SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS JANUARY 2015
BIG HERO 6
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER
HOBBIT, The: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
IMITATION GAME, The
INTO THE WOODS
KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON
MYSTERY OF HAPPINESS, The
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET THE TOMB
WATER DIVINER, The
US, 2014, 118 minutes, Colour.
Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale.
Directed by Will Gluck.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow… For many, that and its tune (which can run irritatingly around in the imagination), is the lead in into the popular Broadway musical, Annie, from the 1970s, filmed by John Hoston in 1982 and for television in 1999. And here we are again. Interestingly, the trailer for this version does not emphasise Tomorrow but keeps repeating It’s a Hard Knock Life.
While most of the patrons in the theatre queues were grandmothers, mothers and little daughters, there were some little boys there who were about to experience A Hard Knock Life for two hours as they watched this movie! This is definitely a film for female sensibilities.
As indicated, the principal songs are there but there are also some new ones, generally very repetitive in the vein of all the songs, especially a montage of ‘It’s a New Life’, sung by several of the characters – over and over and over again. While still on complaints, the lyric for Tomorrow “love ya tomorrow” is especially grating, repeated and over emphasised. It grates on ya.
Of course, there are things to enjoy in Annie.
The scenario has been updated to an affluent, technological, 21st century. And, instead of Daddy Warbucks, there is now Will Stacks, an entrepreneur with phones and technology who decides that he should run for Mayor of New York City. He is played by Jamie Foxx. The Oscar-nominated young actress, Quvenzhanie Wallace, for Beasts of the Southern Wild, is more than the Moppet, Little Orphan Annie (she is determined not to be an orphan here because of a note from her disappearing parents and her stating that she is a foster child). This Annie is full of life, not for a moment lacking in self confidence. She is the life of the party at the orphanage, a chief antagonist for Miss Hannigan, the failed and would-be alcoholic actress who is in charge of the girls.
Where can all this go? Annie sits every Friday night the Domani restaurant (Italian for tomorrow!) because their note says that this is where they will come. She sits in vain. What will become of her?
In the meantime, Sticks who has few social graces, few touches of personality for a political campaign, is being fed information and lines by the devious Guy (Bobby Canavale) a go-getting political adviser. Sticks also has a personal assistant, Grace or from, Oxford, who tries to be a minder but, without realising it – and sometimes are not realising it - she is really in love with Stacks. She is played by Rose Byrne.
The key to the future is in Annie’s running across the street, almost run over, but saved by Stacks, everything captured, of course, on a passer’s-by camera. What better for a campaign? With the idea that Stacks hold a press conference, with many photo opportunities with Annie, stacks invites her to stay with him. Annie has never seen such luxury – it is always forthcoming with her opinions at helping with the photo-opportunities..
The plot thickens with the intervention of the angry Miss Hannigan. In the past she has been played by Carol Burnett and Kathy Bates, but this time the usually glamorous Cameron Diaz opts for mugging. False parents are set up. Annie is deceived, Miss Hannigan repents. Grace is concerned. Stacks realises that life is not just business… And everyone hurries off in pursuit of Annie by car and helicopter culminating in an elaborate curtain-call song and dance routine on the streets of New York.
Not a great show. But a show that a lot of people have enjoyed.
BIG HERO 6
US, 2014, 102 minutes,.Colour.
Voices of: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J.Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr, Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya.Rudolph.
Directed by Don Hall, Charles Williams.
Big Hero 6 is a Disney animation film, an entertaining adventure, based on a Marvel comic, featuring small characters who become superheroes.
It was a bit of a surprise when the publicist announced at the preview that Big Hero 6 came from the same studios that gave audiences Frozen. The two films are at extreme opposites – Frozen for the female audience, especially young girls, with Big Hero 6 for the boys, of whatever age. Not that the girls won’t enjoy it. There are some female superheroes as well and the abduction of the daughter of a scientist and her rescue, but it is aimed mainly at the boys.
The narrative and the settings acknowledge the influence of the Japanese Anime comics and on films as well as the United States comments. The city has called San Fransokyo! The hero is called Hiro, an enterprising young boy, talented in making robots – and he takes them to illegal robot fights, the equivalent of cockfights, where he reigns supreme.
His brother is a much more serious young man, with a laboratory for inventions as well as an eccentric group of male and female scientists. Hiro is persuaded to study after he sees such inventions and passes his exam by building a whole lot of bots which can combine in all kinds of inventive formations.
HIro’s brother has invented a very engaging character, Baymax, a large volume, a cuddly white mass. It has been designed with all kinds of powers, especially care, diagnosis of illness – but is used in the super battle, donning some armour, joining in the action, but really only at home when stripped of the armour, and able to perform his caring functions. We wouldn’t be surprised if the next film focused on him and was Baymax, Big Hero 7.
Reflecting the times, there are business deals to be done, entrepreneurs and scientists wanting to get their hands on patents and go into production. Sadly, this involves a death and an abduction, which puts Hiro and his friends on guard, determined to save their inventions, determined to make up for the death of Hiro’s brother, confronting a masked villain who seems bent on world power.
