SIGNIS REVIEWS JULY 2016
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN, THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES…
CONJURING, The 2
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME
HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS
ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE
MEASURE OF A MAN,The/ LA LOI DU MARCHE
ME BEFORE YOU
NOW YOU SEE ME 2
PERFECT DAY, The
ST PETERS AND THE ROMAN BASILICAS
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
WAIT, The/ L’ATTESA
Australia, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Adrien Brody, Sam Neill, George Sheftsov, Robin McLeavy?, Bruce Spence, Jenni Baird, Anna Lise Phillips, Chloe Bayliss, Malcolm Kennard.
Directed by Michael Petroni.
Backtrack is a small but enjoyably interesting ghost story. It does not begin immediately as ghost story but suggests a disturbed and disturbing atmosphere.
In an interesting piece of casting for an Australian film, Adrien Brody portrays Peter Bower, a psychiatrist working in Melbourne, reassuring his wife after frightening dreams, meeting a group of clients (including veteran actor Bruce Spence) who exhibit bizarre behaviour, seeming to have lost their memory, and trapped in a particular date, 12 July 1987. Peter finds this so disturbing that he seeks out his former mentor, Duncan, Sam Neill, at Melbourne University, puzzled because all these clients have been referred to him by Duncan.
When Peter starts investigating information about his clients, especially where they come from, west of Melbourne, he studies a map and finds it leads to a town called False Creek where he grew up.
Perhaps it should have been said earlier that this is a film about trains and should have a great appeal to train watchers and train spotters. The suburban Melbourne trains. the frequent travelling past, noisily, the windows of Peter’s office. He goes by train up to False Creek and we discover a whole back story including trains, bikes on rails, signal movements, and a deadly crash.
Peter stays with his father, George Shentsov. Peter is not close to him and has some bad memories of his poor parenting. Peter also looks up an old school friend and surfaces some old secrets. He also begins to have flashbacks, coming involved again in an incident with his friend and the disastrous consequences.
Peter’s daughter, Evie, had died in a car accident a year earlier and he is still grieving, cutting himself off from ordinary communication – and, in terms of the ghosts, opening himself up to the dead after her death and beginning to re—examine what had happened in his past. The testing of his conscience occurs in interviews with the local police officer, Robin McGreevy?, the daughter of a woman who died in the crash, which leads to a dramatic denouement and the solving of the mystery.
When looking at mainstream ghost stories, many will be thinking about The Sixth Sense ad other films which explored the interconnection between the living and the dead.
Backtrack is photographed quite atmospherically, many touches of darkness leading into the light. It is a ghost story worth telling.
BELLE AND SEBASTIEN, THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES…
France, 2015, 97 minutes, Colour.
Felix Bossuet, Tcheky Karyo, Thierry Neuvic,
Directed by Christian Duguay.
For audiences who enjoyed the original Belle and Sebastien, this sequel, the continuance of the adventure, will be very welcome. Characters are back, the young boy, Sebastien, his adoptive grandfather, Cesar, and, of course, the huge and affable dog, Belle.
This time the setting is after World War II in the Rhone-Alps? area of France near the Italian border. Those who appreciate beautiful scenery, will find a great deal of satisfaction here, the sweep of the mountains, the crags, the beautiful green fields, the country village.and, as the mood changes and the plot develops, there is a transition from a piano accompaniment to in an intense repetitive orchestral urgency.
Sebastien is now ten and avoids going to school, preferring to slide down a mountainside on a home-made sled, more than a touch reckless and saved from the great fall by Belle. In the meantime, Cesar’s niece who has been fighting in the resistance during the war is returning home on an American plane which crashes into the mountainous forest. Everyone is presumed dead – except by Sebastien and Cesar.
Most of the film concerns the search, the old man going to a local pilot, Pierre, and paying him to fly over the crash site – with, of course, Sebastien and Belle’s stowing away, rather disastrous since Pierre has an antipathy towards dogs. Again, almost disaster, with Sebastien reckless again, stubborn and wilful.
Before they go to ask Pierre to fly over the site, Cesar explains to Sebastien that Pierre is his father – they think that Pierre abandoned Sebastien’s mother, but there is more explanation as the film goes on.
As they go through the forest, they encounter a young girl taking refuge up a tree from a grizzly bear, an Italian girl who belongs to a group of lumberjacks working in the forest but prevented from working by the forest fire set by the crashing plane. She becomes an ally in the search.
There is some peril with the fire, but Belle going in to find the cave with orange smoke coming, a flare signalling survival. And, continuing the peril, their continued dangers from fire as well as escaping suffocating smoke in the cave.
Apart from the film being a physical journey adventure, it is an emotional adventure for Sebastien as he clashes with his father, begins to work with him, and discovers that he really needs a strong father figure.
Very French, but a family film that does not rely on more obvious emotions and excitement that we tend to associate with more upfront American family films.
US, 2016, 117 minutes, Colour.
Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Hall, Adam Godley, Jermaine Clement, Bill Hader, Olafur darri Olafsson.
Directed by Stephen Spielberg.
It is only those who have not been readers of Roald Dahl’s stories who will not know what BFG stands for. This reviewer, who has seen film versions of Dahl’s stories but not read any, assumed that it meant Big Fat Giant – only to see Mark Rylance as BFG, not fat at all, rather the contrary, but enlightened by the young girl of the story, Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who decides that she will call him BFG, the Big Friendly Giant. And so he is.
Roald Dahl was a novelist and screenwriter (for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even for some Hitchcock television programs) and audiences who are familiar with films for children will have seen James and the Giant Peach, Willie Wonka, Matilda, The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Esio Trot… They will know that he has quite an imagination, often with bizarre touches, sometimes having children in peril but getting through their adventures to be their better selves.
And this is the case with The BFG. It opens in London with scenes of Westminster but then goes to backstreets and a sinister building proclaiming, rather largely, Orphanage. Perhaps experts in recognising cars and their vintage will realise that this is the 1980s – but it is only later in the film when Her Majesty telephones the Reagans in Washington, getting Nancy to wake up Ron, that we know we are definitely in the 1980s.
Sophie has insomnia and tends to read under the blanket at the orphanage. Hearing voices one night, she breaks her rules of getting out of bed, looking behind the curtain, going out on the balcony where she sees BFG – who is doing his best to hide in the shadows and disguise himself so that passers-by at the witching hour, 3 am, will not notice him. He takes Sophie with him, escaping far, far north, hopping over rocks and crags and seas to the Land of the Giants, to his rather strange abode, much of which looks like a ship.
Sophie is one of those lively and plucky young girls and, while sometimes afraid, confronts BFG and gets to know him – especially as he protects her from the other Giants, an ugly and motley lot of ogres, who have an appetite for children.
BFG it seems is smaller giant, collector of dreams, distributor and dreams – which leads to his and Sophie’s going back to London, exploring her dream. Suddenly we are outside Buckingham Palace, Sophie on the ledge, her Majesty asleep, woken by her servants only to be confronted by Sophie and BFG. Her Majesty has generally been a good sport and so invites them in, provides a lavish breakfast for the starving Sophie and masses of toast, eggs, and a huge bowl of coffee for BFG.
By this stage, we are well into the swing of Dahl’s imagination and enjoy what are rather outlandish adventures. It also means, adults having to return to childhood attitudes, for everyone, including the Queen and the corgis, drinking BFG’s special drink where the bubbles go down instead of up – which means that everyone does not burp, but you know what… And the results must be one of the biggest fart sequences in cinema.
There is some more action and special effects, helicopters and SAS types following BFG and Sophie back to the Land of the Giants and a huge roundup so that everyone is safe from the poor old giants. BFG is content and Sophie finds her dream coming true.
Since a lot of the adults taking their children to see The BFG will have read Dahl during their young days, it probably means that both younger and older audiences will be satisfied.
