SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS JUNE 2009
ANGELS AND DEMONS
DRAG ME TO HELL
LAST CHANCE HARVEY
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2
POUR ELLE (ANYTHING FOR HER)
(US, 2009, d. Renny Harlin)
No, not a boxing or wrestling film – though it has been produced by a wrestling association because its star, John Cera, has been a professional wrestler. Nor is it a film, despite the title, about pub crawls. This is a police and crime thriller with stunts, chases, explosions and effects and a hero who is asked to be so alert that he is able to keep pace with a mastermind master criminal who sets his opponent 12 rounds of puzzles and a time limit to solve them, otherwise...
Actually, one of the most striking stars of the film is the city of New Orleans itself in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We see so many of the different neighbourhoods of the city which provide location and backdrop for the tasks.
The puzzles and solving them seem rather far-fetched. No, 'rather' is too subdued a word. They are very far-fetched. However, that is the point of the plot and of Renny Harlin's action-packed direction. Buildings are blown up. A fire engine careers through the street. The culmination takes place in a helicopter above the city. However, every review should mention a really exciting and well-filmed crisis: the breaks going on a streetcar which is full of passengers, rushing headlong along its tracks in the middle of the city with the policeman getting on the roof to try stop it by disconnecting the power. We can't help being and feeling on edge.
Harlin directed the second Die Hard film as well as Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight so he knows how to do this kind of action no matter how wooden the hero, no matter how sneering and superior the villain (Aden Gillen), now matter how basic the script.
ANGELS AND DEMONS
(US, 2009, d. Ron Howard)
May to August in the northern hemisphere spring and summer is a time for almost weekly release of blockbusters with huge budgets, action and effects and potential for high grosses at the box office. 2009 has seen Wolverine, Star Trek, followed by Angels and Demons, with Night at the Museum 2, Transformers 2 and Terminator Salvation in the offing.
Here is a doomsday plot, murder mystery, action thriller with a cast led by Tom Hanks as symbologist Robert Langdon and Ewan Mc Gregor as the Vatican Camerlengo and an international cast portraying scientists, police, bishops and cardinals.
Angels and Demons, unlike the film of The Da Vinci Code, is fast-paced, the L'Osservatore Romano review referring to Ron Howard's dynamic direction. It also used the word 'commercial' as well as noting that it was 'harmless entertainment' and not a danger to the Church.
In fact, the film treats the church quite interestingly, scenes behind a conclave and inside the conclave, fine sets of the Sistine Chapel, the interiors of St Peter's, Castel San Angelo, the Vatican Necropolis, the Swiss Guards centre, the Vatican archives and several churches with art by Bernini. The film won't harm tourism to Rome or to the Vatican. Probably, the contrary.
The issue is science and religion. There are some very impressive scenes of CERN in Switzerland where the Big Bang was re-created in 2008. Dan Brown, writing years earlier, posited this explosion and the formation of anti-matter which is then used as a terrorist threat in Rome. Arguments are put forward about the church's record in persecuting scientists in past centuries, especially Galileo (true) with some inquisitorial interrogations and tortures. The material about the Illuminati, the underground society of scientists has some foundation but was not as extensive as speculated on here – a kind of Masonic brotherhood of scientists. (They appeared in the first Lara Croft film without anybody taking to controversy.)
One of the issues facing the conclave in the film is the Church in the Modern World vis-a-vis science, with the dialogue for the meeting of ideas of science and theology or extremist attitudes towards religion capitulating to science and so destroying the church – the point being that this kind of fanatic stance can become a cause, righteously crusading with violence against those who hold more moderate views – leading to what could be labelled 'ecclesiastical terrorism'.
Oh, the tale has so many plot-holes (with the action moving so fast you don't quite have time to follow through on them) that they don't bear thinking about – so, either one sits irritated at the inaccuracies about dates and historical figures and driven up the wall by the lack of coherence in the course of events or, as one does, offer a willing suspension of disbelief and enjoy the action for what it is, a lavishly-mounted, pot-boiling thriller.
(UK, 2008, d. Jon Wright)
A visually murkey look at a murkey football hooligan group in Liverpool.
You probably need to be a strong fan of this kind of football film (although there are no visuals of any match, only the fans and their shouting in support during play and their brawling with opposition thugs) to be interested in Awaydays.
