SIGNIS REVIEWS AUGUST 2013
BEST OFFER, The
MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES, The
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
PAIN AND GAIN
WE’RE THE MILLERS
WHAT MAISIE KNEW
WHITE HOUSE DOWN
WORLD’S END, The
THE BEST OFFER
Italy, 2012, 124 minutes, Colour.
Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks, Donald Sutherland.
Directed by Ennio Morricone.
There are many, many reasons for seeing The Best Offer – and, probably, many reasons for seeing it again. It is, to say the least, intriguing.
One of the main reasons for seeing the film is the central performance by Geoffrey Rush. He is at his best. He is art dealer and auctioneer, Virgil Oldman, an extreme aesthete who lives a solitary private existence, coming to life with surprising vivacity as he conducts auctions. Rush is persuasive when he goes into extroverted action but, since most of the time, he is a shy and often withdrawn introvert, his skill is manifest as we realise that we share so much of his interior life. Since he is not, initially, in any ways sympathetic – he is snobbish and arrogant – it is fascinating to realise how we have been drawn into his life.
The writer-director has fashioned a complex screenplay – and by the end, we realise just how complex it has been, and we go back to puzzle over what we have seen and what has really happened. It is a film by Italian Giuseppe Tornatore (filming in English), most famous for Cinema Paradiso and Italian stories like Everybody’s Fine and Malena. However, he made A Pure Formality in 1993, with Gerard Depardieu and Roman Polanski, which was also a puzzle which challenges the audience’s perceptions and response to changes and twists.
The reserved Virgil is asked to evaluate and catalogue the art works and furniture in an Italian mansion, commissioned by a young woman (Sylvia Hoeks) who irritates him because of her failure to come to meetings. As their interactions continue, ups and downs, his curiosity is aroused and, to his surprise because of his many decades of wariness and avoidance of women – except for his huge collection of classic portraits of women which he sits and contemplates in a secret gallery-room – a sexual attraction emerges for the mysterious young woman who employs him. He is also fascinated by some pieces of machines which are identified as 18th century and parts of an automaton. His other passion is for the automaton to be re-constructed as he finds more and more parts. He is helped in this pursuit by a genial young mechanic, Jim Sturgess, who also becomes a sounding board for Virgil’s emotional journey.
The other central character is Billy, an amateur artist friend of Virgil, who attends auctions and makes bids on behalf of Virgil, played by Donald Sutherland. Philip Jackson is the caretaker.
At this stage, publicists advise reviewers that they should go no further with any plot information, so that audiences will experience the film as the reviewers have and be drawn deeper into the characters and their lives and the twists of fate.
What can be said is that Tornatore has written a clever and intelligent script. There is a lush score by Ennio Morricone. We can contemplate a number of works of art. And we can admire the performances. And, yes, it would repay seeing again.
US, 2013, 98 minutes, Colour.
Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K.
Directed by Woody Allen.
This is certainly a film for Woody Allen’s many admirers. Those who are not his fans might be very well impressed by this film. He wrote and directed it when he was in his mid-seventies, with a long career in humour and film behind him, and serious issues in his private life, traces of which seem to surface in this film.
Part of the film is set in his familiar New York City, the world of the affluent, the social snobs. But there is also a connection to Wall Street, financial fraud and the problems of the first decade of the 21st century, the global financial meltdown. Some commentators have linked some of the themes to Bernie Madoff and his exploitation of people and gambling with their money, as well as to his wife Helen.
Alec Baldwin plays Hal, her charming member of the rich set, but shady in his financial dealings and extravagant in his lifestyle, pampering his wife, but also a womanizer.
Most of the film, however, is not set in New York City but in San Francisco. This is something new for Woody Allen and he photographs the city very attractively as well as showing ordinary life amongst ordinary people. But, there are also affluent people in San Francisco, similar parties to those of New York City. And there are beautiful homes on San Francisco Bay.
However, this is a story about Jeanette, adopted as a child along with another adoptee sister, Ginger. Ginger has run away from home at the earliest opportunity. Jeanette has bigger ambitions and has changed her name to Jasmine. At college, studying anthropology, she was swept off her feet by Hal and married him.
As the film opens, she is travelling from New York to San Francisco by plane, talking incessantly about herself to her fellow-passenger. Jasmine does a lot of talking to herself, her external self-esteem seems very strong, but below the surface she is often bewildered.
Jasmine is played by Cate Blanchett, who offers great performances in her many films, this being certainly one of her best. She commands the screen, audiences involved with her even if they don’t like her and would disapprove of her. She has a great fascination. As the film moves fluidly from present to past and back again, quite often, we see Cate Blanchett’s performance as the seemingly self-assured, pampered wife of the millionaire. But in San Francisco, we see her neurotic, drinking and pill-taking, presumptuously demanding, sponging on her sister, irritated by her nephews, putting her sister’s boyfriend down, extravagant in her outlook despite having to come to terms with her having no money. She tries to learn computer. She works, not very effectively, as a dentist’s secretary and is upset at his advances.
But, after urging her sister to seek other men and Ginger’s finding an agreeable dancing partner at the party, played by Louis C.K., she encounters a charming, reserved diplomat with political ambitions, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who is attracted to her. But, putting on a fantasy front, she prepares her own fate by her lies.
This is Woody Allen drawing on his talent for seriousness seen in such films as Interiors, Hannah and her Sisters or Crimes and Misdemeanours. He does have some comic touches but this is not a film that is meant to be funny in the expected Woody Allen sense. He has written an intense screenplay, a portrait of a disturbed woman, supported by a portrait of a happy-go-lucky woman in Sally Hawkins’ fine performance as Ginger.
In the past, screenplay and performances would have readily received Oscar nominations. It is hoped that they do with Blue Jasmine.
US, 2013, 109 minutes, Colour.
Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, Diego Luna.
Directed by Neil Blomkomp.
Elysium was once a mythical paradise for the Greeks. In 2154 it is a satellite, circling earth, a place reserved for the wealthy so that they can live in comfort, far away from the wreckage of planet earth. An interesting idea for a science-fiction film, especially contrasting the squalor of Los Angeles, the devastated buildings, the pollution, the totalitarian rule of the Robocop police force, smiling factory owners who are accountable to the authorities on Elysium. One of the advantages of Elysium is a bed and a scan which can detect instantly illness and fractures in a body and, simply by scanning, heal them.
Despite its impressive look, the film doesn’t deliver as much as we might hope for.
Writer-director, Neal Blomkomp, achieved popular and critical success with his first feature film, District 9, an allegory about life in South Africa, from where the director comes, and apartheid. He used an aliens-on-earth story to illustrate his theme. Blomkomp has had long experience in special effects and that was very evident in District 9. It is even more evident in Elysium where the producers seem to have given him unlimited funds for his special effects and action.
The trouble is that the plot is not always easy to follow, and the central characters are not all that engaging. This is not the fault of Matt Damon who does his best in the role of the Max, an orphan who has grown up, got into trouble, gone to prison, and now works in a factory. He has to become the very muscular hero who takes on the establishment of Elysium as well as a fiercely mad mercenary, Sharlto Copley (the lead in District 9). Max and most of the others on earth are fairly embittered about their lot.
However, there is a sympathetic character, Frey, who was an orphan with Max and looked after by a very benign nun at the orphanage. She is now a nurse but with a little daughter who has terminal leukemia. Max is bashed by one of the police and breaks his wrist, is exposed to radiation in the factory and given five days to live. A distraction during the film is that many criticised The Passion of the Christ for the amount of torture that Jesus seem to be able to endure. Max, given his only five days to live, has to endure much, much more and, at times, scarcely shows the ill effect on him.
Max wants to get to Elysium and joins a group who are trying to sabotage the authorities there, abducting the owner of the plant and transferring secret documentation which is stored in his brain into Max’s brain.
Which, of course, leads to a huge climax on Elysium itself.
In fact, we see very little of Elysium itself, some nice suburban homes and pools, gardens, but mainly vistas the huge circle rotating in space. However, we do see one of the ministers who is plotting against the president, cold and ruthless as she orders the destruction of several unlawful space vehicles which are filled with refugees in search of a home and cures for illnesses. She is played with quite cold calculation by Jodie Foster, a contrast to the very nice Frey, Alice Braga.
While the visuals are impressive, but a lot of the language is aggressively tiresome, we watch with a certain detachment and observation, rather than a deep involvement which would have made the film more interesting and enjoyable.
