SIGNIS REVIEWS JUNE 2017
20th CENTURY WOMEN
AFTER THE STORM
BAG OF MARBLES, A/ UN SAC DE BILLES
CASE FOR CHRIST, The
DOG’S PURPOSE, A
EMO, THE MUSICAL
FUOCOAMARE/ FIRE AT SEA
I AM HEATH LEDGER
JOHN WICK, CHAPTER 2
KING ARTHUR, THE LEGEND
NORMAN/ THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAB: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
SCIENCE FICTION VOLUME 1: THE OSIRIS CHILD
SENSE OF AN ENDING, The
20th CENTURY WOMEN
US, 2016, 119 minutes, Colour.
Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann, Alison Elliott.
Directed by Mike Mills.
Or more precisely, some 20th-century American women. While the stories of the three women at the centre of this film can resonate in different parts of the world, the tone and style, the atmosphere and many of the issues are particularly American. They may not resonate at all in a vast number of societies around the world.
The setting is 1979, the place Santa Barbara, California. It is a comfortable city, comfortable homes, the beaches, the wonderful California coast, sun is shining. While the film is anchored in this year and place, it does take us back into the past, with black-and-white inserts of the Depression period, the 1940s and 50s, and memories of the Vietnam war, just over. And it does go forward at the end, giving us glimpses of what will happen to the various characters of 1979.
The writer-director is Mike Mills, director of such films as Thumbsucker and Beginners. The film is partly autobiographical, the teenager of the film born in 1964, the director in 1966, sharing a lot of the atmosphere of the times and the influence on their growing up and their teenage years.
However, the central character is Dorothy, played with quite some intensity by Annette Bening, who is now divorced, mother of Jamie, giving birth to him at age 40. She has brought him up. They don’t quite live alone because they have two boarders, Abby (Greta Gerwig), born in 1955, discovering she has cervical cancer, eccentric in her manner but wanting to please. The other boarder is William, Billy Crudup, once a hippy, skilled at mechanics, and a love of making pottery. He is in process of re-doing up the house.
And, while the focus of the film is on Dorothy, it is also on Jamie, played by Lucas Jade Zumann, rather short for his age, sometimes precocious, sometimes not at all, understanding his mother and, more and more, challenging her – Dorothea ever telling him that he has no right to judge her or speak to her like this. He gets on well with Abby and William, accompanying Abby to get her doctor’s report, working with William around the house but not experiencing him as a father-figure.
The other significant figure in all their lives is Julie (Elle Fanning), just a bit older than Jamie, daughter of a psychologist up the street (who insists that her daughter sit in on all the group sessions), who has been quite permissive in her sexual behaviour but does not see Jamie at all in this light, even when he sometimes does, and much prefers to be his friend.
Jamie often remarks that his mother grew up during the Depression and that this explains her. Dorothea reminisces about the events from 1964 to 1979 in the US which were influential on her son’s early years, including the war in Vietnam, the political experiences of the Nixon era. There is a significant scene where the group and some of their friends sit listening to Jimmy Carter deliver a speech about values, identity, anti-consumerism – which Dorothy applauds but which some of the others say signals the end of Carter’s presidency.
Which means then that there is a lot to observe in the life of these characters even if it is Southern Californian, extroverted in its way, reminiscing about pretty music like As Time Goes By yet acknowledging the beat and the raucousness of the about-to-be changes in rock music, lyrics and sound.
There is also a lot to think about, the characters with whom we identify, the characters with whom we don’t identify, the characters, their values, their striving to find meaning in life, the mistakes they make, the values in relationships – and finishing the film by watching glimpses of what their lives were to be after 1979.
AFTER THE STORM/ UMI YORI MO MADA FUKAKU
Japan, 2016, 117 minutes, Colour.
Hiroshi Abe, Yoko Maki.
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.
This is a quietly serious and humane film that tells a Japanese story which has universal interest and appeal.
Over a number of years, the director, Hirokazu Koreeda, has made several films which have been very moving indeed, including Nobody Knows, Like Father Like Son, Our Little Sister. They are well worth seeing, as is this film, After the Storm.
The director’s themes are from ordinary Japanese life, perhaps best described as middle-class or lower middle class. He is interested in families, in marriage, separation and divorce. He is also interested in the relationship between the generations. And, particularly, in the three films mentioned as with this one, parenting, often between fathers and sons.
The father in this film, Ryoto, has been a successful novelist, winning an award but not progressing in his career. He has married but has not been successful in relating well to his wife whom he loves or being a strong presence in the life of his son. At this stage of his life, he is working as a private detective (with a very enthusiastic young associate). The key problem is that he has a gambling problem, sometimes winning at the velodrome (as we see him here), playing machines, buying lottery tickets, sponging on his young friend – and even deceiving some of his clients to get more money from them.
The other central character in this film is his mother. A widow after 50 years of marriage, never having quite had the life she might have imagined, living in the same apartment for 40 years with very mixed memories of her husband, she has both a son and a daughter. Whenever these two meet, they clash. But Ryoto likes to visit his mother, always in search of some money or something that he might pawn (something which his father did a great deal), remembering his abilities as a novelist but unable to make any progress.
His mother is devoted to her children though she sees them fairly objectively. She fusses over them, provides them with meals, enjoys talking with them, walking with them.
Japan has many typhoons and, here, the year has had a record number of them. As the weather changes, and the father takes his son out for the day, lavishing on him money that he does not have (though damaging a pair of cleats so that he can ask for a discount, and also pretending not to be hungry as he takes his son for a burger, and buying him expensive lottery tickets), he decides to take his son to see his grandmother, tells him stories about his own relationship with his father. He invites his ex-wife, who now has someone else in her life who serves as a father-figure for the boy, to come to his mother’s to collect him.
With the oncoming typhoon and the rain, the family stay the night, a joy for the grandmother, an opportunity for some serious sequences where husband and ex-wife reflect on their lives, with the ex-wife talking with her mother-in-law for whim she has great respect, with the father talking to his son.
With the sun coming out the next day - and the novelist does get a boost from finding one of his father’s more valuable possessions - he walks off into his day without any assurance that life will necessarily be any better – but, as the title suggests, after the storm the sun comes out.
US, 2017, 122 minutes, Colour.
Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride?, Demian Bechir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Guy Pearce, James Franco.
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Covenant is a word with religious overtones, especially in the understanding of the major world religions of the outreach of their God or gods for a response from humans, God’s/gods’ grace in our lives. This is not quite the understanding of Covenant in the title of this further chapter in the Alien series. However, there are religious implications throughout the film, about creation, about God or, at least playing God, and the consequences. The main character, in fact, can be seen as a Lucifer=figure, defying his creator and creating all kinds of ills and damnation for humans.
This theme is fairly evident right from the beginning with a scene of industrialist, Weyland (Guy Pearce) significant for the episode prior to this film, Prometheus. Weyland authorised the space expedition of Prometheus and created a very sophisticated android, David, created perfection (Michael Fassbender), to accompany the flight and even to control it. The dire consequences were seen in Prometheus.
Alien Covenant takes up the story 10 years later, an expedition already underway, 2000 colonists, embryos, and most of the crew put into a deep sleep for the seven years needed from Earth to their paradise destination. This is the kind of expedition we are getting used to in films such as Passengers, Life, Even Ridley Scott’s former film The Martian. All seems to be going well, under the direction of another android, Walter (also Michael Fassbender), until there is a malfunction and some of the dormant crew are killed by fire – which provides a moment as the captain’s grieving widow, Daniel’s (Katherine Waterston) looks at some footage where we find some moments of the captain in the form of the ubiquitous James Franco.
With some of the crew now awake, authority now falls to Oram (Billie Crudup) challenged by sounds being received, of John Denver’s ‘Country Road’. The overall controlling computer, Mother, indicates a nearby planet which has conditions for living, similar to that of Earth. Daniels registers disapproval but Oram decides that they should land. For some moments, all seems to be well, the discovery of wheat, the discovery of a spacecraft which has crashed. But, this is the Alien series always shows, and we know, that there are monsters lurking, waiting to emerge (often from the interiors of the humans, a tradition since 1979).
When some of the crew are bloodily overcome, the request goes out to the mothership, controlled by Tennessee (Danny McBride), to come to the rescue. However, there is a vast and complex storm over the planet – and whether to come in or not… A further complication is that several of the crew are married couples and reactions are very emotional.