The central character seems to be miscast or the writer has given him contradictory things to do. At some stages he seems withdrawn and quiet with a potential for doing something worthwhile with is life. At other times, he is unelievably brutal and sexually aggressive. His close friend (whom he can drop without much compunction) is also contradictory, an addict, tagging along with the local gang but then a seemingly closet romantic.
This is offered as a slice of Liverpool life but the characters do not really engage our attention as they might and the string of episodes (with their contradictions) don't quite gel as a satisfying plot.
DRAG ME TO HELL
(US, 2009, d. Sam Raimi)
The film opens and closes with sequences which show, precisely, what the title means and entails.
Sam Raimi and his brother, Ivan, loved exploitation horror and produced a trilogy of Evil Dead scary filmfests from 1981, when he was 22, to 1992. Along the way he directed a wide range of films that audience fans of his horror and his Spiderman series tend to forget: a striking western, The Quick and the Dead, a comic-book hero with Liam Neeson, Darkman, a fine suspense drama, A Simple Plan, an occult thriller, The Gift, and even a baseball tribute with Kevin Costner, For Love of the Game, all this between 1990 and 2000.
He has decided to go back to the horror but, perhaps in the light of the popularity of Spiderman, he has mostly avoided gore and bloodshed and gone for a treatment that will entertain audiences who are younger and older. There are plenty of creepy moments and some jump-out-of-your-seat shocks. He has shrewdly created a mixture of ordinary scenes in banks, apartments and cars along with some eerie locations, a mansion where a medium operates and the shop and office of a seer fortune-teller. But, it is in the bank itself where the mood changes as Cristine (Alison Lohman) who is eager to become assistant manager and make hard decisions refuses an old woman, Mrs Ganush (who has some quite repulsive personal hygiene and dental behaviour) an extension of a loan for her house. Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver) feels she is shamed and curses Christine. And, off we go.
Christine's professor boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long) is sceptical but goes along with her seeking a fortune teller and reading up about the spirit Lamia and its possessing people. As might be expected, she has a nightmare which has her waking up screaming. She also has hallucinations. Mrs Ganush makes plenty of alarming appearances.
Raimi is very skilful in keeping the balance between realism and the horror with touches of ironic humour, so that, Drag Me to Hell, does very well what it sets out to do.
(UK, 2009, d. Pete Travis)
A film about apartheid but this time a story behind the scenes.
Veteran writer, Paula Milne, has taken the story of Michael Young, an executive with a British company trading in gold in South Africa, who visited the country, heard stories of the exploitation of black Africans and the increasing violence of the police during the 1980s and decided to pursue talks for improving the situation in the country. He was commissioned to do this because of trade and profit reasons but, during a process which went on for several years, he became more and more personally involved and the issue became a cause.
After listening to a talk in London by Thabo Mbeki (who was to become Nelson Mandela's successor as president) and an appeal for money to talk – but this time for social justice – he make enquiries in South Africa and contacted an Afrikaner philosophy lecturer, Dr Willie Esterhuyse who agreed to participate in the talks. They were to be held at a secret location in Somerset. However, South African intelligence chief, Neil Barnard, became aware of the plans and urged the professor to act as an informer to P.W.Botha's government about the contents of the talks and the stances of the ANC.
The film takes its audience into the talks, to listen to the viewpoints of the ANC, the fears of the white South Africans if the blacks were to have power, the financial problems, the issue of terror (and the film shows an incident of a bomb exploding in a busy street) and the release of Nelson Mandela who had spent almost 30 years in prison.
While all the depths of discussions, prejudices and fears cannot be dealt with in a narrative film of 90 minutes, Endgame does a good job of communicating the key elements. Director Pete Travis has made some interesting docudramas and feature films that tackle controversial political issues and bring them to the screen in a vivid way that demands audience attention (Omagh, Vantage Point).
The cast is very strong. Chiwitel Ejiofor is Thabo Umbeki, William Hurt is the professor, Jonny Lee Miller is Michael Young, Derek Jacobi the company head, Mark Strong is the sinister head of intelligence who has to re-think policy quite pragmatically and Timothy West is a blustery Botha. Clarke Peters is Mandela, seen in prison on Robben Island, invited to discussions with government representatives and then in his final more comfortable prison home culminating in his release.