US, 2012, 89 minutes, Colour.
Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Tom Courteney, Cloris Leachman.
Directed by Michael Hoffman.
This is a brief, light, comic story of art forgery and theft. It is humorous and easy entertainment. And then we discover that the screenplay was written by the Coen Brothers (who directed the rather dire re-make of Ealing Studios’ The Lady Killers, so perhaps it was better that they did not direct this one at the 21st century Ealing Studios.)
In 1967, Gambit was released starring Michael Caine and Shirley Mac Laine. It was a frothy comedy caper of the period. Not the kind of film that would come to mind for a re-make. However, audiences who catch up with it will be pleased that they did. In fact, anyone who saw it on its first release will turn 60 next year! So one could say that there is an audience for a re-make.
This time the stars are Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz. Firth plays a rather more upper- class bespectacled version of Michael Caine in his day. He is an art adviser, resentful of his rather lowly status and the treatment by his boss. He devises a scheme to swindle his boss out of one is for favourite Monet paintings. He is more than aided and abetted by an old military veteran, played with aplomb by Tom Courtney. We see them in Texas, looking for the granddaughter of a veteran who may or may not have acquired the Monet during World War Two when it had been taken by Goering.
Instead of a dancer, as Shirley Mac Laine was in the original, Cameron Diaz is a rodeo expert and can tie up a calf within seconds, something very useful in a really unexpected way later in the film.
The main twist is at the beginning of the film rather than at the end which makes it more entertaining.
While Colin Firth is expert at the uptight Englishman, Cameron Diaz is delightfully exuberant as the Texas cowgal. She is clearly enjoying herself in this kind of lively performance.
The target of the robbery is the proprietor of a whole range of magazines. He treats people in a detestable way, as only Alan Rickman can. He spurns Firth but then relies on him for expert art of advice, especially on Monet. However, there is a German expert in the wings who may get the job. He appears only twice, but does so amusingly in the form of Stanley Tucci.
While the plan may seem foolproof, it definitely isn’t. There are all kinds of mix ups in the hotel, with some PG-rated sex farce. There is the lavish party with a whole range of intoxicated and hungry Japanese who are to do a deal with Rickman but get sidetracked into karaoke.
In the meantime, Firth has to substitute the forgery for the real painting and encounters a form of security that he never dreamt of. It looks as though the whole plan will fall through.
Needless to say, the whole thing does work out to the satisfaction of everyone, including Rickman who is seen at the end contemplating his acquired forgery.
This is a soufflé of a movie, but fans of Colin Firth will admire his serious portrayal and his laughing at the end. Fans of Cameron Diaz will also enjoy her vivacious screen presence.
Israel, 2012, 105 minutes, Colour.
Heads of Shin Bet.
Directed by Dror Moreh.
The gatekeepers of the title of this film are of the heads of the Israeli security organization, Shin Bet.
Any documentary which studies contemporary Israel and its history of the last half century is of significance. Audiences, whatever their political stances, will be interested in Israel and its policies, especially towards Palestine, Palestinians and a Palestinian State. This film is of more than topical interest.
The director of the film, Dror Moreh, had the idea - it may have seemed quite improbable on paper - to do interviews with six of the directors of Shin Bet, from the 1980s to the present. The improbability was that they would agree to be filmed let alone be interviewed and express their personal as well as political points of view. But they did.
Were the film simply to consist of a succession of talking heads, it would be of paramount interest and importance. The six men are quite frank in expressing their views, their following orders, the influence on policy, the sometimes violent processes that they used for the security of Israel. But, also of importance, is the fact that each of them is in favour of a Palestinian State, and that they are critical of the views of the extreme right in Israel.
While the film has the interviews intercut each other, not just simply putting them in chronological order, the film also supplies a great deal of their background, as persons, as officials, as committed to the state. The film also incorporates a great deal of historical footage, especially of television coverage of the six day war, the Intifada, the surveillance of Palestinians, the assassination attempts instigated by Shin Bet as well as the rise of the right wing during the 1990s, the response to the Oslo agreement and the assassination of prime minister Rabin.
This background material provides the chronological development of the state of Israel, especially after the 1960s, the enlargement of its territory, the incorporation of the Palestinian Territories and the occupation.
This gives the audience quite an amount of information about which they may have very strong ideas. The presentation does offer an opportunity for challenging ideas and perspectives. One of the motif throughout the film is a focus on surveillance cameras and indication of the growing sophistication of the ability for authorities to focus and groups and individuals, even to the targeting of bombs and missiles. While this is interesting, yet it is frightening, focus on the leaders of Palestinian groups, getting information, infiltrating, putting explosives in telephones… There is also a tense presentation of the possibility of killing the hierarchy of Hamas but the difficulties in making life and death decisions with the issues of collateral damage for innocent people.
The presentation of the role of the political right and their religious views is important, especially in the events of the 1990s, the sudden assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the prevention of political and violent action by these groups for the greater good, as well as the freeing by the Knesset of some of those involved in Israeli terrorist attempts on buses and passengers, an unexpected angle on security issues in Israel.
While the film has been made by Israeli Group, it has alarmed and been condemned by some Jewish groups around the world. It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2012.
Denmark, 2013, 106 minutes, Colour.
Pikou Asbaek, Soren Malling, Dar Salim.
Directed by Tobias Lindholm.
This is a very well-made, very well-written and acted, and an engrossing drama.
While the title may indicate that we will be privy to the intricate details of a pirate boarding-party on a ship in the Indian Ocean, the actual hijacking is described only in words. What is important for this film is the focus on members of the crew and their response to the hijacking as well as the negotiations between a translator on the ship and the heads of the shipping company in Denmark.
The film moves from one location to the other, actually using a ship that had been the subject to a hijacking by Somali pirates. It should be noted that the Somali pirates, quite a substantial gun-toting number of them, are shown as a group but we never see their leader has a distinctive character. Rather, the negotiator, who claims not to be one of the pirates, is more of the central terrorist character, exercising both charm and ruthlessness – bargaining with psychological know-how. There is also one of the minor pirates, Rashid, who features more prominently, especially in his dealings with the cook and a final dramatic moment.
The film opens with a focus on the cook, in close up with a phone call to his wife and daughter back home. He fills in some of the background of the ship and its journey towards Mumbai. We have some glimpses of the captain as well as another member of the crew, Jan. These three are separated from the other four members of the crew and held incommunicado for months. Pilou Asbaek is convincing as the cook, Mikkel, who is the anchor for the audience for the plight of the crew.
The scene moves to Denmark, a serious negotiation between a shipping company and a Japanese firm, the second-in-charge unable to do a deal and relying on the quiet toughness of the CEO. The negotiations are interrupted by news that their ship has been hijacked. The film presents an interesting character portrait of the CEO (Soren Malling) who agrees that there should be an outsider professional adviser about dealing with the pirates but who wants to take the responsibility for the negotiations on himself. The detail of the contacts between Denmark and the ship, growing intense over several months is interesting: the Pirates’ lowering their demands, the company trying to keep the crew alive as well as minimize the payment, and keeping a level head and controlling the emotional impact.
The film takes a very object of look at the situations, despite the emotions of the prisoners, the captain ill, the cook becoming depressed - with a moment of respite, quite exhilarating in its way, when the cork is able to land a fish and crew and pirates enjoy a meal together. The build-up of the negotiations and the effect on the CEO is also a powerfully portrayed.
There is discussion material, especially amongst the negotiators, about giving in to demands too easily and the consequences on the future daring of the pirates.
Audience hopes are always for the survival of the crew. The film also gives insight into the process is and the psychology of negotiating on each side, as well as the details of how the ransom delivery is made and the consequences for the crew. As regards the ending, A Hijacking does not have the full happy ending of, say, an American version of this story. There is satisfaction, but there are some grim dimensions to the satisfaction. (Hollywood has made a film about hijacking, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), directed by Paul Greengrass.)
Some audiences may find the film too intense and hard going-but it is worth it.
US, 2013, 127 minutes, Colour.
Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J,K.Simmons, Matthey Modine, Lesley Ann Warren, Ron Eldard, James Woods, John Getz, Victor Rasuk, Eldon Henson.
Directed by Joshua Michael Stern.
