SIGNIS REVIEWS APRIL 2019
FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY
HAPPY PRINCE, The
HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, The
MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, The
SISTERS BROTHERS, The
SOMETIMES, ALWAYS, NEVER
WHAT MEN WANT
WHERE HANDS TOUCH
WOMAN AT WAR
Screening on various download platforms:
FISH OUT OF WATER
MEANING OF VANLIFE,The
ISN’T IT ROMANTIC
US, 2018, 121 minutes, Colour.
Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbel, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan, Scoot Mc Nairy, Bradley Whitford.
Directed by Karyn Kusama.
This is the drama that had everybody talking, not about its plot, about its star, Nicole Kidman. This is the film in which she is scarcely recognisable, a disturbed woman, beyond the verge.
The title obviously refers to her character, Erin Bell, a veteran of the LA police force. But it also can refer to a sinister criminal, Silas (Toby Kebbel), a man of great malice.
Basically, this is a police drama, the story of a detective and investigation. However, much of the plot is seen in a number of flashbacks, moments in the present sparking memories of Erin and her past. And, it is a rather ugly past. In the present, she is looking older, haggard, affected by too much drinking, unsteady even as she walks. In some of the flashbacks, while she is not glamorous, she is more immediately recognisable as Nicole Kidman, enabling the audience to make the connections with the older Erin.
As the film opens, and she tries to open her bleary eyes as she sits in her car, there is a call to go to a crime scene. She examines the body lying near a stormwater channel, ominous tattoos on his neck, killed by three bullets. She recognises the body and proceed then to investigate the killing.
Probably best to warn intending viewers to pay a great deal of attention to the timeline of the film, rather difficult to do because of the number of flashbacks – even flashbacks within flashbacks leading to a twist at the end.
The main part of the flashbacks show Erin undercover, interviewing her fellow officer, Charlie (Sebastian Stan) who is in love with her. We see them at Silas’s place, rather sleazy group, Silas taunting others with Russian roulette. The main victim of this sadistic game is seen in other flashbacks, working in a church, tracked by Erin in her investigation, giving her information for Silas’s contact with a girlfriend, Petra. This leads to a fight, both women suffering wounds.
The main part of the action in the flashbacks concerns a bank robbery, Silas and his group, Erin driving a getaway car – and a sequence in which she discusses with Charlie the possibility of taking the money themselves. However, there is an unexpected thwarting of the escape, Silas shooting and killing.
The other complication in Erin’s life is her daughter. The daughter is now 16, avoiding school, mixing with an undesirable crowd, an older boyfriend. She resents her mother, not wanting to listen to her, relying on her stepfather with whom she lives. As Erin tries to do some kind of reparation, find some kind of redemption, she talks with her daughter, has plans her daughter having a better life.
And then, we are back at the beginning, seeing the murder through new eyes – and, speaking of eyes, there is a final focus on Erin, wanted, sitting in her car, pallid, and our gazing at her dying eyes.
If Nicole Kidman had not been the star of the film, audiences may have found it too grim and difficult to follow – but it does star Nicole Kidman, her different appearance and performance, making the experience more intriguing.
US, 2019, 112 minutes, Colour.
Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito?, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finlay Hobbins, Roshan Seth, Lars Eidiinger.
Directed by Tim Burton.
Disney is remaking many of its classic animated films as live-action entertainments. 2019 alone sees Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King. The latter two will make an extraordinary impact given their popularity in the 1990s and since. On the other hand, Dumbo comes from 1941, a brief 64 minute animation, enjoyed and admired it its time, but lesser in memories than some classics like Snow White, Fantasia, Pinocchio.
For this live-action remake, Disney have called on Tim Burton as director, well-known for a wide range of fantasies from Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland.
For families wanting an entertaining film, Dumbo should fit the bill. But, there is some scepticism about a story of a baby elephant with extraordinarily long years but who, with his ears, is able to fly. In fact, the animatronics for Dumbo are very effective. And he has one of those endearing faces, large sparkling eyes that are hard to resist!
But, as with Tim Burton’s films, there is quite a lot going on. The opening credits are quite impressive, 1919, the circus train on tour through the American countryside, the special acts for the circus revealed on the sides of the carriages as they pass. And there is the master of ceremonies, Max Medici, the diminutive but very lively Danny DeVito?.
Alas, the circus has hit on hard times, money scarce, Max living in a railway carriage, others living in makeshift tents and accommodation. But, he has high hopes after buying a large elephant, Mrs Jumbo, who gives birth to the star of the film. Needless to say, Max is horrified by his appearance, bargains to sell Mrs Jumbo back for half price, puts the little elephant in a parade, the ears flapping down and the audience mocking him, even bumping the notice, J falling off, D taking its place: Dumbo.
But there is a strong human element in the film, two young children, their mother having died in the Spanish flu of the previous year, their father Holt (Colin Farrell) coming back from the war but with the loss of an arm. Given the financial situation, and his inability to do the riding stunts he previously performed, he is looking after the elephants.
The children see Dumbo fly, fascinated by a feather – but nobody believing them. When, they eventually do, Dumbo is a great success, delighting the audience with his flying, newspaper photographers snapping him, and, eventually, a millionaire Vandevere (Michael Keaton) avariciously wanting to buy the whole circus. With him is a trapeze artist, Collette (Eva Green).
Lots of adventures to keep the audience attentive (both adults and children). The smooth-talking Vandevere is a classic villain, selfish, exploitative, trying to get the help of a wealthy banker, Alan Arkin. While he has made a contract with Max, he demands that Max sack everyone else from the circus. And he runs an enormous theme park (foreshadowing Disneyland et cetera!). But we know he is set for failure.
So, there are the adventures of Collette training and riding Dumbo, Dumbo pining for his mother and finding she is part of a Dreamland attraction, the sacked circus performers all joining with Holt to find a way to reunite Dumbo with his mother. So, some flying, a burning marquee, Holt and the children trapped, Dumbo able to put out fires with the water that he has absorbed in his bunk…
The song from the 1941 Dumbo, Baby of Mine, won the Oscar – and here it makes a pleasing return, wistful.
So, Dumbo is an enjoyable example of the transition from cartoon to life-action.
US, 2018, 95 minutes, Colour.
Michael Peña, Lizzie Caplan, Amelia Crouch, Erica Tremblay, Emma Booth, Mike Colter, Israel Broussard.
Directed by Ben Young.
Extinction is yet another apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller. It sounds more ominous with his title. For the first part of the film, there are themes with which the audience is quite familiar. The hero, Michael Peña, is a technician who is plagued by recurring dreams, dreams of terror. He fears an alien invasion. There are also the scenes at home, his relationship with his wife, a town planner played by Lizzie Caplan. And he has two young children.
This creates both an ordinary atmosphere of home life and work as well is a sense of foreboding, especially as the dreams recur and become more menacing and violent.
Then, when the couple are hosting guests at home, the invasion!
And, with the invasion, the themes and treatment are familiar enough, conflict, menace from the invaders, their fearful look and armour, the dangers for the humans, taking refuge in a tunnel. The main drawback, however, consists in the irritating performances by the children, more than upset!
So far, so familiar.
But, just as the audience is settling in to make a judgement that Extinction is ordinary enough, there is quite a twist, quite an unexpected twist which makes the audience reassess what they have been watching. And that’s not such a bad thing to happen. So, extinction turns out to be more interesting than we were expecting.
FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY
UK, 2019, 108 minutes, Colour.
Florence Pugh, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Jack Lowdon, Dwayne Johnson, Vince Vaughn, Julia Davis, Stephen Merchant.
Directed by Stephen Merchant.
This is a wrestling film. Right from the start, there is no doubt, as we see clips of historical fights, of wrestlers from the past like Hulk Hogan, the fans and massive audiences – and some glimpses of The Rock. If wrestling is not your cup of tea, not your cup of tea at all, this could be the cue for exiting. On the other hand, if there is a bit of curiosity, especially looking at the cast list, it might be best to stay.
This is a very British film, one of those underdog stories, not unlike Rocky by the end of the film. The main setting is Norwich, English provincial life, the focus on the family where both parents were top wrestlers, where dad was a bank robber and spent a lot of time in jail, where they are now run a British World Wrestling Association, training locals, the out of work young, even a blind would-be wrestler. And, mum and dad have two children. So, a particular tone is set, even for the wrestling world – and even for the rest of the film, training camps in Florida and a huge championship bout at Wrestlemania.
Nick Frost is always an amusing actor and here, former bank robber, former wrestler, provincial accent and vocabulary, wrestling world haircut, is an entirely believable dad, Ricky. Lena Headey, who was glamorous in her past roles but learned the ways of good and evil and dominance through many seasons of Game of Thrones, is also convincing as the former champion, Seraya.
But, with the title’s emphasis on family, the focus is on the son of the daughter. Zak has wrestling in his blood, many bouts as he grew up, dream of being a world champion. Dreaming of being world champion is not the goal of his sister until she has about with her brother and beats him. They send tapes of their matches to an American company and receive invitations to audition. With the result, there is a message that those who have that extra spark can succeed while those who haven’t the spark and can’t do – they teach.
Earlier mention of The Rock leads to an appearance by Dwayne Johnson himself, reminding the audience of his talent as a wrestler as well as his talent, which champion wrestlers need, to verbally taunt their opponents to build up an aggressive mood. He is producer of this film – and later makes a very sympathetic appearance, especially getting involved in the tangled phone call with dad who doesn’t believe him and says he is Vin Diesel!
Zak is played by Jack Lowdon who has to play ambitious, angry, resentful because of the success of his sister. The sister, takes the wrestling stage name of Paige, is played by Florence Pugh (still young and who has shown such versatility with Lady Macbeth, The Little Drummer Girl). This is her film, a small Goth-looking British girl mixing it with glamorous American models turned wrestlers, doing her training, wanting to give up (yet, challenged by her brother not to throw away the opportunity), working hard, getting the opportunity to fight the Wrestlemania Champion and… Will she win or not? (A superfluous question!)
And, the manager and trainer with a story of his own is played by a hard and demanding Vince Vaughn.
And who would have thought the tall and gangly Stephen Merchant, comic writer and performer (appearing here are Zak’s father-in-law) would have been so much of a wrestling fan, both writing and directing here.
Wrestling fans (and this film seems to show that there are legions of them) will enjoy this experience. Non-wrestling fans might have to accept those sequences and concentrate on the family.
FISH OUT OF WATER
Australia, 2019, 75 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Israel Cannan.
This documentary is available on Stan.
Interesting title. The two central characters for this documentary spend most of their time on the water – but it is not always their natural habitat.
Don Quixote might have sung The Impossible Dream, as might many of us. However, living the dream is quite another matter. As we see in this film.
Pete Fletcher and Tom Hudson are Melburnians, Pete Fletcher is living on the Mornington Peninsula. Pete has been in business but, in midlife, has been having his recurring impossible dream. It involves the water. Tom Hudson, on the other hand, water was not part of his original dream.
And, the dream? To row from New York to London, the two of them in their boat, crossing the Atlantic. Rowing was not part of their way of life but, as they say, dreams…, challenges… And the concern whether the dream would ever be fulfilled.
We are introduced to the two of them at home and at work. They co-produced this documentary as well as contributing the footage from the Atlantic voyage. We see a lot of them, at home, going over to New York, the preparation for the trip, the boat, provisions (and a bit of learning about sea craft). There is a countdown to the days that they will leave.
There is also the human touch and including scenes with wives and families.
The film is a mixture of surprise and no surprise. We know that the film will end with their getting to England, in Falmouth (instead of the intended London). In fact, we will be told that they have broken the rowing record across the Atlantic. But, of course, the surprise is in the day by day of the voyage, surprises which they had to live through. Needless to say, there were difficulties, almost in possibilities – but, to experience them, is the point of watching the film.
There have been a number of films about single-handed sailors, most recently starring Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy.
Tribute needs to be made to the director, Israel Cannan, who is credited as writer, director, producer, composer, editor. (A quick look at the IMDb tells us that he also appeared in episodes of Home and Away – but, significantly, sings the title song! It looks as though he has achieved some of his impossible dreams.)
Obviously a film for those with a keen interest in sailing.
THE HAPPY PRINCE
Germany/UK/Luxenberg, 2018, 105 minutes, Colour.
Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Colin Morgan, Edwin Thomas, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Chancellor, Julian Wadham, Beatrice Dalle, Antonio Spagnuolo, John Standing, Ronald Pickup.
Directed by Rupert Everett.
A very interesting take on the life and, especially, the last years of Oscar Wilde.
For many audiences, Stephen Fry is the face of Oscar Wilde, so forceful in the film of 1997. In the 1960s he was portrayed by both Peter Finch and Robert Morley.
This time the portrayal is by Rupert Everett who has appeared in film versions of An Ideal Husband as well as The Importance of Being Earnest. He has also portrayed Wilde on the stage in England and in France. And, not only this, he has written the screenplay, directed the film and played Wilde. Quite an achievement.
So, this portrayal of Wilde moves away from the Stephen Fry debonair style. It is glimpsed sometimes in the flashbacks, Wilde on stage charming the audience after a performance of a play. However, these the same people who turned against Wilde, many spurning him or rejoicing in his humiliation.
Everett has entitled his film The Happy Prince after a story by Wilde from 1888. It is a fable about a statue of happy Prince, standing above the town, is one ordinary people, a privileged kind of life. It is also the story of a swallow, flying over the city, dying. But, God looks on the rubble of the statue and on the dead bird and raises them back to life. In the film, Wilde is seen reading this story to his two young boys.
But, it is an appropriate image for Wilde in his life and career, a statue on a pedestal, feted by everyone, clever, playwright, short stories, Dorian Grey, a philosophy of pleasure, a master of wit but only to crash in unhappiness.
Everett’s Wilde also looks the worse for a blend of dissipation in life as well as hard labour for two years in prison. We hear of the Marquis of Queensbury but do not see him. We hear about the charges of crimes of sodomy as well is a severe sentence of the judge, hard labour. We see Wilde going to prison, stripped and humiliated, transferred from Wandsworth to Reading, sitting on Clapham Junction Station in prison clothes, mocked by the public – and Wilde later linking this severe scene in his life with the passion of Jesus.
There are also scenes with Wilde’s wife, Constance (Emily Watson), supporting him financially, but humiliated, unwell, dying.
A lot of the action actually takes place in France after Wilde gets out of prison, lacking money, still frivolous, still spending, going to taverns, attracted to the boys, calming taverns fights by singing. His also supported by the faithful Robbie Ross and by his friend Reggie (Colin Firth).
