SIGNIS REVIEWS JUNE 2015
KUMIKO: TREASURE HUNTER
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
ONE EYED GIRL
PITCH PERFECT 2
ROYAL NIGHT OUT, A
WALKING THE CAMINO
WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE
WOMAN IN GOLD
BELOVED SISTERS/ DIE GELEIBTEN SCHWESTERN
Germany, 2014, 138 minutes, Colour.
Hannah Herzsprung, Florian Stetter, Henriette Confurius, Claudia Messner, Ronald Zehrfeld.
Directed by Dominik Graf.
Beloved Sisters is a portrait of the writer, Friedrich Schiller, one of the key thinkers of the German Enlightenment, along with such other writers such as Goethe.
This portrait, directed by eminent German director, Dominik Graff, is a blend of romance and biography as well as an attempt to indicate the stature of Schiller in the period. However, the emphasis seems to be more on romance and relationships, Schiller and his link with the two sisters, the menage a trois established with them, rather than an exploration of his literary talent and his thinking.
There is a lot of acclaim about Schiller and his reputation, especially the sequence where he gives the key lecture in history, crowds present, to great acclaim – however, the screenplay gives little indication of the content of his lecture.
Schiller encounters two sisters during a period of ill health. Both of the sisters fall in love with him. The sisters are very close in their own relationship and are comfortable, each of them, having a passionate relationship with Schiller and with the menage a trois. One of the complications is that the older sister is already married, a cold husband, wanting a divorce and finally getting one. The other sister is unmarried and eventually marry Schiller and has a child.
One of the attractions of the film is its recreation of the 18th century in Germany, costumes, decor, design as well is the musical score.
However, the pacing of the material and the less than compelling drama of the relationships means that the film seems very long and the less persuasive for being so. It is a film for those who want to know something about Schiller and some themes from the German Enlightenment.
US, 2015, 106 minutes, Colour.
Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale, Josh Peck, Nick Offerman, Giselle Eisenberg.
Directed by Dan Fogelman.
There is a lot going for Danny Collins, not the character himself until the middle of the film, but for the film itself. It is well written by the director, Dan Fogelman, and it is very well acted by a strong cast, led by Al Pacino. There is quite a bit of sentiment, but sentiment which most audiences will like.
And, of course, the question is who is Danny Collins. He is a singer and a composer. In a sequence set in 1971, we see the young Danny Collins being interviewed for a popular magazine. Then we get some idea of his career as a singer, with a series of posters and album covers (all featuring photos of Al Pacino when he was young or in some of his famous films, including The Godfather).
So, we come to 2014 and he is on tour, singing the songs that have been popular over the decades with a rather wide fan base, but more and more relying on silver-haired ladies (referring to some of them as The Golden Girls in the front row). He is older, has become tired, yet still playing to his fans.
Christopher Plummer, in an engagingly sardonic performance, plays Danny’s manager, friend and adviser, who becomes exasperated with Danny’s behaviour. When Danny gives up his tour and decides to go to search for his son he has never met, he moves into a New Jersey hotel which is presided over by straightlaced manager, played effectively by Annette Bening. Danny uses his charm, encouraging the young man at the door who does valet parking, with the young woman behind the desk, and develops a patter kind of conversation with Mary, the manager.
One of the important thing is that he takes his tour bus to a suburban street to the home of his son, the son of a one night stand, with the son hating the father has never met but has seen on television. Danny finds his pregnant daughter-in-law, Jennifer Garner, and a precocious granddaughter who has attention deficit behaviour. The son is played very effectively by Bobby Cannavale, who has his own life but has not got over overcome his anger, his rage, towards his father.
Danny becomes more and more involved in the life of the family, sponsoring a trip to New York City to see an expert doctor on attention deficit and offering to pay for his granddaughter’s tutoring. He also becomes involved with his son’s ill-health, again financing treatment and being supportive when he is to hear the final verdict on prospects for his health.
In the meantime, perhaps with the attraction to Mary, Danny begins to compose a new song. He wants to launch it during a gig arranged at a local club – but, after his attempt to sing, with Mary encouragingly present as well as the family, it is the ageing fans who urge him to go back to sing his most popular song. Danny had been in a relationship with a young woman half his age and she turns up with her boyfriend and persuades him to start drinking and taking cocaine again.
Where can Danny’s story go?
The deus ex machina, so to speak, is his manager’s finding a letter that John Lennon had written to Danny after reading his article in the magazine in 1971. Danny had never received the letter but is so touched in 2014 that it is the catalyst for him to think about changing his life. In fact, the screenplay is based roughly on a true story about British singer, Steve Tilston, who did receive such a letter from John Lennon, many of whose songs play through the film.
One pleasant thing about the finale of the film is that it has a certain ambiguity, the audience and the characters uncertain as to what is to happen but the smart dialogue just giving a small indication of what will happen either way and audience satisfaction in hearing the final result.
A likeable film, which did not receive a wide release, but would please an adult audience.
France/UK,, 2014 99 minutes, Colour.
Fabrice Lucchini, Gemma Arteton, Jason Flemyng, Isabelle Candelier, Neils Schneider, Mel Raido, Elsa Zylberstein, PiP Torrens, Edith Scob.
Directed by Anne Fontaine.
Possibly a lot of people looking at the advertisements of this film will think that publicists and poster designers have made quite a mistake in spelling Bovary as Bovery. But, it is not a mistake, This Bovary is Gemma, rather than Emma. And it is a 21st century story based on a graphic novel – with acknowledgements to Gustave Flaubert and his 19th century classic, Madame Bovary.
All the way through audiences might be wondering how seriously to take this story, with its parallels with the 19th century, similarities and differences.