This means that there are some spectacular action sequences in the latter part of the film, all kinds of dangerous feats that would be too difficult to do with live action and special effects. The unmasking of the villain is a bit of a surprise, but justice is seen to be done and everybody goes back to scientific enquiry. Hiro is a hero – as all his friends.
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER
US, 2014, 83 minutes, Colour.
Directed by John Maloof, Charlie Siskel.
This is very interesting film-making, nominated for and winning many awards. It is also intriguing.
Vivien Maier was a photographer, amateur, proud of her work even though she did not develop many of her negatives. She did work as a nanny in New York City and two of her charges were able to transfer her into a home for the elderly where she died in 2009.
John Maloof was searching, in 2007, for photographs to illustrate his book on the local area in Chicago. He bought Vivian Myers photographs at an auction but did not do anything about the photos, not even using them for the book, until he developed an interest in photography himself and went back to the cache, examining them, being impressed by them, and put about 100 online asking for people’s response.
Later, an exhibition was organised and Kickstarter was used to raise money for this documentary which Maloof himself co-directed with Charlie Siskel.
The film offers audiences a great number of Vivian Maier’s photographs, most taken in New York City, with a small camera at her waist, snapping ordinary characters, unusual characters, many on the margins of society. To this extent, the documentary is most impressive in its presentation of the photos and life in New York City.
However, the film also is a kind of investigation of the life of Vivian Maier, trying to track down records, some of which lead to friends and interesting stories about her background. It emerges that her work as a nanny with many families over many decades. The remaining talking heads, especially of those who were in her charge, contribute to a range of memories, mostly admiring, some expressing some old stories about her.
She herself emerges from some photos and some movie clips, a tall woman, smartly but rather severely dressed, photographing great number of subjects as well as herself. With the mystery of her name, differences about her birthplace, some suspecting French accented English, she becomes a mystery character, a number indicating that perhaps she suffered from some mental illnesses.
The BBC produced a documentary on her, The Vivian Maier Mystery, some months before the release of this film. Commentators note that it is more objective than the present documentary, especially because John Maloof himself produced and co-directed the film as well is being front camera and explaining his search. Nevertheless, what he has done has been of service to Vivian Maier, letting the world know her photographs, presenting so many of them on screen, as well as raising questions about the photographer herself which later investigators can develop.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
New Zealand, 2014, 144 minutes, Colour.
Ian Mc Kellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Stephen Fry, Billy Connolly, Ian Holm, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Ryan Gage, Graham Mc Tavish, Dean O’ Gorman, voice of Benedict Cumberbatch.
Directed by Peter Jackson.
It had to come eventually, the completion of Peter Jackson’s vision and energy in bringing J.R.R.Tolkien’s characters, world, adventures to a cinematic end.
While The Lord of The Rings had a vast scope, The Hobbit has a much narrower focus. But, in the tradition of dividing up the final chapters of various franchises, like Harry Potter, like The Hunger Games, like the Twilight series, as well as Divergent and The Maze Runner, The Hobbit was broke up into three films.
For the fans, allowing for the differences of the amplification of the action, the first of The Hobbit trilogy was a welcome re-immersing of audiences in the world of Middle Earth, 60 years before The Lord of Thorins. Here was a younger Bilbo (with an appearance of Ian Holm as the older Bilbo). While Bilbo has a comfortable life in the Shire, Gandalf visits and reveals that there is another quest he should undertake. And then the dwarves invaded his home, not a stroke of etiquette between them, and off of reluctant Bilbo goes. There were a lot of complications with the various monsters, with the Orcs, and a series of adventures that resemble much of the quest of Frodo in the original films. For those who were not fans of these films, although there was now a very effective 3-D, they were complicated which made them less interesting.
However, the second film was more straightforward in the storytelling, and, so, easier to follow for everyone, focusing on Bilbo, but also focusing on the dwarves and their quest to get back their traditional home, finding the cave full of gold that would re-establish their kingdom. We were also introduce to the inhabitants of Laketown, and their troubles – all being combined in the menace of the giant dragon, Smaug, fighting the dwarves, confronting Bilbo, threatening the town.
And this is where the third film takes up, the dragon, unconquered, swooping mercilessly over Laketown and setting the various districts on fire, and not just fire, immense fire. The action is quite spectacular as the inhabitants try to flee, the Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) ransacking the Treasury, pushing his mealy-mouthed assistant, Alfrid, over the side of the boat to lessen the weight. But the hero is Bard, imprisoned but escaping and hurrying to the tower to shoot down the dragon. It takes his son coming and a vast metal arrow-weapon to defeat the dragon. The inhabitants, led by Bard, take refuge in the town on the side of the mountain.
Meanwhile, Bilbo, (the ever-welcome Martin Freeman) is watching the destruction of Laketown with the dwarves. With Smaug gone, the leader of the dwarves, Thorin (Richard Armitage displaying a strong dramatic capacity for greed, madness, repentance and warrior skills) is overwhelmed by the vast wealth, coins and gold, and clutching to power, destroying his relationship with Bilbo and the other dwarves.
The King to whom the dwarves had given their word that they would repay when they found the gold, comes to claim what he is owed. Even when Bilbo tries to arrange a deal between the King and Thorin, Thorin prefers war.
