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Film Reviews February 2013

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SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS MARCH 2013


ADIEUX A LA REINE, Les/ FAREWELL MY QUEEN
AMOUR
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES
CLOUD ATLAS
DES VENTS CONTRAIRE/ AGAINST THE WIND
ELLES
FRANKENWEENIE
GREAT EXPECTATIONS
I GIVE IT A YEAR
IMPOSTER, The
KON-TIKI
LAST STAND, The
MOVIE 43
ORANGES
OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
PLAYING FOR KEEPS
PREMIUM RUSH
SAFE HAVEN
SWEENEY, The
WARM BODIES





ADIEUX A LA REINE, Les/ FAREWELL MY QUEEN

France, 2012,
Lea Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen.
Directed by Benoit Jacquot.

There has been a long cinematic fascination with the French Revolution, fostered through the decades with film versions of A Tale of Two Cities. Fascination too with Marie Antoinette. In 1938, there was a lavish period drama with Norma Shearer. Joely Richardson portrayed her in the melodrama, The Affair of the Necklace. In 2006, a kind of sumptuous pop-portrait with Kirsten Dunst. Now the French have Marie Antoinette make a comeback in Farewell, My Queen. It is both lavish and sumptuous and has Diane Kruger as the ill-fated queen.
However, the film is not principally about the queen. It is about her reader, Sidonie, played by Lea Seydoux, who is loyal to the queen, but finds herself in the middle of the court intrigues and the rumblings of the Revolution. She is ambitious, diligent and discreet, but not against being part of the sexual goings on in Versailles. The person who is involved is the new favourite of the queen, the glamorous countess Gabrielle, played by Virginie Ledoyen, certainly not a favourite with Sidonie, and hated by the populace.

In fact, the film takes place over the fateful July 1789 days which lead to the storming of the Bastille, the rising up against Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and their plans to flee Paris. The film is interesting in showing the different reactions of royalty and courtiers alike faced with the revolt and the uncertainties of what they should do – and of what is going to happen to them. A list has been made of those who are to be guillotined. Plans have to be made for escape. Audiences know that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI do not escape, but the climax of the film is a journey made by Sidonie, her loyal farewell to the queen.

This is not a revolutionary action show. Rather, it is an enclosed drama of a decadent court collapsing and soon to be destroyed.


AMOUR

Austria/France, 2012,
Jean- Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert.
Directed by Michael Haneke.

A powerful film, one of the best, if not the best of 2012. It won the Golden Palm at Cannes, 2012, and a BAFTA, Golden Globe and Oscar for best foreign language film.

In the letter to the Corinthians, St Paul describes love as patient and kind, not jealous, conceited or proud, not selfish, irritable or ill-mannered, it does not keep a record of wrongs, love never gives up. This is the kind of love/amour that we see in this film. And it is most admirable, a love that has lasted for decades, has changed from initial romance to mature companionship and parenting, to the demands of old age, illness and impending death.

Writer-director, Michael Haneke, an Austrian film-maker whose films are often made in France and in French, as is this film. He has won several awards from Ecumenical Juries at film festivals, Code Inconnu, Cache, The White Ribbon. The latter won the SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communication) prize for a European film in 2009. Amour won for 2012.

The acting is extraordinary – and that sounds like an understatement. Jean- Louis Trintignant, a veteran French star, best known around the world for A Man and a Woman, was 81 when he made this film. Emmanuelle Riva, who is known for Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) was 84. The performances are so naturalistic, realistic, that we feel we are watching real people in actual situations rather than watching acting.

Basically, this is a story of age, of illness and caregiving. We see the gradual stages of decline, stroke and its consequences. We see the helplessness of the wife, her attempts to communicate, the pain and sadness of her suffering. We see the constant and meticulous attention of her husband, day after day, his weariness but his persevering until it becomes too unbearable for her and for him.

Apart from attendance at a concert at the opening of the film, the action is confined to the apartment of the couple. There are some visitors, especially their daughter, played by Isabelle Huppert, who lives abroad and does not seem to understand age or what is really happening to her parents and how that has to play out day by day.

The wife was a piano teacher which leads to several musical interludes which allow some moments for the audience to sit back before they respond again to the plight of the couple.

Perhaps the action may seem remote for younger audiences, but for most, it will be a moving experience, some appreciating better what caregiving constantly requires, others knowing that this future is possible for all of us.


BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

US, 2013,
Alden Ehreneich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Viola Davis,Eileen Atkins, Emmy Rossum.
Directed by Richard La Gravenese.

More young love and anguish in the midst of mysteries beyond this world. The post-Twilight era is upon us. This film is based on the first of four novels, Beautiful Creatures, Darkness, Chaos, Redemption, by Kami Garcia, which have proven popular.

In many ways, it is a load of old cobblers – or a load of new cobblers.

We suspend disbelief to accept that there is a mysterious family from the Carolinas, some of whom are powerful Casters (a dignified word for ‘witch’). The girls have the choice at age sixteen to accept their nature (good or evil) and find their place for life as Casters. Lena (Alice Englert – who is the daughter of Jane Campion) turns up in town, goes to school, is responsible for some eerie events (glass blowing out of the classroom windows). She is being protected by her uncle, Macon Ravenswood (Jeremy Irons sporting a Southern accent), so that her choice will be for the good rather than the evil planned by her madly vindictive mother, Saraphine (Emma Thompson). There is also an evil cousin, Ridley (Emmy Rossum). When they all assemble for dinner, it is not a genteel affair!

The other focus of the film is a young lad, brought up by his grandmother, Ethan (a very cheerful, often grinning, Alden Ehrenreich). Needless to say, he is smitten by Lena and does his best to help her, but he is no match for the dark arts. (He is abducted and is mute and bound at that mad meal.)

