SIGNIS REVIEWS FEBRUARY 2016
BELIER FAMILY, The
HATEFUL EIGHT, The
IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, The
LOOKING FOR GRACE
PEANUTS MOVIE, The
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM, ART ADDICT
SERIAL (BAD) WEDDINGS
WINTER’S TALE, The
THE 5th WAVE
US, 2015, 112 minutes, Colour.
Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Zackary Arthur, Maria, Maika Monroe, Liev Schreiber.
Directed by J Blakeson.
One of the advantages of the press preview for The 5th Wave was finding that there were quite a number of the target audience sitting amongst us. Penguin Publications had still on the screen before the film, highlighting and that this was a Teen publication. Although we have become used to the phrase, Young Adult literature, this film reminds us that The Hunger Games series, the Divergency stories, with Katnis or with Tris as the revolutionaries, books and films, are more geared to 20 (+ or -) age group. But there are other stories, like Tomorrow When the War Began and this one which are more for 15 (+ or -) audiences. We were able to tell how the film was going by laughter, exclamations, listening to sympathy feelings that the target audience was enjoying The 5th Wave.
This is futuristic story, yet another alien invasion from outer space, remembering War of the Worlds, Independence Day and any number of such stories. It seems the aliens, The Others, attack Earth in waves, although there is a huge spaceship hovering over central Ohio – it seems that crises always come to a head in the United States rather than elsewhere in the world, which means that Tomorrow when the War Began with its Australian setting stands out.
There is a short, dramatic prologue to make us uneasy but then we go back. It all seems quite a normal day, Cassie, the central character, is at school, at soccer practice with her friend, Elizabeth, looking at her phone, sent off by the coach, and then everyone is poring over their phones, alarmed at the hovering spacecraft.
Then there is the first wave of attack, the blocking or power and energy, cars crashing, planes falling out of the sky. Panic and evacuations. Then it gets worse with the second, literal wave, a tsunami that crashes into the American coast and, according to the screenplay, overwhelms coastal areas although we are shown a huge wave swamping Bangkok and coming up the Thames overwhelming London Bridge. An infection is the third way, quarantine and many deaths.
By this stage we have got to know Cassie, played effectively by Chloe Grace Moretz, who is left behind when her brother is taken with many children to the military headquarters. She has to make her way through the countryside, using her wits. She is shot and wounded and then cared for by a mysterious young man Even Walker (Alex Roe). In the meantime, the children are being used as soldiers to confront The Others, under the command of Vosch (Live Schreiber). It means that that the children are being trained, especially Ben (Nick Robinson),a boy Cassie liked at school and whom she wrote about in her diary…
Eventually, we realise what the fifth wave consists of and there is a build-up to an explosive confrontation and the children using their wits and their ability to prevail – and we are left wondering what the next film in the trilogy of books, written by Rick Yancy, will take us and what kind of world it will be (like the Divergency world, like the Maze Runner, like The Giver…?
Japan, 2015, 113 minutes, Colour.
Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara, Uchida.
Directed by Naomi Kawase.
A Japanese story in the tradition of such film directors as Ozu and his portraits of ordinary people in their ordinary lives. it was through three seasons, Spring with the cherry blossoms, Summer with the greenery, Autumn leaves falling.
The setting is a shop which makes pancakes, buying in ingredients, An and beans, in bulk, and making pancakes continually, the proprietor, Sentaro, being something of a perfectionist and discarding his failures, picked up by young school girl who is in need.
One day, a well-dressed and fine-mannered old lady,Tokue, comes to visit the shop, hesitant at first, observing, and then asking for a job, pleading, bargaining about wages, and finally bringing a container with her own bean paste which the proprietor puts aside, then decides to taste it – and finds that it is wonderful. He welcomes the old lady and they begin to make the bean paste, she bringing a recipe very different from his own, and they patiently spend time, slowly, boiling the beans, straining the water, cleansing them, and making the paste.
When some of the customers, especially a group of schoolgirls who are constant patrons of the shop, taste the new pancakes and the bean paste, word gets around and there are more customers than they can deal with, even the schoolgirl joining in the work.
This part of the film has a great deal of joy. but, sadness is to come, especially when customers discover that Tokue has been a victim of leprosy. The proprietor is sad, the schoolgirl blames herself for telling her mother about the leprosy.
But the sadness is quite gentle, the proprietor and the schoolgirl going to visit the old lady in her residence, finding her resigned, looked after by a friend. It is only now that the past story of the proprietor and his hard times is heard – especially when the owner of the shop turns up, and he is indebted to her, and she wants to employ a friend and to renovate.
There is also the sadness and death – but the film is one of fulfilling one’s life, no matter what the obstacles, always living in hope and dying in peace.
A pleasing film of delicate sensitivity.
US, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: David Thewliss, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan.
Directed by Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman.
It has been pointed out that the title of this film, Anomaly’s, is an anagram for a Mona Lisa, giving a clue as to the role of the female character, her presence in the life of Michael Stone, a man suffering from midlife crisis, her enigmatic presence, the magical smile which can transform anyone who watches her.
This is an animation film for adults, not for children. It is a work of Charlie Kaufmann whose films comprise Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, all films about male identity, crises and self-awareness. This is his first animation venture, in collaboration with Duke Johnson, originally a 40 minute work and voiced for radio by the present cast.