At which stage the android, David, appears, leading the remaining crew to a vast location of the dead where he, not human but android, has survived for ten years, venerating the memory and picture of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace of Prometheus) for ten years after the destruction of the Prometheus. David is pleased to encounter his “brother”, Walter. As was seen in the opening sequence, David is fully conscious of his own self-perfection and begins to talk like Lucifer – and, eventually, to act like Lucifer, ultimately a Satan presuming that he is God.
While there are these philosophical and religious implications, most of the time is spent on the adventure, the ugly and destructive monsters wreaking vengeance, fights and heroics, even David fighting Walter. And then there is the buildup to the Covenant and its escape, with Daniels doing more heroics than even Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley did in the original film, swinging from (over, under, beside) the rescue vehicle, to destroy an intruding creature.
UN SAC DE BILLES/ A BAG OF MARBLES
France, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.
Dorian Le Clech, Batyste Fleurial, Patrick Bruel, Elsa Zylberstein, Bernard Campan, Kevin Adams, Christian Clavier.
Directed by Christian Duguay.
This is a very moving film and can be recommended, not for light entertainment but, rather, for entering into a sad and dangerous period in French history, of being immersed in German-occupied France, of the strains on family and, especially, two young boys who have to make their way from Paris to the Free Zone, to the Mediterranean and Nice, who have to flee Nice and take refuge in a high alpine town until the liberation of France.
The film is based on a true story, on a book written by the younger of the two boys who experience this physical and emotional journey, JoJo?, Joseph Joffo. It was published in the mid 1970s and now, 40 years later, there is this moving film version. It has been directed by Christian Duguay, his earlier career was marked by quite a number of action films in France and in the United States but who, more recently, has moved to telling stories about children, Belle and Sebastien, the Journey Continues (also with a World War II setting).
The title is intriguing. As the film opens, the Germans have occupied Paris, 1942, Roman Joffo, the father, manages a barbershop (and some German soldiers are tricked into coming for bairfuts). There are two older brothers who work in the shop. The film opens with the young boys playing marbles in the street and, soon after, when all Jews have to put the yellow star on their clothes with the word Juif, a little boy approaches Jo Jo, liking the star and its colour and offering to exchange his bag of marbles for the star. Sadly, the bag of marbles is left behind, JoJo? clutching one blue marble right throughout the film.
When the older boys go to the Free Zone in Nice, with their parents to follow, the two little boys are sent on alone, Maurice and Jo Jo, riding by train, almost discovered by the German soldiers when a kindly priest indicates that they are with him, gets them to eat apples to make this seem more real, and assures them that he didn’t lie to the soldiers and that all children were with him. (Incidentally, priests are presented very sympathetically in this film, another in Nice showing them the way and, when the Gestapo tell Maurice that he has 48 hours to provide baptismal certificates because they are claiming to be Catholics, the parish priest authenticates the documents to the Nazi who does not believe him, even threatening to report him to the Archbishop and then to Rome).
They are resourceful boys, trudging their way through the mountains, getting lifts from sympathetic truck drivers, finally reunited with the family in Nice. But, the Germans are in this Free Zone and the family is once again threatened. Interestingly, the boys find themselves placed in a Catholic institution, a cover for many Jewish children, a bit like a military camp. But, they are caught and, as indicated earlier, interrogated by the Gestapo.
In the later years of the war, they have trekked through the mountains and come to an Alpine town in Haute Savoie where they have local jobs, delivering newspapers, working in a restaurant kitchen, aware of the Resistance, witnessing executions, listening to the anti-Semitic ravings of the book shop owner and his brutal military son.
By this stage of the film, the audience can share the joy and the dancing in the streets with the news of the liberation of Paris and the taking down of the Nazi flag from the local castle.
The two boys portraying Maurice and JoJo? are completely convincing. While the story is familiar, this kind of story needs to be told and retold – and, challenging a 21st-century audience to contemplate and ask who are the refugees in the contemporary world and how they can survive.
THE CASE FOR CHRIST
US, 2017, 120 minutes, Colour.
Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, Robert Forster, Frankie Faison, L.Scott Caldwell, Brett Rice.
Directed by Jon Gunn.
Since The Passion of the Christ, there has been an American market for faith-based films and they have been quite successful at the American box office. There are some limits on the audiences overseas, although there are many evangelical, Pentecostal, community churches beyond the US which supply a niche audience for this kind of film.
The Case for Christ is more interesting than many of the others, the central character being an investigative journalist and the film showing his pursuit of a police case, a frame up, his believing the police evidence and then challenging it. This is intercut throughout the whole film which is based on the atheism to faith journey of award-winning Chicago Herald Tribune journalist, Lee Strobel. The action takes place during the 1980s.
It is also a family story which makes it more appealing to the average audience, the marriage of Lee (Mike Vogel) and his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen), their daughter Alison, Leslie’s pregnancy. Emotions are affected early in the film when Alison suddenly chokes in a restaurant – and her life is saved by a nurse, Alfie (L.Scott Caldwell), who had changed her mind about where she was going to eat and come to this restaurant. She uses Jesus language and talks about Providence so that Leslie, grateful, is challenged to think about her childhood churchgoing, prayer and faith. Lee rejects any kind of transcendent intervention.
Leslie becomes more and more involved in reflection on faith and prayer, brings a gift to Alfie at her hospital, is persuaded to go to the Community Church for a service, decides to go back. The main difficulties is in telling Lee who is angry at his wife’s decision, saying that he wanted his wife back. In a moment of concession, he does go to church with Leslie and Alison but confronts Alfie and warns her off. When Leslie experiences a baptism of immersion, Lee observes from a distance but then leaves and angrily drinks.
A complication is that Lee is alienate it from his father, Robert Forster, which means that this experience of his father serves as a model for his imagining God whom he rejects. It is only when his father dies and he attends the funeral that he discovers his father’s wallet with the article about Lee’s career and a whole album containing articles by him. His also challenged by psychologist (Faye Dunaway), an agnostic who picks that is anger against God is due to his relationship with his father.
While he is investigating the police case, he asks questions about belief in Christ, focusing on the resurrection. Taking the resurrection as the key issue, he sets up an office with a white board, tacking up notes with his questions and his investigations. He goes to a number of experts, religious ministers with faith, the Catholic scholar, Father Marquez, who was an archaeologist but gave it up for priesthood and explains to him textual criticism, the antiquity of texts, the many fragments from the Gospels, the psychologist with whom he discusses mass hysteria, a doctor who is able to explain and analyse the effects of the scourging, the carrying of the cross, the physiology of crucifixion and the piercing of Jesus’ side.
Meanwhile at the office, he is supported by a friendly father-figure journalist who urges him to support his wife no matter what he feels, and is challenged by another journalist who reminds him that he sees only what he wants to see and refuses to see anything else.
Ultimately, all the evidence, the core experience of disciples seeing the risen Christ no matter what the differences in detail in the narratives, persuades him and leads him to faith. His particular kind of faith, based on facts, investigation, experts, is a very rational faith. This is by way of contrast with his wife’s profound experience, the saving of her daughter’s life, the community experience of church, the witness of a friend.
Since the 1980s, Lee Strobel has been a minister at Community Churches and has written a great number of books including cases for faith, grace, hope…
UK, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.
Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Julian Waterman, Ella Purnell, James Purefoy, Richard Durden.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitsky.
Over the decades there have been many films about Winston Churchill. In many polls, especially at the beginning of the 21st century, Churchill was the number one choice for voters for the most significant Briton who ever lived.
In the 1970s, there was Young Winston. In more recent times Albert Finney has played Churchill in The Gathering Storm, Churchill in the 1930s. This was followed by Brendan Gleeson, Into the Storm, going into the war period. Michael Gambon also played Churchill in Churchill’s Secret, focusing on his political ambitions in the mid 1950s. Now it is the turn of Brian Cox – who, perhaps, looks more like Churchill himself, facially, size, stoop and walking, anger and arrogance…
The timespan for this film is June 1944, the four days before D- Day, 6 June and the Normandy landing. This is indicated in captions as the time of the invasion gets closer.
Significantly, Churchill is first seen walking along the beach, remembering his action in World War I, the disappointments that he experienced with the failure of the landing at Gallipoli, his sense of guilt – looking at the waves coming into the beach, and their being blood red as he remembered the number of men killed. He has similar apprehensions about the death toll in the forthcoming landing, Operation Overlord.
While the film shows Churchill’s activities in some detail, his work in the war room, those assisting him, his moody outbursts critical of his secretaries, his continued drinking, his tiredness, even his rather haughty prayer on his knees asking God to send bad weather so that the invasion would not take place.
