SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS JUNE 2013
DESPICABLE ME 2
ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY
EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN/ TODOS TENEMOS UN PLAN
FAST AND THE FURIOUS 6, The
HAPPINESS NEVER COMES ALONE
IN THE HOUSE
LADY IN PARIS, A
LONE RANGER, The
MAN OF STEEL
ONE MILE ABOVE
TO THE WONDER
WORLD WAR Z
YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET
Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo.
Directed by M Night Shyamalan.
Probably best to describe this futuristic story, set a thousand years from now, as a film for boys age, say, ten to fifteen. The hero is a 14 year old, a recruit for the rangers on the Nova planet. He is brash and not promoted which compounds his sense of guilt for the death of his sister when he failed a test, thinking his father blames him. His father is the commanding general of the rangers.
But, the father takes his son on an expedition to bond with him. When their space ship crashes to earth after being damaged by a meteor storm, they are stranded. The boy has to travel 100 miles to find a beacon to fire for safety. Will he do it? Earth has a different atmosphere. Animals, some ferocious, roam. The temperature lowers at night.
The film has received bad reviews, some of it critical of the director whose reputation has lessened after his success with The Sixth Sense in 1999. His last film was The Last Airbender. And some commentators are critical of Will Smith. He wrote the story of the film and co-wrote the screenplay with the director. It is a star vehicle for his son, Jaden. He gives him top billing. They had worked together some years ago in The Pursuit of Happyness and Jaden Smith was The Karate Kid in the re-make with Jackie Chan.
So, if After Earth is judged according to the expectations for more adult-oriented films like Oblivion, then it fails. If it is reviewed as a Boys’ Own Adventure for teenage boys, it is a short story with some nice touches as real-life father and son portray father and son and their bonding. Jaden Smith is certainly not the world’s best actor but he manages and gets better as he has to hold the story together. It’s a limited film, limited by its scope and target audience as well as in performance. It deserves a chance.
Helen Mirren, Richard Mc Cabe, Edward Fox, Haydn Gwynne, Paul Ritter.
Directed by Stephen Daldrey.
With its excellent performances, its cleverly constructed plot and, its fine, often humorous, dialogue, this film could also be described as ‘miraculous’. At least in this regard, that in its presentation of Queen Elizabeth the second and her audiences where seven of her prime ministers over many decades, it could actually make a staunch Republican very sympathetic to her majesty.
This is a filmed version of a performance by the National Theatre at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s west end. It is one of the very successful series of National Theater Live, transmitted in the United Kingdom to a number of cinemas around Britain then, later, screened in cinemas internationally.
The play was directed by Steven Daldrey (director of Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader). And what makes it particularly special is that Helen Mirren reprises her performance as Queen Elizabeth from her Oscar winning role in the film, The Queen.
But one of the main contributions to the success of the play is the writing by Peter Morgan. Morgan has had a very successful stage, television and screen career, writing such films as The Deal, The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, The Special Relationship, 360. One of his greatest stage successes was Frost Nixon, also filmed.
This film is a development of Morgan’s interest in the queen. It is pointed out that the queen meets her prime minister every Tuesday evening at 6:30 PM. What goes on is confidential but Morgan has speculated, given a lot of facts about the queen and the prime ministers concerned, as well as the historical context, what might have occurred in some of these audiences. In fact, he offers great insights into the prime ministers themselves as well as into the queen and her attitudes towards them and her dealings with them over 60 years. 12 prime ministers have served during her reign.
There is a great deal going on in the background of the play. An Equerry appears throughout the film, explaining situations, describing the rooms where the audiences take place, setting the scenes, ordering the servants about. There are a number of servants who serve tea, show people in, and gather around the queen at key moments while the audience is looking at other characters and transform her with dresses and wigs to move from one era to another.
One device for distracting attention is the presence of a young girl, Nell Willliams, as the young Elizabeth, revealing something of it what was like discover that she was going to be heir to the throne, what her life was like in being privately tutored with Princess Margaret, with the formalities in addressing her mother and father, her wanting to go outside into fresh air, her being in the girl guides, her rather determined approach to do her life, especially with the restrictions that have applied from the time her father became king. There are scenes where the older queen and the young princess discuss what it is like to be queen.
Helen Mirren gives a very fine performance, rather theatrical in its style, due to the performance on the stage with a live audience giving its responses, both laughter and applause. But one sees her versatility, especially with the play opening in the 1990s, reverting to 1952, then moving backwards and forwards depending on the prime ministers who were participating in the weekly audience.
This election of prime ministers who appear onstage is intriguing in itself. The big absence is Tony Blair, though there are some disparaging remarks are made about him and some jokes at his expense, especially with the Gordon Brown. David Cameron does indicate some admiration for Blair.
What Morgan has done is sketch each of the prime ministers, highlighting their personalities, their political stances, their political experiences, especially within their own party, and he shows his skill in being able to give a significant impression in a comparatively short time. He also gives the queen some pointers about her longing for some kind of privacy, her political shrewdness in dealing with prime ministers and the way that she learned to do this, especially in the period of Churchill and Anthony Eden. Over the decades she comes particularly wise, particularly astute, not always agreeing with her prime ministers but constitutionally bound to support them. This offers particular insights into the queen and her stances, her sense of duty, her marriage and the Duke of Edinburgh, her love of the Britannia, her devotion to the Commonwealth and her admiration for several of the African leaders.
The first prime minister we see is John Major. This is a very interestingly written sketch and performed showing significant diffidence in Major by Paul Ritter. It indicates Major did not expect to be prime minister and found his experience draining, and would have preferred a life with cricket, because he did not do well in school. The queen is sympathetic to him but realizes that he is out of his depth in his leadership. Audiences will be pleased that Major makes a second appearance during the play.
He is followed by Edward Fox as Winston Churchill in his latter days, presuming on his past and his reputation, talking down to the young queen, who shrewdly points out that in delaying her coronation, allegedly for experience, he will not be able to resign or be an ousted because of his commitment to this important invent in British history.
There is some humour with Gordon Brown and his exasperation with Tony Blair, in his realising that he was not as good at being prime minister as he expected, and perhaps might have been better being an academic. And he knows he will be defeated at the coming election.
On comes a blustering Richard Mc Cabe as Harold Wilson, audiences expecting some kind of clash between the Labor leader and the queen. In fact, the initial meeting is not so successful, with Wilson going on and on about his background in Huddlesfield, the Labor party, his expectations about the queen and her political stances. However, Wilson makes two more appearances, becoming more and more comfortable in his interactions with the queen, after initially having a photo taken with her on his first visit, the queen looking particularly stone. But then they are on holidays in Scotland, at Balmoral, and an easy interaction has set in, Wilson very much at home with the queen, considering her a lefty at heart. She enjoys his company. Later, when David Cameron rather indiscreetly asks whom she got on best with, the Equerry indicates that he knows who it was - and Harold Wilson comes in again, showing his signs of increasing senility and Alzheimers. The queen is genuinely concerned, and indicates to him that she and the Duke of Edinburgh would be happy to accept his invitation to dine at Downing Street.
