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Film Reviews December 2012

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BACK TO 1942


Australia, 2011,
Mimi Sterne Wolfe.
Directed by Rohan Spong.

A musical documentary.

Response to this film will depend on the age of the audience. The reason for this is that it takes us back to the 1980s-1990s and the era of HIV AIDS. And it does this through music.

Documentary maker, Rohan Spong, came across the website of Mimi Sterne Wolfe, a now elderly pianist and campaigner for human rights in New York City. She had been friendly with a musician who died from HIV AIDS in the early 1990s and decided that she would stage a memorial concert every year in his memory. She has done it for twenty years. Spong met Mimi and they became very good friends. She invited him to film her at home, at rehearsals and at the 2010 concert, which he did.

However, he realised that he did not know very much, being too young, about the impact of the mysterious virus in the 1980s and the number of deaths, especially of gay men. Mimi introduced him to a lyricist, Perry, whom he interviews at length about his friends who had died and about their music. Several of them were composers. Mimi also contacts two singers who have participated in the concerts for some years.

So, the film, very genial because of Mimi’s personality and zest, works on several levels. It is a fine tribute to Mimi and her loyalties and friendships. And she is a character! The film is also a concert of quite a number of songs, classical in their style rather than popular or pop. Some of them have music to poems of Emily Dickenson and Walter de la Mare as well as a tribute to Walt Whitman and a song from an unfinished opera, Titanic. Music lovers will find the songs worth their while.

And the film works as a reminder for those who remember what the 1980s, especially in the New York City arts circles, were like with the puzzle and sadness of HIV AIDS. For younger audiences, it may open up an era they may be unfamiliar with and be very surprised at what happened. The memories, images, verbal tributes and the music are sometimes quite moving.


US, 2012,
Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo
Directed by Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska.

Sounds innocent but beware. This is one of those popular torture horror films, better made than usual (and dedicated to Eli Roth, specialist in horror like Hostel). It may be difficult to watch because it is to do with surgical modification of people and not just hospital surgery.

Katharine Isabelle plays a precocious medical student specializing in surgery. She comes to the attention of some of her teachers whose motivations are not in accordance with medical ethics. She is struggling with debt problems. She finds herself in a situation, using her talents to help a victim surgically. She attracts the attention of a club owner and some of his staff and clientele and she is faced with a moral (and financial) dilemma: whether to accept the highly-paid but illegal and unethical jobs of modification she is offered – or not. No guessing what she decides. She does.
This leads to a number of surgical scenes, some quite explicit, others where the modifications are suggested (effectively). Because of the criminal connections of the club (which never seems to have many clients) and the malevolent intentions of the lustful doctors, she is assaulted and abducted. What is a girl to do? Abduct the lascivious doctor and submit him to gross surgery and abhorrent modifications.

So, many commentators have referred to this kind of film as ‘torture porn’. Defence is that it is telling a story vividly. Prosecution is whether this leads to indulgence in graphic mutilating violence.

Not a mainstream film but one which raises issues, for those who would wish to venture into this world, of themes and treatment and sensibilities.

BACK TO 1942

China, 2012,
Guoli Zhang, Adrien Brody, Tim Robbins.
Directed by Xioagang Feng.

In recent years, Chinese cinema has been going back to the war with Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. There have been several moving films about the siege of Nanking, especially 2009’s City of Life and Death. The 2012 Chinese film, The Flowers of War, in collaboration with the US, included Christian Bale as part of the story. Such collaborations make the film more accessible for American audiences, by including Adrien Brody as Time Magazine war correspondent Theodore White and Tim Robbins (to far less effective extent, including an unrecognisable accent) as a Catholic priest dispensing pious reflections.

Director Xiogang Feng has made some impressive films including Wedding Banquet (a variation on Hamlet) and the historical film, The Assembly. This time, with a large budget, he recreates the famine in Henan province which sent millions on to the roads as starving refugees, three million of them dying. This is the backdrop to Japanese occupation and the attempts of the Chinese military under the leadership of Chiang-Kai-Chek? to defeat Japan.

For audience identification as the film moves from military headquarters to American consulate and Japanese officials, the screenplay focuses on a family and its sufferings. Master Fan is wealthy and has grain as the famine begins to bite. He presides over a family that is wilful and arrogant. Challenged by local bandits, a fight breaks out which leads to everyone taking to the roads.

There are some extremely harrowing scenes, some horrifying deaths and two very powerful and frightening sequences of Japanese planes dropping bombs on the refugees causing callous injuries and deaths. By the end of the film, the audience is quite vividly aware of the toll of starvation on body and spirit.

The film also shows the initial ineffectiveness of the Chinese government, underestimating the famine and hesitating to help – food was necessary to keep the troops alive and fighting, so civilians were deemed expendable. Ultimately Chiang-Kai-Chek? tries to do something but the Japanese have advanced too far.

Adrien Brody has a good role as the war correspondent, sharing the miseries of the road and photographing some of the savagery which he presents to the Generalissimo and ultimately publishes to alert Chinese and American readers. Tim Robbins plays a missionary who welcomes the correspondent but also has to deal with a Chinese fellow priest who has taken a faith stance (a cause rather than faith as he preaches to the refugees) and who becomes disillusioned by the bombings. His questioning of God and non-intervention echoes the desperation of Master Fan as he loses everyone and everything – except finding a little girl by her dead mother. The narrator tells us that she survived to be his mother.

The narration offers moments of questioning as to why these stories should not be left in the past. Watching the film with no appreciable knowledge beforehand of the events reminds us that we must not forget the past but must learn from it.


US, 2012,
Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Michael Sheen, Peter Facinelli.
Directed by Bill Condon.

Only for those who have followed the series until this last episode. It presupposes knowledge of what has gone before – though it does give an overview at the end and generously shows the faces and names of all who have had featured roles in the five films.

So, there is very little to say. Bella and Edward love each other (lots of that). Bella is adjusting to being a vampire (lots of that as she moves as swiftly as the pack, flies over forests and cliffs, tries to control her desire for blood). Their baby, mortal because half human, is able to communicate by touch (illustrated as Jakob helps as a kind of nanny) and grows quickly to the stage of a seven year old.

And plot developments? The Volturi are still hostile (and looking pasty-faced as ever, especially Michael Sheen as their malevolent leader), discover the secret of the child and prepare for war. In the meantime, members of the Cullen family (who look and act like any other very nice family in America) go abroad to get witnesses who will prove that it is all right to have a half-vampire, half-mortal child. There are some flashbacks to the Volturi condemning a woman who bore such a child – and they massacre her.

