SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS AUGUST 2010
KNIGHT AND DAY
SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP, The
TINKERBELL AND THE GREAT FAIRY RESCUE
WAITING CITY, The
(New Zealand, 2010, d. Taika Waititi)
At once, Boy (a lively and attractive James Rolleston) looks into the camera and recites his life story for us – and for the class where this is part of a lesson. He lives in a community of Maori people, disadvantaged but with a lively spirit that sustains them or, sometimes, leads them into trouble. It is 1984 and pop culture has more than made inroads in this part of New Zealand. Boy has a devotion to Michael Jackson, and this theme is humorously woven through the whole film. Some of the kids are called Dynasty and Falcon Crest (or Chardonnay). Boy's ne'er-do-well, often dim, but exuberantly optimistic father is called Alamein, where his father fought (though he opts for Boy to call him Shogun because he likes Samurai and has James Clavell's novel). This indicates that there are quite a few laughs, and laughs out loud, to be enjoyed throughout the film.
It all takes place over a week when Boy's gran goes away to a funeral and Boy is in charge. He sometimes indulges in a fantasy world, where Michael Jackson figures, and also imagines all kind of heroic and romantic adventures for himself. Which don't happen. He also has a six year old brother, Rocky, who thinks he has magic powers (confirmed when Rocky aims at people and sometimes they fall over – and he apologises for his powers). While James Rolleston is excellent in his performance, the presence, often silent, but very expressive, of Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu? as Rocky has something special about it. There are several kids around the town, at school, eating ice blocks at the local store or 'employed' (throwing mud at the cows) or just bored and hanging around.
We feel we have lived in Waihau Bay and got to know the people there.
Then Boy's father turns up from prison, with two friends, who have formed a gang (vastly inferior to the real gang who later bash them up while they try to do a marijuana deal). Taika Waihiti, who wrote and directed, plays Alamein, would-be Shogun, with great zest. Waihiti is a comedian, a stand-up comic, writer and director, especially of the 2007 comedy, Eagle Vs Shark, who doesn't mind appearing as foolish or as sentimental. Boy does not know Shogun but is ready to see and imagine him as a hero, wanting to be like his Dad. And that is part of his crisis, and of his growing up. He has to discover his father's limitations and faults (to do with the gang digging up a paddock for a packet of money and Boy finding it...).
There are plenty of poignant moments as well, especially since the boys' mother died in giving birth to Rocky and this has become part of his consciousness, sorry for what he did to his mother. Boy himself is by no means a perfect character. While he is bullied, he is hard on his brother and on a mentally limited beachcomber who becomes crucial to Boy's self awareness.
The thought came that if someone were to organise a day of film on indigenous people facing the 21st century, two films that would be worth considering would be Samson & Delilah for Australia and Boy for New Zealand.
(France, 2009, d. Mona Achache)
Hedgehogs are prickly on the outside but more tender on the inside. This is the metaphor for understanding Renee, a 54 year old widow, overweight, sometimes curmudgeonly who thinks herself ugly, a concierge at an apartment building in Paris. This is how she describes herself to 11 year old Paloma from upstairs who is busy making her film, videoing everybody whether they consent or not. This is the setting for this quietly small but pleasing French portrait of eccentric people. This is what the French seem to do best: focus on characters, visual, emotional and psychological close-ups, moments of isolation and loneliness, moments of intimacy. There is a particular French sensibility.
Paloma is the character we are asked to identify with at first. She seems to have overdosed on some existential angst and is determined to kill herself on her next birthday as long as she is doing something she wants: to be making her film. Her parents are, as one would expect, quite odd, her mother in psychoanalysis for ten years, her father too busy at work, her sister writing a thesis. Every family unhappy in their own way, as Tolstoy noted.
Renee reads Tolstoy and is given a gift of books by a new tenant, a kindly and genial Japanese gentleman, a widower, who is attracted to Renee and she, despite her misgivings, attracted to him. The scenes between the two, watching an Ozu film on video, enjoying noodles and, later, sushi, are pleasing and emotionally satisfying.
Writer-director-actress Josiane Balasko embodies Renee. Bespectacled and introspective except with her camera, Garance Le Guillermic is Paloma. Togo Igawa is charming as Kakuro Ozu.
There is a shock towards the end, where several people, including the happily relaxed reviewer, jumped in their seat. Which means that the ending is not anticipated and there is a pervasive sadness.
