SIGNIS REVIEWS DECEMBER 2016
AGE OF SHADOWS
BAD SANTA 2
BILLY LYNN’S HALF-TIME WALK
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
FAMILY FANG, The
I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY
LEGEND OF BEN HALL, The
MENKOFF METHOD, The
NEON BULL, The
QUEEN OF KATWE
SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU
UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS
UNITED KINGDOM, A
THE AGE OF SHADOWS
Korea, 2016, 140 minutes, Colour.
Byung hun Lee, You Gong, Kang-ho Song.
Directed by Kim Jee-woon.
In recent years the Korean film industry has produced a number of films about the 1920s and the 1930s, The Last Princess, Handmaiden. It is the era of Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula and a spirit of Korean revolt.
Intending audiences would find it helpful to do a bit of research about this period, the arrogance of the Japanese domination, the spirited feeling of the Koreans, the role of the Chinese, especially during the 1930s.
This is a film with touches of espionage, opening with an attack on an art dealer and the arrival of troops, killings, arrests, torture and an introduction to what might be called the Korean Underground of resistance.
At the core of the plot is a plan to ship arms by train from Shanghai to Seoul, a group of fighters, men and women, involved – with the discovery that one is a traitor. Much of the action is on the train, the tensions with the leader of the group and the rest of the fighters, organising a test with differing pieces of information so that whoever is betraying the group will be revealed.
There is another complication that one of the earlier members of the resistance is now a respected policeman, working with the Japanese authorities, tested again about his loyalties to his commanders and his loyalties to Korea and to his earlier comrades.
The film is quite long but keeps the attention, the search for the betrayer, the role of the policeman, even to his being tested by his willingness to torture some former colleagues, and the buildup to assassination attempts.
The film recreates the period in costumes and decor, has quite an eclectic musical score which creates many different atmospheres, from classical music to electronic music – and the use of Ravel’s Bolero for a climax to the action.
The central actor, Byung-hung Lee was one of the recent Magnificent Seven.
Certainly of great interest for a Korean audience, those familiar with Korean history – but also for those who want to know about the history of Japan, Korea and China in the early part of the 20th century.
US, 2016, 124 minutes, Colour.
Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, August Diehl, Simon McBurney?, Matthew Goode, Anton Lesser.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
The whole world knew what was happening in Morocco in 1942, the German occupation, the French expatriates, the espionage and what was happening at Rick’s in Casablanca – with the Oscar-winning film of 1943, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and all the sundry and shady characters in that film.
Over 70 years later, here we are again, in a big budget, one might say old-fashioned, drama and melodrama, colourful, and with two popular stars, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. However, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henried got on the plane at the end of Casablanca and went on to new adventures which the audience had to imagine. After the episode in Allied, the action transfers to London, London at the time of the blitz, quite vividly re-created.
We get into the mood of things with Max, Brad Pitt, parachuting into the desert, picked up, driven to the city, cheerfully meeting up with his wife, Marianne, Marion Cotillard dissembling with great aplomb, creating the cover for a husband-and-wife team who are there for an assassination attempt – rather spectacularly carried out at a political social, the fake husband-and-wife in tuxedo and evening gown, machine guns blazing.
So, introductions, action, touches of romance – and Max, the Canadian Wing Commander, back to London for a desk job but also applying for Marianne to come to London, her security credentials checked, so that he can marry her.
Touches of the blitz, Max visit the office under the supervision of Jared Harris but a happy home life, and the birth of a daughter.
Then comes more melodrama, accusations that Maryanne is actually a German spy, that Max is to investigate her, set a trap for her and, if she is guilty, execute her. So, a lot of tension building up in the house, Maryanne puzzled, and makes doing a whole lot of brooding – and taking the suspicions into his own hands, even to commandeering a plane, flying to the French coast, collaborating with the Resistance to interrogate one of their members and coming under fire from the Germans.
While this is old-fashioned romantic style film on the grand scale, the outcome is not exactly what might be predicted, though many audiences would have been happy with a predictable ending – critics not!
Marion Cotillard is a strong and sympathetic screen presence. Brad Pitt is romantic but rather stiff upper lip. Direction is by Roberts Zemeckis who has had an interesting career with a range of films from Who Framed Roger Rabbit to his Oscar for Forrest Gump.
US, 2016, 116 minutes, Colour.
Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Forest Whitaker.
Directed by Dennis Villeneuve.
For almost 200 years science-fiction has been developing, from 19th-century authors like Jules Verne and into the 20th century with H. G. Wells. Novels and short stories as well as comic books have been the way to communicate these stories but, especially during the 1950s, many films, generally B-budget, took audiences into the realm of science-fiction and fantasy. While there were many versions of Verne’s and Wells’ stories, science-fiction became very respectable in 1968 with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In more recent years, there has been a great interest in space and space travel with films like Gravity, The Martian, Interstellar.
In the 1970s, there were two classic films about aliens and alien life, hostility with Alien, and friendliness with Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The reaction to alien pods in Arrival is initially one of suspicion, the tradition of the War of the Worlds, but Arrival is a film in the Close Encounters tradition, close encounters for the 21st century.
The film is the work of Canadian director, Dennis Villeneuve, who made a strong impact with his film about the Middle East and Canada, Incendies. Working in English, he has made the striking dramas, Prisoners and Sicario. His next film, the sequel to Blade Runner.
The film opens with a linguistic expert, Louise (Amy Adams) trying to give a lecture but interrupted by phone calls and news of 12 giant pods hovering over different locations throughout the world. At her home, she speaks to her daughter, the beginning of her story – but we discover, through flashbacks, that the daughter has grown up, become ill, has died.
Into this mysterious context, the American military arrives, in the form of Forest Whitaker, to take Louise to the Montana headquarters confronting the pod over the US, along with a science expert, Ian (Jeremy Renner). Together they are to interpret the communications from the aliens and to probe the science behind the arrival. The perfect will pods may seem sinister to eyes used to watching disaster films, but their perfect form is reminiscent of the monolith in 2001.
While there is military alertness, especially from a general in China, this is not a film about war, not a variation on Independence Day.Rather, the two investigators have sessions with the strange aliens, looking something like octopi with seven tentacles, who make sounds but who also squirt Rohrschach -looking circular diagrams which Louise has to interpret, trying to find words and meanings.
There is anxiety around the world, communication, then closing of communications, and some deadlines for discovering the truth.
At the end, Louise realises that the aliens have a different understanding of time, not linear, rather circular – which gives more meaning to Louise, relationship, the conception of her child, the child’s life and illness.
At the end, also, there are signs of hope, a benign interpretation of the aliens and their continued care for humans and encouraging them to unity and peace.
So, a more thoughtful contribution to the tradition of the science-fiction of an intelligent life in space.
BAD SANTA 2 site
US, 2016, 92 minutes, Colour.
Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly, Ryan Hansen, Jenny Zigrino, Jeff Skowron, Octavia Spencer.
Directed by Mark Waters.
The original Bad Santa lived up to its name. The sequel, over a decade later, capitalising on (or exploiting) a perceived greater freedom in what can be up there on the screen, to be seen, to be heard, Bad Santa 2, certainly lives up to its name!
Santa is bad in his attitudes (amoral, sexist, racist, criminal – but with a dollop or two of sentiment), in his behaviour, in his language, actually in most things. But, if you do decide to go to see the film, then just wait till you see and hear Willie’s mother.
Billy Bob Thornton is once again Willie Sokes, a criminal type, rather gaunt this time and looking much the worse for wear, with an ability to open safes within three minutes. His mother is having timeout for good behaviour (something which she can charmingly simulate when she wears her Santa outfit) but is a harridan of the worst and loudest kind, having spent most of her time in prison, absolutely despising her son, self-centred, greedy – and anything else you can think of.
Come to think of it a number of the cast also have the opportunity to display some badness, Christina Hendricks is the head of a charitable organisation, attending AA meetings, ready for sex at any time. Tony Cox reappears from the first film, a dwarf actor, frequently the butt of some politically incorrect jokes about height. Even Octavia Spencer has a more lascivious scene than she normally does. However, there is one nice character, Brett Kelly reappearing as The Kid from the first film, now Thurman, a touch of autism, devoted to Willie, seeing good in everyone. He is now 21, follows Willie around, even coming to Chicago to find him when Willie goes to do a job on the safe holding the funds for a charitable organisation for children at Christmas.
Quite a lot of the film is taken up in four lettered repartee (and, often, more than four letters). And, quite a lot is taken up with the bickering, especially between mother and son. Billy Bob Thornton does not communicate a sentimental type on screen and, for the most of the film, it would seem he couldn’t care less – but he does have a soft spot for Thurman, tries to help him, is actually touched by the devotion and, would you believe, his eyes moisten as he listens to Thurman singing Silent Night at the concert.