In all the films about Churchill, his wife Clementine, is most significant. Here she is played by Miranda Richardson. Their marriage was long, Clemmie able to support her husband in his down years as well is in his successes but, at this stage of the war, when he was being so crabby, she talks strongly to a number of times, appealing to his commonsense, urging him not to be a warrior but a statesman who would leave the country in the war effort and moved towards peace. This means that there are some dramatic moments, outside the war, where the tensions between husband and wife are interestingly dramatised.
Very important other sequences where Churchill goes to meetings in the country, for security, to discuss the invasion with General Eisenhower (John Slattery) and General Montgomery (Julian Wadham). Churchill is fiercely against the invasion of France and the potential loss of life, makes no bones about confronting the military chiefs, with some attempts by his assistant, Field Marshal Smuts, whom he has known from Boer War, for reason, calm and respect.
It is interesting to watch, as Churchill did, the final meetings to decide when the invasion should begin, with experts, of the weather and its difficulties, cloud cover and the possibility for aerial support and other strategies.
A human touch is introduced with one of Churchill secretaries, Ella Purnell, who be choose up but, can’t buy his wife, and responding to the secretaries outburst in his pessimistic speechmaking, finds that she has fiancee one of the boats – and he makes an effort to find out whether fiancee is and how he fared in the landing and his safety of the beaches.
There is a fine scene with James Purefoy as George VI discussing their presence at D- Day.
There will be many more films about Winston Churchill. The value of this film is to appreciate how important was his leadership during the blitz and the Battle of Britain, and how, with some pig headedness, he might have had a derogatory effect on the Normandy landings which eventually lead to the ending of the war.
Direction is by Jonathan Teplitsky, Australian director who made Getting Square and the fine reflection on the Japanese war and prisoners of war, The Railway Man.
A DOG’S PURPOSE
US, 2017, 100 minutes, Colour.
Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, Bryce Gheisar, K.J. Apa, Juliet Rylance, Luke Kirby, Gabrielle Rose, Michael Bofshver, Britt Robertson, Kirby Howell- Baptiste, John Ortiz.
Directed by Lasse Halstrom.
Most humans know the purpose of the dog, our best friend. However, this film offers the opportunity to hear the nature of the canine purpose from the dog’s own mouth. He is Bailey, voiced by comedian Josh Gad, who narrates the whole film, has a doggy approach to life, frequently asking about the purpose of life but taking refuge even more frequently in considerations of having fun and eating.
Since there are millions of humans around the globe who are dog-lovers, there is a strong target audience for this canine autobiography. Those who are not dog lovers or those who are rather indifferent to dogs might not be so enchanted, perhaps thinking and feeling that it is all a bit silly.
The film is based on novels by W Bruce Cameron which have proven very popular.
One of the presuppositions of Cameron’s dog lives is reincarnation. A touch of reincarnation since the director, Lasse Halstrom, made an impact in the 1980s with his My Life as a Dog.
A Dog is Born but is soon, after nursing and nestling, taken by the dog-catchers. And then the first of a number of rebirths, this time as Bailey, found by a young boy, Ethan, who is allowed to keep the dog by his parents. Bailey tells us this is all wonderful, has commentary on the family life, his reactions to Ethan, the adults, games and play, fetching balls, enjoying his food, perfecting a trick whereby an old football is tossed in the air, Bailey leaps over Ethan’s back and catches the ball in his mouth (a rather crucial fact for the ending of the film).
Then Ethan becomes a teenager, teased about his love for Bailey. But Ethan is a top football player, encounters a young girl at a fair, Hannah, and is smitten, the couple enjoying each other’s company during the summer, and including Bailey in all the activities.
But all is not well, Ethan’s father drinks and is abusive, leaves. And a jealous boy from school has a prank with a firecracker which leads to the burning down of the house, some heroics from Bailey, and a disastrous accident for Ethan, some wallowing in self-pity which includes ousting Hannah from his life. For those not in the know about reincarnation, this happens surprisingly halfway through the film as Bailey pines and dies.
The next thing, birth, and his next incarnation as female, Elle, working for Hispanic Carlos, a widower, on the Chicago police force, training Elle as a sniffer dog – at which she excels. There is a crisis when a thug abducts a young girl, the action on a vast water flow and filter, the girl in the water, Elle rescuing her. And just as were settling into that story, death again, birth again.
This time Bailey makes the acquaintance of Maya, a student at college, rather quiet in herself, not comfortable in being invited to study meetings, staying at home reading with her dog who seems to read her mind as to what they will eat, pizza being a pleasant choice. When Bailey in his new incarnation tangles amorously in the park with a rather bigger dog, Roxy, he finds that Roxy belongs to the young man who offered Maya, the invitation to the group. Happy together, couple and dogs, wedding, children, family. And just as we were settling into this story, death again, birth again.
This time Bailey, remembering everything and telling us so, is taken up by young woman who lives in a trashy neighbourhood and a trashy house, her partner eventually abandoning the dog. And where does he find himself, but back in Michigan, one day scenting the adult Hannah, realising he is back in Ethan’s territory, and tracks him down (Dennis Quaid). This time he is called Buddy but he rejoices, so he tells us, in being with Ethan again, in running away and having Hannah bring him back home, in bringing the two together – but the only thing is for Ethan to recognise that he is Bailey (and that is where that trick, mentioned earlier, does the trick).
Were Bailey to mention a rating for this film, he would probably suggest five woofs out of five.
Australia, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.
Jack Thompson, Aden Young, Sarah West, Rachel Griffiths, Jacqueline Mc Kenzie, Susie Porter, Gyton Grantley, Robert Taylor, Martin Sacks, Robert Coleby, Kiara Freeman, Ashlee Lollback.
Directed by Tori Garrett.
This is a significant film, and important Australian film. It should be seen by all Australians.
The subject, which is most disturbing but which has become part of our lives, part of our consciousness, is institutional sexual abuse. The survivor of the abuse here is a young girl. So many of the stories, especially those from the Royal Commission, are of the abuse of boys, are fewer about girls. So many of the witnesses to the Royal Commission told stories of institutional church abuse. While Catholic stories have been told in the Oscar-winning Spotlight and the television miniseries Devil’s Playground (for thousand and 14), the church in the spotlight here is the Anglican church, the church in Queensland.
The specific setting is in the Queensland city of Toowoomba. The school is the Anglican School for girls, Toowoomba Prep. The time is 1990. There is a civil trial which is at the core of this film which took place in 2001.
The film has been sensitively directed by Tori Garrett. The central character of the film is Lyndal, abused when she was 11 in 1990, at the centre of the case in 2001. She is played extraordinarily persuasive solely by Sarah West, an angry young woman whose life has been severely damaged, whose emotional growth was stunted, educational opportunities lost, experiences of running away from home, alcohol and drug addiction, and the carrying of the burden of her secret.
The screenplay is based on the book by Lyndal’s solicitor, Stephen Roche, he played so well by Aden Young, the Toowoomba lawyer, with a family, a daughter the same age as Lyndal when she was abused. The film opens with his handling the case of a victim, not a survivor because she hangs herself during the proceedings, placing a burden on Roche, emotionally and, of concern to his wife, financially.
Lyndal is having therapy from a counsellor, Joy Connolly, played by Rachel Griffiths. They approach Stephen Roche – but, in the mentality of the time, especially for churches, the expectation is of a financial settlement with confidentiality clauses. Lyndal rejects this and, despite the wariness of the chief barrister, Bob Myers (Jack Thompson at his best), a civil hearing goes ahead in Toowoomba with a very strong-minded lawyer, Jean Dalton (Jacqueline Mc Kenzie at her best) defending the church’s interests, sharing with Stephen Roche the cross examination of a range of witnesses, school staff, Joy Connolly, the previous principal.
The film reminds audiences that in 1990, for most Australians, this kind of abuse was unthinkable. There is a lot of talk about the child and imagination, making up stories… Parents are reluctant to believe the stories or, if they do, very reluctant for them to be made public, especially in court.
Audiences may remember the 2003 resignation of Archbishop Peter Hollingworth as Governor General of Australia. Some of the reasons for his resignation include his handling of this case when he was Archbishop of Brisbane. He is seen opening a new wing at the school, the emphasis on Toowoomba Prep is a Christian school with Christian values. But there are also sequences, parallel with many meetings that have gone on over the decades with school boards, church councils of all denominations, discussing limits of financial payments, a wariness of going to court, discussing protecting the reputation of school and church and individuals, many defending the abuser as a person of good character and reliable work in the school.
