SIGNIS REVIEWS JUNE 2016
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
BAD NEIGHBOURS 2
FIRST MONDAY IN MAY
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, The
IS THIS THE REAL WORLD
JACK OF THE RED HEARTS
NICE GUYS, The
QUEEN OF THE DESERT
WHISKY, TANGO, FOXTROT
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
US, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Rhys Ifans, Matt Lucas, Lindsay Duncan, Leo Bill, Geraldine James, Andrew Scott, Richard Armitage, Ed Speelers.
Voices of: Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Stephen Fry, Martin Sheen, Paul Whitehouse, Meera Syal.
Directed by James Bobin.
It is probably not a good idea to reread Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass before you go to see this film – otherwise you will find that it bears practically no resemblance to the novel. As the credits indicate, the screenplay is based on characters created by Lewis Carroll.
In 2009, director Tim Burton produced a lavish presentation of Alice in Wonderland, drawing on his long career of imaginative storytelling (and a touch of emphasis on the dark side). Mia Wasakowska played Alice and has had quite an extraordinary international career since then. She is Alice again, seven years later, seven years older. How do the filmmakers cope?
At the opening of the film, we have a young adult Alice, captain of a sailing ship in the 1870s, pursued by pirates on the Straits of Malacca, using her courage and skills to tip the boat at an angle to enable it to get through the shallow reefs and so evade the pirates. On her return to London, she is determined to take out a ship again. The family who had employed her, also have the documents to her home and have decided that it would be best if she simply worked as a clerk in their London
Surely time to go through the Looking Glass! Which she does, finding herself for a short time in Wonderland, meeting old friends, especially the Mad Hatter, Johnny Depp again, and the March Hare, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the butterfly Absalom, the White Rabbit, the dormouse, the lumbering dog. But she doesn’t stay long because she finds that the Mad Hatter is pining for his family who have either disappeared or died. The White Queen, Anne Hathaway again, is concerned for him and urges Alice to travel back into the past.
This she does, finding Time, a creature with human exterior and clockwork interior, played in a more subdued fashion by Sascha Barron Cohen. He and Alice clash but she takes his time travelling capsule and goes back to the day of the coronation of the new Queen, the Red Queen, Helena Bonham Carter again, and the Mad Hatter laughing at the proceedings – with the angry Red Queen threatening him and his family, sending the Dragon to destroy them.
Alice realises that she cannot change history yet she decides to go back even further, to see the two young princesses, their clashes and the moment when the Red Queen hits her head and develops an angry persona. Alice has to get back to Time because the Red Queen is in vindictive mode and wants to take control of all time which means that every living thing will be transformed into stone unless Alice is able to rescue the world – in time.
Not exactly Lewis Carroll material.
THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE
US, 2016, 97 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Peter Dinklage, Bill Hader, Keegan- Michael Key, Maya Rudolph, Danny Mc Bride, Josh Gad, Sean Penn, Ike Barinholtz, Gillian Bell, Tony Hale.
Directed by Clay Kaytes and Fergall Reilly.
Is it an advantage to know beforehand that this animation film is based on video game? For older reviewers this comes as something of a surprise, not part of their area of expertise. for younger audiences, they probably take it for granted and have been looking forward to a full-length feature film of the game.
It has been said that the production company, Rovio, invested completely in the film and part of their future will depend on the success of Angry Birds – but, on its first weekend in US release, it took $40 million. So, Rovio will still be in business for a sequel!.Its stance amusingly enough with Red, the central avian character, falling while trying to juggle an egg, and exploit that rivals exes mishaps in the Ice Age Films. His destination is, dressed as a clown, a birthday party whether father up breeds him for being so late, not listening to any excuses – and we know whether birthday cake is going to finish up, right on the face of the angry father. Clearly, Red has anger management issues.
Red is ordered to go to classes, teaming up with a spiky little bird, Charlie, and a huge amiable lump of the bird, Bomb. Classes and exercises are not the most helpful.
But, as liberties of the game will know, this is not just a story about birds. It is a story about pigs. And the pigs are the villains. They settled into the birds’town, claiming to be friendly, organising festivities for the unsuspecting birds while actually planning to steal all their eggs so that they can begin to a feast of yolks and whites.
What is an angry bird to do, especially when they destroyed his house? Read channel his aggression positively by organising the building of a boat, leading the pursuit against the pigs and devising a strategy for the birds to into infiltrate the kingdom of the pigs, castle included.
Apparently, a lot of fans were looking forward to catapult scenes, where Red organises a huge catapult which lands the birds in various parts of the town and into the castle. Expected conflict in’s use!
This reviewer watched the film with about 55, six and seven-year-olds but was unable to discern how much the children enjoyed it or not. Perhaps they were intrigued by the antics, with older children enjoying this avian-pull sign struggle between good and evil. And, maybe the adults who are not drawn in by the plotline could enjoy the voices of Jason Siddique assess Red, with Peter dink Lynch as the self-regarding former hero, Mighty Eagle, and all kinds of contributions from talent like Danny McBride?, Josh Gad, Maia Rudolph, Keegan- Michael Key and, they have to listen hard for it, Sean Penn.
Since anger is limitless, one might presume that Red will be with us again.
BAD NEIGHBOURS 2
US, 2016, 92 minutes, Colour.
Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller.
Perhaps it’s the generation gap. But, younger audiences and reviewers are able to break through the raucous crudity of Bad Neighbours and this sequel, to enjoy this somewhat satiric (we hope) look at human nature. Older audiences and reviewers seem to get stuck on the raucous crudity and, at many moments, probably wish they were somewhere else.
The main characters from the original film are back. Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne used to live in a house next door to the building which was taken over by a frat group, completely self-absorbed in their own entertainment, alcohol, drugs and sex, music, with a high, high decibel impact, regardless of concern about the effect on the neighbours’ lives (and possibilities for sleep). Zac Efron was the leader of the pack but got something of a comeuppance at the end – this time he ends up with a vocation to be a wedding planner for gay marriages.
It is now a couple of years later. Rose is pregnant, she and Seth have put a deposit on a house, bigger and better, some distance away and are in process of selling the old house to an eager couple. They have neglected to understand escrow (which many of the audience will have neglected also). But it means that their house is open to scrutiny for another month, in case anything should happen.
Of course it does. And, the screenplay giving equal time to the group who moves in next door with all the attendant drugs, alcohol, sex, music, a sorority because sororities are not allowed to have parties on campus. Needless to say, the girls move in and get advice, naturally enough, from Zac Efron. Rose and Seth go through all the traumas they experienced before until… Zac is offended by the girls and changes sides. Conflict is on.
The potential buyers call by, Seth and his brother put on a show that there is a Jewish household next door, but it the cover-up is sabotaged and the couple are desperate.
There is a solution for the girls – but Seth and Rose moved to their new house so screenwriters will have to be inventive as to how to provide them with bad Bad Neighbours 3.
UK, 2016, 92 minutes, Colour.
Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Kelly Reilly, Jose Garcia.
Directed by James Watkins.
If you are after a brief and brisk, old-fashioned (even new-fashioned) action show with some substance, a conspiracy theory, then why not Bastille Day. It runs for only 92 minutes and doesn’t waste much time at all.
It is a drama of terrorism in Paris, bombs in the streets, the searching of mosques, rabble-roused protesters in the streets of Paris on Bastille Day, urged on by messages on social media. It was actually produced before the real terrorist events of 2015 in the city of Paris and the plot is quite different from those events, a situation where extreme nationalists seem to be the villains but, in fact, the target is more mundane, greed. Muslims are being set up by authorities, bomb-making equipment planted in mosques, faked scenes of police bashing an innocent bystander which are put on Youtube.
For those who know Paris, the opening is at Montmartre, a nude woman walking new down the steps in front of the basilica, an ingenious ploy for a pickpocket to go about his profession amongst the distracted and/or leering onlookers.
But the attention is really on the pickpocket, played by Richard Madden, a vagrant American who quickly learns that he needs to check what he has stolen or it can lead to dire consequences, even deaths.
In the meantime, we are introduced to Briar, a CIA agent who is tough, tends to work alone, subordination not being one of his virtues. As might be expected, he will win the day – not without some struggles, fights, moments of defeat and frustration, but relentlessly using his wits and his fists and guns to right all the wrongs. He is played very effectively by Idris Elba, television’s Luther who also appeared as Nelson Mandela in The Long Walk to Freedom. (There been many rumours that he could be in line to be the next James Bond – and this film is more than a calling card!).
The action takes place over little more than 24 hours, the CIA agent working very quickly, endorsed by his boss, Kelly Reilly, but disapproved of by her associate. It is not long before he picks up the pickpocket who is forced to be a collaborator in the search for the villains and for a woman who had been commissioned to place a bomb in an office as a first strike warning but who changed her mind when the cleaners came into the office. As we might guess, the pickpocket steals the bag which contains the bomb and throws it on a rubbish heap with explosive consequences.
