SIGNIS REVIEWS AUGUST 2017
BIG SICK, The
GHOST STORY, A
GOD’S OWN COUNTRY
KIKI. LOVE TO LOVE
LOST CITY OF A, The
PARIS CAN WAIT
SPACE BETWEEN, The
TIME OF THEIR LIVES, The
TRIP TO SPAIN, The
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
US, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour.
Charlize Theron, James Mc Avoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Till Schweiger, Sofia Boutella, Barbara Sukova, James Faulkner,
Directed by David Leitch.
Cold War espionage. The ending of the Cold War. Coming down of the Berlin Wall… It sounds as if we are in John Le Carre territory. But, John Le Carre it ain’!. This is a film based on a graphic novel rather than a novel written graphically. The central characters are of the superhero, super-heroine, villain variety, sharply drawn, tough language, and fighting capacity in the kick-ass (or kick-front) school of combat.
Not that the situation doesn’t remind us of a Le Carre novel. It is 1989, Berlin. There are demonstrations in the East, protests, clambering on to the wall, support from the West. November – and by the end of the month the wall was down.
There is a particular crisis because a former Stasi official (Eddie Marsan) is about to defect, has a complete list of agents and counter-agents which all the powers are eager to get their hands on. The other valuable thing is that the agent has memorised the list completely.
In London, the espionage chiefs along with a CIA representative fear the list becoming available, endangering a great number of agents. They summon one of their best agents, Lorraine Broughton. She is played by Charlize Theron. And, with her bleached hair, she is the Atomic Blonde. Blondes can also be blonde bombshells and an atomic blonde bombshell is explosive. After her being Furiousa in Mad Max Fury Road, and after being the arch-villain in The Fate of the Furious, Charlize Theron is at home with tough roles, especially when they ensure that she is a star with graphic novel glamour, poise and sensibilities.
In Berlin she is to rendezvous with the local area chief, David Perceval, played with intensity by James Mc Avoy, also a graphic novel type, infiltrating in East Berlin, skinhead look, rough and ready, but an exceedingly shrewd operator.
Berlin isn’t exactly the city that one would have liked to have visited in November 1989. And this, especially so, if one knew just how many agents and double agents were prowling the streets, ready with weapons, brutal Russians, seductive French, self-confident Americans, and so many Germans themselves.
Actually, the film is shown in flashback, and seeing Lorraine at the end of her mission in Berlin looking very much the worse for wear, immersing herself in a bath of ice cubes, summoned to report to the British authorities for a debriefing, all taped. The preceding action is told in the flashbacks.
Needless to say, there are traitors, double agents, murders in the street, escape in joining the protesters (who all raise umbrellas at crucial moment to stop the snipers shooting). And, of course, there are suspicions all round. What about David Perceval? What about Lorraine herself? What about the authorities in London (James Faulkner and Toby Jones)? What about the CIA emissary (John Goodman)? What about the young contact in the east? What about the watchmaker in the West? And, after all that, it gets even more complicated in the last 10 minutes! And, of course, a twist.
The film was made in Budapest but has enough scenes of Berlin itself that tourists would recognise and be comfortable with. However, depending on one’s interest, whether one remembers the fall of the Berlin Wall or younger audiences wanting to know more about it, or whether one just wants action and plenty of kick-ass with Charlize Theron showing she is as good as any male counterpart, the film will be an entertaining, violent, sometimes kinky, immersion in the world of doubledealing espionage.
US, 2017, 112 minutes, Colour.
Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eliza Gonzalez, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, C J Jones.
Directed by Edgar Wright.
Wondering about the title Baby Driver, and hearing the Simon and Garfunkel reference during the film, it seemed worthwhile to check the lyrics of their song to get a feel for what writer-director, Edgar Wright, was imagining with this film:
They call me Baby Driver
And once upon a pair of wheels
I hit the road and I'm gone
What's my number
I wonder how your engines feel
Ba ba ba ba
Scoot down the road
What's my number
I wonder how your engines feel
Edgar Wright has a solid reputation, especially for his classics Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, his American graphic novel film, Scott Pilgrim versus the World (not so sure about The World’s End). He hails, from Britain, filming an American story in Atlanta, Georgia.
We are in no doubt about the ability of Baby as a driver, right from the start in his getaway car, manoeuvres and manipulation, rather breathtaking at times, through the streets of the city. In fact, throughout the film, there are more getaway escapades as well as an elaborate chase on foot through the streets, stores, amenities of the city.
So, who is this Baby Driver, a young man, tall, rather baby-faced, somewhat self-effacing, with his earplugs in all the time listening to quite a range of songs. It is explained later that in a childhood accident, with the death of his parents, he has tinnitus, continual ringing in his ears which he drowns out with the music. (In fact, the theme of hearing becomes prominent in the film as Baby’s foster parent is deaf, reads lips, and the two communicate with sign language – and the character, Joe, is played by CJ Jones who in real-life has hearing disability.)
Ansel Elgort has been in quite a few films, including the Divergency series as well as the romantic drama about terminal illness, The Fate in our Stars. On the strength of this striking and persuasive performance, he should be in strong demand for movies for quite some time. He carries the film and continually commands audience attention and sympathy.
But, whom does he drive for? The answer is generally-suave businessman, heist-controller, played in his familiarly sinister but genteel manner by Kevin Spacey. He has a rogue’s gallery of clients, especially the brutal Jamie Foxx as Bats, and Jon Hamm, very strong in films these days after his years in Mad Men, and Eliza Gonzalez as his partner, a trigger-happy couple.
The robbery sequences and, especially, the getaways, are violent, exciting, and, for the audience, adrenaline-pumping (and definitely not to be emulated in real life).
Actually, Baby is at the end of his contract with Doc and is hoping for a better life, especially with Debora, a sympathetic waitress in a diner with whom he strikes up a close friendship. She is played by Lily James, far away from both Downton Abbey and Cinderella.
Edgar Wright certainly knows how to make films. He can frame characters that bring them to more vivid life than usual. His editing and pace provide continual excitement and attention. And the dialogue, often combines humour and wit, and offhand movie references, with the serious matters.
The last part of the film might not be exactly what the audience is expecting, but its heart is in the right place, justices seem to be done, and depending on the box office (which should be huge), we might be seeing more of Baby and Debora.
US, 2017, 93 minutes, Colour.
Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Lawrence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, Emma Howard.
Directed by Sofia Coppola.
The question the audience might keep asking during this film is who exactly is being beguiled – and by whom? And the question remains at the end of the film as the camera and the audience contemplate teachers and students behind the iron gate at this school for young ladies.