Michael Stone has written books on customer service and travels to a conference where he is to give a paper. He is already nervous on the plane to the city, mixups with the taxi, finding his room in the hotel, and undergoing a personal crisis, making reflect on his life, his wife and family, his work, and the reality of his own personality.
He is voiced by David Thewliss. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the voice of Lisa, with the touch of the mysterious, arousing Michael Stone out of his torpor in many ways. There are quite a number of other characters, male and female, but they are all voiced by Tom Noonan.
By the time Michael Stone comes to give his paper, he becomes bewildered, is in a state of mental and emotional collapse – and certainly in need of some kind of healing.
Critics have been very warm in their praise of Anomalisa and it received a number of nominations for animation. Because it is not the kind of film, story or treatment that most audiences will be expecting, it requires quite a deal of attention, concentrating on the character of Michael Stone and reflection on the issues.
THE BELIER FAMILY
France, 2014, 106 minutes, Colour.
Karin Viard, François Damiens, Ericmosninno, Louane Emera, Roxane Duran, Ilian Bergala, Luca Gelberg.
Directed by Eric Lartigau.
The Belier Family proved to be a box-office charmer for French audiences. It seems to have had something of the same effect for audiences around the world.
One could say that it is a typical enough French film, a focus on characters, a focus on family and their interactions, some meals (as always), life in a small town, opportunities, disappointments, ultimate success.
What distinguishes it from other films is it sense of humanity. This is especially the case with the character of Paula, the teenager daughter of the Belier Family, still at school, listening to music on her headphones always, chatting with her best friend, Mathilde, going with her to enrol in a special activity and choosing choir, with a glance at a boy in the other line, Gabriel.
But what distinguishes it from other films even more strongly is the fact that Paula’s parents and her younger brother are both hearing impaired, death and unable to speak except in sign language. We first discover this when Paula is helping her father and a vet in the birth of a calf. Her parents are farmers, with cattle, with tractors working in the fields with crops, making cheese. The family has a stall in the market, and are well-known to the locals, especially the Mayor of the town who is rather patronising, is making adaptations to modern change, and is up from re-election.
The actors portraying mother and father and not hearing-impaired and do a fine job of acting and signing, the bearded father looking rather patriarchal, the harassed mother generally smiling broadly.
What is significant for Paula, apart from the fact that she is able to hear and speak, quite articulately, attracted to listening to music, is that she is singled out by the eccentric music teacher at the school (who is heard initially inveighing against education authorities, desperate to move from the provinces to Paris, but not succeeding). She auditions, and the teacher suggests that she sing a duet with Gabriel. He also advises her to practice and to do an audition for a Paris music school, sponsored by Radio France. This means a lot of the time with the instructor, with Gabriel – although, she has a crisis when she has her first period and is embarrassed with Gabriel and angry with his telling the girls at school. This undermines the possibility for the duet.
When she sings at a concert, her parents are in admiration – although the director turns down the sound so that the audience sits with the family, unable to hear anything, simply watching.
There has been a clash because her father has decided to stand for Mayor to combat the incumbent, has photo shoots, television interviews, which clash with Paula’s lesson time. Eventually she tells her parents and they are very disappointed, not wanting to lose her, not quite understanding her passion for singing as well as her talent.
It wouldn’t be a nice French film if there wasn’t happy ending, a touch of comedy and everybody getting into Paris, and even getting lost, and quite some pathos as her parents are present during the audition and she sings a song with telling lyrics about someone having to move out of home, leave her parents, develop her talent.
And just when you think, as the final credits come up, there are a lot of loose ends in the storytelling, there is a gallery of photos to accompany these credits which fill in the story of her studies in Paris, relationship with Gabriel, the future of her family – and whether her father became mayor or not!
US, 2015,105 minutes, Colour.
Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoe Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Dermot Mulroney Maroni, Julianne Hough.
Directed by Dan Mazar.
Dirty Grandpa more than lives up to its title.
The star is Robert De Niro, surprising his audiences with his extraordinarily crude character and his performance with course language and behaviour, played for some laughs and some meaning (rather, demeaning), with De Niro’s intensity, but really an exercise in crass characterisation. When his obituary will be written, this may not be a film which gets inclusion.
As the film opens, his wife of 40 years to the was devoted has just died. The family gathers for the funeral, including uptight son, lawyer, Dermot Mulroney, and his grandson, whom he loved as a child (and the credits are full of scenes of grandfather and grandson doing all kinds of activities together), now also an uptight lawyer in his father’s firm. There are also a range of cousins, one of whom has quite dirty motormouth for all and sundry, including the priest who conducted the funeral.
We discover, as does his grandson, that Grandpa was a Green Beret, in Special Ops behind enemy lines in Vietnam and Iraq, something which his son doesn’t know – and who despises him thinking he was a mere mechanic. He asks his grandson to drive him to a golf game in Florida (from Georgia). The grandson, Jason, Zac Efron, is engaged to a controlling fiance, marriage coming up in the following week. She keeps tight tabs and does not want him going.