And war there is, long battle sequences, close-up fighting, the arrival of the Orcs and their monstrous clashing with the army of the Elves, Thorin’s cousin (played by Billy Connolly, Scottish accent and swearing and all) also brings his army. Huge birds sweep through the sky and while there is death and slaughter on the battlefield, there is an invasion of the mountainside town, huge characters built of stone bashing through the walls. It is Bard (Luke Evans, a strong presence) who is the leader in the town, the hero leader of the film.
At one stage, less for the plot than for a touch of nostalgia, Cate Blanchett, Galadriel, arrives to rescue Gandalf (Ian McKellen? just the same as always). Also turning up is Hugo Weaving as the Elf King and a wonderful cameo, deep voice and all, by Christopher Lee as Suriman and, as might be expected, when Bilbo returns home there is a glimpse of Ian Holm as the older Bilbo.
There is a great deal of pathos, especially with Bilbo and his relationship to the dwarves, concealing the precious stone that Thorin was desperately trying to find. And there is a moving death scene with Thorin. There is Bard, always trying to protect his children as well as lead the people in battle and to safety. Legolas re-appeared in the previous film and continues his heroics, Orlando Bloom deserving a special award for athletic gymnastics, especially in the final fights, balancing over holes in bridges, leaping up a staircase which is continually breaking up. And Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who fell in love with the dwarf, Fili (Dean O’Gorman) discovers that her love for him is real.
After all the fights, after all the tragic happenings and the increasing number of deaths, there is a peacefulness at the end of the film as Bilbo goes home, finds that the inhabitants think he has died and are auctioning his house and making off with all the furniture and goods, but re-establishes himself and all is at peace in Middle Earth.
THE IMITATION GAME
UK, 2014, 114 minutes, Colour.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Alan Leach, Tuppence Middleton, Rory Kinnear, Steven Waddington, Matthew Beard.
Directed by Morton Tylden.
A fine, interesting drama.
Over the years, there has been great interest in the story of Bletchley Park, the team assembled to work on the Enigma code, the elaborate Nazi code for transmitting information during World War II. Michael Apted directed a somewhat fictitious fashion, Enigma (2000). Television offered a series, Bletchley Park.
But, not only is the breaking of the Enigma code something significant in war history, the breaking was the work of mathematician, Alan Turing. This film is a tribute to a brilliantly intelligent man, with some autism characteristics, something of a personal loner, who had his own personal secrets at the time, his sexual orientation and behaviour, which led to his death in 1954.
All these aspects are covered in The Imitation Game.
The film uses the framework of a police investigation of Turing the early 1950s. We are introduced to Turing, having experienced a break-in at his flat, arrested and interrogated by the police. Because the documents of his war activity are classified as top secret, the police are suspicious of him, possibly as a traitor (the era of Burgess and Maclean’s defection to the Soviet Union), and his strange personality. He finds it difficult to collaborate with the police. During the action in the 1940s, the screenplay does come back to this 1950 situation as a more sympathetic investigator (Rory Kinnear) is able to access more documents and understand him.
This offers a more ambiguous opening to the portrait of Turing. As he is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, we are offered a complex portrayal of Turing’s complexities. He makes quite some impact when he goes to an interview for work at Bletchley Park, not given to modest understatement about his abilities, his success at school, at Oxford University, his university tenure in his early 20s. The subsequent drama, the conflict between Turing and the military establishment, as highlighted by the performance of Charles Dance as an officer with more knowledge about rules and pomposity than what was required for the job. Also at the interview is the head of MI6, played with some sinister sympathy by Mark Strong.
While most of us will not understand the technical details or the technological requirements workings of the machine to break Enigma, there is enough drama, sequences in the computer room, discussions amongst the workers, a kind of antipathy towards Turing and his seemingly smug superiority, that we get a great feel for what happened, what was demanded for breaking the code, for Turing’s contribution and the eventual collaboration which broke the code.
Turing wants some collaborators and sets up a crossword puzzle test through the newspapers to find minds who are quick at codes and think laterally. One of those who emerges years is Joan, played by Keira Knightley, doing an intelligent variation on her English rose performances.
Of course, there is great suspense as to how the code will be broken, with Turing coming to the realisation that it needs a machine to break a machine. In fact, in looking back at the history of computers, Turing has a singular place in his contribution to the building of computers and understanding their intelligence and their achievements.
During the film, there are some flashbacks to his days at school, where he was bullied, but made great friends with a young boy, Christopher, after whom he called his machine. There is insight into Turing’s character, his understanding of himself, his self-confidence, and his emotional dependence on Christopher.
At the end of the film, there is explanation given about Turing and his sexual orientation, the use of ‘chemical castration’ medication, the effect of secrecy and possibilities of criminality on his consciousness and his death. The film tries to give some acknowledgement of him and his achievement and the information that a pardon was extended by Queen Elizabeth in 2007.
While the whole cast is very strong, this is yet another achievement for Benedict Cumberbatch, who has shown his wide range in his performance in the Sherlock series, as the voice of Smaug in the Hobbit trilogy, his villain in Star Trek, his portrayal of Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate.