US, 2016, 114 minutes, Colour.
Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Danielle Nicolette, Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul, Dylan Boyer, Thomas Gretchen.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
At times the audience might wonder about how much intelligence there is in this film. There is quite a lot of spoof, sendup of CIA agents and activities, and quite a lot of amusing dialogue and repartee, especially for film buffs and references to films and film stars (often at Kevin Hart’s expense, as a half pint Denzel or as a black Will Smith!).
This is an amusing buddy movie for a Night out, not for research on American methods of maintaining national security. For critics who are of a more serious frame of mind, it might be seen as enjoyably entertaining, a guilty pleasure.
The opening is in 1996 at Central High in Maryland, where Kevin Hart plays Calvin, The Golden captured, the top sportsmen, the top personality, the student who is most likely to succeed. On the other hand there is the over-large Bob, bullied by the smart students and humiliated during the final assembly, everybody laughing at him, dragged in naked from the shower, Calvin offering him a coat to save him further embarrassment.
Then it is 20 years on with Calvin not having achieved what he might have, an accountant in and office, looked over for promotion, but happily married to his high school sweetheart. Kevin Hart is sometimes an acquired taste but, after his performance in The Wedding Ringer, and despite About Last Night, this reviewer found his sometimes manic performance quite enjoyable. Into his life comes Bob, Dwayne Johnson, larger-than-life, not the Bob that everybody remembers from those school days.
Bob has a great admiration for Calvin, grateful for his intervention in the past, and goes out for a drink with him, defends him against toughs in a bar, takes in on a bike ride, want some help with computer data and then bunks down for the night at Calvin’s. So far, so puzzling for Calvin – but, worse, when agent Harris and her men turn up at his front door looking for Bob who is considered a traitor to his country. Then a mad pursuit begins.
Calvin wants out. Bob, ever genial, tells him he is in. In an amusing scene, Calvin turns up for marriage therapy with his wife only to find that Bob has taken the psychologist’s place and there is some spoof about intense therapy. In order to get more information from a computer, Calvin takes him to see Trevor, the leader of the bullies of the past. He is played by Jason Bateman showing that he could have been cast as one of the Horrible Bosses.
It gets rather complicated, especially for Calvin, and he and the audience are not too sure at times whether Bob is a traitor. But, after Bob hijacks a small plane to fly from Maryland to Boston, there is a showdown, the selling of data to a foreign power, the unmasking of the traitor whose nickname is The Black Badger.
It is the night for the 20th reunion for the class of 96, Calvin not wanting to go because he feels he hasn’t achieved enough, but Bob getting there on time and Bob becoming the centre of attention, even of Melissa McCarthy? in a welcome cameo.
And, as if you didn’t know, Calvin finds that his career as a CIA agent would be much more fulfilling than being an accountant.
THE CONJURING 2
US, 2016, 134 minutes, Colour.
Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O' Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon Mc Burney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Franka Potente.
Directed by James Wan.
The first Conjuring film was a box office success, audiences very interested in the demonic themes and the confrontation of Ed and Lorraine Warren against the Demons. The screenplay was based on actual characters and events, especially with the impact of the Amityville possession in 1976, the role of the Warrens and the subsequent books, feature films and sequels. The Warrens had plenty of stories, and had become media celebrities, a sequel was inevitable. It is, however, a sequel which has received critical praise and box office success.
Ed and Lorraine Warren, played again by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farniga, conducted sessions in a variety of houses over several decades. While they were a couple who had heightened sensitivities and sensibility towards the demonic, they were also officially connected with the Catholic church. They did many of their investigations on behalf of the church, something which is taken up in this film, a priest visiting them and urging them to go to England where there were reports of strange happenings in the outer London area of Enfield.
The film actually opens with some sessions about Amityville. During the sitting, Lorraine has out-of-body experiences, accompanying the killer to the various rooms, her arms doing the shot gun movements, a single lineup of victims, and the sense of the demonic presence. This continues later, after she has seen her husband painting a portrait of a horrific nun, a vision she had seen, and has a further confrontation with the nun and a premonition of Ed’s death. She asks husband not to do any more consultations.
The priest is persuasive and they go to London, meeting the Hodgson family. Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’ Connor) has four children, has been abandoned by her husband, has little money. Suddenly, one of her daughters, Janet (Madison Wolfe) starts to experience what seem to be poltergeist happenings. But, at times she is possessed by a sinister presence, seemingly an old man who had died in an armchair in the downstairs room. When the happenings increase, the police are called, the children have to move in with neighbours, the media become interested as does the psychic who believes in the hauntings, Simon Mc Burney, and an expert who is very sceptical, Franco Potente.
The Warrens are present only for a few days, they share experiences with the family, Lorraine empathising with Janet, Ed getting the trust of the family, even to doing some repair jobs in the house. The film builds up to climactic sequences, the testing of Janet’s voice to see whether she is telling the truth, a surveillance video adding to the scepticism, and the Warrens reluctantly leaving.
However, there is a dramatic development, needless to say, and they return for a final confrontation, Ed in danger of fulfilling his wife’s premonition of death, Lorraine having the name of the Demon and confronting it.
Ever since The Exorcist, that has been a continuous interest in demonic presence and confrontations and exorcism. This film, persuasively acted, with an authentic feel of London in the rain, is a credible addition to the genre – even if many will be sceptical about the credibility of the claims of true stories. (Lorraine Warren and one of the children, Billy Hodgson, acted as technical advisors to the film.)
Director James Wan has quite a list of horror thrillers including Saw, the two Insidious films and now the two Conjuring films.
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
US, 2016, 117 minutes, Colour.
Blake Jenner, Zoe Deutch.
Directed by Richard Linklater.
Part of the attraction for going to see this film is that it was written and directed by Richard Linklater. Many appreciated his slacker films in the early 1990s, especially Dazed and Confused. But, many remember his cap before Sunset, Before Sunrise, Before Midnight series with his portrait of a man and woman over almost 20 years, and the strength of the dialogue in their conversations. His range has been particularly strong, some social dramas, the interesting portion of Bernie, and the animation of A Scanner Darkly and the philosophical-theological hundred minutes of existential and metaphysical reflections in Waking Life.
This film is almost the opposite of Waking Life. After completing Boyhood, the film he made over a period of 12 years, he has returned to his own memories of his past, college days.
One reviewer said that to enjoy this film you needed to have been there – and, after viewing the film, that is absolutely right. Otherwise, especially if the characters and their behaviour do not arouse interest, this film can be something of an endurance.
It takes place over the three days before the opening of school at the end of August 1980. Plot -wise, not a great deal happens. We are drawn into the film with Jake (Blake Jenner) a freshman with a baseball scholarship. Even though he is not yet 20, he looks the All- American type – as do a number of the other jocks whom he meets at their dilapidated house. He is quite outgoing and despite the rather initial off-hand reception, he easily makes friends. Actually, on his first day at college, off they all go to a bar, plenty of noise, plenty of music, plenty of drinking, plenty of girls, plenty of dancing…
As a group of them cruise the parking lot, they are attracted to girls who snap at them – although one of them, Beverly (Zoe Deutch) has a shot at the others by praising Jake, quiet in the backseat. This will have good consequences when Jake leaves flowers at her door, when she phones, when they go out and talk, when he goes to a party at the arts-dance student house where she lives. In fact, Beverly is the only female character in the film – Although there are other females around but they are for the men and for the camera to ogle. There are some moments of dialogue about objectification.
On the Sunday, all the baseball players assemble for practice – which does give a bit more interest to the plot in terms of pitching, batting, fielding as well as some locker room pranks.
Some commentators have linked it to National Lampoons Animal House of 1978. There may be some resemblance but this one is far, far milder, a bit more humane even though the whole atmosphere is particularly, as Australians would say, blokey.