One of the key factors in this case is that the abuser, Kevin Guy, committed suicide, leaving a suicide note naming number of girls. Eventually, the church admitted Kevin Guy’s guilt (and so his suicide note was deemed inadmissible).
At times audiences will find it difficult to identify with Lyndal, her anger, her sullen behaviour, trying to understand and appreciate it. With the flashbacks, which dramatises what Lyndal is remembering during the hearings, and the telling of her story, the audience will come to appreciate much better experience as a little girl (Kiara Freeman), damaged girl and the consequences. At some moments, the flashback memories are very disturbing. But, this is the kind of narrative drama that really brings home some of the realities of the abuse experience.
There have been many newspaper reports and articles, radio interviews, television coverage and interviews, items on social media, but the power of the theatrical and cinema drama can enable an audience to be drawn into the story, to empathise with the characters, to feel appreciate their experiences.
The end of the film has, statements about the characters we have seen and Lyndal’s subsequent history, there is also the terrible reminder that abusers threaten impressionable children that they are not to tell anyone, that this is their secret, or that if they do reveal it, something terrible will final caption happen before the credits says to the survivor: Don’t Listen.
FUOCOAMMARE/ FIRE AT SEA
Italy, 2016, 106 minutes, Colour.
Samuele Caruana, Maria Costa.
Directed by Gianfranco Rosi.
This film is billed as a documentary, and so it is, but with its focus on a family, especially young 12-year-old boy, Samuele, who really becomes the centre of the film, it works not just as a documentary but also as a kind of fiction feature. It is directed by Gianfranco Rosi, whose documentary on the road surrounding the city of Rome, Sacro GRA, won the golden lion in Venice in 2013. That was a particularly local film, the customs of the area in different lives of characters on the ring road.
For this film, Rosi the lived for several months on the island of Lampedusa, an island which has become more famous in recent years, not far of the Sicilian coast, not far from the Libyan coast, an island where so many boats, so many rickety boats, crammed with refugees, have landed – unless the boats have sunk with lives lost, a frightening statistic that is given at the beginning of the film.
While the issue of refugees from Africa and, by extension and ultimate explicit mention, from Syria and Middle Eastern countries, there are explicit reference to Islamic State.
But, the film is something of a jigsaw puzzle, the scenes of the refugees punctuating the narrative about life on Lampedusa, especially for the young boy, Samuele Caruana, and his family.
Samuele is an enterprising young 12-year-old, seen chopping branches in order to make a slingshot, aiming at birds, instructing his good friend how to make a slingshot and fire it – and the two of them frequently mimicking shooting with machine guns. We see them at school, testing out the meanings of words in English and Italian. We see Samuele going to the doctor, being tested for his eyes, discovering he has a lazy eye and will have to wear a patch to strengthen it, which he tests out in various slingshots.
His father is a fishermen and Samuele goes out on a boat only to find that he becomes seasick and is advised to go onto the jetty to get used to having a balance and controlling his stomach. He also has a lesson in rowing, which he desperately needs, otherwise he would be trapped between boats. He is a strong screen presence and audiences welcome him, with scenes at home, meals where he incessantly slurps his spaghetti, talking with his father and cared for by his grandmother.
Actually, the grandmother has significance in the film, cooking, cleaning, making the beds – and ringing the rather friendly DJ on the local radio with requests for songs and commemorations to be made.
But, back to the refugees, the pictures of the boats, the picture of the Italian navy and its efforts to find the refugees, sometimes there being unable to give their coordinates with the inevitability of drownings and death. The Italians seem to be doing their efficient best. Exhausted and dehydrated men are lifted off the boats, some of them not surviving. And there are some telling interviews with Africans, especially from Nigeria, making their way to Sudan, through the desert, arriving in Libya, possibly imprisonment there, and the desperation to get on a boat to Europe.
So, this is a strong humanitarian film, destined to win Human Rights awards. There was a rather similar film from Malta in 2015, Simshar, with both films reminding audiences of the contemporary issues of African refugees, death by drowning – but without the answers as to what will become of them.
Interestingly, with the visit of Pope Francis to Lampedusa and gaining world coverage, there is no reference to this in the film and no explicit presence of the Catholic Church (as there is in Censure).
Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin are they, 2016, as well as winning the Ecumenical Award and a prize from Amnesty International.
US, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour.
Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, Lil Rel Howery.
Directed by Jordan Peele.
Get Out has been one of the surprise hits of 2017. It has been promoted as a horror film, there are certainly those aspects, but it is more than that.
The film is the work of Jordan Peele, best known as a comic actor and writer with his television partner, Keegan -Michael Key the Key and Peele series. They appeared together in a film they wrote in 2016, the cat film Keanu, with its parody of gangster films and American thugs, Hispanic thugs, and everyone’s love for cats! This film is quite different, written by Peele but he does not appear in it.
The film opens with themes about racism, a young couple discussing a potential visit to her parents, he being African- American, she being white. She says she has not warned her parents but that they are very open and understanding. He, Chris, is a genial young man, a professional photographer, played by Daniel Collier. She, Rose, is attractive and agreeable, played by Allison Williams.
On the way to her parents’ home, Rose driving, they suddenly hit a deer and encounter a touch of racism in the police officer’s demand to see Chris’s license even though he was not driving. Rose stares him out, revealing some fierceness in her character.. Later, with a stag’s head on the wall, Rose’s father, Dean (Bradley Whitford) declaims that the deer are a pest and this contribution to culling is something most welcome. Even later, the meaning of this proclamation seems much more sinister as does some action with the stag’s head.
Everything is agreeable, a luxury mansion, a groundskeeper (with a suspiciously vacant look), and maid (with a cross eyed smile). Dean has a medical background and his wife, Missy (Catherine Keener) is a psychologist who believes in hypnosis – and makes an offer because Chris is trying to give up smoking. Lots of conversation, a tour of the house, Chris unable to sleep and going downstairs for a smoke, the groundskeeper hurriedly jogging towards him, Missy still awake and offering to hypnotise him, he unwilling, but she stirring her tea and knocking the teaspoon against the cup. He wakes up in bed feeling that he has experienced a nightmare, falling into a vast sunken space.
The next day the family has a reunion, friends and neighbours all gathering to have drinks and refreshments on the lawn. They are all elderly, all white – though one woman has an African- American in tow (who also has a strange look in his eyes).There is also a blind curator of a photography museum (Stephen Root) who is praising of Chris and his work.
If one were looking for cinema antecedents for this film one might say that it was a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets Stepford and discovers Ghosts in the Shell.
To discover what that actually means, it is best to see the film, the psychological twists, the race issues, and, especially, a critique of complacent affluent white American citizens and their presumptions, and the heritage of racism and slavery.
And, for those who go to see Get Out because of its reputation, they will finally be satisfied as Chris fights to assert himself. Some anticipated blood and gore.
Actually, he has the friendship of a rather comic character, an officer in the terrorist police team, who is minding the house for Chris, but gets alarmed about the African-American? man seen at the party, elaborates a hypothesis to the police who laugh him out of the room, but uses his skills at detecting to…
Get Out does what it intends, psychology, race issues, comic touches, horror themes, and does them very well.
Ireland, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.
Fionn O' Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott, Moe Dunford, Michael Mc Ehlatton, Ruairii O' Connor, Mark Lavery, Jay Duffy, Ardal O' Hanlon, Hugh O' Conor.
Directed by John Butler.
There has been a long tradition of films about boys’ boarding schools, some comedies about difficulties, some dramas about misfits, rebels, some clashes between students and teachers, some physical violence, sexual abuse.
This one, set in Ireland and filmed in an actual Rugby school, starts out fairly conventionally. A young student, need (Fionn O’ Shea) gives his voice-over version of his father after his mother’s death, marrying his young stepmother, their living in Dubai, his resentment at having to go to boarding school and his giving serious consideration to being expelled. As soon as he arrives, he is the subject of sneers and bullying. But, he has a room to himself where he can be quiet, play his favourite (older) music, take refuge from the other students.
He soon tells us that the preoccupation of staff and students is Rugby, past tradition of winning (though not lately) and the preoccupation with the sport, bolstered by the enthusiasm of the Rugby coach, Paschal (Moe Dunford). The principal shares the preoccupation and has quite an open attitude toward some of the teachers and students – though he wishes that they were devoted to Rugby.
