SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS JUNE 2012
DECLARATION OF WAR
DELICATESSE, La/ DELICACY
EMPIRE OF SILVER
FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT, The
FRIENDS WITH KIDS
GET THE GRINGO
MEN IN BLACK 3
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
ROYAL AFFAIR, A
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING
Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Cristina Ricci, Colm Meaney,
Directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod.
The story of a cad. Based on the story by Guy de Maupassant, and filmed in the 1940s with George Sanders in the title role, this is a film set in La Belle Epoque, Paris in the 1890s.
Georges Du Roy comes from a poor and illiterate family and has just spent five years as a soldier in Algeria. We see him looking in from the outside on the wine, women and song culture of the period. He is envious. However, out he goes and encounters, by chance, a fellow soldier who is now a journalist for a prominent Paris newspaper. He offers Georges an opportunity at a meal at his house. He meets the editor but he also meets three wives – and we know that his intentions are not honourable.
Georges is played by Robert Pattinson, which proves a contemporary difficulty, disengaging his character from Twilight’s Edward. The other difficulty is that Georges is a callow young man (empty as one of the women will later accuse him). He has a certain charm, a smiling charm, but his self-centred opportunism is not attractive at all. With the help of his benefactor’s wife, Madeleine (Uma Thurman), who dictates his first article, he succeeds at the newspaper but his laziness threatens to lose him his position and income.
In the meantime, he has taken up with one of the wives, Collette (CristinaRicci), bored with her husband and delighted to have an affair, and pay for a love nest, with Georges. He charms her young daughter who nicknames him Bel Ami, which is taken up by other characters. When Madeleine’s husband dies, he determines to marry her and does. Her enthusiasm for news research and reporting and the editor’s aim to bring down the government means that Georges is now contributing to the political action in Paris.
But, he is treated as a boy. His revenge is to seduce Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas), the editor’s wife. She becomes besotted by him. He also takes up with Collette again.
When a political situation occurs, which means corruption and exploitation, Madeleine turns against him. In terms of the drama, this is hard to accept as Madeleine is drawn as a strong character with convictions, not likely to enter into easy dalliance or betray her principles.
But Bel Ami is not done yet and the final image is of the smug face of the complete cad who has manipulated his success.
Think in the vein of Dangerous Liaisons and Cheri.
Nammi Le, Peter O’ Brien, Andrew Hazzard,Ivy Mak, David Field,
Directed by John Duigan.
Writer-director, John Duigan, has not made a film in Australia since Sirens in 1994. Prior to that, he had made several significant films and television series (Winter of Our Dreams, Far East, The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting, Vietnam). He also made Romero and the film about Catholic war photographer, Damien Parer, Fragments of War. He has shown a great interest in different Australian stories as well as an interest in Australia’s relationship with Asia. He has also shown a great interest in ideas, sometimes philosophical, sometimes religious. He has brought them together in Careless Love – or, perhaps, not always together, sometimes story simply juxtaposed with idea sequences.
Careless Love is a film about prostitution (as well as other themes). Which raises questions about the meaning of the title and what love really is. There have been several Australian films about prostitution. In 2007, The Jammed explored human trafficking with Asian connections to Australia. The issues were those of justice, humanity and rights. In 2011, Sleeping Beauty was a psychosexual drama focusing on a student paying her way through university by working as a prostitute. The issues were predominantly psychological. The central character of Careless Love is a student, working as an escort to get money for her parents so that they will not lose their home. The emphasis is far less on the psychological – in fact, the audience has to give a lot of thought to characters, their motivations and behaviour, their psychology. Rather, the focus here is social and sociological. The student herself is involved in Social Studies. Her lecturer, played by John Duigan himself, appears throughout the film, teaching, raising questions about religion, fundamentalist beliefs and brainwashing, about morality, relationships and prostitution. Dramatically, these university scenes sit alongside the narrative, leaving the audience to make the connections until the final thesis is presented by the student after all her experiences.
The student is Linh, who came with her boat people parents from Vietnam when she and her brother were little. Some of this parallels the experiences of the star, Nammi Le. Nammi Le is a compelling presence on screen, the audience gazing at her. However, part of this mesmerising is her passivity, especially with her clients. She has no personal scruples about her choice to be an escort. She is partly fastidious in her choices of jobs. She is devoted to her parents even as she deceives them.
She and her friend, Mint (Ivy Mak in a vigorous performance) are driven each night by a friendly Dion (David Field). We are taken to several of the clients, young and old, local and Japanese. The film is rather reticent until later in the film in showing nudity and sexual activity. She meets an American, Peter Obrien as a former Blackwater agent in Iraq, who befriends her and serves as a sounding board for her as she gradually reveals herself to him. This leads to some melodrama as well as a visit from his wife and son from Baltimore – and a final humane touch.
Linh compartmentalises her life, boarding with friends, then moving in with a law student who works in the local bar. She visits her parents as well as the bank managers. She is very efficient in money management.
The American warns her that she is in danger of being found out. When she is, it leads to exposure, humiliation, tension in relationships (and some ugly behaviour on the part of associates as well as the exploitative media). But, Linh is a strong character and is not afraid of other people’s opinions.
Most of the sequences are fairly brief. And, there are many characters and episodes. Which means that the film is working on several levels and audiences have to be responding swiftly, dealing emotionally and intellectually with the drama. But, it is all unified by Linh’s story.
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green
Directed by Tim Burton.
Some audiences will find this comedy/parody a hoot, Tim Burton style. On the one hand, it has no uplifting moral values to explore. On the other, it is an entertaining and often clever spoof. (The danger is that some audiences will either take it too seriously or not seriously enough, expecting Johnny Depp to be Jack Sparrowish again.)
For audiences who remember the 1987 Beattlejuice, one of Tim Burton’s earliest films, the Collins family, living in a dilapidated 18th century Maine mansion, won’t seem too surprising in their eccentricities. Burton has filmed a lot of fantasies since then. This time, he is clearly intending to enjoy himself and provide another opportunity to work with Johnny Depp (their eighth collaboration in twenty two years). He has been intrigued by the 1970s’ television series (1225 30-minute episodes from 1966-1971), created by Dan Curtis, Dark Shadows, and decided to give it a big screen treatment, big cast, big design, big effects. But, it is still Gothic horror soap opera.