There is a lot of farce in the robbery and in the getaway and mutual betrayals.
In many senses, going to the film is something of a guilty pleasure – may be more on the guilty than on the pleasure! But, what might keep us watching, even smiling (and even laughing) is the absurdity of it all, but played fairly straight. Unlike a lot of the campus comedies and such films as Bad Neighbours and Dirty Grandpa which invite the audiences in for something of a wallow in the bad and the dirty, Bad Santa is more of a pantomime, not pretending to be realistic at all, but creating exaggerated characters, giving them free reign, jolting us from our expectations of their behaviour.
The film can be described as black comedy – but under the heading of blackbad comedy.
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALF-TIME WALK
US, 2016, 106 minutes, Colour.
Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Leigh, Ben Platt.
Directed by Ang Lee.
The title is rather long and may take a moment to grasp, but it is worth the effort.
But this was apparently not the case in the United States where, within a week or more, the film was described as a flop. It has been pointed out that American audiences have not responded particularly well to the films made about the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent war, even the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, and not being a financial success. It is the action films which draw to the box office, like American Sniper.
This is definitely a film about Iraq with some close-ups of a particular action which involved Billy Flynn, the young recruit from Texas who had a rowdy adolescence with his father forcing him to enlist. Billy has shown some heroism in trying to rescue his wounded sergeant, which was filmed and has become a sensation in the media, leading to an entrepreneur bringing back the Bravo troop to do a morale-boosting tour which is to culminate at the half time interval in the arena at a Dallas football match.
This means that the film is definitely a piece of Americana, a glimpse of the war and battle and its effect, post-traumatic syndrome and the military wanting to deny this. It is a piece of Americana in the focus on the football match, all the hoopla, the cheerleaders, the dancing girls, including Destiny’s Child and (Kristen Stewart) who has facial and other scars from an accident he caused but who still supports him, wanting him to come home and not go back to Iraq. There are several flashback to the action, quiet bonding with the sergeant, a replay of the episode, especially at the end when it is seen in close-up, what Billy did and the combat with the Iraqi insurgent who attacked the sergeant.
So, while we see the men and their life in Iraq, Billy finding his place in the world as a soldier (and a fine performance from British Joe Alwyn as Billy), with the sergeant (a good role for Vin Diesel neither being fast nor furious), for the leader of the troop (Garrett Hedlund very serious about the war and the spirit of soldiers and rather resenting the carnival atmosphere of the show and the half-time walk), we see the producer (Chris Tucker also in a better role than his usual comic patter) and the businessmen sponsoring the show, the team as well as plans to make a movie of the episode – played by Steve Martin.
The romantic episode with a Christian cheerleader is less persuasive.
Audiences outside the United States will probably respond better to the film. The screenplay, and its presentation of a variety of characters, shift perspective pro and con the war, the criticism of the war, the celebration of military action.
And all this is the work of director Ang Lee who has had an extraordinary career for over 30 years, winning an Oscar for Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger, filming Jane Austen in England with Sense and Sensibility, winning directing Oscars for Brokeback Mountain and for Life of Pi, and showing insights into the United States with films ranging from Ice Storm, the Civil War drama, Ride with the Devil, and Taking Woodstock.
Lee used an experimental technique, 120 frames per second, which led to clearer content in each frame – but this was used only in two cinemas in the United States and, with the failure at the box office of the film, it has been screened in standard style both in the US and outside the US.
A film worth reflecting on and discussing, testing attitudes towards the upheavals in the Middle East.
THE FAMILY FANG
US, 2015, 105 minutes, Colour.
Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Christopher Walker, Maryann Plunkett, Kathryn Hahn, Jason Butler Harner, Harris Yulin, Linda Emond, Josh Pais.
Directed by Jason Bateman.
One has simply to say that the title indicates a family story with bite!.
And, one would not be mistaken.
The film opens with a voice-over advising a young child to imagine being dead, death pervading the limbs and moving towards a whole body – followed by advice about dealing with chaos: be calm within because the chaos is outside. And then two children join their parents in robbing a bank, the young boy, called Child B, goes to the teller to demand a lollipop from the counter. His mother and sister are there in support and his father is videoing the whole lot.
It emerges that the family Fang are artists, mother and father firmly believing that art occurs in real life, in contrived situations that put people on edge, and that the art is in the unpredictable experience and the results. Over the decades, they become quite famous and the audience sees black-and-white footage of pranks from the past, including Child B, Baxter, winning a beauty contest the judges thinking he was a girl. His sister, Annie, Child A, also participates – including singing on a park bench, “Kill your Parents”.
As might be expected, this film about family raises many issues about the influence of parents on children (not unlike the recent Captain Fantastic where the parents took their large family out into the woods to subsist in a tough environment).
The adult Annie, Child A, and Baxter, Child B, have obviously experienced some psychological damage, she a temperamental film actress, he a moderately successful writer who cannot get his next manuscript in for the deadline. When Baxter is hospitalised through an accident with a gun firing potatoes, his parents come to the hospital to visit.
Annie and Baxter are very effectively played by Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman – who also directed the film.
But then Christopher Walken comes on the scene as the older father. Walken can chew scenery at the best of times and has many opportunities here to expound on his theories of art, his philosophy of life, elements of surprise and challenge in the performance arts that he involved his wife and children in in the past – and, it is revealed, he has not quite finished.
When their parents disappear – and the children are not sure whether they have been murdered or have engineered their disappearance – Annie and Baxter realise it is time for them to step out into their own individuality and deal with the influence of their parents. This involves going to see a professor who influenced their parents, Hobart (Harris Yulin).
The film includes the device of having the parents being interviewed for television, enabling them, especially the father, to explain his philosophy of art at some length, and Hobart also to be interviewed with his perspective.
There are some twists which he audience – and Annie and Baxter – did not anticipate.
Yes, the atmosphere and a lot of the behaviour is rather bizarre – but interesting and challenging.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
UK/US, 2016, 130 minutes, Colour.
Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Kravitz, John Voight, Johnny Depp.
Directed by David Yates.
Yes, there is life after Harry Potter.
Since finishing her series, JK Rowling has written a number of novels, including three crime novels under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. But, she now returns to the world of magic and wizards.
The target audience this time is an adult audience but younger audiences may be intrigued as well is attracted by the fantastic beasts and the action.
Our new hero, Newt Scamander, arrives in New York City in 1926 with creatures in his small suitcase, already causing mischief when he is interrogated by American customs. The creature inside, with a touch of the platypus beak, has a propensity for coins and jewels, searching for them and swallowing them – which even leads him into a bank and opening a vault. We already have an intriguing and oddball scenario.
Newt is played by Eddie Redmayne, popular now since his appearances in Les Miserables, as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl. He looks young and boyish, has unruly hair sticking out over his forehead, very gawkward,
New York has been struck by a series of disasters, buildings collapsing, roads split. And we are introduced to the American world of wizards, operating underground and away from the Unmags (American), Muggles (British). They have a hierarchy with president, and an authority figure, Mr Graves (Colin Farrell).
Newt witnesses a public speech by an angry woman condemning witches (Samantha Morton) – who is later revealed as an adoptive mother, taking in children including Modesty and Credence, rather Dickensian in her manner, but obsessed with eliminating witches. But Newt is tracked by Tina who arrests him and brings him before the President. A complication occurs when Newt’s case collides with the case owned by Jacob Koslowski (Dan Fogler) who is at the bank to get a loan to open a baker’s shop.
The lives of Newt, Tina and Jacob – as well as Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) a rather 1920s flapper-type who is attracted to the pudgy Jacob – get entangled with the wizards who are suspicious, with Mister Graves who has a plot going on with Credence (Ezra Miller), all the time Newt trying to do his best by the enormous range of creatures that are collected in an underground sanctuary.
Of course, the attraction of the film is a rather vast range of creatures, all shapes and sizes, or colours, some mischievous, some threatening, with abilities for all kinds of flight, crawling, and moving with magical speed. Which means there are quite a lot of effective action sequences as well.
New York is threatened by a mysterious destructive force – which we see again in action, disaster, devastation – until there is a confrontation with Newt and his wand and Tina and her persuasive words.
Fortunately, for ordinary New Yorkers, the wizards have the power to restore the devastation to its former safe state as well as sending up a dragon into the sky, filled with a special potion, who can create rain which falls on the population and ‘obliviates’ them, no memories left whatsoever.
It was surprising to find the some of the reviewers thought the whole thing pretty silly – which means then that Fantastic Beasts appeals to those with some imagination and who delight in the imagination roaming free.
