SIGNIS REVIEWS JULY 2015
13 MINUTES/ ELSER
COMING HOME/ GAU LAI
FACE OF AN ANGEL, The
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
GOOD LIE, The
MAGIC MIKE XXL
WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED, The
Germany, 2015, 110 minutes, Colour.
Christian Friedel, Katharina Schuttler, Johan Von Bulow, Burghardt Klaussner.
Directed by Oliver Hirschbirgel.
Oliver Hirschbirgel’s, Downfall, showing the last days of Hitler, was a great international success though causing some controversy in Germany with its picture of Hitler, indicating some more humane aspects of his behaviour. Hirschbirgel had already made quite an impression with his feature debut, The Experiment.
After several years making films abroad, The Invasion and the portrait of Princess Diana, Diana, both of which were received, he returned to Germany to make this film about the era of National Socialism.
The subject is Georg Elser, a man in his 30s, seemingly quiet, interested in folk music, a touch of the womaniser and his work in the town in the Jura Mountains. The film opens with his setting up a bomb in a hall in Munich, timed to assassinate Hitler as he made an address. It is 1938.
However, the attempt to kill Hitler was a failure, with Hitler leaving the room 13 minutes earlier than anticipated. Elser is caught, interrogated with torture, threatened by bringing his lover into the interrogation, but his never giving up any information. Hitler thought that it was a conspiracy and would not believe that it was the work of one man – with Else spending some time explaining the bomb and his skills to the interrogators.
The film offers flashbacks to his character, his mother, life in the town, his music, the clashes with National Socialists, the birth of the child and its death. Elser was condemned to Dachau and was executed just before the liberation of the camp.
Christian Friedel gives a convincing performance and the film makes the point that while attention is given to Von Stauffenberg and his attempt to kill Hitler, and people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer are held in high regard, with films made about Sophie Scholl and others who resisted, Elser was often considered something of an eccentric loner. This film rehabilitates his memory.
US, 2015, 105 minutes, Colour.
Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel Mc Adams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Danny Mc Bride, Alec Baldwin, Bill Camp, Danielle Rose Russell.
Directed Cameron Crowe.
With a title like Aloha, it is obvious that this is going to be a Hawaiian story. But, not quite in the way that might have been anticipated.
This is a film written and directed by Cameron Crowe, a former journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, specialising in popular music – and the film version, somewhat autobiographical, was in Crowe’s film, Almost Famous. Other films by Crowe include his most famous, Jerry Maguire, as well as The Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown.
Crowe is interested in relationships and these are to the fore in Aloha. However, he includes a more contemporary theme, space exploration – and the exploitation of space for communications as well as for military defence.
The film has a very good cast, led by Bradley Cooper as Frank who has emerged as a significant actor with such films as Limitless, American Heist, The Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper. The leading lady is Emma Stone, Magic in the Moonlight, Birdman. He plays a scientist with a knowledge of technology and who has served on being wounded in Afghanistan. She plays a captain, a fighter pilot, Allison Ng, who reminds everyone that she is one quarter Hawaiian.
Their paths cross when he is invited to Hawaii by a billionaire entrepreneur, played by Bill Murray, who wants to send up a satellite, privately financed, but in collaboration with the American military, but needs permission from local Polynesians, especially from the King and his kingdom, for a blessing of a bridge and permission for the satellite to go up into the Hawaiian sky.
The personal story is complicated because Frank encounters his girlfriend of 13 years earlier, a woman who was in love with him but whom he stood up. She is Tracy, played by Rachel Mc Adams, who is now married to a rather taciturn pilot, Woody, John Krasinski. The past lovers renew acquaintance, Tracy having the need to vocalise her feelings of the last 13 years, Frank being forced to acknowledge what he did in the past, with Allison witness to this. Tracy has two children, Grace and Mitch, who contribute to the plot complications.
Allison herself has become involved with Frank and believes that his work is to help the entrepreneur put a satellite in space which has nothing to do with military or defence. She experiences some disillusionment with him, but the situation makes emotional and loyalty demands on Frank as to what he really believes in and whom he loves.
And In the background are military officials played by Danny Mc Bride and Bill Camp, liaisons with the general, a crusty character, played by Alec Baldwin.
Cameron Crowe is a liberal at heart and this is the perspective that pervades the final part of the film.
A blend of the light and the serious with attractive Hawaiian and locations and an interesting cast.
UK, 2015, 128 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Asif Kapadia
Amy Winehouse made her mark on the world, the world of popular music, having a career that spanned ten years, winning several Grammy awards, including Best Song with Rehab, an award for Best young British talent of the year, praised as having a strong voice for jazz.
That may mean that while she did have a large following, there are a lot of people who knew her only from headlines or from tabloid stories. And she certainly had a tabloid kind of life, a celebrity who rose high and certainly fell low.
Asif Kapadia has made a number of documentaries as well as some feature films, especially The Warrior, set in India, and the documentary biography of racing driver Ayrton Senna. He received quite some praise for that documentary and already has won critical praise for this film about Amy Winehouse.
Anyone, musical or not, who is interested in the contemporary cult of celebrity will find this portrait and this study quite interesting. What the director and his researchers have done is to assemble a great deal of footage from her initial auditions to her death, 2001 – 2011. There is plenty of visual material to draw on, auditions, rehearsals, recordings, concerts, home movies with friends, television footage. As well, there is quite an amount of audio material. And there are many, many interviews with her mother, with her father, with her close friends, and managers, promoters, bodyguards…
The director has been skilful in assembling his material, sometimes having voice-over of Amy with different pieces of footage or photos from other times, making the impact of his images and sound more complex.
The film is put together in chronological order, with some flashbacks to Amy’s life as a child and growing up. it is a picture of a Jewish girl from North London - and images of Barbra Streisand come to mind as we see her, her looks, her forthright manner, her strong voice and singing style. Her father was absent during a lot of her childhood but emerged later and undertook her management, criticising this present film for not doing justice to his daughter and putting him in a bad light – and his wanting to make his own film, something of which he did during his daughter’s lifetime.
Audiences interested in the music industry will find that there is meticulous detail about and interviews from those involved with her career, as they worked with her and helped her, the difficulties they experienced, especially in her final years, the successful concerts, records, the Grammys. The range of people interviewed gives an overall picture of Amy Whitehouse’s career.
On the personal level, it is said that she was shy even though she came across publicly as one of those forthright Jewish personalities. She did smoke pot in her early years, but eventually was introduced to cocaine, which led to heroin – and the comment made by her during the film that life without drugs was boring. It also emerges that what looked like to be a hearty appetite was, in fact, bulimia.
She had many boyfriends, friends commenting on some promiscuity in her life, marrying a boyfriend who may have been instrumental in the drug use, supporting him when he was arrested and imprisoned for impeding the course of justice, the marriage ending after two years in divorce.
The other point that the film wants to make is that she had celebrity thrust upon her very early, like many a child actor, performer, sports man or woman, which means that they were still developing their personality while expected to be competent in coping with the wider world – and being cut off more and more from the difficulties of real life, being pampered and spoilt, people responding to their whims, paparazzi pursuing them, and not enough time to be by themselves, to think, to appreciate what was happening to them.
This is significant for Amy Whitehouse’s songs. She is praised by many, by a singer she greatly admired, Tony Bennett, with whom she did a duet, filmed and shown here. She appreciated singers like Sarah Vaughan and was considered to have a wonderful sense of jazz, rhythms and timing. The lyrics which appear during the film, often literally on screen, help the audience realise that they were all about her, her life, her feelings, her relationships, not exactly narcissistic, but self-preoccupied, using the lyrics and the rhythms to express a lot of her troubled personality and what was happening in her inner and her out of life.
Some have complained that the film does not include everything – but, after all, it runs just over two hours and there will be necessary omissions from the point of view of the selection of the director. While it does serve as a basic biography, it is, more importantly, a cinema portrait.
US, 2015, 117 minutes, Colour.
Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian, T.I., Wood Harris, Hayley Atwell, John Slattery, Martin Donovan, Anthony Mackie.
Directed by Peyton Reed.
A full confession! This is a realisation that early into Ant-man, this reviewer was believing all the science, accepting that living creatures could be shrunk, that this kind of activity could be credible!
Which leads to say that Ant-man is a very entertaining and enjoyable film.
Marvel comics have a long reputation for their comic strips and comic books in print. In fact, Ant-man was first released in 1963. However, it was the other superheroes who made it earlier to the screen, stories of The Hulk, of Captain America, of Iron Man, of Thor, episodes for all the heroes, many sequels and, of course, The Avengers films.
With due respect to the last Avengers film, The Age of Ultron, Ant-man is far more enjoyable.
In the late 1980s, scientific researcher, Dr Pym, was developing techniques for reducing living creatures. But, it was the time of the Cold War and he was being looked on with some hostility by CIA authorities. He then retired but continued his work, even after his protégé, Darren Cross, took over his company and laboratories.
Present day. Darren Cross has almost succeeded in his shrinking techniques and experiments on creatures, including lambs, until he has success. While he is brilliant at science, he is also a greedy man in love with power and plans to sell his research to the highest bidders, irrespective of their motives and their plans for domination. Dr Pym does not approve. But his daughter, Hope, works with Dr Cross.
Also present day. pleasant burglar, Scott Lang is about to be released from prison, gets fired from his fast food job because of his past, shares an apartment with Luis, a motor-mouth when it comes to telling a story with excessive detail, and two of his friends. Scott is being prevented from seeing his daughter by his ex-wife and her new partner who is a police officer.
These two present-day scenarios then connect, with Scott doing a burglary job in Dr Pym’s house, then becoming a candidate for the experiment for a shrinking man. Dr Pym’s motives are good, wanting to stop Dr Cross and deciding to use his Ant-man to infiltrate and destroy Dr Cross’s experiments – including Cross shrinking himself as Yellowjacket.
Some of the most entertaining scenes are Scott’s training to be an Ant-man, experiencing what it is to be so small and in danger from ordinary situations, like water in the bath becoming a deluge, like exercising mind control over ants and their activities, finding Anthony, a giant ant on whom he could ride to battle. Dr Pym’s daughter had hoped to do battle for her father but he wants to protect her, especially when she learns the story of her mother who was a partner with her husband and gave her life for experiments.