Audiences have been waiting for Mrs. Thatcher to arrive and they were not be disappointed. Hayden Gwynne is quite impressive as Mrs. Thatcher. It is a very interesting section of the play, the queen clearly not getting on well with Mrs. Thatcher, disapproving of her economic rationalism, hinting to the press that Mrs. Thatcher lack compassion and completely disagreeing with her stance on sanctions against South Africa. Mrs Thatcher gives her ‘no society’ speech.
There are also some moments with Anthony Eden who considered the queen inexperienced in the mid-1950s and concealed from her French and British meetings with Israel concerning the Suez Canal and its management, and the ambitions of President Nasser. However the queen has done her homework and is able to challenge him on what has happened. Then, towards the end, the queen lists the prime minister and forgets one. James Callaghan bursts in to claim his place and that the queen not forget him.
The film raises so many issues and indicates the passing of time with the Equerry in the 1990s trying to deal with his large mobile phone and in 2013, the grandchildren putting an I-Pad? in grandmother’s purse and its playing music themes to her bewilderment. In fact, in the play there are mentions of Baroness Thatcher’s funeral, Pope Benedict’s resignation period and the forthcoming birth of the new heir. So the film covers just over six decades.
The audiences will enjoy the frequent wry remarks made by the queen, the gaffes made by the prime ministers, a lot of political jokes, comments about the family, pathos and irritation about Diana, false expectations about the marriage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, comments about the ups and downs of the popularity of the royal family. And the corgis make several appearances.
With the quality of the play, the performances, the insights into British politics, The Audience would repay more viewings.
DESPICABLE ME 2
Voices of: Steve Carrell, Kristin Wiig, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Benjamin Bratt, Sean Hayes, Miranda Cosgrove.
Directed by Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud.
Despicable was certainly not the word that fans used for the original Despicable me. Everybody liked it, even with its sinister hero, the despicable Gru, who was working on a scheme to steal the moon – well, somebody thought they should do it!
But, at the end, Gru succumbed to the charm of three little orphan girls and reformed.
At the beginning of Despicable Me 2, Gru is maintaining his reputation for honesty, and is employed in making jams and jellies. However, there is a little deception for one of the little girls who was counting on the fairy princess coming to her birthday party – when she doesn’t turn up, Gru dons the costume and saves the day. The little girl reassures him she knows what he did but she won’t say anything to spoil the pleasure of the other children. So, all seems sweetness and light. And Steve Carrell offers his highly entertaining voice for Gru.
But, his ally, Dr Nefario (Russell Brand) decides that the honest life is too dull and goes off to work for another villain (Benjamin Bratt) wanting to transform the world into evil. The authorities of the Anti-Villain? League approach Gru to work on the side of good and bring the villain to justice. So, lots of funny adventures, Gru with his special weapons and skills – and the help of agent, Lucy (Kristen Wiig) who is wary of Gru but falls in love with him. The little girls all approve.
The creatures from the original films, the minions, who look like roly poly balls, whose voices are like kiddy mumbles, with silly giggles and naughty sniggers often steal the show. But… the villain is able to transform them into slimeballs who do his will. Gru has to combat them. But, there is a way for them to be changed back into their old selves. Plenty of jokey action here. And Dr Nefario has a crisis of conscience.
Undemanding, with some visual inventiveness, and some funny sequences – for children and even for adults.
Voices of: Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Jason Sudeikis, Christoph Walz, Beyonce Knowles, Chris O’ Dowd.
Directed by Chris Wedge.
A brightly animated film that combines a modern story with a fairy tale – and has an environmental message.
As with a number of animation films, it is often hard to gauge just who is the target audience. Is it for children (well, yes, but what age)? Is it for boys and girls? Will adults enjoy it as they take their children and grandchildren?
With Epic, and its female central character, it looks as though it might appeal to pre-teenage girls. While the male character is not really a wimp, he has to work hard to impress. A boys’ audience might have to be a little tolerant. For teens? Maybe. But they might be saying that they have grown out of this kind of thing.
But, what do we have? First, the most nerdish, absent-minded and clumsy professor-father in a long time. He has been investigating his theory that there are little people in the forests. When his daughter, Mary Katherine, MK as she wants to be called, is drawn into the world of the Leaf People, he eventually is happy that he had been right.
But a lot of adventures before that.
It is a special time for renewal in the forest and the powers of darkness, an ugly lot who fire arrows which give kinds of boils to everyone and everything, are preparing an onslaught to prevent the moon from shining on the flower which must bloom to ensure the queen of the forest will continue her reign of light. While that may sound sweet, there are a lot of battles, some of them in the air with the Leaf Men warriors flying to combat the creatures of gloom. Come to think of it, quite a lot of battles. And myriad bats blocking out the moonlight.
Nod, the young rebel wants to be a warrior without curbs, despite the wise advice of the elder, Ronin, who trains him. And he wants to impress MK. There are some comic characters around, especially some wise-cracking slugs. And the queen at the beginning of the film is spoken by Beyonce. As regards the other voices: Colin Farrell is Ronin, Josh Hutcherson is Nod, the princeling, Amanda Seyfried, Mk, Jason Sudeikis the professor and Christoph Waltz the villain.
An ending when MK has to regain size and go back home? Separated forever?. Who said Skype was not a great invention and just might work in the forest! And Epic is a much too grandiose title for this fairy tale.
ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY
Michael Eklund, Katherine Herfuth, Tomas Lamarquis, Rik Mayall.
Directed by Eron Sheean.
Errors of the Human Body might be described as bizarre. It is a science-fiction film about genetics and experimentation.
The film was directed by Enron Sheean who spent six years as an artist in residence at the Max Planck Molecular Institute in Dresden, in the former East Germany. By working with the scientists, looking at their experiments and their plans, he devised this drama, this melodrama, about a scientist who goes to Germany to develop a process whereby organs can be reproduced. He is wracked by personal guilt with the disease of his son and the alienation of his wife.
All seems initially well. But the audience is probably suspicious with this kind of institute, the laboratories, the eerie corridors, the lighting, and suspect there is something amiss.
And they are correct. The scientist, possibly becoming paranoid, suspects a conspiracy amongst his fellow-scientists. He enlists the help of one colleague, is suspicious of another, has interviews with the head of the institute. However, the film begins to introduce some touches of the horror genre when the scientist himself is infected adversely by what he was developing. It can be developed for good or for ill.
The film maintains its atmosphere, audiences wary of the laboratories. But the film develops with some visual ugliness with the infection of the scientist.
Michael Eklund (the serial killer in The Call with Halle Berry), is the scientist. Surprisingly, comedian Rick mayall appears as the head of the institute.
A curiosity item, intriguing.
EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN/ TODOS TENEMOS UN PLAN
Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Fanego, Soledad Vilamil.
Directed by Ana Pitabarg.
Viggo Mortensen has the opportunity here to portray identical twins. Not that the two characters appear in many sequences together, but they certainly do look very much alike and the plot counts on the fact that most people can accept one as the other.
It’s a serious story, very serious and rather dour and grim, even gloomy. The setting is a delta in Argentina, not the exuberant vitality of Buenos Aires, music and dance, but a quite dingy world of river, islands, remote town, a centre for abductions and ransoms.