Elba and Madden make an interesting odd couple, touches of banter although Briar is prone to deadly seriousness. As the villains are gradually revealed, the CIA finally decides to give information to the French authorities. The pickpocket finds that his profession can be particularly useful in crises.
The move towards the finale seems to indicate that Briar, the pickpocket and the girl do not have a chance at all. … And there is quite some action in the streets as well as in the French National Bank – Briar is one of those one-man bands that saves the day despite all odds. An effective finale in the basement of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
In fact, a good action show with better-drawn characters than might be expected and some substance to the plot – and the various plots.
Canada/ UK/ China, 2016, 97 minutes, Colour.
Lauren Cohen, Rupert Evans, Diana Hardcastle, Jim Norton, James Russell, Ben Robson.
Directed by William Brent Bell.
The Boy seems a rather innocuous title for this film. One of the central characters is a boy but not quite in the way that we anticipated.
The film opens with a young woman from the United States, Greta (Lauren Cohen) answering an advertisement to look after a young boy at a country estate while his parents go off on a holiday. The location is England but all was filmed in Canada, including the country mansion and its interiors, rooms, staircases, attics, basement… As Greta looks through the house, she sees a portrait of the parents with their young son. She is ready for her task.
But, she is really not prepared, not knowing the truth about the boy – and neither does the audience who share her shock when she is first introduced to him. This makes for an interesting twist – and Greta is introduced to the boy’s routine, his name is Brahms and the lullaby does recur during the film, to his meals, dressing, going to bed, listening to music, reading.
Greta does get a shock when the young man doing grocery deliveries comes to the house (Rupert Evans). He is supportive as Greta tries to cope with the boy after the parents leave. A romantic touch, of course. She is a bit neglectful of Brahms but the boy asserts himself.
Which means that the film is something of a terror story with touches of horror, Greta trying to cope, and trapped at one stage in the attic, trying to decide how she will fulfil all the requirements of her task. her back story also catches up with her with a vengeful boyfriend turning up at the mansion.
Then there is another twist which Greta and the audience had not anticipated which builds up to confrontation, fights, escapes, and some tension.
This review has been written in the spirit of the film – and in such a way as not to reveal any of the twists. Audiences need to discover those for themselves.
Australia, 2016, 97 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Eva Orner.
Although this sounds something like an understatement, Chasing Asylum is a documentary that should be seen by every Australian, especially by every politician. It is a film of special pleading rather than bias (as it has been accused of), cinema documentation of the plight of asylum seekers and refugees in the Detention Centres on Nauru and Manus Island.
The writer-director, Eva Orner, has credible credentials. She spent a decade overseas producing documentaries, most notably Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Darkside which won her a producer’s Oscar.
Concerned about the asylum issues, especially after the Tampa incident in 2001 and the coalition government’s response, issues about which all Australians are concerned (although in different ways in their support or non-support of the asylum seekers), Eve Orner began this project, filming in 2014, able to film footage secretly on both Nauru and Manus, striking images, shocking images which are reminders of the extraordinary inhumanity experienced by those detained. The point is made that those in Australian prisons who have committed crimes know the length of their sentence and possibilities for parole – but that the asylum seekers and refugees are detained indefinitely. And what is that condition responsible for in terms of mental apprehension a deterioration, let alone all the other repressions and harsh conditions that they experience?
The film gives some outline of the history of dealing with asylum seekers and refugees, Nauru after 2001, the people smuggling, the boats arriving or being lost at sea with large loss of life, the concerns about border protection, the Sovereign Borders policy, the stopping boats policy as well as the turning back of the boats, the 2014 decision that no boat person would ever settle in Australia. The film also indicates the physical and mental deterioration of so many men and women, also children, the sexual abuse, the deaths of the Iranians in riots or by Coalition or Labor.
But, some whistleblowers have been interviewed, some identified and seen by face, others just by suggestion and voice. Of these, some were employed by the Salvation Army. The manager of one of the centres is also interviewed, expressing his dismay. And the appointee, who had worked in prisons, expresses his revulsion about conditions, about death threats to him were he to speak publicly, and his resigning in disgust, unable to help. One of the young women, who is motivated by selflessness to go to Nauru but not realising what it was like, the repercussions for the people as well as for herself, is very direct and has a lot to say which needs listening to.
The film does not try to find any solutions for coping with people smugglers, turning back the boats or not, or other political stances. What it does do is to show the inhumanity to men, to women, to children, in putting them indefinitely into sub-standard, often unsanitary, conditions, tents and huts, communal facilities, that could alarm an audience watching this film and trying to imagine how they would deal with being put in similar situations.
A point is made that the two Iranians who died seem to be economic migrants, especially when the families of both men are interviewed in Iran – but, of course, there are economic migrants everywhere (including many who came in past decades to Australia). Their claims have to be considered along with others but there is no need for them to be dehumanised along the way. We are reminded that there are Conventions about migrants and refugees that Australia has signed up to.
While the following points are not made in the film, watching the film makes an audience realise that the asylum seekers have come from different cultures, communities, colder geographical climates, dietary differences and makes them ask whether any acknowledgement is made by the authorities at the Centres, for language, for religious traditions, for the roles of men and women in these societies, in the need for children to grow as children with play and education.
This is a documentary for this particular time – and its release during the very long election campaign of 2016. It is a cinema document that will be important in decades to come as later generations look back and ask questions about policies and humanity in the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.
There is a dedication of the film to Malcolm Fraser who, at the time was not considered to be left-wing or a bleeding heart, was able to deal with large migrations of Vietnamese in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, setting up offshore processing which moved comparatively rapidly and then bringing those approved to Australia by air and settling them. And the question is asked why this cannot be done now.
Australia, 2015, 97 minutes, Colour.
Reef Ireland, Kerry Fox, Thom Green, Charles Grounds, Lester Ellis Jr, Helen Morse, Robert Taylor.
Directed by Grant Scicluna.
Downriver is a mood piece or a very moody piece. It is a story of death, guilt, mystery.
The central character, James, emerges from prison at the beginning of the film and the audience soon discovering that he has been serving a sentence for the death of a little boy, whose body has never been found. The death happened when James was a young boy, playing with his friend Anthony. At the beginning, the audience knows something more than James does with a flashback showing James washing the mud from himself, running away, the information about his epileptic fit and is not remembering – but seeing Anthony, also young, sitting by the river but then going down to look at the body of the dead boy.
James has to report to the parole officer but decides to go back to the family house on the location where the death occurred. He has had an encounter with the boy’s mother, weeping and still angrily confronting James and wanting to know whether body is. James does not know whether body is and over the period of a day or two, he contacts Anthony, a strong antagonism between them. but he also makes friends with the loner, Damien, who lives with his family in an adjoining house.
His mother arrives with her lover, she still upset about the death but in partial denial, especially in acknowledging James as her son to the lover.
James comes across an elderly woman who lives in the mountains and tends dogs, discovering that she and others have hunted wild dogs and disposed of their bodies, James going to search the site and finding underground tunnels.
There is a twist as James continues to investigate, encountering Anthony’s brother and Anthony’s father, leading to a violent confrontation – and the discovery revelation.
The film has beautiful settings, especially from about Warrandyte and the Yarra River.
The moodiness of the film comes from the character of James, his experience, his memories, his search. With the dysfunctional families, and the initial death there is a strong atmosphere of violence. The theme of sexuality is also quite strong, homosexual theme with James, Anthony, the neighbouring boy, the local storekeeper all homosexual with conflicting behaviour. This is the first feature film of the director, Grant Sicluna, who had previously made several short films with gay themes.
The cast is strong with Reef Ireland as James, Thom Green as Anthony, with Kerry Fox as James’s mother and Robert Taylor as her lover and a welcome appearance by Helen Morse as Mary.
Australia, 2015, 93 minutes, Colour.
Matt Levett, Jack Matthews, Harry Cook, Sam Anderson, Maya Stange, Jay R Tinaco.
Directed by Dean Francis.
Drown is not an easy watch. While very interesting, it offers a tough subject and tough exploration of characters.
The title has the overtones of water, death – and possible rescue. All in evidence in this film. This is the case right from the beginning with a voice-over by the star at the Sydney Beach Lifesaver club, Lenny (Matt Levett very forceful in a central role, a young man full of self-doubt with self-assertive behaviour). Lenny is swimming, talking about himself, the end of the world, about a young woman that he had not been able to save from drowning. His words are important and the whole scene is taken up at the end with devastating significance.
This is an Australian story. It is a Sydney story. It is a beach story. It is a young men’s story. And the particular focus with two of the central characters is homosexual orientation, coming out, or denial, desire and lust, some self-acceptance and some sobering repercussions of denial.
The screenplay co-written by Dean Francis, who also directed the film and edited it, is based on a play by Stephen Davies. The scenario has been opened out considerably and does not give the impression of having been a play originally – although there is quite a deal of voice-over and a style of commentary within the voice-over with comments like, he said, I said… The screenplay is also demanding on audience attention, the basic situation and a whole range of flashbacks, actual events, but a great emphasis on Lenny and the memories that keep coming into his mind.