The focus of attention is on Martin, who has worked with a publishing firm but has retired to take over his father’s bakery in a quiet Normandy town. He is married and has a son whom he considers a fool. While he enjoys his work, his dissatisfied in his marriage so that when an English couple move in as neighbours, and his and their dogs become entangled, he is pleased to have made the acquaintance of Gemma Bovary who is there with her husband, Charlie, a restorer of antiques. Martin lets his eye rove, becomes preoccupied about Gemma, often intervening for her well-being.
This is all rather credible because of the performances. Fabrice Lucchini is Martin. He is one of France’s best actors, always worth watching, often performing quite different roles, a subtle interpreter of his roles. Gemma Arterton portrays Gemma and Jason Flemyng is her husband.
The husband has to be back in England at times and Gemma, feeling restless and alone, begins a sensuous affair with a young student, Herve, Neils Schneider, whom she encounters by chance. Of course, this has an extraordinary effect on Martin, who goes to some lengths to stop the affair, writing a letter to her in the name of the student, while copying it from the text of Flaubert’s novel. When the couple have broken valuable porcelain owned by the young man’s mother, Gemma enlists the help of Martin to write a letter to the lawyer about the damage.
Charlie returns, there is a crisis, with Gemma having to decide whom she really loves – complicated when she goes to visit some friends to do some decorating work and finds a previous lover visiting them.
Feature of the film is a rendezvous in Rouen, with attractive vistas of the Cathedral, exteriors and interiors, when Martin hopes to meet Gemma, imagines her in the Cathedral, but then finds that the car she was travelling in has broken down, and the fantasy dissolves.
There is a climax which combines the tragic with the mundane, including bread, field mice and arsenic – even eliciting titters of laughter from some of the audience, which again somewhat undermines the seriousness of the plot.
And, just when we are accepting what has happened to Gemma, to Charley, to Martin and his wife, the son who is considered a fool plays a very amusing trick on his father, who falls for the trick and will be humiliated.
Someone commented that the end of the film seems rather daft. It does. But, while many audiences will be charmed by the story, by the character of Gemma and her experiences, others might think (as does this reviewer) there is a touch of the ado about very little.
KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER
US/Japan, 2014, 105 minutes, Colour.
Rinko Kikuchi, David Zelllner, Nathan Zellner, Shirley Renard.
Directed by David Zellner.
This is an offbeat film, a mixture of the odd and the exotic. It is a kind of homage to the Brothers Coen, with special reference to the film, Fargo.
The first part of the film takes place in Japan, as might be gathered title, and the name of the heroine, Kumiko. She is a 29-year-old, living alone (and when we hear her conversations with her nagging mother who is desperate for her to get married, we are not surprised that she has moved out). She has a humdrum job in an office, not really communicating with the rest of the staff, having to bring coffee into the boss who is not always grateful. There are establishing scenes in the city, dialogue in Japanese, and we can experience something of life in Tokyo.
Kumiko finds a VHS copy of the movie, Fargo, more than a bit scratchy, which she tries to fix, but the fix, the fixation, is on the money sequences of the plot, especially at the end of the film when the suitcase of money is buried in the snow. Somehow or other, she takes all of this as real and realises that she now has a quest in life, to travel to Minnesota, find the case, claim the money and live happily ever after.
The second half of the film takes place in the United States, in snowbound Minnesota, on the road to Fargo. She has only a small travelling bag and we wonder whether she has any money (later explained by her taking cash and credit card from the office). At the airport, she is greeted by two odd men who want to help her with her tourist problems, one an older man, the other a kind of born-again Christian only too ready to help. He is played by the co-writer and producer of the film, Nathan Zellner.
Kumiko has a lot of adventures on the road, getting out and walking in the ice when the bus breaks down, picked up by a kindly elderly lady who takes her home, feeds her, and tells her life story. But Kumiko runs away, taking a blanket and wrapping it round her, an odd sight on the highway. This time she is rescued by a policeman, a kind man, who also gets her a meal and buys some clothes. He is played by the co-writer and director, David Zellner.
As Kumiko wanders through the snow, looking for the fence and fence posts that she saw in the film and has drawn on a kind of map. We wonder where this quest could and will end.
And that is the point – the audience will have to see the film to find out!
Kumiko is well played as a naive innocent by Rinko Kikuchi, who has appeared in a number of American films including Babel and Nobody Wants the Night.
MAD MAX FURY ROAD
Australia, 2015, 120 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keayes- Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington- Whiteley, John Howard.
Directed by George Miller.
In 1979, the original Mad Max was a small-budget Australian feature, a road movie, a vengeance and violence movie, a chase movie, featuring the up-and coming star, Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky. The film was also a breakthrough for the director, Dr George Miller.
Nobody could have predicted how successful the sequel would be, Mad Max 2, released in the United States as The Road Warrior. It was a great hit, again a road movie, violence and vengeance, but this time with a post-apocalyptic world and the need for a saviour, especially to drive away from the hostile humans and mutants with their strange and exotic and features, clothes and vehicles. Max had become a saviour, especially with the children who survive to populate a new and hopeful world.
George Miller then made a third film in the series, in 1985, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The budget was bigger, Mel Gibson had become an international star in the meantime, and singer Tina Turner came to Australia to take a role, ruling over a kind of latter-day Roman Empire town with its own arena and gladiatorial combat. Max was again the saviour who had to suffer. Tina Turner sings ‘We don’t need another hero…’. But it was very clear that the world certainly did need a hero, a Mad Max figure.
The film was immediately imitated, iincluding a number of films from Italy, kind of spaghetti Mad Max variations. But, there was no Mad Max 4. Until now…
After 30 years and the older films becoming cult classics and part of myth-making, the world is ready for another film – and Fury Road has been greeted by very favourable critical response as well as big box-office.
It is not as if we have never seen anything like it, but this is a return, bigger, louder, even better.
