SIGNIS REVIEWS JULY 2013
100 BLOODY ACRES
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
BEYOND THE HILLS
BLING RING, The
GUN IN EACH HAND, A
NOW YOU SEE ME,
ONLY GOD FORGIVES
PRENOM, Le/ WHAT’S IN A NAME?
THIS IS THE END
WAY, WAY BACK, The
100 BLOODY ACRES
Australia, 2012, 90 minutes, Colour.
Damon Harriman, Angus Sampson, Anna Mc Gahan, Oliver Ackland, Jamie Kristian, John Jarratt.
Directed by Colin and Cameron Cairnes.
No deceptive title here. No false advertising.
We are in country South Australia, on the road in broad daylight. We see a whole range of ads and notices along the road, funny, indicating the way of life in the backblocks of the state – and a parody tone. Almost immediately, Reg Morgan (Damon Harriman) is busy lifting a man, bloodied in an accident, into his truck (very awkwardly), which advertises blood and bone on its side, the company owned by the Morgan brothers, Reg and his older, domineering brother, Lindsay (Angus Sampson). So, we know the tone of the film at once, comic with blood.
Three young people on their way to a country music festival break down and thumb a lift with the at first reluctant Reg: Sophie (Anna McGahan) in the front and James and Wes (Oliver Ackland and Jamie Kristian) in the back with the covered corpse.
We know, more or less, what is going to happen, so we keep anticipating every move to see if we are right. Lindsay is more bonkers than we thought. Reg is subservient, wanting to please his brother but also to assert himself.
We are in an Australian version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre territory – or a more local Wolf Creek (confirmed when John Jarratt turns up as the local, earnest, policeman). Those suggestions of inbred communities is confirmed when Aunty Nance turns up (with an unnecessarily explicit interlude between herself and Lindsay). It is also reminiscent of one of the best of these horror parodies, Tucker and Dale Vs Evil.
Meanwhile, back in the shed for the grinding of bodies, there is a surprise turn of events, soon remedied by some bloody action. Then it is the turn of the three hitchhikers. Sophie does her best to charm Reg (though he has a thing for TV’s Rebecca Gibney). James spends most of the rest of the film hanging upside down over the grinder. Wes takes some pills and has a rather wild escape attempt which also includes his hand, a gun and the dog.
Not quite all as we might that thought – but near enough, except for the final unexpected joke which puts a smile on your face whether you wanted to smile or not. There is some blood and gore, but not nearly as much as in the American backblocks horror stories. This one is more ironic and so much is played for smiles and laughs.
If you like this kind of cult comic horror, then it is better than most. Otherwise, it will probably not be your bucket of blood!
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
US, 2013, 117 minutes, Colour.
Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Debbie Reynolds, Rob Lowe, Scott Bacula, Paul Reiser.
Directed by Stephen Soderbergh.
Audiences have been promised a biopic of Liberace for a long time. Production companies hesitated. It is a story of a (very) camp pianist, about gay relationships, about an AIDS virus death in the 1980s. He has been dead for almost three decades, so is not a household name as he was in his heyday (or years). However, Home Box Office decided to film Richard La Gravanese’s screenplay and Steven Soderbergh directs and is, as usual, director of photography using a pseudonym, Peter Andrews. It screened on American television but in cinemas around the world.
This is a lavish production. Las Vegas performances are re-created, the lush staging and the costumes Liberace and some of his associates wore (literally incredible with fur, glitter and trains). It is a frank story, going behind Liberace’s façade as heterosexual, taking us into his quite promiscuous world, descending into some sex addiction, his strong relationship with the young Scott Thorsen, his final illness.
Those who remember Liberace will be fascinated (some may be dismayed) by this portrait of the artist as an older man. Those who do not remember him may find this picture of California showbiz and its exuberance, extravagance and reality behind the façade, ( part of which was the candelabra on Liberace’s piano, symbol of his showmanship), not what they might have been expecting.
The time span of the film is 1977 to 1987 and the death of Liberace. It is based on Scott Thorsen’s 1988 book. Thorsen still lives in Reno (when he is not in court or in prison) and is happy with the film. Liberace seems to be at the peak of his popularity, though he had been performing for decades. There seemed to be nothing to stop him with his resorting to face lifts. But his private life and proclivities caught up with him.
Michael Douglas would not be the first actor in most people’s minds to portray Liberace, but he does so with flamboyant style as well as giving some depth to the portrayal. But, Matt Damon, with the less showy part, is quite convincing as Scott Thorsen, from naïve young helpful, through smitten lover, to bitterly discarded companion. He has to play straight man (so to speak) to Douglas’s camp exuberance. There is some interesting casting (and make-up and wigs) for Dan Aykroyd as Liberace’s sometimes venal manager, Debbie Reynolds (at 80) as Liberace’s mother and Rob Lowe as one of the most sinister-looking and stoned plastic surgeons to be found in Hollywood.
For many, this may be more than we want to know about Liberace. On the other hand, it offers a sound dose of reality to the images of celebrities who seem to be real only when they are on show or in the gossip columns and magazines.
BEYOND THE HILLS
Romania, 2012, 156 minutes, Colour.
Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur.
Directed by Christian Mungiu.
Christian Mungiu has become one of Romania’s most celebrated directors. He won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007 for his powerful film on abortion,4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days. He made an intriguing collection of Romanian short stories in 2009, Tales from a Golden Age. In 2012, Beyond the Hills won the prize for best screenplay and the best actress award, shared by the two stars, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, who had never made a film before.