The focus of Lenny’s attention is a new recruit as a lifesaver, Phil (Jack Matthews), good-looking, strong, beating champion Lenny in variations on the Iron Man race, popular at the club and becoming a new champion. Lenny and the audience discover that Phil is a gay man, a scene where he meets his partner, Tom (Sam Anderson) at a bookshop and setting up a home with him. Phil’ encounters with Tom are part of Lenny’s constant memories, Lenny becoming more obsessed while in denial about his feelings.
A surprise occurs when there is a flashback to Lenny as a child, his tough lifesaver father hosing him down on the front lawn, calling him faggot, demanding that he be a man and assert himself. This is highlighted when Lenny wins his trophy and attributes his success to his father, now infirm and with breathing apparatus.
The other central character is called Meat, Harry Cook, Lenny’s friend from school days, a pleasant young man in his way, a touch hefty, a touch dependent, and definitely Lenny’s acolyte, doing whatever Lenny asked – as has been seen in a flashback where he and Lenny bash a young gay boy at school.
While we have seen aspects of the climactic scene, it all comes to a head with Lenny’s attempt to humiliate and demean Phil, Lenny’s self-directed homophobia directing his malevolent behaviour.
The performances are very effective, the entry into the different world of Lenny and Phil challenging the audience about homosexuality, acceptance and denial – and the drowning repercussions of denial.
FIRST MONDAY IN MAY
US , 2016, 90 minutes, Colour.
Andrew Bolton, Anna Wintour, Harry Koda, Baz Lurhman, John Galliano, Jean- Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld.
Directed by Andrew Rossi.
Maybe it all depends on whether you are a fashion lover or not. If you are, there is no question as to whether you will want to see this film or not. It is chock full of fashion. If fashion passes you by or you have an ideological difficulty about catwalks, models, elaborate clothes which are probably seen and worn only by celebrities, you will probably hesitate.
The reason for the title is that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a gala show, dinner and ball on the first Monday in May. This is the background for the first Monday of 2015, something a show to end all shows.
The screenplay invites audiences to think about passion and art at the beginning of the film, showing classic pieces in galleries and suggesting that this is a 19th-century way of looking at art. In the modern world, there are all kinds of different arts which have their place in museums, including fashion. The interviewee explains that there are ideas in fashion, symbols and patterns, let alone all the expertise in craft that goes into the designing and manufacture of clothes. So, with this in mind, we go behind the scenes for this gala event.
There are quite a number of talking heads in the film, including designers John Galliano and Jean- Paul Gaultier, with Baz Luhrman putting in his two penneth worth. There are also a number of andthe film, he wears trousers which are several centimetres above the ankles and never socks (unless he is sometimes wearing jeans and sneakers). Presumably this is a fashion statement – and on the night itself he wears the short-leg trousers, tails, shoes and, of course, no socks.
The other key character in the film is Vovue editor, Anna Wintour, with mentions of the satiric performance parodying her by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. He has had her own documentary with The September Issue, about her work on Vogue. She’s not quite the dragon lady here, but explains herself as decisive. She has a great deal to do, making the decisions, inspecting the designs and layouts, the dresses, and the important diplomacy of places at the tables. There is also the issue of a contract with Rhiana, for her most elaborate dress on the red carpet, her speech and performance during the occasion – as well as her rather large fee.
As we go through the film, the various exhibits from China, especially the dresses, their impact, laid out, quite spectacular in their way.
And, on the night itself, the director, his camera and the audience are taken through all the exhibits by Kate Hudson, an opportunity to sit back, gaze at the extraordinary layouts, exhibits – and glimpse those celebrities and what they are wearing!
It’s one of those “who could ask for anything more!”.
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS
UK, 2016, 110 minutes, Colour.
Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Fergusson, David Haig, Christian Mc Kay, John Sessions, Alan Corduner.
Directed by Stephen Frears.
Many audiences may have heard of Florence Foster Jenkins over the decades, the wealthy socialite in the 1940s who hired Carnegie Hall for herself to sing, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she could not sing and was continually raucously off-key.
This film was one of two based on her story, the other an elaborated fiction, made by the French director Xavier Giannoli, Marguerite, with Catherine Frot. Marguerite is the longer of the films, creating an atmosphere of France in the 1920s, looks at the character of Marguerite and her delusion, her compulsiveness in singing, the adulation of friends and her husband, her unreality and people unable to tell her the truth. Marguerite actually uses quite a number of facts and incidents in the real life of Florence Foster Jenkins.
Stephen Frears has been making films for the best part of 50 years, working in a wide range of genres, both in the US and the UK, and in recent times directing actresses in significant roles like Helen Mirren in The Queen and Judi Dench in Philomena. Here he directs Meryl Streep.
For 40 years Meryl Streep has been able to immerse herself in her roles, and her characters, an extraordinary empathy, and technique which relies on her phrasing, her accents, but also on her ability with her eyes and seemingly insignificant gestures. This is all to the fore here in her portrait of Florence – with the added challenge of actually singing forcefully off-key (while Streep herself has sung in such films as Postcards from the Edge, The Prairie Home Companion and Mamma Mia). Her performance here is certainly up with her best.
There are times when the cinema audience just has to laugh at the cacophony coming from Florence’s mouth, just as so many in her audience laughed, at her private recital which encouraged her to hire Carnegie Hall, wanting to sing for the Armed Forces and giving all the tickets away, her war effort. People flattered her at her recital though many laughed, especially the vamp wife of a financier who had to be dragged out laughing collapsed on the floor but who redeems herself and Carnegie Hall in accosting the audience and urging them to give Florence a chance.
But, there is more to the story of Florence than her terrible singing. As the film progresses, we learn of her first husband, of his communicating illness to her, of her father’s hard attitude towards her, finally inheriting his wealth, of seeing an eager young actor in an audience and attracted to him and marrying him in 1919, their platonic relationship because of her illness, her tolerance of his having an apartment where he could live as he wished after always seeing her to bed in the evening, and his continued devotion and support. They founded the Verdi Club in New York, the film opening with some of their pageants and the enthusiasm of the club members, most of them not as young as they used to be.
Hugh Grant does often seem the same in every film but his screen persona suits his performance as Bayfield, Florence’s ever attentive husband. He and Meryl Streep make a very interesting and lively screen couple.
Then there is Simon Helberg, a diminutive comedian who blows plays the role of Florence’s initially enthusiastic accompanist, Cosme Mc Moon, who tries his best, is sometimes aghast, consents to play at Carnegie Hall fearing that this would be the end of his career.
This is a British film, made in England, with a number of British character actors in American roles, David Haig very good as the Maestro who encourages Florence in her singing and training, Christian Mc Kay as a hostile reporter from the New York Post, Alan Corduner as the manager of Carnegie Hall, John Sessions as Florence’s doctor. Rebecca Ferguson is Bayfield’s mistress, living in his apartment.
A lot of audiences will simply laugh straight out at Florence and her dreadful singing while others will be self-conscious about it as they sit in the cinema – but, one can’t help laughing even though one wants to be sympathetic, but with so much more shown us about Florence, her character, her enthusiasm for music despite her self-delusion, that the film takes on something of the comic-tragic.
GOD WILLING/SE DIO VUOLE
Italy, 2015, 87 Minutes, Colour.
Marco Giallini, Alessandro Gassman, Laura Morante, Ilaria Spada.
Directed by Eodardo Maria Falcone.
A surprising film about priesthood from Italy, Se Dio Vuole/God Willing reminds audiences of Italy’s growing secularisation, the inheritance of the Catholic tradition and rejection of it, and a low opinion of the priesthood.
A young man, Andrea, goes out frequently with a young man and when he asks his family for a meeting, they tend to expect that he will announce that he is gay. They psych themselves up for this, wanting to be broadminded, tolerant, prepared to embrace him. But, what he tells them is that he wants to be a priest. They are not ready for this at all, especially his rather arrogant surgeon father who cannot bring himself to contradict his son but will do anything to stop him becoming a priest.
His mother is more understanding. His sister, who seems to know practically nothing about Catholicism, gets a whim to learn more about it, praying the rosary, watching Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, not wanting anyone to tell and spoil the ending for her.
The father invokes the aid of friends and investigators, following his son only to find that he has gone to a Bible session, conducted by Don Pietro, an enthusiastically vigorous performance by Alessandro Gassman. He has a full house of young listeners, explains the Gospels with great gusto and theatricality. The surgeon wants an investigation done on him, finds that Don Pietro has spent time in jail, for fraud, and suspects that he has brainwashed his son.
Don Pietro is a fine contemporary, pastoral priest. He admits his use of fraud, the time in jail, influenced by the prison chaplain, joining the seminary, concerned for all people in need, rebuilding a church that his mother used to attend, a sensible man in the 21st century ministry.