Wild has told everyone, including Constance, that he will have nothing to do with Bosey again. But, as soon as he turns up, foppish, selfish, irresponsible, Wilde is immediately won over again. They decide to go to Naples, live the high gay life, until Bosey’s allowance is cut off.
Wilde’s last year is a sad one. Bosey has gone. Robbie Ross is devoted – and, Catholic, conscious that Wilde may have been baptised as a child, and appreciating Wilde’s fascination with Catholicism, calls a priest (Tom Wilkinson as a jovial Irish Father Dunne) to administer the last rites.
There is another important priest in the film. Wilde and his friends are pursued in the streets by a homophobic group with Wilde taking refuge in a church. He sees an old priest going to the altar, kneeling, praying desperately – and Wilde realises the reality of life’s sufferings.
Wilde’s poem from Reading Gaol was called De Profundis. In so many ways, in his last years, Wilde’s life was, as the Psalm says, calling out to God from the depths.
US, 2019, 132 minutes, Colour.
Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates, John Carroll Lynch, Thomas Mann, Kim Dickens, William Sadler.
Directed by John Lee Hancock.
The story of outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, operating in the early 1930s, was well known in its time, almost a legend, receiving a great deal of popular acclaim, regret at their deaths, thousands going to the funeral services. And they have a place in cinema history, especially with Arthur Penn’s 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway archetypal, their associates, and the famous sequence of their death, the car, riddled with bullets, their bodies and the bullets – and this is repeated in this film.
However, this is not really the story of Bonnie and Clyde who are glimpsed generally in the distance that only close-up in the finale and the Louisiana parade of their bodies in the car with the crowds jostling to touch it and the outlaws. This is, rather, a story of two former Texas Rangers who tracked them down, collaborated with law enforcement agencies in various states, realised where the couple were heading, where to meet them and shoot them down after the years of the rampage, robberies, and many deaths, especially of the police.
The film sets a tone with an opening prison sequence and an escape. The governor of Texas, Ma Ferguson (Kathy Bates) is exasperated but is persuaded by the warden of the prison (John Carroll Lynch) to hire two former Texas Rangers (after the governor had closed them down).
The film is a portrait of these two men, the taciturn Frank Hamer, played by Kevin Costner in his accustomed style, a hard man, shrewd, not afraid to use standover tactics. His partner, Maney Gault, is played by Woody Harrelson, also in his accustomed style, somewhat offbeat in his approach to life, a dedicated lawman but with some sardonic humour, a touch more humanity than Hamer, able to spin a story when he is trying to get information.
While the jurisdiction was in Texas, they decide to go over the border, break through police barriers, enlist the help of law enforcement in other states. There are some significant moments throughout the film, revealing the characters of the two men. This is especially true of a sequence where Hamer goes to meet Clyde Barrow’s father (William Sadler), the father knowing that his son is doomed but Hamer taking the opportunity to tell something of his life story, intentions of being a minister, shooting a man who brutalised him, becoming a lawman.
The climax, the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde, the car with so many bullet holes, the bodies also riddled, his room but contrasts with the adulation of the crowds surging towards the car after their death and the information that thousands attended their funeral services.
While there have been some television films and series about Bonnie and Clyde, this is a major change in perspective with the portrait of the lawmen.
Australia/India, 2018, 123 minutes, Colour.
Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham- Hervey, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs.
Directed by Anthony Maras.
The 2008 massacre of Indian citizens at a railway station, restaurant, and local staff and international visitors at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai was shocking at the time – especially for such a jihadist massacre to take place in India. However, as the years have gone on, it becomes just another tragedy in a series of massacres from France to New Zealand.
While there had been a documentary about the events, Surviving Mumbai, this is a realistic portrait of the events as well as creating dramatic fictional characters based on actual persons. Audiences are dramatically immersed in the events, trapped with so many of the people in the hotel, experiencing their shock and fears, their dreads, witnessing the callously indiscriminate killing for the sake of a fanatical religious cause.
The film also incorporates film and newsreel footage from the events, enhancing the authentic feel – as well as its being a device to keep the audience (and those trapped as well as onlookers) informed as to what was happening in the local response, the limitations of the authorities and police in Mumbai and the need for flying in expert troops from Delhi.
Audiences who have visited Mumbai will appreciate this portrait of the city, its views, its people, The Gateway, It is with dismay that we watch 10 young men, trained jihadists, keeping in radio contact with their handler, referred to as Brother Bull, a manipulative voice, a commanding tactician, speaking in the name of Allah and the Koran, making exceptions to Koranic law for expediency’s sake, delighting in the number of deaths, wanting the taking of rich hostages, preferably American, for ransoms.
On the one hand, there is the local story of Arjun, played by Dev Patel (on loan from the exotic Marigold Hotel), who works at the Taj, has a family, his wife pregnant, who serves the wealthy guests but also has a strong presence, helping to lead a number of guests to safety in a concealed clubroom, working in the CCTV surveillance room, instrumental in saving many guests. There is a strong affirmation of the hotel chef who contributed to leadership and safeguarding.
The film also focuses on several guests, a smug Russian official (Jason Isaacs) who does achieve some heroism at the end. The main focus, however, is on a family, a friendly American played by Armie Hammer, who is married a Muslim Indian woman (Nazanin Boniardi), with the young son and a nanny, Tilda Cobham-Hervey?. Their story provides a great deal of dramatic tension.
Audiences attuned to race issues might be tempted to think that there is too much emphasis on the Americans – but, they are central, as is the Russian, to the raid, locals being killed, rich foreigners to be exploited for money.
The raid does not go as planned, leading to a final stand by the Jihadists, ruthless even as they die, still listening to and loyal to Brother Bull. Nor does it go as hoped because of so many victims, especially in the staff caught so unawares, but also for some of the foreigners.
This is a first film by the director, a considerable achievement, the collaboration between India and Australia. And, sadly, it is a vivid reminder, taking the audience into a massacre experience, that there have been many such attacks since then.
THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT
Denmark, 2018, 152 minutes, Colour.
Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Grabel, Riley Keogh, Jeremy Davies, Jack Mc Kenzie, Ed Speleers, David Baillie, Emile Tholstrup,
Directed by Lars von Trier.
Writer-director, Lars von Trier, has encouraged controversy during his long career. And, controversy was raised with the present film, reports of audiences walking out.
It is clear that any audience can choose to see a film about a serial killer or not. If they make the choice, they can expect, at least, gruesome images. In fact, there are many gruesome images here, but not excessively gory (especially in comparison with the multiplicity of horror films in recent decades) not images that an audience who chooses to see the film would walk out of.
von Trier is trying to do something special in this portrait of a serial killer, an evil Everyman character, narcissistic and boastful, both shrewd and naive, misogynistic but not limiting his victims to women. And that something special is to invite the audience to 2 ½ hours of reflection on philosophy and art in the context of the life and the murders by a serial killer. In fact, and the art and the reflections are so interspersed throughout the film that they provide a substantial counterbalance to the gruesome images. One might wonder whether the audience who walked out of this film did not understand all the discussions, the meanings of the visuals and the music, or could not bother to work with them.
On the narrative level, there are five incidents in Jack’s murderous career, a driver with a car breakdown, a widow interested in insurance, a mother and two young children victims of hunting, a seductive young woman murdered in her apartment – and, in the fifth episode, a range of men, multi-ethnic, to be the target of an experiment with a full metal jacket bullet. There is also an epilogue, titled, Katabasis indicating downfall and death.
