SIGNIS REVIEWS FEBRUARY 2017
LIVE BY NIGHT
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE
NO MAN’S LAND
PERFECT STRANGERS/ PERFETTI SCONOSCIUTI
STREET CAT NAMED BOB, A
xXx, THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE
France/Canada, 2016, 89 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Elle Fanning, Dane De Haan, Maddy Ziegler, Carly Rae Jepson, Kaycie Chase.
Directed by Eric Sommer, Eric Warin.
Ballerina is a French- Canadian coproduction, with attractive animation, France in the 19th century, Paris and its streets in the river, the Eiffel Tower in construction, the Statue of Liberty in construction, and the Paris Opera house. There are also scenes in the countryside, especially a stately building serving as an orphanage on the coast.
The film is clearly aimed towards a children’s audience, especially young girls who have aspirations to be dancers or ballerinas – and their devoted mothers. There is a rather lively young boy who might make the film enjoyable for a boys’ audience (or not).
Felicie is a feisty young girl at the orphanage, dreaming to be a dancer, with a music box that was left with her by her mother at the orphanage door. She is friends with Victor who wants to be an inventor. There is a ferocious superintendent, and a nun looking like a Daughter of Charity who tut-tuts and has a very bleak outlook on the realities of life.
In some slapstick comic scenes, with Victor disguised as a nun and a chicken under his habit for a bosom, with wings he invented, on an off wagons, careering and crashing, the couple eventually arrive in Paris but are separated.
This is mainly Felicie’s story, and she finds the building, is ousted by a toothy guard, encounters the cleaner who helps her but wants to get rid of her. Nevertheless, Felicie perseveres, helps with the cleaning, experience the haughty Madame and her snobbish daughter who also wants to be a ballerina. Felicie is given a letter by the postman with the invitation for the daughter to go to the dance school but Felicie goes instead, knows nothing of the movements or what is required of her but, with the cleaner’s help, is able to make an impression, even reaching the final for the audition to take a starring role in The Nutcracker, the snobbish girl being her rival.
Actually, not all plain sailing. Felicie does not win the audition and is bundled back by the haughty Madame (the equivalent of the witch in so many animation stories) and has to escape from the orphanage again, this time on the back of the motorbike by the once aggressive supervisor.
In the meantime, Victor has a job on the Eiffel Tower and is busy trying to develop wings for flight.
This all comes to a head, Madame threatening Felicie on the Statue of Liberty, Victor flying to rescue Felicie and confronting Madame.
Fortunately, there are some changes of heart at the end, and Felicie is able to demonstrate her dancing agility and her passion which leads to a satisfactory happy ending.
A bit of a difficulty for the historically-minded is that the setting is 1887, the beginning of the building of the Eiffel Tower, and The Nutcracker was not performed until 1892. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in the US in October 1886. And the orphanage superintendant rides a motor bike!
Much more enjoyable than anticipated.
UK, 2016, 85 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Steven Cantor.
The title reveals all – except for the name of the dancer who is the subject of the film, Ukrainian-born Sergei Polunin.
This is a film which will definitely appeal to audiences who delight in dance and in ballet. In fact, it will be of quite some interest to audiences who are not so interested in ballet or do not know much about its style or its history. The film does not depend on strong audience knowledge of the subject.
The film opens with a close-up of the dancer himself, waiting to go on stage, reflecting on his life, revealing himself something of a larrikin, myriad tattoos, taking pep-up drugs, which may make audiences wonder about him.
The film is interesting as a biography, going back to a poor town in southern Ukraine in 1989, on the verge of the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The young Sir Gay is seen going to school, skilled in gymnastics, open to the possibility of studying ballet which he embraces. He speaks with admiration of the teacher who influenced him and she is seen later in the film. Sergei is very much influenced by his mother and her desire for him to study ballet. Fortunately for posterity, she had a video camera and she was to film many of his classes, many of his dances, showing his agility, ability and skill at an early age. His mother makes a remark that when he was born and the nurse moved his limbs, there was great mobility and stretch in his legs.
The boy was supported by his two grandmothers, who are also seen in conversation, with his father going to work in Portugal for financial support and his mother taking the boy to Kiev and his auditioning for the ballet school there, which he entered and again excelled.
The plan was for him to go with his mother to England and audition for the Royal Ballet school in London. It is a new world for them and they have to wait some weeks before the acceptance letter arrives. Given the financial circumstances, his mother returns home creating a distance between mother and son, news of the divorce between his parents which affect him greatly, on which he ruminates for years.
There are interviews with some of his close friends and fellow-students at the school, commenting on his initial impact, the recognition of his skills, the progress over the years until, finally, he is accepted as a principal dancer in the Royal Ballet before the age of 20. Reviews were most favourable.
In many ways we do not really learn all that much about Sergei Polunin as a person, more about his relationship with his family, the testimony of his friends, but no indication of any relationships. We see him in the snow, stripping to roll in the snow. We hear about his breaking loose as a teenager, drinking, an introduction to drugs and a looser way of living. Tattoos which had to be covered for performance, especially as seen in his dancing Spartacus in Siberia – with the physical toll for him.
While he was successful at the Royal Ballet, with a touch of kicking over the traces, he decides to walk out, giving the media a lot to write about and considering him the bad boy of ballet. His next step was to go to Moscow, almost beginning again, enjoying the dancing and rehearsals, and finding a patron and mentor in an entrepreneur. And, yet, this was not enough for a young man moving towards his mid 20s.
Going to America and relaxing there, he decided to make a video of a dance, partly choreographed by his close friend, and photographed and directed by Dave Chappelle, Hozier’s Take Me to the Church. When released on YouTube?, the dance went viral to Sergei’s surprise. However, it meant that he did not give up dancing but has continued, giving concert performances – and the film ends with his mother and father and his grandmothers coming to a performance for the first time to see him, something he had forbidden in the past.
To that extent, while the film is very interesting about childhood, adolescence and early adulthood of the talented dancer, it is only an interim story.
Australia, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Rosie Jones.
This is an Australian story, especially from the 1970s and the 1980s, the story of a cult, The Family.
Older audiences may remember the headlines of the 1980s when a number of children from The Family were taken in a raid by the police and the head of the cult, Anne Hamilton-Byrne? and her husband, Bill, fled the country. But, the older audiences may not remember the details at all, except in recent years with the stories about one of the best known of The Family children, Julian Assange. However, this documentary with some re-enactments, stays with family and does not mention Assange – the Australian film, Underground from 2012 does provide this background.
