SIGNIS REVIEWS FEBRUARY 2015
DUMB AND DUMBER TO
PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR
THAT SUGAR MOVIE
THEORY OF EVERYTHING
WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY
US, 2014, 132 minutes, Colour.
Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Ben Read, Jake Mc Dorman.
Directed by Clinton Eastwood.
Clint Eastwood, in his own films and in those he directed, has taken us into many war zones, especially in his early years, in the American West and in the police and detective world. In the 1990s, he made Heartbreak Ridge, about American invasions in the Caribbean. But his main war impact was in his treatment of American patriotism in Flags of our Fathers and then looking at the other side of the Pacific battles, Letters from Iwo Jima. Eastwood offered both sides of the war effort, the battles, the strategies, the tactics, the patriotic feelings, both American and Japanese.
With this background in mind, he has now made American Sniper – released when he was 84.
The film is based on an actual character and actual events, especially in Iraqi after 9/11.
Chris Kyle was a sturdy Texan man, the film offerings glimpses of his childhood, his father taking him hunting, training him to kill with accuracy, but also instilling him and his brother with a sense of knowing who were sheep, needing protection, wolves, the bullies, and the sheepdogs, those prepared to care for and defend the sheep. He wanted that role for his sons.
In adult life, Chris and his brother were rodeo riders but, after the news about the massacres by Al Qaeda in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, Chris enlists and goes through the rigorous training for Navy SEALS. This is captured visually in a collage of moments of training. A bulked-up Bradley Cooper gives one of his best performances as the intense sniper, loving his wife and family, but more at home with his comrades in arms and in action in war.
Besides the sniper action, with which the film opens and then leaves unfinished for about 30 minutes, there is the flashbacks story of Chris Kyle, his meeting Taya (Sienna Miller) in a ba, pleasant repartee, phone calls, dating, engagement, marriage, her pregnancy – but then he is sent to Iraq after 9/11.
The action sequences are quite strongly staged and acted, with Kyle and his skills as a sniper, his accuracy, the number of kills, and his getting a strong reputation with the nickname, Legend. There are scenes of door-to-door knocking to search out insurgents. There are confrontations with local leaders, especially a cruel man nicknamed The Butcher. There is a tense scene where a young boy who picks up a weapon after a man is killed in the street, looking as if to fire it, with Kyle watching, hoping that the boy will drop the weapon and not fire it so that Kyle will not have to shoot him.
Kyle had four tours in Iraq. While it did not take a physical toll on him, it took a psychological toll which he could not appreciate, saying nothing was wrong with him, mouthing patriotic statements about defending his country. But, on his return, he could not fully relate with his wife emotionally which then took its toll on her, especially as at times, he phoned her and action came on the line immediately, she listening to it in dismay.
Dramatically, the film builds up to an engagement which involved an insurgent sniper, Kyle having to make decisions whether to eliminate him or not, what was the best interests of the group, and a storming of the building where Kyle was on the roof by some aggressive militants.
While the screenplay and Eastwood take no explicitly political stands about the American presence in Iraq in its historical post-invasion sense, it shows the American SEALS and military devoted to their task, with spasmodic sympathy for the people whom they sometimes refer to as “savages”.
What the film does do is focus, especially at the end, on the effect of war on the veterans, physical and psychological, after their return.
For audiences who do not know anything about Kyle, there is a surprise ending, and a tribute to him.
Whatever our political viewpoints, whatever our attitudes towards films about war, Clint Eastwood certainly knows how to make involving films.
US, 2014, 119 minutes, Colour.
Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifiniakis, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan.
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Well, this is not quite what many audiences might have been anticipating. And the trailer, while featuring many sequences, does not really indicate the content and tone of the film.
In one sense, this is a Broadway film, the putting on a play in New York’s theatre district, the problems, the emotions, casting difficulties, accidents, and the threat of a killing-review. But it is more than this, it is something of a portrait of a movie star, Riggan Thompson, who had succeeded 20 years earlier in an action-hero series, Birdman. He is trying to stage a comeback, having adapted a Raymond Carver story for the stage, directing and featuring himself. There are quotes from Carver at the beginning of the film and a final speech where the emphasis is on love.
One of the striking features of the film is that it has been designed with director and cinematographer to be completely continuous as if it were a one-take film. This is sometimes quite ingenious.
Riggan is played by Michael Keaton, and many people have been ready with the comment that Keaton himself played Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman and Batman Returns, 1989, 1991. In fact, Michael Keaton has had a successful career, moving into character roles. However, he was best known at the beginning of his career as being a zany comedian, although he has made a number of serious films, ranging from his alcoholic in Clean and Sober and his menacing landlord in Pacific Heights. So, for those familiar with Michael Keaton, there is a lot of baggage and background.
The action takes place over a couple of days, days of rehearsal and the opening night of the play. At first, disaster seems to loom as one of the main characters is injured by a falling property on stage. One of the stars, played by Naomi Watts, who has dreamt of being on Broadway suggests a very talented actor who could come in at short notice. He is played by Edward Norton, quite at tour-de-force performance as a wilful, self-absorbed actor, not embarrassed in creating stirs and upstaging people during rehearsals. And, in real life, he is much the same. Also in the play is Keaton’s girlfriend played by English actress Andrea Riseborough. There is an effective cameo, only in three scenes but quite moving, by Amy Ryan as Riggan’s ex-wife.
But, key to this story, is his daughter, Sam, out of rehabilitation for drug problems, loving him, critical of him, intrigued by the new actor, sympathetic towards the other members of the cast, dealing with her own problems. She is played by Emma Stone.
On the realistic level, the film could be very interesting for those who like the theatre, the putting on of the play, the staging and costumes, the details of the rehearsals and their problems, the build-up to the opening night along with episodes which seem to indicate that the opening night might never happen. One of the very effective episodes is the encounter with the New York journalist, who has power with her reviews to destroy plays and performances. She is played in two strong sequences by British actress, Lindsay Duncan.
But, the film is not realistic in the sense that the hero is psychologically disturbed, has had some drinking problems, relationship problems, artistic problems, and the continual wondering whether he can carry off the performance. So, to heighten atmosphere of surrealism, the director introduces a bird man in costume who is continually present to the actor by voice and sometimes physically, describing situations, taunting and challenging Riggan, questioning him as to the wisdom of his choices. Towards the end of the film, there is a completely surreal sequence where Birdman urges the hero to trust his powers, his seeming ability to cause an object to go up in flames, even to fly, which he does soaring over New York City. This is in contrast to the time when he goes out for a breather before his performance, wearing his underpants and a towel coat, only for the door to slam and his coat to get caught which means that he has to run through Times Square in his underwear, through the crowds many wanting an autograph.
It is significant that Michael Keaton is able to carry off all these sequences, the serious, the comic, the emotional, the emotionally blocked sequences as well as the fantasies.
The film was co-written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, a Mexican director, who made an impact with his Mexican film, Amores Perros, three stories set in the slums of Mexico City, in 2000. His subsequent films have been very varied in genres, generally praised: 21 Grams, the multi-storied Babel, Biutiful, about a dying man. So, he is an unpredictable in his work, choices,
But he is also quite unpredictable in this film, especially at the end of the premiere of the film and a final symbolic sequence which leaves audience opinions quite open. And it has the subtitle, which comes from the final review of the play by the reputation-killing critic, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO
US, 2014, 109 minutes, Colour.
Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden, Rachel Melvin, Kathleen Turner, Bill Murray.
Directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly.
If you wait long enough, something might happen. 20 years is a comparatively long time in film history, and a lot of those lining up at the box office to see this comedy were not even thought of when the Dumb and Dumber first came out. Those who laughed, some unashamedly, some with embarrassment, in those 90s days might line up for this one and find it more than a touch embarrassing! Of course, the writers-directors, the Farrelly Bros, intended this.
For those who wonder how they enjoyed the dumbness on screen in the 1990s, but will be hard put to explain why the present film has been made and what audience it will attract. The good news is, if you wait right until the end of the credits, and watched the final gag, a card comes up which announces Dumb and Dumber For. But it adds the information that this sequel is due for release in 2034! Why not! The stars will be in their 70s, the fans from the 90s will possibly be in their 50s (or more) and the young kids who laughed loudly and delightedly during the screening will be into their 30s – or, for quite a number of them, approaching 30.
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels back again. Jim Carrey not having had such a successful career in recent years seems to be putting extra effort into his traditional mugging, to make sure that nobody makes a mistake about his interpretation of Lloyd. Jeff Daniels has had a strong career both before Dumb and Dumber and afterwards, including a top televisions, The Newsroom. He seems far more relaxed in this film, being a good sport, still game enough to play the mop head (awry) Harry and expose himself to his public, in more ways than one.
Lloyd has been in an institution for 20 years, immobile, not responding – and suddenly he explains why. Harry has been visiting in the 20 years and looking after him, and surviving who knows how – and we realise that they have continually played games of Gotch on each other! They go to see Harry’s parents, Koreans who adopted him, and he finds in his mail, a letter 20 years from on an old flame, Frida Filcher (a game Kathleen Turner) who tells him that she had a daughter.. He assumes it is his (and with the revelation at the end of the film, it is a wonder that he and Lloyd could have thought this) and, since he says he has been diagnosed as needing kidney transplant, he and Lloyd go off to find the girl, and a potential kidney.
One joke is that they arrive back at Frida’s house because in their search, Harry had looked only at the back of the envelope with the return address instead of where the letter had been sent! That is one of the funnier jokes for an adult audience. The rest of the film is full of dopey interchanges between the two, elaboration of their dopey characters, lots of pratfalls, lots of slapstick, lots of bodily function junction innuendo and situations, and behaviour like 10-year-olds (with apologies to most 10-year-olds). The comedy is for some guffaws, especially from the 10-year-olds in the audience (which happened).
The finding of the daughter is not too difficult after the initial stupidities, and it is revealed that she has been adopted by a top scientist who was about to go to a convention in El Paso to receive an award and to offer, in a box, hope for the future of the human race. The daughter certainly does not look anything like Harry, is more like Lloyd and behaves a bit like him – the scientist’s intelligence does not seem to have rubbed off on her. But, the scientists is married to an avaricious wife who wants his money, especially from his science insights, and conspires with the handyman to get rid of him – but, since the daughter left the important box behind, he has to travel with Harry and Lloyd, leading to a whole lot of dumb and dumber situations and practical jokes -and attempted murder.
There are some twists at the end of the film, especially with Kathleen Turner turning up to meet her daughter. And the paternity issue is solved.
There was some years back a prequel called Dumb and Dumberer. This does mean that Dumb and Dumberest was available as a title for this film. It would have been most suitable as it turns out. So, who is the film for? Nostalgia for the middle-aged? But they will realise that they have moved beyond Harry and Lloyd. For the younger audiences, probably – but they will now have to wait another 20 years for their moments of disillusionment.
That’s it: a film in which we can release our dopey inner child!
US, 2014, 134 minutes, Colour.
Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd.
Directed by Bennett Miller.
Foxcatcher has been very well reviewed and nominated for many awards. It certainly is a very interesting and well-made film, worth seeing for its characters, power plays, American wealth and a film about Olympic wrestling.
There is an opening scene with people riding to hounds in pursuit of a fox. There is both realism and symbolism. Foxcatcher is the name of a company, set up by John du Pont, the heir to the du Pont business millions. It was a company for the training of wrestlers, with the intention of training athletes for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Team Foxcatcher.
At the centre of the film is a young man, Mark Schultz, quite a single-minded young man, intent on his wrestling. He is something of a loner, goes to training in a gym and is managed by his older brother, Dave. The two brothers had won Olympic called at the 19th 84 Los Angeles Games.There is a certain rivalry but Dave is a more assured man, happily married with children.
Into their lives comes John du Pont, multimillionaire, with an interest in wrestling and especially in Mark Schultz and a summons to his Pennsylvania estate, plane ticket and helicopter reception provided. He makes Mark an offer which he cannot and does not refuse, coming to Pennsylvania, joining Team Foxcatcher, working with a number of elite wrestlers. While the film is about wrestling and there are quite a number of sequences which illustrate techniques, this is not solely a sports film. Soon John du Pont is inviting Dave Schultz to join the group. He is reluctant but is finally persuaded.
While the director, Bennett Miller, won the best director award at the 2014 Cannes film Festival, this is very much an actors’ film. Channing Tatum is quite intense as Mark Schultz, one of his best performances, a serious young man, not relating very well to others, finding in John du Pont not only a sponsor but something as a father-figure. Mark Ruffalo, a fine actor in many a film, is certainly very good as Dave Schultz, happy to work with his brother, wary of John du Pont, yet working within the Foxcatcher Team, only to be the victim of the intensity.
The surprise is the performance of Steve Carell, best known as a comedian, often zany and loopy, but here very serious as John du Pont. His make up, especially his nose, given great prominence and often filmed from a low angle, suggest, at times, a bird of prey. Humour is not one of his qualities. Everything is serious, everything is intense, including his exercise of power to persuade athletes to join his Team, his joining in in their training, fancying himself as one of them. He is not only a father figure for Mark but also a sinister mentor.
The du Pont family traced its lineage back to the War of Independence, with pictures and other mementos in their mansion. John du Pont takes wealth for granted, has a range of assistants who do his bidding, summoning people to meetings, enforcing his regimes. He has a strong and strange relationship with his dominant mother, played by Vanessa Redgrave, who considers wrestling a lowly sport, herself very involved with horse breeding and training.
But, it becomes all too much for John du Pont, leading, for those who do not know the true story, to a surprising and jolting ending.
While the film is a picture of the sport of wrestling in the United States, it is also a significant piece of Americana, the status and power of the wealthy, exercise of dominance, with tragic results.
HUMAN CAPITAL/ IL CAPITALE UMANO
Italy, 2014, 111 minutes, Colour.
Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi Fabrizio Gifuni, Matilde Gioli, Valeria Golino.
Directed by Paolo Virzi.
This is an impressive Italian film, a drama with a range of characters and a central mystery. It was the official entry Italian entry for the Foreign Language Academy Awards for 2014.
During the film, many audiences will be wondering what the meaning of Human Capital, the title, actually is. It is explained at the end of the film but indicating the meaning here does not spoil the plot in any way. Human Capital is the technical word for used by Italian insurance companies to estimate the worth for beneficiaries of a person who has died. It does seem a harsh and abstract phrase.
