SIGNIS REVIEWS AUGUST 2015
FAREWELL PARTY, The
FAR FROM MEN
GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANNE AMSALAM
HOLDING THE MAN
I AM BIG BIRD
LAST CAB TO DARWIN
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION
Australia, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Molly Reynolds.
Another Country is part of a series of films for cinema, television, on line, on aborigines in the Northern Territory, a collaboration between actor David Gulpilil, director and producer, Rolf de Heer, and director Molly Reynolds.
Over the years, Rolf de Heer has directed David Gulpilil in The Tracker, 10 Canoes and Charlie’s Country. They have built up an understanding together and have been able to communicate aboriginal stories in a spirit of collaboration.
This is a documentary about the North Australian town of Ramingining, several hundred kilometres south-west of Katherine, not really close to any major town, a community decided upon by government authorities without consultation with local people, not being able to communicate in any local language and not appreciating their customs.
To get to Ramingining, one has to travel over dirt roads – or travel by boat to a wharf where supplies are unloaded. There is no particular work except at the local store. There are men, women and children of all ages.
The screenplay, worked on by Rold de Heer, is addressed to a white audience, spoken by David Gulpilil, offering people his credentials as an iconic character on screen, as a dancer, someone who has met celebrities including Queen Elizabeth, and who has also spent some time in jail.
What he does is to alert the white audience to the reality of Ramingining and the limits of its future. We are introduced to a number of characters, we see young men dancing to a kind of disco beat in aboriginal style, later seeing traditional dancing, two old painters who live in the community, and, surprisingly, a lengthy sequence on Good Friday where one of the men is dressed in vestments to become the figure of Jesus who has to carry his cross around the town, followed by the crowds, some of them enacting the jeering and Jesus’ condemnation by Pilate, and the crucifixion. David Gulpilil, who tells us that early settlers exploited and poisoned the aborigines while the missionaries did some service in building and teaching people to read and write. David Gulpilil explains that the Jesus for this community is not someone who came from out there but who is someone like them, sharing their lives.
One of the other things that is talked about is the concept of time, something that white people value and expect of others in terms of punctuality and accuracy but does not have that kind of meaning in the old traditions. Another concept is out of rubbish, again not part of the culture which was is able to survive for the thousands of years without accumulating waste as contemporary society does – for instance, in the buying of cars, running them, running them down and then discarding them anywhere in the bush.
Another instance of rubbish in many senses is the local store where the people of Ramingining have their cards, have government grants, go to the store to buy food, clothing, American DVDs, and lots of takeaway foods which are full of sugar, especially soft drinks and Coca-Cola? – and then discarding the rubbish. One of the features of the film is a card-playing sequence which is used to reveal that money is to be shared, not hoarded, and one way of sharing it out is by playing cards.
David Gulpilil speaks quite benignly in his voice-over but is continually challenging his audience, whether they know much about aborigines, whether they know anything of the customs and what the last 200 years or more have done to those customs, whether they have an empathy for an aboriginal way of life which is not absolutely dependent on government handouts, lack of employment opportunities. What is the hope for the children growing up in places like Ramingining?
This is a very worthwhile 90 minutes for Australians whose ancestors came later to the land, who themselves have come more lately to the land, to get to know something about the aborigines and to reflect on what the indigenous people of Australia experience now and something of why.
THE FAREWELL PARTY
Israel, 2014, 95 minutes, Colour.
Ze'ev Revach, Lavana Finkelstein.
Directed by Tal Granit, Sharon Maymon.
A Farewell Party seems to light a title for this rather serious film. Some of the advertising and reviews emphasise comedy touches – and it does begin with an old man telephoning an older lady with dementia, pretending to be God, asking after her health and promising her a place in heaven (with his wife then rebuking him for playing tricks on susceptible people). But, the themes of the film are quite serious.
This is an in Israeli film, set in a home for the aged. After the initial joke, we are introduced to a very elderly man in a great deal of pain, dying, his wife upset, ranting at the nurses on the ward for not attending to her husband as she wished. Immediately, the issue of pain, palliative care, assisted suicide and euthanasia come to the fore.
The man who played pranks is something of an inventor and decides to make a machine that can administer something lethal to those in pain. The doctor they consult is certainly not in favour of euthanising patients. But they do get some advice from a vet, information about drugs administered to animals, and that gives the inventor as well as the dying man’s wife and other friends an incentive to go ahead.
