SIGNIS REVIEWS JULY 2019
I AM MOTHER
IN YOUR HANDS
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL
MY BIG GAY ITALIAN WEDDING/ PUO BACCIARE LO SPOSO
MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE
SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2, The
TOY STORY 4
WHO YOU THINK I AM/ CELLE QUE VOUS CROYEZ
X- MEN: DARK PHOENIX
I AM MOTHER
US, 2019, 90 minutes, Colour.
Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, David Lewis.
Directed by Lars Klevberg.
In June 2019, three films concerning dolls and toys were released at the same time. However, two of the films had malevolent toys while the third had a whole range of lovable toys. The two horror films were Child’s Play and Annabelle Comes Home, quite a contrast to Toy Story 4.
Annabelle was the third in a series focusing on the destructive Annabelle. Child’s play is a remake of a film of 1989 which had a couple of sequels. The malevolent dolls name was Chucky, causing slashing mayhem in the late 80s, and now reprising mayhem with 21st-century updates – and using the voice of Mark Hamill, a far cry from Luke Skywalker!
The film starts moderately but moves into some ugly deaths and a slashing finale. However, it seems quite genial at first, opening with a very glossy commercial by the head of the company which produces doll-robots, just the right companion for children, a friend for life, called Buddi. But, after sunshine and smiles come grim clouds, the factory in Vietnam where the dolls are made, a supervisor who needs plenty of lessons in human resources skills and fires one of the workers. And, what is a worker to do but sabotage the doll, removing all its protective mechanisms. (Is the filmmaker implying that this is some kind of revenge from Vietnam on the US?).
Aubrey Plaza is Karen, a single mother, bringing up her young son, deaf, Andy (a very engaging and professional performance by Gabriel Bateman). Karen works at the market where the Buddi dolls are sold (and return by disgruntled customers which, of course, leads to her bringing one of the returned toys home for Andy).
Guess which one!
The doll is called Chucky, befriends Andy, mimics words, digitalises images and can reproduce them at will. While there are some friendly memories, Chucky acquires quite a lot of animosity, Andy’s resentment about his vanished father, his wishing that his mother’s boyfriend would disappear, and is not too happy with his cat which cuts into his arm. All for Chucky’s future reference.
There is something of a disturbing sequence when Andy and two of his friends spend time watching horror films on TV, Chainsaw Massacre and Leatherface ugly stuff but, instead of being horrified, they roar with laughter. However, the writers insert this because very soon there is going to be a particular Leatherface episode and, more gruesomely, a circular saw killing.
Andy spends a lot of time trying to get rid of the Leatherface that has appeared in his room, is friendly with a detective and his mother along the corridor of the apartment block, as well as with some of the local friends, building up a lot of tension and, finally, the Z Market with crowds arriving for the countdown for the new edition of the Buddi dolls. Where better to have Chucky take Karen as a hostage, see many of the new dolls turning malevolent, murder and mayhem, the burden of saving his mother falling on Andy.
But, that was what the fans of the Child’s Play movies were expecting!
CLAIRE DARLING/ LA FOLIE DE CLAIRE DARLING
France, 2019, 90 minutes, Colour.
Catherine Deneueve, Chiara Mastroianni, Alice Taglione, Laure Calamy, Amid Guesmi, Oliver Rabourdin, Johan Leysen.
Directed by Julie Bertucelli.
This is the kind of film that you would expect from France, something of a domestic story, some human and some tragedy, with Catherine Deneuve in the lead. (And, something of a tribute to her, that she has been headlining films in France, but also internationally, for 55 years.)
Actually, the direct English title is misleading, especially with the evocative charm of the word “darling”. This title is merely partial. The French title adds “La Folie de”, which we might translate as “mad whim” or, at least, “foolish whim”.
And the whim opens the film, Claire waking up in the morning, deciding that this is the last day of her life, that she needs to set up a garage sale and get rid of everything in her house – and it is one of those fine houses, full of paintings, art objects, valuable pieces as well is knickknacks.
Obviously, Catherine Deneuve is at home in this kind of role. Claire is in her late 70s and is beginning to show signs of dementia. Out everything goes, her co-opting workers from the local quarry which her husband used to own, crowds gathering on and her getting rid of everything at extremely cheap prices.
But, we wonder, what has led to this. It means then the film incorporates quite a number of flashbacks, Alice Taglioni stepping in for the younger Claire. These flashbacks at first introduce her two children, Martin and Marie. It is also suggested that there has been a long estrangement from her daughter – who then turns up, concerned about her mother, linking again with her, and Marie herself going into flashbacks of the past. Interestingly, Marie is played by Catherine Deneuve’s actual daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.
As the day goes on, mother and daughter talk to each other, with flashbacks to their father at a crucial sequence where he physically collapses and Claire begins to phone for an ambulance, she remembering the story one way, her daughter remembering another.
Other characters include a friend of Marie from the past who is upset at the garage sale, wanting some kind of control for Claire. There is also the best friend of Claire’s son, Marie reassuring him that she did not blame him for the accident in the quarry for her brother.
While much of the screenplay suggest that this is ‘c’est la vie’, the ending is not quite what we expect but does include Claire visited by a priest friend and her asking him to perform and exorcism on her house – but, after Claire’s wandering on the street, collapsing, being taken to hospital, meandering out of hospital, it is simply boiling a kettle for a cup of tea while local fireworks light up the sky, that brings the story to its close.
Come to think of it,, tres, tres francaise.
2018, UK, France, Poland, 113 minutes. Colour.
Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek, Lars Eidinger.
Directed by Claire Denis.
When does a space mission becomes a space Odyssey or, more ‘mundanely’, so to speak, just lost in space?
These could be some of the speculations for an audience who is watching this intergalactic saga but who are not exactly drawn into its drama and momentum. This has been the case with many an audience, even a sympathetic audience to the films of French director, Claire Dennis, especially her African films, Chocolat and Beau Travail, to the presence of Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche in the cast.