Ned peace is disturbed when a troubled new student, expelled for fighting from his previous school, Connor (Nicholas Galitzine) is to share his room. He has a reputation as a Rugby champion – and has scenes of opportunity, training and play, to demonstrate this fully. Some of the team members are bullies and, insinuating that Ned is gay because of a film poster on his wall, purge Connor to be cautious. When Ned finds him doing push-ups, he puts up a barrier between the two beds, his own Berlin Wall, and keeps aloof.
In the meantime there is a new English teacher, Mr Sherry, a very interesting and provocative performance from Andrew Scott (Benedict Cumberbatch’s Moriarty). He wants students to think for themselves, exercises a discipline, is not particularly interested in Rugby, but encourages Ned and Connor who have found some bond in playing guitar and songs to prepare for participation in an interschool concert.
By this time, the audience may will be alert that there will be sexual identity themes, not quite as predicted, perhaps predicted with Mr Sherry, but making the relationship between Ned and Connor very awkward, so much so that Connor wants to opt out of the final match to win the championship.
Early in the piece, Ned tells us that there are moments in life that we will always truly regret – and there is certainly one here in his treatment of Connor. However, the experience of school, his not fitting in, his beginning to have a friend, enables him to defy his parents and try to persuade Connor to come back for the match.
This is a film about tolerance but, more, about understanding, especially about sexual identity and enabling people to be themselves, to be honest about their identity – which makes the team confrontation in the dressing room and the final expected Rugby triumph all the more joyous and exhilarating.
Handsome Devil (not really the most helpful title) obviously campaigns against homophobia – and has a sincere hope that there will always be understanding outcomes.
I AM HEATH LEDGER
Heath Ledger’s family, friends, professionals, actors.
Canada, 2017, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Adrian Buitenhuis, Derik Murray.
Heath Ledger achieved a great deal in his film career, acting and moving into directing, in his short life of 28 years. He died in January 2008.
This is a Canadian documentary and might well have been called The American Life and Career of Heath Ledger. While there are scenes in Perth and Bondi Beach, there are no references to his Australian films, Two Hands or Candy and only the briefest references to Ned Kelly, an occasion for having a conversation with Naomi Watts – with some Australian bush scenery in the background, so different from American scenery.
However, the film makes a very good case for Heath Ledger and his career achievements.
The film also has the advantage of the director interviewing Heath Ledger’s parents and his four sisters, noting their admiration for him, his early ambitions to act, his rather prodigious skill at chess, his venturing out of Perth at age 17 to go to Sydney and appear in the television series Roar (but no mention of his being in 10 episodes of Home and Away). While he did make Paws and the crime thriller, Two Hands, he went very quickly to the United States, wanted the lead role in 10 Things I Hate About You and got it.
Mel Gibson tutoring him for The Patriot, a dramatic scene from Monsters Ball, rehearsals for dancing and adjusting for A Knight’s Tale, surfing and skateboarding in California for Lords of Dogtown, Ang Lee commenting on him with scenes from Brokeback Mountain, for the Bob Dylan drama, I’Not? There, but, most of all, a more detailed look at his thinking into his role of The Joker in The Dark Night, filming, striking sequences and, finally, his make up in costumes for his last film, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus (but no Brothers Grimm of Casanova).
But, what is interesting for those who know his films is his continual use of camera from his young days, learning how a camera works, lighting, styles of performance, with many excerpts here from these home movies. With his love of music, he actually moved into directing music videos, quite stylish and experimental in their way.
The film wants to celebrate his life and career and so does not dwell on his death. However there is enough information about his intensity and energy, his being wide-awake and not sleeping, this gradually taking its toll and his need for medication to sleep.
Heath Ledger was popular with women, a relationship with Naomi Watts, his relationship with Michelle Williams, starring in Brokeback Mountain, with whom he had a daughter, Matilda.
This is a documentary for those interested in the star himself, his life and career, but also for those who are interested in the film industry, production, stardom, publicity (which Heath Ledger disliked intensely) and the potential for creativity.
JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2
US, 2017, 122 minutes, Colour.
Keanu Reeves, Ian Mc Shane, Franco Nero, Lawrence Fishburne, Ricardo Scamarcio. Common, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick.
Directed by Chad Stahelski.
John Wick was an extraordinary success with audiences in 2014, fans of the violent genre and stories of hitmen, appreciating the toughness of the story and its treatment, Keanu Reeves as a tough, silent, even stoic martial arts expert confronting the criminal elements of the city. So much so that a sequel was strongly anticipated. And the fans have been pleased with this Chapter 2.
The genre fans have been very appreciative of how well this new chapter works, Reeves still his familiar self, but involved in a wider range of hits as well as being challenged in his life as to whether he can give up his violent ways and become a new person. Probably not likely!
This is the kind of film that those who are not fans of the genre, who find a lot of physical violence hard to take, who are repelled by an enormous body count, would be well advised to give it a miss – they might even think that the action, the hard attitudes as well as the myriad deaths border on the ridiculous.
The film opens with John Wick trying to get his wrecked car back from the dealers. And they are more than dealers, involved in drugs – talking of Wick and his reputation, sitting in apprehensive silence as they hear the mayhem going on in the garage below. And, not to be outdone, there are wild car chases.
The main thing is that an Italian mafioso type, played by Ricardo Scamarcio, gives Wick a marker because he has done him a favour in the past. Wick is now to go to Rome to kill the gangster’s sister so that he will have a seat on the board controlling crime. Wick is unwilling but submits to the advice of Winston, Ian Mc Shane of the previous film, and goes to Rome where he finds a variation on La Dolce Vita, finds the sister in fashionable ruins where she slits her wrists and Wick shoots her.
At which stage, it would seem to be hundreds of criminal footsoldiers pursuing Wick through the ruins, most seeming willing to run instantly into the line of fire with deathly results. Another hitman, played by Common, is determined to destroy Wick but, after a fight, they land in the bar of another mafioso type – a cameo turned by Franco Nero.
Then it’s back to New York but word has gone out electronically that Wick is to be killed with a huge bounty on him. It seems as though everybody New York City is eyeing him and pursuing him, especially, with a deadly confrontation on the New York subway.
Then it gets even more exotic, a visit to a local gangster, a cameo by Laurence Fishburne, and then a confrontation with the mafioso boss, all taking place in an enormous art installation, with plenty of mirrors and reflections and dangers.
However, Wick breaks the code and kills his marker – which makes him excommunicado amongst the gangsters and hitmen and hit women, electronic messages going out in abundance as an even more enormous bounty on him as he walks the streets of New York – surely into Chapter 3.
KING ARTHUR AND THE LEGEND OF THE SWORD
UK/US, 2017, 126 minutes, Colour.
Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey?, Eric Banner, Djimon Housou, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Tom Wu, Neil Maskell.
Directed by Guy Ritchie.
An example of the differing ways of film reviews. Within a few hours of its publication, two friends quoted the review of King Arthur and its mere one and a half stars. Obviously, not a film to go to see. However, the decision was based not on the contents of the review and its reasoning but, rather, on the prestige of the newspaper in which it appeared.
On reading the reasons for such dislike for the film, it seemed that these were the very reasons that this review would praise the film!
There has been a King Arthur the film for almost every decade for the last 100 years, the 30s and 40s with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the 50s and Knights of the Round Table, the 60s and Camelot and the Sword in the Stone, the 70s and Monty Python and the Holy Grail,, the 80s and what is considered a classic, Excalibur, First Knight in the 90s, King Arthur in 2005 and now telling for this decade.
This film has been criticised by some as being “laddish” with comment on previous British gangster films by the director, Guy Ritchie. If one were facetious, one might say that this King Arthur film is “Lock, Stock and one Smoking Sword”! Actually, the point is that the film ends with the coronation of Arthur King and his, literal, building of the Round Table. This is a story, rather, of the young Arthur, the fate of his father Uther, his exile in Londinium and his not knowing his ancestry, growing up in a brothel, on the wharves, the victim of his jealous uncle, Vortigern, who belatedly discovers that his nephew is still living and rounds up every young man of that age to try to draw Excalibur from the rock.
Already, the screenplay has hints of Macbeth (including three sea witches) with overtones of the kingly murders of Hamlet, with the young Arthur somewhat bewildered by his destiny and reluctant to follow it.
Author, Joseph Campbell, who explored the hero with 1000 faces, would probably be very interested in the screenplay, especially in the sequences where Arthur has to go into the dark woods, experience his own demons as well his monsters, in order to emerge as an authentic hero.
Audiences who are fond of Game of Thrones, the films of Tolkien’s novels and other realms of fantasy will enjoy many aspects of this King Arthur film.