The film opens in 1760 on a dingy Liverpool dock with the Collins family setting out to settle in Maine. Barnabas, the little boy, is given a baleful eye by the servant, Angelique, and her mother. The Collins family prosper in Maine with a fishing company, a town, Collinsport, and a huge baroque mansion. But, the adult Barnabas rejects Angelique again, is smitten by Josette who, under one of Angelique’s spells, throws herself from a cliff into the raging sea. What is Barnabas to do but to follow her – but that is not enough for Angelique who curses the Collins family, transforms Barnabas into a vampire, then binds him, puts him in a coffin, bolted and buried. And, that’s just the beginning!
When builders on a site strike the coffin, Barnabas is freed (vampirising the workmen since he is so thirsty!). Finding the ancestral home, he settles in only to find the curse has reduced the family to penury and that Angelique, who has had a prosperous 200 years, is behind everything. It is 1972.
Johnny Depp is at his best as Barnabas Collins. He is pasty-faced, black-rimmed eyes, 18th century vesture, prim British accent and a flow of ornate 18th century prose. Depp is completely and consistently serious, perfect in timing, which makes his performance all the more effectively amusing. And getting used to cars (dragons) big M signs (Mephistopheles?), coping with television and Carpenter’s songs, reading Love Story… a deal of amusing details. The plot? Well, Angelique goes to work again to destroy the Collins family success and to win back Barnabas (in what must be one of the funniest, edited sex scene collages in films).
The cast is interesting. Michelle Pfeiffer is now the matriarch with a rebellious and sullen teenager, Chloe Grace Moretz (Hugo, Let Me in). There is the weird cousin Willie (Jackie Earle Haley), the callow brother-in-law (Jonny Lee Miller), the orphaned child, David (Gulliver Mc Grath) and the resident psychiatrist, Julia Hoffman (Burton giving his wife Helena Bonham Carter yet another mad character to play). Angelique is played by Eva Green. And Christopher Lee gets a welcome scene.
It all ends somewhat apocalyptically, in the American vein.
If Gothic horror soap-opera does not appeal, forget it. But, if witty, sometimes absurd, spoofs do appeal, you may very well like it.
DECLARATION OF WAR
Valerie Donzelli, Jeremie Elkaim
Directed by Valerie Donzelli.
No, not a film about military action nor politics. In fact, there is more love than war in this French drama about a couple and the illness of their baby son. It is based on the experiences of the leading actors with Valerie Donzelli directing.
They don’t believe it, but when they meet and their eyes attract across a crowded room (well, night-club), they discover that their names are Romeo and Juliette. Their romance and love is quickly sketched in. Then their baby boy, Adam, is born. All seems idyllic.
Even when Adam cries incessantly and Romeo is finding this hard to take, Juliette is still hopeful that all will be well. However, they take the child to a consultancy and, step by step, examining the boy’s condition and lopsided facial features, they discover that he has a brain tumour.
Most of the film is about the love, care and exasperation as the couple try to do what is best for the boy, seeking out surgeons, hospital care, finding that their son is treated well but that they are not always kept in the loop. Juliette is highly emotional and breaks into recovery rooms. Romeo is more guarded, trying to respect protocols. This actually takes its toll on the couple, pushing them apart even as they try the best for their son.
Anyone who has experienced good hospital care and information about cases will watch the film with appreciation. Anyone who has been frustrated at brusque treatment by doctors, nurses or receptionists and lack of personalized communication will find that they watch the film with some renewed frustration.
Donzelli and Elkaim are more than credible, reenacting some of their own experiences. Their son, Gabriel Elkaim, is Adam at eight years old. They are surrounded by a gallery of characters, especially the couple’s parents and various doctors and hospital staff. At times there is some Gallic sentiment which some audiences will find too sweet (though it tempers our concern about Adam and how he is faring). At times, the film touches the rawness of the experience – as when the couple stay in a temporary hospital room and give each other strength in saying out loud what they actually fear.
The film is an emotional exploration of some very basic and deep human experiences and values. French nominee for the 2011 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It won a SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communication) Commendation at the 2012 Hong Kong Film Festival.
LA DELICATESSE/ DELICACY
Audrey Tautou, Francois Damiens,
Directed by David and Stephane Foenkinos.
If you are fond of French romantic comedies and dramas, especially with that Gallic je-ne-sais-pas-quoi, you should enjoy La Delicatesse. It is the story of a loving romance and marriage which is broken by the tragic death of the husband in an accident, then the story of a lonely and grieving widow, then an unlikely romance where a lot of people become victims of their prejudices, unfavourably judging people by their appearance. Nothing particularly new, but that does not matter, because it is all nicely done.
It is a star vehicle for Audrey Tautou who entered moviegoers’ consciousness with her performance as Amelie of Montmartre in 2001. Since then she has appeared in a number of romantic films but also the World War I drama, A Very Long Engagement. She was also the co-star of The Da Vinci Code. Her role in La Delicatesse as Nathalie shows what she does best. Because she has that gamin, pixie face and slender build, she seems the embodiment of delicacy.
The early scenes of the film are full of the delight of romance and a happy marriage. After the shock of the death, she seems numbed and survives by her constant work. Friends, of course, urge her to make a new life. Her married boss makes advances.
Whether this happens only in French films –perhaps - she impetuously kisses one of her work team, a Swede who has lived in France for 15 years. He is, judging by appearances, quite an unprepossessing man. However, his rhapsody after being kissed, walking up a hill with all the girls looking at him to the tune of T Rex’s Get it On, is cut short when Nathalie declares she cannot remember kissing him and is all apologies. Francois Damiens as Markus is immensely likeable.
What follows is a genial growing in friendship despite the snide comments of her boss and even of her friends.
The ending is sweet, a touch of fantasy as Markus acknowledges Nathalie’s love for her husband and his own love for her. Happy ever after.
Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris,
Directed by Larry Charles.
It would be an interesting project to study the body language of audiences watching The Dictator (or Ali G in da House, or Borat or Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous spoofs). This reviewer, watching The Dictator would have been seen to wince, laugh, smile, gasp, blush and look around (well, not for this one since there was only one other person at 2.00 on a Friday afternoon in a large cinema, which didn’t make for an atmosphere of loud guffaws).
How does one review The Dictator? It is easy to say that fastidious audiences need not go. On the other hand, those who are fastidious but enjoy some political and social satire can go and both wince and laugh. Those who enjoy the broadest of humour (and Sacha Baron Cohen, his writers and director, Larry Charles, do seem to be trying in each film to see what they can get away with) should have no difficulty with The Dictator. There are plenty of politically incorrect jokes and some of the most blatant of racist and sexist lines which make one gasp – but which, in fact, do make us confront where we really stand on some issues, and what bias might be lurking below the surface. And, as expected from the past, there are few bodily functions that do not make an appearance (including some farcical shenanigans during a childbirth sequence).