The screenplay for this film is intentionally enigmatic. The audience is required to exercise its mind a great deal, to pay attention to clues given throughout the film to build up a timeline, to try to understand the background of the travellers in this spaceship as well as the purpose of the mission. While there are a number of characters on the spaceship (although there is no indication of those piloting and steering the spaceship through space to find a black hole, nor maintenance crew, cleaners, cooks…), Men and women, are not as clearly differentiated as we might like. Nor do we immediately understand the nature of their behaviour, the antagonisms. And, gradually, the audience begins to understand the sexuality issues, experimentation, brutality, and emerging experiments in reproduction.
The focus of the film is on Robert Pattinson who seems to be alone in space, tending the lavish garden for vegetables, and caring for a baby. We soon realise that the major part of the film is flashbacks, our gradually learning that those on board are criminals, given another chance in going on this expedition, hoping to draw vast energy from the black hole destination. The second focus of attention is on Juliette Binoche who seems to be in charge of the health of the prisoners, supervising their sexual behaviour, experimenting on reproduction. She too, we find, is a criminal and it is difficult to decide how much we identify with her or not.
The film suddenly moves to its ending scene, Pattinson with his daughter grown up, the approach of a similar space vehicle (with dogs but no human survivors), and father and daughter embarking on… We will never know.
There is certainly an audience for this kind of introverted, intellectual space explorations. But, many have found this film to enigmatic, not enough exposition for an intellectual and emotional response or connection. A number of commentators suggest that it is symbolic of the world, of the universe and human experience (some suggesting that it is vast, empty, going nowhere).
The tone of the title suggests a completely other kind of cinema experience here on earth.
I AM MOTHER
Australia/US, 2019, minutes, Colour.
Clara Rugaard, Hilary Swank, Luke Haker, Voice of Rose Byrne.
Directed by Grant Sputore.
Once more we are in a post-apocalyptic world. All that is left seems to be devastation, and an atmosphere that is poisonous. But, especially, the humans have disappeared and control is in the hands of robots. It is artificial intelligence which rules the small and isolated worlds.
This is an Australian production, in collaboration with the United States. It makes an impact as an international production. Director and writer is Grant Sputore.
The initial focus is on a robot, created effectively by Wetta effects, quite detailed in its complex construction and movements (and inhabited by an actor/technician).
But all is not lost for the humans. The robot is in a laboratory, controlling a human baby, caring for it, training it, in fact, doing the work of the mother. And, as the child grows, she is called Daughter, the robot is Mother.
Mother continues to be protective, careful to develop the young girl as she grows, educating her very effectively (even appreciating language and human behaviour by watching old television shows. As she grows, Daughter is played by Clara Rugaard. The voice of mother is provided by Rose Byrne.
Some, one might ask, what is the future for the human race? Are there many other Mothers? Anymore Daughters or Sons? Will the time come when they will meet, achieve the growth and intelligence expected by the robots? Will there eventually be human communities?
As might be expected, there will be something sinister to disturb the relationship between Mother and Daughter. There is another creature, played by Hilary Swank, who disturbs the relationship, creates doubts, threatens what is peace in highly technical equivalent of a Garden of Eden, where Daughter can act as mother for a human baby.
One for those who enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, stories of artificial intelligence, stories of the roles of humans in this kind of future.
IN YOUR HANDS/ A BOUT DES DOIGT
France, 2018, 104 minutes, Colour.
Lambert Wilson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jules Benchetrit, Karidja Toure, Elsa Lepoivre.
Directed by Ludovic Bernard.
A film about a very talented pianist, In Your Hands seems a reasonable title. However, as with many English versions of French titles, it seems to underestimate the nuances of the French. The nuance is an emphasis on fingertips rather than, simply, hands.
Being absorbed in music, that a pianist’s life is music alive in them, is the theme of the film. This is quite an emotional story and, one notes that several bloggers have dismissed the film as far too sentimental. Which is a reminder of the wise dictum of W. Somerset Maugham, that sentimentality is merely sentiment that one disapproves of! Most audiences will be caught up in the feelings, and the emotions. And the audience emotions are not simply nice feelings.
In fact, Mathieu (Jules Benchetrit), the young man whose story we are drawn into is not the most pleasant of characters, not easy to get on with. He has chips on his shoulder, to say the least, has grown up poor, his mother out cleaning to support three children, his getting mixed up with local gangs in Paris, involved in home invasions, arrested by the police, and seemingly, he couldn’t care less. Any hope for his future except more of the same?
However, we first see him at a busy railway station concourse playing the piano that has been made available for the public. He is intense, playing complex Bach orchestrations. We find one man, standing, looking, admiring. As it turns out, the man, Pierre, is the director of students at the Conservatoire de Paris. He is played by Lambert Wilson (who many will remember, with admiration, as the abbot in Of Gods and Men). He gives Mathieu his card who treats it with some disdain but, after his arrest, phones Pierre.
In many ways, this is a story of rehabilitation. Pierre arranges a deal, that Mathieu does community service cleaning the Conservatoire while attending music and theory lessons. Lessons are not in Mathieu’s life ambitions. He resists, is insulting, but forced to play his part in the deal. The best piano tutor, the English Miss Buckingham (Kristin Scott Thomas) sees his talent but tries to instil some discipline.
We know how the film is going to end, especially when Mathieu is entered into an international competition, but it is the steps which lead from resentment and lack of cooperation to ultimate success which the audience wants to follow. One of the steps is his attraction to a violinist who is studying the cello, Anna (Karinida Toure). It is the first time he has felt genuine affection for anyone except for the family his family to whom he is very close.
But, it is not mellowing in an instant, and there are further complications as the management of the institution train up another student just in case Mathieu opts out. There is also a complication which we learn rather late, Pierre and his wife (who have offered their visitors’ apartment for him to stay) having lost their son to leukaemia and the wife thinking that Mathieu is a substitute son whereas Pierre lives for music.