INTO THE WOODS
US, 2014, 124 minutes, Colour.
Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Meryl Streep, Lucy Punch, Christine Baranski, James Corden, Mackenzie Mauzey, Lilla Crawford, Billy Magnussen, Daniel Huttlestone, Frances de la Tour, Tammy Blanchard, Tracy Ullman, Simon Russell Beale, Annette Crosby, Joanna Riding.
Directed by Rob Marshall.
This is a lavish production and filled with quite an accomplished cast. Those who go to see the film without any previous knowledge may be taken aback and will have to adapt themselves to a style of musical theatre, which is a blend of the very theatrical treatment along with attempts at realism, all in the cause of telling fairy stories in words and music.
For many audiences, this is a great opportunity, a spectacular opportunity in fact, to be part of a Stephen Sondheim musical. From West Side Story and for over more than half a century, Sondheim has created many musical theatre pieces, often adapting films and plays, using his characteristic recitatif style for the singers and his own idiosyncratic mood melodies for the musical score. Not necessarily to everyone’s taste. But Into The Woods offers a rare opportunity for Sondheim lovers and those who wonder what his style is like.
It should be said that this is not a light entertainment. Even though it combines the stories of many familiar fairytales, it is not the sweetness and light of the fairytales but rather the grim aspects of storytelling, tales of the dark side of human nature, at times truly grim fairytales.
The film begins, Sondheim-style, with many of the characters, seen in a variety of situations, combining with the recitation of what it is to go into the woods. This introduces the range of characters which include Cinderella, her stepmother and the ugly sisters, the town baker and his wife, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel in her tower, Jack and his mother, the ugly witch and Prince Charming and his friends. The song also offers the opportunity for audiences to identify, quite quickly, the cast with characters. We find Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch, Tammy Blanchard as her stepmother and the sisters, James Corden and Emily Blunt as the baker and his wife, the Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood, Mackenzie Mauzey as Rapunzel, Daniel Huttlestone and Tracy Ullman as Jack and his mother, Meryl Streep as the witch, Chris Klein as the Prince. A number of prominent British character actors have small cameos. They include stage actors like Simon Russell Beale, Annette Crosby, Joanna Riding, Frances de la Tour.
While all of them give striking performances, there is the exception with Chris Pine as the Prince, not particularly charming, not particularly persuasive, even though he is offering something of a sendup of charming princes. It is James Corden and Emily Blunt as the baker and his wife who offer the most humanity. And by way of postscript, Johnny Depp has a very brief appearance as a rather odd Wolf.
At the core is a curse by the witch on the baker and his wife, hoping for children, but the witch preventing pregnancy until she collects four items belonging to the fairytale characters, Jack’s white cow, Red’s Riding Hood, Rapunzel’s hair, Cinderella’s slipper. This provides occasion for strange adventures in the woods as well as a number of musical interludes.
One of the major complications is that the baker pays for Jack’s cow with some beans which are carelessly tossed away leading to the growth of the giant Beanstalk and the descent of the giants to earth, with the need to combat them and destroy them. Another complication is that of the witch who has abducted Rapunzel as a little girl and kept in a tower, pretending to be her mother, transformed after she obtains all her desired objects into a much more familiar Meryl Streep.
This is not a story of happy endings, especially for the baker and his wife, which takes some time for an emotional adjustment. For those in the know, they will have a lavish Sondheim experience. For those not in the know, there may be more pleasure in reflecting on what they have seen than in the experience while they watched the film.
KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON
US, 2014, 84 minutes, Colour.
Clark Terry, Justin Kauflin, Quincy Jones, Gwen Terry.
Directed by Alan Hicks.
There are many films which are called “feel good”. With this film, the audience feels good, but feels even better.
Jazz aficionados will know the name Clark Terry. Those not into jazz may not have heard of him, but he is considered one of the best jazz artists of the 20th century, a trumpeter par excellence. This is his story.
The film was co-written and directed by Australian, Alan Hicks, a drummer who attended the William Paterson University for Music/Jazz Studies and was tutored by Clark Terry. However, Hicks is very self-effacing and does not appear in the film at all, no mention of his musical background. Rather, he wants to concentrate on Terry but also introduces another student at the William Paterson University, Justin Kauflin. This makes for an interesting and entertaining interaction, the elderly musician as teacher and the young piano player as student, relating to Clark Terry not only as mentor but as friend.
During the filming, Clark Terry turned 90, 91 and 92. He was still living at the time of the film’s release. We see him more immediately in past action before the film goes to the biographical aspects. At once, we realise that he is a very genial man and who is supported by his wife, Gwen, not only for their long marriage but, especially, as his health fails. He has been a long-time diabetic, now experiencing trouble with his eyes and, eventually, the need for amputating both legs. (As with the film about Roger Ebert, the Chicago critic, Life Itself, which showed Ebert in his years dealing with cancer in his chin and face, not afraid to appear on screen in the debilitated state, so this film shows Terry, often in hospital, in treatment, and at home.