Now that the apartheid era is passing into history, films about South Africa serve as a reminder of that past. And this one reminds us of the power of talk, negotiation and possibilities for compromise for progress which is long and painstaking but can lead to change – as it did in South Africa, and even went further in truth and reconciliation.
(US, 2009, d. Dito Montiel)
The title tells it. The fighting is bareknuckle confrontations that draw city crowds to clandestine locations with huge bets made. There is some background story but it is familiar material: the young man who is down on his luck, the promotor who becomes an alternate father-figure, the chance encounter with a girl (a single mother) who has some secrets, the rivalry with an opponent from college days, home resentments, build-up to a tough bout and some twists about money. If that appeals, then Fighting is your film. If not, not.
Writer Dito Monteil made an autobiographical film about growing up in Queens, New York City in the 1980s, A Guide to Recognising Your Saints. He obviously knows the tougher sides of the city. He makes Manhattan something of a character in this film. The performers are Channing Tatum who makes the central character credible enough as a person and as a fighter. The promoter is played by Terrence Howard in a typical performance. There are assorted bookmakers, gangsters and a scene stealing Hispanic grandmother who has definite ideas about everything.
More moderate than it might have been.,
(US, 2008, d. Jackie Oudney)
Is there such a thing as a French Film? Indeed, yes, and the French would be the first to say so. In this British French film, it is the very English journalist, Jed (Hugh Bonneville) who says it first. He is watching a Master Class by a celebrated director, Thierry Grimandi (played with all the right seriousness by former footballer and now actor and the subject of Ken Loach's Looking for Eric). It is driving him mad: the ponderous musings on l'amour, the pretentious observations about the end being in the beginning, the intrusive closeups of eyes and of coffee cups. His partner of 10 years, Cheryl (Victoria Hamilton) thinks it is all romantic. In fact, they are off to see a counsellor, played with just the right laconic sympathy by Jean Deal. Jed has proposed. Cheryl has said no. Did he want to say yes or to say no?
Jed's friend Marcus (Douglas Henshall) and his girlfriend, Sophie (Anne Marie Duff) are having a meal with Jed and Cheryl despite the bad counselling session and x reveals how he and Sophie met. She saved his life as he was going to jump for a bridge. Marcus is a Grimaldi fan and this story will come up again with a twist at the end of the film.
Marcus falls in love with his childhood sweetheart who has just reappeared in his life. Sophie is bewildered. Jed and Cheryl have some breakthrough sessions which alter their lives. And, all the time, Grimandi comments are intercut and the British love story becomes more and more French, even to the cofee and the close-ups. When Jed actually interviews Grimandi on stage, the love story comes to a head.
And, if that sounds intriguing, then you will just have to see it to find out how it all works out. Nicely acted., well-written, observant with tongue-in-cheek, British light but French serious.
(UK/Germany, 2008, d. Vicente Amorim)
This is a film one would like to praise more than one can. It is worth seeing because of its themes: the ordinary, 'good' German who is anti-Nazi in principle, who has a literary and cultured background but who, thinking that Hitler cannot last, is more compliant than he realises, gradually succumbing to invitations to join the party, susceptible to flattery and finishing as a 'consultor' SS official, though he prefers to be called professor. Seemingly small concessions and decisions that have momentous consequences does make the final sequence of the film even more devastating.
However, there is something not quite affecting in the treatment of the theme. Perhaps it is the theatrical origins in C.P.Taylor's play. Perhaps there is a staginess or some artificiality about the attempts at a realistic, even naturalistic setting. The same is true of many of the performances. The touch of magic realism where the professor hears music and sees groups singing when he faces some crisis is actually well done and acceptable.
The settings and the re-creation of Nazi Germany (in Hungary) are effective. The increasing persecution of the Jews pervades the latter part of the film, culminating in riots, arrests and trucks taking Jews away to the camps. This contrasts with the glimpse of a film being made of the professor's book, and his being congratulated by Goebbels, elegant Nazi parties, home dinners and the generally calm, even civilised manner of the Nazi characters despite their actions (with a principally British cast).
