the history of the use of kangaroo hides and kangaroo leather, with some testimony by David Beckham about football boots and English and other teams choose to the use of this leather in their countries.
So, there are a lot of visuals which are particularly disturbing – especially taken by a couple in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales where they had set up a free zone farm but are bordered by farmers who eliminate the kangaroos. And some of this testimony film has been presented to governments, especially New South Wales – with regretful comments that enquiries have been closed down. Significant in the film is the Upper House politician, Mark Pearson, staunch supporter of animal rights.
The talking heads in the film are not completely partisan. There are a number of farmers who give their views, indicate the destruction of grazing country by the kangaroos, seeing them as a pest to be eliminated in the area. There are also parliamentarians who speak about farmers rights as well and is emphasising the importance for kangaroo meat and trade connections.
The directors have lined up a significant group of talking heads to alert the audience about the role of kangaroos, the value of the statistics/or not about their being pest and plague, on conservation, preservation. They include Tim Flannery, strong spokesman on the environment. There is also Peter Singer noted for his comments on animal welfare. There is Terry Irwin speaking about zoos. There is a character from outside Alice Springs who calls himself Kangaroo Dundee who does tourist tours for kangaroo-seekers. Other speakers include politicians as well as tax expert, Kevin Henry.
So, the love-hate of the title is well to the fore in the film.
Documentaries like this, while they promote a cause, can foster conversations, changes of mind and attitude, appeals to the public, possible political changes and economic changes.
Not always easy to sit through, but a significantly provocative documentary, especially for Australian audiences.
THE LAST GOLDFISH
2017, 80 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Su Goldfish.
This is an arresting Australian documentary.
Su Goldfish, has explored her origins, finding a lot of film footage and photos from the past, especially from her photographer father. But his background has been a mystery to her.
She knows that her father came from Germany, a refugee from World War II. He finished in Trinidad where he met his wife after the war, marrying, his daughter being born. He seemed to have prospered, especially with music at the time in the West Indies. However, with moves towards independence, he moved his family to Australia, living there for many years.
Su Goldfish herself led a rather flamboyant life, involved in the arts, in gay and lesbian activities, finding her partner, working in filmmaking.
The film is interesting in her exploration, her discovery that her father was married in Germany, had a family, and taken his wife and son to Trinidad and divorced there. His ex-wife and children moved to Canada. Gradually, Su gets more information, travels to Germany, finds places that correspond to the photos in the collection, discovers identity of family members. She also communicates with the family in Canada, eventually meeting some of them and visiting Canada.
For Su, this is fulfilling, knowing more about her father, filling a sense of belonging with an extended family. At the end, she discovers more family connections, members who have changed their names.
This kind of family exploration is a rich source for documentary filmmakers, exploring the past while throwing light on contemporary situations – something which director Sophia Turkewiecz achieved with her documentary about her mother, Once Her Mother (2013).
US, 2018, 110 minutes, Colour.
Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Tony Hale.
Directed by Greg Belanti.
Simon is a 17-year-old high school student, popular, living at home with his devoted parents and his sister (who is determined to be a chef and does a lot of practising in the kitchen). It seems the picture of an ideal family, American style.
But, very soon, it emerges that Simon is deeply preoccupied, a problem about himself, a problem about his identity. He knows that his orientation is gay. However, it is a secret from everyone and he has not thought realistically about coming out.
Love, Simon is based on a book which has the evocative title, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. It is well written, creates characters effectively, some very seriously, some with a touch of caricature. And it invites the audience to identify with Simon, as a person first of all, then with his dilemma about revelation or not and its consequences. While his father is genial, he is also prone to wisecracks and the audience anticipates that he may find Simon’s coming out difficult to cope with. Simon’s mother, however, is a psychologist.
At school, Simon has a very loyal group of friends whom he picks up in his car each morning. There is Leah (Katherine Langford), who is obviously devoted to him. There is Abby (Alexandra Shipp), new to the neighbourhood and to the school. And there are two black friends, Nick and Bram (Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Keiynan Lonsdale, who is an Australian actor), They have classes, do the ordinary things at school, several of them participating in the school production of Cabaret, the MC being played by an annoying school friend, Martin (Logan Miller).
The main comic element in the film, which lightens the seriousness times, is in the personality of the vice principal, Mr Worth (Tony Hale) who is forever in the corridors, commenting on everybody as they pass, especially as he confiscates their phones. He chatters, is friendly with the students – and has to be ready for whatever problems arise.
When word goes around the school that somebody is gay, the reactions are a mixture of acceptance, intolerance, mockery.
The device that the screenplay uses for Simon to act on his struggle is finding an email message from an unidentified student, Blue. Simon impulsively replies, using the code name Jacques. He does get a reply from Blue, then finds himself thoroughly preoccupied at school, in class, at home, at meals, talking with his friends, waiting for messages from Blue. Simon begins to pour out his heart, empathising with Blue, indicating his problems and, impulsively, realising it only after he has pressed “sent” that he has signed his message, Love, Simon.
Blue has his own personal struggles and the screenplay indicates three possible characters who might be Blue.
While the audience is drawn into Simon’s story, hopefully understanding or, if not understanding or, even, disapproving, the film explores the repercussions of coming out. What was difficult in past years is still difficult but the community has, generally, more empathetic response.
Because Simon seems so ordinary in his daily life, the coming out is a surprise for most people. And the film shows how they deal with it, especially because Simon gets entangled with his emotions then, with somebody tapping into his emails, there is always the risk of the unwelcome outing.