US, 2016, 103 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Ellen de Generes, Albert Brooks, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Ed O ’Neill, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Andrew Stanton, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Alison Janney, Vicki Lewis, John Ratzenburger, Angus Mc Lane.
Directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus Mc Clane.
Actually, it is not really Dory who is lost in this film but since Finding Nemo was such a fine title, this story of Dory uses ‘Finding’ in the title although the plot really concerns Dory trying to find her parents.
Old audiences might find it hard to believe that it is already 13 years since Finding Nemo made such an impact with audiences all over the world – and won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It means that children were seven at the time and enjoyed Nemo are now 20. It might mean that they can slip into see this film with the younger brothers and sisters.
It is important to say that Nemo and his father, Marlin, are back and are significant characters in this story. Marlin still has the voice of Albert Brooks. But, as we remember, Dory made a great impression as she helped in the quest for finding Nemo. She was a bright, chatty, quipping blue tang fish, sounding just like Ellen de Generes. But, she had no immediate memory. And this is to the point in Dory’s story now.
To help us all appreciate Dory more, there are some scenes when she is a little blue tang, still chatty and quipping, still with no memory, a devoted mother and father caring for her, trying to help her remember, but very sad when she unexpectedly disappears.
The older Dory helps out with Ray and his classes to eager young fish. But, there is a compulsion in her to try to find her mother and father. She teams up again with Marlin and Nemo and they make their way to the Marine Centre in California. Here she teams up with a lively octopus, Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill) who is desperate to get to a centre in Cleveland, trying all kinds of ruses to get to the departing truck, able to disguise himself with all kinds of shapes colours.
Dory also encounters a friend from childhood, the whale, Destiny (who has blurred eyesight and has a propensity for banging into walls) and her friend, a Beluga whale, who has heightened sonar talents which become very important for the final climax. We hear Sigourney Weaver at the Marine Centre giving information about looking after fish, especially rescue.
There are quite a lot of new characters the most amusing of which are two sea lions who lazily sunbake on a rock, offer a sympathetic ear to Dory, but turn aggressively against another sea lion who wants to get their spot (and a warning not to rush out of the credits because there are several jokes after the credits, including some with the sea lions).
The scene where Dory asks herself what she would do in Dory’s place and she is under water, pining for her parents, but sees a path of shells, offers quite some pathos and feeling for Dory and her parents.
But, pathos is not the goal of the end of the film with a frantic truck episode on a freeway, plenty of cars, plenty of smashes and a vehicle careening over the guard rail into the sea. This does mean that, despite all the adventures and dangers, Dory is truly found.
Australia, 2016, 110 minutes, Colour.
Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham, Tom E. Lewis, Pei Pei Cheng, Michelle Lilm Davidson, Kate Beahan, Max Cullen.
Directed by Ivan Senn.
The police thriller, Mystery Road, made quite some impact when it was released in 2013. Set in outback Queensland, it was a detective story, missing persons, aboriginal themes, financial interests and conflicts. These ingredients are substantial and they are incorporated into this new police thriller, Goldstone, the name of the town, or settlement near a gold mine, that is location for this film, also shot in outback Queensland.
Much of the impact from Mystery Road came from the casting of Aaron Pedersen as an aboriginal detective working on missing persons and uncovering many dark secrets. At the opening of this film, he’s driving drunk along the Queensland roads, pulled up by the young police officer in Goldstone, Alex Russell, and finding himself in a prison cell. However, when he is recognised as the detective, he begins his search for a Chinese woman who has disappeared.
Aaron Peterson’s Jay is like a number of the detectives and private eyes of fiction and thriller films, down on his luck, on his self-esteem, experiencing death and grief, relying too much on drink. He is a strong-minded man, however, challenges the young policeman who has thoughts of what he might have been instead of being stuck in this small and avaricious community. He finds clues about the missing woman, interviewing a travelling prostitute in her van, Pinky (Kate Beahan), learning that Chinese prostitutes are flown in, their passports taken, no visas acquired, and are kept as virtual prisoners at the local bar/club.
And there are even more complications, especially with the goldmine (and an impressive shot as Jay watches a huge excavation explosion). The boss of the mine is played by David Wenham, working on legislation to extend permits, trying to deal with the local aboriginal community, the leader who is in favour of development (Tom E. Lewis) and the tribal elder, played by the archetypal David Goulpilil, who is not.
The mayor of the town should be mentioned, more than mentioned. She is played by Jacki Weaver, touches of sweetness and light and apple pie (literally) on the surface, but as she explains to Jay, hard as nails like her father and grandfather, looking out for number 1. She gathers information, wants the young policeman to keep her informed, puts pressure on the aborigines. Altogether a tough piece of work.
Ivan Senn wrote the screenplay, directed and edited the film (and also composed the musical score). In his films, Beyond Clouds, Toomelah, he has presented aboriginal themes and, as he did in Mystery Road, blends them with contemporary Australian issues, country town problems, mining and the environment, deals with aboriginal communities, financial coverups, and the presence of illegal workers and visa problems as well as sex trafficking.
Audiences will be involved in the life of the town, the variety of characters, the tensions and challenges.
It is worth noting that prior to the opening credits there is an impressive succession of photographs of colonial times, of pioneering, of the old towns, of aborigines, of the Chinese – while, at the end, Jay goes bush and explores aboriginal cave paintings.
HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS
US, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Tyne Daly, Stephen Root, Caroline Aaron.
Directed by Michael Showalter.
A star vehicle for Sally Field at almost 70. 1946 seems to have been a very good year for the births of Oscar-winning actresses: Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Cher, and Sally Field. These actresses are still prominent in their field, Susan Sarandon at the top of her form in the comedy, The Meddler. And now Sally Field in a comedy that has many quite sad aspects to it.
She plays an older woman who has lived for many years looking after her demanding mother, has lost opportunities for bettering herself in life, allowing her brother to have education and business chances. She is a rather lonely person, although she does have two friends much her own age with whom she can share her thoughts and feelings. She was engaged once but had to stay at home for her mother when the fiance got a job interstate.
She works in an office, putting data into computers. Has she any future?
Than the comic touches come as a young executive arrives at the company and she fantasises about his romantic attentions to her. This becomes an obsession and she begins to stalk him at the office and in creating a false Facebook page, intruding into his life in a cruel way. She has the help of the 13-year-old granddaughter of her close friend, Tyne Daly. She goes to a rock concert, gaudily dressed, because John (Max Greenfield) will be there and gets an opportunity to pose for an album cover .
The film raises the issues of loneliness, compensation before it is too late, the possibility of genuine love between a younger man and an older woman. For John it is something of a shock. For her friends it seems an impossibility. And Doris has to come to terms with her attraction to John and her real life, seeing a psychiatrist, letting go of the past, clearing the family house of accumulated junk.
For a moment this reviewer was deceived by a fantasy scene towards the end of the film – but, then the film asks, is this really fantasy?
The film is very much geared to an older women’s audience, much less a to an older men’s audience since there are really no older men in the film except Doris’s brother. Younger men’s audiences may identify with John but, perhaps, not strongly.
Sally Field does her best, a character of pathos, then becoming exceedingly ditsy, and reminds us how she has been a top liner for practically 50 years – from Gidget to The Flying Nun to 2 Oscars and a strong screen presence.
ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE
US, 2016, 93 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Ray Romano, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, Simon Pegg, John Leguiazamo, Nick Offerman, Seann William Scott, Max Greenfield, Josh Peck, Keke Palmer.
Directed by Mike Thurmeier, Galon Chu.
This is the fifth film in the Ice Age series. It follows much the same pattern as the previous films and has most of the same characters. It also means that the formula is running down and that this is probably the best place to stop. In the meantime, it is enjoyable in its slight way but reminiscent of the better ice ages of the past.