For music lovers, there are some performances of Bach, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, and rehearsals performance of Rachmaninoff.
We are in admiration of the young actor, Jules Benchtretit, not so much for his performance (not too difficult to act as surly) but the deftness of his skills in performing hand and finger movements for the playing.
A film of humanity, recognition of giftedness, affirming difficult people, encouraging talent, forming bonds of affection and genuine love.
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL
US, 2019, 114 minutes, Colour.
Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson.
Directed by F.Gary Gray.
Way back (way back!) In the 1990s, there was a revelation that there was a special Institute, the Men in Black, who worked secretly, worked undercover, to protect humans and Earth from the “Scum of the Universe”. And a strange array of special effects creatures dramatised the threatening point.
After the recent release of Pokémon, Detective Pikachu, and the reminder that Pokémon emerged in the mid 1990s as well, there seems something of a thematic connection. And that connection is that, by now, a lot of the creatures have become buddies of the Men in Black, each protecting each other’s back. Which, of course, is not to say that there are not a lot of villains who have heightened special effects evil powers.
Way back then, the older Tommy Lee Jones and the younger Will Smith were partners. This time, there is a 21st-century question mark concerning the title (and the same with X-Men): men only or women and men. Of course, the question is asked openly here, especially concerning the new Agent M, young Molly from Brooklyn, who had experienced the creatures back in 1996, especially the little one who was her pet. Highly intelligent, she has interviewed for the CIA but has been on the track to find the Men in Black and to be recruited. The question is strongly acknowledged by Agent O, strongly in charge, strongly played by Emma Thompson.
But, the head of the Institute is played by Liam Neeson, Agent High T, initially seen partnering the up-and-coming, Agent H in Paris. Transitioning from Thor, H is played in his comic, offhand flair style and banter by Chris Hemsworth.
Actually, the whole thing is an absolute extravaganza of eccentricity. There are settings of Paris, London and Marrakesh (and out in the Sahara) with their ordinary day-to-day lives as well as the substructure of the creatures taking refuge on Earth. Lots and lots of special effects (especially the vast canyon in the Sahara). Lots and lots of weird characters – the range of planets and galaxies certainly does produce the weirdest of creatures.
Tessa Thompson, who appeared with Chris Hemsworth in the Avenger films, she playing Valkyrei, is serious and intelligent as Agent M, initially on probation, caught up with the fairly lackadaisical H, affirmed by High T, but eyed with some suspicion by a rather prissy Agent See (Rafe Spall). There is a growing suspicion that there is a mole in the Institute.
There is mayhem in the London club. There is confusion and threat in Marrakesh. There is a visit to a castle on top of a rocky crag in the Mediterranean, the home of a seductive and evil mastermind played by Rebecca Ferguson (and a happy reunion between Molly and her pet creature). But, for humour and entertainment, there is the introduction of a small creature, Pawn, in service of the Queen. When the court is attacked and the Queen dies, Pawny, offers loyal fealty to M. His presence leads to quite a lot of comic sequences as well as plenty of observations, comic remarks, all with the Pakistani/American accent of actor, Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick).
All familiar in its way but an undemanding and popular kind of entertainment for the fans.
US, 2019, 97 minute, Colour.
Adam Sandler, Jennifer Anniston, Luke Evans, Gemma Arterton, Terence Stamp, David Walliams, Dany Boon, John Kanni.
Directed by Kyle Newcheck.
This is a direct to Netflix release. And, Netflix released information that on its first weekend available, it was seen by 30 million audiences worldwide, a record.
In a way, this is rather surprising because it is an Adam Sandler film and he is not to everyone’s taste, to say the least. However, he must be feeling vindicated after news of this statistic. (It is not that he is any different in this film than he is in others, a mixture of irritant and entertainment.)
This is one of those enjoyably concocted plots, very much in the vein of Cluedo, a gathering of all kinds of diverse characters, an exposition which gives many reasons for a murder, then the murder itself, and then the investigation. As always, we have to look for the least likely suspect – and, even if someone worksout/guesses whodunnit, there is still the complexity of how the murder was done and the why.
In fact, Adam Sandler plays a detective – though not quite, he has failed his exams three times but is too embarrassed to tell his devoted (sometimes one wonders why) wife, played enthusiastically by Jennifer Aniston. He rashly promises to take her on the trip to Europe, making himself comically obnoxious on the plane, questioning the service in first-class, wondering about his wife when he finds her talking to one of those handsome types Luke Evans) who looks as if he could be a killer whenever the murder occurs!
But, the connection with him is a good connection and off they go with him to the family villa in the south of France. There they come across his relatives, the mansion owned by his uncle, various financial advisors and international characters – all potentially suspicious, of course, the lord of the manor is played by Terence Stamp in a rather arrogant style. So, it is not surprising when the lights go out, he is found stabbed, a suspicious knife with blood and everyone potentially compromised.
It is time for Adam and Jennifer, 21st-century kind of Nick and Nora, to go into action – except that they come under main suspicion for being there, denouncing his false claim to be a detective. The French police, led by comedian Dany Boone, pursue them unquestioningly and relentlessly.
This leads to quite an amount of travel over the European countryside, impossible situations which they get themselves out of, a succession of deaths (including a couple who were the main suspects).
Of course, lots of complications, the murderer attacking our couple, some literal unmasking, and something of a puzzle about how it happened until, of course, one of those scenes were everybody is gathered together (those who have survived!) And a reasonable explanation given.
And, apologies from the French police, and a happy ever after ending for Adam and Jennifer.
Many comic touches – including some quite crude – making a rather ordinary kind of movie but, at home with Netflix, it fits the bill and lives up to its title.
MY BIG GAY ITALIAN WEDDING (PUO BACIARE LO SPOSO)
2018, Italy, 92 minutes, Colour.
Diego Abatantuono, Monica Guerritore, Salvatore Esposito, Cristiano Cammaco, Dino Abrascia, Diana del Bufalo, Beatrice Arnera.