He has advised Andrea about the priesthood and puts himself out when the surgeon turns up at a session, pretends to be penniless and homeless, sets up his colleagues to confirm his down-and-out status in a rundown house to Don Pietro, but is found out when Don Pietro is visiting his actual home. Don Pietro asks him to do a month’s penance, working on the church with him, where they talk a great deal, go to a hill overlooking a lake which is the priest’s favourite place for reflection, the surgeon upset when Don Pietro has a motorbike accident and spends his time finishing the work on the church. He doesn’t necessarily become a believer – but his attitude towards priests changes, he is more understanding and respectful to his staff, to patients and his wife and daughter – and Don Pietro doesn’t tell him that he actually knew for some time that Andrea, after a retreat, had fallen in love and the priesthood was not for him.
Perhaps the film is saying that celibacy is an impediment for priesthood – and that the better priests are men who have had solid and mixed experiences and are ordained later in their lives.
US, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Anton Yeltchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, Macon Blair.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier.
The green room is generally where performers wait before they go on stage, before they go on the television set, a place for a drink, conversation and relaxation. Definitely not so here.
A great deal of the film takes place in a shabby club in rural Oregon where the green room is anything but. It becomes the setting for violent action, young people being locked in, violently threatened, challenged as to how they will get out – and the green room has very little green, rather dingy colours with dominant dark and light grey.
But, who are these young people? They are members of a punk rock group looking for gigs around the US West Coast, singing their punk rock songs, dressed in grungy style, and their looks, hair, accordingly. In fact, the writer-director, Jeremy Saulnier, grew up with punk rock, was a member of bands, and is paying something of a tribute to his upbringing and his tastes in portraying this group – led by actor Anton Yelchin, with Alia Shawkat as manager.
After a less than successful episode with minimal pay, they are recommended to go to Oregon where they can perform and be better paid. Mistake. Big mistake.
Out in the Oregon woods, this club is a venue for neo-Nazis, the men looking as if they belong to extreme bikie clubs, tough women in attendance, listening to the music, some seemingly in revolt against the music, but the players managing to survive and be on their way except that they have to go into the green room to pick up a mobile phone – where there has been a murder.
Not only are the members of the group trapped in the green room, they try to negotiate their way out, are reassured that the police are coming – but gradually, they experience the menace of the neo-Nazi leader, an ageing skinhead who organises meetings for American rights, and played with ugly menace by Patrick Stewart.
Also in the room is one of the local girls, played by Imogen Poots, who also wants to get out.
Long ago Agatha Christie wrote one of her novels with the characters being picked off one by one, a basic plot device used by many stories, And There Were None… Well, if not quite none, then possibly two if there is a romantic vein in the plot.
And so, the musicians try to find ways of getting out of the room, out of the basement they discover, out of the building, but gradually meet their fate. The main player explains, twice, a paintball contest where the amateurs defeated the professional, so…
The group would never have envisaged this kind of catastrophe after their performance and have to work out their fears, the desire to live, their ability to help one another – until a final confrontation in the woods where justice is seen to be done.
This is a thriller with menace and horror touches – the make-up artists with a great penchant for cuts and slashes. Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin, also explored themes of violence.
THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
New Zealand, 2016, 93 minutes, Colour.
Sam Neill, Julian Denison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightly, Rhys Darby, Taika Waititi.
Directed by Taika Waititi.
Most audiences will enjoy going on this particular hunt. It is a hunt in the mountain wildernesses of New Zealand – and a young boy and his foster uncle are the Wilderpeople being chased around the mountains for months by child welfare authorities, the police and, eventually, Army personnel, just like wildebeests in Africa.
How did it come to this?
The film opens with child welfare authorities bringing 12 year old Ricky Baker to stay with a foster family. The tough officer, Paula (Rachel House), along with her deadpan sidekick, Andy, explains why Ricky Baker is a wild boy, a very humorous collage of his misbehaving. Ricky does a circle of the house and gets back into the car, only to be told that this is his last chance, otherwise juvenile hall. His foster aunt, Bella, is a most genial and loving woman (Rima Tae we are to) but his uncle, Hec, (Sam Neill) is a pretty gruff old character only putting up with a foster boy for his wife’s sake.
It must be said immediately that Julian Denison is completely believable as Ricky Baker, likeable despite his carry on at times, Denison being able to deliver humorous lines with excellent timing. Audiences who saw Paper Planes in 2015 may well remember him as the hero’s best friend. And Sam Neill, returning to home ground, plays very well off Julian Denison.
Something sad happens at the farm and Ricky really doesn’t want to be with his foster uncle, so makes off into the mountains, getting lost, feeling hungry (he is a rotund young fellow) and finally being found by his uncle. Hec want some time off so they go into the mountains. But authorities think something has gone wrong. There are notices out for their capture, eventually a reward.
When they are found by some hunters, Ricky tries to explain and this gives the film some edge as what he says sounds ambiguous and the hunters and the authorities presume that Hec has perverted designs on the boy. There is a hue and cry in the media – although it gets onside when they help a Ranger who has had a diabetes collapse.
The film is enjoyable as we watch the old man and the young boy working together, becoming friends, the boy learning some wisdom (to counteract his propensity for gangster ideas and talk). At one stage, Hec injures his leg and Ricky finds some people living in the bush, a young girl who talks incessantly but pleasantly and her father who is preoccupied with getting some selfies with Ricky.
There is also a funny funeral preaching scene featuring the director, Taika Waititi, who directed Boy and the parody, What We Do in the Shadows.
Despite being away for months and in the winter, they eventually get caught, a climax being Ricky driving a car through the bush, crashing through, making the car leap over a road, eventually smashing into a car junkyard.
The final scenes are not as sweetness and light as we might have expected, but, eventually, Ricky goes to the old people’s home where Hec is learning to read, which he couldn’t in the past, and they find somewhere to stay – and go out into the bush to search for a rare bird that Ricky had glimpsed.
This film should entertain New Zealanders, audiences beyond New Zealand – and those who have discovered that they have New Zealand ancestors like this reviewer!
Australia, 2016, 104 minutes, Colour.
Kristian Winther Joana Tache, Stephen King, Joanna Draper, Ulrike Klein, The Carpenter Family.
Directed by Scott Hicks.
First and foremost, this documentary film is for music lovers. Other audiences will find the characterisation of the musicians quite interesting, and the narrative which develops in unexpected ways, as well as the opportunity to hear excerpts of classical music and chamber pieces. Director, Scott Hicks, is famed as being the director of Shine but he has also made a documentary on the composer, Philip Glass.
There are three stories intertwined in Highly Strung.
A framing story concerns the four musicians in the Australian String Quartet, the particular skills, the rehearsals, performances, and a growing tension about the quality of their playing. Each of the four musicians Kristian Winther, Joana Tache, Stephen King, Joanna Draper, is interviewed throughout the film, enthusiastic beginnings, excitement about the violins being bought for them (which is the second storyline of the film), some crises amongst the players, especially with two who marry after something of a whirlwind courtship, the other two players, one of whom is married with family. Each of those interviewed is very frank about themselves, the love for music, the experience of playing together, the challenges that they face and the break with the quartet.
The second storyline is about violins themselves. The documentary gives quite an amount of information about the making of the Stradivarius violins as well as the Guadagninis, the reputation of the violin makers from the 18th century, their being kept in bank vaults, the extraordinarily high prices (over $1 million). Benefactor, Ulrike Klein, decides that the quartet should have the violins and go through a process of purchasing – with an excursion to Italy, to Cremona, where Guadagnini lived and where contemporary violin makers are crafting instruments in the line of Guadagnini. Some interesting sequences where we look at the making of the violins. Then there is something of a leap to the United States at an introduction to the Carpenter family, very vocal about the making of violins, their playing, their promotions – and some tour-de-force performances from them.
The third strand in the story concerns are Ulrike Klein, her German background, her coming to Australia, her love for music, her financial success and her becoming a benefactor of the arts, especially the building of the Ngeringa Arts centre in South Australia’s Mount Barker. There is some biography of Ulrike, a reunion with the husband she left long since, her business success in Australia, the patronage of the Australian String Quartet and obtaining the violins, her concern about the breakup, her relationship with other officials backing the quartet as well as those of her Ngeringa centre.
There is always something going on in Highly Strung, each of the three strands linking although, at times, the film goes off to concentrate one or the other.
As has been said, this is principally a film for classical music lovers and those who appreciate fine musical instruments.
IS THIS THE REAL WORLD
Australia, 2015, 91 minutes, Colour.
Sean Keenan, Greg Stone, Susie Porter, Julia Blake, Matt Colwell, Charlotte Best.
Directed by Martin Mc Kenna.
Is This the Real World is a small budget Australian film, set in a city suburbs, the story of a teenager and his trying to cope with his family and at school.
Sean Keenan portrays Mark Glazeby, and the audience initially sees him in a very long opening shot, the camera behind him, walking along the high school pathways and eventually into the office of the Vice- Principal. He is being asked why he has left his previous school and given up a scholarship, the reasons for his bad behaviour, for which Mark has very few answers except to say that he was young. He is to be given a chance in his new high school.
