SIGNIS REVIEWS AUGUST 2016
EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT, The
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
LEGEND OF TARZAN, The
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES
OUR KIND OF TRAITOR
SECOND MOTHER, The
SEPTEMBERS IN SHIRAZ
STAR TREK BEYOND
SWISS ARMY MAN
US, 2015, 101 minutes, Colour.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis.
Directed by Jean- Marc Vallee.
While there is a lot of physical demolition going on in this film, especially in waving sledgehammers and breaking through walls as well as the destruction of quite a luxury house and its appointments, what happens is some psychological demolition.
The film opens with a sudden crash and the death of Julia, the wife of businessman, Davis, played with quite some intensity by Jake Gyllenhaal. He is in his mid-30s and the film offers an exploration of what can happen emotionally, psychologically, professionally in terms of the workplace, on a man able and unable to deal with shock and grief.
His father-in-law, played by Chris Cooper, has not always been supportive and becomes more and more bewildered by what Davis says and does, withdrawing from the company, going his own way.
An unusual, if strange, script device is that after the death of his wife, Davis tries to get an M and M bar from a vending machine in the hospital and it fails to come out. Davis notes and photographs the registration number and begins a very personal correspondence with the company, a device by which he can pour out some of his feelings to the anonymous recipient.
Davis visits the company, meets the boss, and is contacted by the personal services officer, Karen, played by Naomi Watts. She is in a relationship with the boss but is more concerned about her precocious young adolescent son, Chris, who is rebellious, concerned about his sexual orientation, critical of his mother.
One day, Davis passes workmen doing demolition work and pays them so that he can join them. He buys tools, clothing, and enters into the demolition work with great gusto. He writes more letters and Karen follows them up, inviting him to her house while her partner is away, enabling them to communicate (not sexually) and for him to start bonding with her son, giving him a salutary talk about appropriate and inappropriate use of the F word and listening to him about his identity worries.
As the film goes on, and Davis keeps imagining his dead wife present to him, it might seem that there is no way for him to go. A chance meeting with an old man who works on old carousels finally gives him a lead for some way of dealing with the death of his wife, the animosity of his father-in-law, and a philanthropic way of keeping his wife’s memory alive.
Some years ago, American psychologist, Carol S. Pearson, wrote a book about personal archetypes, Awakening the Hero Within. One of her life crises is that for authenticity, a crisis that comes in middle-age, and one of the archetypes she names is The Destroyer. Demolition is a fine illustration of what she was exploring with this archetype, the negative side where the destruction simply leads to collapse, but where the positive side leads to greater self-awareness and the possibilities for new beginnings.
Despite the seeming impossibility, the film does end with Davis appreciating some new authenticity and steps to a more positive future phase of his life. The film is directed by Canadian, Jean- Marc Vallee, known for The Dallas Buyers Club and Wild.
EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT/ EL ABRAZO DEL SERPIENTE
Colombia, 2015, 125 minutes, Colour and Black and white.
Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolívar, Brionne Davis, Yauenku Migue, Luigi Sciamanna, Nicolas Cancino.
Directed by Ciro Guerra.
The serpent serves as a mystical symbol in many cultures, a creative presence, sometimes devouring presence. In this film, the serpent is part of a mythology in the northern part of the South American continent, in Colombia.
This is a very powerful film, requiring attention, concentration, openness to other cultures, the power of realities beyond the rational.
The black-and-white photography shows this photographic technique at its best. At the end, there is something of an apotheosis, of art and symbols, echoes of creation, in bright and varied colours.
This is also an ethnographic film, the screenplay based on the diaries of two explorers from the West, a German in 2009, a European from Boston 30 years later. There are fragments of stories in the diaries and that is how the film proceeds, intercutting stories from each of the periods.
The common denominator is a shaman, a tribesman who has lost his tribe, isolated along the Amazon. Into his world comes the German explorer, ill, with a local Indian rowing his canoe, the Indian freed from indentured slavery in a rubber plantation. Later, this man will express his rage at the abuses and exploitation of the rubber barons. The shaman is persuaded that he can find his tribe and accompanies the voyagers, especially to find a special plant that has curative powers.
The explorer from 30 years later is then introduced, seeking the curative flower, and engaging the help of the shaman, the same man still voyaging along the Amazon.
There is an important stop in 1909, the travellers coming to a Mission, a very strict place, the Spanish missionary alone, his confreres having gone in search of others but never returning. There is a group of boys living there, dressed in robes, singing hymns, subject to severe discipline – and the visitors have to intervene to stop the whipping of one of the boys. a grim glimpse of an aspect of mission work, the imposition of beliefs on the natives, the forbidding of the use of native languages as pagan, the missionaries trying to protect their converts from pagan ways.
When the visitors arrive 30 years later, what they find is a cult, a self-proclaimed Messiah, the boys having grown up and becoming acolytes in the cult, with tonsures, with robes. The Messiah has still has some traces of Latin, words and sentences mixed up – but using them in rituals that draw on the Eucharist, some literal interpretations of consuming the body, a ceremony with a chalice. again, a corruption of Christian traditions.
The culmination of the film is the arrival of the latter group in the mountainous region of the Amazon, a betrayal by the visitor, but a mystical experience which the audience shares.
This film, from Columbia, invites its audience into an intensely different experience, an introduction to a “primitive” culture with a critique of a “civilised” culture. An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 2015.
US, 2016, 115 minutes, Colour.
Melissa Mc Carthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mac Kinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Ed Begley Jr, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Michael Kenneth Williams, Matt Walsh, Charles Dance, Neil Casey, Ozzy Osbourne.
