SIGNIS REVIEWS JULY- AUGUST 2014
ALL THIS MAYHEM
AND SO IT GOES
BELLE ET SEBASTIEN
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
ERNEST AND CELESTINE
FRENCH MINISTER, The/ QUAI D’ORSAY
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES, The
MOST WANTED MAN, A
MRS BROWN’S BOYS D’ MOVIE
REACHING FOR THE MOON/ FLORES RARAS
RISING FROM ASHES
SELFISH GIANT, The
TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION
WORDS AND PICTURES
ALL THIS MAYHEM
Australia, 2013, 95 minutes, Colour.
Tas Pappas, Ben Pappas.
Directed by Eddie Martin.
Certainly a lot of mayhem, and by the end of the film audiences may thinking mayhem is too slight a word.
There will be two audiences for this documentary about that Pappas brothers, those who know absolutely nothing about them, their story or even skateboarding, and those who are skateboarding fans, have followed the sport for many years, know the champions and their skills. For the latter audience, it will be an opportunity for seeing the images of the past, thinking through the mayhem in the Pappas brothers’ lives, and see something of despair and hope. For the former audience, they have the advantage of discovering as the narrative unfold, the variety of complications, the sport, the mayhem and its consequences.
This is also a Melbourne-based film, with the skateboarding centres in Prahan and Northcote, the suburbs nearby as well as St Albans in the west. The two brothers were born in the 1970s, were regulars at skateboarding in the late 1980s, becoming more and more noticed with their skills, not over-outstanding at the beginning, but becoming more and more able and effective. Fortunately, for this film, there were a number of skateboard fans taking videos of the action, in Melbourne, as well as in various places in the United States where, first of all, Tas Pappas moved, soon followed by his brother, Ben.
Once the brothers are in the United States, they pal up with many of the skateboard experts of the time – a kind of communal living, a kind of reckless indulgence in everything you might think of, especially the drugs. By the mid 90s, there is strong competitiveness in the United States, with the two brothers emerging as world champions.
As the title indicates, all is not plain sailing. In fact there are some literal drownings.
The key to this documentary is a long interview with Tas Pappas in 2013, a detailed straight-to-camera, very frank, re-living of his life, the story of his parents and their breakup, going to the United States, his father following and getting into financial troubles, his brother, Ben, succeeding in the United States – and then the disasters which, for those not in the know, had better not be outlined here as following through Tas’s narrative, there are many, many surprises.
For the fans, there is plenty of skateboard footage from the late 80s, through the 90s and into the succeeding decade, views of the American champions, the many competitions over those years, and the screaming and yelling fans. The inclusion of the many talking heads from the United States as well as from Melbourne add to the interest, especially with their hindsight opinions. For those not in the know, while they can admire various manoeuvres, there seems a fair amount of repetitiveness in the skateboarding.
Tas Pappas explains that his family were real “Bogans” and he gives quite an interesting description, which means of this documentary is also a look at the Australian character, the competitiveness, the attitude which one of the American says is: Australians don’t give a shit! But, when all is said and done or, at least, a lot is said and done, that estimate of the Australian character is not quite accurate. Truth and honesty may come a bit late in life, but this film shows that it may not come, but that it could well come.
AND SO IT GOES
US, 2014, 94 minutes, Colour.
Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Rob Reiner.
Directed by Rob Reiner.
Michael Douglas turned 70 this year. Diane Keaton turned 68 this year. Director Rob writer turns 67 this year. And the song, The Shadow of Your Smile, which is the finale some of this film won the Oscar for Best Song 49 years ago.
Not that this necessarily indicates an “old” mentality in this film, but it is definitely one for grandparents and those with grandparently feelings. It is a comfortable romantic comedy designed, especially, for those who are not as young or poor as they used to be.
Michael Douglas seems to be enjoying himself as a crotchety widower, a realtor, who is trying to sell his family mansion for over $8 million. He hams it up more than a little, especially in trying to persuade different ethnic buyers. Back at the office, hi is controlled by the co-founder of the company, played with sardonic deadpan by Frances Sternhagen. In the meantime, he lives in a smaller apartment in a block of units which he owns, which means then that there are some neighbours whom he finds a little bit difficult to deal with, especially the children.
Diane Keaton is a widow, happy memories of her dead husband, singing in various lounges and bistro’s to make a living. She is one of Michael Douglas’s tenants. Quite an amount of battle of the sexes in the interactions between the two, especially when he launches into a critique of her act, accusing her of doing too much crying, though praising her for her voice and general abilities. He offers to be her agent – and finally does persuade a restaurant owner, played by Frankie Valli (the Frankie Valli of the Jersey Boys!) to hire her.
This is very much an so it goes screenplay. But then…
Michael Douglas’s son, a former drug addict whom he has not seen for ten years, suddenly turns up on his lawn with a little girl whom he announces as his granddaughter. He also announces that he is to go to prison for six months and he would like his father to look after the little girl, Sarah. She is definitely not what grandfather was thinking of for his retirement after selling his house (which he does to a celebrity without realising it). Diane Keaton, who had no children, immediately takes a liking to the little girl and looks after her, sometimes to grandfather’s great relief. And, of course, the little girl takes to calling Diane, grandma.
There is very little unexpected in what happens, but that is the point, We look forward to grandfather warming to the little girl, warming to his next door neighbour, and the audience waiting to see how a very happy family will emerge, including the neighbours, in the final party. On the way, grandfather arrives home to find the woman next door giving birth, not something he was anticipating to experience in his old age.
Rob Reiner has made some likeable films from When Harry Met Suddenly to The Bucket List. For the (older) target audience, it will also be very likeable.
BEATRIZ WAR/ A GUERRA DA BEATRIZ
Timor- Leste, 2013, 103 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Luigi Acquisto, Bety Reis.
The first reason for congratulations is that this is the first feature film coming from East Timor, Timor Leste. It is a local production, directed by a local, Bety Reis, in collaboration with Australian director, Luigi Acquisto.
While older Australians still remember a lot of the television footage coming from the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, the controversy over the deaths of Australian journalists, the occupation by Indonesia of the former Portuguese colony, younger audiences will not be so familiar. Beatriz’s War offers an excellent opportunity for learning about the events and appreciating the experiences of the people of Australia’s very near neighbour.
The action of the film takes place over a crucial 25 years, from the invasion to the vote for independence, 1999, and its immediate aftermath.
At the opening of the film, in 1975, Beatriz is a young girl, brought by her mother, because of the invasion of the danger, to a man who used to be a rival family leader, and asks for the betrothal of her daughter with his young son, Tomas. Beatriz is a strong-minded girl. Tomas is rather a gentle boy, easily bullied. But there is an attraction between the two. The parents ratify the union – but the local priest, Father Nicolau, cannot bless the union until they come to a marriageable age. Ultimately, they do, and Beatriz becomes pregnant.
The film is shot locally, capitalising on a range of locations, in the mountains, on the flatlands, by the sea. Audiences get a feel for this neighbouring country.
The occupation is more difficult for the women, who stay at home, while the men were able to go into the hills to join resistance movements. But that is not the fate of all the men, the occupying military, in a very grim sequence, round up the men in the village, get them to sing the anthem of the resistance and then mow them down. Tomas is not amongst those killed in this massacre. He has gone into the mountains.
The years pass, Beatriz grows older, works with Thomas’s sister – and grieves when their father comes to offer himself in exchange for his daughter. No news of Tomas.
In some ways, the women in the village get used to the presence of the soldiers, especially the commander who invaded initially and has stayed, a man of deep brutality, who decides to exploit the women and has force-married Thomas’s sister, Beatriz urging her to do this. The women make a decision that they will populate their village with children from the occupying forces, a decision which has consequences for the children, seen as mixed race, especially when fathers, like the commander, demand that they return to Indonesia after independence.
Again the years pass and, unexpectedly, Tomas returns. Film buffs will recognise some clues from The Return of Martin Guerre with Gerard Depardieu and its American version with Jodie Foster and Richard Gere, Somersby. The question is, is this really Tomas, or someone posing as Tomas. This gives some force to the final part of the film, Beatriz and her dealing with the return of her husband, the villagers relying on traditions to gauge the truth of the return or not, Thomas’s sister presiding over the issues.
Audiences might remember that in the mid-90s, Jose Ramos Horta, along with Bishop Carlos Belo SDB deadly, received the Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to forming a just peace to the conflict. There is a Catholic priest in this film, Father Nicolau, sometimes in cassock, sometimes in local clothes, very supportive of the people, from his work with the young Beatriz and Tomas, to his stand against the invaders, his protest against the massacre by publicly reading out his list of the dead and his being deported to Portugal.
With the national background, the occupation, the massacres, the hardships of daily living, the resistance in the mountains, the focus of the film is Beatriz, played by Trim Tolentino, a strong woman who has had to live through, as have the people, a grim 25 year long experience, but also the extraordinary experience of voting for independence and achieving it.
(Robert Connolley’s 2008 film Balibo, dealing with the invasion, the role of Australian journalists, the action of Jose Ramos Horta and the people is worth seeing in connection with Beatriz’s War.)
BELLE ET SEBASTIEN
France, 2013, 104 minutes, Colour.
Felix Bossuet, Tcheky Karyo, Margaux Chatelier.
Directed by Nicolas Vanier.
What a pleasant surprise.
In a film which adults and children could enjoy, the audience is taken into the French Alps, on the border with Switzerland. And, not only are we taken there, we feel we are really in the midst of some rather breathtaking scenery, mountains, villages, the different seasons, the variety of animals found in the Alps. The director, Nicolas Vanier, has made something of a career of directing and photographing nature documentaries.