However, audiences who want something lower key and humane rather than CG explosions will find that this is a satisfying look at being human.
(US, 2010, d. Christopher Nolan)
Conception? Deception? Exception? Perception? Reception?
All of the above, plus Inception.
With a surprisingly high initial box-office income in the US (given its demands in making its audience pay attention and think), Inception has become something of an event. Even audiences who might not like this kind of science-fiction exploration of the psyche or who don’t go for fast-paced action sequences and explosions – and Inception has a great deal of both in its two and half hours’ running time – probably need to see it for its place in movie history and development, just as we needed to see The Matrix at the end of the 1990s and even Avatar at the end of the last decade.
That would probably do for a review for anyone thinking about going to see Inception or not.
What seems more important is to have a review for reading after viewing the film and reflecting on it. Mention of The Matrix reminds us that audiences these days, older and younger, like a creative puzzle movie, especially when it tantalises the mind as well as the imagination, so The Matrix has probably facilitated the making and acceptance of Inception. It doesn’t matter if audiences can’t quite follow everything immediately or if they cannot give a clear and logical synopsis. The film keeps working on its audience long after the final credits come up.
This is a film about ‘reality’, asking the question, ‘what is reality?’ or ‘how many realities can exist at the same time?. We usually say that we can’t bilocate even though there are plenty of stories of parallel worlds, of time travel and doppelgangers. With Inception and its exploration of dreams and the variety of dream worlds, we can actually bilocate (or, as here, trilocate and, even, quatrolocate) because we can by lying asleep while active in our dreams. And, as posited here, in dreams within dreams.
Because we all dream and are fascinated by our dream selves and behaviours, the audience generally goes willingly into the world of Inception. When we speak about our imagination and drives in both waking and dreaming states, we start to use the language of the sub-conscious which emerges and the unconscious which is driving us unawares. Characters in dreams are facets of ourselves and projections from our sub-conscious, revealing deeper aspects of our psyches and personalities than we might be willing to share when awake. There is plenty of verbal exposition of these themes in the screenplay but, more importantly, we see these themes illustrated in complex stories, especially in dreams within dreams.
Whether all that we see is possible in reality is debatable. It seems scientifically implausible if not impossible – but who knows whether in years, decades or centuries, medical, scientific and psychological techniques will combine to make some of this actual! Then we think of the development of brainwashing techniques, truth drugs and cult leaders’ mind control of followers.
And, all the time, there is the unpredictable human factor, something which Inception explores in its dreams.
The opening is puzzling as Leonardo di Caprio’s Cobb is washed ashore and brought before an elderly Japanese businessman in his exotic house. We arrive back here at the end, discovering what state of consciousness it is, but the flashbacks begin explaining Cobb and his team and their capacity to enter the dreams of others, their being awake in the dreams, and able to extract information that can be used for good or for ill. Cobb has become an ideas thief. We see dreams within dreams at once but our puzzle is working out who is dreaming – and who is in who’s dream. Since Cobb has gone beyond ethical bounds which has cost him his wife (Marion Cotillard) and his children, he is consumed by memories of her and her unanticipated presence in his dreams. He wants to redeem himself and move from thieving extraction of information from dreams to inception, the inserting of ideas in dreams so that the dreamer might think that the incepted (the correct word?) idea (which is compared to a virus) is self-generated rather than implanted. A young businessman (Cillian Murphy) is chosen for economic and power reasons to be the subject. Cobb’s team, encouraged by his father (Michael Caine) and introducing a protégé, Ariadne (Ellen Page), study the subject and the candidate’s background, the illness and death of his tycoon father (Pete Postlethwaite) and prepare a complete architectural drama to perform the inception. Cobb’s right-hand man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and other contacts (Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao) and the Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe) all enter the dreams. One of the team can also assume the appearance of someone else, in this case the businessman’s adviser (Tom Berenger)
Inside the dreams, we get plenty of action where audiences might think they are in an adaptation of a graphic novel (including a vast snow episode that outdoes James Bond and films like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). In fact, there is a great deal of action amidst the speculations. The locations are also filmed quite spectacularly, with action set in Japan, Paris, Kenya and Los Angeles. And the effects are sometimes amazing, especially the city of Paris folding on itself and, while a van containing the sleeping team falls in slowest motion from a bridge into a river with Arthur being rocked by the fall and having to perform deadline feats of saving the team who are also asleep in a hotel in another dream by defying gravity.