Directed by Paul Feig.
Ghostbusters was a very popular hit of the 1980s so there is no reason why Ghostbusters should not be a very popular hit of 2016. While there was a sequel in the 1980s, there have been thoughts of another sequel or a remake for quite some time. Now it is here – and, before its release, subject to a great deal of misogynistic comment. Female Ghostbusters? The normal response should have been, why not? But some seem to be offended by the very idea!
There was also some comment that those involved with the original film were not too pleased originally with a remake – however, the original director Ivan Reitman is an executive producer, Bill Murray has an amusing cameo, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson show up in brief spots and Sigourney Weaver turns up during the final credits.
A report has come from China that Ghostbusters is being banned because any film that fosters superstitions should not be shown in the People’s Republic. That certainly misunderstands Ghostbusters. If anybody takes the film literally, the range of ghosts cavorting on the screen, the tactics of the Ghostbusters themselves, they are certainly misinterpreting what is a big budget, special effects entertainment.
However, once antipathetic male audiences get over their problem with female Ghostbusters, they have to tackle the issue of whether they like Melissa Mc Carthy or not (and there have been some male male grouches about her as well). She is a bit lower key here than usual, working in the laboratory for developing formulas and machines to discover and combat the ghosts, working with her zany partner, Holtzmann (stand-up comedian Kate Mac Kinnon who is pretty good in her role). The other main Ghostbusters is Erin, played by Kristen Wiig, who had written about ghosts in the past but has since left that part of her life behind, concentrating on science and obtaining tenure in a university (from superior, Charles Dance).
The fourth Ghostbusters is Patty, an African- American actress in the larger-than-life vein of Queen Latifah, who works in the New York subway, discovers ghosts and joins the team.
The ghosts themselves are comic creatures, many of whom might be found in a carnival, and a Ghost Train ride. However, there is a mad villain who is able to capture ghosts with his machine and intends to release them for apocalyptic mayhem.
One of the very entertaining aspects of the new Ghostbusters is the presence of the receptionist for the team. It is a role reversal of the dim young woman who finds office work challenging, rather oblivious to her shortcomings. This time it is the dim young man who certainly finds office work challenging, even answering the phone, and certainly oblivious to his shortcomings.He is played with exceeding good spirits by Chris Hemsworth, very un-Thor-like, and, during the final credits, very Saturday Night Fever like in his dancing.
Andy Garcia turns up as the mayor of New York City.
In many ways, the original Ghostbusters was fairly ordinary in its way but brought to life by the verve of its stars. It is the same here, although there are huge advances in special effects since the 1980s. so, undemanding entertainment.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
US, 2016, 120 minutes, Colour.
Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Maika Munro, Jessie T. Usher, Sela Ward, Bill Pullman, William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica A.Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Back in 1996 when the first Independence Day film was released, we were reassured that, with all the heroics led by Will Smith and urged on by President Bill Pullman and scientist Jeff Goldblum, that the world was safe after this particular example of War of the Worlds.
Little did we know – or little did the screenwriters know until they put their minds to it – that the aliens hadn’t gone at all, that they had settled here on earth, especially in North Africa with an enormous cavity in the earth and an enormous spaceship, and that they were plotting and planning and developing their technology. Which is just as well because it offers the opportunity, 20 years later, to refight Independence Day.
Needless to say, the special effects are quite spectacular, especially the spaceship – and the new one is 3000 miles across! Then there are whiz-bang battles – although the aliens themselves look stereotypically familiar, ugly looking creatures, slimy and sinister, with the Queen operating with her minions like a hive.
One of the things that we all may have missed in the 20 years since 1996 is that travel to the moon is so quick and seemingly inconsequential, up and down at will. Up on the moon, there is a crack squad of fighters, led by Liam Hemsworth, who do training, risk each other’s lives, have a sense of bravado.
Meanwhile in Africa, Jeff Goldblum is exploring the alien presence, confronting a warlord and a scientist friend from the past, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. With the threat of an alien invasion, the moon soldiers rescue them and bring back to headquarters in Nevada, under the care of William Fichtner, and at the urgings of the new president, Sela Ward, sounding more than a little like Hillary Clinton – or via the old president, a scruffy bearded Bill Pullman, who comes to celebration and exercises more than a few heroics by the end of the film.
One of the bright pieces of the film is the character of the old scientist who has been in a coma for 20 years, played by Brent Spiner, who wakes up and immediately goes to work, encountering a friendly sphere from the galaxies, allies who have suffered under the aliens and are willing to help the humans.
So, there you have it, more or less (the more including a touch of romance between the pilot and the presidential attache, the former president’s daughter, who is no mean pilot herself). Oh, increasing the age range and interest, the scientist’s father (Judd Hirsch) gets into the act after trying vainly to publicise his biography to residents of a home for the elderly, and a group of schoolchildren trying to escape the aliens.
It is all enjoyable in the Saturday matinee kind of fashion, although the plot gets preposterouser and preposterouser as it goes on. The screenwriters have already given some consideration to a sequel, indicating at the end that the friendly sphere from space should combine with the humans who will take the attack on the aliens into the galaxies…
US, 2016, 120 minutes, Colour.
Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Julia Styles, Vincent Cassell, Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp, Scott Shepherd,
Directed by Paul Greengrass.
One of the great reading pleasures for many of us in the 1980s was going through the exciting conspiracy novels of Robert Ludlum, one after the other. And then there were the film versions during the 1980s and into the 1990s, including seeing Richard Chamberlain in the first version of The Bourne Identity.