Jobs is a very interesting film to watch. But, this is particularly because of its portrayal of the development and history of Apple. It is also interesting, in a negative kind of way, in its portrayal of the character of Steve Jobs himself. He was a very significant figure of the 20th century, the film having the courage to simply entitle itself, Jobs, rather than Steve Jobs. Everyone is expected to know who Jobs was and something of what he achieved.
The film opens at an Apple staff meeting in 2001. Steve Jobs shuffles in in his characteristic, slightly Neanderthal, stooped way of walking. He addresses his troops, challenges them, promises them something creative and new, the iPod, and energies their enthusiasm by giving statistics about how many items were sold, millions of them, in that year. By the end, we realise that this is something of a thumbnail sketch of Job’s biography.
But then the film goes back to the mid-1970s, Jobs as a young man, inventive and managerial, but unable to settle down to his formal studies. With his good friend, Daniel, he travels to India. Though we don’t quite see how, it has something of a transforming effect on the young Jobs. He returns and knuckles down to hard work. It seems he has found himself, at home in the developing information technology world.
At this stage, the review should include some praise for its star, Ashton Kutcher. Most audiences would see Kutcher as a lightweight, a performer in romantic comedies or some thrillers, as well as on television in Two and a half Men. However, in that opening sequence, made up to look like Jobs and giving his speech, we realise that this is a much better Kutcher performance. But then we go back to the young man and see the Kutcher with whom we are familiar. But, as the film progresses, he immerses himself in the role and we appreciate that we are looking at an excellent portrayal of Steve Jobs.
It is legend that he set up the Apple Company in his father’s garage. He befriends Steve Wozniak, computer whiz who saw something of the future in developing the personal computer and the computer screen and data storage. Along with other friends, including Daniel, they start working to fulfil an order from a local store. With the order somewhat incomplete, we begin to see that Jobs is something of a wheeler dealer in his words and in his performance. At this stage, a businessman decides to invest some thousands in Apple and the company is on the way.
Daniel is played by Lukas Haas. Steve Wozniak is played by Josh Gad. The investor is played by Dermot Mulroney.
The prospects for Steve Jobs seemed limitless. However, on a personal level, he becomes more and of more a repellent human being. He discards his friends easily. When offering stock options, he doesn’t include them because he considers that they have not worked up to the standard for deserving them. A young woman claims that a child is his and he rejects her with chilling nonchalance. Later, he will take care of this daughter. But, although we see scenes of his domestic life, a wife and a child, women did not play a very large part in his life.
Of course, it is rather exhilarating to see Jobs and his success, immersing himself more and more in the American capitalist dream, and achieving. With Steve Wozniak and an increasingly large number of proteges, he is continually inventive, developing the Macintosh for instance. But, in his personality, he is a perfectionist and ruthlessly intolerant of those who do not measure up to his expectations. They can just get out – and at once. He is able to hire and fire without a grimace.
But in the nineties, members of the board became more and more hostile to his perfectionism, experiments, huge investments in development, and he is ousted from the board.
While he seems to mellow outside the board and his company, he spends some time at home. However, he is requested to come back to the company and, by a series of maneouvres, and his old demanding style, he is reinstated.
There is an interesting cast members for characters during this period, J.K. Simmons as head of the board, Matthew Modine as the Pepsi Cola marketing expert called in to save Apple in the 1990s.
The film is significant in its presentation of the history of IT developments in the United States and the establishing of Apple. However, on a personal level, like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook in The Social Network, the central character, though a supreme achiever, is a very difficult human being.
US, 2013, 109 minutes, Colour.
Aaron Taylor Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Chris Platz, Jim Carrey, Morris Chestnut.
Directed by Jeff Medlow.
There is no doubt that Kickass 2 lives up to its title. This reviewier was not a fan of the original Kickass, a blend of realistic violence with comic book violence, Nicholas Cage as a comic strip avenger, Mark Strong as a comic strip villain, Chloe grace Moritz as a little girl action heroine, Hit-Girl?, with a violent streak and a bad mouth.
Obviously, the film was popular, and did well in the box office, a sign that the film should become the beginning of a franchise. And now the sequel. This reviewer is not a fan of the sequel either.
With Nicholas Cage and Mark Strong gone from the film, though we see their photos in their children’s homes, the film relies on Aaron Johnson Taylor as David, the bespectacled and mild-mannered young student who transforms himself into the heroic figure, Kickass, going out on the streets to defend the defenceless. However, Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) now aged 15, is confined to the care of her father’s friend, Markus (Morris Chestnut), who insists she stay in school and not participate in any action. This gives her the opportunity to have some scenes straight out of a Mean Girls kind of film where she excels at her dance routine, imagining herself as Hit-Girl? battling with her opponents, but then exercising a mean vengeance on the snobby girls with their loss of control of bodily functions.
Mark Strong’s son, Christopher Mintz Plasse, inherits all his father’s ill-gotten money, decides that he will be a villain incarnate, with a generally unprintable title, and decides to go after David to avenge his father. He gathers round him a truly oddball group, especially a gigantic wrestler woman called Mother Russia.
In the meantime, a born-again Christian, anti-swearing and anti-profanity captain gathers together the avengers. They go into action but soon he is disposed of. Waiting for Jim Carrey to appear, it dawns on us that he has already appeared as the captain but was, more or less, unrecognisable as the Jim Carrey of the past. In comments after the making of the film, Carrey has made some statements highly critical of the violence. He is not wrong.
The film veers into different moods every couple of minutes. At one stage it is realistic. At another, soon after, it is highly stylized. It goes into high school movie mode. It goes into domestic drama. It goes into fighting fantasy. But all the time it returns to confrontation and comic-book violence and killings while several times mentioning that this is not a comic-book but is real life. Well, not exactly.
MOOD INDIGO/ L’ECUME DES JOURS
France, 2013, 125 minutes, Colour.
Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Omar Sy, Gad Elamaleh, Aissa Maga.
Directed by Michel Gondry.
Mood Indigo is certainly an arresting title for a film. Those who go to the film out of curiosity about the title will either be enthralled and captivated by its imagination or simply bewildered by the story, the behaviour for the characters, and the steady downward spiral to a mood that is even darker than indigo.
The film is based on a novel by Boris Vian has an amusing quote from him at the opening about the film being true because he made it up from beginning to end. The original title of his novel is L’ecume des Jours. Ecume means froth, but the froth of these days is light while the sadness is deeper.
However, the film is very much the work of writer-director, Michel Gondry. A Frenchman, he is best remembered worldwide for his imaginative film, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. This film played with ideas of identity, loss of identity, creation of a new identity, the role of memory. While Mood Indigo does not explore these themes so explicitly, they are there in the background of an unusual story. It might be noted that Gondry also directed Human Nature, The Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind.
Audiences know right from the beginning that this is going to be unusual and possibly exotic. The hero, Colin, Romain Duris, a popular star of many French films, is something of an inventor. His house is full of all kinds of mechanical wonders, some very helpful for maintenance, some for cooking, others toy-like inventions. He is assisted by his cook, Omar Sy, the assistant in The Intouchables. Colin would like to be something of a man about town, but is rather a loner and awkward in his manner. His cook, Nicolas, originally from Africa, is a model of urbane manners and hierarchical respect. He also has a talent for modern dancing! So far, so amusing and intelligible. With, of course, the touch of the oddball.
At a social, Colin, on the lookout for feminine company, encounters Chloe (Audrey Tautou as an older Amelie-type), sweet but a touch awkward, but Colin and Chloe fall in love. This brings in Duke Ellington’s music as a theme, with Chloe and other songs. The love story is accompanied by humorous scenes, comic scenes, slapstick scenes, and the intervention of the inventions.
Also at hand is Colin’s friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) comes to visit, enjoying meals from Nicholas, and play Colin invention, the cocktail piano. Which produces different kinds of drinks according to the chords one plays. Chick is also in love with Nicolas’ niece, Alice.
While the film is often in bright colour, the colour begins to fade somewhat as the film goes on. This is especially true when Chloe is diagnosed with a severe illness, and lily growing in her lung, which needs myriad flowers around her in order to strike the power of the lily. This has a terrible effect on Colin and his mood, desperately in love with Chloe, but spending all his money on doctors and medicines. And he has to find jobs to continue to support her, some really odd jobs, like lying on a mound of earth to give warmth for the growth of a range of bullets for rifles.
Gondry, though he has worked in Hollywood, obviously does not believe in Hollywood endings and the film loses most of its visual colour, moves into the darkness of black and white, and some final symbolic but bewildering images.