While he seems something of a confident young man, we soon find him put to the test by some bullying, forced to take some football marks but each time being pushed out of the way by hefty fellow-student. He tries to stick it out. He does get some chance for comeuppance, his brother taking the bullies on a car ride and driving fairly recklessly.
A strong part of Mark’s life is his relationships with his brother, Matt Colwell, who also had problems with school and is about to go to prison, with his very busy mother, Susie Porter, and her exasperations, with his younger sister. But, there is also his sympathetic grandmother, played by Julia Blake, and he is very affected by her illness.
Meanwhile, at school, he becomes the target of the Vice- Principal, who makes extraordinary demands on him, including forcing him sit in his office during breaks, and then wanting him to sit there during all classes, audiences not sure why the animosity is so deep. One of the contributing factors is that the Vice-Principal’s? daughter is attracted to Mark. When they abscond for the weekend, a somewhat casual sexual attraction emphasised and taken for granted, which leads to dramatic confrontation between Mark and the Vice-Principal?.
The film ends with the same tracking shot, the camera following Mark down the same pathway but then into a classroom – Mark and the audience hopeful for his future.
Parents could watch the film with interest, checking the behaviour of their children. teenagers might identify with Mark, with his girlfriend Kim, and check their own behaviour and attitudes. And this kind of film is always a challenge to teachers and those in authority in schools, checking their own behaviour and attitudes.
JACK OF THE RED HEARTS
US, 2015, 102 minutes, Colour.
Anna Sophia Robb, Famke Janssen, Scott Cohen, Israel Broussard, Taylor Richardson.
Directed by Janet Grillo.
This is a film about autism, autism in a young child. It is geared towards the mainstream audience, a story that the audience can understand and respond to emotionally. If one Googles Wikipedia on films about autism, the list is quite long. Perhaps the most popular film in consciousness is Rain Man – and there is a line in the screenplay here which points out that the young girl, Glory, is no “rain man”. Another striking film about autism features Claire Danes as an autistic woman who achieved a great deal in her professional life, Temple Grandin.
Actually, the initial focus is on two runaways, two teenagers who have lost their mother and are in care, one of them already with a police record, a parole officer, and the threat of going to juvenile detention. The two girls set up a stall in the main street begging for money and encounter a father who puts up a poster looking for someone with experience with young girls. We have seen the mother and father at home and the efforts they are making to care for their 11-year-old daughter, Glory, strongly autistic, prone to being upset, not communicating well.
The older of the sisters, Jack (Anna Sophia Robb) takes the notice, waylays an expert young woman who is applying for the job, ingratiate herself into the household and, learning on the way, making some mistakes, getting deeper because of her lying, becomes Glory’s companion.
As may be anticipated, Jack, calling herself Donna because of the young woman whose papers she stole, begins to make an impact on Glory, sometimes hit-and-miss opportunities, but giving breathing space to the mother who is able to go back to work, something that gives her energy and exhilaration, arousing the attraction and then suspicion of Glory’s older brother.
The main emphasis on of the film is on the relationship between Jack and Glory, eliciting empathy from the audience, for the autistic young girl and the potential within her, for the sometimes irresponsible companion, brash and often self-centred, who, we know, also has great potential within her.
This gives the film some dramatic age, the audience wanting Jack to succeed with Glory but all the time aware that she is on very thin ice. It has to come to a head and does so dramatically, Jack wanting to get her sister out of foster care, prepared to take the consequences of her deception, but realising that she has communicated with the little girl and wants to assist in an interview where Glory could go for better education prospects.
Taylor Richardson is completely persuasive as Glory, the film indicating through its blurry photography and a focus on into playing shining lights something of how Glory perceives reality. Famke Janssen has a strong role as the mother. The screenplay of his quite some commentary on different approaches to working with autistic children, even showing some sequences from the 1962 film about Helen Keller, The Miracle Worker with Annie Sullivan helping Helen to understand water. A strong point is made about Glory, on a roof, on a tree branch, on heights, better able to comprehend and communicate.
As the film veers towards expected endings, it stops just in time from indulging sentimentality, leaving the audience to think about the future for all the characters concerned.
US, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J. K. Simmons, Michael Mc Kean, Jason Ritter, Laura del Giacomo, Harry Hamlin.
Directed by Lorene Scafaria.
‘Meddler’ is a rather negative word and not quite appropriate to the vibrant character portrayed by Susan Sarandon in this film. Admittedly, she does meddle in her daughter’s life, always ringing, sometimes barging into her apartment, concerned about her relationships, not picking up her daughter’s vibes in terms of leaving her alone – the daughter is played effectively by Rose Byrne.
But, really, Marnie, the 60+ widow played by Susan Sarandon is always ready and willing to help and though she helps those helped do not feel it as if she is meddling in their lives. Her husband Joe has been dead for two years and, beginning humbly, built himself a business and has left his widow very comfortably off. While she does sometimes spend on herself, she seems much happier giving the money to people who need it and not just giving it, becoming part of their lives.
This is a wonderful part for Susan Sarandon and she brings verve and vitality and complete conviction to her role. For more than 40 years she has been a top-billing star, with roles as different from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Thelma and Louise to her Oscar-winning portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking.
J.K.Simmons turns up in an amiable role, Zipper, an ex-policeman, who serves as a security guard on a film set that Marnie stumbles onto and get some work an extra. He is a former policeman, who raises chickens, is alienated from one of his daughters (and Marnie, of course, urges him to phone her). There is a very entertaining sequence when Marnie, with some of Zipper’s eggs, makes Toad in the Hole, eagerly cooking as the dance theme from Zorba the Greek plays, and faster and faster as she eats the meal with ever rapid zest and enjoyment.
This is not a film with an intrinsic dynamic, like the action films that Marnie enjoys watching. Rather, it is a series of episodes, many comic, mostly engaging, some with a touch of the serious.
Probably the target audience is grandmothers 60 and over – but, grandmothers are always eager to share their experiences and so we can all go and enjoy The Meddler. (If any readers are familiar with the Enneagram and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator they may be thinking Enneagram 2 and MBTI ESFJ!)
MIA MADRE/MY MOTHER
Italy, 2015, 106 minutes, Colour.
Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Nanni Moretti, Giulia Lazzarini.
Directed by Nanni Moretti.
This is a film about death and dying, written and directed by celebrated Italian director, Nanni Moretti. He has treated serious themes of death in previous films including Dear Diary and, especially, the Golden Palm winner at Cannes, 2002, The Son’s Room. He draws on experience, and this time on very personal experience, his mother dying while he was making his previous film, Habemus Papam, We Have a Pope.
But this is a very different autobiographical film. Instead of casting himself as the director, Moretti changes the director into a woman, played very effectively by Margherita Buy. She is not a very sympathetic character. instead, Moretti gives himself a lesser role, the director’s brother, who has given up his job to spend time with his dying mother, sensitive to her needs, sitting with her, a son acting in an ideal way.
Giulia Lazzarini, 80 of the time of making the film, makes the dying Ada convincing. She has been a strong woman, a teacher devoted to her pupils, relishing her books and study methods, an expert in the classics and, especially, Latin which she is coaching her granddaughter in. She is ill, in hospital, IV treatment, declining at one stage, with the decision, though she is unwilling and fearful, to take her home so that she can die in her own house.
There is a parallel plot throughout the film, the actual film, about workers in clashes with company authorities and difficulties about contracts with strikes, which Margherita is directing. it is here that we see the real Margherita, not the daughter moved by her mother’s plight while struggling how to express this, but a taskmaster with very few kind words to staff or crew. This comes to a head when she employs an egotistical American actor, played expertly by John Turturro, who struggles with his Italian and pronunciation, inflates stories about himself and his career, especially concerning Stanley Kubrick, an impatient man who begins to forget his lines and does not take easily to the director’s demands. This puts Margherita even more on edge, compounded by a relationship with her former husband, her daughter, and the breakup of a relationship with one of her actors.
Later in the film, Margherita summons the actor and there is a most significant conversation or, rather, an almost monologue by the actor telling her the truth about herself, her coldness, her demands, the poor effect she has on everyone – later compounded by an outburst from the angry actor, and gently confirmed by her brother agreeing with everybody’s diagnosis.
So, the film keeps moving from one plot to the other, making the character studies of mother and daughter dramatically complex, emotionally complex.
This is a skilful film about film making in Italy, the mechanics, the logistics, impressively showing several scenes in production, strike action, filming driving, the personal relationships, the challenges and demands. it is also a skilful film in portraying the character of a director caught up in professional demands as well as a private story – something Federico Fellini did many decades ago in different ways in 8 ½. And Moretti makes the film even more significant by making his director female.
Advertising for the film highlights “warm”. This is not exactly an adjective to describe the film or the characters, except the son and the granddaughter. It is much tougher than warm. And its complexities give the audience a great deal of human responses to reflect on.
The advertising posters make a great deal of the fact that Mia Madre won the Ecumenical Award in Cannes, 2015.
US, 2016, 98 minutes, Colour.