Matt Dillon is convincing in the central role, initially obsessively fastidious, OCD, but, gradually changing in appearance, feeling freer and becoming more unkempt. He has wanted to be an architect but is an engineer, building a model of a house, visiting the building site, building and then demolishing, a metaphor for his own life.
Throughout the film, there is a voice offscreen, a continued challenge to Jack about his behaviour, and response to his defending himself, a continued judgement on Jack – so that the audience is in no doubt about the film’s moral perspective on serial killing. The voice is referred to as Verge (Bruno Ganz) who eventually appears at the end, the classic Roman author, Vergil, – and Dante’s guide to the inferno in The Divine Comedy. One can hear commentators declaring von Trier as pretentious, in likening himself to Vergil – but, on reflection, this is obviously a 21st-century visual version of The Inferno, especially in its culmination.
And there are so many art references as well as discussions about the nature of art, creating art, Jack interpreting his murderous work as artistic. There are sequences with Glenn Gould playing the piano. There are visuals of architectural frameworks, Gothic cathedrals, the screen filled with a page of letters, an animation allegory about light and shadows for pleasure and pain, a wide range of paintings, especially classical, visuals by William Blake of God, of the Lamb of the Tiger, and a discussion about the symbolisms of innocence and violence.
Which means then that this is no ordinary serial killer thriller. Rather, it is a visualisation of a contemporary phenomenon of men who kill. It is also an invitation to a much wider range of reflection on being human, on good and evil, on depth and banality, and illustration of this reflection by all the arts. The film is a visual and verbal portrait, and visual and verbal analysis.
ISN’T IT ROMANTIC
US, 2019, 89 minutes, Colour.
Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, Priyanka Chopra, Betty Gilpin, Brandon Scott Jones, Jennifer Saunders.
Directed by Todd Strauss- Schulson.
Well, this is a light comedy which might be called an anti-romantic comedy.
It is a starring vehicle for comedian Rebel Wilson. She is always a jovial presence, and always ready to send herself up (while always retaining her Australian accent).
The film opens with her as a teenager, Natalie, watching romantic television in the 1990s with her critical mother (an unexpected cameo from Jennifer Saunders). Cut to 20 years later and we find that she is quite a successful architect, underestimated by the men in the company, with an associate at a desk near her, sympathetic, but prone to be watching romantic comedies on television. She has plans and designs and brings them to the board meeting – with the young smart executive, played by Liam Hemsworth, mistaking her for the coffee-maker.
However, in the office, is a genial young man, Josh, who is, more or less, in love with her. She takes it for granted – and then is worried that his continual gaze in her direction is aimed at a huge advertising poster, his ogling the model, Pryanka Chopra, and encounters in real life at a cafe while out with Natalie and rescues her from choking. It is infatuation at first sight!
Perhaps this review should have had a recommendation earlier in case the reader is thinking that it is a conventional romantic comedy. It’s not, while at the same time, it is. (Amy Schumer did a similar kind of thing in 2018 with I Feel Pretty – but Amy Schumer always gives a somewhat knowing performance whereas Rebel Wilson is always pleasantly ingenuous.)
Natalie and her friend have a long conversation criticising the conventional romantic comedies, everything that is wrong with them, the forlorn heroine, the dashing hero, the catty associate in the office, the falling in love, the music accompaniment – and comments on fantasy and dance routines.
When Natalie has an accident, the world changes for her in terms of how people see her. Of course, she becomes a romantic heroine, Blake notices her and wants to date her, poor Josh is involved with the model, their engagement is announced – and Natalie realises that she must have left everything too late. (And, the sympathetic worker then becomes dominating in the offie to complete the scenario of difficulties in romantic comedies.)
So, we had all the conventions that have been ridiculed, laughing at them while we actually see them overtaking all the characters – even to elaborate dancing of crowds and the leads in the street.
This is a bit of fluff, poking fun at cinema fluff, which makes it all the more fluffily entertaining.
2019, 90 minutes, Colour.
Alfre Woodard, Adam Beach, Ashlie Atkinson, Jordan Nia Elizabeth, Blair Underwood, Marcus Henderson, La Tanya Richardson Jackson.
Directed by Clark Johnson.
Juanita is a very plain title. The film is based on a novel by Sheila Williams, Dancing on the Edge of the Roof – far more imaginative!
The film is a portrait of an African American woman, an interesting device for the opening credits with animated sketches illustrating her life, its developments, failures, building up to the present situation where she is in middle age. She is Juanita, played by Alfre Woodard – with the device of her addressing the audience throughout the film, confiding in them.
She lives in Columbus, Ohio, lives by herself except that she has three children, by different fathers, one of whom is in prison, one of whom is irresponsible, and the daughter who lives a casual life, moving in and out of home, a boyfriend. While Juanita has friends, she is becoming more and more exasperated and decides to go on a journey, giving herself an opportunity to find her real self.
Juanita then becomes a road film, Juanita buying a ticket to Butte, Montana (which she pronounces, ‘butt’). She is very tired – but has an imaginative moment when she sees the bus passengers singing and dancing with her. But, at a stop, she encounters a truck driver, Peaches (Ashlie Atkinson) who offers her a lift.
She does not get to Butte, but stops at Paper Moon, clashing with Jess (Adam Beech), a Native American who has served in the Gulf War and still suffers from trauma even as he tries to make his diner a modern French cuisine. Juanita bonds well with Jess, working in the diner, accompanying him to a gathering of Native Americans, disturbed at first, but then at ease.
While the film has a focus on African-Americans? and Native Americans, it has a universal story, a middle-aged woman realising that life has been hard, that she is tired and exasperated – and needs to go on a journey, even a physical journey as well as emotional, to discover her real self.
THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE
UK, 2018, 132 minutes, Colour.
Adam Driver, Johnson Pryce, Stellan Skarsgaard, Olga Kurylenko, Jordi Moll, Joana Ribeiro.
Directed by Terry Gilliam.
Once upon a time there was a writer-director, Terry Gilliam, a man of wild imagination, an American, cartoonist and animator, who found a home in the company of the Monty Python cast, contributing his own style to the look and tone of their television programs and films. After being successful with such cult films as Brazil and Time Bandits, having expensive and lavish flops like Baron Munchausen, bizarre portrait of Gonzo journalist, Hunter S.Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he decided to make a project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – but what might be called you will-fortune overtook him – overbudget, filming stopping after six days, the ill-health of French actor Jean Rochefort who was playing Don Quixote, the presence of Johnny Depp.
What was salvaged out of this experience was a documentary, Lost in La Mancha, full of regrets, full of vision impossible.
But, Terry Gilliam persevered, and here is his intended film. For those looking forward to it, it is a Terry Gilliam indulgence. For some looking forward to it, it is something of a bewilderment, a blend of the real and the surreal, matter-of-fact realism and fantasy. For those who don’t know the history, either response is possible.
Adam Driver is an unusual choice to play Toby, directing a commercial in Spain inspired by Don Quixote himself. Toby is moody, pedantic, perfectionist ambitions but not quite realising them. In fact, he had made a student film 10 years earlier from Cervantes and his novel and gained a reputation because of it. In a sullen break from filming, hopping on a motorbike and intensely rushing through the Spanish countryside, he revisits the locale for his student film, discovering that his amateur actor, a cobbler, is still in the village, somewhat out of his mind, performing for visitors in a poverty-row sideshow, a performance of a somewhat demented Don Quixote.