Some final images indicate a sequel, a new meeting between the rather shy Newt and Tina, Jacob and Queenie meeting at the bakery – and a guest star looking menacing as a dastardly and evil wizard.
THE FENCER/ MIKKAILIJA
Finland, Estonia, Germany, 2015, 99 minutes, Colour.
Mart Avandi, Ursula Ratasepp, Lembert Ufsak.
Directed by Klaus Haro.
Actually, the title is quite literal. The central character has been a fencing champion earlier in his life.
And, actually, there is a fair amount of fencing in the film, with the hero himself, his teaching youngsters at school, and, finally along the lines of many sports film, a competition where the underdogs have to prove themselves.
But, that said, there is so much more to the film. It is a coproduction between Estonia, Finland and Germany, principally set in Estonia.
The prologue informs us that the the Nazi occupation of the Baltic states meant the conscription of a lot of young men to work and fight for the Germans. In the aftermath of the war, and Estonia being part of the Soviet Union, Stalin set his secret police to search out and arrest these young men.
The setting for this film is the school year, 1952-1953. We arrive in a remote Estonian town with the hero, the camera following him down the drab streets, his immediately going to the school principal’s office where he is to teach and to coach the sports club. The principal is one of those bureaucratic types, power in a small pond, later explaining that he always did what was expected of him by the authorities. And he has a younger assistant, one of those incessantly toadying types.
The hero, Endal (Mart Avandi) is in his late 20s, obviously hiding himself from authorities. He has been in Leningrad where he has a close friend who gives him advice, especially to stay hidden.
The core of the film is Endel’s work in the school, with a group of children who are poor, some of their families having disappeared. He mends skis but is then told by the principal that they have to share the skis with the local military base. He decides then to unpack his fencing gear and to suggest that some of the children might like to train in fencing – and over 20 turn up for the initial session.
While the children are very loyal, Endal confesses that he himself is very bad in dealing with children, commanding them sometimes severely. The screenplay focuses on a couple of the children, a little girl who showed initial curiosity, Marta, and the young boy, Jaan, who is hurt by Endal and wants to drop out. His grandfather, who studied in Germany, was a fencer and gives his weapons and gear to Endal. The principal of the school decides that fencing is feudal and therefore not appropriate.
A feature of the film is the principal’s meeting with a group of rather subdued parents, an image of the Soviet Union and government, but with the parents surprising daring, raising hands very tentatively, to support the fencing training in the face of the principal’s opposition. Democracy can achieve some things.
While Endal is very private person, one of the teachers at the school, herself rather reticent, is attracted and the film shows their relationship in a very gentle manner.
The film does end with a fencing tournament, Endal choosing four students to represent the school in Leningrad. He obviously runs the risk of arrest, with the principal present, with military presence, which means that there is a dramatic tension between what is achieved with the young students and what is going to happen to Endal.
In many ways quite low key in its look, in its performances, in its treatment of situations – but very telling nonetheless.
US, 2016, 115 minutes, Colour.
Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B.J.Novak.
Directed by John Lee Hancock.
The press preview for The Founder was on the morning of Thursday 10th of November, under 24 hours since the news of the election of Donald Trump. Which means that our audience was thinking about the impact of Trump, the businessman, the showman, a powerful winner in the context of the capitalist United States. And here was the portrait of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds? (or so he claimed) and of the two McDonald? Brothers who established their fast food company.
By the end of the film, one didn’t have an entirely favourable impression of Ray Kroc, his personality, his philosophy of persistence in business, which he saw as war, and the means he used to get his success – and, as with so many films of actual people these days, a clip of the real Ray Kroc appears during the final credits along with information about him and those associated with McDonalds?.
Michael Keaton seems born to the role, something of a variation on the hyper- energised characters he has played over the decades. The film opens with Ray Kroc to camera, a huge spiel about his selling a machine to make multi-milkshakes, a vigorous sales pitch about supply creating demand, and posing priorities of chicken and eggs. It is rather overwhelming – then deflating, for him and for us, when he is instantly turned down. That is the history of Kroc, taking on many sales jobs, not quite succeeding, living on the road, in hotels, listening to personal development records, phoning his wife, growing away from her, a driven man.
At first he can’t believe the diner in San Bernardino, California, who put in an order for eight of his machines. He decides he has to go and see this enterprise and is amazed, as he lines up in the queue, at the speed of delivery, at the paper packaging, at the seats in the grounds of the diner, so gets talking with two middle-aged men, Dick and Mac McDonald? (fine performances by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) who explain their processes to him, their history, the film recreating a day when they experiment with the designs of a floor plan for maximum efficiency and a group of men whom they rehearse, continually restructuring until they have what they want.
The two brothers are decent men, with a sense of honour, Dick with the initiatives and Mac as solid support. Ray is so impressed that he persuades the brothers that he should go in with them – and so begins the process of an entrepreneur, lacking in scruples, enthusing and gradually taking over McDonalds?, forming a company, buying land on which his franchises can be built, recruiting the right staff who will keep to the formula and make sure that each McDonalds? will be a place that families can come to. At the end of the film he explains to Dick McDonald? that the secret of their success is the name, a name that most people can identify with – after all who would want to go to have a hamburger at Krocs!
The brothers are swept along by Ray Kroc, as are we the audience.
A line of dialogue in the film sums up Kroc’s approach – contracts, like hearts, are meant to be broken. He breaks the brothers’ hearts and does not honour the handshake contract he makes about their receiving 1% of McDonald’s? profits. He breaks his wife’s heart (Ethel, played by Laura Dern, as a sad and lonely woman), divorces her and marries the wife of one of his associates.
So, this is the American capitalist dream writ large – the final credits mentioning that his wife, Joan Kroc, bequeathed very large amounts of money to the Salvation Army and other charities.
UK, 2016, 96 minutes, Colour.
Bernard Hill, Virginia Mc Kenna, Alun Armstrong, Una Stubbs, Simon Callow, Sue Johnston, Brad Moore.
Directed by John Miller.
Within the first few minutes of this film, we realise that the title is rather ironic. We visit a home for the elderly and find an official in charge explaining the “offerings “for the residents – that is, what they eat. We find one of the elderly men interned to keep them under control. And just as Arthur (Bernard Hill) goes to an office for a complaint, he is told that the company that he used to work for has gone bust which will severely limit his pension (and he’s assured that the letter is accurate because it came through at 5 AM, Delhi time). For some minutes, we might suspect that we are in Ken Loach territory – and, in fact, Daniel Blake might enjoy this film.
In fact, Golden Years is somewhere in between Ken Loach and masked robbers bank jobs like Point Break.
The setting is a rather sunny Bristol. And the two central characters are Arthur and his wife, Martha, yes Arthur and Martha, Martha played of all people by Virginia Mc Kenna. For older moviegoers it is a treat to see Virginia Mc Kenna again, heroine of action and war films in the first part of the 1950s, star of A Town like Alice, in the 60s doing animal films in Africa with her husband, Bill Travers, like Born Free. A check reveals that she was born in 1931. Also born in the 1930s, 1937, is Una Stubbs, very well known for televisions Till Death do us Part and, more recently, Mrs Hudson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. Una Stubbs is Shirley and is married to a rather exhibitionist Royston (Simon Callow in a rather exhibitionist performance), a very theatrical type, a big fish in a rather small pond. Rounding out the chief oldies is Brian, Phil Davis,
The group and their neighbours spend a lot of time down at the local club, chatting, drinks, a touch of dancing, and, every fortnight (because it is becoming too expensive to bring it every week) a bingo night.
So, what about the banks and Point Break masks?
You will enjoy seeing how Arthur comes across a treasure trove of money from a security van by accident (literally, the security guard tripping on Arthur’s cart). Off he goes. Luckily, Brian and the others explain the dye that is put on the cash – which Arthur is able to avoid and uses the proceeds to buy a caravan to take Martha on a tour of the regional stately homes.
Once bitten, try again. Nobody notices the two elderly people with their cart, and the police are baffled. The chief investigator is played by Alun Armstrong and his name is Sid (but he is not vicious) – and, would you know, his wife is Nancy (Sue Johnston).
A final crisis gives everybody the opportunity to a bit do a bit of point breaking, to get enough money to save the club which is to be sold to developers. And poor Sid, who is moving towards retirement, is continually being upstaged by his vain associate Stringer (Brad Moore), in it for self-glory – which, of course, he does not achieve.
There are some continuity gaps which make the last bank exploit a bit difficult to follow – but, it is all in a good cause (which somebody says robbers always say, but the final stash is that which is being kept for bonuses for bank chiefs!).