George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O ’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Dennis Boutsikaris.
Directed by Jodie Foster.
At first hearing, the name might sound like a description of financial exploiter, a wolf of Wall Street, a dealer whose creed is “Greed is good”. And there is a character who fits these descriptions.
However, the title of the film is the title of a glitzy television show with a personality who relies on zany enthusiasm and antics while commenting on American finance. His name is Lee and he is played by George Clooney.
There have been quite a number of films about American finance and the double dealings, many documentaries, especially in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, and interesting feature films like the 1987 Wall Street as well as its successor in 2009, films like Margin Call and the 2015 The Big Short.
For most audiences, Money Monster will be the most enjoyable.
We are introduced to explanations about computerised money with computerised visuals illustrating money changing hands and the question about whether a computer can lose money through glitches in the algorithm. While the question hangs there, Lee appears, George Clooney obviously enjoying himself as a rather egotistical personality, controlling everyone, defying his director, Patty, Julia Roberts, and forever going off the prepared text and with a whole lot of gimmicks including his arrival as a song and dance man with chorus, a different hat each time and then tossing it away, and a whole lot of gimmicks, pressing buttons for all kinds of visuals, including clips from horror films to give background to his commentary, his observations and, though he later denies it but is proved wrong, his investment recommendations.
So, where could this be going? A delivery man appears the studio, lurking within range of the camera – and then pulling a gun, firing shots, uttering all kinds of threats, taking Lee, now a quivering mass compared with his self-confident patter, as hostage. Much of the rest of the film takes place in the studio with the hostage situation, Patty able to communicate with Lee through the microphone in his ear, directing him, encouraging him to recover his confidence to try to take charge of the situation. Then there are the police, a negotiator, snipers moving throughout the studio, the discovery of the young man’s girlfriend and getting her to talk to him on camera.
Who is this young man? His name is Kyle and he is played very effectively by English actor Jack O’ Connell. He has inherited $60,000 and invested it in a company (whose CEO we have glimpsed, with clips from Korea and South Africa, and who has not turned up for a scheduled interview). Kyle is in the network vein of being mad as hell and refusing to take it anymore. He puts a bomb vest on Lee and keeps his thumb on the button for detonation.
The film does not have a long-running time, just under 100 minutes, but the pace keeps up, plot developments, swift and slick editing, the audience participating with eagerness and touches of adrenaline.
With this kind of story, there is a potential for many twists and this is what happens. Kyle has the gun and the finger on the button but he is not the brightest, especially when his girlfriend turns on him, Lee getting the better of him with financial commentary (although Lee makes a huge on camera appeal to the American masses to invest in the company to adjust the losses – the audience sees quite a range of audiences and then discovers that they are rather apathetic, even about Lee’s life).
The film does eventually move outside the studio into the New York streets with crowds apprehensive, imitating Lee’s song and dance routines, the police following, but Kyle with his finger still on the button.
In the meantime, the CEO, played by Dominic West, does turn up, deals with his PR associate, Catriona Balfe, and Kyle gets his chance for confrontation and Lee gets his opportunity to do his program live, with Patty working excellently behind the scenes with computer hackers, with a producer running the streets to get documentation, with her research assistants turning up information and so able to provide visuals for Lee to bring it all to a close.
While all is serious, there is enough humour in dialogue and situation throughout the film keep it both exciting and entertaining, with the touch of the amusing. George Clooney is at his best, having to go through quite a range of emotions from his self-promotion to fear, to gaining control of the situation, to becoming an on-screen hero again. Julia Roberts is a solid presence as the director.
The interesting thing is that money Monster was directed by Jodie Foster, the kind of film that she might appear in but not that we expect her to direct: very well-based action, interesting character development, keeping the pace moving with the changing situations.
So, a very enjoyable film, entertaining but raising many issues of finance, entrepreneurs, fraud and the victims of fraudsters.
US, 2016, 118 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson, Jack Whitesell, Timothy Olyphant, Aasiv Mandvi, Shay Mitchell, Margo Martindale, Robert Pine, Hector Elizondo, Jon Lovitz,.
Directed by Garry Marshall.
Garry Marshall has had a good reputation for making popular and very entertaining films, this coming to some kind of peak in 1990 with Pretty Woman and the emergence of Julia Roberts as a star. She has appeared in some of his other films including this one.
In recent years, Garry Marshall has made some films with celebration day titles, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. Though, for fans, it is not surprising for him to make Mother’s Day. And, as the fans would expect, there are some popular stars in the central roles and there are various stories, interconnected, and the theme of mothers, wives, marriage, separation, adoption…
The central story focuses on Sandy, Jennifer Aniston, with two sons, married for 13 years but her husband leaving her for a younger woman. She still has a hankering for him and is rather taken aback at his news about his new wedding, as well as the issues of custody of the two boys, her irritation with him and, especially, a wariness of the new young stepmother. This leads to serious scenes as well some comic scenes, especially at a family party with the ex-husband trapped in a waterslide.
She has a best friend, Jessie, Kate Hudson, who has some problems of her own. She is supportive of her sister, who is a lesbian and lives with her partner. They have not told their mother and father who hail from Texas – and who suddenly land in Atlanta to see their daughters and to discover what has been happening. Jessie has her own secret. her mother being particularly antipathetic to her marrying a man of Indian background – but she has and has a son. When mother and father, in their caravan, arrive for Mother’s Day, needless to say there are quite some problems, though this is the kind of film in which they will be, perhaps easily, resolved.
Sandy is a set designer and later hurries to an interview with the celebrity who appears on the shopping channel, Julia Roberts. Because Sandy is plucky, she is hired. But, Julia Roberts has concerns of her own – which the audience will click on to fairly quickly when there is a young couple with a child, working in a club where the young man is auditioning as a stand-up comedian. His partner has a secret about her adoption and wants to track down her birth mother. We know who.
There is also a story about a Marine who is a widower, Brad, Jason Sudeikis, whose wife has been killed in action. He looks after two daughters, a bit over-protective, who chances upon Sandy in confusion in a supermarket, sees her rather hysterical in her car, sees her coming into the gym where he works – and finally, when he falls on the roof performing karaoke at his children’s party, he encounters her once again at the hospital where she has had to take her asthmatic son.
This is the kind of film that is very popular with audiences, undemanding audiences, the kind of film which irritates art-house audiences who feel there is not enough depth in the characterisations or situations. But, for popular storytelling and raising serious issues at this entertainment level, Mother’s Day will fit the bill.
Australia, 2016, 83 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Lawrence Johnston.
Have we ever given much thought to neon lights and signs? Perhaps we have just simply taken them for granted and enjoyed their bright and colourful existence, especially illuminating nightlife, advertising, informing, just the exhilaration of their being there. As this film indicates, they have been under threat from rival technologies for decades, the development of the use of plastic in signs and advertising, and the current digital technology of L.E.D lighting and the proliferation of flat screens.
It can be said that this is an exemplary documentary, Australian director Lawrence Johnston doing extensive research, writing a screenplay and directing. It could be seen as something of documentary masterclass. And, it can be viewed as a masterclass on neon.
While there are many talking heads, their interventions are generally brief and to the point, highlighting a particular aspect of the history of neon lights, the impact in the United States, examples all over the world, the decline of neon, but the hopes for a number of people who have created museums for signs, and in Las Vegas, a “boneyard” for huge neon signs taken down from the many casinos during their reconstruction.
So, while there is a great deal of historical information, technical material, social commentary, the film serves as a feast of colours, shapes, movement, all the exhilaration of some beautiful lights, some garish, some crassly commercial, some persuasively offering information and advertising.
For those of a historical frame of mind, Johnston shows us quite a lot of contemporary footage, the World Fairs illuminated at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, the initial development in Paris, the entrepreneur work of Georges Claude, the initiator of Claude Neon, and the introduction of neon to the United States in 1924 and its immediate proliferation. Most of the examples throughout the film are from the United States, opening with scenes of Las Vegas, and returning there extensively. There are glimpses of neon illumination from other cities, London, Vancouver, Havana, Hong Kong, Melbourne and the Skipping Girl, Sydney but only a Coca-Cola? ad!, and Japanese developments in the city of Osaka.
Of particular interest to film buffs is the section showing clips from 40s and 50s films and the different uses of neon lighting – especially for sinister atmosphere.
While there is great deal of nostalgia from the interviewees, most admit that the technologies began to change for neon with the introduction of plastic from 1970 onwards and there is the reminder of the L.E.D. lighting technology of the present.
Not a long-running time for Neon, but plenty of visual delight and we all finish the film very well informed.
THE NICE GUYS
US, 2016, 117 minutes, Colour.
Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger, Margaret Qualley, Yaya Da Costa, Keith David, Beau Knapp, Lois Smith, Muriel Terrio, Daisy Tahan, Jack Kilmer, Gil Gerard.
Directed by Shane Black.
The first thing to observe, obviously, is that our two heroes are not exactly Nice Guys. But, they are much nicer than some of the other characters.