When Paul Greengrass directed the first Bourne film with Matt Damon, it was like welcoming a familiar character with the added pleasure of the two sequels. It has taken more than a few years for Jason Bourne to return.
On the whole, this is a very entertaining action thriller (with a reservation to be mentioned later). Jason is having moments of memory recovery even though he is wandering around Europe involved in cage fighting – Matt Damon having beefed up considerably for this role. After fighting in Albania, he goes to Athens where he is contacted by an agent from the past, Nikki (Julia Stiles) who has been doing some computer investigation into his past, into his identity, and has some documents on a USB.
In the meantime, the head of the CIA and his associate, Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander) are on Bourne’s trail, making contact with one of their assassin agents, Asset (Vincent Cassell) which leads to a rendezvous in Athens in the very middle of a large political protest and chase, motorbike and car through the congested city.
With the USB, Jason then begins a series of international journeys, all the while under most elaborate surveillance at CIA headquarters, cameras everywhere, the ability to keep a check on Bourne, satellite coverage as well. This leads him to Berlin and, armed with more information, to London.
The head of the CIA has also been in collusion with one of those young computer geniuses, this time played by Riz Ahmed, publicly proclaiming that his inventions make full acknowledgement of the need for privacy – but, we know, that the deal with the CIA means exactly the opposite. And when the head is played by Tommy Lee Jones, doing very well what he’s been doing for the last 40 years but this time looking more than his age, we know that there’s going to be a confrontation.
But it is Heather Lee, with Alicia Vikander, present in so many films these days and winning an Oscar for The Danish Girl, who has a conflict of sympathy and ambition, conflict between loyalty to the CIA head and to Bourne.
Since the head of the CIA and the computer expert are going to a convention in Las Vegas, that’s where Jason Bourne goes, that’s where Asset (who has tried to kill him in London) goes, all converging for a shootout.
Basically, the culmination of the film is the confrontation that has been expected all the time. This is where the reservation comes in. There has been a steady pace, the characters continually on the move, quick-paced editing to keep the audience involved. It is when the pace more than picks up for one of the most elaborate car chases you could see, cars smashing into one another all over the place in Las Vegas, the streets, the carparks, everywhere – it is almost as if somebody challenged Paul Greengrass, “I bet you can’t smash so many cars in the one film” and he said, “you’re on”. While it might be a piece de resistance in itself, seems very much and out of place, given the plot and pacing of this Jason Bourne adventure.
Instead of a happy ending, there is a nice piece of ambiguity care of Jason Bourne, now recognised as David Webb in reality, that sets us up for a sequel.
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
US, 2016, 110 minutes, Colour.
Alexander Skarsgaard, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Christophe Walls, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, Simon Russell Beale, Ben Chaplin.
Directed by David Yates.
The stories of Tarzan and and his nickname, King of the Jungle, by novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs, have been popular for over 100 years. Have been silent films, classics of the 1930s with Olympic swimmer turned actor Johnny Weissmuller, a variety of Tarzans in the 1950s and 60s followed by a seriously classic version in the 1980s, The Legend of Greystoke, with Christopher Lambert.There has also been an animated Disney Tarzan and a sequel.
This film is not exactly the same as the others. This is a story of an adult John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke, and his American wife, Jane.The classic story was that of the boy John, in Africa and in and in the jungle, his parents killed, his growing up with the apes, learning to live with the animals, understand their language, move swingingly through the trees of the jungle. and, he also met Jane and rescued her.
In fact, there are some flashbacks to Tarzan and his past giving a little background to how he has become the person he is.
What is of interest for those who love history is that the setting is the 1880s, the period of Belgian colonising of the Congo, and the exportation of the native tribes by King Leopold.This film offers a critique of the Belgian colonialisation, some British collaboration (with Jim Broadbent as the English Prime Minister) and an American interest in the defence of rights, in the person of George Washington Williams, Samuel L.Jackson enjoying himself – although he does find saving Tarzan then being saved by him and running through the jungle, leaping from cliffs, balancing on giant tree trunks more than demanding.
John Clayton is sent to Africa with Jane to inspect the developments there. What actually happens is that he is pursued by Leon Rom, Christophe Waltz doing his archvillain thing again. Waltz is searching for the vast amounts of diamonds to finance Belgian progress, the building of a railway, the building forts and the establishing of a force of mercenaries. Rom has done a deal with the local chieftain, Djimon Hounsou, who is hostile to Tarzan because of the death of his son and the death of Tarzan’s parents.
A lot of the action comes from the taking of Jane by Rom, transporting her on a riverboat – but she is more than feisty and engineers her escape. In the meantime, Tarzan and Williams escape, rush through the jungle, descend on a train and liberate carriages of slaves, and then move to rescue Jane and to confront the Chief. Tarzan also has to demonstrate to Williams his knowledge of the apes and his deference to them in fighting and bowing to them.
One of the spectacles to resolve the crises is Tarzan rounding up the animals, a huge range of animals, to go stampeding through the port town.
All did not end well in the Congo but John Clayton returns to England, George Washington Williams delivers his denunciation of exploitation – and there are intimations of the new generation of Claytons.
The film was directed by David Yates who made several of the Harry Potter films.
US, 2016, 81 minutes, Colour.
Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander Di Persia, Billy Burke, Maria Bello.
Directed by David.Sandberg.