(Not all the film reviewers at the preview stayed the length of the film, either becoming bored or exasperated. This is certainly a possibility for many viewers who may be taken aback by the style and story and refuse to be tantalised by its clues. But for those caught up by Vian’s and Gondry’s imagination, they probably might decide to see it again and to put it all together.)
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
US, 2013, 130 minutes, Colour.
Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Lena Headey, Jonathan Rhys Myers, CCH Pounder, Kevin Zegers, Jared Harris.
Directed by Harald Zwart.
Teen fantasy. That’s the phrase we’re looking for. The Mortal Instruments series is new teen fantasy. After the success of the Harry Potter films, with the introduction of the Twilight series, with the continued popularity of The Hunger Games (and more novels and films in the offing), there seems to be a hearty appetite amongst teenage audiences for this kind of fantasy. While it will appeal to teenagers, it may not appeal so much to their parents.
The Mortal Instrument series has been written by Cassandra Clare. Once again it is a female author who has been able to come up with this imaginative world. However, it is not very clear to those who have not read the books what the mortal instruments actually are and how they function. We are taken to a mysterious institute with a burial place for demon-hunters which is called the City of Bones. But not much more explanation of these themes, though lots of explanation of the background of the characters.
Taking a glance at some comments from the readers of the book, we find that the general impression is that the film is a good adaptation and a number of fan-readers recommending it.
So, what is this particular fantasy about? Somewhat disconcertingly for those not in the know, it opens in contemporary New York City, not a fantasy world. It looks as though it is going to be a domestic story. We have a concerned mother, a teenage daughter with the touch of rebellion, and geeky kind of boyfriend, and a poetry reading from a pretentious young poet, a visit to a nightclub.
But, somehow, behind the surface of New York, there is a parallel world. Perhaps not quite so much parallel world. Rather, an alternate world, because, if you have the gift, you can see the alternate characters and interact with them. And, of course, there is deep evil in this alternate world.
The story is all about demon-hunters. The mother, it transpires, was one of the greatest but she is pursued by the demons themselves, wanting to protect her daughter, who we soon learn has the powers, and pretty potent powers at that. Enter a gallant young man, Jace, the hero demon-hunter for the film (Jamie Campbell Bower). He has a group of friends who fight with him. After rescuing our heroine, and Clary is her name, Lily Collins, he takes her to a vast supernatural institute which is masked from ordinary view but, again, is right there in New York City.
We have met the demons. We have met the demon-hunters. We find a sage older man in the institute (Jared Harris), who is able to reveal some of the secrets. In the meantime, at the rather suburban-looking home of Clary, there is a mysterious woman downstairs (CCH pounder) who has tarot card powers.
The quest is to find a mysterious cup, which will help the demon race survive, when Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), has it in his power.
The film is longish, immersing us in this double world, puzzling about what the outcome ultimately will be, or how it will be worked out. And then the film pauses… because the sequel is in preparation!
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
US, 2013, 107 minutes, Black and white.
Amy Acker, Alexis Danishof, Clark Gregg.
Directed by Joss Whedon.
All the Shakespeare enthusiasts will have their own strong opinion on the quality of Much Ado about Nothing. By and large, the comic play is well received period. Fans of Shakespearean films will recall that one of Kenneth Branagh’s earliest film versions of Shakespeare was the 1993 Much Ado with Emma Thompson had a very unusual cast including Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves. It was colorful, bright and breezy, with its underlying battle of the sexes between Beatrice and Benedick.
This year there has been mixed anticipation of a new version of Much Ado. First of all, it was to be adapted for the screen and directed by Joss Whedon. He is the hero of the fanboys and fangirls who appreciate his imaginative television programs, the film Serenity and, the biggest Blockbuster of 2012, The Avengers the one with Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk…). They were hoping that he was working on The Avengers 2. On the other hand, the news was that this version was in black and white, with an unknown cast, running under two hours.
Those who relish Much Ado will find quite some satisfaction in this version. It is light years away from a huge-budget extravaganza. Yes, it has been filmed in black and white. The cast is generally not known, at least by name. They are friends of Whedon, a group who meet in his California home to read Shakespeare. They decided that they would do a simple version of Much Ado, in contemporary dress, with their own accents, and they filmed over a three week period. Whedon himself also composed the score.
One of the difficulties for Americans performing Shakespeare’s plays is their accent and their recitation of the verse. Not all can speak iambic pentameter in a way that blends the speech rhythms with the blank verse. Sometimes they seem quite contrived in their efforts to be poetic. No need to be apprehensive here. The cast has a skilled for natural rhythms and ease with speaking the verse, not forcing it, but yet retaining the impact of Shakespeare’s language and rhythms.
While the film is comic, it has many serious undertones and implications. While the film is also serious, it is played with some comic lightness.
We accept that we are in Messina, in Italy, even though the data and the sound is of California. And it is a contemporary California, to costumes, music and dance, and modern touches like I-pods and cell phones, sometimes providing music and, interestingly at the end, a plot development via images on a mobile phone.
The plots intrigue is not particularly modern but is at home in the Shakespearian era. However, we accept it because of the performances. There is excellent sparring between Beatrice and Benedick in performances by Ami Acker and Alexis Danishof. They project strong personalities so that even when the focus is not on them, we are conscious of their presence. But the basic plot concerns a father and his daughter, her being courted by an earnest young man, backed by the noble visitor, Don Pedro. However, Pedro’s bastard-halfbrother plots against him, fabricates a sequence whereby the young man accepts false evidence that his fiancée is unfaithful to him. And in another Shakespearian tradition, the heroine, whose name is Hero, is made out to be dead - and comes to the life when the young man admits his errors.
The couple may not agree that in regard to their love and marriage, there has been much ado about nothing. But all agree that all’s well that ends well.
PAIN & GAIN
US, 2013, 129 minutes, Colour.
Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson, Michael Rispoli.
Directed by Michael Bay.
‘Finesse’ is used by one of the main characters in Pain & Gain. However, it is not a word that immediately springs to mind while watching the film.
Many audiences will be alerted by the name of the director, Michael Bay. With such films as Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor, The Island and The Transformer series, fans of these films will have no hesitation in rushing to the box office and will probably not be disappointed. Others who fear that Michael Bay films are too bombastic in style, and the volume to noisy to sit through, will probably be well advised to give this one a miss.
However, though it does go on and on a bit, it has its moments. But it also has its down moments.
It is probably best described as a black comedy, a parody of robberies and crimes. The characters are not at all likeable, though very well played, and there are quite a lot of nasty moments. And Bay has thrown in some gross-out moments which will have even well-spoken audiences exclaiming ‘yuck’, and some bits of violence that are more than in your face.
The idea behind the black comedy is in many ways amusing. We see Mark Wahlberg as a gym fitness trainer running away from a squad of police and then the film goes into flashback. A screenplay has the very good device of having each of the central characters explain themselves and their background to the audience, intercutting with the action and continuing throughout the film. Lots of explanations which are comic and ironic (not to the characters themselves). Danny goes on and on about the American dream and his wanting to achieve it, even going to a seminar conducted by a manic Ken Jeong urging people to be doers rather than donters. Trouble for Danny is that a number of his heroes fulfilling the American dream are the main characters from The Godfather trilogy. He resents many of his clients, especially a food restaurant king played with heroic patience point Tony Shaloub. If awards for film endurance under torture and attempted killings were to be given, it would surely be to Tony Shaloub for Pain & Gain.
Danny also has a hold over the manager of the gym, played with more than usual quiet comedy by Rob Corddry.
The first ally in his schemes to abduct Shaloub, get documents signed by a notary, Corddry, which will give him complete possession home and money from Shaloub is an ex-prisoner who has gotten religion and been born again, though not always practising, played by Dwayne Johnson. In a sense, OK so far, but halfway through Johnson’s character, Paul, starts to snort cocaine which seems in contradiction to his character up till then and the credibility of his character and part in the plot goes downhill. The third partner in crime is played by Anthony Mackie, a would-be musclebound character who suffers from impotence. Not the most likely group for high crime.
But the screenplay parodies their attempts at crime showing them for the really, really dumb characters that they are, despite their high estimation of themselves. Wahlberg is good at taking himself seriously while communicating his below-par intelligence. And his discovery of his mistakes. Dwayne Johnson has shown in several films that he is able to play characters who don’t understand themselves and his timing for comedy is very good. Mackie, usually a serious actor, participates in the parody.
