SIGNIS REVIEWS DECEMBER 2018
CHILDREN ACT, The
COMING BACK OUT BALL MOVIE
ELLIOT, THE LITTLEST REINDEER
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRUNDEWALD
GOOSEBUMPS 2; HAUNTED HALLOWEEN
LEAN ON PETE
MADNESS OF GEORGE III
NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
India, 2018, 148 minutes, Colour.
Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Adil Hussain.
Directed by Shankar.
Maybe not so much of an arresting title but an intriguing one.
A bit of background to the reviewing of this film. An Indian confrere sent an email, an alert to the release of this film in India, commenting on its science-fiction story, its interest in technology, its environmental message, writing about it in terms of Gospel messages. By providence and synchronicity, the Australian release was at the same time as the release in India, so off to see the film.
The writer-director is a celebrated Indian director, Shanker. There is some wild imagination that has gone into this film as well as an enormous budget (probably some millions of dollars just for the final credits sequences, elaborate costumes, singing and dancing).
For fans of science-fiction beyond the usual, 2.0 is well worth noting. It is set in the future – but visually it is firmly anchored in the present. Its story and its action are a challenge for the present.
An inventor (Rajinikanath) has been successful with a robot, Chitti, but it has been decommissioned by the government. In the meantime, the inventor has created another robot, an attractive female robot, Nila (Amy Jackson) who acts as his assistant. What immediately happens might send a shudder of terror down the audience spine. Crowds of people are going about their ordinary business, interacting – well, not quite interacting, all on their mobile phones. A lot of details reminding us of all the conversations and preoccupations that people have and their absolute reliance on their phones. Suddenly, all the phones are swooped out of people’s hands, drawn up into the sky like a flock of birds. And the population of the city, Chennai (this is a Tamil film), bewildered, lost, then queueing up to reclaim phones or get replacements.
There are many panicky government scenes, officials trying to deal with the situation, some exposed as exploiting corruption deals.
This is a film that runs for almost 3 hours so there is a lot of detail, colourful detail, the government calling in the inventor, his justifying his participation, his resurrecting Chitti (with something of an Elvis lookalike) and going into action.
Throughout the film there are swarms of mobile phones cavorting through the air, along the roads, destroying villains…
Americans and other international audiences will be very impressed by the special effects – and those who sit through credits remembering that in certain many of the American big-budget spectacles, there are many Indian names contributing to CGI and effects. This film certainly proves that they have great skills.
Things change for the second act, audiences reminded that a man hanged himself at the opening of the film and then flashbacks exploring who he was, his love for birds and their conservation, his denunciation of mobile phones and the effects of radiation destroying birds and creation. He is now an incarnation of vengeance, a power of evil must be combated.
So, not only does Chitti go into action (as well as experiencing some demolitions), but multiple robots are created to confront the daemonic avenger (from 2.0 to 3.0). And, smartly, some mini-Chittis.
For the fans, this is all quite absorbing – although, this may be a Tamil thing, the robot Chitti and his facial expressions are a little stupid and offputting even though he achieves his ends. (The inventor and Chitti are played by the same actor.)
So, as the 2 ½ hour mark is approaching, and we have experienced this world of plot and effects, what about the good intentions of the conservationist, what about his villainy and cruelty in getting vengeance, and what about the role of mobile phones and their indispensability? Fortunately, there is little homily at the end combining all the themes coming out on the side of right.
Here is the comment from our Indian confrere, how he has interpreted 2.0:
“The concerns of this cosmos can carry the creatures away from the Creator. But only the constant compassion of Christ can carry them closer to Him. Luke 21:34-36. 2.0 is a brand new movie of a popular Indian director Shankar. He captures the audience with his catchy message that moderate use of radiation, reduction in the number of networks and moderate use of mobile phones can lead the new generation to a constructive development. Hats off to the VFX. The three digits 2.0: starting from 2 can remind the people of the scriptural passage: "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst"; dot ( .) persuades us to keep a dot not only to radiation but also to all our negativity; and O reminds us of our constant praise and thanksgiving to the Creator for his wonderful and beautiful creation such as birds. Therefore, let us praise God constantly and courageously like the chirping of the birds in the woods: O, Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder...In solidarity pay a visit to Chevalier Bhavan bird sanctuary.”
Ireland, 2018, 96 minutes, Colour.
Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, Sarah Greene, Jim Broadbent.
Directed by Lance Daly.
The title refers to 1847 in Ireland. Very black times. The potato famine. The rule of the British and their oppression.
The film will have quite an impact in Ireland, an opportunity to look back at a particular time, not frequently shown in film, and to reflect on the subjugation of the Irish by the British, the nature of the oppression, the impact of the potato famine and the consequences on starvation in Ireland itself as well as the migration to Britain, Canada and Australia.
Those who have Irish ancestry will find it particularly interesting, especially if some of their ancestors suffered in the famine and migrated at this period.
The framework for the film is a vengeance story. It opens with a British soldier, fraternising with the police and the local authorities in a bar, then going to the prison and brutally interrogating an Irish rebel, choking him foblack 47r information – and then being charged with murder. The soldier, Hannah, is played with his usual intensity by Hugo Weaving.
But the central character is another soldier, an Irishman who fought with Hannah in Afghanistan, but who left the Army, deserting, taking some weapons, returning to Ireland and finding his family devastated. His mother has died in the famine. His brother has been executed. His brother’s widow and children are destitute. This character is Michael Feeney, played by Australian actor James Frecheville, and made to look up like an outlaw, bushranger of the times, severe in demeanour, long beard, travelling by horse.
When Michael Feeney begins to kill those who are responsible for the deaths of his family, the authorities decide to send a young British officer, Pope (Freddie Fox) to capture Feeney. He is to take Hannah along to identify him as well as helping in the arrest. Also in the group is very young recruit played by Barry Keoghan, in charge of the horses, who later is shocked to discover the repercussions of the famine. Interestingly, in 1847, they travel by train to the north to pursue Feeney in Connemara, the bleak and often barren landscapes of the county.
Along the way, the group pick up an Irish traveller, who can spin a yarn, can give information, Conneely (Stephen Rea). He leads them to the town where the local landowner has a mansion. The landowner is played with enormous arrogance by Jim Broadbent, the landowner who loves the land but despises the Celtic people and longs for the day when they will all be eliminated.
Feeney encounters owners of shops who betrayed his family, various officials, and kills them in dramatic and symbolic ways.
It all builds up of course to a dramatic climax, the bond between Hannah and Feeney somewhat rekindled, Feeney skilful in destroying his enemies but ultimately destroyed – with Hannah having the option to stay in Ireland and face prison or, as Feeney advises him, to go to America.
Perhaps a bit specialist for non-Irish and non--Irish ancestry audiences.
Australia, 2018, 92 minutes, Colour.
Alan Dukes, Susan Prior, Pippa Grandison, Airlie Dodds, Steve La Marquand, Nicholas Hope, Rose Riley, Rhys Muldoon, Kant Chittenden.
Directed by Heath Davis.
There is a great deal to be said in favour of a film which promotes books and reading, physical books as well as e-books. The film takes us through book week in a secondary school, the ethos of promoting books and reading, the various activities of encouragement, readings, role-playing, spelling bees…
However, the “hero” of Book Week, Nick Cutler (a wry and ambiguous performance from Alan Dukes), is hardly the hero of any story let alone that of book week in a school, and let alone his own life.
He is a frustrated author, having had some initial success, working on a novel for many years, drawing on the trends in interest in zombie novels. He has an agent who promotes the manuscript to some publishers but, during the interview, he is told that the name has to be changed, that vampires are more trendy than zombies – otherwise they are happy to publish. Nick is a drinker, warned against drinking and making a fool of himself, but immediately goes to a pub, encounters a young woman, spends the night with her, forgetting that he is involved in an affair with the deputy principal of the school and has broken an appointment with her – and then finds that the young woman is to be an intern teacher at the school.
Nick’s father (Nicholas Hope) has little time for his son and gives him tongue lashings. His sister is more sympathetic and is dependent on him for a kidney transplant for her ill husband. Nick is not inclined to comply.
In the meantime, there is a young student who has sized up Nick and is not afraid of being forthright about her opinions, who was written some material and is feted as she does a book reading. She crops up many times, tantalising Nick – who gets his revenge on her with her presumption of winning a spelling bee. He does not fare so well with the deputy after standing her up. She is inclined to be lenient at first, but… He is also responsible for a young student with a propensity for stealing cars, doing drugs, Nick hoping to use him for a promotion interview for the book but finds a journalist whom he had humiliated years before. He has also told off for riding his bicycle drunk by a policewoman whom he had told is a student that she had no prospects.
Tiriel Mora turns up as the principal, nonchalant in some ways, dressed as Gandalf at the role-play session, dissatisfied with Nick and firing him. And then Nick’s novel is not to be published – but the precocious young student gets a contract.
Because Nick is so unsympathetic to most people and to the audience, there is a question whether he can possibly be redeemed. The screenplay says that he can, give the kidney, of course, continue with writing, overcome his antipathy towards e-books, give up some of the drinking. While this is what the screenplay has Nick do, it somewhat defies his credibility as the character previously portrayed. While his redemption is not quite dramatically convincing, the audience might hope.
THE CHILDREN ACT
UK, 2018, 104 minutes, Colour.
Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Ben Chaplin, Fion Whitehead, Jason Watkins, Nikki Amuka- Bird, Rosie Cavaliero, Anthony Calf.
Directed by Richard Eyre.
Emma Thompson plays Fiona Maye, a London judge who administers the Children Act, presiding over court cases with such issues as the separation of Siamese twins, child custody, the decision about a minor who belongs to the Jehovah Witnesses receiving a blood transfusion to save his life.
This is fine British film making.
Emma Thompson has frequently shown a flair for comedy, portraying, for instance, Nanny Mc Phee. However, she won her Oscar for her performance as Margaret Schlegel, a serious character, in the adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End. Her portrayal of Fiona Maye is Emma Thompson at her very serious best.