This means that the screenplay challenges the audience: do they share the pain, the unbearable pain, of those who are dying, especially of the elderly? And the screenplay also raises the expected questions, the ethical questions, the moral questions, the religious questions, especially in the context of Israel.
When the machine is a success, there are various requests, as well as headlines of pacts between spouses who kills the other spouse and then kill themselves. One of the things that the group of the elderly do, apart from attending funerals, singing together, is making videos of those who are about to be euthanised, their final message, their consent.
Things come to a head when the wife of the inventor is sinking into dementia. She has been opposed to the machine and its applications but now…
All the characters all have their eccentricities – and touches of humour – but, the underlying themes of pain, age, suffering and death pervade every aspect of the film.
FAR FROM MEN/ LOINS DES HOMMES
France, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Viggo Mortensen, Reda Kateb.
Directed by David Oelhoffen.
Cowardice and honour.
It is 1954 in Algeria, and Camus country. The French have colonised Algeria. The French Legion has kept order. Now is the time for the rebels to rise and fight for independence – something, which at this stage of the action in this film, is still some time to come. This film is based on a short story by Albert Camus.
Algeria, and its interiors, may well seem far from men. At the opening, Daru (Viggo Mortensen) is teaching a small group of children on a plateau in the Atlas Mountains,.playing, teaching them to read. He is something of a mysterious character, especially when a man accused of killing his cousin is entrusted to his care. Then the tone of the film changes, the teacher leaving a note on his board that there will be no classes that day.
The accused man, Mohammed (Reda Kateb), asks to be taken to a nearby town. Instead, Daru ousts him, accusing him of lack of honour and of cowardice. Daru himself is a man of honour, and decides that he will accompany his prisoner, packing bags and provisions to walk for a day through the desert. The man’s relatives have attacked the school, with their revenge code, and, to avoid them, the two men have to scale the mountains. It is a difficult, if spectacular, trek, a rider confronting them with a shootout and burial, Mohammed, devoutly Muslim, praying for the dead man.
Eventually, they come across a group of rebels and Daru’s back story is provided, son of Spanish settlers, growing up in Algeria, serving in the military, earning loyalties from his men, but now, on opposite sides, enmities will assert themselves. The French also catch up with the rebels, releasing the hostages but firing indiscriminately on men who think they are surrendering. Daru, the man of honour, rebukes the French for this violence.
The story is one of growing respect between the two men, of incipient friendship, of arriving in the town, of Mohammed having his first sexual experience, and his having to make a decision whether he will go into the desert into anonymity or go to give himself up to the police. Daru also has to make a decision whether to return to the school or to become more active in the emerging civil war.
The two leads give strong performances and it is admirable to see Viggo Mortensen in so many international productions, with his command of many languages, here French and also speaking some Arabic.
SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communication) award winner at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.
US, 2015, 81 minutes, Colour.
Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford.
Directed by Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing.
While this is a horror film for audiences of all ages, the adult audience will be interested in the old devices used for a ghost story and hauntings as well as the elimination, step-by-step, of the cast.
On the other hand, the teenage audiences for The Gallows will be more into the characters and the story, senior high school students of their own age.
One of the co-writers, co-directors, Travis Cluff, was not much older than his characters when he worked on the film, assisted by an older collaborator, Chris Lofing, who bring some film directing experience to bear on the project.
As with so many of these films, there is an important prologue, the performance of the play, The Gallows, with a historical setting and a thee and thou dialogue, where the main actor ascends the gallows – and, through an accident, is actually hanged.
We are moved on 20 years and introduced to some footage of the Nebraska police. So, this is a “found-footage” film, replete with hand held camera work, video cameras as well as phone cameras. (Though, on closer examination, it is very difficult to work out how all these cameras could have taken all the shots – probably a more objective camera capturing a lot of the moments.) One of the consequences of this kind of filming, inaugurated by The Blair Which Project and fostered by its many imitations as well as series like the Paranormal Activity thrillers, is that anyone who gets nauseous with this kind of continued camera movement and jerking may well be advised to give The Gallows a miss.
The footballer is called Reese and the would-be actress is called Pfeifer (the given names, in fact, of the performers). The friends are called Ryan and Cassidy (also the names of the performers).
The plan is to get into the school at night and destroy the set for the play. They get in, Ryan having a or compulsion to film absolutely everything. Ryan is definitely an obnoxious character, rather self-inflated, self-absorbed, and busily masterminding the mayhem. Many of the audience might be hoping that he would be the first to go… Actually, Cassidy is not all that much better.