So, that deals with recommendations or not.
The Dictator is a blend of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad with some nods towards Syria. He rules over a North African nation, Waadeya, which is building nuclear weapons (he can hardly keep a straight face when he is denying this in a public speech). He is a despot. Anyone who disagrees with him is sent off to instant execution. He has a loyal second-in-charge, so he thinks, who is played straight by Ben Kingsley. However, when a coup fails, a double is sought out – a dill of a shepherd (also played by Baron Cohen) to be a puppet of the usurper.
But, most of the action takes place in New York where they all go to visit the UN to explain the nuclear situation. When the dictator is ousted from his hotel and has to find his way on the New York streets and, joining in a protest against his tyranny, he is mistaken for a rebel by an enthusiastically naïve young women who owns a green store and is to cater for the UN meeting (Anna Faris).
Plenty of complications as he goes to work at the shop, meets some old associates, plans to infiltrate the UN meeting to stop his rival signing a democracy document which will lead to oil deals. Actually, this gives rise to quite some parody of American attitudes, especially when he makes a speech listing the dangers of democracy (controlled press, wire tapping and a whole range of things that already exist).
The other thing is the verbal humour. The jokes might almost be missed as they pass swiftly by. In Waadeya a favourite film is You’ve Got Mail Bomb. The dictator describes his spiritual journey like an Eat Pray Love experience. Plenty of cultural references for jokes, from George Clooney to those blue creatures in Avatar.
In Borat and Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen infiltrated groups and met individuals as his alter egos, setting them up for some outrageous falls. The Dictator is scripted. So, the safe review is ‘for Sacha Baron Cohen fans only’.
Andrew Scott, Fiona Glascott, Tobias Menzies,
Directed by Dover Koshashvili.
The film is also advertised as Anton Chekhov’s The Duel. It is based on a Chekhov novella and takes us into Chekhov land, the Russian Caucasus of the 19th century. The beautiful photography, however, offers the landscapes and waterscapes of Croatia, standing in. And, the film is certainly beautiful to look at, capturing the look of a small lakeside town, the elegance of the décor and costumes of the period.
There is a duel and it comes late in the film, not so much a shooting duel, though shots are fired, but a jolting experience, moral and emotional, for the two protagonists. It also provides a jolt for audience sympathies and a questioning of our understanding of the two men involved.
One is a government official who increasingly resents his ‘exile’ to this remote town where he finds no culture. Not that he is particularly cultured himself. He has a mistress who has opted to leave her husband for this life where she is not welcomed by most people and lives a self-indulgent life, unhappy with her husband’s lack of attention. He drinks, plays cards with cronies, does little work and wanders around in self-pity. He is played convincingly by Andrew Scott (distractingly resembling actor Mark Ruffalo).
The other protagonist is a self-confident scientist who researches and is about to sail for Africa. He despises the government official and is not loth to express his opinions and condemnations. He seems to relish the prospect of the duel even if shots are to be fired only into the air.
The film has an average running time, so there is time to respond to the characters and their behaviour and their dilemmas, without spending a lot of time contemplating them (as would happen in a Russian version of the story). There is a great deal of detail: visiting a hat shop, the card games, a rendezvous with the police captain, summer swimming in the lake, a buffet meal, kitchen activities, a doctor’s visit…
The government official is not a likeable man, wanting to escape back to Moscow, not having the resources to do this, angry with his mistress, feeling that she is clinging to him. But, being forced into the duel and standing exposed to possible death, has a powerful influence on him. The scientist, with whom we have to agree in his criticisms, also undergoes an experience as he stands with his loaded gun, the potential to kill a man. The duel undermines his certainties.
Fiona Glascott is the beautiful and fickle mistress. Tobias Menzies is the scientist. The director, now from Israel, was born in the republic of Georgia.
Nadezhda Markina, Andrei Smirnob, Aleksey Rozin.
Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev.
Enthusiasts for Russian films will remember the impact of The Return, winner of many awards, Golden Lion in Venice 2003, SIGNIS award, the story of a father and his two sons. Director, Andrei Zvyagintsev, went on to make The Banishment, a powerful film of relationships and family. He has now gone to a modern Russian city and offered a portrait of a woman who seems to be a person of integrity who is transformed into a suburban moral monster while thinking that she is doing the right thing by her family. Love can also be evil.
The film uses the contemplative Russian style of film-making, right from the very long single shot at the opening with only a movement of birds and gradual light glowing within a house, a scene that marks the end of the film as well. We are interested in what is going on, then surprised at the moral turn of events, then left to ponder what has happened, especially to Elena.
Elena has retired from nursing and has married her older companion. They live in some comfort. We are made aware of this in the minute detail of Elena’s waking, dressing, her make-up, breakfast and waking her husband in his room. An issue is raised. Her son, a lazy, unemployed married man, needs money. Elena’s husband, Vladimir, is unwilling to give anything. He also has an estranged daughter from his first marriage.
We are given a close-up of Elena’s family after she travels across the city to a run-down suburb with three nuclear chimneys dominating the area. She is devoted to them, playing with the baby, friends with her daughter-in-law, who seems a decent woman, tolerant of the selfish and churlish grandson who prefers playing video games, though his father is after money to pay for his education so that he will not have to join the military. Later in the film, we see the son go out with a gang, bashing other young men. The audience is not invited to have any sympathy with him.
The core of the film concerns Vladimir’s death, his will, the bequests to his daughter and cutting out his wife. Elena takes matters into her own hands with his death, the will, the money in his safe – and all for her family. They finally move from their dingy home to the comfort of Vladimir’s house.
In 19th century novels, Russian authors like Dostoievsky explored crime and punishment, some of the banality of evil and its consequences. Elena is a film about crime and no punishment, a critique, an indictment of the loss of moral integrity in the aftermath of the Communist era, which does not bode well for the future of Russian society.
EMPIRE OF SILVER
Aaron Kwok, Tielen Zhang, Jennifer Tilly.
Directed by Christina Yao
There are so many films from China in recent years which take us back into more recent history – after such a spate of films about the military history of China in the various kingdoms in previous millennia.
Empire of Silver goes back only a century or more (as have films about the centenary of the downfall of the empire in 1911). It opens in the provinces with a voiceover narrative from a descendant of the protagonists who reminisces from the 20th century vantage point and elaborates what he sees as the final achievement of his family, a family of bankers.
