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Film Reviews January 2018

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SIGNIS REVIEWS JANUARY 2018


ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
BREATHE
COCO
DARKEST HOUR
DISASTER ARTIST, The
DOWNSIZING
FERDINAND
FLORIDA PROJECT, The
GREATEST SHOWMAN, The
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
NUT JOB 2
PADDINGTON 2
PITCH PERFECT 3
SECRET SCRIPTURE, The
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
SWEET COUNTRY
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
WONDER WHEEL


ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

US, 2017, 132 minutes, Colour.
Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton, Charlie Plummer, Andrew Buchan.
Directed by Ridley Scott.

The title will remind many of the gospel saying of Jesus about gaining the whole world and losing one’s soul. In fact, the screenplay could be a fable on this very theme.

The name of Getty is known in today’s world because of the art collection and gallery. One of the side consequences of this narrative is finding out how the gallery was established as well is the collection.

But, the film is about the abduction of John Paul Getty’s grandson, Paul, his being held by Italian gangs in 1973. In case John Paul Getty is not a well-known name, the film offers a historical prologue about his gaining his wealth, in oil exploration, in building up an oil company with strong international connections.

Getty is played by Christopher Plummer (famously stepping in for 10 days of substitute work after accusations of sexual misconduct against Kevin Spacey). He is something of a curmudgeon, spending his time examining the tapes with stock exchange information, writing a book about wealth, accumulating huge art collection, intending to hand over his empire to his son but finding him a weak character, alcoholic and drug addict. He placed hopes in his grandson, then this grandson was abducted, Getty making a strong stand that he would not supply any money for the ransom – he had so many grandchildren that it was likely that many of them would be abducted (or create a hoax of abduction). This is a powerful performance by Christopher Plummer.

The person concerned about the abduction is Paul Getty’s mother, a rather strong character, and she had to be with such a father-in-law and weak husband, Gail, played by a rather steely Michelle Williams. Also on hand is Getty’s shrewd fixer, Fletcher, played by Mark Wahlberg, taking rather a second place to Plummer and Williams.

Paul Getty is a teenager, spoilt, checking out Rome prostitutes when he is taken. He is played by Charlie Plummer (no relation).

The bulk of the film shows the young man in captivity, Italian peasants from Calabria holding him, one of them particularly concerned about him, Cinquanta (French actor, Romain Duris). The kidnappers live a frugal life in the countryside but are certainly deadly, especially when one of the abductors, removing his mask and being seen, is shot. A criminal Italian syndicate then decides to pay for the rights and hold Paul Getty and do deals. John Paul Getty is finally persuaded to do a deal, harsh, supplying money but having sole guardianship of his grandson. Gail, with the help Fletcher, tries to raise money only to find that the antiquity gift his grandfather gave his grandson when a boy is merely a Museum souvenir.

There is some excitement when the deal is done, the money handed over, the teenager let loose on the highway and trying to hide in the town, the police converging…

At one stage Getty is praised for his book about how to get money – with his sardonic comment that getting money is easy, it is holding on to money, living with money, that is difficult. Yet, at the end, the old man has to let it all go. He can’t take it into eternity. What has he gained? What soul has he lost?
The film was directed by Ridley Scott, versatile director of commercials and enormous range of genres in his films over 30 years.


BREATHE

UK, 2017, 118 minutes, Colour.
Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Ed Speelers, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Stephen Mangan, Jonathan Hyde, Diana Rigg, Penny Downie, Miranda Raison, Camilla Rutherford.
Directed by Andy Serkis.

Breathe is a fine British film, based on the true story of Robin Cavendish, a tea-broker working in Kenya in the late 1950s, enterprising, charming, seen at first as a cricket match, the keen sportsman. He suddenly collapses and is diagnosed with polio, needing a ventilator to breathe, paralysed from the neck down.

There have been many films with health subjects, fighting against adversity, overcoming adversity – films like Me Before You.

One of the problems film reviewers have with films like this is that they are considered “worthy”, a word which is not always complementary. It often implies that this is the kind of film better made for television and the television audience at home, that this is a kind of film that could be labelled as sentimental. (But this reviewer always likes the quotation from W.Somerset Maugham that “sentimentality is only the sentiment you disapprove of”!).

And this become something of a problem with British films compared with American films. It is a contrast between films made with a stiff upper lip and films made with heart on sleeve.

So the question arises, especially with Breathe.

By way of review, it can be said that this is a moving film, in fact produced by Robin’s son, Jonathan Cavendish as tribute to his parents. Andrew Garfield embodies Robin Cavendish, lively before the polio, initially despairing but continually moving ahead in great hope for 34 years before his death in the 1990s. Garfield is limited in his performance by having to rely on words and the use of his eyes, his mouth, raising his eyebrows, otherwise paralysed. And he is supported well by Claire Foy as Diana, his wife, who urged him to live and who was with him, supporting his zest for life, with the experiments for coping with communication, for a chair with a ventilator in it, designed by Ted Hall (Hugh Bonneville), and the work promoted by Dr Clement Aitken on behalf of disabled people (Stephen Mangan).


For Andrew Garfield’s performance, the dialogue and its expression has to be conveyed by tone of voice, pauses and rhythms, smiles, eyes and eyebrows raised. This is the case even in the significant sequence where he goes to Germany, sees disabled people in an ultra-clean and scrubbed mortuary -like display, the disabled in layers, heads out, mirrors in front of them, almost imprisoned in a mausoleum. Cavendish gives an impassioned speech, an emotional thinking man’s speech.

This can also be seen in a very brief sequence where Dr Aitken and Robin Cavendish go to appeal to a philanthropist for funds for more chairs with ventilators. The philanthropist is played by Diana Rigg. The sequence is clear, clipped, successful. No mucking about with sentimentality here!

The emotional demand on the audience is initial disbelief that such a collapse could happen, that Cavendish would prefer to die. However, his wife is a strong and committed woman, arranging for him to be surreptitiously released from hospital, start to enjoy life at home, find different ways in which he could be comfortable and safe. This leads to his active intervention in improving conditions for the disabled, the chairs with ventilators, a plane flight – and even being stranded for 36 hours in Spain after an accident, lots of people gathering joyfully, the local priest giving them all a blessing and that God’s sometimes seemingly harsh jokes bring people together in celebration.

By the end, Robin Cavendish had achieved a great deal – and there is a final challenge for the audience to reflect on issues of assisted suicide, the choice of the person concerned, the impact on the family. This film portrays what actually happened and so is a contribution to the moral debate.


COCO

US, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Alpfnso Arau, Ana Ofelia Murguia.
Directed by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina.

For more than 20 years, Pixar studios, now owned by Disney, have been producing at least one animated film year, many of them winning awards, including Oscars. Sometimes they venture into repeat material like the Toy Story franchise or the Cars franchise. Sometimes they parody popular films of the time like The Invincibles (and 2018 The Invincibles 2). Sometimes they are very inventive as with the psychological comedy, Inside Out.

This one is for the wide American audience, especially the Hispanic American audience, the setting being Mexico, the film drawing on old traditions, especially the Day of the Dead, veneration for the ancestors, rituals and beliefs that have very little to do with the Catholic tradition (although once there is a glimpse of Our Lady of Guadalupe), a mythical, fairy-tale vision of the afterlife.