Anne Hamilton Byrne, a yoga teacher and her husband gathered followers around them both in England and in the Dandenong ranges, at Ferny Creek, Melbourne as well as out of Melbourne at Eildon (lots of images of Eildon and the dam). Quite a lot of adults became members of the cult, co-founded by an academic from the University, Raynor Johnson.
Anne Hamilton-Byrne? declared that she loved children and gathered a number of orphans as well as the children of some of the cult members, keeping them in the house at Ferny Creek or Eildon, an extraordinarily strict regime, harsh disciplines and punishment, brainwashing the children, instilling deep loyalties as well as fear of the outside (that if the policeman saw them they would be killed), and the motto: unseen, unheard, unknown.
The film has a great deal of testimony from the adults who remember their time in the family, the loyalties, the fact that most of them had to have bleached hair, look similar, wear uniforms – one headline of the time referred to the John Wyndham story and referred to them as Children of the Damned, the story of hostile alien children in an ordinary village. The audience gets to know these talking heads very well as they recur with substantial interventions throughout the film, some obviously badly damaged by their experiences, some having overcome the difficulties and taking strong and critical stances. There are also some older members, amongst them women who were referred to as “aunts”.
The story is also told from the point of view of the police inspector, Lex de Man, who joined the special task force to investigate The Family during the latter part of the 1980s. An actor is seen for situations of the 1980s but the actual officer, de Man, gives a rather impassioned account of his involvement, the effect of talking with the children, discovering the harsh regime they lived by, beatings, food deprivation, use of drugs like LSD as well as something of the madness of Anne Hamilton Byrne, her glamour, her snobbery, her extraordinary capacity for manipulation, and belief that she was Jesus Christ.
There was encouragement in the 1970s and 80s to take home movies of the children so there is plenty of material incorporated into this documentary showing the children, pictures of the adult talking heads of what they were like when they were little. Plenty of material of Anne and her husband.
The latter part of the film is interesting in terms of the pursuit of the husband and wife, the taking refuge in England, Hawaii, going under the radar in a house in the United States, which was also investigated by the FBI. After extradition, there were hearings, a court case and a sentence, in 1993 which barely touched Anne Hamilton Byrne and her husband, suspended sentence, a small fine.
Throughout the film, we might well be wondering who this woman really is, where she came from – and the film gives a thorough explanation of her background, her family, her mental state and ambitions and their fulfilment. While her husband had died in 2001, the film informs us that as of its making in 2016, Anne Hamilton Byrne (actually not her real name) is still alive at 95 in a dementia section of an institution.
This is the kind of story we expect out of the United States – but here is a homegrown story, from Melbourne and Victoria, with real children and real adults, and the more shocking in recent times with the revelations about the sexual and physical abuse of children.
US, 2016, 121 minutes, Colour.
Matthew Mc Connaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bill Camp, Craig T. Nelson, Macon Blair, Rachel Taylor.
Directed by Stephen Gaghan.
A very straightforward title. It means what it says – or perhaps not! Probably best not to know anything much about the plot to be ready for the ups and downs of the exploration for gold in Indonesia and the business consequences.
The film stars Matthew Mc Conaughey who has been called to lose weight for some roles and for others, putting on weight and keeping it. But that is character he plays, Kenny Wells, son of a wealthy businessman in Reno, Nevada, 1981, and determined to prove himself to his father.
His father’s company was for prospecting and that is what enthuses Kenny Wells and drives him to go into action. The screenplay also makes use of the, literal, American dream. Kenny wakes one morning, convinced that he has seen where he will discover gold. He also hears about a prospector-geologist, Michael Acosta, played by Edgar Ramirez, who has a theory about minerals in Southeast Asia. Kenny tracks him down in Jakarta, praises him for his theories, tempts him to start prospecting for gold in the interiors.
It should be said immediately that this is not Indonesia where the film was made – Thailand is standing in.
In their explorations, they find definite traces of gold – but Kenny succumbs to malaria, looked after by Michael who assures him, when he recovers, that they have probably hit the mother lode. While there are a number of sequences in Indonesia, moving backwards and forwards to the US, most of the action takes place in the American business world.
Kenny Wells is also one of those unstoppable enthusiasts, a salesman par excellence and he gets investment for his company. He is a smiler, a talker and an inveterate smoker and, eventually, an inveterate drinker. He has a very loyal working team around, supported by his girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) who doesn’t quite understand his dreams, doesn’t quite believe in them but is willing to support them as long as she can.
As successful reports come in, Wall Street becomes interested, Kenny is enthusiastic, does drive a hard bargain but moves on to further success. But he is a stubborn man and is very wary of big business interests who seem to be willing to squeeze him out.
Just as you think the film is about to end, it doesn’t. And that is why it is better to know nothing before going in to see it.
The film announces that is based on a true story – which sometimes means ‘loosely based on’ and that is certainly the case here, worth Googling afterwards to find out what actually happened to Kenny Wells and to see what actual events have been incorporated and how the events and characters have been shaped for dramatic purposes, even the final minute!
Chile/ France/ US, 2016, 100 minutes, Colour.
Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E.Grant, Casper Phillipson, Beth Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Max Casella.
Directed by Pablo Larrain.
Jackie has received quite some critical acclaim.
Older audiences will bring their memories of November 22, 1963 to mind as they watch the film. So powerful was the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas that many people in succeeding years declared that they could remember where they were when they heard the news. The memory of the assassination was initially perpetuated with the killing of assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, by Jack Ruby, the day after the killing – and the consequent decades of conspiracy theories.
Which may mean that younger audiences, for whom this story is history from half a century ago, may not be caught up in the spirit of this portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of her husband, the swearing-in of Lyndon B. Johnson as president, the fears throughout the United States, the uncertainties, and the preparations for the funeral and the actual march from the Capitol to the cathedral.
So, this is a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy, the rather aristocratically-styled wife of the president (with her strange uppercrust accent), her presence in the car when her husband was shot, cradling him, wearing the pink suit and hat for which she was remembered, smeared in blood. It is a portrait of a woman who bore herself with great dignity, made decisions, along with Robert F Kennedy, about the funeral with great desires about how her husband would be remembered.
The narrative is not straightforward, rather the to-ing and fro-ing, especially in the week of the assassination and its aftermath. There is a principal flashback interspersed throughout the story, the 1961 television program where Jacqueline Kennedy hosted the television audience in a tour of the White House to make it more accessible, “the people’s house”, with an appearance of her husband at the end of the program. She is rather nervous, being urged to smile by her assistant, Nancy, rather relieved when her husband arrives.