With a title like Lights Out, it is to guess that this might be a horror film. While it is a ghost story and has touches of horror, it is more of a terror film. terror films make the audience scared, respond with continued tension, and share the experiences of the central characters. All this happens in about 80 minutes – and the film was so successful at the American box office, that a sequel is already in preparation. They will have to invent a few more characters since not everyone survives this film.
There is an atmospheric prologue with the father of the family working in his warehouse and his assistant insists that she has seen a strange presence. Once the father believes her, there is a confrontation between the presence, ghostly black, with the characteristic that when the lights go on, she cannot be seen. She is seen only when the lights are out.
The father has had a conversation with his young son, concerned about his mother’s health and her taking her medication. She is in a bad state and as the film goes on more is revealed about her past.She is played by Maria Bello.
Then we are introduced to a couple, Rebecca and Bret, in a relationship but with Rebecca in control. When she gets a visit from the school counsellor to tell her that her younger brother is falling asleep in class and that there is concern about the mother, she is challenged as to whether she would take on responsibility and become the boy’s guardian.
Before you can say ghost, it emerges that Rebecca has walked out on her disturbed mother, upset at the disappearance of her father, and then discovering that her mother had spent time in institution – which comes to mind when she discovers a drawing from her childhood with her parents and this strange black presence, Diana.
One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise what is going to happen, Rebecca looking after her younger brother, the malevolent presence of Diana, trying to do something to help her mother, Diana getting the better of sister and brother, Bret having to step in to help – and the police who come, rather sceptical and superior, find Diana, to their disadvantage.
One of the things about this kind of film is that the characters are ordinary enough in themselves, that audiences can identify with them, imagine the situations they find them in even if in fact they don’t really believe. But, while it is all up there on the screen, it has a certain credibility – enhanced by many opportunities, with the jump-cutting editing, for the audience to leap out of their seats at several times and/or emit a scream.
All in all, this is a brief small-budget film, with a good cast led by a strong Teresa Palmer as Rebecca and Gabriel Bateman as her brother Martin. It doesn’t set out to be the greatest but it does achieve what it set out to do – tension, fear, jumps and screams.
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
Ireland, 2016, 91 minutes, Colour.
Kate Beckinsale, Morfydd Clark, Xavier Samuel, James Fleet, Jemma Redgrave, Tom Bennett, Jen Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards, Kelly Campbell.
Directed by Whit Stillman.
Probably, the best thing to say is: attention all Jane Austen lovers. We all know the six classic novels, have our own favourite, and have probably seen many of the cinema and television versions over the decades. We have become at home in the Regency period, in London and in provincial towns in the countryside. We are familiar with the costumes and decor. And we know that there will be various intrigues in terms of relationships, marriage planning, issues of both pride and prejudice.
Many of us may not be familiar with the juvenile novella, Lady Susan, which Jane Austen did not complete. It is an epistolary novel. But, it has been adapted for the screen, given the title of Love & Friendship, by American filmmaker, who has not made many films but is interested in portraits of society, aspects of elegance, and in both literature and in images, Whit Stillman, Metropolitan, Barcelona, Last Days of Disco.
So, here we are in Jane Austen land, travelling from country house to country house, following Lady Susan as she seeks refuge and some security, having recently been widowed. She does have a daughter, about whom she cares very little, who is away at boarding school.
She takes refuge at the home of the Vernons, Mrs Vernon being the sister of her husband. She arrives with her made, Mrs Cross, whom she treats as both and companion and, in a sign of things to come, says that both she and Mrs Cross would think it unbecoming were she to be paid for her work. At the house, Churchill, Susan encounters Reginald DeCourcy? who is attracted to her and she, with an eye to the future and self-interest, is attracted to him, walking, talking, sharing confidences, so that he moves to defend her against the rumours that have been circulating about her and her behaviour.
We, the audience, do not need such persuasion because we watch Lady Susan go into action, eventually deciding that a pleasantly daft landowner, Mr Martin, is the ideal husband for her daughter who leaves her school and comes to Churchill, where she is welcomed and is also welcomed by Reginald’s parents, the De Courcys.
One of the great satisfactions in watching this film and listening to the dialogue and its delivery is the delight in fine English language, an extensive vocabulary, beautifully modulated sentences and a great deal of wit.
This is due in large matter to the excellent cast. Kate Beckinsale has had a mixed career but here she is at her best, beautiful, exquisitely dressed, charming manner and articulation but completely amoral, self-obsessed, with an eye to financial security. Xavier Samuel perfectly embodies the young country gentleman, Reginald, earnest but more than a touch ingenuous. There is a very strong supporting cast of character actors, including Tom Bennett lighting up the screen as the gawky Mr Martin and a cameo from Stephen Fry. Chloe Sevigny, who worked with Kate Beckinsale in Stillman’s Last Days of Disco, is Lady Susan’s over-accommodating American friend.
There is never what might be called action in a Jane Austen story though there is a great deal of psychological and emotional action as characters meet, fall in love, fall out of love, exploit one another – with some finding happiness.
To all these extents, Love & Friendship is an unanticipated pleasure.
US, 2015, 97 minutes, Colour.
Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Travis Fimmell.
Directed by Rebecca Miller.
Rebecca Miller (daughter of playwright Arthur Miller) has made only a few films over almost 20 years, including Personal Velocity, Jack and Rose, The Private Life Pippa Lee, a film every five years or so. Her films are particular explorations of female characters.
This is the case here with Maggie, a 30 something academic, strong-minded and strong-willed, though down on herself that she cannot stay in a relationship more than six months. She is also anxious to have a child and has picked out a past friend, Guy (Travis Fimmel), who loves mathematics but has developed a company making pickles!