Cobb has also to solve his own personal and family problems. And, of course, the final question: is how the film ends reality? After all, we are participating in a waking dream as well as we watch the reality and unreality on screen.
Christopher Nolan has shown himself no slouch in making films that demand attention: Memento a decade earlier with its action moving backwards in time, the Arctic thriller, Insomnia, his two Batman films, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and his intriguing tale of rival magicians, The Prestige. He is obviously enjoying the opportunity to write a screenplay that is quite outside the box while directing a fine cast doing their best and playing with special effects to his heart’s – and our –content.
(US, 2010, d. Robert Luketic)
Killers! Mr and Mrs Smith, Knight and Day. There are several precedents for Killers – which is less spectacular than Knight and Day but just as far-fetched and even more absurd, but at suburban level.
Ashton Kutcher looking buffed and burley is Spencer, a spy who wants out, especially when he encounters holidaying Jen (Katherine Heigl) in Nice (where he is about to blow up a helicopter). Romance ensues. Unfortunately, she was soundly asleep when he confesses his profession, so it is more than a surprise to her when, after three years of marriage, his boss contacts him again, is found dead in a hotel, and, suddenly, all the neighbours are out to kill Spencer. The last part of the film is a whopping neighbourhood watch assassination attempt that does defy belief.
With Tom Selleck as Jen’s rather buttoned up, former pilot, father trying to protect her and Catherine O’Hara? as her critical mother, nice but in her cups most of the time, there are some amusing moments. Katherine Heigl does a variation on the screen persona that has stood her well recently (Knocked Up, 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth) and Ashton Kutcher is radiating charm that may or may not attract its targets.
Robert Luketic directs comedies with vigour (Legally Blonde, Monster-in-Law) but all he has to do here is to keep the romantic fluff moving and film the action with pace that might make it momentarily believable.
KNIGHT AND DAY
(US, 2010, d. James Mangold)
Audiences thought it more than a little eccentric or, even, mad, when Tom Cruise leapt over sofas on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Wait till they seem his ultra gymnastics here, in planes, in and on cars, on Seville rooftops... with even more agility than he showed in the Mission Impossible movies.
Really, this one looks back to those movies, even having some episodes that remind us of them, Cruise hanging just above ground, derring-do on a train with mistaken identities.
So, Knight and Day is both mission impossible and implausible. Not that that necessarily matters because the film-makers are operating with tongues firmly in cheeks and are defying anyone to take it seriously. On that premiss, we let go of disbelief and whizz along with it.
So, Tom is Roy, a secret agent on the run who bumps into a woman who is a vintage car restorer on her way to her sister’s wedding. They bump into each other several times, then have a turbulently bumpy time on a plane which lands in a field – and that is just the beginning. The plot involves Roy continually saving June from danger, sometimes drugging her or knocking her out with muscular control so that she wakes up in her own room or on an island hideaway in the Azores or in a train speeding through the Austrian Alps. Since June is played by Cameron Diaz, there are some difficulties. She is about 10cms taller than Cruise (not that the photography angles would let us know this) and, as evidenced by how she takes control of things towards the end of the film, to find her such a squeamish, wilting, screaming and terrified victim in the main part of the film, it is hard to believe she is so helpless.
There are villains (Peter Sarsgaard), darkish inventor heroes (Paul Dano), a serious agency boss (Viola Davis) who can turn up everywhere from Austria to Spain with very little notice (and very little time allotted for actually travelling there). Stunts, fights, double-crossing, some romantic touches – making it a film silly beyond words. Not that this necessarily matters either, since it is designed for light entertainment and escapism (and there are plenty of far-fetched escapes to enjoy).
(France, 2009, d, Catherine Corsini)
We know right from the beginning of Leaving what the climax will be. We are then taken back six months to understand why it is the climax and what the consequences will be.
Films about spouses leaving their partners after years of marriage are commonplace. And there is nothing particularly new here. But, that is the point. The same story is worth telling over and over again because it is such a basic, however regrettable and sad, story of marriage breakdown. What makes any telling different is the insight into characters and motivations that the story provides. And, when it is performed in a film like this, it is also the quality of the central performances that makes its impact.
This is simply the story of a 20 year marriage that has turned loveless, whether there was ever passion or not is a question the film implies. The wife walks out on her husband and children for an unlikely man who has turned her emotional life around.