The film should do good business at day sessions with busloads of senior citizens enjoying the film and some sandwiches and cakes – but, in its own demanding way, risking a few risqué asides, it is an entertaining British pastime.
I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY
China, 2016, 130 minutes, Colour.
Bingbing Fan, Narrator: Xiogang Feng.
Directed by Xiogang Feng.
The present title is for Western audiences, to draw on their experience of reading Flaubert’s Madame Bovary or seeing various film versions, a reminder of Emma Bovary, her marriage, the relationship with her husband, her affair and its consequences. In fact, there is a prologue, narrated by the director himself, a Chinese equivalent story of Madame Bovary but to have used it in an English title might have proven to be too esoteric.
While the film is rather esoteric in its way, it is not in the development that might have been indicated with the opening story of a rather more faithless woman, betrayal of her husband, her killing him and her name becoming a byword for this kind of violent infidelity.
The esoteric require a word of warning about the filming and the screening. For most of the film the frame is a circle, which sometimes has the effect of being a proscenium making the audience respond to what they are seeing not just as a film but as a staged performance. There are two visits to Beijing where the circle opens a little and the framing is the traditional box form. At the end, the screen widens to what we might have expected throughout the film. It is certainly an odd experience watching a rather long film in circle form.
Bingbing Fan portrays Lian, a woman whom we see demanding justice from all the authorities in her town and county, claiming that the documents she received from the notary is a fake divorce paper, that she and her husband were to live in an apartment but he reneged and married again.
The first part of the film has her brandishing her document, accosting the variety of authorities, in the streets, standing in front of a car, confronting an official at his golden wedding anniversary party, eventually going to court, the notary who issued the document testifying against her – and her case being thrown out (and her later suggesting that her husband offered a bigger bribe than she had to the judge).
She perseveres – and, though it doesn’t always seem like it at the time judging from her looks and reactions – for 10 years. Early in the piece, she contemplated getting some men to kill her husband.
One of the main points of the film is her persistence (a Christian audience might remember Jesus’ parable from Luke’s Gospel about the persistent woman pestering the unjust judge). The other point is the injustice of the authorities, their relinquishing their responsibilities, arguing themselves out of having to make decisions.
At one stage, as the years gone by, she connects with the past friend who offers to help as long as she agrees to a sexual liaison – but she overhears him phoning authorities and collaborating with them.
It is at the end of the film only, when she has been in despair, ready to kill herself, that she has calmed down and encounters an official from the past and explains the true motivation that drove her to seek justice all these years – a story of some pathos.
THE LEGEND OF BEN HALL
Australia, 2015, 140 minutes, Colour.
Jack Martin, Jamie Coffa, William Lee, Joanne Dobbin, Adam Wlilson, Erica Field, Callan Mc Auliffe, Arthur Angel, Jordan Fraser- Trumbull, Gregory Quinn, Andy Mc Phee, Lauren Grigson.
Directed by Matthew Holmes.
While the automatic response to hearing of an Australian bushranger is Ned Kelly, many will remember that there has been Captain Starlight, Frank Gardiner – and Ben Hall. There are also the film memories of various versions of Robbery under Arms with Captain Starlight, the different versions of Ned Kelly as well as Mad Dog Morgan.
For Australian audiences, The Legend of Ben Hall provides a great deal of information about the bushranger, his life, his actions, and interestingly so. He was active for three years in the 1860s, finally killed in an ambush in 1865. While the film does provide a background, especially introducing various characters and their life stories, the action of the film takes place in his final months from 1864 to 1865, his operating in western New South Wales, around Forbes, then his activities south of Goulburn in such towns as Collector and Bredalbine, with the attempted robbing the gold coach at Majors Creek in the Araluen Valley.
This reviewer was particularly interested, remembering that a great-grandfather arrived from Ireland in 1864, made his way to Araluen and was proprietor of one of the hotels, 42 of them, in this town on the southern goldfields. Audiences of Anglo-Celtic? descent from New South Wales will also have ancestor connections.
The film looks particularly good, taking advantage of the location photography, the paddocks, the gum trees, the wooden huts, the small and ramshackle towns at the beginning of their history – and, instead of the transition from one scene to another with a fade to black, there are frequent transitions to beautiful landscapes, beautiful skyscape’s, enhancing the mood of the film.
It takes a while for the film to explain why Ben Hall became a bushranger, mainly the clash with the police, the traps. We are told at the end that he took part in 600 or more raids and hold-ups but never killed anyone.
Jack Martin is a strong screen presence as Ben Hall, tall, sturdy, with a polite accent and, frequently, manner. He is a criminal, eventually to be declared an outlaw by the colonial government. He still has feelings for the wife who left him for another man, for his young son, whom he seeks out and abducts (some echoes of domestic violence in these sequences).but still cherishing his wife and carrying her picture, wanting to give some of the proceeds of his robberies for the education of his son.
At the opening, we see the traps pursuing Ben Hall and his old partner – with their ability to run away and hide amongst the gum trees in the bush. This happens frequently enough. And, unlike most of the movies, the bushrangers and the traps fire lots and lots of shots with very few kills.
Ben Hall is joined by his partner, Jack Gilbert (Jamie Coffa) whose performance may be very accurate but who creates a character who is incessantly annoying, irritating, Canadian who has no moral sense, relishes the robberies and ambushes, has no scruple concerning killing. He recruits a young man, John Dunn (William Lee), rather gawky, inexperienced, prone to nervousness and accident.
The film is rather a long one, giving the audience plenty of time to appreciate the characters, see them in action, in their interactions with each other, an interlude in the town where Ben Hall has taken up with a prostitute and his associates take up with two sisters there, going to a dance, locking the doors and taking the guns, but tricked by a storekeeper, former policeman, to betray them – and, viciousness takes over as they burn down his store.
This was the period of the Civil War in the United States and the famous outlaws were to start their exploits after 1865. The Australian outlaws were simpler and more straightforward than their American counterparts, and this film reminds us how different Australian society was from America in the 19th century, and the action taking place in the bush rather than the American plains or deserts. but, criminals nonetheless.
There is an aboriginal presence in the film, two trackers who work with the police in pursuing Ben Hall and his gang.
The film and its writer-director, Matthew Holmes is to be commended for taking audiences back into life in the 19th century, the bush and the settlements, the role of the police and the bushrangers.
US, 2016, 85 minutes, Colour.
Greg Kinnear, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Talia Balsam, Alfred Molina.
Directed by Ira Sachs.
The title sounds are touch twee. But the film is not.
The two little men of the title are Jacob and Tony, the former from a New York family with a Jewish background, the latter from a Chilean family with a Catholic background. They are both 13 years old.
The film introduces us first to Jake, the scene a very rowdy classroom where Jake is quiet, doing sketches. He is something of a loner, a quiet boy, talented with his art. At home, he answers the phone with a stranger calling to say that his grandfather has died – and the consequences affect his whole family.
Jake’s father was not close to his father, the grandfather who died, but has inherited his apartment in Brooklyn, causing a family move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Below the apartment is a dress shop managed by Leonor, a close friend of the grandfather who has been managing the shop and paying minimal rent. Tony is her son.
And the two boys hit it off instantly, each admiring the other, comfortable in each other’s company, skateboarding or rollerskating down the streets and under the rail overpasses, Tony admiring Jake’s art and expressing a desire to go to LaGuardia? School to train to be an actor – and, perhaps, Jake could go there to study art.
Jake’s father is Brian, an actor, rehearsing for a role in The Seagull. His mother, Kathy, has a psychiatric practice and supports the family financially – a complication when Brian’s sister wants to raise Leonor’s rent and, if she cannot pay, evict her.
Which means that while the disputes go on with the adults, Brian trying hard to take a hard stand, Kathy trying to mediate and Leonor taking tougher stances, the two boys become the victims of the parental arguments – and, at one stage, neither boy talking to his parents.
This is a very short film but strong in its impact. Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle are Brian and Cathy, Paulina Garcia (who played the strong title role of the Chilean film Claudia) is Leonor. The two boys, Theo Taplitz as Jake and Michael Barbieri as Tony clearly have acting futures before them – and information indicates that Theo Taplitz has already made eight short films and acted as his cinematographer.
The film is co-written and directed by Ira Sachs. Most of his films have a gay subtext or explicit text. This one does not but one wonders about these pre-pubescent boys and whether the quiet Jake will in Sachs’ imagination emerge with a gay orientation. The film just stops, partly sadly, and one wonders about the future of the boys.
THE MENKOFF METHOD
Australia, 2016, 87 minutes, Colour.
Noah Taylor, Lachlan Woods, Jessica Clarke, Robert Taylor, Catherine Mc Clements, Andrew Ryan, Mal Kennard, Olga Makeeva, David Whitely, .