Beyond the Hills is based on actual events which occurred in 2005. In a Romanian Orthodox monastery in Moldavia, in the eastern part of Romania, there was the death of a young woman during an exorcism ritual. The police investigated and those taking part were found guilty of the woman’s death. This film opens up the case, highlighting the condition of the woman who died, her mental and emotional states, focusing on the role of the priest in charge who decided on the exorcism and the nuns who assisted.
Mungiu has a powerful visual style. So many of the sequences are like filmed stage action but the impact is not theatrical in the confined sense. Rather, the focus of the audience on the scene, the characters and the action in medium close-up and long takes, means that the sense of realism is heightened. We, the audience, are right there, observing the accumulation of realistic detail, and being drawn into the action. This may account for the length of the film, over two and a half hours, but for most audiences this will not matter so much because of the intense and real experience.
While the film begins at a crowded railway station and there are visits to the local hospital, most of the action is in the remote monastery, where water comes from a well, where there is no electricity but communication is made through mobile phones. The priest in charge, who may be something of a rebel against the diocese and is called Papa, is devout and manages a functioning community where the religious superior, called Mama, is a practical and motherly nun. There are several sisters and associates and the faithful sometimes come for prayer. Life is basic, there is an outreach to an orphanage in the town, but there is a good spirit in the group.
When Amina comes back from Germany to see her friend Voiticha who has entered the community, she makes a move to stay but is mentally disturbed because of her relationship with Voiticha (lesbian undertones), her loneliness in Germany, her lack of faith. She is made to confess and attend prayer but this leads to breakdown and seizures which the doctors cannot take care of. Which leads to further disturbance which the priest interprets as diabolical possession and performs rituals while Amina fasts. This has a profound effect on Voiticha, her sense of vocation and prayer.
Clearly, the priest and the community, relying on their sense of tradition as their practical ways of dealing with problems are out of their depth, not recognising the mental issues, thinking they are doing the right thing, good intentions but limited experience. The medical response is particularly harsh while the police are far more sympathetic.
Romanians have said that the film needs to be considered in the cultural context of the remote area, the traditions of the Church (which is certainly unecumenical here with the priest saying that entering a non-Orthodox deserves damnation), the isolation of groups from the mainstream, limited experience of illness and mental states.
The film is quite a powerful experience and ends with a striking moment as a truck drives past the police car on a wet morning! (Some of the subtitles are too American in their colloquial tone for such a setting: What’s up?, that’s tough! And the use of the word ‘read’ for ‘perform the ritual’ seems odd.)
Hong Kong, 2012, 130 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Johnny To.
The idea behind Blind Detective seems rather whacko! How can a blind detective actually detect? This film certainly gives the answers, a blend of the serious and comic, and some outlandish scenes including a shootout and blind driving.
The film should be seen in the tradition of the Hong Kong dramas about police and crime detection. The director of this film, Johnny To, has contributed a great deal to this tradition over more than 20 years. This time he is working with the lighter touch.
We are introduced to Johnston, Andy Lau, who has lost his sight during his work as a policeman. Now he tracks down criminals and survives on the bounty money. We see him immediately in action following a large man who looks innocent but in fact has a career in throwing sulphuric acid on to crowds from the top of buildings. Johnston saves the day, but his police rival, especially for the affections of a tango dancer in the past, tricks him out of the bounty money. But he does offer to give him a meal, a considerable gift because Johnston, though very thin, has a huge appetite for food and spends a lot of the time of the film eating. But the police rival, watching Johnston through binoculars, asks the young woman in the force who is out buying food, to follow Johnston. She is hugely impressed by his work and visits him in hospital, after he has been hurt with sulphuric acid, to express her admiration and ask whether she could work with him.
The rest of the film is seeing the young woman and Johnston working together, re-creating scenes of crimes, re-living them, imagining action, asking questions, the film visualizing what is going on in Johnston’s imagination. This leads, of course, to some bizarre episodes.
However, the young woman wants to locate a school friend who disappeared and this becomes linked with quite a number of women who have disappeared in Hong Kong over a period of seven years. This does lead them to a killer, quite a bizarre killer, but the disappearance of the young schoolgirl is quite another story. And this takes smart detection, mysterious twists, including some murders, and a birth scene.
Some audiences may not get the Hong Kong sense of humour. Others may think it is all rather silly. But, if the audience surrenders to the basic idea, there is a lot to interest and entertain.
THE BLING RING
US, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
Kate Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Ash.
Directed by Sofia Coppola.
Unless you are young and have a certain empathy with these Californian teenagers, while enjoying (perhaps) but questioning their shenanigans, or have a passion for the soundtracks of the movies, you might find it hard to sit through this, comparatively brief but seemingly long, odd story which is based on actual events.
Some years ago, Larry Clarke upset many audiences with his Kids (1995), a picture of teenagers behaving badly in New York City, middle-class many of them. But, many audiences asked, ‘where are the parents?’ and ‘don’t they know what their kids are doing, how they think and feel?’. In The Bling Ring, there are some scenes with parents but they are quite ignorant of what their children are doing, or they are caricatures of New Age parents who are eternal optimists with their faith and fads. Not a pretty picture!