As regards the “laddishness”, that is some of the point, the young man growing up in the slums, a collage of him learning how to box and fight, doing deals to build up his box of coins, alleging Viking sailors, pals with the young men on the wharves, an origin story of Arthur which then is transformed into his becoming king and ruling in Camelot.
The film has a big budget but is so spectacular in the first 10 minutes or so that it looks it as if it has already spent its budget. There are monsters in Camelot, massive destruction, scenes of battle, King Uther confronting Mordred, the exteriors and the interiors of the palaces and the kingdom. And, the special effects do not really let up and there are many, many battle sequences, leading to the ultimate confrontation between Arthur and his uncle.
Charlie Hunnam portrays Arthur, a short somewhat stocky lad, on the wharves of Londinium, struggling to find his regal identity and, ultimately succeeding. Jude Law enjoys himself as the villainous Vortigern. Astrid Berges Frisbey is the Mage who is delegated by Merlin to protect Arthur. Eric Bana is a heroic Uthor. The rest of the cast is generally made up of vintage British character actors.
Obviously, this interpretation of Arthur would not suit everyone, especially if there is a conception of Arthur as a king of great dignity and prowess. But, as in imagining of pre-Camelot Arthur, this interpretation has a great deal going for it.
NORMAN/THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER
US/Israel, 2016, 118 minutes, Colour.
Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi, Jonathan Avigdon, Yehuda Almagor, Hank Azariah, Harris Yulin, Josh Charles, Ann Dowd.
Directed by Joseph Cedar.
Who is Norman? He is Norman Oppenheimer, a street person of no fixed abode, always wearing an overcoat and cap, embodied perfectly by Richard Gere in one of his best performances.
We are first introduced to Norman chatting on a New York street with his nephew, Philip (Michael Sheen), talking about making contacts, financial enterprises, Norman jotting down names on a piece of paper, sketching in the links. A subtitle added to the film describes him: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.
Then he is seen pursuing a young man jogging, making all kinds of propositions, not even hearing the word “no” except that it seems to urge him on in his pursuit. Then he goes to a talk, a stage interview of an Israeli politician, and notes one of his assistants, Eshel (a good performance from Lior Ashkenazi). He follows him down the street, biding his time, helping him to window shop and take him into an expensive store and buys him shoes, the most expensive shoes. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship – as well as a tragic one.
Norman the fixer tries to link Eshel with a businessman but fails, going to visit his synagogue, comforted by the music, feeling at home there, though this is not his home.
The film is constructed in four Acts: A Foot in the Door, The Right Horse, Anonymous Doner, The Price of Peace. Three years after the initial events, Eshel is Prime Minister of Israel, visiting Washington, encounters Norman and embraces him, photographers flashing, his being introduced to celebrities, politicians, businesspeople.
Norman has the talent for ingratiating himself, but this is difficult with politicians, Eshel’s minders begin to refuse to take his calls. Norman has encountered Alex (Charlotte Gainsbourg) on the train from Washington to New York and finds that she is a top official in handling American criminals in Israel and Jewish criminals in New York. Ultimately, this seemingly friendly meeting, leads to the undoing of Norman and his plans.
At first, Norman is somewhat alienating for the audience, not believing for one minute his various stories and put off by the way that he follows people, makes the links, offers favours. He is definitely a conman, fixer, but, ultimately, with a heart of gold, the favours he seeks generally for the betterment of the people he wants to help.
There is also a complication with his nephew, Jewish, but wanting to marry a Korean and in need of some kind of religious preparation, which leads to the rabbi of Norman’s synagogue whose building is being acquired and her needs $14 million, Norman offering to assist, to purchase the building.
The film shows there are risks in do-gooding, especially when one of the beneficiaries is the Prime Minister of Israel, wanting a piece program, being attacked by politicians (actually filmed in the Knesset) and her needs to survive, even to get a lucky bonanza.
Which means that Norman becomes a sacrifice, a self-sacrifice, for the love and the friendship of others.
The film was written and directed by Israeli, Joseph Cedar, his previous films, Beaufort and The Footnote are worth seeking out.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
US, 2017, 129 minutes, Colour.
Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaits, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin R. McNally?, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Bruce Spence, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley.
Directed by Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg.
What more is there to say about the Pirates of the Caribbean? After all, this is the fifth episode. Probably the main thing is “more of the same”.
One of the things to remember about the series is that it is based on a theme park from Disneyland so that the films are the visual, moving pictures version of the popular ride. It is interesting to note that many of the critics feel exasperated that the series does not aspire to greater art, forgetting that the intention of the films is “a bit of fun”. And that’s what it provides, not particularly demanding, but reintroducing us to Captain Jack Sparrow, Captain Borbossa, and the Pirates’ life.
What is new about this particular episode is that the central character is Henry, the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. At first, we see him as a young boy, venturing out in a boat, going down on the anchor to find his father doomed to spend his afterlife on The Flying Dutchman. Actually, this gives us an opportunity to see Orlando Bloom after all these years as Will. However, Will is reluctant and Henry returns to his way of life, becoming a sailor on a British ship in the West Indies. He is played by Brenton’s Thwaites (from Cairns). He goes in search of Jack Sparrow who has a compass which could lead them to the place of Neptune’s Trident, which has the power to break all spells.
During a ceremony of inaugurating a new bank on the island San Martin, presided over by the Mayor (Bruce Spence), Jack Sparrow is discovered asleep in the vault – and his men organise the stealing of the vault, except that they cannot get it through the back door of the building, and so there begins a mad pursuit around the town with the horses dragging not only the vault but the whole bank with them, a whole deal of slapstick comedy, as a lot of the town is destroyed.
There is also a young lady, Carina (Kaya Scodelario) who is being condemned as a witch because of her scientific knowledge – between the jigs and the reels, she and Jack are about to be hanged until Henry does a bit of derring-do and they escape from the vindictive police officer (David Wenham).
And, so, to sea, Johnny Depp doing his usual, even more delirious, madcap Jack Sparrow, meeting up with Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Borbossa and also meeting up with a phantom ship, a dead crew, and their Spanish Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). Lots of swash and buckle here, boarding of ships, canons and muskets, swords and knives…
Carina can read the stars and so they can arrive at the island where the Trident is to be found – and, with a reminder of Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea, down they go into a watery chasm, dangers and all, breaking of spells, and some heroics on the part of everyone, especially a revelation about self-sacrificing Captain Borbossa.
Probably many were hankering after a glimpse of Keira Knightley when Orlando Bloom earlier returned to the film – and, without spoiling anything, she does appear again (and Orlando Bloom and Keira also appear in a short sequence for those who remain after the credits).
Just a rollicking bit fun.
Spain/US, 2017, 134 minutes, Colour.
Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Marwan Kenzari, Angela Sarafyan, Tom Hollander, Tamer Hassan, Jean Reno, James Cromwell.
Directed by Terry George.
The title sounds somewhat generic, any possible promise. However, this is a far more serious and interesting film than the title might indicate.
The main question an audience might ask itself while watching the film and, especially, afterwards, is how much they know about the 1915 genocide of the Armenians at the hand of the Turks of the dying Ottoman Empire. There have not been so many feature films about this significant theme of early 20th century history, the Turks themselves never having admitted that the elimination of over 1 million Armenians was a genocide, a kind of ethnic and religious cleansing. Canadian director of Armenian ancestry, Atom Egoyan, did make a film about the genocide and its impact, Ararat. In 2007, the Italian Taviani Brothers made a dramatic film about the events, The Larks’ Farm. Because of the few films about the genocide, The Promise becomes more important.
The film opens in an Armenian village in southern Turkey, the central character, Mikael (Oscar Isaac) the local apothecary whose ambitions it is to be a doctor. He becomes betrothed to a local girl with the support of his parents, her father giving him 400 gold coins which will enable him to travel to Constantinople and study medicine. His promise is that he will return, marry, grow to love his wife.
This is 1914. Constantinople is an impressive city but the Ottoman Empire is in decline. German officers are present in the city, making allies of the Turks for participation in World War One. Mikael enjoys the city life, at home with his uncle and cousins, comfortably off with their shop, studying at the University where he meets Emre, a wealthy playboy who is studying medicine to avoid military service, and his friend Chris Myers (Christian Bale), an American journalist with Associated Press. He has already met Chris’s partner, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who tutors his young cousins.