So, all is set on a frozen lake for confrontation. Actually, the film has it both ways with a spectacular battle between foes, with the werewolves lending paws and teeth to help. Then, we discover that this is a vision of what might be – and peace is nicely established and a happy ever after, and after, and after, and after… ending.


China, 2011
Cecilia Cheung, Dong- jan, Zhang Ziyi.
Directed by Jin- ho Hur.

There have been several versions of Laclos’ novel of 18th century manners and manipulation. It was updated to the middle of the 20th entury for Roger Vadim’s 1960 version with Gerard Philippe and . The classic films version was Stephen Frears 1988 beautifully elegant but deadly portrait of corrupt society. Milos Forman released Valmont the following year with Colin Firth and Annette Bening. There was the American update for young adults in Cruel Intentions. A Korean interpretation was made in 2007, Untold Scandals. The present film is Chinese and has a 1930s Shanghai setting.

Audiences familiar with the basic plot will be pleased to recognise the principal characters, the womanizing playboy who makes the bet of seduction of the proper widow with the decadent society woman. There is the innocent young girl and her ambitious mother and the young man who is in love with her and is seduced by the manipulative madam.

The performances are persuasive although the drama builds up to a rather violent and melodramatic ending.

One of the benefits is the setting the film in the 1930s, an affluent Shanghai and glamorous society – on the verge of the Japanese invasion and the consequent suffering for China portrayed in so many historical films in recent years.

Audiences who have appreciated other versions of Dangerous Liaisons will not be disappointed with this one.


US, 2012,
Steve Zissis, Mark Kelly.
Directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass.

You don’t often get that kind of title for a movie. But, that is what it is about, except that the competition is between two brothers, who invented it when they were young and who have been haunted by its outcome every since – and they are now in their forties. As you can guess, it is mainly about sibling rivalry rather than any sports prowess, though we do see some table tennis and other activities.

Film buffs will recognize the names of the Duplass Brothers. Their films in the past have been small, independent pieces, focusing on eccentric characters and with lots of dialogue. Same here. This kind of film does not have immediate commercial appeal but is designed for those who want something different in their stories, with a touch of the amusing and the odd.

It should be said that Mark Duplass has been featured in quite a number of films recently, gaining more recognition as an actor (Your Sister’s Sister, Safety Not Guaranteed, People Like Us).

The film runs only an hour and a quarter and centres on Mark (Steve Zissis), a bit fat and foodbound at this age, but who can be provoked instantly concerning his losing the old pentathlon. He lives with his caring wife, his son who is a bit critical of dad, and his kind, peace-fostering mother.

Then Jeremy (Mark Kelly), the winning brother who puts a lot into his sports (and his card-playing) decides to visit the family, taunting his brother who becomes even more heated and competitive. Mother wrings her hands. Wife threatens to leave him. Son hero-worships his uncle. What are they to do? Re-live their pentathlon.

This is a brief character study of the five central characters but dramatizes very well the brothers, their tensions, their vanity, their being bent on winning – and their ultimate sibling bonds.

Since the film is written and directed by the Duplass brothers, there is always the temptation to be wondering how much they draw on their own younger days.


US, 2012,
Victoria Justice, Jackson Nicoll, Thomas Middleditch,
Directed by Josh Schwartz.

Checking out some IMDb bloggers to find out whether they thought this slight Halloween tale funny, I was surprised at how favourable the comments were. This review won’t be one of those favourable comments.

Plot? A variation on what was a pleasingly funny night on the town (the UK title), Adventures in Babysitting. This one concerns a senior, Wren (Victoria Justice), eager to leave home and get away to college. Her widowed mother has been kicking over the traces with a boyfriend fifteen years younger or more. She goes to his party, dressed as Dorothy on the way to Oz, and finds herself alien among his fairly dumb friends and gets to know his parents better.

But Wren has a younger brother who is precocious (that was a complimentary word to substitute my reactions to his obnoxious character and presence), Albert. Wren wants to go to the party at the home of the school heartthrob but loses Albert on the way with her friend, April. The rest of the film is adventures in Albert-sitting. She is helped by a very nerdish captain of the debating team, Roosevelt () who is encouraged by his two mothers. Also on the search is a libidinous friend, Peng. Actually, April could be described as libidinous as well.

Meanwhile Albert (who is pretty creepy a lot of the time) encounters a drug store clerk who loves graphic comics. He is (Thomas Middleditch). In these wary days about adult encounters with children, one automatically becomes wary of the rather infantile Fuzzy and his teaming up with Albert. Then there is a strange episode involving Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville, imprisoning Albert and threatening him with violence. (Creepy again.)

So, lots of episodes that are not as funny as intended, sometimes suspicious. Lots of ambiguous humour which may go over the heads of children (the Americans have classified it PG 13). And, if children identify with Albert, that’s a worry. While all finishes happily (how else?), Fun Size is not a film to recommend for younger audiences. Older audiences (and the oldest) will find it too light, slight and that bit unsettling.


US, 2012,
Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr,
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.

No, it’s not the kind of title that evokes traditional patriotism. The patriotism here is a severe questioning of contemporary American values, especially contemporary media and communications. Many a member of the audience will be emotionally applauding the targets of this very black satire. It involves gun culture as well.

Bobcat Goldthwait used to be a comic actor (in the Police Academy films) but has turned to directing recently, films with unexpectedly black tones (like The World’s Greatest Father). This one is even blacker.

Joel Murray plays Frank, a middle-aged man, at the end of this tether who is told he is terminally ill. No job, his wife and daughter alienated. He watches television – and takes a dead set against reality TV shows. By this stage of the film, many more in the audience will be on side with him. And, even though he decides that he will rid the US of repellent characters, and has guns to achieve it, the same audiences will be torn by their desire to support the riddance of the repellents and the use of the violent means that Frank uses to achieve it.

He travels the countryside, discovering more and more people who give a bad name to humanity. He also encounters a young runaway (Tara Lynne Barr) who discovers a soul-mate in Frank. There were Bonnie and Clyde, then Natural Born Killers (which also targeted the exploitative media), now Frank and Roxy. The mitigating circumstances are that it is only the obnoxious who are got rid of, not good citizens.

The on-side viewer will relish, in a ghoulish kind of way, the portrayals of these awful people (both old and young).

The nature of satire is to set up society in the darkest way and attack it. It is obviously exaggerated and stylized. It is not realistic. It is a contrived way of storytelling, that asks questions by taking extreme stances. Unfortunately, some crazed individuals in society, especially American society, have taken their guns and caused mayhem and tragic loss of life.

A warning that this is a clever kind of satiric comedy which is meant to be provocative. For those who can appreciate it, it is well-targeted.


US, 2012
Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler,
Directed by Frank Coraci.