Of course, Scrat is still there, still pursuing his acorn. He has been the start of the past films and his antics in trying to retain the acorn or searching for it are amusing. However, his scenes are rather futuristic as he gets trapped in a spacecraft (presumably left there by aliens) and does a lot of hurtling around space, messing with spacecraft controls, and creating a certain amount of mayhem in the galaxies including turning the Earth-like luxuriant planet, Mars, into the red planet in one stroke.
The other thing that script does up there in the ionosphere is to set off all kinds of meteor collisions and the hurtling of many of them towards Earth. They interrupt the now rather placid life of all those prehistoric animals that we have got to know, providing fireworks in the sky for our friend Manny, the Mammoth, who has forgotten his wife’s wedding anniversary.
After reminding all our memories of Manny and his wife, his daughter, Peaches, who now has a beau of whom Manny is rather jealous, Sid the Sloth carrying on but, of all things, acquiring a girlfriend! Diego and his fiancee from the previous film are happily content, though still scaring some of the smaller creatures.
Neil, the weasel, returns, pursued by prehistoric flying creatures, who is able to help them avert the meteor that is heading straight towards Earth, getting a whole lot of crystals which have emerged from eruptions and feeding them into a volcano so that, with all other outlets of the earth’s energy covered, there can be an enormous explosion to blow the meteor off course. So, we have the benefit of a rather big physics lesson and successful experiment to make sure that the ice age continues in peace.
The same voice cast entertains us again, zany characters, comic situations – but, unless a screenwriter gets an extraordinary and different inspiration, the end of an era.
THE MEASURE OF A MAN/ LA LOI DU MARCHE
France, 2015, 93 minutes, Colour.
Vincent Lindon, Karine de Mirbek, Matthieu Schaller.
Directed by Stephane Brize.
This is a very dignified title for a film, as befits this portrait of an ordinary working man trying to do his best for his family, for himself. But, the French title is particularly relevant, La Loi du Marche, The Law of the Marketplace.
Veteran French actor, Vincent Lindon, won the award for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. And, the film also won the Ecumenical Prize, the jury noting that in many ways this portrait was prophetic in terms of presenting a story about contemporary struggles, especially in the workplace, a film about justice.
We are immediately introduced to Thierry, Linden’s character, already involved in conversation with an official in an office which interviews men who have been retrenched from jobs when their company has collapsed, which advises them about courses for retraining. Thierry vigorously explains that the course recommended, to drive cranes, was not helpful to almost all of the men assigned to it, a waste of time with no job prospect at the end. The official mouthes sympathetic words but has all kinds of explanations and excuses.
This filming of Thierry during conversations is continued throughout the film. He has an interview with a woman at the bank, checking possibilities for a loan, but admitting that he does not fulfil the conditions because of his work situation. At another stage, he and his wife have decided to sell their mobile home, have had a phone guarantee of sale, but the prospective buyer is reneging on his agreement, wanting the price lowered, but to a price which Thierry and his wife could not afford.
In a quiet scene in the family kitchen, the audience discovers that their adolescent son, Mathieu, has cerebral palsy. Playfully, he asks his parents about how many drops of water can be put in an empty cup – (and for those who have not yet worked it out, his mother does get the answer, one drop, and then the cup is not empty!). Material has ambitions to go to college to study, but is finding his final year courses difficult, and, under pressure, he is not doing well in the tests. Then, there is a conversation between Thierry and the official in charge of courses.
Just when the film becomes so serious that the audience is tempted to be as desperate as Thierry, there are some pleasant interludes, especially when Thierry and his wife go to a dance class – and later, they dance at home, inviting Mathieu to join them.
Actually, Thierry does get a job, in security at a supermarket, on the floor and observing customers, and, after a tutorial, observing all the screens from the video cameras, learning the habits of customers who are shoplifting (and two confrontations, one of a cheeky young thief, the other of an old man who has no more money) and observing the behaviour of the women at the checkout, looking to see whether they are acting dishonestly – and two confrontations with women, one with tragic results.
By and large, the characters all talk in principles and logic, what is right, what is possible, what is an offence… With no leeway for personal issues or circumstances to be taken into consideration.
Depending on our own stances and our criteria for making decisions, all characters are acting correctly – or should be more lenient and understanding in confronting people in need. Which is the final dilemma for Thierry.
ME BEFORE YOU
UK, 2016, 110 minutes, Colour.
Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet Mc Teer, Charles Dance, Brendan Coyle, Samantha Spiro, Jenna Coleman, Matthew Lewis.
Directed by Thea Sharrock.
One might say that this is a pleasingly emotional film. interestingly, some more cerebral reviewers have been harsh on the film, especially being critical of the presentation of disability. The many readers of the novel and the higher than expected success of the film, on the other hand, suggests that these reviewers were not responding to the characters, the situations and the emotions but to ideas about treatment of themes. The screenplay was written by the novelist, Jojo Moyes.
Already the title indicates that there will be interactions between two people, the me and the you. But it depends on whom we identify as the me and whom we identify as the you. One is Lou, Louisa, a cheerful young woman in her mid-20s who eventually takes a job of day-carer for Will, and up-and-coming young executive who is injured in a street accident and is now quadriplegic. In terms of the title, it is Lou who puts Will before everyone else. She is played by Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones).
There have been a number of recent novels and films about young people with terminal illness, like The Fault in Our Stars. This time the protagonists are in their mid-20s and early 30s, appealing to a more adult audience. Lou is a charmingly effervescent personality. Will, on the other hand, played by Sam Claflin (who appeared in The Hunger Games films) has become depressed and embittered because of his inability to live now the life of his former self.
We are wary of identifying Will’s psychological profile because he is not able to be his real self – although he contrasts himself with Lou in a discussion about how they handle situations. He says that he sees things, processes this and makes decisions.
Will comes from a very wealthy family, who seem to be owners or custodians of the local ruined castle, quite an imposing presence in the town, and the setting for some of the scenes between Lou and Will. (The final credits acknowledge Pembroke Castle.) With money as no object, this is a kind of modern fairytale, a contemporary Cinderella story.
In many ways the plotline is predictable enough, the gruff patient will mellow because of the attentions of his attractive carer. However, there is a deeper underlying sub-plot, Will dissatisfied with his life and contacting a Dignity Centre in Switzerland with the prospect of assisted suicide. His parents are concerned, allowing him six months to make up his mind, his father being more rational about the situation (Charles Dance in quite a sympathetic role), his mother not wanting him to die (Janet Mc Teer), and growing appreciative of all the care that Lou takes of her son.
As regards points of view about assisted suicide, the screenplay presents both points of view quite strongly, Will and his previous attempt at killing himself, determined that this is the best action for himself, Lou and her love for him, wanting to stay with him, and, while she goes to him in Switzerland, is prepared to do everything she can so that he will live. Other films which offer comparisons on this theme include The Sea Within, Million Dollar Baby and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
While Will is played (eventually) quite sympathetically by Sam Claflin, it is Lou who makes the strong impression. She is a strong personality who lives in the present, cheerful and described as “chatty” (although that is the last thing that Will wants when she first arrives). Lou has lived a fairly limited life, belongs to a loving family, and is kindness personified. She does say she would have liked to study: fashion. She loves clothes, something different, bright even loud, every day.
When Will shows her the DVD of Of Gods and Men, the first one she has watched with subtitles, she is overwhelmed. Something of an intuitive challenge. While she decides to draw Will out of himself (a visit to the races where she definitely backs the wrong horse and a rapturous attendance with him at a Mozart concert), Will is broadening her horizons, giving her more of a reason to live which makes his final declaration to Lou after she has offered her unconditional love to him even sadder.
