SIGNIS REVIEWS JANUARY 2017
EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
LA LA LAND
OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY
RED DOG, TRUE BLUE
UP FOR LOVE
UK, 2016, 115 minutes, Colour.
Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael Kenneth Williams, Essie Davis.
Directed by Justin Kurzel.
Assassins Creed is based on a computer game and is intended for the players, especially those who are fans of the game and assure us that the details of the games have been incorporated into the screenplay. But what about those of us who are not game players are not familiar with Assassins Creed? It means that this has to be something of a spectacle action show with plenty of special effects and computer graphics, especially for sequences which are set in Spain in the 15th century.
There is some information on screen as the film begins, a reminder of the role (not necessarily historical but in the mythologies of novels and the movies) of the Knights Templar, their position in the church, their influence on monarchies. There is also information about the lineage of secret Assassins. But, to the surprise of those who know a bit about the Bible and the Genesis stories, there is information about the Eden Apple, not only the cause of the fall of Adam and Eve but, somehow or other, the reality of human free will is contained in this Apple. Not a surprise that everybody is after it, wanting its power – and this continues into the 21st century.
And that is where the film opens in the 15th century, the Court of Ferdinand and Isabella, clashes between Muslims and Christians, the role of the Prince of Granada, and a tradition of secret and well-trained assassins. During the film there are several flashbacks to action in Spain, protection of the Prince, challenges from royalty, the flashy action of the assassins, arrests, almost-executions, escapes… And even Christopher Columbus.
There is a sudden leap to 1986, a little boy in Mexico riding his bike, trying some dangerous feats, arriving home to find his mother dying, and his father dressed as an assassin with a knife, the authorities coming to get him and his advising his son to flee. In this way we are introduced to the character of the young Callum Lynch.
And then we are in the 21st century, 30 years later, with Callum actually about to be executed by lethal injection for murdering a pimp, so we are told. However, he is extricated from the jaws of death and set up in the experimental rooms of a huge company, investigating technology, medication, the role of memories. The person in charge is Jeremy Irons (who, as one reviewer wisely put, is very Jeremy Irons-ish). On hand is his daughter, Sifue (Marion Cotillard) who has dedicated herself to science, working with memories.
So, this is where Callum Lynch, played very seriously by Michael Fassbender, begins to get used to his post-almost-execution life, meeting various other subjects of experiments, meeting the rejects who now have very little life of their own. He agrees to go into the experimental program, the Animus, a virtual reality experience, where he goes back into the past, identifying with his assassin ancestor and his exploits, reawaken his own assassin genes, and discovering the Apple, involved in its rescue.
The Templars of the 21st century, meeting at their Temple in London, are very happy to have the Apple, and Jeremy Irons about to make a speech, but… Callum Lynch raises the question with his daughter whether her father really wanted the Apple or he just wanted to get rid of the assassins. We realise he wasn’t 100% supported by the Templars in this quest for the Apple, especially when we meet the woman in charge played by a haughty Charlotte Rampling.
And so, that is Assassins Creed unless you are a game player – and unless they decide on Assassins Creed 2.
US, 2016, 97 minutes, Colour.
Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Keira Knightly, Helen Mirren, Jacob Lattimore, Noemie Harris, Ann Dowd.
Directed by David Frankel.
This is a drama of worthy themes, even high-minded themes. This is manifest in the title, particularly high-minded, the focus on beauty. Several times throughout the film there is an explanation of the title: that with suffering and tragedy, something good can emerge, a collateral to the suffering in the experience of a new beauty.
In many ways this is a small drama, a focus on a man who runs an agency, full of enthusiasm, giving pep talks, explaining the significance in marketing and in life with the focus on Love, Time, Death. He is played by Will Smith, initially enthusiastic and inspiring, then, after three years, suffering a deep personal tragedy, the death of his six-year-old daughter from a rare disease, his inability to cope, the repercussions for his wife, divorce.
For the rest of the film, we have a rather morose Howard, sitting alone at home, setting up most elaborate domino patterns in the office and then collapsing them, not communicating with his friends, with the staff, the business going downhill with the need for a sale, he sitting at home, writing letters to Time, to Love, to Death, going out to post them.