Directed by David Parker.
The title does not give very much away except for the overtones of something Russian with the name, Menkoff. But, who is he and what is his method?
First, this is an unusual Australian film, Melbourne film – and, more’s the pity that its marketing budget was minuscule so that many people who might have enjoyed it did not get the opportunity to know about it and see it.
The filmmakers have had some great brainwaves. They have taken a banking story, a bank in decline, needing some kind of renovation in its management, with machinating underlings and the standing down of the CEO, a ruthless takeover bid and its consequences. But, the makers also have a love for Manga stories, the Japanese graphic novels, vivid cartoon panels, action heroes and heroines, dastardly villains, and intrigues, and with plenty of touches of super-heroics.
And, they have combined the two strands, blending the two stories very nicely, often unexpectedly.
The central character is a bespectacled nerd, David, looking very much like Clark Kent, who is a data processor for the endangered bank, but spending most of his time at work finishing his Manga book for a competition in Japan. His heroine is called Foxy Chaos and, to his surprise, when he goes to a club with his workmate Gary who fancies himself as a singer but even gets kicked out from his karaoke performance, David sees Ruby in the costume of as Foxy Chaos – and, as she hurries away, she loses one of her shoes!
Back to the title. Max Menkoff is a Russian, already pursued by armed killers from Mongolia where he had attempted a bank takeover, who goes to Dubai to tempt an executive for a takeover – and take over he does. He is accompanied by Svetlana, tough and hardy Russian, and Karpov who is tough but somewhat distracted. Max is played intensely by Noah Taylor, creased face, scruffy beard, broken Russian accent – and capitalising on his experience during the times of the Soviet Union in turning workers into loyal robots for the company.
Lachlan Woods and Jessica Clarke as David and Ruby make quite a couple, he gawkiness personified despite his Manga skills, she an attractive ally. And there are various Australian character actors there in supporting roles including Robert Taylor as the CEO and John Brompton as a security man.
It is hoped that this review/description captures a bit of interest so that it sounds tantalising and that this offbeat film might sound worth checking out. A small film, but quite amusing in its way.
The film was directed by David Parker, cinematographer, especially for his partner, Nadia Tass.
Australia, 2016, 88 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Trevor Graham.
Obviously, some Gallic touches with a title like this – and some sequences on the making of mayonnaise, on the variety of ingredients, that may startle some with cooking interests.
However, this is an excellent documentary, always interesting and entertaining, a strong 90 minute episode along the lines of “Where do you come from…?”. The you in this particular case is Australian director and artist, Philippe Mora.
While the film is about his parents and their extraordinary story, especially during World War II, the film was also a revelation about Philippe himself and his very interesting career.
As a framework for the film, Philippe Mora is drawing panels for a comic book, one of his specialties, on the background, history and exploits of his parents, Georges and Mirka. We see the artist at work, the details of his painting so many panels (even to various daubs of mayonnaise). He also uses the device of having himself sit at a desk, rather in the dark, private eye hat, American accent, typing the story for a film noir which is how he sees much of his parents’ lives.
At the opening, there are home movies of the Moras on the beach at Aspendale. The family moved to Melbourne in 1951. It was assumed that Georges was French and it was only much later that it emerged that his real name was Gunter, that he was from Leipzig, that he was studying at the University, medicine, but escaped in 1933 from Hitler’s Germany to Paris where he lived the rest of the 30s, changed his name and identity in occupied France, escaped to the South and spent a great deal of his energy in aiding Jewish children to get out of France, working much of the time in collaboration with Marcel Marceau (even to their disguising themselves as nuns getting children to the Swiss border), who is Philippe Mora’s godfather. (Georges refused to speak German until towards the end of his life).
Mirka was younger, she and her sisters rounded up in 1942 but able to escape and taken in by a family and hidden in a French village until the liberation of France in 1944. With the emerging of the Cold War after 1947, Mirka decided that she did not want to live in Europe with the threat of war and so the couple moved to Australia where they raised their children, Mirka becoming a celebrity in the art world with her painting, her more than touches of bohemian behaviour, with Georges and Mirka opening a gallery, encouraging artists, and then moving into their celebrated restaurants. They separated in 1970. Georges remarried but died in the 1980s while, at the making of the film, Mirka was a vivacious 88, still painting and cooking.
There are plenty of home movies and clips, of scenes from films, including Philippe Mora’s portrait of the Third Reich, Swastika, interviews including a daughter of the French family who sheltered Mirka and her sisters, an American psychiatrist who is one of the children saved by Georges.
Philippe is a constant presence throughout the film, with some comments by his brother William. Audiences, perhaps not familiar with the fact that Philippe made several horror films including two of the Howling movies, will be more than startled when the film suddenly shows some horror and gore clips!
The film moves at a lively pace, is always interesting – and introducing some new aspect of the life of the Moras.
US, 2016, 92 minutes, Colour.
Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy?, Rose Leslie, Michael Yare, Toby Jones, Chris Sullivan, Boyd Holbrook, Vinette Robinson, Michelle Yeho, Brian Cox, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti.
Directed by Luke Scott.
It is almost 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote her classic novel, Frankenstein. It was taken up in the 20th century, the subject of many novels, many variations on the theme of the hubris of creators who want to “play God” and create life. The archetypal story became very popular with the 1930s with the film of Frankenstein and the many cinema variations of the story. And, the popularity has continued into the 21st century. Morgan is one of the latest examples.
The film was shot in Northern Ireland, The action takes place in one of those remote locations in the woods, an old mansion with offices and accommodation but with a state-of-the-art laboratory for experiments and creation of facsimiles of life. This is a reminder of the laboratory in the woods and the new creature, again female, in the fine science fiction film, Ex Machina. Here it is Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy?.
The film opens with a young woman speeding through the countryside, very serious, dressed in black, definitely on a mission. This is Lee Weathers, sent by the executors of the company to make a report on the progress of Morgan. At the installation is a mixed staff, a manager, the scientist in charge of the project (Toby Jones), two scientists, two women who nurse and accompany Morgan, Kathy and Amy (Rose Leslie and Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a cook, Skip (Boyd Holbrook).
Lee meets everyone which enables the audience to have an introduction to the whole staff and what they do, although Kathy is in the infirmary, having been attacked by Morgan, something the audience has seen on the CCTV. Lee is very serious, almost robotic in her behaviour and communication, although there is a momentary touch of humanity following a romantic urge by Skip.
But, the assessment depends on the interview by the psychologists, Dr Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) who is to arrive the next day. When he arrives, he is bumptiously self-confident, wanting no glass partition between him and Morgan (as there is with everyone else). Apart from the attack that we have seen, Morgan, whom the staff think of as female but whom Lee stresses is an “it”, Morgan seems a pleasantly subdued and polite young woman (though it has only taken her five years of development to reach this stage).
Dr Shapiro might be a celebrated psychologist but he pays the price for his aggressive interrogation and demanding that Morgan imagine, “what if…?”.
It is at this point that the film become something of B-budget thriller with Morgan aggressively targeting all the staff except for her friend, Amy, wanting to go out into the countryside to a lake which they had visited previously – and Morgan had encountered a wounded animal which made an impact on her.
Ultimately, as we might imagine, it is a struggle between Lee, seemingly remarkably resilient, and Morgan.
There is a finale which brings themes together as Lee reports back to the affluent and ambitious executives (including Brian Cox), leaving us to ponder the questions about hubris, laboratory creations and experiments, the human issues, financial gains… The film was directed by Luke Scott, son of the celebrated director, Ridley Scott.
Brazil, 2015, 101 minutes, Colour.
Juliano Cazarre, Maeve Jinkings, Alyne Santana.
Directed by Gabriel Mascaro.
One of the advantages of watching a film that comes from an unfamiliar country is that it opens up audience horizons, seeing different locations, encountering different people, sometimes very different ways of life. This is the case with Neon Bull.
On paper, the subject of the film might not seem particularly interesting or attractive. And, this might be the case for many audiences who watch the film, its unfamiliarity, and, especially its earthiness.
Actually, there is only one neon bull during the whole film. but, there are many bulls, the film opening with stalls crammed with bulls, some on top of each other. Audience puzzle is soon answered as we see the bulls being moved from stall to stall by some tough cowboys. We see the central character, Iremar, getting the tail of each bull, fluffing it, putting said in its tail – and then sending the bull out into an arena, a local rodeo in the north of the country, where a line is drawn across the middle of the arena and the cowboys have to topple the bull before they reach that mark. For those apprehensive about animal cruelty, it doesn’t look the best, nor with the cramming of the bulls into the stalls and onto trucks travelling from town to town for rodeos, but most of the bulls stand up after their fall pretty readily – with the exception of one who struggles to rise.