The setting is Virginia, 1864, the Civil War moving towards its end. At the school, definitely for the education of young ladies, in French, needlework, good manners with a touch of religious fervour (they are all presented as Catholics), life goes on with a remnant of students for whom returning home to their towns and families would be too dangerous. There are routines, lessons, working in the garden, music, meals, night prayer.
The school is run by Miss Martha Farnsworth, Nicole Kidman elegant and good-mannered. She is assisted by Edwina, Kirsten Dunst, who has something of a mysterious background. There are five students left, the oldest being Alicia, played with some precocious but ignorant flirtation by Elle Fanning. The other girls are younger (and Jane is played by Australian, Angourie Rice).
For many, the basic plot will be familiar from the 1971 film of the same name, directed by Don Siegel, with Clint Eastwood as the wounded Northern soldier, Geraldine Paige as Ms Farnsworth and Elizabeth Hartman as Edwina.
This time the soldier is played by Colin Farrell, Irish accent and all, explaining his migration, his enlistment, his running away, his leg being severely wounded – and he is found in the woods by the young Amy who has been collecting mushrooms. She brings the soldier to the school and Ms Farnsworth and the community have to decide whether to report the soldier to the Confederate authorities or not. His leg is tended, his wound stitched in close-up, he is washed – and eventually recovers.
And, of course, this is where the beguiling begins. In many ways John McBurney? is beguiled by the women and the girls. And, each according to her age and awareness in such cloistered atmosphere, subconscious urging is rising to consciousness, is beguiled in her own way.
For a while, this seems to be an idyllic situation, John McBurney? working in the garden to beautify the mansion and the grounds – which look very much like an old-style and plantation, filmed in glowing light, moss hanging from the trees – and, with all the women dressed in white, presented often in tableau framing, many audiences may well remember Picnic at Hanging Rock.
But, idylls do not last and the attraction and the tensions boil over with some tragic consequences.
The film is being written and directed by Sofia Coppola, whose films include The Virgin Suicides about a group of sisters who cannot face growing up, a modern kind of version of Marie Antoinette (both of these with Kirsten Dunst), as well as the famous Lost in Translation, the Hollywood story, Somewhere, and a film about wealthy and irresponsible young people, The Bling Ring. She has brought her own distinctive, often contemplative style, as well as exploring issues of relationships between men and women, and, especially, sexual beguilement.
THE BIG SICK
US, 2017, 120 minutes, Colour.
Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano.
Directed by Michael Showalter.
There has been a film, something of a classic, called The Big Chill. So, there is no reason that there shouldn’t be a film called The Big Sick – although that is not an immediately attractive title. But, there is no false advertising here, at the core of the film is a significantly big sick.
This is one of those films where a reviewer offers an initially cautionary note. There will be some audiences who are immediately attracted by the central character, Kumail, played by, who co-wrote the script. He is an immigrant, along with his parents and his brother and his brother’s wife who have come from Pakistan and settled in Chicago. While they have settled in Chicago, they certainly keep many of their Pakistani customs, closeness of family, meals together, food and tastes from the old country, and, to Kumail’s continual discomfort, arranged marriages (where mother announces during meals that some young woman has just “dropped in” – an audition for a potential arrangement).
Some audiences may find that intriguing from the word go and the discovery that Kumail tries to be a stand-up comedian in a comedy club.
But, the reviewer then needs to say that this is a film which will probably grow on the audience, as it allows us to know the characters better, not always admiring Kumail, but getting to know Emily (Zoe Kazan) whom we see first calling out to Kumail during his act, which he interprets as heckling and challenges her on it. But, before you can say Pakistan, they have gone to his apartment, a sexual encounter, relationship.
There are two more developments however. An insensitive breakup on the part of Kumail and a sudden phone call to let him know that Emily is in hospital. In fact, for most of the film, Emily is in hospital, in an induced coma, doctors puzzling over diagnoses, and Kumail having to stand in as an authority for Emily’s surgery though they have broken up.
The other central characters in the film are Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry, from South Carolina. They are played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, Holly Hunter always able to do the acerbic with some forcefulness and Ray Romano, possibly doing a variation on Everybody Loves Raymond, but very effectively, a good man, loving his wife and daughter, put upon, and trying to deal with Beth’s domination as well as decisions about his daughter’s surgery and prognosis.
Part of the drama is that Beth does not like Kumail at all – at all. She is brusque, wishing him away. She knows about the breakup and is very angry about it. Terry is much more sympathetic and appreciates what Kumail is trying to do. They eventually have some heart-to-heart conversations.
So, while Emily is in hospital in the coma, and Kumail is trying to fend off the continual visits of eligible girls who “drop in”, there is the story of Kumail and his attempts at stand-up comedy, various sets that he performs, and the group of friends that are continually trying out in the club. Audiences will enjoy the sequence where Kumail reluctantly invites Beth and Terry to the club and a very WASP member of the audience heckles – and receives the full brunt of Beth’s anger and disapproval.
Of course, the drama is the question of Emily’s illness, her possible recovery and, if she recovers, what will she think about Kumail because her last memories will be of breaking up with him and her being hurt.
It is not meant to be a spoiler because we read the credits at the beginning of the film but, in fact, the screenplay was written by Kumail and Emily. During the final credits, there are photos of the real characters, including the Pakistani family.
As has been indicated, this is a film which you need to give time to and it will very likely grow on you.
UK, 2017, 106 minutes, Colour.
Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Keoghan, Harry styles, Aneurin Barnard, Tom Glynn- Carney, Jack Lowdon.
Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Yes, writer-director Christopher Nolan immerses his audience in the experience of Dunkirk.
By filming in 70 mm and so much available for IMAX screen format, this is a particularly vivid recounting of that fateful week in 1940 when an invasion of Britain seemed not only possible but imminent. The rescue of the British soldiers stranded on the beach in Dunkirk, across the English Channel, has become part of British history, World War II history, and part of a proud British heritage. It is almost 80 years since these events and younger and many older audiences will be not so familiar with them. Here is an opportunity to experience and learn.
While Christopher Nolan began his career with rather short and small-budget films, he is now best known for his more spectacular films, The Dark Knight series of Batman films, his most tantalising cinema exercise on dreams, Inception, and his exploration of space in the future in interstellar. In these latter films he has experimented with time and shifts in time (and, after all, his second film, Memento, had a trajectory which went from and to beginning).
