SIGNIS REVIEWS DECEMBER 2011
AGES OF LOVE
AMOUR FOU, L’
ATTACK THE BLOCK
BREAKING DAWN PART 1
A CAT IN PARIS (UNE VIE DE CHAT)
IDES OF MARCH, The
I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT
MACHINE GUN PREACHER
OAKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE OUTBACK
PUSS IN BOOTS
SHARK NIGHT 3D
AGES OF LOVE (MANUALE D’AM3RE)
(Italy, 2010, d. Giovanni Veronese)
Robert di Nero in an Italian film – and speaking Italian as well as English – and with Monica Bellucci. Must be something special. No, not exactly.
This is the third film in a series called, in Italy, Manuale d’Amore. (Hence the title, Manuale d' Am3re.) If this is a manual for love, we are in a sorry state. Rather, this is a series of stories which take up issues of love or, in this film, issues of sexuality and betrayal.
During the screening, a word came into my mind, ‘slightweight’, even less significant than ‘lightweight’.
The first Age of Love is ‘Youth’ although it is about a young, ambitious lawyer, engaged to a vivacious young woman, who goes to the provinces to persuade an elderly couple to take a payout on their house which is the middle of land intended for an exclusive golf club. He allows himself (pretty easily and quickly, in fact) to be seduced by the local vamp. Will he repent? Will his fiancée forgive him? A story of the Italian roving eye which is too easily taken for granted.
The second story (Middle Age) concerns a vain TV announcer, married with a daughter (rather smugly obnoxious these two) who is stalked and allows himself (again too easily and quickly) to be seduced, with some dire comic consequences in terms of the action of the story, but not for him when he discovers the pathology of his stalker.
Robert de Niro and Monica Bellucci are in the third story. He is a widowed academic living in Rome. She is the daughter of the buildings caretaker – and has what is called a colourful past. The stars give their best but, once again, the love story (a bit more genuine this time) is really not much of a story.
‘Slightweight’ comes to mind again.
L’ AMOUR FOU
(France, 2010, d. Pierre Thoretton)
All you may have wanted to know about designer and celebrity, Yves Saint Laurent – and more than you wanted or needed to know.
As a biography, this film offers some basic information about his origins, his family, his talent, his assisting Christian Dior, his early acclaim, his successful career and his long relationship with Pierre Berge.
As a portrait, the film is more complex. The commentary speaks of Saint Laurent as quiet and retiring, though he tended to overcome this in his public appearances and was, perhaps, something of a snob. The extent of his talent is shown, which will be of particular interest to audiences who follow fashion but may bewilder those not in the know, the perennial puzzle of who will actually wear the exotic creations that are displayed by those models parading on the catwalk and why they are so acclaimed.
Because Pierre Berge offers much of the commentary, there are touches of intimacy in his narration, an opening up of his first meeting with Saint Laurent, their attraction and partnership for forty years. There is also a great deal about the business side of the company and of Berge’s role.
Saint Laurent was hailed as a celebrity and feted in the media as well as by other celebrities. It later took some toll on him with a drinking problem and a reliance on drugs. However, in 1990 he made a clean break and remained this way until his death in 2008.
The film-makers have gone to the media, to archives for photos and movie and video clips. There are interviews with models, politicians, move stars...
One of the main preoccupations of the film, which may not be of such great interest to viewers who are not fascinated by collections of art of all kinds, is the long amassing of so many pieces of art, making their home something of a museum. Actually, the couple had a number of homes in Paris, Morocco and in Normandy. Many of the objects are shown in loving close-up. Throughout the film, there is a continuing appraisal of the worth of the art since there is a planned auction. The film culminates in the auction itself – with a surprising number of buyers offering hundreds of thousands and even millions for some of the pieces.
The title? Yves Saint Laurent’s love of his creative design? His relationship with Pierre Burge? The acquiring of and devotion to the art collection? All of the above?
(UK, 2011, d. Sarah Smith)
We remember the Aardman Studios for their wonderful animation short films, especially those with Wallace and Gromit. More recently they have made feature films, Chicken Run and The Curse of the Were- Rabbit. This time, they have been shrewder in picking their target audience, children, younger children who delight in Santa stories whether they believe in him or not. And the parents and grandparents who take the children along will enjoy Arthur Christmas as well. And it was filmed in 3D.