His three enthusiastic partners at the agency, Edward Norton as Whit, Kate Winslet as Claire, Michael Peña as Simon, are becoming more and more desperate.
When Amy, Keira Knightly, comes for an audition to the agency and startles Whit with her rearranging of a slogan, he follows her to a theatre where she is in rehearsal, directed by Brigitte, Helen Mirren.
The drama that follows is a challenge to plausibility and the film moves into the realm of special messages, possibly angels, the tradition of It’s a Wonderful Life. In this way, Collateral Beauty is reminiscent of a 2014 New York drama, which includes time travel, also plausibility-challenging, A Winter’s Tail (with Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell). While both films are worthy in theme, other words that will come to mind are fey and twee.
Howard is challenged in a particular way, involving a video and a private detective, Ann Dowd, and Howard encountering representatives of Love, Time, Death in the form of knightly, Mirren and the young Jacob Lattimore.
Also in the picture is Madeline, who oversees a group for parents bereft because of the death of a child. Howard attends, begins to relate very well to Madeline – and you might guess the ending in this regard.
For a small film, the car seems to be over-qualified. The themes are attractive but the whole experience is rather ephemeral – and there is a need for a warning for audiences who automatically baulk at sentiment.
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
US, 2016, 104 minutes, Colour.
Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Woody Harrelson, Hayden Szeto, Alexander Calvert, Eric Keenleyside.
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig.
There is an edge in using the word “edge” in the title of this film. Nadine, the central character, is approaching 17 with all the problems of adolescence, self-image, self-deprecation, touches of narcissism, experiences of depression, sexual talk and inexperience and the potential for shock. But this also indicates the meaning of “edge” in Nadine’s character and how she lives her life – she says she looks out from above on herself and does not like what she sees and realises that she will have to spend the rest of her life with herself. And, she over-dramatises with suicide notes.
One of the difficulties in responding to the film is that it has quite a lot of comic touches, even satiric touches in its portrayal of Nadine’s character. On the other hand, the film really serves as a case study, and that makes it very serious in its implications.
Haille Steinfeld is Nadine.She bursts into her teacher’s office threatening suicide and then starts to tell the story, in flashbacks, of how she arrived at this desperate stage. As a seven-year-old little girl she is bullied at school and continues to compare herself with her always-confident and successful older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). Fortunately, another little girl befriends her through a caterpillar and they become strong friends for the next 10 years. There are glimpses of the girls at 13 – everything much the same.
While Darian continues to be a success in life, their mother, Kyra Sedgwick, spends a lot of her energy in being frantic, finding it very difficult to cope with the problematic Nadine. On the other hand, Nadine relates very well with her kindly father but he suffers a turn and dies.
By 17, Nadine is able to confide only in Christa (Haley Lu Richardson) who finds herself attracted to Darian – extreme crisis, Nadine thinking only of herself, demanding an either/or decision from Christa and then indulging in sulking and surliness. There are more scenes with her mother who still finds it difficult to manage her daughter, comparisons with her brother and the disdain for Christa.
The main port of call is the teacher who is given the best lines in the film, sardonically funny yet sardonically wise in his ability to deal with this problematic girl. He is played by Woody Harrelson at his best.
Nadine certainly makes some stupid decisions, underestimating the nice student who sits next to her in class but he proves to be something of her salvation. She feels attracted to a hunky student, almost propositions him at his workplace and then sends him at outlandish text. Following it up almost proves her undoing though, rather ignorant, she gets out of the situation, finding herself desperate.
It is a surprise to find some bloggers referring to Nadine as “endearing”. Nadine is hardly endearing and one is tempted to give up on her so self-preoccupied is she, but there is always the sympathy for mental health and depression.
Thank goodness, the ending is not without hope!
LA LA LAND
US, 2016, 124 minutes, Colour.
Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J. K. Simmons, John Legend, Rosemarie de Witt.
Directed by Damien Chazelle.
LA LA is Los Angeles twice! There is the city itself of which we see a great deal, as well as Hollywood, a real place as well as a Lala fantasy place.
