SIGNIS REVIEWS JANUARY 2013
GANGSTER SQUAD, The
GUILT TRIP, The
LIFE OF PI, The
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, The
SAVE YOUR LEGS
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, The
THIS IS 40
ZERO DARK THIRTY
Keira Knightly, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Domnhall Gleeson.
Directed by Joe Wright.
Perhaps not the most obvious word to use in connection with Anna Karenina. After all, Tolstoy’s novel has vast scope, life in Moscow and St Petersburg as well as in the Russian countryside, aristocratic classes, the military, the peasants. There have been several film versions of Anna Karenina, plenty of interpretation and background and images of Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, Jacqueline Bissett, Sophie Marceau.
But, director Joe Wright, with a screenplay by playwright Tom Stoppard, has decided to keep his treatment indoors, in fact, within a complex theatre, characters moving in and out of rooms, wings, the audience supplying the links and recognising locations. The film does go outside for the scenes of the harvest and Levin working with the peasants, a contrast to the artificial world of the aristocrats.
The audience has to accept this instantly, with the curtain literally rising. If not, no hope for this version.
Costumes and décor are more than elegant, so is the 19th century like orchestrated score. Visually, it is something of a feast.
That means, when we accept the style, we concentrate on the performances and the issues. Kiera Knightly is a younger Anna, not realising how much she is imprisoned in a formal, arranged marriage, visiting Dolly (Kelly Macdonald) to ask her to forgive her comically eye-roving husband, Stephen (Matthew McFadyen? giving a funny and striking performance). But, Anna’s eye strays. She is attracted to a young officer, Count Vronsky, flattered by his attentions and gradually becoming aware of her feelings. She is more attracted to Vronsky than most of the audience will be. Aaron Taylor Johnson is a bit vapid, infatuated, then tormented, but not the kind of man that we imagine Anna would be attracted to.
It is Jude Law as the intensely serious and upright Karenin who gives the impressive performance, a man of principles and law, taking a harsh stance but then becoming far more human and kind than we imagined he could be.
There are some excellent supporting performances, bringing society to life. Tolstoy contrasted the world of ordinary people with those who lived in artifice. This is reinforced by Levin (Domnhall Gleeson) who is part of society but whose life and beliefs are with the common people. He is the moral focus of the film and, as with Shakespeare’s plays, after the tragedy (and Anna’s fate is a tragedy) comes the restoration of order.
If we accept the theatricality and allow for the interpretation of Vronsky, there is much to enjoy and think about in this version of the classic.
Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp.
Directed by Craig Zobel.
This is not the film to hurry off to if you are after light entertainment. It is a film that rouses strong emotions about some very difficult issues. It is certainly a film that would repay reflection and discussion.
It is also one of those films where the reviewer should not reveal too much of the plot. The audience needs to go with the developments in the plot and the various stages of their response to characters and themes.
The opening credits tell us that it is based on actual events. They also show a number of symbols where authority imposes restrictions on our behaviour and we generally comply – automatically. As the film develops, it questions how people respond to authority and its requirements, even to some disastrous decision-making and consequences.
We are told fairly early in the film that an employee is under suspicion at the local Chickwich diner and that the police are investigating. It is a very busy day at the diner. There have been some problems with a freezer not properly shut, not enough replacement food items for the ruined material. Sandra, the manager (Ann Dowd credible in her performance, as are other members of the cast, especially Dreama Walker as the accused and Pat Healy on the phone), is an ordinary middle-aged woman (though hoping for a proposal) with an ordinary staff of genders, ages and race, trying to manage being swamped with customers and the call from the police about the problem.
We see what Sandra does and how she handles the situation, eager to please, complying with advice, finding that for every issue she raises, the police have an answer which she accepts. The film asks what we would do in similar circumstances. Probably, we are thinking that we would have handled something particular quite differently, or that we would have noticed aspects of the police enquiry, or asked more questions.
As the film unfolds, perhaps to our expectations, perhaps not, the test of our faith in others is further questioned. Are we submissive when authority has been put on a pedestal? Unquestioning – even credulous, even gullible?
The situation at times becomes horrendous as victims suffer, as we see that trust in good faith is not enough, that we are ‘groomed’ to be obedient or, as the title suggests, ‘compliant’. And hindsight is not enough.
A pity more can’t be said in a review. It would be very interesting to know how audiences respond.
Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo di Caprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino.
It’s twenty years since Reservoir Dogs and Quentin Tarantino’s making an instant impact on critics and the public. He won the Cannes Palme D’Or? two years later with Pulp Fiction and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. ‘Tarantinoesque’ became a frequently used word in describing not only his films but those which imitated his sardonic style as well as his blood-spurting sequences. With a career that produces a film every two or three years or so (Jackie Brown, the Kill Bill series), he is still a stylish director, a clever writer (a moderate actor, here with his faux Australian accent) and someone who knows and pays homage to a wide range of genre movies as well as an eclectic taste for his musical scores.