So, who is Arthur Christmas? He is the younger son of the current Santa Claus. As with the Australian- French co-production, Santa’s Apprentice (which has many similarities with this film), Santa’s job is only a temporary position (say, 70 years or so). However, the North Pole has been transformed into an extraordinarily well-equipped computer technology production (and wrapping) line (remember Elf and Fred Claus). It is all under the control of Santa’s older son, the imposing body-builder look-alike, Stephen. The film reminds us that the presents have to be delivered worldwide in a short space of time. The computer programming, with the help of a space-ship ultra-speed sleigh and a bevy of elves who deliver parcels, makes this a beyond-Pentagon success story.
But, the little girl who writes a letter to Santa at the opening of the film, through an unobserved glitch, does not receive her present. Potential disaster. Stephen doesn’t worry. The statistic doesn’t affect his success rate – and it is only one child. Santa is complacent and goes to bed. It is only the geeky Arthur (certainly no body-builder) who causes mayhem wherever he clumsily goes, who sets out to deliver the parcel, with the help of the grumpy and selfish Gransanta and some very old reindeers and a sleigh called Eve. Needless to say, they get lost and have all kinds of adventures, even being chased by lions in Africa straight out of The Lion King.
Plenty of activity to keep the young attentive. And an excellent voice cast to amuse everyone. James Mc Avoy (who is a little weedy-looking in real life) gets us on side for Arthur. Jim Broadbent yo-ho-hos to great effect as Santa (with Imelda Staunton as his practical wife, Margaret). Lots of fun is had with Stephen (and at his expense and comeuppance) since he is voiced characteristically by Hugh Laurie. Old Gransanta is Bill Nighy.
So, it’s a Santa story for the IT 21st century.
ATTACK THE BLOCK
(UK, 2011, d. Joe Cornish)
Seems as though this film has already achieved ‘cult status’ after its release in Britain. With Nick Frost appearing in it, it is instantly linked with Shaun of the Dead, one of his best-known films, with its blend of humour, horror and spoofing of horror conventions. This is what Attack the Block is attempting as well.
Of course, it depends on your sense of humour and whether you are ‘blown away’ by small-budget films which highlight their poverty while being ambitious in their intentions. While some of it is amusing, Attack the Block seemed too silly to make the cult impression.
On an ordinary London evening, a woman is harassed by a local gang. Alarmed, she rushes to her building. In the meantime, some aliens drop out of the sky. So, we are in the spoof alien invaders territory which is not necessarily a bad thing.
But, the black puffball aliens with translucent blue eyes seem to be an admittance of no budget for real effects and seem quite ludicrous (which they are partly meant to be). The invasion multiplies as local authorities try to do combat, the aliens climb walls and get into the apartment block. The gang, as well as a local slacker calling in to get drugs from his dealer (Nick Frost) are terrified and enlist the aid to the woman they were attacking. In fact, they are just a gang of local kids who are still at school.
Most of the kids are not the brightest and several of them are knocked off by the aliens. This means that the film builds up to a climax (not too bad) for final confrontations.
Probably best seen at one of those midnight cult sessions.
BREAKING DAWN PART 1
(US, 2011, d. Bill Condon)
Bella declares ‘undying love’ for Edward. She would have to, wouldn’t she? After all, that is the fate of vampires even if they are nice like Edward and the Cullen familyand have inserted themselves quietly into each of their contemporary worlds. But, we do have an initial confession of a secret by Edward when he was sowing his wild fangs in the 1930s (and going to see such films as Bride of Frankenstein, which could serve as something of an image of Bella and her marriage).
The fourth film in the Twilight Saga needs no help from reviewers (and certainly not from so many negative reviews from those who feel themselves above such stories for its niche teenage audience – and their mothers, perhaps). It got its money back in the first few days of its American release.
The undying love, wedding preparation, wedding, reception (and a visit from Jacob who is initially upset with the wedding because of his love for Bella), honeymoon in Brazil, take up the first half of the film – all rather lavish to entertain the fans. Bella’s mother and father turn up and, though she has a frightening nightmare about the ceremony, Bella is happy in marrying Edward.
Complications come with her pregnancy, life threatening, which has the Cullen family anxious, Edward anguishing and trying to help his wife. Again, Jacob arrives, this time to defend Bella because his werewolf family is hostile to the Cullens and attack them. A chance to move from the quiet romanticism of the wedding to some snarling, howling and brawling.