Though she is a person who lives in the present, not a decider. But her growing love and care offer a challenge, investigating and making decisions of ways and travels to bring Will out of his cocooned self.
Perhaps the title should have focused on Lou and called the film Me For You.
US, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Don Cheadle, Ewan Mc Gregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keith Stanfield.
Directed by Don Cheadle.
Those who love jazz and have a great admiration for the master musicians of the 20th century will have a great esteem for trumpeter, Miles Davis. This is a portrait of Davis.
The film was co-written, directed and performed by celebrated actor of film and television, Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, House of Lies). He certainly has invested a great deal of energy in this film.
However, the film is something of a mixed blessing. Audiences will emerge from the film admiring Davis and his capacity for playing but with rather a negative response to him as a person and his personality.
The screenplay is quite a mixture. it opens in the late 1970s, the end of a period where Davis had absented himself from performance and from recording, for about five years. Everybody was hoping that he was planning a comeback. To look at him, rather gaunt and ravaged, Afro hair, a man who is dependent on drugs, this introduction to him is not promising. Then a writer turns up at his door, a Scotsman (Ewan Mc Gregor) who claims he is writing for Rolling Stone and wants an exclusive. He inveigles himself into Davis’s house and then into his confidence. This character , Dave, is a fictitious character, the contrivance for the portrait.
He and Davis go to see the bosses at Columbia records but Davis has tantrums, wants money, badmouths the executors and, on the way back to his apartment, is taken by Dave to a drug dealer to get cocaine which they indulge in while a group of people are partying upstairs. Dave intends to steal the demonstration tape the Davis had made but another go-getter takes it.
While the sequences are happening in the present, there are many, many flashbacks inserted into the film. Davis goes back into his past, his career, his playing, his successful records, working in clubs – though harassed by police on the beat and thrown into prison. He remembers Francis, first seeing her, giving her his phone number, going to see her as a dancer in rehearsal, proposing, wanting her to give up her career, a long marriage sequence, his growing obsessions and suspicions, her escaping.
There are also drug memories.
So, Davis comes across as a fairly unpleasant person in himself, in his dealings with his wife, in his clashes with others. But, at the same time, his skill with performance, with annotating musical scores, his records indicate his great talent.
The builder before his comeback has Davis and Dave tracking down the young trumpeter, admiring him, getting him to lead them to the man who has stolen the demonstration tape.
The final credits have a very long list of Davis compositions excerpts of which are played throughout the film, from Davis’s own recordings. During the final credits there is a rather long jazz jamming session with Davis and other musicians including Herbie Hancock.
This is the kind of story which raises issues of how someone who is rather unpleasant, even obnoxious, can be gifted with such a great talent.
Israel, 2015 100 minutes, Colour.
Ohad Naharin, Tzofia Naharin.
Directed by Tomar Heymann.
Usually one looks at the critics’ comments on the advertising with a momentary consideration and a passing over of the superlatives. With the poster for Mr Gaga, there was a comment which made sense to this reviewer, worth quoting, “If you know nothing of dance, or don’t have the slightest interest in it, you will still be mystified by what is on-screen. The Batsheva dancers moving in ways you might not even imagine the body could move.” These were the thoughts, the feelings, during this intriguing film.
Dance aficionados will be familiar with the name of choreographer Ohad Naharin. Audiences who find this film fascinating will be alert to his name after this.
He is an Israeli choreographer, whose dance interpretations for his Batsheva company have the title of Gaga. His belief is that the body is extremely malleable, subject to gravity and subtly utilising it while defying it. He believes in movement, of all the limbs, of torso and head, limbs at various angles, “Listen to the body before you tell it what to do.” And, as we see during the film, dance can heal.
While this film was eight years in the making, following the choreographer around the world, seeing him in action, especially in more recent years in Israel, there is a great deal of archival footage, quite a number of his compositions included here, with names and dates, ranging from the 1980s to the present.
The film also shows Ohad auditioning over the decades. He is very demanding, putting physical and emotional pressures on those auditioning, trying to discern whether they have some inner strength and creativity which he wants to unlock. This is seen frequently as he directs the men and women to go into their inner strength, not think out their movements, but to feel them – especially in their ability to let go, collapse and fall.
During the film we learn something about Ohad himself, especially from home movies, his life as a child on the kibbutz, his family, his motivation for dancing – as well is a story about an autistic brother and a grandmother who helped communicate with him buoyed by dance (and the creativity of this story). There are glimpses of him in his military service, singing and dancing for the troops, many shellshocked, even as bombs were going off in the distance.
He was brought to New York City by choreographer, Martha Graham, but left her company to go to train in Julliard as well as enrolling in an American dance company, training with both. His career developed in the United States. He was invited back to Israel. There is a very interesting interlude about his Jubilee Bells program to celebrate the 50 years of the state of Israel and a complaint from a woman of the religious right that the costumes were unbecoming, a dispute that even went into the Knesset, leading to protests against censorship and the company deciding that they would not perform.
It is only later in the film that we discover more personal aspects of Ohad’s life, of his partnership, in life as well as in dance with Mari Kajiwara, to whom the film is dedicated. There is pathos in her final illness from cancer and her death? Then, Ohad found new partner, Tzofia, and the couple had a daughter, who at times wanders amongst the company, bringing out the more personable side of Ohad.
Filming was completed in 2015 with Ohad choreographing “Last Dance”, not that it was necessarily his last piece of work but he reflects, somewhat pessimistically, on the state and the status of Israel, decrying its narrowmindedness, its harsh attitudes and the perennial dangers of living there.
Quite an exhilarating documentary, even those who are not familiar with professional dance.
US, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, James Ransone, Anson Mount, Michael Eklund, Katie Nehra. RZA.
Directed by Paco Cabes.
If you thought this title sounded like a romantic comedy, you would be correct – but not entirely. Once you get into the film, you will see that the title has more than a touch of irony concerning the alleged Mr Right.
The writer of this film screenplay, Max Landis, has a weird sense of humour (the amoral characters of American Ultra, Chroncile) when characters have strong moral code but it is not exactly the moral code that the audience would subscribe to.
Sam Rockwell has played enough oddball characters in his career so he has no difficulty in playing Francis, a pleasant enough character to meet at first glance, but in fact, a former CIA assassin, excluded from his job, but he has had something of a conversion! He now disapproves of the morality of those who hire him for hits – and he executes them.
The person who is looking for Mr Right is Martha, played by Anna Kendrick, disappointed in a faithless boyfriend, accidentally meeting Mr Right in a supermarket and their both falling in love.
What is she to do when she finds out what he really does? It doesn’t take long when he excuses himself and goes to talk with another man on a bridge and then shoots him. Martha goes into shock.
Then Mr Right ‘s CIA minder, Hopper, turns up in pursuit. He is played by Tim Roth who at any other time might have taken on the character of Francis himself. They are an odd couple.
While the infatuation and the romance between Francis and Martha continue, there are even more tangles when a group of thugs in New Orleans want to get rid of Francis, two rival brothers, a group of heavily armed gangsters, Martha being abducted, and Francis coming to the rescue though, at one moment, shackled to Hopper.
The dialogue is often flip, the material of spoof, so that the central characters have a cheerfulness about them despite all the odds. Lucky that Francis is so adept with guns and with some martial arts.
There is a happy ever after ending in North Vietnam – with both Francis and Martha contentedly getting the better of would-be assassins.
France/ Germany/ Turkey, 2015, 97 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven.
Mustang is an arresting title for a film – the image of the wild young horse which needs bridling and training. This means that Mustang is a symbolic title for this film, for five comparatively wild young sisters and the particular discipline that is imposed on them in their traditional household in northern Turkey.
This is a first film from a young Turkish-born director who has been living in France. With French and German money, she has filmed her story in Turkey itself and in Turkish.