One of the brothers lives in the delta, a beekeeper, helped by a young woman, Rosa, but caught up in the schemes of boyhood friend, Adriano. When an abduction goes wrong, it will have repercussions for both brothers. The other twin is a doctor in the city who experiences something of a breakdown.
Audiences will anticipate quite early what is going to happen and waits to see if they are right. And, they may get a little impatient, because the pacing of the film is very measured (slow would be the complaint of action-wanting audiences).
Mortensen gives an effective performance. Some have suggested he gives three performances: one brother, the other brother, and the brother acting as the other. But, there are some plot puzzles, especially in the brothers and their relationship to Rosa (they over fifty and she just twenty).
There is an Argentinian current of very serious, slowly-paced dramas which feature at international festivals. This is one of those films.
FURIOUS 6/ THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS 6
Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Ludacris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Luke Evans.
Directed by Justin Lim.
Trivial Pursuit question: what 2013 action film has a group grace before meals at the end? Furious 6, of course! The team sit down and pray before eating. True.
But, also of course, fast is key to the film and there is a fair amount of furious. A the end, as the survivors watch a huge plane conflagration, the thought comes to mind: this is a multi-million dollar extravaganza for adrenalin-addicts. And then comes the thought: does too much adrenalin get to the brain and dismantle all sense of realism and logic? Because realism and logic don’t play a big part in this sixth episode in what is now one of the most popular movie franchises. Half a billion dollars worldwide in little more than a week.
Dwayne Johnson as an agent was after drivers, Dom and Brian, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker (not showing any vast improvement in their acting skills) in Fast Five. Now he hires them (with pardons if successful) in tracking down a master criminal involved in stealing a billion-dollar piece of military IT hardware. If this elaborate plot with final chase involving a tank and a huge cargo plane, is the way to steal and transport the material… there have to be far simpler ways for a mastermind to think up!
Which is not important logically, because this is about cars, chases and leaping-through-the-air action, which Vin Diesel does, from one side of a bridge, over a gap, catching Michelle Rodriguez, and both being winched to safety on the other side – this is not a spoiler because it still has to be seen not to be believed.
There are some spectacular locations, especially the opening race along the coast roads in the Canary Islands. Believe it or not (not), there is a chase through central London including Picadilly Circus. And, at the end, there is one through Tokyo, to say nothing of the bridge battle and on the tarmac and in the plane.
Plotwise, Dom discovers Letty didn’t die as thought, has lost her memory and is aide to the villain, Luke Evans (British, of course, and ruthless). Brian has a baby, risks everything for a pardon by helping Dom and the agent, even going to the US undercover to interrogate a key drug lord as to what happened to Letty. Friends and loyalty are everything. Once we think all is well and the film can end, Brian’s wife and child are kidnapped, which gives Jordana Brewster as Brian’s wife, a chance to show her driving skills as well.
Michelle Rodriguez’s first film was Girlfight, and here she goes again (twice) with martial arts star, who appeared in Haywire, Gina Carano.
There are plenty of comic touches with Ramon and Tej (Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris) from the previous films.
There is a twist at the end with one of the key characters being revealed as the traitor – and that makes little logical sense as well. And one key character is killed off rather instantly while trying to save the life of another.
The Tokyo car chase takes place soon after the final credits begin which enables those rushing out of the cinema not to miss a trailer for Furious 7 with Jason Statham turning up and looking threatening. He is not going to be on Dom and Brian’s team!
HAPPINESS NEVER COMES ALONE/ UN BONHEUR N’ARRIVE JAMAIS A SEUL.
Sophie Marceau, Gad Elmaleh, Maurice Barthelmy.
Directed by James Huth.
This is one of those French romantic comedies that should prove entertaining for those who like French romantic comedies. And for those who like Sophie Marceau. In the past Sophie Marceau has been a rather solemn, sometimes pouting presence in films (D’ Artagnan’s Daughter, Anna Karenina, Braveheart) and did not seem to be a likely candidate for comedy let alone so much of the slapstick jokes that punctuate the film. Her pratfalls are very funny and she effects them with perfect timing.
But this is also the story of Sacha (Gad ELmaleh), a pianist who leads a carefree, no responsibilities, one-night-stand, kind of life. He plays piano at a club (and very well, especially as he plays during the opening credits), composes commercial jingles and is preparing a show (music, dance and mime) with one of his friends.
As it pours raining outside an office building (into his open sports car), Charlotte (Marceau) literally trips and falls flat on her face in front of him (and then is drenched by a passing car and gets hit in the head as the valet throws the car keys). As Sacha gives her a lift, they fall in love.
This changes Sacha almost completely and the couple begin a relationship – and more pratfalls as her bathroom and basin collapse in a mess. Then he discovers she has a son. And then he discovers that she has two more children. He had previously declared himself ‘anti-kids’. But, he clicks with them. They click with him. It all seems perfect. Except that the arrogant and womanizing head of the advertising company, with whom he has clashed, is her ex-husband (and she has another ex-husband as well).
And the show? An opportunity to go to Broadway? But, there is more going on behind the scenes… But, it is no secret that the film will have a happy ending, but we wonder towards the end how this could be possible.
Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne, Aasif Mandvi, Max Minghella, Will Ferrell, John Goodman, Josh Brenner, Dylan O’ Bryan, Josh Gad.
Directed by Shawn Levy.
Surprisingly entertaining and funny.
Star Vince Vaughn thought up this story and co-wrote the screenplay. It has something for everyone, old and young – and some useful messages for both those same old and young.
Billy (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Owen Wilson) are crack salesman, with humorous pitches, lots of hail-fellow-well-met palaver, and personalized play for customers. The trouble is their watch company has folded and the boss, John Goodman, tells them they are out of a job. Redundant in early middle age! Nick gets a job from his sister’s boyfriend, an amusingly sneering and obtuse Will Ferrell. Billy finds an ad for an internship with Google.
This is definitely a Google film with the logo everywhere of course and lots of promotion. But, it is done quite well – and who doesn’t use Google! The DVD distributors of Flashdance and Jennifer Beal won’t be sorry that Billy often uses the film as his way of urging his young collaborators to take risks – the youngsters have never heard of it and play a joke on the oldies by sending them off to Stanford to meet Professor Charles Xavier. They meet a lookalike with some momentary dire results. Poor middle-aged oldies have never heard of the X-Men!
What seems to loom as a satire on older wariness of computers is not. Billy and Nick certainly make lots of mistakes, even referring to being on-the-line, but they do apply themselves and do learn a lot to find a place in a 21st century IT world.
In fact, there is quite some satire on the young IT nerds/geeks/whatever who are whiz kids on programming, terminology and solving computer problems but whose dedication to sitting and staring at screens is turning them into virtual zombies. Billy and Nick urge them into a real world, though the strip club, drinking and bar brawl is a too long and silly an initiation into macho reality – the sitting and looking at the view of the real San Francisco is ultimately more rewarding.