Directed by Alessandro Genovesi.
Ethnic big weddings got an enormous boost many years ago with that big fat Greek wedding in Chicago (and its sequel). There have been lots of wedding movies, many with the touch of the extravaganza, and here is another. And, of course, a difference.
The film began life as an off-Broadway play – and, quite a number of times throughout the action, it slows down for strong conversation sequences, quite arresting in their content, but played very conventionally, the camera looking at one character to another, intentionally leaving the words to speak for themselves (but with rather flat visuals).
Other than those sequences, in fact, the play is opened out considerably, with early scenes in Berlin, a trip to Italy and the South and an extraordinary location of a town built on top of a mountain with a vast causeway bridge leading up to it.
And these are the settings then for the gay wedding.
The main protagonist, Antonio, is introduced as a charming young man, engaging with his friend, Paolo, both of them trying to get auditions as actors in Berlin. Then, Antonio proposes (and is accepted) and the adventures begin. There is a most irritating character in the film, Camilla, who grew up with Antonio, is infatuated with him, his breaking off an engagement with her, her stalking him in the streets and, most awkwardly for all, stalking him when he gets home to celebrate the wedding. And she does a star disturbing upset at the wedding!
There is also their landlady, an eccentric young woman, who interviews a prospective roommate who turns out to be, to put it mildly, eccentric. And that is to do with cross-dressing.
So, a group of unusual characters turning up in this southern Italian town where Antonio’s father is the mayor, a huge man, presiding over the town council, encouraging tolerance towards refugees who will build up the town which is in process of economic collapse.
The first issue is telling Antonio’s parents – and we have anticipated the results, the father with a homophobic touch, the mother who has been aware of her son’s orientation for a long time. There is also the issue of the demand that Paolo’s mother, and they have been estranged for three years, must attend the wedding.
Which reminds us of the Italian setting and Catholic morality traditions. They arrive in Holy Week and there is a traditional Passion procession throughout the town with Antonio as Jesus. It is a setting for a gay wedding in southern Italy, same-sex marriages being legal, able to be conducted by the town’s mayor. There is also a sympathetic Franciscan Friar whose forte is not Canon Law but who looks at the portrait of Pope Francis on the wall and insists that love, authentic love, should be the criterion for relationships, echoes of “who am I to judge?”.
There is a de-consecrated church in the town which seems to provide an attractive setting for the marriage, a professional brought in for decoration, the town council seeing the opportunity for tourism (while the mayor attacks them for wanting to turn the town into Queeropolis).
There is quite a bit more drama to go, fire to the church, Camilla and her histrionics – but, Antonio’s father has not been impressed by his son’s and Paolo’s involvement in musicals in Berlin. Of course, how to end this film? Obviously, a musical, the whole town involved, with the touch of the Busby Berkeleys.
While this is all done with the light touch, there are, of course, serious themes underlying the drama and comedy, issues of same-sex marriages, the law, religious traditions, acceptance over and above tolerance, and all these issues given a human face. Which should help give that dimension to those involved in discussions, whatever their stances.
MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE
Australia, 2018, 104 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Richard Lowenstein.
For fans of Michael Hutchence and INXS, this exploratory documentary is a must. For those not familiar with the singer and performer, it will provide an interesting, sometimes disturbing, portrait of an artist, insecure in himself, talented in his singing and composition, a life ended prematurely.
Documentary and feature director, Richard Lowenstein (He Died with a Falafel in his Hand, Say a Little Prayer, In Bob We Trust) had worked with Michael Hutchence in his 1986 feature film about a commune of musicians, Dogs in Space. Which means that he had followed Hutchence in the 1980s and into the 1990s, until Hutchence’s death in 1997.
For those who like INXS, it is an opportunity to relive the story of the band, the different personalities, their different contributions to the music, to performance. There are their ups and downs in career, the ups and downs in friendship and relationships. And there are sequences of performance in many venues around the world. This documentary culminates in a performance of their hit, Mystify.
The film provides a substantial overview of Hutchence’s life and career, his relationship with his parents, their separation, his growing bond with his father, strong bond with his sister and ups and downs with his brother. There are the photos of his growing up, interviews with family and friends about his personality, shyness and diffidence, a growing transformation with his involvement with his band.
And, interestingly, the women with whom he had relationships are also interviewed to quite some extent. The outsider, he seems to begin an intense relationship and, then, suddenly move out of it, no real explanations offered, moving along to the next partner. In fact, this happens four times, including a relationship with Kylie Minogue (and quite an amount of film footage to illustrate it) as well as with model Helena Christensen (again film footage available).
There is also quite a lot of footage of Hutchence himself and quite an amount of footage attributed to him and his camera work. It illustrates the background of his life, time living in France, the international tours and success.
However, older audiences may remember his involvement in scandals in the 1990s, his relationship with Paula Yates, her work as an interviewer, then the personal bonding, her leaving her husband, Bob Geldof, her children, and the successive court cases about divorce and custody. There are no comments from Bob Geldof himself in this film.
Hutchence seems to have been preoccupied with the case, his relationship with Paula Yates, the birth of their daughter.
However, for outsiders at least, there is a revelation that Hutchence was involved in a fight with a taxi driver in Paris who punched him, Hutchence falling to the footpath, hitting his head with subsequent brain damage. This is explained in some detail, the loss of his olfactory sense and the consequences, the disconnect in areas of his brain, subsequent moodiness, bouts of depression. At the time of his death, he was beginning a tour of Australia in Sydney, in constant contact with what was going on in the British courts, and, suddenly, his being found hanged in his hotel room.
Whether an audience knows a great deal about Hutchence or does not know who is at all, they will respond to a very well constructed documentary, drawing on a great deal of visual sources, enabling the audience to associate Hutchence as a composer and artist, with growing sympathy for him as a disturbed human being.
Korea, 2019, 132 minutes, Colour.
Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo jeong Jo, Woo-sik Choi, Hye jin Jang, So-dam Park.
Directed by Joon Ho Bong.
Nobody likes parasites – except the international jury at the 2019 Cannrs Film Festival where this film, with the uneasy title, claimed the main prize, the Palme D’Or?. A popular winner with a 10 minute standing ovation.
That, of course, is in itself a sound commendation. But, while it made an immediate impact in its own country of Korea, some other audiences might take time to adjust to the atmosphere and the ever-disturbing story and storytelling.
Some years ago, the director, made a film about alien infections in our world, The Host. This time the parasites are human. They are members of what we might call the under-class, impoverished, living in rather squalid surroundings, insect-infested basements, looking (and not looking) for jobs and employment. They could be described as lower-class parasites on society. But the points being made are far stronger than this.
Eventually, mother and father, son and daughter, will find (or manipulate) employment with a wealthy family, rich class if not upper-class. This is certainly a tale of class contrasts.
The upward mobility in employment comes about when the best friend of the son suggests he apply to be the English-language tutor of the young girl of the wealthy family. He is an instant hit. Then by past by a ghost (and there will be a funny reprise of this towards the end) and likes to draw. Eventually, the father is hired as the chauffeur, the mother becomes the housekeeper – with a particularly cruel plot twist as to how they engineered the dismissal of the previous housekeeper. But, after a moments of our compassion for her, there is quite a twist, more than quite a twist which involves the housekeeper and her husband. Our parasite family are not the only ones who can play parasite games.
The film’s director has made a range of offbeat films including The Host, as mentioned, Snowpiercer about a bizarre train sibling the world and creating class distinctions, Okja about animal manipulation and financial exploitation.
In one sense, this film is more realistic – this parasite family with their shrewd manipulation has its parallels in the actual world. As to the flighty and complacent, frequently frivolous, wealthy parents and their spoilt children, the world is full of them. But, there are quite some twists which take us into the world of the imagination, a mixture of violence and exploitation.
The aim of this review is to try to indicate whether, despite or because of the accolades, it sounds like your kind of film, some parody and farce, some drama, and social themes to reflect on.
UK, 2018, 101 minutes, Colour.
Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Tom Hughes, Freddie Gaminara, Tereza Srbova, Ben Miles.
Directed by Trevor Nunn.
The opening credits remind audiences that this film is based on a novel – but it is inspired by actual characters and events. Which means that this is an interpretation of the role of the actual Melita Norwood, Melita Norwood worked at the British Non-Ferrous? Metals Research Association as a secretary and supplied the Soviet Union with nuclear secrets. The materials that Norwood passed on to the USSR hastened the pace at which the Soviets developed nuclear bomb technology. Wikipedia provides a quick, brief background to Melita Norwood.
In this fictionalised version, Judi Dench plays Joan Stanley, seen in her 80s in the year 2000 when she is arrested for espionage. As she spends time in custody, being interrogated, accused by her disbelieving son, there are flashbacks to her study days in Cambridge in 1938, her being employed by the Department of Defence, her scientific skills and insights, being seconded to a department working on nuclear fission, conscious of the work of the Americans with the Manhattan Project, the race towards nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union, travels to Canada and collaboration with Canadian scientists. Joan Stanley is portrayed as a significant scientist, but a woman with connections with socialist and Communist groups in the late 1930s.
Audiences will be conscious of the range of British spies, centred on Cambridge, their work during World War II and subsequently, passing on secrets to the Russians, covert lives and subsequent moves to Moscow including Burgess and Maclean, Kim Philby and the later unmasking of Anthony Blunt.
The younger Joan is played by Sophie Cookson, earnest, caught up without realising that she has been recruited by a range of socialists in Cambridge, including a number of later civil servants, émigré Russians, falling in love with one of them. There is on and off contact during the war and after and the pressure on her to pass on secrets.
She also falls in love with her she-scientist boss, played by Stephen Campbell Moore, with whom she travels to Canada for continued nuclear work. She becomes more and more conscious of the race for the bomb, appalled (as we are with the familiar images of Hiroshima) and is faced with moral dilemmas at the beginning of the Cold War, a motivation that thinks that if Russia has nuclear capabilities, this will counterbalance those of the United States. And, she points out, that this counterbalance has been effective for more than half a century.
Her son is shocked, a devout patriot, questioning his mother about her behaviour and motivation, concerned about how much his father knew of his wife’s behaviour – an interesting, unanticipated twist towards the end.
Many critics have turned up their noses at this story, some calling it absurd, many saying that was a waste of Judi Dench’s talents. On the other hand, this is the kind of story that interests many audiences, many older audiences who like to give some thought to the issues and their continued relevance.
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2
US/France, 2019, 86 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey.
Directed by Chris Renaud, Jonathan Del Val.
When the first Secret Life of Pets was released, many noted that it was a variation on a story where toys, devoted to their owners, came alive with the vitality of their own when the humans weren’t looking! The pets had the same kind of secret life as the toys. And, despite Buzz Lightyear and his activities, the pets had wilder adventures than the toys.
In mid-2019, two films released at the same time, Toy Story 4 and The Secret Life of Pets 2. Needless to say, Toy Story rocked the box office.
But, there was quite some humour in the adventures in the Secret Life of those pets. And, it is the same in the sequel. Not the quite the same kind of sophistication of Pixar filmmaking (one of the secret aspects of the life of these pets is that production was done in France). But, it is all bright and colourful, and, surely,the adults accompanying the children, will generally be delighted, will also enjoy themselves and find much to smile, even laugh with.
While the focus is on Max, and his friend Duke, from the previous film, there are two other strands of adventures which intertwine. And the complication this time, especially with the humans, is that Max’s couple get married, become pregnant, and have a little boy, Liam. Max loves Liam, petting him, like humans treat their pets. And Liam identifies with his dogs, even chomping away at his own food bowl with Max and Duke!