The advertising features a young boy who loves music, plays a guitar, who belongs to a family with the tradition of being anti-music, the great grandfather, allegedly, having run off to be a success as a musician and never coming back to his family. Their resentment has led to a business enterprise making shoes and, for generations, they have been very successful. The little boy is not Coco. He is a Miguel, who defies his family, enrols in a music competition in the square where he polishes shoes, has his guitar smashed by his harridan of a grandmother and decides to go to the mausoleum to borrow the guitar seen in the torn photo of his ancestors, the runaway father missing.

The whole family, and the audience, assume that the missing member of the photo is the celebrity singer-actor, Ernesto. We get the full treatment of Ernesto’s career, his songs, his movies (including a singing cowboy and an earnest adviser-priest). And his doom, crushed by a bell.

But, with this dark underlying theme of family abandonment and successful career, there is a good dramatic twist which a review should not spoil.

The last part of the film takes place in the land of the dead, something like a giant fiesta, with the dead as skeletons, yet dressed in all the traditional Mexican styles. Ernesto is one of the stars in the land, a massive crowd for his anniversary show (televised and video recorded in this mysterious dead land). Miguel find himself in the land, coming across various relations, encountering a rather wistful songwriter called Hector. And Miguel dog, Dante, is transformed into one of the rather lively dead.

And Coco?

She was the little daughter of the father who disappeared, who sang his songs to her. She is now an old lady, moving towards dementia. She has one longing to see her father and sing with him again.

How this can happen, even happily, means that audiences will have to see the film!


DARKEST HOUR

UK, 2017, 125 minutes, Colour.
Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ronald Pickup, Steve Dillane, Ben Mendelssohn, Samuel West.
Directed by Joe Wright.

In 1940, in Britain, Darkest Hour had an immediate resonance. The possibility of an invasion of Britain was more than possible. May was the month of Dunkirk. It preceded the Blitz. (Unfortunately, for the title of the film for a popular audience these days, it sounds more like a B-budget horror film.)

However, as with three other films during the past year, Their Finest, Churchill, Dunkirk, the audience is taken back to World War II, Britain in the 1940s. And one of the principal focus characters is Winston Churchill.

The action of this film, excellently written by Anthony McKernan?, takes place, and a visual calendar indicates the passing of the days, in the latter part of May 1940. The parliament has lost confidence in Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, who was still associated with the allegations of appeasement prior to the outbreak of war, with leader of the opposition, Clement Atlee, denouncing him as unable to lead the nation in peacetime let alone in war. A coalition of parties for wartime government is suggested. Who will be prime minister? The conservatives do not like Winston Churchill at all. They prefer Halifax. The Labour Party prefers Churchill.

King George VI is a friend of Halifax and not a great supporter of Churchill but reluctantly agrees to the proposal. This film is very interesting in highlighting how Churchill was unpopular, especially with memories of loss of life at Gallipoli, his time in the political desert in the 20s and 30s, his staunch opposition to Hitler and warnings about imminent war.

The other feature of the film is to highlight how Churchill rose to the occasion given the invasions of Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and the defeat of France, the pushing back of the British troops to Dunkirk and Calais. Patriotic, even jingoistic, in his attitudes, Churchill is not keen on suing for peace, especially as promoted by Chamberlain and Halifax. In a scene, whether factual or not, Churchill goes to the Underground (and it is stated that he never travelled by bus and was only once in the Underground and got lost), talks to ordinary people, engages their opinion as to standing against Hitler and their opinion as to what they would do under any terms of peace that Hitler influenced.

This gives Churchill great confidence, bypasses his War Cabinet, goes into the parliament and makes his famous speech “… fight them on the beaches…” And wins the support of both sides of Parliament, including Chamberlain (who would die of cancer by the end of the year).

Many Britons consider Churchill is one of the greatest of all Britons – but this would date from his Darkest Hour experience and his decision to fight, survive, victory.

Many actors have portrayed Churchill and here is Gary Oldman, well-made up to look like Churchill, adopting his swagger, his oratory, quite an intense performance. Kristin Scott Thomas is Churchill’s wife, the always supportive but always critical, Clemmie. There is a very good supporting cast with Ronald Pickup as Chamberlain, Stephen Dillane as Halifax, Lily James as the secretary, Miss Layton, and, very surprisingly (who would have thought of casting him in this role), Ben Mendelssohn doing an effective job as George VI.

The screenplay is literate and intelligent. It contains a lot of Churchill’s own words – but the most telling comes when Halifax is asked what happened with Churchill’s landmark speech: “the English language has been mobilised and sent to war)!

A solid opportunity to go back into British World War II history.


THE DISASTER ARTIST

US, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour.
Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jackie Weaver, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, June Diane Raphael, Megan Mullaly, Jason Mantzoukas.
Directed by James Franco.

They say seeing is believing. In the case of The Disaster Artist, seeing is actually disbelieving! Who would believe that this is a true story?

It is the story of actor, writer, director, Tommy Wiseau, a man who in fact had covered himself in mystery, claiming to be from New Orleans, to be only in his 20s, with a very strange accent, an amateur film-maker. (While the end of the film says that his origins are still unknown, one has only to Google him to find that he was actually born in Poland in 1955 – and has done a little more filmmaking than The Disaster Artist might suggest.) It should be said that Wiseau collaborated in the making of this film and has a guest appearance.

The first question to ask is whether the audience has actually seen his film, The Room. It has been in circulation for 13 years or more and has become quite a cult film, screening at midnight sessions, eliciting audience response, vocal response, as it unfolds on the screen. After the success of this film and its nominations and awards, The Room might make a whole lot more money at the cult box office!

James Franco is a prolific, more than prolific, writer, actor and director, several projects every year for the last years. This time he acts and directs, immersing himself in the bizarre appearance, gaunt and sallow face, long black hair, that odd accent, of Tommy Wiseau. He casts his younger brother, Dave, as Greg Sestero, the star of the film, caught up in an odd friendship with Wiseau, some mutual dependency, later author of a book about his experience in making The Room.

Dave Franco, in all his films, has an immediate smiling face and so is well cast as the rather naive, exuberantly enthusiastic, ultimately partly disillusioned Sestero. Greg and Tommy are both in acting school and Tommy takes a shine to Greg, especially in a football scene where Tommy is hopeless at kicking and passing the ball. However, off they go to Hollywood to fulfil ambitions. Not easy until Tommy gets the bright idea that he should make his own film.

Most of the film is about the making of the film, scheduled for 40 days but going well beyond 50. Tommy hasn’t much of a clue about equipment but buys some, not too much of a grasp of what the technical crew actually does and employs a range of actors, generally on some kind of whim or intuition. He writes his screenplay of The Room and off they go. The making of the film is very funny for the audience but, generally, we are laughing at Tommy, something which happens at the premiere of the finished film.

There is a very interesting supporting cast led by Seth Rogen as the film editor who has to take over some of the role of director, especially when Tommy acts (67 takes in his first sequence where he continues to forget the lines), Zac Efron and Josh Hutcherson as his friends, Ari Graynor as Lisa, the girlfriend, and, an interesting choice, Jacki Weaver as the mother.

James Franco does a very good job communicating the eccentricities, the moods, the self-centredness, the vindictiveness (even against Greg moving out of the apartment with his girlfriend), and the unflappable self-confidence in thinking that he is making the greatest film on earth.

The premiere sequence is a highlight but audiences will very much enjoy the device of having sequences with the actors in this film in split screen along with the original sequences. In these, Wiseau has to be seen to be believed/disbelieved, a far worse a performer than Franco trying to mimic his badness.