However, the film is not abstract at all. It opens with a party for socialites. One of the waiters cycling home is injured in a hit-run accident. It is not clear who the driver of the car was, whose car it was, and the screenplay offers several possibilities as the film goes on.
The screenplay is structured in three parts, each focusing on a central character, telling the story from their point of view, while advancing the narrative – although there is a six month period in the film between the accident and the move towards resolution.
The first story is that of Dino (Fabio Bentivoglio), a real estate agent, pushy and brash, who wants to have something more in life. He has a daughter, Serena (Matilde Gioli), who is studying. Dino is married to a psychologist, Roberta (Valeria Golino), his second wife. Serena is dating Giovanni, the son of a wealthy businessman and his former-actress wife. When Dino arrives at the mansion of the businessman, he is invited to play tennis and makes a success of it, asking for financial advice, which leads him to borrow heavily, lying about his money status. When he imposes later, asking for his money, he is fobbed off, and tries to rectify his situation by further lying and borrowing.
The second story is that of Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), the former actress, unhappy in her marriage, remembering happier days, especially when she wants to buy a run-down theatre and calls on a friend, a lecturer and director, to give advice to the board she sets up for the running of the theatre and its contribution to the town. She has a tenuous relationship with Giovanni, the son, but is open to his relationship with Serena. However, her husband is more preoccupied with his business than with her.
The third story is that of Serena herself, her relationship with Giovanni which is not as it seemed earlier in the film. He is irresponsible, drinking, going to parties – with his car, which raises all kinds of questions as to which car was involved in the accident and who could have been driving. There are some interesting twists which we do not anticipate.
The other interesting character is Luca, living with his uncle, becoming involved in his uncle’s drug-dealings, having his own personal problems – and a client of Dino’s wife, Roberta. It is in her waiting room that he encounters Serena, which leads to the final complications.
The fourth chapter is the resolution and is called Human Capital.
The film keeps the interest, throwing light on the wealthy class in Italy, the business dealings, especially with the financial crises in Italy. It also throws light on the less wealthy classes, their struggles, their ambitions.
For audiences who are on the lookout for strong, well-written and well-acted dramas, Human Capital can be recommended.
US, 2014, 107 minutes, Colour.
Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor?, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn, Michael Culkin, Ulrich Thomsen, Jeff Goldblum.
Directed by David Koepp.
This is certainly an oddball comedy, a star vehicle for Johnny Depp to do one of his impersonations. He is Lord Mortdecai, allegedly British aristocracy, with country mansion, with a trophy wife who is smarter than he is, Joanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), an art dealer who gets himself involved in frauds. Depp portrays him as one of those silly-ass Englishman, accent, vocabulary-a-twitter, all that can be spoofed about the upper-class.
How his fans might find this a bit difficult to predict – and his wife later in the film remarking that sometimes he can be irritating. However most audiences will become used to this kind of performance – as we have with his Jack Sparrow.
As the film opens, he is involved in double-crossing some Chinese art dealers – but, as always, his loyal, ultra-loyal, manservant, with a gangster’s voice and tone, comes to his rescue, throws the punches, takes the shots, is ever ready to come to the aid of his respected boss. This is Jock, played with an amusing consistency and loyalty by Paul Bettany.
When an art restorer is murdered, and the main suspect is a Latin American terrorist who wants to finance his groups by art sales and who keeps reappearing during the film, a murder or two more, some mayhem, and suffering all kinds of shock tactics during a car chase, Mortdecai is asked to get involved by MI5, represented by Ewan McGregor?, playing straight man to Johnny Depp’s antics.
Mortdecai’‘s adventures include his abduction by a Communist art connoisseur and his interrogation in Moscow – with Jock, once again, to the rescue. Then he is off to LA to sell his car to another art connoisseur, Jeff Goldblum. Who has an intriguing daughter who gets up to all kinds of intrigue. Everybody turns up in’s LA, Joanna, the MI5 agent, the terrorist, and Jock, once again to the rescue.
The fraud involves a painting by Goya which seems to have disappeared but has an art history of disappearance, acquisition by Goerring, and several fakes – all of which is exposed in a finale at a London auction.
While watching it, older audiences may be reminded of The Pink Panther, then of Peter Sellers who might have taken on the role had the script been available in his day – and then, there are many Terry- Thomas mannerisms, with Depp even having the gap teeth. Probably Peter sellers would have done the role with much more ease and aplomb.
Australia, 2014, 94 minutes, Colour.
Sam Worthington, Ed Oxenbould, Deborah Mailman, David Wenham, Nicholas Bakapoulos-Cooke?, Ina Imai, Terry Norris, Julian Dennison.
Directed by Robert Connelly.
This entertaining film has everything going for it. It is designed for a family audience and should be satisfying for everyone, parents and children. It is feelgood, generally pleasantly predictable, telling a good story, having interesting characters, a 12-year-old that many children could identify with, a theme of children’s activities, a competition, a touch of pre-adolescent romance, a snobby child villain… What more could we want?
The title indicates what the principal focus is, the making of paper planes (and some of us finding that it is far more complicated and creative that we might have thought, a variety of forms and shapes for the planes). In fact, during the titles, where shown the process of paper making – because the quality of the paper, its futures, its texture, are important for the shaping of the planes.
At the centre of all this is a 12-year-old, Dylan. He is played by the very talented Ed Oxenbould. He made his mark in television series, Underbelly and Puberty Blujes, credibly playing an American child as Alexander in the family comedy, Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day. It looks as if he has a very strong career ahead of him.
He lives at home with his father, Sam Worthington, who seems to have given up on life after the death, five months earlier, of his wife in accident. Dylan is the stronger in coping, missing his mother but acknowledging the truth of her death. His father mopes at home, lying down, leaving the television on with sport, unable to go to work. Dylan rides his bike to the local country primary school where the students are a mixture of white, ethnic, aboriginal. The teacher is played by Peter Rowsthorn, full of enthusiasm for the students and the classes (after he collects all their phones and devices before class) and encourages them when a visitor comes to talk to them about paper planes and gets them to test out their skills.(if you’re wondering where you saw Peter Rowsthorn before, he played Brett, the exceedingly put-upon husband of Kim in Kath and Kim.)
Dylan becomes enthusiastic about paper planes, qualifies to go to the finals, is helped by his mischievous friend, Kevin, with some explosive experiments, and visits his grandfather in a home for the elderly, a former pilot who takes Dylan to the flight museum and imagines some war action, helping Dylan to get ideas were his planes. His father does help him in showing him the winged keel for the America’s Cup in 1983, Dylan incorporating this into the design of his paper planes, also studying an eagle in-flight - he feeds the bird each day with a rasher of bacon.
The Australian finals are to be held in Sydney. Dylan’s father eventually drives him (something of a credibility gap for the audience since the film was photographed in Western Australia and they drive along a few dirt roads et cetera and then quickly arrive in Sydney!)
At the finals, presided over by a very exuberant former champion, Deborah Mailman, Dylan meets a young Japanese paper plane champion, Kim, and they become friends. Also present is a very caddish would-be champion, Jason (Nicholas Boukapolus-Cooke) and his father, played by David Wenham, a man who realises he has a very obnoxious child, who insists on calling him Patrick instead of dad, and who spouts a philosophy of winning is everything. There is some excitement as all the contestants fly their plane over a swimming pool.