As with the other films, the audience will feel that they have been immersed in this Chinese world, the action, the colour, the dangers, the costumes, the disparity between the poor and the rich.
Western audiences not familiar with the events will need to pay attention since the film often moves rapidly, passing sometimes over a year or more at a time. We have to try to work out who is who in the family, especially when the narrative goes into flashback. That having been said, it is clear that this is the story of a banking patriarch at the end of the 19th century, the status of banking at the time – and the Boxer rebellion. The patriarch’s oldest son is a kindly deaf mute who tries to feed the hungry. The second son is a harsh and brutal dominator. The third son is a dilettante, not esteemed by his father. The fourth son is more hopeful but when his new wife is abducted, he collapses mentally. The branch managers in Beijing and Shanghai are much better administrators.
Along with this plotline, there is a romantic plot, the third son in love with a young woman who has become another wife for his father. These lines run parallel for a while but eventually come together when the third son is sent to Mongolia (magnificent photography of the Gobi desert, of the mountains and a rather electrifying encounter with ravenous wolves, even though they are clearly animatronic). He returns for the funeral of the wife and accepts the commission from his father to manage the bank, especially in the hiding and hoarding of silver until the crisis is over.
The third son thus comes into his own, setting up a banking system for the poor, managing the banks well – and over some decades until after World War II.
The overall effect is impressive but the development seems patchy at times, many sequences (like that with the wolves) standing out while others play more conventionally.
(Western audiences are part of the target audience. Jeremy Thomas (who produced the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor) produced this and a number of films in China, including 13 Assassins. This one has a featured role for Jennifer Tilly.)
THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT
Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Jacki Weaver
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
A romantic comedy, with older protagonists, and with a longer time to sort out issues of love and commitment!
The film has been produced by Jud Apatow, whose produced and/or directed films, run to a certain pattern. This one is no exception. There are usually some men and women behaving badly plotlines at first; then all seems lost, bad errors of judgment and conduct; then there is some recovery and acknowledgement of mistakes; then a firm emphasis on love and commitment. The Jud Apatow Syndrome.
It is hard not to like cook, Tom (Jason Segel) and his fiancée, Violet (Emily Blunt). He is a good chef. She is studying psychology. Then she gets an offer of a university position in Michigan (from San Francisco) and off they go, she to fulfilment of life hopes, he to being unable to get a chef’s job (and being laughed at for giving up everything for snowy Michigan). Then she gets an offer of a continued position. Is marriage really a no go?
In the background are Violet’s sister, Susan, who becomes involved with Tom’s best friend, Alex. And they settle down, against all expectations, to marriage and a family. There are also the respective parents (one of whom is Jacki Weaver as Violet’s British mother, disappointed in marriage, sometimes blunt and indiscreet) and grandparents who hope to see the couple married before they die – several of them don’t!
Academic life for Violet is helped along by Winton (Rhys Ifans), the professor, and his oddball team of assistants, thinking up tests and experiments to measure and promote their careers. Sandwich-making life for Tom is not always easy but there is an outlet in hunting deer with another homebound husband. And then some jealousy.
Where will it end? As if we didn’t know. But, as always, the point is not what happens, but how did they get there.
This is a mild comedy, smiles rather than laughs – though there are some of those – some crass jokes, as always, and some pleasant romantic scenes.
FRIENDS WITH KIDS
Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd?, Jon Hamm.
Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt.
Five year engagements, what to expect when you’re expecting, friends with kids… what are the questions Hollywood is raising for 2012? The target audience seems to be those in their 30s who are faced with issues of commitment, relationships, marriage, pregnancy, family, rearing of children. What are the rest of us to think as we look on? And question ourselves?
The screenplay was written by Jennifer Westfeldt who takes on the central role of Julie, in her later 30s by the end of the film who has had a long relationship which ended badly. She is on the lookout for love (not quite believing that she could be really loved) and, as she sees her friends with kids, is powerfully aware of the ticking of the biological clock. Should she simply get pregnant? By whom? Since high school, her best friend has been Jason, but he is not attracted to her in terms of a permanent relationship. In his 30s, he is stuck in his adolescent desires and sexual urges – and, as for children…
The friends with kids include a married couple with several. Maya Rudolph as Leslie spends a lot of time being frantic, especially when visitors are coming to dinner. Alex, Chris O’Dowd?, doesn’t seem fazed at all. Then there are Missy, Kristin Wiig, and Ben, Jon Hamm, who have a baby. You can tell that this latter couple is drifting steadily towards the rocks. Julie does pal up with Mr Perfect, Edward Burns, who is charmingly sensitive and has grown up children. Jason, on the other hand, is swept off his feet by a young actress, Megan Fox, who loathes the idea of commitment – and children.
The film traces the interactions of these characters over the years, including Julie’s pregnancy (yes, it is Jason, but solely as a kind of contract for shared responsibility for their son and freedom for seeking other partners). Maybe the ending is too much what we might have expected (dramatically speaking that is), but while we have dramas in real life, a moral ending is what most people hope for. Which means that, ultimately, this film for 30-somethings wants to make a strong affirmation about children and parenting with love and selflessness.
Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris, Sarah Paulson, Peter MacNicoll?.
Directed by Jay Roach.
Game Change is one of those films made by Home Box Office for television screening in the US with possible theatrical release around the world. Other films like this are You Don’t Know Jack (Al Pacino as Dr Jack Kevorkian) and Too Big To Fail (about the financial crash of 2008). In Australia, they are first screened on pay television channels.
Another of these films was Recount, a drama about the dispute in Florida, 2000, which determined that George W. Bush would be president rather than Al Gore. That film was directed by Jay Roach who directs this story of the Republican nomination campaign in 2008, focusing on Sarah Palin. (Jay Roach is better known for comedies, the Austin Powers satires and the Meet the Fockers films.)
It is amazing how quickly current American political stories are treated in feature films (think Oliver Stone’s W and the story of the two Presidents Bush or Fair Game, the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative by the Bush Administration after her husband questioned Iraq’s buying uranium from Africa and the claims about weapons of mass destruction).
Only very young audiences will not have memories of John McCain’s? introduction of the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running-mate in 2008. It seemed a good idea at the moment, but the moment was comparatively short, as revelations about the governor’s actions and the law concerning her husband emerged and, much more importantly, her ignorance about the world and contemporary politics. While she drew quite a following and boosted donations for the campaign, she was not credible as a possible President and President Obama was elected.