So, Max and Duke have an adventure with Liam and his parents, excitedly travelling by car to a farm. The main dog at the farm is rooster (voiced in his seriously grumpy way by Harrison Ford), rounding up the cows, herding the sheep, giving wise advice to Max, but, ramping up the tension for the film, getting Max to rescue the lamb who got out of the fold, slipped over a cliff and is suspended on a branch, eating away, but foot stuck. Too heavy for Rooster to go down to the branch for the rescue so down goes Max – and a series of narrow escapes but Max finally being commended and rewarded by Rooster.
In the meantime, Chloe, the literal fat cat, is enjoying her luxurious life but encounters Gidget, a fashion plate little dog, and coaches her with some success how to act as a cat! There is also a house full of cats, rather wild cats, looked after by one of those little ladies who, at the end, gets behind the car wheel and causes mayhem while she saves the day.
And, then, there is Snowball, the littlest of bunny rabbits, a protruding-teeth smile, but fancying himself as a superhero, putting on his helmet, inflating himself with his muscles – to the melody of John Williams’ theme for Superman! He does get a mission, urged on by an attractive dog, Daisy, leading to the rescue of a sympathetic young Tiger who has escaped from the circus but is being pursued by a dastardly circus master and his firebreathing hounds.
Not too difficult to work out the plot! What is amusing is the antics of the animals, their secret lives in the comic parallels with humans.
But, one of the great advantages of these Pets films is the voice casting. Patton Oswalt is a sympathetic, sometimes ingenuous, Max. Eric Stonestreet is enjoyable as the rather slow but amiable Duke. Lake Bell enjoys herself as Chloe. Snowball and Daisy are played with the usual patter expected from Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish (who appeared together in Night School). Jenny Slate is Gidget and, as mentioned, who better to be rooster than Harrison Ford!
No objections for The Secret Life of Pets 3.
US, 2019, 111 minutes, Colour.
Samuel L.Jackson, Jessie T.Usher, Richard Rountree, Regina Hall, Alexandra Shipp, Matt Lauria, Titus Welliver, Method Man, Isaach De Bankole, Avan Jogia, Luna Lauren Velez.
Directed by Tim Story.
Once upon a time, almost 50 years ago, a slick-talking investigator called John Shaft made quite an impact on the American semi-going public, especially the African-Americans?. It was part of the introduction to a number of black heroes of the period, crime dramas, investigations and tough tactics, action films that are looked back on with appreciation after 40 or more years. Richard Rountree was John Shaft – and made another film, Shaft in Africa.
At the beginning of the new millennium, Hollywood thought it was a good time to have another Shaft film. From the screenplay of the 2000 Shaft, it seemed that Richard Rountree was the uncle of the new hero, the new John Shaft, and who better than Samuel L.Jackson? More of the same in glossy style, plenty of action, and directed by John Singleton who had made a number of significant films about African-Americans? in the 1990s.
In the screenplay for the 2019 Shaft, it seems that Richard Rountree is actually Samuel L Jackson’s father. And, here is a next generation, John Shaft Jr. So, there is a bit of explaining to do. Back we go into the 1990s, Shaft senior and his wife (Regina Hall) coming under heavy fire from a gang of drug dealers. And their baby son is in the back seat. It seems too much for his wife, so Shaft goes on his way, leaving his wife to bring up their son (and, in a collage of gifts, sending inappropriate presents for the boy’s birthday).
Which leads us to the present day, John Shaft Jr (Jessie T.Usher) who could not be more unlike his father if he tried (it would seem that his mother did her best that her son be not like his father). And we certainly see the differences between the 1970s, the 1990s and the present. John Jr is a walking millennial – his education, his cultured manner, his style of clothes, music, language, disdain of guns, working for the FBI but at a desk, data being the object of his investigations. What will happen when the two meet?
On the one hand, there is the expected crime investigation, a follow-up from that initial car shootout from the 1990s, warnings about Islamaphobia and suspicious money dealings at a mosque in New York, huge drug deals with vehicles repatriated from Afghanistan and bringing in loads of heroin, friendships and betrayals, thugs in the street, drug bosses, money-laundering, hits issued on both father and son. This happens when Jr’s best friend is killed and he begins an investigation while being put down by the FBI boss (TVs Hieronymus Bosch himself, Titus Welliver). So far, what was expected.
But, of course, so much of the film is about the bonding, the contrast between father and son, the dialogue, some even throwing guns out the window (but, of course, turning out to be a perfect shooter). There is the visit to the mosque and the different dealings in how to dialogue. There is exasperation of the father, his Samuel L.Jackson style, language, relationships (though still pining for his wife), Is Learning to live in an IT world while still appreciating that personal contacts, phone at most, are more effective than texting! So, a lot of banter amidst the action.
John Jr is millennial reticent in his dealings with his girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp).
So much happening while we wait for Richard Rountree to turn up – as he does, not just in a mere cameo, but some humorous comment as well as definitely getting into the action, all three in the mayhem shootup.
Iconic being as the three, similarly dressed, stride out into the traffic, ignoring the oncoming cars.
US, 2019, 112 minutes, Colour
Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney?, Pam Ferris, Craig Roberts, Harry Gilby, Colm Meany, Laura Donnelly, Derek Jacobi.
Directed by Dome Karukoski.
To say that over the last 20 years, with the film versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, courtesy of Peter Jackson and his cinema imagination, there is a potential audience of millions for this portrait of J.R.R.Tolkien. The question is, of course, who is the author and what was he like, where did he come from, his family, his education, war experiences, and how did they combine for his classic writings?
For audiences wanting some kind of biographical information, there is enough for them to go on with, his early years, education and war, marriage, the beginnings of the family and this film ending with the publication of The Hobbit in 1937. There was a lot more to come, the creation of The Lordl of the Rings, the friendship with C.S.Lewis.