As we anticipate, Jason and Dylan win the competition and travel to Tokyo for the world finals. Dylan works hard because he has no money, his teacher trying to take up a collection, his father having the idea of a garage sale, his grandfather and the ladies at the home providing cakes, lamingtons prominent, and they collect enough money for Dyland to go, but not his father. The key point is that his father does not want to sell his wife’s piano, she was a piano teacher, even though he is offered $3000 for it.
There is plenty of excitement in Tokyo, and the Tokyo tourist agency will not be disappointed at the presentation in the film. Kim is there. Dylan and Kim continue their friendship. Jason is also there and indulges in some bullying which means that Dylan might not be able to participate in the contest. But on the contest goes, Dylan adjusting his plane, remembering his mother who taught him to make the paper planes, the advice of his father and grandfather, the image of the eagle.
This is a very nice film, so happiness all round, including Dylan being very supportive of his father, Jason having some redemptive moments.
The film was co-written and directed by Robert Connelly who has had a strong career in the Australian film industry with producing and directing such films as The Bank, Three Dollars, Balibo and producing and directing a segment of the Tim Winton film, The Turning.
It is hoped that this film is popular not only in Australia but around the world.
PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR
US, 2014, 90 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Tom Mc Grath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon, John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong, Peter Stormare, Andy Richter, Danny Jacobs and Werner Herzog.
Directed by Eric Dunnell, Simon J.Smith
Everybody enjoyed the appearances of the penguins in the three Madagascar films. They were, to say the least, disruptive. They also had a lot of zany dialogue and found themselves in all kinds of humorous, slapstick, action-filled sequences, with a propensity for undermining the plans of the key animal characters. So popular were they that a number of short films were made in which they starred and they had their own television series. Here they are again, with their own film.
In the past, the Penguin said they had never been to Antarctica. But that does not matter for this film. It re-invents their origins. In fact, the film opens with a March of the Penguins, reminding us of the documentary that was extremely popular, familiarising audiences around the world with the habits of penguins, their coping with the seasons, their march through the ice continent, then mating, their producing eggs and chicks. Here we see them in a long, long file, marching, conformed to the traditions – with a lot of dialogue indicating that they have no idea why they should be so conformist and following these traditions.
It is in this context, that Skipper questions the traditions and decides to be independent, taking with him his pals, Kowalski and Ricco. They see an egg rolling down the snow cliffs and try to save it – and from it, emerges the rather cute penguin, with the nice voice, Private. We have to acknowledge the skills of Tom McGrath?, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon, Chris Miller who really do have distinctive styles to bring these penguins to lively interchanges.
The main audiences for the film will not appreciate the joke at the beginning – but film buffs who appreciate the idiosyncratic career of director, Werner Herzog, will enjoy the fact that he is the introductory voice-over, reminding audiences that he made a film about Antarctica, and that he is a director who has made extraordinary physical demands of those who appear in his films. He has some very jokey lines about documentary makers, cuteness of penguins, and is not above showing us how directors can be bit unscrupulous in engineering the scenes, by hitting the three penguins over the cliff!
The penguins encounter four international agents, led by Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch) and an assortment of animals. They are recruited to try to combat a mad Professor who wants to transform all the animals, get rid of them, starting with penguins. He is a mad scientist who transforms himself into a giant octopus, a creature who readily suggests villainy, and has crew of small octopi to do his dirty work, as well as some vast machines. After some international visits, the focus is in New York City, the transformation of penguins into mutants, the confrontation with Dave – or other names starting with D because Skipper doesn’t always remember the correct name.
And, while Herzog’s appearance might be a surprise to many, the voice of Dave is also a surprise, John Malkovich.
The agents run away at first, calling it re-grouping, but finally come to the aid of the penguins, their transformation back to normal, the vanquishing of Dave and the other octopi.
The screenplay, after all, is rather conventional, presenting a familiar enough plot, but aiming for entertainment for younger audiences rather than for their parents.
US, 2014, 128 minutes,,.Colour.
David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Andre Holland, Common, Tim Roth, Dylan Baker, Martin Sheen, Stephen Root, Wendell Pierce, Cuba Gooding Jr, Alessando Nivola.
Directed by Ava Du Vernay.
It is 50 years ago, this year, that Martin Luther King led the march on Selma. And this film is a worthy commemoration.
Martin Luther King, vilified by many during his life, especially by J.Edgar Hoover and the FBI, and losing his life to an assassin in 1968, at the age of 39. After his death, his wife, Coretta, campaigned for the introduction of a public holiday in his honour, something which was eventually achieved and is still celebrated.
Selma is a film that takes us back to 1964 and 1965. Audience knowledge of the 1963 March on Washington and King’s speech of his dream is presupposed. While the film is a portrait of King, it focuses on his racial equality cause, spread by non-violence, his political contacts, his collaboration with other activists, differences from the approach of Malcolm X, the issue of the Selma March. There is also some focus on his relationship with his wife, his infidelities but his love for Coretta, his care for his children, and Coretta’s standing by her husband, especially at Selma.
King and his associates are central to the film as his Coretta. However, the president of the time was Lyndon B. Johnson who inherited the presidency after the death of JFK but who was elected in a landslide in his own right in 1964. A Texan, he met with King and spoke to him by phone, challenged by an equality issue that King was raising: black Americans had the right to vote but, especially in the South, officials, from Governor George Wallace to petty bureaucrats, did their best to make it impossible for the registration to vote to be accepted. This is dramatised in an early scene when a nurse, played significantly and symbolically by Oprah Winfrey, tries to register and is asked how many districts there are in the state, which she answers correctly, but then fails because she cannot name the officials in each of the 67 districts.
King and a group went to Selma, Alabama, to decide whether it was a suitable place to have a march and a demonstration, the attitudes of the locals (shown to be fairly hostile with Confederate flags, spitting and denunciations) and the risk of protest and violence.
The apprehensions were not misplaced. In the first attempt, the troopers stood their ground and confronted the quiet and peaceful marchers, chasing them and brutally bashing them. King made television appeals to the American public who watched the television news of the events. For the next March, people from all over the United States, black and white, especially with religious leaders of all denominations as well as nuns, coming to help and to join in the March. Crucial to the campaign and public opinion was the murder of a Boston Episcopalian priest by local bashing thugs.
Governor George Wallace, his sheriffs and other officials had no time for black Americans, mouthing denunciations, even urging President Johnson to think about the dire and dread consequences if segregation was lifted…
Ultimately, the march did take place and is a satisfying ending to this film, although the drama comes in the preparations, the thwarting of the original march, the police trooper brutality, and the effect on the American public bracket heightened by our seeing excerpts of news coverage of the time edited into this film.
It is interesting to note that four of the central characters are played by British actors. David Oyelowo is a theatre actor from England, of Nigerian background, who played on the London stage, moved to the United States and appeared in the sheriff in Jack Reacher, the rebellious son in The Butler, the fellow-journalist in Paper Boy. He gives a powerful performance, an impersonation of King, yet getting inside King’s character and communicating his mind, his thoughts, his hopes, and his faith, seen significantly as he knelt on the bridge at Selma when the march was held up. He also captures the voice, the modulations, the power of rhetoric in King’s speeches. The film ends with King’s speech at the capital in Montgomery, Alabama.
British Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta King. Tom Wilkinson is Lyndon Johnson and Tim Roth is Governor Wallace. There is an uncredited appearance by Martin Sheen as the judge who presides over the case as to whether the march should go ahead. The rest of the cast is made up of a number of black character actors like Wendell Pierce, Cuba Gooding Jr, Andre Holland and white actors like Giovanni Ribisi and Alessandro Nivola.
This is a very earnest film, some American audiences finding it too preachy – although, for them, that might be an important point. As it is, this is a tribute to Martin Luther King and his achievement in the middle of the 20th century, a heritage that has lasted, despite frequent flareups, riots and injustices towards African Americans.
US, 2014, 101 minutes, Colour.
Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristin Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parish.
Directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmorland.
It was extraordinary the silence in the cinema as people, we together, watched Still Alice. What were we thinking, what were we feeling? Were we identifying with Alice personally, the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, the fact that she was only 50, that she was a world-class academic and expert on linguistics and was suffering deterioration in her deepest talent? Were we thinking about relatives or friends with Alzheimer’s, trying to appreciate the condition, their feelings? Had we had some experience of care for a person with Alzheimer’s or was this a prospect to come? Watching the film was certainly a personal, sad, even draining experience.
That we felt and thought this way is to the credit of the film, based on a 2007 novel by Lisa Genova, and its very sensitive screenplay by the writers-directors, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (whose previous career focused on features and documentaries on gay issues).
But, of course, it is to the credit of Julianne Moore and her award-winning performance. Julianne Moore has been a significant actress for over 20 years, creating many memorable characters. But Alice is a major achievement. And the screenplay doesn’t stint on showing her experiences, the initial touches of forgetfulness, even when giving a significant national lecture, her groping for a memory to continue. While jogging to Columbia University where she was on the staff, she suddenly is bewildered and does not know where she is.
It is in the ensuing sequences that are important for Alice and for her husband, John (Alec Baldwin) to understand what is happening, that we learned the background for the early Alzheimer’s. She consults a neurologist who does verbal and memory tests, which she is unable to complete successfully. MRI follows, the accumulating of information, and the neurologist explaining to her and John, as well as to the audience, how rare it is to have an early onset, but the physical realities, the genetic inheritance, and the pessimistic, but real, prognosis.
There is great subtlety with which Julianne Moore portrays the initial phase, the growing difficulties, and a most poignant scene where she and John tell their three adult children what is happening, including the genetic possibility for one of the children to have the same experience. In another, also most poignant scene, where Alice visits a home for sufferers from Alzheimer’s, getting a tour, seeing the elderly people, sitting quietly, getting agitated. The nurse giving the tour obviously thinks that Alice is looking at the place for a parent to settle there.
Part of the silence of the audience watching the film was in the intense concentration in watching the details, even small details, of Alice losing the words, the thread of conversation, not recognising somebody she had met moments earlier, unable to read a book, repeating the page, even unable to find the bathroom at the house on the coast where she loved walking along the beach, contemplating the water.
Alec Baldwin is the sympathetic husband who has to sacrifice aspects of his own academic career and promotion - and that is quite a stretch for him as an actor because he always seems a touch cynical, ready for betrayal rather than fidelity. A final scene where he takes Alice to a favourite place for an ice cream and she can only repeat his words is very moving.
Kristin Stewart (Twilight) is Lydia, the younger daughter, who has decided not to go to college, who wants to act in California, finds it difficult to get auditions, with her mother interfering and wanting her to be better educated, with a backup plan. Towards the end of the film, she appears in the final scene of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters, with a part of a speech about her hopes and going to the city. Lydia comes to stay with her mother and care for her, the film becoming ever sadder and sadder.
It is surprising, though not really surprising, how tearful one feels writing this review and re-living Alice‘s experiences, the woman and her dignity, remembering Alice gone, but still Alice.
US, 2014, 109 minutes, Colour.
Liam Neeson, Forrest Whitaker, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Dougray Scott, Andrew Howard.
Directed by Olivier Megatron.
Who would have thought there would be three Taken films? In the first, Bryan Mills, a solid and sympathetic Liam Neeson, finds that his daughter is kidnapped in Paris and that he has to find her, s drawing on his skills in detection and combat action in his past Secret Service, before she is sold into sexual slavery. Plenty of action, much of it violent, created by French writer-director, Luke Besson and directed by Pierre Morell.
Besson and writer Robert Mark Kamen got together with director, Olivier Megatron (a distracting thought is that his name sounds as if it is one of the Transformers) for a sequel, Taken 2, This time Mills’ wife, Famke Janssen, was kidnapped. Much the same plot except for some spectacular location photography in Istanbul and throughout Turkey.
Again Besson, Kamen and Megatron combined for this sequel. Since Mills had only one daughter, who could be taken in the third film? Apparently Liam Neeson did not want an abduction this time, so there is not. Rather, there is a murder, and the whole action is set in Los Angeles. Brian Mills goes through the same anguish as he did in the other films, relentlessly seeking out the murderer, which brings in subplots of arms deals, business companies and blackmail, loan sharks and violent demands for repayment, the Russian Mafia. Mills is deceived a couple of times, being set up not only for the murder, but for the hunting down of the Russian criminals.
This time the Los Angeles Police are a bit slow, going by the book, being fairly certain that Mills is the suspect that they are after, concentrating on him rather than the subplots which, eventually, they have to do. It is Forrest Whitaker who plays the main police chief.
Mills wife, Famke Janssen, has married again, to businessman, Stuart (Dougray Scott), who is not very happy about her keeping contact with her former husband, and Mills fostering that contact. In the meantime, Mills’s daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), is pregnant but is wary of telling her father. Needless to say, the Mafia thugs are after as well.
There are some twists in the plot – which may make us not so alert to some of the improbabilities and holes in the plot. Nevertheless, this is an action show, detection show – and the last in the series.
THAT SUGAR FILM
Australia, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Damon Gameau, Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry, Brenton Thwaites, Isabel Lucas, Jessica Marais and many medical experts.
Directed by Damon Gameau.
It might sound like this film will have a sweet taste but it is designed to make audiences concerned about their propensity for sweet tastes and, especially, for consumption of sugar and fructose. This is a documentary, a very entertaining one, that examines the role of sugar in our diet, in our metabolism, and the consequences – with a look at how sugar is so strongly promoted in our commercial culture.
Some years ago, American documentary-maker, Morgan Spurlock, decided that he would film an experiment about diet and takeaway food, especially at McDonald’s? and other such franchises. It was called Supersize Me. He decided that the focus of the experiment would be his Supersizing every order and eat just this for a month to see what happened to him. Needless to say, he put on weight became unwell, certainly needed some medical checkups and processes for getting back to normal.
Damon Gameau is an actor who has been a number of Australian and television programs, generally the cheeky and cheerful character, quick on the draw with his remarks and cracks. This means that he is very well suited to the role he has set up for himself, not exactly doing a Spurlock, but something very similar with sugar.
He genially introduces himself and his girlfriend who is pregnant. Since he wrote the film as well as directing, it is clear that he has strong views on sugar intake and its results. He does get a panel of experts, blood, the diet, the general health, who are interviewed during the film – and they are introduced with our bit of animation and giving them superhero names. They are wary about his experiment.
The film uses an entertaining device for the expert talking heads, and there are many of them, but he generally has quick bites which bring home the points – but they all appear and are seen within frameworks, machines, which can be moved, turned over… So we are continually alert to what these experts have two offer.