So, a mixture of Carolina normality with the kind of problems we saw in the Twilight series. But Alice Englert is more sympathetic than Kristen Stewart and Alden Ehrenreich more energetic than Robert Pattinson. And the supporting cast is much more interesting, especially Emma Thompson, with Saraphine taking the form of a local fire-and-brimstone Christian lady. Her first scene where she appears, denouncing the condemned in Church and her transformation to her real self is a high point of the film. But, so are her other appearances. She proves that a performance that is over the top can be hugely entertaining.

Box office returns will determine whether we move on to the next episodes in the novels.


CLOUD ATLAS

US/Germany, 2012
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw.
Directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski.

First, a warning. As the Warner Bros logo comes up, be aware that you are going to have to focus and concentrate for the next 172 minutes. After introducing us to its six story strands, with dates and places, the film becomes easier to follow as the stories interconnect.

But where to begin a review? A brief synopsis would take more space than an ordinary review! This is a film which blends different movie genres, world history from the 19th century into the far future, a shift from Earth to a far planet, and raises so many questions through its storytelling. There are the perennial themes of love, freedom, identity, boundaries and prejudices, conspiracy, revolution, civilisation and the primitive, good and evil, malice and self-sacrifice.

It is not surprising that many audiences have responded well to this quite epic and spectacular version of the Booker Prize-nominated book (2004) by David Mitchell. It is also not surprising that the film has not done so well at the boc-office, many finding it too hard, and many dismissing it as pretentious. This is not hard to understand. But, this review will be on the side of Cloud Atlas. The stories can stand on their own, but they are intercut throughout the film, often using similar incidents or visual references from one story to the other.

It is fascinating to watch the different stories and the evocation of their period and the use of the familiar movie conventions that have been used to portray these eras. One story is set in 1849 in the Pacific islands and on board a ship going back to America. It shows the capitalist west’s attempts to exploit the natives, even with the help of the missionaries. But, it is also a story of malice, a greedy doctor, treating an ill American on board the ship home. A key character is an islander who has been flogged by his people but has stowed away on the ship. This story looks like one of those historical dramas.

For the 1936 story, set in Edinburgh and Cambridge, there is an enclosed atmosphere reminiscent of the dramas of those days, with a focus on an ambitious young man, a homosexual, who ingratiates himself with a renowned composer and shares his creativity but is denounced by the composer.

There is a 1973 story that looks like one of those conspiracy movies of the time, like The China Syndrome, where a reporter is investigating an energy company that has nuclear plant plans in the context of the fuel crisis of the period. There are chases on the streets of San Francisco as a hired killer pursues the reporter.

When we get to 2012, there is a lighter touch. A thuggish London writer (Ray Winstone-screen-character-type) is drastic in getting rid of an arrogant critic. But, his books become successful and his publisher capitalises on the notoriety – but it backfires when the thug’s family want plenty of royalties and the publisher’s brother interns him in a home for the elderly. There are some comic consequences.

And into the future, the 22nd century, New Seoul, a city which brings to mind the visuals of the underground city in the Matrix series – which is not surprising because the Wachowskis are the directors. This is a dictatorship with a cyborg generation primed to serve the humans. But, revolution is in the air.

And, then, on a galaxy far, far away, survivors of a cataclysm (The Fall), eke out their existence, plagued by a band of gaudily painted but deadly warriors.

Yes, the synopsis needs quite some space.

One of the features of Cloud Atlas, which contributes to the themes, even of reincarnation and déjà vu, is that the main actors take up to half a dozen different roles. It is only at the final credits that we realise that some of the minor characters were played by the main cast, unrecognisable, sometimes crossing race and gender barriers. This is fascinating in itself, but it also raises questions about good and evil, continuity and discontinuity in the behaviour of people throughout history.

Tom Hanks is the principal actor and shows quite vast diversity in his performances: the fearful warrior in the future, the wheedling doctor in the past, a scientist in 1973, the mercenary hotel keeper in the 1930s, several others but an outstanding impersonation with the thug Brit author in 2012. That is the kind of film Cloud Atlas is.

The rest of the cast obviously relish the invitation to be so different in the one film. Hugh Grant has been off-screen for some time, but is cleverly diverse in his roles, from the nuclear executive in 1973 to the mean brother of the 2012 publisher. So is Jim Broadbent who is the 1930s composer as well as the hapless publisher of the present (and the 19th century ship’s captain). Halle Berry has some good opportunities, better than many films she has been in since winning her Oscar in 2001. But, very striking is Hugo Weaving, who has a lot of roles, ranging from the 1973 assassin to the Nurse Rached manager of the home for the elderly and an especially sinister devil character who torments and tests Tom Hanks in the future. Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon and Keith David also have very interesting characters.

So, what is it all about? History, for one. The continuity, the discontinuity, the transitions, even in the 20th century, what is similar, what is different, the wide range of manifestations of good and evil. There is a great deal about freedom, anti-slavery, anti-sexual orientation bigotry, anti-fascist military control, anti-superstition… One character remarks that boundaries are conventions to be crossed. There is a great deal about love, relationships and how necessary they are for any kind of survival.

Obviously, this is a tour-de-force for the two American directors, and Tom Tykwer from Germany. It is visually spectacular with an enormous range of special effects for the different eras (especially for New Seoul). In terms of making actors different in their roles, even disguising them, hair and make-up are admirable.