George Miller has put all his experience over the last 30 years, including Hollywood films like The Witches of Eastwick and Lorenzo’s Oil as well as his involvement in the Babe films and Happy Feet. Unfortunately, rain in outback Australia meant that local deserts were unsuitable for filming and so, in 2013, principal photography took place in Namibia, providing impressive deserts, mountains, canyons. They serve well as post-apocalyptic locations. Very impressive is the location of The Citadel, a plain where oppressed inhabitants are in need of water, facing a steep mountain with greenery atop, holding back water which is released as if from a huge dam – but mercilessly limited. Later, there is an extraordinary tornado like an enormous wave in a tsunami.
In the first part of the film Max appears as something of a victim, taken by the powers that be who rule in The Citadel, chained in a cell, brought out and inverted and link to a young warrior as a blood transfusion supply. We are wondering how this victim Max will become our hero on Fury Road.
The other main character in this film is Imperator Furiosa who is commissioned to drive a huge tank in a convoy to transport petrol to a distant community. Furiosa is a fierce woman, initially laconic, with a metallic arm fixture. The young man receiving the blood transfusion, Nux, is desperate to go in pursuit, vying with his friend, driving a souped-up vehicle – but still wanting his blood supply and having Max tied to the front of the vehicle, like an emblem on the prow of a ship, still blood-linked and masked.
Where to go from here? Furiosa has some ideas, veers off the expected path, is pursued by strange porcupine-spiked vehicles from Gastown which fire but explode spectacularly when hit. The almost cult-like leader at The Citadel takes a vehicle-posse in pursuit of Furiosa so that we have vehicles, many of them with quite a bizarre look, in deadly pursuit of the convoy.
Eventually Max frees himself, gets rid of Nux who returns to the leader, becoming something of a celebrity. It takes some time for Furiosa to accept Max. When Nux returns, he becomes infatuated with one of the young women, the cult leader’s wives, whom Furiosa is attempting to take to a Green Place and safety.
There are plenty more activities and adventures, especially with a commune of older women who have survived and are prepared to support Furiosa and to fight back. There are revelations about the Green Place, chases and deaths, Furioso injured, Max able to revive with blood, and a strong decision is made as to a strategy of how to fulfil hopes and find the Green Place.
George Miller has made the film at something of a furious, Furiosa pace, always relying on his technique for chases, not tracking shots as we follow vehicles but making all the action tell in the editing, quick moves from scene to scene, always suggesting movement, a kind of kinetic impact for the audience. The vehicles are as imaginative as in the earlier films with fresh variations. The humans often have the qualities of mutants which makes them intriguingly repugnant, especially the leader played by Hugh Keays- Byrne.
One of the main questions for any sequel was: who could replace Mel Gibson? The answer is the excellent British actor, Tom Hardy (in films and television since the early 2000s but making an impact with the prison film, Bronson, then with such Hollywood films as Inception, Lawless, and the villain in The Dark Knight Rises as well as his tour-de-force, the sole character in the car drama, Locke. He is more than matched by Charlize Theron as Furiosa. Nicholas Hoult is the young driver.
The older mad Max films will now have a new lease of life. And fans will not be disappointed with Fury Road. With the worldwide distribution of films like this, the response to Max will be universal.
ONE EYED GIRL
Australia, 2014, 103 minutes, Colour.
Mark Leonard Winter, Steve Le Marquand, Craig Behenna, Tilda Cobham- Hervey, Matt Crook,
Directed by Nick Matthews.
One Eyed Girl is a film about a cult, set in South Australia, distinctively Australian tone and interesting in comparison with films from overseas about this kind of community.
Mark Leonard Winter is Travis, first seen in a suburban train, earphones on, ignoring the girl offering pamphlets to passengers, asking them to think about their lives and meaning and inviting them to come to a meeting. Travis begins to shuttle his memories, thinking of his work as a psychologist and meeting with his patients, a variety of interviews, their mental health, his response, paying attention but distracted, some of them challenging him. His memories also include a disturbed young woman called Rachel. She comes to his apartment, plays the violin, makes advances affecting his insecurity. He also has memories of his supervisor questioning him about Rachel’s death and her advice that he take several weeks off and to deal with his pill addiction.
Travis does go to the meeting, watches the video of a military veteran from Iraq, his speaking about the effect on him of shooting someone, his use of drugs, three years of his life lost and his setting up The Farm, which gathers together people who are in need of therapy. He calls himself Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand), gathering his disciples, trying to heal, wanting their complete loyalty.
Travis takes an overdose and collapses, is rescued by the meeting leader, Tom, and the girl, Grace. He is taken to The Farm, goes through a process of detox, gradually becoming part of the community – though he still has troubles with his self-image (a fearful little boy) and some questions about the way Father Jay operates. When he witnesses a situation of sexual abuse, there are more questions and doubts, talking with the victim who is in denial, challenging Father Jay who responds with all kinds of rationalisations.
Travis also befriends, Grace who makes advances which he rejects.
As expected, this leads to a crisis Travis wanting to leave Father Jay giving him the keys of a car. But, he returns. Travis is allowed to leave by Tom who seems disillusioned. It is not long before there is violence, confrontations, and drastic behaviour which may remind viewers with long memories of Jim Jones and his hold over his community in Jonestown, Guyana, in the 1970s, which led to mass suicide.
The film does not end easily, an exposé of what had happened, Travis trying to save Grace, Travis having to face himself and what his life means.
The title? “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed girl is queen”.
The film looks good, capitalises on locations, has interesting performances. And it does challenge an audience sympathetic to those with mental health problems but also challenging audiences to be concerned about self-proclaimed leaders, their behaviour, their hold and demands for loyalty, and the exploitation of this loyalty
Australia, 2015, 98 minutes, Colour.
Vincent Cassell, Jeremy Chabriall, Florence Mezzara
Directed by Ariel Kleiman.
Partisan was made by Melbourne director, 28-year-old Ariel Kleiman. It is an ambitious film which has played in festivals and received acclaim. Specialist audiences will admire it but it may be too specialised for the general public.