This film is based on part of a book by reporters on the politics of 2008, "Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain? and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime" by Mark Halperin with John Heilemann.
At the centre of the film is Julianne Moore, so convincing in look, manner, speech as Sarah Palin – but, the film, while showing her limitations and presumptions, does humanise her in many ways. She is more vulnerable than she thinks. Her folksiness has some initial charm but cannot last and she feels isolated from her family, gets moody with her advisers, wants to be loyal to McCain? (who keeps his distance from her, meeting her rarely during the campaign). One begins to feel sorry for her as she, still willingly, is trapped in circumstances beyond her. There is a sequence, with some pathos as well as having a dig, where we see Sarah Palin watching Tina Fey’s send-up of her on Saturday Night Live. But, with the vulnerability, Sarah Palin is still quite tough as well.
The other focus of the film is not McCain? himself (well played, with a swearing mouth) by Ed Harris who emerges as intensely ambitious, often dismayed by Sarah Palin, but shocked at the rabble-roused hostility and slander on Barack Obama. Rather, we stay with Steve Schmidt, with a fine performance by Woody Harrelson. He is reluctant to join the campaign but is persuaded by McCain?. He goes along with the plan for nominating Sarah Palin, realises eventually that she can perform effectively by acting with prepared answers but soon regrets the political choice doomed to fail and has to control her despite her growing hostility towards him and her firing her speechwriter. The film is certainly interesting in presenting the characters and their behaviour, but there is great interest in spending two hours being taken into the machinations, power struggles and manoeuvres behind the scenes.
An interesting release for 2012, a presidential election year.
GET THE GRINGO
Mel Gibson, Kevin Hernandez, Dolores Heredia, Peter Stormare,
Directed by Adrian Grunberg.
Originally titled, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, this would have been completely misleading for those who thought this might be a nice holiday story. Get the Gringo gets to the core of the film at once.
Since his real-life troubles, Mel Gibson has not appeared in many films, only Edge of Darkness and The Beaver (which reminded audience how persuasive an actor Gibson could be). Get the Gringo is familiar Gibson material. He is a tough action loner who has a way with quips and a touch of sentiment despite his criminal behaviour and his proneness to add to body counts.
At first, we are immersed in one of the most squalid Mexican prisons that you could ever hope never to visit let alone be interned in. Gibson is The Driver who is captured on the US-Mexican border after robbing a drug czar from San Diego. Police on both sides of the fence are corrupt. So what hope does The Driver have? Well, he has his wits as well as quite some criminal skills and he does survive the brutality and ugliness of the prison which is set up as a town within its walls with women and children living there. The Driver befriends a tough little type – who has a different story. His rare blood type means that his liver is precious for a transplant for the ruthless overseer of the prison. There are a range of despicable characters and exploiters.
It moves back to more familiar Gibson material when The Driver does a deal and gets out of prison to get rid of the drug czar. At this moment, it seemed that he might really be a cop in deep cover – especially when he sets up quite a con, very smart, to entrap the criminal chief. He is not. But, at that moment, the police decide to raid the prison, the overseer demands his transplant, and Mel, of course, comes to the rescue.
It’s tough, brutal-languaged entertainment for those who like this kind of thing. So, that was how he spent his summer vacation.
Finland, Germany, Australia, 2012
Julia Dietze, Goetz Otto, Christopher Kirby, Stephanie Paul, Peta Sergeant, Udo Keir,
Directed by Timo Vuorensola.
If you are a fan of B-Budget? (and B-mentality) science fiction movies and cherish some of those corny images from the past, the absurd stories, the (very) limited sets and special effects, then this is the film for you. If not, you might get stuck in the intentionally (and often successful) ridiculous situations and dialogue, perhaps inclined to take it more seriously than should be and dismiss it. To that extent, Iron Sky is quite a specialised film with a target audience.
Of course, it is absurd, but this reviewer found some of it quite funny, generally keeping a smile on my face.
Nazis on the dark side of the moon! They went there in 1945, escaping from Hitler’s downfall to begin the Fourth Reich. Unfortunately, their technology (especially over-large computers and a deadly space ship called Gotterdamerung) belongs to the 1940s – though the screenplay then gives them some flying saucer space ships which let them get to earth in next to no time, no accommodation to gravity or space suits needed: it is that kind of film.
The year is 2018 and a US election year (which, of course, it isn’t) and a Sarah Palin look-and-sound-alike (Stephanie Paul obviously relishing her lines and her bellicose strategies) is campaigning for re-election. A moon trip (with an African American model used in her advertising on board) is part of her PR. But, then, the model, Jim Washington (Christopher Kirby), discovers and is captured by the Nazis. The current Fuhrer (Udo Keir) is ailing and a giant Aryan (Goetz Otto) is ready to take over and produce perfect offspring with teacher, Renate (Julie Dietze). The Fuhrer-in-waiting goes to Earth to prepare the invasion, Renate stowing away and Jim having been transformed into white by the Nazi ‘albiniser’.
The hijinks in the US are amusing, especially with the power-behind-the-throne (Peta Sergeant) clearly modeling herself on the arch-villains of the past, dressed in black and performing in more than melodramatic manner, especially when she goes off in the attack space ship, the USS George W. Bush.
Actually, the sets and special effects are pretty good. We would have been satisfied with lesser.
The performances are what is required for this kind of spoof. There is quite a deal of amusing dialogue, generally at the expense of US politics – the president’s campaign slogan is ‘Yes, she can’. But the satire is generally attacking the Right (even a version of The Star Spangled Banner) which means that it won’t be on the Tea Party’s shortlist for a movie night. (Nor for Neo-Nazi? socials.)
It seems German audiences have been able to laugh at the parody. The whole film is Finnish in conception (avening the war? – and much of it made in Queensland and with Australian finance.
A 90 minutes indulgence – entertainingly so for fans.
Anna Paquin, J. Smith- Cameron, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Jean Reno, Matthew Broderick.
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan.
If Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick look younger than you would have expected as you watch Margaret, the reason is that Margaret was filmed in 2005 but not released until 2011, caught in problems of studio disapproval and re-editing, finally with the help of Martin Scorsese, to a running time of 150 minutes.
Anna Paquin is the central character, Lisa Cohen. So, who is Margaret? Late in the film, English teacher, Matthew Broderick, reads the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, To Margaret Grieving. For much of this film, Lisa is grieving, not just about herself, though she has her moments of self-pity, but about the death of a woman killed in a bus accident and questioning her own behaviour in contributing to the accident as well as to what she says to the police during the investigation.