So, this leads to a set up for confrontation between the two Ant-men, Goody and Baddy.
This film is certainly not predictable like the other action hero stories. While Scott, Ant-man, as a criminal background he is something of a hero, but very small, and, while his activities will contribute to saving the world, they are not cataclysmic and apocalyptic like the battles in other Marvel films. And there is a great deal of humour, in the characters, the mannerisms, the deadpan remarks, and the frustrations that Scott experiences during his training.
Often, the film is quite funny.
Of course, there is action in the final confrontations, not always going as might be foreseen, which makes them very enjoyable, a good blend of action and special effects.
The cast should be mentioned by name and praised. Paul Rudd has appeared in many a comedy, with touches of romance. The part of Scott Lang suits him and he makes the most of it with self-deprecation, funny lines, attempts at heroics, motivated by possibilities for seeing his daughter, and rising (no matter how miniature) to the dangerous occasions.
Dr Pym is a very good role for Michael Douglas who carries it off with great aplomb and credibility. Evangeline Lily plays his daughter. Corey Stoll is both smooth and smarmy as well as corporation-evil personified as Dr Cross. Michael Pena has most of the comedy as Luis, his comic reactions to everything (although some solid punches when necessary) along with his two friends, seeming slackers, who nevertheless are essential for the final success.
There is a guest appearance by Anthony Mackie as The Falcon – and, of course, the advice is to remain till the end of the credits to see where this is all leading.
China, 2014, 103 minutes, Colour.
Gong Li, Chen Daoming, Zhang Huiwen.
Directed by Zhang Yimou.
A word about the director and his career helps give context to this fine but small film.
In the 1980s and, especially, in the 1990s, Chinese director Zhang Yimou made a number of rather small films with contemporary settings, sometimes going back to the more immediate past. In many of them, his leading lady was the actress Gong Li, the star of this film. If any audiences have ever seen Ju Dou, The Story of Qui Ju, or, especially, Raise the Red Lantern, they would look forward to seeing Coming Home. At the turn of the millennium, Zhang Yimou made two very fine films, Not One Less and The Road Home. But then he turned his attention to Chinese history, heroics, martial arts – often in the fantasy vein of Hidden Dragon. Hero, House of Flying Daggers were amongst those films. And then he was designer for the Beijing Olympic Games.
With this film, he has returned to his earlier simplicity and audiences will appreciate it, a small film, perhaps emotional and moving for many audiences, but a fine film and humane film.
The plot is quite straightforward. It is the time of the Cultural Revolution and life in the Chinese town like the one presented here is fairly colourless and drab. A school teacher lives with her daughter, shunned by many because her husband, a professor, has been imprisoned 10 years earlier. But news comes that he has escaped. His daughter, training for ballet (a particularly patriotic and militaristic ballet it is) has completely rejected her father.
The wife, played by Gong Li (who is now in her late 40s), is faced with the dilemma, to welcome her husband or denounce him.
In a very dramatic sequence, the husband is recaptured and imprisoned again. His wife and his daughter both see what happens. There are consequences for both, the wife so traumatised that she has what a psychologist describes as psychogenic amnesia, not forgetting everything, though she seems to be moving into a state of dementia, but an inability to recognise her husband.
In fact, the latter part of the film shows the end of the Cultural Revolution, with the husband returning home a free man, but his wife unable to recognise him. One of the good things is a reconciliation with his daughter who tries to help him. There are many moving, emotional moments in this part of the film when the husband tries many ways to help his wife recognise him, explaining things to her but she is still afraid; tuning her piano and delighting her in playing again, but she does not recognise him; then sending her all the letters that he wrote in prison on scraps of paper and offering to read them to her while she listens entranced.
Over the years, she always goes to the railway station, expecting her husband to be among those returning from the prison camps, always failing, always watching, always waiting.
The film has no easy answers but immerses its audience in the experience of the wife who desperately loves her husband and wants him to return but does not recognise him and the husband who has suffered so much and longs to be with his wife as they were together in their loving past.
Those who relish older films, especially from the golden years of Hollywood, may remember Greer Garson in Random Harvest, finding that her husband, Ronald Colman, suffers from amnesia, and her standing by his side for years without his recognising her, helping him in his life and career. This one does not have the final comfort that Random Harvest does. This is expert and small Chinese cinema at its best.
US, 2015, 104 minutes, Colour.
Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rex Lee, Debbie Maza, Billy Bob Thornton, Haley Joel Osment, Greg Louganis, Alice Eve, Judy Greer, Richard Schiff, Emily Ratajkowski, Piers Morgan, Martin Landau. Cameos: TI, David Arquette, Gary Busey, Jon Favreau, Andrew Dice Clay, Mike Tyson, Pharrell Williams, Liam Neeson, Ed O' Neil, Kelsey Grammar, Chad Lowe, Nora Dunn, Mark Wahlberg, Common, David Spade, Warren Buffett, Jessica Alba, Armie Hammer.
In many ways, it depends whether the audience have been fans of the long-running television series, Entourage, or whether they are coming to it, so to speak, cold. This review comes from the “cold” perspective.
We are told that the movie version begins nine days after the last episode in the series ended in 2011. Which means that the characters may only be nine days older but look four years older. Be that as it may, it seems that the principal characters are all back again. There is Vincent, Adrian Grennier, the film star, having his marriage of nine days dissolved and his machinations not only to star in a blockbuster (which, when we see the opening credits, does not seem to be all that blockbusting) but to direct as well. He is dark and handsome. Then there is his producer, Eric, Kevin Connolly, usually with a rather beatific and youthful smile on his face, which rather belies his ability as a movie producer to deal with agents and money men, and definitely covers over his rather promiscuous attitude towards women, especially his pregnant ex-girlfriend, which seems not only exploitative but misogynistic. There is Turtle, Jerry Ferrara, rather scruffy-looking but wealthy enough, who serves as a friend and chauffeur in the entourage. The last of the group is Jack, Kevin Dillon, Vincent’s older half-brother, an obtuse and crass type, putting his foot in it, continually auditioning to try to get better parts – and not always succeeding.
The powerhouse of the film is fast-talking, wheeler-dealer agent, Ari, played with both infectious and antagonising exuberance by Jeremy Piven. He is certainly the best thing in Entourage.
One of the features of the television series, apparently, is the number of cameos from real stars and celebrities – and it is certainly the case here, some turning up only in passing, but usually in something of a huff or antagonistic. However, more striking in support is Billy Bob Thornton as a rich Texan who is investing in films and, a surprise to those who still remember him only from his child role in The Sixth Sense, a rather roly-poli Haley Joel Osment as Fulton’s rather stupid and over self-confident son who interferes with Vincent’s film.
It is all bright and colourful, with Hollywood sunshine, shows the Entourage’s men about town, using women rather than befriending them, and showing a lot of the uglier aspects of Hollywood high life and the exploitative aspects of filmmaking. Some of it is amusing, much of it less so.
THE FACE OF AN ANGEL
UK, 2015, 98 minutes, Colour.
Daniel Bruehl, Kate Beckinsale, Carla Delevingne.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom.
We all know of people who confronted by a television programme have no inhibitions about yelling back at the screen, venting their displeasure, challenging the film makers or the characters… It doesn’t usually happen in cinemas. But, The Face of an Angel is one of those films where audiences might feel that they would like to stop the film, talk with the director, getting him to clarify what he is on about and why he has made the film as he has. Since this can happen only at a Q&A session, audiences watching this film will have to have the debate within their own minds and feelings as the film goes on.
Michael Winterbottom has been making films for over 20 years, sometimes focusing on crime stories, Butterfly Kiss, The Killer Inside Me, sometimes doing realistic documentaries like The Road to Guantánamo or, more recently, supporting Russell Brand in his protest and indictment documentary against capitalism, especially in the UK and the banks, The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Why the desire to discuss with the director, to challenge, to tease out…? Because he has made a film about a widely known murder case in Italy, the death of Meredith Kercher, the trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, their being found guilty, then, on appeal, the judgement being quashed and their being set free. More recently, an appeal has upheld their guilt. There has been a television movie about the case.
While Michael Winterbottom is going back over the case, he takes the point of view that it was so much in the public eye, that there was so much sensationalism, tabloid headlines, all kinds of rumours flying about, that he preferred to look on the case from the outside, even though he has some brief reconstruction sequences, some brief looking at the accused during the trial, and a focus in retrospect on the victim.
This means that a lot of the film is about a filmmaker who has an ambition to make a film about the case but does not quite know how to do it. He is played by Daniel Bruehl, usually a convincing actor, but this time made to play a complicated and even contradictory character, creative with his filmmaking, friendly, separated from his wife, Skyping his daughter whenever possible, yet suddenly doing lines and lines and lines of cocaine, not scrupulous about sexual liaisons, sometimes writing bits of the screenplay, most times observing other people, writers, journalists, disapproving of their tabloid approach. So, one would like to ask the director, is it about him, fictionalised or real, his puzzles about how to make the film, his opting to make the film about a director and his problems, which may or may not be interesting, and he may or may not be sympathetic.
Kate Beckinsale plays an author, based on Barbie Latza Nadau who wrote about the trial and contributed to the screenplay. She is American, and in Rome, unhappily married, with children whom she looks after, going up to Siena each week to sit through the trial, helping the would-be filmmaker.
After, perhaps clarifying, some of these questions with Michael Winterbottom, audiences might like to pause the film again and ask him about his reliance on Dante, even a visit to his tomb, and his using The Divine Comedy as well as Documenti di Amore, for his interpretation about the young people, their coming together, the Inferno that the murder produced, the trial and its purging – and with the father of the victim giving a final eulogy talking about her going to heaven.
All that said, there are a number of interesting features of the film, with sequences mainly in Rome and Siena but also in London where the film director is based, going home, talking with his producers, planning the film. The question is: what is the audience left with as regards the characters, the drama, the would-be film that fails, (except that here it is), a perspective on the characters of the victim and the accused. Given the victim with the face of an angel, and visually beatified in her, this film is certainly very sympathetic towards Meredith Kercher and her family.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Greece/Australia, 2015, 82 minutes , Colour.
The Xyloouris Family: Antonis, Georgis, Shelagh, Nikos, Antonis and Appolonia.
Directed by Angeliki Aristopoulomenou.