Even at the opening, with Cesar (Tcheky Karyo) and his grandson, Sebastien (Felix Bossuet) walking along the craggy edges of sheer cliffs, hearing shots where animals are killed and finding a small kid on the lower ledge needing rescue, Cesar lowering Sebastien down to retrieve the animal, quite a dizzying and difficult feat, we are immersed in the way of life of the people of the Alps.
Sebastien is only six, a good boy, pleasant but not cute in the American movie style. Cesar is something of an old grouch, a drinker, but devoted to his grandson. When it appears that the sheep are being taken by a huge dog, maltreated by its previous owners and now running loose and wild, the men of the village set out to shoot it. However, Sebastien has encountered the wild dog, pacified its, talk to it and has become a friend. The mountaineers have called it The Beast. After a short time with Sebastien, The Beast becomes Belle and human and dog – quite a huge white dog in fact – become firm friends, Sebastien even standing in front of Cesar’s rifle to protect Belle.
As a story about humans and dog, it will be a delight to those who have a passion for canine friends – and might also almost be a means of converting those would never see themselves as dog-lovers!
But that is not all. We are informed that it is 1943, and that means occupied France. It is gradually revealed that there is a squad of German soldiers in the village, making demands for supplies, especially bread, from the locals and, in secret, slaughtering some of the sheep for food. The other predators are wolves roaming the mountains. Cesar’s niece, Angelina (Margaux Cartelier) is the baker and the leader of the German squad is rather sweet on her.
As we might have been led to believe because of the occupation and the proximity of the Swiss border, the theme of leading Jewish refugees over the mountains becomes an important subplot, involving Angelina, the local doctor who serves as a guide, and even Sebastien and Belle. As one group is snowed in on Christmas Day, Belle saves the day by leading the group on a secure path.
The film is often strikingly beautiful to look at, landscapes to wonder at and admire. The characters are friendly but rugged, mountain people. And Belle, despite her fearsome first appearance, is a beautiful big dog and she and Sebastien are great friends.
Israel, 2013, 99 minutes, Colour.
Tsahi Halevi, Shadi Mar'i, Hitham Omari.
Directed by Yuval Adler.
There is no mention of Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus in this film. Rather, this is an Israeli film, dramatizing another aspect of the conflict between Israel and Gaza.
A previous film of 2014, Omar, raised the issue of Palestinians moving from one side of the wall to the other and the possibilities for Israeli security officers to choose young Palestinians as targets for information and collaboration. This is also the theme of Bethlehem.
The protagonist, Sanfur, is seen with a group of young Palestinians, he wearing a bullet proof vest and urging one of his friends to shoot him to show that he did not lack courage and had something of a belief that he was invincible. But, we learn that he has a different story, that from the age of 15, he has been cultivated by an Israeli security officer, Razi, who has now become something of a substitute father-figure. Not that Sanfur does not have a father. In fact, his father has been in prison for subversive activity against Israel and his older brother, Ibrahim, is one of the leaders of Palestinian resistance. The screenplay also raises questions about the relationship of these activists with Hamas as well is with the Palestinian Authority and its leaders.
Razi is a sympathetic character, has a wife and child, and seems particularly attached to Sanfur, meeting him, ensuring that he is out of Palestine during an attack, visiting an aunt in Hebron. The attack is particularly significant as it targets his brother.
As the film progresses, Sanfur is placed in very difficult circumstances, especially for a 17-year-old in this kind of conflict. Part of the difficulty is the influence of Badawi, a Bedouin Palestinian who is not immediately accepted by the others and is antagonistic towards the Palestinian Authority which has not paid him and his fellow-activists.
The dilemma for Sanfur is whether he should stay in Palestine, always running the risk of contact from Israel, or whether she should contact Razi, make a plea to escape into Israel and disappear. Badawi has some ulterior motives because the activists want to retaliate for the death of Ibrahim by a significant counter attack. Such a counter-attack would be for Sanfur to assassinate Razi.
The film plays out this dilemma in a reminder, reinforced by the recent war between Israel and Gaza, that moves towards peace seem impossible at times. It is human stories like this which bring aspects of the conflict to dramatic and emotional attention.
ERNEST AND CELESTINE
France, 2012, 80 minutes, Colour.
Voices of, English version: Forrest Whitaker, Mc Kenzie Foy, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti. Voices of, French version: Lambert Wilson, Pauline Brunner, Anne- Marie Loop.
Directed by Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner.
Ernest is a bear, Celestine is a mouse. They are to central characters in a delightful French animation film, based on characters in a series of books for children. the style of animation is especially French, mild water cover, colour, muted tones, the audience supplying the full characterisation rather than the very full and explicit characterisations in most American animation films
The film opens in an orphanage presided over by a severe character, voiced in the American version by Lauren Bacall. We are shown two worlds, the above-ground world of the bears and the below ground world of the rodents. Celestine disturbs a family of bears when she appears in the bedroom of a little boy who has lost a tooth. The mouse scares the bears but is rescued by Ernest whom we have seen in his house, preparing his musical instruments and going to busk on the streets of the town. The plot concerns the happy life of Ernest and Celestine at home as well as the police searching for them for disturbing the peace.
The last part of the film has two court cases, one above ground where Celestine is being tried by the bears and below ground where Ernest is being tried by the mice. There is some humorous repartee in the court but then a fire breaks out disturbing both cases with both Ernest and Celestine coming to the rescue of the judges.
There are two versions of the film, one in the original French with Lambert Wilson as Ernest. The American version has a very strong cast led by Forrest Whitaker as Ernest and with such performers as Lauren Bacall and Paul Giamatti in supporting roles.
What else could happen except for happy ever after and the prospect of other Ernest and Celestine films.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
US, 2014, 118 minutes, Colour.
Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, Joel Mc Hale.
Directed by Scott Ericsson.
It is over forty years since the The Exorcist made such an impact on worldwide audiences as well as on critics. Almost immediately there were many imitations, some of them spoofs from Italy, then a number of serious sequels and variations on the theme. While there have been some lulls in release of films of diabolical possession and exorcisms, there has been an increase since 2005, and there is no sign that it is abating.
A significant question is: why do audiences worldwide continue to have a fascination in the phenomenon of diabolical possession and the rituals of exorcism?
It can be noted that one of the best of these films in recent years, based on fact in the United States as well as in the course offered in Rome for those interested in exorcism, was The Rite (2011), with Anthony Hopkins as a Jesuit priest.
Perhaps it is the “Francis-effect” with the impact of Pope Francis and his Jesuit background, but here is another film with a priest confidently announcing that he is a Jesuit. As the film progresses, Jesuits may wonder whether he is the kind of role model that they would like.
This statement is not advocating Deliver Us from Evil as a great film about exorcism or even a good one. It is rather something of a potboiler with some interesting moments about Catholic themes and the problem of evil.
As regards the plot, the screenplay draws on elements of the original The Exorcist and its sequels, with mysterious goings on in the Middle East, especially with Demons. The screenplay is up-to-date insofar as there are three American soldiers in Iraq in 2010, going down into a vault, with video camera, smelling strange odours, finding a message on the wall, photographing the material. But, three years later, each of the soldiers is in violent crisis back in New York City, one brutalising his wife, another found dead while doing a painting job, the third, present in a sinister manner at the Bronx Zoo, actually possessed.
The possessed man is confronted by a New York police officer, Ralph Sarchie, who wrote a book about the experience and vouches for its truth (sounds more like PR than actuality). In the confrontation with the possessed man, he encounters a Jesuit priest, Father Mendoza, who has had a difficult drug past, experienced some conversion which included belief in God and becoming a Jesuit, with some lapses (which could cause some difficulties in the contemporary context of sexual misconduct), but has become an expert in psychiatry and working with people in violent mental difficulties and possession.
This is a New York police story, there is plenty of action, quite an amount of violence and deaths.
For Christian audience, especially Catholics, it is the Jesuit character who is of interest, although the police officer has been a lapsed Catholic from the age or 12, denying a God who did not intervene in an attack on his family. Father Mendoza makes a distinction between Primary Evil and Secondary Evil, the latter being the destructive experiences in most people’s lives. His focus on Primary Evil is on the unexplained presence of pervasive evil, the dichotomy, we might say, between God and the Devil, Primary Evil being a continual menace in the world.
When the detective wants to upbraid God because of not intervening in disaster, Father Mendoza says that they could talk all day on the problem of evil but they should focus on the problem of good, why so much good in the world – and he makes the point that God relies on us humans to intervene and help with God’s work for good. And the pertinent example is that of the detective and others in their police work confronting criminals and bringing them to justice. Father Mendoza uses the language of Ignatian “discernment” but it is a fairly basic and unnuanced description that he gives. However, he does persuade the detective to make a confession, sacramental, where a detective confronts his memories of dealing with a child abuser, beating him to death in his anger. The priest points out that vengeance was done on the abuser but not justice, and that vengeance normally stays with the avenger, contaminating the avenger’s life.
This does provide an interesting religious core to the film.
One reviewer expressed surprise that ain exorcism should take place in a police interrogation room. But, why not? Whether the scene is an authentic interpretation of the official ritual is not always clear, Father Mendoza explaining the six steps in the process of exorcism and proceeding then to pray, to demand the demon’s name, to oust the demon (with just a few special effects to remind us of The Exorcist). The production team could have well done with a Catholic adviser because Father Mendoza uses “Holy Ghost” instead of Holy Spirit and the colour of his stole for the exorcism is blue!
Edgar Ramirez, long hair, somewhat unkempt, a jogger, a heavy smoker (which he sees as a better addiction than many others), is meant to be an image of the contemporary priest. Eric Bana is the detective and Sean Harris the former soldier who is possessed. It is interesting to note that the film was directed by Scott Derrickson, an American director with a Presbyterian background, who made the far more effective The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and a very effective haunted house film, Sinister (2011).
An example of the current trend of possession and exorcism films, a police-action thriller with some acknowledgement of theological and religious themes.