Natalie Portman gives a striking performance as Jackie Kennedy, often very self-contained, introspective, alone with her grief, wandering the White House in a collage of guns and jewellery, to the accompaniment of Richard Burton singing the title song from the musical, Camelot. She is tender with the children, finding a way to tell Caroline and John that their father has gone to heaven and is with their brother, Patrick. She can also be determined, some emotional clashes with Robert Kennedy about the Kennedys keeping secrets, standing her ground in determining the funeral march against the advice of Johnson’s assistant.
The screenplay, by Noah Oppenheimer, writer of popular entertainments like, captures the spirit of the times, the spirit of the Kennedys, some of the social and political issues as well as the personal and spiritual issues. The framework of the film is an interview with a journalist (based on Theodore White who did write a similar article later). He is played by Billy Crudup, attentive, but with many abrasive moments and Jackie trying to determine the way that the article should read.
The screenplay also includes the introduction of a priest confidante, played with robust sympathy by John Hurt, with several intimate conversations between Jackie and the priest, based on the actual Father Richard Mc Sorley, Jackie is able to express her fears, her night thoughts, her wondering about her status, the fact that she had become a Kennedy, wanting to be with her husband – and some practical advice from the priest, about the search for meaning, comforting her that she had received people’s compassion, using the Gospel story from John of the man born blind to remind her that God’s work is to be revealed in mysterious ways, and finally reassuring her that he had his dark nights, but, like everyone, got up the next morning, had a cup of coffee, continued with life, just enough for us to keep going. There is a very moving sequence towards the end where the priest officiates at the reburial of the two deceased Kennedy children at Arlington.
One of the moving scenes is Jackie leaving the White House in the company of her two children. The film uses some actual television footage of the funeral cortege, Jackie walking behind the horse drawn carriage with the coffin, over a hundred international dignitaries marching behind her.
One of the interesting things about the film is that it was directed by the Chilean director, Pablo Larrain (No, about the Pinochet elections of 1988, the biography of Neruda, the film about erring priests, The Club). As an outsider, as a non-American, he has the advantage of not having a more sentimental feel that an American director might bring.
There is a very good supporting cast led by Peter Skarsgaard as Robert Kennedy, Greta Gerwig as Nancy, John Carol Lynch as Lyndon Johnson.
In the film Jackie Kennedy is very conscious of the heritage of Abraham Lincoln, the role of his wife, Mary Todd, wondering what the future will remember about her husband, while Robert Kennedy ponders on all that they might have done had they had the time power in the cut-short Kennedy Camelot.
LIVE BY NIGHT
US, 2016, 129 minutes, Colour.
Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Remo Girone, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Glenister, Matthew Maher, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Titus Welliver, Max Casella.
Directed by Ben Affleck.
There has been a long tradition of gangster films, beginning in the late 1920s and early 1930s when the action of this film takes place. Most of these films were set in cities like Chicago and in the midwest, the Al Capone tradition, Texas outlaws and the robbing of banks in the West like Bonnie and Clyde. This film is of particular interest because it is about gangsters in Boston, Florida and the East Coast.
Something to commend it at once is that it is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane. There have been film versions of his novels, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island. This one has been adapted by Ben Affleck who serves as writer, director, producer and the main star. Affleck has proven his directing skills with Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo.
This is a more thoughtful gangster film, giving the audience time to experience the situations and background, get to know the characters and try to understand them, time for a bit of reflection – which might mean that those who prefer chases and shootouts (and, in fact, there are some) feeling a bit impatient.
Ben Affleck plays Joe, the narrator, who in the prologue, explains that he went to fight in France in World War I and came back determined not to take orders in life any more. When we see his father, a police Commissioner played strongly by Brendan Gleeson, we understand that family and the war experience have had a strong influence on Joe. Small robberies are the order of the day. It comes to the attention of the Boston Irish Mafia as well as the Boston Italian Mafia, complicating things by an affair with the girlfriend of the Irish boss, Sienna Miller.
In one of the robberies and chases, policemen are killed so Joe goes to jail, responding to an offer he finds he cannot refuse from the Italians – which leads him to Tampa, Florida, quite a contrast in sunlight and heat from the chill of Boston. He goes with his friend and ally, Dion (Chris Messina) and, they make more of a go of it given the clients, the bootlegging, the money coming in and sent to Massachusetts, and the prospect of building a casino. Tampa is something of a backwater compared with Miami but it is Joe’s kingdom. He falls in love with a local Hispanic girl, Graciela, Zoe Saldana.
One of the consequences of Joe’s success has a touch of revenge in damaging the interests of the Irish Mafia in Miami.
One of the interesting sub- plots concerns the police chief of Tampa, Chris Cooper, his young daughter being invited to Hollywood for a screen test, Elle Fanning, and her disastrous experience there, coming back and becoming an evangelist against corruption, always dressed in white, a tent preacher with big congregations, and her denunciation of gambling and casinos.
Which, of course, leads to difficulties for Joe, the building of the local casino and investment from local bankers, the powers that be in Boston not taking at all lightly. And there are further complications with the local Ku Klux Klan, with crosses of fire planted outside the bars, negotiations and betrayals with the Klan leaders, and a build up to violence all round – and Joe using his wits but having to make decisions for his future.
The film is quite long but always interesting, though not the kind of Scorsese gangster portrait that tends to set the screen alight. But, this dramatising of US East Coast gangsters makes its mark.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
US, 2016, 137 minutes, Colour.
Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan, Josh Hamilton, Gretchen Moll, Matthew Broderick.
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan.
Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan must have a great love for Manchester -by -the- Sea, a fishing town on the Massachusetts coast – even during the credits he has many loving shots of the water, the islands, the coast as well as the town itself. He is able to communicate the atmosphere of the small town and its life – and its place by the sea.
This is a very moving film, a very humane film which ordinary audiences can readily identify with.
This is the story of Lee Chandler, one of his very best performances from Casey Affleck who anchors what is quite a long film. We find him as a handyman working in Boston, able in his maintenance jobs but subject to criticism and clash with clients, sometimes more than a touch abrasive. He lives alone. He drinks alone in bars. He sometimes breaks out in anger and brawling. As yet, we don’t really know how he ticks, what motivates him.
The next step in the narrative is his getting the news that his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died from heart disease. Lee has to go to the hospital in neighbouring Beverly to see his brother and then arrange funeral matters, and then to Manchester to see Joe’s son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a great favourite with his Uncle Lee.
As Lee drives we begin a series of flashbacks which gradually reveal the family story, Lee’s marriage to Randi and their three children, Lee and his fondness for Patrick and their expeditions on the fishing boat at sea with Joe and his partner, George. We find that the family had known that Joe had a heart condition but that his wife (Gretchen Moll) could not deal with this, was alcoholic and walked out.