Actually, there is a great deal of prettiness about it, because what the kids are doing is googling information about young and wealthy LA celebrities, finding their homes and addresses, and when they are away from home for filming or promotion or parties, invading. They go to the houses (which always seem to have one unlocked door) and help themselves to what they want. The only boy in the group, Mark, usually exclaims ‘wow’ or has four-letter frets about ‘getting out of here’. The four girls, especially in one sequence, limit their articulate response to exclamations to repetitions of ‘O my God’ as they pick up each dress, shoe or handbags. Actually, they usually let each other know what the brand name is. They are not particularly interesting characters and will irritate those who are anti-US-teenagers, specifically anti-California. Audiences will find their characters, talk and behaviour exasperating.
Early, we do see that they police arrest them and witness some comments, mostly self-serving, which are intercut through the home invasions. But, here is a picture (ultimately critical of them and their self-centred attitudes) of self-indulgent, extravagantly-narcissistic, affluent, celebrity-wannabes.
Actually, the young cast impersonates their characters with some skill. Kate Chang is Rebecca, the instigator who draws Mark into her clutches. Israel Broussard looks a bit too ordinary, even nerdish, to turn into the drug-indulgent follower that he does. Mark is the only one who expresses some kind of regret. It is Emma Watson, not the ringleader but an over-assured and ambitious girl who even keeps shushing her indulgent mother (Leslie Mann) reminding her that the Vanity Fair’s interview is with her.
And, advising as she looks straight to camera at the end, that we can follow her exploits on her Facebook page!
Sofia Coppola grew up around these places and young people like this so we presume she knows what she is talking and film-making about.
US, 2011, 93 minutes, Colour.
Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker, Ryan Doucette.
Directed by Thom Fitzgerald.
It is being said that, at least in Australia, there is a growing audience of senior citizens enjoy going to the cinema. The criticism is that there are not enough films for this audience, so much being made for teenage audiences and young adults.
Here is a film with elderly characters at its centre. However, a warning is probably needed to caution the potential audience as to whether they want to see the film or not. The subject matter is still controversial. And this particular film has a great deal of raunchy dialogue, some of which might put Melissa McCarthy?, star of Bridesmaids and The Heat, into the shade. However, the film wants us to see through the raunchiness and the sexual references to the tenderness and the dignity of the central characters.
Olympia Dukakis plays the 80 year old Stella, almost 80 herself at the time of making the film. Brenda Fricker plays her companion, Dot. They have been together in a relationship for 31 years. They live quietly in the northeast of the United States. However, Dot has become blind and is, even though very patient, dependent on Stella. She has been married and her granddaughter is very concerned and wants to get power of attorney. And she arranges for Dot to go into an institution.
The film shows the effect on Stella who gets Dot out of the institution and, somewhat on impulse, they decide to go to Canada to be legally married.
The film then becomes a road movie, from Maine up into Canada, through beautiful countryside, especially with the water, lakes and coast. The women decide to pick up a hitchhiker, a provocative young man, Prentice, who has been something of an exotic dancer in New York, but wants to go home to see his dying mother. In many ways, the audience sees the two women through his eyes as he listens to them, shares their journey, is puzzled by them. He is played by Ryan Doucette.
We get to know the women much better. Stella, very masculine in her style and mistaken in the diner for a man, has a very tough exterior, brought about by surviving in a critical world. She is certainly very earthy in her outlook, her language, her references. But this also masks a tenderness, and affection and love for Dot, no matter how am disabled Dot becomes.
There are two key episodes to follow. The first is Prentice arriving home, the encounter with his ill mother, the clash with his father and some odd the comedy with Dot and his father. The second is arriving in the town and the arrangements for celebrating the wedding, Stella making demands but also phoning the granddaughter. There is some mix-up, and some pathos at the end, with Prentice once again helping the two women. They intend for him to come home with them.
As a film about old age, it has much to offer in terms of mutual love and support, especially through times of illness. As a film about same-sex relationships, it is one of those films, whether one is in sympathy with the situation or not, whether from religious and moral perspectives or from secular tradition, which presents characters in real life and challenges audience with the human and emotional dimension to give a perspective to a rational response.
US, 20123, 117 minutes, Colour.
Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lily Taylor, Ron Livingston.
Directed by James Wan.
The Conjuring has been the subject of discussion in the media, especially about what the Catholic Church thinks of this kind of horror film based, allegedly, on actual events. (And, it made $42,000,000 in the United States alone in its first days of release.)
Not that it is not an interesting film, and delivers for its audiences enough scares and shocks for people to jump in their seats. The director, James Wan, was the director of the first Saw film and has made a number of horror thrillers, including Death Sentence and Insidious, to prove that he is more than adept at this kind of film.
The main interest is the theme of satanic possession, the presence of evil in the world, mediated through human beings, the experience of hauntings and the possibilities of exorcism.
The Conjuring is based on a story by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the latter acting as a consultant for the film, a Catholic couple who have been involved in investigating hauntings and possessions for many decades. Their pictures appear in the final credits as well as do the family who are the central focus of this particular film.
Because there are references to the Catholic Church in the screenplay, with the Warrens being Catholic, and having a familiarity with Catholic rituals, especially for exorcism, and consulting a priest about this particular case, many have thought that it is a Catholic film. However, it is difficult to say that The Conjuring is ‘a Catholic film’. The references are scattered, sometimes slight, relying on crucifixes and holy water, and the general statement that Hollywood writers of fond of, ‘it will need approval from the Vatican’, without explaining who in the Vatican, how or why this kind of approval is needed or given. This contrasts with the original The Exorcist, 1973, which drew on an actual case, had Jesuit advisers and used the text of the ritual exactly. It also contrasts with the film, The Rite, 2011, which showed audiences aspects of the course on exorcism currently available in Rome.