Billy and Nick are put in a competitive team of leftovers not chosen by the crack teams, including a Japanese- American with a tyrannical mother, a Latina, a couldn’t-care-less white boy, all under the wing of the most earnest nerd. What hope have they? But, despite all appearances to the contrary (and ‘all’ is the operative word), we know that they are going to succeed: a team drawing on all talents.
And, of course, there is quite a nasty self-important young villain (Max Minghella) who compensates for having no people skills by being arrogant to everyone, his team included.
Not to forget a pleasant romance between Nick and Rose Byrne, an ice-maiden IT professional, allowed to keep some of her Australian accent.
This is a good-natured film, surprisingly less crass than might have been expected, with a lot of wit and jokes and Vaughn being difficult but redeemable and Owen Wilson being nice and pleasant.
IN THE HOUSE/DANS LA MAISON
Fabrice Lucchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Bastien Ughetto, Denis Menochet.
Directed by Francois Ozon.
In the House seems a rather nondescript title for this intriguing film. However, by the end of the film it has quite some significance.
And the film can be recommended because of the work of its director, Francois Ozon. For almost 15 years, he has been making a film every year, many psychological dramas, Under the Sand, The Swimming Pool, 5 X 2, The Time Remaining, but also a excursions into musical, 8 Women, or fantasy, Ricky.
This film is based on a Spanish play by Juan Mayorga, The Boy in the Back Row. It is successfully transferred to a French setting, a town with the focus on the school where the central character, Germain, is a teacher. His wife, Jeanne, runs a rather avant Garde gallery in the town. He has been teaching for many years and seems rather resigned to his students not paying much attention, illustrated almost immediately by the very poor essays he receives from the students about their previous weekend. She is rather frustrated, the owner of the gallery having died and his twin daughters, whom she considers as lacking in culture, may fire her unless she produces a significant exhibition. So far, so ordinary enough.
But one student writes a standout essay, two pages worth, full of detail, quite mundane in detail. It is by a 16 year old student, Claude.
Germain becomes interested in Claude and his writing, the boy becoming rather a favorite student, the teacher giving him much time, analyzing his essays, suggesting ways of writing better. But he is also intrigued by the content of the essay which always finishes, ‘a suivre’, to be continued…
Germain reads the stories to his wife and she too becomes fascinated. We wonder about their curiosity, Germain’s motivations, why he is attracted to the boy and his writing: is it psycho-sexual, is it because he is a frustrated novelist, is it because he is childless and wants to father someone?
But the main question is: why are we, the audience, so attracted to the story, curious about what happens, more than a touch of the prurient as Claude delves deeper into the lives of the family that he has chosen for his stories? We are observing something of ourselves in the way that Germain and his wife are dramatized.
On the day-by-day level, nothing startling really happens. It is all in the detail. Claude has chosen one of his fellow-students, Rapha, to befriend and tutor him in matha in which he is hopeless room. Rapha response well, and invites Claude into the house. The meaning of the title begins to take shape. What Claude does is insinuate himself into the household, getting to know the father who is in business, frustrated by his boss, having to two extra work to entertain a Chinese business partner. His name is also Rapha. Then there is his wife, Esther, who intrigues Claude, who makes disparaging remarks about her, seeing her as a bored housewife, frustrated and reading home decoration magazines because that is what she wanted to do with her life. He prowls around the house snooping. All these details are reported to Germain in the stories. And they continue for some time.
Of course, we the audience are also interested in the two Raphas well as Esther. When, following Germain’s advice, Claude starts to invent material, with Germain sometimes appearing in the background of conversations, suggesting that a lot of what we’re seeing is fiction. We wonder about Claude and his motivation and, particularly, his manipulation of people, the family as well as of Germain.
Germain asks the class to write an essay about their best friend and makes Rapha read his in public, embarrassing him considerably, which arouses the anger of his father, and the suspicions of the headmaster. Germain has also compromised himself by stealing the text of a maths exam for Claude to show to Rapha and help him get an A, which she does.
Germain, and we the audience, become so entangled in the story that we wonder in which direction it will go. We see Claude becoming seductive for Esther and the possibility of the young Rapha killing himself.
There is the opening of the exhibition at the gallery, but Jeanne thinks she will be fired. And then Claude comes to the door… We’re almost to the end and the strange story does not quite have the ending that we might have imagined. While Claude was able to get right inside the Rapha house, he also intrudes into Germain’s house of the end. But is all this a house of fiction and we are inside that house.
Fabrice Luchini is excellent as Germain. Kristin Scott Thomas is also excellent as Jeanne, with Emmanuelle Seigner fine as Esther. The young man, Ernst Umhauer, who portrays Claude gives an assured performance which should guarantee his future in cinema.
Well worth going inside the house.
A LADY IN PARIS/ UNE ESTONIENNE A PARIS
Jeanne Moreau, Laine Magi, Patrick Pineau.
Directed by Ilmar Raag.
A Lady in Paris, makes the original French title sound a touch more aristocratic than it really is. It is Une Estonienne a Paris, which means that it could refer to the central character, an Estonian woman who is a professional carer employed to look after an elderly widow. Or, as the English title implies, it refers to the widow.
The film is a French/Estonian co-production. The director is Estonian, Ilmar Raag. So is Anna, the carer. The first part of the film is set in that country.
The picture of Estonia is rather grim, and the opening sequence in winter, at night, a woman, Anna, trudging through the snow-covered streets, an alcoholic man calling out to her. It continues grim with his being her ex-husband and her elderly mother with dementia being afraid. However, Anna is loving towards her mother the, caring for her for two years. Then the mother dies. Anna grieves but she also caters for the wake. What is she now to do?
An offer comes to her to go to Paris to look after Frida. Frida is played by Jeanne Moreau, at age 83. In Amour, Emmanuelle Riva portrayed an ageing woman when she was 84. Elderly French actresses have commanding presence on screen. Jeanne Moreau has always had a commanding manner and she employs it here.
The film works as a portrait of Anna, presenting the initially as dowdy, but an adventurous incoming to Paris, withstanding the tantrums of Freda, looking at the dresses and perfumes in French shops, gradually transforming herself and gaining in self-confidence. The film works as a portrait of Freda, a refugee from Estonia long since, who has forgotten her native language, who has become more French than French, spoilt, wealthy will acting on whims, giving orders.
We guess, however, that there will eventually be a bond between the two women. It is interesting to watch the dynamics between the two, the mistress and the servant, the mellowing of the mistress, growing affection between the two women, their venturing out of the house, agreeing to host visitors…
However, there are still tensions, especially because of Frida’s life and her antagonisms in the past, her relationships with men and the breaking up of marriages. There is still one man who is devoted to her, Stephanen, Patrick Pineau, once her lover but now the manager of a cafe which she financed, who visits her, employs staff to look after her, wanting to be freer from her dominance, yet deeply devoted to her.
The film portrays a fairly enclosed world, the world of the house, the world of the café, with some visits into Paris, the Eiffel tower, the shops, and Anne wanting to find the Estonian community in Paris with the response that the older people are dying out and the younger are not interested.
Audiences will probably have different ideas on how plausible the resolution of the problem is and the nature of the ending. Suffice to say that the filmmakers have not opted for despair and disappointment.