Non-British? audiences may be immediately struck by the quaintness of how Judge Maye is addressed in court. We take for granted “My Lord” but it is something of a shock to hear a judge frequently addressed as “Milady”. In court, Milady is well briefed, dismisses superfluous speeches by prosecutors or defence lawyers, is brisk in her moving through the evidence and explaining her judgements. She is well respected.
Because the drama is so well-written, there is no trouble in seeing Fiona Maye as a thinking person. She is clear, reasonable, principled and logical.
However, the drama in this film extends to the judge’s home life. She has been married for several decades to Jack, an academic (Stanley Tucci) but has failed to recognise that her almost complete commitment to her work, bringing it home to prepare briefs, working into the late hours of the night, has stranded her husband emotionally. Jack shocks Fiona by suggesting that he have an affair. She is so disturbed, her emotions unable to help her to a response, that she goes into silence, refusal to discuss the situation.
The point is made that the judge is so comfortable in her thinking, reinforced by her dedicated work ethic, not only has she neglected her feelings, she seems to be quite unaware of them.
However, this home crisis does affect her in an important case concerning the blood transfusion. A 17-year-old, Adam (Fionn Whitehead) has terminal leukaemia. His parents are strict Jehovah Witnesses – and the film shows some flashbacks to Witness meetings, scriptural grounds for the ban on blood transfusions, seen as a contamination of life which is found in the blood. A preacher is very strict, quoting Genesis, Leviticus, Acts, to indicate that God has prohibited transfusions.
Audiences will be familiar with these biblical stances and will have formed opinions on the validity well before coming into the cinema. In court, hospital representatives make a case for the transfusion. The father, played by Ben Chaplin, a reformed alcoholic who has found some salvation for himself and his wife in the community of the Witnesses, takes a stand against the transfusion.
In what seems a sudden departure from her well-organised research and decision-making, the judge decides to visit Adam in hospital. She has no children herself. Perhaps it is the shock of her husband’s declaration that has touched her innermost feelings and urges her not only to talk with the boy, discuss the issues, his religious beliefs, but talk to him about a guitar, listening to him sing song based on a poem by Yeats. Then, briskly, she is back to court, delivering her verdict, basing it on the law in the best interests of the child, that Adam have the transfusion (which is actually visualised for the audience).
What triggers the judge’s impulse to go to the hospital? We can see an assertion of feeling in her dealings with Adam. She does not. But it begins to surface.
The consequences of her husband’s declaration and her visit to Adam emerge gradually (and reluctantly) as well as deeper repercussions in her emotional life, a life which she has relegated to the peripheries of her work and her marriage.
The strength of this unconscious/conscious assertion of feeling is dramatized powerfully in its effect on Adam, quite profound, his emotional response to her visit, the singing, the poetry of Yeats, his finding in her a potential mother-figure – and his emotional demands on her, personally, and her need for a professional response.
The drama provides the judge with an emotional confrontation with Adam, her awareness of professional behaviour and the subjective demands on her from Adam – leading to uncharacteristic behaviour, losing her control at a party and hurrying to Adam’s hospital bedside again. But this is the catalyst for her being able to speak to Jack, to acknowledge the distance between them, to reconcile with mutual understanding.
The film is based on a novel by Ian Mc Ewan (Atonement, On Chesil Beach). The novelist himself has written the screenplay.
For an audience which likes serious drama, well-written, and intelligently articulate use of language, a probing of the relationship between mind and heart, and fine performances, The Children Act is well recommended.
UK, 2018, 111 minutes, Colour.
Ciaran Knightley, Dominic West, Fiona Shaw, Al Weaver, Denise Gough, Robert Pugh, Julian Wadham.
Directed by Wash Westmoreland.
Older audiences who have a fondness for the 1958 Oscar-winner, the musical, Gigi, are probably aware that it is based on a story by the French novelist, Colette. The viewing of this film may make them realise that apart from the Gigi story, they really didn’t know much about the author at all.
This film will supply her background and her story during the 1890s and 1900s, to 1906. There is some supplementary information given during the final credits as well as some relevant photos of Colette.
When Keira Knightley is at her best, she is often at her very best. And this is the case here. At the opening of the film, she seems an innocent young French country girl, aged 20, living at home with her parents, a strong mother (Fiona Shaw) and a war-invalided father (Robert Pugh). However, almost immediately, we find that she is not as innocent as she looks. The family have had a visit from a publisher from Paris (referred to by the screenplay simply as Willy, Dominic West, although his name was Henri Gauthier- Villars). The young girl goes out into the barn, involved in a passionate affair with Willy.
The country background is important for Colette (who is full name was Sidonie-Gabrielle? Colette abbreviated by her for authorship to the simple Colette). In moments of distress she will return to her mother and for her father’s funeral. Willy, at one stage, buys her a home in the countryside. And she draws on her experiences when she eventually comes to write stories, creating a character Claudine who resembles Colette in many ways.
The reason for her writing stories is that Willy is an entrepreneur, with a stable of authors who write books on commission which he publishes under his own name. But he lives a high expense of life, is something of a libertine (with a repetition of his rationale that this is what a man does). Generally in debt, he finds ways of tiding over and one of these is a brainwave that Colette write down her memories and stories. He is somewhat critical at first even though he always expresses his love and devotion to her. Potential necessity means publication but he is amazed at the instant popularity of the Claudine stories, the range of readers, especially young women, the instant commercialisation of Claudine and products bearing her name, speculating on theatre performances and auditioning women to take the role. He even persuades Colette to cut her hair in the fashion of Claudine and to wear her dress, something like a school uniform.
Gradually, Colette becomes her own woman. She begins to see through her husband’s flamboyance, not taken in by his brazen manipulations, unpersuaded by his bombastic enthusiasm.
There is a further complication, emotionally, when Colette realises that she is attracted to women, at first an American heiress married to an older Frenchman, then an encounter with a strong-minded woman, Missy (Denise Gough), moving into live with her, training to be a dancer and performer, even Willy promoting her at the Moulin Rouge which ends in something of a disaster after an onstage kiss with the audience booing and condemning.
And this is where the film leaves her, and author, a performer, a rebel personality – all of which she continued until death in 1954, even receiving a Nobel Literature nomination in 1948. (While the credits indicate that she spent some years with Missy, they do not mention that she had two subsequent marriages and had a son.)
The 1890s and 1900s were called La Belle Epoque and this film immerses the audience in that era (which did change from Penn and ink to typewriters, gaslight to electric light, carts and horses to bicycles and cars).
Russia, 2018, 128 minutes, Colour.
Danila Koslovsky, Olga Zueva.
Directed by Danila Kozlowsky.
This is a big and enthusiastic Russian sports film. It was very topical on its release in 2018, in anticipation of Russia hosting the World Cup and participation in the competition (which turned out to be not as successful as hoped). Nevertheless, here is the spirit of Russian sport.
A critic remarked that he began to count all the cliches that the screenplay incorporated and then gave up because there were so many! One might note that a cliche is based on truth even if it is truth told often and becoming over-familiar. But, an enthusiastic sports film will always have the cliches – call them ‘conventions’. So, there is a hero, misunderstood and failing, down on his luck, getting an opportunity, not grappling with it as successfully as he should, grieved at the unexpected death of his father, falling in love, of course, with one of the staff, not relating initially well with the players, pressurised by advice, making mistakes (especially when he is drunk), finding ways of motivation, bonding the players, beginning to move up the competition with wins, the grand final confrontation and…
Perhaps most of us could have written the narrative outline ourselves. But, there it is. And it is not so much what is being presented as the excitement in the how it is presented.
Danila Kozlowsky, an imposing screen presence, plays Yuri the coach, putting on quite a tantrum in the opening sequences where he should not have taken a penalty kick, left it to another player, and fails in the front of the Moscow supporters. Kozlovsky also directs the film as well as collaborating with the screenplay and producing. While his character is in some ways predictable, he brings an energy to the role, exasperating a lot of the peopling meets, exasperating the audience with his moodiness (which, ultimately, he transforms into energy and enthusiasm).
For enthusiasts of football/soccer, there are plenty of matches, quick-paced editing to give excitement, teamwork, individual players, strategies and tactics.
There is a lot of emotion along the way, Yuri and his initial humiliation, two years without a job, even seen playing rugby in the mud. Initially, he makes a hash of his opportunities for coaching the provincial team, but, with a serious-minded president of the club, the daughter of the town mayor, with an attractive doctor and her sister and, of course, falling in love, he does begin to come out of himself, using unusual tactics to motivate the players. Eventually, in practices before the enthusiasts who come to sit in the stands and watch, they begin to move, to bond, winning matches and, naturally, finishing up in the final, Yuri as coach, deciding to play, urging the diffident young recruit onto the field at the end (and inciting the crowd to yell his name, giving the lad self-confidence), a play-off against his original team.
If you are a football fan, it doesn’t matter if you know how it is basically going to play out, what you will want is for them to play on.
THE COMING BACK OUT BALL MOVIE
Australia, 2018, 88 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Sue Thomson.
A sound cultural, personal, anti-bigotry principle is that we need to meet people with whom we differ, whom we do not understand and that this leads to respect and appreciation, even allowing for differences in perspective.
This is certainly the principle to be brought to this documentary. The first thing to say about it is that it is about elderly people, a sympathetic look at men and women growing old, reflecting on their past, on the relationships, on their careers, on the deaths of partners. Throughout the whole film, there are a lot of interviews, with these people, men and women telling their story with sympathy, sometimes bravado, always enthusiasm.
And this is the first point of entry to appreciating these elderly people. Then, on this basis, we understand that they are members of the LGBTQI community. “Coming out” was not necessarily a part of their past. Many of them kept their sexual orientation secret, some not even aware of it until later in life and after marriage and family. But, in their old age, with changing social perspectives (in fact, the Coming Out Ball taking place two weeks before the decision on same-sex marriage through the Australian postal plebiscite), an era of greater tolerance has emerged.