Anna Paquin is convincing as an assertive and opinionated teenager (sometimes bigoted) whose father has left and lives in California (and really doesn’t want her to come to live with him). She lives with her actress mother (J. Cameron- Smith, who in real life is the wife of writer-director, Kenneth Lonergan, in a persuasive performance) in New York. She has friends but can be acerbic. She is permissive, sexually speaking, even casual. She is seductive towards a teacher played by Matt Damon.
But, it is the aftermath of the accident where the drama intensifies. It involves meetings with the bus driver, Mark Ruffalo, negotiations for insurance claims with greedy relatives of the dead woman, and discussions with a lawyer about how to deal with criminal charges.
While the film is long – seems a bit long for its subject and characters – it is well written and acted, providing insights into contemporary American life as well as raising issues for reflection.
MEN IN BLACK 3
Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson,
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.
The placing of an earth protecting shield on the Apollo, 1969, moments before blast off, Andy Warhol as a government undercover agent, Mick Jagger an alien come to earth to impregnate earth women? National Enquirer headlines? No, just some of the plot elements in Men in Black 3!
Not being a fan of the first two films, I approached this one with caution, and was pleasantly surprised. Whether the ardent fans will be pleased is difficult to work out until we see box office results. It is actually fifteen years since the original film and ten years since the second. A decade between the sequel and this threequel, a long time in movie franchise land. However, here it is.
Once again Will Smith is the genial agent J, just as energetic as ever. Once again Tommy Lee Jones is Agent K, just as laconic as ever. But this time there is more than one Agent K. J has to go back to 1969 to alter history – and finds K’s younger self, played expertly by Josh Brolin doing a Tommy Lee Jones impersonation. And there is Agent O, played by Emma Thompson with a wry sense of humour even when she goes into squealing, squirming mode delivering a sympathy message to her staff in Venusian! (Agent O is present back in 1969 in the form of Alice Eve, but this is troubling casting as it is impossible to imagine Alice Eve growing older to be Emma Thompson.)
And there is an arch-villain, Boris the Animal, imprisoned in a lunar security prison for forty years but now breaking out and altering history. Hence the time travel. New Zealand’s Jermaine Clement (from the Flight of the Conchords and his impressive turn in Gentleman Broncos), tall, resonant voice and a really bad set of iron teeth, obviously relishes this role.
And, for the fans, there are still a whole range of aliens on earth who break out of their disguises with sometimes sinister, sometimes comic, effects.
The film is mainly Will Smith’s as he is the one to go back in time, to try to capture Boris the Animal, to save Ks’ life. So, plenty of action and humour. And, there is a very nice alien, Griff, who has the power to visualize many possibilities at once, especially the grimmer ones. He holds a key to the solution – and has the last word. He is played with some sweetness by Michael Stuhlberg.
Critics were asked not to tell their audiences about the final ‘revelation’. And this review won’t. Suffice to say, I am glad I did not know what it was and was all the more pleased with it.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Ceylan is probably Turkey’s best-known director today. He has featured with most of his films at the Cannes Festival and has won the director’s prize there for Three Monkeys. He also won the Grand Jury Prize for Distant and in 2011 for the present film. However, he is known in the art film world rather than at the multiplexes and his films and their style are an acquired taste.
His films often have quite a long running time – and are quite unhurried, often with a lingering gaze at characters in close-up or at landscapes. The audience has plenty of time to contemplate, reflect and be immersed in the world that Ceylan invites them into.
This film runs for two and a half hours. The action takes place over one night and a morning – so plenty of time to offer detail. And the film does. It is detail about the search for the body of a murdered man – the police, soldiers, a doctor and the local prosecutor accompany the alleged killer to different sites in the rather barren mountains of Anatolia. There is a prologue with three men drinking and talking, then the credits, then a long shot of three cars, lights on, travelling the mountain road, then arriving at the first site. When we see the accused, we realise that it is a seemingly jovial friend that he has killed.
After some futile visits to possible burial places, the group spend the night in a village. Again, we have a long time to contemplate the mayor, his daughter, and what life, hospitality and cooking, are like in this remote town. There is an interesting discussion about the need for funding for a morgue – many emigrants to Europe have left their families behind and want to return at their deaths, often in a very hot summer. He makes a point.
When the body is recovered, there is quite a lot more detail, not just the forensic detail, but the problems in transferring the body since the group has neglected to bring a body bag. Later, there are sequences in the autopsy room.
There are enigmatic interludes, especially with the prosecutor asking the doctor’s opinion about the death of the wife of a friend (obviously telling his own story) as well as the relationship of the accused with the son of the dead man who is identified by his wife.
Films like this can alienate an impatient audience. They can fascinate those who surrender themselves.
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba.
Directed by Ridley Scott.
‘Hugely anticipated’, as they say. Here is Ridley Scott, after thirty three years, returning to Alien territory (and not forgetting androids thirty years since with Blade Runner). He has also absorbed something of the quest of Stanley Kubrick in 2001: a Space Odyssey.
The film looks quite magnificent at times, though very dark and foreboding. While there is some earth light at the beginning (a dig on the Isle of Skye in 2089), the action is inside the space ship Prometheus (who defied the Titans for power for humans) or on the desert and rocky locations on a distant planet or inside the caves which are brittle with machines – and mysteries.
On the narrative level, the plot is basic: a 2093 mission is sent from earth to find the planet suggested by cave drawings that literally point to space where scientists can explore whether these aliens created humans, comparing DNA samples; work on the planet paid for by a rich, aged company owner (a made-up Guy Pearce); the interactions of the commander, an icy Charlize Theron, and the rather relaxed captain, Idris Elba. The key characters for the drama are the scientist, Noomi Rapace (familiar to many from the Millennium films) and an android who has something of a robotic manner and demeanour but is also charming, Michael Fassbender. Needless to say, the exploration does not go well, especially for the scientist who discovers that she is pregnant with an alien. (Plenty of suggestions about that creature emerging from John Hurt so long ago.) There is a final crisis, some heroism, explosions – and the possibility for a sequel.
But, the plot has many strange holes and improbabilities, notably that of the pregnancy and how the scientist deals with it (and recovers so instantly to go into heroic action).