Things begin to go bump in the night, many doors are locked so no frantic escapes, the lights do not work, there are eerie presences, moments of apparitions, which seem to be the vengeful ghost of the poor young fellow who was hanged in the Gallows in 1993.
The running time is not particularly long, just enough to have the setting of the characters, home life, sports activities in the school, rehearsals for the play, and the time in the dark and in the school, in the darkened theatre, in the dark on stage, in the darkened set framework, in darkened corridors…
The two survivors decide that while they are there in the theatre, they might as well rehearse their performance, repeating the lines that we saw earlier in the film, the actor ascending the Gallows and…
Probably best recommended for high schoolers indulging in a screening for a Scream Night.
GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANNE AMSALEM
Israel, 2014, 115 minutes, Colour.
Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian.
Directed by Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Alkabetz.
This is a very challenging film from Israel, for people in Israel itself as well as Jewish people around the world and all those interested in Jewish traditions or may be puzzled by some of them.
Ronit Elkabetz is a distinguished Israeli actress who is made quite a number of striking Israeli films and has appeared in some French films. She has written and co-directed this film with her husband, and takes the central role.
It is a film about divorce in Israel, Get, and the processes whereby a woman applies to be divorced, to a tribunal of religious leaders, with her defence lawyer, but all the time dependent on the consent of the husband or no divorce is granted. This is a civil-religious situation, drawing on traditions, very much mail-oriented, expecting husband and wife to live out traditional marriage, and often ignoring the experiences of the wife in terms of the dominance, physical or psychological, religious and moral, of the husband.
Perhaps it is necessary to give a warning that audiences will experience the situation of a wife who is trapped by her husband’s non-consent, appearing in court over several years, with gaps of some months where she tries to obey what the tribunal orders her, to live with her husband. The only locations on screen are the courtroom and the anti-room where people wait. It is particularly cut claustrophobic for the audience as they are confined to the limited and small locations.
The couple in question have been married for many decades, the wife, married in her teenage years, subservient to her husband, bearing children and rearing them, but finding her husband’s superior attitudes and his domination so taxing that she feels she needs to get away and for him to grant her a divorce. In the meantime, she has moved from the house to live with her sisters, yet still cooking every day for her husband and children, with herself or her sisters delivering the meals. When the tribunal, despite her pleas, insists that she still fulfils her home duties before they will consider hearing her case again, we are told, rather than seeing, that she complies with the wishes. What we see is the toll that it takes on her.
The husband is a significant character, of course, well played, unsympathetic to the audience, by Simon act barrier. Not only does he refused to grant a divorce but he often refuses even to come to the court. He is commanded to appear, even sentenced to a time in prison for his non-compliance, but one of the most stubborn men one could encounter. Is respectable, a community leader, leader of music in the Temple. He demands that his wife fulfil our obligations.
To help us understand the situation, two of the central characters are the lawyer for Vivian’s defence, a reputable lawyer whose father had a strong reputation and who argues his case with some emotion. defence lawyer for the husband, is his brother, a shrewd and rather smooth-tongued lawyer, able to take advantage of any looseness in remarks.
Then there are the witnesses over the several years, neighbours who think the husband is respectable, and neighbouring wife who, as her testimony goes on, is clearly under the same often insensitive dominance from her husband. There are people from the choir who can testify that the husband can give people a hostile silent treatment, and for many years. The wife’s two sisters also give testimony, when giving the rabbis the rounds of the court in her vigorous defence of her sister.
And, the tribunal itself is very interesting, a very dominating Rabbi overseeing proceedings, and his two assistance, trying to get into the developments of the trial, as well as the clerk of the court.
Ronit Elkabetz portrays Vivian with great bearing in dignity, holding up under very difficult circumstances, month by month, year by year, living the frustration of her husband’s continued refusal to consent to her divorce.
Anyone in the audience has been involved in an Australian divorce situation will be caught up, moved, and frustrated by their sharing in this is rarely experience.
GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF
US, 2015, 119 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Alex Gibney.
How much do we know about Scientology? Is it a religion? Is it a church? What does it have to do with personality and psychology? What about L.Ron Hubbard and his science-fiction writings? What about Tom Cruise and his promotion of Scientology? John Travolta and other celebrities? And have we ever heard of David Miscavige?