Later in the film, because the Vatican approval has not come through, Ed Warren performs the exorcism himself. The introduction to the film states that he is one of the few lay exorcists approved by the church.
This is really a haunted house film, all stops out. A family of father and mother with five daughters moves out of the city into an old house sold by the bank. They should have checked on its reputation because it is connected, not with any Catholic history at all, but with descendants of a Salem witch of the 17th century, Satan worship in the 19th century which leads to human sacrifice and suicides. It is these characters who are haunting, wanting to get back into the world with their malevolence, taking possession of the mother (Lily Taylor subject to terrible torments), while inhabiting some of the daughters at times. So, there is religious background from the Protestant past. The haunted family is not religious at all, though the Warrens suggest it might be better if they were baptised.
But, ‘the Catholic thing’, is the background of the Warrens (Ed dying in 2006, aged 80) and Lorraine, now 86. They have been described as devout Catholics and this is taken for granted in the film. The most famous case, movie-wise, is that of the Amityville house and its haunting, filmed in 1978 as The Amityville Horror, with half a dozen sequels for television, and remade in 2005. There have been other films based on their cases, The Haunted, 1991, and A Haunting in Connecticut, 2009. They appeared in a number of television programs and are described as ‘paranormal investigators’, he a demonologist and writer, she a clairvoyant and medium.
While Ed Warren, played rather stolidly here by Patrick Wilson, mentions scepticism quite often, he and his wife, a sympathetic Vera Farmiga, give lectures which are packed out with eager students asking questions. There are some episodes where they visit a house and explain the sounds and creakings quite rationally. But it is a reminder that it is often easier to believe in a haunting than to believe in God, that the credibility of possession is more credible than that of a truly spiritual world. While the Warrens have been consistent and public in their work, there have been accusations of fraud and hoaxes.
So, The Conjuring is an entertainment of the ghosts/poltergeist/hauntings kind. The clever writers, Chad and Carey Hayes, have drawn on the conventions of the horror genre and borrowed, without depthing, some Catholic associations.
A GUN IN EACH HAND
Spain, 2012, 95 minutes, Colour.
Javier Camara, Luis Tosar, Ricardo Darin, Eduardo Fernandez, Jordi Molla, Eduardo Noriega, Alberto San Juan, Leonor Watling, Cayetana Guillen Cuervo.
Directed by Cesc Gay.
A Gun in Each Hand sounds like either a western or a gangster film. It is neither.
In fact, this is a very urban drama, set in contemporary Barcelona. It is also something of a cinema talk-fest, the impact relying on the dialogue and performance rather than any action. This means it will be fascinating for those who enjoy looking and listening, frustrating or tedious for those who prefer fewer words and more action.
Not only is the film principally dialogue, it is divided, basically, into five acts. In each of the acts, two characters converse with each other, although the final act has a double set of characters. And the conversation is principally amongst men.
The first story sets the tone, a seedy-looking man arriving at a building, looking for a lawyer. By chance, he encounters a friend that he has not seen for ten years who is emerging from a therapy session. They stop on the ground floor and have a conversation which runs for more than ten minutes. They reveal themselves, their characters, their friendship, the absences, marriage and divorce, the role of therapy. They say they should meet again but we suspect that they will not.
A woman is introduced into the second conversation. She is at home, working, caring for the children. Her ex-husband comes to visit, wanting to make connections again, as they talk about responsibility, family. It is not likely that they will reconnect.
In the third episode we are taken outside, a man sitting in the park, watching the apartment where his wife is now living and preparing to marry someone else. When a man walking a dog passes by, they connect, the gradual realisation that the man with the dog is the new husband.
There is change of tone in the fourth story as a seemingly shy young man approaches a rather vivacious worker in his office. He has lustful intentions and she leads him on. He is eager to believe her and becomes the subject of humiliation and mockery.
In the final episode, before a concluding party where several of the characters come together though not necessarily connecting, two men are on their way to the party as are two women. One couple goes by car, the other walking, but each of the women describes the sexual behaviour of her husband to the other, the men being friends. There is a frankness in these discussions.
A very fine cast of celebrated Spanish and Latin American actors contribute to the power of the film. However, ultimately, it is left to the audience to make any judgments on the characters, how interesting they are, how real their lives and problems.
US, 2013, 117 minutes, Colour.
Sandra Bullock, Melissa Mc Carthy, Demien Bichir, Jane Curtin, Michael Rappaport.
Directed by Paul Feig.
There have been any number of male buddy-movies, especially police-partner comedies and dramas. They were very popular in the 1970s in cinemas and on television - and have been ever since. Audiences are very used to the male-bonding of the partners, Starsky and Hutch and co, and are very familiar with the male characters, macho attitudes, and, of course, the way they handle (and mishandle) suspects. There have not been so many female buddy-movies, or television programs. The main one that comes to mind is Cagney and Lacey.
The Heat offers a little compensation, featuring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy? has a very odd-couple, female pairing of investigators, the first from the FBI, the second a detective in Boston.
This of course offers the opportunity for audiences to make comparison about males and their dealing with crime situations and females. Maybe. Bullock and Mc Ccarthy are not your typical law enforcement agents. That is enough in itself. However, the film offers the opportunity for them to act in sometimes outlandish ways, mirroring (realistically and satirically) masculine behaviour.