As played by Kristin Scott Thomas (at home in French films as well as English language films), Suzanne is a woman who wants to break out of her staid life by returning to her profession as a physiotherapist. She has not been encouraged by her doctor husband, Samuel (Yvan Attal), and her children take everything for granted. When she suddenly falls for the labourer who has come to build her office, she becomes romantic, flighty, passionate with a new love that is all-consuming. Yvan (Sergi Lopez), the Catalan worker who has spent time in jail, is able to return her love.
For those who have followed Kristin Scott Thomas’ almost quarter of a century career, this performance may be something of a surprise. We are used to seeing her as a woman in control, not prone to display emotions, especially ‘amour fou’ feelings. A Handful of Dust, Bitter Moon and even in comedy like Four Weddings and a Funeral, she gives expert variations on her controlled persona. She has even performed with Robert Redford, Harrison Ford and Sean Penn. But, here, she shows more vulnerability than before and a loss of control that does not matter. She is prepared to begin a new life on this risky foundation.
In so many pop dramas and soaps, this would be a simple matter of separating and divorcing men and women allowed to be themselves and be free. Not so easy here. There are all kinds of consequences which the screenplay does not shirk and makes us take sides with Suzanne whether we approve of what she is doing or not.
Samuel is a humourless controller, prone to physical and psychological violence, vindictive in a meanly superior way. He does all that he can to make Suzanne’s life impossible, cutting off credit without any compassion, despising Suzanne for loving a man he looks down on, determined that she shall not benefit in any way from a divorce. He blocks employment opportunities for both of them which has the couple trying to survive on the edge with little or no money and taking on labouring jobs. Suzanne had not anticipated this at all but wears the consequences.
Since we know how it comes to a head, we become involved as we see what has led up to the climax. While the film goes on for some minutes more (maybe unnecessary as we know what Suzanne has sacrificed), there is a sound in the background of the final image that indicates what will happen. Which means that the stills during the final credits are not bittersweet. They are sweetly bitter.
(US, 2010, d. Nimrod Antal)
What if you came to consciousness and found that you were freefalling through the air and finding it hard to pull your parachute cord? That’s one way to start a movie. And that is what Predators does. Then there are another seven people who find themselves in a similar situation. They are more than wary because in real life they have all been, in one way or another, killers – which means that their initial interactions are suspicious and menacing. It looks as if they have been abducted mysteriously and have landed in a Latin American jungle (actually filmed in Hawaii). But, this is not Latin America as they soon discover when looking at the colour of the sky and the different moons. They are on an alien planet, and it happens that it is the planet of the predators who, almost a quarter of a century earlier, made life tense and dangerous for Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator. A sequel with Danny Glover followed and then some gory concoctions of Alien vs Predator. This time we are on predator territory.
Of all actors, Adrien Brody has been beefed up to be the hard-hitting, determined leader of the group which, as we know, will be picked off one after the other (it takes too long, unfortunately, to get rid of the most macho, sexist, obnoxious former death row prisoner who has a gross mouth). However, one of the abductees is a bespectacled and rather inept in jungle survival doctor (Topher Grace) who needs keeping an eye on. The rest of the group come from different countries and cultures (Latin American death squads, African torture groups, Japanese Yakuza) and, to mellow the testosterone a little, Alice Braga. Since the leader is not the romantic type, it is not a love story.
Then the predators materialise, armour-clad and helmeted monsters who have inbuilt heat detection sensors, so what chance does our group have. Not much, but they do their damnedest (as they are damned) to stay alive.
So, growing paranoia and group clashes. So, mean predators who are hunting the humans for brutal sport. So, plenty of fighting with more than a touch of gore (though the predators have pale green luminescent blood equivalent, which is prettier to look at than blood).
It is all pretty familiar on the one hand and preposterous on the other. The dialogue is full of repetitively tiresome language. But, director Nimrod Antal (Kontrol, Vacancy) keeps it all moving suspensefully.
(US, 2010, d. Floria Sigismondi)
Another rock and roll biography – they don’t usually make for happy stories despite the seeming glamour, acclaim and money potential. This has been a staple for several decades now with films like The Doors, Eddie and the Cruisers, and Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.
What makes this film different? Well, it is the story of the breakthrough of the all girl band, The Runaways, in the mid 1970s. Whether the audience remembers, knows about or is able to take an interest in these girls, box office success or not will indicate. The theme has potential because of the girls and their performances and their fans in a generally male world. Some may remember Joan Jett from those times (and she appeared with Michael J. Fox in the 80s movie, Light of Day). She was the driving force behind The Runaways and has continued to perform for decades after they disbanded.