A ball? This is the brain wave, creative idea of an entrepreneur, Tristram Meacham, whose creation of the ball is at the core of the film. He is an enthusiast – understatement!
The idea was to have a ball for the elderly so that they could come out in old age, even if they had never come out before. The venue for the ball was to be Melbourne Town Hall. Veteran entertainer, Robyn Archer, was to be the host and there were to be some guest entertainers including Carlotta and aboriginal opera star, Deborah Cheetham. (The latter gets the opportunity to sing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” with changed relevant lyrics.)
The film audience is introduced by a quite large range of characters, all going back into their past, describing their lives, the relationships, the fears. Some have known all their lives about their sexual orientation, others discovering it in later life. But they all grew up in a period of secrecy and/or cover-up. A number of the characters have undergone gender change. Because the interviewees are so frank, it gives the opportunity for the audience to listen, observe, reflect, understand.
Quite a lot of preparation goes into the ball, the invitees coming to dancing lessons weeks in advance, getting to know one another, getting to know the steps, a number discovering a flamboyance that had previously not emerged. There are decorations, selections of music, the orchestra, those waiting at tables, the preparation of the venue.
As expected, by the end, there is an extended treatment of the ball, the guests all lining up outside in Swanston Street, the staff waiting, the guests coming inside, eating and drinking, the music, the dancing.
Some of the regulars who were interviewed throughout the film get the opportunity to offer their reflections on the experience. One of the characters interviewed earlier was one of the first female shearers, an expert in her daily day, attending the ball but, at the end of the film, going back to the shearing shed proving that after all these years, she still has the strength and skills. She serves as a symbol for those who were part of The Coming Back Out Ball.
US, 2018, 130 minutes, Colour.
Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Russell Hornsby, Wood Harris, Milo Ventimiglia, Robbie Johns, Brigitte Nielsen.
Directed by Stephen Caple Jr.
And the answer to the Trivial Pursuit question is: Rocky IV, the question, of course, being: which was the Rocky film in which Drago appeared.
In 2015, Creed, which might be considered a sequel to the Rocky films, proved to be very popular. Michael B. Jordan was very acceptable as the next-generation boxer. And there was Sylvester Stallone again, not only contributing to the writing as he had for all the previous Rocky films, even getting an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. The director of Creed, Ryan Coogler, had worked with Michael B. Jordan on the thoughtful, Fruitvale Station, and they were part of the team for the highly successful Marvel Universe film, Black Panther.
On release, this sequel received very enthusiastic reviews and responses. It seemed to be exactly what the fans wanted. The screenplay is full of well-worn (or time-honoured) pieces of dialogue, reinforcing the conventions of the boxing film that so enthral the audiences.
Actually, the plot draws on its predecessors very strongly. Adonis Creed is the son of Rocky’s rival, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), and then collaborator in several films. But, in Rocky IV, with the introduction of the Russian fighter, Drago (described in 1985 with the adjective, Soviet), Apollo Creed dies and Rocky vanquishes Drago in the ring. Now, more than 30 years later, here is his son, Viktor Drago, a huge hulk of a man, the actor portraying him, Florian Munteanu, credited with his nickname “Big Nasty”. (And here is Brigitte Nielsen again as Draco’s wife, Viktor’s mother – and was actually married to Sylvester Stallone at the time of Rocky IV.)
And for those expecting big things in the fights, they will not be disappointed. First fight sees Creed overcoming an opponent. Then there is the big fight, for the world heavyweight title, between Creed and Drago, a literally punishing fight. And, of course, there has to be a climax, Creed versus Viktor Drago again, a kind of resurrection fight which goes for 10 rounds, powerfully choreographed. For the audience veterans, there is the enjoyment of hearing excerpts from the original Rocky theme music.
And for those who do not immediately take to boxing films let alone the fights themselves, there is quite some humanity in the underlying plot. With apologies to Sylvester Stallone, who has been a decades-long screen presence and who knows how to write screenplays, Michael B. Jordan is a much more convincing actor. There is his relationship with his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and a proposal seen (after he nervously asks Rocky for advice). There is also the complication that Younger is deaf, with her hearing aid, which leads to some pathos when she becomes pregnant and there is concern about the condition of the newly-born daughter.
And there is the emotion concerning the comeback fight, the recovery after the battering from Viktor Drago, physical and psychological rehabilitation – and, of course, Rocky urging Creed to the most rigorous training program in the desert, exhausting for the audience as they are comfortably sitting in their theatre seats!
It is all as expected – and who would want it to be otherwise?
In 2018 it is interesting to watch an American film where the hero is fighting a Russian, a bruiser of an opponent, seen as the enemy. And then there is also the thought that it is 42 years since the first Rocky film, which means that it could be still another 40 years with Michael B Jordan coaching the champion of 2058!
ELLIOTT, THE LITTLEST REINDEER
Canada, 2018, 89 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Josh Hutcherson, Samantha Bee, Martin Short, Morena Baccarin, Jeff Dunham, Christopher Jacot, John Cleese, George Buza.
Directed by Jennifer Westcott.
Another animated film for Christmas audiences. It is probably best suited for primary school aged children – and younger rather than older. At times there is quite some dialogue which might be a bit much for the youngers but they can enjoy the visuals.
We might have thought that the reindeers for pulling Santa’s sleigh were above reproach. However, here some of them are coming to the end of their careers (and one of them, in fact, Donner, is revealed as taking too many cookies – and is voiced by John Cleese). So, there is a need for at least one replacement and Santa authorises a competition to select a substitute.
In the meantime, one of Santa’s devious assistants (voiced by Martin Short) is planning to do away with the reindeers and substitute rather slick red vehicles to deliver the presents.
But, before we see the competition, we go to North Dakota to a Petting Farm, managed by a former baseball player who suffered from some misplaced focus, who is visited by a rather insistent journalist who wants to make her mark with a fresh story, and visitors who come to see the little goats’ run as well as to see the reindeers do their expert running. In the meantime, the poor manager of the farm has been persuaded to do a deal with a most sinister-looking femme fatale, with the most sinister accent, dark glasses and cigarette holder (also voiced by Martin Short – who does some of the reindeers’ voices as well). But that is not yet the centre of the drama.
There is an engaging little pony, Elliot (Josh Hutchison) who would love to be a reindeer and spends a lot of time practising reindeer movements – egged on by a pretty-in-pink, though sometimes raucously loud, goat, Hazel (Samantha Bee).
One doesn’t need to be a political forecaster to know that Elliott will become part of the competition for Santa’s reindeer (trying to be disguised with fake horns which do go askew), rivalling DJ, the competitive reindeer at the farm, persuading authorities to let him into the competition.
There is something of a tangle of themes with Santa not very happy about finding a pony in competition, with the evil associate pursuing his plans, with some rivalry from the other reindeers – leading to a crisis in which Elliott, inevitably, is the one who is able to save the day.
Then a nice moral choice: going home to his friends at the Petting Farm or becoming the next Santa-sleigh reindeer (or, rather, its equivalent). Fortunately, the film takes both possibilities successfully.
Probably this review is written best for those parents – or grandparents – who might be taking the youngsters to see Elliott and know what’s in store for them.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
UK, 2018, 134 minutes, Colour.
Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Kevin Guthrie, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Kravitz, Callum Turner, Ezra Miller, Alison Siddol, Claudia Kim.
Directed by David Yates.
The Fantastic Beasts series is written by J.K.Rowling. After her extraordinary success with the Harry Potter novels and films (and her alternate career as a crime writer, R.K.Galbraith), and the adaptation of the theatre story of Harry Potter, she has turned her energies to this series. The first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was very popular. Here is the second instalment.
And while there are some fantastic beasts, the most beastly character is the evil villain from the first film, Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp, almost unrecognisable in appearance, gaunt, aged, white hair, distorted coloured eyes, but certainly with Johnny Depp’s voice.
For those who don’t remember all the details of the first film, it is probably a good idea to do a bit of revision before seeing this one, reminding oneself about Newt Scamander, played with a boyish and innocent raffish charm by Eddie Redmayne, the hero of the stories, as well as his American associate, Tina, Katherine Waterston. And, there is his hefty friend, Jacob, Dan Fogler. They all come into the action which becomes quite complicated, especially with flashbacks to Hogwarts and further flashbacks to the origins of Leta (Zoe Kravitz) and of Credence (Ezra Miller).
Fortunately, for comprehension, there is a meeting of a lot of the central characters in the latter part of the film, a discussion about origins, sorting out lost brothers and sisters, past stories in Africa and shipwrecks, sorting out who was who. (And it also emerges that Dumbledore, Jude Law, seen in flashbacks to earlier days teaching at Hogwarts, also has a lost brother…).
At the opening, Grindelwald is in prison in the US, to be deported to the UK, using his magic to defy the authorities, escaping to Paris where he institutes a huge plan to proclaim his leadership and draw his disciples to him – which he does, in a huge arena at the Pere Lachaise cemetery.
In the meantime, the British Ministry of Magic is pursuing him, Newt originally refusing, not liking to take orders, but persuaded by a visit from Dumbledore. There is also the complication of a new character, Newt’s brother, Theseus, Callum Turner who is engaged to Leta.
There are mysterious goings-on at the French Ministry of Magic, the visit to an exceedingly elderly alchemist for advice, Jacob reuniting with his old flame, Queenie, Alison Sudol, and her being feted by Grindelwald.
So, if this is all attractive and interesting, then it is on with the journey of the fantastic beasts. The final sequence is set in a castle in Austria, Grindelwald and his disciple, more than a touch of the fascist, hints of Hitler…
Israel, 2018, 100 minutes, Colour.
Moshe Folkenflick, Emily Granin.
Directed by Yosse Madmoni, Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov.
