SIGNIS REVIEWS DECEMBER 2014
ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY
GREEN PRINCE, The
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2
HUNGER GAMES, The: MOCKINGJAY PART I
LET’S BE COPS
MAPS TO THE STARS
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN
MY OLD LADY
ONE I LOVE, The
THOUSAND TIMES GOONIGHT, A
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
WHEN THE QUEEN CAME TO TOWN
ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY
US, 2014, 81 minutes, Colour.
Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxonbould, Dylan Minette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Meagan Mullally, Jennifer Coolidge, Dick Van Dyke.
Directed by Miguel Arteta.
They say that films with very long names turn out to be not very good. It is difficult to know who “they” are – but in this case, they are quite wrong. Alexander definitely has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day but it is not a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad film.
It’s a family film, generally for family audiences but also about a family. At the opening, we see them struggling home in a knocked-about car. They unlock their front door and we, and they, hear what seem to be crocodile noises! And then the film goes back 24 hours so that we can discover that very horrible day.
Alexander is quite an enterprising young man, although he certainly gets himself into a mess and get the family itself into quite some messes as well. Surprisingly, he is played by Ed Oxennbould, and very well too. But the surprise is not his acting. It is that he is an Australian actor and is to appear in the family film, Paper Planes. He is perfectly convincing as an American. Although it is interesting to note that in the film, his character, Alexander, has a passion for things Australian, his room covered in posters, his wanting to do a project on Australia at school (though his arch-rival, always putting him down, Philip Parker, and popular with everyone is assigned Australia).
Alexander has interesting genes because his father is a rocket scientist, recently losing his job as companies are re-structured, but offering to work on a computer game for a group of young experts. He is played genially by Steve Carell. And mother, Jennifer Garner, is very successful as well. She writes children’s books, testing them out at home with great approval. When she goes to the library bookshop reading of one of the other books from her company, they discover there is a horrible, very bad misprint right throughout the book, dump instead of jump! Which leads to some difficulties – and some hostilities – for the guest reader, Dick Van Dyke.
Alexander has an older brother and sister. Anthony (Dylan Minette) is preparing to go to the prom with, of course, the beautiful girl in the class (in who in fact is a snob that no one would want to go with). He also get has to get a suit – and find one that does not suit him. And it his driving licence test day – with a tricky examiner concerning mobile phones, Jennifer Coolidge. He has an older sister, Emily (Kerris Dorsey), who has been rehearsing for the school play – she is Peter Pan, but develops a cold, gives into too much cough mixture with a few ‘high’ disastrous results.
So, we can see, what a terrible, horrible day the rest of the family has – except the baby Trevor who does suck on a colour marker with green results. But, the rest of the family seem to give all their attention to the baby – and poor old Alexander feels that everybody neglects him.
It was important that this review to give the initial attention to Alexander because of his feelings of neglect – rather than to the rest of the family who, despite the terrible day, do finally have good results.
And then there is Alexander’s birthday party, quite a surprise with a very Australian theme.
All’s well that ends well – and this amusing film, with a moment or two of rudeness, runs only 80 minutes, which is all to the good.
Canada, 2014, 112 minutes, Colour.
Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speakman, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Durand, Mireille Enos, Alexia Fast, Bruce Greenwood.
Directed by Atom Egoyan.
Celebrated Canadian director, Atom Egoyan, has had two films released in 2014 with abduction and abuse themes, firstly, The Devils Knot, based on actual events of the 1990s, and this film, The Captive, a fiction which dramatises possibilities concerning the kidnapping of a little girl and keeping her prisoner, something which the world has become more aware of, especially since the disappearance of Madeleine McCann? in Portugal.
The film caused controversy in the Cannes film Festival, 2014, many of the reviewers deriding the screenplay, holes in the plot, thinking it a tawdry film. One can agree that the film leaves a great deal to the imagination and memory of the audience, moving between different time eras without immediate explanation, keeping graphic scenes of the treatment of the girl off the screen, with the result that some might be tempted to think it is all too easily presented.
However, the film does set up a loving father and mother, very ordinary types, with a landscape gardening business in the south of Canada, close to Niagara Falls and the American border. Their little girl, Cassandra, is a keen skater with admiring parents. After practice, she and her father stop at a diner to buy a pie and when he comes back to his truck, she is gone.
The film does not keep the audience in suspense about who did it, showing the man, a wealthy man with position in business and in society. Perhaps it is a weakness in the film, when audiences have looked at and listened to some graphic stories over the years, that the years in which Cassandra has been in captivity are glossed over. We see her six years after the abduction, now a teenager, living a very comfortable life except for the reality of the imprisonment, a victim, it would seem, of the Stockholm Syndrome, even going online to search out potential victims for her captor.
As the film moves back and forwards to and from the time of the abduction, to 6 years later, to 8 years later, we see what has happened to the parents and we see two members of a special squad to deal with paedophiles.
The parents, played by Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos, have taken the abduction very hard, not knowing whether their child is dead or alive. The father has something of a quick temper, a violence charge against him, has had financial difficulties, suggesting to one of the police that he may have sold his daughter. He still keeps the back seat of the car as it was when Cassandra disappeared. In the meantime, the mother has a cleaning job in the house of the abductor, her daughter able to watch her mother at work through a surveillance system, elaborately set up so that the abductor can observe, even putting cameras in police areas.
One of the police, Nicole, is played by Rosario Dawson, who has had bad experiences from her childhood and is sympathetic to the case, seeing the mother regularly, the father refusing to go, weary of his wife’s angry outbursts of blame. The other is an angry officer, Scott Speedman, always suspicious of the father – and who enters into a relationship with Nicole. Nicole, who has been an exemplary officer, is guest speaker at a charity dinner (which is attended by the abductor who targets Nicole).
Almost by accident, a clue and lead emerge after eight years, which leads to a rather melodramatic and violent ending.
On reflection, there are many limitations in the structure and impact of the film, but, while it is on the screen, it keeps the attention.
Israel, 2013, 122 minutes, Colour.
Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Kodi Smit- Mc Phee, Danny Houston, Sami Gayle, Paul Giamatti.
Directed by Ari Folman.
The title is not particularly helpful, even though it comes from the original novel, The Futuristic Congress, by Stanislav Lamb. There is a Congress in the middle of the film but the film is concerned with much, much more than the Congress itself.
In 2008, Israeli director, Ari Folman, made an award winning film, Waltz with Bashir. It was concerned with war in Lebanon, massacres and consequent nightmares for some of the participants and victims. What was striking about Waltz with Bashir was that it was an animated film, an animation feature for adults, very serious, graphic, challenging.
It is taken some years for Folman to follow-up with another feature film. Quite a number of international companies contributed to financing it, a difficult project, with both animation and real life performance.
It is not the kind of film that will appeal to a wide audience. Rather, it will have an appeal to those who like to exercise their imagination in response to film, especially to a film which relies on graphic animation for its impact.
The star of the film is Robin Wright, a star in Hollywood and overseas since her breakthrough role in The Princess Bride. The Congress relies on Robin Wright and her impact and her status. There is discussion of The Princess Bride with a scene where Robin Wright ruefully looks at a poster. At the opening of the film, in real life, the actress is discussing her career with her agent, Al (Harvey Keitel) who takes her to see a producer, Jeff (Danny Huston) who upbraids her for not following the path of a successful career, making bad choices in films, bad choices in life. The new (and final) contract that he is offering her is for a complete scan, physical and psychological, so that she will not have to act any more but that companies will produce programs relying on the information and perspectives from the scan. We do see some glimpses of a science fiction film so produced, Rebel Robot Robin!
In the fictitious real life sequences, Robin has two children, and they live at the edge of an airport in the Mojave desert. A young son, Aaron, (Australia’s Kodi Smit- McPhee) is losing his sight and this makes demands on Robin for her decision, especially when she visits Dr Baker (Paul Giamatti).
She opts for the scan, a spectacular sequence, and then drives, 20 years later, to The Congress, transforming during the trip into an animated character, arriving at the Abrahama Hotel, full of animated celebrities and staff, goes to the Congress where she sings, but a revolution is going on and she falls victim.
Robin does have the opportunity to return to real life, searching for her son, meeting Dr Baker, making an option to support her son.
Needless to say, there is much more going on, especially with the vivid imagination in the animation. A point is made towards the end of the film that drugs are used in order to overcome depression and find some kind of truth, but drugs can also be used in a hallucinogenic way, creating a different truth. The animated world, on the other side of reality, is visually bright, active, hallucinogenic.
One might say that Robin Wright was fairly game in agreeing to perform in this film, open to some criticism about her life and career, but contributing to its continuance by appearing in this very unusual film.
US, 2014, 106 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfi, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz.
Directed by Michael R. Raskam.