A number of commentators have remarked on a similarity of plot with Sofia Coppola’s 1999 American story of five sisters and their strict parents, The Virgin Suicides. Future seminar organisers might screen the two films encouraging dialogue about family life, discipline, the aspirations of young women, presuppositions about how young girls should behave, especially from a conservative point of view.
The girls in this film have not appeared on screen before. They give very persuasive performances, lively at the opening of the film as the school holidays begin, they farewell a beloved teacher to Istanbul, go cavorting on the beach and in the water with a group of boys only to find themselves suspected of bad sexual behaviour, interrogated by their grandmother, punished and put under the control of their uncle. They are virtually imprisoned in the house, in their small rooms, sack -like dresses made for them and discipline being imposed on them – although, surprisingly, they do get out one day and catch the bus with young people all going to a football match.
The tradition in the house and in the village is very much that young girls must be controlled, that chastity is the overriding virtue, especially in view of their being virgins when they are married. As the film progresses, it is clear that this is the destiny for each of the girls in turn. One is able to marry someone she loves but the second daughter suffers an arranged marriage, its interrogations, formalities, and medical inspections about virginity.
There is a brief commentary every so often but this comes from the youngest girl, Lale, sometimes full of mischief, sometimes cheeky, but becoming more and more critical of the confined life of herself and her sisters. She does take some initiatives, including persuading a young man with a truck who has helped her and her sisters catch the football bus to teach her how to drive. He plays a crucial role in the resolution of the situation for the remaining two sisters.
The grandmother is severe but that is how she has been brought up and carries on traditions. the girls’ uncle, is typical enough of the authoritarian men in the town, but he is also seen going into the rooms at night of some of the sisters.
Depending on cultures, audiences will have varied perspectives on the girls themselves, their desired freedom, the impositions of their traditions. While the film is set in northern Turkey, there is no explicit mention of Islam, no quotes from the Koran, life being rather secular in terms of religious practice.
The film was one of the Oscar nominees for Foreign Language Films in 2015.
NOW YOU SEE ME 2
US, 2016, 129 minutes, Colour.
Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzie Kaplan, Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Saana Lathan.
Directed by Jon M. Chu.
First, a friendly piece of initial advice: in order to appreciate who’s who, what’s what, why’s why, it might be best to see the first film again or at least read a synopsis. You may well be wondering as the film goes on just why various situations are occurring and where people stand.
The old team is back again with the addition of Lizzie Kaplan (instead of Isla Fisher), no blushing violet, joining Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson as The Horseman, the team of famous magicians from the first film, along with Mark Ruffalo as the FBI connection.
If you want to see some magic and sleight of hand, then there are quite some stunts in this film, especially concerning the robbery of a chip from a giant computer and the skills in which each of The Horsemen conceal the card from security and forget from one to the other. And there is a big, big climax set in London on New Year’s Eve, some street smarts as well as a dramatic combination which has us asking how could this possibly be – but, as in the first film, as well as early in the film, some rational explanations are given.
The Horseman have been out of action for some time but make a stand at the New York promotion event, but then disappear down a chute – to Macau! Though the first part of the film takes place in rather exotic settings, hotels, casinos, local markets, and the site of the giant computer in Macau, for various reasons which emerge during the film and relate to Daniel Radcliffe as a complacently sinister little villain and to Michael Caine, everybody goes to London for the finale. And that includes the FBI agents who are still in pursuit.
If you like the cast, you will be very pleased, Michael Caine being coldly arrogant this time, Morgan Freeman becoming more and more benign as the film goes on and, for the price of one ticket, we get to Woody Harrelson’s, a twin brother, with an abundant wig, with a manic smile and villainy.
While there was plenty of novelty and surprise in the initial film, the sequel still has all the ingredients for a friendly audience to enjoy itself.
A PERFECT DAY
Spain, 2015, 104 minutes, Colour.
Benicio del Toro, Tim Robbins, Olga Kurylenko, Melanie Thierry, Fedja Stukan, Eldar Residovic, Sergi Lopez.
Directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa.
One has to be wary about a film with “perfect” in the title. Unless it is a very optimistic, hope-filled film, “perfect” has to be interpreted with irony and/or cynicism. While this is certainly the case here, it has to be said that the ending is not without hope.
This is a Spanish production, filmed in English with an international cast, American, Russian, French, and actors from the Balkans. Setting is “somewhere in the Balkans” in 1995. It is already two decades since the ferocious civil battles in the Balkans, massacres and atrocities, Orthodox versus Muslims, neighbour versus neighbour, dwelling on centuries-old heritage and hostilities.
While watching this film in the second decade of the 21st-century, the comparisons between the Balkans and the contemporary civil war in Syria spring vividly to mind – and our feelings.
The day opens with American and French aid workers trying to lift a dead body out of a well so that the villagers will be able to get fresh water. The rope breaks. A great deal of the film is spent going to various venues in search for rope – but to little avail because of peace talks and prohibitive protocols coming into force.
But, travelling with the two cars for the aid workers, the audience is taken to a variety of places in the Balkans during that day and an enforced stranding overnight on a country road – a cow blocking the path and the suspicions that it has been mined, following a similar incident earlier in the day – with a solution to drive speedily over the cow to safety.
The group goes to a store but rope is not available, needed for executions. The group goes to an outpost flying the flag – but the young volunteer is afraid to take down the flag and give away the rope. Eventually, they come across a little boy whose ball is being taken by older bullies. He says he knows where they could get some rope, takes them to his bombed out home which leads to a mixture of tragic and comic events, the rope around a fierce dog, recovering the boy’s ball in the garage – but then the discovery of what has happened to his parents. The group also finds the road blocked by a group of soldiers with several men lined up for execution, to be shot, and the guards not taking any notice of the peace talks.
The leader of the group is played by Benicio del Toro, quite a sympathetic performance. HIs associate, a sardonic loner, is played by Tim Robbins. Along with them is a young French woman part of the aid workers team, Melanie Thierry. And then they are joined by an aid work supervisor, Olga Kurylenko, who finds herself accompanying the group and stranded overnight.
The protocols get even more severe in the second attempt to raise the dead body with the United Nations officials forbidding their work in the well.
The film has a very interesting ending. All the characters and all the situations, including rain and the dead body, are pictured in recapitulation of the whole film – and, all the while, Marlene Dietrich sings quite plaintively and symbolically, Where have all the flowers gone…?
ST PETER’S AND THE PAPAL BASILICAS OF ROME
Italy/ Vatican, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Luca Viotto.
For those who have never visited them, an opportunity to see close-ups of Rome’s basilicas. For those who have visited, an opportunity to experience delight again, to reminisce and appreciate.
With the advances in the technology of filming, digital mobility, processes of 3D, it is time for many of the world’s great cities, buildings, artwork, to have their close-up moments.
This film, rather Italianate in its style, with some venerable male experts explaining art and history, the fourth and informative female expert, the propensity for some technical and unfamiliar vocabulary (a comment on Mary as the Theotokos – mother of God), a lot of architects and artists named, and more than a touch of the triumphalist in the perspective on the history of the church, on the Sovereign Pontiff, and a presumption that being in the basilicas will, somehow or other, have such an impact that the visitor and the tourist will understand the church. (One might think: if only!)
With these comments and reservations mentioned, it is best to note what is on offer in this visit to Rome, to the Vatican, to the basilicas. Interspersed throughout the film a quite a number of helicopter shots of Rome, audiences being able to pick out some of the landmarks like the Victor Emanuel Monument, and the helicopter flying along the Tiber up to St Peter’s.
This is a 2016 production, noting the Holy Year of Mercy with images of Pope Francis opening the Holy Doors – followed by a historical outline of the Holy Years, beginning in 1300 with Boniface VIII, the development of pilgrimages to the different basilicas, and the decision to have a holy year every 25 years – this Holy Year of Mercy being an exception.