In fact, Joan Jett is one of the producers of the film. The screenplay is based on a memoir by the lead singer of The Runaways, Cherie Currie. Interestingly because of this, the film is more warts and all rather than a glamorous picture of the girls.
The two female stars of New Moon and Eclipse here show their abilities in quite different roles. However, Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett still tends to the more pensive (sometimes blank) expressions with a melancholy air that she brings to Bella and her twilight love for Edward Cullen. Dakota Fanning, on the other hand, really puts lots of energy into Cherie Currie, songs, costumes, some off-the-wall behaviour, making her dramatically far more interesting and challenging than Joan Jett. As a child actor, Dakota Fanning often seemed far too precocious for her age and quite a dominating screen presence. It is the same here. Her character is aged 15-16, as was the actress while making the film, and she is asked to be a provocative, sexual young woman with attraction to both sexes and a drug addict.
The Runaways’ story is simplified. Joan writes and composes but is not a good singer. They come across Cherie who has done some David Bowie synchs at a concert and been hooted for her troubles. Family life is dysfunctional. She gets on well with her sister but does not allow her to tour with her. Father is alcoholic. Mother (played by Tatum O’Neill? who had been an Oscar-winning child star at this same period) leaves with a new husband for Indonesia. While momentarily hesitant, Cherie heads into this music world, boots and all, and finds success, adulation, recording contracts and a tour of Japan and hounding by rabid fans. Cherie poses for magazines which annoys the others. But, it can’t last and doesn’t. Cherie is out of control and egotistic and has to go into rehab. Meanwhile, Joan and the members of the band, after some confrontations start afresh.
But, behind the scenes and in front of the scenes, is the eccentric, egocentric promoter, Kim Fowley who masterminds much of The Runaways’ success but wants to control them – until Cherie says no. He is played in alarmingly arresting fashion by Michael Shannon. Shannon is one of the most alarmingly interesting screen presences: his madman in Bug, his frightening volunteer in World Trade Center, his Oscar-nominated turn as a disturbed man in Reservation Road, his dominance of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. He certainly brings Fowley alive, his madness, his menace and his touches of entrepreneurial genius.
Then, the film suddenly ends and we are informed that Fowley is still eccentric but that Joan Jett has had more than 30 years of singing and touring and Cherie Currie overcame her addictions and works as a youth counsellor. A more hopeful outcome than in so many rock and roll stories.
(Australia, 2010, d. Shirley Barrett)
This is the kind of drama an audience needs to be ready for. As the title indicates, it is a story of isolation, so not a fast-paced action film. In tone and style, it is akin to restrained European film-making.
South Solitary is a fictitious lighthouse island off the mainland coast of Australia. The time is 1927. As the film opens, there has been a tragedy on South Solitary, the lighthouse keeper killing himself. An inspector arrives to make a report. He brings his niece with him to assist in preparing the report. There is a family on the island, living something of a rough and ready existence. There is also another keeper, Fleet, a bomb disposals expert during World War I who is still suffering mentally from the experience. It is noted that the keeper who killed himself also served in World War I. This theme of war, death and illness underlies the film.
The first half of the film establishes the situation and the characters. The rugged island, the surrounding waters, the cliffs, the windswept top with its horse and straggling sheep help the audience feel immersed in this physically isolated and difficult world. The inspector (Barry Otto) is a stickler for detail and regulations, something of a bureaucratic snob. His niece, Meredith (Miranda Otto, who is the central focus of the film), has lost her fiancé in the war and is at a loose end emotionally and with jobs. The mother of the family is a tough type (Essie Davis), her husband (Rohan Nichol), a friendly type, too friendly with Meredith for his own good. There are three children, one little girl whom Meredith befriends, especially in their fondness and care for a lamb, Lucille.
Perhaps a difficulty for some audiences is that the pace of this part of the film is somewhat similar to living on South Solitary, meandering, governed by the roster in care for the light, and limited in the scope for where people can actually go.
When the family and the inspector leave, Meredith and the taciturn Fleet, have to co-exist. He keeps politely to himself. She needs company and some affection. They begin to bond very slowly. He embroiders and reads to occupy the time. She does the same but tries for conversation. The main action is a fierce storm which wreaks some damage and puts a strain on both of them.