Here are events with time and intercutting here. We are informed at the beginning of the film that the soldiers waiting on the beach at Dunkirk, the ships on the Mole, the authorities supervising while waiting and becoming more and more desperate, takes place over a week. Then there is a civilian boat leaving Dorset for Dunkirk experiencing the drama of war in the channel, which takes place over a day. And then there are battles in the air, two RAF planes countering the German attack, their bombardments and strafing, which takes place over an hour. This is demanding of the audience to appreciate the events of the week, of the day, of the hour.
The screenplay also uses the device of focusing on four particular characters who symbolise the numerous stranded Armed Forces as well as the civilians who, in the famous flotilla of private boats to the rescue, played such a heroic part.
The central character in the film is a very average and ordinary young British soldier, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), seen trapped in the streets of Dunkirk, leaflets pouring from the sky, pursued by German guns (no German soldier is ever seen, rather heard with shooting), surviving, jumping over a wall, running towards the beach and finding the thousands there, lined up in files waiting for the boats. By concentrating on Tommy, the audience is able to appreciate the vast numbers, the fears, temptations to run away, devices to survive, like carrying a wounded soldier to a ship but being ousted, finding the hulk of an abandoned craft and a group hiding there, fired at by the Germans for target practice, stranded in the sea and swimming for life.
Kenneth Branagh is the naval commander, standing on the Mole, who represents the high command, concerned about the men, uncertainties about the rescue, thankful for the coming of the flotilla.
Tom Hardy is one of the pilots, in the fragile planes yet with their manoeuvrability, the limits on fuel, the flight tactics of the Germans, the pursuits, communication with authorities and fellow pilot, seeing the downing of planes – and his own decision not to return home but to continue defending the ships and flotilla from attack.
There is a substantial role from Mark Rylance as a veteran seaman whose son has been killed already in aerial warfare, has his younger son on board along with local lad later symbolises the heroism of ordinary citizens, rescuing a shellshocked soldier from an upturned vessel, Cillian Murphy, coping with the rescued man’s fears of returning to war and wanting to turn back, some violence on his boat, yet his perseverance in effecting substantial rescues.
The cumulative effect of the film, the vastness of the cinematography, the extraordinarily insistent musical score with its range of instruments, pounding and pace, variations on themes by Edward Elgar, all make the film a substantial experience.
Dunkirk will probably take its place amongst the classic war films – and it is almost 20 years since Saving Private Ryan and the Normandy landings. The American film is a reminder that the British treat matters with a very stiff upper lip, which, though emotional, is not nearly as demonstrative, which means that in many ways Dunkirk seems a rather objective, while emotional, look at the events.
Yes, Churchill’s famous speech does come at the end – but, interestingly, is spoken by Tommy, representing the younger generation who are about to go through the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.
A GHOST STORY
US, 2017, 90 minutes, Colour.
Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara.
Directed by David Lowery.
Here is, definitely, a film to test audience responses and loyalties.
A ghost story is usually about spectres and hauntings and there is something of that here, including a book called A Haunted House, falling to the floor and audiences glimpsing some descriptions. But, this is not really that kind of film. And for those expecting it, with some excitement and horror to boot, they will be very disappointed and may well not last the distance (or even the first half hour).
A ghost story can also be a story about a ghost. And, on the surface, this is what that film is.
However, writer-director, David Lowery, seems to have been over-dosing on some of Terence Malik’s films, especially The Tree of Life, and is more interested in a cosmic exploration of the universe, of history, of time and relativity, of the meaning of life, than in providing any chills.
The basic situation is set up very slowly, a musical composer, Casey Affleck, and his wife, Rooney Mara, packing up and perhaps moving from their house. A clue is given when there is a very long sequence showing Rooney Mara carrying a chest out of the house, along a long the path, across the grass, to put it with other stuff from the house. Then, almost immediately, a scene showing the husband dead in front of the car, the windscreen smashed.
The husband is the ghost. One wonders why the decision was made to have him appear in the conventional, somewhat comic, disguise of a sheet (he arises from his hospital gurney) with two holes for eyes. For many it will be too reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, Casper the friendly ghost as well as the mask for the villain of the Scream series. For most of the film this ghostly apparition lurks around the house – seeing a similar spectre with a sheet of floral design in a house opposite, waiting for someone to arrive.
The big test for an audience’s patience and attention is the wife coming in, being given a gift of a pie by a friendly neighbour and her beginning to eat it, sit on the floor, and continue to eat it, continue eating, more eating (giving inquisitive audiences time to wonder what kind of pie it is and for how long Rooney Mara had not been eating so that she could devour the pie in this very long single take).
At this stage, audiences will realise that they are being asked to be quiet, calm, reflective, contemplative – and many will not be willing.
Then, suddenly, the ghost observes different people in the house, a Hispanic mother with her children disturbed by of some poltergeist activity when the ghost angrily destroys crockery. Then there is a party with a character sitting at a table, speaking a monologue, speculating on the meaning of life, on the meaning of the universe, on human destiny… Quite a long speech which reassures the remaining audience that this is speculation about the meaning of the cosmos and existence.
The theme of the film is the ghostly presence for the future – with the demolition of the house, the building of a huge plant on the site, and the futuristic glance at a Cosmopolis in the vein of Blade Runner. But there is a ghostly presence in the past, going back to the site, a pioneer family with a wagon, the remnants of an attack by the Indians.
And back to where the couple started, moving in, his compositions, the piano, … the differences and the difficulties.
It would seem that this is a kind of cosmic purgatorial experience for the ghost.
GOD'S OWN COUNTRY
UK, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour.
Josh O' Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart.
Directed by Francis Lee.
At the end of this British drama, the audience may well be asking why is this part of Yorkshire, around Keighley, is God’s own country. For the Yorkshire family who work there on a cattle and sheep farm, it is often hard going, not as rewarding as they might hope. They might well ask how this is God’s own country. On the other hand, for the Romanian migrant who has left a hard and depressing country, this new land might well seem God’s own.
This is a farming story. The Saxby family have a spread of land, have a cowshed, sell a bull at an auction, are coming into the lambing season. The work is done by John, Josh O’ Connor, who finds it a hard and lonely occupation. At home is his grandmother, Gemma Jones. His father, Ian Hart, has been disabled by a stroke but still makes demands on his son, supervising, criticising, especially when his son goes out at night to town to drink and for casual sexual experiences.
With the lambing season, they decide to hire a casual worker for a week and find the Romanian.
The description thus far in this review is fairly objective, describing what might seem a commonplace scenario. However, the Romanian expat is Gheorghe, Alec Secareanu, whom John initially dislikes, asking whether is Pakistani and, on hearing he is from Romania, calls him a gypsy which Gheorghe resents.