The commentary offers information about Peter, his preaching in Rome, his death, his grave (though not a visit to the site, the Scavi below), the early basilica, and details of the enormous transformation in the 16th century with Michelangelo and the design of the basilica, Bernini and the colonnades and the piazza, and his contribution to the interiors of the basilica. Audiences will appreciate the long and lingering camera movement over Michelangelo’s Pieta. Those were been to St Peter’s will have their favourite places and images and will have pleasure in the recall.
After St Peters, the visit is to the mother of Catholic churches, the church of the Bishop of Rome, St John Lateran. Once again, time is spent in the piazza, a visit to the baptistery, some historical information about the papal palaces no longer there, then to the interiors and the detail of architecture, artwork. There is also a visit to the nearby Santa Scala, the staircase, allegedly from Jerusalem, which pilgrims mount on their knees.
One of the limitations of the commentary, especially for Christians not familiar with gospel and historical detail, let alone for those who are not Christian, is the presentation of all kinds of traditions which could be heard as factual, some of them Catholic folkloric, about revered characters, like Veronica and her veil and Jesus’ face, the name of Longinus, the centurion who speared Jesus, the authenticity of so many relics to be found in Rome…
The helicopter hovering over a St John Lateran travels up the street to the basilica of St Mary Major, the Marian basilica from the fifth century – with the recounting of the folklore about the site of the basilica and a miraculous fall of snow in August as if it too were factual.
The tour of St Mary Major shows a lavish basilica, the beauty of the artwork, the golden roof and its design, the pillars, the images of Mary, and the mosaic in the apse. As with the other basilicas, there is great detail in the history of the building and its art, the grand and beautiful chapels designed and endowed by popes.
The final visit takes us outside the walls of Rome to the Basilica of St Paul.Many audiences will be surprised to learn of the history of the basilica, its link with the death place of Paul and his grave, the building of churches on the site, the abbey present with the basilica, and the extraordinary fire of 1823 which draw destroyed so much of the basilica. The decision was whether to create something entirely new or to rebuild the basilica exactly as it was – and the latter is what happened.
There is a serenity in the interior of the basilica and even more serenity in the beautiful Cloister, colonnades, gardens and flowers.
An interesting feature of St Paul’s is a long succession of pictures of all the popes, many of which were destroyed in the 1823 fire, the length refurbishing of photo pictures, mosaics, with Pope Francis already in place – and the comment made about many who said that when there was no more room for another papal face, the church would come to an end. A ripple of laughter accompanied the next comment which indicated that recently more space has been made for the pictures of the popes!.
In recent years, cinemas have become the venues for performances of filmed plays, ballets and operas and tours of artworks – the advantage of viewing them all on the big screen, in the cinema/theatre atmosphere and, in this case, with the enhanced techniques of 3-D photography.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
US, 2016, 112 minutes, Colour.
Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Tyler Perry, Stephen Amell, Brian Tee, Stephen Farrelly, Gary Anthony Williams..
Voices of: Jeremy Howard, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Peter D. Badalamenti, Tony Shalhoub, Brad Garrett.
Directed by Dave Green.
Audiences around the world have become used to the initially most strange sounding title, each word of which has its own meaning but seem never to have been considered for inclusion as a total: mutants, who are Turtles, who are teenagers and who have ninja skills!
This film is an updated version of the Turtles who first appeared in comic form in the 1980s, with some film versions, including a big-budget 2014 film. The sequel follows immediately, the Turtles themselves still teenagers, seen initially leaping from the Chrysler building in New York City and watching a basketball match from the upper regions of the roofing, letting drop a piece of pizza which has dire results on the game – but audiences will be glad that there is a bit of a resume given on the television, the focus on Vern, Will Arnett, who was the cover to receive all the accolades for what the Turtles had done so successfully in the previous film.
The focus this time is on an arch-villain, Shredder, who is in prison but is being transferred – only for an ambitious, unscrupulous scientist (Tyler Perry) to be preparing ultra-technology to extricate Shredder from a prison van as he is being transferred. April, Megan Fox again, is able to get all this information to the Turtles via a watch they have given her which is able to extract information from computers. This, of course, leads to a huge chase, cars, bikes, vans, and the Turtles’ specially armed truck. He gets away.
Perhaps the filmmakers were anticipating a sequel to Independence Day, but Shredder is in touch with Klang, a monstrous mutant hidden inside a giant robot (!) and they plan to open a portal over New York City (where else?) so that pieces of an destructive weapon can be assembled as a first step to take over the world – somebody suggests the word apocalypse.
Of course, this builds up to a huge climax with the Turtles doing battle with Klang above the skyline of New York City – but, it’s not always easy for the Turtles. They still behave like teenagers at times, too individualistic, needing to develop teamwork, needing to listen to the advice of the sage Splinter (which they do), have April and her new friend, Casey Jones, one of the police escort for Shredder, and developments of technology, including a recording of Shredder, the scientist and their evil plans.
But, there is opposition from the bureau chief of the crime squad played, surprisingly and seriously, by Laura Linney.
It won’t spoil anything to say that the Turtles win at the end and receive medals and gratitude from the city – although continuing to live underground and be ready for the next action instalment.
China/Hong Kong, 2016, 88 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Johnny To.
Audiences who have been following Hong Kong films over several decades would be very familiar with the name of Johnny To. He has specialised in a wide variety of gangster films, efficiently made, complex stories about police and interaction with Hong Kong’s criminal gangs, from Hong Kong itself to Macau and to the mainland.
While this particular film – giving the audience some difficulty in deciding who are the three – does have a gangster, the crime recounted is off-camera. And all the action takes place in a hospital, surgery in the operating theatre, recovery, main ward, the stairwell, all interiors except from some moments of looking out of the windows and part of a finale hanging from sheets from an upper window.
There is quite a deal of surgery in the film, in close-up. We see the medical staff, the doctor making decisions, tensions, cutting, blood spurting, haemorrhaging, threads for sewing up wounds… And these recur throughout the film with several operations.
After operations, in between operations, the screenplay returns to the ward, concentrating on several patients: a large man, jovial, with mental problems, which does not interfere at all with his capacity for eating, getting out of bed, wandering down to the canteen, stealing keys and other mischief; a young man who is angry about the failure of his operation, paralysed, spitting at the doctor, attempting to slit his wrists; and someone new in the ward, and gangster brought from the scene of a robbery with a wound to his head and the need to extract a bullet.
Along with the gangster is the police force, a stern officer and his team, keeping guard, surveillance, but with a vested interest as regards the gun used for the wounding of the gangster. And then there is the doctor, a middle-aged woman with ambitions which have been generally achieved, yet somewhat on the edge, especially in connection with the extraction of the bullet.
This then provides an atmosphere for police alert, medical action, cynical barbs from the gangster who is rather literate quoting Greek philosophers as well as a story from Bertrand Russell, and the arrival of assassins to control the situation.
It does build to a rather grim climax, bombs in various wastepaper receptacles throughout the hospital, the entry of assassins with guns firing, mayhem on the ward, and the attempted escape of the gangster with the doctor and police chief in pursuit.
And all under 90 minutes, a different Johnny To story.
THE WAILING/ GOKSUNG
Korea, 2016, 156 minutes, Colour.
Jun Kunikura, Hwang Jung-min.
Directed by Hong-jun Na.
For anyone on the lookout for exotically different Korean films, this is probably a must. The director has previously made two crime films, The Chaser as well as a film about gangsters in China and Korea, Yellow Sea.
For those who have seen these two films, they are not quite a preparation for this one. it should be said that to appreciate the background as well as what is going on, some knowledge of Korean traditions of ghosts and spirits would be very helpful. An awareness of the role of the shaman in Korean society would be another advantage. This is a ghost film.