This film has found itself on many a top 10 list for 2016, American seeming to fall in love with it. And it invites its audience to fall in love – although, perhaps a sensible warning would be to alert those who are not enthralled by musicals that they might not fall in love. It is definitely a musical, a memory of those Hollywood musicals of the past and, indeed, something of a homage to them.
You know where you sit in the cinema when the film opens with an old Cinemascope sign, freeways clogged with cars, and then one of the passengers getting out, starting to sing, followed by drivers and occupants (all young and engaging) joining in the song, joining in the dance, expertly choreographed all over the cars!
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) becomes impatient when the driver of the car in front, Mia (Emma Stone) is too busy checking lines for her audition to move – he overtakes her and there is a mutual disregard. And this is compounded when they encounter each other in the Hollywood lot, bump into each other and Mia is covered in coffee. By chance, Mia goes to a club where Sebastian, Seb, is playing (he is a jazz lover but the manager of the restaurant wants only Christmas songs and when said improvises, he is fired), bumping roughly into Mia who wants to congratulate him.
Not the most propitious encounters for a film where you know they are going to fall in love, where they have song and dance routines in the Los Angeles streets at night, where they go to Griffith Observatory and more singing and dancing – even to special effects so that they can dance in the stars. The main song, City of Stars, has rather a lilting melody which recurs throughout the film.
The film is divided into five sections, starting in winter and going through the seasons until it is winter again.
And so, we follow Seb, his love for jazz, his composing and playing, his memories of having been betrayed by a friend, wanting to open his own club, getting the opportunity to join a band and go on tour, meanwhile getting to know Mia a better and falling in love. And we follow Mia, lots of auditions which are brief and she is dismissed, her dream that she would write a play, her writing it, rehearsing, performing, and falling in love.
It would be nice to say that everything goes smoothly – there are upsets, personal, career clashes…
What makes it a bit different from the old musical is that it gives the opportunity for audiences to look at the different events from different points of view, from tough developments and from the “typical” Hollywood ending.
The film was written and directed by Damien Chazelle who made such an impact with his music film, Whiplash (for which J. K. Simmons won his Oscar and who has been invited back by show cell to play the manager of the restaurant). So, the musical is not dead.
Australia, 2015, 120 minutes, Colour.
Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar.
Directed by Garth Davies.
The title causes a question mark right throughout the film. The title of the book on which the film is based is called A Long Journey Home. And we see no lions either in India or in Tasmania! It is only in the last minute that the meaning of the title is revealed – and is symbolically satisfying.
The author of the book is Saroo Brierley, who remembers something of his childhood in India, especially his love for his older brother, the love for his mother, out in the fields (and a myriad butterflies), on top of a coal train filling bags with coal to exchange for milk at the market, life at home, and his persuading his brother (after showing him all the things, heavy things, that he could lift) to taking with him to his night work. He is told to wait at the station, dozes off, wakes in fear, goes on to a train and is carried over 1600 km from his home to the busyness of Calcutta.
The film is very moving as we share the plight of a little boy lost, not really comprehending what has happened or what is happening, wandering through crowds, offered a piece of cardboard to sleep on in a subway, going to a shrine, praying but eating the food left in offering. When he is found by a sympathetic woman and taken home and cared for, there is the dreaded realisation that the man she calls in for help is a pimp for paedophiles. Saroo runs away, is collected and put into a boys’ home, interrogated by the police – but, finally interviewed by a sympathetic official, he has been chosen for adoption in Australia, joining other little adoptees to learn a little English as well as table manners.
This first almost half of the film is well worth seeing. The performance by the little boy, Sunny Pawar, is just right.
As is the rest of the film, the little boy flying to Hobart, meeting his adoptive parents John and Sue Brierley, played sympathetically by David Wenham and Nicole Kidman. Saroo adapts to Australian life, though an adoptee brother finds it very difficult. And then 20 years have passed, Saroo (Dev Patel) truly Australian, going to study in Melbourne, encountering a young American student (Rooney Mara), and finding in discussions with their friends, especially Indian friends, a re-awakening of the story of his past, his longing for his mother and his brother.