One of the main difficulties in responding to Cloud Atlas is that it is basically storytelling rather than overt reflection and philosophising. Sometimes we feel we should be ‘thinking through’ what the story means as we watch it, but that takes away from the senses’ and emotional experiences we have. Is it necessary to tease out the intellectual meanings afterwards, or is it better simply to remember the stories, the characters and how we responded as we looked and listened? Something of both?


DES VENTS CONTRAIRES/ AGAINST THE WIND

France, 2011.
Benoit Mangimal, Isabelle Carre, Audrey Tautou.
Directed by Jalid Lespert.

The English title does not do justice to this very good film. Adverse winds would be much truer and better.

Every so often a French film comes along, seemingly like many another about family and relationships, love and tensions, that stands out from the rest. This is the case with Des Vents Adversaires.

Benoit Mangimal is very good as a writer, who loves his wife and their two children, but has writer’s block. His busy wife is a doctor, working more than full-time at a children’s hospital. They quarrel and she hurries to work. She never returns. Paul searches for her, is reprimanded by his editor for leaving his children alone. Time passes. He is suspected of murder, but there is no evidence. Since Audrey Tautou plays the wife, she has to make an impression very quickly for audiences to appreciate her and the situation. (She does appear in some flashbacks.)

Paul and the children move to Brittany, to St Malo, for Paul to work for his brother at his driving school. They eventually settle in, though Paul lives with his sadness and regrets. Both children are very good in their roles as well.

There are some complications. Paul gives too much attention to a very young driving client which doesn’t help him with the police who are involved in another complication: a man released from gaol abducts his son from school and they go to the beach with Paul and his children to play. The man’s wife calls in the police. Paul wants to help, shelters the man and goes to persuade his wife not to set the lawyer on to her husband. Another tragedy follows and Paul is enmeshed with the police investigation with inevitable references to the disappearance of his wife.
The police and their methods and manners are presented very unsympathetically.

Despite a clash with his brother and the bad memories of their father, there is a resolution to the mystery, some very moving scenes of grief with the children – and some final hopefulness.

Very interesting, moving and satisfying.


ELLES

France, 2012,
Juliette Binoche, Anais Demoustier, Julia Kulig.
Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska

Elles has a Polish perspective on its themes, from writer-director, Malgorzata Szumowska, as well as a French perspective with the story set in Paris. It also has a strongly female point of view with director, star and themes.

Juliette Binoche plays a reporter for Elle Magazine, engaged in research on an article about young French students who work as call girls to supplement their income. (This was a theme in John Duigan’s 2012 Australian film, Careless Love.) The two young women, one French, one Polish, become very frank in their discussions with the journalist, Anne, and their stories are visualized quite explicitly for the audience.

There is more, however, than the elaborating of the two stories, the revealing of the characters of the two young women who become much more involved in their work, sensual gratification as well as the possibilities of a more comfortable, even luxurious life. We are focused on Anne, a day in her life as she is finishing her feature article.

Her life at home is quite ordinary, a teenage son with resentment problems, critical of the coldness in his parents’ marriage, a younger boy preoccupied with video games. The couple are expecting his boss and wife to dinner that day. Anne cleans, cooks, is concerned about her son. But, all through the day, there are flashbacks to the meetings with the two young women, her growing involvement with them, something of an obsession, but also letting her imagination work, compensating the arid sexuality of her own marriage.

Towards the end, the film indulges in some fantasy at the dinner table. But, then, the next morning, everything is back to normal – but we are not sure how real this is or whether it is a challenge to what the French call bourgeois life.

With films and topics like this, there is the question of how real is the treatment, how prurient. And, depending on the experience of the audiences, whether this is a world we have seen in other films or whether there is something new with insights. Perhaps it is best to say that the world of the call girl students has been treated in other films but the strength of this one is Juliette Binoche’s complex portrait of Anne and the effect of her interviews on her own life.


FRANKENWEENIE

US, 2012.
Voices of: Martin Landau, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara?, Winona Ryder.
Directed by Tim Burton.

A long time ago, Tim Burton made a short animated film about a resuscitated dog. Now he has been able to make it into a full-length feature.

It doesn’t take a mastermind to realise that this is a film in the Frankenstein tradition, tradition because it is not exactly about a monster, just a nice dog called Sparky. Vincent () is Sparkey’s master and friend. He is a young, rather introverted boy whose supportive parents wish he would be more sporty and outdoors-going. Vincent has proudly shown his parents the science-fiction film he has made with Sparky as the star. Vincent also loves science and has his laboratory. So, what makes more sense when Sparky is killed in a car accident and is solemnly buried than to exhume him and see if the Frankenstein experiment works. Of course, it does.

When Vincent tells his friend Edgar what he has done and to keep it a secret, Edgar promptly tells some of the kids at school who, like Vincent, want to win a prize at the science fair. And what do they do? Take some of their pets, including a turtle and do likewise. One takes the turtle who becomes a Godzilla-like giant monster. There is a risen rat. And an obnoxious cat assumes bat-monster characteristics.

The science teacher warns the school and parents not to underestimate children’s knowledge as he is fired from the school – he is voiced by Martin Landau who was Tim Burton’s Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, and won an Oscar for it.

Mayhem follows in the town. Vincent and his companion, Shelley, take refuge in a castle-like building from the rampaging crowd, just as in the original.
When order is restored, the bad monsters have to go, but Sparky lives another day – or more.

Burton has been able to indulge himself with the story, with sharp animation and black and white photography. A bit frightening for very young audiences, but older children might identify and enjoy it.


GREAT EXPECTATIONS

UK, 2012,
Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Irvine, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Flemyng, Ben Irvine.
Directed by Mike Newell.