So, underlying the comedy, there are some serious investigation stories of drug dealing and murder. It means that the film offers a murder mystery, with a somewhat surprising twist at the end.
However, it is enjoying the performances of Bullock and McCarthy?, each expert in her own style, that make the difference for the heat.
Audiences have become accustomed to see Sandra Bullock, a really glamorous star, now in her forties, in very serious roles but know that she can do ironic comedy like the Miss Congeniality films. On the other hand, Melissa Mc Carthy, especially in more recent years, has established herself: exploiting her physical size and manner, as the kind of slob with a loudmouth, less than scrupulous in manner in dealing with criminals, barging in, and making her more uptight partner quite embarrassed. She has done it in Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, This is 40 and Hangover Part III. She may well repel some audiences. But her skill in creating this kind of character and her aplomb in carrying it off means that many audiences who may not like to meet her on the street will enjoy the outrageous behaviour - while, perhaps, thinking she has gone too far in language and sexual references and behaviour.
Most of the film is on the Boston streets, and there is quite some toughness, even moments of savagery, in the behaviour of the drug lords in the city. Ultimately, the women get their man, though not without some very tight and dangerous moments.
And it is clear from the beginning the Sandra Bullock will eventually become much tougher, less uptight and duty and rules bound than she is. On the other hand, it is also clear from the beginning that Melissa Mc Carthy is going to mellow or we are going to see a more tender character underneath the bravado surface. This is especially true because of her relationship with her eccentric family and the involvement of her brother, Michael Rappaport, with the drug chiefs. Her angry mother is played sharply by Jane Curtin.
A lot of the dialogue is also very funny, Bullock’s irony, Mc Carthy’s one liners, when one is sometimes surprised at the joke one is laughing at.
The two actors work very well together and it will be no surprise if there is to be a sequel.
NOW YOU SEE ME
US, 2013, 115 minutes, Colour.
Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman.
Directed by Louis Letterier.
This caper with comic touches reminds us of the perennial attraction and power of magic.
We are introduced to three magicians in some detail. At the end of what seems like an audition for us the audience, we realise it is an audition for a mastermind who will employ them for over a year to work his magic in public, in Las Vegas, in New Orleans, in New York City. And they certainly do.
Jesse Eisenberg is a controlling type with ambitions – he asks someone to pick a card and suddenly there it is, the correct card, in lights on the side of a building. Wondering whether this would work for someone in the cinema audience, I also chose a card – and there it was in lights, the card I chose. How could this be? Did the shuffler hold this card just a little longer so that it attracted attention? I still don’t know, but that’s what happened. Woody Harrelson is in fine form as a mentalist and hypnotist and his first demonstration is very good, embarrassing an unfaithful husband. Isla Fisher is a Houdini-imitator, struggling to get free before piranhas are dropped into her tank. This one we can all work out. Dave Franco does tricks on ferries but is good at stealing wallets.
There is a lot of talk about magic throughout the film, about not too much concentrating, about noticing, about being the cleverest in the room. A lot of this comes from Morgan Freeman as a magician-buster, with a TV show and reputation for exposing those he thinks of as second rate performers. He tries to be ahead of the game.
And there is Michael Caine was a businessman who has invested in the show, enjoying the prestige, but coming to regret it.
Once the four do their magic in Las Vegas, quite a trick, the police are after them because they have invited a member of the audience to rob a bank – and he is a Frenchman and they transport him via a helmet to France to rob his bank! The police are led by one of those obtuse detectives who think they know the answers at once and don’t notice obvious clues and are continually being upstaged. He is played by a ruffled Mark Ruffalo. Then there is the sudden appearance of the young Frenchwoman from Interpol, which occasions some anti-French remarks from the detective. Why is she there?
Plenty of showmanship in this entertaining film, but there is an exciting but implausible car chase through a crowded Manhattan, something the director, Louis Letterier (Unleashed and Transporter, as well as The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans) has relished in other films.
Most audiences will enjoy the film, watching the magic – and getting some explanations. You really need NOT to know the ending when you go in, so this review is written using the magic advice of how to misdirect your audience.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES
Denmark/ Thailand, 2013, 94 minutes, Colour.
Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas,
Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn.
A revenge melodrama.
What is left at the end of a revenge drama or melodrama – even thinking of Shakesperian and Jacobean tragedies like Hamlet or The Duchess of Malfi? A large number of corpses, a temporary peace and a conqueror who finds that they are in isolation after wreaking their vengeance.
Those 16th and 17th century melodramas are quite stylized in their staging and in their use of language and of poetry. We accept these conventions (or withdraw, shocked) and move into this stylized world. 20th century and 21st century films have their own conventions, vigilante action films, for instance.
But, Danish Nicholas Winding Refn has his own conventions for his quite violent stories. He often pares his screenplay of words. In this film, star Ryan Gosling has fewer than 100 words of dialogue. Refn presents characters like icons, his camera remaining on them and their poses. Many shots are like stills come to life (well, at least, to some kind of minimal movement). It is almost like (as in his medieval drama, Valhalla Rising) that each sequence is like a part of a video installation that could be set up in a museum hall. And, he relies on his use of colour which pervades (or is drained from) his shots to suggest atmosphere and moods.
This is particularly important for Only God Forgives with its settings in Thailand. While there are scenes in the streets and markets and vistas from building roofs, most of the action (not exactly the right word) takes place indoors, in corridors, hotel rooms, clubs, kickboxing venues, each with its distinctive colour, as well as shade and darkness. And the music, blend of west and Thai sounds, is also stylized.