Not knowing the story, I was more than a bit surprised to discover what happens to Bella with the birth of her baby – and then guessed what was really happening, via some special effects of her interior, blood stream and heart, which is the final shock image of Part I so that we will be eager to see Part 2 – what undying love really means.
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have become Bella and Edward incarnate and everyone seems to be pleased to see them again. And Taylor Lautner is Jacob (shirt off in the first minute or so but then looking very respectable).
Those tempted to rush for the exit as soon as there is any hint of a credit will miss a preview of the sequel which gives a different tone to what we have seen in this film. Michael Sheen as the dastardly vampire leader of earlier films makes a campy violent appearance, setting up some melodrama for the finale as dawn finally breaks.
There have been different directors for each of the films so far. This time it is writer Bill Condon whose previous films include the interesting Gods and Monsters and Kinsey as well as the musical Dreamgirls.
(Australia, 2010, d. Adam Blaiklock)
A small-budget Australian thriller which starts out like a holiday story for young adults surfing around the Maldives and then turns into a variation of Dead Calm and other menace on boats tales.
The young men and women are more or less the usual suspects, out for a good time. Peter Phelps is the ship’s captain who reads them the riot act before they leave. All goes well at first, sea, waves, tropical islands.
One of the men seems an old hand at this but when he loses his temper and beats up an unwary tourist, his true pathological personality begins to emerge. He certainly has a short fuse. But then he molests one of the women, who has had some problems with images of her being put up on the internet. She reacts very strongly, setting up the film for clashes, fights, vengeance. All very melodramatic rather than any real exploration of what has happened, why and what might be done rather than just resorting to revenge.
A CAT IN PARIS (UNE VIE DE CHAT)
(FRANCE, 2010, d. Jean- Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol)
Hard to tell whether this is an animation film for younger audiences (some scenes too frightening as a little girl is a central character) or for older audiences (a police investigation of a robbery and the threats of a gangster to waylay a sculpture en route to a museum).
The animation style is quite striking and the plot keeps moving. It has a brief running time.
And the cat? He is the pet of a little girl whose father, a policeman, has been killed and whose mother is in charge of the investigations. The cat goes out at night and meets up with a cat burglar who skims over the roofs of Paris with feline ease. One night the little girl follows the cat which leads to all kinds of trouble with the gangsters and the police – and the cat burglar being nicer than we at first thought.
One of those films that is interesting enough to watch but not memorable.
A specialist documentary which shows many facets of 20th century European culture and style.
(US, 2010, d. Shanna Feste)
The world of country and western singing, tours, concerts, recording. And the toll on the singers themselves. And the pressures of fans and the media.
Gwynneth Paltrow is Kelly, a grammy award winning singer, who has had a long career which has taken its toll. She has been drinking and suffered a miscarriage when she fell during a concert. As the film opens she is about to come out of rehabilitation. But, is it too soon?
Her husband, James (Tim McGraw) is also her agent but the marriage love has cooled over the years. He still believes in her and sends her on tour. She has met an orderly who offers to be one of her sponsers. He is a young singer who is hired to keep and eye on her and be a supporting singer. Garrett Hedlund is Beau, quite a sympathetic young man. The other character in the picture is an aspiring singer, Chiles (Leighton Meester) who is initially awkward but is saved during performance by Beau.
Country Strong takes us into the day by day life of this group of people. Often, very often, there are more downs than ups. Kelly is more fragile that people thought and makes a mess of concert appearances. Beau is devoted to her but realises that there is little future in a relationship and looks to Chiles. Chiles, with Beau’s encouragement and support from James, goes from strength to strength. We also see the pressures from agents, entrepreneurs and, especially, a pruriently curious and fickle media.
The film is both pessimistic and optimistic. Some succeed. Some fail. There is a fine scene towards the end when Kelly offers Chiles some sound advice about living a career and being a celebrity and then goes out to belt out a range of songs to the delight of fans and of James. Gwynneth Paltrow sang in the film Duets as well as the opening song in the film about Truman Capote, . Both Garret Hedlund and Leighton Meester are impressive in their songs and performances.
Not everybody warms to country and western music, but this is quite an effective behind the showbiz facades interpersonal drama.
(UK, 2011, d. John Madden)
A remake of a 2008 Israeli film of the same name with a strong cast and director, John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Captiain Corelli’s Mandolin).