But, Ridley Scott seems to be on the same kind of quest as the astronauts in 2001. Kubrick’s Everyman character was called Dave. This time the android is called David. The Prometheus expedition does attempt to go beyond the infinite. But, there is no benign monolith here which could suggest the transcendent, even the divine. The creators here are malevolent. They destroy as well as create – so who is responsible for humanity (especially if they lack humane qualities)? The scientist chooses to believe in the transcendent – has a cross around her neck, a gift from her father, and refers to 2094 as the year of Our Lord, 2094. And she finally decides to go in search of the creators.
We humans don’t have all the answers, the film suggests, but, despite cruelty and death, we must go on searching.
A ROYAL AFFAIR
Mads Mikkelson, Alicia Vikander,
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel.
An interesting costume drama where sets and costumes have not been stinted. It certainly looks the part.
The setting is Denmark in the 1760s and 1770s, a valuable story for Danish history and a story not too familiar for other audiences. The opening alerts the audience to the Enlightenment and how it flourished in this century, a return to reason instead of faith (and superstition), a dream of equality and dignity for all, an ideal of freedom for society. The French Revolution was just over a decade away as the film ends.
This is also the story of Princess Caroline Matilda of England, bound to an arranged marriage to Christian VII of Denmark. A young, beautiful and cultured woman, she leaves with high hopes. They are soon dashed. The king is mentally unstable, skittish in public manners and profligate in behaviour. Mikkel Boe Folsgaard won the Best Actor award in the 2012 Berlin Film Festival for his arrestingly alarming performance.
The film does begin by letting the audience know that Caroline sealed her fate and exile by an affair with Dr Johann Struensee. She is writing to her children to explain what she has done.
Dr Struensee (Mads Mikkelson, like a passive Jack Palance) is an Enlightenment thinker and writer (anonymously). Friends suggest he become physician to Christian who is on a year’s tour of Europe. The two click (helped by a love of quotations from Shakespeare) and Johann is able to guide the king to better behaviour. He becomes chief adviser, despite hostility from the nobility and the Council, eventually replacing the Council, and pushing through all kinds of enlightened and progressive legislation, from inoculation against smallpox, to the abolition of scensorship and capital punishment. For a while, Denmark set a model for the rest of Europe.
Someone quotes how Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere destroyed Camelot. It is apt, of course, when Johann and the queen (initially hostile but impressed by his ideas and manner) begin a liaison. A jealous Dowager queen and conservative nobles are able to arrest John and banish the queen. They also restore the kingdom to the status quo.
The film offers enough to reflect on with insights into this experience of royalty and Enlightenment. Character performances are strong. This seems a story of folly and failure, a postscript adds that Caroline’s son, Frederick, staged a coup when he was sixteen and began a fifty five year reign that saw the implementation of so many of the Enlightenment ideas.
Igor Segeev, Yuliya Aug, Yuriy Tsurilo
Directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko
A film for festival audiences, a prize winner, including a SIGNIS award in Venice 2010.
This is a mood film, running for under 80 minutes. It has elements of Russian melancholy as a loner storyteller travels with his factory boss to perform the funeral rites for the boss’s dead wife.
The loner narrates a story, explaining himself, his mother, his depressed and alcoholic poet father. At the market, he is persuaded to buy two buntings in a cage (the meaning of the Russian title). There are flashbacks to his family, treatment by his father and the father’s funeral, as the two men travel along the roads of northern Russia. The landscapes are grey and bleak, the towns rather drab and industrial, the countryside, forests and lakes, are cold and wintry.
But, the story is also that of the boss and his love for his young wife (also shown in flashback) and his traditional chatter during the journey where he opens up about his feelings.
Because the Russians from this part of the vast country are close to Finnish tribes of the past, they have idiosyncratic beliefs and traditions. This is true of the rites for the wife: buying sturdy poles for building a platform where the body (which we have seen prepared, washed and clothed in meditative detail) is brought out of the car, where it has been wrapped in a blanket, then solemnly burned, the ashes collected and scattered in the waters.
The buntings cause an unexpected ending to the film (though the narrator had alerted us to it), leaving the audience with their reflections and their melancholy.
Jason Clarke, Emma Boothe, David Lyons, Travis McMahon?, Vince Colossimo.
Directed by Craig Lahiff.
Swerve is the movie equivalent of a paperback thriller that you can read quickly, turn the pages, enjoy the moment and the puzzles – and then forget.
It certainly looks good with its desert and small mining town settings out the back of Broken Hill and the north of South Australia. It is also well-paced and edited, especially the rather numerous swerves as vehicles avoid accidents (or not) or careen almost out of control. That’s how the film opens.
Into potential trouble comes a stranger who gives a stranded woman a lift. Big mistake, and disastrous consequences. He is a pleasant man (David Lyons), meets the local police chief (Jason Clarke) who turns out to be the husband of the woman from the lift. They seem to be wealthy, have a nice house (which is going to reappear when the killings start), but she was running away.
So, we have echoes of Wake in Fright as we meet the various types around the town, some good (Ray Billings and Chris Haywood who do not survive all that long), some jealous (Vince Colossimo) and some really bad. This is especially true of the drug dealer (with corrupt cop themes as well) who offed the courier who swerved in the desert as the film began.
Then the pursuit starts, involving an abandoned silver mine as well as a rush to catch the Indian Pacific from Broken Hill – and, a throwback to old westerns, a train pursuit and the villain on the train roof. In the meantime, our hero has got himself tangled with the wife, a femme fatale, as well as her brutal husband, a corpse in the mine shaft and a possible murder charge.
It all moves rapidly but then you think about the plot-holes, especially concerning the literal hole at the mine and how to get down and, especially, how to get out.
Director, Craig Lahiff, has made Heaven’s Burning with Russell Crowe and the film about the Max Stuart case in the 1950s, Bland and White.
Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed,
Directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Trishna is Tess of the D’Urbervilles? transferred and adapted to the 21st century and to changing contemporary Indian culture.
Writer-director, Michael Winterbottom, one of the most consistently busy British directors with a film, feature or documentary, or a television film/series, every year since 1989, has a love for the novels of Thomas Hardy. He filmed Jude in the mid-90s as the period piece that it was. He adapted The Mayor of Casterbridge with The Claim in 2000, using a mining setting in America. Now, he has modernised Hardy.
Perhaps a good way to describe the drama and its impact is ‘slow-burn’. This is rarely an overtly passionate treatment of Tess. While there is an intensity within her, it bursts out only at the end. Her patron and lover, Jay, seems a decent enough type. While he does descend into a sexual obsession with Trishna, sometimes possessive, sometimes callous, Riz Ahmed seems just too nice or pleasant a type to be as bad as the screenplay suggests.