There will not be too many people around Australia, let alone the world, who have not been hearing about and thinking about Greece in recent months, even years. And that is all about finance, debts, repayments, currencies and the European Union. And divisions between yes votes and no votes.
This is a film, however, A Greek- Australian co-production that will have everyone saying yes.
The settings for the film are Crete with its long historical traditions, especially its music traditions, and Australia where many Greeks have settled and brought the music with them. Which means that this is a multi-cultural film experience, a pleasure for Greek audiences, especially in Crete, and a pleasure for multi-cultural Australian audiences who appreciate different styles of music, different instruments and skill in playing them.
As for the title, this is definitely a family affair. The Xylouris family has developed a very strong tradition, the music and performance techniques being handed on from generation to generation. The film focuses particularly on Georgis Xylouris, well respected in Greece, a musician who has toured the world (and there are scenes from his playing in several Western European countries). He has also visited Australia, and in this film, there are scenes from 2012, the Womadelaide Festival as well as concerts in the Forum Theatre in Melbourne and some rehearsals and radio interviews. Accompanying Georgis is his father, a strong patriarch, an expert player from George inherited his talent.
But, the film, veering between mountainous landscapes at home and the vast open terrain of Australia, the film has quite a number of Australian connections. George is married to his Australian wife, Shelagh, who lives in Crete and has brought up three children. But, the two boys, talented musicians in themselves, have come to Australia for university studies and, as the film opens, the younger sister, Apollonia, is moving also to Australia, for study but also for performances. She is a touch nervous as she practises, especially in the presence of her grandfather.
Any documentary about a close family has its attractions, as does this one. When there are loving bonds which are lived every day through music, strings and lute, the bonds are even stronger.
The film serves as a positive reminder of the best in Australian multiculturalism.
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
UK, 2015, 119 minutes, Colour.
Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, Jessica Barden.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg.
Over the last 50 years, the novels of 19th-century author, Thomas Hardy, have been popular sources for many films. A memorable film from 1967 was made of his novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, with Julie Christie, Peter Finch, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp. There have been versions of his Tess of the D’ Urbevilles, including Roman Polanski’s Tess, of Jude the Obscure, of The Woodlanders and The Return of the Native, and a version of The Mayor of Castor Bridge, The Claim.
Now comes another version of Far from the Madding Crowd, a very satisfying version in itself.
The setting is Dorset 1870, a village, the fields and cliffs near the sea, small farms, barns and mansions, the local town and markets. While the photography is quite striking, the locations are not presented merely as touristic scenery but part of the plot and the development of the plot.
Hardy’s novels have very strong heroines, with the spirit of independence that often transcended their times. This is true Bathsheba Everdene, a young woman who inherits a farm, decides to manage it herself, is full of energy, not hesitating to get out with the sheep or bringing in crops. Carey Mulligan offers a strong and emotional performance. She has encountered an upstanding farmer, symbolically called Gabriel Oak, the shepherd experiencing tragedy when his sheepdog loosens the fences and drives the flock over a cliff. Bathsheba employs him. He is devoted to her and has proposed but has been rejected. Bathsheba cannot see herself as married.
And Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaets) is not the only suitor. A local landowner, Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a rather solitary man, also proposes, thinking he has a chance because of a thoughtless Valentine’s Day prank that Bathsheba had played. And then there is the dashing soldier, Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), who has been infatuated with one of the workers on the property, Fanny Robin, but has given up on her when she did not turn up at the church for the wedding (she had mistaken the name of the church). Bathsheba, despite her attitude towards suitors and her strong control of herself, becomes infatuated with the soldier with dire results.
The film immerses its audience in the life of this England, the hard work, the seasons, the socials.
And, all the time, there is Gabriel Oak, working hard, supporting Bathsheba, listening to her, and quietly regretful that she does not love him in return.
There has to be a climax. Mr Boldwood asks Bathsheba to reconsider, comes out of his shell to organise a Christmas celebration, detailed in its preparations, inviting everyone and hoping that Bathsheba will accept his proposal. There is an unexpected turn of events, which becomes highly melodramatic, Mr Boldwood going into action that he never dreamt he would. Gabriel, still supportive, realising that he has no future in Dorset, tells Bathsheba that he has decided to migrate to America.
There is something grim about the writings of Thomas Hardy, something of a hardness in his presentation of human nature, in emotional conflicts. And his heroines are strong women who suffer.
Far from the Madding Crowd is definitely in this vein, but with more glimmers of hope than in other novels. Danish director, Thomas Vinterberg who had made rather austere films early in his career but was able to interpret British stories with insight and skill, including his film version of Jonn Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, has made a very persuasive version of Far from the Madding Crowd.
Australia, 2015, 99 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Steve Thomas.
The recommendation comes first. This is a documentary which all Australian should see.
We often say that we shouldn’t categorise people in any way, especially which with prejudicial epithets. In the last almost 20 years in Australia, advocates for migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, have insisted that the only way to appreciate these men, women and children, is to get to know some of them. Several years ago there was a fine film, Mary and Mohammed, set in Tasmania, about a local group of women who made quilts for those kept in the local detention centre, who got to know actual people, who overcame fears and prejudices and were greatly supportive of these newcomers to the country. Filmmaker, migrant Hong Kong director, Clara Law, became involved with those in detention in Baxter and corresponded with some of the men, eventually visiting and producing the film Letters To Ali. Robyn Hughan, had experiences of Afghan refugees and discovered Sister Carmel Wauchope and her visits to the detention centre at Woomera and made A Nuns New Habit.
Steve Thomas has been making similar films over the last 15 years. In this project, he contacted a number of migrants, principally from Afghanistan but also from Iran and Iraq. He went to visit them, got to know them, through interviews and sharing their lives with them and made brief films about them. They are gathered together in this film, examples of Freedom Stories. And what is pleasing about the film is that as we, the audience, get to know this group of people, ranging from Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, to Adelaide, and go back to visit them and are able to share in the follow-up to the stories and the good things that happened since the first interviews.
Steve Thomas himself does not intrude but often we see him carrying his camera, see him in the mirror reflections or window reflections, as well as the sound engineers he brought along for the filming. This anchors the stories in reality.
The first person to be introduced is Mustafa, a refugee with his family at the age of ten, the boat capsizing after catching fire, and the group rescued by the Australian Navy. He spent three years in Nauru and then three years on a temporary visa. We find him working in a garage in Canberra, doing an apprenticeship, talking with his younger brother who was born on Nauru, and, finally, see him get his diploma and the support of the owner of the garage, Ned, who gave Mustafa his chance. Mustaffa had also become engaged to a young woman from Finland – with the dilemma as to where they should settle, in Finland or in Australia.
Then we see Shafiq Moniz, who is painting his house, meticulously, because he says his perfectionist. He spent almost a year in Woomera, then three years with a temporary visa. But, he is an artist and we are shown many of his paintings. We also see the now-abandoned huts at Woomera and the outside walls which were painted, many of them with his paintings. Eventually, he was able to bring his wife and daughters to Australia and build a house (painted, meticulously). In his more recent paintings, he uses the motif of an umbrella, indications of climate change, indication of protection from outside dangers…
By way of contrast we see Sheri Shoari, who carried her children to the refugee boat, settling in Australia, in Adelaide, after three years of detention in Curtain and Baxter. She is more than robust woman, especially when we see her caring for her 26-year-old son, Ali, who has cerebral palsy and needs constant care. Her older son, Mohamad, explains how he was traumatised by his time in the detention centre and tends to be introverted, a reader and thinker, not yet able to mix comfortably. Whereas the youngest son, Hamid, ten at the time of arrival, joined the army, plays soccer locally and has ambitions to become a coach. One of the important things is that Sheri has some ambitions as well – to become a truck driver and, when we return to the story, we see her in action with her supervisor, going up the 18 grades for her licence.
Reyhana also spent several years in Woomera. Her daughter wants her to be interviewed and Reyhana, working at home, but on the Internet, became an advocate of women’s rights. We later see her working in the office of the Migrants Resource Centre, meeting migrants and refugees, caring for their needs.
Ahoam came from Iraq, a primary school teacher, emigrated with her father and husband, and has tried to develop her teaching skills and her work with IT, making many applications for teaching in education at large in Australia but not accepted. She now works at an Islamic school, but she is still studying and hopes to make some progress, making a huge decision to change her name to a more acceptable Australian name.
Amir Javan is a particularly friendly man, a diamond dealer back home but, after 4 ½ years in detention, being rejected and his case finally going to the High Court. He is now a real estate broker in Sydney, but he is seen coming to Melbourne, to help a young friend, Parviz, also from Iran, move, someone he had befriended in the detention centre.
Other stories include that of Jamilah, arriving as a girl, now studying, and, a surprise when Molly Meldrum appears in the film, supporting a skilled worker in tiling who did all the work at Meldrum’s Melbourne home, especially with all the antiques, statues et cetera that Meldrum brought back from Egypt.
The film is released in cinemas but would be available for groups, for example parish groups, to see and discuss. There are more stories than are in the feature film. There are two websites and the stories will be adapted to brief the television screenings as well as on-site viewing.
From a Catholic point of view, the film can definitely be recommended, and, amongst the advisory Advisory Committee is Sister Brigid Arthur, Brigidine sister, long committed to social action and social justice.
THE GOOD LIE
US, 2014, 110 minutes, Colour.
Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, Kuoth Wiel, Corey Stoll.
Directed by Philippe Falardeau.
The Good Lie did not receive much cinema exhibition, but became available on DVD. It is the kind of film that could be recommended to serious audiences, especially those with a concern for justice, and those who are interested in the turmoil in African countries, especially sub-Sahara countries like Sudan.
The meaning of the title? At some stage, some of the characters feel the need to tell some untruths in order to achieve a greater good.
While Reese Witherspoon gets prominent billing, she does not appear in the early part of the film, so is on posters for marketing purposes, as well as for her interest in being in this film and promoting it.
In fact, the first half of the film takes place in the South of Sudan, in the underprivileged area which became in recent years the new country of South Sudan. In the 1980s, there were many raids on villages by militant groups, nicknamed “the devils on horseback”. A great number of people were killed and many fled. Perhaps, the story of the “lost boys” is known to some audiences, the group of boys who were urged to leave their villages, leaving behind their families and loved ones, and trekking thousands of kilometres from Sudan to Kenya. When they arrived in that country, they were put into refugee camps, remaining there for several years, many of them growing up into adulthood in the camps.