At the centre is Viggo Mortensen's quite different performances from, say, Eastern Promises or The Lord of the Rings. He is reticent, awkward, bookish, despite his serving in World War I. His marriage is strained. He cares for his mentally disturbed mother. He succumbs to the very Aryan student who makes a play for him. He supports, then abandons, then tries to help his Jewish friend, a psychiatrist played by Jason Isaacs. Mark Strong is always good and is a Chancery adviser. Gemma Jones is the mother.
The film is worthy. Sometimes we might feel we are observing from outside and then are drawn into the film emotionally even while there are more abstract discussions about life, euthanasia, mental disability as well as the destruction of human rights and dignity. However, the climax in the concentration camp with the prisoner band playing, the haggard workers walking by and the children and women moving towards the furnaces is striking and shocking.
(UK, 2008, d. Marek Losey)
Based on a play, The Sociable Plover, this film version, by the playwright Tim Whitnall himself, is very much dialogue-driven. In fact, one could shut one's eyes and simply listen and it would be a telling radio play. However, there are effective things going on on screen so it is worth keeping one's eyes open.
Filmed on a lonely stretch of coast in Kent, an ornithologist arrives to look for a sociable plover. He is absolutely meticulous on having everything in order, everything neat, everything noted and annotated. His is 40ish, balding, bespectacled and lacks a capacity for jokes who tells his visitor that he was once on the news because of his garden gnomes but the BBC were too busy to make a copy of it for him. That's what he is like. His name is Roy Tunt and he is played very well by Alex Mac Queen.
The visitor referred to is David John (Philip Campbell), somewhat haggard and mysterious, who wanders around the hide where Roy is looking for the birds. After some tentative suspicions, the two begin to talk, share a sandwich (which becomes more relevant as the film goes on) and some beef tea. We learn something about each of them.
With this kind of two-hander, the audience tends to make up their minds about the characters on immediate evidence. However, as with this kind of film, there is more than meets the eye and judgments need to be reserved until the end.
The dialogue is effective, if stagey (with an influence from the enigmatic statements and pauses of playwrights like Beckett or Pinter). The director of the film is Marek Losey, a grandson of the celebrated director, Joseph Losey.
LAST CHANCE HARVEY
(US, 2008, d. Joel Hopkins)
Who said romance is dead by 70? Probably no one, but it can serve as a nice reflection to introduce a review of this film about older people. Dustin Hoffman was 70 when he made it and Emma Thompson 48.
Harvey Shine is a would-be jazz pianist who writes jingles for commercials. He has his cantankerous moments and is about to be let go by his company. However, he has to go off to London for his daughter's wedding. Actually, he hasn't been much of a husband or father and he is on the outer with his family (daughter, Liane Balaban, wife Kathy Baker and her husband, James Brolin).
In the meantime, we are introduced to Kate Walker, played by Emma Thompson. She is one of those women in a uniform that hover at airports to ask statistical questions. After his flight, Harvey is in no mood to answer her. She herself is a loner and sometimes socially awkward and has not found the right man. Her mother (Eileen Atkins) is worried about her and is an incessant phone ringer (especially when she is suspicious of her new Polish neighbour and fears he is a murderer).
Harvey's and Kate's paths cross again quite credibly at the airport and they strike up a conversation, initially quite reluctantly on her part. But, despite her saying that she can be mean-minded, she warms to Harvey's honesty and persuades him to go back to his daughter's wedding reception – which really changes both their lives around. The speeches are quite moving. This part of the film is warm-hearted and reminds us that reconciliation is possible and brings grace to a family.
The film is a mixture of stiff upper lip and heart on sleeve (which is amusingly discussed) so that the romance is sweet without being sickly sweet and there are touches of realism in the screenplay which give us hope for Harvey and Kate despite all the unlikely elements.
The scenes of London itself, especially along the Thames at Southbank, are very welcome. But, the success and appeal of the film is in the unobtrusively expert performances of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.
MAX MANUS (MAX MANUS MAN OF WAR)
(Norway, 2008, d. Espen Sandberg and Joachim Roenning)
World War II Resistance movements. There have been quite a number as subject of films in recent times, Flame and Citroen (Denmark), L'Armee du Crime (France), Katyn (Poland), even Tarantino's imaginative history, Inglourious Basterds. Now Max Manus, one of the most decorated of Norway's war heroes. This film has been very popular in Norway – and could travel well.