All seems well until war breaks out, jingoistic Turks rise up against the Armenians, smashing shop windows and destroying stock, literal dancing in the streets. When Mikael and Emre are called up, Emre gets an exemption because he is a medical student, using his father’s name to get an exemption for Mikael. His father, an imperious Imperial man is not pleased and Emre goes into the military and Mikael is arrested and sentenced to hard labour in the Turkish mountains, the building of a rail track.
The soldiers are brutal, the work hard, injured men shot. There is a cameo by Tom Hollander as a prisoner who used to be a clown, who entertains with a little performance but who is willing to carry explosives, an explosion which enables Mikael to escape.
One of the complexities is Mikael’s falling in love with Ana, his disappearance, his being able to return to his village and being persuaded by his mother to survive by marrying his betrothed.
And all the time, in the film, there is the background of the rounding up of the Armenians, many sequences reminding audiences of the uprisings against the Jews before World War II as well is the genocide. There is a powerful sequence where Chris Myers drives into the desert, discovers a long line of Armenians walking into their exile or to deaths, a woman collapsing and a soldier brutally shooting her. He sends reports of these events to the newspapers, gaining a controversial reputation but somewhat safe was America has not entered into the war. The Turkish authorities deny all his stories but there are some harrowing scenes of prison and an intervention by Emre.
And while the war continues and the persecution of the Armenians, there is a complication of the love triangle and Mikael and his promise.
Circumstances bring the three characters together again, a Protestant minister working to protect Armenian children and get them to the coast to safety.
There is a particularly chilling sequence where Mikael discovers the people of his village shot to death by the river, piles of prone victims on the riverbank. As the Turks pursue the refugees, there is a buildup to the confrontation in the mountains by the coast, a French steamer coming in to attempt a rescue, and some tragic deaths.
There is an aftermath when Mikael, who has survived, decades later is in the United States celebrating the marriage of a young cousin, remembering the past, but also the statement that the best revenge is in surviving.
Some commentators have mentioned Dr Zhivago as a kind of parallel story, occurring at much the same time. The value of these dramatisations, along with the romance included, means that and audience will be caught up in the stories, the personalities – and appreciate the devastating realities.
SCIENCE FICTION VOLUME 1: THE OSIRIS CHILD
Australia, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.
Kellan Lutz, Daniel Mac Pherson, Isabel Lucas, Luke Ford, Rachel Griffiths, Temuera Morrison, Brendan Foster, Teagan Croft.
Directed by Shane Abbess.
The title sounds rather portentous, the focusing on Science Fiction as well as the referene ti Volume 1. It will be interesting to see whether writer-director, Shane Abbess, continues his narrative into sequels.
This is an Australian film from the writer-director of the rather apocalyptic thriller about angels and devils, Gabriel, and another space exploration film, Infini. While the production is Australian, most of the characters speak with mid-Pacific accents, making it accessible to the broader American market.
The screenplay is divided into chapters with headings, the device also helping the action to move along more quickly.
The film opens with a father, Kane, involved with work on the space station on a distant planet spending some time with his daughter, bonding with her after devoting himself to his work and separating from his wife and child. He promises to be closer to his daughter. He is played by Daniel Mac Pherson and she is a lively young girl played by Teagan Croft.
Meanwhile, back on the space station, there is an impending crisis, an apocalyptic crisis, being managed by the General, played by Rachel Griffiths. She has a scenario to wreak wide destruction by allowing the city of the planet to be destroyed, with great loss of life. She is rather cold and calculating.
Kane then decides to take a plane, lands on the ground and makes his way to the city to ensure the safety of his daughter. Life on the ground is also rather precarious, especially because of experiments going on whereby prisoners in the high security jail are being transformed into monstrous creatures. The prison is presided over by another cold and calculating character played by Temuera Morrison.
Kane meets Sy (American Kellan Lutz) in the desert and they make an agreement to help each other. As the narrative goes on, the audience learns more and more about Sy, his work as a nurse, an accident involving his wife, her death, his killing the young man responsible for the accident and his being sentenced to the prison, as well as his escape.
While the film is reminiscent of many space adventures, it shows an influence of the Mad Max films when the two men encounter a bar, pretty raucous, and Bill and Gyp (Leon Ford and Isobel Lucas), who have a truck but take a long time to be persuaded (as well as the money), to drive the two men to the city. They also encounter two isolated men who sell them weapons – but, the monsters are on the prowl and soon go into action.
The film moves apace with the rescue of the daughter, driving into the desert, in search of a tunnel with a coded entrance where they can escape the apocalyptic destruction.
In many ways, familiar themes, but presented with some verve – and the added horror of the monstrous beasts, especially in the climax of the film, rather unexpected.
THE SENSE OF AN ENDING
UK, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, James Willby, Edward Holdcroft, Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, Joe Alwyn, Peter Wight.
Directed by Ritesh Batra.
The Sense of an Ending is a very British drama, one of those intelligently satisfying entertainments with articulate and inarticulate characters, with said situations which are gradually revealed, memory, forgetting, and sometimes the dire consequences of actions. It is based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Julian Barnes.
This film has a very significant cast as well as being well directed by Indian director, Ritesh Batra, famous for his moving film The Lunchbox. And it has an excellent cast portraying the older present generation and the younger generation in flashbacks.
Jim Broadbent has been a sterling figure in British and world cinema for many decades, winning an Oscar in 2001 for his role in Iris. Here he is Tony Webster, who is heard reminiscing about the nature of memory, life, forgetting. He is an older man by this, living alone after the divorce from his wife, Margaret (an excellent Harriet Walter), with a 36-year-old pregnant single mother daughter (Michelle Dockery), with a shop selling cameras, his hobby and expertise, and to all intents and purposes rather a curmudgeon.
Where could a story about Tony Webster go? And the answer is: back into the past. There are many significant flashbacks in this film, the reliability and unreliability of memory. Tony (Billy Howle) is in his final year at high school, with a number of friends, rather quiet in manner, walking out of a party and encountering a young woman, Veronica (Freya Mavor), shyly becoming infatuated with her, awkward in sexual encounters, but being invited to visit her family and stay with them, and an encounter with her mother, Sarah (Emily Mortimer) who warns him against her daughter.
A new friend (Joe Alwyn), Adrian, comes to the school and seems to be also infatuated with Veronica. However, there is tragic news which bewilders Tony. There are further flashbacks about Tony’s reaction to Adrian, a card not sent, a vitriolic letter…
In the present, Tony receives a message that he has been bequeathed something by Veronica’s mother, Sarah, who has just died. He discovers that it is Adrian’s diary. With some help from his old friends, and gradually explaining the situation to Margaret, he is able to make an appointment with Veronica (Charlotte Rampling), which does not end well. Tony is intrigued, latent memories coming to the surface, his following Veronica, making discoveries that shock him and challenge him to reassess his past behaviour.
There is a sense of an ending as all this develops, Tony discovering more about himself and acknowledging it, mellowing, rapport with his ex-wife, his assisting at the birth of his grandchild, a message to Veronica, some happiness – and even offering a cup of coffee to the postman whom he has regularly ignored.
A thoughtful film for a thoughtful audience.
US, 2017, 90 minutes, Colour.
Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz, Tom Bateman, Christopher Meloni, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack.
Directed by Jonathan Levine.
Sometimes amusing and funny time-filler depending on your response to the two stars.
Amy Schumer, mainly seen on television (the series, Inside Amy Schumer) but also in the film, Trainwreck, and her comic style, is something of an acquired taste. She portrays the awkward American woman, not classical beauty with jokes about that, eager to please but also energetically eager to displease. Her often wry comedy has a certain appeal.
In the past, Goldie Hawn was also an acquired taste, but an exceedingly popular acquired taste, from her early films in the 1960s, including an Oscar-winning performance in Cactus Flower (1969) as well as her often calculatedly ditzy presence in Laugh-in. During the 1970s and into the 1980s, she was an extremely popular screen presence. It seems very strange but she has not been on the cinema screen since 2001 in The Banger Sisters. Seeing her again, just the same as she always was except that she is now into her 70s, reminds us that we have missed her absence.
This is one of those broad comedies that seem to be being made up as it goes along, all kinds of sequences that don’t necessarily follow the previous ones, sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious, but then on to the next sequence…
Amy Schumer is Emily, bossy in a clothes shop until we realise she is the salesperson not the customer, and then she is fired. At lunch with her boyfriend (and she does enjoy eating), he suddenly informs her that they are breaking up. Goldie Hawn is her mother, Linda, forever phoning her, with more than a touch of claustrophobia with so many locks on the door, rarey going out, but worried about Emily while her son, Jeffrey, (a Game of Thrones, Harry Potter etc ultra-nerd, Ike Barinholtz) lives at home, giving piano lessons.