As this becomes a preoccupation, then an obsession, he does not cope well – one of the most moving sequences in the film is, courtesy of a fine Nicole Kidman performance, where his mother is in something of an emotional collapse and she explains her life, her experience when young and her longing to help a child less fortunate than an Australian child and that her longing has been fulfilled in him.
Google Earth will be very pleased with the film because it provides an opportunity for him to further explore, to go back to India and, as Saroo says, and so the questions he has always had answered and the holes in his heart are filled.
The central characters all appear as themselves for the final credits – including a very moving sequence in India.
The film has been very well received – and pleasing that this is an Australian film.
OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY
US, 2016, 105 minutes, Colour.
Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J.Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Mc Kinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Rob Cordrry, Vanessa Bayer, Karan Soni, Abbey Lee.
Directed by Josh Gordon, Will Speck.
Just before the release of this film, Radio National’s Law Report featured a discussion about office Christmas parties, the behaviour at the parties, the drinking, possible drugtaking, the ever present possibilities for sexual harassment – and various participants ending up in the courts.
While there is this kind of behaviour apparent in the film, it is not quite the crass and raucous comedy that the trailer would lead audiences to believe. Yes, it is raucous and crass at times and no credit to a lot of the participants in this kind of let-things-go party. However, for those who want something a little more serious with the raucous, there is actually something of a plot and characters responding to the plot. Bloggers who just wanted the raucous and crass objected to the plot, finding it unfunny. For those who have been overwhelmed and, at the same time, underwhelmed, by films like Dirty Grandpa, Bad Neighbours and silly and sorted hijinks, the plot is needed.
The film is set just before Christmas, of course, and introduces us to a range of people who work in an IT company, the very serious Josh (Jason Bateman), just getting a divorce, trying to be supportive of the CEO, Clay, (T. J .Miller), with plenty of money, and a mixture of good sense and bad sense, attracted to Tracy (Olivia Munn) who is working on a breakthrough project.
Then Carol turns up, Clay’s martinet sister (Jennifer Aniston doing a severer audition piece for a new Horrible Bosses), no humour, more than a little jealous of her brother, wanting to be CEO of the whole company, threatening closure, cutbacks… She is momentarily tempted by the fact that they want to do a deal with an executive played by Courtney B. Vance. The solution: a Christmas party to end all parties, expensive, alcohol, and DJ…
Also in the picture is Mary, Kate Mc Kinnon, the Human Resources officer, more than than a little prim (on the surface) and Rob Cordrry, doing his familiar style, in no way prim.
What happens is a mixture of the earnest, trying to do a deal with the executive and a lot of things getting out of hand, getting more out of hand, getting most out of hand. and, of course, Carol’s flight is delayed by a snowstorm and she turns up disapprovingly.
One of the complications is that a nice young department chief boasts of having a girlfriend but actually phones for an escort, Savannah (Abbey Lee) who comes along with her pimp, Jillian Bell, who gives quite funny variation on this kind of character. By accident, the executive gets a face full of cocaine rather than snow from the snow machine and lets loose.
With the climax, Savannah taking Clay to her pimp’s club, the rest of the main cast in pursuit through the snowy streets of Chicago, building up to a confrontation with Jennifer Aniston showing some martial arts moves, and clay attempting to drive over one of those Chicago bridges as it opens.
Since this is a Christmas story, there are moments of disaster when the lights of Chicago and all Internet connection go out, and then the fairy tale with Tracy’s invention getting everybody back online, the future of the company saved, no jobs lost – but, on their return to the office, wastefully trashed, there is a big cleanup job in store…
What might have been just another of those Bad… Comedies, is somewhat better because of some plot and themes and professional performances.
US, 2016, 116 minutes, Colour.
Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia.
Directed by Morten Tyldum.
In recent years there have been quite a number of big-budget popular films about space. They include Oscar-nominated serious films like Gravity or The Martian, or the 2016 story of aliens and humans, Arrival.
In fact, a lot of this film will remind audiences of Gravity. However, it has many more ingredients besides the technology and the management of spacecraft. At heart, it is a romance. But it also has melodramatic aspects, dramatic aspects, and as with the other films poses a number of questions about how we would experience and react to crises in space.