The film has the added advantage of the presence of celebrated French actor, Vincent Cassell. He plays an enigmatic character, Gregori, who is seen at the beginning of the film solicitous about children, about a young woman who is to give birth, his fascination with the child. Then time passes and we see Gregori with many children.
What has happened is that Gregori has set up a kind of commune which is more akin to a cult experience with him serving as guru, with some sinister overtones. He is father and father-figure, educating the children, rewarding them for their efforts, giving them gifts, karaoke singing and jollity. But, there is something very sinister about him.
The children are being trained in all kinds of practical matters, mechanics, mathematics. But they are also being educated to be potential assassins, given guns, having target practice, being commended for their efforts.
But it is one boy, Alexander, Gregori’s son, who is expert, especially in the use of guns and even a killing which is vividly shown the motivation never explained. But, there seem to be seeds of doubt in Alexander’s mind as he deals with the other boys, the other boys and girls, and Gregori’s special tuition.
This explanation of some of the plot lines may be clearer than the experience of actually watching the film itself. At times, it seems quite obscure, the audience having to work hard to listen to the dialogue, observe the performances, to try to work out what is exactly happening in Gregori’s mind, in his behaviour, as well as the response of the children and of the women who play a supporting role in the commune.
The other significant element is the location of the commune common – the filming was done in the central Asian country of Georgia, with a war-torn atmosphere, and ordinary towns and suburbs outside, but the commune is partly established in some of the ruins of action.
While one admires the skills and talent of the director, admiration is the keyword rather than personal involvement in the story – despite the intriguing aspects of Gregori’s character and the fine performance by the young Jeremy Chabriell as Alexander.
PITCH PERFECT 2
US, 2015, 115 minutes, Colour.
Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam De Vine, Ben Platt, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks.
Directed by Elizabeth Banks.
Audiences and critics were surprised and many delighted when they saw Pitch Perfect in 2012. In fact, the producers were also more than delighted with the response and decided that a sequel was in order. The sequel doesn’t have the surprise of the first film but certainly matches it in entertainment value.
The setting is a college where there are A Capella choirs, a competent male choir but, when you come to think of it and look at the members of the choir, an extraordinarily successful female choir, The Bellas. The film opens with a reminder of their success in the first film, coming from almost nothing, with an eccentric group of characters as singers, to win competitions. And here they are, with President and Michelle Obama edited into the audience!
A good deal of the success of the first film was the presence of Rebel Wilson, keeping her Australian accent as Fat Amy, direct in what she says, caught up in many faux pas, and ruining the gala performance with a garment split while she is suspended high above the stage, causing gasps, instant photos, journalistic scandal, the mockery of the commentary team, the displeasure of the principle of the College and their exclusion from further competitive performing. So, we know where this is all heading.
In the first film, the comperes, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who also directed this film), were very amusing and are here, he an absolute chauvinist, she taunting him without his realising.
Into the mix comes a young enthusiastic girl ( Haile Steinfeld) whose mother was a Bella and who is absorbed the atmosphere of the group and wants to audition. She also writes her own songs. With great ease, she fits into the group, even attracting the attention of one of the boys in the other choir.
The main rival to success is a German, particularly Teutonic, group, The Sound Machine, dressed in black, severe and with arrogant comments, athletic and robotic movements, with the leaders staring down and intimidating Beca, one of the inspirers of the Bellas. The screenplay provides several occasions for dance-offs between The Sound Machine and The Bellas, especially when a fan of A Capella groups holds a private competition with five groups, each working off the other.
One of the other realities the women in the group have to face is that they are ending their years of college and have to prepare for life after. Beca is enterprising and has won an internship with a record company, with a hard-driving producer who is impressed when she suggests a way of accompaniment for an album to be made with Snoop Dog and Christmas songs.
The group also goes to a retreat run by one of the former Bellas, a two-day experience of physical training, singing, bonding. Which means that they are then ready go to Copenhagen to vie for the international competition and title – and trying to outdo The Sound Machine.
Several of the cast return, especially Anna Kendrick as Beca and, as mentioned, Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. The boys are back, and there is and touches of romance – but, especially Fat Amy and her relationship with security guard, Bumper, but she almost spoils it all, The retreatmakes her realise that she is in love and paddles, literally, a canoe across the river to be reunited with him.
Not something that will stay all that long in the memory, but with the performances, the humour, the range of music, it is pleasant while it is there on the screen.
US, 2015, 93 minutes, Colour.
Sam Rockwell, Rosemary De Witt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Saxon Sharbino, Nicholas Braun.
Directed by Gill Kenan.
Back in 1982, the original Poltergeist was a very popular film with touches of horror, a house haunted not by ghosts, but by spirited beings who went, often very loudly and violently, bump in the night.
in 2015, it is not all that much different. We have the house. We have a family moving in. We have the mysterious sounds, then the brutal noises, with the bangings and the bangings and the bangings. The little girl, Maddy, is attracted by the television set and sees hands appearing from within. Later, it is suggested that she has a special gift and has detected the spirits trapped behind the television set, telling everyone that they are coming, and then that they are here. And then she’s not. She was driven into the world behind the television screen.
There is speculation that the house was built on an old cemetery – with the bodies transferred. Probably not!
The film spends a lot of time establishing the family so that we can identify with them. Sam Rockwell is the father, out of work, sympathetic (except at the beginning when his petulant teenage daughter is demanding a new mobile phone), loving his children and wanting to the best for them. Rosemary de Witt is the sympathetic mother, trying to cope with the moving and settling in. Aside from the teenage daughter and her mobile phone, and the little girl within the mysterious world behind the television screen, there is a sensitive boy (Kyle Catlett who was so good in The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivett), apprehensive, fearful of storms, worried when his sister disappears and feeling that he should take the blame for not caring for and protecting her.