THE FRENCH MINISTER/ QUAI D’ORSAY
France, 2013, 113 minutes, Colour.
Thierry Lhermite, Raphael Personnaz, Niels Arestrup, Jane Birkin.
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier.
This is a story about French government, focusing on a particular minister, the minister for foreign affairs. There is a glimpse of a photo of George W.Bush, which seems to indicate that the setting is around 2003, discussions of an imminent invasion of a Middle East country, here given a fictitious name. Many audiences will appreciate the politics of the period.
The film is directed by veteran, Bertrand Tavernier, best known for his quite serious films for many decades. An interesting question to ponder is why he chose this particular film and comedy at this stage of his career.
Some commentators have referred to the British television series, the hilariously comic Yes, Minister. The key to that series was that the minister was very much of a fool, relying on his advisors, especially Sir Humphrey Appleby, Nigel Hawthorne’s perfect re-creation of a civil service adviser, shrewd, adept with language and insinuation, seeing himself as the power behind the minister. That is not exactly the case here. Rather, while the minister is often a fool, he is shrewd and smart enough to perform well in public and to take the advice that he wants to hear. These advisers to the minister are not Humphrey Applebys. They are professionals, caught up in the political pressures, research, advice, speechmaking, rescuing the minister from difficult situations.
But, the film is still a comedy, an amusing comedy, with a blend of spoof, satire as well as critique.
Thiery Lhermite is the minister, a professional politician, rather sure of himself when he has no basis for this, but quick on picking up trends, need for action, and reliant on advisers whom he trusts. He is not in favour of the invasion of the Middle East. He is under pressure to move for Germany to have a place on the UN Security Council. He travels to the United States to give speeches. He travels to Africa when a civil war crisis erupts. He makes jokes about NATO and tries to avoid NATO meetings. And, on the personal level, his charm to have a dinner with a prize-winning novelist, played with forcefulness by Jane Burkin.
The audience is taken into this world by initially focusing on a young would-be civil servant, Arthur, preparing to wear the right clothes and have the right manner for his interview. He is caught up in the minister’s whirlwind and has a job before he knows it, but actually doesn’t have a physical desk and the table that he has to work at is part of a narrow thoroughfare with everybody passing through. But, he makes his way and is successful at his work, even when a journalist on a bus in New York steals one of the pages of the minister’s speech and there is a media-political kerfuffle.
The main character supporting the minister, patiently, biding his time, even nodding off, is played by Niels Arestrup. That the minister succeeds is often due to the old man’s advice – even passing a note up the table while the minister is indulging in conversation with the novelist, to tell him to keep quiet and let her get a word in.
It is interesting to see the minister whirl in an out of his rooms, papers flying as he opens and slams the door. In his visit to Africa, he defies advice and get out of his car in the middle of an angry crowd, contacts the Prime Minister and resolves the case. He has his mantra which he repeats often, for policy: lucidity, unity, efficiency!
The film does get a bit serious at the end, with the minister going again to the United Nations and, after all the many drafts that his speeches always go through, he delivers a speech which receives and applauding response.
The film is particularly French in its characters, rather different from an English version of this kind of story – but quite entertaining in its way.
Australia, 2014, 100 minutes, Colour.
Ashleigh Cummings, Lilly Sullivan, Toby Wallace, Maya Stange.
Directed by Rhys Graham.
It is summer in Canberra, the summer of 2008, the summer of the bushfires which came into the city suburbs and destroyed homes and took four lives. Throughout the film, the camera notices the columns of smoke in the far distance, then the approach of the fires and finally the city and its people surprised by the extent of the devastation.
The approach of the fires and their destruction – and purging – might serve as something of a motif for the mood of this film and its portrait of teenagers in an idle summer.
There are four characters at the centre of the film, principally a young girl, Billie, played with some force, even dominance by Ashleigh Cummings. She has been friends with Laura, Lilly Sullivan, since they were very young but now the moods and crises of teenage have caught up with them. Danny (Toby Wallace) is Laura’s boyfriend but right from the beginning we see him passionately kissing Billie. Billie is no slouch at flirting and going further. Laura, on the other hand, is somewhat restrained, inveterate writer in her diary, discussing with Billie just what she should do about a sexual relationship.
Into the group comes Isaac, an Islander living in a shelter where Billie’s mother does charitable work. She has pity on Isaac and brings him home to live in the caravan on the property, much to Billie’s displeasure. However, he is drawn into the group and their activities with the other teenagers with nothing to do and virtually nowhere to go except to dams and waterholes. A focal point of their partying is New Year Eve.
As the days draw on with sunbaking, swimming, needling each other, conversations, walks… Billie drinks too much, clashes with Danny, is caught up in her relationship with Laura and takes a car owned by some of the other boys and goes on a reckless drive which has, of course, some dire results.
This film is well made, the performances good. However, one of the difficulties is that we see what the characters do but often, very often, it is hard to appreciate what is motivating them. This applies even to Billie and her behaviour, the audience having to observe her and try to work out what is driving her. There is some motivation in Laura, especially as she becomes infatuated with Isaac, with a sensual scene between the two of them. Hardest to know what is driving Danny or whether he is simply going with the flow.
Later in the film there is a funeral sequence with the parents of one of the group speaking about their child – but indicating that they knew very little about their child. This is mostly true even of Billie’s mother, good-natured and trusting rather than really knowing what was happening with her daughter.
Admittedly, this is not a treatise on the behaviour of adolescents. Rather, it is a portrait of four young people over a short space of time. The frequently self-absorbed Billie has to come to terms with her life, face up to some responsibility for what she has done. Her experiences are something like the fire which swoops down on the city, burns and destroys – and perhaps purges enough so that there could be a better rebuilding.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
US, 2014, 119 minutes, Colour.
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, voices of Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Dave Bautista, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro.
Directed by James Gunn.
In the United States, Guardians of the Galaxy has become something of the saviour of the summer box office. It has proven extremely popular – but not so much with this reviewer.
To be fair, here is the opening paragraph of an IMDb blogger (Grey Gardens). This is a fan’s, no, FAN’S, response: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy is nothing short of an amazing movie. If there's anything I can say, it's that it is the best superhero movie I have seen. Not only does it have the impressive set pieces and enough action to last you a lifetime, it has an emotional core and you actually get to care about each and every single character. Overall this movie is filled with all the required thrills and spills and is a first class action movie. It also has a great mixture of comedic value and a deal of seriousness.’ While acknowledging this, and the amusement and joy that the film will bring to younger audiences as well as to science-fiction buffs and those who enjoy tongue-in-cheek spoof of the space adventures and the super heroes, this review will not be so enthusiastic.
Acclaim must be given to the action, stunts, special effects. There is great ambition behind this particular film, capitalising on the popularity of the serious Marvel comic characters, but also capitalising on parody. One might imagine a film made of all those odd-looking and odd-sounding characters that are found in the bar, along with Han Solo, in the Star Wars films, a film about Chewbacca and co. Those films were enjoyable but George Lucas, for some strange reason and imaginative bout, created Jar Jar Binks, who not only sounded silly but looked silly and intruded a lot of silly behaviour into The Phantom Menace.
So, this reviewer was not so much thinking of Star Wars but of Jar Jar Binks and of the silliness. In fact, the word that kept surfacing while watching Guardians was “stoopid” – and this was too hard to get over.
Poor Peter Quill is abducted from earth by aliens in 1983. Older now, he is in possession of an orb, with superhuman powers, which is sought after by an evil galactic lord, Ronan. There are some other assassins and destroyers.
But, Peter forms a group of guardians who whizz around here and planetary there. There is a raccoon called Rocket (voiced with sly enthusiasm by Bradley Copper) and a tree trunk who is able only to say ‘I am Groot’ - since so many reviewers have proclaimed that this is Vin Diesel’s most wooden performance, I won’t do it. Then there is a young woman, with a jealous sister, who escapes her planet and joins the guardians. She is played by Zoe Saldana, coloured green, a contrast to her blue appearance in Avatar.
Of all people, Glenn Close, appears as a planet leader (though come to think of it, she was in Tim’s Burton’s Mars Attacks) and Benicio del Toro has a cameo.
So, this is a comic book adventure with strange and funny goodies and quite an array of most evil baddies. There is no limit to the imagination and the special effects for these galactic skirmishes, schemes and battles. And the sequel is promised in three years.
US, 2014, 98 minutes, Colour.
Dwayne Johnson, Ian Mc Shane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Tobias Santelmann, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, Rebecca Ferguson, Isaac Andrews, Joe Anderson.
Directed by Brett Ratner.
Another Hercules film. He was a popular character in the sand and sandals costume dramas of 50 years ago. He has been impersonated by Lou Ferigno, the original Hulk. And then there was the bizarre Disney film of the mid-1990s. Is enough enough?
Actually, there are many reasons for enjoying this version of Hercules. He is embodied by Dwayne Johnson, formerly the wrestler known as The Rock, more latterly quite an interesting actor, doing serious roles, but not afraid to do tongue-in-cheek spoofs. Another reason is the solid British cast of veteran actors, notably John Hurt as the King of Thrace, Ian Mc Shane as a veteran seer, Joseph Fiennes as the King of Athens, Rufus Sewell as one of Hercules warriors, Peter Mullan as the King of Thrace’s implacable deputy. They all have their big moments, most especially John Hurt in his conspiracies, taunts and comeuppance.
But the main interest in the film is not something you would expect in this kind of high-budget matinee material. It is demythologising.
The film opens with Hercules’ nephews telling the tales of some of his 12 labours. They have their graphic and special effects moments. But then there is an interruption questioning whether the 12 labours ever actually happened and whether Hercules really was (again despite our seeing some of the scenes of his birth) a son of Zeus and a mortal mother, detested by Zeus’s wife, Hera, and banished to fight the 12 labours and return to become a god. Hercules agrees with the debunking, thinking that legends have been spun about himself, his origins and his feats, turning him into something of a superhero, which he declares he is not.