Winner of the Ecumenical Award at the Film Festival at Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic) 2018. The citation, written by a jury of Catholics and Protestants, reads:
Geula is about a man who goes through the process of redemption and reconciliation while trying to save his ill daughter. The jury awards the film “for overcoming all kinds of narrow-mindedness to discover the healing beauty of openness and hope; for showing that God and humanity cannot be confined just to a set of rules and that one has to have a courage to be; and for its artistic quality where cinematography serves the story adding another dimension to the experience of the struggle it tells.”
A review. This is a very human and humane film. While it would have an impact for Israeli audiences, it has a universal appeal.
Menachem is a religious man, observing kosher regulations, food, reverently touching lintels, avoiding touch with women…. Working in a supermarket, tending his six-year-old daughter, Geula, who has what could be a terminal illness. Menachem is a widower. He is serious, with a look of sadness, but is immensely cheered by the vitality, despite her illness, of his daughter.
We discover that he had been lead singer in a band 15 years earlier with the influence of rock ‘n’ roll. However, he had given up the music, becoming religious (not specifically Orthodox nor Hasidic) and wanted to study but this did not work out. Realising that the medical procedures for Geula were becoming more costly, he has the idea to revive the band, going to visit each of the three former members, some enthusiasm from two but hesitation from one who is now is a successful businessman, restaurateur. However, Menachem is persuasive.
He also comes alive as he sings. The music has traditional tones but often draws on scriptural texts. The group play at weddings, are successful, and bookings come in. Audiences will be moved by the liveliness of the music, impressed by the wedding guests and their total involvement in the music and their intensity – but only the men, a partition separating the women at the wedding celebration, their being able to look in through a gap in the partition.
Geula is able to continue her treatment because of the income, remaining cheerful despite the procedures. One of the members of the band suggests that they do an audition to play in a club, finally persuasive – but his fiancee comes with an appeal to Menachem that he give up the idea, she hoping to become pregnant and build a family.
Menachem’s religious behaviour includes a great deal of God-language, continually thanking God for whatever happens, good or bad, trusting in a Providence. It contrasts with the more secular attitudes of some of his colleagues and the band. His religious outlook means that Menachem is a man of authenticity and integrity, guiding him and his decisions.
There are many attractive scenes of father and daughter, concern and care, love, hope.
GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN
US, 2018, 90 minutes, Colour.
Wendy McLendon-? Covey, Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Ken Jeong, Chris Parnell, Bryce Cass, Jack Black, Mick Wingert.
Directed by Ari Sandel.
Robert Lawrence Stine, R.L.Stine, has written a large number of fantasy stories, ghost and Goosebumps stories. Many of them have been transferred to television and some to the cinema screen. He has contributed to the writing, some of the production – and has some cameo appearances in the two Goosebumps movies.
This is a sequel to the 2015 Goosebumps starring Jack Black as Stine himself, becoming involved in the stories.
This film focuses on Halloween and has all the visuals, images and trappings of celebrating Halloween, some trick or treating, but also a vast range of ghosts and spectres, a haunted Halloween.
Some youngsters find a book, open it, and out come all the ghosts and goblins, led by ventriloquist doll called Slappy who finds his own voice and wants to take control of the story and all the characters. There is mayhem throughout the town. And Ken Jeong provides some comedy and extra mayhem.
Interestingly, there is a focus on the scientist, Nikolai Tesla, the tower in the town named after him – and all kinds of happenings with electricity and characters having to climb the tower.
Besides the children, there is also their mother involved in the goings-on, she finally being trapped by Slappy and her daughter having to leave the children to free her, tied at the top of the tower.
How to control the mayhem? The theory is that the book should be opened and all the creatures drawn back inside. Doesn’t always happen. Finally, the girl uses her intelligence, tricks Slappy with a copy of Frankenstein which he thinks is the Halloween book – and all go back into the book, the girl telling Slappy he should not judge a book by its cover!
Towards the end, Stine himself, in the form of Jack Black, arrives, finds that he couldn’t compose an ending to this particular story but now he can and put it in the cupboard along with all his other volumes.
A film for children more than adults – frightening for some, exhilarating Lee frightening for others, which is the point!
US, 2018, 86 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seeley, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury, narrated by Pharrell Williams.
Directed by Yaron Cheney, Scott Mosier.
The character of the Grinch, green and mean, has been very popular since he was invented by the famous storyteller, who provided so much entertainment for children, Dr Seuss. The Grinch is particularly associated with Christmas because the rest of the title is: How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Once upon a time, in 1966, it was Boris Karloff who played The Grinch on television. Some years ago, there was a live-action version of the story using the full title. And The Grinch was played, hairy, green and mean, by Jim Carrey, drawing on all his mannerisms, facial tics, menacing voice… This particular version, simply titled The Grinch, is very much G/PG rated, very much geared towards children (and pleasing for those who remember the story from childhood). The Grinch is voiced, American style, by Benedict Cumberbatch, Dr Seuss’s verses by singer, Pharrell Williams.
This is an animated film, the background of the town of Whoville situated in the mountains, in the winter, around Christmas. All very colourful. The townspeople are preparing for the celebration of Christmas, three times bigger than usual, the emphasis on gifts and goodwill. Even Angela Lansbury voices the mayor. (There is a pleasing brief sequence with reference to the Gospel story and the singing of carols and the basic meaning of Christmas.)
But, the Grinch! He is a misanthropic type, living in his cave on the mountain, shunning all human company, yet devoted to his dog, Max, who has all kinds of technical skills, especially with all the equipment in the Grinch’s house. Everybody, including The Grinch, likes Max a lot. He also befriends (if that is the word) Fred the large reindeer who actually comes in handily to help the Grinch.
The Grinch comes into town only when he needs food and is completely irritated by the loud and good feelings, made even worse at Christmas. There are amusing scenes about his dislike of people – and his meanness towards them. Then he decides to dress as Santa and steal all the Christmas gifts – which he does.
Happy ending was rather difficult with Jim Carrey and his Grinch weirdness. However, here, there is not only a happy ending but very explicit themes of redemption! The Grinch encounters a little girl, Cindy Lou, who pleads with him about the gifts, help for her mother, the joy that he is depriving the town of. At first, this is not really easy, and The Grinch entangles himself in problems and needs to be rescued.
But, ultimately, with a great deal of heart-thumping, very nice words, The Grinch discovers humanity and humanity within himself. Dr Seuss created what might be called “moral fables” – and this version ends exceedingly happily, exceedingly morally, gifts returned, peace restored, and great hope in view.
US, 2018, 119 minutes, Colour.
Sarah Drew, Justin Bruening, Jason George, Tia Marie- Hardrict, Skye P.Marshall, Tanner Stine, Madeline Carroll, Michael O' Neill, Eric Close.
Directed by David P.Grant.
We learn very early that the “indivisible” of the title refers to the United States and the Pledge of Allegiance.
In fact, this is a very patriotic film with some substantial sequences in Iraq, including some action from the American troops and rebels in villages.
However, it should be said very early in a review that this is an American faith-based film. For more than a decade now, the United States has produced quite a number of faith-based films, designed especially for religious audiences, church-going audiences. They are intended as inspirational.
Most reviewers and most audiences are not attracted to faith-based films, finding difficulty in the God-language, the sentiment, the touch of preaching. However, it should be noted that the inspirational film is in itself a particular film genre (like romance, thriller, action show) which has its own particular conventions as do the other genres. The faith-based film needs to be appreciated for its intentions and how the intentions are communicated on screen. The faith-based film is meant to be edifying.
Some years ago The Grace Card was an above-average faith-based film. The director, David P.Grant, has now directed Indivisible, also an above-average faith-based film.
It is based on a true story (with photos of the central characters and their family included in the final credits). It is a story of chaplains. Even to that extent, it offers interesting material, most audiences not pausing to think what the role of the military chaplain is, what demands are made, what is the overall effect of being in support in combat, that chaplains could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Which is what happens in this film.
While the director and writers have a religious background and the film is supported by various Baptist churches, the cast are better known than usual, having featured in a lot of television work, television series. Justin Bruening is Darren, previously a college chaplain, with a Masters in Ministry degree, sent to Iraq and to a base there in 2007. Sarah Drew plays his wife, Heather, mother of three children, having shared in her husband’s Ministry. They live a happy and committed life.
However, across the street, Tonya and her two daughters are harassed by her angry and drinking husband. There is also a young unmarried woman with a son, criticised by her mother. And a young couple, she diffident and pregnant for the second time, fearful for her husband in action.
Darren, the angry man, Michael, Shonda, the unmarried mother, and the young man, Lance, find themselves together in Iraq. The commanding officer in Iraq, before the day’s work, or before going into action, advises Darren “to do what you do”. Darren is a scripture man, quoting the Psalms, especially, very aptly and briefly – though, interestingly, not referring to Gospel stories except for Jesus’ crucifixion. Michael, on the other hand, advises Darren not to mess with his life, thinking that that is what chaplains do. And, after a fateful mission with deaths, Lance is very angry, asking all the familiar questions about God, not intervening to save people, allowing them to suffer.
Intercut with all the Iraq scenes are sequences concerning the wives, bonding, doing support work for their husbands, comforting otherwise in distress, visiting after a wife has received the sad news of her husband’s death. There is a focus also on the children, Michael has teenage daughters, Darren’s three children are devoted to him, one an asthmatic who has some crises, Heather trying to do her best to raise the three children by herself. One consolation in contemporary warfare is communication by phone and, especially, communication by Skype.
Darren experiences vehicles under sniper attack, his hands begin to tremble, he writes a diary, records himself talking, tapes for Heather to look at should he die.
There are harrowing moments in the latter part of the film, especially with Darren’s reaction on return, distant, cold, even Heather telling him that he is mean. He does not cope well with the post-traumatic stress.
However, as we know, this is an inspirational film and there will be a positive ending. Almost needless to say, Darren and Heather have a continued ministry, Darren resuming his military chaplaincy, but their both working with soldiers, their wives, and stress.
Edifying and interesting.
THE MADNESS OF GEORGE III
UK, 2018, 135 minutes, Colour.