What is the family to do? They consult an expert on these matters – with audiences wondering how they are so readily available in the US! And not only that, the expert and her team try to cleanse the house but are subject to the poltergeists attacks. They have to call in an even stronger expert who combines kind of exorcisms of houses with a TV reality show. So, the whole effort has to focus on getting the little girl back, at one stage all the family holding onto each other and trying to pull her out of the set.
While the film has a happy ending, there are some sad moments, and the family, gather together safely, move away – obviously leaving the house to a new family to come in and experience the poltergeists if there is a demand for a sequel.
A ROYAL NIGHT OUT
UK, 2015, 98 minutes, Colour.
Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley, Jack Reynor, Rupert Everett, Emily Watson, Roger Allam, Ruth Sheen.
Directed by Julian Jarrold.
Released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the end of the war in Europe, A Royal Night Out tells the story (allegedly based on fact or two) of Elizabeth and Margaret persuading their regal parents to allow them to go out for the evening to join the celebrations in London.
It was not long into the screening before this reviewer thought, “Republicans, beware”. For audiences, much like the character, the soldier Jack, who unknowingly encounters Princess Elizabeth in the pub as everyone wants to listen to the King’s speech, there will be enjoyment reservations. He is anti-establishment, is irritated by the King and by royalty, and is told to pipe down by the awed listeners. Although, by the end, Jack has come to like Lizzie, and so have we. He has spent a lot of the film helping to (or being pressurised to) search with her for Margaret who has wafted off into the night to enjoy herself (including learning how to signal for the bus to stop as well as falling out on top of a soldier), often unwittingly in very dubious company.
But that is probably to take the film far too seriously. It is meant to be a lark. The girls have been sheltered, Elizabeth 19, Margaret 14, not really having had any of this kind of ordinary experience for themselves, except Elizabeth and her work with vehicles during the war, posh style, posh accents (referred to several times throughout the film), and a propensity to order, even make presumptuous demands on the people around without realising it. Actually, Elizabeth has had a night of experiences, learning about people, appreciating that she is mixing with people she doesn’t usually meet, with Jack taking her to the home of his working-class mother with some awareness of what he had experienced as a pilot during the war.
Margaret is flighty, gets tangled with some military types who were letting loose (to put it mildly) with drink and women as they celebrate, but also finds herself accompanying a number of ladies of the night as well as the manager of the Soho “club” to Chelsea barracks. Another military type puts something into her drink so that she becomes quite dipsy when she is tipsy.
The King is of a rather stern demeanour but has let he is daughters go out. The Queen is far more wary, far more prim than her image as the Queen Mother over the decades.
The recreation of the period and of VE night, sometimes with the help of newsreel footage, certainly captures the atmosphere. The performances a strong, Sarah Gadon bringing some intensity to her portrait of Princess Elizabeth, Bel Powley indicates the kind of reputation Princess Margaret would have in the future. It is a surprise to see Rupert Everett as the George VI. Emily Watson fits easily into the role of Queen Elizabeth. Jack Reynor is Jack who is surprised to find himself at breakfast in Buckingham Palace and driven back to barracks, with aplomb and rapidity by Lizzzie. Roger Allam is good as the Soho boss and Ruth Sheen as Jack’s mother.
A Royal Night Out is probably best for older audiences and those who admire the Royal family, but might have a touch of much ado about very little for younger audiences who don’t have an affinity for Queen Elizabeth and her family.
US, 2015, 114 minutes, Colour.
Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Hugo Johnstone- Burt, Heart Parkinson, Kylie Minogue.
Directed by Brad Peyton.
Yes, all the reviews and conversation have made cracks (!) about faults (!) in this earthquake disaster movie. But, that is what it set out to be, and that is what it does - reminding the oldies in the audience of the 70s, Towering Infernos on fire and collapsing, underwater swimming in the Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake.
If you are in any way apprehensive about earthquakes and being trapped in one, this is definitely the film not to see. There is no let-up throughout almost two hours of action – a moment or two every now and then for some of the human interactions but then it is into more quakes, more after-shocks, more buildings collapsing, more fires starting, a great tsunami on San Francisco Bay, then flooding…
One would suppose that San Andreas will have an Oscar nomination for Special Effects (rather than for screenplay and dialogue, some of which is more in the line of the Razzie nominations). The point is that they look particularly realistic, with scenes of Los Angeles collapsing, with scenes of San Francisco collapsing, comparatively lesser destruction in Bakersfield – and a huge canyon opening along the San Andreas fault itself. And there is a pounding score to match.
One of the main surprises for those who read the final credits is to discover that the bulk of the film was made at the Gold Coast Studios in Queensland, with the special effects work and editing done in the United States.
With other disaster films in this vein, the human story tends to be fairly predictable. In this one, we own are introduced to some veterans of helicopter rescues in Afghanistan showing their skills in quite a predicament as a car goes over a cliff above the San Fernando Valley. But with Dwayne Johnson at the controls, there are only momentary doubts, if any, that all will not succeed. The human story focuses on him, his grief after the accidental death of his daughter some years earlier, his inability to communicate, his wife leaving him in frustration, his older daughter still keeping in touch with him.
On the other hand, for the scientific part of the film, which is more credible, there is the always-reliable Paul Giamatti at Caltech, working with his staff for models of gauging the predictability of earthquakes from tremors, especially in California and along the famous fault. His assistant goes to the Hoover Dam when suddenly, only 15 minutes into the film, there is the first of the huge quakes and the extraordinary destruction of the famous Dam. Then ominous readings are found and news of further quakes. The Professor is able to hack into television channels to warn the country and, especially, the state and its two major cities, that they are to expect the worst.
Audiences would not be expecting to find that Dwayne Johnson is able to rescue his former wife, Carla Gugino, so immediately from the top of an LA restaurant and together, first by helicopter, then by car, then by plane, and eventually by boat on San Francisco Bay, they go in search of their daughter (a lively Alexandra Daddario), who is in the company of the young British engineer (Australian Hugo Johnstone- Burt) who is to be interviewed for a job and his teenage brother (Art Parkinson).