Whatever one’s approach to issues of sexual orientation, this is a film well worth seeing and discussing, a testing out one’s moral framework, of one’s emotional response, of empathy and understanding.
Love, Simon is an unexpected cinema invitation for thoughtful response to characters and issues.
US, 2017, 118 minutes, Colour.
Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Sterling K.Brown, Dan Stevens, James Cromwell, Keesha Sharp, Roger Guenveur Smith, Derek Baskin, Ahna O' Reilly.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin.
This is quite an impressive film and to be recommended.
Justice Thurgood Marshall may be well-known in the United States but is less known throughout the world. But he and his career are well worth knowing. He was first African-American? to be appointed to the American Supreme Court, in 1967, serving until 1991.
The part of his story that is told in this film takes place in the early 1940s, at the time of America’s entry into World War II. Thurgood is a lawyer – and has a powerful back story about his studies, acceptance and not at universities, and later suing the university that would not accept him. Strong-minded, he is sought after all over the United States, but especially in the South, to give advice in court cases. He is a member of the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The film introduces him in action and being successful and acclaimed in his legal advice. The other character who is introduced is a Jewish lawyer, insurance lawyer, Sam Friedman. He is an interesting counter-foil to the character of Thurgood Marshall, especially when he is dragooned by Marshall into collaborating with him in the defence of a young man who is accused of rape. Friedman has to rely on Marshall’s notes.
The screenplay is interesting just in the exploration of the case, the characters involved, the complexities of the action, lies that are told in the motivations behind the lies. It takes place in the comfortable white city of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
There is also the tension of racial prejudice, the prosecutor being an arrogant young white man belonging to social clubs in the town, the judge giving the impression of being impartial but with racist presuppositions.
And the cast is very strong. Chadwick Boseman had already portrayed Jackie Robinson and baseball in 42, James Brown and music, Get It Up. He was about to become to T’ Challa, Black Panther. He makes Thurgood Marshall an earnest, highly self-assured legal expert, presumptions of winning cases, not hesitant in using and manipulating people for his legal purposes. Josh Gad provides a strong counterpoint as the Jewish lawyer. Dan Stevens is the arrogant prosecutor. James Cromwell is the judge. Sterling K. Brown is the accused man with Kate Hudson as the allegedly wronged wife.
It is a pity that this film was not more widely seen, contributing to the history of African- Americans and their heritage, the move from slavery and racial prejudice and the consequent struggles, the significance of the and a NAACP and its role in American society and promotion of African- American issues, and the atmosphere of the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement, the influence of Martin Luther King and the appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.
Audiences will be caught up in the momentum of the court case – and tension moments when Marshall’s wife suffers a miscarriage and a compelling sequence where Marshall briefs Sam for his summation (Marshall having to move on to his next case) and Friedman’s convincing delivery.
The film is directed by Reginald Hudlin, better known as a director of comedies and television series, some of which starred Eddie Murphy. This is definitely a change of pace for him and well worthwhile.
UK, 2018, 98 minutes, Colour.
Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott, Mark Gattis, Andrew Buchan, Simon Mc Burney.
Directed by James Marsh.
This film is based on a true story, the experience of sailor, Donald Crowhurst, in 1969. For those who know how the story ends, it is an interesting unfolding of the events. For those who do not remember the story, it is something of a suspense film.
The film opens with a speech by Sir Francis Chichester who broke a record of sailing around the world alone. The British Sunday Times then suggests a competition for sailing around the world, non-stop. It is to be a media event.
In the coastal city of Teignmouth, Donald Crowhurst is something of an inventor who also enjoys sailing with his wife and children. We first see him at a show trying to persuade people to buy an invention which would help in establishing locations while at sea. He fails. Crowhurst makes quite an impression on screen as he is played by Colin Firth. Rachel Weisz is his wife.
However, he is quite excited by the Times competition and decides that he will participate. This means making his own boat, catamaran style. It means that he has to raise money, relying very much on a local businessman played by Ken Stott. He also has an agent-friend, David Thewliss, who helps him with the planning, with the finances, with public relations. The voyage will take at least six months.
The first question raised is why would Donald Crowhurst undertake such an adventure. Did he really think he would win? Was there something missing his life that this voyage would compensate for? As we listen to Crowhurst talking with his wife and his sponsors, we realise that he was at a stage of life where he needed something to prove himself, to himself and to others.
There are many scenes at sea, sailing successfully, becalmed, storms. Not all his equipment works perfectly. And he keeps in radio contact with his wife and family and with those backing him at home.
He experiences a crisis, his sailing progress not as much as he anticipated. And he experiences a crisis in himself, whether he is as good as he thought, whether he can persevere, what would he do if he did not make as much progress as hoped for.
It soon appears that he is not succeeding. His temptation is to alter his log, to create a false impression, to keep going – not necessarily to win, actually realising that had better not, but, at least, complete the course. This is exacerbated after long weeks of sailing because The Times becomes more interested.
The scenes at sea are punctuated by some flashbacks, some scenes of family at Teignmouth, his PR man and assistant doing their best, and the media, somehow rather, getting to hear about him and his becoming something of a headline.
The moral dilemma begins to consume him – and whether there is any mercy or forgiveness for his deception.
A film of endurance, of some heroism, and of some moral ambiguity.
PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING
US, 2018, 111 minutes, Colour.