As might be guessed, especially after a gross sequence with grandpa discovered masturbating, this is going to be quite a road trip. They encounter two girls and their gay friend on the way and meet up with them at Daytona Beach – the scene for many of the Hollywood Spring Break movies, those raucous stories of sex and drugs and idiotic behaviour. While this is not necessarily a spring break for grandpa, rather an Autumn Break at his time of life, it is full of ogling sequences, drugs of all kinds, especially from a rather zany dealer who is in cahoots with the local cops, Tan Pam (Jason Mantzoukas), with grandpa and grandson getting into all kinds of trouble, especially because of the drugs, muscle-bound competitions, clash with a violent black and Hispanic gang, with grandson finishing up in prison. And, of course, everything being photographed on phone cameras – to be reproduced at the pre-nuptial dinner.
We know, of course, that this is the purpose of the trip, that grandpa doesn’t want his grandson to marry the uptight fiancee. And he wants to loosen up the uptight grandson, and proving to be a role model of a dirty old man.
Zac Efron is not exactly persuasive in his lawyer sequence but enters into the spirit of the trip, being very hesitant and tight, gradually mellowing, especially when one of the girls they meet was his partner in photography tutorial at College, reminding him that he intended to travel the world and be a photographer for the Time Magazine instead of being a lawyer. For some reason, Zac Efron discards his clothes, scampers around nude, is mistaken for a paedophile, and is generally made fun of.
And then the truth comes out, the girl is disappointed as she was falling in love with him, grandpa and grandson go back, there are the preparations for the wedding, the fiancee being even more controlling and demanding than usual – and then the exposure. Grandpa is not unhappy, mission accomplished, and meeting up with the sometimes lewd and promiscuous young woman that he was pursuing, she more than willing, during the trip.
And, just when you think it is ended, there is a baptism sequence, which is not quite what we thought it was going to be.
There used to be a phrase, Low Moral Turn Tone, to describe this type of film – but, as with so many American comedies, after the crass, raucous and crude, comes the moralising.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
US, 2015, 187 minutes, Colour.
Samuel L.Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggons, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Channing Tatum, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Zoe Bell, Lee Horsely, Gene Jones, Keith Jefferson.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino.
In going in to see a Quentin Tarantino film, audiences have a fair idea of what they should expect. It is not going to be an easy entertainment. There will be a fair amount of violence, some of it fairly graphically presented. Their will be tantalising characters and violent interactions? There will be quite a lot of talk, quite a lot of conversations, Tarantino enjoying words and verbal jousting. and, underlying the plot and characters will be some very brutal attitudes and behaviour.
And so it is with The Hateful Eight.
This time critical and popular response has been significantly divided. Even some Tarantino fans have baulked at this film, often for quite different reasons. The supporters have also been vocal and have drawn on some superlatives in their praise.
Obviously, this is a film for cinema specialists rather than the public, especially on an unsuspecting public, who would find it very difficult to sit through.
Part of the challenge of the film, irrespective of the characters, their hateful violence, is that it runs for 187 minutes. In the special Roadshow screenings with 70 mm film, there is an overture and an intermission. Many who were expecting a Tarantino action film have been very disappointed, sometimes bored, that while there are some sequences in the snow with a stagecoach, most of the action takes place within the one room, Minnie’s Haberdashery, out there in the snowy and blizzard-written winter of Wyoming (actually filmed in Colorado). They complain that this makes the film very slow and, with so much talk, they seem to think that this slows action down even further.
Whatever one thinks of Tarantino, he certainly knows how to make films. He captures the vastness of the American West and uses his camera in a fluidly mobile way for all the interior sequences. He knows how to get performances from his cast, is able to handle dialogue, often with cleverness and with wit. Underlying his story and dialogue are American themes that are quite relevant. In fact, this story could be something of an allegory on contemporary stances in the United States.
The film title is accurate. Each of the eight is quite hateful, often vicious in attitudes, often vicious in the brutality of their behaviour. Although it takes a while, there are a number of deaths, some sudden and bloodthirsty, with some brutal bashings in between. Many audiences will find them quite offputting.
But, Tarantino grew up on the exploitation films of the 1970s, and his taste is according to this background, reinforced by his work in a video store for some years. He knows what is quite popular, especially for the exportation audience – and has transferred it into the world of high cinema art - or think or is the seventh century English Jacobean drama.
In one sense, the story is quite simple. it is the post Civil War era and bounty hunters are searching out criminals and bringing them in for justice, dead or alive. Samuel L.Jackson is the central character, black, a former soldier for the North, involved in battles, prisoner of war, escapee, now a bounty hunter stranded in the snow with three dead criminal bodies. Kurt Russell is another bounty hunter, paying for an exclusive stagecoach to bring in, alive, a murderer, Daisy Domergue who, with her ugly mouth, vicious tone, has her own sense of hatefulness. And Russell treats her brutally at times.
Particularly challenging for racist themes is the very frequent use of the word, ‘nigger’.
They give Jackson a lift after his horse collapses and they test out his attitudes, friendly or not. Then they meet another man stranded in the snow, the son of a Confederate hero, very cocky and confident in himself, Chris Mannix, played with quite some flair by Walton Goggins. He announces that he is the new sheriff of Red Rock and will be taking custody of the bodies and prisoners.
Most of the rest of the action in the first part of the film takes place within Minnie’s Haberdashery: the newcomers, the stern Confederate General sitting in his chair, another fine performance from Bruce Dern, Bob, Demian Bichir, who explains that he is working at the haberdahsery, and two passengers, one very very British, Tim Roth, who explains that he is the hangman, and an enigmatic stranger, Michael Madsen, sitting in a corner writing. Some tensions, especially with their being trapped by the blizzard, having to spend time together.