When the rodeo takes place at night, some of the bulls are covered in neon paint – hence the title.
But the film is really about the people, about Iremar, in his mid-30s, strong and tough with the bulls, with the other men in the team, involved in hard work. Surprisingly, he has a dream of being a tailor, measuring the woman in the group for costumes for a cabaret act where she dons a horse’s head and gyrates to the loud applause of the very male audience. Iremar sews the handpicked cloth with his small sewing machine, and, later in the film, he has the opportunity to tour an enormous clothing factory, full of machines bigger than his, a place where he would really like to work.
In the close-knit group which travels from town to town is the woman who drives and who dances at the cabaret, along with her daughter with whom she is continually squabbling, a rather independent-minded little girl who loves horses rather than bulls. Then there is the large Ze, the butt of a lot of jokes, and Junior, who spends a lot of time ironing his long hair.
The film focuses at quite some length on a lot of episodes, getting the audience to ponder the detail, cooking and meals, driving, the men and communal washing, the tour of the factory, a pregnant woman touring the rodeo and selling perfumes, a lengthy and rather explicit sexual encounter.
The director obviously has some affection for these people and shows them in a fairly straightforward way without making judgements on them. He invites the audience to do the same.
US, 2016, 117 minutes, Colour.
Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson?, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Robert Aramayo, Laura Linney, Andrea Reisborough, Michael Sheen.
Directed by Tom Ford.
This is a different kind of drama/ melodrama, two stories intersecting throughout the film.
(It is true that some audiences thought this was a nature film, an error something akin 50 years ago to people thinking that Midnight Cowboy was a Western!)
The film has an arresting, if disturbing, credit sequence, with a number of large portraits of calypagous women, many of rather vast proportions, naked, perhaps suggesting to audiences that this is what the title meant. But it leads into the character of Susan, played by Amy Adams, who is a gallery curator and this is one of her exhibitions. She is a tense woman, with insomnia, concerned about her husband (Armie Hammer) who seems to be away on business a great deal. She receives a package, the manuscript of a novel by her former husband and she begins to read. And the audience begins to see the dramatisation of this novel – which is called Nocturnal Animals.
We later learn that Susan and Edward, the author of the novel, shared interests and love earlier but Edward was a soft man and Susan are hard woman, especially in the vein of her snobbish mother (Laura Linney in a very effective cameo role) and the two parted.
One of the features that makes the film dramatically arresting is that Jake Gyllenhaal plays Edward in the flashbacks but also plays Tony, the husband in the novel. the performances consolidate his status as a strong actor.Truth be told, at least for some audiences, the dramatisation of the novel is far more interesting than Susan’s sleepless nights and her personal dilemmas.
The novel and the film takes us on to the back roads of Texas, a family going on vacation, father, mother (Isla Blair) and daughter (Ellie Bamber). They are minding their own business, the daughter, of course, preoccupied with social media. A car ahead on this open highway begins to play chicken games, slowing down, speeding up, but it all becomes worse when the petulant girl gives the driver of the car the finger – and what consequences for the simple giving the finger!
As we stay with Susan, sharing her memories, her relationship with Edward, with her mother, we keep hoping that she will pick up the manuscript again and continue reading. But, things become worse, the louts in the car, led by very surly and arrogant Aaron Taylor-Johnson?, attack the family, abducting the wife and daughter, abandoning the father. We wonder whether the worst can happen – and most of it does.
As the novel continues, we are introduced to a local detective, played very effectively by Michael Shannon in his typically menacing Michael Shannon style. He is after the criminals, enlists the help of Tony to identify them, is on the lookout for their further misdemeanours, which brings up an even more dramatic climax, complicated by the physical condition of the detective who, because he has the cancer already, doesn’t have to give up his cigarettes.
While the novel within the film does have an ending, the film itself does not, Susan still having to make decisions about her life. Interestingly, the original novel is actually titled Tony and Susan. The parallels between Edward and Tony are worth considering.
The film is directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, is only of the film was another striking drama, A Single Man, with Colin Firth.
QUEEN OF KATWE
US, 2015, 113 minutes, Colour.
Adam Driver, Goldshifteh Farhani, Barry Shabaka Henley,
Directed by Jim Jarmusch.
Most of us have never spent a day in Paterson, New Jersey, let alone a week. This film offers the occasion to make up for this never-had opportunity. This is precisely the framework of the film, seven days in Paterson.
Yes, there is quite an amount of routine, day by day, but this does not make it any the less interesting and entertaining. Actually, as the week goes on, we look forward to what each day will bring, anything new, variations on the old.
Patterson is also the name of the central character, a local bus driver, played at his best by Adam Driver. (He won the Best Actor award from the Los Angeles Critics.) He is a very good man, loyal to his work, engaged in the route his bus takes as well as the variety of passengers that he picks up and lets off. And, there are his colleagues at work, especially one pessimistic one whose domestic woes he listens to.
At home, there is his wife, who loves him, who sees him off and then she gets involved in a variety of activities at home, curtains, baking – and all with an emphasis, a high emphasis, on black and white, various designs, the contrast… She is played by Goldshifteh Farahani.
And Paterson has a dog, an English bulldog that he takes for its walk every night – or the dog takes him often enough. It is along the same streets, always ending up at the local pub for a drink, a chat, talk with the bartender, ward off the flirtatious drinker – and, later in the week, a disturbance by a man with a gun, with Paterson able to control him and be hailed as the local street hero.
However, what has not been mentioned yet is one of the most important things about him – he is a poet. He loves writing poetry. We might think that some of it is fairly mundane, but he takes opportunities in his spare moments, sitting at the wheel of the bus before he goes en route, at home, at his desk – and he has one special admiring fan, his wife.
One of the anguishing episodes of the film is his losing all his work because of his dog – but, he does lament for a bit, but is a hopeful man, encounters a little girl who has written a poem about a waterfall, encounters a Japanese poet – and is encouraged to begin again.
And that is what the end of the film does, each day has been captioned and, after the episodes of the weekend and the loss of the poems as well as the encounters, the title comes up on the screen: Monday.
This has to be one of the nicest, in the best sense of the word, films of the year that should have a wide appeal (except perhaps for too impatient diehard action fans!).
Uganda, 2016, 124 minutes, Colour.
Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o, Martin Kabanza, Taryn Kyazw, Esther Tabanddeke.
Directed by Mira Nair
It is important to realise immediately Katwe is a section of Kampala, capital of Uganda.It is a poor area, a slum area, makeshift homes, drains, much dirt and squalor, people surviving in menial jobs and at local markets. This is the setting for this rather inspirational drama, one of those stories about an unlikely prodigy, a seeming underdog, who trains, experiences conflicts, but succeeds in the area of their prowess.
In this case, it is chess.
The film is based on a true story, opening in 2011 with a chess tournament and going back to 2007 to show the discovery of Phiona and her talent for chess and the training and experiences building up to the tournament. In fact, the film does go on to some succeeding years with Phiona continuing her success – and, in a delightful and very pleasing way, the final credits having the cast of the film stand in front of the camera, one by one, with the actual character that each represented coming to stand beside them.
David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom, Martin Luther King in Selma) plays a sports coach, a former soccer player, who is employed by a ministry that has an outreach for poorer children in sport. He also has a talent for chess and invites a number of children from Katwe to a hall where they can learn to play chess, to use their minds and intelligence, to plan, to be courageous in fighting play, to learn lessons that will carry over into their lives. One day, following her brother, Phiona turns up, is ridiculed by the other students because she stinks, but she stays, defiant, washes at home and returns the next day and learns the basics.
Because of the warmth of the story and David Oyelowo’s playing as the coach, Robert Katende, the film has a very strong spirit. The other contribution, apart from Manding Nalwanga as Phiona, a 10-year-old girl with determination, is that of Lupita Nyong’s as Phiona’s mother, Harriet, a widow with several children, trying to cope by selling fish and corn at the market, a woman trying to manage and exerting strong discipline – although her oldest daughter goes off with one of the locals and, temporally, lives in some luxury.
The film is directed by Indian director Mira Nair, director of such interesting films as Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Marsala, Monsoon Wedding, who has lived in Uganda for many years and knows her way around the city and capitalises with the use of actual locations.
Robert is able to raise money by playing football for the cash deposit for his group of children to play in an upper class college in Kampala, Phiona shocking the champion by beating him, the locals at home getting a great boost in spirit from her victory. This is something of the pattern that continues for some years, Robert’s sympathetic wife teaching Phiona to read so that she can study chess books, the discovery that she can see in her mind the consequences of a move eight moves ahead. Her chess education includes a triumphant visit to a competition in Sudan and a less favourable competition in Moscow.