Quite a different film about film-making – but, Tommy Wiseau, who does appear in this film, is still around and involved in film-making.


DOWNSIZING

US, 2017, 135 minutes, Colour.
Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Rolf Lassgard, Udo Keir, Jason Sudeikis, Maribeth Monroe, James Van der Beek, Laura Dern, Neal Patrick Harris, Margo Martindale, Joaquin De Alameida.
Directed by Alexander Payne.

What if?

There are all kinds of ways about imagining how humans might change the world, might improve human nature, might prepare for the end of the human race. Downsizing looks at all these aspects.

The opening of the film keeps the audience on its toes. An experiment in a scientific centre in Norway has succeeded in reducing living creatures to about 5 inches or 12 cm in height. Some years later, at a scientific convention, the organiser of the experiment presents the scientist who made the breakthrough – 5 inches high. Excitement, exhilaration.

Then, 10 years later, people go willingly into the downsizing program. The audience is introduced to a centre in the US, going into a small satellite city called Leisureland. There are various advertising campaigns, budget plans for those seeking something different. And that is the case with Paul and Audrey (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) who decide that they will go into downsizing mode. Lots of discussion amongst friends, family, chats with those who are downsized.

There is a bit of tension as the couple undergo the process, shaved, naked, injected, recuperating, and walking out into a new life. Actually, it doesn’t go as Paul had planned for him and his wife – she backed out.

While the motivation for downsizing is to help population and sustaining the world by using so much less of its energy and resources, there is a lot of lip-service to this ideal – but, we realise and soon see that, human nature being what it is, there is a lot of self-focus in downsizing, in leading a life of leisure and hedonism. Yet, Paul works diligently in a company at a desk, although his earlier ambitions had been to be a doctor and he had had to be satisfied with occupational therapy.

We are then introduced to a number of eccentric characters, especially Christoph Waltz as Paul’s upstairs Serb neighbour, hosting rowdy parties, glitz and glamour, and there is no one like Christoph Waltz to create a somewhat creepy character. He is joined at the party with a lifelong friend who owns a yacht (who can send it to Norway by FedEx? and it will arrive before he himself arrives there, in planes which have seating for both sizes).

Then there is the Vietnam dissident, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), imprisoned, having lost a leg, now running a cleaning company including Waltz’s apartment. She would have made a very good prison warden, strong-minded, direct, uttering orders which she takes for granted will be obeyed – and that includes Paul (who finds an occupational therapy outlet in working on her leg.

The film then takes a different direction, introducing Paul to the downside of downsizing, people on welfare, living in crowded tenements, slums, people in medical need, a whole range of people that Ngoc Lan Tran cares for. A whole new perspective on life Paul, self-sacrificing care.

And then the film takes you another different direction, with the four central characters all going to Norway, to the original colony, to meet the founder and the breakthrough scientist. Paul is exhilarated, in admiration. But, the scientist is predicting the end of human life, wants to establish a colony deep in the mountains, a remnant who can emerge after the Earth cataclysm.

Will the enthusiastic Paul go? Will the others go? What is the alternative?
Alexander Payne has cowritten and directed quite a number of arresting films including Election, Sideways, About Schmidt, The Descendants, Nebraska. He raises interesting human nature questions and environmental puzzles.


FERDINAND

US, 2017, 106 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: John Cena, Kate Mac Kinnon, Bobby Cannavale, Jack Gore, Carlos Saldanha, Jeremy Sisto, Colin H. Murphy, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, David Tennant, Gina Rodriguez, Sally Phillips, Daveed Diggs.
Directed by Carlos Saldanha.

Ferdinand is a bull. He lives in Spain. At first, he is a little bull, along with some friends, whose main goal in life is to be chosen by the matador to go to the ring in Madrid, for greater glory. The young bulls watch their fathers’ striving to be chosen by the matador – and Ferdinand’s father is chosen rather than the father of Val, Ferdinand’s biggest rival and taunter, a real case of bull-ying. Ferdinand actually prefers not to fight, plants a flower and waters it, delights in smelling his flower.

Ferdinand has the opportunity to escape and finishes up at a flower farm, bonding with the little girl, Nina, and her father and her dog who is unwilling (despite his eager tail wagging) to befriend Ferdinand. Suddenly, little bull, transforming into big, very big bull. All should be lovely at the farm but Ferdinand, after some to-ing and fro-ing, decides not to obey the command about his not going to the town and the elaborate flower show. He is delighted by the flowers and the display – but is stung by a bee and what follows are some spectacular scenes of mayhem and smashes, including a literal bull in a china shop.

Back to the Casa del Toro. He meets his old friends – and there is a newcomer, a Scottish-brogued bull called Angus. Val has grown bigger at this stage and is eager to be chosen for Madrid. Ferdinand is under the charge of a bucktoothed goat and trainer, Lupe, who is charmed by his friendship, understands his reluctance to fight and they concoct a plan for escaping. Val and Ferdinand do have a clash with Val breaking one of his horns and so ineligible for the ring, Ferdinand being chosen.

The escape sequences are also quite elaborate, having to go through the house and Ferdinand having to breathe in a lot to get out of windows and get through kitchen spaces. Fortunately, there are three tiny hedgehogs with comic voices doing comic turns who are escape experts.

There are some funny scenes when the group try to go to Madrid to rescue Ferdinand, the animals, commandeering a bus, an enormous traffic jam in Madrid which provides the opportunity for a very animated car chase through the city.

As we see right from the beginning, with Ferdinand sniffing his favourite flower, this is not a film that promotes bullfighting. On the contrary, it takes humane stands in consideration of the animals, which means that the final bullfight does not go as the matador predicted, nor as the crowd initially wanted, but humanity prevails or whatever the word for the combination of bull-humanity could be also prevails.

A very good voice cast is led by John Cena as Ferdinand, Kate MacKinnon? enjoying herself as the toothy goat, Bobby Cannavale as both Val and his father – and a good turn and from Angus the Scottish bull voiced by David Tennant.

The director, Carlos Saldanha, originally from Brazil, has directed or co-directed a number of the Ice Age films as well as Rio and Rio 2.


THE FLORIDA PROJECT

US, 2017, 111 minutes, Colour.
William Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Christopher Rivera, Valeria Cotto, Mela Murder.
Directed by Sean Baker.

Writer-director Sean Baker has a solid art-house and reputation as the maker of small slices of life, somewhat on the seedy side of life, Starlet, Tangerine (which was actually made with his smart phone).

This is a much more ambitious film, going down to Florida, going to Orlando, the city of Disneyworld, but actually staying on its outskirts, a kind of self-contained enclave, and giving us a portrait of a group of characters who live there, especially three young children.

The film has been listed for awards. It has received an amount of critical praise. But, not everybody has been satisfied, many people finding it too much.

For this reviewer, there was much to admire in the film – though the experience of sitting there and watching was something of an endurance.

What is it about the film that divides audiences? For those who praise it, they see it is almost a docudrama of poor people, especially single mothers, a lot of children running rather wild, nothing to do during the summer holiday except be cheeky and vandalise. The challenge is, especially for those who find it an endurance, is to ask about sympathy for the characters, their way of life, to ask how much they are trapped in this way of life and do not want to get out of it – or do not know how to get out of it. Given some of the adults, especially Halley (Bria Venaite), who embodies the single mother, self-centred yet loving her daughter, angry and resentful in herself, relying on money by prostitution, yet afraid that everything will go to pieces if she is arrested again, this is important.. So, how much sympathy? How much concern? How much compassion for those who are trapped in a life that most of the audiences find repellent or don’t approve of?