THE LONE RANGER
Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper.
Directed by Gore Verbinski.
‘What’s with the mask?’ is a question that recurs throughout this quite rollicking film. It is the question to the Lone Ranger, from goodies and baddies, Indians and Chinese, all wanting to know why John Reid is wearing this mask with his bright white hat.
After the press preview, many of the reviewers were agreeing that the 2 ½ hours had passed very quickly, especially for this kind of holiday adventure. They were in a good mood. It’s the kind of action show, with laughs, that extroverted audiences might applaud wildly.
Just as there have been films showing the origins of Batman and Superman, this is the film that shows us the origins of the lone ranger and his partnership with the Indian, Tonto. While the film can be described as rollicking, there are shifts of moods right throughout the film. At one moment, the film is spoofing aspects of the western genre. The next moment we’re wondering about the portrayal of the Indians, the history of the Native Americans, Johnny Depp portraying Tonto, and racist issues. But then we are back with the narrative, the humour, and quite some poking fun at white Americans and American stereotypes – while not forgetting the injustices to the Native Americans and their being used by unscrupulous tycoons to break the peace treaties..
The story opens in San Francisco in 1933, a carnival with an attraction showing pictures of the history of the American west. A little boy, wearing a Lone Ranger mask, goes into have a look and stops at the picture of ‘The Noble Savage in his Setting’. And there is a statue of the Indian, (a bit like A Night at the Museum) coming to life and having a conversation with the little boy, telling the story of the Lone Ranger. It is an aged Tonto. The screenplay keeps coming back to San Francisco and the little boy who keeps asking questions which Tonto doesn’t answer quite accurately some of the time, being accused of making up the story as he goes. And he definitely is. This is one of those ‘write the legend’ instead of ‘print the facts’ kind of story.
The film was made in New Mexico and the photography of the desert and the majestic mesas is most impressive. The recreation of the Texas Town of Colby, where, in 1869, the railroad is progressing through the Lone Star state, helps us feel at home in this west (as it does when the baddies start pursyinig the train and there is a shootup. The production company actually built some miles of rail for the filming of the period and there is the town itself, frontier style. There are farms along the river. There are mountains and caves for mining silver. So the production looks very good. And there is a rousing score by Hans Zimmer.
But, of course, it is a Johnny Depp film. Here he is working with director Gore Verbinski after his collaboration with him for the Pirates of the Caribbean films. His Tonto is far more restrained and ironically witty than his Jack Sparrow. He uses his eyes and body language for his comments on characters and events. There is also quite a lot of slapstick and a great deal of stunt work, action in trains, on top of trains, through trains, horse riding, chases and shootouts.
John Reid, who becomes the Lone Ranger, is a city DA travelling with a group of Presbyterians to the west, studying the rules of government treatise of John Locke. And he is against guns. But as an ultra-serious lawman, he intervenes where prudence would offer some restraint, coming into conflict with the very evil and evil-looking villain, Butch, played by William Fichtner who has done many villains but excels as this one. Mean-looking, mean-acting. And their plenty of sequences to show how he can act in the most dastardly manner.
Army Hammer, who starred in The Social Network and Mirror, Mirror, is a straight up and down hero who is moved towards justice, tries to control himself against violence, partners Tonto and is led to an ambiguous revenge narrative. This performance won’t do Armie Hammer’s career any harm.
The producers bring in British support with Tom Wilkinson as the evil corporate villain, Ruth Wilson as the wife and love interest, Helena Bonham Carter as a Red, the manager of the local saloon.
As the film goes on, the heroics become rather incredible, and even the military coming in led by Barry Pepper. But it all builds up to a huge confrontation, two trains, a large wooden bridge which is set with dynamite, horse pursuits, riding on top of carriages, and a whole lot of derring-do. And this is all set (at last one might think), to the Lone Ranger theme, a loud and vital rendition of the William Tell Overture.
The little boy goes home from the museum satisfied enough while we are more than set of satisfied and watch the aged Tonto, during the final credits, walk into the far distance.(For movie buffs this may be a tribute to Abbas Kierostami and the ending of Through the Olive Trees!). And, should there be a sequel, why not?
MAN OF STEEL
Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Christopher Melon, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
There have been many incarnations of superman. The word ‘incarnation’ is used intentionally and will be commented on later. The comic strip created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster began its life in the 1930s, the period of popular comic strips and comic books. In the 1940s, actor George Reeves embodied superman (and was portrayed by Ben Affleck in Hollywoodland, 2006). There are 91 entries in the Internet Movie Database for Superman in film and television. There were animated versions of the character but in 1978, world attention was drawn to a spectacular Superman by Richard Donner, starring the unknown, Christopher Reeve. From that time Reeve was the perfect embodiment of Superman and there were three sequels. Unfortunately, the attempt at re-introducing superman worldwide, Superman rRturns, directed by Bryan Singer, with Brendan Routh, was not as successful as hoped for.
Now comes, as they say, the rebooting of the Superman story: Man of Steel. In its first release weeks it has been very successful at the box office.
One of the main problems for Suprman film is to cast a successful successor to Christopher Reeve. This time it is English actor, Henry Cavill. He has appeared in a number of films including Woody Allen’s Whatever Happens as well as the mythological story, The Immortals. It has to be said that he has a lot of striking resemblance is to Christopher Reeve which should satisfy many of the fans. This version is very serious so he does not get much of a chance to smile or have the Reeve twinkle in his eye.
This version might be described as a prequel to its successors. It actually ends with Clark Kent putting on his spectacles and turning up for his first day of work at the Daily Planet. What has gone before is the story of his father and mother sending him from Krypton to Earth, his early life in jobs around America with flashbacks to his childhood in Smallville. This was the material covered in the first third of 1978’s Superman: The Movie.
In this earlier film, the section was written by novelist Mario Puzo (The Godfather), and was filled with explicit references to Christian theology, some of the language derived from the Gospel of John: the unity between God the Father and God the Son and his being sent to Earth. Within it there was the collapse of the planet Krypton, the role of General Zod – the latter kept for Superman II. Now General Zod is the principal enemy.
The scenes on Krypton with the father preparing his son for Earth is quite reminiscent of the earlier film without the detailed parallels with the Christian themes and language. However, it is not very difficult to make the same connections given the nature of the script, and the role between father and son. This time the father, as with Marlon Brando earlier, is solicitous about his son and acts something like God the Father, confident that people on earth will see his son as a god. Since he is played with great dignity, very great dignity, with rounded and articulation of vowels in the Gladiator fashion, by Russell Crowe, he does fill something of an image for God the Father. Even though he dies, his consciousness can materialize again and so Russell Crowe does appear throughout the film, to give guidance to his son, Kal- El.
The film then moves to seeing Kal- El as Clark Kent working in the Arctic, making decisions to use his strength to save people’s lives. When news comes of a space ship trapped in Arctic ice, he goes there, sees his father and gets an explanation about his life and his destiny. However, another person who goes searching for information is the reporter from the Daily Planet, Lois Lane, played cheerfully by Amy Adams. Clark Kent cauterises her wound. She knows who he is and wants to get the story out but is prevented by her editor, played by Laurence Fishburne.