John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Burn Gorman, Charlie Day, Tian Jing, Jin Zhang, Adria Arjona, Rinko Kikuchi.
Directed by Steven S.De Knight.
A reviewer remarked that there was a transition from the original action and mystery, post--apocalyptic horror of the original Pacific Rim to just a noisy action in this sequel. There was also a remark that the film was geared to an audience of 10-year-old boys. This reviewer, having missed the preview, found himself sitting, unintended, beside to 10 plus or minus boys. The film held their attention all the way through, rapt, sometimes comparing notes.
Which meant that their reactions were sometimes more interesting than what was happening on the screen. Not that there wasn’t a lot happening up there. Probably too much. Giving too much time to think about other things…
And, one of the thoughts was that this is something of a combination of Godzilla and The Transformers. And the sound engineering seemed like a combination of that from both films.
In the original film, there is a crack in the bottom of the ocean allowing alien monsters, rather gigantic, to emerge into our world. The early minutes of this film do a resume for us in case it wasn’t in the forefront of our memories – even with a visual tribute to Idris Elba as the hero of that film. What they did in the past was to create gigantic creatures, engines of war, with humans inside, physically moving the creatures forward, working out the strategies and executing the tactics.
And, there is a great deal of this in the sequel. Lots of fights between the aliens and the human creations.
And the humans? John Boyega, known now as Finn from the new Star Wars films, is the son of the earlier film’s hero, living a rather easy life because there is peace in the world, although he is not above leading on gangs who want to plunder some of the past technology. He encounters a young woman who has been honing her skills on re-creating the attacking creatures. They are all called up because of an imminent threat. And the officer in charge is played by Scott Eastwood – with everybody commenting that he seems a 21st-century uncanny embodiment of his father, in look, in whispering voice, in action and heroics.
There is some training. There are clashes within the troop. But, then they will have to go into action, Boyega and Eastwood inside the main attacking machines, running on the spot to propel the creation forward… there are also risks, no damsels in distress because the young woman can outmanoeuvre the men at times.
And, perhaps in memory of Godzilla, there is a huge destruction of a metropolis as in most of these films, but this time it is Tokyo. The aliens are on their way to Mount Fuji to get rare earths for their own strategies. Where better to have a climax than on the slopes of Mount Fuji and its volcanic crater? While it is not a Pacific Rim, it is a rim for derring-do.
Perhaps those 10-year-olds went out of the cinema eager for a sequel. It will probably depend on their box office contributions …
UK, 2017, 77 minutes, Black and white.
Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy.
Directed by Sally Potter.
Over the decades Sally Potter has made quite a number of interesting, often offbeat films, remembering Orlando, The Man who Cried, Rage, and Ginger and Rosa.
In this film, photographed in very effective and sharp black-and-white, she also shows how much material can be condensed into 77 minutes of running time.
It is something like this: Sally Potter has called on several top actors, three British, two Americans, an Irishman and a German, written them some very sharp and telling dialogue, directed them to interact with each other, mounting tension as the film goes on, many in the audience remembering the effect of this kind of social drama in the confines of a meal as in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
The film opens with Janet, Kristin Scott Thomas, opening the front door and raising a revolver. We have to wait only about 75 minutes to know what this is all about – and be surprised. Kristin Scott Thomas portrays a politician who has just been announced as an opposition minister, for health, having campaigned long and hard and put her socialist principles into practice. This is the other meaning of the Party, the political party. Then we see Bill, her husband, sitting depressed and forlorn, rather haggard and not with it, listening to music, waiting for the guests for a celebratory meal. He is played by Timothy Spall.
The first visitors to arrive are April and Gottfried, Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz, an unlikely couple, she very sardonic, even cynical, American, close friend of Janet, full of opinions and certainly in no way hesitant to express them, some offhand, some calculated – and often the calculation is to upset and hurt. On the other hand, Gottfried is a genial German who admires April immensely even though she expresses the desire to separate from him and keeps putting him down in front of everyone. He is a personal coach, anti-Western medicine, interested in breathing, self-help, self-healing, and considering doctors’ diagnoses the equivalent of voodoo or curses.
The next couple to arrive and Martha and her partner Jinny, Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer. Martha is an intellectual, university professor, trendy in many ways, common-sensed. Jinny is much younger and is about to announce that she is not only pregnant but is expecting twins, more than a shock for Martha.
Another couple is expected, husband, Tom, Cillian Murphy, and Maryann who does not arrive. He easily breaks out in a sweat despite his very dapper suit, and relies on cocaine fixes in an attempt to calm his anxiety. He has also brought a gun but decides to throw it into a garbage bin.
This review, having introduced the characters, will leave the rest for the audience to experience, be surprised at, sometimes laugh, sometimes be dismayed, wonder about human nature and its follies and foibles.
Each of the characters has a story. Many of the stories are intertwined and cause quite some surprise and anxiety, outbursts of affection, outbursts of violence, and the problem whether Janet will continue in her role as the new minister.
In fact, a well-written, well-directed, well-acted, contemporary issues drama.
US/Australia, 2018, 97 minutes, Colour.
Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Voices of: James Corden, Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie,
Directed by Will Gluck.
Peter Rabbit is one of the most liked characters from the Tales by Beatrix Potter. Her children’s stories have the touch of the genteel – but Peter, in this version, could in no way be called genteel. He is something of a trickster, something of a leader of the other rabbits, shrewd and often cunning.