Mark Gatiss, Adrian Scarborough, Deborah Gillett, David Houslow, Nicholas Bishop, Stephanie Jacobs, Louise Jameson.
Directed by Adam Penford.
The longest-reigning King of England prior to Queen Victoria was George III, from the house of Hanover, who ruled from 1760 to 1820, 60 years. He is famous for having been the reigning monarch who lost the American War of Independence. He was also King for the explorations of Captain Cook in the Pacific as well as the sending of the First Fleet.
But, he suffered episodes which were interpreted as madness. His son George, the Prince Regent, later to be George IV, was in waiting to be proclaimed in his father’s stead.
Alan Bennett, celebrated British playwright (Lady in the Van, The History Boys) became interested in the story in the early 1990s, the nature of mental illness, the relevance to the royal family, the Prince of Wales in waiting to ascend the throne… His play was very successful, being transferred to film in 1994 with Nigel Hawthorne as the king and Helen Mirren as the queen.
This is a filmed version of the play, performed in the Nottingham Playhouse. It is a play full of movement, many scenes, continual motion of the characters, elaborate scene changes, a re-creation of private episodes, the medical treatment (mistreatment in many cases) of the king, the political background and machinations of parliament and the crown.
For those not familiar with the characters and with their history, this is an interesting opportunity to learn as well as to encourage further research.
George III is played by actor-writer, Mark Gatiss, well-known for theatrical performances as well as roles in film and television, including his portrayal of Mycroft Holmes in the television series, Sherlock, which he co-created and for which he wrote a number of screenplays, as well as appearing as Lord Cecil in the television series, Gunpowder. His performance is a tour de force, especially his having to perform the episodes of madness, the medical torture, his confused mental state and ways of communication. One believes, in watching Gatiss as the king, that he is actually experiencing the pain, the torture and madness.
Adrian Scarborough leads the supporting cast as the parson turned Dr Willis, who has his own asylum on a farm in Lincolnshire, taking over the management of the king, trying to master him and command him into subjection and cure (which he achieves), clashing with the bevy of doctors who are intent on their own particular methods, of blistering the legs and the scalp to bring out the poisons, a variety of medications, of examining the kings stools and urine. (In fact, there are many satirical lines on this kind of medical quackery.)
Interestingly, the three main doctors, the quacks, played by female actors, female actors also taking rolls of servants, political advisers, and even of Charles Fox, the Whig leader in the Parliament. Fox wants power despite his overt democratic declarations. In contrast, there is William Pitt the Younger, staving off Parliamentary votes about the king’s madness and the taking over of George as the Regent, a dour man, whose own father had experienced madness. There is also the manipulative Lord Chancellor, Thurlow, changing sides, feathering his own political nest.
There is a sympathetic portrait of Queen Charlotte, Deborah Gillett.
Alan Bennett is always an articulate playwright often with a sense of ironic humour. This is to the fore in this production. It is an opportunity to appreciate Bennett’s theatrical talent, to see quality performances, especially that of Mark Gatiss, and to delve into this 18th-century experience of the British monarchy.
US, 2016, 88 minutes, Colour.
Jonathan Patrick Moore, James Marsters, Erin Bethea, Terry O' Quinn, Barry Corbin, Bill Cobbs, Kris Lemche, Irma P.Hall.
Directed by Drew Waters.
New Life has a very positive tone about it – however, while there are themes of life, there are also themes of death and grief.
Many date the popularity of faith-based films on the commercial success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. For more than a decade, many of the faith-based films have been in the top ten box-office films at the time of their release. This has encouraged many similar films, finding an audience especially in the United States with the churches and Evangelical communities. This film fits the pattern of these faith-based films.
However, there is only one brief reference to church in New Life and, nuns are seen at an orphanage at the end of the film. Which means that this film could be described as faith-based, emphasis on faith, lower case. Probably the common denominator word for all of these films is “inspirational”. The film makers believe in values, creating stories which dramatise these values, something the equivalent of cinema sermons. As might be expected, there is a cinema-going public, television and downloading public, who do not like their entertainment to be so explicit in terms of values. Obviously, New Life is not geared towards that audience.
Rather, its appeal is to those one might call the converted, audiences who like films which could be called wholesome.
The narrative is fairly straightforward, much of it easily anticipated. In many ways, the audience knows where the film is going and they willingly go with it. Two children meet when they are seven, one a little American girl, the other a little boy who has come from the United Kingdom. As the years pass, they enjoy their friendship.
The main part of the film shows their friendship, their growing in love, some tensions as Ben (Jonathan Patrick Moore) studies architecture and design, intending to work with his successful father, but also in partnership with a friend, driving limousines. Ava (Erin Bethea) is studying at college away from home, putting some strain on the couple meeting, phoning, he having to drive, meals together, his being busy. Ava becomes friendly with a pleasant young man, an alternative after a quarrel with Ben. She also has a French roommate in whom she confides.
But, of course they reconcile, marry, start a happy home life, he with his architecture work, she with teaching children. When one of Ben’s designs is chosen for an important project, it means that he has to spend long hours at work, travelling to New York, putting a strain on the harmony of married life.
The most important aspect of the film, however, is illness, a dread diagnosis, treatment, concern from the parents of both Ben and Ava, treatment by a stern doctor… As audiences would suspect, there is some temporary respite, the recurrence of the illness…
Ben is very much affected by Ava’s illness and death – but, while he is deeply absorbed by grief, unable to respond to life, there is a providential opportunity offered him, an opportunity to choose life, be more outgoing, be hopeful…
The makers of the film have been connected with inspirational films for many years, the director being involved as an actor, and Erin Bethea, appearing in films with such titles as Fearless Faith, God’s Compass’.
While the film will appeal to its target audience in the cinema, it will have a life on television and other media for downloading and watching films.
THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS
US, 2018, 99 minutes, Colour.
Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Mc Fadyen, Jaden Fowora- Knight, Omid Djalili, Jack Whitehall, Richard E.Grant, Meera Syal, Ellie Bamber, Eugenio Derbez, Misty Copeland.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, Joe Johnston.
There have been quite a number of versions of the Nutcracker story, animated, live action, based on the story by the Russian author, Hoffman, but, probably, the best-known version is that of Tchaikovsky, the Nutcracker Suite. In fact, while this story is based on Hoffman’s tale and the narrative tale for the Nutcracker ballet, there are excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Suite throughout the film – not entirely integrated with the plot, just a number of excerpts now and then.
This film is rather like an over-rich Christmas cake. Plenty of ingredients, all mixed together, some very tasty, some that you would put aside, some where one wonders why they are there in the first place.
The film was codirected by Swedish director, Lasse Halstrom, who has been directing a wide range of films for the last 40 years, especially in the United States. He is joined by action director, Joe Johnston. One might wonder which sections were directed by which director.
While the opening has the look of London, the family has very Germanic names, and, once the audience is taken into the Four Realms, the main castle looks like the Cathedral of St Basil in Moscow.
Matthew Mc Fadyen is a rather stern father, mourning his wife, trying to make emotional contact with his grieving daughter, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) demanding that she go to a party celebration with her brother and sister and dance with her father. Instead, she goes to the basement, finding a friendly inventor (Morgan Freeman looking and sounding Americanly bizarre in this context), wanting to open the gift of a decorated egg from her dead mother. It has the key to her future – and, we guess, she will be guided to look into herself and her strengths. She is.
For most of the action, she is led into the Four Realms, encountering a sympathetic Captain, going down a hole which is immediately a reminder of Alice in Wonderland, encountering strange and I would characters and Sugar Plum, all eccentric sweetness and light, Keira Knightley. There are some revelations About Clara actually is, the identity of Clara’s mother, the effect of her leaving the Four Realms, and searing power struggles and Sugar Plum revealing sinister ambitions, bringing toy soldiers to life, mischievous mice, battles and some derring-do. And, Mother Ginger appears, played sympathetically by Helen Mirren.
All’s well and ends with but it has been something of a gluggy journey to get there.
UK, 2018, 94 minutes, Colour.
Beattie Edmondson, Ed Skrien, Jennifer Saunders, Emilia Jones, Cherie Lunghi, Meera Syal, Gemma Jones, Peter Davison, Adrian Scarborough, Emily Atack, Bernard Cribben, Tom Bennett.
Directed by Mandie Fletcher.
Who would have thought that a well-bred British pug would be named Patrick! But, he he is.
Review recommendations are easy this time:
- for dog lovers, of course.
- For dog non-lovers, of course not (except with the caution that Patrick might prove himself somewhat engaging by the end).
At the opening of the film, a genteel old lady is multi-coddling Patrick, spoiling him rotten (as they say). By contrast, Sarah, and we soon learn she is the old lady’s granddaughter, experiences her partner leaving, collapses in a complete mess, overeating, oversleeping in compensation. She goes home for her grandmother’s funeral, arriving late, picked on by her mother and her high-achieving sister, and, when the will is read, she learns that her grandmother has left her Patrick as a bequest.
In fact, Sarah does not like Patrick all that much and definitely does not want to take him home. But, she does. Initially, there is mayhem, a literal cat-and-dog fight, mess in the house, and in her neighbour’s house, while Sarah goes on her first day on her new job at teaching English in high school, and Patrick eats, and eats, anything and everything. Will there be any bonding?
Sarah is played by Beattie Edmondson, daughter of comedian Adrian Edmondson of the Comic Strip – and her mother, who does appear in the film, is Jennifer Saunders. There are quite a lot of character actors in small roles, Cherie Lunghi and Peter Davison (a one-time Doctor Who), as her parents, Bernard Cribbins as an old widower, Gemma Jones as a neighbour with the dog, Meera Syal as the school principal, Adrian Scarborough as the initially prissy and over-critical teacher. And there are some younger players, romantic possibilities, including Ed Skrien as a vet and Tom Bennett as Ben, with whom she entangles, literally, while taking Patrick for runs in the park.