Then things begin to happen, especially with Jackson taunting the general, telling him a grim story about the death of his son, and the shooting starts. Then there is poison in the coffee – and Jackson takes charge with a scene, longish, like an Agatha Christie murder mystery with Jackson as the Poirot equivalent, going thruogh the possibilities as to who poisoned the coffee.
With some shooting, in the Roadshow version, this is the time for intermission.
After the intermission, Tarantino does something similar to what he did in Pulp Fictiion, taking the audience back in time and telling another version of what happened in the morning, another stagecoach, the passengers, the introduction of a surprise character played by Channing Tatum, more shootings, more brutality.
And then, we are finally back to the desperate situation, Daisy still surviving, the question of whether she should be allowed to live or taken to hang, the issues of the bodies of the criminals and bounty money…
Tarantino himself comes in after the intermission with his voice-over explaining some of the situation – which he also does towards the end.
Perhaps at the end, audiences may be suffering from Tarantino-fatigue and miss the symbolism of the final words and the survivors – pinpointing yet again, with the lyrics of the song in the background, the parallels with the present and the unresolved tensions, especially racial, in the United States.
Whether one likes The Hateful Eight or not, it is not an insignificant film.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
UK, 2015, 150 minutes, Colour.
David Suchet, Emily Barber, Michael Benz, Philip Cumbus, Imogen Doel, Michele Dotrice, David Killik, Richard O' Callaghan.
Directed by Adrian Noble.
This Oscar Wilde play has taken its place of one as one of the most popular in English literature and theatre. First performed in1895, it has been continually performed, many actresses taking on the role of Lady Bracknell including Patricia Routledge and Maggie Smith, and in film versions, Dame Edith Evans setting the tone in the 1952 version by Anthony Asquith, followed by Judi Dench in Ol Parker’s less than admirable version, omitting key lines…).
The novelty in this production, the play filmed at the Vaudeville Theatre in London, is that the role of Lady Bracknell is taken by celebrated actor, David Suchet (following the footsteps of such actors as Geoffrey Rush who performed this role in Australia).
The important thing is Oscar Wilde, his wit, his way with words, his style (over sincerity, as the text of the play suggests), the farcical coincidence.
The title is important, the two characters using the name Ernest, for flirting, for proposals, the comedy about christening.
The film opens with Jack and Algy, 19th century men about town, full of style, rather vapid conversation, with some wealth, generally inherited, uttering all kinds of paradoxes about life and truth, Algy inventing the character, Bunbury, who is perpetually sick and therefore has to be visited in the country while Jack has invented his troublesome younger brother, Ernest, in London, whom he has to visit and try to improve. In these sequences, the butler, Lane, has some very effective sardonic lines.
The focus of the film and the play then centre on Lady Bracknell, a fairly formidable harridan, full of pomp and circumstance, a woman of society yet critical of it, a parody of wealthy English women in London Society of the period. Her daughter is in Gwendoline who has fallen in love with Jack, thinking he is Ernest. In many ways, she takes after her mother. Jack proposes and Lady Bracknell interrogates him about his origins – leading to the film’s discussions about the handbag in the cloakroom at Victoria Station. David Suchet does some different business with the utterance, ‘Handbag!!’, beginning to titter in humour at this thought. Rashly, Jack gives the address of his country estate where his ward, Cicely, lives, and Algy takes advantage of it.
The second act is in the country, introducing Cicely, 18 years old, disliking studies, working with Miss Prism, imagining her uncle’s worthless brother, Ernest, keeping the diary, for her secrets, and creating an engagement. She is a wilful, sometimes silly young girl. When Gwendoline arrives, they are friends, but then, thinking that each is engaged the same person, they become enemies. Jack arrives, in mourning, with the news of the death of his brother – who has already turned up in the form of Algy. This brings the two women together, the criticisms of the men, asking for explanations and excuses – and easily satisfied because they are in love.
Michele Dotrice is in the vein of Margaret Rutherford as Miss Prism, infatuated with Canon Chasuble, Richard O’Callaghan?, who has some amusing lines about his sermons for any occasion, and his being in favour of christening with his sermon against the Anabaptists. Miss Prism is quite giddy in his presence.
The denouement of the whole charade comes with the presence of Lady Bracknell, her snobbish attitude towards Cicely, hearing how wealthy she is and changing her tone, and then the humour with Miss Prism returning the whole revelation about the baby, the manuscript of the three volume sentimental novel, and the handbag in Victoria Station.
And Jack, looking up information about his military father discovers, of course, that his real name is Ernest Jack.
For those who are not familiar with the play, there is the delight of hearing the language, the witticisms, the satire, and the spoof of British society. With those who know the play well, there are the comparisons with previous versions, especially Dame Edith Evans, whom David Suchet seems to be channelling in a loud and demanding performance, and her dominating performance in the 1952 film, the archetypal Lady Bracknell.
LOOKING FOR GRACE
Australia, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Richard Roxburgh, Radha Mitchell, Odessa Young, Terry Norris, Julia Blake, Kenya Pearson, Myles Pollard, Tasma Walton, Harry Richardson, Peter Rowsthorn.
Directed by Sue Brooks.
Writer and director, Sue Books, has made only a few films, Road to Nhill and Japanese Story, each set in outback regions of Australia. She has returned to the outback for Looking for Grace, shot on location in Western Australia, desert and wheat country.