The Drop has a screenplay by Dennis Lehane, whose novels, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, have been made into significant and powerful films by Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck and Martin Scorsese. This film has been directed by the Belgian, Michael R. Raskam.
Early in the film, there is an explanation of money collection in Brooklyn, the Italian standover thugs having been replaced by migrants from Chechnya, still keeping up the tradition of violence and brutality. Money is collected from various enterprises, put in small brown paper bags, covered with newspaper, and taken to various bars in Brooklyn and quietly dropped into a concealed safe. The gangsters have a random choice of bars so that any robberies will not be anticipated. The money is collected in the early hours of the morning.
The audience finds itself in a particular bar, managed by Marv (the final performance by James Gandolfini, reprising similarities to his role as Tony Soprano but this time, something of a failure, desperate for a last chance). Behind the bar is his cousin, Bob, who has worked with Marv for many years. The bar is generally busy, has its regulars like a group toasting a dead friend or Millie, who Marv once thrown out until she pays her bills but Bob, he is that kind of person, pays for her drinks.
Bob is the central character for the film. He is played by Tom Hardy who has proven himself a significant actor over the years, an actor who can take on a variety of roles and whose facial expressions, body language, communicate with subtlety the inner life of his characters. He was the brutal Bronson, one of the moonshine brothers in Lawless, significant in Inception, the villain in The Dark Night Rises.
One night, masked robbers steal the money and the Chechens are not very happy. There is a twist in discovering who organised the robbery and the consequences for the robbers, one being run over, the other being set up for a big robbery, on the night of the drop. This character, Eric, is played by the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaertsd who was the star of Michael R.Raskam’s Bullhead. He also appeared effectively in Rust and Bone, a good actor who can bring the sinister to his roles. The other central character is Nadia, (Noomi Rapace,The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Eric’s former girlfriend and now a friend of Bob, especially when a pitbull terrier has been bashed by Eric and put in the garbage, Bob hearing it as he passes by and rescues it. (The name of Denis Lehane’s short story is Animal Rescue.)
The dog is important for the film, appealing to ob’s warm instincts, his treating it, is Marv taunts him, like his child. Nadia is happy to help with the dog.
These are all elements that commentators make explicit on the film – but it is interesting that no one talks about the role of the Catholic Church in Bob’s life. It is interesting that Denis Lehane has introduced these elements and that the director has portrayed the contemporary church and its liturgy quite accurately as well as some of the controversial issues of the time. Bob goes to Mass every day but does not go to Communion. He sits in the church, prays, one day the priest letting him in early. In the church there is a statue of St Roch, St Rocco, with his dog – which means that Bob’s dog is given the name of Rocco. The detective (John Ortiz) investigating the robbery and other crimes in the neighbourhood is also a Mass-goer, and discusses this with Bob, asking why he does not go to Communion. The detective himself is not keen on the Sign of Piece (which is shown in one sequence) and is all against the style of contemporary hymns. He is also concerned, and discusses this was Bob, that the church, with its small attendance, is about to be sold and turned into condominiums.
As we learn more about Bob, and the complexities of his life and attitudes, especially violence and his loyalty to Marv, we realise that, under a seemingly serene surface, he is a man of violence but yet having convictions about justice and right. He is a character that Graham Greene, with his novels’ tormented religious characters, would appreciate, especially Bob speculating as to whether, after his death, God would turn him away from heaven.
Audiences interested in this kind of New York crime film will find much to appreciate in the plot, its twists, the central characters, their dilemmas, all presented in dark shades, where life is complicated, and there is more grey than black and white.
FOLIES BERGERE/ PARIS FOLIES/ LA RITOURNELLE
France, 2014, 98 minutes, Colour.
Isabelle Huppert, Jean- Pierre Darrousin, Michael Nyqvist, Pio Marmai, Marina Fois.
Directed by Marc Fitoussi.
Because Folies Bergere is so well acted, it might give the impression that it is deeper than it actually is, screenplay at least.
No, it is not that Folies Bergere some of the action does take place in Paris (and the original title of the film is, in fact, Paris Folies). Rather, it is the kind of madness, folie, that goes through the middle aged heart and mind, wondering about a marriage, daring to test out the reality with the risk of temptation.
The setting is Normandy, a farm with the raising of cattle, beautiful and large white cattle, which we see parading in a competition as the film opens, with Xavier (Jean- Pierre Darrousin, always a fine actor) standing by his bull and hoping that he will win. His wife, Brigitte (Isabelle Huppert, always a fine actor as well), combing the bull, suggesting it wear a tiara if it wins, though she puts on the tiara for the celebratory photo. We are plunged into the countryside, the difficulties in the marriage when Xavier is always making comments about his wife and her behaviour. She has developed a psychosomatic rash and in a more than rash judgement, she decides to go to Paris to consult a doctor (whom Xavier phones and discovers has not been in practice for some time).
A different way of life is suggested by the young people who come down to celebrate a loud party next door to the file, while some of them do come across to look at the birth of a calf, not their ordinary experience. One of the guests is Stan hello thank you, a man of about 30 who is attracted to Brigitte and invites her to the party. She does go, but finds it too loud, but takes his address in Paris.
This is to be a two-day holiday for Brigitte, freedom from the farm, from her husband, from a life that she has lived but is unsatisfactory.
The meetings with Stan and outings are not all that they are expected to be, especially when she finishes up having to babysit two youngsters – and then disappears again, leaving her mobile phone, visiting Stan’s shop to recover it, much to his displeasure.
While she enjoys the sites of Paris and its atmosphere, she is smoking outside her hotel room when the alarm goes off, not for her, but for a Danish visitor, Michael (Michael Nykvist, also a fine actor). He is something of a charmer, with a wife, though not strongly attached to her it would seem. Brigitte goes out with him, finds the tourist wheel rather queasy, enjoys a show, but then has to have dinner with her sister-in-law, with Michael sitting down beside them, pretending not to know French or understand the insults she is piling on him.
As might be expected, Xavier comes to Paris, sees his wife, is dismayed. But he does go to visit his son who, against hopes, is training to be an acrobat. Xavier is impressed with his performance and bonds with his son again.
After the trip to Paris, with wise words from his assistant at the farm, Regis, the couple go over to see a dyspeptic bull – and the conversation, realism about the bull, but really an allegory about themselves, means that they have to come to terms with themselves and their marriage.
(Someone who was impressed with the film thought it was the new version of Madame Bovary – which it may be, but that is giving it too much status for its rather likeable, even pleasant, exploration of middle age and marriage.)
THE GREEN PRINCE
Israel, 2013, 101 minutes, Colour.
Mossab Hassan Youssef, Gonen Ben Yitszhak.
Directed by Nadav Schirman.
Sounds like the title of a fairy tale. But, this is no fairytale.
Rather, The Green Prince, is the code name for Mossab Hassan Youseff. He appears throughout the film, mostly in a straight-to-camera response to an interviewer. Mossab is the son of one of the founders of Hamas – his father is seen speaking to the crowds in some television footage. Mossab is a son of Hamas and supported the movement until he was taken by Shin Bet, questioned, tortured and persuaded to become an agent for Israel.
It is interesting to note that this theme was used very effectively in a recent Israeli fiction film, Omar.
We have 90 minutes to attend to Mossab, his early life, the pressure on him to work for Israel and the lengths to which Shin Bet went to to ensure that he was not found out and that he seemed a passionate Palestinian. Israeli military even went into his home, terrorised his mother and then exploded devices in parts of the house.
The other person who is interviewed is Gonen Ben Yitszak, genial compared to Mossab’s serious demeanour, who explains his own Israeli background and his studies and being seconded to Shin Bet. Gonen was Mossab’s controller for over a decade, leading to apprehension of Hamas leaders.
There are many realistic television footage sequences inserted into the two interviews.
The film takes a turn when Mossab leaves Israel and goes to the United States, living in San Diego, even writing a letter to his father explaining the situation and urging him to denounce his son publicly and what he has done, so that there would be no recriminations on him or the family. The final credits indicate that his family have had no contact with Mossab.
Mossab is alone in San Diego when, unexpectedly, Homeland Security agents take an interest in him, apprehend him, wanting him to be deported, basing this on his early, teenage action with Hamas, not giving any credit to his years as an Israeli agent. This situation touches Gonen and he decides to go to the United States and make a case for Mossab, even asking Shin Bet about going – but they do not reply which he takes as a silent assent to what he is doing. Yet, it is a risk.
The last part of the film shows Mossad in the United States, living a lonely life contrasting with Gonen, married with three children, a lawyer in Tel Aviv.
The style of the film is not highly imaginative or cinematic, geared more to television documentary style. But it is the intrinsic interest in the characters, in the work of Israeli spies and what this might mean for the peace process between Israel and Palestine that keeps the attention.