However, the audience has seen the sequence of John in town and his sexual liaison – with a young man at the pub. This means that the dynamic of the film and the relationship focuses on a gay man, his relationship with the casual worker who, it soon emerges, is also gay. What starts as a physical fight, changes into a physical coupling. And this leads to bonding, companionship.
The film takes for granted the sexual orientation of each man, simply presenting it is factual – although the two men do feel a need to conceal the relationship, even from the grandmother and father.
What we see is the relationship transforming each of the two men, the better parts of their personalities emerging. And the work on the farm goes better – until the father has another stroke and is hospitalised.
There is a very moving movements with the grandmother keeping vigil at the hospital, the father returning, even more disabled, limited in speech, but his son responding well to his father, a very caring bath sequence with the father able to say, thank you.
While the Romanian is very sure of himself, his orientation and its consequences, John experiences conflict, makes a gross error of choice, which leads to Gheorge’s dismay and departure and the challenging dilemma as to how John will handle the situation, whether he can cope, whether he is capable of apology, what his hopes are for the rest of his life.
The film does have some explicit moments, but it is a film which presents farm life, two men bonding and in a relationship and asks of its audience understanding and sympathy.
KIKI, LOVE TO LOVE
Spain, 2016, 102 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Paco Leon.
This is a comedy about sex and sexuality. And the various stories in it are to be found along the continuum from prudishness to permissiveness. But, it is a reminder that anything human, any human experience can be the subject of humour otherwise it is taken too seriously, put on false pedestal, while at other times it is taken far less seriously for crass entertainment.
There are five stories in this film and they are intercut. There is a young couple in love but she finds that she is aroused by the experience of being attacked, as she was at a service station. This leads to some serious talk between the couple but also to a farcical re-enactment when the girl breaks her fiancés nose in a set up attack. There is also a plastic surgeon whose wife has been in a car accident and is particularly bitter and frigid. He is aroused by seeing her sleeping so decides that he will drug her each night for his own satisfaction, she not aware of what has been happening. (They also have a Filipina maid who is wanting breast enhancement surgery and shrewdly uses her observations to bring down the price.). Another couple want to become pregnant and the wife gets advice from the doctor only to find that she is aroused by seeing her husband weeping, especially at the funeral of a friend.
The director of the film, Paco Leon, takes the role of a husband who goes with his wife to a therapist, discusses sexual problems rather frankly, experiments at home but the couple’s life is disturbed by a friend who works a sex club – which gives the audience the opportunity to blend prurience with curiosity as they visit the club and see some bizarre behaviour. The solution to the problems comes in the form of the friend and her becoming part of the household.
Sex and pathos are combined in the fifth story, a hearing-impaired young woman who is affected by the texture of fabrics but who also works at a phone exchange for hearing-impaired clients, discussing phone sex with a very ordinary woman at the other end who is busy fixing her face and disturbed by a saucepan exploding on her stove. The young man is studying for exams but is attracted to his interpreter.
With the story told, some kind of conclusion reached, everybody turns up at a local fairground.
It is surprising to find that this is a fairly exact remake of an Australian film, The Little Death, by Josh Lawson. In transferring it to Spain, the makers have given it more sunlight and exuberance than the original.
THE KING’S DECISION/ THE KING’S CHOICE
Norway, 2016, 133 minutes, colour.
Jesper Christensen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics.
Directed Erik Poppe
This is a film which is specially designed for Norwegian audience, a Scandinavian audience, offering memories of the of the King of Norway in World War II.
The film has been directed by one Norway’s most distinguished directors, Erik Poppe (Troubled Waters).
The film gives historical background of the establishing of Norway as a separate kingdom in the 20th century, the choice of the Danish prince who came with his family to establish the royal house which was accepted and has continued to the present.,
With the outbreak of the war, German submarines began to sail in Norwegian waters. The German ambassador to Oslo expected the King to make some kind of agreement with Germany to enable its occupation just as his brother, the King of Denmark, had done for that country.
The action takes place over only a couple of days, the pressure from the Germans, the threats from the Germans and the submarines, the king facing the decision and his advisors, some for allowing the Germans in (with the later rule of Quisling) and a number against so that during the night, the king and the cabinet left Oslo for a secret country location to make the decision. There is a vivid sequence where the train is attacked by air and passengers flee into the woods.
The dilemma for the king was whether to allow the Nazis in and have a possible peaceful occupation during the war or to defy the Germans with consequent attacks, destruction and death of civilians. The king made the decision to defy the Germans.
Jesper Christiansen is very effective as the King. His son was initially in favour of Nazi occupation but then supported his father – and eventually succeeded him.
The King’s decision in 1940 was a courageous one but has held up over the decades as an example of patriotic commitment in defiance of the Nazi will to conquer Europe.
UK, 2016, 89 minutes, Colour.
Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank, Anton Palmer, Golda Rosheuvel.
Directed by William Oldroyd.
Audiences will immediately think of Shakespeare and then wonder about the connections of this story and its central character, Katherine Lester, and Macbeth’s vengeful wife. In fact, this film is based on a Russian short story of the 19th century by Nikolai Leskov, Lady Macbeth of Minsk (filmed in Russia in 1989).
Of course, Lady Macbeth is not a random choice for a title. It might be considered, as T.S. Elliott considered an “objective correlative”, a kind of archetypal reference to evoke connections in the imagination and emotions, some parallels, not strict, with Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.
This is very stylised film, set in the remote Northumberland locations of County Durham, a mansion, the outhouses, the surrounding countryside which can be both attractive as well a sinister. There is no musical score but, at the time of deaths, in the middle of the film and that the end, there are electronic reverberations. While the photography is beautiful, the director is at pains to create a great number of tableau with the characters as well as frequently framing Katherine Lester and leaving the audience to contemplate her passionate yet sometimes enigmatic character.
For those who enjoy film history and comparisons, one might say this is a role which, in her past, Isabelle Huppert would have been very much at home in, quiet, interiorly ruminative, often seemingly impassive in her exterior manner and behaviour, yet bursting out sometimes passionately.
At the beginning, Katherine seems a quiet young girl, played by Florence Pugh (not yet 20 at the time of filming). She is seen in bridal white, in church, singing hymns, then, strong-minded, on her wedding night, asked to strip while her husband ignores her and is preoccupied with his own sexuality. Not a promising beginning to the marriage. He is a stern man, called away to a colliery explosion and Katherine is left alone, her hair combed by her maid, Anna, Naomi Ackie, woken each morning, brought breakfast, a quiet routine with Katherine confined to the house, rarely allowed out, sitting with her religious books. Not quite Lady Macbeth at this stage.