The drama early in the film is that of the attacks of the militants on horseback, the cruelty and viciousness, the killings, and the long walk by the children, not all surviving, but helping one another to move further away from their dangerous country.
The second part of the film shows us some of the boys, now adults, and the possibilities of their being transferred to other countries – not possible for everyone, some spending many more years interned in the camps. But, many were fortunate enough to be able to go to the United States or countries like Australia, refuges for political refugees.
While the boys learn to speak English in Kenya, they were not educated in the ways of the world, let alone the ways of an affluent first world nation like the United States. We follow a group of them as they are transferred to Kansas City, Missouri, with bureaucrats bungling the transfer and separating one of the men from his sister who is sent on to Boston. Reese Witherspoon plays one of the contacts, herself not particularly well-prepared to understand the young men from Africa, but making efforts to get them accommodation and to get jobs.
The younger men themselves have varied experiences in their work, some of them being pressed into joining groups, something the equivalent of gangs. Others get steady jobs. One enterprising young man devotes himself to study, improving himself, with the hope of training to be a doctor.
The Good Lie could be something of an eye-opening film for those who have not had contact with refugees, who are not aware of how important cultural differences are, or the strain of the newcomers in their learning of a new language, getting used to manners, different food, expectations in the workplace…
To that extent, the film is interesting, entertaining in its way – and a good way of enabling its audiences to have their horizons widened.
The film was directed by Canadian director, Philippe Falardeau, who treated something of the same themes in a French-Canadian? setting, with a teacher who came from northern Africa, Monsieur Lazar, which is also a very fine film.
US, 2015, 87 minutes, Colour.
Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley, Robert Kazinsky, Richard T. Jones, John Carroll Lynch, Jim Gaffigan.
Directed by Anne Fletcher.
It is almost a genre in itself, the odd couple comedy. But, habit usually makes us think of a male odd couple. It is much the same when somebody describes a film as a ‘Buddy’ comedy. It would seem that buddies are male also. However, this film offers us two female buddies, a female odd couple.
Obviously, they are not going to be buddies at the beginning. Reese Witherspoon, relaxing after her serious films, plays a dedicated Texan cop, following in the footsteps of her father whom she assisted when she was a little girl. But, she is a by-the-book officer, knowing every regulation possible and its application. She is mocked by several of the police officers at the station (though there are some dramatic developments which means that she has the last laugh). One day, she is given a mission to accompany a witness to a trial in Dallas. What could be simpler?
Well, the first complication is that the witness is a self-important Hispanic wealthy woman whose husband is about to give testimony at the trial of a cartel boss. Before you can say drugs, the home of the witness is attacked by two separate groups with a shootout, the two women, like each other or not, have to go on the run, with the criminals in hot pursuit.
Which means that this is a road movie, along the lines of the 1980s classic with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, Midnight Run. The two women get into all kinds of adventures, all kinds of comic situations, each rescuing the other when the going gets tough. It would be nice to say that they form bonds – well, they do, but not without a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing, some confrontations with the cartel lord, and a shooting climax. (And a few plot twists.)
This means that the comedy depends on the two actresses, Reese Witherspoon righteous and uptight, gradually, very gradually, mellowing, and Sofia Vergara, trading on her glamour and know-how. There is an amusing running joke with television reports continually making Witherspoon shorter and shorter and Vergara older and older. Audiences will get, more or less, what they expect.
US, 2015, 94 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, Diane Lane, Rashida Jones, Kyle McLachlan?, Frank Oz, John Ratzenberger.
Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo del Carmen.
Over the past 15 years or so, the Pixar Studios, now associated with Disney, have stood out as the go-to studio for fine animation films. While they made their mark with the Toy Story series, they had a series of successes, and Oscar wins and nominations, with films like Finding Nemo, The Invincibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up. Some of their productions have been slighter in recent years, especially Cars 2, but Inside Out should put them up there on top again.
The idea is rather original. What if we went inside the characters heads, identified some of the chief emotions, imagine what they might look like in cartoon form, how they operate in harmony with and in conflict with each other, determing the reactions of the character?In this case it is a young baby, Riley, whom we look out from the outside but then go inside her mind, discovering Joy, the most exuberant and exhilarating emotion.
But then babies cry! The emotion which emerges is Sadness, again a feminine voice, something of a sad sack, low on self-image and esteem, prone to blame herself for making the child unhappy. The screenwriters have decided on three other emotions, Fear (a really nervous type who wants to be over-protective, a male voice), Anger, a squashed looking character, also male, and, Disgust, a somewhat petulant and arrogant female voice.
Each of the emotions has its own special colour. Joy is a bright yellow while Sadness is blue. Disgust is green, while Anger is definitely red!
As Riley grows up, we see each of the emotions influencing the young girl. When her loving parents move house, she gets upset, Joy and Sadness becoming lost, as if on another planet, while Fear, Anger and Disgust are in turmoil within her, even leading her to run away from, and catch a bus, petulant and angry with her parents.
In the meantime, the audience sees that Joy and Sadness are lost, trying to find their way back into Riley’s mind, and accompanied by her invisible childhood friend, Bingbang.
Joy has to come to realise that she just simply can’t eliminate Sadness from every human experience. Sadness is a necessary part of life and, when Joy is able to acknowledge this, trusting Sadness to have her influence, there is a possibility of some kind of recovery and harmony.
Which means that the film is a very nice allegory about human emotions, visualised entertainingly, all at work on a kind of inner computer to try to help the child’s growth but, squabbles arising, envy sometime prevailing, leading to enormous confusion.
The end of the film as well as the initial parts of the final credits are well worth seeing for laugh-aloud responses, seeing the emotions within the minds of Riley’s parents as, faces-painted, they go to support her at a hockey match. One of the funniest scenes is momentarily inside the mind of a very gawky boy who encounters Riley with the emotions running riot in his mind. There is also a school teacher, a frustrated bus driver – and then, the emotions within a dog and within a cat.
Obviously, plenty of room for an imaginative sequel, even a series.
US, 2015, 124 minutes, Colour.
Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D' Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, B D Wong, Judy Greer.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow.
Jurassic used to be a word that scientists used to describe primaeval stages in Earth’s evolution. Ask anyone over the last quarter of a century, after readers had devoured Michael Crichton’s novel and moviegoers had stormed the box office for Stephen Spielberg’s film version, and Jurassic meant Jurassic Park. The dinosaurs were there, cared for by earnest scientists, getting out of control through aberrations of science, but giving the audiences lots of thrills for their money.
There were two sequels, not quite as startling as the original, to say the least. Surely it was something of a risk to make another Jurassic film decades after the original. Not that filmmakers are usually risk-takers, but Universal Studios must be very happy with the present producers who risked making Jurassic World: an enormous opening weekend in the United States, throughout the world, and half a billion at the box office before a month was over.
Worth it? This question applies only to the fans, not to those who would not be seen dead, let alone alive, watching a Jurassic movie. And the answer seems to be yes. This sequel moves us back to Jurassic Park with explicit references to the personalities and what had happened before the disaster, re-opening 20 years after the previous collapse. Everything is now under control, under the control of technology and surveillance, under the control of the officer in charge, a rather humourless and uptight Bryce Dallas Howard. Her sister and brother-in-law, covering difficulties, sending their sons to their aunty who is to look after them and show them the sites. She is very busy, promoting Jurassic World, getting contracts, doing deals. She hasn’t noticed that there are some strange types around, especially some with military background, led by Vincent D’ Onofrio, obvious, well at least two us if not to her, that there will be dangers with the dinosaurs.
Some of the dinosaurs are being trained by a genial young man, Chris Pratt, who knows them by name, and has a way of bringing them under control. His assistant is played by Omar Sy (The Intouchables).
So far, so good, the boys going on all kinds of rides, the visitors seeing all the dinosaurs in their created habitats, tourists galore. Needless to say, there are some scientists who are experimenting with the dinosaurs, introducing all kinds of genes into their system, giving them characteristics of some of the more menacing creatures, and an ability to camouflage, raptor aggressiveness…
While we guess the rest, it is the experience of watching the rest that is important. The mutant dinosaur goes on a rampage, the military try to control but end up decimated, our hero, the trainer, who has had a bad relationship with the manager of Jurassic World in the past, has to join up with her, first of all to save the boys, then to save the park – if possible, with tourists fleeing, dinosaurs pursuing, pterodactyls let loose and swooping, lots of chases, just what the audience needed when they decided to buy their tickets to Jurassic World.
This is a “what if…?” imagining of a a world out of control. Interestingly, while we all talk of progress and experts encourage us to venture into all kinds of developments, the classic stories and so many of the movies are actually quite cautious, the Frankenstein Syndrome, where humans exceed their powers, arrogantly manipulating nature, creating monsters.
And, since this is a popular approach to disaster films and apocalyptic scenarios, they will always be welcomed – especially if the action sequences and special effects are well worked into the screenplay as they are in Jurassic World.
Belgium/US, 2015, 118 minutes, Colour.
Mia Wakiskowska, Rhys Ifans, Paul Giamatti, Henry Lloyd- Hughes, Logan Marshall- Green, Ezra Miller, Laura Carmichael, Richard Cordery, Olivier Gourmet, Luke Tittensor.
Directed by Sophie Barthes.
Gustave Flaubert was not a prolific novelist. But his Madame Bovary became something of a classic, still highly regarded, still considered an opening into France in the 19th century, manners and morals.
There have been several film versions of his novel, a 1949 Hollywood version with Jennifer Jones, a French version in 1989 with Isabelle Huppert. This time, it is an international co-production, with Sophie Barthes as the co-writer and the director was born in France and educated in South America and the Middle East, an Australian star, Mia Waskikowka, as Emma Bovary. The merchant Lhereux is played by Welsh Rhys Ifans. Charles Bovary is the British Henry Lloyd- Hughes, the Marquis is American Logan Marshall- Green, and Charles Bovary’s friend and adviser, Monsieur Hamois, is American Paul Giamatti.
One of the difficulties for this international co-production is the mixture of accents, especially Mia Wasikowska with something of an American accent which the director thought was the neutral accent. It jars throughout the film.