The cobbler is played by Jonathan Pryce, an excellent choice to play Don Quixote, stealing every scene he is in, puzzled by his being chosen for the role, inept in performing, rising to energy and then becoming the Don.
In the modern background are the film boss played by Stellan Skarsgaard, Olga Lurylenko as his seeming trophy wife, an assortment of producers and publicists as well as members of the crew.
But then, Terry Gilliam’s imagination goes rather wild – and the wildness is all up there on the screen, lavish costumes and decor, a re-enactment of Cervantes story, this time Toby himself becoming Sancho Panza. The odd couple ride horses, tilt at windmills, encounter all kinds of enemies, femme fatale, Giants… But, all the time, Toby is conscious of his being himself as well as Sancho Panza, entangled with a villain, Jorda Molla, and the significance already-appearance of his original Dulcinea, the daughter of the restaurant owner, leading to religious rituals, festivities, violence, fights – and death.
What one might call a mixed bag, and, one might ask, to what purpose?
THE MEANING OF VAN LIFE
Australia, 2019, 87 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Jim Lounsbury.
This is a documentary being released by Stan.
Not everyone, especially those who have very busy lives in the cities, are aware of “Van life”. There are certainly many of us who go travelling around Australia in trailers, especially those who have the leisure in later life, the so-called “grey nomads”.
No, this is not a documentary about grey nomads. Nor is it a documentary about trailers or caravans. It is about vans, minivans.
Rather, it is about a growing number of adults, some younger, a number older, who have opted for a mobile life, a greater sense of freedom, the ability to choose to move around, take a different perspective on reflections on the meaning of life, become part of a travelling community. While there is a lot of communication online, part of the spirit of this community, conveyed with great enthusiasm during this film, is an extraordinary camaraderie among the Van life members enjoying face-to-face meeting, face-to-face company.
Which means then that, while this film will have some ardent fans, many who tune in will find that they are onlookers, often rather surprised onlookers.
Most of the action, in fact, takes place in the United States and the director himself was born in Seattle. He knows the US West Coast particularly well. However, it is an Australian produced film and has substantial Australian content. The Australian enthusiasts proposing Van life are interviewed, one leader casually sitting at the door of his van, explaining the philosophy, explaining the experience, explaining its consequences.
The Australians make contact with the Americans and there is quite an amount of enthusiastic correspondence. Which means then the Australians go to the US, the various members in the US plan meetings and gatherings – which the film audiences invited to share.
In one sense, this documentary could be called a vocation film, a hearty invitation for those of like mind and spirit to join. They will probably get a number of converts and this way of life as a huge appeal – but, for most, this will be an onlookers’ pastime (perhaps a dream that will never come to pass).
US, 2019, 101 minutes, Colour.
Jason Clarke John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie.
Directed by Kevin Kolsch, Denis Widmyer.
It’s no secret that Stephen King has a morbid imagination – and he has been developing it for more than 40 years. And, his success has been beyond his imagination, morbid or not. And, not only with the number of novels sold, not only with his millions of readers, but also with the very many film and television versions of those stories and the millions who have watched them.
Pet Sematary was filmed in the late 80s. It was a scary show. And this version, 30 years later, is also a scary show.
The poster features, very prominently, a group of youngsters in procession through the woods, animal masks on their faces, carrying dead pets to bury them. This certainly creates an atmosphere – but it is brief, at the beginning of the film, the only time such a scene is shown. On the other hand, there are several visits to the sematary itself with its many crosses and headstones. The sematary has an eerie atmosphere – but it is even more eerie once you pass by, climb steps, more woods, swamps, to a special burial ground.
However, the film starts with great hopes. The family has moved to the country from Boston, slowing down a bit, bonding. The father (Jason Clarke) is a doctor. The mother (Amy Seimetz) stays at home. The daughter is somewhat precocious – and comments on the wrong spelling of cemetery in case anyone is misled. The young son is very young. The daughter, Ellie (Jete Laurence), sees the procession of children and wanders off to the cemetery. There she encounters the neighbour, Jud, a widower who has lived in the area all his life.
The film also brings in some other ominous sequences, especially concerning the mother whose sister had a twisted spine, one of the little girl’s duties being to bring her her meals, using the dumbwaiter at one stage, with disastrous results which have haunted her all her life, and her blaming herself for her sister’s death.
Then the doctor has an ominous experience in his surgery, a young man victim of an accident who dies, sits up, haunts the doctor for the rest of the film.
But, it is the pet cat, Church (the young girl explaining to Jud that it is short for Churchill, asking whether he knows about him and John Lithgow, who played Churchill himself in The Crown, assuring her that he did – giggles from those in the audience who were knowledgeable!).
What Jud does is to help the doctor to bury Church after he is killed in an accident on the highway. Here, the screenplay draws on stories connected with Native American folklore, especially those buried beyond the pet cemetery coming alive again. In fact, in the early part of the film there has been a lot of discussion about the nature of the afterlife and whether it is possible or not, the doctor not believing it.
However, when Church is resuscitated, he is not the nice pussycat he was in the past…
As to what happens to those who die after this, to those who are buried after this, that is the point of Stephen King’s story, morbid as it is. In fact, the final scene being especially morbid for the audience either sitting grim through the credits or leaving morbidly.
Australia, 2018, 80 minutes, Colour.
Ella Scott Lynch, Benedict Samuel, Lewis Fitz- Gerald, Heather Mitchell, Robin Goldsworthy.
Directed by David Barker.
Audiences know what to expect when they see a title like Pimped. And, in the early part of the film, expectations are fulfilled. However, along with the partying, the sex, the drugs, there is the introduction of a touch of non-realism which could alert an audience to question what they are seeing.
This is a brief film. It has a strong younger cast, especially Ella Scott Lynch in a dual role, Sarah and her sister, Rachel, Benedict Samuel as the enigmatic young man who pimps, loose, with Robin Goldsworthy as one of his targets. And, for the older generation, Lewis Fitz-Gerald? and Heather Mitchell turn up as Goldsworthy’s parents.
Writer (with Lou Mentor)-director, David Barker, leads his audience on. The opening sequences might be considered as routine in terms of young people partying. But he also introduces the character of Sarah, a quiet woman, egged on by her sister, Rachel. And then the tone changes. While we have seen Lewis preen himself and rehearse his spiel to ingratiate himself with targets, we see Sarah and Lewis in a kind of mutual seduction.
At this point, a review needs to stop in terms of plot development – which is never quite as might be anticipated. But it can be said that the plot development is quite melodramatic, a shift from sex to violence – and further violent and unexpected twists.
This also means that the film is a psychological exploration of Sarah, the inconsistencies in her character, the inconsistency in her behaviour, and the presence of her sister as a kind of alter ego, sometimes pimping, sometimes acting as a conscience. Quite a lot to intrigue here.
As the audience continues to question their understanding of Sarah and her character and behaviour, the film moves to yet another dramatic twist, giving the audience food for thought for further trying to fathom and to interpret what they have seen.
Which means that Pimped finishes as being somewhat better than expected.
US, 2019, 132 minutes, Colour.
Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou, Jack Dylan Grazer.
Directed by David F. Sandberg.
Shazam! comes from DC comics. After the various serious films with the super heroes, this is definitely DC comics Jr (very much junior). Its target audience is about the age of the young central character and his friend, 14. And, it probably has a great appeal to those who are still 14 in their imagination.