Another Kevin James comedy from Adam Sandler’s company. We know what to expect. Some knockabout comedy, a lot of corny humour, some PG vulgarity, laughter at the expense of a star who could lose some weight. While this is in some ways true of this film, it doesn’t quite do it justice. There is much more of a niceness in this one. There are quite a few funny moments. And it is minimally vulgar. Perhaps a bit more appeal than the usual films with and/or from Adam Sandler.

It is definitely a knockabout comedy. And lots of knocks at that. It is a multi martial arts story. Memories of the recent, Warrior with Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy which brought multi martial arts to mainstream movies. Someone remarked that it was a bit like Bad Teacher, with Cameron Diaz, with problems in a school. These comments came from audiences familiar with the latest films.

In fact, it reminded this reviewer more strongly of films like Rocky and the story of the underdog who triumphs and of Dead Poets Society where an unorthodox teacher is able to communicate with his students, willing and unwilling.

Perhaps that gives too elevated an impression of Here Comes the Boom Kevin James plays a biology teacher who has given up on his initial teaching zest and has become something of a slob. But, he has some sensitive moments with his friend, music teacher Henry Winkler. (And it is a pleasure to see a grey-haired Winkler in a substantial role that gives him both serious and farcical moments.) The school is in dire financial straits. And the music course is to be cut.
James brashly attacks the authorities and suggests the staff help find the money. One of the students at his night classes to prepare adults for citizenship watches multi-martial arts on TV and, now the former wrestler (well, twenty years former!) decides that he can find the money if he competes and gets the prize money for the loser, $10,000.

School authorities are not pleased. The students gradually see him as a hero. He loses and loses but… well you’ve seen Rocky! And his old teaching zeal is re-ignited. He has spent a lot of time courting the school nurse (Salma Hayek) who resists him but admires his perseverance. There are some nice, sentimental sub-plots about his brother who hates his job but is a great cook, about a young girl from a Filipino family who need her to work in a restaurant.

There is a huge finale in Las Vegas.

Kevin James has some abrasive aspects in his screen personality but he does win everyone over. Henry Winkler is able to bridge the gulf between sport and the arts. The film is very much pro music in school.

It is a pastime kind of comedy but has some good moments and is better than we might have thought as we sat down to watch it.


US, 2012,
Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Scarlet Johansson, Jessica Biel, James Mc Avoy.
Directed by Sacha Gervasi.

As they might say, ‘Loved the film. Hated him’.

Alfred Hitchcock was a literally larger than life figure, a director who had established himself in England in the 1920s, consolidated his reputation in the 1930s and went to the United States in the late 30s and directed Rebecca, which won the Oscar for Best Film of 1940 (though Hitchcock never won on Oscar, receiving and honorary life-time achievement Oscar in 1979). He flourished in America in the 1940s and 1950s but was hesitating by 1959. This film opens with the premiere of North By Northwest and its success after the seeming failure of Vertigo (in recent years now on the list of critics’ ten best films). Hitchcock was sixty. Should he retire? Should he stay with his television show (which was not his highest film-making ambition?

While this film does show the making of Psycho and all that it meant to the master, it is a dramatic, sometimes fictional, sometimes fantasy imagining of what the process was like for Hitchcock himself and for his wife of decades, Alma Reville. Alma had been his boss in the 1920s. They married in 1926 and were together for more than fifty years.

One of the devices of this film is to have Hitchcock imagining and dreaming of encounters with Ed Gein, the man devoted to his mother but a murderer on whom Robert Bloch based his book, Psycho. Discussions with Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) punctuate the film and are a means of getting us into the mind of Hitchcock, his preoccupation with crime, with bizarre behaviour, his touches of morbidity (including his humour). This leads on to his reputation as being infatuated with his leading ladies, the ‘Hitchcock Blondes’ which included Grace Kelly, Vera Miles, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak and Tippi Hedren. In Psycho he had Janet Leigh (Scarlet Johansson) who found him a gentleman and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) whom he thought betrayed him by wanting marriage and a family.

This is the context for quite some detailed accounts of the making of the film, the studio’s hesitations, the urgings of his agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), the wariness of his loyal production assistant of many years, Peggy Robertson (Toni Collette), his investing his own money in the project. There are auditions (James Mc Avoy looking very like Anthony Perkins), building of sets, storyboarding, the filming of the shower sequence, of course, and troubles with censorship – as well as his masterful grandstanding to promote the film (dire warnings of audience response) and his dispute about using Bernard Herrman’s slashing score for the shower murder (and enjoying the audience’s successive screams during early screenings).

That means quite some material in 97 minutes – the making of a film and the study of a strange personality as director.

However, the film is also a portrait of Alfred and Alma, the story of a marriage, the commitment of a practical wife who is also talented in script-doctoring and editing, the pomposity of a man with inner demons (morbidity, the urges for the blondes and who eats and drinks too much). Anthony Hopkins does quite an impersonation of Hitchcock and his speech and manners. It is very clever and well worth seeing (especially for audiences who still remember Hitchcock).

But audiences will be rewarded with a very fine performance by Helen Mirren as Alma Reville. After years of devotion, putting up with her husband, urging him to be abstemious, the film suggests that she needed more support and affection and introduces a fictional relationship with writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) with whom Hitchcock had worked on Strangers on a Train and Stage Fright (with a scene from his The Secret Heart screening on television in one scene). Helen Mirren can suggest a great deal simply by body language, facial expression and silences. She is at her best here – and has the opportunity of a speech telling her husband off, a scene that has had some audiences applauding.

Plenty to interest and to enjoy. And it is not a biography. It is an evocative portrait.


New Zealand, 2012,
Ian Mc Kellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett.
Directed by Peter Jackson.

Back to Middle Earth and beyond.

While J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘prequel’ to The Lord of the Rings is a smaller book, there will be a trilogy of films again, Christmas 2012, 2013, 2014. And, we can presume, most Tolkien fans will be welcoming each of them, happy to have an initial enjoyment phase with this film.

Tolkien experts will be able to point out the extra episodes for the film (like the opening in The Shire where Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is beginning his memoirs for Frodo (Elijah Wood) returned from his quest for the ring). They will be able to point out the changes in order of episodes from book to film (as of mid-December, there are already more than 500 blog entries on the Internet Movie Database!). Non-readers will accept the film as it is.

Peter Jackson has experimented with a filming process of 48 frames per second – ordinary filming is 24 frames per second. This means our eyes and brains respond by perceiving smoother, sharper action – which is beautifully enhanced if you see the film in 3D.