A lot of the action takes place in the school while Patrick is at home. Sarah has a recalcitrant class but she also brings a klaxon to bring them to attention and tells them the plot of Jane Eyre in rap style. There is a girl with problems, Emilia Jones, whom she helps. There is a sympathetic fellow-teacher, Emily Atack. That is where we find Jennifer Saunders, in the staff room, offering a different range of cakes every day!
The plot also involves a fund-raising run, Sarah absolutely reluctant, with the most gawky running style ever seen on screen, pressurised to do the run – and, eventually, getting their… just.
The very British film, British humour, obviously targeting dog-lovers of every age.
US, 2018, 101 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr, John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba, Annie Ilonzeh, Jeff Hephner, Cailey Fleming, Eddie Shin, Method Man.
Directed by Pierre Morel.
As well as the savours of sweetness in peppermints, in peppermint ice cream, there is also the touch of the sharp and the bitter. At a crucial stage in this actioner, a little girl is enjoying a peppermint ice cream when she is killed.
Audiences know from the outset that this is going to be violent film because we see a deadly confrontation, the camera moving in on a shaking car, going inside the car, and Jennifer Garner killing the men within. And then the action moves to 5 years earlier. Explanations, yes. Justifications, perhaps?
The word used for this kind of film is, of course, vigilante. 45 years before Peppermint, Charles Bronson appeared in Death Wish, an ordinary citizen whose wife is raped and killed, who is so emotionally affected that he goes out into the streets to mete out justice, beyond the law. The film made an impact in the 1970s and was followed by several sequels. After that, the vigilante thriller became something of a genre with its particular conventions about crime, victims, revenge, justice, the role of the law, the vigilantes being seen as criminal on the one hand and hero on the other.
And so, Peppermint fits entirely into this genre. Where it is different is that the vigilante is female. Jennifer Garner appeared in the television series in the early 2000s, action lead in Alias (and then followed this as Electra). In the meantime, she has made a number of family films and romantic comedies but here, as Riley, she is more than back in action.
We learn that the villains of the piece are drug lords and drug dealers, merciless and vengeful, no scruples in killing Riley’s husband who had been in invited to be a driver by his partner in a car repair job but who had phoned to refuse.
Riley had been wounded in the attack but had escaped and disappeared for the five years, information then coming in that she had been involved in all kinds of martial arts and training.
Sometimes vigilantes also appear as “avenging angels” and this is what she seems. With expert skills, timing, ability to conceal herself, split-second action, she seems to be cleaning up the city. But, on a bus, she encounters a little boy and gives him a toy, only to find that the drunken father brutally throws the toy away – and she follows him into a store and gives him a lesson in child consideration that he will never forget. It is clear that while she is avenging, she also has the Guardian Angel qualities.
In the past, she had encountered a detective, Carmichael, John Gallagher Jr, as well as his superior, Beltran, John Ortiz. They become involved in completing the work they had been involved in five years earlier, tracking down Riley, working within the law, but not against her bringing down the drug lords, especially in the final violent confrontation where, once again, innocent children are involved, taken as hostage.
Riley is rugged, to say the least, and the film writers know this and provide possibilities for a sequel – and the suggestion would be that she should become part of Special Ops and might find some causes in Afghanistan or the Middle East! (The director is Pierre Morel who has had a successful career in France and in the US in this kind of action thriller, especially the Liam Neeson action thriller, Taken.)
US, 2018, 103 minutes, Colour.
Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Austin Abrams, Bubba Weiler.
Directed by Marc Turtletaub.
For the most of the time this is a rather quiet film – but it builds up a great deal of interior momentum, surfacing doubts, fears, angers.
The puzzle of the title is actually a jigsaw puzzle (and it is a remake of a very sympathetic Argentinian film of 2009, Rompecabezas). The setting this time is Bridgeport Connecticut with excursions into New York City.
The central character is Agnes, a sympathetic Kelly Macdonald, married for almost 20 years to Louis, who works in a garage (David Denman). They have two children, the older working in the garage but wanting to be a cook, and the younger preparing to go to college but wanting a gap year in Tibet with his Buddhist girlfriend.
What could be likely to happen in this family, especially with Agnes who has lived the life of a subdued housewife (taking it for granted), mother, church worker (with some scenes at the church, comments about lessening crowds for confession, receiving and wearing the ashes on Ash Wednesday)? Louis is a man who has lived an enclosed life, moving from home to garage to home, his hobby of fishing one of the most important things in his life, never watching the news, thinking his older son is lazy because he dislikes working in the garage, wondering about his younger son and his going to college.
There is a telling sequence at the beginning where Louis clumsily breaks a plate at a birthday party while Agnes is working and cooking – and the audience then discovering it is Agnes’s birthday party – and Agnes searches for the pieces to put them together again. This prepares us for her response to one of the gifts, a jigsaw puzzle. She finds that she can put the puzzle together very quickly, feelings of exhilaration and achievement.
When she goes into New York to buy some more puzzles, she finds a number to text, someone wanting a puzzle partner. In a moment of daring, she texts and receives a reply. Without telling the family, she goes to New York to meet the partner, Robert (an inventor played by Irrfan Khan). She is very tentative, rather prim, not realising she is intrigued by Robert and his personality, way of life. They are very successful in working together at the puzzles – and he enrols them for the championships.
What will happen to Agnes in this opening up of her life? Will she tell her husband or not? How will she deal with her sons and their hopes? What if she persuades Louis to sell their holiday home and property to fund their sons? What if she becomes emotionally involved with Robert?
These are the many questions which we would expect to be raised by the screenplay – and they are. We empathise with Agnes. We hope that Louis will change. We wonder what influence Robert will have on Agnes.
From quiet beginnings, serious questions, serious emotions, serious moral decisions.
This is a film about the lives of ordinary, very ordinary people – which most audiences could identify with, empathise with, even learn from.
UK, 2018, 116 minutes, Colour.
Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx,. Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson, Ian Peck, F.Murray Abraham.
Directed by Otto Bathurst.
Probably best to forget about most of the stories we know concerning Robin of Locksley, Robin Hood. The action of this film takes place before the outlaws of Sherwood Forest, this episode finishing as Robin, Marian, Little John and the others have to escape from Nottingham.
In fact, the initial voice-over advises audiences to forget all that they knew about the Robin Hood Legends. There is a rather ironic tone taken, tongue in cheek humour, an interpretation of Robin Hood for 21st-century audiences, especially those who have indulged in Marvel and DC comic hero films (reinforced by the style of the final credits, parallel to those used in these films).
With Taryn Egerton (the Kingsman films as well is The Rocket here as Elton John), we have the youngest of actors for Robin. He is the Lord of Locksley, he does encounter Marian who was involved in some shady thieving behaviour, they fall in love. However, he is drafted to go to the Crusades for four years, not to Palestine or Jerusalem, but to Arabia (echoes of contemporary Middle East intentions, the battle against Isis). Robin is a daring hero, Guy is when is a rather dastardly Conqueror, there is a back story of an Arab who opts to be called John – the tall Jamie Fox who becomes Little John.
Meanwhile, back in Nottingham, the dastardly sheriff (Ben Mendelson at his most dastardly) has been taxing the townspeople beyond their being, forcing them to work in suffocating mines. He has confiscated Robin’s Castle and destroyed it. John has appreciated Robin’s help in Arabia and is bent on some kind of vengeance, bonding with Robert, giving him extensive training in archery (introducing an extraordinary machine for firing arrows like a Gatling gun), perfecting Robert’s skill and speed.
We can guess where this is going – however, Robin decides to fawn on the sheriff, pretending to be a donor and all the time robbing the sheriff and recycling his money. Marianne has teamed up with a very earnest reform, Will, but is involved in espionage in rebellion, along with an odd Friar Tuck. It becomes worse when the hypocritical church officials are revealed as plotting with the money – especially in the form of the beyond-Salieri Cardinal, F.Murray Abraham.
Audiences have never seen a mediaeval city looking like this, quite a different set design, including a mediaeval cathedral that looks nothing like a mediaeval cathedral! It all builds up to a dangerous climax, getting the people inside for revolution. All throughout the film, there has been quite a lot of action, excitingly-paced.
And, it turns out, that the critics did not like this interpretation. And, it seems, that many audiences preferred the familiar story rather than this 21st-century version.
, for the record, this reviewer rather enjoyed it.
Mexico, 2018, 135 minutes, Black and white.
Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Rivera.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Roma? Rome Italy? No, this Roma is a middle-class section of Mexico City. The setting is the early 1970s.
In fact, this film is a fictionalised memoir written by the director, Alfonzo:Cuaron (who has had quite a varied career with films in his native Mexico as well is a broad, a version of The Little Princess, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, P.D.James Children of Men, and Oscar for his direction of Gravity).
Roma has received quite a number of awards, including the Golden Lion in Venice, 2018, and Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. (And, it could be noted that Roma won the SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communication) award in Venice.)
Technically, the film has won great acclaim for its qualities in black-and-white photography and its use of 65 mm film. It is a reminder of how much can be achieved and the beauty of black-and-white photography.
The film is quite episodic in its structure, a series of events that takes place over a year, events for a middle-class family, a devoted mother, her shock at her husband leaving her and her pretence that he is away in Canada on research, her four children, three boys and a little girl. The audience is taken inside the family, sharing the details of its life.
While the family events provide the framework for the film, the focus is on the young maid, Cleo, an indigenous woman from a village, only moderately educated, employed as a servant, but the children devoted to her. She figures in the episodes, the film providing a portrait of Cleo (expertly portrayed by Yalitza Aparicio), a contrast to the Hispania-Mexican? family in her slight appearance, her quiet and respectful manner.
Many have rightly commented that the film invites the audience into this world and immerses it in the world. There are episodes in the home. There is an episode where a big group of families goes on a holiday together, extroverted jollity, then everybody being called on to put out some forest fires at the back of the house.