In the latter part of the film, Ed Harris turns up as a private detective, bringing at least some sense of seriousness to the proceedings.
One of the scene-stealers is Australian, Rebel Wilson, with much the same performance as she gives in every film, A Few Best Men, What to expect when you’re expecting, Pitch Perfect, Bachelorette. And she doesn’t change her accent. She can get away with all kind of outlandish remarks because of her comic and seemingly ingenuous presence.
So, a mixed experience, a macho show and not designed for a female audience. It’s one of those shows that appeals to the blokes.
US, 2013, 116 minutes, Colour.
Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary- Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung- Hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones?, Neal Mc Donough, Brian Cox, Tim Piggott- Smith.
Directed by Dean Parisot.
Red was an entertaining surprise of 2010. It was an action adventure with a number of retired secret agents emerging to collaborate and defend themselves from an enemy. The plot was in some way standard, except for the veterans not only going into action but prevailing. Bruce Willis was the leader, Morgan Freeman an associate as was John Malkovich. Helen Mirren surprised her fans by appearing as a very calm and cultured but deadly assassin. Mary- Louise Parker was drawn into the action despite herself. And Brian Cox was an enemy from the past who was still infatuated with Helen Mirren. There were lots of good lines and ironic situations.
Most of them are gathered together again. While the entertaining novelty is not there, most fans of the original film will be pleased to see the group reassemble for action. Bruce Willis is once again the leader. The film opens with him, quite domesticated, buying equipment in a supermarket accompanied by Mary- Louise Parker with whom he is living and whom he is continually trying to protect. Up pops John Malkovich with a warning that information about a crisis from the late seventies, a bomb entitled Nightshade, has appeared online with their names mentioned. Again they become targets.
Willis is picked up and interrogated but the interview is interrupted by a military attack led by a relentless Neal Mc Donough. Needless to say there is a battle, much of it in a library, and an escape.
In the meantime there is concern at MI 6 and the head phones Victoria, Helen Mirren, who has just completed some assassinations and is dissolving the bodies in an acid bath. She warns Willis are and the team go into action, discovering a scientist who has been secluded for 32 years. He is the inventor of Nightshade.
And then the location shifts to Moscow, the search for Nightshade in the tunnels under the city. The one Harry Moscow,Victoria makes contact with Ivan, Brian Cox, who is to infatuated and there is an amusing scene of his lying back romantically commenting on her as she lets fly with a machine gun.
Needless to say, there are lots of complications, some twists, some betrayals, and plenty of explosions. There is a helicopter crash with the quotable line from Victoria, ‘don’t tell me that your’e about to crash with a weapon of mass destruction on board!’.
Perhaps the last place we would be expecting for the next location would be the Iranian embassy in London. But there are various shenanigans leading to a car chase through Central London, climaxes at an airport, and a, literally explosive, satisfactory ending.
Bruce Willis is rather the straight man in this film with John Malkovich having most of the one liners and ironic remarks. Which is not to downplay the dialogue and quips from Helen Mirren. Mary- Louise Parker is much stronger this time, instructed by Malkovich in techniques and military jargon, and playing a substantial role in the climax.
There are some other substantial benefits, especially with Anthony Hopkins as the scientist, a mixture of your bubbly British grandfather and Hannibal Lecter. Catherine Zeta- Jones is a Russian operative. And there is also an assassin from Hong Kong, past associate of the group but now commissioned to assassinate Willlis. He is the striking Korean actor, Byung-hun Lee, who appeared in the GI Joe films and The Good, the Bad and the Weird..
Probably a quite satisfying sequel for the fans of the original.
Australia, 2013, 79 minutes, Colour.
Narrator: Russell Crowe.
Directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross.
When you see Russell Crowe’s name on the poster for Red Obsession, you might think that it is an advertisement for a thriller. Possibly set in China. Actually, there is something in that, but it is really a documentary. And, older audiences remembering the connotations of red, might then expect it to be a documentary about communist China. And there is something that too.
However, the Red referred to in the title is red wine, from Bordeaux.
Some audiences who have not developed their noses and palettes for the finer tastes and bouquet of red wine might be tempted to give this film a miss. They may not want to be embarrassed and shamed in not being able to join a conversation about the merits of the French red wines from the area. At the beginning of the film, this seems to be the case. But soon, non-experts can sit back in their seats, as this reviewer did, and respond to the broader treatment and study of the wine industry.
In fact, this film is really an economics lesson rather than a primer for an amateur who wants to go into the wine tasting or wine critics business. There is a key line early enough in the film which indicates that ‘the wine might be too valuable to drink’.
So what is the obsession? And who is obsessed?
Before reviewing the film and its aims, it must be pointed out that this documentary is beautifully photographed. Either you will be satisfied with seeing the wonderful vistas of the city of Bordeaux, the surrounding countryside, and the views of the vines in the fields or you will be making resolutions that you must soon visit this part of France. And we see not only the countryside, we see the enormous cellars, the vast number of vats, the technology that makes the wine and stores it.
But the themes themselves…
Russell Crowe, in a rather sonorous Gladiator-style voice and accent, gives us a brief history of wine growing in the Bordeaux region, beginning with the Roman legions and their planting of vines. The 2000 years of vine-cultivating and wine-making is a considerable achievement. In the 19th century, the French government classified the vineyards nominating honours for the chief chateaux. Then we are introduced to a number of the contemporary winemakers, their love for their work, their achievements, hopes for the future. We are also introduced to a number of wine-tastings as well as to critics who write for magazines on wines and serve as judges for competitions. The film really seems to be a glorification of the of the wine produced, the range of Bordeaux reds.
And then we are told that vintage years are few and far between. There was one in 2003, another in 2009 when this film was being made, a great year. And then, unexpectedly, there was a great one in 2010, even better than the year before. Without spoiling the suspense for the ending, it can be revealed that 2011 was certainly not in the same class as the previous two years.
Amid all the jollity, the wine-tasting, the enormous socials and parties to promote the wine, the scenes of options, catalogues, and more information that most of us can deal with, enter the Chinese.
The bulk of the film is about the Chinese response to Bordeaux, the Asian entrepreneurs who come into France and buy up companies, the over-rich who have sometimes dismantled a chateau, stone by stone, transported it to China or Japan and rebuild it. We are treated to glimpses of French chateaux in the Chinese countryside.
Two principal Chinese interests have emerged. The first is the desire to buy up wine as an investment, some buyers never even opening their boxes or tasting the wine. The Chinese are shown as being a strong presence at marketing socials as well as at auctions.
The other interest is in wine production, principally for China, and the Chinese gaining a reputation throughout the world, even winning some of the top prizes for wine in 2011.
We are warned, however, and we may not have thought of this, as with other luxury goods, fake Bordeaux has become something of an industry.
At the end, some of the French company owners, acknowledging their desire for profits, and seeing the enormous increases in price in 2009 to 2011, have to admit that they made mistakes, that the bubble, so to speak, had burst and the world had to adjust to more realistic prices for wines.
So by the end of the 80 minutes, we have learned a great deal whether we are wine experts or not. The information is offered in quite an intelligible and interesting way, giving background for wine lovers and broaden their horizons for those for whom wine is not a passion.
Australia, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
Sitthiphon Dimasoe, Loungnam Kaosainam.
Directed by Kim Mordaunt.
The Rocket is a film well worth seeing.
It is a collaboration between Screen Australia and film producers in Laos. We do not see many, if any, films from Laos about Laotian people and their way of life. This film serves as a good introduction for outsiders to enter into Laos, experience the problems of village people, and see what is happening in this, for Australians and many other nations, remote country, part of Indochina, the but seemingly squeezed in between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and China.
The film was written and directed by Australian Kim Mordaunt. He shows a great familiarity with the people in the country and has found ways of introducing them to others. He had previously made a documentary, Bomb Harvest, in Laos in 2007, and draws on some elements for this story.
The central character is a young boy, Ahlo, played engagingly by Sitthiphon Disamoe. In the prologue to the film, we are introduced to animist type religious behaviour with a grandmother carrying the head of an ox to a ritual shrine. It is for the safe birthing of the little boy. The process is complex and the mother delivers twins, one of whom is stillborn, which moves the grandmother to conceal his existence and decide that the living boy is cursed.