Gradually the film builds up the portrait of Lee, giving the audience a sudden shock when it is revealed what has damaged Lee and his wife and caused their separation.
The film is also a portrait of Patrick, a 16-year-old, sometimes on the aggressive side at hockey practice, fancying himself with the girls, in fact having two in tow and wanting his uncle to keep his secrets safe. Patrick finds it difficult to express his grief – and is particularly upset because it is winter, the ground too hard to dig a grave and so his father will have to be kept in a freezer in the morgue.
But it is the issue of what is to happen to Patrick with his father’s death, contact with his mother or not, Lee becoming his guardian as his brother wanted him to, even providing the finance for support, the house, the boat, but Lee very hesitant and wanting to go back to Boston, not wanting to stay in Manchester, and Patrick wanting to stay in the town which he knows well and with all his friends.
The acting is very strong with the two central leads but also with Michelle Williams having some very telling scenes as Lee’s wife, Randi.
The screenplay is down-to-earth (with quite a lot of contemporary swearing) but also has insight into human nature, feelings and emotions, conflicts and the need for decision-making.
Considered one of the best films from the US in 2016 – much to commend it.
MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORSE YEARS OF MY LIFE
US, 2016, 92 minutes, Colour.
Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham, Alexa Nisenson, Andy Daly, Rob Riggle,Thomas Barbusca, Retta, Adam Pally, Jacob Hopkins.
Directed by Steve Carr.
It might be more than a bit of a shock for those who read James Patterson’s popular thrillers to find his name associated with this film, on which he serves as one of the executive producers. But, it is a screen version of one of his many collaborations, written for younger audiences.
With this said, older audiences may find it something of a trying experience to sit through. On the other hand, quite number of bloggers have use the unexpected word “endearing” to describe it.
Our hero, Rafe (Griffin Gluck) is a 12-year-old who has been in all kinds of trouble at different schools and is now being sent to the last one possible by his loving but exasperated mother, Lauren Graham. They and the little sister, Georgia, are still grieving the death of Eric, younger than Rafe, who has had a terminal illness and has died (not stopping him reappearing in his brother’s fantasies, collaborating with him and egging him on).
There is an impossible headmaster, full of himself (even full if that were possible), played to the hilt by Andy Daly, who is a prissy enforcer of the rules, enshrined in a book which he liberally hands out. His vice principal shares his rule-bound perspective and is a formidable-looking lady.
Things go badly for Rafe, especially when his book of drawings (of the graphic novel type) is handed around at the assembly to everybody’s laughter. The principal burdens his book. What else is a spirited young lad to do in such a situation – write down a list of the rules, determined to break every one of them before the external exam sitting, an enormous project of elaborate pranks, which take up the most part of the film.
Other characters include the mother’s potential boyfriend, Rob Riggle, an absolutely full of himself twit – who also, of course, gets the prank treatment. There is a sympathetic teacher who encourages his students to think – but who gets fired by the school principal. There is also an enterprising little girl who campaigns to be on a committee (with Rafe defying conventions and standing up and applauding her campaign speech), who comes to the rescue at the end, along with a put upon janitor, to expose the headmaster and get prank issue revenge.
So, if you like this kind of thing… A young audience might enjoy 90 minutes of vicarious rebellion (which one reviewer referred to as learning to be creative!) But, probably, whoa be tied any of them should they try to put any of these pranks into practice!
US, 2016, 107 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk.
Directed by Ron Clement, Don Hall.
Over the last few decades, the Disney studios have been concentrating on princesses or the equivalent of princesses in their animation films, from The Little Mermaid at the end of the 1980s, to Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, to the great success of Frozen. Here is the next contender, Moana.
Moana is a Polynesian name and the film draws on aspects of Polynesian mythology, life in the Pacific Islands, the Polynesians as voyagers. She is a young girl, part of village life, with her parents and a wise grandmother. But, she also goes on a quest.
With aspects of creation stories, and symbols for life, especially in the heart, Moana wants to contact the great hero, Maui, who will help to restore life and order. Although she is not supposed to, she gets the boat and leaves on her quest, her only company being a rooster who is there as the inevitable bird or animal companion but, unfortunately, is too stupid to be really funny, despite a whole lot of efforts.
Storms, boat overturning, but with help from the life-spirit of the ocean, she eventually is stranded on an island where she finds Maui. Maui is of traditional Polynesian build, big and solid, which gives plenty of space for the range of tattoos all over his body, giving the narrative of his exploits, his participation in creation – and, at many times, the various panels coming to enjoyable animated life.
He is voiced by Dwayne Johnson, himself with some Polynesian background, often sending himself up, bursting into a song, You’re Welcome, with some comic episodes, but, having been stranded on his island for 1000 years, he is eager to get away and not eager to help Moana.
By hook or by crook (and Maui’s quest is to find again his spirited hook), he and Moana share quite a number of adventures (and the rooster is still there!). They encounter some mini-creatures with big ships and poisoned darts who capture the heart that Moana has been wearing around her neck, but she shows that she has the warrior touch as well. Oh, and she also has some songs – and so does the spirit of her Grandmother.
There is quite an adventure at what seems a high island, whose cliffs Moana can scale more quickly than Maui, but then a huge central core-hole where Maui finds his hook but they have to deal with this big crustacean, a bejewelled sea creature, who also sings with the voice of Jemaine Clement. It might be good to note here that the credits are very very long and one can listen to the music because Jemaine Clement’s Shiny creature has another minute at the very end of the film!
There is also the Lava Island, with a sinister dark giant creature that they have to confront, Moana standing firm, Maui helping on and off and then disappearing.
It’s not a spoiler to say that everything turns out well for the island, its new life, for Moana and her family in the village, and for restored hero, Maui.
US, 2016, 105 minutes, Colour.
Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Amy Ryan, Barry Pepper, Holt Mc Allany.
Directed by Chris Wedge.
With a title like Monster Truck, it seemed as if this would be an animation film, Monsters Inc… However, it is a live-action show – although it plays very much in the vein of an animation film. Its target audience would be children and teenagers.
Ultimately, there is a message very much in favour of the environment, the impact of drilling, discoveries in the various levels under the surface of the earth, business exploitation, lies and cover-ups. Rob Lowe is the arch-villain, manager of a drilling company, hiring yes-men as scientific advisors as well as thugs to do his dirty work. When he gives the go-ahead to keep drilling despite warnings and dangers, much of his enterprise goes up in explosions. But, the real surprise is that in hitting an underground water level, he brings prehistoric creatures to the surface!