This is a Mossad story with a number of twists.
We are introduced to a trio of agents who are welcomed home after tracking a sadistic Nazi doctor in Berlin. It is 1966. They are acclaimed as heroes.
Three decades later, a book on their exploits is being launched, written by the daughter of two of the team. When a long-absent member of the team suddenly re-appears, there is anxiety and a crisis for the other two.
The way The Debt is made is to show in some detail what happened in the pursuit of the doctor, their taking him, holding him captive and their attempts to get him out of Germany to Israel. This makes for dramatic tension as the trio use the female member of the team to approach the doctor for gynaecological advice. But, things go wrong. There are tensions between the three as they keep guard, trying to avoid the arrogant taunts of their prisoner. The three are played well by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington. The doctor is played with eerie menace by Jesper Christensen.
The plot from then on is one of those stories that publicists ask reviewers not to reveal because of the dramatic twists – and, in this case they are very interesting, leading to some surprising tensions.
The actors who portray the older trio are Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds. Top class cast, especially with Helen Mirren being at the centre of the second half of the film.
Some comments say that the Israeli version would have seemed more authentic and gritty because this version has stars, put on accents, and a higher budget for a glossier thriller. This is probably right, but The Debt is interesting and entertaining as we watch it.
HABEMUS PAPAM/ WE HAVE A POPE
(Italy, 2011, d. Nanni Moretti)
‘Habemus Papam’ are the words that announce, from the balcony of St Peter’s, the election of a new Pope. Catholic audiences may have wondered about a film on a conclave and Pope in 2011. So might audiences not interested in or hostile to the Catholic Church. Nothing to fear for anyone. This is a genial look at the Church, at its rituals and pomps, at its authority structures and reliance on the Holy Spirit and on human choices, on the burden of the Papacy and what this might do to an ageing Cardinal thrust into the limelight who suddenly realises he is not able to carry out what is being asked of him.
Nanni Moretti has always had a wry sense of humour in such films as Caro Diario/Dear Diary as well as a strong sense of pathos with The Son’s Room. His previous film might have given Church authorities pause and cause for alarm on hearing of this project. It was Il Camaino, a quite blatant satire on Silvio Berlusconi.
This film is beautifully made, the Vatican apartments, courtyards, Sistine Chapel vividly re-created. There are plenty of scenes in the ordinariness of Rome as well. The decor, rituals and robes of prelates are meticulously presented.
And, in the middle of it is Moretti himself, a non-believer, playing a non-believing psychiatrist to attend to the new Pope. It is surprising how nice he makes most things, especially the Cardinals, each of whom is shown praying that he not be elected and how unworthy he is of the task. No ambition in sight or earshot. And, after the election, when they remain in the Vatican, they are generally pleasant and friendly, playing cards, reading and allowing themselves to be organised into a volleyball tournament by the psychiatrist. This gives the audience plenty of time to reflect on and gauge their responses to these glimpses of hierarchy.
Central to it all is the French Cardinal Melville who, after hesitating, says yes to the election but just after ‘Habemus Papam is proclaimed, suffers a panic attack and can’t go through with his presentation to the waiting crowds (plenty of St Peter’s square stock footage here giving authenticity as well). When the shrewd PR official (Jerzy Stuhr) allows the Pope to visit another psychiatrist (Margharita Buy), his holiness eludes his adviser and disappears into the crowds.
Actually, this theme is not new. Pope Kiril (Anthony Quinn) did it in The Shoes of the Fisherman. Pope Leo (Tom Conti) did it in the delightful Saving Grace. This time, the Pope (who has not yet chosen a name) is played most persuasively by 85 year old veteran of decades of French and other movies, Michel Piccoli. We believe his breakdown – we are made to realise just how heavy this task must be on anyone – and follow his trying to cope as he travels in a bus, goes to a small hotel, encounters a group of actors who are rehearsing Chekhov’s The Seagull which he knows well as he wanted to be an actor but his sister was accepted into drama school when he was not.
So, the action keeps veering between the wandering and soul-searching Pope, the devices the PR man gets up to by planting a Swiss Guard in the papal apartments to give the impression the Pope is still there and in prayer, and the doings of the Cardinals.
Not sure whether the rescue sequence is quite credible, but it is all make-believe (more or less), so it really doesn’t matter so much.