There used to be cryogenics but now passengers to a distant planet can be put into hibernation for 120 years. And that is where this particular spacecraft is headed, into a future of 120 years in time on a planet which gives humans the possible ability for new starts and for creativity. As the film proceeds, we see that the vast spacecraft is state-of-the-art and, to say the least, huge and lavish, with 5000 hibernated passengers and over 200 crew.
As the film opens, there is a collision in space which will have all kinds of consequences. However, the immediate consequence is awakening one of the passengers, Jim Preston (and engaging Chris Pratt) an engineer from Colorado, your ordinary citizen but with intelligence and theoretical and practical know-how. For the first 30 minutes, Jim is by himself, managing, not managing, bemoaning his fate, letting beard and hair grow, and not even allowed the luxury of Gold Class passengers for breakfast or for coffee.
He is not quite alone, there is Arthur, your perfect British barman – but, of course, he is an android, but nicely so in the form of Michael Sheen.
Then, for reasons that viewers will have to see rather than being revealed here, Jennifer Lawrence is awake. She is from New York City and a writer, realising that she has a unique story in terms of the two of them being on a spacecraft wakened after only 30 years of the 120 year trip.
This is where the romance goes into high gear, happy sharing of life, love, and, of course, falling out.
So, where can it all go from here, just continuing on for the next almost 90 years?
There is another awakening, one of the crew, played by the venerable Laurence Fishburne, who helps the couple to explore what might have gone wrong and why so many other facets of the spacecraft are not operating properly.
This leads to the melodramatics and the dramatics with the valiant attempts to deal with the spacecraft and to get it back on track and repair the damage – and a bit of outside walking in space, reminders of 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as Gravity.
In this sense, Passengers is not exactly an original story but rather derives quite a number of elements from previous stories which are incorporated to make it not so much science-fiction as an occasion for audiences to enjoy a variation on the human condition – as well is asking some disturbing questions as to how we would react in similar circumstances, especially with living out one’s life on this comfortable but isolated spacecraft.
RED DOG, TRUE BLUE
Australia, 2016, 92 minutes, Colour.
Levi Miller, Bryan Brown, Jason Isaacs, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Thomas Cocquerel, Justine Clarke, Steve Le Marquand.
Directed by Kriv Stenders.
After the immediate success and popularity of the initial Red Dog, it was, perhaps, inevitable that that would be a sequel. In fact, story -wise, it is a prequel.
Somebody asked whether this film was as cute as the original, cute in a good sense, pleasing, attractive, engaging. Well, it is.
The director is again Kriv Stenders who was able to bring the first dog story to life, a story of Western Australia and the Pilbara, a mixture of fact, reminiscence and legend.
So, how to create a credible prequel? One of the bright ideas is to show a busy father in Perth expected to take his son out to a movie – and they go to see Red Dog. The son would love to have a dog but his father is adamant – although, his son sees his father’s eyes moistening as he watches the film. When they go home, the father reveals that red dog was actually his. And so, the bulk of the film is a flashback to his childhood, returning to the father and his storytelling every so often, and audiences then understanding why it was at the beginning of the original film that Red Dog was wandering North.
The story of the young lad, Mick, has everything going for it. Young boys (and girls) can identify with him and his experience of finding the dog, covered in dirt and so called Blue but, when washed, he is red. The boy has to move up to a farm in the Pilbara because of his mother being hospitalised. He goes to live with his mother’s father, a fairly straight up and down man, especially so as he is played by Bryan Brown, an actor who can deliver any line in a very Australian way without it sounding like script. He is one of the most natural of our Australian actors and has some good opportunities here, sometimes being crusty and authoritative, sometimes being softer-hearted.
And, with the film set around 1970, who is one of Grandpa’s great friends who visits the house, shares a meal, and plays banjo with Grandpa – a friend who predicts that the future of the Pilbara will be in iron, none other than Laing Hancock (played by John Jarratt).