All of this is particularly true of Django Unchained (with acknowledgement of the 1966 Italian Django, with Franco Nero, who guest appears here). It is a Western, it is a bounty hunter tale, it is a film of Southern racism in the years prior to the Civil War, it is a condemnation of slavery, it has some Mandingo sequences. And all as a tribute to Spaghetti Westerns, allusions to the films of Sergio Leone, though this time the man has a name, Django, and he is black. There is even some Ennio Morricone music and songs.
For those a touch wary of Tarantino and blood, the major part of the film does have some shootings and beatings but not as graphically seen as before. But… there is an apocalyptic shootout towards the end, large body count and blood. And, but… that was not the ending we thought it might be, there is another shootout and a concluding, really apocalyptic conflagration.
As storytelling goes, there is plenty of plot, mainly about a German bounty hunter who frees a slave, Django, and together they go hunting murderers and robbers – dead or alive. There are some serious and some funny sequences, especially the mocking of the Ku Klux Klan (led by Don Johnson with Jonah Hill in tow) as they go on a raid and have a loopy argument about how well the holes have been cut in their hoods. The two bounty hunters get involved in some cliff-hanging crises which seem impossible to get out of – but they do.
Most of the action takes place on a Mississippi plantation, presided over by Monsieur Caddie, who indulges in Mandingo fights and is advised, even supervised, by his obsequious black slave, Stephen.
Time to talk aabout the cast. Jamie Foxx showed his effectiveness in his Oscar-winning role as Ray Charles in Ray. Here he is a fine, strong presence, a bewildered slave who has lost his wife, who is taken on as a valet (dressed in sky blue), then a partner (dressed like a Western’s hero), a free man, who has learned to read, to be shrewd, determined to find his wife. Christoph Waltz is the dentist become bounty hunter. His career was made by Tarantino in his Cannes-winning, Oscar-winning role as the SS officer in Inglourious Basterds. Waltz has more than acknowledged his debt in a very arresting performance. He has lots of wry remarks, is pedantic about his vocabulary and generates a lot of humour even in dangerous situations. He is very good.
Leonardo di Caprio is Monsieur Caddie, a presumptuous brat plantation owner. Interesting to see how well he does a villain. Samuel L. Jackson is the slave adviser, currying favour with his master – and often over-the-top in his performance. Kerry Washington is Django’s wife. In the supporting cast there are lots of character actors whom Tarantino obviously admires. Even John Jarratt is there (Australian accent and all) – Tarantino must admire Wolf Creek.
Very clever film-making for Tarantino admirers – but it may not make many converts.
Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Melissa Leo.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
For many decades, despite some roles as villains, Denzel Washington has been an American icon of decency and values (although he did win an Oscar in 2001 for his corrupt cop in Training day). In Flight he is a much more ambiguous character – and has received another Oscar nomination.
For the first twenty minutes, it looks as though Flight is going to be a disaster movie, an ill-fated flight from Orlando to Atlanta, filmed with vivid intensity (quite alarming actually). Comparisons might be made with Peter Weir’s Fearless and its powerful crash scenes.
But, it is not a disaster film. It is a character study of the pilot, Whip Whittaker, played by Washington, who exercises extraordinary instincts and insights to get the plane down as safely as possible. It is also a moral study since we have seen Whip and his self-indulgent lifestyle, the women, the drink, the drugs, the divorce and alienation from his family, the arrogant self-confidence (quite justified in his piloting) but carrying over into his relating to people. We know that he was drunk during the flight, much to the disapproval of his rather straitlaced co-pilot.
Whip is a media hero for what he has achieved but he keeps out of the limelight. His gauche friend (John Goodman) and his friend and union rep (Bruce Greenwood) are supportive, the former with drugs, the latter with legal aid for the impending inquriry and the revelation that he was drinking on the plane. Don Cheadle is the hotshot, shrewd lawyer brought in to smooth things along.
In the meantime we have been introduced to an alcoholic and addict, Nicole (Kelly Reilly with an American accent), who has collapsed after injecting high-powered heroin and is in the same hospital as Whip. What could have been just another girlfriend role (and in many ways it is) becomes much stronger as Nicole tries to deal with her demons with a job and AA meetings and friends.
But, Whip is erratic, throwing out the alcohol in the house and then stocking up again. The officials find him completely unreliable. Whip is trying to save his life and his job, visiting his co-pilot who is a devout Christian, visiting his family with his son pushing him out of the house, and visiting one of the cabin crew, a good friend, whom he asks to lie for him.