What remains is a look at the Papacy, a questioning look from the point of view of the psychiatrist (who finds Psalm texts which indicate the author describing a depressed state of mind – an interesting sidelight), a challenging look for the faithful to appreciate what the Papacy requires, and a gentle reflection on the Catholic Church, its old (and eccentric) traditions as well as its belief in God and mediating God’s love and the potential of its core spirit to make the world better.
THE IDES OF MARCH
(US, 2011, d. George Clooney)
No need to beware this Ides of March. It is an interesting and entertaining (even though it ultimately surrenders to the cynicism that realpolitik usually leads to) political drama that is based on a play, Farragut North from 2008, the year of Barack Obama’s election and now released a year before the 2012 election. More than topical.
The Ides of March meant betrayal and backstabbing for Julius Caesar. While there is a death in this film (though not for one of the central political characters), the main protagonists live to do battle another day.
At first, this is an enthusiastic look at an-up-and coming young political adviser who has more than a touch of idealism, Stephen Meyers. He is played with keen calm by Ryan Gosling. He is working for the Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania who is seeking the Democratic nomination for President. It is the week before the vote and he is about to debate with his Republican opponent. The action of the film takes place over one week.
The governor is played with his familiar charm by George Clooney (who chose this role since he is producer, co-writer and director). He challenges voters who hold more conventional opinions by stating that his foundation is the American Constitution. And, he draws crowds and delights them. Included in his entourage is his seasoned adviser (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The Republicans have their equivalent (Paul Giamatti). When the latter flatters our young idealist and invites him to meet to talk things over and offer him an alternate job, he goes but regrets it and makes some errors of judgment. He also does this when the flirtatious intern (Evan Rachel Wood) offers a seduction and is taken up on it. There will be grave consequences which we (and the idealist) do not foresee.
We watch the razzle dazzle of public appearances and events. The media intrudes, as always, and there is quite an amount of mutual favours and of political blackmail going on, especially with Marisa Tomei as a campaign-bitten journalist. Leaks, spin, the usual ingredients. There is a Senator to be wooed with promises of important positions and press conferences to trumpet his backing and bringing numbers for the vote.
There is back-stabbing though, in this scenario, the idealism of Brutus turns into the manipulation of Cassius. Stephen does have a lean and hungry look.
Politics is dirty or becomes dirty and, though this is the world of leadership for us all, it is not a pleasant or pretty world deep down (or on surfaces, come to think of it).
(US, 2011, d. Tarsem Singh)
I was going for the word ‘silly’ as a capsule comment when I came across a reviewer (who generally liked the film) who used the word ‘nuttiness’. He was right.
Does anybody really take the films about the doings of the Greek gods and their myths seriously – not that Immortals is really a serious take on the gods but here they are, Zeus, Athena, Poseidon – and find their goings on faintly credible? Clash of the Titans? Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief? The forthcoming Wrath of the Titans? It is all pretty remote. We oldies may have studied some Greek and Ancient History so are on familiar enough ground. But, what do the multiplex audiences really think?
Anyway, here they are in a somewhat lurid and bloodthirsty tale that twists some of the legends of Theseus and the Minotaur, Hyperion, Zeus and the Titans. It is filmed in 3D, with atmospherically artificial sets, with ambiguous light and darkness (as with 300), a pounding score – and directed by Tarsem Singh who has some unusual credits, the Jennifer Lopez thriller, The Cell, and his history and culture bending, The Fall.
Mickey Rourke plays the villain (and quite sadistic in his range of tortures and executions), Hyperion, as if he were on leave from a bender in the Bronx. By contrast, John Hurt is full of dignity and gravitas as an old adviser to Theseus who is actually Zeus on earth (with Luke Evans taking up a more athletic, musclebound Zeus on Olympus). Actually, Henry Cavell is quite a musclebound Theseus, square-jawed and determined. Frieda Pinto is a virginal prophetess who sees the future and is anxious to be neither.
So, it is another humans-gods-titans clash which can be described as silly or nutty.
I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT
(US, 2011, d. Douglas Mc Grath)
This is an easy film to watch about working mothers and wives. The underlying theme of how a woman manages with family and home as well as a high-powered job pervades the whole film with the repetition of the title (from a popular book by Allison Pearson with a screenplay by Aline Brosh Mc Kenna who wrote The Devil Wears Prada as well as We Bought a Zoo).