Mick and Blue range around the property, even discovering a cave with aboriginal paintings and a special stone which one of the hands on the property explains should not be taken because it is sacred. Later, Mick, jealous of one of the workers because of his attraction to his tutor, the young woman, Betty (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), takes the stone and interprets all the havoc that ensues, storms, bushfires threatening the property, as a consequence of his actions.
As well as the reminder of the mining of iron in the Pilbara, there are references to Saigon and the Vietnam war, the singing of songs of the period, a Chinese cook with an umbrella, quite a number of aboriginal characters (and the final credits pay tribute to aboriginal collaboration with the film), and two of the hands, Big John and Little John thought of as close brothers when they are not. These are points for the adult audience.
In the meantime, the younger audiences will be identifying with Mick and all his adventures, happy to be in the company of Blue, and, at the end, coming to realise how it was that Mick had to go back to his father and Blue went on the road to become Red Dog.
And, there is a new very younger generation who will want to see this film since the original was released. Good Australian storytelling.
STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE
US, 2016, 133 minutes, Colour.
Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelssohn, Guy Henry, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mickelson, Jimmy Smits, Genevieve O' Reilly, Ben Daniels. Voices of James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels. Computer mastered: Peter Cushing, Carrie Fisher.
Directed by Gareth Edwards.
Star Was has been powerful in the consciousness of audiences all around the world for almost 40 years – and, for those who have not seen it or the succeeding films, there is a general awareness of the mythology, the heroes and heroics, and, of course, The Force.
Rogue One is billed as a stand alone story – but not quite. Throughout the film there are quite a number of connections, especially with the first film, which is now the fourth chapter, A New Hope. Darth Vader appears in two scenes (and still with the voice of James Earl Jones). At the end, he appears with a laser sword. There is a glimpse of R2-D2? and 3CPIO. One of the extraordinary features of the film (though, perhaps, not necessary) is that an actor portrays Lord Tarkin from the earlier films, played by Peter Cushing, but has digitally imposed Peter Cushing and Peter Cushing’s voice on his performance. At the end, there is also a moment of a digitally-produced Princess Leia.
While there is a new score for the film, it does incorporate at different times, some of the original John Williams themes.
There are still battles in the galaxy, the film showing quite a number of planets with different terrains, planets and moons, deserts, dark forbidding battlement planets, strange moons, and a climax on the moon which has a very tropical, even Florida-look, palm trees and all – and the credits inform us that locations used were in Iceland, Jordan and, for the tropics, the Maldives.
The Empire is still dominating and there are rebels. With glimpses of the Emperor, the role of Lord Tarkin, the main representative of the Empire is Orson Krennick (Ben Mendelssohn). The Empire plans to build a Death Star for its continuing conquering ventures, engineered by Galen (Mads Mickelson) whose wife has been killed and his daughter disappeared.
It is now 15 years later, the daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones) who has been cared for by a most strange extreme rebel (Forest Whitaker), is now sprung from prison and has her opportunity to join the rebels, her contact being a very serious hero, Cassian (Diego Luna).
Once again, as in The Force Awakens, the action is led by a woman, this time Felicity Jones. and the president of the rebel Council is also a woman.
While Cassian and Jyn at the centre of adventures, especially to try to get the plans of the Death Star and transmit them to the rebels, there are also a number of spectacular battle in space scenes, the gung ho enthusiasm of the rebels attacking the Empire.
The film has been directed by Englishman Gareth Edwards who made an impact with his small-budget monster-thriller, Monsters, and was then invited to direct the re-boot of Godzilla.
And The Force? Seen in the action is a blind Jedi, Chirrut Imwe, played by Donnie Yen, who is committed to the cause and is also heroic, along with his associate, Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang),
The film has proven very popular – and is a satisfying Star Was experience until the release of Chapter 8.
US, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Matthew McConaughey?, Reese Witherspoon, Seth Mc Farlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C.Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Garth Jennings, Nick Offerman, Rhea Perlman, Laraine Newman, Peter Serafinowicz, Leslie Jones..
Directed by Garth Edwards.
Here is a cheerful show, something for the children with all the animals, something for the adults with the memories of “the show must go on” movies of the past.