So, we follow the younger trio through all kinds of adventures, risks, the daughter using her father’s experience and ingenuity to make contact and to keep them going to the highest point available.
It goes without saying there are some final dramatic, melodramatic tense moments before the final rescue and Dwayne Johnson utters words about: re-building.
Yes, the screenwriter might have made a more imaginative fist of the human story and the dialogue, but it certainly takes a second place to two hours of extraordinary effects which persuade the audience that they are right there experiencing tremors, quakes and after-shocks.
US, 2015, 120 minutes, Colour.
Melissa Mc Carthy, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Serafinowicz, Morena Baccarin, Alison Janney, 50 Cent Jackson.
Directed by Paul Feig.
Definitely for those who enjoy Melissa Mc Carthy comedies. Perhaps not for those who do not enjoy raucous comedies with more than a touch of the silly!
Over the last few years, a new genre of films has emerged from Hollywood, the Melissa Mc Carthy comedy. While she had been appearing on television and in films are many years, it was her supporting role in Bridesmaids that brought her to wide attention. Since then she has appeared in a number of comedies including Identity Thief, The Heat with Sandra Bullock, Tammy (and an effective serious role in St Vincent).
So, what are the conventions of the genre? First of all there is the presence of the Melissa Mc Carthy herself, a physically large and extroverted self, getting tangled in all kinds of situations, her being generally in control; she has a way with words, is not embarrassed by crassness, can argue her way out of most situations, a mixture of clown and comedienne. This served her well in her scenes in Bridesmaids and her policewoman in The Heat, both directed by Paul Feig.
Perhaps it is every stars dream to be in a James Bond film. And this is what Spy is, some serious espionage sequences as well as a sendup. Jude Law gets his opportunity early in the film to do the James Bond thing – and resume it later in the film. However, unlike Bond, he is able to have an earpiece which connects him directly to his CIA monitor, Susan Cooper (Mc Carthy in her more demure moments) who also has on screen, images of his presence (this time in Bulgaria) and she is able to guide him, warn him about attackers. And, in her heart of hearts, she is in love with him, helped at first by his taking her to dinner on return, then, despite his saying she is the best, his presenting her with a comedy necklace.
The comedy starts when Law, confronting a villain, sneezes and shoots him unintentionally. When the continued case goes awry, Susan, who is acknowledged as very knowledgeable with background information, offers to go into the field as an agent, at first reluctantly considered by her supervisor, Alison Janney yet again giving one of her sardonic performances, who then decides to let her go because she is not known to the target. The target is the daughter of the dead criminal, played with haughty pretensions to being an aristocrat by Rose Byrne.
Into the mix comes Jason Statham, right out of his many, many action shows, but this time being spoofed himself by himself, an extreme chauvinist who thinks of Susan as a tea lady, boastful about his own progress but proving himself as the film goes on to be a bit dumb and dumber.
Also into the mix comes British television comedian, Miranda Hart, very tall to Susan’s lack of height, which means they are a bit of an enjoyable Laurel and Hardy act in their various exploits, which also includes the surprising presence of wrapper 50 Cents Jackson..
With different disguises and with different identities, Susan shows herself to be adept as an agent, yet giving herself away at times so that a bomb can be diffused, but then ingratiating herself into Rose Byrne’s attention, even claiming to be a bodyguard appointed secretly by her father. The thing is that Rose Byrne knows the location of a nuclear bomb and is ready to sell it to the highest bidder, through the agency of a high-flying gambler, played by Bobby Cannavale.
All the major players get into the final mix on the estate of a luxurious Hungarian mansion – after a lot of mixups, double agents, serious situations, especially Susan being able to land an out-of-control plane, and some farcical tangles. Some very funny moments and characterisations but, as might be expected from past Melissa Mc Carthy comedies, it is both raucous and raunchy.
US, 2015, 130 minuttextes, Colour.
George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim Mc Graw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan- Michael Key, Judy Greer.
Directed by Brad Bird.
Tomorrowland is an ambitious production, large in imaginative scope, a visual delight in its re-creation of the world that is called Tomorrowland. On the other hand, it also tantalises the mind as well is the imagination, but is not always clear in its elaboration of its plot.
The film was directed and co-written by Brad Bird, who impressed people several decades ago with his animated fable, The Iron Giant. He was also responsible for two Disney animation features, The Invincibles and Ratatouille. A few years ago he moved into live action fantasy with the fourth instalment of the Mission Impossible series.
This is a Disney production and the Disney imagination, especially of Walt Disney himself, is behind Tomorrowland. The initial setting is The World Fair in New York City in 1964, Disney being one of the sponsors and creating a feature of the Fair, inviting visitors to imagine what the future might be like. For those who like this film, the suggestion is to go to You Tube and click on the short Tomorrowland video featuring Walt Disney himself and his enthusiasm and imagination for the future.
This is also a George Clooney film which gives the film some status. He first appears, talking to camera, explaining what has happened to him, with some interjections by and some banter with a young woman called Casey. As we wonder what he is talking about and to whom he is speaking, we go into flashback, back to the world of the Fair, where his character, Frank, is bringing an invention, a jet pack, to the supervisor of entries, Nix, played by a stern Hugh Laurie (who gets sterner as the story foes on). There is also a young girl, Athena, a very effective Raffey Cassidy, who is sympathetic to Frank and takes him into the Tomorrowland.
Then we move to Casey’s story in the present. Her father is a NASA scientist and Casey is upset that powers that be are dismantling projects and she tries sabotage, only to be arrested, and finds in the possessions returned to her by the police a badge, a medal, which she touches and is immediately transported into the fantasy world which is Tomorrowland.
Casey, obviously, wants to keep going into Tomorrowland but the badge battery goes flat. Fortunately, Athena turns up, still the same young age, and takes her on a journey which includes a visit to two aggressively fanatical storekeepers of memorabilia, Kathryn Hahn and Keegan- Michael Key. Sinisterly smiling robot agents also turn up and cause mayhem.