By chance, checking on an overpayment at the University, she encounters John (Ethan Hawke) and later a chance meeting in the park. He is an expert ethnographer, is trying to write a novel, and asks Maggie to read chapters which she eagerly does.
John is married to another ethnographer, the Danish Georgette (Julianne Moore) and they have two children. The next plot development is not hard to work out, John leaving his wife and children, marrying Maggie and their having a baby.
That was the first part of Maggie’s plan but it did not go according to plan. Over, over the three years of their friendship and marriage, Maggie comes to realise that John is still dependent in many ways on Georgette, for her professional opinion, phoning her regularly and, of course, the shared upbringing of their children which Maggie also makes a positive contribution to.
This leads to a second stage of Maggie’s plan, coming to her mind after attending a reading by Georgette, liking her and suggesting to her, Georgette fairly willing, that Georgette and John get back together again. They control circumstances to get John to give a paper at a conference in Québec which Georgette is also attending.
Maggie has two friends from long since, Tony and Felicia, who are her confidantes and who give her advice – but, Tony unwittingly reveals Maggie’s plan which precipitates a crisis and the need for a resolution, for the relationship between Georgette and John and for Maggie herself to appreciate that she is a controller but that she does have a young child.
There is a moment at the very end of the film which raises a question which does seem rather contrived.
In many films, Greta Gerwig has been a very idiosyncratic presence (Frances Ha, Lola Rerun, Mistress America). Here, she incorporates the eccentricities into a much more rounded and pleasing performance. Ethan Hawke is also very good, responding to a dramatic challenge as the often ineffectual John. It is strange to hear Julianne Moore speaking with and Danish inflected English accent.
Not a particularly profound experience, somewhat familiar, but effectively written and directed.
MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES
US, 2016, 97 minutes, Colour.
Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Stephen Root, Stefanie Faracy, Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson.
Directed by Jake Szymanski.
You’re right. The title gives the tone away. Well, it is not exactly Wedding Crashers because the two destructive characters, Mike and Dave, are actually the brothers of the bride. This doesn’t stop them crashing too many disasters on the way.
Every three months or so, Hollywood seems to release yet another raucous and crass comedy (and quite a number of them with Zac Efron, 2016 alone with Dirty Grandpa and Bad Neighbours 2).
At various times while watching the film, the word that seemed to emerge was “stupid” or “stupidity”. Admittedly, Mike and Dave (allegedly based on real-life characters!) are meant to be stupid and for quite a while we watch how stupid they can be. Perhaps this is something of a compliment to Zac Efron but he is not necessarily convincing as being stupid – he has a talent for drawing - despite what the screenplay asks him to do. There are some elements of sense below the surface. On the other hand, and this is something of a backhanded compliment to Adam Devine, he is completely persuasive as the stupid older brother, Mike, who pressurises bar owners to buy his alcohol, and admits that people use words he does not know the meaning of.
The boys’ parents have become so exasperated with the behaviour of their sons that they summon them to a summit, along with their daughter and her fiance, to lay down the law – that if they are going to come to the wedding in Honolulu, they have to find wedding dates, very sensible and good mannered girls.
Cut to Tatiana and Alicia, who are not to be underestimated in the stupid stakes. Alicia is played by Anna Kendrick, who seems to be going through the raunchy phase of her career after Mr Right, as well as Aubrey Plaza, Tatiana, who is just as raucous in Dirty Grandpa. After the boys have interviewed all kinds of women wanting to go with them to Hawaii and have appeared on a television talk show, the girls decide they need a holiday and will try to put on a convincing act, starting with Tatiana being knocked over by a car as soon as the boys come out of a restaurant and they rescue her.
There is plenty of raunch for the millions who do enjoy this kind of thing, especially with the bride being set up with a no clothes barred masseur to loosen her up – followed by an ecstasy and other substances naked folly. The boys’ cousin comes on to Tatiana in a sauna.
And, as if that isn’t bad enough, during the rehearsal dinner, Mike and Dave, behind the screen, are accidentally connected to the microphone and all their squabbles and activities revealed to all and sundry.
As with so many of these comedies, all the rough and coarseness comes at the beginning and then there is a moral moment and some kind of reform – and this does happen here.
Which means that there are some moments, some episodes and dialogue where the characters actually do take stock of themselves, admit their stupidities, acknowledge the covering over their low self-esteem with their carry on. Whether this redeems the whole film can be discussed – but, at least, amongst the dross, there are some shining moments.
OUR KIND OF TRAITOR
UK, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Ewan Mc Gregor, Stellan Skarsgaard, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris, Jeremy Northam, Mark Gattis, Khalid Abdalla, Saskia Reeves.
Directed by Susanna White.
Our Kind of treat Traitor is another film version of John Le Carre spy novel. The film versions are always welcome – although some audiences may find this bit lower key.
It Is over 50 Years since John Le Carre began writing novels and films were made. It is half a century since Richard Burton was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. This means that Le Carre has taken his readership through the decades of the Cold War, to the collapse of communism, through British espionage, through Russian espionage, to wider horizons including Africa and more internationally with The Night Manager Manager and this film.
Audiences who like a variety of international locations will enjoy an opening in Moscow, the setting of the drama in Morocco, transfer to London, Swiss variety with the use of locations in Berne, including the Einstein Museum, and then out into the Alps.