This version of Peter Rabbit story is a blend of animation, the drawings very much like the illustrations in the Beatrix Potter books, and live-action. There are some striking scenes of London and its landmarks. But, most of the rest of the film was made in New South Wales, standing in for the English countryside.
Part of the amusement of the film is the recognition of the voices, especially James Cordon who voices Peter with a touch of mischief. His sisters are voiced by Margot Robbie, who also narrates the film, Elizabeth Debicki and Daisy Ridley. With the film being made in Australia, there are assorted Australian voices throughout the film including Ewen Leslie and, for a rather dapper mouse who guides the rabbits around London, David Wenham. Peter’s parents are seen in the picture in Bea’s house – they have words of wisdom for Peter, voiced by Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown.
The setting for the film are the English woods as well as a country house with an artist studio attached. This is where Bea, an artist, played by Rose Byrne, does her work. Nearby is a vegetable garden worked on by a very crotchety old man, Sam Neill. He is the target for Peter and the rabbits, tantalising him and, of course, plundering his vegetable garden. When he dies, his nephew who has suffered a breakdown working at Harrods in London, Alexander, played by Domhnall Gleeson, comes down to get the uncle’s mansion ready for sales. Like his uncle, he is very wary of the rabbits, trying to block up every possible entry, every hole, every fence, every gate.
But, Bea has more than a soft spot for the rabbits and, despite being attracted by Alexander, is upset at his anti--rabbit tactics, especially when there are explosives around the fields. This is not helped at all when Peter actually detonates some of the explosives and one of them uproots an enormous tree which crashes down on Bea’s studio.
So, a visit to London, to find Alexander at Harrods. Peter goes with Benji, gets a tour of London, encounters Alexander trying to do his best again at Harrods but they cause absolute mayhem.
The only possible result is that they all go back happily to the countryside, Alexander returning and is reconciled with Bea – and there is free access for the rabbits to the vegetable garden.
There is probably enough to amuse a children’s audience but there is a lot of frantic action, the old man seen dying on screen, explosions – and a couple of rather rude jokes.
Thailand, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kirsten Tan.
A film from Thailand. A film about an elephant. And the name of the elephant’s Pop Aye.
This is a very quirky film – although, audiences are not used to see quirkiness from Thailand. It will have a local appeal and, apparently, international audiences have responded very well to the star, the elephant.
We are introduced to a middle-aged man leading an elephant along the road in country Thailand. He needs a rest, hails down a truck with the audience watching how an elephant, lumbering but elegant, steps onto the back of the truck. But soon, the man clashes with the truck driver and is left on the side of the road again. Which means that the audience is wondering what this is all about.
Throughout the film there are a number of flashbacks so we are able to build up the story of the man and his past and his encounters with the elephant. In fact, he first met the elephant as a child, when its mother was shot, and his uncle took the elephant in (while the kids were watching cartoons of Popeye on the television). Later, the elephant was part of a circus.
The man is having something of a midlife crisis, seen on television being interviewed about demolishing of buildings in Bangkok, the building of new high-rise buildings, the achievement of the man in the past – but, the younger generation is coming up, not telling the man that a board meeting was in the morning when he thought it was the afternoon. And, there is tension between himself and his wife.
At this stage, he happens to see the elephant in the street and is moved. He is actually moved to buy the elephant with the quest to take him back to his uncle in the countryside.
Which means that this is what might be called “an elephant road movie.” There are various people to meet along the way. There is a sympathetic beggar and the man takes compassion on him. There is a bar where he is taken by the police who accuse him of having forged papers for the elephant. There is a transgender prostitute, a female prostitute. Then the beggar is found dead on the road and the man decides to take his body to a Buddhist temple (where the monk is interested in the fee and has a Visa card ready as well as a camera to take pictures of the elephant). There is the dead beggar’s love from long ago, she and the man scattering the ashes in a ritual by a tree. Finally, Pop Aye getting back home.
While these are the high points of the story, what matters is seeing the them, appreciating their quirkiness, wondering what will happen to the man and his wife as well as to the elephant.
READY PLAYER ONE
US, 2018, 140 minutes, Colour.
Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelssohn, Mark Rylance, Lena Waithe, T.J.Miller, Simon Pegg, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen?, Susan Lynch, Claire Higgins.
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Immediately after his intelligent political drama, The Post, based on the 1971 publishing of the Pentagon papers and the consequences for Richard Nixon, Watergate, the Washington Post, Spielberg went back into the atmosphere of the 1980s, the decade where he achieved such great success with the Indiana Jones films as well as ET.
This film is based on a book by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One, which is subtitled “a Pop Culture Odyssey”. While it is set in the future, it harks back to the music, films, computer games, atmosphere of America in the 1980s. In fact, the setting is Columbus, Ohio, 2045, said to be the fastest growing city in the world but, it has an ugly futuristic look, especially for those who live in The Stacks, crowded accommodation.
But, for many of the inhabitants of Columbus, that is far less important than their goggles which serve also as masks, which take them, almost all the time it would seem, into virtual reality – or, what seems virtual unreality.
It may be all right for computer game fans, but many of the audience may be thinking to themselves that Columbus, 2045, is not where they they would like to live. For those who know that the running time of the film is 140 minutes, something like an atmosphere of dread starts to prevail. (This probably applies to a rather older demographic.)
But, while the younger audiences will enjoy identifying with the central characters, their participation in the virtual reality, the competition and quest that opens up for them, the clash with an evil villain who wants to possess the main virtual reality, it does get more interesting for those older audiences.