But, it is the children who are the life of the Florida Project, slum projects or a social welfare project, or both? Brooklynn Prince is Moonee, six years old, no idea of discipline, no idea of control except of controlling her two friends, Scootie and Jancey, and controlling her mother. It is an extraordinary performance, a little girl portraying relentless wilfulness, cheekiness, some spitefulness, some malicious vandalism. The question is: will she grow up to be Halley? Or the reverse of the question: was Halley like Moonee when she was young?

Presiding over all of this, trying to use to some control but not always succeeding, is Bob, Willem Dafoe, the manager of the motel, always on the move with umpteen repairs, the owner checking out and writing more rules for the residents, intervening in the disputes, the object of insult by Halley, trying to do his best with the kids.

The film is inhabited by trailer park types but who live in the massive motels, the main one rather garish painted in primary mauve. And then there are the gift shops associated with Disney World, a large restaurant in the shape of half an orange, The Big Orange, a gift shop with a large Gandalf painted on the front, and loads and loads of hoardings with kitschy advertising.

It is true to say that the audience is immersed in this world of the Florida Project – an opportunity to see and to feel, perhaps, how some of the other half try to live. And to ask whether prison will rehabilitate Halley? Whether the intervention of social care authorities will do any good for Moonee?


THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

US, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Keala Settle, Paul Sparks.
Directed by Michael Gracey.

Come to the circus, the greatest show on earth.

It didn’t actually begin in that way. First of all there was a Museum with all kinds of odd exhibits – not a success. Then there was what was called a freak show, all kinds of characters, bearded lady, Siamese twins… And a ringmaster. Finally, there was the circus, again with the freaks but with all the animals, the big top, the eager and applauding audiences.

But, even before that, there was Phineas Taylor ‘P. T.’ Barnum, who saw himself as the inventor of “show business”.

Phineas didn’t have an easy childhood. He worked with his father, a builder, somewhat impoverished, humiliated by aristocrats, even being slapped in the face by the father of the young girl, Charity, whom he frequently met with and loved. He tried the railroad to make some money. He worked as an accountant until the firm went bankrupt. What to do? With a wife, Charity, and two daughters?

If we really want to know, it is probably best to Google Wikipedia and read all about him. While there is a foundation in this screenplay, there is a lot more to Barnum’s life, especially after his involvement in sideshows and circuses, even a political life. But, this is a musical, this is a comedy, this is a feelgood zest for life kind of film and not the place where one would go to find history and biography (which, apparently, some unhappy critics say they did expect to find in the film).

Lots of songs, lots of dances – and the songs composed by the creators of the music for La La Land. And who better to be Barnum than Hugh Jackman? Hugh Jackman would really have been at home in the MGM musicals of the 1950s, always cheerful, strong voice, good dancer, good actor, someone you can’t help but like. And this time he is aided by Zac Efron, a decade on from High School Musicals, keeping pace with some singing and dancing but providing a serious part of the story, a New York playwright from a wealthy family who decides to run away to the circus, falls in love with the trapeze artist, tries to save her from the burning Museum, has enough nous to have invested his percentage so that the circus can rise again.

Michelle Williams is Charity and joins in the singing and dancing. Keala Settle makes a big impact, as a big lady, a bearded lady. One of the New York journalists upgrades Barnum for exploiting the “freaks”. But they are on Barnum’s side, relating how people hid them, looked down on them because of their characteristics, idiosyncrasies, deformities, but that Barnum brought them out from the shadows, gave them a life, a zest – and at the end, they tell him not to indulge in self-pity when the museum burns down but to get up and live.

There is a subplot where Barnum goes to England and has an audience with Queen Victoria – who is amused. In London he meets the Swedish singer, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), and organises a tour of the United States for her, which leads to touches of scandal in the newspapers and some financial disaster, despite her success as a singer and the adulation of the audiences.

Those who might like a comparison with Hugh Jackman, can search out a 1986 television biography film of Barnum with Burt Lancaster in the title role.

In the meantime, this is for rollicking on.


JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

US, 2017, 119 minutes, Colour.
Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Bobby Canavale, Rhys Darby, Tim Matheson, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Maribeth Monroe, Ser Darius Blain.
Directed by Jake Kasdan.

Back in the 1990s, there was a film of the board game, Jumanji, an action adventure, featuring Robin Williams and, if memory serves, stampeding rhinoceros. In this version of the board game, there are more than four adventurers in the land of Jumanji, a fantasy land that blends jungle and overtones of middle eastern towns and markets. In the rhinoceros stampede is back.

The film opens in 1996, a young man finding of the board game (but not having seen the film!), Switches on the game and disappears, leaving his home dilapidated over the next 20 years and his father a psychological wreck.

2017. Much more up-to-date. We are introduced for different students. Spencer is a raking nerd who writes assignments for fellow students. One of these students his Fridge, an African-American? sports hero wanting a scholarship. Then there is Martha, rather misanthropic, shy and awkward, wanting to study rather than socialise. Quite by contrast is the glamorous Bethany, incapacitated in life without her phone, flirtatious and unconscious of her interviewing in other people’s lives. They are all put in detention.

And, what do they find in detention but an old tradition of Jumanji – with choices with whom they might identify in the game. They press the buttons, drawn into the game, and there they are, in the form of the characters they have chosen.

And here is one of the advantages of the film, some humour that adults might enjoy as well. Spencer the nerd now appears in the form of Dwayne Johnson, tall, strong and musclebound. But, inside, he is this still the same nervous and awkward Spencer, amusement for the audience in seeing Dwayne Johnson coping with his inner nerd. Fridge, on the other hand, has become a zoologist and has grown up to be diminutive, Kevin Hart, a screen motormouth if ever there was one. Martha has become the glamorous and tough heroine, Karen Gillan. Bethany, on the other hand, has made a mistake in interpreting the name of her character and she is transformed into – Jack black. And there is quite some amusement to be had in seeing Jack black as male, trying to come to terms with his inner Bethany, always with the touch of the feminine.

So, off they go, encountering a British explorer who gives them a mission, to recover a stalled jewel, taken by the archvillain Bobby can avail and restore it to a mountain crag which is in the form of a Jaguar with the jewel forming its eye.

There are some corny adventures, some wisecracks, some heroism and some cowardice, hippopotamus swallowing, Jaguars pursuing, elephant rides, sweeping and swooping helicopter ride through canyons, pursued by enemies and a surveillance Eagle, enough adventures to keep audience attention. Old-time Saturday matinee stuff.

They also meet the young man who disappeared 20 years earlier, Nick Jonas, and they team up with him to get the helicopter, to get themselves to the mountain, to fulfil the mission with quite some acrobatic derring-do and get back home to ordinary life.

This kind of adventure always has some kind of moral and the four characters learn about themselves, learn to be their better selves, Spencer and Martha being attracted and having a kiss, and all being well unless they should find themselves trapped in yet another game.

The target audience is adolescent boys (either in age or in mentality).


THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE

US, 2017, 91 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph, Bobby Cannavale, Bobby Moynihan, Isabella Moner, Peter Stormae, Gabriel Iglesias.
Directed by Cal Brunker.

This animation feature was a surprise. The original film, The Nut Job, seemed conventional enough entertainment for young children. This sequel is much better – and quite entertaining for adults, even for reviewers.