By 2016, the subject of the Le Carre story is International money laundering, this time by the Russian Mafia who are on the lookout for establishing a bank to do their laundering in London. It seems they have several British politicians in their pocket – the kind of mercenary traitor that they can rely on. On the other hand, they have a traitor from within their own ranks, the man who manages the money and signs the documents, not their kind of traitor but one who could be welcomed by MI6.
At the centre of the film is a rather quiet British couple, on holiday in Morocco, some tensions in their marriage, but drawn into international intrigue which actually makes better persons of them, standing on principle and helping others and drawing them closer to each other. Ewan Mc Gregor is Perry, not your everyday hero but the everyday citizen who can become one. He teaches Politics at London University. His wife, Gail, played by Naomie Harris, is a prominent London barrister.
Into their lives comes the boisterous, extraordinarily boisterous Stellan Skarsgaard as the Mafia accountant, Dima. Very early in the film, he passes a memory stick to Perry who experiences MI6 officials at Heathrow on his return. The leader is Hector, played by Damian Lewis who got in a lot of rehearsal time for this kind of role in the TV series, Homeland. He has his eye on the chief treacherous British politician, Jeremy Northam, but is unable to persuade his boss, Mark Gattis, to give him permission to pursue the case.
Which means that he does and there are meetings in Paris, tracking of the Russian criminals, rendezvous after a tennis match with Dima giving information but wanting his wife and children to be taken to England and protection.
But, not enough information handed over, so a transition to Switzerland where the film becomes more suspenseful and with some action.
Because this is a Le Carre story, there is not a completely happy ending – but, symbolically and with some subtlety, the final image is a contemporary version of T. S. Elliott’s lines from The Waste Land about the processiion of people over London Bridge, and the implied unsettlement in society.
THE SECOND MOTHER/ QUE HORAS ELA VOLTA/ WHAT TIME WILL SHE BE BACK
Brazil, 2015, 112 minutes, Colour.
Regina Case, Camilla Mardila, Karine Teles, Michel Joelsas.
Directed by Anna Muylaert.
The Second Mother is Val, Regina Case, a middle-aged woman who acts as servant in the house of a very wealthy family in San Paolo.
The English title focuses on the mother while the original Brazilian title talks about the time when she will return. This means that the film serves as an introduction to contemporary Brazilian society, audiences observing how similar the way of life is in San Paolo to so many other cities around the world.
But, the difference the film wants to emphasise is that of servants, masters and mistresses, the issue of class.
Val has had a hard life, separating from her husband, having to leave her daughter, Jessica, with her father and his partner, sending money to support her, sometimes bringing gifts, experiencing long years with no contact from her daughter. Val has absorbed the ethos of being a servant. She takes it for granted, obeying her rather haughty mistress, looking after the rather quiet and ineffectual master, lavishing all her capacity for love on their son, from his time as a little boy over 10 years to his adolescence, his finishing his secondary education and his sitting for university entrance exams.
Val is quite likeable but even we wish she would not be so subservient, where nothing is too much trouble, a collage of detail all the work that she does around the house, the menial jobs, the cooking and serving, just being at the ready for whatever is asked of her.Her daughter, Jessica, does make contact arranging to meet her mother at the airport but not wanting to go to stay where Val lives. We know that there is going to be some conflict. Jessica seems to be very self-possessed, and not wanting to take any patronising or humiliating attitudes and behaviour from the wealthy family. She resents her mother doing this kind of work and is really upset at one stage when she feels her mother does not defend her against the criticisms of the family.
In the middle of the film, especially when the mother is injured in an accident which bring on various tantrums, one is tempted to say that they all deserve what they get.
However, this is a very women-oriented film, from the writer-director, to Val herself, to Jessica, to the mother – with the men, like Val’s husband, off-screen, or the father of the household taking to his bed and, quietly and desperately proposing to Jessica. The son will go out on his own (pleasingly, to Australia for six months) but he has been molly-coddled by Val and her affection and the interprets his mother’s lack of feeling and disdain to her thinking he was a dumb. Val has really been his first mother rather than his second mother.
When a new piece of information is given about 15 minutes before the end, we can well guess what is about to happen – and it does.
Many audiences have responded feeling me to Val and her life as well as to interest in Brazilian society and issues of class.
SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ
US, 2015, 110 minutes, Colour.
Adrien Brody, Salma Hayak, Shohreh Aghadashloo.
Directed by Wayne Blair.
It is almost 40 years since the toppling of the Shah in Iran, the Revolution of February 1979, the return of Ayatollah Khomeini and the imposition of Sharia Law. This film takes us back to that time.
The film tells its story of social change via the focus on a Jewish family who have lived for decades in Tehran, an expert jeweller and his wife, having built up a reputable company, employing many locals, having made jewellery for the Shah’s wife, enlarging his clientele of the fashionable women of the city. The film sets the tone at the opening with a fashionable party to farewell the couple’s teenage son who is going to study at an Academy in the United States. The Bee Gee’s Stayin’ Alive plays at the party, the women wear fashionable dresses and there is no sign of a scarf, except for the servant.
This society was to go, resentments against the Shah and the affluent and secular way of life boiling up, especially in many of the young men, so that they turn to Revolution, with the formation of the Revolutionary Guard.
Western audiences will be basically in sympathy with the family and not with the Ayatollah, the brutal treatment of prisoners and executions, the plundering of the wealthy. However, the screenplay does have an undertone of criticism of these wealthy families, their taking their position for granted, an exploitation of the poor and, especially, and often unwitting but taken-for-granted superior attitude towards those beneath them.