Matters change for her when she sees her husband’s workers ganging up sexually on Anna, ridiculing her about size with reference to a sow. Katherine’s demanding that they go back to work but her being attracted to the seeming instigator, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) who then enters Katherine’s room – with some passionate changes in her, surfacing all kinds of whimsical designs, and setting her on a psychopathic path.
This involves her horrible father-in-law who detests her, symbolically her standing next to his upright coffin for a photograph and her disdain in passing by his body lying in state. This also involves her husband and his return and his denunciation of her with dire results.
Once on her path of passion with Sebastian, and ensuing violence, she is tested when a stranger brings a little boy who is her husband’s ward. As they settle into the house, the little boy comfortable with Katherine, it might seem that this story will not have tragic consequences. But, of course it does, Katherine now glibly able to deny all complicity, transfer men blame to others and seeming impassive to their fates.
There is nothing else to do but for the director to frame Katherine again, focus the camera on her, her impassive look, the audience contemplating, reflecting on what might be going on inside her.
This is not a 19th century melodramatic romance but rather what might be called a study in the psyche of a Lady Macbeth.
THE LOST CITY OF Z
US, 2017, 140 minutes, Colour.
Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Mc Fadyen, Franco Nero.
Directed by James Gray.
In terms of marketing, Lost City of Z, may not be so successful for promoting the film. On the one hand, the title sounds very much like a blockbuster adventure, even fantasy. On the other hand, it is a reference to exploration expeditions to Bolivia and the search for a city lost in the jungles of Amazonia. Which means, it is a rather more serious historical film.
The director is James Gray, much better known for small-scale American stories, with criminals in Little Odessa, of relationships in Two Lovers or reminiscence about people arriving in America, The immigrant. He has written a screenplay and directed, recreating Ireland and England in the first part of the 20th century, action in Amazonia, the jungle, the rivers, falls, animals – and the continued threat of the spear-throwing inhabitants.
The film opens in Ireland in 1905, the gentry assembled Hunt, helped by the military, especially with the lieutenant, Percy Fawcett, played very seriously by Charlie Hunnam. It is he chases and kills the stag but is unacceptable to society because of his father’s disreputable reputation. He is deprived of medals and promotion, returning home to England with strong-minded wife, Nina (Sienna Miller).
It is quite a surprise for Fawcett when he is invited by the Royal Geographical Society to lead an expedition to Amazonia, the area between Brazil and Bolivia, to determine the borders because of rubber barons and their clashes. Fawcett was an excellent cartographer in his study days. The expedition will last at least two years.
The film highlights the distance between England and Bolivia, the liner in the Atlantic, train travel in Bolivia, slow riding by horse, walking. The adventurers are surprised to find a city in the jungle with its own opera company performing (for film buffs, echoes of Hertzog’s Fitzcaraldo). As they go into the jungle, Fawcett is accompanied by a journalist who becomes his friend, Costin (Robert Pattinson) as well as a military attache, a local Indian guide and various carriers. As expected, things are not easy in the jungle, snakes, piranha in the river, hunger – and the shooting of a boar when they are desperate for provisions. There are also dangerous encounters with the local Indians as well as making friends with them, and hearing of the possibilities of cities covered over by jungle. Fawcett uses the term Lost City of Z, which, if found, would contribute to the ethnographic understanding of the world.
Fawcett is welcomed on his return but is eager to go again, giving talks to the Royal Geographical Society, mocked by some of the members about his theories, others being enthused and offering to accompany him. His wife would like to accompany him, stressing her capabilities and those of women, but Fawcett is rather old-fashioned in his expectations of what women can and cannot do. She remains at home over the years and they have three children.
The second expedition achieves some things but, an encounter with a cannibal group, one of their benefactors, Murray (Angus Mc Fadyen) is cowardly, is sent off with provisions after his capsizing their boat – and, when Fawcett goes again to the Society, Murray is there to denounce him and demand an apology.
World War I intervenes and Fawcett goes to the trenches, quite graphically pictured here, showing heroism and being blinded by chlorine gas and repatriated.
Five years pass, his oldest son Jack (Tom Holland) who had regretted his father’s absence and influence on his family has become something of a hunter and proposes that they are going in to Amazonia, raising American finance which is met by British finance. And the Society acknowledges Fawcett’s work in awarding him its highest medal.
Fawcett and his son disappear – and the film speculates about their being taken by local Indians who respect them but lead them to their deaths. There is a postscript to say that in the early 20th century, there have been some discoveries of Amazonian cities (and a reminder that Machu Picchu was discovered in the early 20th century in Peru).
Canada/ Ireland, 2017, 117 minutes, Colour.
Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Gabrielle Rose.
Directed by Aisling Walsh.
Maudie is a portrait of a painter from Nova Scotia, Maudie Lewis. It is based on a true story.
Some commentators have noted that the screenplay simplifies Maudie Lewis’s life, that she had painted early in life, that she had some sales earlier than is shown in the film. She was also a very small woman, suffering severely from rheumatoid arthritis and disfigured spine.
Nevertheless, Sally Hawkins shines as Maudie. A versatile actress, Sally Hawkins made quite an impact in her award-winning performance in Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky. Despite her illness and her hard and harsh life, Maudie emerges so often as happy-go-lucky.
Suffering severely from her childhood, Maudie is offloaded on her maiden aunt, Ida (Gabrielle Rose) by her brother sells the family house against her knowledge and will. I had it is something of a severe woman who resents having to support Maudie, makes her life extremely restrictive, humiliating her.
An opportunity arises when Maudie goes shopping season is a notice in the store from a local fisherman-fishmonger, Everett Lewis, played quite intensely and somewhat savagely by Ethan Hawke for help in his house. Maudie answers the notice and walks to his house, not an easy interview, but she perseveres and stays and Everett giving some begrudging consent to her presence, as long as she keeps the house clean and. He tells her that the priority in the house is: me, the dog, the chickens, you.
When Maudie finds some paint, she starts to do pictures on the wall of the house, simple flowers, cats, landscapes. Again Everett is rather begrudging, wanting some wall space without pictures. It is when a woman visiting from New York City calls to the house about the delivery of fish and discovers Maudie’s paintings, buys one, continues to affirm Maudie and promotes her paintings in the US and through the media, comes different for Maudie.
To Everett’s bewilderment, visitors come to the house, buying Maudie’s paintings and, especially, the greeting cards, and giving commissions.