The hero of the film is a teenager, Wade, played by Tye Sheridan. He is in the care of his aunt and her obnoxious boyfriend. His area of virtual reality, so popular in Columbus, is The Oasis. He goes there at every opportunity and has created an avatar, Parzifal, not entirely unlike himself. Theme: a Grail seeker. He has a number of friends in The Oasis, with avatars that owe something to Game of Thrones. One of the puzzles for Wade is wondering what the avatars that he has come to like, relying on, fight with, look like in real life. (Spoiler: not as good as their avatars!) The main friend is Samantha, avatar Artemis.
While there are lots of references to past pop culture, many movie buffs will enjoy an episode which recreates the hotel scenes from Stephen King’s The Shining.
It seems, that the creator of The Oasis, was a loner, living in his own reality which was created by pop culture. He also had a partner with whom he fell out. Interestingly, the creator is played by Mark Rylands (who won his Oscar for his appearance in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies and was also the BFG). Simon Pegg plays the partner.
The basic setup is a competition, the creator of The Oasis hiding three keys which will give ownership to the virtual reality paradise. There are clues, rather obscure. Wade and his friends decide that they will try to find the three keys. In the meantime, there is a villain. He is played by Ben Mendelssohn, ruthless in his decisions but something of a wimp in his personal character and reactions, compensating by a rather gigantic and fierce avatar and a tough henchwoman.
There is very little doubting about how it will all turn out. But, at the end, there is some reality-unreality moralising. The fact that virtual reality is virtual rather than real. Whether that will impress diehard games players may be debatable.
ROMAN J. ISRAEL
US, 2017, 122 minutes, Colour.
Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Linda Gravatt, Amanda Warren, Hugo Armstrong, Tony Plana.
Directed by Dan Gilroy.
Roman J. Israel is an unexpected title for a film featuring Denzel Washington. It must have been a role important for him because he is one of the producers of the film.
This is a film very much for an American audience. It presupposes an interest in American law and its interpretation – not so interesting or comprehensible by other audiences, even those from English speaking countries.
However, it must also have hit an American nerve because Denzel Washington was one of the five nominees for Actor in a Leading Role for the 2017 Academy Awards. (The winner was Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour.)
The film opens arrestingly, if somewhat mysteriously, with Roman Israel accusing himself of acting outside the law and general legal and ethical principles. It then goes back three weeks to portray what Roman had done and then returns to his self-accusation and self-condemnation.
Roman J. Israel, Esq – his explaining that Esquire ranks between a name and knight – works in a law office, the partner of his former professor whom he admires. However, the partnership has not prospered financially and the professor suffers a stroke and soon dies. All might have been well if Roman was an ordinary character. However, he is recognised by other lawyers as something of a savant. He is absolutely methodical, generally uses old-fashioned methods of recording cases and finding them. His knowledge is extensive, well-informed, full of detail about legal information.
Another student of the professor, much younger, George (Colin Farrell) is sent in to take charge on behalf the previous manager and the profesor’s wife. Courteous but firm, he takes an initially dim view of Roman’s methods, cases and his personality. Which means that Roman has to look for another job, meeting a sympathetic lawyer who invites him to give a talk to students (some of whom mock him for his old ideas and manner). She is Maya, played by Carmen Ejogo, who admires Roman and is influenced in her own career by his principles.
Roman is very sympathetic to the accused, working hard on their cases and defence. George realises his qualities and does employ him.
Then Roman undergoes a moral crisis – about which the audience will have to speculate, why it happens, what is the trigger… He chooses to become respectable, get rid of his old clothes and buy smart suits and shoes, leave his old apartment and inspect a very fashionable new building, trim his Afro, a transformation that makes him look like her expectations of Denzel Washington.
The occasion for the change it is his giving information about a murderer and receiving the large reward.
The repercussions on Roman are forceful, affect his work, his conscience, feeling a threat to his life.
Which brings us back to the self-accusation and George and Maya becoming aware of what he had done.
And the film has a rather sombre ending. It was written and directed by Dan Gilroy who wrote and directed the very effective thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler.
UK, 2018, 86 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: James Mc Avoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Jamie Demetriou, Mary J. Blige, Dexter Fletcher, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Matt Lucas, Ozzy Osbourne, Stephen Merchant, Richard Wilson.
Directed by John Stevenson.
We all know Sherlock Holmes. We have read the stories by Conan Doyle. We have seen the films, going back to the 1930s or to Basil Rathbone. We have seen a variety of actors portraying Sherlock Holmes and we have seen the television series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. There is a certain fascination in anticipating an animated feature film where Sherlock is the protector of all the garden gnomes of London.
But, what about the children who are the target audience for this film. Do they recognise the name? Do they know anything about Sherlock Holmes? Probably not. So, what is the attraction? The filmmakers have prepared a base by making a film some years ago with the garden gnomes, Gnomeo and Juliet. And Gnomeo and Juliet are here again, easing the way into the Sherlock story. Clearly, this is an opportunity for children to learn about the great detective and for parents and adults to explain and share their memories and experiences of Sherlock Holmes.
The setting is this: garden gnomes are being transferred to a London house with a very limited and scruffy garden which horrifies them. They are in the home of Lord Redbrick and Lady Blueberry (voiced momentarily by Michael Caine and Maggie Smith). When the couple go out, the garden gnomes (and a large amorous frog) come alive.
The gnome Capulets nominate in Gnomeo and Juliet as leaders of the gnomes and they work beautifying the garden. However, danger is at hand, and the gnomes are all abducted.