We accompany Max as a 25 year old fighting against the Russians in Finland in 1940. When the Finns are defeated, as is the Norwegian army, he becomes active in the Resistance. A group of young men show extraordinary skills in sabotage, especially blowing up the Employment Office in broad daylight. Max emerges as the leader. Even when he is arrested in his home, he leaps from his second storey window, and survives. He also escapes from hospital, continuing his work despite the deaths of so many friends. The urbane head of the Gestapo makes it a goal to capture Manus.
Moving between Sweden and Norway, Max brings his action to completion with the sabotaging of an arms and troops ship not long before the war ends.
The film continues after the end of the war, giving the screenplay and the audience an opportunity to reflect on the effect of the war on its heroes and how they deal with peacetime after devoting so much energy and idealism to the waging of a resistance war. Max Manus lived until 1996. Aksel Hennie as Max leads a fine cast in a film which is both history and tribute.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE FOR THE SMITHSONIAN
(US, 2009, d. Shawn Levy)
We've been here before and have befriended quite a number of the characters. So, why not another visit? It is much the same as the first, although the great advantage then was the novelty of the plot and the situations, the variety of historical characters and creatures which were a delight. Since, there is no real new novelty, this sequel has to rely on charm, wit and some more inventiveness. Not quite the same as the first time round, but plenty of enjoyable moments.
Actually, Ben Stiller as Larry Daley is not as bright and breezy as the first night. He has become an inventor and is on a TV promotion show with George Foreman, caught up in ads and business. Lucky for him, he is appealed to by his friends, the exhibits, because there are renovations going on in the New York museum and some problems at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. What else can he do but infiltrate the Smithsonian and help the goodies against the baddies?
The goodies this time include the cowboy and centurion friends, Jedediah and Octavius (Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan). But Amelia Earheart materialises in the form of Amy Adams and is in for the adventure as well as some flirting with Larry Daley (and a stream of phrases and slang from the 20s and 30s which he does not understand). The villain is Kahmunrah from ancient Egypt who has world domination in mind. Hank Azariah gives a fine comic performance (with Boris Karloff accent and lisp as well). He gets help from Napoleon (who resents the references to height), played by Alain Chabat and Ivan the Terrible (who says the translation should be 'Awesome'), Christopher Guest. Al Capone and his henchmen are there, but in black and white. The statue of Lincoln from the memorial also comes across to lend a hand and good advice.
The dinosaurs and mammoths are back, and the monkeys, but also a giant squid. Custer is there as well and redeems himself for Little Big Horn.
One of the attractions is the number of classical paintings that come alive and that Larry and Amelia fall into, as well as a black and white end of World War II photograph. There is also Rodin's the Thinker – but he he not too bright!
The ending is nice (and even Ricky Gervais as the director is nice now) and the exhibits are having the time of their new lives communicating with the museum visitors.
(US, 2009, d. Steve Shill)
Any time is probably a good enough time for a re-run of the Fatal Attraction story. It is a perennial.
This time it involves a sensible financial adviser, played with quiet sobriety by Idris Elba, his wife, who used to be his assistant, played by Beyonce Knowles, and a temp in the office who won't take no for an answer, Ali Larter. The leads play African American characters and the temp(tress) is a blonde and white. However, this is simply presented as a reality and the screenplay does not make any allusions to race issues.
The setting is affluent and glossy. The family have moved into one of those LA mansions for professionals that we see so often in the movies and on television. There are lots of aerial views of the glass skyscrapers and the LA skyline.
Ali Larter is particularly good as the determined woman who is so caught up in her own obsessions that she can't imagine anyone thinking differently. When rejected, she becomes vengeful. The counterbalance is with the devoted wife who, on hearing of the possibility of her husband having an affair with this woman (whom she had instantly disliked), almost goes off the deep end, doing some unreasonable ranting and raving against the husband that only five seconds earlier she had devotedly loved (which means that the performance goes Beyonce belief!).
However, the film is watchable, Elba eliciting audience sympathy as his situation becomes more desperate and he is interrogated by a detective (a welcome Christine Lahti). No rabbits in the boiler this time, but the femme fatale does make a mess of the new mansion.
POUR ELLE (ANYTHING FOR HER)
(France, 2008, d. Fred Cavaye)
Pour Elle is an interesting drama, quite intense at times.