But, that criticism aside, this is a most impressive production, immersing the audience in the 19th century, costumes and decor, wealth and ordinary life in a provincial country town with visits to the society world, the world of business, and the cathedral in Rouen.
But, the focus has to be on Emma Bovary herself. There is very little dialogue in the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film, rather communication by visuals and body language, Emma as a young girl along with other students in an enclosed school, supervised by nuns, learning to go through all the manners and styles of cultivated young ladies. As she lights a candle in the chapel before she leaves, she prays that she will find a good husband.
As her story unfolds, the audience realises with her, that she was quite inexperienced, sheltered, and had imagined a life that was not to be. She later confides that life has been a disappointment. It seems to begin well with a celebration of her marriage, a meal outside event, with a fond farewell from her doting father. As she leaves the party with her husband, with a horse and cart, she hopes that life as the wife of a country doctor will fulfil her dreams.
It is not that Charles Bovary is a bad man. Rather, he is duty-bound, conscious of his role as a doctor and his responsibilities, a doctor by day, a husband by night, rather unimaginative and without a clue as to his wife’s feelings. The village is small, her husband walking her briefly to the edge of the town - and that is it. She feels confined to the house, becomes bored, leaps at the opportunity when the local Marquis invites her to ride to hounds where she witnesses the brutal slaying of the stag.
Temptation comes to her in the form of the local merchant, Lhereux, very well played by Rhys Ifans. He tempts her with luxury, with beautiful fabrics, the possibility of fine dresses, curtains, rugs, and she indulges her love fine things with reckless extravagance, beguiled by seemingly unlimited credit.
It seems inevitable that she will be looking outside the house for some kind of fulfilment, for relationship, for sexual experience – which she finds for a brief time with the Marquis, and also a brief time with a lawyer in Rouen. But, there is gossip, which her husband does not seem to have heard but, passing the local peasant women in the town, she knows that she is the object of the gossip.
There might be some hope in an incident where she urges her husband to operate on the clubfoot of his friend’s apprentice, thinking that this might be some kind of achievement and that the doctor will be happy to move to the city. She is frustrated by the result.
Whether it is fate, whether it is her disillusionment, whether it is a result of her impetuous nature and self-indulgence, she is on the path to tragedy.
The director stages every scene with impressive visual craft, with fine performances, with a sense of French society at the time, differences in class, wealthy aspirations, the role of duty and its suffocating consequences on those who want more from life.
This is a fine film showing how significant literature can be well dramatised on screen.
MAGIC MIKE XXL
US, 2015, 115 minutes, Colour.
Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Gabriel Iglesias, Jada Pinkett Smith, Donald Glover, Andie Mc Dowell, Amber Heard, Elizabeth Banks.
Directed by Gregory Jacobs.
Big audiences hurried to Magic Mike back in 2012, eager to participate in the lives of a group of male strippers, their characters, their routines, their emotional tangles, the phenomenon of performing at club nights for women to come to ogle the dancers, throw money at them and shriek at the experience.
In many ways, much the same this time. It is explained to the audience and characters that Dallas, the manager, played by Matthew Mc Conaughey, has gone out on his own. Mike himself, Channing Tatum, has not been dancing for three years and has been trying to run a furniture business, trying to make ends meet, trying to provide pay for his one employee. Then he gets a call from one of his old associates, Tarzan, who seems to indicate that Dallas has died, so off goes Mike to a wake – which is anything but! And, before you can say magic, Mike decides that he wants to join the group and go on one last trip and gig to the strippers’ convention in Myrtle Beach.
This reviewer didn’t find the first film particularly interesting though it had a certain verve. While there is some verve here, it is not enough to make the film really interesting unless you are an avid devotee of the strippers who like to call themselves male entertainers.
On the road, they have a car accident, lose the MC, while Mike has a brainwave to look up an old flame who runs a strip club for African-American? women, Domina. As the troupe call in, there are quite a number of acts in her club, plenty of shrieking women again, and a seemingly endless pile of dollar notes to throw at the men. Of course, the acts are lewd and suggestive and the whole thing is pretty raucous, run by Rome, Jada Pinkett Smith. The next stop is at the home of a young woman, Amber Heard, whom they met on their travels, to a group of wealthy white Southern women, led by Andie Mc Dowell, who shriek less, but who have many more dollars, and more of the suggestiveness.
While lewd and suggestive are words that seem to have moralistic tone, and they do, some of the ordinary bloggers on the Internet Movie Database, bring up a word which means the same thing but it is more ethically neutral. It is the word classy – and commenting that Magic Mike XXL and the performances are certainly not classy at all.
There are a lot of scenes of bonding between the men, some rehearsals when they get to Myrtle Beach, though how the staging and the performances that follow could be prepared in such a short time only Hollywood could tell. Each of the entertainers gets his own act, but since it is a convention, there are many more women to shriek, and we are shown the cash machines doling out dollars and dollars for eager responses.
Magic Mike XXL will find its audience – but it may well be much smaller than the first film (though Channing Tatum seems more alive to than usual!).
Spain, 2014, 105 minutes, Colour.
Javier Gutierrez, Raul Arevalo.
Directed by Alberto Rodríguez.
Marshland was the winner of several awards, especially in Spain, its country of origin.
Audiences always enjoy a solid detective investigation as well is an interesting murder mystery. Marshland provides these – and, with its setting in Andalucia and the marsh country, many audiences who appreciated the television series, True Detective, make some links.
The setting is very important, the strange marshlands and the people who live and work there, something of an isolated community. The time setting is also very important. It is 1980, four years after the end of the Franco regime which dominated Spain for four decades, the period of repression under fascist government. At this stage, the people are not used to the new freedoms and the film makes explicit allusions to police activity in the past, putting down protests, shooting people, torturing them and the cover-ups. It emerges that one of the detective sent to solve the current mystery had been a vigorous police torturer, something he denies, but proof is given that the accusation is true.
The film opens with overhead shots of the marshlands, looking like artificial diagrams, but with the camera slowly descending to the waterways, the fields, the intersections. And, on one of the roads, the detectives experiencing a car breakdown, and taken into the town.
The murder mystery concerns two teenage girls who disappeared, but their bodies, violated and mutilated, are soon found. It soon emerges that other girls have disappeared, parents upset and distraught.
The film shows the two detectives, quite different in personality, the older one more assured with a touch of humour and enjoying life, the other one in his 30s, much more serious, concerned about possible promotion to Madrid and phoning his pregnant wife.
Parents are interviewed. Other school students are also interviewed. Various characters in the town come under suspicion, and detection leads to a hunting lodge and an abandoned hut on the property. Some negatives of photos are found, indicating sexual behaviour. Brochures are also found from a company which is soliciting responses from young girls for better jobs in the city.
One of the characters in the town is a writer, imagining that he might become a Truman Capote, writing a ‘real life’ book about the crimes and investigations. He is particularly helpful in collaborating with the police, developing photos, giving information about the town.
The film is in delineating the characters of the two men, their capacity for working together, the differences in their temperaments. The local authorities want the crimes solved. Some of the people in the town become more suspicious as the investigation goes on, including a dangerous car pursuit at the night on the marshes.
Ultimately, the further victim is rescued, the mystery solved, the police are acclaimed and become famous in the newspapers.
But, along with the detection and the solved mystery, the film is most interesting in its re-creation of the place, the period, the people and the aftermath of the Franco regime.
US, 2015, 91 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Alison Janney, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders, Geoffrey Rush, Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin.
Directed by Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin.
Everything that you didn’t know that you would need to know, and it didn’t occur to you to ask, about Minions.
Children’s audiences could tell you that the minions were those funny little yellow creatures, with names like Kevin and Steve, some with one eye, some with two, with little mouths that were prone to be uttering gibberish in excited tones, communicating in their own language which had dashes of words of English, Spanish, French and who knows what other languages! They made a great impact in Despicable Me and enjoyed their comeback in Despicable Me 2. And here they are again, all courtesy of Pierre Coffin, who codirected the film, co-wrote the film and provides all those conversations which we do understand despite the fact of scarcely recognising a word.
It may not have occurred to us to wonder where the Minions came from but the prologue to the film gives us the answer. They are a result of evolution, from little specks to fully grown (well that is, perhaps, an exaggeration so small are they), timid little community out of which emerged Kevin, a natural-evolved leader, who wants to take the Minions out of their comfort zone. He doesn’t get many volunteers, mainly Stuart and, then, little Bob.
We know from the earlier films that they have a propensity for seeking out villains, and a natural evil-bent, that drew them to the character Gru. But how did this instinct develop? We have a very funny, collage of their attempts to find villains that they can follow – but fail. When they arrive in the United States, it is 1968, a huge poster of Richard Nixon for his campaign, a time of flower power and a range of popular songs that recur throughout the film.
But, they are rewarded, by discovering an arch-villain, Scarlet Overkill, and find that she is due to be the star of the villains’ convention. Off they go, hitchhiking, and being picked up by a really nice-seeming American family, mom and pop and the two kids – who suddenly put on masks and rush in to rob a bank. Just the right family for the Minions. And they are off to the conference as well.
It is one of those very American conventions, loads of stalls, loads of spruiking, villains galore – though most of them are quite inept, including Prof Flux who travelled back and forth from the future and had a different professor each time he returned – with their deciding that they should get rid of the superfluous ones, only, of course, killing off the original!
And there is Scarlet Overkill, voiced by Sandra Bullock, a larger than life presence, highly theatrical in her presentation, supported by her husband, voiced by Jon Hamm with some humorous remarks. Scarlet defies everyone to defeat her – with, in some mixups, Kevin and his friends outwitting her. She takes them on, and off they go to adventures in the United Kingdom, to London of the young Queen Elizabeth, to the Tower of London, security guards, and a deadly plot to steal the Crown from the Queen and for Scarlet herself to be installed and crowned in Westminster Abbey.
So, plenty for the British audience as well as the Americans – and it will be interesting to know what the Queen actually thought about how she was presented, robbed of the Crown, cavorting with the public in a bar, rather raucously voiced by Jennifer Saunders.
Whether Scarlet is successful in stealing the Crown and keeping it, you’ll have to go and see Minions. The nice American family is there at every turn cheering on the Minions. and, if enough audiences round the world cheer them on at the box office, there is plenty of scope for them to return.