And this theme continues throughout the film, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humour.
The main action concerns Hercules being persuaded by the daughter of the King of Thrace to come with his band of followers to resist enemies and consolidate the kingdom. Most of the men are farmers, no idea of military strategy and tactics. Hercules and his band, which include his nephew and the seer as well as a mutant warrior whom he had rescued and the Amazon, Atalanta.
They do a very good job, in fact, of training the men after some initial failures, so that when the two huge battle sequences turn up, that Thracians are a very disciplined military force, able to resist all kinds of attacks.
For those who like a good stoush, they will be more than satisfied with two as well as a climactic finale when Hercules is betrayed, is about to die, but fate steps in (or at least, the warrior, who decided to quit the band and taken the gold reward from the King of Thrace’s) turns up and it is open slather. And it is quite some slather, Hercules overturning huge bowls of flames which descend on the dissenting troops and destabilising the basis of the huge statue of Hera which falls down on Hercules’ foes.
The film was directed by Brett Ratner, whose films include the three Rush Hour films as well as an X-Men? film, The Last Stand.
Even critics came out of the screening more satisfied that they expected to be!
US, 2014, 134 minutes, Colour.
John Lloyd Young, Eric Berghen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken, Mike Doyle.
Directed by Clint Eastwood.
From 2006, audiences in the United States and then all around the world, have been introduced to the story of Frankie Valli and the band, The Four Seasons in the Broadway musical, Jersey Boys. They do not have the status in the popular music world as, say, Elvis Presley or, their contemporaries, the Beatles. But, they did have a lot of hits, on the top of the charts, playing in popular venues all over America, and building up a huge following. Jersey Boys appeared on Broadway and won 6 Tony awards, including one for the lead actor who played Frankie, John Lloyd Young who Eastwood invited to portray Frankie Valli on screen).
If one were to surmise who would be the director of the film version of this Broadway musical, Clint Eastwood would not necessarily be the first one to come to mind. He saw the production several times, was impressed by the book, the performances and several of the actors that he saw, particularly John Lloyd Young. Eastwood directed the film, released just after his 84th birthday. Which means that Eastwood is four years older than Frankie Valli. Eastwood was best known as Western star in Rawhide (a glimpse of which is seen in this film, what he calls his Hitchcock moment), then the spaghetti westerns and a range of films, including the musical, Paint Your Wagon. Eastwood directed his first film, Play Misty for Me, when he was 40.
After more than a 40 year career in directing, let alone acting, he has two Academy Awards for Best Director, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. The breadth of his film themes since he turned 70 and the skill with which he made them, including Mystic River, Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Gran Torino, J Edgar, have made him more than a Hollywood legend. And he was in production with another film at the time of Jersey Boys release.
Eastwood has retained a lot of the structure of the play as well as the style of performance. Each of the four has the opportunity to look to camera, take the audience into their confidence, and the rate part of the story. As might be guessed, Eastwood is interested in the background of the boys, their growing up in New Jersey, especially in the 1950s, the Italian Catholic family background (Eastwood once again showing an interest in depicting Catholic aspects of American life), the links with the mob, the gangster bosses being part of the family, helping out in times of difficulty – of which there were many with the young men and their escapades, especially in stealing, going in and out of jail.
But Eastwood has also had a career in music, often composing in making arrangements for the sound tracks of his films, as well as filming Bird, the story of Charlie Parker, and Honky Tonk Man. He has also made documentaries about jazz.
Being a contemporary Frankie Valli, he seems to have resonated with the singer, the band, the songs and their lyrics. Audiences will not be disappointed as so many of the songs find their place in the narrative, some in performance in clubs or television, some as part of the plot. Non-fans may be surprised to hear quite a number of songs they are familiar with but had not connected them with Frankie Valley: Sherry, Big Girls, Walk like a Man, Oh What a Night, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You…
Frankie and his friends were always interested in music and sang at various clubs. Their friend Joe Pesci (that’s right, later the other actor) introduce them to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen who took this role on stage), lyrics writer with whom Frankie clicked. With a hurry in composing the lyrics for Sherry, they impress their old friend from the past, Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), now a music producer, and he arranges for a record. It is a huge success, the rhythms, the lyrics, Frankie is singing voice and his falsetto. On to American Bedstead, Bandstand, the Ed Sullivan Show.
Not all plain sailing, The manager of the group, Tommy DeVito? (Vincent Piazza) is rather self-centred, not as bright as he could be, borrowing money from loan sharks in increasingly large amounts, not paying the group’s taxes – which they do not know but it all comes to a head with the help of the local mob patriarch, Gyp (a rather engaging Christopher Walken). The band breaks up, Frankie and Bob have worked together but it seems better for Frankie to have a solo career. To him, being on the road, provides many difficulties with his marriage and, especially, dealing with his oldest daughter, Francine.
While the action ends with Frankie’s success singing Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, it does move forward to 1990 and the group, meeting together after a long time, being installed in the Rock and Role Hall of Fame (interestingly, although not mentioned in the film, 1990 was the year the Joe Pesci won an Academy award for his performance in Goodfellas).
And how to bring the film to an end – use the style of the curtain call with all the cast onstage all singing and dancing, an exuberant end to the film. (Of interest, Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudior were executive producers of the film.)
And the film is quite a night!
THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES
Denmark, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter.
Directed by Mikkel Norgaard.
Grimace and frown. This is the usual look of the protagonist of this police story, Carl Nicolai I Cass, looking more than a bit like Michael C. Hall as Dexter on television), a single-minded and relentless police officer and detective. Actually he does smile a little ironically during the film and we do see a glimmer of smile at the end. His assistant is Assad, played by Lebanon-born actor, Fares Fares, who has a great deal more humanity about him.
In the last decade, Scandinavian police stories have become popular, worldwide. We could think of Henning Mankell and Wallander, Stig Lasrsen and The Girl…, or the novels and the film versions of stories by Joe Nasbro. This thriller is in this vein – based on a series of novels by Jussi Adler- Olsen, featuring Carl and Assad. The next in the film series has already been completed.
The film opens with some banter between the police, idle and nitpicking conversation during their surveillance. Carl is impatient, does not wait for backup, goes into the house with some disastrous results for his partners and some injury for himself. It is not surprising to find that after he gets out of hospital, his superior does not want him in active service, a danger for others, and not particularly liked by most people in the local force. He is given a new assignment, a small office in the basement when he has to study all the cold cases of the previous 20 years – the lost causes of the film’s title being these cold cases. And Assad is assigned to him, not immediately happily for Carl. But we know, eventually, with ups and downs, they will be able to work together, each saving the other’s life.
Assad arranges the cases with photos on the wall and Carl’s eye is caught by one that he remembers and he begins to follow it.
For those of us who are always intrigued by current novels with police investigations, be they in the US, Australia, the UK or in other contexts, this film will be very satisfying. It shows the police work, step by step, the police using their brains, intuitions, discovering leads, following them, working on hunches, and all this, despite the objections of the powers that be, quite realistically. The screenplay opens up the mystery, tantalises the audience with what might have happened, then starts to give the audience more information than the two police have so that the audience is always waiting for the police to catch up, providing solid tension for the mystery.
The victim is a young woman, involved in politics, who had attended a conference in Sweden and then, on a ferry ride with her younger brother who had suffered brain damage in a car accident when the two were young, she disappears, presumed suicide, presumed drowned.
Carl’s methods are blunt and direct. He has very little to happiness in his life, his wife has left him, his stepson can’t stand his mother and so stays with Carl, sometimes embarrassing him. It is only his job and his determination to live for it that gives him any satisfaction. We don’t know anything about Assad (except that we do see him kneeling and bowing on his carpet in Moslem prayer at the end of the film). But, Asaad has the human touch, especially his patience in sitting with the disappeared woman’s brother, something which pays off when he sees a photo.
Just when it seems that Carl and Assad have finally found their man, there are some twists which give more meaning to the film – and the audience could realise that they were given some clues early on which might have given them the motivation of the criminal.
The film is lower key than some of the other Scandinavian stories, but interesting because of the tension between the two characters, the detail of the detective work, so that it is quite a satisfying hundred minutes. Here’s hoping that it will not be too long before the second film in the series will be released.
France, 2014, 90 minutes, Colour.
Scarlet Johansson, Morgan Freeman.
Directed by Luc Besson.
Lucy seems a rather quiet name for a film by Luc Besson, more famous in recent decades for his producing and direction action features. However, he has had a continued interest in science and science-fiction, most significantly in The Big Blue and his well-regarded The Fifth Element.
While he does exercise his flair for action sequences, especially in a rapid car chase through the streets of Paris, he is interested in themes of evolution, behaviour of prehistoric animals, of apes and their gradual development, the nature of the human brain, its capacity and humans not using their brains to full capacity, rather 10%,. So, he has created an action parable about the capacity of the human brain.
Lucy is a science-fiction film. However, it might be called philosophy/metaphysics-fiction, especially with its cosmic overview of animal and human development as well as it speculations about what might happen to a human being using full capacity. At the end, when Lucy has exercised the hundred percent and she is asked where she is, she replies that she is everywhere. She is omnipresent and omniscient. A symbol of God?
During the early sequences, Besson has inserted quite a number of images of animals and their behaviour, drawing from the beautiful films about nature and the world, Baraka and Samsara. When Lucy is introduced, and her boyfriend is trying to persuade her to deliver a locked case to reception at a Taiwanese office block, the director inserts visuals of animals circling each other, wary, fearful, and the superior animals pouncing. We realise we are not just in a simple story of a young woman, an American in Taiwan, who gets caught up in action adventure.