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2
US, 2014, 108 minutes, Colour.
Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Jonathan Banks, Lindsay Sloane.
Directed by Sean Anders.
There was a lot of funny stuff in Horrible Bosses, especially in the portrait of how horrible the bosses were and their treatment of their employees, the employees rebelling against the bosses and getting themselves involved in the crime world. There was plenty of plot, plot-twists and a great deal of farcical comedy. Not forgetting some jokes that we used to call ‘dirty’. Nowadays, the term is ‘crass comedy’, a signal to those who would prefer missing out on it, a signal to those who don’t mind and, as with so many of Hollywood comedies over the last 20 years, there is a big audience out there for crass comedy.
Actually, the above paragraph could have been written for Horrible Bosses 2.
This time, our three employees are out on their own. They have an invention, The Shower Buddy, which puts shampoo in the shower rose so that you get that as well as the water. They appear on a breakfast show (with satirical digs at the manner of the hosts) and seem to be on the way to success when a new boss phones them for a deal. We have seen Christoph Waltz as a villain so many times, we know that he is going to be a horrible boss even as they don’t. And he has a slimy son, Rex, Chris Pine, who toys with the trio’s hopes, offering them a deal, then taking it off the table. It is Dad who does offer a deal and off they go, hiring staff (with Kurt, Jason Sudeikis, as lewd as ever), with Jason Bateman doing his now familiar, but acceptable, straight man shtick, and Charlie Day’s Dale as befuddled as before.
It is no secret that the boss will renege on his contract, so what are they to do? They make a phone call to that horrible boss, Dave (Kevin Spacey) but he takes the opportunity to berate them again. So, some advice from Dean (MF) Jones, who counselled them in the previous film, a welcome return by Jamie Foxx. Why not kidnaped (Kurt writes kidnape) the obnoxious Rex, hold him to ransom, and get some of their money back!
Before they develop their plan, they decide to use laughing gas, so, of course, back to Dale’s dentist office, with Julia returning as well, a brittle Jennifer Aniston, who is conducting a sex addicts’ meeting in the office. Plenty of opportunity for ‘crass humour’ here.
This is also one of those films which visualises the perfect plan so that we admire what they intend and then are dismayed at, and laugh at, all that goes wrong in the execution. It does include one of the funnier car chases you are likely to see, especially when they want to lead the police away from their warehouse and have to wait a long time because they had just got across a level crossing and the police have not.
There is a good twist towards the end, and we realise that it’s not going to be an all’s well that ends well story. New situations, Kevin Spacey getting in on the act, and Jamie Foxx complicating matters… So, if they are all up to it, will be Horrible Bosses 3.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART ONE
US, 2014, 123 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcheson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright.
Directed by Francis Lawrence.
After all the excitement of the original Hunger Games and its being renewed in Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1 is a very sober affair. It is dark, in story and visually, with a grim perspective. It is an interim film like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and the second part of The Hobbit series, as well as in the breaking of the last story of Harry Potter and in the Twilight films. In some ways it could be considered as a feature length trailer for the final episode.
Gone are the Hunger Games, the dividends in the forests, reportedly dressed television audience, except in the memory. This time, it is rebellion. While President Snow is still in power, and Donald Sutherland is once again sinister and cruel, he has fewer advisors, especially since Plutarch (once again reminding us of the value of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) has left him and is now adviser to the alternate President, played by Julianne Moore, a strong presence, planning both the attacks as well as the defences in the rebellion and, ultimately, making stirring and rousing speeches.
Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence still impressing us as a strong heroine, is now linked with the rebels, but still unhappy in the fact that Peeta is still imprisoned by President Snow. The young rebels are dismayed by some of his television broadcasts (interviewed by lower-key and less-dapper Stanley Tucci). They consider him a traitor. Not Katniss. She is persuaded to make a video, urging people to the rebellion but she does not impress with the rehearsals. With the appearance of Effie Trinkett and Haymitch (pleasing to see Elizabeth Banks again, though she has to make do with rebel scarves and drab dresses), and Woody Harrelson, (finding a lack of alcohol among the rebels very trying), Katniss is advised to visit some of the bombed districts. Visiting the hospital, seeing the girl and dead, she is very upset and makes an impassioned and very convincing propaganda video.
President Snow sends out another attack force and the rebels go underground. In the meantime, the decision is made for a special squad to go to rescue Peeta and bring him back. Although the mission has some success, again President Snow has sinister intentions
Gale is once again present, going on some of the dangerous missions, devoted to Katniss. She herself is devoted to Peter.
Fans will enjoy the film, though in a lower key fashion, Mockingjay Part 1 is a very sober affair, building up in anticipation of the final part of the story and of the series.
LET’S BE COPS
US, 2014, 102 minutes, Colour.
Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr, Rob Riggle, James D' Arcy, Andy Garcia.
Directed by Luke Greenfield.
If you are invited to a fancy dress party, what would you choose to wear? The two ‘heroes’ of this comedy decide to go as cops. They get ready. They think they look smart. They arrive – and make an impression because, in fact, it is only a masked party and the guests take them for real. From this unlikely premise, comes a comedy which turns rather serious.
And who are these heroes? One is Ryan (Jake Johnson) who had the talent to be a significant sportsman but had to bail out because of injury (later revealed as a stupid jump rather than being hurt on the field). The other is Justin (Damon Wayans Jr), rather timid in his manner, who is an ideas man in a company which makes computer games. When he presents his spiel for Patrolman, the executives mock him. Which means that both are in a somewhat bad place.
But, wearing the police outfit, and people at the party mistaking them for real police, they succumb to the obvious temptation. Let’s be cops!
Part of the comedy is their wandering the streets, intimidating people, leading them on, even being accepted by real police. They get a great kick out of all of this. What could go wrong?
They become involved with some local people who are being pressurised by thugs for a drug and arms-dealing boss. As they investigate further, and make contact with actual police, they decide that they will do a bit of detective work, which leads them, of course, into dangerous ground. The chief gangster and his henchmen impose protection fees on various shopkeepers, and are violently intense (James D’ Arcy). And then there is one of the chief detectives (Andy Garcia) who definitely complicates matters.
There is an early quote from Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, getting too old… But, the Lethal Weapon reference must have given the screenwriters some ideas because that is what the plot turns into, entanglements with the thugs, confrontations with the boss, and some exercise of those lethal weapons.
There is a touch of romance as well. At the end, of course, Ryan has found his vocation, and Justin has an idea for a videogame. He changes from a rather meek type to a forceful type and all will be well (and, depending on box office, for a sequel). One of those comedies if you have nothing better to do.
In many ways the whole thing plays something like a computer game itself.
MAPS TO THE STARS
US, 2014, 111 minutes, Colour.
Julianne, Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon.
Directed by David Cronenberg.
Canadian director, David Cronenberg, has had a significant career for over 40 years, one of Canada’s best and well-known directors. In his early years, Cronenberg made a number of small-budget horror films and has continued this trend over the decades. His dramas, like Dead Ringers, To Die For, Eastern Promises have been impressive, but always with the touch of something weird.
Maps to the Stars is not a horror film as such but there are some elements. This time it is the weird that predominates. It is Hollywood weird.
The Maps to the Stars are something that tourists want when they visit Los Angeles, indulging in the cult of celebrity, curious about the life of the Hollywood names, wanting to see how this other half lives. At the opening of the film, a young woman, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives by bus in LA, just like all those other hopefuls. We soon see that she is not like this. She is returning home, her face and parts of her body scarred by injuries in a fire. She initially makes the acquaintance of an actor-writer who moonlights as a limousine driver (Robert Pattinson).
We are introduced to quite a number of characters whose lives intertwine. A central focus is on Havana, an ageing star (Julianne Moore in a performance that won her the Best Actress in Cannes 2014) who is literally haunted by her mother challenging her and deciding whether she should do a role that her mother made famous. But, she is ageing, neurotic, narcissistic, self-indulgent, with the expected problems of sex and drugs. She employs Agatha and relies on her – until she become suspicious and gets rid of her.
One of the problems of this quite weird and ugly look at Hollywood is that none of the characters are sympathetic, even Agatha. One of the characters who shocks us is a 13-year-old actor, Benjie (Evan Bird) far too precocious for his age, already indulging in the LA lifestyle, making a sequel to his successful film, Bad Babysitter. He acts like some of the role models that he sees around him, and is consumed by jealousy of the little boy who plays the child that his character babysits, with some dire results.
And then, there are his parents. His mother (Olivia Williams) is his manager, one of those highly controlling mothers but one who is smart concerning financing and contracts but who is quite emotionally unstable. Her very unlikeable husband, a TV personality and author, is played as a really awful man by John Cusack.