UK, 2015, 105 minutes, Colour.
Ian Mc Kellen, Milo Parker, Laura Linney, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Colin Starkey, Philip Davies, Nicholas Rowe, Frances de la Tour.
Directed by Bill Condon.
This very entertaining film has a lot going for it, a lot of fine ingredients and all fitting together perfectly.
In a press conference, Ian Mc Kellen stated that Sherlock Holmes was the greatest Englishman who never lived. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will appreciate this film, a story of Mr Holmes who gave up his investigations 35 years earlier, regretting that he did not understand the case that he was dealing with, the personalities involved, and the sad ending to the case. He has retired to Sussex, as was mentioned in some of the stories and some of the film versions, to keep bees.
Ian Mc Kellen is a very good choice to portray Holmes. He has the opportunity to play him at age 93, in that retirement in Sussex, keeping the bees, living quietly and unobtrusively, cared for by his stern housekeeper, Mrs Munro (played plainly but subtly by Laura Linney), a war widow, with a young son, Tom (a lively Milo Parker), who sees Holmes as something of a father or grandfather-figure. It is 1947.
We learn, however, that Holmes has made a visit to Japan, searching for a herb, Prickly Ash, that, with Royal Jelly, could be a means of healing for the ailments of old age. And Holmes is not without his ailments. We do see scenes of Holmes in Japan, especially visiting Hiroshima, and some visuals of local people who had been effected by the radiation. His host, who helps him to find the Prickly Ash, also has his own story which Holmes uncovers and, rather uncharacteristically, writes a letter at the end to this Japanese man, a letter of comfort about his father who disappeared long since to work with the British.
And, there are also flashbacks to the story, in 1912, where a man comes to ask Holmes advice about his wife who is deeply disturbed after two miscarriages. Speaking of flashbacks, there are also flashbacks within this story, to illustrate and traumatise it. It also means that we see Holmes at 58, investigating the case, indulging in some of his propensity for disguises, having an emotional discussion with the distraught mother, but quite misreading the situation, something which has haunted him and is now compelling him, at age 93, to write the story. As he writes, at different stages during the film, he has discussions with young Tom who is an alert lad and offers some clues and indications of how the story might be written.
In the scenes in 1947, Mrs Munro feels that Holmes is alienating the affections of her son (and with our 21st century alertness, noticing that Laura Linney plays Mrs Munro as looking at Holmes with a look of a mother who is apprehensive that the man is a paedophile). Rather, Holmes is very supportive of Mrs Munro, teaches Tom a great deal about bees, though there is some melodrama towards the end when Tom is stung.
This is a fine Sherlock Holmes story, a portrayal of his character, and indications of mellowing as he grows older, a touch of the old investigation style, his conversation which is always strong on facts and deductive reasoning, a film that happily shows us the best of Sherlock Holmes.
THE NIGHTINGALE/ YE YING - LE PROMENEUR D'OISEAU
China/France, 2014, 100 minutes, Colour.
Baotian Li, Xioran Li, Hao Qin, Xin Yi Yang.
Directed by Philippe Muyl.
While there are a number of Chinese domestic stories and comedies in film, many western audiences are more used to historical dramas and martial arts action films.
The Nightingale is a film with universal appeal, written and directed by a Frenchman, Philippe Muyl, interpreting a Chinese story with a Chinese cast. It could have been the screenplay for filming in any country but, here it is, leading its audience into contemporary relationship stories.
At the centre of the film is a little girl, Ren Xing, whose parents are highflyers in Beijing, he a rising star architect, his wife involved in business. The jobs require both of them to travel internationally, he to Tokyo and Hong Kong, she to Paris. Ren Xing is the product of a one-child family policy, terribly spoilt, whose main companion seems to be her iPad. When the couple have to be away at the same time, and their madi has to go on long journey to her son’s wedding, the mother decides that it would be best if her husband’s father minded her. The son has not spoken to his father for years because the grandfather had taken the little girl to a huge bird market and let go of her hand and, for some time, lost her. Her father seems to be completely unforgiving.
This means that also at the centre of the film is the grandfather who wants to return to his home town in the countryside, moving to Beijing after his wife’s death 18 years earlier. He had promised to return.
But, also at the centre of the film, is his Nightingale. He has tended the bird for the 18 years, enjoying it singing, it being his constant companion. The Nightingale accompanies grandfather and granddaughter on their journey to the town.
The film is a variation on a road movie, although the old man and the little girl travel by train, where she prefers to look at the iPad instead of out the window, refuses to eat when they go to the dining car, wakes up in the middle of the night declaring she is hungry, then pretends to be sick. At this stage, many audiences will feel that she would have benefited by some confiscation like that during the Cultural Revolution where there were no such things as iPads. Some discipline and manners would not have hurt either, an indictment of children who are both self-centred and iPad-centred.
We know that the two will bond, but it takes travel by train, bus and breakdown, car and boat before they arrive in the town and the little girl’s eyes have been opened to a world outside herself. When she arrives at the town, she finds friends, plays with children, works in the rice field, experiences hospitality and learns to respect and love her grandfather.
It is the little girl who, towards the end of the film, sits with her grandfather and explains the allegory of the Nightingale, its being confined, its love of singing, yet its need to be free.
When her parents arrive, she is oblivious of their anxiety because she has been happy with other people, with her grandfather, being active and outgoing. For those who are anti-iPad-preoccupation amongst children, there is a scene that they will relish towards the end where she is challenged about the iPod – but from a little boy younger than she, out in the countryside, who is absolutely up to date on the latest models.
While the focus is on the little girl, there is also a wonderful scene of reconciliation between father and son, genuine talking and listening, happy reminiscences, the healing of hurts – and this happens also between husband and wife.
The film has a great deal of charm, despite the brattiness of the little girl at the beginning, and ends with a great deal of hope.
Australia, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Patrick Brammall, Alex Dimitriades, Abbey Lee, Harriet Dyer, Jeremy Sims, Brenton Thwaites, Robyn Nevin, Jack Thompson, Aaron Bertram.
Directed by Brendan Cowell.
Ruben Guthrie proudly and facetiously states his claim at his first AA Meeting, “My Name Is Ruben Guthrie and I’m in Advertising”. He also acknowledges his mother who has brought him long. Prior to this, we have seen him alcohol and drug-high, not the type that most of us would want to meet, even if we were in advertising. During a party at his lavish waterside home, he goes up onto the roof and jumps into his swimming pool – defiance, stupidity, death wish? Or all three?
When you come to think of it, Ruben Guthrie, when sober, is a more acceptable but not all that attractive, character.
What has happened is that Ruben, an acclaimed advertising personality, winner of international awards, hail-fellow-well-met, is challenged by his girlfriend of six years, Czech-born model, Zoya, Is so exasperated with his behaviour that, despite loving him, she tells him she is going back home and will return after a year and that he has to stay off the drink in the drugs for that period. Actually, he does.
The screenplay emphasises this by placing the particular number of days sober on the screen.
The screenplay was written by Brendan Cowell, based on his own drinking experiences (and the influence of his mother), and was based on a successful play for the theatre. Patrick Brammall (Upper Middle Bogan, Glitch) is Cowell’s alter ego and does quite a successful job of interpreting his character, making him quite interesting at times while not particularly likeable. Robyn Nevin plays his mother and Jack Thompson his easy-going father. Abbey Lee plays Zoya. And Alex Dimitriades is his gay best friend, 'If you can't drink one, then why not ten'.
At work, Ruben is pressurised by his boss, Jeremy Sims, to go back on the drink and to regain his mojo, to improve the quality of his campaigns. At the office is a kind of whizzkid, oblivious of what anybody else thinks about him, all cheeky hail-fellow-well-met much more then he realises – a very humorous cameo from rising star, Brenton Thwaites.
Ruben does gain some friends during the year, especially the big and burly Ken (Aaron Bertram) from the meetings who offers good advice and Virginia (Harriet Dyer), also from the group, but preoccupied with trends and what is politically correct, who entangles herself in Ruben’s emotions, building up to the encounter with at Zoya on her return.
As with so many Australian films, the reviewers have been fairly severe, more so than if it were the equivalent story from Britain or the United States – it is not meant to be a profound character analysis, the Brendan Cowell would hope that it does offer an image of a highflier, overconfident, not prone to have regard for others, challenged to do something different with his life, trying to go through some means to achieve this, but putting his foot in it, socially, emotionally, along the way.
(And Brendan Cowell got over his lapses to become a successful playwright and to continue his successful acting career.)
US, 2015, 117 minutes, Colour.
Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Ben Kingsley, Victor Garber, Derek Luke, Michelle Dockery.
Directed by Tarsem Singh.
The premise of this drama which, perhaps unfortunately for the very serious-minded, becomes something of an action and shootout film towards the end rather than staying with the implications of the drama, is very interesting. Some films explore cryogenics in which the person pays a company to freeze their body, to be thawed later so that the person might have a new life – later. The premise of this one is that a scientist has worked out a process by which an ageing and ill person can have a soul or a self-transfer from the debilitated body to a healthy body and come alive, younger, stronger. The limit, however, is that the transferee should not having any contact with their past.
In the early moments of this film, billionaire Ben Kingsley, a sometimes ruthless head of business, who is alienated from his social-minded protester daughter, Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey, decides that he will make the transfer. He is in the power of a young, rather cool and calculating scientist played by Matthew Goode.
If you have read the credits on the advertising and seen Ryan Reynolds as the star of the film, you will quickly realise that he is the one who provides the body for the transfer.
Were this a documentary, that might be the end of it as the new person lived happily ever after this breakthrough process. But this is never the case in science-fiction. Writers and audiences seem to prefer the Frankenstein mythology, that the scientist or the doctor usurps their human capacities with hubris that makes them want to “play God” and they create a monster.
It is slightly more subtle here, with reminiscences of people who believe in reincarnation and have memories from their past. The billionaire in his new body, initially wants to live the high life of self-gratification, but images surface, images from the past, from the character of the body they now inhabit. Here is a moral dilemma. Does the new inhabitant suppress the memories of the past or encourage them, follow them through, search out the story of the original person in the body.