Winding Refn has built up quite a reputation but, for many critics, Only God Forgives was a step or steps too far and a number condemned his violence and his style as pretentious. Be that as it may, it is certainly distinctive.
Re plot? Julian (Ryan Gosling, directed to just be, to sit and contemplate – showing the audience what we should be doing as we sit and watch) is connected with kickboxing. His older brother deals drugs. He also rapes and murders a young girl which leads to a powerful Thai policeman to initiate moves to have him killed. Which he does. That is the beginning of the revenge and its bloody consequences. There are some grisly scenes, especially in a club where a western gangster is tortured in very ugly ways. But, the officer has told all the girls in the club to shut their eyes during the brutality. Audiences may wish to do the same.
The other complication is the men’s mother, a drug gangster herself, who flies in from the US to get her dead son’s body. She is the total dragon lady, blending Lady Macbeth and Medea. And she is played to the hilt by a blonde-wigged, foul-mouthed Kristin Scott Thomas.
The ending will leave audiences puzzled. The Thai officer goes back to the police club as he does throughout the film, takes the microphone and sings. While Julian survives, the final image and his action raise both exclamation mark and question mark.
Little evidence that God forgives.
Refn has made an arthouse, bloody revenge melodrama.
US, 2013, 130 minutes, Colour.
Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Clifton Collins Jr, Charlie Day, Burns Gorman.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Quite an overwhelming experience of a futuristic, science-fiction tale. It should have all fans of this kind of movie experience and extravaganza quite excited.
The film is set in the future, at least for engineering companies to be able to build the giant size Robocop-looking encasements for the human hunters of the giant size monsters who have appeared to overcome and, even, take over the world. It must be in the long-term future. Even so, there is a picture of President Obama addressing people on the television!
The opening of the film moves fairly swiftly. We are informed about the break in the tectonic plates, the emergence from out of the depths of the oceans, these gigantic monsters. And we see them do violence on a range of cities in the Pacific rim. Interestingly, perhaps because of the special effects, the creature attacking Sydney moves comfortably between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. The damage that they cause is enormous, but we are spared seeing the destruction of our icons. One is tempted to use the word ‘jaw-dropping’ to describe the special effects, the intricacy, the detail, pace, editing and the overwhelming impact, but ‘jaw-dropping’ would be something of a cliché.
One of the temptations while watching the film is to wonder what movies were influencing the screenwriter and the director. The immediate thought is Transformers, big and loud (but with much more thought behind it!). Robocop has been mentioned already. And, of course, the giant monsters immediately suggest Godzilla. And at the end, in the depths of the sea, it is something of The Core.
Actually, the idea of the creatures attacking humans for dominance is really a variation on alien attack and The War of the Worlds, the creatures coming from down there rather than up and out there.
What is the world to do? The good thing is that governments put their differences aside and collaborate. This is just as well as the Robocop-looking armor that they build would cost zillions. But they build them, train people to go inside, have a process whereby their minds are linked and unified, put them in the machine whereby they stomp out to do battle with the monsters. Again the effects are often astounding.
There is a very a serious-looking commander, played by Idris Elba. He has previously been a fighter and is strictly in control of the battle. However, after some years, the authorities want to close down his program. Fortunately, there is an enormous (enormous being an understatement) for this huge set, where the new machines are built and fighters trained as well as having a vast technological communications space. This enables him to utter quite a line: ‘We’re cancelling the apocalypse.’
One of the early fighters is played by Charlie Hunnam, who worked with his brother, but who was killed by a monster. Shattered, the surviving brother goes to work on construction but is recruited to join the new program. His potential partner is a young woman, played by Rinko Kikuchi who was so effective in Babel. There is a powerful scene where the two unite their minds, but the experience overwhelms as she is controlled by her memories of being threatened as a little girl by a monster and her terror. However, we know in our heart of hearts, that she is going to be part of the grand finale to stop the monsters. A spoiler: she is.
Meanwhile there are two scientists, disagreeing with each other, one a practical person, the other theoretical, a kind of odd couple humorous duo. Burns Gorman is overly eccentric as the theorist. Charlie Day overacts (acting is too complimentary a word), and gets into frantic situations, mind joining with a monster, seeking out illegal dealers in monster parts, led by an over-comically sinisteer Ron Perlman. They compensate for the seriousness of Idris Elba.
Oh, and there are two Australian characters, father and son, father played by an American actor, son played by British actor. The son is surly, antagonistic, but comes around. The father is earnest, very supportive of the projects, with acquired flat Australian vowels, saying that the danger is in ‘Category Foive’!
It all builds up to the final confrontation, dangers under the sea, graphic battles, and a final matinee-like holding-of-breath climax.
For those who enjoy these shows, it is certainly one of the best of its kind. And it was directed by Guillermo Del Toro, the Mexican director who moves easily between arthouse classics like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth and this kind of science-fantasy like Cronos and Hellboy.
LE PRENOM/ WHAT’S IN A NAME.
France, 2012, 109 minutes, Colour.
Patrick Bruel, Charles Berling, Valerie Benguigui, Guillaume de Tonquedoc, Judith El Zein.
Directed by Alexandre de la Patelliere, Matthieu Delaporte.