There is an emotional development at the end of the film concerning the baby that Maudie had borne when very young and the verdict that it was not healthy. Sad moments for Maudie – but, as the film shows, despite her own illness and disabilities, despite her sufferings, she was a woman of strong spirit and achievement.
PARIS CAN WAIT
US, 2016, 93 minutes, Colour.
Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin.
Directed by Eleanor Coppola.
If you ever wanted to travel through the south of France, from Cannes, through some of the small towns, through Lyon to Paris, then this might be the film to see for the time being. And, if this part of the world is familiar, audiences will probably want to revisit.
This is a very leisurely film. The central character, Anne had intended to fly from the Riviera to Paris but has an ear infection and accepts the offer of a lift from a friend of her husband, both being film producers.
In fact, this film is so leisurely that one of the reviewers was champing at his bit throughout the whole film, urging them to get a move on, stop the delays – and agreed that he would have preferred the film to have them get in the car in Cannes and do an edit cut for their immediate arrival in Paris! But, look what he would have missed.
Diane Lane is always an attractive screen presence and this is her film. In her past, she has appeared in four films directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Paris Can Wait is directed by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, who has made documentaries and accompanied her husband as support and photographer during his 1970s filming of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines. The production notes advise that Eleanor Coppola experienced a similar situation and did go for the drive from Cannes to Paris. And, Diane Lane’s Anne is a photographer and would have liked to have had photography as a career.
There is a narrative, but, keeping the French tone, it is soufflé-light. And, it is the perennial French/ American theme of French sophistication and sense of superiority over the very uncultured and up-front about it, Americans. The French stance is embodied in Jacques (Arnaud Viard), the rather happy-go-lucky producer, bad driver in his old car, and flirting unashamedly with Anne.
Anne has been married for 22 years to Michael, a busy, very busy, film producer, who has to go to Budapest and then phones to say that he has to go to Morocco where a very talented but impossible director is hugely overbudget. He is played by Alec Baldwin. We see this pressure on Anne right from the beginning as they prepare for the trip and he is continually getting calls. They do love each other but, for Anne, there is a fair amount of exasperation. She does enjoy the trip, is certainly very wise to Jacques’s preoccupation with her, and it all makes her think a bit more deeply about her relationship with Michael and also her daughter who is at college.
On the one hand, there is plenty, plenty of scenery, the countryside, rivers and lakes, as well as the towns and some Roman ruins including the aqueduct. That may be enough for some audiences but, this is also a film about food, French food, beautifully cooked, information about the ingredients, elegantly served – and always in the best hotels and restaurants. With dinners and lunches like this, obviously Paris can wait.
At a midday screening, there are quite a number in the audience, older than they used to be, but really enjoying this reverie in France.
THE SPACE BETWEEN
Australia/Italy, 2016, 105 minutes, Colour.
Flavio Parenti, Maeve Dermody.
Directed by Ruth Borgobello.
This is a film for middle-aged audiences and older who enjoy something of a light and unusual romance film.
The film is an Australian- Italian production, with Australian finance and production support and an Australian star, Maeve Dermody. However, it also has a great deal of Italian finance, an Italian cast led by Flavio Parenti and Italian settings which are very attractive – and could entice audiences to visit north-eastern Italy, and the city of Udine and its surroundings.
The film opens with a quotation from the poet Rilke – suggestions of deeper meanings of love and relationships, and people’s place in the universe. The Rilke theme continues with one of the central characters carrying around the poems that Rilke wrote and the screenplay taking the central characters and the audience to a coastal and cliff walk, the locations where he conceived the poems.
This is the story of Marco, Flavio Parenti, who grew up in Udine, training to be a chef, moving to New York City where he had jobs which he liked but, his mother had some strokes and he returned home and has stayed in the town to care for his father. His father is laconic, as his son says, preferring watching television rather than have conversation. He also now has a dreary job at the same factory where his father worked, being retrenched and then re-hired. He has a close friend, Claudio, who runs a bookshop and does some catering which Marco enjoys helping with.
Then tragedy strikes and there is a space between ordinary life and resuming life, living through grief which affects Marco deeply.
He encounters Olivia, Maeve Dermody, who lives in Melbourne but has come back to the home of her ancestors to sort out property matters and visit cousins. In many ways it is a chance encounter but each is attracted to the other, Marco helping Olivia, going on outings, including the Rilke walk, with her.
And here a complication arises which leads to the possibilities of a different kind of space between…
Marco, while concerned about his father, is being headhunted to work in restaurants in Melbourne. He is at first reluctant but agrees to sign a contract and go to Australia.
And, while his falling in love with Olivia, he persuade her to pursue her desires to be a furniture designer rather than the quite successful banker she gives. She wins an internship which would require her to stay in Italy.
This is one of those films where we can’t even say spoiler alert – the ending is left for the characters to make decisions, for the audience to observe them, have an emotional response to what they want to do and leaving the cinema trying to predict what might happen.
THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES
UK, 2017, 102 minutes, Colour.
Joan Collins, Pauline Collins, Franco Nero, Ronald Pickup, Joely Richardson.
Directed by Roger Goldby.
The Time of their Lives sounds a particularly jaunty title. And, for much of the film, this is quite accurate. But not quite accurate enough – the screenplay often goes beneath the surface of the time of their lives to some very serious personal themes. Which makes this comedy-drama that much more interesting.
The naming of the stars is certainly most arresting. Joan Collins has been in films for almost 65 years and made this film at the age of 83 (though, probably, her character, Helen, is meant to be only 73 – and she does get away with it). Whether the public knows the real Joan Collins is a good question. What the public does see is Joan Collins, the celebrity, full of glamour, fond of posing, not the least bit shy with people let alone in front of the camera, drawing on her career as a starlet in the 1950s (and this film has a poster of a fictitious film, Morty and Me, made in that long ago time, the poster reminding us of how glamorous Joan Collins was in her past), and drawing on her particular “bitchiness” from her character, Alexis, in Dynasty. She plays this character here to the hilt – and beyond!
Which means that the name of Pauline Collins evokes quite a different image. At the time of making the film, Pauline Collins was only 76 – but not quite looking it either. She is most famous for her Oscar-nominated performance as Shirley Valentine in 1989. She won a lot of fans with this role and is probably remembered warmly for it.
The other older stars are Franco Nero, one of the heartthrob Italian stars of the 1960s, continuing into the present. The other is Ronald Pickup who audiences will remember from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films. Also in the cast is Joely Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave’s daughter (in fact, Vanessa Redgrave is married to Franco Nero though he has no scenes with his stepdaughter).