Since this is a science-fiction film, it is obvious that the billionaire is going to try to find out what happens, discovering the truth, discovering the motivation of the man for surrendering his body, the repercussions for his wife and daughter.
And, of course, the scientist will be none too pleased (and there is an interesting twist on his identity as well) and repercussions for a close friend of the billionaire and his sickly son.
The writers of this film are in fact Spaniards, the Pastor Brothers, who have written some horror stories in the past. It means then that their road towards culmination will draw from action and horror rather than from psychological resolution, which will not only involve guns but also a flamethrower.
While this means that what might have been something of an art-house science-fiction exploration of identity, the nature of the self, the self becoming less than it was, and the potential for selflessness in the altruistic sense (and all those meanings are included in the title of the film), it goes to a more multiplexed mentality culminating in action, melodrama, but not without romantic hope.
Australia, 2015, 112 minutes, Colour.
Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Madison Brown, Nicholas Hamilton, Meine Wyatt, Lisa Flanagan.
Directed by Kim Farrant.
Strangerland was filmed around Broken Hill, a location that may seem familiar to many Australian audiences but, in fact, is rather remote. The town in the film resembles many country towns, especially those in the outback, small towns, for instance, in north-western Queensland. Which means that this is a strangerland to most audiences.
We are introduced to the Parker family who have moved to this town from another not so far away – although the reason is not made clear until later in the film and is key to understanding the tensions within the family. The mother, Catherine, is played with quite some intensity by Nicole Kidman. Her husband, Matthew, played by Joseph Fiennes, is the local pharmacist. They have two children, Lily, a rather precocious and sexually curious teenager, and Tommy, younger, intense, who tends to brood.
The film is beautifully photographed, catching both the dreariness of living in this town as well as the beautiful desert and mountain scenery that surrounds it.
Many audiences could identify with the seeming ordinariness of the Parker family, the tensions with the children, the mother and her concern, the father and his strictness, the daughter and her wanting to, rebel, going down to the local skateboard rink and flirting with the teenagers – and more, using her brother as a cover.
The key element of the film is the disappearance of the children and the search for them in the desert and the hills, led by the local policeman, played by Hugo Weaving. Early in the search, it is impeded by an enormous sand storm enveloping the town, the locals having to clean up before they can go to search.
While the policeman is quite phlegmatic, Catherine and Matthew are highly emotional, Catherine sometimes going, over the top, especially in some sexual advance sequences as well as her going out into the desert, stripping, and walking through the main street. Matthew is too often restrained in his emotions, but bursting out in anger, against a teacher who had a relationship with his daughter, against a young aboriginal man who works at his house, suddenly breaking loose and bashing him.
The cross-section of people in the town is familiar enough, the tendency to redneck attitudes, the idle teenagers, the aborigines who are part of the town and yet not quite.
While the film does come to some kind of resolution, it is not quite… Which leaves the audience identifying with the situation, if not the exact feelings, of the parents, realising that this kind of disappearance can easily happen, happens quite often, leaving a hole in the lives of the parents.
With interesting performances, with fine photography, there are many things to commend about Strangerland – but, while watching it, there is the feeling that for many, situations, performances are sometimes too melodramatic to be satisfying.
UK/New Zealand, 2015, 84 minutes, Colour.
Kodi Smit- Mc Phee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius.
Directed by John Maclean.
The title is descriptive – but it also serves as a warning for those who might be expecting a lively Western, fast-pace, instead of a slow West.
The film is also brief, the first film by Scottish director John Maclean, and winner of the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Festival in 2015.
The main feature that makes this Western distinctive is that it was filmed in New Zealand, the terrain not looking exactly like the familiar West or even Colorado where the film is set, but the mountains and planes, often bare, that audiences know from their seeing scenes of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth sagas. In some ways, this distances the action from the familiar West, but also involves us more in the characters who pass through these landscapes.
Some of the film was made in Scotland, especially the establishing sequences and some flashbacks where we learn the story of the teenager whom we find riding through Colorado on a quest to find Rose, the young woman with whom he was infatuated back home, and whom he has idealised, but who has fled to America with her father after the death of the young man’s father. The young men is wealthy and so is able to afford this trip even though he is completely inexperienced and soon finds himself in trouble.
The young man, Jay, is played by Australian actor Kodi Smit- Mc Phee, who is been appearing in Australian films like Romulus, My Father and Matching Jack as well as international film is like Let Me In and The Road. A tall thin figure, dressed rather properly, he seems completely out of place as he rides his horse through the West.
Michael Fassbender, becoming well known as a leading man and character actor, Prometheus, Shame, 12 Years a Slave, is Silas who has been a member of a gang riding the West (led by Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn), but has gone out on his own. He saves Jay, accompanies him something like a chaperone, helping him out in difficult circumstances. Jay encounters some Native American Indians fleeing from the military who are shooting them down. He also encounters the gang and its leader. And he finds a man in the desert, studying Indian customs and writing up their extinction, who welcomes him but then takes his goods, leaving him only a note with an arrow pointing west (which he picks up as it blows away and, of course, has no idea where West is).
The film highlights the is isolation when Silas and Jay find a store in the middle of nowhere, only to have a desperate man and his wife hold up the store, leading to deaths, and two young orphans stranded. There is also a strange looking cleric – and we know he could not be in any way a cleric.
The quest leads to the house where Rose and her father live, but there is a bounty of $2000 on them, dead or alive. This means that the alleged cleric arrives and sets up his rifle. The gang arrives, also after the bounty. And Jay walks into the middle of things, happy at last to have finished his quest, to have found Rose.
But this is not a Hollywood picture, rather, an independent small-budget film, so that, while there is something of a happy ending, there is something of a very unhappy ending as well.
Fine to look at, interesting performances, tantalising interpretation of loners in the West, gunfighters and bounty hunters, it is a well-made film that will appeal more to an arthouse audience.
Georgia/Estonia, 2014, 87 minutes, Colour.
Lembit Ulfsak, Elmo Nuganen, Girogi Nakashidze, Misha Keshkhi.
Directed by Zaza Urushadze.
A fine film.
Tangerines is translated in the subtitle as clementines, while listening to the dialogue and looking at the fruit in the orchards, there is reference to mandarins. No matter what the actual translation, the abundant fruit in the orchard, its fruitfulness, the fact that it needs to be picked and collected, offering food for nourishment, and the fear that if it is not picked, it will perish, means that tangerines is an evocative symbol for this film.
Audiences may wonder about the connection between Estonia and Georgia and the film as a co-production. As we wonder about this, the pre-credits inform us that there were colonies of Estonians in the Caucasus, in Georgia, living and working in peace. But, at the outbreak of war between Georgia and Akhbasia in 1992, most of the Estonians went back to their homeland leaving empty villages and houses.
We immediately see an old man, a grandfather, Ivo, working with wood in his workshop, making crates that can be used for the collection of the tangerines. Almost immediately, he is visited by two Chechen mercenaries, Russian-backed mercenaries who are fighting against the Georgians. They want food, treat Ivo well, but warn him of the dangers of the war and that others will not be so kind.
Ivo has an Estonian friend, Margus, who tends the tangerine trees. When a skirmish between Chechens and Georgians leads to deaths outside Ivo’s house, Ivo tends the wounds of Ahmed who had just visited him. As they bury the dead, they discover that one of the Georgians, Nika, is still alive and Ivo and Margus rescue him, calling on an Estonian doctor who treats each soldier equally.
What the film offers is an opportunity to appreciate the people who get caught up in the war, not be any part of its making, who live a simple life, only in indirect contact with the battles, but suffering the consequences, uncertain of what is happening, the times of war when each side is dominant and then overcome. In the uncertainty, what the two Estonian men have two offer is sympathy, healing, some understanding, and the pledge that the two enemies, despite their rivalry, will not kill each other in the house. Gradually, the kindness and dignified bearing of Ivo and his saving the lives of each of the men has quite an impact as they begin to treat each other as human beings rather than as enemies. Ivo hears their stories, as the audience hears them and appreciates the common humanity of each of the men, despite one being a mercenary and the other an actor who has felt an obligation to defend his country.
The cast is small in number, but the key characters are well-delineated, well-written, excellently acted. In fact, the film is beautifully crafted, and, despite some scenes of shooting deaths, a film that pleads for peace.
Audiences, for whom the Caucasus countries may seem remote, will begin to understand traditional communities, the local wars can break out, civil wars – which has happened at various times with different states of Georgia wanting to secede, relying on Russian backing. The film also throws light on what life in the countryside of eastern Ukraine is like with fights for secession, independence.
US, 2015, 115 minutes, Colour.
Mark Wahlberg, Seth Mac Farlane, Amanda Seyfriedd, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisiy, Morgan Freeman, Sam J.Jones, Patrick Warburton, Michael Dorn, Bill Smitrovich, John Slattery, John Carroll Lynch, Ron Canada, Liam Neeson, Jay Leno, Dennis Hayesbert,.
Directed by Seth Mac Farlane.
Fastidious is the word that comes to mind while watching Ted and Ted 2. Not that the Ted and the films are fastidious in any aspect. Rather, it is the warning that comes to mind that any potential audiences which see themselves as fastidious should not go to see Ted.
That being said, it also has to be said that the two films are very funny. And it is somewhat embarrassing to admit this, given the nature and subject of many of the jokes as well as the continued crass language that comes from the mouths of Ted (voiced by writer and director, Seth MacFarlane) and his great friend, John (Mark Wahlberg).
Ted made a great impact in 2012, with a modern urban fairytale (with grit and with attitude) where a little boy, John, wishes that his teddy bear could come alive – and his wish is granted. Ted seems a nice cuddly companion to a little boy – but, then he grows up, and takes on some of the less ingratiating aspects of the culture, no limits on his language, few limits on his blunt expressions, and a preoccupation with aspects of sex and his not being a stranger to drugs.
We all have our areas of reservation and this reviewer wishes that there wasn’t such a constant emphasis on casual drugtaking and its consequences – making it look too easy, too irresponsible.
At the opening of this sequel, after a couple of minutes of an extraordinary prologue, song and dance routine to Irving Berlin’s Steppin’ out with my Baby, filmed in Busby Berkeley 1930s musical style, quite lavish and entertaining – and with Ted joining in with the dancers, it is Ted’s wedding to his girlfriend Tammy – and everybody, including the audience, takes it for granted that Tammy and Ted will make a happy couple. Not always. Clashes, some fights – and they even have some rivalry at the local supermarket where they both work as cashiers.