Which novel is Dicken’s most popular? Judging by film versions, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations top the list. Here is yet another version of Great Expectations, coming not long after a BBC mini-series with Ray Winstone and Gillian Anderson.

This is quite a lavish re-creation of the novel, especially in the London sequences. It opens, quite briskly, in the marshes with Pip hurrying to his mother’s grave and being startled (as we are) by the sudden appearance of the convict, Magwitch. Those who have read the book and/or seen film and TV versions will know what will happen, although this film makes much more explicit than others, the intricate linking of all the characters by the end.

Ben Irvine plays the young Pip and the role is then taken over by his older brother, Jeremy Irvine (who starred in War Horse). Pip’s sister is a Dickensian harridan Sally Hawkins), but his brother-in-law, Joe Gargery is a most kind and sympathetic character, played in a pleasingly low-key way by Jason Flemyng (who is often an on-screen villain). The atmosphere is built-up with the Christmas dinner, the missing pie and brandy which Pip has stolen for Magwitch, followed by the re-arrest of the convicts. Then the mood changes as Pip is summoned by Miss Havisham to play with Estella (and to have his heart broken by her as Miss Havisham, in her revenge for being jilted, trains Estella to play havoc with men’s hearts). Helena Bonham Carter has yet another opportunity to play a character who has more than traces of madness.

While Jeremy Irvine is central as Pip, perhaps a bit too reserved when we think of John Mills in David Lean’s classic 1940s version, full of energy and enterprise, his relationship with Estella is important but not so central. It is the seeming peripheral characters who shine in this version and have a lot to do. An initially unrecognisable Ralph Fiennes is a most persuasive Magwitch with some fine scenes on his return from New South Wales to England. Robbie Coltrane as Jaggers, who does, in fact, have all the information about how the characters are far more linked than we might have guessed, has an important role. Holliday Grainger, on the other hand, as the adult Estella, is so haughty and cold that it is sometimes hard to believe that Pip has had this undying love for her.

It is the great expectations for Pip that is the central theme, of course. He makes assumptions, as might the audience who do not know the plot, about who his patron is, which leads to some disillusionment when he learns the truth. This film shows him becoming more snobbish, more extravagant as he strains to become the gentleman his benefactor has asked him to be. A lot of pride, a substantial fall. But, Pip does then rise to all the occasions, lessons learned.

With so many versions of the novel, audiences will have decided on their favourite performances and judged the others accordingly. For first-timers, it is a helpful introduction to Dickens and his world (London, when Pip arrives, looking particularly Dickensian). For those familiar, it is another opportunity to enjoy a two hours or more visual immersion in Dickens’ world.


I GIVE IT A YEAR

UK, 2013,
Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Simon Baker, Anna Faris, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver.
Directed by Dan Mazar.

The title comes from a rather dogmatic statement made by the sister of the bride at the wedding receptions. She is a dragon-po-faced Minnie Driver who, inexplicably (or the explanation shown makes little sense) has remained married to her genial but laid-back doctor husband for many years. But, their story is only a sub-plot.

The main story is that of Natalie and Josh, Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall, who have been smitten with each other and, as it turns out, have really fallen in love with love rather than each other. Which means that this portrait of a marriage in decline over a year is a falling out of being in love.

Actually, Minnie Driver might have read it right. She is a determined advertising PR executive who generally knows what she wants and gets it. He, on the other hand, has published a novel and is in process of writing another but has no sense of urgency and is content often to laze about the house, and is a master of bad taste. So, from romantic to irritated, to clashes, to roving eye, to counselor (a very funny Olivia Colman), to a new proposal: to be divorced.

The ‘other’ parties are Anna Faris as former girlfriend, Zoe, and Simon Baker as Guy, the owner of a bleach company who has a contract with Natalie.

The film is really a collection of episodes, some funny, some misfiring. It is the work of Dan Mazar who has been working with Sacha Baron Cohen in all his incarnations, especially Ali G, Borat and Bruno. So that gives us some idea of the blend of hilarity and bad taste – and there is quite a bit of the latter, especially with the character played by Stephen Merchant who says whatever comes into his head without any process, is jaw-droppingly politically incorrect and obliviously so. (Natalie does say that one benefit of the divorce is that she will never have to see him again.)

The cast act well with the courage of their convictions. A clever publicity writer has created the ad tag, ‘The love child of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridesmaids’. It is more Four Weddings than Bridesmaids though with a lot of ‘naughty’ humour that revels in and is mightily pleased with its naughtiness.


THE IMPOSTER

UK, 2012,
Directed by Bart Leyton.

There was a 2010 feature film called The Chameleon, the story of a young Frenchman, who posed as the son of an American mother, the son having been abducted three years earlier. The family accepted him, until the FBI investigated him and discovered the truth. The Frenchman was notorious for assuming the identities of other young men. His name was Frederic Bourdin.

The Chameleon told the story, leaving it to the audience to try to understand something of his mentality and motivation as well as wondering how the family could have accepted him as the boy, lost for three years who seemingly had turned up in Spain. Some of the names and locations were altered for the drama.

With The Imposter, we have a documentary re-telling the story (and keeping up quite some suspense as to what will happen, even the suggestion that the family may have killed the boy who disappeared) but also exploring what the main protagonists where thinking and feeling. It makes for an absorbing cinema experience, both fascinating and stimulating. The boy’s name was Nicholas Barclay, who disappeared from his Texas home when he was thirteen.

The film-makers rely on interviews with the imposter himself, but also with the boy’s mother and sister (the sister went to Spain and brought the boy home after the US Embassy gave him a passport) and other members of the family. There are interviews with a woman official who became suspicious as well as a private investigator.