There is a limit to what can be offered as answers to these questions in 120 minutes of a documentary film. However, there are quite a lot of answers, and quite a few leads.
The film is based on an investigation by Lawrence Wright, and his book which is an expose of Scientology. Wright appears as one of the major talking heads in this film. And there are a lot of talking heads, especially from officials of Scientology who have left and are critical as they look at themselves and their experience in Scientology.
One great recommendation is that this is a documentary by Alex Gibney, who has become more and more prolific in recent years. He made the film, Enron, the Smartest Guys in the Room, as well as winning an Oscar for his film about prisons in Afghanistan, Taxi to the Darkside. His powerful investigation into cases of clerical sexual abuse in the United States was Silence in the House of God. And, more recently, he made an exposé of Lance Armstrong.
The film builds up something of the history of Scientology, the career of Hubbard (who falsified some aspects of his war service, glorifying it, as well as his history of ill health). We hear of his science-fiction writings in the late 1940s and, further, his development of the mythology which says that 75 million years ago, there was a planet with similar characteristics to those of Eearth in the US in the 1950s, but many of the Thetans were sent to earth, in a volcano, and Scientologists have to rid themselves of their presence. Odd stuff!
Hubbard had difficulty with the American authorities, especially concerning tax, and kept out of the limelight. But he also had a fascination for celebrities and built headquarters in Los Angeles and buildings in Florida. He is hailed as a great hero – with a sequence on the anniversary of his birthday with crowds assembled and Tom Cruise giving him salute and birthday greetings.
The most interesting interviews are those with the officials who worked with Hubbard and with his successor, the quite charismatic David Miscavige, who is still the leader. Senior officials, who spied on others, followed them, reported, left the organisation after quite a number of years. These include both women and men. While there are no interviews for the film from Tom Cruise or John Travolta, there is quite a lot of public footage inserted, Travolta and his testimonies over the decades, Cruise and his enthusiasm. Not so enthusiastic is the Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis who spent 30 years in Scientology but became disillusioned with the condemnation of his daughters when they came out as gay. It made him re-examine his whole life, his beliefs and activities, which led to some disillusionment.
There was quite some controversy about the IRS and the demands made on Scientology and the attempts to have it declared as a religion and tax exempt – which did happen with some deals in the 1990s.
Some Scientologists have declared the film a hatchet job, and in many ways it is. But it offers substantial backing to the claims against Scientology in the film never less than interesting.
HOLDING THE MAN
Australia, 2015, 125 minutes, Colour.
Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Anthony La Paglia, Kerry Fox, Guy Pearce, Camilla Ah Kin, Geoffrey Rush, Jane Menelaus, Sarah Snook.
Directed by Neil Armfield.
Holding the Man is a widely-reed Australian biography by Tim Conigrave, published in the mid-1990s and soon afterwards developed into a play by Tommy Murphy. Murphy has now written a screenplay from the book which has been directed by Neil Armfield who has a strong reputation as a theatre director.
This is a story of a relationship which began when two senior students were studying at the Jesuit Xavier College in Melbourne.(The football matches were filmed at the college itself.) Tim Conigrave is something of a flamboyant student at school, involved in theatricals, but becoming more and more infatuated with a top soccer player, John Caleo. John came from a strong Catholic, Italian-Australian? family, one of four siblings. Tim made his affections known, a young man more sexually aware, John being rather more hesitant. Eventually, they made a commitment to each other, known to some of the other boys, eventually known to the parents with hostile reactions, especially from John’s father.
The film is very well made, very well-acted, topical in many ways with discussions about same-sex relationships and commitment, acceptance in Australian society or not, understanding of homosexual orientation, and discussions, for instance, in the Catholic church, in connection with the Synod on the Family in Rome in 2014 in 2015.
Because the relationship between the two boys and developed in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the issue of HIV also becomes significant, especially towards the beginning of the 1990s when both of the men tested positive.
Ryan Corr as Tim Conigrave and Craig Stott as John Caleo give quite persuasive performances, Ryan Corr having the showier character much more extroverted, and Craig Stott having to communicate the character of John Caleo more subtly and quietly. We see them change over a period of 15 years, the relationship at school with a scene of discussion with one of the Jesuit teachers at Xavier College. The screenplay moves to the mid 1980s, with Tim auditioning for NIDA and doing the course for an acting career, going to Sydney, while John stays in Melbourne and becomes a chiropractor.