Because of Denzel Washington’s screen image and the increasingly disreputable character he is playing, the audience finds itself torn between the truth and wanting him to be able to get a life. Eventually, he has to appear before the enquiry (presided over by the always effective Melissa Leo).
As the film proceeds, especially from the AA sequence where Nicole feels supported but Whip leaves as a man is testifying about the lies and deceits in his life, it becomes more moralizing. By the end, it is highly moralizing, which may be a bit too didactic for audiences who want their messages conveyed more subtly.
Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Michael Pena, Giovanni Ribisi.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer.
At the end of this film, police officer John O’ Mara reminds the audience that the Mob has never had a hold in Los Angeles and that he and like-minded and like-actioned policed contributed to this.
Films about American gangsters continue to be popular. This one is set in Los Angeles 1949 and overlaps in time with the classic LA Confidential. Both show the career of Mickey Cohen who dreamed of being something like the Little Caesar of LA.
And the gangster squad? They are a special and secret group of Los Angeles police who are recruited by the city’s chief (Nick Nolte, burly and husky as ever) to wage guerilla warfare against Cohen, his gang and his drug and prostitution establishments to put him out of business. They are to destroy the business so that no other mob will take it over.
The centre of the squad is returned war veteran, John O’ Mara. He is played by Josh Brolin whose star has been in the ascendant since 2007 and No Country for Old Men (W, Men in Black 3). He is square-jawed (something of a ringer for Dick Tracy), tough, more brawn than brains but presented as the heroic American cop full of righteousness. He recruits, with the help of his pregnant wife who wants a strong team to support (and protect) her husband, are a motley lot: a determined black cop (Anthony Mackie), a veteran sharpshooter (Robert Patrick) and his partner (Michael Pena who appeared in End of Watch), an intelligence officer (Giovanni Ribisi). They are joined by O’ Mara’s friend, Jerry (Ryan Gosling), who is in couldn’t-care-less, drinking mode since returning from the war, starts a liaison with Cohen’s mistress, Grace (Emma Stone), but, disgusted at the shooting of his shoe-shine friend, joins the squad.
But, it is Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen who is mesmerising. For more than twenty years, Penn has been chameleon-like in immersing himself in his roles, creating a wide range of characters (in recent years, Milk, This Must be the Place, quite diverse roles). At the opening, he is vicious, ruthlessly cruel in torturing and killing both rivals and incompetent aides. As the film progresses, he shows no redeeming features. He is vicious.
The film has several set pieces as the squad attack Cohen, a raid on a casino which is rash and ill-planned, bugging his house, chasing a heroin haul from Burbank airport into the desert, a raid on a plusher casino and burning the cash.
The film also shows the bonding in the squad, their vulnerability, their determination to arrest Cohen which leads to a final shootout (guns galore and high body count) and a fist fight between John and Cohen.
The film is not for the squeamish, especially in the cruel Cohen sequences. It is a reminder, as are so many of the police films, that criminals have no scruples, that somebody must confront them while maintaining their own human decency. Not an easy thing at all.
THE GUILT TRIP
Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen.
Directed by Anne Fletcher.
If you were told that there was a road film where mother, Barbra Streisand, traveled across the United States with her son, Seth Rogen, and you started to imagine what it might be like, you would probably be quite right and The Guilt Trip is more or less what might be expected.
Not that it is not entertaining even if it is predictable. It is the two stars playing off each other that makes it enjoyable.
For Barbra Streisand fans, it is a welcome return to the screen with only some cameos in the Meet the Focker series in the last fifteen years. And, no, she doesn’t sing. But she does do what she was also very good at: comedy. Years ago, with such films as What’s Up Doc and The Main Event (even her portrayal of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl), some critics said that she was not so much a comedienne but that she was a funny clown. So, here she is at the age of 70 clowning around as a somewhat possessive Jewish mother bouncing off Seth Rogen in his comic sad-sack screen persona.
He is a chemist, Andrew, who has invented a natural cleaner from coconut oil, palm oil and soy, but he is a dead loss when trying to do a pitch to executives to distribute his brand ‘Scioclean’. She is Joyce, a longtime widow who likes shopping at The Gap and chatting with friends (Miriam Margolyes and Kathy Najimy in momentary appearances).
Off mother and son go across the US, she on the lookout for bargains, chattering away, driving Andrew mad. She has told him where his name comes from and he has a bright idea to take her to meet an old beau from before the time she was married. He is also delivering his pitches – and losing his audiences.
They squabble, they make up. She seeks out one of Andrew’s old girlfriends. They go to a Texan steakhouse where she wins the prize of devouring a 50 ounce steak and trimmings within an hour. She falls in love with the slot machines at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Andrew takes her advice and personalises his pitch with positive results. The San Francisco episode is what you may have guessed, but there is a nice touch at the end.