However, there are no screenplay credits in the film, nor in the credits listed in the Internet Movie Database. Since the interviews are acted (most convincingly), where did their texts come from? Transcripts? Reconstructed interviews? Which makes the film something of a docudrama rather than a straight documentary. There are some sequences, especially of Frederic dancing at the end, which seem to be actual footage.

The film explores two major questions:
- What motivated Frederic, what kept him going during the experience in the United States, how could he
successfully deceive the family?
_ - How could the family believe him? Did they believe what they wanted to believe?

Looking at the actor portraying Frederic and listening to him makes fascinating viewing. He puts up a plausible scenario about his French/Algerian origins, his desire for security, his ‘American dream’, how he felt sustaining the fiction, his elaboration of a story of abduction, torture by military, sexual abuse along with other boys, his being forbidden to speak English (hence his accent). He then describes what having a family meant, the love and freedom he experienced. Which is all put into abeyance when we discover he has taken on many identities before this one.

Cary Gibson, Nicholas Barclay’s sister, puts a very plausible case for accepting Frederic as Nicholas, as does Nicholas’ mother. Once again, the actors portraying them do a convincing job, enabling us to believe that they believed and are genuinely shocked when the truth is revealed (let alone the accusations of murdering Nicholas).

In a way this is a ‘True Crime’ story, reconstructing some scenes, presenting the interviews and points of view, tantalising the audience with what seems one of the more far-fetched stories they are likely to come across.

Whatever the truth if the matter, The Imposter certainly gets us in.


KON-TIKI

Norway, 2012,
Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgård
Directed by Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandburg.

Older audiences may remember the stories of Thor Heyerdahl’s epic journey on a balsa raft across the Pacific from Peru to French Polynesia to give proof of his theory, derived from Polynesian legends, that ancestors sailed from South America and settled the islands. Theories to that time favoured migration from Asia. Heyerdahl’s expedition took place in 1947, April to August. The film of his voyage won the Oscar for Best Documentary.

So, now the background to the voyage, the voyage itself and the consequences are dramatized over sixty years later.

This is an old-fashioned kind of film, of heroics against the odds, of an indomitable leader who had a vision which no hardships could block. It is a Norwegian production but filmed in English in Scandinavia, Bulgaria, Malta, Thailand and the Maldives. It looks good, with plenty of photography at sea, fish, whales, sharks, phosphorescent creatures.

We are introduced to Heyerdahl as a young boy prepared to take risks, falling through the ice and rescued but refusing to promise his father never to take risks again. Shift to French Polynesia, where Thor and his wife Liv, are living amongst the locals doing ethnographic studies. It is here that Thor discovers the raft voyage of ancestor Tiki 1500 years earlier.

Shift to New York, 1947, where Thor is unsuccessfully trying to persuade editors and publishers to back him. Huge Pepsi Cola neon signs are seen twice seeming to indicate that Pepsi did sponsor the voyage, but it is only product placement sponsoring this film.

Heyerdahl comes from Viking countries. He is tall and blond but not a heavy or hefty build. But, he is determined, assembles some friends in Peru and builds the raft, made only of the materials Tiki would have used. However, they takes some food supplies, a radio and a camera. The point to be made was that this kind of raft could have gone with the tides to Polynesia.

The main part of the film is the voyage itself, storms, menace from a whale, the pursuit by sharks, being becalmed, the logs absorbing water and beginning to rot. There are also the inevitable tensions amongst the men, especially when the engineer harpoons the whale and the danger of capsize, and when one sailor takes a shark aboard the stabs it, the blood drawing other sharks. Audience attention is grabbed particularly at these crisis moments. Otherwise, interest will depend on interest in sailing, in the sea, in Heyerdahl’s single-minded determination. In the background is the tension between Thor and his wife, his not returning home to his family, his driven life, always on more quests (which he did until his death in 2002).

This film serves as a tribute to Heyerdahl and his crew (who had adventurous lives afterwards as we are informed at the end).


THE LAST STAND

US, 2013,
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman,
Directed by Jee-woon Kim.

Well, critics and bloggers alike are declaring, ‘He’s back’, so why not confirm to the trend!

Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, after eight years as governor of California, has gone back to his day job. He has brought his screen talents back (acting not reallybeing one of them), his iconic screen presence, his accent and intonations, his persona as a terminator of bad events and people. It’s all here, with a vengeance, so to speak.

The leader of this enterprise is director Kim who has had a strong career in Korea as a director of sometimes bizarre films, with a propensity for violence. He is the director of the pastiche of spaghetti westerns and Korean horror, The Good, the Bad and the Weird. And, of course, he brings something of each of these to this, his first American film.

The basic plot is standard. We are in a small border with Mexico town of Somerton. It is the sheriff’s day off. Some truckies are at the diner. The town is quiet, but the sheriff is suspicious. He has every reason to be. Meanwhile in Las Vegas, the FBI are about to transport the deadliest drug boss since Paolo Escobar to federal prison when he is whisked away and is heading for Mexico through Sommerton in the fastest of cars.

Will the small group of law enforcement in Sommerton stop him? Is the Pope catholic!

Guns galore, so lots (and lots) of shooting as Arnie and co confront the drug lord and his henchmen, to the amazement of the FBI boss who arrives when it is all over.

The thing is with the former governor is that when he was a film star, he delivered a lot of his lines in dead-pan throwaway and that is what we expect from him. In the midst of mayhem, a corny moment and a laugh. (This time here are quite a few at the expense of his age!).

We know what to expect and it is given to us Korean weird style. If that is not enticing, then don’t go. If it is, then you can expect some adrenalin rushes.