The animation was done in South Korea for this American production. The animation is fairly straightforward, the setting in Liberty Park and the background of the city, but the action is mainly in the park. The main time outside the park is spent in the office of the avaricious and corrupt Mayor, seen with his cronies, a drawer full of bribes (‘political contributions’, of course), envious of the park which does not produce any revenue. Plan: destroy the park, build a theme park, rake in the cash.

However, the main attention, of course, is on the animals from the park, mainly squirrels, a mole, a rat, some groundhogs, dogs… And they all have very entertaining voices. But, at the opening, they are all indulging in an abandoned nut shop, greed galore. However, Andy, a very nice squirrel, is advocating the traditions, instincts, collecting nuts, storing them for the winter. She doesn’t have a chance, even as she appeals to the leader, Surly.

Clearly, there is going to be a confrontation between the Mayor and the animals. It should be noted that the Mayor has a most horrible daughter, Heather, spoilt and aggressive, attention-seeking who must inevitably get her comeuppance (as she and her father do).

In many ways, as with so many animation stories, there is a bit of moralising. Andy makes a great appeal to the animals not to take the easy way out, but to rise to challenges. And this is the case when they face the demolition of the park and decide to move into protest mode and to sabotage. And, when the theme park opens (with a lot of shoddy work to cut costs), they go to work with demolition. The point being made is that all individuals can take a stand, but when they collaborate, they can be very effective.

So, there is a lot of action throughout the film to keep the young audience attentive – with enough, characters and physical comedy. This is particularly the case with a group of mice, ousted from the park but deciding to get training in martial arts as well as Eastern meditation techniques – with the leader voiced by Jackie Chan (and a nice little bonus during the final credits when Chan himself is photographed recording his voice).

Will Arnett is very strong as Surly, a leader yet a bit on the lazy side, challenged by Andy (Katherine Heigl) to be his better self, be a role model, caught in an adventure which has its ups and downs. Maya Rudolph and Bobby Canavale enjoy themselves as the two romantic pugs, Precious and Frank.

Adult audiences will enjoy the verbal humour, puns, jokes and parodies.


PADDINGTON 2

UK, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Voice of Ben Whishaw. Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Madeline Harris, Samuel Joslin, Sanjiv Bhaskar, Ben Miller, Jessica Hynes, Jim Broadbent, Tom Conti, Peter Capaldi, Meera Suall, Richard Adyoade, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor, Marie- France Alvarez, Joanna Lumley, Robbie G, Eileen Atkins, Maggie Steed.
Directed by Paul King.

Many were taught in the past that response to a drama was “a willing suspension of disbelief”.

This is something that is certainly required for the Paddington films. In fact, the British public, and the public worldwide, faced with a story about a talking bear in Paddington, more than willingly suspended their disbelief. And they will continue to do so with Paddington 2.

After all, it is about a bear who came to London from Brazil, who was saved from the rapids by his kind Aunt Lucy who, with her spouse, Pastuzo, intending to visit London. Paddington did go to London, finished up as a member of the Brown family, endeared himself to all the neighbours (except the crusty local guard, Mr Curry, Peter Capaldi, still inveighing against Paddington here), but did get tangled up with a nasty villain played by Nicole Kidman.

Can the formula be repeated? Definitely, yes.

One of the great advantages of the films is Ben Whishaw’s voice, a quietly persuasive and engaging Paddington. He is full of courtesy, full of good nature, full of goodwill. The Browns are all back again, Henry (Hugh Bonneville) the insurance agent, Mary (Sally Hawkins) always concerned, the wise and wary grandmother (Julie Walters), their daughter Judy (Madeleine Harris) was now publishing a local paper but not allowing any boys on the staff, and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) temporally giving up his interest in trains until at the end where he actually does drive a steam train.

The opening does a re-viewing of the story, with Paddington writing a letter to Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and uncle (Michael Gambon). Aunt Lucy gets the opportunity to imagine a visit to London in the pages of a pop-up book of the sites, as well as visiting at the end for her birthday.

This is definitely a London film and all those who love the city, are familiar with the city, the main sites, will enjoy it very much.

Just as with the first film, there is a complicated plot, Paddington wanting buy a pop-up book from the local antiques dealer, Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent), but finding it too expensive, takes on some jobs (badly) from a disastrous haircut to a cantankerous judge (Tom Conti) to window cleaning – a little more successful. At the opening of the Steam Fair, he is chosen by the celebrity, Phoenix Buchanan, to assist in the ceremony. When asked what he wants, he explains to Phoenix that he would love to have the book. Yes, we have guessed it. Phoenix is an absolute fraud and wants the book for himself.

We haven’t been seeing so much of Hugh Grant in films in recent times but this is a wonderful role for him, sending up his own image, accent, performances, a scoundrel of an actor who delights in disguises (even as a nun in St Paul’s Cathedral whom the dopey guard thinks is one of the most attractive women he’s ever seen!). He steals the book, Paddington in pursuit on the local dog, but arrested by the disbelieving police.

The film then turns into a prison show, especially in the prison dining room with its inedible porridge and Paddington challenging Knuckles, the Irish cook (Brendan Gleeson) – but charming him with bread and marmalade and not only their working together, a lot of the lags (including Noah Taylor) outing their recipes and making cakes.

The Brown family also take it in hand to discover who the criminal is, everyone having a job, entering Phoenix’s house, deceiving him with an edited phone call to go to the Ritz… This involves interviewing a theatrical agent, a Joanna-Lumley-like? Joanna Lumley!

It wouldn’t be a prison film without an escape. So, There is an enjoyable one here, Knuckles persuading Paddington to join, actually a hot air balloon with the laundry basket as the carriage!

There is an enjoyable flashback from the woman who invented the Steam Fair (Eileen Atkins) and some revelations about the pop-up book, the clues it contains, the story of a murderous magician – and you will guess the connection – and hidden treasure.

As mentioned, there is a desperate train chase with Paddington confronting Phoenix.

All is well that ends happily will – but do not miss the credits because there is a lot of wonderful recapitulation and, of all things, a prison musical, Stephen Sondheim’s song, given the full prisoners’ treatment starring Hugh grant!

With such a big cast and entertaining cameos, and entertaining fantasy – the best of British!


PITCH PERFECT 3

US, 2017, 93 minutes, Colour.
Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Ruby Rose, Anna Camp, John Lithgow, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins.
Directed by Trish Sie.

Given the amount of singing in this film, both a cappella and with instrument accompaniment, the pitch of the now, very well-known group, the Bella’s, is still very effective.

However, the use of the word “perfect” in the title is quite an overstatement!

This is one for the fans only. It presupposes audience liking the central characters, especially Beca and Fat Amy, Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson; it presupposes audience knowledge of the ups and downs of the group, the different personalities, their interactions, their failures and successes in the past in competitions, their being on a high at the end of the sequel. They have a strong desire to join up again, especially since Beca has given up her job as a music producer, in frustration with the antics of the talent. Everybody finds themselves available – and the venue for this third film in the series is Europe, Spain, Italy and France, the girls participating in a USO concert tour.