In the meantime, Trip (Lucas Till) lives with his mother, goes to school where there is a rivalry with a rich kid with a big rich vehicle, a very serious-minded science student (Jane Leavy), and an eye being kept on him by the local sheriff (Barry Pepper) who is rather keen on Trip’s mother. There is also an agreeable old man (Danny Glover) who runs a local garage and vehicle destruction enterprise.
The main action is a kind of variation on Free Willy, one of the rather large creatures, looks like an early dolphin but has octopus tentacles, quite large. But, it is rather endearing in its behaviour, hiding from the boss’s thugs under a truck, squeezing itself into the truck itself and, with energy and speed, can outrun any vehicle and any monster truck!
Which sets the scene for the adventures to come as well as the action stunts and special effects.
When it is discovered that there are several other creatures in the boss’s captivity, looked after by a meek scientist, Thomas Lennon, who has a change of heart, of course, and wants to participate in the freedom of the creatures and return them home to the earth’s depths.
This requires the reconditioning of several vehicles, with the help of the old man as well as one of Trip’s friends, son of a wealthy car dealer. And, when all is ready, there is a huge chase through the mountains, the creatures powering the vehicles, barriers put across the highways, huge leaps, characters dangling from open doors – but nothing like a big tentacle to remedy the situation!
It all builds up to a huge confrontation, the creatures going back home into their deep hole, Trip falling in but, perhaps this is a spoiler alert but everybody will be ready for it, the benign creatures saving him and restoring him to mother, sheriff, girlfriend, and a happy life because his contribution to saving the world!
US, 2016, 111 minutes, Colour.
Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Andre Holland.
Directed by Barry Jenkins.
The preview was in the morning and, that afternoon, news that Moonlight had won the Golden Globe for Best film, Drama. It had some strong competition but it is a compelling film.
Much of the setting is familiar to moviegoers, especially the films from the 1990s showing poverty, drug deals, the experience of racism, life in the hood. While this is the setting for Moonlight, the audience is invited to look at situations, characters and issues from a different, more humane, perspective.
This is the story of Chiron, told in three chapters, with three different actors taking the role of the boy (Alex R. Herbert), the teenager (Ashton Sanders) , the man (Travante Rhodes) -one difficulty being that the actor portraying the teenager seems more slight physically than expected and not the kind of frame that could bulk up to the adult Chiron. There are three chapters: Little which is the nickname for the boy, Chiron which is his name, Black which is the nickname given to him by his friend, Kevin.
The city is Miami, some ventures into the centre of the city downtown but by and large life in the suburbs, the African-American? suburbs (the only white characters in the film seen at the end in the diner where Kevin works as chef).
Chiron is a quiet boy, particularly reticent, even speaking few words when he is encouraged. He is bullied by the boys at school, chased, stones thrown at windows… He lives with his mother, Paula, a persuasive Naomie Harris, who is a drug addict and treats her son angrily, not showing any affection.
One of the best things that happens to Chiron is that Juan, a drug dealer, finds him in an abandoned house and befriends him, taking him home, Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa, able to coax him to speak. Juan, a very sympathetic Mahershala Ali, becomes the father Chiron never had, affectionate, interested, with a wonderful scene where he enable Chiron to trust him and to learn to float and to swim.
It is Juan who explains the title: Juan is from Cuba where he was told that black skin in the moonlight looks blue.
One of the aspects of the bullies is that they call the little boy faggot.
The teenage Chiron goes to school and the bullying continues, brutally physical at times, even getting Kevin to punch his friend. Chiron’s mother is still the same, and Teresa is the continued support. Chiron’s reticence is still characteristic and his wondering about his identity, his sexuality – dramatised very quietly by a scene with Kevin on the beach.
The third part of the film takes place 10 years later, Chiron having been in prison, bulked up, and really assuming the character and role of Juan. The main drama of this section includes a visit to his mother in rehab and some kind of reconciliation and a tear. But, it is also the friendship with Kevin, a phone call, a visit, a meal, the lyrics of a song, remembrance of the past – and the openness for a future.
Director Barry Jenkins has created a film that is always interesting, that is very moving, that has touches of poetry, and a humanity that we may not have been expecting.
US, 2016, 94 minutes, Colour.
Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Josh Bowles, Andrew Appelle.
Directed by Matt Johnson.
Operation Avalanche is an enjoyably jokey film, capitalising on American propensities for conspiracy theories.
The film was written and directed by Matt Johnson along with his friend, Owen Williams, the two responsible for the small-budget, satiric Canadian film on film-making, The Dirties.
The film takes back to the 1960s, with two very earnest young men completing their college degrees, going to work for the CIA. It is the post-Kennedy era. In fact, the film uses a great deal of actual footage on JFK, NASA, incorporating it neatly into the film. The film also capitalises on aspects of the documentary genre, with handheld camera and the suggestion that the action is caught immediately as it happens.
The two men decide to infiltrate NASA because of the possibility of there being a mole feeding information to the Russians. There is a paranoid atmosphere, even suggesting that Stanley Kubrick be investigated because of Dr Strangelove. And they learn of cinema techniques to use watching the filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
With Kennedys ambition of the United States reaching the moon, the two young men offer the possibilities for faking a moon landing (later the theme of the thriller Capricorn One) and there is a great detail of how they go about this, successes and failures, involvement of other persons.
There is also satire on those in charge, on potential moles, but getting very serious when the family of one of the partners is threatened. There is a final pursuit in the desert, a serious touch on the result of conspiracy shenanigans.
All in all, the film is very amusing, especially for outsiders who are critical of Americans and the preposterous background of faking a moon landing to save America’s reputation in case of failure.
US, 2016, 133 minutes, Colour.
Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K.Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Christopher O' Shea, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy O.Yang, Melissa Benoist, Alex Wolffe, Themo Melikidze, Michael Beach.
Directed by Peter Berg.
It is sometimes surprising how quickly actual events make their way to a big budget film, especially in the US. Patriots’ Day, the story of the Boston Marathon of 2013, the terrorists who planted explosives, killing and injuring bystanders, and putting the city of Boston into lockdown during the pursuit of the perpetrators.
Some commentators say that this kind of thing is opportunistic, taking advantage of the opportunity. However, this film is very careful to draw on actual characters and aspects of the events, especially with the real characters appearing at the end of the film discussing the issues, the police, the FBI investigator, and a young couple both of whom were injured, treated in different hospitals, had a leg amputated. The film then offers tributes to those who acted in heroic ways.