The film uses a number of celebrities to give us background, and sugar information. Hugh Jackman turns up and does some sand drawings to illustrate the origins of sugar in this part of the world, eventually going to India, making its way to Europe where a couple of centuries ago it was looked on as a specialty by the wealthy. Stephen Fry turns up to give us a humorous talk about the different kinds of sugar, the glucose that put energy into our system, the sucrose and its effects and a warning about fructose and its absorption in the liver, turning to fat, increasing at triglycerides… Later, up-and-coming Australian actor, Brenton Thwaites serves as a model to indicate what is happening in our interiors and the damage that too much sugar can do to the liver, to the heart, to the bloodstream.
The information Gameau gets for the experiment is that the sugar intake will be the equivalent of 40 teaspoonfuls of sugar per day. And it is immediately alarming as he begins, that his first breakfast cereal and juice is more than a third of the teaspoonfuls already. As he continues, he finds ways of adding the sugar even to a chicken lunch! Within some days he is put on several kilos and finds his mood is changing, some lethargy…
Over a decade ago he had contact with a group of aboriginal people at Mia Wiru in the Northern Territory, especially in a community whose medical adviser had changed their diet, especially as regards sugar. But, with the advent of the supermarkets and the bombarding advertising, the increased intake of sugar was doing harm.
Next, he went off to the United States and, while obesity had been mentioned, there are quite a few off-putting close-ups of obesity. He is still having the equivalent of 40 teaspoonfuls a day, finding smoothies, drinks, and, alarmingly finding that such a drinks Mountain Dew has more sugar than Coke or Pepsi and more caffeine. In fact, he accompanies a dentist who travels around the state of Kentucky working with locals, including a young man who has been drinking an enormous amount of Mountain Dew since he was a little child and his teeth have either fallen out or rotted. We may not want to look at the close-ups of his mouth, but this is a salutary tale. Gameau also finds a pill that one can put in one’s mouth which will sweeten food with a more savoury taste – he even tries it with a chilli but says it doesn’t work.
In fairness, he decides to interview a scientist who has been working on sugar research for some time. He is not alarmed, and it seems his studies have been financed by Coca- Cola.
He has been keeping in touch with his girlfriend by Skype and, on his return, as large, he suggests, as she is in her pregnancy, she gives birth and he is delighted with his daughter. With the help of the experts, he gets back to normal size, and gets to editing this film so that we can share his extremely cautionary experience.
Older people probably need to see this film and act on it. Parents certainly need to see the film to check on their children’s diets and the effect, especially of their brain capacities and attention at school. (A school kit is available.)
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
UK, 2014, 123 minutes, Colour.
Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Simon McBurney?, Emily Watson, David Thewlis.
Directed by James Marsh.
While Stephen Hawking may not have developed a theory of everything, he was certainly one of the major science theoreticians of the 20th century. Because of his book, A Brief History of Time, he became more than celebrated and has continued famous, this film reinforcing audience knowledge of him and admiration for him.
It is not the first time that Hawking has appeared in a biographical film. In 2004, he was portrayed in a film and television by the then comparatively-unknown, Benedict Cumberbatch. The film treated his early years, the onset of motor neuron disease and his marriage to Jane.
Since then, there have been documentary films and television programs, on his science, on his personality, on his coping with his illness. American documentary-maker, Errol Morris, also made a film of A Brief History of Time. Audiences coming to see The Theory of Everything, may well have some idea, many ideas, about Hawking and his life and work.
The major challenge for any actor portraying Hawking is to communicate his experience of motor neuron disease, its gradual debilitating effect, the initial anticipation that he would have only two years to live, his being reduced to travelling in a wheelchair, less able to speak, undergoing surgery and a tracheotomy which meant them that he had to use a computer simulation speech to communicate by word. All this, and more, are extraordinarily communicated by Eddie Redmayne (who had been Marius in the film version of Les Miserables).
The early part of the film is set in the 1960s with Hawking as a student at Oxford, seemingly casual with his approach to studies, having an extraordinarily quick brain and an ability to penetrate and solve mathematical problems. With his doctorate, he was interested in old stars and the collapsing in on themselves, theories of black holes. Later, he was to change his opinions and return to the beginnings of the universe and explorations of the Big Bang Theory. He continued to think, write, speculate on physics questions and draw on mathematical theory.
In case anyone thinks that the film is overloaded with scientific information that does not communicate well to the general audience, they are only partly right. There are sufficient indications of Hawking’s thinking and some explanations, but not overly tasking for a general audience. Scientists might think it is theory-light.
While the film Is about science and mathematics, It Is also tells the story of a man who in his early 20s was diagnosed with motor-neuron disease. The beginnings are suggested, and then Hawking collapses, is diagnosed by the doctors and, often reluctantly, has to come to terms with his condition. In fact, it is quite extraordinary to see what happened to Hawking in terms of the disease, the gradual degeneration, but his extraordinary survival.
The film also has a love story. Stephen met Jane, a devout Church of England young woman compared to his atheistic stances. They meet, date, some courting and then the crisis of his illness. In retrospect, audiences may well know the Jane spent 25 years of her life looking after Hawking, bearing three children and bringing them up, a lifetime of generosity. But, it all became too much for both of them, Jane experiencing the toll on her life with and for Stephen, his becoming dependent on his nurse, whom he married after divorcing Jane. While this might be the sensationalism of headlines, it is important to see just what happened with each of the two, hardships, regrets, the experience of a long time. (the screenplay for this film is based on Jane’s book about her life with Stephen Hawking, the second book she wrote, it seems less angry than the first one – and both Stephen and Jane approved of this screen version.
For anyone expecting something of a scientific treatise, they will be disappointed. For those who find the screen portrayal of serious illness demanding but informative, there will be much to offer in this film. And for all who get caught up in the love story, live through the hardships of the decades and see a marriage collapsing, it will seem more realistic than they might have thought, yet still very disappointing in its finish.
Which means, on the whole, this is a moving experience for a general audience.
US, 2014, 137 minutes, Colour.
Jack O’ Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Witrock, Jai Courtney, Luke Treadaway.
Directed by Angelina Jolie.
Unbroken is based on the life story of Lou Zamperini, son of Italian migrants to the United States, who went on to acclaim at the 1936 Olympic Games, winning a gold medal in distance track, then a bombardier in World War II, prisoner in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. While the narrative of the film ends in 1945, Zamperini had another almost 70 years of life, dying as late as 2014.
The film was directed by Angelina Jolie and has received mixed reactions from critics and audience, some of which, judging by the harsh spirit in which they were written, seem to be reviewing Angelina Jolie herself ( and alleged limitations) rather than her film. In fact, this is her second directorial film. The first was the unfortunately little-seen film, Land of Blood and Honey, a sometimes harrowing picture of the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, focusing on the treatment of women, abuse, rape, victimisation. Angelina Jolie seems to be interested in presenting the more harrowing aspects of life and of human nature.
This film is almost four films in one, the director showing a talent for an aerial warfare film, a sports film, a lost-at-sea film and a prison camp film. This means that it is quite demanding on the audience, an invitation to share in the continuing hardships of Zamperini, especially in the camps.
As a matter of interest, while the film setting is the United States and Japan, the film was made in Australia, most of it in Queensland.
The star of the film is the British actor, Jack O’ Connell, who gives the film his all and will probably ensure constant employment in films in the years to come.