Which brings Casey, at last, to adult Frank’s house and a series of adventures in Tomorrowland, meeting Nix again and realise that he has taken a pessimistic view of the future – which Frank has been looking at on television screens, the range of world disasters, wars, epidemics. The point is, and the message is rather hammered home, that human beings have been overwhelmed by these pessimistic perspectives and do not have the energy to pick themselves up and do something to better the world.
Frank and Casey want to do something about it, Athena not being with them any more having sacrificed herself for others, and the two go about our world, scanning every continent, all peoples, and ethnic groups, to discover and inspire agents who will create a better world, Tomorrowland in our world.
With the central characters, the film is geared to a younger audience, especially those with an enthusiasm for both science and fantasy.
US, 2015, 83 minutes, Colour.
Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renée Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman.
Directed by Leo Gabriadze.
In Poltergeist, the evil powers are inside a television set or, at least behind a television screen. This time they are in the worldwide web, operating through the Internet, through chat rooms and through Skype.
The title has literal as the young people communicating on their computers have an experience of being unfriended. But, the working title of the film was Cybernatural which rather appeals as a play on cyberspace and supernatural influences.
Who would have thought that we would have a film where the camera focused entirely on a computer screen? This is the experience of those who spend hours in front of their computer, looking at, staring at, becoming involved… However, there is quite some action in the film, but always within the computer screen, Skype images of each of the young people, You Tube and video clips, so that the film keeps up its pace.
At the opening, the young woman is flirting with her boyfriend, but soon a number of friends are introduced. The context is the suicide of another young woman, after a party, with the suggestion that she was bullied and took her life.
Each of the friends has an association with the dead woman but plead innocence. As the film progresses, a mysterious member starts to contact them all, entering via chat rooms, with the Internet address of the dead woman.
As we might imagine as the film goes on, each of the friends is going to be eliminated. The malevolence makes its way through the Internet and dramatically takes its toll. The drama is in finding out what the connection with each victim was to the dead woman, who will be next and whether anyone will survive. To that extent, the film follows a not unusual pattern of elimination deaths.
Gradually, the characters of the participants are revealed, not very likeable at all.
The mysterious communicator invites them all to play a game, that they have to answer a question truthfully within a fixed time otherwise they are the loser. They have to hold up their hands to camera, putting down a finger each time they fail with their answer. The question is a very personal, revealing a nasty side to each of the characters, including the two flirting at the opening.
The film also shows on the You Tube clips what actually happened to the girl, how she was sick, defecated, with everybody laughing at her, humiliating her. Obviously, she is going to have the last laugh.
The film is contemporary in its preoccupation with information technology, young people and social media, the amount of time and energy invested in being online, the emotional consequences.
And the other message of the film is a warning against bullying and its devastating consequences – this time not only to the victim but also for the victimisers.
WALKING THE CAMINO: SIX WAYS TO SANTIAGO
US, 2013, 86 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Lydia Smith.
Many people, Catholics, Christians, people of other faiths, or professing no faith, have toyed with the idea of walking the Camino. For those who saw Emilio Estevez’s film with his father, Martin Sheen, The Way, a group of fictitious characters walking the period pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the idea might have been reinforced. There is every possibility that those who watch this documentary will be fascinated, again wondering if they should…
On the other hand, audiences who watch the film, in the comfort of the cinema or in a lounge chair at home, might well feel that they have actually made the Camino and now they won’t have to leave home, but, maybe, will watch the documentary again.
The director, Lydia Smith, joined a number of pilgrims at the starting point at St Jean Pied de Port in France, approaching the Pyrenees. It is by chance, or by providence, that these individuals start their walk at the same time, progress over 30 or more days, meeting each other, talking or sharing silence, reflecting on their lives, their prayer and God’s role in their lives, enjoying the mixture of accommodations along the way, becoming friends – allowing themselves to be photographed, at their best as well is in some of their pain, and sharing many of their views to camera.
In this way, the audience in those comfortable chairs, shares in the experience of what happens in the Camino, meeting the different pilgrims, getting to know them, to like them, like some very much, enjoying their company, anxious for them at times, but eager to learn more and more about what the experience of the pilgrimage means to them.
One of the main attractions is that the photography of quite a range of terrains, mountains and plains (with somebody even mentioning where the rain in Spain stays), villages with the touch of the mediaeval, cities with magnificent cathedrals, the gamut of vistas along the top of northern Spain. Somebody mentions that it is like walking through postcards.
Some of the pilgrims include a young articulate man from Portugal, very genial, always a pleasure to hear what he has to say and how he is found the Camino. On the other hand, there is a mother with her three-year-old son, who confides to camera that the reason he is on the Camino is that he had no choice! She is travelling with her brother, who enjoys company and partying and has no faith and who does not seem to benefit much from the experience. It should be said that the mother walks these hundreds of kilometres, mostly pushing her son in his pram. There is an elderly American widower and an elderly friend from Canada (who gives the impression that he could be a priest). There is a girl from Denmark who is befriended by William from America. They help each other and it is they, for the purpose of the film, who travel the extra 80 km west to the Atlantic, to Finisterre, where in those days it was a fitting conclusion to the Camino because it was considered to be the end of the flat world.
The film is not heavy on ecclesiastical interventions. Throughout the film, several clerics do give explanations about St James, Santiago, the discovery of his tomb, the centuries-old pilgrimage, prayer, faith, the scrutiny of one’s life, one of the pilgrims even referring to the experience as an internal Camino. Some of the pilgrims remark that they are confused by what may be beyond the visible, that there may actually be something beyond, but simply walking this day as best they can is the best they can do. Life and spirituality are intertwined.
In case anybody is still toying with the idea of actually going, there are scenes of the Alburges, the hotels, or hostels, available the pilgrims after they have had their documents stamped and can get a meal, have a sleep in close, very close dormitory style, helped by a number of volunteers who are of great assistance to the pilgrims. Somebody mentions snoring! And, there are many sore feet, and we see a range of blisters.