And the plot? The core of it is a variation on Joan Collins’s life and career, an ageing but faded star (that is the fiction part for the real Joan Collins), little-known now and wanting to revive her career, especially by going to the funeral in France of the director of her most famous film. But she has no money and she is somewhat disabled, hip difficulties, a walking stick. (And there is nothing like seeing Joan Collins with a walking stick but, when the plot is on her side, able to get rid of the stick and walk steadily!).
She is on a jaunt to the seaside with a busload of elderly characters, one of whom is desperate to drive the bus – and does get the opportunity in a hurdy-gurdy kind of way. They have a concentration camp kind of travel director. In the meantime, Priscilla, Pauline Collins, is having a very difficult time with her cranky husband, Frank (Pickup) and the memories of their son who drowned at the age of four men and who would be now 40. Helen notices them bickering at the store. But then Priscilla helps Helen onto the bus with her disability and the door shuts and she is whisked off to the seaside.
Helen tells her story, they have tea together, Helen steals her purse – with Priscilla wanting to go home but then in pursuit, deciding to go with the flow, going into performance to get onto the ferry for France (Helen pretending to faint, Priscilla scurrying on).
The rest of the film has their adventures in France, including Priscilla diving into the water to save a little boy and reprimanding the boy’s mother for not paying attention. Frank and their daughter see Priscilla on television and start out for France.
Stranded at night without petrol, they are rescued by a wealthy man, Alberto (Franco Nero,) driving in pyjamas. He is hospitality personified, Priscilla grateful, Helen flirting, to little avail.
The funeral does not go as predicted though there is a plot development which the audience might have suspected at some stage.
So, the two women do have something of the time of their lives – but not quite. What is Helen to do if she does not revitalise her career? What is Priscilla to do, go back home with Frank to a dead marriage, or…? (Audiences have probably been thinking of the plot of Shirley Valentine all the way through and how Priscilla’s adventures and predicament are a new version of Shirley’s!)
THE TRIP TO SPAIN
UK, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour.
Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Fans of the television series, The Trip, as well as the film version which took audiences with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travelling around England and Scotland - and as well, their extended trip to Italy - will probably welcome The Trip to Spain. And they won’t be disappointed.
Part of the puzzle always is that the two actors use their real names and there are references to their actual careers, discussions about Coogan as Alan Partridge and, his wanting to talk about his writing success, Oscar-nomination with the film, Philomena, and his recounting the anecdote of his introducing the actual Philomena to Pope Benedict the XVI (which he actually did). There is a fair amount of slinging off at his films and his career in America. Rob Brydon is far more congenial as audiences know from his television appearances and series.
The trouble is that they also create fictitious characters while using their own names. Rob Brydon has a wife here and three children with some cheery domestic scenes and a welcome home after his trip. On the other hand, Steve Coogan has had various liaisons and his contact with two of the women by phone during the trip and has a fictitious son, aged 20, who is to join them at the end of the trip but is delayed because his 19-year-old girlfriend is pregnant. Much slinging off at Coogan as a potential grandfather at 50!
The arrangement is that Coogan wants to travel to Spain in the footsteps of writer, Laurie Lee, 30 years earlier, visiting the same places, similar and alternate experiences. Rob Brydon is commissioned to write reviews of restaurants around Spain. That is the formula of the past – and it continues successfully into the present.
Audiences who enjoy travelogues will certainly like the visit to Spain, to different places, not necessarily all the expected destinations. The travellers have a week, and go to a different restaurant each day, having a leisurely and gourmet time, meeting owners, service staff, cooks, relishing a great number of meals which food film fans might well be envious of.
There is also a lot of Spanish history, associated with the towns, memories of the Spanish Civil War, the massacre of Guernica, comments on Franco and fascism. We go back into the Renaissance with Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, the expulsion of the Jews, the conflict with the Moors and quite a deal on Moorish history and culture in Spain and in Europe prior to the Middle Ages. They visit the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella as well as a room where Marlon Brando filmed a scene for the 1992 film, Christopher Columbus, performing as Torquemada, the inquisitor.
Yes, for those wondering whether there are impersonations, so enjoyable in the previous films, there are quite a number, some of them very extensive. Probably Roger Moore dominates, with imitations of James Bond and James Bond movies, but Rob Brydon doing an extended imitation of Roger Moore as Coogan explains to visitors the history of the Moors in Spain and their culture, Brydon pretending that Roger Moore identifies with all of this, commenting to his mother and father, claiming all the credit for the Moore family for the Moors – though eventually, Coogan refers to Muslims and Brydon indignantly says his name is Roger Moore not Roger Muslim!
There is Michael Caine again, both of them so accurate. Steve Coogan does John Hurt. Both of them do Mick Jagger. They also do Sean Connery and have a go at Marlon Brando mumbling as Torquemada. There is an amusing scene where Rob Bryden pretends he is on the rack being interrogated and tortured by the Inquisition.
So, all in all, the actors and director Michael Winterbottom keeping to the formula – but, why not? It’s what the fans want – and we are already wondering about the destination for the next trip!.
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
France, 2017, 137 minutes, Colour.
Dane De Haan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Rutger Hauer.
Directed by Luc Besson.
Quite a title. This film was based on a series of comics from the 1960s, French comic books, stories of the future and space named after the two central characters Valerian and Laureline.
The writer-director is the Frenchman, Luc Besson, who has made a range of films dating back to the 1980s, a number of successful thrillers like Subway, Point of No Return, and his classic gangster film, Leon. While he made a film about Joan of Arc, The Messenger in 1999, his work in more recent years has been to direct and, especially, to produce, a whole range of hard-boiled action films like the Transporter series.
But, he is very popular, with his science-fiction film of the 1990s with Bruce Willis, The Fifth Element. In fact, this film is enjoying re-release to accompany Valerian.
It is difficult to determine just who is the intended audience for Valerian. There is plenty to entertain younger audiences but might be a bit too much for a children’s audience. On the other hand, the two central characters seem particularly young, Dane De Haan as Valerian (30 in real life but looking much younger) and actress-model, Cara Delevingne.
The film has a certain French sensibility which may be appeal more to the European audience than English-speaking language audience (although the film is in English).
To set the tone: the film introduces space exploration in 1975, widening the screen to show developments by 2020, then going to the future, the development of space stations, settling of the galaxies, and all the time peace agreements between all the races, all represented in handshake encounters, courtesy encounters, races as well as different religions – and, then more improbably but in futuristic fantasy style, a whole range of strange creatures (reminiscent of those found in Star Wars galaxies). And finally, there is a speech by the world leader, a cameo by Rutger Hauer, willing peace and goodwill for the future of the universe.