While the film is very well-crafted, one begins to wonder about spending time with these unpleasant, sometimes vicious characters. But Cronenberg, the Canadian outsider to the US, is continuing in the tradition of films that take us inside Hollywood, for example Sunset Boulevard, The Player, immersing us in what we hope is a heightened and exaggerated look but which, over the decades, we realise is in many ways truthful.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN
US, 2014, 109 minutes, Colour.
Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie De Witt, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Timothee Chalamet, Olivia Crocicchia, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Denis Haysbert. Narrated by Emma Thompson.
Directed by Jason Reitman.
There is a paragraph in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl which describes the consciousness of the social media generation, that they have little idea of how life was before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the other media that they take for granted and use continuously, even excessively. The consciousness and behaviour of the younger generation is something of a mystery to their parents and teachers.
This is what this particular film is about, but it focuses particularly on the sexuality consequences of social media, the availability of pornography to children at a young age, the potential for addiction – while not letting off the adult generation who take advantage of the Internet, also for pornography as well as for dating sites. Hence the title being all-inclusive.
At first, the film might seem quite depressing to an adult audience, watching the self-indulgent behaviour of parents, their double standards as regards their children, as well as seeing the children involved so early in visiting pornographic sites with consequences for their own emotions, even lack of ability for intimacy.
Audiences might be put off by the explicit references. Because this is a real problem, a more robust sensitivity should lead audiences to face these situations. Ultimately, as with most American films, characters go through crises, in this film some more desperate than usual, but come to some kind of understanding, even hope.
The film focuses on four families, the children all going to the same school and providing interconnections for the plot.
The film uses an unusual device, a cosmic reflection on the place of our planet and human beings in the vastness of the universe. It uses the Voyager journey into space, carrying memorabilia of Earth. The focus is on the writings of Carl Sagan, the film ending with a quotation a bout his view about Earth being just a dot in the universe. Further, there is a narration throughout the film, observing the mundane realities as well as the cosmic dimensions – and it is spoken, often frankly and bluntly, with the perfect British diction and clarity of Emma Thompson.
The main focus is on the parents of a 15-year-old boy, Dan. His parents are played by Adam Sandler (bearded and giving a serious performance with no hints of his usual comic style) and Rosemary DeWitte?. The father cannot access the Internet on his own computer and goes to his son’s, shocked to find that the boy has accessed many porn sites. And the father himself, sexually needy, visits these sites as well as an escort site which he follows up. His wife, bored, also goes to the computer for dating sites, following through with some dire consequences.
Dan has one of the main cheerleaders, Hannah, as a girlfriend. She supports him as he plays football. She is the daughter of a single mother, Judy Greer, who is living her life through her daughter, photographing her, often in suggestive poses and placing these on a website for her daughter. She urges her to participate in auditions for a reality show. In the meantime, Hannah boasts (lies) to her girlfriends about her sexual exploits with an older man, but then finds that Dan has been affected by his site-trawling and is impotent at his young age, responding only to the pornography.
In quite a different family, Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is a very strict mother, monitoring every move of her daughter, Brandy. Patricia examines her daughter’s computer every day as well as checking on all the calls on her mobile phone. Brandy is something of a loner, though she has also set up a website with bizarre photos of herself. Tim (Ansel Elgort) is a lonely young man, top footballer who refuses to play the game, to the contempt of the rest of the team. His mother has abandoned him and his father (Dean Norris) and announces a new engagement on Facebook rather than direct information to her former husband and her son. Tim and Brandy get on very well together, talking genuinely, true friends – until Patricia intervenes cruelly with sad consequences.
In the meantime, there is Allison, also a cheerleader, who believes Hannah’s stories. She is anorexic, has a crush on a boy, follows it through – again with some dreadful consequences for her to the shock of her father (J.K.Simmons).
As can be seen, there are quite a lot of characters, quite a lot of situations that demand attention and reflection.
This is certainly not the last word on the problems of social media and the consequences on young people’s ability for communication, their lack of communication, their sexual obsessions, the consequences for genuine relationships and intimacy. But, within its two-hour running time, it does raise many questions, implying that there should be authentic responses and hope for integrity.
Australia, 2014, minutes, Colour.
Angus Sampson, Hugo Weaving, Ewen Leslie, Leigh Whannell, John Noble, Geoff Morrell, Noni Hazelhurst.
Directed by Tony Mahoney and Angus Sampson.
Those with long memories might think of Francis, the talking mule, so popular in the 1950s and with television screenings. Those whose memories do not go back so far will probably think of drugs and smuggling and those who carry the drugs, the mules. The latter is the meaning of mule for this film.
It starts with broad humour, Ray, Angus Sampson (who co-wrote and co-directed the film) is in a very awkward and embarrassing situation with customs officials at Melbourne airport. Some of the humour continues as the film goes into flashback.
It is a scene at the local Paradise Club in Melbourne’s western suburbs, in Sunshine (lots of shots of local streets, homes, railway lines). They are about to make the award for their outstanding member of the year. The gawky Ray unexpectedly wins, much to the exuberant delight of his mother, Noni Hazelhurst. At home, he is quiet, fussed over by his mother, his step father telling him how lucky they are in life, even as his wife reminds him he has done his limit on his beers for the meal.
Another aspect of the humour is that the action is set at the time of the winning of the America’s Cup in 1983. The developing battle between the US and Australia is seen throughout the film, people watching the television, at home, at the club, in the motel at the airport, so that paralleling Ray’s experiences, there is the victory over the Americans, the cheeky Aussies toppling the top dogs.
Meantime, all is not so funny at the club and the film and, step by step, the film goes into the serious mode and the world of drugs and smuggling. The local kingpin, played by John Noble (the progressive Bishop in the series, Devils Playground) relies on a huge Lithuanian thug as well as a young Asian to do his violent dirty work. But he also has one of the local dimwits, Gavin, played by Leigh Whannell (who was one of the originators of the Saw series of horror films), try to persuade Ray to take the prize holiday in Thailand and bring back some drugs.
Despite expectations, Ray decides to go, goes to a number of parties in Thailand and, for reasons that puzzle us for the rest of the film, decides to swallow the sachets of heroin. We then go back to his arrival and the treatment by the customs officials and his willingly going with them. But, he refuses an x-ray, has a young female lawyer who believes in him to help him, and will not confess to having the drugs.
Which means then that he is in police custody for seven days, taken to a motel near Melbourne airport, supervised by the police – who then get a judge to extend their holding him another three days, then another day and a half. It also means that we share Ray’s diet experiences, his refusing to excrete the sachets, to the annoyance of the police, and a scene where audiences might be looking away when he makes a decision after an accident as to what he is going to do with the sachets…
This is a suburban version of the drug big time, the kingpin having his limitations, ordering his thugs to exercise his violence, ordering Gavin to find out what is going on, putting the pressure on Ray’s family, especially his stepfather who complicates the plot development when it is revealed that he has a gambling problem and a financial dependence on the kingpin.
We can’t but be on Ray’s side as he stays with his constipation, is visited by his mother with food, is encouraged by his lawyer, is visited by Gavin, has a police guard in the room who nods off, watches television and is particularly inept. But it is two officers who are in charge who provide interesting characters and interactions. Hugo Weaving plays the aggressor, bad cop, Ewen Leslie is the well-dressed, rather quieter, good cop. The two provide some unexpected plot twists making the end of the film more interesting and more dramatic.
With the number of Australian stories about drug mules from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and their dire experiences in prisons in those countries. This is an Australian version, rather different in tone, but nonetheless, well done and surprisingly interesting.
Australia, 2014, 104 minutes, Colour.
Harrison Gilbertson, Emmanuelle Beart, Rachael Blake, Socratis Otto.
Directed by Stephen Lance.
The use of the term “mistress” suggests a sexual theme. But, it is not quite the theme or treatment that we might have anticipated.
First of all, this is a story set in Queensland, in the suburbs. The “my” of the title is a 16-year-old boy, Charlie (Harrison Gilbertson). We first see him jumping on the top of an old car, smoking, having a drink, riding his bike home. A teenager story?
Then, almost immediately, he finds his father hanging in the garage and having to cut him down, going into a party in the house, a crowd with loud music, to tell his mother (Rachael Blake). Throughout the film, the plot focuses on this relationship between son and mother, quite tense, Charlie developing a hostility to his mother, his mother concerned and frustrated.
But, on the way home on his bike, he has noticed a woman moving into a house and her impatience with the removalists. Later, he goes to the house out of curiosity, goes inside and he, and we, perhaps, are rather shocked to find that the “mistress” of the title is a dominatrix. She is played by French actress, Emmanuelle Beart.
Over the years, there have been several serious Australian films about sexuality, including some of the more perverse aspects, like Sleeping Beauty. This film is different, looking at the reactions of the teenager, especially after the bereavement of his father’s death, his visists to the house, his growing infatuation with the dominatrix, who has the down-to-earth name, Maggie. He gets a job working in her garden, though she lays down strict conditions. But, he is impressionable and vulnerable, fantasises about her at home, is curious about her clients.