The film then goes back to the late 1970s, early 1980s, with the two men as students at Monash University, coming out more explicitly, members of the gay club at the University, finding a home and friends within the gay community as well as experiencing prejudice and bashings. It is in this context that both men have to face the issue of committed relationships, of the possibilities other partners and relationships, Tim being much more of an experimenter, John not.
The last part of the film is set in the 1990s with John becoming seriously ill, Tim becoming involved in AIDS care, committed to helping John in his illness and in his death.
The parents of each man have been mentioned, but they are central to the film and the producers have chosen strong screen presences to dramatise the parents. Guy Pearce and Kerry Fox are the Conigraves, and Anthony La Paglia and Camilla Ah Kin are the Caleos. (Quite a number of Australian character actors have small cameos, sometimes walk on parts, like Kerry Walker and Julie Forsyth, Sarah Snook as a close friend, while Geoffrey Rush has some scenes as the drama lecturer at NIDA.) It is Anthony La Paglia who has the most significant scenes, discovering the reality of the relationship, mightily disapproving, ousting his son, having to face up to the reality of the relationship, having to cope with his son’s illness and death.
The film is of Catholic interest because of the two boys and their Catholic families, their schooling at Xavier College, the discussion about the relationship with the Jesuit teacher, Mary Conigrave, Tim’s sister, having a Catholic wedding with the priest at the reception and, the priest who conducted the Requiem Mass and the funeral for John Caleo, Father Woods, played by Paul Goddard, seen making comments about how he would refer to the relationship during the mass, describing them as friends, not mentioning AIDS, given the sensibilities and family and friends’ awareness and non-awareness of the situations in 1994.
Holding the Man takes its place as a significant Australian film and one which gives significant opportunity for reflection and discussion, wherever one stands on the issues.
I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROL SPINNEY STORY
US, 2014, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Dave La Mattina, Chad N.Walker.
The last words before the final credits of this documentary are ‘unconditional love’. They are spoken about the subject of the film, Caroll Spinney. But they also indicate the tone of the film, the perspective of the directors, unconditional love for Spinney, a documentary that it is your eulogistic, emotional, even affectionate.
And who is Caroll Spinney? And a big percentage of the answer is: Big Bird.
So many audiences will remember Big Bird as a part of their lives. Older people might remember their children sitting in front of Sesame Street. Others, who are not as young as they used to be, will remember sitting in front of the television themselves watching Sesame Street. and, that will apply to many of the younger generations. Big Bird will be remembered is that eight feet high, yellow-feathered, gawky looking, childlike-sounding, huge puppet with the stranger red striped trousers.
While the voice had its squeaky tone, inside Big Bird was a puppeteer, Caroll Spinney, who spent more than 40 years as Bird – and was still doing is at age 79 don’t.
We are taken through the biography of Spinney, his early interest in puppets, in puppeteering, going to a convention in Salt Lake City in the late 1960s, encountering Jim Henson, the celebrated puppeteer who establish the Muppets, being invited by Henson to participate in bringing his puppets alive, movements of hesitation and doubt, then finally finding his stride, so to speak, as big Bird (and the contrast with his voice of Oscar the Grouch).
Spinney is an engaging character on screen – not without some difficulties with fellow-workers. But, he is a veteran puppeteer, his right arm extended high as he manipulates Big Bird’s head and mouth, but also a clown, Big Bird’s movements, antics, voice, comedy routines. As the decades have gone on, Spinney has developed character of Big Bird, endearing him to his children’s audience.
On the personal level, Spinney was married and his co-workers confirmed that his wife did not understand or appreciate his puppeteering work. After a divorce, he was to marry Debra, his wife of many decades, mother of his children, and his manager, sharing a wide range of life experiences with him, including a visit to China, for a television special, Big Bird in China, where a local Chinese girl participated in the program, whom they lost sight over many years but with whom they are reunited at the end of the 30th anniversary of the show.
One of the interests is the changing appearance of Caroll over the 40+ years of Big Bird, young, middle-aged, older.
We meet a lot of the people who worked with Jim Henson, including archival footage of Henson himself, well appreciated by fans of Sesame Street and, of course, the Muppets, especially Kermit – and, at his funeral service after his unexpected death at 53, Big Bird’s singing one of the songs, about being green. There are a lot of talking heads in the film, especially one of the best-known puppeteers and film directors, Frank Oz. While there is a great deal of admiration, there are many insights into the development of Sesame Street and the demands made on all those who contributed.