One way to save the marriage is to have a child. There are some extraordinarily un-fastidious comedy sequences in the attempt to get a sperm donation. And then Tammy, this time quite seriously, is told that her drugtaking has ruined her reproductive system. And when they try to adopt, it emerges that Ted cannot be registered as a person but simply as property.
This leads the film in another direction, court cases to establish Ted’s identity and his rights as a person. John and Ted employ a young lawyer, Amanda Seyfried, as Samantha L Jackson (with jokes accordingly proving that Sam has little knowledge of popular culture). She is also into drugs, quite extensively, though allegedly to soothe her migraines. Needless to say, Ted and John think she is the ideal lawyer – and, it provides an opportunity for the touch of romantic comedy.
Court cases – and Ted losing his case, and the possibility of going to New York City to enlist the help of a very serious and senior lawyer, Morgan Freeman – who does give Ted quite a lecture, very serious in tone, about his wayward lifestyle.
But, before everything can be solved, Ted encounters his nemesis, Donnie (Giovanni Rib easy), who was obsessed with Ted in the first film and tries to do a deal with Hasbro to make the Ted bear as marketable. This finale happens at the huge Comic Con show in New York City, loads of fans (and fanatics) all dressed as characters from Star Wars, Star Trek, Mutant Turtles…
There is happy ending – but, in case you’re wondering what actually happens and whether Ted could be a person, there are two solutions: one is to see the film, the other, for the fastidious, is to ask someone who has gone and enjoyed the comedy to reveal what happed.
(The joke with Liam Neeson continues after the final credits.)
US, 2015, 126 minutes, Colour.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emelia Clark, Jai Courtney, J.K.Simmons, Courtney B. Vance, Byung-hun Lee, Sandrine Holt.
Directed by Alan Taylor.
Somebody replied that they would never see a film which could not spell Genesis correctly in its title. Well, it is not that Genesis – rather, it is her world conspiracy for machines taking over power, a new beginning, so why use the traditional name? This is a new Genisys.
But, that is getting ahead of things.
The original to Terminator films became classics soon after the release, James Cameron (pre-Titanic and pre-Avatar) directed them to quite some critical acclaim as well as huge box office. There was another Terminator film, Terminator: Salvation, with Christian Bale but, it soon became lost to memory. So, why another? Why not?
Arnold Schwarzenegger has finished his time as Governor of California and has returned to his screen career. Since The Terminator films were some of his biggest successes, time to capitalise on him. But, isn’t he too old? That is a question that recurs in the screenplay – with the wonderful response, consoling to those who are not as young as we used to be, “old but not obsolete”.
In fact, Schwarzenegger is not obsolete – and has an opportunity to appear in several incarnations of the Terminator. There is some footage from the first film with his coming back from the future to menace the young woman, Sarah Connor, who is to be the mother of the future saviour, John Connor. That was The Terminator. The character in Terminator 2: Judgement Day was much more benign, sent as a protector. It is he who is still around, vanquishes the killer machine and continues with his duties. Since these are all time-travel films, this terminator has survived from 1984 to 2017, becoming a little more wrinkled, and much greyer… But not obsolete!
To get us in the mood, with the touch of the post-apocalyptic, there is a pre-credit sequence where San Francisco is spectacularly destroyed. Then to the future, a grim place, where the machines have practically taken over and the rebellion against them is led by John Connor (Jason Clarke). There are to be two raids on the machine centres, in Colorado and at the core factory in San Francisco. But, John wants to send a loyal lieutenant back into the past to care for his mother because time can be altered and San Francisco could escape destruction. The earnest young time traveller is Kyle, Jai Courtney.
While the Terminator films are meant to be rather escapist, you have to try to keep your wits about you as you time travel with the characters, try to work out what has changed and what has not, The time travel takes Kyle back to 1984 (with some flashbacks to Sarah Connor and her childhood to remind us of her story in case we had forgotten) and the period before the destruction of San Francisco. Can Kyle and Sarah travelled forward to 2017 and prevent the destruction?
The answer is obviously use, but much more easily said than done. Off they go, pursued by the police, pursued by disguised machines, melting and recovering as they did in the previous films, hoping to find the old terminator, affectionately called Pops, who does eventually turn up but has been delayed by the traffic! There is a further complication as they find John Connor in 2017, not exactly the John that Kyle had had known before he was sent back to the past.
At this point, it is best to surrender the mind and just respond to the visuals and the emotions, the split-second timing, helicopter flights, Pops doing all he can to help – and reassuring Sarah, “I’ll be back”, getting into the centre, the attempts with weapons and explosives to destroy Skynet (the name given to the machines’ plan for domination) and a whole lot of mano a mano fights.
So, it is more or less as expected, despite the time and plot complications, an entertainment for the fans – and the final credits evaders will miss the throbbing clue to indicate, of course, that Skynet still lives.
THE WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED
Australia, 2015, 99 minutes, Colour.
Darren Gilshennen, Deborah Kennedy, Louis Alexander.
Directed by Gillian Armstrong.
To be told that this very interesting documentary is about costume designer, Orry- Kelly, may not ring many bells with contemporary audiences – with an exception for those who avidly read all the credits on the films from the golden years of Hollywood, especially those from Warner Brothers. His name occurs regularly during the 1930s and 1940s.
This means that he is of particular interest to film buffs. But, director Gillian Armstrong has opened up Orry- Kelly’s career for Australian audiences. He was from the coastal town of Kiama, south of Sydney, growomg there at the beginning of the 20th century, was awkward at sport yet skilled in following his father’s tradition as a tailor, but more interested in women’s clothes. Off he went to Sydney, to King’s Cross where he started to work as a painter, living in Woolloomooloo and aware of this seedier sides of life in Sydney, while working in a bank. He was keen on theatre and was to appear with one line in a show starring Roy Rene, Mo.
However, off he then went to the United States, living in New York City, becoming involved in musical theatre but, after dropping some of the chorus girls, literally, he felt that he was better suited to stage work and costume design. People began to take notice and he eventually went out to Hollywood, made an impression on Jack Warner, and became, for many years, the top costume designer at Warner Brothers, not without clashes with the boss.
On a personal level, he lived in a relationship with Cary Grant for many years, rather more open about his sexuality than Cary Grant was, or Randolph Scott with whom Cary Grant lived.
Where the film is telling for movie buffs is in the information about the stars that Orry- Kelly dressed with many sequences from the films, especially those of Bette Davis, with explanations of why a particular costumes and design, colours, were chosen to contribute to the drama and its cinematic impact. This continued into the 1940s when he was fired by Warner Brothers, found some work at MGM, including sharing an Oscar for the costume designs for An American in Paris, 1951.
Orry- Kelly had relationship problems, as well as drinking problems, but worked to overcome the latter. And, generally every year, he would go home to visit Australia and his mother. One of the devices the film uses is to have an actor, Darren Gilshennen, playing Orry- Kelly, mainly sitting in a rowing boat, sometimes on the water, sometimes on a studio stage with sea background, using the image of his sailing, paddling, going in circles, venturing out, to dramatise the developments in his life. Actress Deborah Kennedy plays his mother, talking to camera while hanging out the washing in Kiama in his early years, then dressed rather fashionably, sitting at a table, still talking to camera, explaining her son’s success.
In his later years, in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, he won Oscars for costumes for Some Like it Hot, 1959, and Irma La Douce, 1963.
Gillian Armstrong is in no way intrusive as a director. She illustrates Orry-Kelly’s? biography. She includes many interviews, from contemporary costume designers like Catherine Martin, Baz Luhrman’s Oscar-winning wife, some Hollywood designers and some of the stars, like Jane Fonda, whom Orry- Kelly dressed in several films. Women He’s Undressed is quite lavish in the many, many clips which illustrate not only his design, but his intuitions and intelligence behind designs – for the many Hollywood women that he dressed.
Israel, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Dana Igvy, Nelly Tagar, Shani Klein.
Directed by Talya Lavie.
Some commentators have suggested that while motivation is appropriate the title of the film in translation, the original Hebrew is better translated as “people skills”. This describes the three central characters. People skills are not their forte.
This is an Israeli multi-award-winning film, was written and directed by a woman and has women as the main characters, a film about women, their personalities, interactions, and how the Israeli Army deals with women, especially in administrative roles.
This may make the film sound much more serious than it is. In fact, it is a comedy, with an ironic, very often sardonic treatment, with some slapstick moments – and with quite some pathos.
The film consists of three stories: the first is called The Replacement, the second is The Virgin and the third, The Commander. The first story is about a young woman who arrives at the base and is seen by Daffi, who works in the office, in charge of shredding papers, as the replacement she has been writing to officials about, for her anxiously-sought move to Tel Aviv. In fact, the new girl is an impostor, not detected by any of the guards or the authorities, who is really coming to the base to make contact with the soldier that she had met earlier and with whom she is infatuated. Quite a lot of complications, rather to the detriment of the soldier in the film’s criticism men and the exploitation of women.
Another key character is Rama, the female officer who heads the administrative bureau, demanding, lacking people skills, impossibly bossy, who imposes her moods and commands on the girls who spend a lot of time trying to avoid her or defy her.
The second story focuses on Zohar, tough girl, with more than a touch of what people call “attitude”. She doesn’t want to be in the army, whiles a lot of time away, is friendly with Daffi but has impeded the request for her transfer to Tel Aviv. With Daffi moved to officer training, Zohar is left alone to think about herself, especially sexual relationships – with a rather sobering experience with a visiting paratrooper who turns out to be certainly not the man of her dreams, but who is completely humiliated by Irena, who takes up Zohar’s support. There is a climactic moment when she is commanded by Rama to tidy the office – and does so in a shredding spree.
The third story has Daffi back after her officer training, still dreaming of Tel Aviv but transferred back to the base to take Rama’s place. The tension between Zohar and Daffi reaches a height, including a battle in the office with each having a staple gun and firing and Daffi making quite a mess with the computers.
Obviously, this film will make an impact on Israeli audiences, especially with their experience of military national service and its consequences – audiences around the world will observe with a mixture of humour and wondering what the long-term consequences will be for the characters caught up in this military service.