It is also quite a long film, over 2 ½ hours. The audience is immersed in a rural village where someone has gone berserk and there are some brutal murders. These continue and there is concern as to what is the cause of this plague, doctors and hospitals focusing on some kind of toxin, many of the citizens suspicious of a demonic spirit. As the deaths continue, suspicion lands on a Japanese visitor who lives in his hut in the woods and is seen behaving in strange ways.
On the unexpected aspects of the film, however, is the narrowing focus on one of the local police who is left to do the investigations and seems to have all the responsibility himself – no going to higher ups. And the focus is even narrower when his beloved young daughter behaves in a most erratic way with a demon possessing her. The policeman’s mother-in-law seeks out a shaman (someone who has lived in Korea for a long time mentioned that the shaman is generally female in Korea). This man is rather mercenary, goes through a lot of rituals and one wonders by the end whether he has not been possessed.
The policeman is an unlikely lead for the story, a simple man, not as thin as he used to be, devoted to his wife, concerned about his daughter – and leading a group of men into the forest to investigate the hut of the Japanese man. This leads to a great deal of mayhem – and the film also introduces another spirit, a young woman in white. Who is the real Demon?
The film also has some Catholic interest concerning clergy in Korea, the introduction of the nephew of the assistant policeman, a deacon, doing pastoral work in the parish, clerically dressed, who accompanies the investigators to the Japanese visitor who is suspected of being the evil spirit incarnate. There is a momentary visit to the parish priest who, rather unctuously, says he cannot do anything.
The deacon is severely injured in an encounter with the spirit. Later he visits the Japanese man in his cave to confront him and be rid of him. The demon extends his hand which seems to have a Christ-wound in his hand. (The film had opened with a quotation from Luke 24: 37-40 with Jesus allaying fears that the disciples were seeing a ghost, explaining that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as he has – and he shows them his wounds). The film is one of Korean pessimism, death all round including the deacon conquered by the demon.
Not a mainstream entertainment film, but of interest about Korean culture.
THE WAIT/ L’ ATTESA
Italy/France, 2015, 97 minutes, Colour.
Juliette Binoche, Lou de Laage, Georgio Colangelli.
Directed by Piero Messina.
It may be safe to say that The Wait and audience response will depend very strongly on taste. Those wanting a quietly intense portrait of people, will find much to commend it. For those who get fidgety, even when there is a long pause, and find this ponderous - probably best not to go to see it.
This is a French- Italian production, located in Sicily, with the central characters speaking both Italian and French. The locations are very attractive, a mansion, the mountains, with a lake.Much of the action takes place within the mansion, initially all boarded up after a funeral, some moments in letting in the light, but a difficult future which may or may not let in more light.
The film opens with a funeral, some Catholic iconography (which also comes back later in the film as the town celebrates Holy Week with one of those elaborate processions, the carrying of a statue, candles galore, crowds and the men of the town in procession covered with cloaks and masks).
Then we see the mother, played with some intensity by Juliette Binoche. She is bereft, a recluse, taking to her bed. Then the phone rings, a call from her son’s girlfriend, Jeanne, played by Lou de Laage. Jeanne has been invited by the son to come to visit. Jeanne has no idea what has happened and continually makes phone calls to him (and in her pleading, we learn about the ups and downs of the relationship).
The wait of the title concerns the mother’s reluctance to tell Jeanne what has happened, the delay leading to even further hesitation, and a dramatic wait that makes it more difficult for her to tell the truth, even as she is warned and advised by Pietro, the older handyman who looks after the estate. Jeanne, having no idea, is dressed cheerfully, communicates cheerfully even as she interiorly anguishes about where her boyfriend is.
What happens is that the mother becomes very friendly with Jeanne, making her meals, accompanying her for walks in the woods, making a special cake, having two young tourists to dinner, preparing an Easter dinner.
The culmination is not what we might have been expecting although Pietro acts in a way that will bring home the truth to Jeanne.
Those who enjoy a contemplative kind of film, where the director indulges in very long pauses, even within conversations, and especially before replies, who focuses in close-up on great detail within rooms, and have the patience to stay with this contemplation, will find an art-house dramatic portrait of two women.
US, 2016, 123 minutes, Colour.
Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbel, Ben Schnetzer, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Callum Keith Rennie.
Directed by Duncan Jones.
For the uninitiated, Warcraft sounds like a film about war, obviously, along the lines of such stories as Battleship. And, because it is based on computer games, these audiences may be expecting long sequences of conflict and combat.
Audiences in the know, the great number of fans of the Blizzard Productions, need no introduction. They have played games, seen the television shows, have become familiar with the world of Warcraft, the characters and the struggles. At the end of the press screening (in IMAX and 3 D), and groups sat around during the final credits analysing the carriages and situations there was great enthusiasm about the film and talking with anticipation about sequels.
In many ways it was a pleasure to find that this was a fantasy film in a fantasy world, not so much long, long ago in a distant galaxy but rather long ago in a parallel world.
Of course, this is a film of special effects and CGI, a most impressive: land of the giant Orcs, the contrast with the human world, looking like a mediaeval city and kingdom, the mysterious world of the magic-endowed Guardian and his tower; costumes and decor; and the make up for the creation of the Orcs, giants, teeth tusks, becoming more sinister the more evil they were. There seemed to be no complaints from fans about any of this.
The film opens with the Orcs, in battle with the humans, taking them prisoners. but, the land is arid and the situation, not unlike the opening of Mad Max, Fury Road, with the community in need of fresh water and a home, led by a tyrant, and only magic portal which can open, only when the leader has absorbed the energy from the captive humans, and the Orcs can go through to a new life. The leader of the Orcs is truly ugly and sinister – and continues to behave accordingly. On the other hand, there is Durotan, leader of a clan, his pregnant wife who ultimately gives birth to a son, whom we more than suspect will be a future leader (confirmed towards the end of the film when his mother puts him in a small boat and pushes him to safety on the river, with words that echo those of Marlon Brando’s Jor-el in Superman the Movie, a Moses saviour moment).
Actually, there are many, many references to popular fantasy films which critics may deride as being derivative but which the fans will enjoy identifying and relishing. After all, a good meal depends on an excellent recipe – so, amongst others, audiences will be thinking of The Lord of the Rings, of hobbits and avatars, of Star Wars Creatures, echoes of Star Trek, and prehistoric sagas akin to Conan the Barbarian and other sword and sandal epics as well as parallels with the Knights of the Round Table and an evil Merlin.
Dominic Cooper (rather inexpressive on the whole) is the King who has to face the crisis from the Orcs and the desire to release the humans. Much more vigorous is Travis Fimmel, already at home in televisions The Vikings, who has no difficulty in transition to the leading human warrior, Lothar, expressive, with ingenuity, his young son going into battle. Ben Foster is usually a villain so it is a surprise to find him as the Guardian, Medhiv, a powerful magician who advises the king on strategies – but, his fans will not be surprised to find that he has a sinister side. On the other hand, Ben Schnetzer is Khadgar, a young human with magic powers, a pleasant apprentice kind of personality, who will be the ally of Lothar. And into the mix comes Garona, Paula Patton, part human, part Orc.
In many ways this is comic book and Saturday matinee kind of action and dialogue, with mixture of English and American accents. Some of the battles are huge, CGI thousands, while some of the confrontations between Orcs and humans are in bone-crunching close-up.
It is all a bit bombastic, but that is part of the point – and, it seems, fans have not been disappointed so we can look forward to the next instalment, with Lothar as leader, Khadgar as advisor, and conflict between humans and Orcs into which Garona has been placed in an invidious position.
Nothing to do with content of the film but it is a pity that the father of director, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) died a few months before the release of the film – his father was David Bowie.