Spectacular it is, a wonder of models, CGI, fine photography, with Howard Shore again writing the musical score. And the New Zealand locations are beautiful – and may encourage a new spate of Tolkien tours. There are monsters galore, from Smaug the dragon, to the Orc warriors, to the Necromancer and to the Great Goblin (voiced by Barry Humphries) and his army. There are the amazing rock giants. There are quite a number of battles with the dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo confronting hordes. And Gollum makes a reappearance (and loses the ring which Bilbo finds).

In one sense, the action is more limited than in The Lord of the Rings. While we see the kingdom of the Dwarves, their prosperity, their wealth and the dark shadows and attack of the dragon, the film focuses on the dwarves and their quest to find and regain their kingdom.

Audiences may find the arrival of the dwarves to interrupt Bilbo’s quiet life very funny (plenty of meal and kitchen farce), it may also seem more than a bit long. The same with the initial trek until they arrive at Rivendell – with Gandalf particularly meagre in using any magic to help the expedition. Here the plot begins to thicken and become more interesting. We see familiar faces: Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee). But, of course, we are in familiar territory (even though, as the caption says, ’60 years earlier’) with Gandalf the guide for the expedition. Ian Mc Kellen has top billing for the film – and does look a little like 60 years later (his beard is not so white here, Gandalf the Grey). And then there is Martin Freeman doing a fine job as the younger Bilbo, somewhat tagging along at first but then emerging as more important, especially after he confronts Gollum (Andy Serkis again) and charges in to defend the Dwarf leader, Thorin. Richard Armitage is particularly strong and striking as Thurin. Unfortunately, most of the dwarves do not get the chance to come across as individuals. They appear as a comic, motely group.

While the film is long, most audiences, if not into the atmosphere instantly, will be gradually absorbed into the tale, amazed at the artistry and look of the film, and becoming more eager for the Dwarves to win. They deserve it after quite an amount of battering in the battles.

The view of the distant mountain of the kingdom at the end, and the stirring of the dragon under the piles of gold, indicate the setting up of the new confrontation for the next episode, The Desolation of Smaug.


US, 2012.
Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo.
Directed by Christopher Mac Quarrie.

Many of Lee Child’s readers of the Jack Reacher novels (including this reviewer), know that he is a former military policeman, now a loner, who continually gets caught up in other people’s problems despite himself. He is tough, laconic (though also sardonic), standing at five feet six and weighing 250 pounds or so.

So, who thought of having Tom Cruise (a foot or so shorter and some years older) for the screen version of Jack Reacher? Writer-director, Christopher Mac Quarrie wrote The Usual Suspects.

Despite strong misgivings, I will admit that Tom Cruise is not too bad at all. Lee Child himself remarked that in the books Jack Reacher is like a sledgehammer whereas in the film, he will be more like a scalpel. Maybe. Tom Cruise does get the opportunity to go the sledgehammer route. The main difficulty is not his height but that, despite many Mission Impossible actioners, his face does not look as lived in as Jack Reacher’s should be. Despite the long career, Tom Cruise still has touches of the baby-face.

One other thing for Reacher readers. This film version of One Shot is a pretty good adaptation of the novel. The first ten minutes or so are exact, with a lot of detail, which can reassure hesitant readers. Needless to say, a number of characters are shed, but the core of the novel is faithfully followed for screen action rather than merely being literal.

For those not familiar with the novels and character, Jack Reacher should prove an interesting, even intelligent, mystery action thriller.

A shooter who has shot five victims in the city centre is arrested and asks for Jack Reacher. It is assumed that he is to witness to the character of the shooter. Not at all. The two have a difficult history. This baffles the shooter’s lawyer (Rosamund Pike), the DA (Richard Jenkins) who happens to be the lawyer’s father, and the chief of police (British Shakespearean actor, David Oyelowo).

This is one of those things are not what they seem tales and it is interesting to see where incidents and clues lead us. Some lead to a veteran shooter, played with his pleasing customary bluff by Robert Duvall, and to a mysterious Russian who is played, capitalising on his sinister voice and accent, by celebrated director, Werner Herzog.

While Jack Reacher does have some fights and Cruise makes them credible enough, there is a car chase, probably the visual equivalent of the physicality of fists, kicks and blows.

We probably won’t mind if this is the beginning of a movie franchise – but Mr Cruise is now venturing into his 50s as should be the literary Jack Reacher.


France, 2012,
Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy,
Directed by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano.

A film that proved most popular in its native France, a popularity that carried over into the wider world. This is a film about the physically disabled and carers, but takes the humorous path to communicate serious realities.

Francois Cluzet, one of France’s best actors in recent times, plays Philippe, a wealthy man who can do what he likes and pay for it, but is hampered because he is quadriplegic. He can sack carers at whim (and does), wants his own way always and likes to make some mischief but is dependent.

Another day, on a whim, and exasperating his staff, he takes on the most unlikely carer who has little or no experience but has a mouth that can get him into trouble and an attitude which does rate respect highly on a list of values. He is a would-be thief, Driss (Omar Sy), who doesn’t really want the job and has his exasperated moments, juggling events in his own complicated life and the increasing demands of Philippe. But, he stays.

Needless to say, this is going to lead to a series of unconventional episodes as the pair go on the loose (and raise the sexual issues treated with such sensitivity in The Sessions). And, of course, despite the differences, he is from Africa, Philippe belongs to French society, a strong bond is forged and an unusual friendship.

The inherent sense of humanity is what has appealed to audiences as well as the genial presence of Omar Sy. We are entertained even as we are challenged about disability, health, care, class, crime, friendship.


UK, 2012,
Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen,
Directed by Tom Hooper.

For over twenty five years, (French opening, 1980, London, 1985) theatre audiences around the world have been profoundly moved by Victor Hugo’s classic story, by the book and music of Alain Boublil (lyricist) and Claude- Michel Schonberg (composer). The wonderful English lyrics were written by Herbert Kretzmer whose fine work is not acknowledged enough. There has been a DVD of the 25th anniversary performance. Wisely, the writers and director have decided to honour the theatre experience rather than ‘opening up’ the musical to a ‘realistic’ presentation.

This means that the audience who have seen the stage version will continue to remember and re-experience what they enjoyed. It is over to the power of the plot, the music and the performances to win over those who may have seen versions of the Hugo novel (1930s with Fredric March and Charles Laughton, 1950s with Michael Rennie and Robert Newton, 1990s with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush) and those who have not. It may be a hard sell for those not used to this kind of musical theatre on screen. It is very long (157 minutes). It is basically sung. The locations (galleys, French mountains, town, Paris, the barricades and sewers) are real but stylized.