By and large, there is a great deal of sweetness and light – even in an unexpected situation where a woman was murdered on a property owned by Caroll and Debra, by someone that they had employed. The murdered woman sister and husband are interviewed, talk about the grief and the anger, even directed towards Caroll and Debra, but a reconciliation that is quite moving. The other big reconciliation is Caroll’s bonding with his father in his final years, a man who was a hard taskmaster when the boy was young which led to a great deal of resentment but, ultimately, to some love.
This documentary is not essential viewing, but will appeal to the Sesame Street admirers over the years – and will be of interest in tracing a significant aspect of American television in the last decades of the 20th century – and continues -, Caroll 79 and still going at the time of the making of the film - into the 21st century.
LAST CAB TO DARWIN
Australia, 2015, 125 minutes, Colour.
Michael Caton, Ningali Lawford, Mark Coles Smith, Emma Hamilton, Leah Purcelll, Alan Dukes, John Howard, David Field, Brendan Cowell.
Directed by Jeremy Sims.
Publicity in discussions about this film indicate that the main theme is euthanasia. Actually, the focus is on assisted suicide. But the buzz about the film does not indicate the other very significant theme, aborigines in Australian society, especially in the outback towns like Broken Hill and on the road between Broken Hill, Oodnadatta, Alice Springs, Darwin.
The theme of assisted suicide has had quite some significance in Australian discussions, and still has, especially past projected legislation in the Northern Territory and the work of advocate, Philip Nitskie – and audiences will probably think that the character of Dr Nicole Farmer, played by Jacki Weaver, is based on him and his advocacies.
Prospective audiences for the film will often have strong and fixed views, for and against, assisted suicide. This drama offers a great deal to think about, a great deal to feel about.
The driver of the last cab to Darwin is Rex, an old taxi driver in Broken Hill who has never really been outside the city, never seen the sea. Now in his 70s, he has a terminal cancer and is given about three months to live. Michael Caton has been something of an icon in Australian film and television, especially his role as the dad in The Castle. His performance as Rex will also be iconic, an imposing figure in his way, old, grizzled, alone, sardonic, driving his taxi and knowing most people, fond of a beer, fond of his pet dog, Dog, in something of a relationship with Polly (Ningali Lawford) who lives across the street.
Last Cab has a lot of shots of Broken Hill, the centre of the city, the surroundings, the mining atmosphere, the desert. And, of course, there are a lot of characters, the types you might expect working on the roads, builders, congregating at the pub, some sly winks to the barmaid – and more – a group of ocker men. These are Rex’s friends. He relates well to them, but does not share a great deal of his inner self with them.
When Rex comes upon a news item about the possibilities of a machine to help with suicide being developed in Darwin, he phones in – and everybody in the city hears it on talkback radio. He decides then to drive his taxi to Darwin, to meet with Dr Farmer and put an end to his life.
A great deal of the film, perhaps most of the film, takes place on the road, giving audiences at home and internationally, a close-up of the Australian outback, the variety of landscapes, the desert, the lone tree with the skeletons of feral cats hanging, the isolated pubs, the road trains – knocking up pebbles which break windscreens, the tourism at Daily Waters, the isolated whites, the individuals and groups of aborigines…
The themes of black and white Australians is to the fore in the relationship between Rex and Polly, Polly’s bringing all her relatives down to stay in her house and causing some mayhem with Rex’s possessions, a young man on the road, Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), a lively lad with football potential, married with children, but reckless, drinking, in trouble, who helps Rex and decides to travel with him to Darwin. Rex intervenes in Darwin to persuade a local coach to give Tilley a chance for a tryout for playing in the Australian rules team.
There are some poignant moments for Rex when he visits Daily Waters and sees a photo of his parents on the wall, his mother and father who met there,, his father working on the air strip. When he collapses, being very weak from the exertion of the trip and the anxieties in going to Darwin, a young barmaid from England, Julie (Emma Hamilton) trained as a nurse, volunteers to look after him.
in Darwin, Rex finds that going through with the procedure is not easy at all. There are issues of legislation. There are issues of consent – the machine asking the person who wants to die to signal consent on a computer, and simmering three questions, then releasing the lethal dose. Consent is also required from a psychiatrist as well is a specialist in the terminal cancer.
While this leads to complications about the death, it also offers an opportunity for Rex to reflect on his life, break through something of his isolation, especially encouraged by Julie, acknowledge his love for Polly, realise something in a zest for life, his hopes for Tilley’s success, that dying and consenting to die is certainly not easy for most people.