On the personal side, Cleo has an encounter with a young man who vainly demonstrates his progress in martial arts. When she goes to the cinema with him and tells him that she is pregnant, he disappears, although she tracks him down at an extended sequence out in the countryside of people watching a large group of young men, going through their martial arts paces, presided over by a Guru who asks them to do a simple movement, hands joined above their heads, one leg on eighth I and keeping balance – most of them are unable to do this but, in a quite simple way, Cleo achieves this.
There are scenes at the hospital where the sympathetic mother of the family takes Cleo and she is treated well by the doctor – and this will be repeated later in the film when Cleo gives birth. The background to this sequence of birth is quite powerful, Cleo going to a fashionable store for the family to buy her a cot for the baby, watching crowds of young people outside, joining for a protest, watching the police attack from the store windows, some of the young people pursuing others through the store (including the violent father of Cleo’s baby). There is shooting, traffic is jammed, and urgency to get Cleo to the hospital.
There is a sequence towards the end when the mother takes the children, invites Cleo to the children’s acclaim, to go to the seaside where she explains the family situation to the children. When they go into the surf, they go out too far and Cleo, who does not swim, quietly goes out to save them and bring them in.
A synopsis of the film might not seem too exciting but there is a humanity about the situations and characters, the memories of the director, which make an emotional impact.
And, at the end, the film is dedicated to Libo. In fact, she is the servant in the Cuaron family life whose life and devotion is dramatised on screen as Cleo.
Australia, 2018, 86 minutes, Colour.
Megan Drury, Wil Mc Donald, Jack Ruwald, Alexia Santosuosso, Milly Allcock, Nicholas Hope, Leah Ashwood.
Directed by Storm Ashwood.
A very general and unrevealing title for a film! No, it is not the expected kind of school, definitely not.
This is a very small budget Australian feature by a young director and writer. He is wanting to draw on the traditions of horror films, nightmares… And this is what he presents. This is a film for devotees of the horror genre – although, there is not so much physical violence or gore on display here, but rather nightmare and menace, it might better be described as ‘creepy’.
It takes a while to sort out what is actually going on, the audience immersed in a dramatic puzzle, a psychological puzzle, worlds of dream and reality.
The focus is on a skilful doctor (Megan Drury) and her career. However, she emerges from a drain into a mysterious basement, not knowing what has happened to her, sometimes getting flashes of illumination, remembering who she is. She has been professionally successful and the veteran doctor at the hospital (Nicholas Hope) is concerned about her welfare. Gradually, the audience realises that there have been tensions with her husband, his devotion to their son, her concentrating on her career and advancement, an accident for the son and his going into coma, her continued concern over so many months.
These are her memories. But there are also her nightmares, concerned about her son, the possibility of threats.
How real are the nightmares? She finds that she is in the remains of an old school, and that there are mysterious students still roaming the school, some very wary of her, some sympathetic, a number of small children and she tries to protect. But, there is also the arrogant leader of the young people, Zak (Wil Mc Donald). Audiences who might feel in a literary frame of mind as they watch the film might be reminded of Lord of the Flies.
And so, in and out of reality, in and out of nightmare, the mission for the doctor to save the children, to confront their violent and malicious leader. Who are the children? Have they been victims of neglect? The doctor and her saving mission – and some atonement.
So many films of this kind have been made, in Australia as well as in America, small-budget, independently produced, experiments in their own way – and an invitation to audiences who like this kind of genre to allow for some shortcomings but to encourage the writers and directors to continue with their film careers.
US, 2018, 103 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini Treat Williams, Milo Ventimiglia, Freddie Stroma, Charylene Yi, Alan Aisberg, Dave Foley, Larry Miller, Annaleigh Ashford.
Directed by Peter Segal.
Second Act is the kind of light entertainment that used to be referred to as a “women’s picture”. And, it will have a particular appeal to a female audience, especially with the strong characters all being women, men somewhat in the background.
Is also star vehicle for Jennifer Lopez who had been around in films for over 20 years, her heyday in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Her fans will appreciate her in Second Act, a strong screen presence.
She plays Maria, a very practical woman who has worked in sales in a supermarket, expecting to be promoted but powers that be noting that she has no major education background or degrees. Fortunately, she has three friends who work in the store, always helpful, always with advice – Leah Remini standing out as Joan, the kind of wisecracking, common-sensed friend (played in the long ago past by Eve Arden, in the recent past by Joan Cusack). Maria is in a somewhat tentative relationship with Trey (Milo Ventimiglia), a baseball coach who has a desperate desire to have a family. Maria does not.
And, a second act? Maria makes a wish on her birthday and Joan’s son, an ultra-computer whiz, decides to produce documents of top education qualifications, personal abilities (Peace Corps, climbing Kilimanjaro…!) As well as Facebook page. Maria gets an interview with a pleasant executive, Treat Williams, although she clashes with his daughter, Zoe, Vanessa Hudgens (10 years after her High School Musicals). Despite her apprehensions, Maria makes a good impression, gets a job – and, with her knowledge of and criticism about ineffective facial products, gets a commission to develop a better organic product while Zoe leads a team to modify the current project and make it more organic than it has been.
Then, suddenly, although we realise it as it is happening, this is not exactly the second act that the action so far has indicated. It is much more – and audiences should have the opportunity to discover this for themselves without any advice or spoilers!
While Maria and Zoe are rivals, they also develop some bonds, especially in their dislike of the go-getting executive, Ron, the pushy scientist, Felix, who work with Zoe while Maria bonds with the very nervous assistant, Ariana, and the nerdy laboratory scientist, Chase. Not difficult to predict who wins – but it is interesting to see how they win and what they have developed.
But, of course, there is the issue of the truth and when and how Maria will confess it. Fortunately, she has the continued support of the three friends as well as her ingenuity in creating business and online sales.
Hollywood is often referred to as a dream factory and, in many ways, Second Act is one of those manufactured dreams. Could it happen in reality? We would like to think so – and it is enjoyable watching the roll-out of such a dream.
Japan, 2018, 121 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.
Japanese director, Hirokazu Koreeda, is a specialist in making films about ordinary people, opening up this world of ordinary people, of characters who are less well-off than the cinema audiences, but enabling those audiences to see how the other half live, their struggles for survival, the effect on their lives.
Koreeda has explored how children, orphaned, might organise their lives and survive for some time, a film called Nobody Knows. Of the film is in this vein include, Like Father, Like Son, Our Little Sister.
This time he invites us into a world of survivors, men and women, children, and an old grandmother.
But, the title is telling. While the group finds it hard to survive, one of their means is literal shoplifting. Almost immediately, we are in a supermarket, the father doing the shopping with a basket, a young boy scouting the goods, making signals, hiding things in his clothing, walking out of the store undetected.
The next sequence adds to the complexity of the story. On the way home, they call into a store and buy some croquettes, eating them happily as they walk through rather dingy streets, but glimpsing a little girl looking forlorn, offering her a croquette, overhearing her parents arguing about her. They take her to the very busy house, give her something more to eat, she responds happily, they try to take her home but are disturbed and bring her back to the family, her staying the night, the giving her a name, dressing her, keeping her – and they will later be accused by the police of kidnapping.
We get an opportunity to look briefly at the story of each of the characters at home. The shoplifting boy is an orphan. The grandmother presides – but we find her going to a wealthy family and getting a subsidy, later learning that there were some sordid aspects in her children’s marriage, including infidelity and murder. A young adult daughter branches out to console men clients. Despite an exhilarating train journey and day at the beach, life is hard.
While what seems to have been something of a genial storytelling, despite the shoplifting at the opening of the film, it moves into more dramatic, or melodramatic situations, moving also towards resolutions which may well be for the better for each of the characters but make some harrowing demands on them.
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
US, 2018, 111 minutes, Colour.
LaKeith? Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Kate Berlant, Michael X. Sommers, Danny Glover, Steven Yuen, Armie Hammer, Robert Longstreet, Forest Whitaker.
Voices of: David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Lily James.
Directed by Boots Riley.
This is an unexpectedly striking film. Judging by some blogging comments, a number of viewers have loathed it. But also judging by some blogging comments, many find it quite an exhilarating experience, serious, funny, realistic, imaginative, fantastic. This review will be in support of the latter view.
The film was written and directed by musician, singer and rapper, Boots Riley. It takes us into an African-American? world in contemporary Oakland. We see the central character, Cassius (a versatile performance by La Keith Stanfield who appeared in Get Out and was the American official authority in The Girl in the Spider’s Web) is spruiking for a job, false credentials, immediate exposed by the interviewer – but also immediately hired because he is committed to persuasion and that is what is needed for the job, telemarketing.
This is very much a message film about capitalism, oppression and exploitation, and the theme of “what does it profit to gain the whole world…?). But, while the message is familiar, this film communicated in idiosyncratically creative ways.
Cassius is living with Detroit (Tessa Thompson, an artist, who also support herself by creating and wearing big signs outside shops and diners). They also live in a garage. Cassius goes off to work, get his particular booth for phoning, the director using an amusing visual device of Cassius being lowered into the scene where he argues, cajoles, is cut off by potential clients. At first a failure, he is persuaded by his neighbour, the elderly Langston (Danny Glover – who uses his famous old saying from Lethal Weapon for his new situation! – to put on a white American voice and assume that kind of personality (David Cross supplying the voice). He is a great success and is on the verge of promotion.
Actually, there are quite a number of strains and subplots. The main one concerns a company called Worry Free, organised by an entrepreneur, Steve Lift (Army Hammer also at his best). The commercials for Worry Free have to be seen to be believed, people signing away their lives for perpetual work contracts and reduced to living in dormitories, canned food, the commercials praising this way of life and campaigning for others to join. There are some dire consequences as this particular strand is pursued.
There is another subplot concerning an extreme Reality TV show where a host encourages guests to be victims and to be bashed and humiliated on screen. And this will have its place and later consequences.