The film opens with Julien (Vincent Lindon) with blood on his hands in a car. There is a quick transition to a happy family, Julien with his wife, Lisa (Diane Kruger) and their young son. Suddenly, the police arrive at the door and the wife is arrested for murder and imprisoned.
While the film shows the effect of prison on the wife as well as the alienation of her son over the three years before her appeal, the focus is on Julien and his coping with his son but also with his efforts to free his wife. With the turning down of the appeal (and the audience knowing she is innocent and that this is a miscarriage of justice because of circumstantial evidence), he becomes ever more determined to get her out of jail. For the rest of the film, this is his obsession, minutely detailed planning and the suspense of whether he will be able to carry out his plan or not. A series of desperate situations, or turns of fate, means that the audience becomes more and more emotionally involved. It is something like us against them, the audience and the family against the police.
It is interesting to watch how ingenuity can win the day against the best police procedures – but the film ends with the reflection from a criminal who made several escapes: escaping is easy; it is staying free that is difficult.
(US, 2009, d. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)
A few years ago, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck made an offbeat story with an Oscar-nominated Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson. Their follow-up film is also admirable.
In fact, this film is rather subversive (in a very positive way) of the cliché of the American dream, that anyone can become the president or fulfil their most ambitious dreams. It advocates the value of ordinariness, self-acceptance and happiness in doing what is right and what one is good at in one's circumstances.
This is a baseball film which is more than usually friendly to the baseball-ignorant. While there is plenty of baseball for enthusiasts and for those who like noting techniques for pitching, there is much more going on. The first part of the film is set in the Dominican Republic (filmed there) where we see the US training camps for the locals. Apparently, after Americans, the biggest number of players in the Majors come from the Dominican Republic. The hope is to be sent to the US, to be chosen for the main leagues, to send money back to support families.
The film follows the career of one of them, Miguel Santos (whose nickname is Sugar), a 19 year old who has learnt carpentry from his now-deceased father and lives with his mother, brother and sister and his grandmother. They are poor but live in hope that he is picked for the US. He is.
This means that the film is not only about life in the Dominican Republic but about those who migrate to the US, with their culture problems, difficulties in language, finding another world. Eventually, he boards with a midwest family, traditional and religious, but devoted to baseball, who show him kindness and hospitality. Miguel has to move towards his adulthood with all these pressures, plus his demands on himself and his expectations for his performance. Algenis Perez Soto seems completely at home in the role, quietly convincing.
The film does not develop as audiences might anticipate and is all the better, much, much better, in fact, with a great warmth, respect for people and human dignity.
(US, 2009, d. MCG)
There are incessant slams and even more bangs in this slambang fourth edition of the Terminator saga.
If you are not up-to-date on the details of the series (which began as long ago as 1984), then it is recommended that you find a Terminator geek and get filled in on the plot background – because it deals with time travel which makes no realistic logical sense except, maybe, on the screenplay page. Otherwise, look up the IMDb and check with the plot information there, which I did (and found it actually did remind me of the past stories and explained what had happened and how this plot fits in quite well with what has gone before!).
MCG, or McG (for Joseph Mc Ginty) has directed two Charlie's Angels films, so he knows how to do action stuff. Here, he has been given free rein and has taken it. The film looks distinctive. He has opted for a desaturated look, minimal colour, for what is a very bleak post-apocalyptic landscape of LA and the California desert. Since machines are dominating humans, this atmosphere is quite dehumanised as the pocket resistance groups try to survive against the ever more powerful terminator constructs. And there are plenty of chases, pursuits, menacing, fights, battles to illustrate this. The film also has a pounding Danny Elfman score, with beating drums, and sound engineering which seems to make the cinema reverberate. Technically, with the design of the Terminators and their superhuman, supermachine abilities and activities, and the creation of the bleak sets, the film is well crafted.
And the plot? We are in 2018. John Connor (Christian Bale) is heading the resistance. He is married with a pregnant doctor wife (Bryce Dallas Howard). Out there is the teenage Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) who, we know from the previous films, will go back to 1984 in 2029 to save John Connor's mother who is threatened by the original Terminator (and this time we have a flashback of the governor of California from that film). Connor, of course, wants to save him from destruction, especially after he hears that he has been captured along with a mute little girl and a grandmother-figure (Jane Alexander).