Back in the 80s, writer Shane Black created Lethal Weapon with the odd coupling of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, one brash, one more considered but getting too old for this kind of… 20 years later he made a very entertaining spoof of this kind of buddy film with Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. in the meantime, he has written and directed Iron Man 3. While there is entertainment in The Nice Guys, it does not come across as effectively as the previous films.
Not that Shane Black doesn’t know the 1970s very well and is able to recreate the atmosphere, a post-Nixon America where fraud and financial doubledealing is still prevalent. One of the other areas of corruption is that of pornography and pornographic films, something which was going to spread more extensively in the coming decades. And, there are the inevitable private investigators, still doing the same old work that Humphrey Bogart and co did back in the old days, although one of the special talents for Russell Crowe’s Jack Healy is that he is commissioned by angry parents to confront older men who have been abusing their underage daughters – and punching them out. On the other hand, while not against a punch out, Ryan Gosling’s Holland March is not as forthright.
So, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, one getting larger and the other remaining thinner!, become entangled (often literally) in their trying to track down a young woman who wants to disappear. The plot development has the overtones of the 1940s film noir, those private eyes films with Humphrey Bogart or Dick Powell, blended with the buddy police comedies of the 1970s and 1980s, think Eddie Murphy and Beverly Hills Cop or 48 hours. While the underlying search and the reasons for it and the girl wanting to disappear, are all very serious, there are lots of farcical interactions, a lot of comedy patter, some physical pratfalls and some episodes which have the touch of the dumb and dumber.
In the background, as we see from the beginning, there is the Detroit car show coming up in Los Angeles – with suggestions of fraud.Further complications come when the investigators find that the missing girl is the daughter of one of the top police investigators of fraud – and, echoes of LA Confidential, she is played by Kim Basinger. When the pornography comes in, it is also rather complicated and linked with social protest, the film to be screened with damning information during the automobile show.
There are several murders along the way, some rather brutal attacks on Healy and March (who, generally but not always, are able to fight back). There are also always some tough and sleazy criminals on hand in LA, especially the sinister Johnboy played by Matt Bomer.
There is quite a serious anchor to the proceedings, a touch of a common sense and conscience. It comes in the form of March’s 13-year-old daughter, Holly, who observes shrewdly and can be challenging. She is played expertly by Australian Angourie Rice (who featured in These Final Hours and The Nowhere Boys. If this isn’t a credible entry into international film career…
Many amusing moments, but not quite.
Japan, 1991, 118 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Isao Takahata.
Only Yesterday is a film of 1991, re-released in 2016. It can be seen in its original Japanese version or in an English-dubbed version, with Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Man Who Knew Infinity).
This film comes from the celebrated Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghiblil. The present director made the very striking Grave of the Fireflies film in 1988. Many of the films were directed by the head of the studio, Hayai Miyazaki who won an Oscar for Spirited Away.
Ordinarily, the films from Studio Ghibli lead the audience into a fantasy world. This is not the case here. Rather, for 1991 it was a comparatively contemporary story, the main setting in 1986, with flashbacks to childhood sequences in 1966.
The central character is Taeka, a young working woman who decides to go back to the country and to work on a farm. The scenes of her childhood show her as one of three sisters, the youngest, with a rather stern father who does not want her to become an actress, even though she had only one line in the school play but did some histrionic variations on the line. The girls at school are going on a holiday but she is able to go only with her grandmother to a spa where she enjoys the baths.
There is a funny scene from 1966 where the family buys a pineapple but has no idea how to cut it open or to eat it – and, when they do, they dislike it, finding it rather bitter compared with the sweet tinned pineapple they were used to. Pineapples were not available in Japan like this in 1966.
The young woman really enjoys working in the country, in the fields, the exhilaration. There is a young man from the family where she is staying, who has been disappointed in not being able to study at the University, his father wanting him to work on the farm where he has become an expert. The two communicate, and an attraction forms between them. The young woman is rather resistant, especially when the grandmother of the house begins some matchmaking.
The young girl leaves but gets off the train and begins writing in the cafe, deciding to return – and a payoff for the audience with a happy ending.
The animation style of Studio Ghibli is quite distinctive, wash-colour, facial features really suggested rather than given in detail, beautiful scenic backgrounds. This is the case here – in a film which many consider one of the best to have come from Studio Ghibli.
QUEEN OF THE DESERT
US, 2015, 190 minutes, Colour.
Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis, David Calder, Jenny Agutter.
Directed by Werner Herzog.
For more than 40 years, Werner Herzog has been both provocative and profound in his range of films. He began with some art-house narrative features, including The Enigma of Kasper Hauser as well as a version of Nosferatu in the 1970s. He has also continued to make a number of documentaries, and is well-known for his hard treatment of his cast, especially in the Latin American-set films, Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Fitzcaraldo.
Over the decades, he has been prolific, blending features and documentaries, often going to remote areas to exploit human experience there, including the Antarctic (and, in some moments of irony, he comically voices a film-maker in Antarctica in the animated film, Penguins of Madagascar). In recent years, he has worked from a base in the United States, making such features as Bad Lieutenant, New Orleans, as well as a documentary on the prehistoric drawings in the caves in France, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, filming in 3 D.
Yet, it is something of a surprise to find him making Queen of the Desert. It is very much in the traditional modes of filmmaking, a straightforward narrative, action sequences and romance, with a historical perspective.
Gertrude Bell was an English woman, educated at the University, a pioneer in her times at the beginning of the 20th century. Dissatisfied with life in England, she goes to the British Embassy in Tehran, finds the old Persian culture congenial, begins to learn Farsi, which becomes a preparation for her return to the Middle East and becoming something of an explorer and archaeologist.
However, the screenplay alerts the audience to her role during World War I, her friendship and association with T.E. Lawrence and the repercussions for knowledge of the Bedouin tribes, their alliances, the experience of the war and the reshaping by the conquering allies, creating Middle Eastern countries. Winston Churchill presides at a meeting early in the film to discuss the repercussions for the war and his advisers at the meeting refer him to Gertrude Bell, some very traditional male types sneering at her and what she has achieved.
The film looks very good, the scenes in England very much in the Merchant-Ivory? respectable style. Iran looks more than a touch exotic. But the film and its photography are beautiful and strong in the many desert sequences as Gertrude ventures into the Arabian pensioner, visits Damascus, and shares in aspects of the life of the tribes. Considering that Lawrence of Arabia was made in 1962, it is very surprising that there has not been a film about Gertrude Bell before this.
Herzog is well served by his cast. Nicole Kidman is at her best as Gertrude Bell, very much an English lady at all times, but one with a keen sense of enquiry, and empathy for the Arabs who receive her very well and consider that she is one of the best westerners for understanding them. On the personal level, Gertrude clashes with her newly-rich parents and their desire for a good marriage. In Tehran, she meets one of the staff who is attracted to her, teaches her Farsi, falls in love but has to return to England where her father forbids her to marry, with tragic consequences for the young man. Surprisingly, he is played by James Franco.
In Damascus, a married official (Damian Lewis) falls in love with her. She hesitates, but reciprocate only to find that he volunteers to fight in the war. Audiences might be surprised to find that after her adventures in the desert, Gertrude Bell worked for the British government, based in Cairo, collaborating with T.E. Lawrence and that she continued this work until her death in 1926.
Film buffs might be disappointed that Herzog, at this stage of his life and career, has made such a popular kind of film. Most audiences will find it interesting and entertaining.
Australia, 2015, 86 minutes, colour.
Directed by Margot Nash.
Some years ago, Australian director Sophia Turkewicz made a memoir-film about her mother, Once My Mother, 2014. Now, director Margot Nash has given us a portrait of her mother. The film are well worth seeing. They serve as memoirs of particular times, as portraits of their mothers, with autobiographical insights about the directors themselves.
Ettie Nash was born in 1911 and died in 2004, a long life. She came from New Zealand, lived for some time in England in comfortable upper-class situations, went to India where she became engaged to an officer, but on her return home, found that he was reluctant to get married. In something of rebound, she married local agriculture expert, Albert Nash.They had three children, the oldest of whom we learned about later in the film, a sad story.
Margot had an older sister, Diana, and she comments that, while Diana was very introverted and had to take a responsible role in the family, Margot was mischievous and outgoing. In the 1940s they migrated to Melbourne where the father had a brewery job cultivating hops, and was very successful in this work. However, it is revealed that there was mental instability in the Nash family and this took its toll on their father and put pressure on their mother who also experienced depression.
Ettie was one of those disappointed persons who had hoped for something more prominent in her life, being an entertainer, but who was frustrated, experienced some bitterness and her daughter mentions that her mother had an acidic tongue.
We see that the daughters made good, Diana becoming a doctor, Margot breaking free in the 1970s and relishing that openness in Australian culture and mores, and then moving into making films, both features and documentaries, this biography incorporating quite a number of scenes from her films, especially the 1995 film, Vacant Possession, with Pamela Rabe and the character played by John Stanton representing her father, remembering his war experience as a navigator, and experiencing his mental collapse.