It’s best not to take the light touch too seriously at the beginning of this film as an indication that this will be another frothy French tale of friends gathering for a meal and reminiscing about their lives with each other since they were children. The froth soon dissipates and we are drawn into reminiscences that lead to recriminations, old stories that reveal resentments, and some present shocks. As we move into the conversation, drawn into it by the intensity, we will be amazed at the deep feelings on display but, perhaps, not really surprised that under the surface are hurts that need to be aired – and healed.
We are taken on an amusing ride through the streets of Paris as the film opens, but the pizza deliverer goes to the wrong door and needs to move on. We stay at the mistaken door and find ourselves at preparations for a dinner, Moroccan style. The home couple are hosts, he a university professor, she a local teacher. Visitors are her brother and his wife and long-time friend who plays the trombone.
The brother and his wife are expecting – and they ask what the child’s name will be. They guess and guess, he giving the letter A. When he reveals the choice, the gathering freezes over and, as it thaws, it really heats up, each character taking the advantage of venting their spleen on each other. The screenplay is very well written, strong stories and memories being given quite eloquent voice, with some malicious invective. A lot narcissism in the room, a lot of pettiness, a lot of wounds, a lot of bitterness. A bit of truth or dare with some important emotional and rational (and irrational) consequences.
The film is based on a play and most of the action takes place in the dining room and kitchen of the house, but it does not make the audience feel confined. There are some flashbacks to open things out a little. These are effective in introducing each of the characters, showing them in their work situations. Later in the film, they are just imagination sequences (false as it turns out) and others which are just illustrating the words.
The initial credits list everyone only with their prenom! The final credits do have family names, but also with a baby or child photo of each of the cast and crew.
A stronger drama than we might have expected.
Italy, 2012, 117 minutes, Colour.
Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli.
Directed by Matteo Garrone.
Despite Luciano’s laugh at the end of the film, this is, overall, a rather sad film.
Director, Matteo Garrone, has won awards by dramatising the main myth of Naples, the Mafia. Now he goes to a much more mundane, but no less prevalent, myth: reality-TV.
The reality of the title refers to reality TV, specifically the Big Brother program, so popular all around the world. At the time of the making of this film, it was in its 12th season in Italy.
There is a symbolic beginning as we watch a long the aerial shot over the outskirts of Naples, the background of Vesuvius, finally passing the cars in the streets to focus on an ornate carriage, carrying a bride and groom and going into a theme park called Le Sonrisa where marriages are celebrated, celebrities flown in, locals dressing up in costumes to be part of the background to the celebrations. We see ordinary people dressed up in a fantasyland.
But, then they go home, to very ordinary homes where they are very ordinary people. Not exactly poor, but not exactly well-off. And while the father works at a fish market, he is also involved in scams with a new product of robot-cookers.
But it is the Big Brother program that preoccupies him. Persuaded to do an audition, Luciano is called to Cinecitta in Rome for a second audition. But then there is the long wait for a phone call to ensure that he is a candidate to go into the Big Brother House. This long waits turns into an obsession, as he sells his fish market shop, as he broods, watches Big Brother on the television, moves out of reality to the concern of his wife, thinking that the producers are secretly watching him and thinking that he should do charitable deeds, including giving away his furniture, to ensure his being chosen for the Big Brother House.
Aniello Arena is completely persuasive as Luciano, the very ordinary man, very ordinary-looking man, who gets caught up in the atmosphere of contemporary pop media, the reality shows, thinking that he will become famous, thinking that he will make money, thinking that his family will esteem him more. Another character, Enzo, sweeps in and out of the film to great acclaim, the celebrity for the masses.
The film offers a lot of background detail for life in the suburbs of Naples. It also has the highly emotional outbursts of the Neapolitans. It is interesting to note that there are a couple of church scenes, elderly ladies pray the rosary in church, a brief sermon from a sensible priest on appearances and reality, Luciano and his friend Michele working in a soup kitchen of the parish and, finally, the going to the stations of the cross on good Friday at the Coliseum. These scenes seem to indicate that finding a place in the Big Brother House is a secular alternative to going to heaven.
Just as the film opened with an aerial shot into Naples, the film ends with a long rising tracking shot from Luciano in the Big Brother House laughing, but giving us plenty of time to wonder what is the nature of his laugh, satisfaction in getting into the house or a mad giggle.
THIS IS THE END
US, 2013, 107 minutes, Colour.
Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny Mc Bride, Emma Watson, Michael Cera.
Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
This is the end! But, in fact, it was only the title at the beginning. After fiteen minutes of a Hollywood stoner party, it really seemed as if it were the end. But then there is a huge earthquake, a vast chasm in front of a mansion and some of the guests, not without deserving it, fall in and descend into hell. In the distance, others are taken up in the rapture. And then the film goes on for another hour and a half.
The film is a Hollywood in-joke. It is very much an exercise in self-indulgence as well as self-promotion for its stars.
The film was written and directed by comedian Seth Rogen and his writing counterpart for several films, including Superbad, Evan Goldberg. The film opens with Seth Rogen as himself, or a chosen version of himself, meeting Jay Baruchel at LA airport. They hang out for a while together and then go to a party at James Franco’s house, Franco also playing himself or a version of himself. Amongst the many guests are Jonah hill, Craig Robinson and, for a while, Michael Cera playing a crude version of what he might want to be (or thought of) before he is impaled on his way to hell. Of all people, Emma Watson turns up, certainly in different company from what she is used to.