Lucy is played by Scarlet Johansson, following her non-visual performance as a computer companion in the film, Her and her mysterious alien in Under the Skin. At first, she is apprehensive, especially when confronted by the Taiwanese chief drug dealer. Then there is the mystery of the blue bags in the case, a drug whose origin has not been specified, part of the mystery of what is going on. Obviously the Taiwanese need to know what the drug is and so insert the bags into a group of mules, including Lucy.
Up till now, routine but mysterious. Then Lucy’s bag begins to leak with dire effects on her on a plane and at the Berlin airport. But, Lucy is changing, makes her way to Paris with the Taiwanese in pursuit. A French captain of police is interested in her case, driving with her in an intense chase through the streets of Paris and being something of a bodyguard.
After the drug setup, the film moves to the science aspect, introducing Morgan Freeman as an expert on science of the brain, and, with his elegant delivery, we learn quite a deal about the functioning of the brain.
Lucy wants to have a record of what has happened and the Professor supervises her link with a computer, the screen noting the ever increasing use of all of her brain.
And then, the film leaves us with some philosophical speculations about human capacities, the exercise of the brain – and how humans could transcend their mundane behaviour and existence.
Which means that Besson has provided a science and philosophical parable, outstanding in its visual impact, challenging in the questions that it asks and that it implies.
India, 2013, 104 minutes, Colour.
Irrfan Khan. Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
Directed by Ritesh Batra.
The Lunchbox has proven a success not only in India but the world over. The growing interest in films about India is to advantage here.
With the opening of the film, the audience is immersed immediately into the life and vitality of the city of Mumbai. As with the title of the film, the audience becomes interested in the thousands of men who walk, pull carts, ride on bikes, our passengers on vehicles delivering hundreds of thousands of lunch lunchboxes all over the city. One immediate query is how do the lunchboxes get to the right place at the right time – something which is explained at the end of the film, some of the carriers becoming rather indignant even at the suggestion that a lunchbox should not arrive at its proper destination.
We are also shown to different parts of the city whether the two leads live. One is a quite comfortable, but fairly cramped, home where Ila, an ordinary housewife, lives with her husband and daughter. She gets her daughter ready for school, a touch pessimistic in her outlook, that rain will come at any time, that accidents can happen. She spends time at home preparing her husband’s lunch for his lunchbox. An old lady lives upstairs, whom she calls Auntie, who calls down conversation and cooking advice. In another part of the city, an accountant, Saajan, lives by himself, a widower, who for 35 years has been going to do the same kind of accounting work and comes home to a lonely house, standing on the veranda watching the neighbours have a happy family meal, and smoking.
This not might not seem the ingredients for a popular film. And audiences with a touch of impatience will need to get their impulse for hurry under some control – this is a very leisurely paced film.
At work, Saajan is about to take early retirement and is asked to help in the training of an eager, very eager, irritatingly eager, young man, Shaikh. Shaikh is not particularly reliable but, quite soon, he wins over Saajan with his sometimes desperate respect. But that is not the main thrust of the story. That is, of course, the lunchbox.
As the advertising suggests, Saajan receives the wrong lunchbox, one especially packed by Ila for her husband. Saajan finds the meal delightful and appetising, and continues to receive the meals, thinking they are from the local shop. 1t is Ila’s neglectful husband, who generally ignores her, who makes her realise that the lunchbox has been going to the wrong destination. She encloses a note, to the interest and delight of Saajan, his immediate reply being rather functional, about salt in the meal. Then the correspondence continues, the two never meeting, communicating through the notes day by day, learning a lot about each other, opening up a great deal about themselves and their situations.
As Shaikh note, correspondence by letters seems very much out of date in the age of email. The film is, one might say, a cinematic love letter, to letters.
That is basically what the film is and is about. There is a delightful wedding sequence, Saajan going to Shaikh’s wedding, the only representative of his side of the family raise while his wife’s family is there – in abundance. And there is a sad death sequence, Ila receiving news from her mother that her father has died.
Which means that the film is about basic values, the quality of human life, possibilities for happiness, the realities of sadness and some betrayal, the basic sadness in the deep experiences of long illness, death, and the delight in the celebration of marriage and wedding.
This is a film which reaches into the hearts of an older audience – one hopes that a younger audience might stray into the film, slow their pace down, and contemplate some of the deeper values of life, even through communication in a lunchbox.
A MOST WANTED MAN
UK/US/Germany, 2014, 122 minutes, Colour.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Grigory, Dobrygkin, Willem Dafoe, Rachel Mc Adams, Robin Wright, Homayour Arshadi, Nina Hoss, Daniel Bruel.
Directed by Anton Corbijn.
A first recommendation would be that this is a film version of a John Le Carre novel. The second recommendation is that it is a contemporary story of 21st-century espionage. Then there is the recommendation of the fine performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman and audience regret at his death earlier in 2014 at the age of 46. And the direction is by the celebrated Dutch photographer and video maker, Anton Corbijn, who also directed Control, the story of Ian Curtis and the band, Joy Division, and The American, with George Clooney. As well, this film has an excellent international cast. The screenplay was written by Australian Andrew Bovell.
John Le Carre’s novels have been published over a period of more than 50 years and there have been film versions over this half-century, starting in the 1960s with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, to the George Smiley stories, to The Constant Gardener and the recent Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy.
This present film might be called an intelligent film about intelligence.
The setting is Hamburger, with visits to Berlin. In Hamburg, Gunther Beckman (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is in charge of a surveillance and espionage company, an unofficial group at the disposal of the German government. The particular problem for the group is the arrival of Issa, a seeming-terrorist from Turkey. Immediately, the group goes into action, identifying the man, photographing him, a payout to a railway attendant for information…
The real target, however, is larger, a shipping company, based in Cyprus, which seems to be involved in huge amounts of money laundering for terrorist groups, allegedly managed by an Arab philanthropist in Germany, with a fine reputation but who seems to be diverted funds to the terrorists.
Two significant characters come into the action, Annabel (Rachel McAdams), daughter of a judge who is in rebellion against her father, becoming a lawyer for leftist group. She is representing Issa, the man at the centre of the surveillance. He wants to get in contact with a respectable banker (Willem Dafoe), whose father collaborated with Issa’s father and finances in the Soviet Union thirty years earlier.
It should be said that while this is an espionage film, there is practically no violent action throughout the whole film, rather the emphasis on surveillance and intelligence. There is an abduction, there are some interrogations, there is a car and taxi crash at the end, but violence is not the aim of the film.
There is a great attention to the timing and deadlines, the role of the banker and the amount of money available for Issa, the abduction of Annabel and getting her to collaborate with the surveillance group, and the same for the banker. The German authorities want Issa. Gunther’s plann to divert Issa’s money to the philanthropist and catch him, if possible, signing documents diverting the money to terrorists. The German government officials are single-minded, not particularly flexible. And into the equation comes the CIA agent, Martha, played with quiet and intense ruthlessness by Robin Wright.
The complexity of the plot is fascinating for audiences who like espionage stories. Each of the characters has their own particular interest. And the build-up to the arrest of the philanthropist is skilful – and so are the final images of the film which are not quite what we might have imagined.
MRS BROWNS BOYS, D’MOVIE
Ireland, 2014, 100 minutes, Colour.
Brendan O’ Carroll, Jennifer Gibney, Eilish O' Carroll and many of the O’ Carroll family!
Directed by Ben Kellett.
If you are not already a fan of the very popular television series, Mrs Brown’s Boys, you may have a bit of difficulty in following this cinema version, just who’s who in the Brown family? We are placed in the middle of things, and because of this, there might be not too many converts either.
On the other hand, this reviewer attended the Thursday, 1.00 pm session and there were only two other people in the cinema, an elderly couple, older than the reviewer, who, in fact, chuckled all the way through. converts! (And before the film started, Mrs Brown’s face suddenly appeared on screen – which seemed like a trailer for the film we were actually in there to see – but it was actually herself telling us how much she enjoyed performing the stage version in Australia and that she and the family are coming back: Book Now!)
Mrs Brown is the creation of Brendan O’ Carroll, first writing a screenplay about this Irish widow in the late 1990s, made into a film directed by and starring Angelica Huston, simply called Agnes Browne. O‘ Carroll himself had a number of cameo roles. But then came the television series, Brendan O’Carroll? himself taking the role of Mrs Brown (a bit disconcerting to see photos of the real O’ Carroll with his bald head and seeing him as a martial arts trainer with a fright wig in this film), looking like a latter-day Mrs Doubtfire, dealing with his Grandaddy, the pushy neighbour and the array of children.
It is fair enough to say that the humour is “fairly broad” and that the vocabulary is exceedingly fective (with many expletives including the other four letter F alternative). Much of the humour is slapstick with a lot of pratfalls, especially in the Moore Street market. And there is a lot of spoof of Irish ways and manners, the Browns in their suburb of Dublin but also, for instance, farcical court cases and images of the Catholic Church, (not particularly irreverent). Father Damian is the parish priest, first seen nailing Jesus to a cross outside the church because a holt had come out and the statue of Jesus was hanging by one hand; then in the confessional where Mrs Brown wants to get something of relief from the pressures of life by confessing but her neighbour insists that she has many more sins than Mrs Brown and squashes into the confessional to prove her point, Father Damian fleeing to get some air. There is another priest who performs a funeral and then there is Mrs Brown’s son, appearing rather impassively, wearing a Roman, not really actively involved in anything.
The slim plot is, as often, about greedy developers trying to get rid of poor people, this time ruthless Russians, relying on a corrupt lawyer, to take over the stalls at the market, destroy them and put up some high-rise buildings. Needless to say, they don’t win. Part of the complication is that, because of difficulties generations ago, Mrs Brown has been landed with a tax bill for some millions of dollars. However, an old lady reveals that she has a document proving that the bill was paid. Again, needless to say, the Russians are after the document, Mrs Brown is after the document (leaving a rather well-mannered lawyer, who was afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, to do a filibuster in the court room until she gets back with the document).