What the film adds to the theatre experience is the decision to film most of the songs in close-up, something audiences cannot do in theatres except with theatre glasses. We realise this early in the film with the well-known song, sung by Fantine, I dreamed a dream. The camera stays close on Anne Hathaway’s face throughout the whole song, drawing the audience to see her, hear her, feel with her and to do this intensely. It is a powerful experience.

The same method is used for songs by Jean Valjean, Inspector Javert, Cosette, Marius and Eponyne.

While there are close-ups of the Thenardiers at the inn and in Paris, the Thenardiers offer the only comic relief in this long saga of the miserable and the suffering. With Helena Bonham Carter, again looking bonkers as in so many of her films – just as well she portrayed the Queen Mother which reassures us she can do normal – and Sacha Baron Cohen bringing his satiric style to try to steal the show, there is a lot of singing, thieving, cooking and hypocritical lying to contrast with the somber story.

No complaints about the acting. Hugh Jackman is a wonderful presence as Jean Valjean, ranging through many emotions as he survives almost twenty years after his servitude in the galleys. Russell Crowe looks the part as Javert. Amanda Seyfried is Cosette and Eddie Redmayne is surprisingly strong as Marius. The drama of the film is communicated powerfully.

The singing? It was all recorded in performance rather than pre-recording for lip-synch during filming which offers more authenticity than in most films. Hugh Jackman is very good, though his tone and range are best suited to his successes on stage in Oklahoma, Beauty and the Beast. Others who have song Jean Valjean have had a more operatic range that suits such songs as ‘God, on high’. Colm Wilkinson, who plays the Bishop here, sang Jean Valjean for the tenth anniversary concert and has the ideal voice for the role. Russell Crowe’s singing does seem forced at times and his singing voice is not the purest or clearest. The others are impressive, especially Anne Hathaway, as well as Eddie Redmayne and, particularly, Samantha Barks very moving as Eponyne.

Tom Hooper has directed after his Oscar-winning work for The King’s Speech.
Jean Valjean is one of literature’s great Everyman characters, living through humiliation for a meager crime, bitter but redeemed by the kindness of the Bishop, able to do good for people, even when he is hounded by the legal rigidity of Javert. He learns to forgive, not hate. His joy is in Cosette as his daughter. This is powerfully seen when, as Javert says, he gives him his freedom but, in fact, has killed him and his reliance on the law for controlling his life.

Les Miserables has been popular with religious groups. With the film drawing us to the close-ups, we listen attentively to the lyrics, the language of grace, God and heaven, ‘ to love another person is to see the face of God’.


US, 2012,
Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Zac Efron.
Directed by Josh Radnor.

There are some films that we really like and identify with – despite any critic telling us that we shouldn’t be giving it any attention. This one seems to have divided reviewers and audiences. It really did it nicely for me! And surprisingly.

On paper, the description would seem ordinary enough. Young man, Jesse, from Ohio finishes his degree and has a job with admissions at a New York university. His relationship breaks up. He accepts the invitation to a farewell dinner from one of his professors. He goes and gets the opportunity to re-assess his life, talking with his professor friend, but making a connection with Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) the daughter of the professor’s friends. She is nineteen, studying drama and improvisation, is not bashful or shy and finds that she can talk easily and comfortably with Jesse. And, because they live thousands of miles apart, she urges him to write letters. (One hopes that younger audiences are not put off by this advocating of letters!) He is also an inveterate reader of actual books!).

The title indicates that this is a film which relies on the subjects of the liberal arts. Lots of references to and discussions about literature, about drama, about classical music, about history. So, it is aimed at younger audiences comfortable in the world of liberal arts – and draws in older audiences as well. Speaking of young and old, much is made of the age difference, 16 years, between Jesse and Zibby, and the relationship and experiences of young adults and those contemplating moving through adulthood.

With the focus on the professor (Richard Jenkins), we listen to an older man who has had a 38 year academic career, has resigned, then wonders what he has done and wants to take back his decision. Allison Janney plays another academic who has influenced Jesse but who, in real life, is a cold and contemptuous woman. There are two other influential characters that Jesse encounters, one a young man with leftist views who influences Jesse when they chance meet in a park (a surprisingly sympathetic Zac Efron) and a depressed student for whom Jesse becomes a lifeline (John Magaro).

The cast is excellent. Elizabeth Olsen is persuasive as the young woman, sure in manner, less sure in herself and how she should behave. Josh Radnor is sympathetic as Jesse, inviting the audience to empathise and hope that he can settle in his life and grow up as he needs to. He is prone to challenging comments and questions as is Zibby. It must be difficult to act and to direct, which Radnor does, for him to react to lines from other characters with surprise when, in fact, he has written them.

An intelligent, often witty, entertainment for liberal arts-type audiences.


Denmark, 2012,
Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm.
Directed by Suzanne Bier.

The tone of the title indicates that this will be a lighter than darker film, softer than harder. It is, although the lightness is Scandinavian lightness, which means it is not entirely a frothy love story. There are more serious undertones.

The film is directed by Suzanne Bier whose films tend to be much more serious. Her film, In a Better Place, won the Oscar for Best Foreign language film of 2010. Other films include Things we lost in the Fire, After the Wedding, Brothers. Here we are in Denmark but, then, mainly in southern Italy at a wedding.

Trine Dyrholm was excellent in In a Better World (and also in a fine Norwegian film, well worth seeking out, Troubled Waters). She is very good here as Ida, the mother of the bride, a simple hairdresser with a philandering husband. She is also concerned about her breast cancer. Nervy, she backs her car into the car of a businessman whom we have seen living a serious, workaholic life, with an acerbic manner. It is Philip, Pierce Brosnan, who happens to be the father of the groom.

We also see the engaged couple in Italy, renovating a family house before the guests arrive.

There is a lot of pleasant incident, some humour. But, there is a great deal of serious focus on the characters. The young couple experience some doubts and receive advice and support from their parents – though the philandering husband brings his secretary who has a propensity for blurting out comments and asking blunt questions at the worst times. The working out of what they should do proves to be interesting.

But, of course, it is the growing friendship between Philip and Ida that most concerns us. Brosnan and Dyrholm create believable characters in unusual circumstances. They make connections but not quite in the way we might have expected.

Which makes it a double romantic comedy in a very attractive location.


China, 2012.
RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Byron Mann.
Directed by RZA

Action and rap music booking during the opening credits, but the setting is China long ago. This is a matinee movie for adults who like to indulge in this kind of martial arts saga. It is full of action and stunt work and even fuller of special effects to make the action more spectacular. And a range of extraordinary weapons and traps.