Most of the film is interaction between the five survivors as well as Danny Mc Bride, who also turns up uninvited. Not one of this reviewer’s favourite actors (see/don’t see Your Highness, Thirty Seconds or Less), but with his blunt saying what he thought and acting it out, he seemed to be the funniest of the group. There are many references to the films all of the leading players have made as well as to other movies. This is slightly amusing for those who know the actors.
In the attempts at survival, the cast indulges in what they do in most of their stoner films, Pineapple Express, Super, Your Highness… There is a continuity of crass jokes which tend to go on and on because there are no time limits on the screenplay. Plenty of scatological humour. Plenty of drugs. And most of the characters showing their meaner sides. Response to the humour depends on one’s liking for the actors themselves and their styles, Seth Rogen generally being nice but cowardly, but not always, Jay Baruchel trying to be self a righteous. Craig Robinson has some funny lines, especially about race. And Jonah hill, pretending to like Baruchel when he really loathes him, finally becomes possessed by a devil and there is a parody of The Exorcist.
And then come the devils, Godzilla-size monsters trampling over a burning Los Angeles. But, there are moments of redemption, with an exploitation of the theme of the rapture. And then there is heaven, with most people in white, better-dressed than at earthly parties, which is really just another stoner party.
There is a paraphrase of themes from the Book of Revelation, some discussion about heaven and hell and the presence of God, some attempts of hope of the end for people to be their better selves and experience the rapture. Fans of the stars will inevitably be filled with rapture. The rest of us will remain stranded on earth, either still sitting in our seats or having gone out to do something better with the rest of our lives.
THE WAY, WAY BACK
US, 2013, 103 minutes, Colour.
Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Alison Janney, Anna Sophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.
Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Troubles of a 14 year old adolescent? Again? Well, yes. But more interestingly explored than usual – and with some nicer touches.
Liam James is particularly convincing as Duncan, travelling to a holiday house on the Masssachusets Coast with his mother (Toni Collette) who has taken up with a divorced father, Trent, (Steve Carrell) and his rather self-centred teenage daughter. Duncan is sitting in the back of the car when Trent asks him how he would rate himself from one to ten. He tries six. He is a rather lugubrious looking boy and is dismayed when his prospective stepfather tells Duncan he thinks he is a three. And it rankles.
At first, the holiday is a disaster for Duncan. He is supportive of his mother, angry with Trent, putting up with his daughter. Then there is the extraverted-off-the-page next door neighbour (Alison Janney at her outrageously exuberant best) and her son with a cast in his eye and the somewhat unhappy daughter (AnnaSophia Robb). They all go into the mix for some very serious episodes and some humorous episodes to offer some balance.
But the best of the comedy and drama takes place at the theme swimming pool, Water Wizz, where Duncan comes across Owen (Sam Rockwell, with the touch of the zany, but with a while lot of sympathy), who befriends him, helps him work at Water Wizz (without his mother knowing) and the boy comes alive, is not literal in everything he hears, finds friends, including the girl from next door, opens up to be boy he could become. His communication with Owen is very effective, a father-figure when he needs one, not paternalistic but offering sensible advice and affirming him.
But, there are the heavy scenes, especially at the beach, where Trent is exposed as a thoughtless cad, and Duncan, beginning to defend his mother, upbraids her for not standing up for herself and for running away from crises. He surprises himself – and us – with this highly emotional and public outburst.
Audiences will enjoy various parts of the film depending on whom they are identifying with, the older generation or the younger. The screenplay highlights the vulnerability of a woman abandoned by her husband, trying to cope with her morose son, and testing the possibilities of a new relationship and being hurt and frustrated by it but not having the courage of the strength to do much about it. Toni Collette is particularly good at communicating the feelings and frustrations of this character. It is a surprise to see Steve Carell playing such an obnoxious and fickle character as Trent. But it is Sam Rockwell who shows how someone very ordinary can have the power and the strength of character to enable a sad boy to begin to find himself.
The ending brings some kind of resolution but is still open.
The film was written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. The former plays Owen’s co-worker at the Water Wizz. Jim Rash plays the entertainingly hypochondriac, Lewis, who is always threatening to leave his kiosk – but doesn’t.
US, 2013, 126 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Svetlana Khodchenkova.
Directed by James Mangold.
This is the sixth time that Hugh Jackman has let his hair grow and put on his claws to be Logan, better known as Wolverine.
The film opens arrestingly in Japan, enemy prisoners of war, the Japanese guards afraid and commiting hara-kiri. However, one of the prisoners is Logan, in a deep pit. He persuades one guard not to kill himself and, together, they witness the atomic bomb dropping on Nagasaki.
Then, later, there is Logan living in a remote part of North America, quite anti brutal hunters who barbarously kill bears. Where is the film going? What is Wolverine going to do? Well, a brightly active young Japanese woman arrives to persuade him to come to Japan. The old Japanese soldier is dying and wants to see Logan to thank him again. And off he goes.
So, most of the film is set in Japan. The old man is dying and leaving his biggest-company-in-Japan to his daughter and not to his son. Obviously, problems all round, with Yakuza, a most deadly Russian femme fatale who seems straight out of a Bond movie (villain, of course), and a gigantic Robocop like creature.
On the other hand, while it is an action show, comic book style, it is also a quieter film than many, concentrating on Logan and his character and his dealing with his Wolverine powers which the femme fatale has been able to lessen, bringing him and the two Japanese woman into danger. But…
Hugh Jackman is always a genial screen presence and is so here. The plot is interesting while not being memorable, so an entertaining holiday show.