Adrien Brody portrays Isaac, the jeweller, a man of position and competence, sympathetic employer, who is suddenly arrested, interrogated by a hooded official, flung into a fetid cell, questioned, humiliated, tortured, experiencing so many others being selected for execution – and guards playing with him, standing him against a wall and firing all around him. He is Jewish and there is a suggestion that on his visits to Israel he was linked with some kind of spying. His brother is under suspicion (rightly) for smuggling vodka from Russia.
Salma Hayak plays Isaac’s wife, a strong performance especially in her scenes with the maid, Shohreh Aghadashloo, part of the family for 20 years, whose son is one of the revolutionaries and has planted doubts in his mother’s mind, makes her realise that for years she often been put down by her employer and never invited to share a meal. This is something of a shock for the wife.
While the film focuses on the family, there are glimpses of what is happening in the city, the role of the revolutionaries, the ideology – and it would have been interesting for further development of these themes. We do see the employees ransacking the business offices and taking possession of everything as well as the officials coming to the home and stripping it of furniture, artwork as well as jewellery.
So much pressure and torture makes Isaac willing to forfeit all his wealth for freedom. The final sequences offer familiar plotlines and escape, sympathetic gestures for the maid, but they fit the dynamic of the film for the fate of the family.
The film is very critical of the imposition of Sharia Law as well as its indiscriminate applications. While this may not be so urgent in contemporary Iran (although this is important for surface living in the Islamic Republic though it covers much secular behaviour), it is still relevant to situations in the Middle East, in Africa, in Indonesia…
A big surprise is that the film was directed by Australian, Wayne Blair, actor and director of The Sapphires and Redfern Now, and was photographed by Warwick Thornton, director of the award-winning Samson and Delilah.
Ireland, 2016, 106 minutes, Colour.
Ferdia Walsh Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor, Lucy Boynton, Kelly Thornton, Ben Carolan, Mark Mc Kenna, Percy Chamburuka, Ian Kenny, Don Wycherley
Directed by John Carney.
Audiences will find this a generally cheerful film, a story about five young adolescents and their desire to make music. The setting is the 1980s and there are plenty of songs from the popular groups of that period and a number of new songs – in the vein of those times. The writer-director of Sing Street, John Carney, aspired to be a musician when he was young. He then played in a band and once he became a film director, also concentrated on films with music and song, the very popular Once (which became an award-winning theatre piece) and Begin Again. It would not be surprising to find Sing Street on theatre stages in years to come.
John Carney is Irish which gives a particular flavour to the film. In his screenplay, he is reminiscing about his times at Catholic school in the mid-1980s, at a Christian Brothers school. It is easy to see that there were many aspects of the school that he did not like and had a very dim view of the Brother Principal of the school who becomes a target of his dislike, his satire, and his culminating song and demonstration in protest against the Brother.
Times were difficult in Ireland. the opening focuses on how many people, young and old, were leaving Ireland, especially for the UK. Conor (Ferdia Walsh Peelo) has been at a Jesuit high school but his father is out of work, times are hard, and Conor has to go to the local Christian Brothers’ high School. Almost immediately, the humourless and rather heartless Principal demands that Conor wear black shoes (which his family can’t afford). The principal reads the letter of the law, the hundred plus pages of regulations, insisting on complete obedience to rules. Later, when Conor wear some make up like members of the bands of the time, he demands the removal, using physical violence against Conor.
Catholic audiences will be more than a bit sensitive to this presentation of the Brothers – while most audiences will take the severity for granted.
So, audiences can concentrate on Conor, his infatuation with a girl who lives in an institutional house near the school, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), deciding to form a band so that she can appear in music videos. He does form a band, a cheeky young boy at school promoting himself as a fixer and as a manager. They do make several music videos. And there is a sympathetic boy who is a master of many musical instruments with a talent for composition and improvisation. They go for multicultural with an African-Irish? young boy, also a good musician, and two other young lads who read the advertisement and more than fulfil the requirements.
Lots of rehearsal scenes, plenty of verve in the playing, Conor deciding that he will be the lead singer, writing the lyrics, testing out his songs with Raphina, and with a collage of the styles of so many of the popular bands, the variety of clothes, hairstyles, make up, that the boys take on.
Conor’s family background is also played well, with Aidan Gillett and Maria Doyle Kennedy as his squabbling parents, and Jack Raynor, very sympathetic, as his stoner brother who has opted out of life despite his expensive Jesuit education.
There are two climactic sequences, one in Conor’s imagination, the other at the final school dance. In the former, everybody is there, the band playing, everyone dancing, his parents happy, Raphina coming in, and even the Brother Principal full of zest doing cartwheels across the floor. However, while the final gig is very successful for Conor and his band, he does have a plan to confront the Brother, attack and humiliate him with everybody wearing masks of his face and singing some pungent lyrics criticising him.
What is left for Conor and Raphina but for Conor to commandeer his grandfather’s speedboat and take to the high seas for a future in Britain? It seems more than a bit far-fetched, but it is based on the director's experiences.
STAR TREK BEYOND
US, 2016, 120 minutes, Colour.
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinton, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sophia Boutella.
Directed by Justin Lin.
This is a review from an observer of Star Trek films, rather than a Trekkie fan of the television series, during the last almost 40 years when Robert Wise’s Star Trek appeared in 1979 as the first big screen movie in what has become a series, well respected and liked, led by William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as the Vulcan, Spock. (It is good to notice that the present Spock pays tribute to his father, with his image, with the box that he left him – and, towards the end, there is a close-up of the photo of the crew of the Enterprise).