I was going to say, ‘forget about the plot’, but that might not be so helpful as I am not sure I ever grasped the plot in the first place. Gold is being stored in a village, and in the basement of the local brothel. The emperor is concerned about it. The villain has killed his master for it. The master’s son arrives bent on revenge. The madam has schemes to hold on to it. The local blacksmith (a marooned American slave) makes weapons that can defend it. A very pommy Englishman rides into town and teams up with the goodies. A sinister emissary also turns up to secure the gold. And a big man who can produce bronze armour over his skin as needed does some dastardly deeds. That outline doesn’t necessarily spoil the action for potential audiences. All that plotline does is provide the occasion for martial spectacle.

The slave is the title man – who has lost his arms but has been able to produce and connect hands, arms and, especially, fists of iron while working as a blacksmith. He is played by rapper RZA who co-wrote the film with Eli Roth (Hostel) and directs. It is a Chinese production, but also presented by Quentin Tarantino (echoes of the Kill Bill films).

Recently, some respected Chinese directors have been opening their films for western audiences by including American characters and employing American actors (Christian Bale in Zhang Yimou’s siege of Nanking film, Flowers of War, and Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins in Xiaogang Feng’s Back to 1942. But, by contrast, Geoffrey Rush appeared in the Korean martial arts film, Warrior’ Way. And here is Russell Crowe, with a plum in the mouth accent as the visiting Englishman. Lucy Liu is obviously enjoying herself as the extravagant madam, lots of costumes and jewelry, in the lavishly appointed brothel.

It is all acted in highly melodramatic fashion, slash and gush, (with some tongue-in cheek episodes spouting blood episodes) with some arch dialogue like ‘I lost a father but have gained a brother’ or Lucy Liu’s exhortation to the brutal soldiers, ‘Partake of the women’.

It’s like a spectacular comic strip come to life. What else would the audience be expecting!


Mexico, 2011
Stephanie Sigman, Juan Carlos Galvan.
Directed by Gerardo Naranjo.

Mexico’s drug wars are one of the most desperate situations as well as violent in recent times. The cartels struggle for control. There are no scruples in the killings which have led to some Mexican cities having the highest murder rates in the world. This is the background for so many films, Mexican like the excellent Backyard or American films like Bordertown and Oliver Stone’s ugly Savages.

We are taken into Baja California and Tijuana and the surrounding countryside. Minor drug criminals are fighting one another as well as the police. While life can go on as normal, it may seem inevitable that it can become entangled with the drug wars.

Two young girls decide to audition for the Miss Bala competition. They go to a club afterwards where there is a raid and killings. One of the young women, Laura (Stephanie Sigman) , who supports her father and younger brother at home, is taken by the chief thug. While there had been glimpses of the Beauty Contest, most of the film focuses on the thug and his infatuation with the girl and his using her to set up enemies. She tries to escape but is forced to go along with his plans even while being questioned by the police.

There is an irony that the thug is able to manipulate the result of the competition and, despite no evidence that she has presented well, she is named as Miss Bala. Trying to keep out of the limelight, trying to save her family, wanting to be honest but forced into even more set-ups and a car trip to San Diego to deliver drug money, she is finally captured and accused of being part of the gang. She is disposable by both the cartel and the police.

The real-life situations are very grim – and this film tells a story that reinforces the media headlines and stories.


US, 2012,
Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, C.J. Adams, Diane Weist, Rosemarie de Witt, Ron Livingston,
Directed by Peter Hedges.

‘Odd’ is an odd word for the title of this film. Yes, Timothy Green is odd, that is, he is not your usual young boy. But, he is sweetness and light rather than odd. This is a nice piece of Americana, magic realism and sentiment with a sad/happy ending.

Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton (fitting easily into the American scene) are a couple who have tried every means available for having a child but without success. We see them at the opening of the film being interviewed by officials of an Adoption Agency. In fact, the whole film is their telling their rather (very) unbelievable tale, punctuated by the flashbacks of their life and what they call their ‘miracle’, the arrival of Timothy Green during a mysterious storm in their drought-stricken town of Stanleyville.

Timothy (C.J. Adams) is a delightful young lad, what Americans would call ‘cute’. And he fits into the family life beautifully bringing enormous joy to the couple who are plunged into instant parenthood. He is nice to everyone, even to the boys who bully him at school. The magic does not immediately help him at soccer practice, tripping over himself, but he gets there. And he improvises, as do his parents, when his aunt (Rosemarie de Witt) has one of her musical afternoons to showcase her own children. He charms an elderly uncle and aunt. He even mellows his grandfather who had not been at all affirming to his own son.

There are some social questions in the background, the economy of the town and its museum, but especially the factory which is about to close down. It makes (and we are shown the detail): pencils.

This review has avoided giving away anything much about Timothy’s previous life and his particular gifts. Just a hint: leaves.

Quite a lot of character actors, including Diane Weist and David Morse, build a strong supporting cast.

It is a nice film, about generally nice people. But, for those who use ‘twee’ as a derogative word, it will be far too sweet.


France, 2012
Alice Taglioni, Patrick Bruel.
Directed by Sophie Lellouche.

Another very French romantic comedy.

The Manhattan reference will immediately alert potential audiences to a Woody Allen connection. And, it is more than a connection. Woody Allen’s presence and quotations from his films (with attention to a large poster on the wall who seems to talk (with quotes from his films to the I-want-to-be-alone heroine) pervade the film and the consciousness of its main character, Alice. She shows us how she was influenced by his movies as a girl. As an adult she goes to see his movies again and again, converses in her imagination with him and the film uses the device of Alice and ourselves hearing his voice from quite a number of his movies.

Alice is a loner. She is awkward in relationships. This does stretch our credulity more than a little because Alice Taglioni is one of the most attractive of French stars we are likely to see on the screen! So, allowing for that, we follow her clashing with her married sister, pestered by her father as to why she is not married. She works at his pharmacy and he retires leaving it to her. At parties she is awkward. After leaving one she misses a taxi and finds herself chatting to Victor (Patrick Bruel), an ordinary kind of man who installs security devices, including in her father’s house. We know that they are destined for love, despite Alice’s ultra-resistance and the fact that Victor does not know Woody Allen’s films – though he finally more than makes up for this.

This means that there are some entertaining moments between Alice and Victor as they take each other for granted, though he is really entranced by her, and eventually, with the help of Woody Allen, Alice’s eyes are opened and she realises where her life should be going.

It is easy to say that this is just another French romantic soufflé, but this one has some good things going for it.


US, 2012,
Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde.
Directed by Alex Kurtzman.

The title has been used before, but here it is given a tone which invites the average, ordinary audience to identify with characters and situations.

Chris Pine is Sam, seen at the beginning as a wheeler-dealer par excellence, the selling snow to Eskimos kind of con-man. But, he goes a step too far (shipping overloads of tomato soup cans without refrigeration; result – explosive mess). He is under investigation, pending being fired.