Forest Whittaker is the FBI chief. Eduardo Noriega is the charmingly sinister drug boss. Rodrigo Santoro is the Iraq War veteran who is in on the act as is Johnny Knoxville, taking time off from Jackass films and TV (though keeping the spirit in his character and mock heroics).

Yes, he’s back and there are more of these movies in the offing.


MOVIE 43

US, 2012, 90 minutes, Colour.
Greg Kinnear, Denis Quaid, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Emma Stone, Kieran Culkin, Anna Faris, Uma Thurman, Stephen Merchant, Halle Berry, Josh Duhamel, Elizabeth Banks, Chloe Grace Moretz, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth.
Directed by Peter Farrelly (and others)

Movie 43 is an odd film, generally rejected by critics. Perhaps it should have been called Movie 00, the response of many of the audiences.

The film begins with a potentially good idea. Denis Quaid is a writer who comes to make his pitch to a producer, played by Greg Kinnear. The producer seems to be the kind, patient type and begins to listen to the rather frantic pitch made by the writer. At this point, the first of the stories is visualized.

While this story has its vulgar tone, it is funny. It is played somewhat seriously by Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet, giving it a stronger impact. Kate Winslet portrays a rather haughty personality dressing for a dinner date, which turns out to be Hugh Hackman. However, he breezes in with a pair of testicles on his neck. He is oblivious of this. Kate Winslet is concerned that she is seeing things and is trying to test out whether it is real or not. Because she plays it so intensely and seriously, the joke is acceptable and the short film works quite well – if you enjoy that kind of thing.
The second story works well enough as tongue-in-cheek presentation of home schooling. Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber portray parents entertaining dinner guests, explaining how they educate their older adolexcent son, Kevin, at home. However, the idea of to education is take all the clichés of bullying, harsh treatment and humiliation that school gives rise to and impose them on their son. This is all visualized and is amusing because it is played straight and briefly.

As the film goes on, the writer becomes even more frantic, pulling a gun on the producer to force him to go to the boss to get a contract signed. At this stage the producer becomes frantic and joins in the rather crude jokes and tenor of the whole film.

It is surprising that Peter Farrelly, director of tongue-in-cheek films with more than their share of low humour and vulgarity (There’s Something about Mary, Shallow Hal), was able to gather so many writers who were willing to tell dirty jokes stories or scatological stories and then to find a range of directors to film them.

Farrelly himself directs the framework as well as several of the stories.

In filming stories like this, the danger is that many of them become ludicrous, exaggerating, of course. They also become somewhat disgusting, sometimes few holds barred.
As intended, some of the stories defy belief, especially the scatological story of Anna Faris and Chris Pratt and their sexual relationship. This is also true of a sequence with Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant and an increasingly bizarre series of bets and dares.

Elizabeth Banks directs a story with Chloe Grace Moretz visiting some friends and experiencing her first period, with some embarrassment for her and the awkward reaction of a young friend, his older brother and their father. There is also a story of advertising using a blow-up sex doll. It is mainly a board meeting which becomes more absurd as it proceeds, with Richard Gere, quite serious, presiding and Kate Bosworth trying to give female and feminist objections.

There are some credits and, suddenly, there follows yet another story, a couple and the tensions between them especially because of the man’s pet cats, Beezul, a cartoon cat. The couple are played by Josh Duhamel and Elizabeth Banks. The film again ends with absurdity in the relationship between Josh Duhamel and the cat.

It is difficult to gauge who exactly is the target audience for this film. Because it is generally low brow comedy, audiences with some taste will probably find it far too much. Perhaps it is a big risky to say that audiences without any taste will enjoy it. Perhaps what the film makers wanted was a suspension of good taste or patronage by those who delight in naughty shocks.


THE ORANGES

US, 2011,
Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat, Leighton Meister.
Directed by Julian Farino.

The Oranges? No, not pieces of fruit. Rather, the citizens of Orange, New Jersey. This is a film of suburban New Jersey. It is a slice of life where things seemed to be going well enough, but weren’t.

Two couples live across the street from each other. Each has adult children. The two husbands have been best friends, even jogging every morning together, one buying the inventions the other thinks up, taking everything for granted. They are played by Hugh Laurie as David and Oliver Platt as Terry, the inventor.

David and Paige (Catherine Keener) seem to have had a long and happy marriage. They have two children, one still at home preparing to work in making furniture, the other going to China on business (Alia Shawkatt as Vanessa and Adam Brody as Toby). Over the road, Carol (Alison Janney) is a controller and tends to ignore Terry. They have a daughter, Nina (Leighton Meister), working in California.

Where can the film go and where can this ideal suburban life go wrong?

Nina comes home and responds to David’s interest in her. A marriage collapses, friendships break, children react against their parents. Nina’s return is a catalyst for drastic upheaval.

The cast is particularly strong and make the set-up believable. And, probably, we know people like this, people who have had experiences like this and who had to battle their way through, often with great hurt on innocent parties. The Oranges is an interesting, perhaps useful, mirror of suburban crises.


OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

US, 2013,
James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobb.
Directed by Sam Raimi.

If you have never read any of Frank L. Baum’s Oz novels and have only seen The Wizard of Oz, you may have wondered who the wizard actually was and how he finished up with his tricks in the Emerald City. Here is your answer.

Sam Raimi, after his Spiderman films (which starred James Franco in two of them), has opted for a lavish fantasy. His writers have also suggested a parallel with Oscar (the wizard) and his experience with that of Dorothy. Oscar is a carnival showman-conman in Kansas in 1905 – and the sequences are filmed in black and white and box-size screen like the 1939 film. Frank (Zach Braff) is Oscar’s put-upon assistant. Annie (Michelle Williams) is in love with Oscar but has received another proposal. He is prepared to let her go. Both Frank and Annie will reappear in Oz.