The film opens with a close-up of a group in a bomber, going on a mission to do destroy a factory, set upon by Japanese fighter planes, the film showing the detail of the role of each man, pilot and co-pilot, bombardier, the approach to the target, opening the bomb bay doors, letting the bombs go, but coping with a Japanese attack, some of the men wounded, and the drama of a crash landing at the airbase on return. There is another aerial action sequence, but this time the mission is to find pilots adrift in the ocean, but after crashing into the ocean, three of the men find themselves adrift.
The aerial action is interrupted by flashbacks to Lou’s childhood, a cheeky and problematic child, from fervent Catholic family (with a sequence of homily by the parish priest about creation, the dark in the light, and being faithful to commitment). Fortunately, Lou’s older brother, Peter, a runner, takes Lou in hand, trains him, overcomes his low self-image and encourages him so that eventually he is chosen for the 1936 Olympic team (with the screenplay noting Jesse Owens’ achievement at those games).A winner, he has achieved a goal and developed his better self.
After this, the film moves into the lost at sea drama, three men surviving a crash into the ocean, over 45 days on life rafts, with few rations, trying to keep their minds active in conversation, fishing, surrounded by sharks (with a Jaws moment that makes us leap from our seats), being strafed by a Japanese plane. This is a close-up of the will to live, endurance and survival.
But there is still more demanding narrative. Zamperini and his friend, Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) are captured. The sequences are in the prisoner-of-war camp in Tokyo and then the prisoners removed towards the end of the war to work on the wharves, loading coal. While audiences are familiar with Japanese camps and the frequent cruel treatment, humiliations, brutality, there are some distinctive sequences here which bring into focus the treatment of prisoners by the cruel Japanese, a young sadistic commander who has not received the promotion he anticipated it has a fixation on Zamperini, and some moments trying to cultivate his friendship, even allowing him to broadcast on Tokyo radio to tell his parents that he was alive – though he refuses any collaboration for radio propaganda and is punished by the demand that every prisoner punch him in the face. He is frequently beaten, taunted by the commander, and made to hold aloft a wooden beam with the threat of execution should he drop it.
Life in the camp, its highs and lows, are brought vividly to life.
Woven into the screenplay (with famous writers and directors collaborating on it including the Coen brothers, Richard La Gravanese and William Nicholson) are issues of belief in God, the role of prayer, the nature of faith, and pledges to God for commitment after survival. The experiences of Zamperini dramatise the power of the human spirit, and its indomitability in the face of suffering.
Information is given at the end of the film – including the fact that Zamperini went back to Japan after the war, worked towards friendship and reconciliation (except for the commander who refused to meet Zamperini on his visits) and that forgiveness is all important.
THE WEDDING RINGER
US, 2015, 101 minutes, Colour.
Kevin Hart, Josh Gadd, Kaley Cuoco- Sweeting, Jorge Garcia, Dan Gill, Ken Howard, Chloris Leachman, Jenefer Lewis, Mimi Rogers, Olivia Thirlby.
Directed by Jeremy Garelick.
It is not as if they have not been enough films about weddings,: Wedding Planet, Wedding Singer, Wedding, Wedding Crashers, Big Wedding, American Wedding, Four Weddings and… So, here is another.
This is a star vehicle for Kevin Hart, a short, African- American comedian, with unbelievable rapid delivery, a whole stack of double takes and patter that get him into all kinds of trouble as well is out of all kinds of trouble. Hart is an acquired taste, irritating in Ride Along, almost unbearable in the remake of About Last Night. Actually, in The Wedding Ringer, on the whole, he or is rather good.
Doug (Josh Gadd) is a rather big lump of a man, bespectacled, not a prospect for a quick marriage to a glamorous wife. But, here he is engaged to Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) whose main aim in life seems to be to get married, have something of an up-market, extravagant wedding ceremony and wedding breakfast. And her whole family are right behind her, her concerned mother, her homophobic football-loving husband, and grandma (Chloris Leachman) who, at one stage of a family dinner, begins to go up in flames.
The wedding planner knows that Doug has no friends and no best man. He refers him to Jimmy (Kevin Hart) who runs a company to find best men as well as groomsmen. We see him in operation, very smooth talking, much appreciated, but only doing the work as business and not wanting to have any personal friendships or attachments afterwards.
Most of the film is about his setting up Doug with a best man, himself, and the oddest-looking lot of groomsmen, who all polish up rather better than expected, and providing Doug with a past history of extraordinary exploits including skydiving, climbing mountains in Patagonia…
When Doug and Jimmy go to the family dinner, the family is under the impression that Jimmy is a priest, not only a priest, but a military chaplain, providing opportunity for lots of doubletalk, improvisation, and, something of a compliment to priests and expectations of them, often credible enough, even to the wedding ceremony.
Eventually the friends are prepared with their back stories, rehearse them, have their own particular acts for when the going goes badly. They do take Doug for a night on the town, which liberates him (although his mother had him do dancing lessons when he was young and he excels at this), but he is the victim of the kind of joke that was funny in There’s Something About Mary, this time with a tenacious dog.
There is a touch of suspense throughout: will Gretchen and the family cotton on to what is happening, will the wedding go ahead, will Doug want to tell the truth? All these questions are answered, and Doug seems to be the better man for the whole experience – mainly liberated from his inhibitions.
Of course, there are some crass jokes, but fewer than usual and there are more amusing moments than might be expected.
WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY
UK, 2014, 95 minutes, Colour.
Rosamund Pike, David Tennant, Billy Connolly, Ben Miller, Annette Crosby, Celia Imrie, Emilia Jones, Amelia Bullimore, Bobby Smallbridge.
Directed by Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin.
The title sounds like one of those essay topics which desperate teachers hand out to their students as the school year begins. If the children in this film had to write such an essay, it certainly wouldn’t be your ordinary themes, action or enjoyment.
The film is billed as a comedy and there is a great deal of humour in it, verbal, action, eccentric characters. However, the mood does change in the middle of the film and while there are some humorous and absurd situations, there is also a great deal of pathos.
The film opens with lovely Scottish loch scenery and a lone fisherman in a boat – who is then revealed as Billy Connolly, the grandfather of the family, not well, but about to celebrate his 75th birthday party. And he is not always fishing as there is a portable TV in his boat as well! But that is justified as he was a prominent footballer in his past, with a still strong reputation.
And then the film transfers to busy London, mother and father trying to organise their three children to get away to Scotland for the celebration. David Tennant (after Doctor Who) is Doug, the father, one of grandfather’s sons, the younger. His wife, Abi, is played by Rosamund Pike (just before she became Gone Girl). They seem fairly desperate, and it emerges that they are not living together, mainly his fault, but they are trying to keep up appearances for the sake of the children. Not that the children aren’t alert, but they also their own eccentricities, the older girl, Lottie, takes a diary with her and has a desperate need to tell the truth, utterly serious. The little girl, Jessie, has a propensity for taking things with her, this time favourite bricks and stones! And Michael, the son in the middle of the two sisters, is very much involved in Viking lore, something which becomes very important in the latter part of the film. After much excitement and getting away, the inevitable question is asked, “are we there yet?” – With the answer that they have only just got to Watford (outer London for those who don’t know it).