However, the turning point in the relationship between Trishna and Jay is a low-key scene but very effective. She confides trustingly in him, never expecting his hesitation, his criticising her, with a sense that their love can never be the same again.
One reason why Hardy’s story translates well to India is the continuing class separation, The gap (which might be lessening materially with growing Indian prosperity) in what each class is supposed to think and how they are to act, especially in an unmarried relationship, is powerful enough to produce deception, cover-up and humiliation in exposure. Jay is well-to-do, his father owning many hotels. Trishna comes from a Rajasthan village, very traditional in outlook. The propriety of attitudes contrasts with the more easy-going, accepting or permissive, attitudes of people in Mumbai.
Where the film is striking is in its portrayal of India. The visual detail of Rajastahn contrasting with the verve and colour of Mumbai, vista after vista, colour after colour, image after image, makes for constant amazement. The audience is immersed in India, poor village life, service in tourist hotels, wealthy apartments in Mumbai with ocean views, the details of the streets and ordinary life. But, the Mumbai episodes also focus on Indian cinema, Indian television and advertising. Trishna goes to dance classes, is on set for Bollywood musical numbers, is faced with a different and modern world that she is not used to. Her love for Jay carries her along but is tested by his mistrust, his possessing her, his taking her away from this gaudy but exhilarating world.
Put Hardy characters and themes together with Winterbottom’s portrait of changing India (more effective than a travel film) and the result is a lighter version of Hardy (except the end). Probably, the most intense love story we witness is that of Michael Winterbottom for India.
Andrea Riseborough, Abbie Cornish, James D’ Arcy, Oscar Isaac.
Directed by Madonna.
The fact that W./E. was given very little cinema release raises the question about hostility - to Madonna who co-wrote and directed the film and/or to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. Never liked much in Britain, especially at the time of the abdication of Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson received short shrift in The King’s Speech. However, this is an attempt to look at her more favourably, which succeeds in part in giving a more human face to the Duchess and giving the audience something of a look behind the scenes at the Duke of Windsor.
However, it is not a biography. Rather, it is a portrait, as seen by the writers through a character they have created in a parallel story, set in New York City in 1998, at the time of Sotheby’s auction of the Duchess’ memorabilia. She died in 1986, the Duke in 1972 (and they are buried together in Windsor Castle, where she was not welcome during her life).
Abbie Cornish plays a wealthy socialite with a well-respected doctor husband who is, however, unfaithful to her and physically brutal. Her mother had called her Wallis after the Duchess and the 1990s Wallis becomes more obsessed with her namesake, spending much time at the Sotheby’s pre-auction exhibition and moping around the city. She is befriended by a Russian security guard (Oscar Isaac) and persuaded to buy a pair of the Duchess’ gloves - for $10,000. Her being presented as one of the spoilt and idle rich with this kind of glove money does not quite endear her to ordinary audiences for whom this extravagance would be a dream.
The more interesting part of the film is the portrait of Wallis Simpson which is intercut with the New York story (1990s Wallis dreaming or fantasizing about meeting the Duchess, who actually takes a dim view of Wallis, snapping at her to get a life).
There is a difficulty (unnecessary?) in the flashbacks insofar as they are not in chronological order and run the danger of confusion for those not familiar with the dates and places. However, it is Andrea Riseborough’s excellently nuanced performance that makes the film worth seeing. Andrea Riseborough in recent films has played the mousy Rose in Brighton Rock and an IRA killer in Shadow Dancer. She can immerse herself in a role, roles that are quite diverse. James D' Arcey is, as an American commentator refers to him after the abdication, Mr David Windsor. He is sympathetic but the film indicates that he was prone to some profligacy in his relationships and the high life. As in The King’s Speech, George V (James Fox) and Queen Mary (Judy Parfitt) comes across as cold and imperious. Laurence Fox (James Fox’s son) is the stammering Bertie. This time the Queen Mother to be comes across as moralistically hostile to Wallis.
Wallis’ first husband was a brute (we see scenes in the 1920s in Shanghai), whereas Ernest Simpson, her second husband, is a gentleman who loves his wife. It is she who turns to the Prince of Wales, basking in his friendship, and who gives up her husband. The political atmosphere of the abdication is portrayed well and the abdication speech itself (very well-written) is moving. Then it dawns on Wallis that she has lost her freedom and will forever be yoked to her husband and suffer hostility and humiliations. There is, in recompense, a scene in 1972 where the Duke is dying and asks his wife to dance for him. They had been together for almost forty years. Wallis, in 1998, has a sequence where she goes to Paris to ask Mohamad Al- Fayad, who owns the Duchess’ private letter collection, if she can read them. What is Madonna suggesting about Diana and Dodi Al- Fayad and the Windsors?
So, the film is not without interest, especially in the scenes of the past, and an opportunity to think again about the abdication and what brought it about and the consequences. The New York story has some poignant moments but is far less interesting than the past.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING
Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Brooklyn Decker.
Directed by Kirk Jones.
Some films need specialist backgrounds for review, some expertise in a particular area. For this one, out go all the men, except for those who need to have some empathy for their pregnant wives or partners, or to learn to be empathetic. Then out go the men who have had no first-hand experience with pregnant women. Then there are the rest. This review is coming from one of the rest. With as much empathy as possible.
As from the tone of the title, it is clear that this is a mixture of humour and self-help. It seems very frothy at times, even flippant. But, anyone in need of serious advice would not be asking it of this film. It would be a false expectation. They would be seeking out experts and reading serious material. So, this light touch film is a chance for women who have experienced or are experiencing pregnancy to respond emotionally to the on-screen stories, compare their own pregnancies and have a laugh or a weep.
Actually, it is some of the more ‘weeping’ sequences that stay in the mind, especially a miscarriage, the grief of the mother, her attitude towards the father of the baby (they are not married) and the behaviour of the father.
There is also an adoption story, featuring Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro, the question of eagerness and readiness, tensions, the interviews by the agency and, in this case, couples going to Ethiopia under the auspices of the agency to participate in a religious ritual with national and cultural overtones, to receive their babies.
There is comedy with Elizabeth Banks as a breast-feeding expert with a business who collapses in mid-address to a conference, throwing all her sweetness and light sentiments out the window, and beyond. There is comedy with Cameron Diaz as a fitness expert with her own TV show and audiences following