Probably forgettable, but pleasant while it is there. In the final credits, the writer, Dan Fogelman, dedicates his film to his mother – Joyce!
Naomi Watts, Ewan Mc Gregor, Tom Holland, Geraldine Chaplin.
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.
Not a promising title for a powerful film.
This is a Spanish film, Spanish director, Spanish story – which has been transferred to the story of a British family working in Japan and going for a holiday together to a resort in Thailand. It is December 2004 and audiences may quickly realise that this was the month of the tsunami which swept Indian Ocean coasts of countries in South East Asia. And this is what the film is about, survival of the family after being overwhelmed by the vast waves.
This means that the film is tough going for the characters as they try to copy with physical injuries and trauma as well as psychological desperation. This also means that the film is tough going for audiences to watch, not entertainment in the relaxing sense at all, but, of course, a picture of courage and hope.
Mother, Father and three sons fly from Japan (with some nervousness during the trip and some sibling rivalry) but find the new resort cheers them up as they celebrate Christmas, enjoying gifts, the sunshine and swimming. Then it is Boxing Day, all calm, placid until flocks of birds fly in from the sky. Then the gigantic wave and men, women and children being overwhelmed and swept away.
Needless to say, the special effects for the tsunami, the destructive water, the savagery of nature and the subsequent desolation, are impressive. (There were extraordinary effects for the tsunami in Clint Eastwood’s 2010 film, Hereafter.)
The main part of the film is about survival and search for survivors. The first part concentrates on the mother and the older son who find each other quite quickly. After being isolated with them, we become almost as desperate as they are. Naomi Watts gives a powerful performance as the mother, spending most of the time in intense physical pain while concerned about her son. If there were awards for portraying suffering and pain in film, Naomi Watts would be one of the first nominees. Tom Holland is persuasive as the son who has to move from self-preoccupation to concern for his mother and, at her urging, when they eventually get to a hospital, care of locals, trying to do something for others.
Then we see the father, Ewan Mc Gregor, who has survived at the resort with his two sons. They have not been injured so much as others. This part of the film is that of search, the desperation, the near coincidings until the title of the film, something that might have seemed impossible, is achieved.
This is a focus on a Western family rather than on the Thai people, although the Thais are presented as concerned and doing hard and almost impossible work in the hospitals. This is a reminder of how desperate things are in any attempt to cope with injury and death in natural disasters but also in towns and the countryside during war.
Julia Blake, Firas Dirani, Alan Hopgood.
Directed by David Pullbrook.
This is a Melbourne story about terrorism. There is murder in a mall. One of the terrorists escapes and finds himself in a suburban street. He goes into the house which is owned by a Jewish widow whom we have seen in a baker’s shop, doing her ordinary shopping, chatting to her neighbors, phoning her niece.
However, the film becomes a two-hander, the widow and the terrorist. While he threatens her, he is wounded. She takes care of him. He becomes less suspicious of her, he is less cold-blooded than she originally thought. He allows himself to become dependent on her.
The film serves as a contemporary urban fable for dialogue between Jews and Arabs. He is less threatening. She is more sympathetic and understanding. She covers up from police and neighbors that he has been in the house. She arranges a ticket so that he can leave Melbourne.
However, the ending his melodramatic, the action of the police, the action of the neighbor, and the audience left with th mixed feelings about what they have seen and how they ought to think about terrorism and the action of the widow. New paragraph
The strength of the film is in the performances, Julia Blake, always reliable and dignified, as the window, acts as the terrorist, with Alan Hopgood period as the neighbor.
LIFE OF PI
Shamar Saraj, Irfan Kahn, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu.
Directed by Ang Lee
Perhaps, if you have not read Yann Martel’s Booker Prizewinning novel, you may be wondering why Pi?
In fact, Pi does explain it to a visiting novelist to his home in Montreal quite early in the film, with some entertaining flashback to Paris and, especially, to his childhood in Pondicherry where his parents manage a zoo. His uncle liked to swim and especially admired the Piscine Mollitor in Paris. His father was also impressed and gave his younger son the name Piscine Mollitor Patel. If you are anglicising the name rather than trying to use a French pronunciation, you will hear what cheeky young boys will make of it. Pi, after some torment by laughter, takes a day to explain why his name is Pi and goes from subject to subject class, finishing with Maths, where he explains Pi and its 3.14… status.
Having cleared that up, we find the film is about much more. Pi is an enquiring lad, eager to get close to the Bengal Tiger his father has brought into the zoo, pondering his Hindu heritage and the many gods, visiting a Catholic church and asking the priest to explain Jesus’ motives and God’s for the crucifixion, developing an admiration of Jesus. Later he enquires about Islam, prays and is introduced to Allah. The screenplay balances these searchings nicely and introduces quite a bit of God language, meaning in life, especially in times of distress and disaster, an acceptance that there is a provident God.