With sado-masochism in the suburbs, it is a bit hard to take it all, chambers and whips, all that seriously. There is a key scene where Maggie hides Charlie in a coffin with a peephole while she dominates a client with humiliating behaviour. Charlie gets the giggles. Which means that while the film highlights the seriousness as we look at what goes on, it often seems quite ludicrous. Maggie’s comment to Charlie is that this experience is not what the client wants but what the client needs.
When it is revealed that Maggie has a little boy who is in foster care, the film takes on a much more human dimension. As Charlie becomes more and more involved, even driving Maggie to see her little boy, we wonder what will and can become of this relationship. Maggie has a lot of genuine feelings, is sympathetic to Charlie, but the relationship must come to an end.
Harrison Gilbertson acts well, giving some credibility to Charlie and his feelings, his understanding and lack of understanding, his dilemmas as a schoolboy. Emmanuelle Beart has portrayed somewhat similar characters in French films, but her character is not really explained, especially how and why she is in Queensland and who set her up in the house. Maybe these are distractions to the main emphasis of the film, but some explanation would add to the credibility of characters and plot.
While there are a couple of sado-masochistic scenes, the film is rather restrained, visually, leaving some aspects to the imagination of the audience. In an era when young people are exposed to sexual behaviour, reinforced by material available on the Internet, My Mistress does raise some questions about the effect on young people, and for the future.
MY OLD LADY
UK/France/US, 2014, 107 minutes, Colour.
Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Pignon, Noemie Lvovsky.
Directed by Israel Horovitz.
Not a very helpful title. Yet, it is the title of the play by the writer-director of this film. It sounds too slangy, offhand, perhaps indicating a more comic tone than is the reality.
The setting is Paris. Maggie Smith portrays a 92-year-old widow who lives in an old-fashioned apartment. Suddenly, a man in his late 50s, Mathias, played by Kevin Kline, turns up and starts searching the building. It seems that he has inherited this from his father, a man with whom he could never bond, whom he felt was always putting him down. Pleased that he now has some property, especially since he is broke, has had three wives, has had a drinking problem, he is almost instantly disillusioned – the arrangement his father had made with Madame, with whom he had a liaison long since, was that Madame could stay and, according to a seemingly odd French law, she would be paid to stay there. When he explains that he would like to stay, she tells him that he would have to pay her rent as well is the subsidy for her living there.
What is he to do? Well, he takes a lot of photos of the house and off he goes to a real estate agent to find out its value were he to sell. Then he takes photos of the furniture and hawks them down at a local shop.
There is no telling what he might do when he pops open the bathroom door only to find Madame’s daughter, Chloe, occupying it. They do not get off to a good start.
The film is even more serious when Mathias discovers that his father had the long liaison with Madame, that her husband knew about the relationship and went off to Africa hunting, Mathias finding a lot of heads mounted in the room he occupies. Chloe reveals that she too knew of the relationship. Mathias is dismayed, especially in his memories of his mother and her depression.
When Mathias approaches a buyer for the apartment, inviting him when he has lunch with Chloe and she becomes upset, we seem to see the direction in which the film might go. But, it doesn’t. In his bewilderment, Matthias takes to the bottle again. He discusses the situation in the past with Chloe, which brings them to some kind of understanding and peacemaking.
Part of the enjoyment of the film is listening to the dialogue, as the film is clearly based on a play and is quite theatrical in the amount of talking and discussing, the setting up of scenes inside the house, outside in the garden, as well as the visits to the shops and agents, and in interlude when Mathias sees a young woman singing opera arias and, as the cloud seemed to be lifting from his seemingly gloomy life and he joins in the singing of the banks of the Seine.
Maggie Smith is completely convincing as the 92-year-old Madame, still astute, still sharp of wit and, from her own experiences, rather tolerant of others. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Chloe. She is an actress who can play a plain-looking woman with conviction and can transform her appearance into a woman of plain beauty. Kevin Kline obviously relishes acting with Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas.
While there are a number of moral surprises, taken a bit more lightly by the French than those of the Anglo-Saxon? and Irish perspectives, there is more depth to the story and the characters than we might have anticipated.
US, 2014, 117 minutes, Colour.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, René Russo, Bill Paxton.
Directed by Dan Gilroy.
With “crawler” in the title, there is the association of “creepy”. And this is true of the central character, his behaviour, and the development of the plot. But, for this review, this is a very well made film and one of the best films of 2014.
The night crawler of the title refers to photographers who listen in to police radio information, especially at night, know where the accidents have occurred, where crimes have been committed, and are almost immediately on the spot, taking photographs, intruding, with little sensitivity towards the reality of what is happening, only interested in haste, rushing to the television station, making financial deals. These are the night paparazzi who are not interested in celebrities but in blood… If it bleeds, it will make the headlines.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives another tour de force performance, after Prisoners, as Louis Bloom, about 30, a loner, with the touch of the autistic. In a prologue to the film, we see him at night cutting through wire, stealing wire and other goods from a building site, selling them to another builder and asking to be hired. The buyer asks why he would employ a thief. But Louis has ambitions, and is prone to take notice of potential role models for work. He is an avid user of the Internet, reading a great deal of self-help material, gleaning maxims for business and success, and how to use them with potential employers.
When he comes across an accident one night and sees the photographers in action, he questions, gets advice, buys a camera and a listening device and off he goes. A manager at a television station, Nina (René Russo), takes an interest in his work which encourages him to bring her more and more material, as he chases crime scenes and accidents. With his rather acute business sense, he decides to take on an intern, advertising in the media, and interviewing a young man, Rick (Riz Ahmed, British actor in a number of films including The Reluctant Fundamentalist), who is eager to get a job and to get some pay. Sitting in his car, Louis acts with Rick as if he were in a fine office, discussing situations, payments, even the possibility for Rick to become vice president of the company.
The key elements of the latter part of the film involve Louis trespassing on a crime scene, lying to the police as to how much he saw, deciding that he would follow the criminals after filming them and their car numberplate, discover where they lived, follow them and then ring the police, filming all the time, with Rick sent down the street in a more dangerous situation.
Louis has no real emotions for Rick and puts him in danger. However, he is attracted to Nina despite the age difference but she wants to act professionally.
Louis will keep going as long as he can, building up his own video company, become more becoming more and more expert at crime scenes and filming – and wheeler dealing with the television companies for higher fees.
Louis achieves the American Dream at no cost to himself but as a cost to others – if he were to see this film he would be in admiration of his own character without realising how ugly is the world that the film is creating and how it is critiquing unscrupulous American dreams.
THE ONE I LOVE
US, 2014, 91 minutes, Colour.
Mark Duplass, Elizabeth Moss, Ted Danson.
Directed by Charlie Mc Carthy.
The One I Love is a small, independent film, produced by the Duplass Brothers, starring Mark Duplass who has moved into acting in a wide variety of films. He is Ethan. As Sophie, his co-star is Elizabeth Moss, who appeared in the television series Mad Men and in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake.
As the film progresses, older audiences might well be wondering about it, where it is going and whether they are identifying with the characters and the situations or not. They might have in the past, but this is a story for young marrieds, especially in their 20s or, perhaps, in their 30s. Older audiences might be remembering their past but this story, with its plot of self-discovery and issues of love and breakdown of love and marriage, and finding it rather uninteresting, even a bit tedious or boring.
The film has a voice-over about how the couple met, chased from a swimming pool by an angry owner, and their attempt to recreate this atmosphere on the first anniversary by going back to the pool. But it soon emerges that the love and the marriage are becoming more and more tentative. Wisely they go to a counsellor. He is played by Ted Danson who is, in fact, the stepfather of the director, Charlie Mc Carthy, whose mother is Danson’s wife, Mary Steenburgen. The director’s father is Malcolm McDowell?. Mary Steenburgen contributed to the lyrics for one of the songs and she and Ted Danson receive gratitude in the final credits.
The counsellor urges the couple to go to a country retreat where, hopefully, they will rediscover their love. This is the important part of the review because there is an unexpected twist and should not be revealed. What one might say is that it is something of a Sliding Doors experience, though wholly in the present. This makes demands on the acting talent of the central couple. Adult audiences, younger, will probably find the plot twist fascinating, challenging them to see how they identify with Ethan and Sophie and how they behave in the changing situation.
Judging from the comments of the adult, younger, audiences emerging from the film, they found it was open “great” so there is an audience for the film who will appreciate characters and situations. For audiences over 40, it could be something of déjà vu, but it also could be something that they realise of interest and appreciation to others, but not themselves.