At this pre-adolescent age, Phiona is not always able to deal with the consequences of success, seeing how the other half live, looking at her own conditions. But, she takes the matter in hand, supported by Robert and his wife, Robert also able to speak frankly and encouragingly with Phiona’s mother.
Obviously, the film is going to have a happy ending, Phiona is not yet 20 and articles and books have been written about her as the child chess prodigy – and the credit information supplies what has happened to all the characters, reminding audiences that if opportunities arise and are taken, success is possible.
Other chess films of interest include The Search for Bobby Fisher but, a film that parallels the story here, is the New Zealand true story film, The Dark Horse, with Cliff Curtis teaching children to play competitive chess.
France, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.
Noemie Lvovsky, Kyan Khojandi, Alice Isaaz, Anemone, Philippe Rebbot, Sarah Girardeau, Camille Rutherford, Nicolas Bridet.
Directed by Julien Rappenneau.
This is a comparatively brief film, about a selection of ordinary people, people who might be considered as missing out on life, living in the city of Nevers. But, it is a joy to watch, a film that could be described as nice in its feelgood effect for the audience. It is practically perfect in its way.
And who is Rosalie Blum? She owns a fruit and grocery store in Nevers and sells a can of crabmeat to Vincent Machot, a 30-something hairdresser, working in a daily routine in a business that he inherited from his father. Vincent has a dominating mother (something of an understatement) who lives in the unit above him, tapping on his ceiling each morning to let him know that she is there and his realising what he will have to do for her that day. Vincent lives are very ordered life, allegedly with a girlfriend but she has moved to Paris six months earlier and keeps cancelling meeting up. His cousin, his best friend, is a philanderer, always wanting Vincent to stand up to his mother.
The film is in three parts, the first part focusing on Vincent himself, the second on a young woman called Aude, the third part on Rosalie herself. By the end of the first part, we have got to know Vincent rather well, quite a sympathetic man in himself, but rather timid, self-contained, bullied by his mother upstairs with her range of dolls and toys and re-enacting fantasy scenarios from her imagination. Vincent has been stirred by Rosalie and that chance meeting, thinking that he had met her before, and then taking up following her, the audience complicit with him as we too want to know more about Rosalie. So, by the end of the first part, we have enjoyed a film that is tres amusant, tres Francais. It gets better.
Aude is 25-year-old who, by her own confession, is lazy, preferring to do nothing but being urged to get a job labelling bottles in he factory, sharing her life with two friends, Cecile and Laura, and sharing an apartment with an extraordinary eccentric showman, Roomies (and seeing his dog, Miranda, whom he wants to perform as a lion is very amusing). Aude does not have much prospect for life, alienated from her mother, a good amateur photographer but having opted out of further education. It won’t spoil anything for the viewer, but it emerges that she is Rosalie’s niece.
As this second part moves on, the film becomes even more enjoyable, one might say deliciously so, as we get the opportunity to look at events and at Vincent from Rosalie’s and Aude’s point of view, revisiting some of the episodes we have already seen – which makes very entertaining re--viewing.
Which means that the third part, focusing on Rosalie herself, offers some kind of revelation – but, better to go and see it all rather than read or hear about it from someone else.
As the film progresses, every seemingly loose thread is connected in a very satisfying way, a happy ending that we weren’t anticipating, another episode that we might have been anticipating but is treated with prudence – and, just as those around sense words coming up on the screen and limber up to exit the cinema and final credits, there is a very good epilogue which ties some further ends together, again not as we might have anticipated.
So, Rosalie Blum herself and the film called by her name is continually surprising.
It will be a pleasing experience to see the film again.
Australia/ Cambodia, 2013, 88 minutes, Colour.
Sang Malen, Rous Mony.
Directed by Michael Cody, Amiel Courtin- Wilson.
Ruin won prizes at the Venice film Festival in 2013. It has had limited release.
Director, Amiel Courtin- Wilson has made several interesting films, collaboration with groups and amateur actors, especially his drama, Hail, collaborating with a former prisoner and dramatising his life story and what happened when he was released from prison.
This time, Courtin- Wilson and his co-director, Michael Cody, have travelled to Cambodia, working with amateurs again, using the Khmer language except for one character speaking in English, a venture which had them observing Cambodian life, many of the squalid aspects of life. The film was supported financially by Australian funding agencies.
For the first couple of minutes, impressionistic colours and movement pervade the screen until the camera moves down into the city of Phnom Penh, following the central character, Phirun, as he tries to work in a factory, the butt of attacks by fellow workers. Then there is a transition to a dingy room, a brothel room where a pimp is severely berating, physically and verbally, a young prostitute, Sovanna.
When each of the characters escapes their oppressive situation, they walk down a market Street together, gradually relating to each other, helping each other – which leads to a journey that could be partly their ruin, but is a journey with some degree of hope.
The film is very dark – and often visually dark as the two move through the countryside, come to a river, cross the river and find some children and accepting adults as well as some peace – but after some violent encounters including a killing and Sovanna having to deal with a sexually aggressive client.
For many audiences, the film would be something of an experiment, an invitation to go into the poor areas of the Cambodian city as well as into the back blocks, challenging people to think of the oppression of so many millions in Asia.
SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU
US, 2016, 84 minutes, Colour.
Ticka Sumpter, Parker Sawyers.
Directed by Richard Tanne.
A rather romantic title and the south side is that of the city of Chicago back in the summer of 1989. For those expecting something of a date movie, and some are promoting this film as such, it is a brief encounter between two pleasant characters, articulate characters. And some have been reminded of Richard Linklater’s romantic encounters, with a great deal of talking between the two characters, in his Before… Trilogy.
When we hear that the names of the characters are Michelle and Barack, there is no mistaking who they are. This is an opportunity to get to know the couple, the visualising of this outing which meant a great deal to them (and which commentators say is accurate enough about what happened, even to Barack buying Michelle a chocolate ice cream at the end of the film).
Ticka Sumpter and Parker Sawyers have put a great deal of effort into their characterising Michelle and Barack, Sawyers having a lot of Barack’s manner, look, into nations (and his heavy smoking at that period).
The action of the film takes place from the early afternoon until the evening, giving the couple quite an opportunity to talk, learn about each other’s history and family, talk about their work, their perspectives on social issues. Michelle insists to her mother and father and, frequently, to Barack that their outing is not a date, that he had invited her as a colleague at work to go to a meeting in a church about local social issues. By the end, especially with the ice cream, and a kiss, it has definitely been a date.
The first part of their outing is to an art gallery to see paintings by Edgar Barnes, quite arresting paintings of African-American? subjects, vivid colours, distorted forms, but illuminating a variety of situations and characters. This gives the couple an opportunity to talk about race issues, about Michelle’s straightforward family with a strong work ethic, about Barack’s white mother and her living in Hawaii and Indonesia, his Kenyan father and his father’s failures at study and work and death in a car accident. Many audiences know this background but it is interesting to hear the couple describe it.
Then the film moves to a more preachy and rhetorical situation, Barack invited to speak in the church to a group that is disappointed in social progress but he is able to turn their moods into enthusiastic support, reminding them that “no” can be turned into “on”. And so, we hear Barack social concerns – although Michelle does tell him that he sounds a bit professorial.
They also decide to go to a movie and see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, the stirring 1989 drama of race relationships in New York City, showing a finale with racial anger and a riot. The couple actually meet their boss and his wife, white, who have come to see the film, the very few white characters in the entire film.
The film leaves it to the audience and their experience of the Obamas, not giving any further information about them and their careers. The final credits give an opportunity for the filmmakers to show us in longer close-up some of the Edgar Barnes paintings. For audiences who want something more challenging and controversial, they will have to wait until Oliver Stone decides to make a film about the Obama years!
THE STUDENT/ THE DISCIPLE (M)UCHENIK
Russia, 2016, 118 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kiril Serebrennikov.
This is quite a striking film and for those interested in contemporary Russia, more than interesting.
Marketing explains that the Russian title (M)uchenik is a play on words – one word meaning disciple and the other meaning martyr. Certainly very apt for this film.
Memory indicates that in the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Russian television became interested in screening religious programs and went to production companies, in the United States and Western Europe, to buy programming, often from wealthy companies with a fundamentalist bent.
While the atmosphere of The Student is fairly secular – and with many of the characters, very secular – the central character has been bitten by a religious bug or, more respectfully, is intensely religious. Throughout the film, he communicates to those around him as well as to the audience that he is an embodiment of the Bible, reading it incessantly, quoting it incessantly. The exact scriptural references all appear in the upper left side of the screen.