There is some obvious ambiguity in the title, Grace as a person who is being sought and grace as something good in people, a powerful redemption.
The key aspect of the film is the fact that it tells the one story but from five different perspectives, something of a jigsaw puzzle, significant pieces, sometimes random-seeming pieces, but coming together in the search for Grace and the aftermath.
The first story told is that of Grace herself. Grace is played by the talented young actress, Odessa Young, who also appears to great advantage in the title role of the adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, The Daughter. She is a teenager, some difficulties with her parents, moderate really, but she decides to go off with her school friend from Perth to travel by bus to Ceduna for a concert. All she leaves in the kitchen is a note saying, Sorry, Mum. We see Grace and her friend, Sappho, on the bus, meeting a handsome young traveller, and some interaction with him, that leads to Grace being stranded.
Surprisingly, the second story is that of Bruce, a truck driver with a little boy whom he takes on his journeys. It just seems there for some colourful background to the film until quite a sudden shock, physically jolting the audience, towards the end of the film.
The next story is that of Tom, an elderly man, retired, but a private detective who can’t keep still and wants to be on the job, married for a long time, the touch of vanity, the loving tensions with his wife. Tom and his wife are played by real-life husband and wife actors, Terry Norris and Julia Blake. Tom has quite a bit to do in the film and this is one of Terry Norris’s most engaging performances.
As might be imagined, the other two stories of those of Grace’s parents, Dan, who owns a furniture shop in the city, who comes across rather differently in each of the other stories, sometimes unlikeable, sometimes diffident, sometimes genial with his daughter. And the subplot about his relationship with one of his staff at the store and discussing the issues with Tom makes the story more interesting. Dan is played by Richard Roxburgh.
Denise is his wife, played by Radha Mitchell, mainly seen at home, in an enjoyably superfluous scene about the cleaning of her furniture, phoning her husband at work, then on the road looking for Grace, revealing a secret to Grace – and, significantly, stopping for a toilet break on the way home.
In many ways, the film is bits and pieces, some of them significant, many of them quite slight, and a number seeming more significant than they turned out actually to be. For this reviewer, this made the impact less telling than many other reviewers have found. But it needs to be seen in the context of the contemporary Australian cinema scene – and the emergence of Odessa Young as a strong screen presence.
THE PEANUTS MOVIE
US, 2015, 88 minutes, Colour.
Noah Schnapp, Noah Johnston, Bill Melendez, Alexander Garfin, Mariel Sheets, Hadley Belle Miller.
Directed by Steve Martino.
The full title of this film is Charlie Brown and Snoopy, The Peanuts Movie. It was released at the time of the 65th anniversary of the first publication of Charles Schutz’s celebrated comic strip.
The Peanuts comic strip has had quite an impact over the decades, the strips being published all over the world, and, in the 1970s, two animated film released, Snoopy Come Home (1972) and Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977). Charles Schultz’s son and grandson are responsible for this new film.
Writer and speaker, Robert L. Short wrote in the 1970s about the impact of these comic strips and their message in a book, The Gospel according to Peanuts.
For those who know the comic strips, they will welcome all the characters, plus a new one or two, who look very familiar, speak in a familiar way, go through situations which the audience expects of them.
Poor Charlie Brown has to live through so many episodes where he sees himself as a failure, involved in the number of accidents, trying to fly a kite yet tangled in the leads, doing his best at school and then finding out that it is not enough, going up and down in popularity with the other children. Lucy is there are continually criticising him. On the other hand, Schroeder (who is seen playing the piano and the melody of the 20th Century Fox logo at the opening) is a friend and offers sound advice. Linus, with his blanket, is encouraging and also offering Charlie Brown good advice.
Of course, there is Snoopy, always around, lying on the top of his kennel, finding a typewriter, typing his book with the visualisation of his exploits in World War I against the red Baron and rescuing the canine femme fatale, Fifi. He is also an encouragement for Charlie Brown.
The film opens in winter and the children at school, goes through the school year and finishes on the last day of school.
Most significant is the new girl at the school, the redheaded girl, who seems not to know that Charlie Brown exists but with whom he is entranced. They work together but, once again, it collapses in some failure. However, there is happy ending, Charlie Brown wanting to declare himself, especially when the red-headed girl chooses him as a penpal for when she goes away to camp. He hurries to the bus, trips, hits a tree, a kite falls out, he hangs on and is lifted right to the bus to hear the girl’s wise words to him, about being himself.
Audiences will identify with Charlie Brown’s self-deprecation but would feel the lift to become more confident and embrace life.
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT
US, 2015, 96 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland.
Peggy Guggenheim was an extraordinary figure in the art world of the 20th century. Not an artist herself, she was collector, patron of the arts, fostering new talent, fostering a sensibility for 20th-century modern art, founder of a very significant gallery.
This is both a portrait of Peggy Guggenheim as well as an appreciation of her role in art.
One of the interesting features of the film is that the director has incorporated a great deal of footage from the periods of Peggy Guggenheim’s life, using footage from newsreel, documentary material, feature films of those times. This brings to life the various periods with an authentic and historical feel.
Her family were migrants from Europe, coming poor to the United States, building up their family and fortune. She married into the wealthy Guggenheim family, her uncle being Solomon Gorgon home who founded the Gallery collection in New York City. The film shows her relationship with her two children, her successful son and her tragic daughter.