Meanwhile in Scotland, the other son, Gavin (Ben Miller), takes himself very seriously and is preparing to host a party in his father’s honour. In the meantime, there is eccentricity in this household as well, the audience later seeing a video with Gavin’s wife absolutely losing it in a supermarket (which, of course, goes viral on You tube). Gavin thinks his son, Kenneth, something of a nerd, which he may well be, but he has a real talent for playing the violin. And grandfather genially loves all his grandchildren.
When a crisis occurs in the middle of the film, and the party is about to begin, the musicians are playing, the guests are arriving, including the local laird whom they are all trying to impress, there is a fair bit of chaos, the children having made a decision which they are standing by, and most of the adults not believing them. The police are called in. The media have a field day, hounding the family, the adults in turn going out to try to pacify the media, only making a mess of their interventions. And a child welfare officer also turns up to interrogate the children.
This review has tried to be very careful in not revealing the twist in the middle of the film, so for those the who decide to go to see it, there are very entertaining performances, some witty dialogue, Billy Connolly as his usual self with a touch of sentiment, unexpected interactions – and, with the hope of some happy ever after after, perhaps, more than a touch of counselling!
US, 2014, 115 minutes, Colour.
Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadowski, Gaby Hoffmann.
Directed by Jean- Marc Vallee.
How well an audience enjoys this film will probably depend on how quickly it can identify with the central character, Cheryl Strayed. At once we see her on a mountain, pulling off her boots, footsore, the boots being knocked over and careering down the mountainside, to her pained exasperation. The question is what did she do, go down, recover the boots, keep walking…? But, the screenplay does not return to the scene at all, so no specific answer.
But we do get answers, at least some of them, to why Cheryl was in the wilderness at all. The film is called Wild, a focus on the wilderness that Cheryl travels through along the west side of the United States. As the flashbacks increase in number, we see that her life prior to this trek had been very wild at times.
It is the Pacific Crest Trail, PCT, that Cheryl decides to walk along, over 1000 miles, from the Mexican border, through the Mojave Valley, to the mountains of California, into Oregon and into the North. It becomes pretty evident, almost immediately, that she is not well prepared at all for this trek, which may make some audiences who like things organised, rather irritated, especially when it appears she bought the wrong gas that her stove and she has to eat cold mash for several days before she gets to a house where she can get some help.
This, perhaps, is the point. We learn from the flashbacks that she has gone on this walk in some desperation, the breakup of her seven-year marriage (all her fault) and the death of the mother whom she loved dearly. At the beginning, she does not really know why she is walking except that she wants the time, to be alone, to reflect, to remember, to read some poetry, to write in a journal. And that is what she does – and not always engrossingly for the audience. It is a long walk for her, and for us.
The film runs for almost 2 hours but this reviewer for one, would have appreciated some longer time given to flashbacks because there are just glimpses, not always connected, the audience trying to work out the causal link in the episodes in her life, but not enough information or dramatisation being offered. We can feel sorry for her ex-husband, both of them getting tattoos to celebrate their separation, but he still loving her, she going off on promiscuous adventures, and yet he had a letter and a parcel for her at the key posts along the Crest Trail.
There are a number of flashbacks to Cheryl and her little brother and their relationship with their mother, most engagingly played, optimistic even in physical abuse, by Laura Dern. She had married an alcoholic and abusive husband, had left, brought up the children, shown them great love and tenderness. At one point, she goes to college to study, exhilarating by the amount of learning before her, coping with the rather prim and judgmental Cheryl at this stage of her life. How Cheryl goes off the tracks is not explained, quite wild, casual affairs, one night stands, led into drugs, resolving not to inject heroin but doing it, doing a waitressing job, with sexual favours out the back of the diner. These aspects of the character are quite clear.
Cheryl is portrayed by Reese Witherspoon (and the actual Cheryl Strayed accompanied her to the Golden Glowed Globe awards). She gives it all she can, having to show a rather wide range of emotional responses, in her past, in her grief for and memories of her mother, in her uncertainties along the track, the physical hardships, the encounters with male walkers and some hunters, mainly fearful. She does have some friends, especially a good friend played by Gaby Hoffmann, who challenges her and who supports her.
And then the film ends, with some verbal information about what would happen to her in the coming years, all of it positive, marriage and family and the writing and publishing of a successful book.
Some audiences will enjoy Cheryl’s history, her response to challenges, the physical and psychological and emotional impact of her walk. Others may find it something of an endurance, not just the walk, but in the puzzle about Cheryl’s character, what really was the influence of the past, why she went so wild, why exactly she went, so unprepared, on this walk – which, in fact, did change her life.
WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD
Australia, 2014, 98 minutes, Colour.
Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, Leon Burchill.
Directed by Kiah Roche- Turner.
With an out-and-out zombie movie, it is not too helpful to compare to other movies, especially mainstream, except other out-and-out zombie movies. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is definitely and out-and-out zombie movie.
The surprising thing is that it is an Australian film, made in and around Sydney for a small-budget by two brothers, who wrote the screenplay, with Kiah Roche-Turner? directing and doing all kinds of technical things including editing, with his brother Tristan producing, doing all kinds of things as well, and even turning up as a zombie extra. The other surprising thing is that Screen Australia also contributed to the production. And, if the response of the fans is any indication, the film should make its money back – and then some…
For a lot of the time, as we focus on the hero, Barry (Jay Gallagher) as he takes the road fighting off the zombies, experiencing his wife and daughter turning, hoping to rescue his sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey), he is certainly reminiscent of Mel Gibson as Mad Max. It seems that the brothers were keen to make a Mad Max film and they have succeeded. They have also declared an interest in films by George A.Romero, like Dawn of the Dead and wanted to incorporate that with Mad Max.
It takes very little time to introduce the audience to the zombies, no explanations, they are just there, looking their ugly best, on the rampage to destroy humans. There is also a group of military men in masks, who seem to be on the side of good, but throughout the film a fairly aggressive, the suggestion being that they are cautious about the spread of the plague.
As might be expected, there is quite a lot of firepower, up close and personal, as the zombies attack, are repulsed, are slaughtered.
But, there are some personal aspects of the plot. Brooke is involved with some artists but the studio is invaded and she is the only survivor, captured, put in a van with a number of characters, some of whom have turned, with a scientist, a scientist with the touch of the mad, who is keeping her alive and doing tests on her. it takes a while, but she does escape and meet up with her brother, Barry, the mechanic. He seems to have been leading a happy life at home and at work, loving wife and daughter, but when somebody is in the house at night, he evacuates them, goes on the road, only for them to turn and for him to try to survive first with his car which breaks down, then with a truck which, it is revealed, runs on zombie energy and requires a live zombie (so to speak) as an engine to keep the vehicle going!
Barry meets up with some anti-zombie fighters, but they are dubious characters and there is more Mad Max action on the roads. Barry is relentlessly tough and withstands a lot of fighting, slashing, bullets.
Then he meets up with an aboriginal character, Benny (Leon Burchill). Benny had appeared early in the film with some aboriginal friends who are chased through the bush by zombies, and he lives to tell the tale. Despite initial appearances, Benny has survived, and joins with Barry with the pursuing zombies turning on them (perhaps the first zombie film with aboriginal characters!).
This is a film for zombie fans only, audiences coming in from the outside may find it too much fairly early in the piece and bow out. But, for those who are fans, it is well done of its kind, given the limited resources, and it is a more imaginative turn on the zombie genre than usual.