The trailers highlight Pi’s time adrift in the Pacific after his parents decide to move to Canada, with the animals. A storm strikes. The ship sinks and Pi falls overboard with some of the animals.
By this stage, after the fine performance of as the young Pi, we accept Shamar Saraj as the teenage Pi. We also accept his company for the over 200 days on the lifeboat and the raft. On the one hand, the film shows the magic of ocean life, phosphorescent life forms, dolphins and a stampede of flying fish. On the other, it is realistic about the hardships, especially with the tiger, who was registered in his owner’s name instead of his own, and is called Richard Parker (which sounds polite and quaint with the Indian accent). It is no easy survival, even though there are some stocks in the lifeboat. Three other animals die. Richard Parker is aggressive but, as Pi tames him, they reach an agreed co-existence and a friendship grows – which is rueful for Pi when eventually they land on a tropical island full of meerkats, sustenance by day and destruction by night.
The film is wonderfully shot (and shines in the 3D version), beautiful to look at, both India and Pondicherry as well as the Pacific Ocean, both turbulent and calm. There is a lot of charm (even despite a momentary cameo by Gerard Depardieu as a gross French cook), humane characters, a great deal of decency, and the tantalizing wondering if the story is true, if the alternative is credible – or if it is a parable that is asking that we think and imagine and come to a realization of providence.
Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn.
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
An impressive film.
While this film runs for over two and a half hours, it limits itself to the month of January, 1865 (with a very brief prologue indicating the intensity of the war in close-up one-on-one combat in muddy fields and an epilogue with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the assassination of President Lincoln). The focus is human rights and politics. With the act for the abolition for slavery passed by the Senate, the campaign for the vote in the House of Representatives was hard and, at times, bitterly fought. Some audiences may find this political drama uninteresting, even boring, but for those with an interest in history, it is often fascinating and illuminating.
Then there is the performance of Daniel Day Lewis, an actor who, for thirty years has made comparatively few films, who immerses himself in his roles (and won two Oscars) so that the audience accepts his character completely. This is Lincoln. In fact, it is a portrait of Lincoln just months before his untimely assassination. He looks rugged, Day Lewis affecting his stoop, while still standing tall, his awkward gait, his craggy and ageing face as well as his 19th century elegant language, his storytelling and humour, and his political nous and risk-taking while holding to principle yet conceding the realities of compromise.
The actor has a solid screenplay to work on, written by playwright Tony Kushner. It is a literate, often literary, screenplay. It is a pleasure to listen to much of the dialogue and the interchanges between 19th century politicians (who did not shy from invective while taking their stances). And, of course, early in the film, the Gettysburg address is spoken and, at the end, other speeches by Lincoln.
The film is impressive in its re-creation of the period, the costumes, the décor of Washington DC, Congress and the White House.
The film has quite a vast cast populated by many American character actors. Tommy Lee Jones stands out as Thaddeus Stevens, the irascible Republican who declares that all people are equal before the law, his grounds for the abolition of slavery irrespective of other arguments about racial equality. Sally Field is powerfully strong as Mary Todd Lincoln, supportive of her husband but afflicted with physical and mental suffering after the death of her son, William. David Strathairn, always convincing, is Secretary Seward.
The film shows the background of the long war and the huge number of killed and wounded. It shows the representations from the South for peace which raised a dilemma for voters whether it was opportune to vote for the abolition of slavery at a time when peace proposals were in the offing. Lincoln shrewdly tells the delegates to stay away from Washington so that he can truthfully tell the House of Representatives that there were no peace delegates in the capital.
There is great attention to detail in the characterisations of many of the politicians. The device of having three lobbyists working to persuade waverers and those whose terms of office were about to finish to vote for abolition works well in terms of personalizing (and visualising) the different ways of persuasion.
But, this is a Steven Spielberg film. It is forty years since he began directing films – it is forty years since Duel and 37 years since Jaws, almost twenty years since Schindler’s List (let alone ET, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park or Saving Private Ryan). He has had an extraordinary career. While being one of America’s great entertainers, he has also contributed with stylish craft and finesse to his country’s and the world’s understanding of 19th and 20th century history. John Williams has, as usual, composed the score but it is rather unobtrusive, a background to the performances and the words.
This reviewer would be happy to watch it again.
Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison.
Directed by Andy Fickman.
Parental Guidance is a strong recommendation taking valium. First of all, for the audience before it starts so that they can keep calm (and less irritated) as they watch. But, second, and most of all, for the cast in this often frantic, hyper-extroverted (American style), over-volumed picture of family life.