Who would do such a thing? Conan Doyle fans will immediately come up with the name: Moriarty. We are introduced to the clash between Sherlock and Moriarty (who appears on screen in the likeness of the baby doll). They clash in a museum where Sherlock and Dr Watson rescue some of the gnomes. The dinosaur bones collapse and Moriarty is presumed dead. Not a bit of it. He then abducts all the gnomes of London, hiding them in a cavernous area at the base of Tower Bridge, all decked out, and glued to their seats, to form a being colourful capital M.
Sherlock is, as always, self-assured, arrogant in his manner, very superior, even to Dr Watson, upsetting him with the result that Watson wants to prove himself but makes the situation worse. Gnomeo and Juliet are not abducted and they participate in tracking down the gnomes and in the rescue. Moriarty intends destruction – when the bridge opens to let shipping through, the mechanisms will go down on and crush the gnomes.
This means that there is quite a lot of action in the film, searching and sleuthing, Holmes and co aboard a large ship, a helicopter flight, two rather dumb live gargoyles, like dragons, as Moriarty’s assistants, scaling the heights of Tower Bridge, gnomes falling, soap and water to free the glued gnomes, last-minute rescues – but, Dr Watson’s walking stick having a rope and arrow to help escapes…
And, while Juliet has been very bossy, she appreciates more and more than Gnomeo’s love for her. And, Sherlock comes to his senses and apologises to Dr Watson. And as for Moriarty… will he return? (And there is also a guest appearance, courtesy of Mary J. Blige as Irene Adler, but on side this time.)
Very colourful, colourful gnomes, and lots of voices – James Mc Avoy and Emily Blunt as Gnomeo and Juliet, Chiwitel Ejiofor as a very dignified Dr Watson, Jamie Demetriou as Moriarty – and, rather surprisingly, Sherlock, superior accent and all, Johnny Depp voicing Holmes.
THAT’S NOT MY DOG
Australia, 2018, 89 minutes, Colour. Shane Jacobson, Ron Jacobson, Paul Hogan, Steve Vizard, Jimeoin, Fiona O' Loughlin, Paul Fenech, Christy Whelan, Tim Ferguson, Stephen Hall, Russell Morris.
Directed back to Dean Murphy.
in many ways, it might have been a very good idea for comedian Shane Jacobson (best known as Kenny) to invite a number of his friends, well-known and lesser-known comedians, to a party at his house with the request that they have some jokes ready to narrate. Other critics have suggested that it is not a very good idea and that it is not cinematic, something rather for presentation online or some kind of series.
Many people will see the title of the film, see Shane Jacobson’s name and possibly some of the of the cast and decide that this is an Australian comedy for them. However, a caution.
This is for an audience which might be called broad-minded. There are many jokes focusing on sex – which they are entitled to. However, a number of them are pretty coarse, what used to be called “dirty jokes”.
This means a warning to audiences who might be cautious about broad humour, about sex jokes, and, especially, about frequent coarse language – and it is frequent in this film. This is a matter of sensibilities and sensitivity – and while many of the jokes are certainly G or PG rated, quite a number of them M-rated, which might mean not suitable for more fastidious sensibilities.
Shane Jacobson wants to throw a party for his father, Ron Jacobson, who actually initiates the jokes and the tone. And he recurs during the film with a number of other jokes as does Shane himself. Later in the film, there is a pause from the jokes with a rather more tender scene between father and son, the son paying tribute to his father and his humour when he was young and this party as a possibility for repaying him.
The film shows the preparation for the party, an evening party on the property. It shows the various guests turning up.
It means then that for almost an hour and a half there is a continued succession of jokes, some of them funny, others of them funny enough but probably better told in small groups rather than up there on the big screen. And there is also the distraction of the cast laughing far more heartily at the jokes than the audience is. Occasionally, there is a strong outburst of laughter from the audience, but often the audience will be just sitting there, perhaps laughing interiorly.
For those who like play on words, there is a recurring chorus with Steven Hall (well known for his variety of impersonations in Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell) exchanging a fair number of corny but amusing word plays.
In the background, quite a number of Australian musicians and singers are playing, which does make the film something of a musical.
And the guests? Apart from the now-familiar face of Shane Jacobson himself, some of the big names invited include Paul Hogan (who does know know to tell a yarn), Steve Vizaard, looking more ample he did in television days, with audiences recognising Jim (Anthony Lehman) from Utopia. Tim Ferguson is in his wheelchair and does tell a wheelchair joke as well. Some of the other faces might be familiar but not their names – and there is a very strong cast list with a sketch of each of the end with their name.
By and large, there is enough amusing material to entertain an undemanding audience – it is directed to Dean Murphy and he and others receive a credit for “joke wrangling”. If there is to be a sequel, the joke wranglers need to be much more selective of high quality jokes (whether rude or not).
UK, 2018, 118 minutes, Colour.
Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Jaime Winston, Nick Frost.
Directed by Roar Uthaug.
Those in the know about the title Tomb Raider will immediately think of Lara Croft. She is the heroine of computer games. Those who don’t play computer games but who like action movies, will immediately think of Angelina Jolie and the two films where she played Lara Croft. Surprising to find another Lara Croft story so soon.