But, for the drama’s sake, the central character is a fictitious policeman, drawing on various characters on the day and its aftermath. Perhaps Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were not available for the film but Boston’s other famous son, Mark Wahlberg, plays the policeman. While the screenplay follows him, his character, his involvement, his contribution to the apprehension of the terrorists, there is quite a lot more going on. But, his story gets the audience in the mood, seeing him involved in a raid, injuring his leg on a recalcitrant door, his time in hospital, his love for his wife, Michelle Monaghan, his relationship with the police chief, John Goodman, and his being ragged by his fellow police because of his rather challenging attitude towards authority. On the day, he is on duty, joked about because of his uniform looking like a crossing guard, at the finishing line.
The film holds the attention – but, in some ways, it is several films in one.
The first part of the film is really Boston’s preparation for the marathon, the logistics of setting up the route, the officials and their role, the assembling of the runners, the role of security, the crowds arriving, the running...
The screenplay uses the device of signalling on-screen the particular times on the day of the marathon, and then listing the hours that have passed since the explosions, over a period of several days. This also gives the opportunity to introduce a range of characters, police, Mayor, Massachusetts Governor, the runners, the young couple who were to be injured – and, especially, the brothers, the terrorists, at home, with the family, breakfast, the packing of the explosives and their setting out on their mission.
Then there is the terrorism, the explosions, the uncertainties, the fear, the reaction of the crowds, the visuals of those injured, a policeman standing guard for the day over the covered body of a young boy, the ambulances, the work in hospitals, the pressures and difficulties, amputations.
While local police are involved in the investigations, it becomes a task for the FBI, Kevin Bacon as the official in charge, rather stony-faced (especially in comparison with the more genial real person who appears at the end of the film). The investigation is shown in quite some detail, taking over a warehouse, the drawing of the route on the floor, individual officers involved in scanning CCTV. Mark Wahlberg gets a chance to become involved when it is pointed out that he is an expert in knowledge of the local streets – and it is intriguing to watch his suggestions about the route of the suspects, who are glimpsed on CCTV with their black cap, white cap, and where they might have walked from, how much time, looking to the next camera and tracing their route.
The investigation continues during the next phase of the film which is the pursuit of the criminals themselves, their packing up, their plan to go to New York for more explosions, their taking a car, driving to Watertown with the role of the police there, and J. K. Simmons in charge. The terrorists take a hostage from the street, a young Chinese-American? (and this actually happened), who was able to get out of the car, hide in a supermarket while the younger terrorist is buying food, and phoning the authorities. There is a huge shootout in the street and the older brother is killed.
The younger brother disappears and, those familiar with the story, may remember that he hid for several days in the suburbs under a tarpaulin covering a boat in the yard, ultimately caught and, again, a shootout. In the meantime, there is also an interesting episode where the wife of the terrorist is brought in for questioning, a very tough interrogator respecting Muslim dress and manners but extremely menacing nonetheless.
In an era of terrorism, it is interesting, if often distressing, to see the re-creations of these well-known episodes. The Boston experience was not as dire as the terrorism in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Istanbul, Berlin…, but significant nonetheless, especially the terrorism on US soil after 911. Many audiences may be thinking – and at one moment the screenplay makes this explicit – that people in war-ravaged countries, especially Syria, experience this kind of devastation day by day, more extremely so, the effects on individuals, families, injuries and deaths, destruction of buildings, and the extraordinary demands made on doctors, nurses and medical personnel. Sobering.
PERFECT STRANGERS/ PERFETTI SCONOSCIUTI
Italy, 2016, 97 minutes, Colour.
Giuseppe Battiston, Anna Foglietta, Marco Giallini, Edoardo Leo, Alba Rohrwacher, Valerio Mastandrea, Kasia Smutniak, Benedetta Porcaroli.
Directed by Paulo Genovese.
Any film with the title, Perfect Strangers, is more than likely to be about people who think that they know each other, who are friends, but discover, as with the Italian title of the film, they are completely unknown to each other, even if they have been part of each other’s lives since childhood.
The main part of this comedy drama is a meal, the hosts, Rocco and Eva, he a surgeon, specialising in mammary operations, she a psychiatrist – though failing dismally with her teenage daughter with whom she angrily clashes; a newly married couple, Cosimo and Bianca, he a taxi driver after failing in many jobs, she feeling initially an outsider to the group but at last feeling part of it; long married couple with two children at home plus the mother-in-law, he seen sitting morosely on the toilet before leaving, she fussy and taking off her panties before setting out, something of significance later in the film; the last guest is Peppe, who turns up late without his partner.
Having introduced the characters, the film spends almost all of its time at the dinner. This is a good ensemble piece, the ensemble cast working very well together and off each other. All seems happy and chatty at first. Then Eva, perhaps from some deep psychological motivation, suggests they play a game, everyone putting their mobile phone on the dinner table and, allowing everybody to listen in to the call on speaker. Potential for jokes and for some serious trouble – the potential from secrets and lies.
There are some ordinary calls but things get more difficult as the meal progresses. One of the moving calls is from the angry daughter phoning her father about her date, about the possibility of a sexual encounter with her boyfriend, condoms – and the father giving some sage advice for her to make her own decision but offering many factors for her to take into consideration. The problem with the mother-in-law arises, a nursing home ringing to offer a place, much to the upset of her son.
One of the biggest complications comes when Lele confides in Peppe that he is expecting a call at 10 o’clock, a provocative photo from a woman friend and he asks Peppe to change phones with him, and claim the photo. One of the consequences is that there is more embarrassment for Lele in answering the phone calls for Pepe, a relationship that no one at the table was expecting and Lele becoming more and more awkward in covering for Peppe.
Cosimo has seen something of a man about town and that is certainly true of the phone calls that he receives, upsetting Bianca and mystifying one or other of the guests.
Dialogue, of course, is most important for the film, and it is very well written, sharp, humorous, sometimes biting, with much underlying seriousness. One of the difficulties is that as the film closes, fairly rapidly, one has to pay quite a deal of attention to work out whether there is any forgiveness, understanding, further deception… The other advantage of the film is the editing so that there is a judicious focus on the person talking and then judicious focus on the listeners, which means that the audience is comfortable, having been given enough opportunity to understand the characters speaking as well as gauge reactions.
The film has won many awards, especially in Italy, but the troubles of an ordinary range of 40-somethings will resonate with many audiences around the world.
RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER
US, 2016, 106 minutes, Colour.
Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Ruby Rose.
Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson.
Back in 2002, with the release of the first Resident Evil film, directed by Paul W.S.Anderson and starring Milla Jovovivh who was soon to become his real-life wife, no one would have necessarily predicted that there would be a sequel, let alone five films in the franchise over a period of almost 15 years. So, Resident evil, and the computer games, have been very successful commercially and with fans.