UK, 2014, 95 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, voice of Ben Whishaw, Nicole Kidman, Julie Waters,Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Matt King, Geoffrey Palmer.
Directed by Paul King.
What a happy and delightful film experience! It all seems just right.
Within a few minutes we are in ‘darkest Peru’, sharing The Explorer’s experience in being saved in the forests by a bear, making the acquaintance of the bear and engaged in conversation with him and his wife and nephew. We immediately accept this – so that there is no trouble throughout the whole film when humans seem to take it for granted that Paddington could speak and engage in ordinary human activities. Although, when he is lost, and the police are given a description including that he is a bear, the London bobby does remark that there is very little to go on!
While Paddington (who has not yet received this name) lives happily with his uncle and aunt (voiced by Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon), all indulging their acquired love of marmalade, there is a terrible earthquake, destroying their home, and uncle, which means that Paddington’s aunt thinks that it is time for him to go to London where The Explorer had told them they would always be welcome.
Paddington makes his way to England, gets out of the Port of London and waits, after being rudely chosen by the crowds, at Paddington Station, his tag around his neck, waiting for a kind family to find him and welcome him into their home. As the Brown family pass by, father is not particularly attracted by the bear, but mother is delighted. Their daughter, Judy, takes after father with cool disdain, whereas Jonathan, their son, immediately takes a liking to him. And, for what the family could call him, what better than the station that they were at, Paddington?
It is to the great credit of Ben Wishaw that Paddington’s voice is so believable, very pleasant, always polite, even when he gets into a mess. And he fits right in to the family, and gets used to London, West London particularly, as mother and Paddington go to the Portobello Road to try to find out information about the red hat that The Explorer had given the uncle (and Paddington imitates his uncle by always having a marmalade sandwich under the hat in case of an emergency).
The film has a wonderful British cast, led by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Mr and Mrs Brown who fit the roles perfectly.
Mother and Paddington go to the shop run by Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent). Paddington become something of a hero because he mistakenly thinks that a thief has dropped his own wallet, pursues him in an exciting chase through the streets, and is the cause of the thief dropping all his stolen wallets right in front of the police. Even Judy, at school, is impressed by the students’ acclamation of Paddington, finds that she likes him and can claim him.
There is a very enjoyable episode when Paddington and father go to the Natural History Museum trying to find out who The Explorer really was. The museum is museum-like in its use of those chutes which used to whiz items through in the old department stores. But, not achieving any success, father has to dress as the cleaning lady to get them through security, although delayed by the guard who casts a kind of amorous eye over the lady!
There is a villain. She is Millicent, the granddaughter of The Explorer, who has malevolent motivations for tracking down Paddington, including getting the next-door neighbour, Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi) to help her entrap Paddington, including being let down from the roof, like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, to the theme from Mission Impossible! Nicole Kidman clearly enjoys herself as the villain, crafty, imperious, no holds barred.
There is a great deal of farcical and slapstick comedy which fits right in, as well as quite an amount of verbal humour, lots of humorous asides. The initial impression of the British is that they are not welcoming at all and poor Paddington wonders what will happen to him, especially when he writes letters home to his aunt Lucy in ‘darkest Peru’.
While saying it is a nice film, this does not mean that it is a kind of sweet little film. No, it is a strong comedy, a good blend of sentiment and action, which children will enjoy and, indeed, their parents will be very happy to have seen it.
It will resonate strongly with those of British heritage, or those who have absorbed British culture – and it offers in every invitation for everyone to appreciate this very British entertainment.
US, 2013, 99 minutes, Colour.
David Kaplan, Nima Arkani- Hamed, Martin Alexa, Monica Dunford, Fabiola Gianotti.
Directed by Mark Levinson.
Who would have expected any fever about particles? The answer is: thousands of physicists around the world – and many non-physicists. This is a documentary for the latter audience rather than specialist physicists, though they may enjoy seeing the visuals of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), CERN, Switzerland. (They may well be critical of the explanations given – and be appropriately challenged by how they would write a screenplay for ordinary lay viewers and to communicate with them.)
Many of us will remember talk of the LHC in 2008 and the experiments to see whether material could be sent spinning around the 17 km of tunnels under parts of Switzerland and France where, when the time was right, particles would collide with each other and reveal, or not reveal, a key particle in an atom which keeps the other particles together. Well, perhaps not every audience will remember those events. It is more likely that they will remember July 2012 when, after several years, ensuring that there were no mishaps in the functioning of the Collider, the experiment was set in motion.
Out of the media hype was the hope of expectation that the scientists would find the “God-particle”. It would give insights into what happened at the Big Bang and immediately afterwards. Named after the British physicist, Peter Higgs, there was already a title for this particle: the Higgs boson Particle.
The documentary doesn’t immediately plunge us into the physics. Rather, some genial hosts provide a great deal of Talking Heads information, especially David Kaplan who introduces us to the whole experience. There is documentary material of his visiting CERN in earlier years, inviting us into show us the whole plant, revealing the extraordinary amount of engineering that went into setting up this vast Collider. One realises that the audience should be in absolute awe of the designers, the engineers, the technicians, the maintenance personnel who kept this world’s largest machine, several stories high, in working order.
We are taken back to 2008, the excitement and the wondering whether the particles would be able to circulate freely in the 17 km tunnel. When there is success, the fever rides high. One of the things that older audiences will notice is that how young the majority of the physicists are. There are some grey hair and grey beard types, including Peter Higgs himself who was present in 2012, receives a rapturous elevation and can be seen to be very emotionally moved.
David Kaplan has quite a number of friends and contacts in Switzerland so he interviews many of them. And, before they succumb to any particle fever, they are highly enthusiastic, committed to the physics, especially to the theories and the variety of theories which will be proven or disproven by the 2012 experiment. They are strong on theory, relying on mathematics – and for anyone in the audience (most of us) who get gobsmacked by seeing blackboards full of mathematical formulae, using symbols that they have no idea about, one blogger advises, ‘don’t be scared, just as in a horror movie with something monstrous, turn away!’.
The excitement is high in 2012, not only in Switzerland, but in various places around the world which are connected, enabling physicists and the public to witness the events as they happen.
For those who are thinking of seeing the film, it is probably no good asking your friends about it. They will start to stumble in any explanation which could throw light on the physics or the maths. Rather, be inspired by their enthusiasm, and the fever that they have picked up from watching scientists, many of whom live in a world of theories, as well as the people on the ground, so to speak, who rely on the science and the engineering, and so decide to see the film. There is no exam afterwards.
However, while most of us will not retain much of the detail at all, we have been let into the world of physics, of theories, of speculating about the God-particle, about the Big Bang and its energy, about evolution, about the Higgs boson Particle - and the possibility of its collapsing in on itself which could mean the collapse of the universe. Physicists, of course, are hoping against hope that this will not happen.
A most impressive cinema documentary experience.
Australia, 2014, 104 minutes, Colour.
Nathan Wilson, Martin Sacks, Marty Rhone, Mack Lyndon.
Directed by the Mack Lyndon.
The title Rise does not give anything away. It is only halfway through the film when there is a background song is introduced, Rise, a song whose lyrics have a spiritual dimension, indicating that no matter how down people are in life, there is or is the possibility that they can rise.
Rise is an Australian small-budget film based on a true story, a story experienced by the writer-director, Mack Lyndon, himself in 2008. He has created an uncomfortable story out of his experience, an accusation of rape, his being found guilty in his trial and his going to prison. Any story about rape makes for uncomfortable viewing. The difference with this film is that it is all seen from the point of view of the accused, nothing from the point of view of his accuser, a fight for innocence in the an appeal to the courts. Because courts have been far less sympathetic towards victims of rape in the past and there is a ground swell of sympathy for injustice for accusers, and newspaper headlines frequently offer stories of accused who are either found not guilty or receive a penalty which advocates for women who have experienced rape think far too lenient. (One of these comes to visit the accused in jail, talking of an appeal to the courts for him to receive a stronger sentence.)
That having been said, the film is very much a prison film, in the tradition of those films, but, on the whole, it is a far less melodramatic picture of prison life than usual. Not that there are not some bizarre characters, responsible for violent crimes, and some guards who are certainly anti-prisoners.
During the first ten minutes or so of the film, we see Will as a little boy, impressed by a sign on a bus that urges everyone to be kind. He grows up to be a nurse, a caring professional, who has a night out on the town, clubbing, meeting up with a girl, going back after drinking and having what he considered a consensual sexual experience. He is very much surprised when the police arrive at his house, interrogate him, cuff him, charge him.