The first part of the film could be very wearing for some audiences. The whole film is very female-oriented in its tone, very “girly” in its characters, behaviour and their appeal. There are some token males throughout the film, generally friendly, and Navy man accompanying the group, a record producer…

The film does start with a huge explosion on a yacht in the Mediterranean and Beca and Amy leaping off. Then it goes into flashback. Halfway through the film, a new character is introduced, Fat Amy’s father, who calls her by her real name, Patricia. Since Patricia is Australian, then her father, played by John Lithgow, has to have an Australian accent – or, at least, caricature of one. He has deserted his family in the past, is clearly hypocritical in seeking out his daughter and has dire intentions! This gives a bit of conflict drama to the screenplay – over and above the Bellas trying to compete with another talented group.

The screenplay seems to admit that this will be the last of the Pitch Perfect films for a while (anyone for Pitch Perfect: The Reunion in 10 years time!). The dialogue makes it quite clear that each of the Bellas has different intentions for the future, family, study, business…

This third film is rather forgettable, certainly not perfect. However, it must be said that Beca, Fat Amy and the other Bellas have provided a lot of entertainment to audiences in recent years.


THE POST

US, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour.
Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Bree, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Cross.
Directed by Steven Spielberg.

This is a film well worth seeking out for those who enjoy intelligent cinema. It has been directed by Steven Spielberg, winner of two Oscars for best director, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. More recently he made the very interesting Bridge of Spies.

One suspects that he is rather politically motivated to make this film at this time, a story of The Washington Post, denounced during his presidential campaign and his first year in office by Donald Trump. It stars Meryl Streep who spoke out about the President at an award ceremony and was dismissed by a presidential Twitter as“ over-rated”. With the release of the film she has urged him to see it so that he will have more respect for those he disagrees with.

So, a timely film, although it setting is 1971. This is The Washington Post story of The Pentagon Papers, their publication, the move to prevent their publication by President Nixon and the subsequent Supreme Court judgement on freedom of the press. For those who remember, for those in the know, the film ends with a security guard discovering an open door in the Watergate centre and the beginnings of the Watergate scandal exposed by The Washington Post (which might be a suggestion that we have another look at All the President’s Men from 1976).

The film actually opens in 1966 in Vietnam, three short sequences of camouflaging, night combat, recuperation, with the journalist typing his report. They again remind us of how effectively Spielberg can film war sequences.

The journalist concerned is Daniel Ellsberg who is shown in an encounter with Secretary, Robert McNamara?, who then gives a press conference stating optimistic views about the war in Vietnam – though having authorised elaborate study, which has been kept secret, highlighting US policy from Truman, through Eisenhower and Kennedy, to Johnson, indicating that the war is doomed to failure. Yet the government was continuing to send American troops, some conscripted, far away from the US to fight and die in Southeast Asia. There are also scenes of protest in the film.

In 1971, the New York Times published some of these Pentagon Papers and an immediate injunction was placed on them. At the same time, The Post editor Ben Bradlee (played very energetically by Tom Hanks) was eager to boost the status of The Washington Post, bringing not only in enthusiasm but a demand on his staff as well as pressure on the publisher, Katharine Graham. Her father had founded the paper, bequeathed it to her husband, Philip Graham, and, on his suicide, she had inherited the role of publisher.

At this point in a review, it is worth noting that the credits make a point of tribute to Gloria Steinem. The Post could serve as a very useful example in studies on the role of women, of women in business, CEOs, with its vivid scenes of Katharine Graham walking into board meetings, dominatingly male, being condescended to, coming from an affluent world of society parties, women withdrawing at the end of meals for their own chat and gossip, fashion and socials. Katharine Graham had to break through this glass ceiling – and Meryl Streep certainly brings Katharine Graham to life, especially in the scene where she has to make a decision about publishing the Pentagon Papers or not, few words spoken, but Meryl Streep communicates intensely what was going through Katharine Graham’s mind, through her feelings, making the judgement.

In some ways the section on The Post and its journalist, Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), making contact with Ellsberg, getting the documents, the team under Bradlee sorting them and building up a story with only hours for their task, the lawyers coming, the warnings, the decision to publish and run the risk of imprisonment, are the elements of a thriller.

President Nixon does not come well out of this story, banning The Washington Post from the White House – and remembering, again, the irony of The Post exposing Watergate.

The Supreme Court does come out well, the verdict of six – three in favour of freedom of the press, the press to serve the people rather than the government.

The film is very well acted by a large cast, is certainly intelligently written, is a satisfying look back at history, of journalism (and a reminder that in those days there were no iPads, emails, 24 hour online news services – and no tweets!).


THE SECRET SCRIPTURE

Ireland, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Rooney Mara, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana, Theo James, Jack Reynor, Susan Lynch, Aidan Turner, Adrian Dunbar.
Directed by Jim Sheridan.

This is an Irish story, a story that takes placed in two different time periods, the 1940s and 1990s. It was made by Jim Sheridan who in the 1980s and 1990s chronicled some of Ireland’s history, featuring Daniel Day Lewis and three of his films, My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, The Boxer, as well is making the stark film, The Field. He returned to an Ireland very harsh in its past, still harsh but mellowing in later times.

The framework is the part of the story told in the 1990s. A sympathetic doctor, Dr Grene, Eric Banner, is summoned by the doctor- superintendent of an institution because it is closing and all the residents have to be moved. Problems are caused by an elderly lady, Rose, played by Vanessa Redgrave who also offers the voice-over for the rest of the film. Rose is dignified, sometimes bewildered, living in her past, unwilling to move.

When her possessions are thrown into a rubbish skip, Dr Grene is able to recover them, especially her copy of the Bible. And, she reveals, on the tops of pages and in the margins, she has written details of her story. Dr Grene gets permission to stay with her, with the help of a sympathetic nurse, Susan Lynch, and she recounts her story. The film goes into flashback.

In 1942, Ireland did not enter World War II but there was advertising for RAF pilots. Rose, a mixture of the waif and touches of strength, comes to live with her aunt and work in her cafe. She is played by Rooney Mara. There are several immediate influences on Rose. She encounters a sympathetic young man, Michael, Jack Raynor, at his shop. She is threatened by the IRA chief, Aidan Turner, and told to choose the right side. A strong swimmer, she goes to the beach but is warned by a stranger that she is swimming in the wrong place. The stranger then gives her a lift but she is mystified as to who he is and what he does.

The mystery is solved when he arrives at the cafe and is revealed to be a local priest, Father Gaunt (Theo James). From then on, her life becomes something of a tangle, the priest attracted to her, ambivalent in his behaviour, causing some gossip in the town. Michael has become a pilot and after parachuting and being caught in a tree, Rose has to rescue him, taking him to her hut in the woods where she has had to go because of the gossip and her aunt, conscious of customers, has fired her. She and Michael love each other. The IRA, however, come to threaten her and Michael escapes.

In the meantime, Father Gaunt is conscious of the gossip in the town, realises that Rose is pregnant and that people think he could be the father. He writes a denunciation letter to an institution, writing of Rose as nymphomaniac. Her aunt commits her.

Here is the harshness of Irish history, severe nuns, severe nurses, doctors relying on electric shock… The important fact of Rose’s life is her pregnancy and the birth of her child – and accusations that she killed her child, reasons for her internment, her declaring that her child was alive, and her being tormented by these memories over the decades.

With Dr Grene helping her, many audiences might have a wishful thinking ending in mind – and it does come about with some credible information twists at the end of the film.

Ireland, harshness, judgemental in moral issues, the influence of the church, the role of the clergy, this is a story of what was and the yearning for what might have been.


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

US/UK, 2017, 152 minutes, Colour.
Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Ngyon’go, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendolyn Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Justin Theroux.
Directed by Rian Johnson.