This two-hander half of the film is more persuasive than the first half, an opportunity to be with these two characters and understand them better, feel her need for companionship and observe and feel for his coming out of himself very gradually.
While Miranda Otto brings her character to life, it is Marton Czokas, speaking laconically and courteously with a Welsh lilt, who captures the interest. A very gentle finale, open-ended.
THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
(UK/US, 2010, d. Richard Loncraine)
The Special Relationship is that political love affair between the United States and the United Kingdom – despite the Revolutionary Wars. The credits sequences of this film give us a pictorial historical overview of the presidents and the prime ministers and the partnerships from Winston Churchill during World War II and Franklin Roosevelt to John Major and Bill Clinton in the 1990s. However, the film opens with a visit from the Labour Leader, Tony Blair, in 1996 to the White House, which was expecting Blair to become the next British Prime Minister. He was elected in a landslide in 1997. In the meantime, Bill Clinton was elected for his second term as President.
This screenplay has been written by Peter Morgan who has show quite a remarkable skill in reconstructing political and social situations as well as credible imagining of conversations between the politicians, royalty and significant American figures: The Deal (the television movie about Tony Blair’s agreement with Gordon Brown concerning the succession in the prime ministership and which introduced Michael Sheen as Blair), The Queen (Sheen reprising his role as Blair and introducing Helen Mc Crory as Cherie Blair), The Last King of Scotland and Frost/Nixon (with Sheen this time as David Frost).
Michael Sheen and Helen Mc Rory are back as the Blairs with Dennis Quaid, doing a fine impersonation of Bill Clinton and Hope Davis who could be easily mistaken in looks and voice for the real Hilary Clinton. Once again Peter Morgan has incorporated speeches and information in the public arena with creative sequences of conversations which were private but which are more than plausible here.
Tony Blair was rather amazed to be so welcomed to Washington and to meet Bill Clinton before he became prime minister. The two hit it off and seemed to have something of a united vision, Blair bringing up the tradition of the special relationship. Clinton is the senior politician and the screenplay indicates how shrewd a politician and statesman he could be. While the Monica Lewinsky situation looms quite large at this time, with the president’s denials, change of attitude and his further testimony in the context of impeachment, Tony Blair (who did not approve and who is taken aback at first with the media’s rather uncensored presentation and language about the affair) stood by Clinton and is quoted as saying that these personal matters did not affect his capacity to govern.
The immediate issue here for the special relationship is that of Northern Ireland, with footage of the violence and glimpses of Gerry Addams. The next critical issue is that of the Balkans and how Europe, NATO and the Americans dealt with the attacks of President Milosovich on Kosovo. It is here that the idealism of Tony Blair, with some messianic touches, begins to emerge, along with the politics of being liked. He and Clinton disagree, with Clinton clearly stating his hesitations and his reasons. Blair went on the offensive in the US and the American media lapped him up, forcing Clinton’s hand. The personal aspect of the special relationship cooled, even as we see the Clintons visiting the Blairs at the time of the 2000 American election.
With George W. Bush in office, we see Blair becoming more of an opportunist using the special relationship and becoming friends with the new president (much to Clinton’s dismay). He wonders whether Blair was the visionary that he initially thought he was.
This means that the screenplay tends to make Bill Clinton the moral arbiter of Tony Blair’s behaviour with his final disapproving judgment.
Michael Sheen again brings Tony Blair to life, the eagerness, the political nous, the idealism, being forced into more pragmatic stances. (Sheen makes Blair smile a lot – but in the final sequence with actual footage of the prime minister with George Bush, the real Tony Blair seems to smile more in happy acquiescence of the Bush friendship than Sheen does).
Helen Mc Rory is given good lines and speeches as Cherie, the Blair household at a seemingly more modest 10 Downing Street, contrasting with the Clintons. She provides an ‘earthing’ for her husband many a time.
Dennis Quaid is very good as Clinton – which must make Oliver Stone disappointed as he has made JFK, Nixon films and a film with both Bushes but has not tackled Clinton. Hope Davis, perhaps in the light of Hilary Clinton’s life and work as Senator and Secretary of State, makes her a credible first lady with some dignity and wit (and tolerance for her husband).
In the wings, Adam Godley as chief adviser, Jonathan Powell, and Mark Bazeley as a strong lookalike spin doctor, Alistair Campbell (reprising his role from The Queen), remind us of the role of these powers behind the throne.