When Oscar cannot help a crippled girl to walk, the crowds pursue him and he escapes in a hot-air balloon and, like Dorothy, he is whirled away in a powerful storm – and lands in Oz. We are not quite familiar with this Oz. It is beautiful and colourful (and there are Munchkins). There is the Emerald City and the yellow brick road. But the characters there are different.

Oz is ruled by an evil but beautiful (it is Rachel Weisz) witch, Evanora. She has a nice sister, Theodora (Mila Kunis) who is instantly attracted to Oscar. The word is that Glinda, the daughter of the former ruler, had murdered her father. We guess at once that it was really Evanora who did it. A flying monkey, Finley, also turns up and becomes Oscar’s assistant, lugging around his bag of tricks. Finley is voiced by Zach Braff and is the equivalent of Frank. The crippled girl appears again in the form of a china doll that Oscar rescues and repairs and who joins in the fight against Evanora.

They tell Oscar that there is a prophecy that he will turn up and save the people of Oz. However, he is more interested in himself, gold and getting out of there in his balloon.

But, matters do not go well. Evanora takes over her sister who has perceived Oscar as abandoning her. By a sinister transformation, Theodora turns into the Wicked Witch of the West, bent on revenge on Oscar. But, we do remember who Glinda, the good witch is – and she is played by Michelle Williams.

The rest of the film tells how Glinda sees good in Oscar, how they join good forces to combat Evanora (without any deaths). Which means that Oscar has to delve into that bag of tricks. He becomes the Wizard and defeats the enemies, especially through that device we remember from The Wizard of Oz, his projecting his image and voice on a big screen, while he is hidden behind the curtains. Everything is in place for the arrival of Dorothy and her story.

It was all filmed in very effective 3D. The sets are wonderful. The action is most entertaining. James Franco seems to be enjoying himself as Oscar. Rachel Weisz is a convincing villain and Michelle Williams a very nice heroine. There is something strange about Mila Kunis both as the good Theodora and very strange, and unconvincing, as the Wicked Witch.

Hard to know whether the planning of the film intended it for younger audiences or not, or for older audiences. There is a lot to admire and enjoy, but overall, it is not quite…


PLAYING FOR KEEPS

US, 2012,
Gerard Butler, Jessica Biehl, Noah Lomax, Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones?, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid.
Directed by Gabriele Muccini.

The first moments, and the title, might lead us to believe that this is a film about soccer. There is soccer, but this is more of a story about family, and the relationship between a father and his young son.

Those early moments show the successful career of Scots player, George Dreyer. George is played by Gerard Butler (allowed to use his own accent). But, after his career ends, he faces the problems of what he is to do with his life. The media hype the celebrity of the footballers, their excessively high salaries, their relationships with women and their lavishly spending wives and girlfriends. What do former football stars do?

According to Playing for Keeps, they go back to find their children who are living with their ex-wife and her about-to-be next husband. Well, here, George goes to the US and to his American ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biehl in a very sympathetic performance) to get to know his son, Lewis (Noah Lomax, who played the son in Safe Haven). George seems to have lost most of his money and is doing an audition tape for a sportscasters’s job.

When he goes to watch his son play soccer (with the coach usually talking on his mobile phone), we know where the film is going. And it does that: coaching his son, trying to get close to him despite some failures, forming some bonds before it is too late.

But, there are two surprises (well, perhaps not, middle class American suburbia being what it is). First, there is the bumptiously ambitious father who immediately offers cash so that his son can get a better position and his daughter sing the national anthem before matches. He is played by Dennis Quaid as a conniving, grinningly ruthless businessman, who is not above inviting George home to a party to impress his business associates. The other surprise (or not) is the response of the mothers to George. Some are desperate housewives who go after George. There is the ‘poor little me’ divorcee who weeps and comes on strongly (Judy Greer). There is the businessman’s glamorous wife who turns out to be as manipulative as her husband (Uma Thurman). Most strongly of all is Catherine Zeta-Jones? as a vampish neighbour who has the power and influence to help George become the sportscaster.

But, it is time for George to make adult decisions instead of the immature footballer reactions that he is used to.

Of course, he makes the right decisions ultimately, perhaps not quite in the way we were expecting. They depend on his bonding with his son and what that should mean as well as listening to the sensible advice of his ex-wife and, despite her happy memories before he walked out on her and their son, her explanation to him that his timing is always wrong and that he explodes.

The film is by Italian director, Gabriele Muccino, who made The Last Kiss in both Italian and English versions and who directed Will Smith in both The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds.


PREMIUM RUSH

US, 2012, 90 minutes, Colour
Joseph Gordon- Levitt, Michael Shannon.
Directed by David Koepp.

Premium Rush is an action movie for adrenalin junkies. It takes place over an afternoon in New York City, the audience seeing the initial action, going back in time and moving forward for the explanation.

Joseph Gordon- Levitt appears as a courier, a young man who enjoys the exhilaration of riding his bike through the crowded city streets, through the traffic, delivering messages which are ‘premium rush’. He gets a high as he rides. And he is very competitive with other couriers. He also has relationship with one of the female couriers.

The film uses an interesting cinematic device to illustrate his choices for avoiding traffic, by visualising the possibilities he could take and indicating, by animation, the potential dangers and disasters for him. The film also uses the map of the city lighting it up to indicate places and the time needed to arrive.

He has to deliver a package given to him by the roommate of his girlfriend. However, he is challenged by an alleged security guard to hand over the package. He refuses and a chase and pursuit ensue.