Towards the end of the film, the two sisters re-visit New Zealand, follow through on what happened to their older sister, get the remains of their mother and get some stones where they make cairns for their mother, father, sister.
Margot Nash relies on a great number of photos, on audio interviews with her mother and her sister to bring to life what was so often an unfortunate life.
US, 2015, 120 minutes, Colour.
Karen Abercrombie, Priscilla C. Shirer, T. C. Stallings.
Directed by Alex Kendrick.
In the last decade, the Kendrick brothers have become very successful filmmakers. The more recent films have appeared on the US box office 10 best on their release and had wide circulation in the United States, especially in church circles. The films have been well received overseas, especially by churches and religious groups. Titles include Facing the Giants, fireproof, Fireproof, Courageous.
The film opens with some Pentagon footage, our expected images of war rooms. But this is simply meant to be a symbol, of our own personal war rooms, our personal struggles and a conflict between good and evil.
The setting for War Room is South Carolina and some extension to Atlanta. While there have been African- American characters in the Kendricks’ films, all the principal characters here are African- American.
There is an old lady, Clara, Karen Abercrombie, whose husband died at the time of the Vietnam war. She has always regretted that there was not a greater peace between herself and her husband at the time of his death, so has made a resolution, something like “payit forward” of contacting a wife who was having marital difficulties and persuade her to look deep within herself, to be prayerful, to belief in Jesus.
This time the wife is Elizabeth, Priscilla C. Shirer, a very successful real estate agent, even employed to sell Clara’s house.She is devoted to her young daughter, loves her husband but he is caught up in his busy salesman work, taking him away from home, getting him involved in some fraudulent aspects of his work, some temptation to his roving eye.
The war room of the title for Clara is a room, a secluded place in her house, where she can retreat, be recollected, pray, contemplate the Scriptures. Elizabeth agrees to listen to Clara and be guided by her, initially finding the praying difficult, but, along with the audience, listening to the wise advice seeing the practice, learning something of how to pray. She cleans out a closet at home and makes that her war room, a small place for prayer, the Scripture texts on the wall, her reading them and reflecting on them – and denouncing Satan, shouting for Satan to get out of her life and relying on the fact that Jesus has already conquered him.
Faced with a crisis, the husband begins to come to his senses, expects his wife to be angry with him but gradually begins to understand what has happened to her, her faith and prayer, and his attempts to follow her lead. Part of the enjoyment of his conversion is his criticism of his little daughter doing rope-jumping but then his entering into it wholeheartedly – and the portrayal of a local rope-jumping competition. No surprise who wins.
This is certainly an evangelical film, with Alex Kendrick, the writer-director, taking on a significant role of the businessman who is challenged to think about his own values, especially that of forgiveness.
The film will serve as an inspiration to its target audience, encouraging them to prayer, instructing them in ways of praying. It also serves as encouragement to married couples for faith to help them in their difficulties. Interestingly, there are very few church scenes in this film. It will have very little appeal to non-believers or secular audiences since it is storytelling for evangelisation and preaching.
WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT
US, 2016, 112 minutes, Colour.
Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Peacocke, Sheila Vand, Josh Lucas, Cherry Jones.
Directed by Glenn Ficcara and John Requa.
The opening sequences of this film are pretty raucous, overseas reporters letting their hair down with alcohol and dancing at a club in Kabul, 2006. And then there are explosions, the journalist suddenly becoming sober, getting their phones, trying to make communications and file reports. The tone is captured by the title and its code, WTF… The film then goes back to New York City in 2003.
This film is based on a book by journalist Kim Baker, at the centre of this story, initially a reporter on domestic issues for a US television network, dissatisfied with her life as she finds that the treadmill at the gym keeps moving back, something like her life, so when volunteers are requested for Afghanistan, she signs up. She is in a relationship and assures her boyfriend that she will be back in three months. She stays in Afghanistan for three years.
Actually, the film gets more interesting as it goes along. as we share Kim’s experience, the shock of arriving in Kabul, the headdress requirements in this Muslim country, the crowded streets and busyness, hard accommodation, drinking bouts with the other journalists and consequent hangovers, the film help us helping us to learn what it is like to be a foreign correspondent, and the pressures.
The surprising thing is that Kim Baker is played by Tina Fey, best known for her comic performances, impersonations. While there are some traces of this, it is much more of a serious rule for her. Australian Margot Robbie appears as another successful foreign correspondent as does Martin Freeman, a Scot, who is attracted to Kim.
Out she goes to be embedded with the troops, finding that she gets more and more of a high as she experiences the dangers, even running out to photograph during gunfire, experiencing some disapproval from the Marine General, Billy Bob Thornton, but able to help him with information about the exploding of wells in a village, the women themselves doing it to get some socialising opportunities by going to the well and defying the men. He interviews a local politician, Alfred Molina, who blends politics with sleaziness and can be blackmailed for information by showing him footage of his drinking and dancing outside a club.
The seriousness of Afghanistan and its cultural traditions is embodied in one of the security guards appointed for Kim, Fahim, Christopher Abbott. Previously a doctor, he now has to accompany her, guiding Kim through some responsibilities, warning her, diagnosing her addiction for highs in action. He is engaged and there is a colourful sequence showing the wedding.
The American public is very interested in Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but interest wanes and the network is not putting many of Kim’s reports to air. On a return visit, she challenges the new boss, Cherry Jones, and is determined back in Kabus to get a scoop to reinforce her status and reputation. She does get an opportunity when Martin Freeman is abducted and she is able to help negotiate his release.
By the end of the film, we have experienced the three year journey of Kim Baker, her discovery of Afghanistan and the complexities of the power plays and of the dangers, her insights into the culture and religion of the country, her greater self-realisation – and this also has an effect on the audience, an entertainment, but, in fact, a strong learning experience.
X- MEN, APOCALYPSE
US, 2016, 144 minutes, Colour.
James Mc Avoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, Ty Sheridan, Oscar Isaac, Kodi Smit Mc Phee,
Directed by Brian Singer.
Critics seem to hate it. bloggers and fans have been enthusiastic. It seems to depend on tolerance for superhero and action movies. Critics seem to get weary. Bloggers and fans relish the next episode.
The X- Men franchise has been going for 16 years, at least seven films including two on Wolverine himself (who does make a brief appearance here and hurries off to the frozen woods where we know he took refuge).
One of the principal difficulties for those who are not like those diehard fans who could go on Mastermind and answer quite detailed questions on the series, is to locate the time of the action, how it already relates to what we have known from the earlier films, the younger versions of so many characters – some of whom turn out good in the end but some of them go over to the dark side.
This one is set in 1983 with a smiling Ronald Reagan as president – a scene at the end with a telephone call from the Pentagon indicating that the president knew of all the dire nuclear destruction, let alone the fury from Magneto, that was destroying the world (including the destruction of Sydney’s Opera House).
But, to go back to the beginning, which is what this screenplay does with an extraordinary recreation of Egypt, 3600 BC, and a megalomaniac who thinks he is God but, as events turn out, seems more like a Satan. With lavish and extraordinary special effects, and glimpses of a cast of thousands, the god (better lower case g) transfers his powers to a new body but, a military uprising against him buries him until archaeologists (including Rose Byrnes’ Moira Mc Taggart) and devotees release him in 1983. He will be the archvillain, Apocalypse, recruiting mutants to his side, even Magneto, and wants to connect to the mind of Charles Xavier in order to control the world – his idea is to create a new one because he is, one may say, hell-bent on destroying the present one. It is a bit hard to recognise Oscar Isaac under the blue colour and heavy make up.
Charles Xavier, James Mc Avoy again, is running his school for mutants, with the skilled assistance of, Hank Mc Coy/ Beast, Nicholas Hoult and young Scott (Tye Sheridan), bullied at school, but gradually releasing his extraordinary firepower from his eyes, is taken by his brother, the hero Alex, to be a student at the school. Here he encounters the young Jean (Sophie Turner) who has the power to read minds. also doing good around the world is Raven/ Mystique, Jennifer Lawrence, who is able to save a very strange mutant, Kurt, the Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit Mc Phee) from wrestling bouts against an angel mutant (obviously going over to the dark side) and bringing him to Charles Xavier.
One surprise is to find that Erik Lensherr is working in a factory in Poland, with a wife and daughter, remembering the death of his parents in Auschwitz, but exposed by the local police which draws his revenge and his being headhunted by Apocalypse. There is another character, Quicksilver, Evan Peters, who turns out to be Magneto’s son who also gets into the action, a gum-chewing layabout rather than heroic figure until het goes into action.
The acting is very effective, so many of the cast being familiar with their characters. the special effects, from Egypt at the beginning to the extraordinary world destruction to the final combats are outstanding – although the massacre from Wolverine seems to be far too much.
This one seems to end well – but the mind then goes back to those earlier films and the various confrontations between good and evil, especially between the old friends Charles Xavier and Magneto.
And, it should be said again, the fans have liked this one a lot.