In the meantime, with the destruction of Krypton, General Zod and his officers are free again to roam the universe, searching for Kal- El who has the code for the rebirth of the people of Krypton. Clark Kent thinks it might be a good idea for Kryptonites and humans to live together but that is certainly not the intention of General Zod. This, of course, leads to confrontation and battles. With Michael Shannon as Zod, it is a mean and deadly confrontation.
One criticism of the film could be that the battles go on for too long, too long, too long. They’re quite spectacular and, it would seem, there is very little left of New York City, far worse than any 9/11 destruction. The special effects are quite awesome, especially collapsing skyscrapers, but there is more than enough of a good thing which, in some ways, halts the pace of the film.
Throughout the film, there are flashbacks to Clark and his childhood, saving people, having to keep his secret, his foster-father reinforcing this with self-sacrifice. His human parents are played by Diane lane and Kevin Costner.
Back to the word, ‘incarnation’. In the 1978 film, it is quite clear that the baby was a Christ-figure, spoken to by his father in words reminiscent of the Gospel, his vehicle for earth looking like a creep. The Kents served as his foster parents parallel with Mary and Joseph. After a long period of hidden life, he emerges to do battle with evil.
While the references are not so explicit in this film, it is not difficult to see that the same process is at work in David L. Goyer’s script. In fact, some reviewers even used the word Christ-like. What this film emphasizes is that Kal- El, Clark Kent, has the potential to be a messiah, to save the world. However, it is thought that the world would not accept him until the right time. (Reinforced in the film by the public;s fears and the war against terrorism phobias of the American military.
It is also very clear that he has, so to speak, two natures: one from beyond this world which gives him greater power and one from this world, human. And it is quite clear that both operate in the one person. And just when one might be thinking that this kind of theological analogy, which fans pick up quite easily, isn’t fanciful for this more secular age, it is said that he came to earth 33 years earlier…
This Christ-figure text gave the first part of Superman: the Movie some depth. But then the film moved almost at right angles and became the humorous comic strip with the adventurous hero battling Lex Luthor. This film maintains the incarnation of the two natures in Clark Kent right to the end. And in this sense, and with the confrontation with General Zod and the Kryptonites, a far more serious film in tone. It is hoped that this film will be successful because it will be really very interesting to see how the film makers treat Superman’s emergence into the world and his acceptance as its saviour.
Russia, 2013, Colour.
Directed by Anton Megerdichev.
Metro is a disaster film, a spectacle, with chaos and heroism in the Moscow underground. It emulates the styles of the American disaster films and makes quite a success of the attempt. It is very strong on special effects as well as stunt work.
The film also has a human story running through it, sometimes referred to by several characters as soap opera. However, it gives a human underlying narrative to the disaster story.
The film opens well, highlighting Moscow, its underground train system, the tunnels, water mysteriously seeping through the roof and the sides of the tunnel. An old security man makes a report and the officials ignore him. In the meantime we are shown an emotional triangle, the wife and mother having an affair, her husband a doctor working hard in a hospital, the daughter missing her mother and asking questions about her. This is all done very early in the film and then it gets some of these characters on to the train and into the disaster area.
There are also explanations as to why the disaster happens. There is a device of the young man in the train, flirting with a young woman, explaining that he was a tour guide and giving an outline of the track, tunnels, the history, a secret bunker, river levels… Where later shown the officials meeting and discovering the truth about the situation and discussing plans and backup plans, especially for evacuation of the city. A further complication is that the streets of more Moscow are experiencing gridlock with too much traffic.
There is a focus on time, the action happening over one morning, with frequent references to clocks. There is also a deadline for searching for survivors before the tunnel is sealed and liquid nitrogen is poured into the tunnel to permanently block it.
The film focuses on the peak hour, the crowds of people on platforms, and in the train carriages.
And when the spectacle comes of walls collapsing, trains careering out of control, off the tracks, people being bounced about, the photography and effects work very convincingly.
Because the screenplay has been careful to highlight several characters, they form the survival group and a lot of time is spent with them, walking through the water, uncertain about what was to happen, experiencing waves, even getting to a skylight and trying to shout to people and traffic passing by, without success.
And throughout the disaster, there is conflict because the father and his daughter are on the train as well as the wife’s lover. And this conflict comes to a head.
The film is strong on showing people using their wits, taking advantage of whatever means are available for trying to survive, and explanations are given as to what was happening and why.
The film comes to a satisfactory end, and has capitalised on all the conventions of the disaster genre. And a little humorous final moment with the dog!
Voices of: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, John Kraskinski, Nathan Filion, Bonnie Hunt, Dave Foley, Alfred Molina.
Directed by Dan Scanlon.
A pleasing film that might have you with a smile on your face right throughout the film – and not rushing out during the final credits, waiting to see the final good joke.
Those who delighted a decade ago, venturing into the world of Monsters Inc, will not find this film providing the instant joy of meeting Mike Wazowski and Sully for the first time. Rather, it is meeting up again with old friends. As voiced by Billy Crystal at his humorous best (though with some pathos as his goal in life is to study to be a scarer at Monsters University and he can’t quite make it) and with John Goodman as his perfect foil. And for good measure, there is Helen Mirren voicing the imperious dean of the department, Dean Hardscrabble. It really is a top voice cast.
It should be said that Monsters University is not a sequel to Monsters Inc. It is a prequel. It takes us back to the little Mike (very little because Mike, round with his one eye, is little even as a grown-up). He hero-worships a genial monster who encourages him to study, and gives him an MU cap which becomes Mike’s treasure.
He grows up (still little) and goes off to university.
At this stage, the film is a happy variation on the youngster-goes-off-to-college movie, arriving, full of awe, seeing the students, invitations to join clubs, registering, finding his room, getting a roommate who is skilled in disappearing (and has to get rid of his glasses which don’t disappear). This parallel with the teen and young adult college movie is not a bad thing. We enjoy observing and smiling at the similarities.
There are classes, tuition, tests, a nice lecturer and the winged dean with her sudden and solemn appearances. Can Mike really scare anyone? Then Sullivan, Sully, arrives, the son of a very famous scarer, coasting on the family reputation. He is accepted into the top fraternity and looks down on Mike.
When Mike does not qualify, he remembers the ad for the Scare Games. The film-makers have done some remembering themselves: The Hunger Games. The bulk of the latter part of the films is the competition of the games. In order to qualify, Mike needs Sully on his team. Then he has to have a fraternity and the only one that will accept him is the lowliest, a collection of entertaining characters (and the mother of the softest and nicest one).
It’s exciting, of course, and then there is a blow which leads to the last part of the film, Mike and Sully in a haunted house, not to haunt it, but to escape from the local ghost busters.
Young audiences will enjoy this 2013’s Pixar Animation Studios contribution, top value as usual. Those who enjoyed the monsters in the past (but might think they are a bit old for this) can find a good excuse to go to see it: take their younger brothers and sisters. And the adults will enjoy it, no questions asked.
ONE MILE ABOVE/ KORA
Directed by Jiayi Du.