So, it depends on whether you want to see and believe that Brendan O’ Carroll is Mrs Brown (who is not averse to suggesting to the audience, whom she regularly addresses to camera, that she is really a man). The film often makes play of the fact that it is a film, tearing down a backdrop to reveal a real building, Mrs Brown gazing to the sky as the camera zooms up there, telling us how much she likes movies because after falling into the river, she immediately appears dry! Yes, there are some outtakes during the final credits, but a whole lot of them are actually left in the action, actors falling laughing at having to repeat their lines.
The film is very Irish, playing on the old traditions, but it is also a reminder that Ireland has become very multicultural, especially with the character of the Indian stallholder whom they all refer to as being Jamaican - and that that is the richness of Ireland. At the end, Kate Brown, who will inherit the store from her mother, makes a strong, patriotic and sentimental speech in favour of Dublin.
And if this review sounds promising, by all means join the many fans of Mrs Brown and her Boys.
REACHING FOR THE MOON/FLORAS RARAS
Brazil, 2013, 118 minutes, Colour.
Miranda Otto, Gloria Pires, Tracy Middendorf.
Directed by Bruno Barretto.
Reaching for the Moon is a generic kind of title, which could be applied to any story. There is a meaning for its use for this film, explained at the end of where a central park in Rio under construction is to have lighting fixtures which are like bringing the moon and its light to the park.
It is 1961 and the first half of the 1960s.
This is a story of two strong women, the American poet, Elizabeth Bishop, and the Brazilian architect, Lota de Macedo Soares. Both were middle-aged, their lives intersecting, an unlikely duo, an unlikely friendship, which developed into a relationship of love.
While the central focus of the film is Elizabeth Bishop, a fine performance from Miranda Otto, there is a fiercely dynamic performance by Gloria Pires as Lota. Elizabeth Bishop was rather shy and somewhat retiring, while Lota was full of energy which ultimately led to her emotional and mental collapse.
We are introduced to Elizabeth Bishop sitting in Central Park, New York, with the poet Robert Lowell. He comments on her poetry, her particular style which could be interpreted as prose with pauses. His particular comment is quite telling. He suggests to Elizabeth that she has “observations broken into lines”. Somewhat diffident, she decides to go on a holiday and sails for Brazil. Connections have been made and Lota, along with her American partner, Mary (Tracy Middendorf) are there to meet her, Mary being a school friend of Elizabeth’s.
Audiences made to share Elizabeth’s edginess and appreciate her desire to return to the United States. However, the audiences also is made to feel the strong force of Lota’s personality, her interest in Elizabeth, the personal attraction, the sexual attraction which leads them both into a partnership.
The other attraction for Elizabeth is the beauty of Brazil and its mountains, forests and gardens, and the attraction of the city of Rio. This beautiful scenery is also a great attraction for the audience.
Elizabeth also realises that Lota has a political background, especially with her radical father with whom she does not communicate. a politician, The genial politician, Carlos, is a close friend, as well as an admirer of Elizabeth’s poetry. When he decides to nominate for Governor of Rio, Lota decides to actively participate in the campaign and, to collaborate, when there is a coup and a change of government. This is very difficult for the American, Elizabeth, to appreciate, especially the role of dictatorship as a form of government which Lota supports.
On the one hand, Elizabeth is left to herself, living in the beautiful house that Lota has designed and her own personal study. It is here that she has a creative period with the consequent book being awarded the Pulitzer Prize. On the other hand, she is lonely, still conscious of usurping Mary’s place in Lota’s affections and a somewhat unwilling party to Lota’s plan to placate Mary who wanted children, to adopt a local girl with Lota seen as grandmother and Elizabeth seen as an aunt.
The other factor is alcohol, Elizabeth very cautious about drinking on her arrival, but her drinking more and more, reinforces her loneliness and her emotional dependence on Lota.
The end of the film explains that Elizabeth Bishop is considered one of America’s greatest poets while Lota bequeathed a heritage, especially in her creative park in Rio. But, just before the end, the audience is involved in the emotional turmoil of the two women and its tragedy.
Bruno Barretto is one of real Brazil’s best-nine directors for such films as: Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, A Show of Force, Carried Away. This is a very empathetic film, for the two women and, always, for Brazil.
US, 2014, 99 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Andy Garcia, Jermaine Clement, Jamie Foxx, Will I. am, Rita Marino, Kristin Chenoweth, Rodrigo Santoro, Tracy Morgan, George Lopez.
Directed by Carlos Saldhana.
Rio was a very happy film, happy characters (allowing for the villain, Nigel). Rio 2 is also a very happy film, happy characters – and Nigel turning up again.
The film comes from the studios which produced the Ice Age films, so with these and the Rio films, a very good record for producing entertaining animation, popular with audiences. The animation style is very vivid, very bright colours, cheerful in themselves, well delineated characters, mostly birds, with some other eccentric animals and a range of humans, the sympathetic conservationists Linda and Tulio and the big boss and his squad of loggers with their heavy machines, sawing and dragging down the trees in the Amazon.
In fact, very little of the action takes place in Rio. Rather, we are mostly in the Amazon, not only with Blu, Jewel and their offspring but with a huge flock of blue birds – and some rival bright red birds on the opposite side of the gorge, all territorial, because of the scarcity of Brazil nuts. While the birds generally get on well together, their rivalry is tested in a battle, a kind of aerial soccer match, a kind of Brazil-nut Quidditch action game. This confrontation, along with an amassed attack by blue birds on loggers and drivers, with the red birds joining in the action, are the main adventurous parts of the plot.
The film pokes fun at the urbanisation of Blu and his family, the children knowing how to open a Brazil nut by opening the can, relying on their television and their iPads. It is obviously time that they went back to their roots and found other blue birds, which they did not know existed, and discover their true selves. It is not difficult for Jewel who discovers her father, Eduardo, the patriarch of the blue birds. The children settle into the outdoor life. But, it is rather hellish for Blu, still relying on his GPS, and who is dismissed disdainfully as “a human pet”. Unwittingly, he contravenes the boundaries - which sets up the need for the competitive aerial battle – and, even then, as he goes to the rescue, he makes a mistake putting him even further on the outer.
Nigel is in pursuit of Blu, but with a new assistant enamoured of him, Gabi, a rather sassy frog. They stumble upon auditions for a concert and the film pauses for some minutes while Nigel is invited to sing and he does a show-stopping version of I Will Survive. Nigel and Gabi eventually get tangled in the bird-attack on the loggers.
Characters from the first film are back again, all with entertaining supporting roles.
It is the voice cast which is very good. Jesse Eisenberg was Blu in the first film and he is very much at the centre of this one. Eisenberg has one of the most distinctive ways of delivering lines in films at the moment, a kind of stammering, hesitant, gawky, which has served him well for many roles, even for Mark Zuckerberg and the establishing of Facebook. He is perfect as Blue. Anne Hathaway is more generic as Jewel but Andy Garcia obviously relishes the opportunity to be the stern patriarch, Eduardo. Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro are Linda and Tulio. Jamie Fox and Will I.am are the two friends, and Miguel Ferrer is the voice of the Big Boss.
Rio to is as entertaining as its original. (Except for a warning that logging warriors in, say, Tasmania, might feel under siege from these birds.)
RISING FROM ASHES
US/Rwanda, 2013, 82 minutes, Colour.
Narrated by Forest Whitaker.
Directed by T.C.Johnstone.
Rising from Ashes is an impressive documentary as well moving one. Its focus is on Rwanda and the establishment in 2006 of the cycling team, Team Rwanda.
However, the film gives an outline of the events of 1994, the Hutu genocide of the Tutsi. This outline, spoken by narrator, Forest Whitaker, goes back to the 19th century, German colonial presence, the transition after World War I to Belgian authorities who considered the Tutsi to be more intellectually and culturally advanced than the Hutus and placed them in positions of authority and power. This led to decades of Hutu resentment which boiled over in 1994, April, with propaganda on radio and the media to rouse up Hutus to eliminate the Tutsis. Almost 1,000,000 people were killed in the few months in the middle of 1994, often bludgeoned to death, killed with machetes, with buildings, including churches, burnt. The film indicates some of the consequences – but does not go into the many arrests and trials in succeeding years, of killers, of politicians, of clergy.
The young men of this film were children during the genocide, many being scarred, a number losing parents and extended family.
In the succeeding decade, as these young men became adolescents, a number of them found their skill and their passion in life in bike riding. American cyclist, Tom Ritchie, visiting Rwanda, had the idea to set up a foundation which would encourage the sport, train the athletes, build them up to enter international competitions, and become a focal point for national pride. Ritchie appears in a number of interviews in the film. His main aim was to persuade a friend, former cycling champion, Jock Boyer, to come out of retirement, come to Rwanda (of which he knew nothing, even the genocide, and had to look on the map for its location) and be the coach for the team.
Boyer comes across as a very strong character. But he also mentions that after his cycling success, he behaved inappropriately with a minor and was jailed, finding the jail experience very hard and trying to settle back into life. He is persuaded to go to Rwanda and meets the young men. He is most impressed and takes on the job.
The film features several of the young men, most notably Adrian, who was eventually to go to the 2012 London Olympic Games. Of the initial 15, Boyer wanted to choose a team of five and specialise in training them. We hear them speak of their history, their ambitions, some rather sombre and not speaking English, some rather exuberant, speaking English. It is interesting to note later in the film that Jock Boyer was able to speak in French to the team.
The film takes events year by year from 2007 to the 2012 London Olympics. We see the young men in training, their strengths, their skills with mountain bikes, competitions, challenges, and the strong regime to keep them fit, exercise, meals – as well as the good humour and their working together.