And, as well, there is a character called Squeeze (Stephen Yuen) who travels around to different workplaces, urging union activity, organising protests and demonstrations, with picket lines outside companies. Cassius and Detroit are caught up in the protests even as Cassius receives his promotion and is taken upstairs to become a Power Caller, living in luxury, and discovering some unhappy truths about contemporary capitalism, arms-deals and people-slavery.
And there is far more to come, far more, Steve Lift and his cohorts planning something even more drastic, moving the film into the realm of science-fiction, science-fantasy (including an unrecognisable Forest Whitaker who is one of the producers of this film).
And, of course, it doesn’t end there and, while for a few moments it looked like a pat happy ending, it certainly isn’t!
If this all seems too much, probably let it go. If this sounds the least bit intriguing, certainly go to see Sorry to Bother You.
Australia, 2017, 86 minutes, Colour.
Kate Cheel, Justin Courtin, Daniel P.Jones.
Directed by Alena Lodkina.
When considering Strange Colours, it is best to check one’s mood, to check one’s admiration for cinematic colour photography, to check one’s interest in small-budget Australian dramas. If the answer comes up that these are important, then this film, supported by the Venice Biennale as well as Australian government film offices, goes on to the list. On the other hand, if the answer comes up that sometimes these are not so important, then best to check on reviews of the film.
For many, this is an admirable film from a young director, Alena Lodkina, Russian background, her first film, her writing and directing. For others, it is a very slow-burner, probably too slow for those who prefer pace rather than feeling like they are watching paint drying. Certainly diverse opinions.
The strange colours of the title actually refer to opals, very strikingly presented as background to the final credits. The location for this film is lightning Ridge, north-western New South Wales, a mixture of outback, desert, bush, mines. And, of course, the title could refer to the strange colours of the different characters.
There is some initial focus on mining and drilling but also highlighting the consequences for health, a young woman giving up her studies to come to visit her mining father from whom she has become alienated. He is impatiently in hospital, ready to get out.
The camera follows the young woman and the range of townspeople she meets, setting up in the house, getting some help from the locals, invited into their way of life, satisfying for those who are mining and looking for the opals, but also satisfying for those who are happy to move out of the big cities, preferring the isolation of the bush.
There are some emotional issues which come to the fore, a young woman coming to terms with her father, a rough diamond (opal) if ever there was. There is also an agreeable man to whom she forms an attachment, swimming, the sexual advance which he rejects – and her having to discover his traumatic story. There are some genial old blokes around Lightning Ridge, the pub where some of the young and old blokes go, pool tables, the young woman beginning to feel at home.
Whatever the response to the film, admiration or feelings of tedium, the audience can appreciate that this is a visit to a town that that very few are likely to visit and an opportunity to see and reflect on the characters and their way of life.
US, 2018, 98 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Matt Tyrnauer.
Studio 54 had fame and notoriety at the end of the 1970s, a disco nightclub in central New York City, becoming a venue for the rich and famous and for the wood-be rich and famous. Its popularity lasted only a short time but it became part of the consciousness of New York City and its lifestyle. A feature film, 54, was directed by Michael Christopher in the latter part of the 90s – somewhat truncated for release and a longer director’s cut released a decade later.
Which means that cinemagoers do have some awareness of Studio 54 and of its flamboyant part-owner, Steve Rubell (played by Mike Myers in the film). The film focused on life in the club, the attraction for young men to work there, friends, celebrities, drugs, sex. At the end of the film, there was an indication of what would happen in terms of the IRS examining the files on the books and Steve Rubell going to prison. This documentary, while highlighting the high life, takes the story on after 1980.
Ian Schrager, the co-owner and manager of Studio 54, was not a character in the feature film. Here he is centre screen. After almost 40 years of reticence, he is prepared to look back to the past, his friendship with Steve Rubell and growing up with him, their venture in buying the CBS studio and redecorating it elaborate, a gala opening which attracted crowds and the media, the continued success, the notoriety, media response, the range of famous people and faces who visited (and these are prominent in the footage and photos of the period).
However, Ian Schrager preferred to work behind the scenes, enjoying the life of the club, caught up in the IRS difficulties, issues of liquor licenses, going to court with Steve Rubell, with the famous Roy Cohn, of the Mc Carthy era (and key character in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America) as their defence. Substantial footage of Cohn appears in this film.
Steve Rubell was homosexual, contracted AIDS, died in 1989. Ian Schrager emerged from prison, the two men buying hotels and setting up boutique hotels, Schrager continuing over the succeeding decades and making a considerable name for himself – and, with the advice of the lawyer who prosecuted them, pardoned by President Obama in 2017.
A glittery story of rise and fall.
THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD
UK/New Zealand, 2018, 99 minutes, Black-and-white/Colour.
Directed by Peter Jackson.
This documentary, sponsored by the Imperial War Museum in London, as well as by committees for the celebration of the armistice to and World War I, is a very striking cinema experience.
It was directed by New Zealander, Peter Jackson, Oscar-winner for his third film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, director of horror films in his early career, a transition to drama with Heavenly Creatures, following up Lord of the Rings with the Hobbit films, creating a version of King Kong as well as The Lovely Bones.
Jackson is rightly admired as a technical innovator as well as a creative writer-director.
On the one hand, audiences will be moved at this re-creation of British troops fighting on the continent. On the other hand, the creative technical aspects of the film will elicit great admiration.
For those familiar with World War I history, this is a visual and audio recreation, beginning with the outbreak of the war, moving to the enthusiasm for enlisting, the hopes that the war would be over soon, the young men from all walks of life joining up. It explores the training, over a few weeks, before the soldiers moved across the Channel. The narrative follows the young men as they go into action, move into the trenches, the hardships of life in the trenches, yet the fellowship that was built up. The narrative concentrates on this small group, the preparation for going over the top, the personalised warfare as the men ran through the no man’s land for combat with the German soldiers, rifles, machine guns, bayonets. There was also the discovery that the German troops and their trenches we like the British, very similar – and, ultimately, wishing that the war was over. There are many deaths, atrocious wounds, medics, carrying the wounded, the burial of the corpses on the battlefield.
Audiences may have expected the film to end with the armistice but it continues on with the soldiers returning, difficulties with unemployment, the refusal to employ soldiers, so many in the population not understanding or appreciating what the soldiers had been through.
This narrative is communicated in striking technical ways. Throughout the film, there is continued voice-over by veterans of the war, audio interviews supplied by the Imperial War Museum, edited in such a way that the narrative is continuous and relates to the range of visuals which have been chosen.
The visuals range from initial newsreel footage of the outbreak of the war, patriotism and enlistment, details of the military training, embarkation to go across the Channel. However, there was not a great deal of footage of actual close-up warfare. Instead, this film relies on sketches, two-dimensional cartoons, expertly chosen to illustrate the grimness of warfare, especially in close-up, the camera moving m, providing extreme close-ups to communicate very effectively what the experience of battle was like.
But, there was film of the soldiers themselves, the trenches, carrying and tending to the wounded. Peter Jackson and his team have restored this footage, adapted the pace from the speed with which it went through the projectors then and now. He arranged for lip readers to watch the footage and write down what the soldiers were saying so that these words could be dubbed, audiences feeling that they were listening to the actual men. And then the sequences have been colorised, making a vivid impression of action, sound, colour – realism.
For audiences who want to appreciate something of the atmosphere of World War I, albeit through a small group of British soldiers and a limited focus on their action, this is an important and moving film.
US, 2018, 129 minutes, Colour.
Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Robert Duval, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, John Bernthal, Garrett Delahunt, Lukas Haas.
Directed by Steve Mc Queen.
This is a film for those who enjoy a complex drama but, especially, for those who are fans of crime novels and films, detectives, investigations, betrayals…
The screenplay has been adapted by the director, Steve Mc Queen, from Lynda La Plante’s story, adapted for British television in the 1990s. While Mc Queen is a celebrated British director (with quite a wide range from the Irish Troubles drama, Hunger, to the exploration of male sexuality, Shameless, to his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave), he has transferred the action to Chicago.
In many ways, this is a very ugly Chicago. After a very intimate scene between Viola Davis and Liam Neeson (which has quite some dramatic repercussions throughout the film), there is a dramatically staged heist and chase, ending disastrously with the deaths of the thieves. The widows of the title are those of the men killed in the ill-fated chase and explosion. The leader of the gang from the robbery is Harry, played by Liam Neeson. His widow is a tough woman, Veronica, Ronnie, played by Viola Davis, expert in her variety of roles in film and on television. There is also Linda, Michelle Rodriguez, a great opportunity for her and versatility in comparison with her continued presence in the Fast and Furious franchise. The other widow is Alice, from a Polish background, played by Elizabeth Debicki, also a very versatile actress (The Great Gatsby, The Night Manager, Breath) – with a nice touch of casting with Jacki Weaver playing her mother.
So, those are the widows and how they became widows.
But, there is quite some political and political corruption in the foreground. Two American- African brothers are working towards nomination and election in the local ward. They have a great deal to do with the money that was robbed. And, one of the brothers, Daniel Kaluuya (also versatile when we think of Get Out and Black Panther) is a brutal and callous thug, not shrinking from any violence.
On the other hand, there is a long-time boss, Tom Mulligan (Irish tone) who is played by 86-year-old Robert Duvall, also versatile over a very long career, playing a man who knows he is boss, and he dominates his son, Colin Farrell (versatile actor again) wanting to prolong the dynasty.
It is very clear from the trailer that the women are going to join together to steal back the heist cash. In the latter part of the film, we see more of the characters, Ronnie dominating them, Linda and Alice having to do deals to get vans, buy guns, the women and their target practice. But, they need a driver – and she comes in the form of Linda’s babysitter, Belle, played by Cynthia Erevo (an award-winning singer who made such an impression in Bad Times at El Royale).
There is quite a twist towards the end of the film which gives the action a great deal of further energy. And, the re-take robbery does not go entirely as planned.
As has been said, those who like the genre conventions should find this thriller very entertaining, backed by sharp writing and plotting and that excellent cast.