This time Lara Croft is played by Alicia Vikander, Swedish actress who has performed in quite a range of films from Denmark to the UK to Australia (twice) to the United States. She won an Oscar for her supporting role in The Danish Girl. Some audiences might be surprised at the casting but, in fact, she has appeared in Seventh Son, Jason Bourne, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The plot is not dissimilar from Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider. Lara is wealthy but is disappointed by her father’s leaving her and for his disappearance, now presumed dead. We see her involved in action training, delivering food by bike around London, participating in a fox-hunt bike chase, recklessly, through the streets. She is taken out of custody from the police by her guardian, played with icy friendliness as usual by Kristin Scott Thomas. Then there is Derek Jacobi as the lawyer for her to sign the papers acknowledging her father’s death and her inheritance.
However, there is, as always, a mysterious key. Then there is a mysterious basement. And mysterious information about his mission to go to an island off Japan to find the tomb of an evil queen and investigate her curse and prevent Trinity, the evil power conglomerate, from destroying the world. (Spoiler: she does achieve all this!)
While London looks good, she gets help in Hong Kong which also looks good. She enlists the son of the captain who took her father to the island (Daniel Wu). They are shipwrecked, separated, the Chinese man taken into a labour camp, Lara rescued by the leader of an expedition, Vogel (Walton Goggins).
We see Lara’s motivation with scenes from her as a little girl, with her devoted father, the death of her mother, his departure, always calling her Sprout and a kiss with two fingers for her forehead. Vogel tells her that he has killed her father.
Vogel is in the employ of Trinity and communicates by phone with a mysterious employer. When Lara escapes from his clutches – emulating the best traditions of Tarzan leaping through the forest, diving into rivers, hanging on to wrecked planes to save going over the rapids… she sees a mysterious figure who, of course, is her father who has been surviving in caves for seven years, trying to sabotage Gogel’s attempts to find the Queen’s tomb.
Vogel has been searching in the wrong area but, with the capture of Lara and her father, the whole enterprise moves to the real location.
What goes on inside the tomb, the dangers, the threats, the various devices for floors to open, walls to close in will remind most audiences of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Perhaps a bit too similar?
A Chinese friend keeps guard in order to rescue her if necessary, vocals of the slaves support him.
The tomb is found, there are images in hieroglyphics, John Croft has misinterpreted aspects of the message, the Queen communicates an infection and destroys some of Vogel’s thugs – and, a final split-second timing for Lara to escape with her father urging Sprout to run, the two finger kiss on her forehead, and his sacrificing himself.
Meanwhile, back in London, Lara discovers some secrets about Trinity, who the head might be (as if we didn’t guess) and goes to the pawnshop where she tried to get money earlier in the film from Nick Frost and Jaime Winstone in cameo roles. She buys two guns – to be ready for a sequel.
US, 2018, 98 minutes, Colour.
Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Juno Temple, Jay Pharaoh, Amy Irving, Matt Damon.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Do we actually use the word “unsane”? Is it something of a mixture of sane and insane? Can it imply that somebody can be sane and insane at the same time?
Director Steven Soderbergh, with a strong career in films, Cannes award for Sex, Lies and Videotape, and an Oscar for Traffic, decided that he would stop making films and turn his attention to television. His decision for a new direction in work did not last long and in 2017 he released Logan Lucky and in 2018, Unsane.
The star of the film is British Claire Foy, who made such an impression as the Queen in The Crown and appeared also in Breathe. We first see her in her office at a bank, in a Pennsylvania city, treating a phone client with some severity. The worker in the next desk comments on her harsh approach. However, Seymour (she explains her name, that she was called after her maternal grandfather) is a success at work, praised by the boss, suggesting she travel with him to a conference in New Orleans – though she seems to have a quizzical response, suggestive that he is being suggestive.
Then, she goes to a bar, meeting up with a man whom she had contacted through an app, seemingly permissive but then suddenly stopping. So far, perhaps so ordinary.
However, she has been troubled by a stalker for two years, moving away from her mother (Amy Irving) and from Boston. She decides to go to a therapist and explains her fears and answers questions about contemplating suicide. Suddenly, she is interned in an institution for 24 hours, the staff suspicious of her responses, rather Cuckoo’s Nest in their application of rules and regulations. She finds herself in a dormitory, tormented by the young woman in the next bed, Allison (Juno Temple).
An explanation is given that institutions like this are dependent on insurance income and can keep intended patients as inmates for as long as companies are prepared to pay the insurance. (To be a particular interest for Soderbergh who explored the exploitation of medication and institutions in his film, Side Effects, 2013.)
As the film develops, and Seymour finds herself confined, she denounces one of the workers as her stalker. The authorities say that he has been definitely checked and, in fact, he is in charge of the distribution of the medication each night.
At one stage, we might have been suspicious that all this was going on in Seymour’s head, that she had imagined the stalker. Yet, here he is (Joshua Leonard) and sometimes in charge of Seymour.
She does make friends with another inmate, Nate (Jay Pharaoh) who tells her about the insurance scams and lends her his mobile phone so that she can make contact with her mother who hurriedly drops everything at home and hurries to her daughter, making demands, taking strong stances.
The plot does get quite complicated as it goes on, Seymour and her dealings with the alleged stalker, his behaviour, his interactions with Nate, his plans for a happy life with Seymour.
There is plenty of melodrama here, especially in a final confrontation, police investigations, media investigations into the ethics of the institution…
And, with Seymour returning to work, and some of her behaviour, we begin to wonder what has really happened…
Australia, 2018, 99 minutes, Colour.
Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna- O' Prey, Tyler Coppin, Angus Sampson, Bruce Spence.