Kora/ One Mile Above is a Chinese/ Taiwanese collaboration. It has an interesting background with the traditional enmity between mainland China and Taiwan as well as the situation of Tibet and its being incorporated by China. Perhaps this film indicates some possibilities for collaboration.
The film is about endurance. And the audience experiences something of this endurance as they watch the film. Perhaps they are comfortable in their seats but, if they have done any serious bike-riding, they will actually feel that they are sitting on the bike, pushing hard on the pedals, with the balls of the feet rather than heels, trying to be one with the bike as they move along the roads, but especially as the journey starts to get steeper and steeper, going through the mountains, sometimes freewheeling down hundreds of feet and then climbing again. When the rider skids/falls on the way down, the audience realises that there are dangers in the descents as well as in the ascents.
In Taiwan, a young man dies and his younger brother reads his diary which was put in the coffin at his funeral. He discovers that his brother wanted to cycle to Lahsar. The young man then decides to honour the memory of his brother by undertaking the same journey. He takes his own bike from Taiwan and lands in China and begins a journey of over 2000 km. (On screen, the film continually shows the heights above sea level.)
The film is something like a docudrama, indicating the difficulties of the ride, showing the beauty of the terrain, the growing ruggedness of the mountain ranges, the beauty of the peaks, the vagaries of the weather as it moves into winter. Fortunately for the young man, after being conned about identity cards being necessary, he meets up with a rider who is on a journey each year to improve his luck, wanting to see the peaks of three mountains as the clouds lift. He does not and later suffers a harsh accident in which the student is also involved.
The film also shows something of the hospitality along the way, a kind and welcoming Buddhist woman who provides traditional tea, and a friendly family who have pictures of Jesus, the Sacred Heart and the Virgin Mary on their walls. It introduces us into something of the village life, especially as the children go to school.
One of the drawbacks of the film, dramatically, is that it shows a desperate scene and suddenly cuts much further forward in the plot, for instance, the accident on the mountainside and suddenly the scene shifts to the hospital. This is sometimes dramatically jolting, rather than the pace at which the rest of the film is moving. There also scenes in hospitals and with the police warning the young man about the dangers, truck drivers on the road...
The film will probably appeal to inveterate cyclists who will be identifying all the way from China to Tibet. For less active audiences, it is a great opportunity to see the beautiful countryside, and to experience something of the way of life and the people. (It is not a film that takes up any of the burning political issues of the area, especially that of Tibetan independence.)
David Gulpilil, Cameron Wallaby, Joseph Pedley.
Directed by Catriona Mc Kenzie.
The best audience for this Australian story would be children. The story is principally about children and the events are experienced by children from their perspective. This is an Australian aboriginal story.
The film opens with a grandfather and his grandson walking through the sparse bush but feeling that it is alive and that it owns them. The grandfather is a wise old man who speaks his own language as well as English. So does the boy, but he is a modern boy from the technological age, a ‘satellite boy’, who needs to learn the lore and traditions from his elders. But, his mother has left with dreams of opening a restaurant and the boy lives in a derelict drive-in.
What gives the film some immediate gravitas is the fact that the grandfather is played by veteran David Gulpilil who, for more than 40 years, has been in key Australian films from Walkabout to Australia via Crocodile Dundee and Rabbit- Proof Fence. His words about the land are completely convincing.
Pete and his friend Kalmain get into trouble, dream about being astronauts, play with modern robot toys. But, when a mining country starts to burn the grass around the drive-in for storing equipment and the family have to get out, he decides to go to see the bosses and argue his case. This means a 21st century walkabout. But, the boys are ill-equipped, have not planned and just go. The grandfather has a sixth sense about their travels and guides them. They fortunately come across a river, but Pete can’t swim and Kalmain helps him across. They find a satellite dish and sleep on it. Thy find a well-stocked house and find something to eat – and a gun.
When they do get to the company’s headquarters, they are eventually reunited with their mothers. Perth, new clothes (and ice cream) are an incentive to stay with him mother, but he hops out of the car, throws away his shirt and returns home, to an initiation, to walking the bush with his grandfather.
Children’s audiences can identify with Pete and Kalmain and learn about how aboriginal boys face the technological present while not losing the traditions. Adults will have a chance to reflect, via a story, about the implications for indigenous Australians and a changing landscape and the challenges of the modern world.
The setting is the Kimberley around Wyndham.
James Cromwell, Genevieve Bujold, Campbell Scott.
Directed by Mike Mc Gowan.
Still Mine is a film about aging and mental deterioration. It is a film which will resonate very strongly with older audiences and also with those in their forties fifties and sixties who are thinking about their parents and what the future will bring for them. However, this is a film of strength and hope.
It is based on a true story, set in the province of New Brunswick, Canada. The location photography brings the town and of the surrounding countryside to life.
Central to the film is the character of Craig Morrison, played with great strength and determination by James Cromwell, who, after his turn as Farmer Hoggart in Babe, has appeared in many strong roles, a fine screen presence. As his wife, Irene, Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold, who in the past played Anne of the Thousand Days, gives a wonderful, unglamorous performance, slowly losing her memory, trying to cope with this, supportive of her husband as he is of her. In the story, they have been married for 61 years and have seven children, the story of their marriage told with delicacy, with intimacy.
The Canadian economy is in decline. Craig has to sell his cattle. He grows strawberries but they are rejected because they are not brought to the depot in un-refrigerated trucks. Because the family house has been so big, he decides to build a new one for Irene and himself. It is here where the difficulties really start. He relies on his own ability, learned from his father, his knowledge of lumber and cutting down trees and making planks to build the house. Suddenly, he is forbidden to build. He doesn’t have a permit, then he doesn’t have plans, then his wood is not stamped with approval. There is a threat to have the place bulldozed and he eventually goes to court. The bureaucracy tells him that he is disobeying rules. He makes the distinction between rules and standards and that his work is above standard..
Craig he is helped by one of his sons and is constantly advised by one of his daughters, a mixture of both Craig and Irene. When Irene is hospitalized, there is greater concern.
The audience is certainly on Craig’s side, even though we know he is a strong and stubborn man and needs to make some kind of compromise. It is when a friend with whom he has been sparring for many years dies and he weeps, we realize that he has great tenderness and that he has shown it to his wife for all the years.
Some commentators have made the link between Still Mine and Amour. The latter Oscar-winning film was intense, confined to the house, focusing on the couple and Alzheimers, with an intrusion by a zealous daughter. While it showed the great love and tenderness, and the stress on the husband, as Still Mine does, it does not have the scope of the down-to-earthness and hope that this Canadian film does. At the end, there is a credit to the Morrison family and indication that both Craig and Irene were still living at the time of the films initial release. He was 91.
TO THE WONDER
Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel Mc Adams, Javier Bardem.
Directed by Terrence Mallick.
To begin with, a caution which may be helpful in approaching To the Wonder. Writer-director, Terrence Mallick has made very few films in 40 years, Badlands, Days of Heaven in the 1970s,then The Thin Red Line in 1998, The New World in 2005. More recently he has become very active, with The Tree of Life, both a cosmic exploration and a focus on an ordinary family and ordinary human beings, in 2010. There are several films in process of production. The first to be released is To the Wonder.