The Student is Yenji, in his final year at school, living with his hard-working mother who holds down three jobs to support him. His perspective is that these are evil times and that the world is in a state of moral collapse. He resents his mother being a divorcee. He has a low opinion of girls and their flimsy bikiniwear at the swimming pool. He is forever delivering scriptural tirades to all and sundry.
When he dives into a pool fully clad, the principal, her assistant, the sports master and one of the teachers have a meeting with the mother to handle Yenji. His mother is anger personified, aggressive towards the staff as well as to the Russian Orthodox priest who is brought in to the discussion. Yenji later condemns him and his affluent hypocrisy.
In one dramatic sequence, the teacher, Helena, wants to warn the students about sexually transmitted diseases and brings in carrots and condoms for the class to work with. Yenji reacts vehemently, stripping down to the embarrassment of all – and another session with the staff.
In the meantime, a young boy is bullied, put in bins, ridiculed. He limps because one leg is shorter than the other. Yenji is sympathetic but, as it emerges, is eager to have a submissive disciple, inviting him home to meals, having prayer sessions so that his leg will miraculously stretch. The disciple is attracted to Yenji physically as is one of the young girls in class. Yenji has been avoiding these sexual considerations and his reaction to each is violent.
As with so many films from continental Europe, it just stops rather than come to any neat conclusion, leaving the audience to wonder about Yenji and where this religious fervour came from and what it will lead to, as well is considerations of contemporary Russian society, families, education (including a class on evolution where Yenji arrives derisively dressed in a gorilla suit).
As indicated, a very interesting film.
US, 16, 92 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse?, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Gwen Stephanie, John Cleese, James Cordon, Jeffrey Tambor.
Directed by Walt Dorhn, Mike Mitchell.
This is a very cheerful show, despite an important part of the plot having the ugly giant Bergens eat a Troll to make them happy!
The target audience for the film seems to be the very littlies, up to about the age of six or seven (perhaps a little beyond but the eights and others might think themselves a bit too sophisticated for this kind of entertainment!).This is one that the parents will have to sit through with their littlies – though they might enjoy the range of songs, variations on Greig’s Peer Gynt and the Mountain King, Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sounds of Silence, True Colours and other romantic songs, courtesy of the voices of Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake.
One of the reasons for the success of the film for its young audiences is the fact that it is full of movement, full of music, full of colour. And the Trolls, unlike the monsters of Nordic tradition, are variations of little dolls, especially Princess Poppy, the heroine of the piece. Most of them have very long colourful hair – which can be quite elastic at times, especially for tricks and rescues!
The Bergens are rather bigger, lacking colour, ugly faces, lopsided teeth, ruled over by a king who want his little son to be happy and eat a Troll. However, the King of the Trolls is alerted, leads them all through underground tunnels to safety, risking his life to save Poppy. 20 years later, Poppy is a live wire, wanting a 20 year celebration, loud, singing and dancing (which she is prone to move into at any moment) as well as hugging. The sad sack of the Trolls, Branch, warns them against being too loud – and, of course, they are, with the Chef of the Bergens searching for them for 20 years and, at last, finding and capturing them!
So, Poppy to the rescue, though she herself needs rescuing by Branch.
One of the enjoyable features of the search for the Trolls of the rescue is the discovery of the Bergen scullery made, Brigid, who longs to be noticed by the king. The Trolls do a transformation on her and send her on the date with the King who is entranced by her – and when she hurries away, she drops one of her rollerskates in Cinderella fashion!
The next day is Trollstice, the traditional day for eating a troll – but, the Chef captures the Trolls but Brigid does the right thing – with Poppy rushing back to help her and for the king to notice her – so that everybody will be happy (without the eating), colour will return to everyone, music and singing, hugs all round, and the little audience leaving the theatre cheered and very happy.
UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS
UK/US, 2016, 91 minutes, Colour.
Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Lara Pulver, Charles Dance, Tobias Menzies, Bradley James, Daisy Head, James Faulkner.
Directed by Anna Foerster.
This is the fifth film in the cab underworld series, which is lasted well over a decade. It is not a film to make converts – a bit late because there is so much background from the previous films to be absorbed to make sense of this one.
So, it is definitely a film for the fans, just the 90 minutes, not overstaying its welcome, plenty of the same ingredients – but a plotline which is much more direct, less convoluted than before.
Basically, the film lives up to it title, this is a Blood Wars conflict, several rather blood in gory battles, and a climax where it is clear from the film that the vampires are the goodies and the lichens are the baddies – the vampires being, on the whole, very civilised in their way of speaking, their behaviour (though not without their traitors) and the lichens are vicious werewolves who burst out of their human skins to become giant, aggressive beastly dogs.
The heroine of all the films, Kate Beckinsale is Celine, seems to be at peace after the previous episodes, lamenting the death of her lover Michael, regretfully having to leave her daughter, a girl of mixed vampire and lichen blood, who becomes the prey of the Lycan chief who wants to get her blood to become all-powerful.
Speaking of all-powerful, there is a very sultry villain S, semi era, (a seductive Lara Pulver) who wants revenge against Celine, persuades the vampire leader, Thomas (Charles Dance) to get Celine and his son David (Theo James) to come to one of the remaining vampire mansions. Celine is to train the vampire soldiers for conflict against the Lichens.
With all that mention intrigue, Celine and David go north to another vampire mansion in the snow and ice. The Lycans have a vampire spy and so attack in the North – with a surprise conquering of Celine by Marius (Tobias Menzies) the capital Lycan who is seeking domination.
So, back to the original mansion, some era thinking she has the upper hand, only to be confronted by David, betrayed by her lover, but saved, momentarily, by another capital Lycan attack – and the resurrection of Celine.
Happy ever after? The possibility – but taking the story further is also a possibility…
A UNITED KINGDOM
UK, 2016, 111 minutes, Colour.
David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton.
Directed by Amma Asante.
No, not the United Kingdom, though its government and colonial officials play a significant role in this story. Rather, this is the story of a kingdom in southern Africa, Bechuanaland, and a crisis, beginning in 1947 that ultimately led to the establishing of the independent country, Botswana.
This is a true story, one that many audiences may not be familiar with at all, but well worth learning about.
Bechuanaland had a centuries-old tradition of a monarchy and succession. At this time, there was a regent, an uncle ruling for his nephew, Seretse Kharma, who was studying in England in preparation for his destiny. Before his return he met a young woman, Ruth Williams, daughter of a salesman, to whom he was attracted, to whom he proposed – and was accepted. Accepted is not exactly the word that describes the reaction of her father nor of the reaction of Seretse’s uncle and the immediate response of the people of Bechuanaland.
Before the marriage, Lord Alastair Canning, governor of southern Africa, confronts Ruth at the office in her typist pool, threatening her that she will bring down the British Empire. She defies him. The couple are married and travel to Seretse’s home country. At the meeting of the tribe, his uncle denounces him, demands that he divorce his wife in order to become ruler.
While, initially, Seretse and Ruth think that they might have underestimated the situation, they stand firm, Seretse making a fine and rousing speech which overcomes some of the opposition from the people and he is accepted, to Lord Canning’s disgust.
The drama continues at a personal level, Ruth spurned by Seretse’s uncle’s wife as well as by his sister – though his sister begins to relent as she sees Ruth becoming part of the community.
But the drama also continues at a political level, the British government demanding that Seretse return to England, suggesting that he take a diplomatic post in the Bahamas for five years and, when he declines, planning to exile him from his home. In the meantime, Ruth gives birth, communicating with her husband by phone. There is a movement in England to support Seretse, even an appeal to Prime Minister Attlee – with the revelation that Britain is concerned about South African support, finances, anti-Communist stances, rather than a small kingdom which is openly defying apartheid.
Winston Churchill does not come out of the story too well, having promised the King’s return were he to be elected in 1948 – but reneging on the promise.
The years in exile in Britain are long, Ruth joining her husband with their daughter, her father being reconciled, but little prospect of returning home.
Some political shrewdness is exercised, especially by the British government, unwarily agreeing that Bechuanaland should have control over any mineral discoveries (while companies from South Africa were digging into Bechuanaland), and it is possible for the couple to return – with information given during the credits of the independence of the country, becoming Botswana in 1966, Seretse, advocating democracy rather than monarchy, as the president and the subsequent history of the country, with photos of the actual protagonists during the credits.
The film was directed by Amma Asante who made the striking film about racial issues in 18th century Britain, Belle. This is one of those very well-made British films, well acted by David Oyelowo as a Seretse Kharma, Rosamund Pike as Ruth Williams and Jack Davenport as Lord Canning - and always interesting at the personal and political levels.