It should be noted the Justin Kauflin suffered from a rare eye disease when he was born, losing his sight as a child, but optimistic, especially when he discovered that he had a talent and an urge to play the piano, fine long fingers enabling him to play with dexterity. He met Terry when he was a student in 2007 and they became friends, Justin often visiting him, having classes and jam sessions together, Terry encouraging Justin to practice and enter competitions. just comes across as a fine young man, in the scenes at home with his mother, with Terry and Gwen, in performance.
Clark Terry had a very interesting career, playing with the Duke Ellington band for 10 years, then joining Count Basie, then being one of the first African Americans to play for a television studio orchestra. A young man who was in awe of Terry approached him and Terry became his mentor as well. This was Quincy Jones. Terry then played for Quincy Jones in his band and they became lifelong friends. In the film (and Quincy Jones became a producer of the film) he is seen visiting Terry when Justin is present, sees him playing the piano and, ultimately, invites him to join him on a world tour and offer him a contract. Justin wrote a great deal of the music for this film.
With so much archival material presented, the audience has a very good impression of Terry’s life and career, his performance and skill. Audiences will enjoy his manner of teaching, lying ill in bed, riffing on themes, advising students, and all the time enjoying things thoroughly, with his idiosyncratic vocabulary which means that practically everyone is referred to as, baby.
The film is an excellent musical documentary – but, it is far more, really showing the nature of a vocation to music, a vocation to teaching, the effect of human interaction between teachers and students.
UK, 2014, 150 minutes, Colour.
Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Karl Johnson, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Niall Buggy, James Fleet.
Directed by Mike Leigh.
It is not only asked lovers who know something of the paintings by J.M.W.Turner, paintings which he bequeathed to the nation as his heritage. We may remember seascapes, the Fighting Temeraire. What do most of us know about the artist himself, Billy Turner, who flourished in the first part of the 19th century?
This is a portrait of Turner as an artist, a cinema sketch of him as a man, offering an experience of him at work, getting to know something of his character, not always genial.
Years ago, cinemagoers might have been surprised to find that Mike Leigh was directing this film. However, after his great success in 1989 in bringing Gilbert and Sullivan to live in Topsy- Turvy, we know that Turner is in good hands and that this will be an exemplary experience of Britain in the 19th century as well appreciating the skills which Mike Leigh uses in bringing characters to intense life, their interactions, their conflicts, their gifts, their foibles.
And those who know Mike Leigh’s work will appreciate the contribution of actor, Timothy Spall, to so many of them, especially Secrets and Lies, All or Nothing. Spall, who spent some years practising painting in preparation for his performance, won the Best Actor Award in Cannes 2014.
We first see Turner in Holland, walking along canals, finding scenes to paint. We realise at once that what Leigh is doing is providing scenery and locations which Turner painted but also getting his cinematographer to recreate the colours, the light and shade, the clarity and the mistiness which characterise Turner’s paintings. This continues throughout the film, especially with scenes on the English Channel coast around Margate, the sea, the storms, the sand, the beaches. At one stage Turner ties himself to the mast of a ship sailing through an icy storm to live the experience.
And there is Turner, a middle-aged, pudgy character, with very little charm, but with good manners and a beautiful 19th-century English vocabulary and turn of phrase – for instance, he mentions he has something to cogitate on. One of his specialties is his capacity to grunt and growl. This is very noticeable in a discussion on art with a pretentious John Ruskin.
On the personal level, he is something of a recluse. He has fathered two daughters by the aunt of his maid, spurns them on their visits. And, regarding the maid, he treats her as a very menial servant and is not above using her as sex relief. It is when he goes to Margate and encounters a couple, especially an old man who had been a ship slaver, then is attracted to the widowed wife who supports him in a de factor relationship for many years, looking after his needs, referring to his pretty little pictures, looking after him in his illnesses and, especially, at his death. In his relationship with her, we see Turner at his personal best.
On the professional level, there is an interesting sequence at the National Gallery when he brings his paintings, as do all the other artists, to see where they will be hung for exhibition, in the main hall, or in the outer. He is placed next to Constable whom he does not admire. There is a painter, Haydon, who is rejected and who depends on Turner for some financial support. Not everybody appreciated Turner’s work, two ladies at an exhibition mocking him with their comments – and a theatrical scene from a play where Turner and his style are being sent up, not to Turner’s pleasure.
The fine cast includes Paul Jeeson as Turner’s father, a former barber who, in his retirement, buys the paints for his son, is loud in his praise and to whom his son is devoted, especially in a sad death scene. Dorothy Hutchison is his maid, Marion Bailey is the widow, Ruth Sheen is the mother of his daughters and Lesley Manville is a sympathetic visitor with an interest in science.
The film runs for 2 ½ hours so there is plenty of time for us to observe Leigh’s portrait, appreciate Spall’s performance, and realise what an artistic genius Turner was with paintings that blend the classic with the modern and still draw our attention and admiration.
THE MYSTERY OF HAPPINESS/ EL MISTERIO DE LA FELICIDAD
Argentina, 2014, 92 minutes, Colour.
Guillermo Francella, Fabian Arenillas, Inez Estevez.
Directed by Daniel Burman.
The Mystery of Happiness is yet another quite insightful, slightly bizarre, comedy-drama from Argentinian director, Daniel Burman.