After some years, the boy and his family are living a quiet but poor existence in their village, he catching fish and selling them in the market. But fliers are handed out to indicate that a second dam is being built in the vicinity and that their valley will be flooded. This Laotian story is quite prominent in other countries of Asia, China having produced several films in recent years that show the repercussions of dam building on poor people and their having to relocate.
The people generally accept their fate and begin to move. During the film a tragedy occurs which has repercussions on the family. They try to settle, but are continually moved on. They encounter a strange and alcoholic man who has fought as a soldier in the wars of the 1970s. He looks like American singer James Brown and cultivates this impression, especially with his purple coat. He has a little niece and he protects her. Ahlo and the little niece, Kia, meet, become friends, collect flowers to sell in the market. However, Ahlo is also accident prone and causes many problems in the settlement and his family tent is destroyed by fire by the vengeful people.
On they go. On the way they are in danger of unexploded bombs and grenades left from the war era. But this explosive theme is continued because they reach a village where there is a rocket competition. The rockets are being fired into the air as a ritual praying for rain for their drought stricken region.
The rocket competition has its amusing side, especially as the young boy decides that he is going to build a rocket to beat all others, to get some money and some land so that the family will not hurt goes there to the city to work in factories back and stay in the land. The grandmother is a harsh and critical old woman – she could well have been in the rocket and fired into space!
This review will not spoil the ending but there will be no need for handkerchiefs and tears.
The location photography in Laos as most impressive, especially the strange-shaped high-reaching mountains. The film has an authentic feel with the local people performing, even though the plot is, of course, contrived. However, Ahlo win over most audiences and persuade them that they should pay more attention to Laos and its people.
US, 2013, 99 minutes, Colour,
Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver.
Directed by Chan-wook Park.
Stoker has sinister overtones as a name. Audiences may well think of Bram Stoker and his vampire stories. All the central characters in this film have the family name, Stoker. However, the main focus is on an 18 year old girl, eerily and effectively played by Mia Wasikowska, India Stoker. The film begins with her voiceover, explaining herself, her powers of hearing and reading situations beyond the normal. We also see her standing on a hill - which become significant in the finale.
The film is the first English language film directed by Chan-wook Park, the Korean director, famous for Old Boy (there is an Americanised remake by Spike Lee) and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. He didn’t speak English during the production but worked with the cast through a translator. While the setting is Connecticut, bright and shining, the screenplay with its sinister tones is more suitable for a Gothic tale told in a dark England. In fact, the film does not seem particularly American, except for the accents. with the director Korean, the main women characters in the film Australian and Uncle Charlie played by Matthew Goode, British.
The situation is the accidental death of the father of the family (Dermot Mulroney seen in flashbacks). India has been very attached to her father, more than to her mother, Eve, Nicole Kidman. Immediately tensions are evident as well as oddities in the character of India, searching in a tree for her birthday present, not mingling among the guests of the wake, suspicious of the sudden arrival of her father’s brother, Uncle Charlie.
At this point, film buffs will be alerted by the name, Uncle Charlie. It was the name of Joseph Cotton’s character in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 film, Shadow of a Doubt. In fact, Stoker could be seen as a partial remake of Shadow of a Doubt.
India takes a dislike to Uncle Charlie. He flirts with his brother’s wife who was somewhat alienated from her husband and is open to more flirtation, a superficial butterfly character. There is a brief moment when an aunt appears for a meal, wanting to talk urgently, raising suspicions, but soon disappearing from the film. She is played by Jacki Weaver in the role quite different from her usual roles, very effective even though her screen time is brief.
The film probes the mystery of Uncle Charlie and where he came from, making quite a difference for India as she discovers more about him. The film builds up to confrontations between the three central characters - and not everybody survives.
Mia Wasikowska is an interesting young actress, already with a strong career in Australia and overseas. She makes India a tantalising character. Nicole Kidman is effective and believable as Eve. Matthew Goode is all boyish charm and consideration as Uncle Charlie.
An interestingly different portrait of family relationships.
Australia, 2013, 180 minutes, Colour.
Rose Byrne, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Otto, Hugo Weaving, Robyn Nevin, Susie Porter, Wayne Blair.
17 different directors for the 17 short stories.
The Turning is an ambitious project from producer-director, Robert Connolly. Taking the collection of short stories by celebrated West Australian author, Tim Winton, Connolly sent the stories to a range of writers, directors, cinematographers, producers inviting them to choose a story that they liked. There were no limits on what the film-makers could do, each adapting their story, using the location, choosing their cast, and being allowed to portray characters who ran through many of the stories with different actors.
Movie-watchers may remember that Robert Altman did something similar with short stories by Raymond Carver in his film of 1993, Short Cuts. However, the stories were intertwined within the screenplay rather than presented as separate stories.
The Turning runs for 3 hours, screenings generally having an interval.
The film is introduced by an animation sequence from Marieka Walsh, using her quite distinctive colour wash style, with a text from T. S. Elliott’s Ash Wednesday about turning, not turning, turning and hoping. It is recited by Colin Friels.
The whole film is the equivalent of the short stories, presented visually and aurally.
In the first narrative, directed by Warwick Thornton, the voiceover is by the central character actor in the story,, as well as by Winton himself. It introduces the West Australian location for the stories, themes of adolescence, hopes and ambitions, friendships and frustrations. These scenes pervade many of the other stories.
While about six of the stories a stand-alone, eight of them focus on a character, Vic, who is played by eight different actors, including a young aboriginal actor when the character his first introduced in a small scene of the boy encountering a young girl on the beach and experiencing his first kiss. Many audiences will not pick up the link between the various stories of Vic until it has had time to reflect and discuss, especially with the aboriginal stories. There are three stories about two aboriginal brothers, Frank and Max. Max appears in the story, The Turning, where he is played by a white actor. In another story, Vic’s father is played by an aboriginal actor.
So, Winton and the film-makers invite audiences to look at different facets of the characters.
We see Vic as the young boy, twice as an adolescent, as a young university student, as a middle aged man with his wife and mother, going to visit his father, and finally coming to terms with himself. In the stories about Vic, his wife Gail appears in three and his mother, Carol, in two of them.
In many ways, this would be more than enough for one film. However, the emotional stories of the two aboriginal brothers, one playing an almost-deadly trip on the other in one film, their reconciling while surfing, after the young the younger brother had walked off an Australian rules match at a critical moment.
Of the 17 directors, some of them are first time directors of films, coming from stage or from dance or from the visual arts. There are also the first time films from actors Mia Wasikowska and David Wenham.
The film also has a vast cast, many of them not well known names but who should have successful careers after their performances in this film. Well-known actors include Rose Byrne in one of the best performances in the film, Miranda Otto, Cate Blanchett working with Richard Roxburgh and Robyn Nevin for a short comic sketch which some reviewers thought too slight and light for such a film. However, they bring this short episode to vivid life. Hugo Weaving is very good as Vic’s father. And Susie Porter as Carol cleaning a house in one of the more straightforward stories.
Audiences will pick and choose amongst the 17 films as to what they like best, which films work best.
However, by ranging over a wide number of characters, and the different facets of the same character, Winton and the film writers and directors have explored, however briefly, many aspects of what it is to be Australian, indigenous or later comers to the land. The film shows nature, coast and beaches, mountains, more rugged landscapes. There are stories of both men and women trying to cope with life. There is a spirituality underlying many of the stories, some interestingly explicit themes in the title story, The Turning, directed by Claire McCarthy? (The Waiting City).
There is good and evil, love and hatred, the friendship and betrayal, hardship and joy, and the experiences of a range of ordinary people.
US, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth.
Directed by Shane Carruth.
Upstream Color comes with much critical praise. However, it also comes with much bafflement from the popular audience. It is a work of Shane Carruth who has written and directed as well as photographed and edited the film – and acted in one of the central roles. It is his second film after the critically praised Primer in 2004.
The film is not easy to describe in narrative form. Rather, it relies on atmosphere, on suggestions, on the audience trying to understand what was going on, the experience of the central characters.
The film begins with the focus on a thief, concerned about earthworms, and two youngsters on bikes who are interested in the worms and the effect that they can have when placed in alcohol. There is a transition to a pig farmer who collaborates in something of a transplant process for a young woman who has become ill.