And the caution? Narrative clarity is not a clear concern for Mallick. There is a narrative but his preferred way of communicating is more like visual art, music and poetry. The film is arresting to look at: the first part is in France, in tourist attraction places like the Luxembourg Gardens as well as the ordinary streets in Paris, the French countryside and a visit to Mont Saint Michel, the monastic island which can be cut off from the mainland of France at high tide. Its chapel and gardens are a wonder. The next part of the film is set in Oklahoma, very flat territory, rather monotonous suburban streets and homes, open fields, and watercourses that have to be tested for pollution.
Words are to a minimum. In the French section, it is French that is mainly spoken and there are subtitles. Later in the film, in Oklahoma, there is again some French but there is also a Hispanic character who speaks in Spanish, with subtitles.
Some reviewers have found Mallick’s filmmaking exhilaratingly artistic and poetic. Other audiences, who prefer straightforward communication, have found the film baffling or bewildering, Many not prepared to give it their attention.
Having said this, it is important to say that Mallick has a very distinctive type of film making, attractive and interesting in its way, but building up a niche market rather than appealing to the wide audience.
The story is in many ways very simple: an American and a Ukrainian refugee in France fall in love; she has a daughter; they are together but he cannot commit to marriage; we share their passionate love for each other. It is different in Oklahoma. He has a job as an engineer. She languishes. Her daughter wants to reconnect with her father and leaves. There are some complications, coming and goings in the life of the woman and the engineer. At one stage, he is compensating by taking up a relationship with a friend from school. She is Protestant and evangelical, quoting St. Paul, reading her bible in public, asking the engineer to pray with her.
The other central character is a Hispanic priest. He works in a parish in Oklahoma, has a very distinctive outreach to the poor and marginalized. He communicates well with them and is concerned for them. The engineer is a catholic and attends mass. The woman comes to confession and communion, her prelude to a very bad decision she makes which has an effect on the relationship.
For audiences with interest in religion, struggles with personal belief, the reality of prayer and an interior life, the priest character would be most interesting. We hear his questions, his longing for God, for a sense of God’s presence. He is in some dark night of senses and soul. We glimpse his loneliness as he is filmed walking detached through a joyful wedding reception. It is not as if he has lost faith. Rather, his desire for a greater awareness of faith and the presence of God he is a desire for prayer, is prayer itself. Towards the end he prays the breastplate of St Patrick.
So here is a rather commonplace story, presented with visual flair, poetic style, expecting the audience to do a lot of work in their responses, filling in the gaps, reflecting on the characters and their situations, on their stances and values.
The final image of the film is Mont Saint Michel, an ending to indicate some of the deeper meanings of the film experience.
Ben Affleck plays the engineer. Olga Kurylenko plays the woman. Rachel Mc Adams plays the friend. Javier Bardem plays the priest, and very effectively.
WORLD WAR Z
Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos,
Directed by Marc Forster.
World War Z. And, yes, Z is for Zombies.
Even though the film has a big star, Brad Pitt, a reputable director, Marc Forster ( Monsters Ball, Stranger than Fiction, The Kite Runner), and a big budget for locations, special effects and action sequences, audiences who do not like zombie films will not be converted. It is a film only for those who like or who can tolerate zombies on screen.
The quiet family opening sequences gives a false sense of security and calm. It is a mere lull. A traffic jam in Philadelphia follows where we share the frustration of the family and then, boom. Explosions, zombies smashing into windscreens, crazed crowds in panic, vehicles crashing everywhere. So, we are off. All around the world, the zombie plague is overwhelming, reports from everywhere. Can the world survive this plague? For most of the film, our bets would be that it won’t.
Fortunately, Dad is a previous UN expert and he is being called in. After a scary chase, hiding and zombie pursuit in Newark (with scenes of looting in a supermarket reminiscent of several Zombie movies like Day of the Dead), the family is whisked away to a ship off shore which has a huge and sometimes frantic war and strategy room. Gerry (Pitt) is sent to find the source of the outbreak, which leads him to a tense visit to Korea, then off to Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem section raises queries about what it is showing. Israel is free from plague because of its security, especially the wall. But outside the wall, and clambering mountains of zombies scaling the wall, people are infected. It might give an impression that Israel is safe and saved and those outside in the Palestinian territories are infected and killers. But, when Jerusalem is invaded and citizens become zombies, it might seem that Israel’s walls to keep enemies out is a vain hope, a false sense of security. Whatever the interpretation, the Jerusalem crowd scenes are quite spectacular in their way.
But, no solution there and Gerry is off to a World Health Organisation research centre outside Cardiff. Some plot aspects here (crashing so near the plant, Gerry impaled but able to walk, the Israeli soldier who was bitten on the hand and Gerry instantly slicing off her hand to save her) defy credibility.
In the facility, there is a collection of European character actors including Peter Capaldi, Moritz Bleibtreu, Ruth Negga, Pierfrancisco Favino, who give some gravitas to the tension.
There is a possible solution but the film ends on a moment of hope that the war will be won – but that it is just beginning. A sequel is possible although something similar was seen in Contagion.
YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET
Denis Polydades, Michel Piccoli, Pierre Arditi, Michel Robin, Annie Duperey, Sabine Azema, Anne Consigny. Matthieu Amalric, Lambert Wilson, Hippolyte Girardot, Gerard Lartigau.
Directed by Alain Resnais.
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is the work of French director, Alain Resnais. At the time of directing this film he was 90 years old. Yet it is not the film of an old man. It is, rather, the film of a man’s long experience in cinema and theatre and wants to pay tribute to this French tradition.
The screenplay it takes up the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus and is based on the work of playwright, Jean Anouilh.
The whole film is quite artificial and relishes this artificiality. A famous playwright is reported to have been accidentally killed and his butler summons a group of actors to his home to commemorate his life. This is a bit like the device in The Cat and the Canary where the family is invited to listen to the will which is spoken by the dead man on a video. But this time the author wants to create an event to his own memory. He has been planning a modern version of Eurydice which has been filmed on video and he begins to play it for the audience. The reason for the actors being present is that they have performed the play in the past and have been invited to enjoy the new version and make comparisons.
What happens is that the actors are caught up in the spirit of the play and begin to recite the lines that they performed in the past. As this gathers momentum, there is performance of the play amongst the different actors. There are two each for Eurydice and Orpheus from different past stagings.
As with much French drama, the language is rather abstract even though in the context of melodrama with reference to the original mythology. What is important is the range of performances, the articulation of the text, the passion for ideas. It is interesting to see the interaction amongst the past actors and, ultimately, interaction between the audience in the room and the actors on the video screen.
It is a great pleasure to see many of France’s top actors and actresses from screen and theatre. The two actresses who perform Eurydice are Sabine Azema and Anne Consigny. Two actors playing Orpheus are Pierre Arditi as the older, and the younger, Lambert Wilson. Included in the cast are veterans Michel Piccoli and Michel Robin and Annie Duperey.
Certainly not a film for everyone, but for connoisseurs of French cinema, admirers of the director and those who have been impressed by performances from the cast.