The security guard is in fact a police officer. He is played with his customary frighteningly intense manner by Michael Shannon. In soon emerges that there are far more complications, the policeman and his work, his being indebted to Chinese gamblers. If he can get the package, it will be possible to pay off his debts.

However, he underestimates the skills of the courier. When his girlfriend becomes involved and other courier rivals, there are dangerous races through the city. There is also an underlying theme of migrants, paying for a child to come into the United States.

The film was written and directed by David Koepp, (Secret Window, Stir of Echoes). It is principally for action fans, bike riders, but other audiences might give it a miss.


SAFE HAVEN

US, 2013,
Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, David Lyons, Noah
Directed by Lasse Halstrom.

Just mention the name of novelist, Nicholas Sparks, and critics will move into dismissal mode, sentimentality US style. On the other hand, readers of his novels smile and their eyes light up, another nice blend of romance and drama. And, on the box-office evidence, Sparks has every right to be pleased at how popular his books and their film versions are. This is the eighth film since 1999 and Message in a Bottle. Amongst others, we have had The Notebook (probably the most popular and the best), Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John (which was also directed by the present director, Lasse Halstrom).

Safe Haven has all the needed ingredients. There is a young woman in peril from an abusive husband. There is a nice man, a widower, with two likeable children. There is a safe haven and love for both (and the children). So, plenty of romance, followed by plenty of melodrama. And, at the end, there is a twist that, maybe, even romantics were not expecting. But, it does meant that the last few minutes are more moving than we might have expected and we watch the final credits through tears.

Julianne Hough is attractive as the young woman who flees from Boston to the quiet town on the Carolina coast where she wants to begin a new life. Josh Duhamel is tall and handsome as the widower. His daughter is a young girl with plenty of verve. People are nice in the town, and it builds up to a 4th of July celebration and parade, and fireworks.

Australian David Lyons has a high old sinister time as he pursues his wife, becoming more demented as the film goes on.

It all looks nice, and is designed for that ultimately feel-good experience that Nicholas Sparks offers to his fans.


THE SWEENEY

UK, 2012,
Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Hayley Atwill, Damien Lewis, Steven Mackintosh.
Directed by Nick Love.

Popular in the 1970s, the TV series, The Sweeney, had the advantage of John Thaw (later to be inspector Morse) and Denis Waterman (to appear in Minder). It had quite a following. Most probably not for this 21st century re-make.

There are some robbery sequences, some chases, some shootouts – plus some baseball bat bashings, and some interrogations which are little short of torture. Well, perhaps that is to be expected from tough police dramas. But, there is a certain Death Wish-vigilante approach to the policing of the Flying Squad which, while it does get the baddies, is particularly brutish.

Ray Winstone is a natural pick for the new Regan. He has pushed his way around London and gangster worlds for decades. He does his same performance again. Singer Ben Drew appears in the Denis Waterman role, the young reformed thief who is loyal to Regan as his mentor. There are various members of the squad, including Hayley Atwell, married to internal affairs officer, played by Steven Mackintosh, who is out to bring down The Sweeney, but involved in an affair with Regan. Damien Lewis also appears as the police boss.

There are crims and complications, even to our thinking at first that Regan himself might be on the take as he passes some gold ingots recovered in a raid to his informant. But, no, he has a sense of duty and pursues it relentlessly (with minimum scruple), even to being suspended but still going after the robbers (who, perhaps inevitably, are from Eastern Europe).

Nothing really new, nothing really renewed from the 1970s.


WARM BODIES

US, 2013,
Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Dave Franco, John Malkovich.
Directed by Jonathan Levine.

The title is better and deeper than might have first been supposed. So is the film.

This has to be the nicest zombie film you are likely to see and Nicholas Hoult as R (he can’t remember his alive name) is the decentest young corpse, even decentest young man you are to see in what is not quite a horror film, more of a hopeful monster film. Which means that as the film opens and we see the devastated city and the trudging corpses, as these zombies are referred to, we see it is a ‘Post- Apocalyptic’ film. By the end, it is a ‘Post Post-Apocalyptic’? film.

R offers a mournful voiceover about his lot, living dead who cannot remember his past, driven by a flesh-fuelled hunger which means that the Corpses are a menace to the surviving humans. R wanders, communicates oddly with his friend M, and joins a rampage in a clinic where the crowd of corpses attack the humans and R kills a young man, Perry (Dave Franco). In devouring his brain, he is able to relive the memories (which is done in flashback). At the clinic was Julie, but R did not kill her. Rather, he takes her to his plane hideout to keep her safe. Teresa Palmer is a strong heroine as Julie.

We are in Beauty and the Beast mythology here. Afraid, she comes to appreciate what R is doing for her and there is an initial fire of love in each of them. Which is important for R because it means that he speak more coherently, play records for Julie, feel for her and not menace her. When she returns home to the safety of the city and to her father, a gung-ho zombie hunter in the form of that sinister-voiced and deadly presence, John Malkovich.

R calls out to Julie who comes out on to her balcony – and there you are with the other mythology (but R doesn’t feel that he needs to take on the name, Romeo).

The film works, despite the odds (and Director Jonathan Levine did make a film called The Wackness!) because it has a lot of heart (and by the end so do a lot of the Corpses). And Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer are able to sustain this makebelieve story, better than the Twilight films. And there is comparatively little gore.

The theme of the film is heart and hope – and there is a particularly hopeful image at the end where the vast separating wall comes down. An allegory for some of the divisions and walls in society today.

Created by: malone last modification: Thursday 07 of March, 2013 [05:59:21 UTC] by malone


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