The film utilises many photo portraits of Peggy, filmed material, so that the audience has a feel for what she looked like at various stages in life, from young to almost 80, with a commentary that explains her background, her education, her interest in art, the beginnings of her collection, her significance.
She spent some time in Paris, mixing with so many celebrities, especially the American ex-patriates, in the 1920s and into the 1930s, where she started to exercise her taste, began to collect as well as to be a dealer in selling many paintings. This continued during the 1930s but she returned to the United States at the outbreak of World War II, bringing all her art works with her.
During the 1940s, she continued to foster talent, the film detailing many of the artists, but most especially Jackson Pollock, and showing her, growing older, her marriages, her affairs, and her place in American society.
She decided that she did not want to stay in the United States and moved back to Europe, choosing Venice as her favourite city, buying a palazzo, setting it up as a gallery, incorporating the various works of art and continually increasing them – over 300 at the time of her death. She collaborated with the Guggenheim in New York City though she was not close, personally, to her uncle Solomon.
She lived in Venice from 1947 until her death in 1979. There is a great deal of footage of her during these years, made an honorary citizen of Venice, building on to the gallery, seeing it become a Mecca for art lovers and art students.
As expected, there are many talking heads, a range of artists, range of celebrities (and for film lovers, an interview with Robert De Niro, his mother’s paintings being in the gallery). There are speculations about her character, relationships, the consciousness of herself as an art collector.
The film is of interest to the general public although there is much more detail and presentations of art than they might be able to deal with. But, of course, it is a must for the visuals of the works of art, the backgrounds of the artists, and an appraisal of Peggy Guggenheim’s contribution to art in the 20th century.
US, 2015, 114 minutes, Colour.
Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer, Matias Varela, Clemens Schick, Tobias Santelmamm, Max Thieriot, Delroy Lindo.
Directed by Ericson Core.
A quarter of a century ago there was an action film, surfing, robberies, FBI investigation, that made its mark as a cult classic, Point Break, with Patrick Swayze as the surfer leader of the robbers and Keanu Reeves as the infiltrator. In retrospect it is interesting to note that the film was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture in 2009 for The Hurt Locker.
As with all sequels or remakes, many ask whether it is worthwhile – and what is the point! In this case it is to retain the basic plot and central characters but to extend the sports world of surfing to extreme sports, including surfing, skydiving, cliff climbing, trail bike achievement…
Of course, this is one of those adrenaline-pumping films (and, at some times, this is a bit of an understatement). As we sit in our seats, watching all these exploits, extremes that sometimes go beyond imagination, we cannot help but be excited. This is what is called vicarious excitement and entertainment. There may be some in the audience who would actually try to emulate these feats (though not exactly recommended) but most of us sit there identifying, comfortably and often uncomfortably, with the characters and all that tough and demanding action.
And the locations go international. Looking at the credits, one sees that there were shooting units not only in the United States, in Arizona, but also in Mexico, Venezuela, India, France, Austria and Italy. The film is quite spectacular to look at, quite extraordinary landscapes, especially for the trail bike opening ride and the trail called The Spine. The cliff-climbing in Venezuela, the double fall into the rapids, going over a vast waterfall, the extraordinary waves in the mid-Atlantic, the goldmine in Venezuela and the vast avalanche of rocks down the mountain side, skydiving and setting bales of cash free in midair, aiming for specific holes in the ground to dive into – and so on.
Australian Luke Bracey takes the role of Johnny Utah, made so popular by Keanu Reeves. International star, Venezuelan, Edgar Ramirez, is a strong presence and persuasive as the leader, Bodhi. While in the original, the robbers were daring and had a philosophy of edge and over the edge experience, this time the motivation is far more “mystical”, allegedly based on Ogaki, a Japanese adventurer, who made a list of eight daring feats, progressing around the world, defying all kinds of physical challenges. Bodhi’s aim is to achieve all of these. He has an international group with him, including Samsara, Australia’s Teresa Palmer.
There is an altruistic ideology about their exploits, stating that people have taken from the earth and, therefore, they have permission to return something of what was taken to oppressed people – diamonds falling from the air in India, cash in Mexico.
Johnny Utah is earnest as an FBI trainee with Delroy Lindo as his sceptical supervisor, persuaded about Johnny’s theories about where the group will strike next and allowing him to infiltrate, though not without many reprimands after Johnny is absent for 12 days, busy infiltrating the group and with Samsara, who shares the ideals. Ray Winstone is the British agent supervising him locally.
Eventually, there has to be a confrontation, a rivalry between the two men, with Bodhi relentless in his sense of mission and Johnny Utah having to come to terms with extreme sports achievements and the reality of crime, and its consequences, especially killings.
The director is Ericson Core who also acted as cinematographer – no mean feat with such different locations and such hyper-action sequences (actual or expertly using the green screen).
US, 2015, 156 Minutes, Colour.
Leonardo Di Caprio, Thomas Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck.
Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu.
With the success and awards for this film, we now have a word for more common use than we had before (even if we had known of its existence before): Revenant. As its derivation indicates, there is some kind of coming again, a return, especially from the dead, something of a ghost, something of a living corpse…
And that is what the character, Hugo Glass, turns out to be.
This is a very harrowing film experience, very physical, very visceral, reminding audiences of those endurance films from Deliverance to Man in the Wilderness to 127 Hours and Everest.