For those would like to solve the mystery of happiness, unfortunately, there is no ultimate explanation. Rather, questions are raised and suggestions indicated. Because this is a story and not a philosophical exposé, identifying with the characters and their searches, their discoveries and their resolutions will have to suffice.
The opening credits are very quirky. We see two middle-aged men, obviously close friends, doing everything parallel with each other, including their driving, their parking, coming into the office, there are adjacent offices, the window between them… This will be very important as one of them, Santiago, is completely satisfied, really relishes this way of life, the shop they mutually own, the supplying of household goods, the exhilaration of a business that is going well. On the other hand, Eduardo seems to be committed to everything and to Santiago, their eating together, their going to the races together…, the complete ease of being in each other’s company.
However, there is an offer on the table and some young businessman visit the office to make a proposal. Santiago definitely does not want to sell. But Eduardo is not so sure. When he goes home and has a meal with his wife, the incessantly chattering Laura, he realises that she is very much for the sale and what it might mean for them.
Then Eduardo disappears. Santiago is flabbergasted and emotionally upset, never imagining such an event. Laura is also affected and comes in to discuss things with Santiago and a visit to the police to report Eduardo is missing. She find she has a new life in the office and talent for examining books and accounts. What happens is that they talk a great deal, sharing memories of Eduardo, Santiago coming to some kind of terms with his friend’s disappearance and Laura mellowing. They are advised to consult a former policeman who runs an exotic restaurant, something of a seer, who asks questions, suggests clues, opens their eyes to themselves and the nature of their search.
By this time, we ourselves are wondering where Eduardo is – and whether he has just simply given up on his old way of life, its routines, its lack of fulfilment, and has gone off on his own. This means that we share the experience of the search by Santiago and Laura.
There is some kind of solution which we can understand and which Santiago understands – but that is for the audience to see and to reflect on. It is fitting for this film that the review should end with a question. Is happiness a way of life, is it found in success and routine, succumbing to people’s expectations and the consequent expectation on imposes on oneself or is it…?
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: THE SECRET OF THE TOMB
US, 2014, 98 minutes, Colour.
Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Dan Stevens, Rebel Wilson, Skyler Gisondo, Remi Malek, Patrick Gallagher, Mizuo Peck, Ben Kingsley, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Andrea Martin, Brad Garrett.
Directed by Shawn Levy.
They’re back! Who’s back? Zombies, vampires, aliens…? No, all those characters and creatures who come to life at nightfall in the New York Museum which we have visited twice before. This third film is intended as the finale, gathering together all the characters and themes.
In 2006, this was all a great novelty, and a lively entertainment. In 2009, there was a visit to Washington DC and the Smithsonian Museum. So, where to go for this encore? There has always been the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain, so why not go off to the British Museum?
There is a prologue to the film, an expedition to Egypt in 1938, a team discovery of a tomb and the transferring of the treasures back to the United States. However…, the locals repeat a warning that this could be the end. Back to 2014, the special gold plaque that was found in 1938 is beginning to corrode, the museum creatures and characters losing their power. The young son of the Pharaoh indicates that the secret lies with his father – who is preserved with his wife in the British Museum.
Getting permission from the manager, Ricky Gervais, is not easy since all the characters and creatures put on a special display for sponsors of the museum – the guests assuming that they were watching special effects whereas they were looking at the real thing, the real things. Needless to say, catastrophe ensued, the manager losing his job. But, he is persuaded to let Larry, our friendly security guard (Ben Stiller) to go to London. He takes some of the exhibits with the cowboy and the Roman Centurion (Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan) hiding in the rim of Attila’s hat!
They have all the documents to get into the British Museum, but the security guard, comedian Rebel Wilson at her chubby and cheerful best, make some difficulties – although she does fall in love with Laa, the caveman (also played by Ben Stiller to prove that he can do more than serious comic roles!). While it is a matter of finding the Pharaoh, Pharaoh (Ben Kingsley) stands on his imperial dignity. But Larry proves his worth, the secret is revealed – it needs direct moonlight to be renewed.
But, we are only halfway through the film. What else could happen? The answer is, Sir Lancelot.
He is played with tongue-in-cheek pomposity by Dan Stevens. The trouble is that Lancelot does not know much of the early history or the later history and finds contemporary English/American somewhat difficult to understand. He sees the plaque as the Holy Grail, wants to return to Camelot and claim Guinevere and confront King Arthur. By coincidence, Camelot is playing at the London Palladium, so off he rides, finding Arthur and Guinevere singing on stage, and confronts them. The Palladium audience is rather taken aback and then enters into the spirit of things, especially with Hugh Jackman and Alice Eve as Arthur and Guinevere. When he explains that he is an actor and his name is Hugh Jackman, Lancelot thinks it a silly name, Huge Ackerman. As regards other guest appearances, Larry has visited the old security guards in their nursing home for the elderly, Dick Van Dyke, doing a sprightly dance at 89, Mickey Rooney in a wheelchair, his last film appearance, and Bill Cobbs.
There are all kinds of crises, chases, deadlines before dawn, the exhibits, especially Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt (his vigorous performance making us regret his death even more), the cheeky monkey, Dexter, and various dinosaurs and bony creatures.