It is always a bit ominous when a film announces that it is the final chapter.
This film opens with quite an explanation of the background from some of the previous films, always showing the ambitious technical company, Umbrella, and this time a focus on the scientist and his little girl who became ill, his quest to find a cure for her, the consequences for her – and for his unscrupulous partner, Dr Isaacs, Iain Glen who appeared in a number of the previous films. Dr Isaacs – and there are some clones of him as well – is an arch-villain with no redeeming qualities.
So, Alice, the superhero type from the previous films is given a mission. There is an anti-virus which could heal all those infected and transform the world in order for it to grow again. Alice, in Washington, and dealing with monsters leaping out at her (as we leap out of the seat), then with a giant Dragon, then evading the undead, is advised to go to the headquarters of Umbrella, retrieve the antivirus and save the world.
Then Alice is on the road, unwittingly encountering obstacles, the undead in pursuit, conflict with Dr Isaacs but thwarting him, getting a motorbike, and arriving to gather some of the faithful from the previous films to support her (and, of course, there is a traitor amongst them).
Alice is superhuman and she has to go through all kinds of superhuman feats, from human attack, from technological attack – and the audience sometimes wondering who built all these extraordinary, vast underground what they call “facilities” – where did they get the material, who did the building, who installed the technology, how were they kept secret…? But that is a distraction from the adrenaline-pumping action, near-death experiences, the loss of some of her allies, and an eventual fight, or fights, with Dr Iaacs.
Alice learns a lot about herself, her background, cloned characters who have no memories but she encounters the ailing little girl now prematurely aged (some very effective make up for Milla Jovovich in this role) and, of course, a rapidly shortening deadline for her to achieve her mission.
For the biblically minded, in this post-apocalyptic world which needs to be saved, the saviour figure does come to mind, more explicitly when Alice is advised by those close to her that she will have to lay down her life (after such superhuman suffering which does make The Passion of the Christ look milder). So, she opts for passion and death. The biblical distraction of course is resurrection and – spoiler! – because she has committed herself to die for others, she experiences resurrection and graces the world in releasing the antivirus. Whether Paul W.S.Anderson is biblically-minded, who knows? But, certainly, the gospel outline and its many secular variations are quite archetypal.
So, resurrection. Is this really the final chapter? As regards movie sequels, there is nothing against reincarnation!
US, 2016, 117 minutes, Colour.
James Mc Avoy, Anya Taylor Joy, Betty Buckley, Hayley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad W. Henke, M. Night Shyamalan.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Dissociative Identity Disorder, D.I.D., Is also known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Most of us do not know people suffering from this disorder. Rather, we get some ideas from films such as The Three Faces of Eve or Sibyl. What we have now is Split, a 21st-century version of D.I.D., the portrait of a character who has, at least 23 different personalities, one more emerging at the end of the film.
There is always a difficulty in making this kind of film, the danger of sensationalising a situation. However, the screenplay take some pains here to explain the disorder as well as show a therapist working with the patient, alert to the different manifestations. Being a movie, it also dramatises, even melodramatises the character and situations – with the realisation that “it’s only a movie”.
The film has been written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan who came to audience attention in 1999 with what is now a classic, The Sixth Sense, with Bruce Willis. The director continued to pursue stories that involved touches of the preternatural including Unbreakable, Signs, The Village – and then falling out of favour with critics until his most recent film, The Visit. (He also has a cameo role for himself in each film, here working with the therapist and surveillance screens.)
What makes Split a very effective and rather eerie experience of the disorder is the performance by James Mc Avoy. Not all the personalities are shown during the film but there is a sufficient variety for McAvoy? to make them quite different, appearance, accent, way of communication, sometimes a sense of menace.
And this is all presented in the context of an abduction, three girls taken from a car in a supermarket parking lot, finding themselves confined to what looks like the equivalent of a concrete cell.
Clearly, there is a lot of tension as the girls struggle against their confinement and encounter the different personalities, the most significant of which is a man called Dennis, bespectacled, absolutely obsessive about order and cleanliness, who also seems to be in control of the other personalities (who do not necessarily know of one another). There are two main contrasts, Barry, a fashion designer with a camp manner who is generally the one shown with the therapist, Dr Fletcher (Betty Buckley). There is also a Miss Patricia who also seems to be in some kind of control and, by contrast, a nine-year-old giggler called Hedwig.
On the one hand, there is the emphasis on the girls and how they deal with their situation and the possibilities for escape, especially a girl called Casey (Anya Taylor Joy), more strong-minded than the other two – who is given more complexity by having flashbacks inserted throughout the film to her childhood, her hunter father with guns and a dead deer, to her somewhat sinister uncle.
The film builds up to a climax, a clash of personalities, leaving the audience to ponder what they have seen and the realities of D.I.D. (There is a twist, with a touch of the facetious and shifting the mood of the film, in the last minute, which will please some but have many audiences puzzled.)
xXx: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE
US, 2016, 107 minutes, Colour.
Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Toni Collette, Samuel L.Jackson, Ice Cube, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Rory Mc Cann.
Directed by D.J.Caruso.
Satellites circling the Earth, one catching fire, plunging down into Hong Kong, enveloping Samuel L. Jackson in flames – action-packed beginning and, by and large, it doesn’t let up, certainly a strong fix for any adrenaline junkies. Then there is an extraordinary raid on a CIA meeting, athletic agents leaping from building to building, using all kinds of martial arts techniques, shootouts, rather large body count, except for Toni Collette as the steely and ruthless head of the xXx program once presided over by Samuel L. Jackson.
By this stage, the word that leaps to mind is “absurd” – and that really doesn’t go away. And, while there is a focus on an American intelligence agency, “intelligent” is not a word that leaps to mind.
Then there is Vin Diesel high on the transmission tower in the Dominican Republic, set upon by military, leaping off the tower, going down a cliff, landing with skateboards on rough terrain, down the mountains, eluding pursuit, and why? Because the authorities had switched off transmission for the television play of a football match – the gratitude of a nation!
And, on it goes, with Xander Cage (absent from the last xXx adventure with Ice Cube – spoiler, he does make a reappearance!) with Cage being hired by Toni Collette to track down Pandora’s Box, a device to control satellites and make them crash.
And, where is the gang who stole the books in the first place – in the Philippines! So, off to the Philippines, the whole area of illegal action that President Duterte might care to look into, and then, some more slam bang action as the military attack, Toni Collette in command. Despite the fact that most of the characters are introduced with some information, generally of a sardonically comic kind, ordinary citizens may find it very difficult to work out who exactly is who and on whose side they are, especially as a number of them change sides throughout the film!