The film is the work of Mexican director, Alejandro G. Inarritu, best known for his Oscar-winning Birdman, as well as such films as Amores Perrou, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful. He is a master film-maker and this is very evident in The Revenant.
He took his cast out into the wilderness, made them do a Boot Camp for survival techniques, filmed for months in very difficult weather, terrains, great physical discomfort. It pays off in terms of beautiful and savage scenery and locations, hard endurance sequences, tough action and performances. They include the hero being savagely mauled by a bear – which looks so realistic one wonders how it was actually filmed – carrying an injured man across snow-clad forests, climbing mountains, being swirled down rivers and over rapids.
The time is the 1820s with furt trappers roaming the forests, hunting the deer and other animals, skinning them, travelling with the pelts for trade. The Native American Indians are sometimes in pursuit, deadly with their bows and arrows.
It is in this context that we are introduced to Hugo Glass, an intrepid hunter, skilful, with a background of a Native American wife and son, now grown up who is accompanying the expedition, Hawk. There is also Captain Henry, Domnhall Gleeson, a decent man who has to make decisions of leadership under fire, including whether to leave the injured man with a small protective group and to return to camp. We are also introduced to the tough Texan, Fitzgerald, Tom Hardy, with a big mouth, challenging everyone, harsh and insinuating.
But, it is Leonardo DiCaprio? as Hugo Glass who commands audience attention, in the details of the hunt, in his advice about escaping from the Indians, in flashbacks with his wife and the threat by soldiers to his son (and her continually appearing in his dreams as a guiding spirit). After he is mauled by the bear, he is carried part of the way but it is too much for the remnant and so he is left with his son, with Fitzgerald, and with an earnest young man, Bridger, Will Poulter.
From the title, it is clear that Hugo Glass will actually survive, otherwise no revenant. After he is abandoned – and that is a grim drama in itself – he begins to crawl, despite his severe wounds, gradually is able to get to his feet, with a branch as a walking stick, and slowly makes his way back to the Fort. This is certainly a journey of endurance for survival. He has various struggles on his way, hunger and thirst, including being tracked by the Indians and having to go down river, finding the camp of French trappers and rescuing an abused Indian woman, beingn found by a lone Pawnee Indian who helps him to eat raw bison meat and gives him a ride on his horse part of the way.
While the endurance gives Glass increasing physical and moral strength, his journey is also one of vengeance, to confront Fitzgerald and what he did to him and his son. And this is what forms the climax of the film, its moments of heroism, shrewdness in Glass’s manoeuvres against Fitzgerald, elements of tragedy, and, finally, the Revenant, sitting alone on blood-soaked snow, Indians passing by, including the woman he rescued, leaving him with his thoughts and his reflections on what he had been through and what he had done.
Not an easy film to sit through, but impressive and impactful of its kind.
SERIAL (BAD) WEDDINGS/ Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu/ What on earth have we done to the Good Lord.
France, 2013, 97 minutes, Colour.
Christian Clavier, Chantal Lauby, Ary Abitan, Medi Sadoun, Frederic Chau, Noom Diawara, Julia Piaton, Frederique Bel, Emily Caen, Elodie Fontan, Pascal N' Zonzi, Salimata Kamate, Tatiana Rojo, Loic Legendre.
Directed by Philippe de Chauveron.
Serial (Bad) Weddings may be a title to entice audiences in, especially if they have attitudes towards weddings and want to see what bad weddings look like. This title translation has no bearing on the original French title which translates something like, What on earth have we done to the Good Lord!
There are serial weddings in this screenplay, the central Catholic couple, living in a provincial French town, have four daughters of marriageable age. At the opening of the film, one of the daughters marries a Muslim, the ceremony taking place in the Town Hall, the parents, especially the father, not at all comfortable in the marriage outside the church, let alone to a Muslim. We sense the prejudices, the intolerance!
Months later, we are back in the Town Hall for the second wedding and, we might have guessed, the next daughter marries a Jewish husband. The parents are getting more tense, the father less tolerant, although he tries to put on an agreeable front.
And then… Back in the Town Hall, with the third daughter marrying a Chinese. This, of course, brings a different range of prejudices and another strain on tolerance.
Part of the comedy of the film is the interaction between the three sons-in-law, who also have plenty to disagree about and who have their own levels of intolerance. The Muslim husband is a lawyer, the Jewish husband is a man with brainwaves for inventions and schemes, the Chinese is a banker who is not necessarily able to finance the schemes. The humorous dialogue has quite a deal about the different characteristics of each of the men, especially with jokes about Chinese food and Chinese excess of punctuality.
The film is an amusing, satirically observed presentation of traditionalist French families and the inroads of contemporary migration, ethnic variety, multicultural life in France.
And the fourth daughter? We see that she is living in Paris with someone who is seen reading and who, when he removes the book from in front of him, is black, from the Ivory Coast. The only consolation is that he is a Catholic and that the wedding could take place in the church. But, shock when the parents meet the prospective son-in-law, who is an actor, with the three prospective brothers-in-law scheming to expose him as a two-timer (only to discover that he is escorting his sister back to the apartment).
Matters are not so happy in the Ivory Coast as we see the mirror-image of prejudice and intolerance and reaction against French colonial domination. There is also a young priest in the town, an amusing if satirical confession sequence where he has heard it all before from the mother of the brides and is busy on his I-pad, searching out bargains. He has some other scenes, especially talking with the two mothers and laughing at the situation, presiding over midnight mass which they will attend, a touch of the camp, but doing the ceremony and really enjoying the dancing at the reception.