The film focuses on the woman, Kris, who goes through bewildering experiences, not sure of her identity, becoming physically ill, losing her job. She encounters a man who befriends her, supports her, falls in love with her, and is protective.
While this description might sound lucid (it is hoped), the elliptic narrative still requires a great deal of attention, empathy for the woman and what she is experiencing, exploring of the puzzlement about what has happened. There is a focus on the pigs, on the pig farmer and the experiments he was conducting which have dire consequences at times for the young woman.
Throughout the film there is a focus on Thoreau’s Walden and its philosophy of life in the 19th century. At the end, a group of people read Walden and, perhaps, discover something about what has happened in their own lives, akin to that of Kris.
Upstream Color is the kind of film that generally does not appeal to a wide audience. Those for whom it makes an impact praise it, one to tease out its issues and questions.
US, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Directors: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Huw Evans, Gregg Hale, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sanchez.
Once upon a time in the 1960s and 1970s there were portmanteau films which contained a number of horror stories, like Tales from the Crypt, Tales that Witness Madness. Some of them were considered fairly scary in their time. Nowadays, with the increasing number of horror films as well as the decreasing limits on the blood and gore that can be presented, they may seem now to be rather quaint.
D/H/S/2 is certainly not quaint. It is a 2013 portmanteau collection of horror stories or, perhaps, gory stories. It is rather limited in its audience, to fans, especially those who tend to relish extreme horror and gore. The film has been produced by The Collective but it also notes, at beginning and end, that it has been made with the company, Bloody Disgusting, and they definitely live up to the demands of that title.
The films also advertised as being in the Blair Witch tradition, with one of the directors of this film an original director of Blair Witch.
This is not a film for the average audience who may not last beyond the introduction. Those who settle in will surrender themselves to the horror conventions of the genre and can wallow in them. Cinema buffs will notice that one of the stories, with the Thai/Indonesian settings, has been written and directed by Gareth Huw Evans, the director of the Indonesian police thriller, very violent in its way, The Raid, which was popular with many audiences in cinema release. The second story is written and directed by Simon Barrett, director of the acclaimed horror film, You’re Next.
Probably the only thing to add is to note that there is an introductory story of a private eye, Tape 49, and his blackmailing of a man for his infidelity with a girlfriend. His next job is to go to a house for clues to a missing student. He works with an assistant and, while he searches the house, his assistant looks at some VHS films, of the extreme snuff variety.
One is the story of a man who has an injured eye, Phase I Clinical Trials, and the doctor implants an experimental camera in the eye which then is able to record everything, especially the attacks on the man in close up.
The story, A Ride in the Park, begins innocently enough with… a ride in a park. But, suddenly a zombie attacks the rider, then two hikers are caught up, who then encounter families celebrating a children’s party in the park and … living dead mayhem in the now traditional manner.
There is also a film about an Asian cult leader, Safe Haven, a recluse, his setting up an institution, inviting parents to bring their children, with overtones about the leader’s relationships with the children, controlling them, making them pure; a television crew comes to interview him, and there is a subplot about the pregnancy of one of the crew; however, the storytellers have hopped back to the Jim Jones and Jonestown massacre and given their own variation; the leader becomes berserk and this leads to some bloody martial arts encounters.
The final story is a familiar one of the massacre of a group of partying young people, Slumber Party Alien Abduction. Screenplay and the director do not make the characters really distinctive side it is very hard to follow, in the dark, just who is who and who is being destroyed - until it appears that it is a group of murderous aliens who have been let loose on the young people.
It might not surprises the audience to find that when the private eye comes downstairs from his search, he finds his assistant the dead, or possessed by the spirit of the horror films that she has been watching.
The audience probably needs to go out into the fresh air after watching this film lest they too be possessed by the spirit of what they have been watching.
WE’RE THE MILLERS
US, 2013, 110 minutes, Colour.
Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Ken Offerman, Kathryn Hahn.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
We’re the Millers follows that pattern of American raucous comedy which starts with behaviour which draws some disapproval, then a process and some demands which lead to changes and a more proper happy ending, with a better moral tone.
This story of smuggling drugs from Mexico across the border into the United States has something of the same plot as Snitch, released in the same year, with Dwayne Johnson trying to get his son out of prison by transporting drugs. However, this film has a mix-um gatherum of characters, much like the group in the comedy, The Joneses, where a group of people pretend to be a family in order to promote sales as they travel from town to town.
This time the group consists of a slacker drug dealer, played by Jason Sudeikis, who has an easy beat in the city. He is beholden to a friend from college days who is a big business executive. But, during a mugging, his money is stolen and he has no way of repaying the debt. It is suggested that he go to Mexico, pick up a van, collect the drugs and bring them across the border. He gets the brainwave of setting up fake family so that authorities would not be suspicious. He lives in an apartment with a stripper, played by Jennifer Aniston trying to change her image more and more as she moves into middle age. Behind in her rent and her boyfriend leaving, she agrees to play the mother. There is a nice young adolescent in the building, very earnest, played by Will Poulter, who agrees to help out his friend. Then there is a runaway, played by Emma Roberts, tough on the street but agreeing to pose as the daughter. Most of them wamt payment for the job and do some bargaining, with the nice young man prepared to do it for free.
And the film relies on comedy where the family get themselves into impossible situations, ranging from sexual favours to a Mexican policeman to being stranded in the middle of nowhere to being pursued by the true drug lord. They are helped out occasions by another, real, family where the father is a DEA officer and the mother is a religious woman. The have a nice daughter and the nice young man is attracted to her but is completely inexperienced in dealing with the opposite sex.
There is quite a lot of raucous comedy, sexual innuendo, crass language… as might be expected in this kind of film. However, after some crises, and some really narrow escapes, all goes well and the family do the right thing.
There are some amusing outtakes in the final credits including a scene in the van where the rest of the family play the theme from Friends for Jennifer Aniston!
WHAT MAISIE KNEW
US, 2013, 99 minutes, Colour.
Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, , Onata Aprile, Alexander Skarsgaard, Johanna Vanderham.
Directed by Scott Mc Gehee and David Siegel.
Looking at What Maisie Knew, it seems very much a 21st century story of marriage and divorce, court decisions about custody of a child and the repercussions for the life of the child and bonding with parents and adults. In fact, it is quite an interesting and emotionally-testing picture of these issues.
However, it may come as a surprise to find that this film is based on a novel by American author Henry James. And that it was written in 1897. In the 1980s and 1990s there was a spate of rather elegant films based on Henry James novels: The Europeans, The Bostonians, Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl. This adaptation, however, brings it into the present and reminds us that the issues have been significant for a long time.
The setting is New York City with quite some attention to detail of the locations. The Maisie of the title is a six year old girl, played with intelligence and screen presence by Onata Aprile. She has had a career in film and television before this, but What Maisie Knew should ensure her being signed for many more films.
Her parents are played by Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan. They are alienated, not shielding their hostility at all from their little daughter. They go to court and are allowed to have their daughter for custody, ten days at a time. Maisie is loving to both her parents. However, the audience can see very quickly that they are not particularly lovable, that they use their daughter as an anchor in the chaos of their own lives, and, when the chips are down, they will choose their own life rather than that of their daughter. Julianne Moore is an ageing singer who does recordings and goes on tour. Steve Coogan is a businessman whose work takes him around the world, ensuring substantial absences. Then, whether for love or for convenience or a mixture of both, each of the parents gets married again. The father marries the nanny. The mother picks up a roadie who works as a barman.
The irony of the film is that Maisie is quite astute in picking up the vibes from her parents while still having the attitudes and behaviour of a six year old.
Initially, the audience may be critical of the nanny who has looked after Maisie and then marries her father. The audience may also be less than interested in the barman who seems just a convenient adjunct for his new wife.
The charm of the film, and relief and counterbalance to the behaviour of the parents, is the way that both nanny and barman care for Maisie and become her substitute parents. Joanna Olderham shows the nanny to be somewhat young and inexperienced, disillusioned by her marriage, but with a loving devotion to Maisie even in very difficult and complicated situations. Alexander Skarsgaard looks young and rather callow initially and audiences would naturally be suspicious of him. However, he is a man of charm, of integrity, of care for Maisie with an instinctive way of knowing how to relate to her. Maisie is very lucky in having these two care for her and show adult and parental love for her.
The film was written and directed by the team of Scott Mc Gehee and David Siegel who have made several interesting and emotionally complex films like The Deep End, The Bee Season and Uncertainty.