Nathan Wilson, in his first role, proves to be a sympathetic Will. He suffers the usual indignities of going into prison, being assigned a cell, rubbing up against tattooed toughs, advised not to tell fellow prisoners why he is in jail for fear of reprisals. While he has some difficult times, even with a visit from his rather hysterical mother, he adjusts to prison life, makes friends, especially a disabled life-prisoner (Marty Rhône) and is assigned to care for, and an old veteran, 26 years in jail for armed robberies, who takes Will under his wing and has something of a conversion experience himself. There is his cell-mate, Baxter, played by the directo, Mack Lyndon himself.
But then, the film moves to a religious dimension, one of the prisoners, George, being devout, giving Will a religious book, engaging in conversations, going to the services provided by the prison chaplain. Will himself becomes a man of faith – always in a somewhat low-key Australian style – but becomes more confident, prays, has faith that his friend, who has enlisted the help of a high-powered barrister, will be able to get his conviction overturned.
When the film becomes more overtly religious, and with the title song, Rise, it seems to be in the vein of a number of films from the United States, made by Christian groups, backed by Christian churches, especially those made by the Kendrick Brothers, Courageous, Fireproof. (The final credit of this film name Elevation Church – which has its own websight.) Because the religious element is generally low-key, secular Australian audiences might be able to accept it more readily than they do the American versions.
In most ways and technically, the film is very straightforward. Nathan Wilson pleasantly convincing as Will – and, when he smiles, he could pass for a younger version of Matt Damon. Veteran, Martin Sacks, is the old prisoner who befriends Will and is influenced by him for the good.
Which means that the film is very earnest in its way, making the case for justice for a man accused of rape affirming that he was innocent. There is a final moment when Will and the woman who accused him walk past each other and look at each other, with Will having made effort to be forgiving.
US, 2014, 109 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, David Dencick, Christian Mc Kay,
Directed by Suzanne Bier.
On paper, this film has a lot going for it. It teams Oscar-winner, Jennifer Lawrence, for the third time with Bradley Cooper (The Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle). Rhys Ifans is unrecognisable as the villain and there is an interesting supporting cast of British actors. And the director is the Oscar-winner, Susanne Bier. However, it seems that very few people are interested in the film or like it.
Actually, it is very much like one of those 1930s or 1940s melodramas, possibly with Barbara Stanwyck in the central role as Serena. This kind of film is out of fashion now, better appreciated on television, Turner Classic Movies and other similar channels.
Having said it that, it is best to look at Serena for what it is rather than what audiences might want to be.
The film is very colourful, often beautiful, to look at, set in the forests and mountains of the Carolinas during the Depression. It recreates the mood of a logging town and its activities, hard work, sometimes hard lives, Bradley Cooper is George Pemberton, an enterprising man, who wants to exploit the forests – and we have several scenes of the chopping down of the trees, the logging, the rail carriages to carry the wood, and some accidents. George is a businessman who has dreams of owning property in Brazil and exploiting the forests there.
When he goes to the city and sees an elegant young woman doing dressage and sitting elegantly on her horse, he decides to, literally, pursue her and very soon they are married. This is Serena, played by Jennifer Lawrence in different mode from all her other films, not reminding us of Katniss Everdene in The Hunger Games films, nor the brassy wife in American Hustle. Serena has survived severe fires as a girl of 12, but has lost her family. When she arrives at the logging town, she instantly shows that she is a strong woman, a partner in the business with her husband, critical of the men getting snakebites and determining that they should buy an eagle who will swoop on the serpents. And she impresses the men by training the eagle herself.
There are some strange characters in the town, especially a former prisoner, Galloway, played by the unrecognisable Ifans, devoted to Pemberton, devoted to his Serena, especially when she tends him after a severe accident with an axe. There is also Pemberton’s partner and accountant, Buchanan (David Dencick) who is certainly attached to Pemberton, the screenplay raising questions about his sexual attitudes.
The screenplay of the film is topical when the townspeople, led by the sheriff (Toby Jones) discuss environmental issues – which don’t persuade Pemberton at all.
Serena seems unconcerned with the fact that her husband has sired a son with one of the local maids. But, when Serena rides a horse after helping Galloway with his wounds, this becomes more important because the melodrama starts with a miscarriage and a growing jealousy by Serena of the young mother.
And, melodrama it is, moving away from the dramatic history of the early part of the film, bringing up tensions between Serena and her husband, Serena using Galloway as an instrument of vengeance, and flights and murders.
Part of the melodrama is Buchanan and his envy of George Pemberton and the temptation to betray him. There are other members of the team who are suspicious of the bookkeeping and the entries and are willing to make deals with the authorities.
Throughout the film there has been a symbolic image, a panther wandering the mountains, mostly unseen, but deadly. George Pemberton and his friends are eager to hunt the panther, which, when the eventual confrontation takes place, we appreciate is an image of Serena herself.
A THOUSAND TIMES GOOD NIGHT
Norway/Ireland/Sweden, 2013, 117 minutes, Colour.
Juliette Binoche, Nikolai Coster- Waldau, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Lauryn Canny.
Directed by Erik Poppe.
A Thousand Times Good night takes the audience into some contemporary war zones, especially Afghanistan and Kenya. It was filmed on location and offers powerful images of these places, ordinary people, terrorists, suicide bombers. Since the film is about a war photographer, the images are vivid and striking. The director himself, Erik Poppe, was also a war photographer and had made documentaries about dangerous places.
The film won the Ecumenical Award at the Montréal film Festival in 2013. Erik Poppe also won a SIGNIS award for his fine film about guilt and repentance in a Lutheran context, Troubled Waters (2009).
Juliette Binoche always makes a significant impression in her films. This is definitely the case here. From the very beginning, her character, Rebecca, is dressed in Muslim clothing, photographing a women’s ritual which, to our horror, is the preparation of a young woman to be a suicide bomber, her prayer and contemplation, the elderly women and the dignity and ritual with which they strap the bombs to the young woman, putting her veil on her. And all the time, Rebecca is vigorously photographing everything. A driver takes them by car into the central streets of Kabul, Rebecca wanting to get out of the car, the explosion following, killing people, wounding Rebecca. This is quite an impact for an opening to the film.
For a while after this, the drama moves very quietly as Rebecca is in hospital in Dubai, her husband, Marcus (Nikolai Coster- Waldau) coming to her bedside and then taking her back to their ordinary life in Ireland. He is a scientist. They have two daughters. With Rebecca, and with Marcus and the daughters, we experience the tension where a mother goes out on dangerous missions, the rest of the family in fear that she will be killed, and, without their admitting it, resenting her absence from home. Gradually, the family quieten down and Rebecca is almost at the stage where she thinks she should not go back on any dangerous commission. However, she is upset when, because of Pentagon influence, New York publishers tell her that they cannot use any of her pictures.
At this stage, the film is an arresting study of a family and their trying to deal with serious challenges. It might be noted that, with a husband as the photographer, this would be a more acceptable situation even if it was not liked. It is a situation where a woman is working in what is considered a man’s world.
The older daughter is involved in a school project about Africa and has the opportunity to go to visit a United Nations settlement in Kenya, near the border with Sudan, with hundreds of refugees, many of them orphans. Rebecca goes with her daughter, even giving her a camera. All is well as they tour the settlement but, suddenly, a group of masked terrorists attacks the compound, the daughter taken to safety but Rebecca automatically going back into photographic action, in really dangerous situations. This means that the tension within the family continues.
At one stage, Rebecca tries to explain to her daughter what it is that drives her to these situations. She has a good eye so is successful as a photographer. But, she says she has always had an inner anger, situations requiring some kind of justice and action and that photography provides proper and creative outlet for her anger.
The film has an open-ended finale, Rebecca returning to Afghanistan, following up the original story, taking photos of yet another young girl as a suicide bomber. But, after the experience of tensions with her daughters, she looks at this same situation much more emotionally. She stands… And the film ends. We do not know what she will decide, what she will do with the rest of her life. This open ending challenges the audience, whether they agree with her or not, whether they have the same experiences of the dangerous situations she observes, whether there is a need for this kind of professional war photographer.
At this is an intelligent as well as an emotional film, highlighting for audiences who have more comfortable lives, how dangerous many areas in the world are and help people, severely oppressed, threatened with death and torture, suffer more than we might ordinarily comprehend.
Australia, 2014, 90 minutes, Colour.
Dominic Purcell, Viva Bianca, Robert Taylor, Belinda Mc Clory, Nicholas Hammond, Carmen Duncan, Roger Ward, Suzannah Mc Donald, Juan Jackson.
Directed by Jon Hewitt.
Turkey Shoot was originally an exploitation film from Australia in the early 1980s, directed by Brian Trenchard Smith who made a number of these films. It was produced by a young entrepreneur, Antony Ginnane, who brought a number of overseas actors to perform in sensational melodramas, often with more than a touch of sex and violence. For those interested in Antony Ginnane and his influence on the Australian film industry in the 1980s, the best source is the documentary by Mark Hartley, 2008, Not Quite Hollywood: the Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation. This includes scenes from the original film, interviews with Ginnane, explaining why he made these films and the impact they had (and with a manic Quentin Tarantino being interviewed about his love for these films).