We had Clint Eastwood in Trouble with the Curve as an old codger who was deemed out of date in a computer-controlled world. But, he trusted tried and true experience over all the new-fangled stuff. Well, now Billy Crystal is a grandfather who is an on air baseball commentator who is fired because he has not kept up with social communications and does not have an app to his name. Like Eastwood in his film, Crystal has been something of a neglectful father and alienated his daughter.
The daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei) is married to a high-concept inventor, Phil, (Tom Everett Scott). They are busy, busy, busy. Their house is fully automated (including personalized greetings as people enter and leave the house. And their regime is beyond New Age and politically correct as regards what they cannot eat, how they must study, no negative commands, no violent responses (use your words) – all rather strait-jacketed emotionally, not really communicating with their caring, over-caring, coddling parents. Which means that they are pretty obnoxious, willful, self-centred and imperious in their treatment of everyone. The five year old must be the most spoilt, completely unaware of others, doing what he likes no matter what, eager to accept a cash payoff, child we have seen on the screen.
The point is that Alice does not like her father and is edgy with her mother, (Bette Midler). Desperate, they ask Art and to mind their children for a week.
At high pitch, most things go wrong. The film is a catalog of disasters as the grandparents try or try to try to follow house rules. Needless to say, everything is going to be all right at the end, reconciliations all round, reminiscing over the past and expressing regrets. The children eat some cake. The daughter has a date. The middle boy stammers but learns to do commentary like Art. The screenplay indicates that that bratty five year old behaves better. Not sure about that.
It is always good to see Billy Cystal. And it is very good to see Bette Midler again. She hasn’t lost anything of her verve and ability to wisecrack.
There are quite a number of toilet jokes through the film – and one right at the end, which credit avoiders will miss, that it quite vulgar but funny, courtesy of Billy Crystal.
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
Voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo.
Directed by Peter Ramsay.
The Guardians are a motley lot. They come from a series of children’s books by William Joyce. They are the traditional creatures that children have believed in and who see themselves as protectors of the children. They are North (a Russian-accented Santa Claus voiced by an unrecognisable Alec Baldwin), a rather Tinkerbell-looking Tooth Fairy (with her mini-entourage, voiced by Isla Fisher) and, of all things, The Easter Bunny, who looks like a larger Bugs Bunny with kangaroo overtones (voiced by a very strongly Australian-accented Hugh Jackman, along with some ‘mates’ and ‘crikeys’). There is also the Sandman who does not speak but lets his thoughts out in golden sand designs. So, there you are. Children who like this kind of thing will be delighted – and the parents can enjoy the accents.
But, this is also the story of Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), who emerges from under the water under the guidance of the moon, forgetting his previous life. The Guardians are advised that Jack is to be added to their list. Jack is a nice kid and wary of the Guardians, but eventually he finds his mission and joins them.
The bonus of the film (to scare the littlies and entertain the adults) is the Boogyman, Pitch Black. Jude Law has quite a time voicing this villain who is trying to instill fear into every child (and almost succeeds, ecept for a genial boy who keeps the faith). It all builds up to a confrontation between the good guardians and the bad Pitch who has to confront his own fears and nightmares.
It’s a whole mythology, a deep down yearning for some kind of guardians who will guide and protect us all through life – but, once we stop believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny…?
SAVE YOUR LEGS
Stephen Curry, Brendan Cowell, Pallavi Sharda, David Lyons, Damon Gameau
Directed by Boyd Hicklin.
Not too many films about cricket, though the Indians made the very successful Lagaan. While cricket fans can contemplate during a five day test, most people are happier with one day matches or the speed of 20/20. So, you have to make a film about the people who play rather than showing too many details of a match. For those wondering, there are quite a number of cricket play scenes in this film but many of them are comic, the rest are in matches with Indian teams.
Actually, the film has its origins on an actual tour of India by members of a local Melbourne club (the kind that finishes eighth on the table). It was not exactly a magical mystery tour but it had its Indian moments, exotic as well as debilitating. The film-makers originally produced a documentary. Now we have the movie.
Melbourne looks rather good at the beginning of the film. The cricket team are devotees who give their Saturdays to matches. As expected, they are a motley lot, led with great earnestness by Ted Brown (Stephen Curry who had played jockey Damian Oliver in The Cup). Colin (Darren Gilshenan), the secretary is a compulsive on statistics. Red (Brendan Cowell) the captain is about to become a father but is prone to getting drunk and/or high. Stav (Damon Gameau) thinks he is God’s gift to the world, but is the best player. Prince (David Lyons) reads Gandhi and meditates. Shadow (Eddie Baroo) is a very big bloke but not bad at the game. Then there is the youngster, Mark (Brenton Thwaites) brought in to persuade the Indian backers that they should support the tour.