The film was screened on American television and in cinemas in other areas. The film and the cast were nominated for Emmy awards.
One hopes there will be The Special Relationship II with Peter Morgan enlightening us by reconstructing phone calls and meetings between Tony Blair and George W. Bush and, of course, the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
TINKER BELL AND THE GREAT FAIRY RESCUE
(US, 2010, D. Bradley Raymond)
A follow-up to Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure. Fans of that one should look forward to this one. But, the question (especially for adult male reviewers) is: who are the fans? It would seem that the niche audience is tots, little girls, aged from three to six (maybe two to seven), who would enjoy this kind of fairy story, a visual equivalent of playing with dolls. There is not much testosterone in evidence (although the screenplay was written by four men), although, to be fair to Tinker Bell, she is a mechanic at heart and spends some time in amazement at the new horseless carriage and determining how it works. She likes fixing things.
For the parents who watch the film with their daughters (the sons being in an adjacent cinema), there is the playful atmosphere and a story about a scientist and his daughter who discovers the fairies. There is a puzzle too. When the film is set in England and where the father and daughter (Michael Sheen and Lauren Mote) have very British accents, how come it is inhabited by fairies with very, very American accents?
There is a final tribute to Peter Pan author, J.M. Barrie, who created Tinker Bell, acknowledging his support for the Great Ormonde Street Children’s Hospital. Oh, and the plot? The fairies try to keep away from humans and remain secret but Tinker Bell gets caught in a fairy house and the rest get lost and have to find their way home.
THE WAITING CITY
(Australia, 2009, d. Claire Mc Carthy)
There are many things to commend The Waiting City to an Australian audience and to audiences beyond Australia.
Written and directed by Claire Mc Carthy, it was filmed completely on location in India, especially in Kolkata, with a train trip through the countryside to a town some hours from the city. Promoting of tourism is not an intention of the film-makers, but they so appreciate the distinctive atmosphere, the blend of beauty and squalor, the rich traditions (with their vivid and vibrant colours) and the religious and transcendent spirit that pervades India despite its growing affluence and materialism in some significant areas, that we feel that we ourselves are visiting India with the central couple.
Adoption is the key theme for The Waiting City, the city where an Australian couple are full of expectations to meet the child they have been planning to adopt for two years and to take her to a new life back home.
While the couple have been approved by the Indian authorities (who remind them that priority must be given to Indian adopting families), they have to wait for the untangling of Indian administrative bureaucratic knots. The transition to a completely different culture (highlighted by the wife's impatience at the airport and the loss of her luggage) begins to affect husband and wife in different ways and highlights the precarious aspects of their marriage and love.
Fiona is played by Radha Mitchell and Ben by Joel Edgerton. She is a successful lawyer, a workaholic and ambitious. She has her laptop with her and keeps working on a case despite the difficulties in communication. He is a rather laidback former rock musician who has a history of drug problems. Their marriage is tested as he looks out on to India and is caught up in its musical and religious spells. She looks inwards until Ben challenges her, throwing her documentation into the swimming pool in a desperate attempt to get her attention. Can the couple keep face when dealing with the authorities? Can they mend their emotional ruptures? Will the baby unite them?
One way of coping is for them to visit the orphanage where their baby is and see the town where she was born. For a record, both parents speak to a camera and take shots of the baby's home, background and culture to give to her when she grows older. One of the advantages the couple has is their friendly (but very blunt in asking questions about barren women and other personal issues) guide, Krishna, who accompanies them to the town and a visit to his family, his mother (also quite blunt), his wife and children.
A key event is Krishna's urging Fiona to step into the river which is said to bless barren women. Fiona confesses to not believing in God but eventually steps into the water, walking right in and submerging herself, experiencing something transcendent, if not a presence of God. The religious theme is to the fore as the baby lives at an orphanage run by sisters whose habit resembles that of the Missionaries of Charity and who manifest that charity in their care for the children. Underlying the plot are themes of pregnancy, abortion, inability to conceive as well as issues of adoption.
Most audiences may think to themselves that they can predict where the story is leading them. It doesn't. Fiona and Ben have to face far more questions than they anticipated, as does the audience.
The film is beautiful to look at and listen to. Audiences from developed countries are taken right into India and challenged about their own expectations of affluence, poverty, hunger, comfort, hygiene, health, opportunities, what they take for granted. A sense of superiority is also challenged as the core of the story is human dignity – no matter who, no matter what.