But that is not what the film is about at all. That is just an introduction and a background looming throughout the film. It is really a film about family, secrets and lies, and consequences.

Sam has been alienated from his record-producing father and unwilling to visit his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). He does not want to go to his father’s funeral, but his partner (Olivia Wilde) makes the arrangements. Sam is in need of money and when he receives a bag with $150,000, he feels he is made and his father has cared for him after all. No. The money is for the care of the father’s secret daughter and her son.

He tracks down the daughter, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and the boy (Michael…), becomes intrigued with them, especially Frankie who goes to AA meetings and the boy who is intelligent, over-smart with his mother and destructive at school, but in need of a father-figure. Sam makes himself known but does not reveal the truth – which we (and he) know is going to lead to some heartbreak.

Sam delays going to the inquiry about his disaster with the cans. His partner leaves. He clashes with his mother. On one level, all goes well. Frankie and her boy find Sam dependable and always helpful. Eventually, he has to have things out with his mother who, of course, had always known about the other family. He has to have things out with Frankie who is upset and angry.

But, this is a nice kind of film and offers images of how people can come to terms with the past, make peace and achieve reconciliation. There is an even nicer home movie development at the end which makes everyone and the audience feel much better. Sadness and joy about people (not really exactly like us).


US, 2012,
Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Dylan Mc Dermott, Paul Rudd, Joan Cusack.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky.

This is one of those films where it is important to wait until the very end to decide whether you like the film or not. Quite a lot is revealed in the last twenty minutes which makes quite a difference to understanding the central character.

And the central character is Charlie, a high school teenager, who is clever but depressed and low in self-affirmation. Logan Lerman gives a sensitive performance which draws sympathy but is still mysterious until the ending. In the background is his grief at the suicide of a close friend. There are flashbacks to his early childhood and the influence of his aunt who died in a car accident as she went to buy Christmas presents.

Shy, shunned at school, except for some kind encouragement to read and to write by English teacher, Paul Rudd, he meets two eccentric friends, step-brother and sister, who become close and open his eyes to a more bohemian way of life. At home, things are strict, especially with his dominating father who wants him to be more of a man. Charlie has an outlet in writing letters to a fictional friend. In fact, the 1999 novel by Stephen Chbosky who has adapted his novel for the screen, was the series of letters.

In the film, songs from the period become significant.

The real friends are Sam (Emma Watson moving on from the Harry Potter films), with whom Charlie becomes infatuated despite her confused past, and Patrick, who is a closet gay young man in relationship with a very macho student who denounces Patrick. Patrick is played extravagantly but intriguingly by Ezra Miller who was so persuasive and alienating as Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

This is a portrait of an American family where the public face belies the sadness and confusion behind the scenes. Ultimately, it reveals the realities of mental illness, childhood trauma and the need for serious therapy and a sympathetic psychologist (here played by Joan Cusack) who can empower Charlie to reveal his deep secrets and come to some kind of freedom and hope.


US, 2012.

Anna Kendrick, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Skylar Astin.
Directed by Jason Moore.

This is a very cheerful film.

Pitch perfect refers to the musical term of getting the right note just right. Very important for a cappella singing groups. And this is what the film is about: a cappella, singing, competitions. There is a lot of singing all the way through the film, quite entertaining. Those breakdance and step up films created crazes and competitions in real life. Maybe Pitch Perfect will be the impetus for groups to be established and the staging of competitions. They would involve a lot more participants, with more people being comfortable and able as they sing rather than attempting dance gymnastics. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Taking the word pitch with another meaning, referring to the way that a potential film is presented to producers and backers, the pitch for Perfect Pitch would not have been an easy one. A movie about college a cappella groups?! Taking its cue from a non-fiction book on this theme, the film is not just about singing, it is a pitch for women singing and competing. A chauvinist leader of the men’s group, The Treble-makers, offers the opinion that women can’t compete because they can’t reach the low-pitched notes. The final competition, of course, puts paid to that theory.

The audience is urged to think about all these issues through the device of having a pair of media commentators at each competition. The style is straight out of Best in Show with John Michael Higgins of that film performing the role that Fred Willard did so well. He is given some outrageously sexist lines and is finally accused of being misogynist by his co-compere, Elizabeth Banks, who can give as good as she gets.

Meanwhile, this is a story about Beca going to college whereas she wants to go to LA to be a music producer. After pressure from her father, she joins the Barden Bellas, the college a cappella women’s group. They are a motley crew, trying to build on their disaster (well, their controlling leader’s disaster) at the previous year’s finals. There is humour in Anna Camp’s tall blonde fascist leader. And there is more humour in the participation of Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy (she calls herself to save others calling her this behind her back). Rebel Wilson, from Sydney and here playing a Tasmanian, has been a standout in A Few Best Men, Bridesmaids, What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Bachelorette. She has quite a few funny lines and situations and audiences warm to her.

Jesse (Skylar Astin) joins the Treble-makers, works with Beca at the college radio station and is attracted to her. She, however, is rather glacial in the relationship department. This is another good turn from Anna Kendrick (appearing in 2012 in 50/50, What to Expect When You’re Expecting and End of Watch).

Because this is a pleasant film, clashes don’t lead to disaster but to friendships and success.

Pitch Perfect is a pleasant surprise.


UK, 2012,
Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon.
Directed by Dustin Hoffman.

Quartet began as a play on London’s West End. It was written by the prolific Ronald Harwood (Oscar for The Pianist), and directed by Dustin Hoffman, his first film as director (at age 74).

The film is about the elderly for the elderly (an increasing niche market: think The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). It is beautifully shot in country England. It is full of music, a wide range of classics, opera and instrumental, and some popular English songs like Underneath the Arches. It has a supporting cast of singers and musicians (who are shown in photo with career highlights during the final credits). And it has a star cast at their best. Quoting another song, ‘who could ask for anything more?’.

The location is Beacham House (named after conductor, Sir Thomas Beacham), a home for elderly musicians. During the day, they play their instruments, they sing – but they also have their regrets, their happy memories, but also physical weakness and memories going. Some are haughty, some are genial. All have their eccentricities.

Annually, there is a gala musical event, an opportunity to raise funds for Beacham House to continue. Director is Cedric (pronounced Ceedric), Michael Gambon in full flight playing a kind of variarion of Professor Dumbledore), snobby about classical music, not averse to photo opportunities and to applause and bows.

But it is the quartet themselves who are the focus. The title also refers to the quartet from Rigoletto with which they had had a triumph and which is the request for the finale of the gala.