And, for some moments, we see an extraordinarily placid planet, strange hand-drawn characters who resemble humans, their peaceful society, their harvesting pearls from strange transformer creatures, getting energy for their survival – when, suddenly, bombs and explosives start to fall and the creatures hiding in bewilderment, one Princess unable to get into the secure area and who has to take possession of some other body and soul to survive.
Actually, there is no peace in the galaxies. There is a huge floating city, the city of 1000 planets, with military chiefs, commanders – and special government agents, which is where Valerian and Laureline come in, young tough, expert agents, banter between them, his male superiority, more than a touch of romance but her despising his playlist of girlfriends.
They go into action, quite effective, trying to sabotage a meeting where one of the strange creatures is doing deals about pearls with two of the earlier survivors by the peaceful planet in disguise. The point is in getting the transformers who are able to generate the pearls and energy.
Needless to say Valerian and Laureline are very successful – but not all the time. They are contacted by one of the government ministers by hologram and sent on missions. They have interviews with the commander (Clive Owen) who seems just a bit sinister and proves himself so.
Then, something like an intermission, Valerian goes rather sleazy part of town, full of clubbers, and finds himself approached by Jolly the Pimp, played by Ethan Hawke in manic overdrive, and Valerian and the audience spend some time watching an elaborate performance by Rihanna, gymnastics, contortions, dance, transforming into different characters. After this interlude, the action gets going again, Rihanna helping Valerian and Laureline to escape some pursuers.
All this is seen in a variety of sometimes spectacular contexts, special design, always something to delight the eye.
So, by the end of the film, the audience is ready for some action, split-second timing, betrayals of trust, declarations of love, hopes for a happy future.
US, 2017, 88 minutes, Colour.
Aaron Taylor Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli.
Directed by Doug Liman.
To describe The Wall as a war film does not quite do it justice. It is, but it is not an action show that many audiences were expecting.
The date is 2007. Information is given that the war in Iraq is winding down, that George Bush had declared victory. An explanation is given that outside companies have been brought in to reconstruct Iraq but that they are set upon and personnel and security killed by insurgents, with the need for the American military to remain present in the country.
The film is of interest with the 2017 perspective on 2007 given the subsequent history of Iraq, conflict in Middle Eastern countries.
The film has a very short running time, 88 minutes. It has two American soldiers as characters and one insurgent sniper who is not seen but whose voice is heard.
The film action takes place over two days, the two Americans with camouflage in scrub in the desert, observing the aftermath of a massacre of security and working personnel, the bodies still lying in the sun, the vehicles abandoned. We know practically nothing about the two Americans – although, the central character, Isaac (Aaron Taylor Johnson) does have some moments in a verbal flashback which has its tragic revelations and consequences.
The two Americans compare notes, one deciding to go out and check what has happened – with dire results.
The Wall of the title has been built of local bricks, part of it has been demolished by gunfire, and the rest is in a fairly dilapidated state, yet providing some shelter for Isaac, though a target for further demolition by the unseen but heard Juba, who fires at the wall making it more difficult for Isaac to shelter.
Isaac is stranded, night and another day, Isaac trying to use his wits to survive, trying to communicate to headquarters but finding that Juba is on the other end of the line, leading to interactions, discussions, taunts, psychological pressure, and quotations from Edgar Alan Poe.
In watching the film, the audience, uncertain as to how it will eventuate, on side with the stranded American, wondering whether there will be a final charge by the cavalry to rescue him, it is something of an endurance despite its short running time.
The audience will leave the theatre in something of a grim mood, much more conscious in 2017 of the complexities of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lack of traditional warfare as might be remembered or is in the movies from World War II, questioning the involvement of American overseas troops and yet the continued puzzles of how situations can be bettered.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
US, 2017, 140 minutes, Colour.
Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Toby Kebbel, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer.
Directed by Matt Reeves.
This third film in the recent trilogy of the Planet of the Apes received very strong critical affirmation. It has also done well at the box office. However, it has not pleased and myriad of fans who had been expecting a bellicose version of the war between the apes of the humans. They did not appreciate the amount of focus on the small group of apes led by Caesar, on the small group of humans led by The Colonel, and the limited amount of warfare at the end of the film, helicopter invasion, explosions. And, to cap it all, there is an extraordinary avalanche sequence.
It is amazing to think that the Planet of the Apes has been part of our consciousness since 1967, ever since, at the end of the first film, Charlton Heston came onto the beach and saw the toppled head, in ruins, of the Statue of Liberty. This film had for sequels: Battle for, beneath, escape from, conquest of… as well is television series The franchise was rebooted, as they say, in 2001 by Tim Burton but it did not have the impact of the original.
So, it was rather daring to begin a new trilogy in 2011 with The Rise…, conflict between humans and apes, the education of the leader of the apes, Caesar, and his ability to speak, and his leadership against the exploitative humans. This episode was so successful that Caesar led the apes against the humans in The Dawn… which also featured the rogue ape, Koba, and fierce battles.
In this film, Caesar is still the leader. And he is played by Andy Serkis, expert in this kind of performance after his Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series as well as Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Caesar can speak, but communicates with his fellow apes by sounds and sign language. He is roaming the forest with a loyal group, especially Maurice, a sympathetic and emotional ape.
They encounter some humans, are in conflict, but send the survivors back to the ruthless Colonel in the human headquarters. The colonel is played by Woody Harrelson reminding audiences of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and its film version, Apocalypse Now. He is in charge of a rebel group, in conflict with the apes, confining prisoners to a kind of concentration camp and hard labour without food and water.
During the winter, Caesar and his band wanders the mountains and snow, finding a mute girl and taking her with them, also encountering a comic ape, Bad Ape, who grew up in a zoo but is able to lead the small band to find the human headquarters.
The film sometimes takes its time, especially in the confrontation/interview sequence between Caesar and The colonel, explanations of Caesar’s attitude towards the humans, the loss of his son, the battles and the rebellion of Koba, and The Colonel explaining the deterioration of the humans infected with an illness which deprives them of speech and their faculties – which the Colonel exterminates by killing.
Delicacy is not exactly the word one expects in connection with the Planet of the Apes, but there is much human delicacy in the feelings of both apes and humans, highlighted by the variety in the musical score, especially delicate notes from the piano accompaniment.
Caesar is a charismatic leader but is also consumed by his hatred of the humans – which leads us to wonder where the next film in the series could go.