Writer-director, Boyd Hicklin, participated in the original tour.
The Indian sequences take place in Kolkotta, Benares and Mumbai, so there is plenty of scenery and local colour, which does give special touches to the film.
The comedy-drama is easy-going (well the tensions that arise in the group are not easy going but the overall treatment is). This is the kind of small Aussie film that is pleasantly amusing rather than a standout. The jokes are generally on the blokes themselves, on cricket loyalties and on some Indian pretentions. (Will they have to change the ending to be pro-India for Indian release or will the Indians be good sports and indulge their passion for cricket and go to see the films in their millions?)
THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jacki Weaver, Julia Styles.
Directed by David O. Russell.
This film touched a nerve with audiences and critics alike, many award nominations.
Writer-director David O. Russell has a son who is bipolar and was interested in the novel by Matthew Quick on which he based this film. It is a very American film, very extraverted characters in whatever situations they find themselves in. Whether the character is experiencing depression or just living ordinarily, uproar is not all that far away.
Bradley Cooper gives a powerful and convincing performance as Pat, a Philadelphia teacher whose rage has broken out on discovering his wife in an affair with another teacher. He is sent to an institution in Baltimore and is having therapy sessions with Dr Patel. When he comes home after eight months, off his medication, still obsessed with his wife, still deluded about the quality of his marriage and referring everything to his possible mending the marriage even though he has a restraining order to keep away from her.
His erratic behaviour includes a manic scene on hearing the song that was a bit part of the wedding, middle of the night tantrums when he can’t find his wedding video.
His parents deal with Pat differently. Dolores, his mother (Jackie Weaver in a performance that unexpectedly got her an Oscar nomination) is kind and practical. Pat senior, his father, (Robert de Niro at his best with an Oscar-nominated performance), himself prone to anger, sees Pat as key to his betting plans and winning money to establish a restaurant.
The other central character is a young policeman’s widow, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) herself on medication with a disturbed past. When Pat and Tiffany meet there is no foregone conclusion that they will end up with each other. Pat bargains for Tiffany to deliver a letter to his wife. She bargains that he become a dance partner as she is training for a competition.
Plenty of ups, plenty of downs – for both of them. And tangling with Pat senior.
Dr Patel always urges Pat to have a strategy for dealing with life. The silver linings prospect is Pat’s strategy.
Despite the differences, their bluntness and their lack of social skills, Pat and Tiffany do get to the dance floor – and their (moderate) success is a key for silver linings for the whole family.
Cooper and Lawrence, film and director all received Oscar nominations. For audiences interested in bipolar conditions, depression and its manifestations, the characters and performances offer much to reflect on.
THIS IS 40
Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow.
Directed by Judd Apatow.
This is 40 – well, not exactly.
Unless you are a husband and wife who have their 40th birthday in the same week, are comfortably middle class despite business difficulties, who have a 13 year old strong-minded daughter and an 8 year old cheeky daughter, who fight and make-up and who have very difficult relationships with their fathers. But that is Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann who appeared in a sub-plot in Apatow’s Knocked Up and now have their own movie), with their daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (Apatow’s own daughters – Leslie Mann is Apatow’s actual wife).
For audiences between, say, thirty and forty five, who share the comparative comfort of the American dream, and its comparatively comfortable problems and issues, there might be quite some empathy with the characters and the film will offer some kind of mirror – however, distorted.
For audiences around the twenty mark, they may well feel closer (in age and in experience and feelings) to Sadie and her teenage/parental issues as they remember their lives from the perspective of having got through the problems, sometimes with the help of their parents.
For audiences over fifty, Pete and Debbie might seem like characters from the past (or like their own approaching-middle-age children) and will give far more attention to the two fathers and their problems. They are played by two top actors, Albert Brooks as Pete’s father, and John Lithgow as Debbie’s father.
Albert Brooks gives another variation on his hang-dog-looking, bothered character. Actually, he has three very young triplets through in vitro and is trying to deal with being a father at his age while conscious of his health and exercising his ‘Poor Me’ turn as he continually borrows money from Pete.
John Lithgow is the aloof, top surgeon, who also has a family, much older, as he had parted from Debbie’s mother when Debbie was a little girl. She hardly sees her father who is very serious-minded (and does not get jokes).
There are some entertaining cameo roles with some familiar faces: Megan Fox is the attractive shop manager, Jason Segal a body (and soul and spirit) builder, Chris O’Dowd? is Pete’s partner at his record label company and, stealing her scenes, as she did in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy? as the mother of a boy at Sadie’s school who gets stuck into Debbie and then bursts out into a verbal tirade when the school principal calls her in to discuss with Pete and Debbie. This is so effective that it is shown again during the final credits, with Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann trying to control their laughter.