Within 10 days of release around the world, The Last Jedi had drawn in almost $1 billion at the box office. That’s popularity.
It is 40 years since the first words began to scroll upwards on the screen, introducing audiences to the galaxy far, far away, to the now-immediately-recognisable opening to John Williams striking score. And, 40 years later, that is the way that episode eight, The Last Jedi, opens. Not only do we know instantly that we are in the galaxy, that we have gone far, far away from our ordinary lives, but we feel what it is like to be in the galaxy, remembering the past episodes, hopeful for this new one.

Those in charge in the galaxy now are the First Order, ruled over by a Gollum -like creature (and, in fact, he is played by Andy Serkis), sinister and slimy both in look and voice. He is ruthless, his Star Wars aggression being led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), assertive but something of a weak and insipid character. Meanwhile, the rebels are at their headquarters spaceship, led by Princess Leia. This film is dedicated to Carrie Fisher who had completed her work for the film before her untimely death. She has a strong and substantial role in this episode, reminding us of the strength of her character when we met first met her in 1977.

The film is also strong for the presence of Mark Hamill. In episode seven, Rey (an intrepid Daisy Ridley) has gone to the planet where Luke Skywalker has exiled himself, on a craggy island. Her mission is to bring him back to help the rebels. He is reluctant, treats her with dismissal but, ultimately does train her in Jedi ways. He still has The Force and communicates with Leia. He also tells the story of his trying to train Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his discovery of the young man given over to the Darkside, even responsible for the death of his father, Han Solo – and initially prepared to destroy the rebel headquarters and his mother.

Also in the action is the adventure a pilot, Poe Damaron (Oscar Isaac), involved initially in daring raids against the First Order, disobeying orders but being successful, though demoted when Leia is injured and hands over to her successor, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).

And, just as we might have been wondering where Finn is (John Boyega), he seems to come out of hibernation and soon goes on an important mission to try to get the codes to destroy the First Order headquarters. He is accompanied by Rose, Kelly Marie Tran, whose sister was killed in one of Poe’s all attacks. They infiltrate the headquarters and meet a dubious character who knows the codes, played by Benicio del Toro.

So, the stage is set for more adventures and star wars, Vice Admiral Holdo will sacrificing herself so that the remnant can escape. The stage is also set for a confrontation between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren, Luke relying on the Force to play strategic tricks on Kylo Ren.

And so, the stage is also set for the passing of the old Jedi links, Luke and Leia, the anointing of Rey as the new Jedi with Poe and Finn to be the co-warriors in episode nine.

After 40 years, changing the imagination and consciousness of audiences worldwide, the force of the series is still with us.


SWEET COUNTRY

Australia, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.
Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Hamilton Morris, Matt Day, Ewen Leslie, Natassia Gory Furber, Gibson John, Anni Finsterer, Tremayne Doolan, Trevon Doolan, Thomas M. Wright.
Directed by Warwick Thornton.

Here is a film which should be seen by as wide an audience as possible, especially Australian audiences, both indigenous and non-indigenous.

It is based on events that took place in 1929 and was filmed in South Australia. Director and cinematographer, Warwick Thornton, received great acclaim for his film about young people in and around Alice Springs, Samson and Delilah (2009). Thornton has photographed quite a number of films, including The Sapphires, as well as directing some short stories in The Darkside and an episode in Tim Winton’s The Turning.

At one stage, a remark is made that this desert outback is a sweet country, good for cattle. However, audiences immediately realise that it is not necessarily a sweet country for indigenous people. As the credits begin, there is a close-up of water boiling and racist remarks being made offscreen. Then there is a close-up of Sam, an older aboriginal man in a court case. How did this happen?

Sam (a first screen appearance by Hamilton Morris, highly effective and persuasive) lives with his wife and niece on a land spread, managed by a God-fearing, Bible-reading owner, Fred Smith (Sam Neill). All are equal on this property. Suddenly, a neighbouring landowner, Harry Mitchell (Ewen Leslie) comes to ask for help from Fred and then asking for its permission to take Sam and his family to help with work. Harry Mitchell served on the Western front, does not believe in God’s presence nor in equality. He is harsh with Sam, has a lustful eye on the niece, exploits Sam’s wife. He is also harsh with the young aboriginal lad, Philomach, who belongs to another neighbouring spread.

Complications ensue, the boy, in chains, runs away, Mitchell goes in pursuit, confronting Sam, guns drawn and Mitchell shot. Sam realises that in killing a white man, it will be hard for him to get a hearing and justice. He and his wife go walkabout.

In town, the local policeman, Fletcher, Bryan Brown, is definitely in charge, a touch of the genial but also more than a touch of the arrogant. A significant part of the plot is his going out into the desert in pursuit of Sam and his falling victim to the desert and lack of water.

When Sam gives himself up, a young judge (Matt Day) arrives, rejects the suggestion that the case be held in the bar, takes it outside with a desk and deck chairs. Fred is there in support of Sam.

The court scene is very moving, the young judge, rather inexperienced and a bit full of himself, makes demands in his questions, impatient for answers, not appreciating the pace of indigenous reflection and response.

The screenplay leads the audience to an appreciation of Sam, as well as the old aboriginal man, Archie (Gibson John also in a first film role) who was taken from his family and is subservient to the white owner, to watching Philomach, and wondering where he will finish. But the film also dramatises the exploitation of the indigenous, both men and women, by insensitive and cruel white men, treating the workers as the equivalent of slaves, no respect for them as persons, a rugged atmosphere, a rugged life, with seemingly no future for the indigenous men.

But, in 2018, almost 90 years later, an indigenous director all is telling the story and reminding everyone of the shame.


SWINGING SAFARI

Australia, 2018, 96 minutes, Colour.
Guy Pearce, Julian McMahon?, Radha Mitchell, Kylie Minogue, Asher Keddie, Jeremy Sims, Jack Thompson, Atticus Robb, Darcy Wilson,
Directed by Stephan Elliot.

The Americans can certainly make raucous, ultra-raucous comedies. So can writer-director, Stephane Elliott. He is best remembered for Priscilla but he also made A Few Best Men and Welcome to Woop Woop.

The success of this film and audience response will depend on moods. For those wanting a laugh, they will enjoy it very much. For those who don’t do raucous comedy very well, it will seem very irritating and very silly. And the rest will probably be somewhere in between – and depending on those moods. How much laughing with or laughing at?

This is the 1970s, 1975 to be particular, with the success of Jaws. The film was made on the Gold Coast. The song, Swinging Safari, become something of a theme song, but in the background are many of the Australian hit songs of the time.

In the foreground, in the tradition of Dame Edna and her mocking the products of the past and their advertising, there are all kinds of visual icons of what was popular in those days in the shops, in homes, fashions and accessories, food and gadgets. Also in the foreground are the fashions and clothes of the time, Tony Abbott -like budgies, long hair, that is for the men, and stylised hairdos for the women. And, a variety of clothes.

It is summer. Three families are at the beach. We are introduced to each of them, the role of the father, the presence of the mother, the number of children. They are all friends – but, an experiment of permissiveness of the times, sexual, keys in a bowl and changing partners, leads to some excess but also to regrets and clashes.

The story is told from the point of view of a young photographer who gets his friends to be involved in making short films, small plots, eccentric characters, and one friend geared up to do all the stunts, including being set alight and having to jump into the swimming pool (with the other kids pouring in chlorine). The young man is Jeff Marsh, ably played by Atticus Rob, rather more serious than the other kids and sympathetic to Melly (Darcy Wilson) who is introverted, critical, on the way to serious lamia.