And then on to London.
Cage is not very happy with Toni Collette and the military types that she has organised as his backup, so what is he to do! Bind them altogether, open the rear door of the plane and let them fall out… Fortunately, or unfortunately, they survive which makes them available for a final confrontation with Cage (spoiler – which they lose). This was unexpected as they thought they had shot him but nothing like some good body armour – and he goes out the back of the plane hanging onto a box and just releasing the parachute in time for a safe landing.
Actually, he recruits his own team, including a very tough woman who is on safari in Africa with lions in her sight but actually firing at hunters and poachers. She has an opportunity for some very accurate firing. Then there is the computer nerd, a pleasantly comic and attractive character who, to her final satisfaction, does get to handle a machine gun. Enjoyable is the big stunt driver, a Scotsman, who is desperate to chalk up his 200th crash, get it on video – and achieves it in spectacular stunt work.
The film is been financed by Shanghai movie company so Donnie Yen is there (after his turn in Rogue One) and Thai champion Tony Jaa, blonde haired and athletic, gets a chance to be active.
There is, of course, a political twist at the end, and a dramatic twist which indicates that you really can’t kill off an important security figure.
If this film makes money, and that will depend on the fans and their acceptance of the credibility of plot and characters, which is dubious, then there will be the return of the return of Xander Cage.
A STREET CAT NAMED BOB
UK, 2016, 103 minutes, Colour.
Luke Treadaway, Bob the Cat, Joanne Froggatt, Ruta Gedmintas, Anthony Head, Darren Evans, Caroline Goodall, Ruth Sheen.
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode.
Anyone who is unfamiliar with the books on which this film is based may perceive the title as one of those life on the streets, cool and mod, in an American city. Not in the least!
The Bob of the title is actually a cat, a London cat, a ginger cat, whose destiny seems to be to charm absolutely everyone, even those who are a bit averse to cats.
The film is based on books by a drug addict, James Bowen, who overcame his problems, especially with the friendship and support of Bob the cat. It should be mentioned that Bob appears as himself although there are quite a number of stand ins as well. There are quite a few photos of the real James and actual Bob during the final credits of the film – enabling an emotional response for a final time. Luke Treadaway is convincing in the role.
Actually, the film is doing two things. By focusing on Bob, it invites the ordinary audience to watch the film, to enjoy watching Bob and his behaviour, his bonding with James. James tried to raise some money by busking in the city of London, especially around Covent Garden. After he discovers Bob as an intruder in his house, Bob bonds with him, especially after visits to the vet and care for him, and plenty of food – but not the mouse who lurks behind the wall! He follows James out of the house, onto a bus which leads to James carrying Bob on his shoulders everywhere and Bob sitting, being attentive, as James sings. When the crowds gather, listening to James but looking at Bob, there are quite a lot of donations – and umpteen photos.
When James loses his job, unjustly, he is able to get more work by selling The Big Issue, the heads realising that Bob is a wonderful marketing opportunity, that for all those who want to have a photo with Bob, the payment is buying an issue of The Big Issue.
There are some jealousies and poor James finds himself again in a fix, a month with no income, his pile of coins steadily going down, himself hungry, and Bob pacing also hungry. Eventually, there is another scuffle in the city and Bob is chased by a dog, absent for days, James pining…
For those engrossed by the cat, they are introduced to another story, a story of emotions, a broken family, a young boy becoming an addict, desperation of life on the streets, attempted busking, encounters with his father who has merit again and has a family, the trust of a social worker and entry into a methadone program, the risks of failure, the agony and days of withdrawal from methadone.
While Bob is a support, a neighbour who works as a vet, Betty Ruta Gedmintas, is also a great help to James, though shocked when she discovers that he is part of the methadone program, upset because her addict brother had died. There are glimpses of other addicts, an overdose in the streets, the dealers who stand on street corners in the suburbs.
The aim of the books on which the film is based was to attract readers who like a feelgood story as well as their experiencing of what it felt for an addict to feel bad. Audiences who may not be all that keen on cats will appreciate it but sit back and try to emphasise with the cat lovers who become absolutely absorbed.
Germany, 2015, 162 minutes, Colour.
Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller.
Directed by Maran Ade.
Toni Erdmann turned out to be a very popular comedy drama in its native Germany as well is at festivals and overseas release. It has also won major awards.
Toni Erdmann is a made up name by the central character, a man who is growing older, lives by himself, is prone to practical jokes which immediately emerge when a postal deliverer arrives at his door with a parcel and Toni Erdmann pretends to have a dialogue with a made up brother, talks about his expertise in explosives, scaring the deliverer. He then makes up his face with bizarre, somewhat clown-like make up, puts in a set of upper false teeth which recur often during the film and then goes to visit his ex-wife and her husband as well as his mother, then going to a school performance for which he had put on the make up and very quickly we get some idea of who he is.
But the other principal character of the film is his daughter, Ines, a very successful business woman, a driven woman who acts as a consultant, going to Shanghai, living in Bucharest, giving advice to business heads for restructuring (which runs the risk of a lot of retrenchment of jobs). She has a very limited relationship with her father who unexpectedly turns up in Bucharest and starts to change her life.
While the film shows the tongue-in-cheek humorous side of the story, it also focuses on the very serious side, the life of the young woman, her playing up shrewdly to authority figures, going to socials to smooth the course, running the risk of clashing with bosses even though she wants to please them.
Much of the comedy of the film is in the dialogue from Toni as well as his constant turning up, surprising everyone, including the audience. The serious side comes from Ines and her trying to deal with her father, farewelling him but his unexpectedly turning up again and having to keep up the charade that he was a visiting coaching expert. This leads to encounters with a group of her women friends, his suggesting to a woman who runs a charity that he was the German ambassador and whom he later encounters, accompanying his daughter on a difficult diplomatic mission to consult with an oil company manager.
It is not always clear where the story is going – the audiences probably have hopes that the father will transform his daughter. There are two special sequences where something of this happens, his taking his daughter to the charity where children paint eggs and then urging her to do a Whitney Houston, and her belting out the song, The Greatest Love of All, brings some kind of release. And when she has a birthday party, she decides that it will be a naked party which has very different effects on her guests – and then her father turns up disguised as a giant mammoth.
Peter Simonischek is thoroughly persuasive as the father and Sandra Huller is convincing as the driven business woman. Though, there is quite a moral message about authenticity and life and not being crushed by being driven in the business world, it is communicated with a great deal of humour.