Somewhere in the DC comics mythology world, there is a wizard called Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). He lives in a cave, growing ancient, his powers receding. In the main hall of this cave, there are large fierce-looking statues who are revealed as the deadly sins, just waiting for the opportunity to come alive and to destroy. Shazam is on the lookout for a worthy successor (the criteria are not particularly clear and do some of those summoned to audition do not seem likely at all!).
There is also a deceptive beginning, a father driving with his two sons, the older son very smug, the younger son, seeming innocent and bespectacled, is continually criticised by his sibling and his father, ending up with a car crash. It will later be revealed that the young boy is not nearly as innocent as he might have seemed, has been rejected by Shazam and has spent many years searching for Shazam in order to take over his magic powers. He has grown up to be played by Mark Strong, an ambitious and relentless villain.
Surprisingly, the specially chosen one is an orphan, abandoned by his mother, going from pillar to post in foster care, never satisfied, forever searching for his mother. His name is Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and, as mentioned, he is 14. He is allotted to yet another foster home, very sympathetic parents with a religious bent, and four other children in the home, an intelligent young woman, a large uncommunicating boy, a little girl, and, the character, also 14, who most people would have chosen to be the new Shazam, given his liveliness in comparison with Billy Batson. His name is Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and he is crippled, bullied at school.
Shazam approves of Billy Batson and the entertaining part of the film is Billy’s discovery of his powers, his outer life as Shazam! And being transformed into a superhero, costume and all, though Billy has to gradually discover all his powers, sometimes hit and miss, sometimes causing disasters which he has to fix, a kind of comic image of Superman. His played by Zachary Levi, all smiles, quite ingenuous, more loquacious than Billy, and also, judging by how he talks and acts, still 14.
Which means then that the audience has sympathy for the young boys and their difficulties in life. However, as the film builds up to a confrontation between Shazam and the ever more sinister villain, acquiring powers, cruelly ambitious – and then those capital sins coming to giant life!
So, for a climax? Not only Billy turning into Shazam but his foster parents and all the kids turned into superhero avatars guaranteeing computer-generated stunt work, images, superhero action.
It certainly looks as they could be a sequel to hope for – but will Billy, Freddie and Shazam grow up?
THE SISTERS BROTHERS
France, 2018, 122 minutes, Colour.
John C.Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gylenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rebecca Root, Alison Tolman, Rutger Hauer, Carol Kane.
Directed by Jacques Audiard.
This is a Western with a difference – and not just only in the ambiguously arresting title! The central characters are brothers, but the family name happens to be Sisters.
French director, Jacques Audiard, who has made some striking films, The Beat My Heart Skipped, the prison drama, The Prophet, and Rust and Bone, travels to the American West, an adaptation of a novel by Patrick De Witt.
Audiard seems to have something of a mythological view of the West by the landscapes, the gunslingers, the prospectors, the makeshift towns, but is also looking at it with realistic eyes and camera, especially the violence and the lawlessness.
The setting is Oregon in the early 1850s, the era of the gold rushes.
And, who are the Sisters Brothers? The older is Eli, played in his solid even if familiar way, by John C. Reilly. The younger brother is Charlie, erratic in his attitudes and behaviour, another such role by Joaquin Phoenix. They have resented their father and are under the employ of the self-styled Commodore, Rutger Hauer, a man of power, thug associates and sending the Brothers out on ‘missions’. The audience sees, right before the credits, the violence in action, darkness, the fire of smoking guns, brutal deaths.
Quite a lot of the film concerns the interactions between the two brothers. Eli has a sense of responsibility, is protective of his younger brother, even if exasperated by much of his behaviour, especially his drinking, his love for violence and shooting. They travel the west on their missions, stopping in towns, Charlie getting drunk and spending the nights with prostitutes, Eli more romantic and sentimental, wanting to relive an episode where a woman he loved gave him the gift of a shawl.
But, they also cause quite a lot of mayhem, especially in a town called Mayfield, called after the tough woman who established it – and their partly destroy her and the town.
The central mission concerns an associate, John Morris, played by Jake Gylenhaal. He is also on a mission from the Commodore, tracking down a man who is not only a gold prospector but who has developed a formula whereby a liquid poured into the river will make the gold shine out and be easily picked up. He is played by Riz Ahmed – a more sympathetic character, caught up in his invention and eager to test it, befriending John Morris after initial enmity, and with the dream of going to a community in Texas which believes in justice and peace.
The Brothers, of course, do find Morris and the inventor – but, the screenplay takes some different turns from what we might have expected, making it all the more interesting. These turns naturally involve quite an amount of violence, more deaths, some confrontations – but an unexpected ending and the introduction of the Brothers’ Mother (a chance to see veteran actress, Carol Kane).
The director won the Silver Lion in Venice, 2018. The film had nominations and wins in the annual French awards, the Cesars and the Lumieres.
So, this is how a Frenchman interprets the West.
SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER
UK, 2018, 91 minutes, Colour.
Bill Nighy, Sam Riley, Alice Lowe, Jenny Agutter, Tim McInerney?.
Directed by Carl Hunter.
This brief British drama has found a sympathetic audience, an older audience, who have appreciated the Britishness but also the calm and quiet despite the disturbing elements in the screenplay.
There is a little fascination in the title, the arrangement of words. In fact, words are central to the plot of the film as well as to its tone. Scrabble is also important.
This is definitely a film for fans of Bill Nighy. He is not so idiosyncratic here, playing Alan, a tailor in a small town. He is certainly mannered – Bill Nighy always is – but he plays a man whose wife has died some years earlier, has suffered the loss of one of his sons, is still rather critical of his surviving son. As the film opens, he is meeting this son, Peter (Sam Riley) because the police have an unidentified body which maybe is missing son.
They have to stay the night at a Bed and Breakfast where they meet a couple who have also been invited to identify the body, which might be their son. Grief has affected them and they have become a rather old and bickering couple. Alan, with a touch of the conman, persuades Arthur (Tim McInerney) to make a bet on a game of Scrabble. Arthur doesn’t have a chance because of Alan’s expertise with words, specialist words, exotic words, easily wins the game. Margaret (Jenny Agutter) calls her husband a fool.
The body is not that of Alan’s son and so the grief and the search continue. Peter is in advertising, is married with a young son, but is rather morose, rarely, if ever smiling. He is shocked when he finds his father having a one night stand. His father continues to criticise him.
A lot of the dialogue refers to words and their meanings, with further games of Scrabble, and the news that Alan is playing Scrabble with someone online who uses the methods of the son who disappeared – who had disappeared, walking out in the middle of a Scrabble game – could it be?
When Alan himself disappears, Peter’s son urges him to go to find him. In fact, Peter knows exactly where to go, has a somewhat manic interlude with comedian Alexi Sayle doing his shtick, leads his father to find the identity of the online player.
A mixture of emotions, laid-back performances even in the emotions, a very British-style entertainment.
US, 2019, 125 minutes, Colour.
Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal, Adria Arjona.
Directed by J.C.Chandor.
Triple Frontier is a Netflix film, an action adventure. It also raises moral issues about illegal money, stashes, robberies, killings to save the money.
The film was cowritten by Mark Boal who wrote In the Valley of Elah, and Kathryn Bigelow’s films, Zero Dark Thirty, Hurt Locker, Detroit. The director also contributed to the screenplay – and his films are quite varied, financing Margin Call, Robert Redford at sea in All is Lost, Oscar Isaac in The Most Violent Year.