The film was written and directed by Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow), who also voices the intriguing character of the secretary, Miss Crawley, very effectively and supplying other voices.
The setting is an American city, familiar to Americans and to moviegoers, a touch of San Francisco. However, it is populated by animals, no humans in sight, the animals going about their daily business, an enormous range of animals: baboons as criminals, rhinoceroses as police… This, in itself, is entertaining, a bright city, brightly coloured characters, everything sunny.
But not quite for the central character, Buster Moon, voiced with extreme energy by Matthew McConaughey?, and, of all things, a koala with no Australian explanation, obviously an expatriate who has absorbed American culture! He plays a failed entrepreneur, is trying to live up to his father’s reputation, the banks ready to take over his theatre, getting the brainwave to put on a singing competition – but Miss Crawley puts extra zeros inadvertently on the publicity, a prize of $100,000 – and crowds wanting to audition.
The selection that Moon makes is rather puzzling, their talent not immediately perceived by the audience. What is important is their performances, their self-confidence or lack of it, rehearsals, Moon encouraging them, their eventually succeeding – and, of course, despite the young elephant stomping around the stage and bringing the house down (literally), the final rock concert draws the crowds and is a huge success!
A great deal of the enjoyment is looking at the particular animals and listening to the star voices: Rosita, a pig with an extra large family, a talent for dancing, Reese Witherspoon; a mouse who is exceedingly vein, a gambler, but singing very well, Seth McFarlane?; a British baboon whose father is a robber forcing his son to be a getaway driver, with a talent for piano and singing, Taron Egerton; Gunter, a self-confident dancing pig, Nick Kroll; a hedgehog, teenage, who composes her own songs, Scarlett Johansson; Meena, an extraordinarily shy young elephant, Tori Kelly.
John C Reilly is a sheep, Moon’s best friend, and Jennifer Saunders is the former diva grandmother, a performance which, of course, is absolutely fabulous.
So, what’s not to enjoy!
UP FOR LOVE/ HOMME A LA HAUTEUR
France, 2016, 98 minutes, Colour.
Jean Dujardin, Virginie Efira, Cedric Kahn, Stephanie Papanian, Cesar Domboy, Emonde Franchi,Bruno Gomila
Directed by Laurent Tirard.
This English title is playful in regard to the central theme of the film and the French title, Homme a la Hauteur (A Man up to, equal to…). While it is a romantic comedy, it is comedy with a difference, often of lightness of touch but, more often, with serious undertones.
The central character is a dwarf.
He is Alexandre, played with a genial smile and charm, reminding audiences of his Oscar-winning performance in The Artist, by Jean Dujardin. The object of his romance is a rather tall woman, Diane, played by Virginie Efira. (She could pass as something of a double for American actress, Katherine Heigl, who could take on the role were there to be an American remake.)
On the romance side the film has a charm because of Alexandre’s personality, his acceptance of his height, a genial and friendly man who has learned to put up with jibes about his height or with being ignored (a scene where a man on his mobile phone walks into Alexandre and knocks him down without even noticing). Alexandre has been married but is in a good relationship with his ex-wife, has a son (very tall) whom he willingly and lovingly supports, and is an expert architect involved in a project extending the opera house in Liege.
Diane, on the other hand, is divorced from her philandering husband, Bruno (played by writer-director Cedric Kahn) but he is still her partner in a law office, assisted by their somewhat ditzy but ultimately wise secretary, Coralie. When she loses her mobile phone and is contacted by Alexandre who reveals that he has witnessed a restaurant clash between her and Bruno, Diane meets Alexandre to retrieve the phone and finds him instantly congenial – and then he dares her to do something different, in fact skydiving from a plane.
The film shows the growing friendship, then love between the two. While the height issue provides the basis for jokes, it also provides a basis for Diane to understand Alexandre better. But, he makes her realise that she has been ‘hiding’ him from her friends – which leads to his meeting her mother at an art gallery exhibition, having a meal with her mother and stepfather, and Coralie then finding out and telling Bruno. The screenplay makes a point about disabilities by having Diane’s stepfather deaf, finding it difficult during a meal to hear exactly what is being said and misinterpreting words – and later telling his rather intolerant wife that she lives with someone who is disabled but she is the one who is truly disabled.