So, there are various episodes: Pete trying to revive the career of Graham Parker with new record sales and performances, Debbie worried about who might be stealing from the shop. Lots of domestic scenes, some (apt) wariness about the younger generation worshipping the new technology (and dependent on watching all the episodes of Lost). A loving weekend away followed by outbursts and recriminations. And, the party for Pete’s birthday which is a fairly complete disaster – except that it does mellow Debbie’s attitude to Pete’s father and does help Debbie to understand her father and welcome his presence with her children.
This reviewer has been using the phrase ‘The Judd Apatow Syndrome’ to characterize films he has written, directed or produced. They begin with people behaving badly, even reprehensibly, but, as characters are revealed and tested, a rather traditional stance on morality emerges and the film ends on an upbeat note. The same here.
Voices of John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Jake Mc Brayer, Sarah Silverman.
Directed by Rich Moore.
2012 saw an abundance of animated films, many of them in 3D. This is one of them, and nominated for many awards.
This is a video game film, but one for those who enjoyed the simpler (by modern standards) and kinder (also by modern standards) than those which raise a lot of moralising ire and issues of censorship. The players in this film are younger children who enjoy the competitiveness and the atmosphere but who operate at a PG level.
So, who is Wreck-it Ralph? He is the villain in a game who wants to be liked, to be nicer. He contrasts with Fix-it Felix who, without much effort at all, is good and can fix anything instantly. The other characters in the game like Felix and don’t like Ralph.
When a new game arrives, with a feisty commander, Ralph has an opportunity to get out of his own game – and, without wishing it, wreck the others. Characters become discombobulated. Players don’t know what is happening.
In the meantime, Ralph’s adventures (and disasters) lead to hostile activity from a malevolent General Hologram, but put Ralph in contact with a cheeky (mischievous sugar-candied little girl) Vanellope von Schweetz. More adventures until Ralph and Felix are able to get things back, well, not quite to normal, but to a happy ending.
The animation is a combination of Disney (which produced) and games – and looks effective in 3D. It seems something like a variation on Toy Story: what do videogame characters actually do when no one is looking or playing? And what do they sound like? Well, John C. Reilly brings his sometimes lugubrious tones to Ralph. Jack Mc Brayer is a nice Felix. Jane Lynch is definitely in vocal command as the Commander. Sarah Sugerman tones down her aggressive and quirky humour (a little, anyway) as Vanellope.
Those who were youngsters in the 90s (and their parents) would be one of the main target audiences.
ZERO DARK THIRTY
Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
Amazing that such a detailed film on the search for Osama Bin Laden (and finding him) could be in theatres within a year and a half of the actual events. The film has been praised (with awards, nominations and critical acclaim) for its picture of US intelligence and the work of the CIA (both effective and not). The film has been damned as a gung ho movie in favour of American foreign policy after 9/11. It has been criticised by US senators and intelligence personnel as providing a false image of the use of criticisms.
But… it is a feature film, a dramatisation, rather than a documentary. Clearly, there is always the danger that literal-inclined audiences will take each scene as presenting the truth, rather than representing aspects of the truth in a theatrical way.
One of the main impressions gained by this reviewer is how the search for Bin Laden was poorly handled for almost a decade. At one stage, Maya (Jessica Chastain) points out that the approach to finding him was based on pre-9/11 suppositions that he would be hiding in the caves of Afghanistan (which my be the impression that most people did, in fact, have) rather than in Pakistan suburbia.
The torture is certainly a significant issue and is presented graphically. To deny the extent of water-boarding may be accurate but in the light of the Abu Grab revelations, there was torture and humiliation of prisoners. As to how much information was gained by torture, that is a further discussion.
In the film, the torture sequences introduce us to Maya, deemed something of a ‘killer’ at the end of her training. At first she is repelled by the torture she watches. Then we see her get used to it, her further toughening in her work, much of which takes place in Pakistan.
But, it is Maya and her staff, her shrewdness in following through leads and hunches which does eventually lead to the identification of the whereabouts of Bin Laden and his family. Not that she gets a great deal of support from her bosses and from Washington officials – the mean don’t really think that women can be as effective as Maya (and underestimate her persistence, even when she posts the day by day delays on her boss’s door).
The culmination of the film is in the picture of the preparation for the raid, the helicopters’ night flight across the Afghan mountains into Pakistan, the details of the landing, the raid, the search, finding the family, identifying Bin Laden and his death).
This is a long film but, whatever one’s political opinions, one’s views on the CIA, one’s belief in America or not, it is a gripping film. It was written by journalist Mark Boal, who wrote the screenplays for In the Valley of Elah and the Oscar-winning, The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker. She proves she can direct powerful action and war films with Zero Down Thirty.