This is very much a male adventure, opening with a pep talk from Charlie Hunnam for military recruits, followed by an operation in Latin America, a siege, led by Oscar Isaac. It then moves on to a plan for a robbery in Brazil, a drug lord and his remote house, allegedly having a safe, but the group discovering that a vast amount of cash in notes was hidden behind the walls of the house.
Joining Isaac and Hunnam are other experts, Ben Affleck down on his luck after military service as a real estate agent, Garrett Hedlund as a cage fighter, Pedro Pascal as a retired helicopter pilot. They are all recruited for the operation and the film spends quite some time on the actual robbery, the break-in plans, shooting of guards, setting the house on fire. The rest of the film has the journey with the money, becoming evermore burdensome and heavy, their having to let go so much of it – too heavy for a helicopter crossing of the Andes, too heavy for them to carry, using some of the cash to light a fire to warm them in the snow, a crash landing and confrontation with local farmers…
There are some reflections on the plan, the scheme, the aims as well as the violence that has ensued in their escape. There are some moments of redemption at the end in the decision as to what to do with the money – though there is a tongue-in-cheek postscript when Hunnam gives to Isaac the coordinates of where the bulk of the money was discarded.
Australia, 2018, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Nicholas D. Wrathall.
This is a significant documentary about the Kimberley. The subtitle of the film is “Tales from the Kimberley”. The perspective is that of aboriginal individuals and communities – with many interviews, both women and men.
One thing to note immediately is the vivid photography, the communication of the variety of locations in the Kimberley, the Fitzroy River, water, the cattle properties, the range of desert images, the towns and communities.
The question is raised as to Australians’ general knowledge of the area, the aboriginal people, the developments in the area, especially mining, cattle and agriculture.
There is comment that the developments of the 20th and 21st-centuries can be considered as a new form of 19th century colonialism, the capitalist companies coming in, the establishment of the Northern Land Council and ambiguities, money dealings, political interference… Examples are given of past exploitation and, particularly, of the setting up of a base to process natural gas from the Indian Ocean. There is also the question of the cattle runs and companies coming in setting up contracts with native owners. There is a critique of the effect of agriculture on the land and the environment.
One of the earliest tales from the Kimberley is that of Leopold Downs. The audience is introduced to the genial manager, Kevin Oscar, a man of experience in flying helicopters as well as knowledge of cattle, managing the property but meeting and working with an executive of a company with the plan for collaborative ownership. This begins well – but, unfortunately, later in the film, the scheme collapses, business difficulties and issues of options, bad timing with the cattle, the workers, including Kevin Oscar’s son, having to move to towns or seek out new jobs in the Northern Territory.
We are also introduced to Albert Wiggan, an articulate man who is seen at various meetings, seen at protests, developing skills in native lore as well as having computer and management skills. He is able to fill in some detail about his parents, his going to Perth to a boarding school, being well educated, his marriage, his return to the North, gradually involvement in courses, suspicions of the Northern Land Council, then working with them. He is a skilled communicator as he talks with the interviewer, someone who will contribute to the future of the Kimberley.
On the other hand, there are stories of the towns, young people, nothing to do, alcohol, drug addiction, and the increasing number of young suicides. There is also the destruction by the Western Australian government of an aboriginal settlement and the transfer of all the inhabitants to the towns, to their further decline.
Also appearing and interviewed is the first aboriginal member of the legislative assembly of Western Australia, a woman with constructive views as well as empathy.
So, there are elements of optimism, but also many pessimistic perspectives. One hope offered is the training of young people in the rituals, the dances, stories of the dreamtime, participation in festivals and pride in their ancestry and traditions. (Kevin Oscar also gives the advice that horses are a great advantage, that recalcitrant young boys can learn a lot by having to ride a horse, relate with a horse, take responsibility…).
US, 2019, 115 minutes, Colour.
Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss Tim Heidecker.
Directed by Jordan Peele.
There was a great deal anticipation for Us. It was not only horror fans who enjoyed Jordan Peele’s Get Out in 2017 (and it won an Oscar for best original screenplay), but also those who like serious drama with social overtones (and undertones). Perhaps it is inevitable that audiences will say that Us is not as good as…, But they will also probably admit that it is quite good in its own right.
How much of a clue is there in the title? Us or US? And, especially for American audiences, will they see the characters as Us – African-Americans?, white Americans? And, there are quite some complications that develop as to who really is the Us.
Jordan Peele’s early career was as a comedian and there are very many funny moments during this film, the wry remark, the offhand comment, silly/goofy situations, ironies. And sometimes they come quite unexpectedly, sometimes in the middle of a very tense moment (some audiences not wanting to be disturbed in their terror, others finding it an amusing relief for a moment). But, after writing and directing Get Out, peel has become more assured in his creating horror tales, horror situations.
He provides a lot of eerie background, focusing on the little girl, Adelaide, her jovial father, her wandering away from her parents at a fair where she resists the attractions, even the Ferris wheel, but does go into one of those haunted house kinds of shows (with a horading inviting visitors to find out who they are) where she experiences some terror, eerie sounds, unable to escape, halls of mirrors, and a reflection of herself as she watches (but from the back). Of course, in retrospect, this is extraordinarily important as is the puzzle by her parents about her behaviour after she had been lost for only 15 minutes.
Then it all becomes very cheery, 15 years or more later, Adelaide married to a friendly and humorous husband, Gabe (Winston Duke) and with two young children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). Adelaide is played by Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o. She offers a striking performance, a range of moods, loving wife, devoted mother, apprehensive mother – and that is only the beginning. Gabe decides that they will go on vacation and they will visit the beach and the boardwalk, where Adelaide first had her terror.
Lots of comedy with Gabe and his mismanagement of the boat that he buys. Then, on the beach, meeting up with friends, white friends, Kitty and Josh (Elizabeth Moss, again showing her versatility as an actress and Tim Heidecker). So far, so good.
However, this is where the horror begins and one might say goes on full pelt from there. The family sees a mysterious foursome, in red jumpsuits, standing in their driveway. And these mysterious characters are replicas of themselves, zombie overtones, giving the four members of the cast ample opportunity for diversity in their performances as one of the selves pursues the other self, murderously. And, when the family thinks they might have won and escape to visit Kitty and Josh, the same happens for them and their two daughters.
So, the tension revs up, many horror moments, gory moments, and the continual puzzle of who are these zombielike replicas.
Eventually, and piling on the horror atmosphere, there are explanations involving parallel worlds or, rather, an underworld in American tunnels with the clones out of control, resenting their parallel characters above. So, testing our responses to class issues, race issues, American underclass and resentments.
Eventual confrontations in the film might have ended there – but, there is a long explanation speech which troubles our understanding. It makes us leave the cinema trying to work out what actually happened (although we see this) and how credible it is and what are the consequences. Which means then that Us remains with the audience well after the final credits. Probably means we should see it again.
WHAT MEN WANT
US, 2019, 117 minutes, Colour.
Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Richard Roundtree, Josh Brenner, Max Greenfield, Kellan Lutz.
Directed by Adam Shankman.
How do you make a romantic comedy when the central character is, as she says later, monstrous? Well, probably develop the monstrous aspects of the character and then contrive her have a conversion experience. This is very much what we might call the Judd Apatow Syndrome, start raucous and possibly objectionable, stage a change of heart and then everything is nice, even explicitly moralising and moralistic, at the end.