A complication comes in the character of Marcus whom we see executed in 2003 but signing away his body to an agent of Skynet (Helena Bonham Carter). You will have guessed that he is made the subject of a machine experiment, human heart and brain combined with metal – and a mission to kill John Connor. As played by Sam Worthington, he becomes a more interesting and sympathetic character than John Connor himself, befriending the prisoners and determined to rescue them, unaware of his human-machine constitution and not knowing that he is to kill Connor.
Given these bases, the plot is rather predictable – but that doesn't really matter as we are swept along with the action (which includes an interesting reverse parallel chase to Terminator 2 where a menacing truck pursued the young John on a motor bike whereas here, Marcus in a truck pursues an evil terminator on a bike) – and we are subdued into submissive acceptance by the beating score and the pounding sound.
(UK, 2009, d. Jon Wright)
Yet, another slasher film. The difference with this one is that it is British and is set amongst a group of students in their final year at school (though they seem older and their language and behaviour seems older, although their humour and sex references are often of the dirty schoolboy (or schoolgirl) variety. In that way it is not unlike some of the American films.
However, some more thought has gone into the screenplay. We see the head girl being marched off by the police at the opening and then go back five days to discover that a fat and bullied boy has killed himself – and that he was infatuated by Justine, the head girl, even though she did not know him. She herself is trying to mix with the 'in' group who are in fact the ones that bullied him – and are dispatched by the ghost throughout the film. Some gory aspects there.
At one stage the class discuss Macbeth and Banquo's ghost and Justine says the reason only Macbeth sees the ghost is because of his guilty conscience. Is that a clue as to what is really happening in the film?
Irritating kids which makes you less sorry that they are killed off. But, a bit better than your average this kind of thing.
(US, 2008, d. Anna Biller)
Not one for your 'must-see list'.
By the end of its two hour running time, one asks oneself has one really sat through all that – and how and why?
Anna Biller sees herself as a subversive film-maker. Well, she is certainly a film-maker. For Viva, she plays the main role (not really acted), wrote, produced and directed, edited, wrote the songs (and sang one), did production design and even played the organ in the ensemble for the score. It is definitely her film.
It is a spoof of what seems now very mannered early 1970s filming, especially softcore pornographic films which were being seen more and more in cinemas at that time: bright colours, miniskirts and flares, big hair, long hair, provocative posing and camp diction, line delivery and behaviour all round. This could have made a very funny 15 to 30 minute short film, keeping the acting po-faced and badly artificial, introducing parody lines and characterisations and sending up the suburban prurient curiosity, the faux feminism and liberal views on the body and sexuality and the American penchant for having everything come right in the end, even morally, even if it does not really follow from all that has gone before.
At the end, the two women, Barbie and her neighbour have decided that they are finished with their wild ways and are looking forward to quiet wifeliness and motherhood. Dressed like Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, they belt out what starts like the girls from Little Rock song and veers into something lesser but similar and all is forgiven – but those two hours!
Sitting through the two hours. The film becomes more and more intentionally serious, if not in fact, as it goes on - although some of the cast keep up the pseudo-acting while Anna Biller herself as Barbie (of course) becomes sex goddess, Viva. To watch several doing parody (overdoing it a lot of the time, strained hearty laughing, tut-tutting at innuendo, playboy erotic poses) while we are meant to be concerned over what is happening to Barbie (and what is not happening to her), poor babe in the sexual woods, abounding in wolves, is a bit of a strain.
Unfortunately, Anna Biller fancies herself as a sex goddess, given the role of self-consciously sexy housewife, pining lonely wife, willing call girl and centre piece of an artist's orgy that she writes for herself. But, if you have ever seen that fine actress Catherine O'Hara (so good in Christopher Guest's parodies) or the late Madeline Kahn, Anna Biller looks a bit like them, except that her face is generally contorted throughout the film in an incipient-rictus-seductive-smile-turning-into-a-snarl. This doesn't really make her look romantic despite all the other exhibitionistic exposure.
The plot any of us could have made up as we went along, especially if we have seen this kind of film. The direction must have been for the cast to decide on some idiosyncracies that might illustrate their characters (or lack thereof) and play them for all they were worth. Since that isn't much, neither are the performances.
But, there is Viva in the cinema marketplace and a winner in some underground festivals. No accounting for tastes – or the tasteless.