For audiences wanting some kind of insight into Tolkien’s imagination, there are many clues and indications. His mother was a great storyteller for the children. He created stories while he was young, moving from South Africa after the death of his father, to the British countryside and then, after the death of his mother, living in a boarding house and then going to an upper-class school. He had created a mythical language, vocabulary, grammar. He was inventing stories – with this film giving indications now and then of the mythical dimension, warriors riding through the countryside, fellowships. But, he loved linguistics and excelled at University (under the tutorship of the professor played by Derek Jacobi).
And then, there was his intense experience of World War I, the immediate enlistment, the horrors of life in the trenches, going over the top, young men being literally blasted by fire, thousands of deaths, visuals of ponds of blood surrounded by mounds of corpses.
The other strong impact of the film is Tolkien and his friendships at school, the bonds between the club, a true fellowship which continued at University. In fact, fellowship is almost the most significant theme of the film. There is also his falling in love, his marriage, beginning a family.
Nicholas Hoult has made a variety of films since he was a child actor. Here, he is the embodiment of Tolkien (and, at 5‘ 3 “, he towers over his friends). Lily Collins plays Edith whom he met when they were young and whom he marries.
A number have commented on the meagre indications of his Catholicism (later he was to be one of the translators for the Jerusalem Bible). Colm Meany players Father Francis, a friend of the family who helped the orphans find accommodation and schooling.
Perhaps there will be a further film on Tolkien and the writing of The Lord of the Rings and his friendship with C.S.Lewis. That would enhance this present portrait of Tolkien.
WHO YOU THINK I AM/ CELLE QUE VOUS CROYEZ
France, 2019, 101 minutes, Colour.
Juliette Binoche, Nicole Garcia, François Civil, Guillaume Gouix.
Directed by Safy Nebbou.
Juliette Binoche has made a number of films about women in midlife crisis. This was true of Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In where the central character drifts from one relationship to another – and, finally, consults a clairvoyant played by Gerard Depardieu, a strange 15 minutes conclusion to the film as she listens patiently, absorbing his advice which does not sound particularly insightful or helpful.
In fact, it is a pity that she did not consult the psychologist in this film, a sensible woman played by Nicole Garcia, seen attentively listening and not trying to influence her client with ideas or modes of behaviour.
This time Juliette Binoche is an academic, separated from her husband, in a relationship with a younger man who is rather casual while she is much smitten with him. When she tries to contact him by phone, she encounters his associate who behaves in a dismissive manner. She is upset, does some research on him, that he is a photographer and that he is travelling with her lover.
The gist of the film is that she sets up a character online and communicates with the photographer, sending photos of her niece, creating a young character, a model. He falls for the attractive character online and they began a correspondence. Both of them become rather obsessed. (There is a surprising twist about the niece at the end.)
The question is will she tell him the truth, what will be his response?
The woman is actually recounting her story to the psychologist, building up through flashbacks – and, eventually, with several possible solutions which are also dramatised, including the young man’s disillusionment and suicide, including the woman’s becoming more infatuated and beginning a new and direct relationship with the young man without revealing who she is, or the young man not dying, the former lover having lied about this, and his marrying and having a family.
So, the question is not just to the woman who she thinks she is but who other people think she is.
UK, 2018, 100 minutes, Colour.
Jessie Buckley, Julie Waters, Sophie Okonedo, Daisy Littlefield, Adam Mitchell, James Harkness, Jamie Sives, Bob Harris.
Directed by Tom Harper.
This is a film with a lot, even more than a lot, of Country music and songs. Somebody remarked that, if an audience was not familiar with Country music, by the end of Wild Rose, they certainly would be. And, possibly, converts! When we realise that the setting is the UK, a long way from Tennessee, that the setting is, in fact, Glasgow, that is something of an achievement.
This is the story of Rose- Lynn, Right from the start, we know that Rose- Lynn is going to make good by the end of the film. That’s not a spoiler, it’s a proper expectation. However, as she emerges from prison, pretty cocksure of herself, she is certainly not a character who engages her audience – rather, she does engage the audience but our response is a strong dislike.
Because she is a strong screen presence, Jessie Buckley makes Rose- Lynn something of a demanding character. She challenges us. But, as we watch her get out of prison and immediately go to visit her boyfriend, and get round to going to her mother’s house where we discover that she has two children, eight and five, we realise that she is going to be challenged herself. And, on first evidence, it looks as though she is going to fail.
As it emerges that from the age of 14 she has been a star down at the local Glasgow Grand Ole Oprey and other clubs, her inborn talent for singing is energised by audience response (which is always loud and enthusiastic, energetic line-dancing, rollicking applause).
Life’s agenda? Plans and decisions – no, except that she has an overall vision that she should have been born in America and that her natural place in life is Nashville, Tennessee. Her life is in the here and now, but focused on her singing rather than on her children and responsibilities. In terms of decisions for life, she is almost completely self-absorbed. Which, in the early part of the film, makes her even less likeable.
She is in her mid-20s, having had her two children before she turned 18, has had a drug-life and been imprisoned for throwing heroin packets over prison walls for inmates. She seems to know nothing about responsibility.
There are two older women in her life and these are the catalysts for, at a later age than might be expected, she begins to be at home in her type and can move on, two steps forward, one step backward, to her appreciation of herself and for some self-acceptance. But, becoming more confident with that good word, quoted in the film, gumption!
Her mother, played by Julie Waters, is very much old-school principles, overcoming her disappointment in not being able to achieve her hopes, but drawing on her strength to get through life. She challenges her daughter to get a job, which she does, but to face up to responsibilities, to show some care for her children, her little daughter not even speaking to her for some time after Rose- Lynn gets out of prison.
The other woman is her employer, played by Sophie Okonedo, a woman whose life in Glasgow was initially hard but who has found love with her husband, achieved a comfortable way of life, is devoted to her children. When she hears Rose-Lynn? in singing, she is charmed, enthused, delighted to go out of her way to find opportunities to promote Rose- Lynn. In fact, she is a kindness personified person.