In an age where child protection is of paramount concern and where alienated parents can go their own way and neglect their children, this is a film which shows the power of the presence of a mother figure and a father figure in a child’s life.
WHITE HOUSE DOWN
US, 2013, 132 minutes, Colour.
Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Joey King, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins.
Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Over the history of the cinema, there is the frequent phenomenon that makers will produce two films at the same time on the same theme. 2013 sees two films with attacks on the American government and on Washington, DC. The first was Olympus Has Fallen where there is an attack by north Koreans on the White House, the heroics of a single action man, played by Gerard Butler, and the nuclear threats and the dangers to the president, played by Aaron Eckhart, along with character actors like Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo as advisers.
This time the attack is from hawkish government authorities’ as well as disillusioned veterans. But, once again, the president is under threat, there is a single hero along with his lively daughter, and nuclear threats. Jamie Foxx is the president, with obvious references to president Obama. And the heroics are from Channing Tatum who was on a tour of the White House when the attack began with his young daughter, Joey King.
White House Down was directed by Roland Emmerich. He had destroyed the White House in Independence Day, 1996, and there is an enjoyable screenplay reference to this film. He also directed the end-of-the-world film, 2012. Along with Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow, he has done a fair amount of disaster and destructive work on screen.
This screenplay takes American situations, government, peace attempts in the Middle East, arms sales to various countries of the Middle East, the possibility of withdrawing troops, and hawkish aims to retain military presence to defend American interests by staying in the Middle East. (This review written as decisions are to be made on strikes on Syria.) There is quite an amount of discussion on these issues. However, once the action starts, and the heroics accelerate, there are some rah-rah patriotic statements as well as some sentiment which is very American but may seem overblown to audiences outside the U.S..
The screenplay also makes good use of the clues that it offers early in the film including a painting of the burning of the White House in 1812, the little girl having photo capacities on her phone and being able to send them out, the indication early in the film of who the villain would be - but, still allowing for a twist at the end.
Channing Tatum seems very much at home in his role, a man not quite clever enough to be employed by the secret service, marrying too young and his marriage falling apart, yet devoted to his daughter and wanting to bond with her. Because he has served in Afghanistan and was in a security guard company, once the action starts, we’re not surprised at his heroics. Jamie Foxx is quite credible as the president. James Woods gets more than enough opportunity to chew the scenery in his familiar manner. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the security adviser. Richard Jenkins is the speaker of the house. Australian Jason Clarke is the vicious attack leader. And, once again, a lot of the action devolves on the young Joey King who acquits herself with some panache.
This is obviously a genre film, with its own conventions of dangers and heroics, betrayals and crises. It has to be judged on these criteria rather than assuming it is a highly serious-minded drama. The audience is invited to the joining in the puzzle about the situation, but they have the advantage of inside knowledge rather than the crowds who are seen milling outside the White House and the capital
This is a cheer the hero, hiss the villains kind of film. One of the intriguing aspects of both Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down is the presence of high technology as well as more ordinary, in-the-hand technology. There is computer hacking, getting access to Norad and the nuclear missiles and stopping government intervention as well as mobile phones, phone cameras, speakers, television coverage, often in close-up.
For audiences who enjoy this kind of action, drama and melodrama, allowing for some of the serious dialogue which could elicit giggles, while relishing the irony and humour of some of the rest of the dialogue, is an enjoyable action show.
THE WORLD’S END
UK, 2013, 109 minutes, Colour.
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, David Bradley.
Directed by Edgar Wright.
The World’s End was co-written by star, Simon Pegg, and director, Edgar Wright. They had previously collaborated to great critical and popular success with the parodies, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. This is the final film in their so-called Cornetto trilogy. Many have thought this is their best. Others have favoured the previous two films. It probably depends on your interest in the genre that the film is using and the use of conventions for humour, parody, with some serious insights.
Shaun of the Dead was original with its focus on the living dead. Hot Fuzz was very funny because of its presentation of life in a country village as well as the zombie takeover. The World’s End starts off in a realistic vain and only later in the film as the parody enters with the presentation of a variation of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The film opens with five leads in 1990, finishing at school, wanting to achieve an ambition: travelling the golden mile of their town and drinking at each of its twelve pubs. In fact, some drop out and they don’t achieve their goal. Their leader, telling the story, is Gary King, played by Simon Pegg with quite a manic look on his face, weird grin, looking disturbingly like actor, Michael Sheen. And then we discover him in an institution, in a group recounting his story. When he is challenged by an inmate, he decides to relive his past and go to collect all his friends again, assuming that this was what they would want to do.
As he goes to meet each of the friends, we realise (but he doesn’t), that 20 years have passed, that they have responded to being adults, with marriages and relationships, having responsible Jobs. The four friends are played by a generation of prominent British actors and comedians: Eddie Marsan as a car dealer working with his father, and married; Paddy Considine with a job but divorced; Martin Freeman as a real estate agent, rather proper; and Nick Frost (Pegg’s partner in the previous films as well as the science fiction American story, Paul), as a teetotaller, injured in a car accident from which Gary walked away in the past, now married and working in a legal firm.
Despite the memories and Gary’s hype, Gary persuades them to join him. They somewhat reluctantly assemble and go on the pub crawl. This all seems normal and audiences may be wondering when something different is going to emerge. It does. Most of the inhabitants of the town have been taken over by an alien power The Network (voiced by Bill Nighy), which sees itself as improving the way human beings live and interact - except when they get their way and begin to fight and brawl, lots of brawls in this film.
The aliens look normal, but can be decapitated and still fight, and ooze the equivalent of blue blood. So, the group is pursued until the last pub, some taken over, some still fighting. Into the mix comes Rosamund Pike as a girlfriend from the past. And there is Pierce Brosnan as their schoolteacher, presiding with great dignity as an alien in the pub.
Those on the wavelength will find the film highly entertaining. Those who preferred the other films, will enjoy the film in its way, but long for an even more outrageous parody of some horror films.
US, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci.
Directed by Adam Wingard.
While it can be said that You’re Next is very good of its kind, this does not mean a general recommendation. It is a violent thriller.
The film has a familiar enough plot. A group of people find themselves in a situation where they cannot escape and mysterious people are trying to kill them. And they are killed one by one. Agatha Christie used this kind of plot in such stories as Ten Little Indians/And then there were none. There’ve been stories of lost patrols, participants killed off one by one. And there have been innumerable horror thrillers over the last three decades in the vein of Friday the 13th or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where (uninteresting) young people have suffered ugly and violent fates.
While there are some violent deaths in this film, and touches of blood and gore, it is, mercifully, not a story about bland young people and their woes. It is a story about adults.
There is a prologue where two people, eventually seen as the neighbours of the central couple, are brutally murdered and the caption, You’re Next, written in blood on their wall.
The main group who are under threat are a couple who have been married for 35 years and own a mention in the countryside. It is a wedding anniversary and their children and their partners all come to the celebratory meal. All begins well, the family chattering, when a dispute breaks out between two of the brothers and there is heightened anger as well as a desire to restore calm. Then one of the gift guests is suddenly struck by a narrow fired from outside. And mayhem begins.
The film a structured well, the reactions of the various people, the succession of deaths, with some ugly and bloody touches, using wits to fend off the attackers, the attackers entering the house.
The cast is strong enough in creating individual characters and so audiences can identify, especially with the older couple, with their academic son who clashes with their his shallow-talking brother, the academic’s student-girlfriend who keeps her wits about her, as well as the youngest brother and his girlfriend. The attackers remain mysterious but are gradually revealed – not nice people at all. And for those who like a twist in the telling of the tale, there are some twists.
But it is Erin, the strong-minded girlfriend, who becomes the centre of the film. She is played by Australian, Sharni Vinson, previous star of Home and Away. The screenplay explains her accent by making her an Australian who grew up in a survival community in the outback, brought to the United States of the age of 15. Australian audiences will definitely be on her side and pleased that she is the strong and determined one.
Most of the action takes place over a few hours, which heightens the tension. And audiences could be looking at themselves and wondering about their reactions as they identify with the characters, feel the desperation, puzzle about what they might do in a similar situation, also puzzle about the amount of violence that they might use in defending themselves and saving others - and what they would do in terms of vengeance for wrongs perceived.
Which means that, if the audience is drawn to ask questions, this terror thriller is a cut, more than a cut, above similar films of its kind.