Confession: never a great fan of Sarah Jessica Parker (not just because of Sex and the City). But, she is very likeable as Kate in this story of an investment expert who is continually landed with tasks by her boss (Kelsey Grammar), frequent trips away from home in Boston, as well as lots of meetings. At home are two children, one who is little enough to accept what happens, the other a girl who has reached that pouting, silent treatment age. Also at home is a nice husband (who is also very successful at his work, gets a promotion, so no rivalry issues), played by an actor who is usually smilingly genial, Greg Kinnear. Even when he has reason to complain or be upset here, you know he is going to be nice.
Then comes a big (very big) opportunity which requires lots of time, travel and strain. Fortunately, the man in charge is also quite charming and genial and is played by Pierce Brosnan.
One of the pleasures of the film is the voiceover of our busy investor, wife and mother. There are also frequent to camera opinions from friends and some catty mothers from school as well as her straight-faced workaholic assistant who finally undergoes a complete makeover (motherhood-wise).
In many ways, this is all as might be expected. However, there is good will all round (except for the catty mother) and so solutions can be worked out, especially when Kate is able to stand her ground with the boss.
So, serious light comedy which husbands can accept (or they ought to be able to) and which women could take for some role modelling in coping and communicating with the family about work and its demands.
(UK, 2011, d. Ben Palmer)
Somebody remarked that this is a UK version of the American Pie comedies of coming of age, of sex preoccupation (adolescent male variety in the course of, we hope, maturing into adults, but some of the signs don’t look so good), of crass humour. Four young fellows finish at school and go on a holiday to the Greek islands for sun, booze, sex and... sex.
Now you know whether you want to see the film or not.
If you do, it’s more or less as expected. If you don’t, no loss.
However, there was one lesson to learn. This reviewer, when faced with crass humour, will opt for the British version over the American version. The British can be more subtly funny, especially in their characterisations which do acknowledge stupidity and crassness in a way that Americans usually don’t. They also have a sense of irony which means that there can be an edge in the humour, something which is ordinarily absent from the American comedies.
MACHINE GUN PREACHER
(US, 2011, d. Marc Forster)
Of course, this title is intended as provocative. It reminds us of the book and film of the 1970s, The Cross and the Switchblade. Both are stories of personal conversion leading to active Church service in an American evangelical Church.
Box-office has not been much. Those interested in the machine gun may lose interest in the religious dimension of the film. Those interested in the preacher may be put off by the rough life of the drug dealing bikie as well as his warrior-like Christianity in fighting (to the death) for the rights of the oppressed.
Message films like this do not draw crowds. A parallel can be made with the 2003 film, Beyond Borders (even with Angelina Jolie as the star) which challenged comfortable first world people, even those who worked for charities, and offered truly grim images of starvation in Ethiopia and brutality in Cambodia. It barely received a theatrical release. (Machine Gun Preacher was screened only at 10.45 am for six days at three Melbourne multiplexes, perhaps a contractual issue before the film is relegated to DVD release.)
The setting here is Uganda and South Sudan (before the latter became a nation in 2011). The hero is Sam Childers, a Pennsylvania tough guy who served a prison sentence, loved guns, could be brutal towards his wife but who had a conversion experience after thinking he and a friend (Michael Shannon) had killed a man. His wife, daughter and mother had found God and led him to church and baptism. When he got his life in order, he was impressed by a preacher visiting from Uganda and decided to go there for five weeks and work on a building project.
He discovered the violence of the Lord’s Revolutionary Army and made rescuing and helping orphans his mission with the help of South Sudanese militia. He was supported, urged not to give up, by his strong-minded wife (Michelle Monaghan), though it took a toll as Childers became completely obsessed by his mission.
But, his conversion was a brittle one and when he discovered children mercilessly killed, he began to doubt God and aggressively took up arms against the soldiers. He had been warned by a British nurse that, although he had won a great reputation in South Sudan, that was how Joseph Kony began before he formed the LRA. Sam Childers is forced to take stock of himself.
Childers is still working in Sudan. The final credits have photos of him and his family as well as video footage. In the film, he is played by tall, strong Gerard Butler. Had there been more lookalike casting, he could have been played by Billy Bob Thornton as short and burley as he really is.
At the end of the credits, Childers asks the confronting question: if a member of our family were to be abducted and Childers promised to get them back, would we question or object to the way he would do it? That is a key question for muscular Christians who defend the rights but do not countenance turning the other cheek.