The other main theme is a beached whale. Everyone is fascinated, the Mayor, Jack Thompson, encouraging tourists – but, after it is impossible to get the whale back into the water after it dies, explosives are planted with an enormous explosion and bits of blubber, huge and small, descending on all the characters, something like an apocalyptic judgement.

The film has attracted strong character actors for the parents. Guy Pearce and Radha Mitchell almost and recognisably raucous) are the Halls. Julian McMahon? and Kylie Minogue (playing rather morose) are the Joneses. Jeremy Sims on Asher Keddie are the Marshes.

Priscilla worked well and led to stage productions. Welcome to Woop Woop seems rather stupid. And, somewhere in between, depending on your vantage points of good or bad, lies Swinging Safari.


THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

US, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour.
Frances Mc Dormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Kathryn Newton, John Hawkes, Samara Weaving, Clarke Peters.
Directed by Martin Mc Donagh.

Martin Mc Donagh is an extremely talented writer. He has had many successes in theatre. In film, he made In Bruges as well as Seven Psychopaths. He certainly likes titles with the touch of eccentricity – no more than in this one. Who else would have billboards in the title, let alone a reference to Ebbing, Missouri?

This is a most interesting and highly entertaining film – though, those familiar with his other works will find that Mc Donagh is prone to include a high quotient of expletives. But, they seem rather appropriate in the mouth of the central character, Mildred Hayes. She is a citizen of Ebbing, Missouri, and finds the framework for three billboards outside the town, not used since the 80s, and decides to rent them.

She is an angry woman. And she is played as if born to the role by Frances Mc Dormand, a fine, strong actress, who won an Oscar for her Minnesota sheriff in Fargo. This now is an award-winning performance on any level. But, Mildred’s motivation? Her daughter, Angela, was raped and killed. There have been no police results. So, on the billboards, in red and black, bold letters, a challenge to the local police, especially Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson.

Mc Donagh has an ability not only with words but also with plot developments, character explorations, the interconnections. Chief Willoughby goes to see her, reveals that he is dying of cancer, eliciting little sympathy from Mildred, but he is a good man, is trying his best, dealing with his local police, especially Dixon, played expertly by Sam Rockwell. In fact, Harrelson and Rockwell are at their very best here.

There is sadness in the portrayal of Willoughby, especially with his family, his cancer, terminal, his response, especially a day out with his family, and a fine ability to write letters, especially to his wife (Abbie Cornish), to Mildred, to Dixon – fine and encouraging letters.

Mildred’s billboards are rejected by the townspeople, and Mildred is no slouch in counter-attack, especially a needle in a dentist’s hand, setting fire to buildings, and some scorching repartee. There are scenes with her former husband, John Hawkes, and his very young girlfriend (Samara Weaving). Her son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges), lives at home and has difficulty at school, the local priest coming to help the boy but being on the ultra-sharp edge of some condemnation by Mildred, likening priests belonging to the church to criminals belonging to gangs, and while they might not commit crimes individually, they are all tarred with the guilt of the gang.

Perhaps the best development of character in the film is that of Dixon, a redneck Missouri policeman, who tortures “persons of colour”, not particularly bright, dominated by his slovenly mother at home, grieving for Willoughby, angry at the young man who made the contract for Mildred to have the billboards, throwing him out of a window and bashing him. When he is suspended, by an African- American superior officer, he is resentful. However, he is touched by the letter, touched by some help from Mildred after the police station goes up in flames, tries his own method to discover who the murderer is.

There are many minor characters in Ebbing, all of them well depicted. This all goes to make an interesting screenplay, offbeat certainly, with characters who are not clear-cut black or white but all have their ambivalences, ambiguities in what they do and say.

So, interesting, entertaining, demanding reflection.


WONDER WHEEL

US, 2017, 101 minutes, Colour.
Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Max Caselli, Jack Gore, David Krumholz.
Directed by Woody Allen.

Wonder Wheel. The Wonder Wheel of Coney island, a popular landmark. Brooklyn, Woody Allen’s hometown. One wonders whether there is anything autobiographical in this film. The setting is 1950. Woody Allen would have been 14, turning 15 the end of that year.

At one stage, reviewers and the public were criticising Woody Allen for not being funny. There was a presumption that he would make comedies only. And, we remember, he has made many comedies. But, in 1978, he made Interiors, a homage to the serious films of Swedish diector, Ingmar Bergman. Audiences were puzzled. However, over the decades, he has made many films with serious themes, and acknowledged the influence of filmmakers and playwrights like Federico Fellini or Anton Chekhov. And, many agree that one of his best films he has the 1989 Crimes and Misdemeanours.

There are references to Eugene O’Neill? in the screenplay, and his Long Day’s Journey into Night. There also seemed to be significant references to Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire, especially the central character Blanche Dubois – and comparisons were also made with Blanche Dubois with Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-winning performance in Blue Jasmine.

Which is an introduction to the review of this film that does not set out to be funny at all.

The focus of the film is Ginny, who turns 40 during 1950. We find her working as a waitress in a diner in the summer of 1950 at a crowded beach at Coney Island. She feels she is having a life of drudgery. She is worn out by the routines, suffers from frequent migraines. And she has an impossible son, a pyromaniac, continually getting into trouble with authorities, lighting his eyes at school and even in the therapist’s office. Otherwise he is stealing money from Humpty, to whom Ginny is married, and using the money for going to the movies which he loves. (Interestingly, the main poster Woody Allen shows is Winchester 73 with James Stewart and Shelley Winters – one doesn’t usually associate Woody Allen with westerns!).

Not exactly the most intriguing of dramatic setups, but...

However, there are quite some complications. First of all, it should be acknowledged that casting, always interesting with Woody Allen, and performances, are quite striking. Kate Winslet is at her best as Ginny. Jim Belushi has the opportunity to be a middle-aged equivalent of Stanley Kowalski, looking after the carousel on the beach. Juno Temple is Carolina, his alienated daughter who comes back after a divorce from a gangster, having spoken to the FBI and is now marked for death. The other main character is Mickey, who has served in the Navy during the war, is a student of drama with intentions to write plays, a propensity to theorise about drama, tragic flaws and tragedy, quoting Eugene O’ Neill. He also does the narrative voice-over of the film and is played by Justin Timberlake – an interesting, if not always effective, choice.

The colour in the photography is heightened, summer at the crowded beach, bright, sunny, colourful. On the other hand, some of the interior scenes in the upstairs apartment at the beach where the family lives are quite dark.

Mickey is younger, a touch carefree, attracted to Ginny, easily luring her into an affair which brings some love and affection into her life, a growing sense of guilt, embarrassment about the age difference, and an increasing jealousy when Mickey encounters Carolina and she interprets his attentions as flirting. This will ultimately lead to Ginny and her own version of crimes and misdemeanours.

In these years, reviewers are conscious that a Woody Allen film is an annual event and there is pressure on them either to enthuse or to condemn. This reviewer’s feelings about Wonder Wheel the more to the infuse. Ginny is a strong character and her interactions with other characters tend to stay in the memory, partly to condemn, partly to understand – which means that Woody Allen and Kate Winslet have created quite a memorable character.



Created by: malone last modification: Wednesday 07 of February, 2018 [04:23:11 UTC] by malone


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