The screenplay for this film is based on the 2000 comedy starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, What Women Want. The tagline was amusing “a man is listening to what a woman is thinking, at last!”. So, this time a woman is listening to what men are thinking – and it is generally not very flattering to the men.
Taraji P. Henson’s Ali is, to say the least, a tough cookie. She works for a top sports agency and is expecting to be named a partner in the firm. It doesn’t happen – and the boss condescendingly says that she is very good in her female channel but can’t measure up to the big boys even though she has several contracts to her credit.
She has a group of girlfriends who chatter and who all visit a particularly weird clairvoyant who allegedly reads the future but communicates to Ali, the power to hear what men are thinking. Obviously, it works to great business advantage, knowing what her colleagues and rivals really think but rarely say, knowing what a potential young basketball champion and his aggressive father (whose name is Joe Dollar!, Tracy Morgan) are planning and want. There are internal shenanigans that the company, fawning on father and son, doubledealings to get international contracts. But, the nice lad and Ali knowing his thoughts will help towards a profitable and a pleasing solution.
She encounters an attractive bartender, Will (Aldis Hodge), has a sexual encounter with him, discovers that he is a widower with the young son (intelligently precocious) and, at an emergency moment, pretends that she is married to Will and they are a family. Obviously, this will become a sticking point – and, potential for a change of heart and a happy ending.
Also in the act is her father, veteran Richard Roundtree, a boxer, who trained his daughter to be tough, to box and also serves as a punching bag and a sounding board for her in her problems.
The trouble is, probably, that too much of the long running time focuses on Ali and her unlikable self, only a short time at the end for her change of heart.
For most of the running time, there is a whole lot of unsympathetic stuff going on. But, it does lead to a nice ending.
WHERE HANDS TOUCH
UK, 2018, 122 minutes, Colour.
Amandla Stenberg, George Mackay, Abbie Cornish, Christopher Eccleston
Directed by Amma Asante.
Some years ago there was a concentration camp film, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, focusing on two young boys, one from the family of the concentration commander, the other an inmate. At the time, there were mixed feelings about such a film, especially its emotional impact, too soft a story for such a significant episode in world history, while others thought it communicated the horror with its focus on the friendship of the two children and their fate.
There has been something of a similar reaction to Where Hands Touch. This time the focus is on love between a 16-year-old girl and a young man, a Nazi soldier, their life in Berlin, their finally being together in the concentration camp. Again, this film is not a serious analysis of the evil – rather, it is a literally touching story, in name as well as in emotional impact.
There is also a background that is not familiar to us – information given at the end that there were many children and young adults of German mothers and of African fathers, born in the 1920s living in Germany. The central character here is Leyna, one such child, living with her mother and smaller brother, taking refuge in 1944 in Berlin. On the one hand, this is a more quiet Berlin than we are used to in war years, not bombardments. Rather, a Berlin of menace, peaceful-seeming, homes, schools, shops – but the continued presence of Nazi officers, of threats in the street, of sudden executions, of the burning of papers by malicious officials.
A great strength of the film is the performance by Amandla Stenberg (so impressive in many films, especially The Hate U Give. She is a strong screen presence destined for many more significant film roles. She and her brother have been protected by their mother (Australia’s Abbie Cornish), even getting documents to say that she has been sterilised so that there is no risk of pregnancy and her being accused later of miscegenation. The small brother has to join the Hitler youth, ambiguous feelings developing about his sister and racial issues.
Lutz, George Mackay, accidentally knocks into Leyna with his bike. He is attracted, later follows her, they talk, fall in love. He is a patriotic young man who longs to go to fight on the front. And she herself continually declares that she is German, never wanting to talk French, the language of her father. Lutz is under the command of his father, Christopher Eccleston, who fought in World War I and wants to protect his son.
The film inevitably moved towards tragedy, the arrest of the mother, Leyna rounded up and sent to a camp where some of the inmates insult her racially, where she is protected in the kitchen by the Kapo, and where, as we know, she will meet Lutz again – just as the war is coming to an end and American troops are on the way to free the concentration camps.
So, this is a film of feelings, being touched, with both tragedy and its sadness, and some moments of joy.
It is not the last word, the last film, on the Holocaust – while vividly showing the persecution of the Jews, looking at a different racial minority and the Nazi response.
The director is the British Amma Assante whose films Belle (racial issues and slavery in 18 century Britain) and A United Kingdom (about the King of Botswana in the 1940s and 1950s) were both moving and significant.
WOMAN AT WAR
Iceland, 2018, 101 minutes, Colour.
Hellodora Geirhardsdottir, Johann Sigurdsson.
Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson.
The title is apt. But the question is: what war is the woman involved with? At war with whom, or what?
While this is a film about protest and sabotage, it is in fact quite a genial film. The woman concerned, Hall, is able to get us onside even if we disapprove of some of her tactics in action. She is at war to save the earth. She is against industrialisation in Iceland, against multinationals like Rio Tinto (explicitly mentioned), against the government and its contracts with China and its calling in the CIA.
Films from Iceland over the years have been very distinctive, life in the small community, an exotic Scandinavian terrain (often used for landscapes for apocalyptic action shows), different mentalities.
Actually, we first encounter Halla on one of her missions, always alone, out in the countryside, armed with bow and metal arrow, firing the arrow onto powerlines and bringing them down – and later doing the same thing with a surveillance drone. It is not the first time and the authorities are after her, helicopter searching for her. However, she relies on an old farmer, claiming that he is a cousin (and his comment about breeding in Iceland and everybody being related). He helps her, actually espouses her cause and becomes involved himself.
On the other hand, Halla, despite her ideals and her tactics, is a middle-aged woman, living alone, applying for adopting a little girl. She also conducts the local choir.
Speaking of choirs and music, there are many songs – but one of the great novelties of this film is that the audience sees the band playing the film score. They suddenly appear out in the countryside after her aggression. Then they appear, singly or as a group in all kinds of scenes, a pianist in her home. There is a drummer and a man playing the sousaphone. And, with the information that she can adopt a little girl from Ukraine, three women singers, all in traditional Ukrainian dress, also appear. This is quite a device – and we look forward to the band continually reappearing, the singers as well. (And, ultimately, they become involved in the action itself!)
Icelandic authorities are not happy with the sabotage and the threat to Iceland’s industry – with some talking heads being interviewed as to whether they are pro or con the sabotage, discussions about Iceland’s economy and the necessity for this kind of international collaboration.
Then we find that Haller has a twin sister, who leads a rather exotic life, studying the mysticism of India, a yoga teacher. She is also the backup support in the application for the adoption.
There is one last act of sabotage, Halla achieving what she intended but having to escape, bring down the drone, hide herself from its surveillance by putting the carcass of a dead sheep over her (and the helicopter pilots lamenting the number of sheep on the loose in Iceland!).
At the end, it all becomes rather serious as Halla makes her way to the airport for Ukraine, but the airport requiring DNA tests (because investigators discovered a drop of blood when she injured herself on mission).
At this stage, the audience might be asking itself how can this all be resolved optimistically. A hint – her sister is willing to give up her two years in an ashram in India and support her sister.
Lots of issues. Lots of personal story. And already, Jodie Foster has the rights to the American remake, planning to start as well as direct. Let’s hope she makes a film is interesting and as enjoyable as the original.