There has to come a time when Diane has to acknowledge whether she is able to live with the reality of Alexandre’s height and its consequences, some very rueful moments in the film for her and for Alexandre himself.
And the screenplay poses the question, how will Diane actually persuade Alexandre that she truly loves him and means it – why not another skydive!
Alexandre and Diane are quite attractive characters and so are able to carry the initially seemingly unlikely romance, the comic episodes as well as the serious implications of the situation – which means that this romantic comedy becomes something of an engaging moral fable and lesson.
US, 2016, 111 minutes, Colour.
James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Zoe Deutch, Megan Mullaly, Griffin Gluck, Zach Pearlman, Cedric the Entertainer, Keegan- Michael Key, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley.
Directed by John Hamburg.
Many audiences have seen Meet the Fokkers and its sequels, so are familiar with that question from an ultra-serious father about the young man his beloved daughter has chosen to marry: Why Him? This film is very much in the same vein, although Brian Cranston, moving away from his successful television career in Breaking Bad, has chosen a variety of film roles including LBJ in All The Way, an undercover DEA Agent in The Infiltrator and now a touch of comedy in Why Him?
Yes, this is one of those raucous American comedies with touches of the crass and the crude. However, unlike so many of the others, this one has its heart in the right place so that underneath the crudity, or despite it, there is a lot that audiences can identify with.
It doesn’t exactly open that way with dad celebrating his 55th birthday and a Skype connection to his daughter, Stephanie (Zoe Deutch), away at college, wishing him well – only that her fiance arrives, oblivious of what is happening, slips off his trousers, leading to a very much in your face bottom sequence, to the shock of all. When the daughter invites her family out from Michigan to California to meet her fiance, dad is shocked - but is persuaded to go.
The prospective son-in-law is played in very good spirits by James Franco, rather ubiquitous on the screen in so many films in recent years. There is a very good line in the film which explains him – Stephanie says to her family that he, Laird, has no filter. Whatever he thinks and feels, he says, taking the extrovert philosophy: how do I know what I think until I’ve said it? And he has absorbed a four letter vocabulary and beyond which he blurts out, despite advice to the contrary, because in terms of his language, his feelings, his thoughts, he has no filter.
In fact, although he is in his 30s, he is really still a child. He was something of a child genius, especially in terms of technology, a whiz at maths, creative with computers, an expert in computer games. So, he is really a man-child. But, he is absolutely honest and direct, and is generous to a fault (and there are many of those because not only does he not have a filter, he has no sense of appropriate timing). He means absolutely well but does not achieve absolutely well.
So, it is a shock when dad and mum (Megan Mullaly perhaps not immediately recognisable outside the context of Will and Grace) and their 15-year-old son have quite an experience in California, the son immediately identifying with Laird (in too many ways).
Laird is absolutely determined to marry but wants his prospective father-in-law’s blessing. No matter how unlikely that seems at the beginning, we are sure that it will be granted at the end.
Another complication which gives the film a bit more substance is that like the other Christmas raucous comedy, Office Christmas Party, the background is decline in business in companies, possibilities for retrenching, even more possibilities for takeover – especially since the business in this case is the manufacture of paper in a growing paperless age period
Yes, there is some raucous comedy, especially a very long toilet sequence, a paperless toilet where the technology is not functioning and Laird’s surprising majordomo (Keegan Michael Key) has to try to fix it to dad’s embarrassment. What might seem a long interlude actually becomes a significant plot point by the end of the film!
So, a lot of comedy – even with the majordomo setting on Laird in all kinds of circumstances, very much like Cato and Inspector Clouseau which dad points out, though the two have never heard of the Pink Panther!
And, for a climax, Laird helicopters Stephanie back to Michigan to propose and to celebrate Christmas and, because the parents have had a great devotion to Kiss, what about Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, with all their Kiss make up, garish and threatening as it is, emerging from a helicopter and singing We Three Kings!
And, all goes well for the future, relationships, peace, and manufacturing prosperity.