Directed by the Spierig Brothers.
The poster looks arresting. Helen Mirren in the centre, dressed in 19th-century black, lace and veil. Who is this mysterious woman?
In fact, she is based on actual character, Mrs Winchester, the wife of the inventor of armaments, especially the well-known Winchester rifle. This means that Helen Mirren has the opportunity to play the Grande Dame that she does so well.
The poster also highlights that this is a film by Michael and Peter Spierig, originally from Germany, settling in Australia, making a number of films especially the acclaimed vampire thriller, Daybreakers, and, one of the most intriguing Australian films, Predestination, about time, identity, gender identification. The most recent film was a continuation of the Saw series, Jigsaw. Expectations were high from horror fans. However, they seem to have been somewhat disappointed, expecting more blood and gore and fears and frights. After all, it is, in fact, a film about a haunted house and ghosts.
The interesting premise (and tourists can go to see the Winchester house in San Jose, California) is that Mrs Winchester was conscious of the number of people who had been killed by the armaments. Over the decades, she extended her house with ever-increasing rooms in memory of or, perhaps, locations for the spirits of those who had been killed.
Needless to say, the board of the Winchester Company, who were extending their franchises into skateboard-making, are concerned about her mental health and send a doctor, Jason Clarke, who has his own regrets about his dead wife, subsequent drinking, to assess Mrs Winchester. At the house, he encounters her niece, Sarah Snook (who was excellent in Predestination) and her son who is prone to have preternatural experiences.
The film actually looks very elegant, is set in 1906, is more of a period piece than a horror film. However, there are things that go creak and bump in the night in the house, a sense of the presence of spirits. This is particularly true of one of the servants (who can be seen only by the doctor) and who turns out to have a bizarre history, his brother killed in the Civil War by Winchester, the violent consequences for the servant going berserk, his reaching out to possess the boy, to confront Mrs Winchester.
Perhaps it could be better said that this is a film of atmosphere rather than horror action, though there are the confrontations with the ghost at the the end. For those who enjoy being immersed in a period with an eerie atmosphere, it is an interesting venture.
A WRINKLE IN TIME
US, 2018, 109 minutes, Colour.
Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling,, Deric Mc Cabe, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha- Raw, Zach Galifiniakis, Michael Peña, Andre Holland, David Oyelowo.
Directed by Ava Du Vernay.
A Wrinkle in Time is based on a popular novel by Madeleine L’ Engele. It was filmed in 2004 as a Canadian miniseries.
This is a story with physics, maths, fantasy, mysticism – with the original novel having aspects of religion. These are not explicitly present in this screenplay although there are elements of religious symbolism.
The book has been very popular for decades but the film version, released by Disney, has not been kindly reviewed – and skimming through the bloggers’comments on the IMDb, there is practically no one who liked the film, many boasting of walking out, using the word “disappointing”…
If you come to the film without having the background of the book, you will indeed find it rather strange. But, it is a fantasy and is to be interpreted as such.
Meg (Storm Reid) is devoted to her scientist father (Chris Pine) who works with his academic wife (Gugu Mbatha- Raw). And Meg is very intelligent. Then we see her at school, the victim of quite obnoxious bullying, sad because it is the fourth anniversary of her father’s disappearance (and the bullies saying that she should do the same). At home, Meg now has a little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric Mc Cabe), aged six, and even more intelligent than Meg. He has a strong and articulate presence.
Then the film turns into fantasy with three women, called the three Mrs (Whatsit, Which, Who) arriving with strange messages, basically urging Meg and Charles Wallace to search for their father. Conducting experiments, and wanting to shake hands, as he said, with the universe, he is now lost in the universe. A pleasant youngster from school, Calvin (Australian Levi Miller) is also in the house and joins in the journey.
And here comes one of the great oddities of the film: costume design and make up for the three Mrs. At times, they look as if they have come from an op shop and not been too discriminating in what they wear, or how make up as been applied (odd-coloured lips and bejewelled faces). And, one of them, Mrs Which appears at first in a rather gigantic form – but later comes to normal size. And the three Mrs are portrayed by Oprah Winfrey (as the giant Mrs), Mindy Cabling as the more ordinary Mrs and Reese Witherspoon, still something of an apprentice and appearing as rather ditzy.
Then it is a move through the wrinkling time, space travelling to other planets, time travelling, under the guidance of the Mrs until their capacity for “Tessaring” (the ability to move through the wrinkles) begins to fade. Then the three are on their own, relying on Meg’s determination and Charles Wallace with his insights and abilities.
It is here that something of the religious dimension does come in. There is a pervading evil presence in the universe. It is described as “It”. It is very much like a satanic presence, is one diabolical pervading of the universe, tempting and testing the youngsters, and taking possession of Charles Wallace. Which means that the three Mrs are like something of a Providence or of guarding Angels. But, it is up to the children to confront and destroy the evil It.
So, there is quite a range of adventures, some friendly planets, some frightening planets which grow instant high trees and provide cliffs, an odd version of a “little boxes” suburb where children and their mothers are automatons. And the Darkness of the It.
The children’s being reunited with their father is not without a great deal of turmoil, and his having to admit that he had abandoned his family to search for the meaning of the universe. However, goodness pervades as well as happiness – and even the bullying girl next-door neighbour changing heart.
The film does have a lot of ingredients – and a pity that so many people were not drawn into it but, in fact, were repelled. Perhaps a wrinkle in filmmaking judgement.