With such significant themes – although the original play, written by Reg Cribb who collaborated with the screenplay with director Jeremy Sims – was written almost a decade earlier, there are no pat answers either way about the challenge of assisted suicide. The film asks for principled reflection, and it for offers a great deal of possibility for empathy. Many audiences will still not be certain as to their final opinion.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION
US, 2015, 131 minutes, Colour.
Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon Mc Burney.
Directed by Christopher Mc Quarrie.
‘Romp’ might not be the word expected to head a review of the newest Mission Impossible venture. But, that is what it is, an action-adventure-romp.
The tone is immediately clear in the prologue, a plane taking off in Minsk, Belarus, with Benji (Simon Pegg) lifting his camouflaged head from an open field, communicating with William at the IMF headquarters in Washington DC as well as with Luther (Ving Rhames) in Thailand, worried about the deadly cargo in the plane hold, wondering where Ethan Hunt could be – when suddenly he emerges, races towards the plane, grabs on to a door handle, Benji making all kinds of mistakes in trying to open the door electronically, even the wrong door, with Hunt hanging on as the plane takes off, the door finally open, and his being projected into the plane, confronting the armed guards – and then pushing the cargo out backwards and parachuting down… That’s Tom Cruise for you.
And then we have the credits! And, of course, the immediately recognisable theme music by Lalo Schifrin.
Someone remarked afterwards about the realism or lack of realism in the film! Realism is one of the last things to be expected from this action-packed series. After all, the title is Impossible, and that is the point. Ethan and his colleagues spend over two hours doing the impossible in the face of extraordinary dangers, need for extraordinary stunts (which Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson mainly do themselves), split-second timing, everyone in peril at some stage, athletic feats of endurance – and winning at the end. If that is not what we were expecting, then better to give it a miss for something more ‘realistic’.
As the subtitle suggests, there is a sinister organisation, called The Syndicate, operating around the world very secretly – even Alec Baldwin, the rather dyspeptic head of the CIA, does not believe that it exists, thinks it is a ploy by the IMF and is not impressed by Ethan Hunt who seems an outsider, avoiding accountability. But, Ethan has been pursuing The Syndicate, but is suddenly caught by the ex-British military head, played by Sean Harris. Will he escape being tortured – no, not escaping the torture, plenty of that, but eventually escaping the cell and going underground until he has a firm lead to find the villain.
By this stage, the action has been in Belarus, and in a rather detailed central London, then in Havana, hiding in Paris, which leads Ethan and Benjito Vienna.
For those who enjoy travelogue aspects of these thrillers, there is plenty to see in Vienna, especially at the Opera House (interiors, stage, and action on the roof) and, as a distraction from an assassination attempt on the Austrian head of state, a performance of Puccini’s Turandot. And then we are off to Morocco, to Casablanca seen in a great deal of detail, out into the deserts of Morocco and into the mountains. It all climaxes in London, focusing on the British Prime Minister, again with a great deal of touristic detail, though that is much more familiar.
A new ambiguous woman is introduced in the form of Rebecca Ferguson, attractive, athletic, lethal in some of her fights, with the audience hoping that despite appearances she really is a goodie. Simon Pegg is back as the technical whiz, involved in a lot of the action as well as the comic aspects. And Jeremy Renner is also back, the liaison with the CIA, as well as Ving Rhames as Luther, no mean activist with technology as well.
If you want ‘romp-action’, and an entertaining night out, plenty of adventure, quite a few twists, often a tongue-in-cheek turn, with quite some stunts, then this episode of Mission Impossible, written and directed by Christopher Mc Quarrie, best known for The Usual Suspects, but clearly a friend of Tom Cruise, writing screenplays for him for Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow, will fit the bill.
US, 2015, 109 minutes, Colour.
Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair, Cara Buono.
Directed by Jake Schreier.
This will not be an easy film for adults to sit through. It is very much a niche film, targeting teenagers, possibly some older young adults, but very much the audience which could identify with the central characters, in their last months at high school.
The film is based on a novel by John Green, novelist for young adults, who had great success with the film adaptation of his The Fault in our Stars. This one is even more teen-focused.
The setting is Florida and the central character, Quentin (Nat Wolff who has done this kind of role in Palo Alto and Behaving Badly), Q to his friends, provides voice-over, telling us about himself and his lifelong devotion to, infatuation with, eventually love for, his neighbour Margo (British model, Carla Delevingne). She is a strong-minded little girl, easily able to exercise her influence over Q and his willing submission to her.