If you want a French perspective on contemporary migration issues, ethnic differences, multicultural values, traditional French values in the church, then this is the film to see.
US, 2015, 118 minutes, Colour.
Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, John Cena, John Leguizamo, Bobby Moynihan, Greta Lee, Madison Davenport.
Directed by Jason Moore.
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey can be very funny, in sketches from Saturday Night Live, hosting award shows, playing off each other in comic sketches. They are both very funny here – at times. Again, they play off each other as two sisters, Tina Fey opting for raucous and broad humour, Amy Poehler, not necessarily avoiding the broad humour, but playing a character who has much more subtlety in her make up.
This is a comedy for those like to go out and let their hair down – as the two comedians are doing in their performances. It is raucous, often crass and crude, often unsubtle, with a house party that rivals the destructive mess in such films as Animal House.
The basic plot concerns their long-suffering parents, Dianne Wiest (who gets a chance to use some words that she never uses in other films) and James Brolin, who decide to sell their Florida house. Maura, Amy Poehler, is one of those people who has a great need to help others, offering advice to seeming beggars on the street (who aren’t), caring for her sisters daughter, a nurse by profession. Her parents tell her about the sale but cannot face up to telling her sister, Kate, Tina Fey.
The sisters decide to visit the parents with Kate discovering the plan and horrified. She is a manicurist, with an unguarded mouth, who loses her job. Her daughter, Hayley, Madison Davenport, is one of those sensible adolescents with a sense of responsibility which compels her to try to do her best for her mother and to control her. Kate has the bright idea that they could live in the family home until she gets another job. She pretends to get another job, Maua and her parents thinking she has one, and she continues to coast along, Hayley deciding that she cannot stay with her mother until she settles down.
This is the place where the sisters grew up, they have many friends, including loudmouthed Dave, John Leguizamo, who flirts, Alex, Bobby Moynihan, who is a nerd and tries to be a comedian at every opportunity, and Brinda, Maya Rudolph, once a friend but alienated by Kate when they were young but now bent on revenge.
Because the house is to be sold, the sisters decide to have a party, invite everyone, all hair down, no holds barred – and plenty of holds are unbarred during the party, Maura wanting to let her hair down and let go of her sense of responsibility and persuading Kate not to drink and to be the party house mother.
The party is raucous, very raucous, very loud, and goes on, and on, and on. The mess is quite devastating – and, of course, the parents turn up.
Maura has met a pleasant man, doing some building renovations, James, Ike Barinholtz, and invites him to the party, falls for him – until he experiences a fairly demeaning joke involving about arena toy and Beethoven’s Fur Elise. But, of course, he does help with the renovations and the cleanup. Maura is given various lectures that she does not have too absolutely help everyone. Kate make some resolutions, especially for the sake of Hayley.
And, as with all these raucous American comedies, everything ends up very properly and just so.
THE WINTER'S TALE/KENNETH BRANAGH THEATRE COMPANY'S THE WINTER'S TALE
UK, 2015, 150 minutes, Colour.
Kenneth Branagh, JudI Dench, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, John shrapnel, Jessie Buckley.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Rob Ashford.
This film version of the stage performance in London’s Garrick Theatre offers audiences an opportunity to see the performance of a Shakespearean play which is not so well-known.
It has its status as one of Shakespeare’s later plays, one of melancholy, one of eventual hope and reconciliation. Kenneth Branagh’s company has brought it to the stage, had great respect for the text, and, as a critic said, offers a masterclass in Shakespearean production.
Kenneth Branagh has directed a number of Shakespearean films, Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, Loves Labours Lost, As You Like It and a film version of the stage production of Macbeth. He also played Iago in the film version of Othello with Laurence Fishburne.
This film is a fable, set in an imaginary land, ruled over by a King, who is married to a loving wife who is expecting their child. He is visited by a long time friend from another kingdom. He has many people in court on whom he can rely, especially the attendant to his wife, Paulina.
However, the strong theme is that of jealousy, very reminiscent of Othello, though there is no Iago ago in this story, the King, Leontes, making himself jealous. He suspects his friend of having a relationship with his wife, accuses her, imprisons her and sentences her to death.
The scene changes and moves to a foreign land where Paulina’s husband, unnecessarily attacked and killed by a bear, has taken the infant, Perdita, meaning ‘lost girl’, and entrusted her to a local shepherd who brings her up as his daughter.
The film becomes very bucolic, with all kinds of celebrations, pantomime, dancing and flirting, and some rogues and conmen. However, the son of the kinig who raised Leontes’ jealousy, is in the country in disguise, and falls in love with Perdita. And she him. There are romantic scenes of wooing.
And then, everybody goes back to Sicily, the son is revealed in his true character, though he is spied on by his father in disguise, who treats him rather badly in the Leontes’ vein.
The other aspect, the climax of the story, is Leontes’ grief, repentance, Paulina taking him to see the statue of his dead wife, his grief, confession, and then her coming alive with happy reconciliation all-round.
Judi Dench is most impressive as Paulina. Miranda Raison is effective as Hermia and Hadley Fraser as the rival King.
While it is a filmed play, there is enough to continually keep audience attention for this opportunity to see a rarely-performed Shakespeare play.