Whatever the ups and downs of Anthony Kinane’s career (he was not beloved by many in the Australian industry), in 2014, over 30 years later, he has produced a remake of Turkey Shoot. It has been written by Jon Hewitt (himself an enthusiast of Ozploitation) and his wife, Belinda Mc Clory, who has a significant role in this remake.
Instead of a camp for misfits and their being subjected to death hunts back in the 1980s, we are introduced to a futuristic world of Reality TV. This time, a ruthless producer (McClory) approaches a prisoner, Rick Tyler (a tough Dominic Purcell) who had previously, as we have seen, been sent into Libya to assassinate the President, succeeding, but the media indicating the mission was a failure and so World War: Africa has been instigated at the wish of the American President.
There have been attempts on Rick’s life while in prison but now he has the opportunity to stay and be victimised or appear on the huge-ratings’s TV show, Turkey Shoot, which opens with all the razzmatazz of American television, has two grinning and vapid hosts who chortle on about death as if it was something trivial.
Most of the film is about Rick being hunted like a turkey by expert assassins from around the world, especially Ramrod (Robert Taylor) who was with him when he allegedly massacred women and children. There is a lot of macho posturing – including a woman assassin from Japan.
A lot of complications ensue, with a Rick cleverly evading his attackers and eliminating them. However, he is summoned to the dying General Thatcher (Nicholas Hammond, 49 years on from The Sound of Music) who is having something of a deathbed conscience-crisis. He thinks that world World War: Africa has gone on too long and has degenerated into a military and moral mess. Rick is assisted by a military officer, Jill (Viva Bianca) – who can also pilot a helicopter as well as form a romantic attachment to Rick.
While the film has relished a whole lot of violence, by the end, it wants to have its cake and eat it: shows violence, then regrets it and makes a plea for a better more peaceful world.
The film has a great deal of energy, but its prospective audience is those who love computer games (and see similarities between this film and Battle Royale, Death Race as well as The Hunger Games).
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Belgium, 2014, 100 minutes, Colour.
Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Olivier Grenier.
Directed by Jean- Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
When we see the names of the Dardenne brothers on any film we can be sure that it is a film of quality and it will be a film which makes telling social comment on contemporary issues. This is certainly true of Two Days, One Night.
What we have is a look at contemporary Western Europe, on employment and unemployment, and competition for jobs, difficulties in the workplace, especially for people suffering from mental illness and, especially, depression.
This is indicated by the title: the action takes place over a day, and night, a day. They are Saturday, Saturday night and Sunday. However, the film opens on Friday afternoon, with a vote at a solar panel factory in a Belgian town, where the workers vote to accept a 1000 euro bonus and not to let Sandra, who has been absent from work for some weeks, to get her old job back. Two of the 16 workers voted for her. One of them, Juliette, urges her to go to see the manager so that there can be another vote on the morning when Sandra has had the opportunity to canvass the workers and persuade them to have some compassion for her – which does mean sacrificing their bonus.
Oscar-winner Marion Cottillard plays Sandra. In their earlier films, the Dardenne Brothers used little-known actors, except for their regular Olivier Gourmet, who makes an appearance in this film at the end, playing Jean- Marc who has opposed Sandra, undermining the attitudes of the other workers. In their previous film, The Kid with a Bike, they chose a well-known star, Cecile de France. The use of a star does mean that the Dardennes’ films get wider release. And deservedly so.
Sandra is married to a chef, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), and they have two children. Sandra has not quite recovered from the illness, sometimes does not want to get out of bed and face the day. She loves her husband who, she fears, may be moving from love to pity because of her condition. However, it is Manu who encourages Sandra over the weekend to make the visits, often driving her from one to the other.
On the Friday, Juliette gives Sandra a number of addresses and connects her with one of the workers who is favourable and who confirms his vote for her. Encouraged by this, Sandra and Manu, set out on the Saturday morning.
It may have been at this moment that a certain amount of dread arose, that we would spend the next 90 minutes going from house to house – and wondering how interesting that would be. The film is worth the perseverance. Sandra does go from house to house but we meet a number of ordinary but interesting characters, some sympathetic, some desperate, some grateful to Sandra for help in the past, some whose financial situations rely on the promise of the bonus.
These are ordinary people in the street, dependent on their jobs, most of whom have some feelings for Sandra, but a number of them, even wishing her well, cannot vote for her.
By the Sunday afternoon, Sandra feels desperate and empties a bottle of Xanax, Manu finding her and rushing her to hospital. She is not in there long and perseveres in some final visits.
There are some dramatic tensions as the workers go in for the vote on Monday morning, some solutions suggested, with the Dardenne Brothers drawing on their compassion for human nature and promising some hope.
WHEN THE QUEEN CAME TO TOWN
Australia, 2014, 78 minutes, Colour.
Lorraine Bayley, narrated by Bert Newton.
Directed by Maurice Murphy.
It was in February 1954 when the young Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, toured the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia. That was 60 years ago! To celebrate the event, this documentary compilation of newsreels of the time has come to Australian screens. The interesting question is, who would like to see this film?
For anyone 20 or under, the Royal Tour will seem like ancient history, a kind of antiquarian exercise. Actually will seem this way to people under 30, perhaps even under 40. But for those who were there, it will be a nostalgia tour.
Sharing a personal note with others who remember the events. We stood for a long time outside St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney to catch a passing glimpse of the Queen, which was probably the main experience for most Australians, though one man in the film says, as she passed, it was like watching her in slow motion, a glimpse of her that he would never forget. Be that as it may, as schoolchildren, those from the Southern Highlands as well as the coastal area, were all gathered in Wollongong Oval. This means that we had, rather distantly, a 360° view of the Queen as she was driven round the Oval. In the film, we see only the young girl who made the speech for the Queen in Wollongong, battling the wind blowing her hat off her head. You will see what I mean about the kind of film that it is and who will enjoy it.
It should also be said that for monarchists this experience will be majestic. For Republicans, it could well be rebellion-rousing!
One of the aims of the film is to show what Australia was like 60 years ago, most of the oldies being interviewed (and there are quite a lot of sharing their memories) have a deep hankering for the niceness and peacefulness of the 1950s. Someone mentions there was no need of Neighbourhood Watch. Perhaps it was. Perhaps we were rather isolated from the rest of the world and that did not matter too much. We do see scenes of Torres Strait Islanders dancing as well as the Pitinjara men performing a corroboree, the first in the presence of a woman to whom they confided the secret meaning. But Bert Newton reminds us that aborigines were not citizens in their own country.
The film is narrated (more nostalgia) by Bert Newton and his text makes him sound like a deeply royalist fan. Then there is a classroom set, with Lorraine Bayley (more nostalgia) narrating to a group of little girls, all dressed as little princesses, what the Royal Tour was like in terms of fairy tales. And the film is divided into several chapters, each introduced with a pale pastel colouring. Speaking of pastel, one of the chapters talks about the Australian passion for fashion, praising her Majesty for wearing ordinary clothes that women could, and did, imitate (she had 100 outfits and I think we saw most of them during the film).
There is historical background of George VI becoming King, his death in 1952, the Coronation of the Queen and her setting out on a six month voyage at the end of 1953, with glimpses of her time in Fiji and in Tonga. There is also some coverage of the visit to New Zealand.
It looks as though every town and city that she visited gets a look in in this film, some visuals as well as comments from those who are there and remember. These remind us that England was the mother country, we were all loyal, the flag-waving was extraordinary. She is seen in public receptions, opening State parliaments, opening the Federal Parliament – as well as seen cattle in Royal Show, meeting Don Bradman and cricket greats, watching a surf carnival on Bondi Beach…
Director Maurice Murphy wrote the script for the film as well as directed. Interestingly, while we see Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister, accompanying the Queen and on covers of the Women’s Weekly (quite a number of these), he is not mentioned in connection with the Queen except for one of those oldies, laughing and reminiscing, quoting his, “I did but see her passing by…”.
There is a great line from one woman who presented the bouquet to the Queen and remembers that when the Queen fact her, she said “that’s okay”.
It is interesting for those looking at the Queen, her energy, her etiquette and protocol, and to remember that she was only 27. And the Duke of Edinburgh seems unfailingly smiling.
60 years is a long time in anyone’s lifetime, especially judging from the members of the audience during the screening. It was certainly another world. Australia has changed extraordinarily. But, the Queen is still there. The Duke of Edinburgh is still there. But the film does remind us that Australians welcomed the Queen as Queen of Australia in those days but so much has changed, so much, that one wonders how relevant the monarchy is, in fact, to present-day Australia.