(US, 2011, d. Bennett Miller)
It is very difficult for a non-baseball fan to respond fully to a baseball-centred film, even Field of Dreams. Baseball, especially in the Major League, is American as... well, as Mom and apple pie used to be. This is true of Moneyball, although it takes us into issues that are real for any sport.
Those in the know would be aware that Moneyball is based on a true story and that some of the characters contributed advice for the film. The action takes place from 2001.
The Oakland Athletics are in the elimination round – and are eliminated. This kind of thing in all sports leads to recriminations, re-examination of players, with some to let go or trade, with changes of tactics. Brad Pitt plays (very well) Billy Beane, the manager of the Athletics. We learn throughout the film that he used to be an up and coming player in the 1980s who came but did not really go up. He is now a shrewd manager and the early part of the film shows him working his phone for trades, arguing for salary deals, confronting agents and his board.
On one visit, he notices a rather rotund young adviser, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who is unobtrusively communicating opinions which are taken note of. Billy accosts him, tests him and trades him. He is impressed by Peter’s Yale background in economics and his development of criteria and computer programs which enable him to offer more informed detail about a player’s abilities and failings. The focus in not on what an individual star can do for a team. Rather, it is a look at particular qualities that are not noticed at first but, when combined with other players’ idiosyncratic qualities, could lead to better scoring and wins.
The Board is definitely not impressed, nor is the long-serving talent scout and the coach (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is strongly opposed and does not follow directions from the manager. The team suffers many losses.
Billy Beane does not give up. He capitalises on trading players with Peter’s advice. He thwarts the plans of the coach with last minute deals and trades. The Athletics begin to win – and, history tells us – they equal the record of successive wins in a season.
There is some secondary plot about Billy’s career and his failed marriage (Robin Wright as his wife) and his bonding with his daughter. Peter, on the other hand, has no life except for his computer, his talents and the games.
Obviously, audiences not really interested in this kind of world may find the film sometimes tedious. But, it is written well by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List among many others) and Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, West Wing and The Social Network). Director is Bennett Miller (Capote).
We are told that these methods of building up teams continue and the Boston Red Sox (where Billy Beane turned down a lucrative offer to become manager) won a season using them.
OAKIE’S OUTBACK ADVENTURES
(Australia, 2010, d. Troy Dann)
Strange, sometimes, the films one discovers on a plane. I had never heard of this one before – and now wonder why.
This is an animation film for children which teachers might be interested in and might be able to use some segments for classes and for informing children about Australian stories and history.
It may also have been intended for overseas audiences because Oakie is a dog from the US who lands in Australia by mistake. However, he is welcomed by the animals, by an aboriginal girl and by a latterday Crocodile Dundee called Action Dan, who takes Oakie all over the Northern Territory and tells him a lot about Australia. In fact, the film opens and closes with some rather serious and homiletic observations about respect, racial understanding and care of the environment.
Some of the storytelling is quite entertaining. Waltzing Matilda is first to be shown, later The Man from Snowy River. Henry Lawson’s The Loaded Dog is included and we hear Click Go the Shears with the final credits have The Road to Gundagai. Along the way there are songs and stories about the Northern Territory, Aboriginal History, Captain Cook, Ben Hall and Ned Kelly.
It is somewhat in the vein of the Yoram Gross’ animation films of past decades, the combination of people and talking animals like Dot and the Kangaroo.
The film goes for an hour and a half but could easily lend itself to be watched in many self-contained segments that younger audiences could enjoy and then respond to. An easy way to learn Waltzing Matilda and remember some classic tales.
Not so sure about Oakie himself and his coming from the US – but, I suppose, we do have a lot we could pass on to the Americans!
PUSS IN BOOTS
(US, 2011, d. Chris Miller)
As we all know (and liked), Puss in Boots tended to steal scenes from Shrek, Donkey and the rest. So, why not give him his own movie? Of course. And, here it is.
With Antonio Banderas bringing a certain blend of smoulder and bragadaccio to the voice of Puss and the animators giving him plenty of adventures, this has been a surefire box-office attraction. And, most audiences will enjoy it.
It is not bad but does not stay in the memory. It draws on the Zorro stories and has Puss as a blend of outlaw and do-gooder and something of a ladies’ Tom.