So, buoyed by opportunities and having to face the demands of responsibilities, Rose- Lynn begins to be her true self.
The good thing about the film is that it does not simply run along the tracks of showing a self-centred woman who is given opportunities and moves along paths to ultimate success. Rather, she has to test out the reality of her dream (and discover the myriad of similar dreamers who flock to Nashville) and face the reality of her talent and abilities. So, the happy ending, but a realistic one that can be shared by her mother and children and by her kind sponsor.
In fact, Rose- Lynn, performing her final country song, proves to be a good example of potential made good.
X- MEN: DARK PHOENIX
US, 2019, 113 minutes, Colour.
James Mc Avoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit- Mc Phee, Jessica Chastain, Scott Shepherd, Brian D' Arcy James.
Directed by Simon Kinberg.
Audiences were introduced to the world of the X- Men in the year 2000. While they are part of the Marvel Universe, the first film in the series predated the extraordinary popularity of the Marvel films which emerged some years later with Iron Man, leading to a variety of very popular stories of individuals who eventually banded together as The Avengers.
While the X- Men films have been popular, there have been a great number of ups and downs. One of the features was to go back to the origins of the characters we saw in the initial films, the stories of the relationship between Prof Charles Xavier and the villain, Magneto. And, there have also been stories of particular characters. The most successful character explored in quite a number of films was Hugh Jackman’s Logan, with his name, Wolverine.
By the time of the release of the present film, many audiences were expecting a culmination of the X- Men stories, a successful ending to the franchise. However, the powers that be decided to make this another origins story, this time the story of Jean Grey, teacher at the academy for the special children, the mutants. She was played in the earlier films by Famke Janssen.
For many audiences, with their expectations, this was a less compelling story and the film did not connect with its public.
But, looking at the film for what it is, it is very much in the vein of the proceeding films. We are taken back to 1992, Jean Grey as a little girl, discovering her powers, causing an accident waiting to the death of her mother, her being taken into care by Charles Xavier (James Mc Avoy) and taken to his Institute. At this stage, the mutants were accepted by the American government, later to be viewed with antagonistic suspicion.
Jean (Sophie Turner) visits her father who condemns her. She has an inner rage and some of this begins to erupt, upsetting Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) who is in love with her, clashing with Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) incurring the wrath of Hank/ Beast (Nicholas Hoult) who resents her enmity towards Raven and blames Prof Xavier for protecting Jean unduly which leads to disaster.
Jean leaves the school, goes to the exiled Eric’s commune but is rejected. Eric is again played by Michael Fassbender. She is mystified by her own behaviour.
The particular complication this time is that some intergalactic intruders, under the leadership of a sinister, steely-eyed blonde Jessica Chastain, want to draw out Jean’s powers and take them for themselves.
Apart from the psychological blame games about Jean and her behaviour, the rest of the film is action-oriented, the X- Men (and, of course, in these times, the comment that it should include ex-women is strongly voiced) join together with their powers to rescue Jean and to confront the visitors from the galaxies. And this includes Eric and his cohort joining with the familiar warriors. There are some set pieces, a dangerous train journey and battles on the train roof, particular battles with warriors like Storm wielding her thunder and lightning. Audiences who like these mutants will not be disappointed at particular action sequences and battles.
After this film not achieving the bop box office popularity that was anticipated, the suggestion was made that given the vast number of such films and franchises, that audiences were experiencing franchise-fatigue. And this is probably true of the times – but, they may have a revival in years to come.
UK, 2017, 116 minutes, Colour.
Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Joel Fry.
Directed by Danny Boyle.
A pleasant what-if… fantasy. Or, perhaps, a wonderful impossible dream about fame and fortune. But, with a moral: what if Jack gains the whole Beatles’ repertoire and suffers the loss of himself.
Yesterday has strong credentials. Writer Richard Curtis brought us Blackadder and Mr Bean as well as films like Love, Actually. And Danny Boyle won his Oscar for directing Slumdog Millionaire. They make a combination who knows how to entertain an audience.
We are introduced to Jack, stocking shelves in a supermarket, something of a dreamer, irritating the manager and likely to be fired – except that he relates very well to the customers. Just as well since he is a local singer and is managed by his girlfriend, Ellie, (though seemingly oblivious of her love for him). He is played by Hemish Patel, making a breakthrough on the big screen but having a record number of appearances on the British television series, Eastenders. And Ellie, his manager, his played by the ever-vivacious Lily James. (And, for those who appreciate British television, his parents are played by Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar who featured as The Kumars at Number 42.)
The what if… occurs in one of those life-changing car crash accidents, Jack losing his front teeth and waking up in a world which has no recognition of the Beatles Yesterday, no knowledge or memories of the Beatles themselves.
Singer Ed Sheeran is also in the cast as himself, someone who recognises Jack’s abilities, invites him to play in support of one of his performances. Success overnight, moving towards fame, including a literal move to Los Angeles and the approach of one of those dragon-agents, Kate MacKinnon? relying on his strong-armed, textile, who tries to take control of his life and career.
As Jack sings more of the Beatles songs, tries to recollect the lyrics, audiences are delighted by hearing the Beatles songs. Should Jack confess? The Americans want him to collect his songs for an album, amazed at his ability to write songs that quickly and by himself – and, he and his friend Rocky (Joel Fry), a slacker who now acts as his manager, go back to who visit Strawberry Fields and Abbey Road to the puzzlement of the Americans. And, there is some tension in the background with Ellie seeming to give up on her love for Jack and his recognising it.
John Lennon fans will enjoy imagining him in old age.
And so, Jack’s moral dilemma, whether to let the world know or not. What would we do!
Obviously, Yesterday is not going to have an unhappy ending so, we are able to sit through Jack’s ups and downs, be entertained, and like the elderly couple who go to see Jack, who do remember and are delighted that he is keeping alive the Beatles music, Beatles fans will relish this story – a tribute to the Beatles which, one hopes, will attract a younger generation and certainly keep their music alive.