There are rituals on the way, including some of the pilgrims experiencing a washing of the feet, in the vein of the Last Supper.
Some of the remarks by the pilgrims including those nuggets of wisdom: the Camino is a simple existence which is somewhat addictive; being close with the pilgrims is a kind of cohabitation, without any competitiveness; it is walking and the people you meet, with happiness meant to be shared.
This is not an overlong documentary, is audience-friendly, communicates a great deal of what the Camino is about and a great deal of what happens and what can happen along the way. While the theme is spiritual, the film communicates a great deal of ordinary and welcome humanity.
WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE
Japan, 2014, 103 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
Japanese animated films from Ghibli Studios have been popular since the 1980s, especially with the films of Hayao Miyazaki (the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, Ponyo by the Sea, The Wind Rises). They are generally available in the original Japanese language as well as in expertly dubbed versions, produced in the United States.
The present director, Hiromasa Yonebashi, previously made the interesting and entertaining Arrietty.
This is also a film about a young girl, Anna, who has been adopted. At school, she is something of a loner, not relating well to the other girls, keeping to herself with her sketching. She is 12. Her adoptive mother decides that it would be best to send Anna into the country during the summer holidays and she travels by train to a country town to be met by a genial, solid couple who give her room in their house which has a beautiful view of a lake.
When Anna goes to the post office to send a postcard, she notices a mansion across the water and detects a figure in the window. She is drawn into the house, investigates and finds a young girl there. When she is stranded by the rising tide, a kindly old man rows her back to her home. As the summer goes on, Anna returns to the mansion, becomes a great friend of the young girl there, Marnie.
Marnie is mysterious, and people comment that the mansion is haunted. Anna also makes a friend of a little girl in the town and they discover a diary with Marnie’s story.
Most of the film is about Anna and the friendship with Marnie, especially at the the large silo at the edge of the town, during a storm, with mysterious consequences.
The last part of the film seems rather hurried with a great deal of plot explanation, going back to tell the story of Marnie and her parents, her marriage and her daughter, the daughter’s rebellion against her mother and giving her own daughter to the orphanage. So, by the end of the film, the mystery is explained to Anna’s satisfaction and to our own.
The animation style is that of the Ghibli Studios, sketch and watercolour wash, all with a kind of naturalism – which suits the story which could have been told, almost with the same screenplay, in realistic life-action.
The Ghibli films have quite some attractive simplicity and humanity.
WOMAN IN GOLD
UK, 2015, 109 minutes, Colour.
Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Bruhl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Antje Trauer, Elizabeth Mc Govern, Frances Fisher, Moritz Bleibtreu, Tom Schilling, Allan Corduner, Henry Goodman.
Directed by Simon Curtis.
Woman in Gold is both interesting and entertaining.
In fact, this could be called two films in one, the first in the present, the story of Maria Altman and the painting, Woman in Gold, by Klimt, and the issue of restitution to families of stolen art which was stolen by the Nazis. The second story is in the flashbacks to the 1930s and 1940s, to Maria Altman’s family, the paging of Adele Bloch Bauer by Gustave Klimt and its confiscation by the Nazis.
While the story has its own drama and tensions, one of the principal drawing powers is the presence of Helen Mirren in the central role. It is almost 50 years since she began her career, an early appearance in the Australian film Age of Consent, the story of Norman Lindsay. Since then she has been a constant presence on stage, on television (particularly in the Prime Suspect series) and in many films, with a climax and her many awards, including the Oscar, for the 2006 portrait of Elizabeth, The Queen. Since then she has drawn audiences in such films as The Hundred Foot Journey as well as the spoof action films, Red and Red 2.
Maria Altman is certainly one of her most persuasive roles, an Austrian Jew, a child in the 1920s, marrying in the late 30s, experiencing, with her parents, the Nazi attacks and fleeing with her husband (in a quite dramatic and tense section of the film), settling in the United States, in Los Angeles and living there for many decades.
The film opens with the death of Maria’s sister and the discovery of the will of Adele and her wishes about the portrait by Klimt and its going to the Austrian gallery, Belvedere. In 1998, Maria wonders whether there is some claim to the painting and consults the son of a friend (who is, in fact, the grandson of the composer, Schoenberg, who had fled to the United States). He is played, unexpectedly, by Ryan Reynolds, starting with some diffidence, mixed motivation for helping, a change of heart, especially when he visits the Holocaust Memorial in Vienna and finally realises his Jewish heritage and his ancestors having to flee, committed to the cause despite setbacks over the years and finally acting on the courage of his convictions.
This makes the story in the present very interesting, with visits to Austria and an application to the specially constituted Committee for the Restitution of Art, Maria breaking a promise to herself never to return to Vienna and going to a conference and making an appeal for the Klimt portrait and other paintings which were stolen.
When the application is refused, there seems to be nothing else to do, but Randy Schoenberg discovers a catalogue for The Belvedere, printed in America, which gives a legal opportunity for the case to be heard, not only in a local court but all the way to the Supreme Court (with entertaining cameos by Elizabeth McGovern? as the first judge and Jonathan Pryce as the Chief Justice).
There is great antagonism for representatives of the Belvedere, but support from a young Austrian journalist, who discovered his father was a Nazi, Hubertus (Daniel Bruhl).
The flashbacks are very well integrated into the story, the focus on Maria (with Helen Mirren’s powerful ability to indicate what her character is thinking and feeling, in close-up, without any words) and her remembering her past. The cumulative effect is that we are taken back into the heart of the family, the painting of the portrait, the character of Adele, her love for her nieces, Maria and the close bond with her parents, the joy of her wedding, her parents realising that they would have to stay, Maria’s escape with her husband.
This is a film that can be widely recommended to audiences who like a good story, some drama and find performances.