The film opens with the young Captain Kirk offering a weapon gift to a strange looking group of aliens who take all the elements of his speech the wrong way – and then leap on him, not the huge creatures we thought, but little irritant monsters. This seemed rather silly – but, the filmmakers were probably getting the audience to have a laugh before they plunged them into an intense battle sequence, spacecraft firing on spacecraft as well as hand to hand combat, all very serious.
But then it got more interesting, with the Enterprise waylaid, sent crashing into the mountainous terrain of a foreign planet. And a villain had emerged, Kraal, a heavily made up Idris Elba (but his fans can see his unmasked real face in sequences at the end). What the crew have to do, as they each landed in separate parts of the mountains and valleys, is to get together. Most of the crew are kept as prisoners, including Uhura, Zoe Saldana.and Mr Sulu, John Cho.Captain Kirk, Chris Pine, and Mr Chekov, Anton Yelchin, survive together. Bones Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinton) land together, Spock wounded and stoically suffering, but some very entertaining dialogue and banter between the two, capitalising on Spock’s extremely strong and rational interpretation, without emotion. While Scotty, Simon Pegg, lands by himself but meets an intriguing creature, female, painted in white with stripes, who saves him. She is the sworn enemy of Kraal, is an agile warrior and skilled in the ships from the Starfleet, although one which the Enterprise crew think is more than a touch prehistoric.
So, repairs all round using the skills of Scotty (some good lines and heroics but Simon Pegg was one of the co-writers of the screenplay), a rescue with beaming up techniques, Captain Kirk providing a huge distraction riding a super-charged motorbike, Mr Chekov’s knowledge and Mr Sulu’s flying skills.
Kraal is able to obtain the mysterious piece of a weapon that was offered as a gift at the opening of the film – but it unleashes all kinds of weaponry, thousands of them, and the target is the space station to be destroyed which will lead on to further destruction throughout space.
As to be expected, there is a desperate flight, Bones and Spock continuing some sparring as they go in their separate vehicle to save the day, Kraal escaping the destruction of his fleet (achieved via loud rock beat music) and a mano a mano confrontation between Kirk and Kraal.
One of the strength of the film is that each of the central characters gets a substantial amount of screen time – and the crew of the Enterprise show excellent modelling of leadership, shared decision-making and delegation of responsibilities.
For those wondering about the next film in the series, we are reassured because the reconstruction of the Enterprise seems to take practically no time such is the wizardry of future technology.
The sad aspect of the film is the memorial to the late Leonard Nimoy and the dedication of the film to Anton, recognising the very sad accidental death of the young Anton Yelchin.
SWISS ARMY MAN
US, 2016, 97 minutes, Colour,
Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Directed by Daniels/ Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert.
Probably, a Swiss Army Man, with his Swiss Army Knife, might be ready for any difficult situation he finds himself in. But, probably not nearly as difficult as the situation Hank (Paul Dano) finds himself in, stranded on a remote island in the Pacific, despairing, the noose around his neck, his feet slipping and dangling… as he notices a body floating ashore.
Are we supposed to think about Robinson Crusoe, and wonder whether the stranded body will be a Man Friday? Are we supposed to supposed to remember Tom Hanks and his ball, Wilson, in Castaway? Given that the two writers and directors of this film have made some comedies with the touch of the absurd, it seems quite likely.
The dead man is Manny, giving Daniel Radcliffe extraordinary opportunity to play dead and, at various times, a living dead, though not a zombie. Hank is overjoyed at the possibility of a companion, even enjoying a jet-propelled excursion over the sea and back to the beach.
It is probably important to focus on the background of the jet-propelling. All the reviewers and, one presumes, all the viewers, will have something to say about Intestinal gases.They recur, and recur, and often noisily and prolonged, stomach rumblings and farting. In fact, they are a symbol or a sign of life. So, Manny seems to have some life in him even though he is expelling it.
Hank, in his excitement, carries Manny around the island, up the cliffs into a cave, propping him up, excited when Manny open is his eyes and begins to speak. As, Claude Rains says at the end of Casablanca, “this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship”! And, it is.
From these paragraphs, readers will note that there is a touch of realism and more than a touch of the surreal – with the screenplay moving into fantasy. And so the question of who is really dead and who is really alive? Depending on your psychological predilections, interpreting these events from a Jungian point of view or a Freudian point of view, it could be said that the interplay between the two characters is Hank having dialogue with Manny as his inner self.
Hank is on a quest, even though he admits that as he began to hang himself his life did not appear before his eyes. Rather, what he has needed is this interplay between Manny and himself, Manny having no memories of his own, Hank being persuaded to talk about himself, his parents, his growing up, his shyness, the image of Sarah on his mobile phone and his taking it surreptitiously in a bus. A sex magazine provides the occasion for discussions about sexuality, about male response, erections and masturbation.
In the interplay between the two, Hank enters into some kind of role-play where he tries to identify with Sarah and Manny responds, indicating some issues of sexual identity as well as of friendship.
For most of the film, it is a blend of comedy and drama, a two-hander. A number of other people do come into the film at the end, especially Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Sarah. But, by this stage, our imaginations have been exercised, making us wonder about locations and the island and a forest, the attack of a savage bear, Manny and his being considered dead, Hank’s father coming on the scene – as well as medics, police, and a television interviewer and camera crew.
On the one hand, a lot of the dialogue reminds us of our mundane human life. On the other hand, from death to life, this interior dialogue, touches on the existential themes of being human.
Needless to say, some audiences have walked out – while many others are putting it on their list of cult films.