The plot also draws on a number of other fairy tale characters who perhaps were upset that they did not make it into the Shrek movies. There is Mother Goose, not as amiable as she should be with her golden eggs. Humpty Dumpty is a shadily ambiguous character. Little Boy Blue is very blue.
But, to challenge Puss and charm him is a masked swordsperson, Kitty Softpaws who, when she takes off the mask, is a chat fatale. And voiced by Salma Hayek, so the full Hispanic accent and purring. They fight. They romance. And, often best of all, they have dancing rivalry that the animators give full burst to.
The film keeps moving, action, comedy, romance (and quite a few double entendres) enough to keep us attentive to the adventures of what one European paper called, ‘Cat in Boots’.
SHARK NIGHT 3D
(US, 2011, d. David R. Ellis)
You know what you are in for just from the title – although the 3D is nothing startling (but there are a couple of frights, mainly with sharks leaping out of the water, jaws open, teeth bared, grabbing their victims).
This is a very straightforward tale, all quite serious, nothing facetious or tongue-in-cheek, which is what a lot of audiences want – to laugh and be scared at the same time. This was the kind of thing that worked in the outlandish Piranha 3D. It was also the case with David R. Ellis’s film, Snakes on a Plane, though his two Final Destination thrillers veered from serious to sometimes corny.
So, a group of college students go together to a lake resort in Louisiana. The sheriff welcomes them back, especially Sarah who has not been for three years. There is a memory of a bad experience – which will lead to vicious revenge. We meet the group, who are less obnoxious than many in such similar circumstances (and their language is relievedly non-swearing).
Sharks are in the lake and start to get busy on the students. Much of the action and tensions concerns one student whose arm has been severed, trying to get him to hospital. Then two rednecks appear, one bent on vengeance.
Then it is revealed that the two and the sheriff have introduced the sharks into the lake and, why? – to film the attacks and death for sales to sick video clip watchers! This leads to crises, some ‘and then there were none’ deaths. But, of course, two survive and the rednecks have very, very close encounters with the sharks.
Enough to give an average audience a bit of a fright – and certainly not endear them to sharks.
Surprisingly, during the final credits there is a long music clip from the cast (rather different from their characters in the film, though there are scenes shown again during the song). Dustin Milligan plays the hero who overcomes all odds and is the director of this music video.
(Australia, 2011, d. Ivan Sen)
Toomelah, northwestern New South Wales, indigenous community.
Writer, director, photographer, composer Ivan Sen (Beyond Clouds) came from Toomelah. He knows what he is talking about. He knows what he is dramatising. This is very clear in this sometimes quietly compassionate film, a film that sometimes reveals an inherited anger.
2011 has been an impressive year for films about indigenous communities in Australia. The documentary, The Tall Man, raises issues of police action in north Queensland. Here I am is an urban story of prison, drugs and hope/hopelessness. Mad Bastards showed family relationships in the west. Murrundak was a musical reflection on Australian history from the Black Arm Band.
Toomelah tells a story while it offers something of a documentary look at the community in the town. What makes it the more telling for the audience is that a young boy, Daniel, is the focus of the film – and life in Toomelah is seen from his perspective. We watch Daniel sympathetically and appreciate the limitations of his young viewpoint while we can see and appreciate the wider issues that he does not. Audiences sensitive to language will have to accept the swearing that is second nature to the people of Toomelah and to Daniel himself.
Daniel’s mother loves her son but has a drug problem. His father is in the town but away from home, out on the road with a meth problem. The stalwart of the family is Nana, a quiet, contemplative elderly woman who offers a final embrace to Daniel which reminds us that a need for being loved is basic to solving all other problems.
Daniel fights at school and is reprimanded (and the whole town seems to know instantly). He stays with his friends, especially Linden, out of jail but still the main supplier of marijuana around the place. He admires these men who welcome him, use him, of course, for deliveries and for framing a man they don’t like. They fish, they tell stories of their totems, they drink, they sing. And, they disappear.
School in Toomelah offers some hope. Many of the young children like school, which also helps them appreciate the bitterness of 19th and 20th century racism and massacres of aborigines. There is a photo chart at the school illustrating all of this as well as the strong aboriginal heritage. Further, the children are being taught words from their own language, instilling a sense of the dreaming, of worth and of cultural inheritance.
Toomelah serves as a state of the question for the second decade of the 21st century. And Ivan Sen is a symbol of achievement.