The film keeps up its momentum year by year, showing the team eventually going first to South Africa and then to the United States, active in competitions, learning by experience.
At one stage, competition is held in Rwanda itself, giving the locals an opportunity to see their champions, to focus on them, and to start building national pride in the team.
In the latter part of the film, we see competitors in trials for getting a place in the Olympics, some generosity of team spirit as Adrian’s chain snaps and his partner instantly gives him his bike.
Boyer becomes an engaging personality, as we learn so much about him, see him in action with the group, firm, supportive. And we see the young men over a period of six years growing, changing, achieving.
This is a fine film about the sport which gives a great detail about the cycling itself but also takes us beyond to the human dimension as well as the social dimension in Rwanda, a contribution to building up spirit and national pride after the terrible events of 1994.
THE SELFISH GIANT
UK, 2013, 91 minutes, Colour.
Conor Chapman, Sean Thomas, Sean Gilder, Siobhan Finneran.
Directed by Clio Barnard.
While this contemporary film, a bleak look at life in Yorkshire, especially the children, is inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of The Selfish Giant, there is none of Oscar Wilde’s comedy, rather a reflection on his own sad experiences, his imprisonment, his being thrown back on awareness of human betrayal, love thwarted, separation from home and family, confinement leading to his death.
The director whose films come to mind while we are watching The Selfish Giant is Ken Loach, his films of social realism over many decades, especially his 1968 film about a young boy and a bird, Kes. But there was far more immediate uplift in Loach’s film.
This story focuses on two young boys, Arbor and Swifty. The performances by Conor Chapman and Sean Thomas are very fine indeed, completely credible, especially for Conor Chapman portraying a very disturbed young boy. We see this right from the beginning, his disturbed sleep, waking, hyper with his brother and mother, needing to take pills to steady him. His trouble at school, defying the teachers, defying other boys, but always relying on his friend, Swifty.
At the centre of the plot is the stealing of copper wire from the railways and selling it off to a dubious dealer, Kitten (Sean Gilder). Kitten is an abrupt man, living on the edge of the law, selling and reselling various goods, including the copper wire, and pocketing the money. To that extent, he is a bad influence on the two boys.
There are some lighter moments and touches, especially in a horse race with Swifty very concerned about the treatment of the horses. There is a sympathetic receptionist at the school where, after they are both suspended for misbehaviour, Swifty sits every day, influenced by his sad and earnest mother who urges him on to get an education. Swifty’s father is a brute of a man, yelling at his children, no patience or concern.
When tragedy strikes, Arbor hides himself, unable to deal with the events until some of the adults do some good for him – including, surprisingly, Kitten.
This is a first feature film from writer-director, Clio Barnard, who demonstrates and explores the sensibility and sensitivity to the young boys and their characters, their crises, seeming hopelessness. A number of reviewers have referred to the films treatment of its themes as “poetic” – a poetry of the goodness of life and the bleakness of human nature.
US, 2014, 94 minutes, Colour.
Cameron Diaz, Jason Segal, Rob Corrdrey.
Directed by Jake Kasdan.
Well, at least, the title is not trying to hide the theme of the film. On the other hand, this is a Hollywood comedy so it is not going to be too outrageous. And for those buying a ticket in anticipation of what the title might lead to, they will really have to wait till the end of the film to see the contents of the sex tape, and not too provocatively, really.
Before the credits, for about five minutes, the film starts to live up to its title: Annie (Cameron Diaz) is writing a blog, describing her meeting with Jay, their sexual experiences, then to love, then to marriage – and children - before the end of the credits! Jump a few years and they find they have practically no desire to make any sex tape, as busy as they are with their jobs and managing their children. In fact, they find they have practically no time for sexual activity.
Jay works for a radio company and works with music. We see Annie going to a meeting with a large company who promote toys and family products, charmed by her blog and what it could do for their image. The CEO of the company is played by Rob Lowe (whom diehard movie fans may remember had some sex tape problems of his own in the 1980s). He is a good sport and plays a variation on a leering Lothario.
One evening, they are unexpectedly free and send the children off to their grandmother. A lot of farcical attempts in the sex department, all proving failures. Then comes the brainwave to make a sex tape, three hours of their activity, culminating in Jay’s promise to delete. Plot-wise, of course he does not.
The rest of the film is not seeing the sex tape but rather the frantic efforts of Annie and Jay, along with their friends, Robby and Tesss who help them to recover it. It has gone out on a lot of iPads that Jay has given away as gifts. So, here we are in our modern cyberworld with unwelcome files spread far and wide, some knowing the technology to preserve them, others not knowing the technology to delete.
One of the search sequences involves Rob Lowe again with the two couples trying to spin stories of collecting for charity, Robbie and Tess having the brainwave to say that they are collecting used iPads for charity!
A consequence of this kind of tape is, of course, the possibility of blackmail, and that is what occurs as well, but there is a somewhat easy way out, as there is a crisis at the school social media performance when Jay realises the tape is on the hard drive of his son’s computer, just about to be displayed to the general public.
This may make the film sound very enjoyable and it has its moments. It is one of those entertainments that couples, indulging in a little prurience, might enjoy on a night out. Nothing more.
UK, 2013, 92 minutes, Colour.
Eddie Marsan, Joanne Froggatt.
Directed by Umberto Pasolini.
This is a film which one could recommend to audiences who want something that re-affirms the value of humanity. It is a small film, a comparatively little-known cast, but it is beautifully written and directed by Umberto Pasolini.
Have you ever wondered about what happens to people who have died alone, with few contacts or relatives, and what goes on before they are buried? Here are some answers.
The versatile actor, Eddie Marsan, who has had a strong career portraying supporting characters, coming through work with such directors as Mike Leigh, especially his star turn as a driving instructor in Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky. Here he plays John May, a 44-year-old man, living alone and without any friends, who conscientiously turns up at his council desk every day, visiting the homes or institutions where people have died, searching for some clues for contacts or relatives, filing them away, looking for the addresses of any possible contact or source of information, visiting conscientiously and patiently, explaining the situation to often-unwilling relatives, and he himself going to the funerals, often alone except for the officiating minister, gathering the ashes from some cremations and scattering them. At home, he puts their photos in an album which he obviously cherishes and looks at with great affection. And then, on the official documents, he writes “case closed”.
This might seem sad and pathetic, and in many ways it is. John May is a good man but seems never to have been able to relate intimately to anyone. There is no sign of any family. He is a meticulous man, a most tidy desk, a very neat kitchen, setting the table simply but well for his own meal.
One day he is summoned by his boss and told that there is reorganisation in several councils for carrying out his particular tasks. He is being let go. However, his final case concerns a lonely man with only a document or two, but nothing really to identify him. John makes it a personal quest, and is able to track down a fish and chips shop in the country where he discovers a former wife and a daughter, makes contact with the blind soldier who gives a most praiseworthy account of the dead man and his helping the blind man, and he buys a bottle of whiskey for two old friends, out on the street, who give their version of the dead man. John finally finds a daughter, goes to visit her and invites her to the funeral. He is able to build up a picture of the dead man, his qualities, his flaws, his responsibilities, his time in prison – enough to build up a small congregation to come to the man’s funeral.
The film builds up to a climax which we hadn’t anticipated, more pathos, but a very moving tribute to John May and all that is best in sympathetic human nature.
US, 2013, 80 minutes, Colour.
Tim Jennison, Pension Jilette, Teller, David Hockney.
Directed by Teller.
From Pinball Machines to painting Vermeer.
Tim, that is Tim Jennison, has had a most colourful life. He describes himself as an inventor – and the first part of the film is most interesting in showing all the things he got up to with his inventing and repairing, from the above-mention pinball machines to all kinds of engines and flight and, in the last 10 years, examining the painting and techniques of the Dutch painter of the 17th century, Johannes Vermeer.
This documentary has been written and produced by his longtime friend, Pen Jilette, very well-known along with his partner in magic shows and entertainment, Teller, who directs the film (and is momentarily seen in some of the sequences). tJilette narrates the film.
What interested Tim Jennison about Vermeer’s paintings is not only their beauty, but the strength of their light. Examining many of the paintings and thinking about them, he wondered whether there was some kind of optical device that enabled Vermeer to capture the colours and, especially the full light (more like a shot on video and painting by other masters), and the extraordinary detail of the beautiful compositions as well as the characters, the Girl with the Pearl Earring being possibly the best known. For his project, he chose The Music Lesson – housed, in fact, in Buckingham Palace where, we see, the Queen was reluctant for him to see the painting but relented, giving him 30 minutes to study the painting but with no cameras or devices.
The film takes us step by step in Tim’s venture, Tim emphasising that he was in no way a painter. We see him talking to a number of artists, especially David Hockney, who had been studying the variety of devices that the 17th century painters, especially in Holland, could have been using, a century of telescopes, magnifying glasses and other instruments. Tim sets up a Camera Oscura, explaining how it works in capturing an image and then projecting it, upside down, on a wall. He experiments with the Camera, with a variety of lenses which enabled the image projected to become much larger. He then experiments with lenses without the Camera and finds that the images can be protected, quite large, on walls.
Tim also has conversations with an expert on the eye, who give some information about the connection between the retina and the brain, the capacities of the eye for focusing, on seeing light, more than the artist could have seen for his painting.
The latter part of the film shows Tim enlarging the original image, painting the whole work of art over a period of more than four months, painstaking detail, day by day. It is a huge undertaking, especially for an inventor rather than a painter. Ultimately he completes the work and invites the experts to have a look at it, David Hockney being particularly complimentary at his skill in being able to recreate the light as well as the intricate detail.
Tim says that there is no written record of any help that Vermeer might have had, even of apprenticeship with a contemporary artist. The artists remind Tim that while there might not be any written documents, the paintings themselves are documents which can be studied and speculated on. It would seem that Vermeer used some kind of ocular device – and preserved its anonymity much like the inventor does not like others to see what has been created, protecting the creation by secrecy, or, in these days, by patents.