The first part of the film shows Margo in mean-minded form, now having moved away from Q, infatuated with one of the jocks at school, relying on the popular kids for her friendship. Then she thinks they have betrayed her. On a whim, she summons Q to help her get some vengeance, ringing up the parents of her girlfriend who is having sex with her former boyfriend and watching the confusion, lifting the eyebrow from another associate while he sleeps… Q is completely manipulated by Margo and her whims but finds the whole experience exhilarating.
Q also has two friends from school, who hang out together, discuss everything, Ben and Radar.
When Margo disappears from her disapproving parents, Q decides he knows where she has gone because, after the whims, they have gone to a tall building and looked out over the city with Margo talking about paper towns, towns that exist but with no one in them. And she will make the analogy with paper people and herself.
The rest of the film is a road trip, Q taking his mother’s car, following Margo’s clues to New York State, Ben and Radar coming along as well as their girlfriends. There are a couple of adventures on the road, skidding after almost hitting a cow, Radar and his girlfriend having a sexual encounter to the eager curiosity of the others.
So, will Q find Margo? Had she gone to a paper town? If he finds her, what will he say about his love for her? And what about the Prom that the other friends want to go to but in which Q shows no interest?
Teen audiences may well want to see how these questions are answered – parents and adults may prefer to ask the teens afterwards what happened.
US, 2015, 125 minutes, Colour.
Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, John Cena, Norman Lloyd, Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei. Le Bron James, Method Man.
Directed by Judd Apatow.
There are two kinds of train wreck. There is the devastation when the train goes off the rails, ploughing into the countryside, destroying the carriages and the environment. Then there is the crash on the rails, devastating as carriages plough into each other, causing destruction, injury and death.
Probably best to keep these two aspects in mind in considering the title of this film and how it applies to Amy Schumer’s life. Amy Schumer is in her mid-30s, has had a successful career on television and with stand-up comedy. Now, she has written a screenplay loosely based on her life and her family, her difficulties in relationships, her work. And she stars in this alter-ego version of herself.
But, she has put the direction into the hands of veteran Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This is 40), who brings his considerable comedy talent to the film, though this is a rare outing for him where he has not written the screenplay. What usually happens in an Apatow comedy is that things start out pretty raucously, even with some devastation for the characters, touches of train wreck, but, after a while, with interactions, they begin to change, even becoming more human, employing a bit more common sense, yet not losing their sense of humour, and finally some kind of rather moralising ending: The Judd Apatow Syndrome.
The film opens with Amy’s father talking to his two little daughters, an extensive ramble, rant at times, about how monogamy is impossible. This seems to have different effects on his two daughters, Amy growing up, rather loose-living, having many one night stands (shown in successive glimpses) with a wariness about falling in love, a seeming inability to love. Yet the younger daughter, played by Brie Larson, is the opposite, marrying a man she loves, becoming a loving stepmother to a precocious little boy, baffling Amy as to how two daughters could end up so differently.
Amy works for a magazine, one of those magazines that likes to dig up some dirt on celebrities. Her immediate editor is Dianna – played by an at first unrecognisable Tilda Swinton, different hair, different look, certainly different voice, very English, dominating, insensitive, demanding – quite a funny performance. Amy has to take on an assignment to interview a doctor responsible for sports medicine. He is played by Bill Hader, a regular in stand-up comedy (excellent in The Skeleton Twins, as well is one of the voices in Inside Oit, Fear). Is involved with basketballers – and some of the key basketballers in the US play themselves, showing quite a flair for screen presence and comedy, especially Le Bron James.
The doctor, Aaron, is a pleasant man, not pushing himself, but somehow rather attracted to Amy, moving into a relationship and love. This is not what she imagined for herself and puts up quite some resistance, yet bonds with Aaron, undergoes something of a crisis, especially with the influence of her father who is now in a home, visited by his two daughters. This is a real challenge for her, her feelings, admitting that she could love, breaking with Aaron, but finding some kind of reconciliation – the Judd Apatow ending.
Amy Schumer is certainly an impactful screen presence and audiences have responded well to her, as well as to her styles of frank and earthy humour, her sardonically satirical approach to comedy, with clever lines, humorous situations. She is beginning to salvage her early trainwreck life and get back on some kind of rails.