The trouble is that Emily has bought two tickets, non-refundable, for two to Ecuador and nobody wants to go with her. She tries to persuade her reluctant mother – to put back the “fun” in “non-refundable”. Suddenly they are in Ecuador.
There are the usual jokes about American tourists living in luxury, mingling with the locals, getting all kinds of thrills they would not have at home, especially when British James teams up with Emily and takes her and her mother on an excursion. With the title, Snatched, we are not wrong in guessing that they will soon be abducted.
A lot of the film is about mother-daughter shenanigans in escaping from the abductors, using quite some nous at times, Emily exercising some martial arts skills in knocking out the abductor’s cousin, later rather loose-handed with a spear, getting rid of the abductor’s son. No wonder he keeps pursuing them. They are on their way to Bogota, contacting the embassy and an exasperated official at the other end, especially when they contact Jeffrey and he continually hounds the official who hounds him back. Then there are Ruth and Barb, on holidays, Barb being an ex-special Ops expert (Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack) who do their best but are not as effective as we might have expected. Then there is Roger (Christopher Meloni) an ex-chef with terminal cancer who offers to guide them through the jungle.
Obviously, it all comes together, mother and daughter confronting the abductor, the local troops and American agents all arriving for an arrest (with Jeffrey intimating that he had organised it all).
There are some pleasing scenes where Emily actually stops to help local women in the jungle with their water carrying. She is redeemable – and, in Kuala Lumpur, a year later, there is Linda, just like Goldie Hawn of the past, exuberantly living it up.
Some amusing scenes and lines, for Amy Schumer fans – and the pleasure of seeing Goldie Hawn again.
WHITNEY: “CAN I BE ME”
US, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Footage of Whitney Houston, relatives, friends, musicians, bodyguard.
Directed by Nick Broomfield, Rudy Dolezal.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Whitney Houston was one of the most celebrated singers in the world. By 2012 she had experienced lack of success, criticism, marriage and divorce, the birth of her daughter, and the ruining of her voice. She committed suicide – although, a friend at the beginning of this documentary states that she died of a broken heart.
Nick Broomfield, British director, has been making documentaries for over 40 years, many award-winning documentaries. He has ventured into all kinds of fields including American music with his documentary about Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, Biggie and Tupac, as well as a documentary Kurt and Courtney, about Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
Fortunately for a comprehensive look at Whitney Houston, her life and career, a lot of film and television footage was available and is used to present Whitney Huston as a character in her own life, a focus on her mother and father, especially her gospel singing mother, Cissy Houston, interviews with her brothers, a close friend Robin, with a variety of the musicians who backed her up, various entrepreneurs who guided her career, her husband Bobby Brown, with glimpses of her daughter as a child on stage with her mother, and some telling comments by her sometime British bodyguard. All this material is judiciously edited to provide a narrative, Whitney Houston’s life from birth to death as well as frequent dipping into her performances in her career.
Born in 1963 in New Jersey, Whitney Houston had a religious upbringing, singing with her mother in church, a precocious talent which her mother encouraged. However, given the times and the careers of her brothers, she was introduced to drugs at an early age, using a range of drugs until she became dependent on them and, in fact, an addict. This is a theme throughout the film, with many commentators, some wondering whether there could have been an intervention, the revelation that she went into rehabilitation but lapsed.
One of the difficulties for Whitney Huston was her success with white American audiences. In the 90s, she was booed by the black audience condemning her for being “too white”. At first, this did not worry her; she had hit records, many awards, interviews and performances on television. The television interviews with significant television hosts including Johnny Carson, Katie Couric, Barbara Walters, continued through her career.
There was also talk about her sexual orientation and behaviour, her close relationship with Robin, her main friend for many years, encouraging her. Questions were raised about a lesbian relationship – and, in fact, at the end of the film, there is information about Robin living with her lesbian partner and their raising twins. An encounter with Bobby Brown, hyperactive extroverted entertainer, led to a relationship, despite his infidelities on the road, and their eventual marriage, the birth of their daughter Bobbi Christina – but, ultimately, a divorce (and the very sad information that at age 22, Bobbi Christina had drug problems and took her own life in 2015.)
For most audiences, awareness of Whitney Houston focused on the film The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner and this film provides some background to the making of the film, her singing, the success and Oscar nominations – quite a contrast to 8 years later when she was fired from singing at the Oscars because of erratic rehearsals.
Whitney Houston seem to be a very sympathetic personality and so this story of her rise and fall is very emotional and tragic. The film is another addition to the exploration of celebrity life, ambitions, dedication, the pressure of family and friends, difficulties in dealing with celebrity, erratic behaviour in relationships, drug addiction. Whitney Huston achieved a great deal – but at what cost?
US, 2017, 141 minutes, Colour.
Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, James Cosmo.
Directed by Patty Jenkins.
Her many fans are enthusiastic about Wonder Woman and the comics of the past. She did make an appearance on screen, on the television screen, in the latter part of the 1970s, 60 episodes in the series with Lynda Carter as her embodiment.
That’s 40 years ago. Quite a delay in getting her onto the big screen – although she did make an appearance in 2016 in Batman versus Superman, a significant contribution to the plot and offering an alert that she was about to get a superhero movie of her own.
And here it is – with a great deal going for it.
One of the advantages of the screenplay is that it is a blend of fantasy and realism. And, as with the more recent Batman films, it goes back into Wonder Woman’s origins. The first part of the film is set on a Greek island, quite exotic, the home of the famous Amazons, those warrior women ready for any invasion, especially from the gods, and, more especially, from the hostile God of War, Ares.
We are introduced to the daughter of the Queen of the other Amazons, her name is Diana. She is a vigorous young girl, eager to train like the older women, but protected by her mother (Connie Nielsen). But she does get a lot of attention from the General, Antiope (Robin Wright with a strange accent). Over the years she grows up into the form of Israeli actress, Gal Gadot (who was the incarnation in Batman versus Superman). She has combat talent but has to learn the hard way, being knocked down, getting up, using her wits. And that would seem to be her life even though her
And, on a bright sunny day, who should land on shore but Steve Trevor (a genial Chris Pine) who has come through a time barrier from World War I. (This may surprise the fans of the television series which was set in World War II, fighting the Nazis.) Actually, German troops aboard a frigate are in pursuit of Steve and what follows is a battle between the Germans and the Amazons. Diana wants to leave her to help Steve who defended them against the Germans – and her mother reluctant to let her go, revealing to her that she has divine power entrusted to her by Zeus. She has the power to be a God-killer.
Ares had better look out!
The film makes a quick transition to the London of World War I, Diana bemused by what she says is an ugly city, trying out all kinds of new outfits to blend in (though having to get rid of the sword and shield which Steve’s secretary, bubbly and engaging suffragette Etta (Lucy Davis) confirms does not go with her outfit)! There is a nice scene where Diana eats ice cream for the first time and cannot believe how wonderful it tastes.
It is 1918 and the Armistice is almost a done deal. Meanwhile, in Germany, a diabolical general (Danny Houston) is in league with a super-scientist, Dr Poison (Elena Anaya), specialist in nerve gases. He is dead set against the Armistice, confident in ultimate German victory. In the meantime, in England, Sir Patrick Morgan, a leading politician, quietly endorses Steve and Diana (and an extraordinarily ragtag band of followers) to track down Dr Poison.
This means travelling to Belgium, becoming involved in trench warfare, the hardy Diana moved by the plight of the bereft widow leading the British troops across no man’s land defying the German guns.
Needless to say, there are a lot of spectacular scenes, explosions, a confrontation with the German general, with Dr Poison, a crisis when a plane load of lethal gases threatens the world – and an unexpected twist for those not in the know where an aggressive and confrontational Ares appears, quite a supernatural conflict between him and Diana.
One of the advantages of this screenplay is that it is quite intelligent, has some substance in its portrayal of the Amazons, their philosophy of peace, the intrusions of war, Diana’s hope that in her destroying Ares all humans then will want to be peaceful and her having to discover that there is something in human nature that is forever cruel and warmongering. Actually, there is also quite an amount of deadpan dialogue which is also amusing.
Gal Gadot fits Wonder Woman perfectly, able to speak hundreds of languages but not particularly well-informed about marriage. She is tall, beautiful, strong, articulate, and, for once, the female superhero.
She is going to appear in 2017 in the film of the Justice League. But, no problems if she gets another exclusive film of her own!