And, with the son of the Pharaoh deciding to stay with his father and mother, everybody hastens back to New York – but, instead of the sad farewell, there are a few cheerily raucous moments to say farewell to nights at the Museum.
US, 2013, 108 minutes, Colour.
Glen Powell, Bill Paxton, Luke Perry, Joelle Carter, Frances Fisher, Briand Johnson.
Directed by Will Wallace.
Red Wing is definitely a story for American audiences, especially those in America’s South and South West. It has a Texas setting. However, it should please audiences beyond the United States who come across it and watch it.
In one sense, the plot and the treatment resemble many of the recent American films which have religious background backing. This film is more secular in tone but highlights American values, integrity, love and fidelity.
The film is adapted from a French story, Francois le Champi/ The Country Waif, by Georges Sand. This is rather unusual for an American film, borrowing from the French.
Francis is a young orphan, looked after by an African-American? woman who fosters him, living in a trailer adjacent to a farm. The people at the farm are the Branton family, Breann Johnson as Maddie, wife and mother, Carl, her farmer husband, their son Johnny and Carl’s mother who lives with them. Carl is played by Luke Perry and his mother is played by Frances Fisher.
When Francis comes over the fence, Carl’s mother takes an immediate dislike, warning him off, advising his foster-mother to move on. However, Maddie has taken a great liking to Francis, inviting him over, advising his foster mother to ignore the threats from Carl’s mother. When the mother dies, Maddie persuades Carl to take him on for work on the farm. Carl is severe towards Francis but he works hard and has a happy life.
When he turns 18, there is an echo of the Joseph story from the book of Genesis, Vera (Joelle Carter), Carl’s girlfriend, propositions Francis, and when he refuses she denounces him, accusing him of an affair with Maddie.
The honourable Francis decides to move on, goes on the road, gets a good job at another farm, run by Bill Paxton, attracts the daughter of the farmer – but, when news comes of a car accident and Carl’s death, Francis decides to return to help. The rumours resurface and he returns to his new job, only to be persuaded by the young woman that he should return home and resolve all his problems.
Generally familiar material, except for the theme of the younger man and his love for the older woman, people’s reactions – but, after the marriage, as the adult Johnny’s voice-over says, people tend to forget and to accept reality.
US, 2014, 102 minutes, Colour.
Bill Murray, Melissa Mc Carthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O' Dowd, Terrence Howard, Jaeden Lieberher, Kimberly Quinn, Donna Mitchell, Ann Dowd, Scott Adsit.
Directed by Theodore Melfi.
Do you have a working definition of a saint? Do you have an opinion of what holiness comprises?
These are fair enough questions to put before the audience because Brother Geraghty, at St Patrick’s School in Brooklyn, asks these same questions of his young students as he conducts a course on saints, contemporary saints. Of course, they come up with Mother Teresa as many audiences would. But, are there some unlikely saints? With a title like St Vincent, this film will probably put forward a case.
Especially when Vincent is played by Bill Murray, who in the past has been scrooged, lost in Tokyo and in translation, and can do a very good eccentrically misanthropic curmudgeon. Which he does here. This is Bill Murray and his best, completely inhabiting an oddball character, interacting with others with seemingly little regard for their opinions and feelings. The first thing we see as him drinking and driving home drunk, backing into his house and smashing his picket fence. No worries, he goes inside his messy house, drinking and watching television. Such is his life.
It changes the next morning when a delivery van backs into his fence and knocks down a branch from his tree, never confessing that he had already broken the fence and, throughout the film, getting it mended and paid for by others! The delivery van is for Maggie (Melissa Mc Carthy in a rather enjoyably toned-down performance from her usual) and Oliver (a very welcome child actor, Jaeden Lieberher), a polite and sensible young man, aged 11, who, we know, will have a transforming influence on Vin (but don’t get your hopes too high).
Maggie, of course, has separated from her philandering husband, is wary about court proceedings for custody, is busy with her job at the hospital, and find she has to leave Oliver in Vin’s care (not without financial cost to herself).
Oliver is slight and is bullied at school but, fortunately, although none of us and the characters approve of fighting, Vin has been a boxer and trains Oliver with his punching bag to do a fierce upper cut. And that is not the only influence Viin has on Oliver, taking him to the races where his threatening bookie (Terrence Howard) is after repayment, taking him to a bar to meet his friends, but Oliver drinking only cola. Then there is Vin’s friend, who, Vin explains to Oliver, is a “lady of the night”. Daka is played by Naomi Watts, Russian-accented and all, a good friend to Vin, cleans up his house, is pregnant and helped by Vin with insurance coverage as well as buying a pram. Oliver takes much of this for granted, as well as a visit to a residence for the elderly where Vin’s wife rather cheerfully lives with dementia, Ben visiting her and pretending to be her doctor.
This means that there is quite a lot of plot, especially with Vin’s later hospitalisation and therapy, with everybody pitching in. And the custody court case where Maggie realises that she does not know a lot of what has been going on.