Many would regret that they had no opportunities to study fine arts when they are at school – and found themselves usually behind in appreciation of paintings. This is a fine opportunity for their horizons to be opened, for the skill of the artist and the wonder of the achievement.
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION
US, 2014, 165 minutes, Colour.
Mark Wahlburg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammar, John Reynor, Sophia Miles,
Voices of: Peter Cullen, John Goodman,
Directed by Michael Bay.
It’s not quite true to say, seen one Transformers movie, seen them all. Yes, there is a great deal of similarity in plots and characters in the first three films, but this one begins with a more human touch than usual.
Admittedly, there has already been a battle with the destruction of the city of Chicago, the Decepticons wreaking havoc on humans and buildings. And the retiring CIA chief, played with a villainous relish by Kelsey Grammar, is involved in secret plots to rid the world completely of Transformers. He sees himself as the complete Patriot, with hawkish no tolerance of Transformers.
In fact, the Autobots have been vanquished, have disappeared, in hiding, especially their leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). Fortunately for the plot of the film, he is hiding in Texas, disguised as a truck in a huge vintage cinema which is in a state of decay. Cade Yeager, an imaginative but impoverished technical inventor (played by Mark Wahlburg in his usual down-to-earth style) buys equipment as well as the old truck that he has discovered. Into the story comes his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and his longtime friend, Lucas (T.J.Miller). There is a reward for finding Transformers and Lucas is interested in it, even phoning the authorities – but, unfortunately, linking up with the CIA secret surveillance for Transformers. And in they come, in mass force, being watched by the CIA Director on massive screens, drawing on negotiation skills which have no effect and then resorting to weaponry, mass weaponry.
This begins a series of chasers, raids, assembling of Autobots, one sounding like John Goodman and looking like him as a bearded cigar-chomping warrior, help from Optimus, the gathering together of the Transformers and the discovery of the lengths of plotting by the CIA Director.
Enter an entrepreneur, Joshua (Stanley Tucci) who has the largest laboratories we have ever seen, working on reconstructing Transformers, in possession of transformium, discovered in the Arctic – the audience has seen in a prologue how the Transformers defeated the dinosaurs millions of millennia back – and the CIA hopes to defeat all Transformers with the aid of these controlled reconstructions.
There has to be a confrontation, of course, and that happens in Chicago, an extended, very extended, sequence of smashing and mayhem, The Autobots doing their best, Cade and his daughter and her boyfriend, a 20-year-old racing car driver from Ireland, getting caught up in all the action.
And this is where it should have ended – but director Michael Bay, ever the loud expert in booming action, thought that the fans needed more. And so the whole action moves to China for another almost-hour, laboratories and reconstructions, pursuit by Optimus Prime, Cade and family going along, complexities, some changes of heart, and a whole new extended, very extended, battle confrontation which will give Hong Kong the opportunity for extensive rebuilding after this Transformer showdown.
If you want to see Transformers: Age of Extinction, then the recommendation would be on the IMAX screen and in 3-D, some of the 3-D being the most effective for some time.
But, a review is rather superfluous. Fans will want to see the film, critical approval or not. Non-fans will not want to see it, critical approval are not. Transformers, from the Hasbro toys, to the animation films of the 1980s, to this particular franchise, is a movie phenomenon and that’s that.
VENUS IN FUR/VENUS A LA FOURRURE
France/Poland, 2013, 91 minutes, Colour.
Emmanuelle Seigner, Matthieu Amalric.
Directed by Roman Polanski.
Venus in Fur is an adaptation of the 19th-century novel by Leopold von Sacher- Masoch, from whose name the word masochism is derived.
But this film is not exactly a version of the novel. Rather, the writer, David Ives, has written a play, performed on Broadway, with the two central characters of the novel but in impersonations by the adapter of the novel for the play and an actress who turns up for an audition. This means that the film is a two-hander, the camera initially tracking up a darkening Paris street in cold weather and entering into a theatre where auditions are being held for the play (and, at the end, the camera tracks back out into the street).
The film relies on a great deal of dialogue coming from the play and capitalises on its action remaining inside the theatre for the whole of the performance, using many parts of the theatre, the audience seating area as well as the stage and adaptations of the lighting for effect.
This is a film by Roman Polanski, who has been making films for 50 years and turned 80 at the time of this film’s release. His previous film, Carnage, was also adapted from a play but was a four-hander, two couples in New York City confronting each other about bullying in the school – which turns into some bullying of each other. Polanski allows himself more restriction in this film but it is not exactly just a filmed play. Rather, each take is particularly set up and the film relies on a great deal of editing for the interaction.
Thomas, who has adapted the novel for the stage, is played by Matthieu Amalric. And the actress, Vanda, is played by Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, with whom he has collaborated on three other films. This is one of her best performances, a dominating performance.
Vanda has quite a repertoire of wiles. She can be ingenuous as happens when she first turns up late for the auditions, skimpy dress, chewing gum, seeming rather ignorant. She can be shrewd as she engages Thomas in conversations, often confounding him. She can be pushy, quickly winding Thomas around her finger so that he gives her an audition.
But, once the audition starts, Vanda (both the actress’s name and that of the character in Venus in Fur), is different, her manner changes, her diction becomes more refined, she proves to Thomas that she really can act. She virtually takes control of the audition, even persuading Thomas to reverse the roles so that she becomes the master of the house, Severin, and he puts on a dress and shawl to become Vanda.
Not only are the roles reversed but also the power play between the characters. In the 19th-century, it was expected that the man would dominate the woman – although women could become dominatrixes, wielding sadistic power and weapons for the man’s masochist experience. But here, it is the woman impersonating the man dominating the man impersonating the woman, a fascinating psychological reversal of the challenges for the audience as it responds to Vanda’s control of the situation. Finally, naked but with a fur, and with striking chord music, she performs a dominating dance illustrating the success of her power, leaving the man-impersonating-woman with a collar around his throat, tied, being led like a dog and finally completely bound.
Anyone thinking that this is something of a pop-erotic film will find it tedious for their sensibility and wonder why they came in. For audiences interested in the psycho-erotic, with top performances and direction from a master, it is a challenging psychosexual exploration.
France, 2013, 92 minutes, Colour.
Valerie Bonneton, Dany Boon, Dennis Menochet, Albert Delpy.
Directed by Alexandre Coffre.
Volcano is a slight French comedy, capitalising on the style of Valerie Bonneton and her timing and Dany Boon and his comic style.
This is a French version Planes, Trains and Automobiles, except that the couple are involved in the battle of the sexes, separated and bitter against each other, he having married again. The reason they are travelling is that they want to get to Greece for their daughter’s wedding.
It is the day that the volcano in Iceland in 2010 erupted stopping all air travel for several days. This means that the couple finish up travelling together, in a car and bickering which means that a young couple and their uncle cannot stand riding with them. They are careless with the hire car and it rolls backwards, eventually being run over by a truck. They stay in motels and actually have a sexual encounter. In Albania, they are welcomed at a Festival but he causes a disaster. They get a lift from a very religious man who ultimately ousts them. And finally, they travel by boat to Corfu but are arrested.
They arrive just in time to witness the wedding from the top of a mountain and then join in the celebrations – but all is not entirely well at the end of the film.
WORDS AND PICTURES
US, 2014, 111 minutes, Colour.
Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Amy Brenneman, Bruce Davison.
Directed by Fred Schepisi.
It does depend on one’s sensibility, some have a love for words, a relish for the words and their meanings, and wordplay; others have a passion for pictures, colours and design, the immediate impact of a picture which is worth a thousand words.
This is one of the premises for this romantic comedy – with some edge.
At first we see Clive Owen as Jack Marcus, a talented literature teacher, urging his students to be creative in their imaginations and write up images that have not been heard before. He has an eager honours class because this is a distinguished Preparatory School. We see Dina Delsanto, an art teacher from a school which is closing down and who is hired to teach the same eager honours class. The initial encounter has a sardonic edge to it, Jack trying to make an impression and inviting her to participate in his game of going through the alphabet successively and naming words with five syllables. Dina is not particularly impressed.
So, it is clear, that Jack is a man of words and Dina is a woman of pictures. In their arguments, we see a touch of the battle of the sexes, then the competitiveness leads to a war between words and pictures, the aim of the war is to have a confrontation in the presence of all the staff and students, Jack to provide 1000 words and Dina to provide a picture.
In the meantime, we see that Jack is an alcoholic, his job is under threat, he is to undergo a review, with interviews by many of the staff. And, in the meantime, the audience has seen that Dina walks with a crutch because of her rheumatoid arthritis. Jack’s drinking takes the better of him as he makes a show himself in a local elite restaurant. Dina holds him in something of contempt.
As regards drama, there is the focus on Jack, his editing of the school magazine, the promise of a poem, where he uses a deception to promote himself, his sense of embarrassment in the presence of his son and, because of Dina, leading him to AA meetings. Dina is cared for by her sister and has an operation for knee reconstruction. And, audiences anticipating some kind of rapport between the two will not be disappointed -although this leads to further antagonisms.
Quite a deal of attention is given to paintings and discussion about paintings, especially the need for a painting not just to appeal to the brain but also to the heart and emotions. Quite a deal of attention is given to the value of words, the syllables game, the derivations and meanings of words.
The film was directed by Fred Schepisi who made his mark in Australian filmmaking in the 1970s with The Devil’s Playground and, his masterpiece, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. Schepisi has directed quite a number of international film including The Russia House and Roxanne. His previous film to this was The Eye of the Storm from the novel by Patrick White.
The film is interesting because of the two characters and the place of this film in their careers. They clash – but not forever. So, this film is in the tradition of romantic comedies but with welcome emphasis on the value of words and on the power of pictures.