The four veteran actors who portray the quartet play perfectly off each other. Pauline Collins steals so many of the scenes she appears in. She is Cissie, a singer, who is chatty, scattered and on the way to losing her memory. Billy Connolly plays another singer who has had a stroke which has made him lose some of his inhibitions – though his character makes demands that, while he can offer the rude comment, he has to be more restrained than many of his other screen personas. Connolly does this very well and ingratiatingly.

Tom Courtenay has the serious central role, a singer who is conscious of lost opportunities, of his failed marriage which has haunted him for decades. He has his moods but is kindly – there is a fine scene where he teaches a group of teenagers and makes links between the experience of popular opera and of rap music.

Into their midst comes Maggie Smith, a diva who has been driven by ambition and is humiliated in coming to Beacham House. She has a history with the other members of the quartet. There are clashes, highly emotional at times. But, this is a benign imagining of growing old, a basic niceness underlying the whole film.

There are some funny situations and lines (from Billy Connolly’s innuendo to Maggie Smith’s acerbity), but a lot emotion, pathos and, all the time, music and song. (Busloads of older audiences flocked to the Marigold Hotel; the buses will surely be re-hired for trips to Beacham House.)


US, 2012,
John Cusack, Brendan Gleeson, Alice Eve, Luke Evans,
Directed by James Mc Tiegue

For literature and film people, The Raven will suggest the poem of Edgar Allan Poe. And that would be right for this film, a story about Poe himself.

Poe is seated on a park bench in Baltimore, 1849, just before his death. In the meantime, a gruesome murder of a rival critic has taken place, suggesting to the detective investigator, a parallel to Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue. A second murder (with visuals) suggests The Pit and the Pendulum. There are more murders which suggest other stories, especially The Premature Burial.

All of this is the invention of the writers and of the director, James Mc Tiegue who worked on The Matrix series and directed the evocative V for Vendetta. It is what could have happened.

Poe is alcoholic, vain about his writing, in need of money from his editor, in love with a local young woman (Alice Eve), daughter of a wealthy citizen (Brendan Gleeson) who is opposed to the relationship.

Detective Fields (Luke Evans) takes an active interest, engaging Poe’s involvement in the investigations, erratic though they are – and which include writing stories about the murders in the hope that they can be solved, especially when his fiancée is abducted and buried.

Eventually, the Poe-like serial killer is vain enough to reveal himself and demand the master’s applause. Poe is defiant but, of course, recognizes the clues which lead to his fiancee’s rescue.

Most of the action takes place at night and, on the whole in theme and visual tone, the film is very dark. John Cusack gives an interesting performance as Poe, a mixture of preening self-importance despite his falling on hard times, offering readings and poetry classes to the ladies of Baltimore, an arrogant drinker. He is also partly guilt-ridden because of the copycat killer.

It is interesting and entertaining to speculate about the lives of real-life characters – it worked for Shakespeare in Love and Anonymous. It also worked for Guy Ritchie’s reinventing of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. However, accurate or inaccurate The Raven is as a portrait of Poe, it nevertheless takes us into his sometimes bizarre and eerie mentality and his tales (many of which were so vividly filmed in the 1960s by Roger Corman).


UK, 2011,
Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies.
Directed by Ben Wheatley.

Let’s hope you don’t encounter sightseers like Chris and Tina when you are caravanning around Yorkshire and the Lakes District. You might not get home, especially if you get into Chris and Tina’s bad books, not a difficult thing to do at all.

This small budget black comedy is very black indeed, despite the outdoors locations and the eccentric tourist sites that the couple visit (tramway museum, pencil museum…). It was written by the leads who are also stand-up comics. The dialogue and the delivery, deadpanly ironic and simple, are very important.

Tina lives with her hypochondriac mum and looks to have few prospects in life. She was devoted to her dog Poppy – there is a flashback to a death scene which will mean some looking away aghast while others will burst out laughing. It is that kind of film. Mum is the kind who keeps ringing up during the trip to manipulate her daughter into coming home to look after her. Chris seems a jovial kind of bloke, eccentric interests certainly, but with a charming way as far as Tina is concerned. That is until he runs over a man.

Chris does not take to criticism kindly and senses others’ competitiveness (not his own) with deadly earnest. His opponents do not live to see the day.

Here is awful behaviour, conscienceless and cheery, presented as if Tina and Chris really have very few cares in the world – and it is easy to get rid of those. Which makes them all the creepier. In fact, Tina is becoming rather exhilarated by the disposals as the trip goes further north. And, especially, as they reach the end of their road and prepare for a culmination – which doesn’t quite work out as anticipated.

You have to be in the mood for this kind of thing, a relishing delight in really black comedy.


US, 2012,
Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman.
Directed by Robert Lorenz.

No, not a film about safe driving. Rather, a film about baseball and the question posed by Moneyball in 2011, whether talent scouting using computer data is more accurate than relying on the human eye and the instinct for observing the capacities and gifts of players. Moneyball favoured the computer. Trouble favours experience and the veteran human being. And, with Clint Eastwood playing the talent scout and allowing the screenplay to mock his lack of IT experience, there is no prize for guessing which method is in favour here.

Many of us had wished that Gran Torino would be the final screen performance for Eastwood, the redemption of the crusty curmudgeon, Dirty Harry seeing the light. But no, here he is again doing his curmudgeon with a vengeance – and, of course, being vindicated with his scouting ability against the bureaucrats and the presumptuous desk scouts.

Eastwood plays Gus (81 at the time of filming) whose contract is up for consideration, who persists in using the old ways, whose eyesight is failing and who can growl and growl with the best of them. His good friend (John Goodman) worries about him and asks Gus’s lawyer daughter (about to become a partner in her firm) to visit her father to see what she can do. She is played by the ever-versatile Amy Adams. Father and daughter are more or less estranged. He grieved after his wife’s death, tended to ignore his daughter and sent her away to be educated.

As might be guessed, this is a story about father-daughter understandings and reconciliation as well as about baseball. There is also a complication when a former player, Justin Timberlake, falls for the daughter.

Non-baseball fans will be able to live through the sports scenes because they are watching Gus as a character, relating (or not) to his daughter and defying the on-line experts. There is also a most obnoxious player who presumes he will be selected and will live the hedonistic life of a sports celebrity. We obviously enjoy his comeuppance at the pitch of the Latino son of the motel landlady when he has trouble with the curve ball.

As baseball films go, this is not in the ideal league of Field of Dreams. But, it is a chance to see Clint Eastwood in his 80s doing his thing once again, a screen icon if ever there was one.

Created by: malone last modification: Sunday 23 of December, 2012 [02:15:04 UTC] by malone

Language: en