In the meantime, Brother Geraghty (and exuberantly Irish Chris O’ Dowd) has been a good support, helps the students through an understanding of what goodness in contemporary society could mean, and gets them to do a project on a Saint they have experienced, possibly a parent. So it’s not spoiling the plot when we realise that Oliver researches Vin, finds out a great deal about his life which surprises us, and then presents his project to the school, family and friends.
So, by the end of the film, audiences will be measuring Vin and his alleged sanctity against people they know – and, as from the Gospels and Jesus’ friendship with and compassion for those on society’s edge, we can acknowledge that it is not quite inappropriate to call Oliver’s friend and mentor, St Vincent.
THE WATER DIVINER
Australia, 2014, 111 minutes, Colour.
Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmas Erdogan, Dylan Georgiades, Dan Wylie, Robert Mammone, Isabel Lucas, Daniel Herriman.
Directed by Russell Crowe.
A fine film and well worth seeing, especially for Australian audiences. Released in the first few months of the centenary of World War I, and anticipating the centenary of Gallipoli, this is a film which will find a ready audience, middle-aged and older. It is also an effective film for younger audiences who are in the process of learning about Australia’s ANZAC past.
It is a tribute to Russell Crowe that he has made such a stylish film, with Andrew Lesnie’s beautiful cinematography, both in Turkey and in Australia, and an intelligent screenplay with the combined authorship of Andrew Knights and Andrew Anastasios. It is well edited, especially with effective insertions of flashbacks. The performances are all creditable.
The film sets a tone by starting in Turkey, at Gallipoli in 1915, at the end of the months when Australians were entrenched at the bottom of the hill with the Turks above them. We are introduced to the Turks before we are introduced to the Australians, with the reminder that while 10,000 Australians died in the campaign, 70,000 Turks were killed. A strong officer (Yilmaz Erdogan) is making decisions about an attack, sending a young recruit back to find his binoculars so that he is not present with the gunfire. When the Turks attack, they find the trenches empty, booby-trapped. The Turks consider it a retreat, the Australians a withdrawal.
It is only then that we go to north-western Victoria where we see Joshua Connor, Russell Crowe in a fine and dignified performance, doing his water divining, his sticks poised ready to follow their direction for water. It is 1919. Joshua and his wife (Jacqueline McKenzie) are living the grief of the death of their three sons who all volunteered to fight together. They are reported to have died together.
Joshua’s wife is in depression, wanting him to read the Arabian Nights to the empty beds of their sons, blaming her husband for their going to war. She drowns herself in the dam. This leads to a discussion with the local Irish parish priest who is severe in his pastoral attitude, applying the letter of the law to the burial of the suicide. When Joshua persuades him that it was an accident (or that he can assuage his conscience with that explanation), he suggests that Joshua donate his van to the parish – a reminder of mercenary attitudes mixed with severity.
Joshua decides to travel to Turkey to find his sons’ graves. British officials forbide any travel to the peninsula but there is an Australian group there trying to identify the bodies and bury the soldiers respectfully. The group is headed by Lt- Colonel Cyril Hughes (Jai Courtney) who has welcomed the Turkish officer whom we saw at the beginning, along with his sergeant, to collaborate with the identification of the dead soldiers, Australian and Turkish.
In the meantime, a young boy at the wharf has led Joshua a lengthy chase through the busy markets and streets, to a hotel in Constantinople where the manager is the widow of a Turkish soldier, although she will not admit that he has died. She is hostile but her brother-in-law, who wants to marry her and adopt her son, welcomes Joshua. Joshua returns to the hotel several times, the young woman gradually mellowing, helping him, and the son enjoying Joshua’s being a kind of father-figure. Ayshe is played by Olga Kurylenko and the little boy, is a most engaging Dylan Georgiades. Steve Bastoni is the brother-in-law.
Audiences will be very moved by the sequences at Gallipoli, Joshua initially refused access then setting up camp on the beach after his arrival in a fishing boat, the Australian official and the Turkish soldier both helping him, with his date from his son’s diary and his map of Lone Pine and the action. Joshua is angry with the Turkish officer then comes to an awareness that both sides acted in the same way, especially as we see the close-up flashbacks of the cruel hand-to hand combat in the trenches. We are also shown the flashback of the three sons, two going to the rescue of the other, lying wounded on the battlefield.
The screenplay opens up another possibility for Joshua who has been ordered to leave by the British commander. He encounters the Turks who are gathering in a national resistance to the invading Greeks. Joshua joins the Turks on a train, which is attacked by the Greeks and the officers lined-up for execution – then, with some derring-do, they escape into a neighbouring village where there are discoveries to be made and an emotionally-wrenching experience for Joshua.
Russell Crowe has offered the Australian audience an opportunity to see the Turkish countryside, Constantinople, the clash between Turks Greeks, the effect of the war on the Turks and the consequences – even as his character is sometimes unwittingly insensitive towards Turkish customs, the place of women, honour codes among the men and, especially, with a breakfast episode and the Australian reacting to the Turkish food.
The past as 100 years ago and so many events have happened, including World War II, the current history of Turkey, interested in joining the European Union, neighbour to Syria during its bitter civil war, close to Iraq and Lebanon. This is the time to look back to the war, not only its heroism and self-sacrifice but also raising questions as regards the nature of war, motivations for war and the many futilities of war.