SIGNIS REVIEWS JUNE 2018
AMANT DOUBLE L’/ DOUBLE LOVER
LIFE OF THE PARTY
LOST IN PARIS/ PARIS PIEDS NUS
MY FRIEND DAHMER
SOLO, A STAR WARS STORY
SONG KEEPERS, The
TEA WITH THE DAMES
L’AMANT DOUBLE/DOUBLE LOVER
France, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour.
Marine Vacth, Jeremie Renier, Jacqueline Bissett, Myriam Boyer.
Directed by François Ozon.
A more than suitable and informative title for this film might have been Unsane – but Steven Soderberg had taken it for his psychological thriller about a young woman caught up in her psychological problems, clashes with psychologists, and the audience wondering what was real and what was happening in the young woman’s mind.
This time a young woman, in Paris, Chloe (Marine Vacht), is physically ill but her doctor recommends her going to a therapist. She chooses a male therapist, Paul Mayer, who is an intense listener rather than intervening as she explains her life and her problems. However, she becomes infatuated with him, he with her and the therapy has to end. Paul moves in with Chloe. He now works in a hospital and she gets a job in a museum as one of those men and women who sit for security sake observing the visitors. (The paintings and sculptures are more than a touch of weird.)
So far, so psychological. However, coming home by bus one evening, she sees Paul talking to a woman outside a building where she knew he would not be present. She goes back to the building and finds a psychiatrist there, Louis Delord, Paul’s true surname but which he had changed. She begins some therapy with him. He is the opposite to Paul, abrupt, intervening, demanding and very conscious of collecting his fee. She becomes more and more involved and deceiving Paul who by now is truly in love with her and proposes.
One of the features of Chloe’s life is her dreams, planning to go to a dream therapist but going to Louis instead.
Once the relationship between her and the two men is established, she has more and more vivid dreams, erotic dreams, an, the audience at times is not too sure which is dream and which is reality – too far-fetched to be real.
The film offers a lot of reflections on relationships between twins, bonding, rivalry, hatred – and a physiological theory that in the mother’s womb, one of the twins can absorb the life of the other.
And this is compounded by Louis admitting that he and Paul are twins (which the audience immediately realised, although Jeremie Renier does good work in making the two similar but different) and there is enormous sibling rivalry. The name of a young woman from the past is mentioned and Chloe goes to visit her, finding her the victim of a car accident, helpless in a wheelchair, looked after by her mother (an interesting French-speaking role for Jacqueline Bissett).
And, just as we might have been sorting out what was really happening to Chloe and in her dreams, there are even more complications. As with Soderberg’s Unsane, some reviewers have been very critical of the difficulties in following the plotline, seeming to think that this is all a narrative presented realistically. However, realising that this is a blend of reality and fantasy, where life and dream (and we have to keep checking if we can appreciate which is which), the film becomes quite intriguing, at one moment everything seeming to be reconciled, at the last moment the audience wondering whether this is true or not.
The film was directed by François Ozon, who for 20 years has been making a range of quite striking and varied French films.
Australia, 2018, 97 minutes, Colour.
Shane Jacobson, Clayton Jacobson, Kym Gyngell, Lynette Curran, Sarah Snook.
Directed by Clayton Jacobson.
Especially with the comedy film, Kenny, and, with other film and television appearances, Shane Jacobson is by now strongly associated with Australian comedy.
But, caution. Not here.
As the film opens, we see Shane Jacobson and his brother Clayton as obvious lookalike brothers, cycling outside the town to a used-car dump and to a house which belonged to their parents. They change into boiler suits, start cleaning the house, Terry (Shane) rather bemused his wary about following the lead of his older brother, Jeffrey (Clayton). Terry is rather laid-back but Jeffrey seems to be rather obsessive, sitting down with his brother early in the morning of their visit to the house with an extraordinarily detailed timetable for their activities for the day.
If this was a first review of Brothers’Nest? that someone were to read, the review should end here except to add that it is sometimes frightening, sometimes very black, some sardonic humour, and a bit of a shock film for the Jacobson brothers to be in.
But, many other reviews will indicate that the brothers have murder in mind and that this preoccupies them for most of the film. We learn their reasons, their deceptions, their alibis, their being upset at their father’s suicide, their love for their mother (Lynette Curran) who is dying of cancer, acknowledging that their mother’s new husband, Rodger (Kym Gyngell) loves their mother but has usurped the place of their father.
So, as the day goes on, the brothers realise that meticulously planned murders need to be more meticulous than they anticipated. So much can go wrong. So much is unforeseen.
When Rodger arrives at the house, there is an effective dramatic sequence when the brothers, especially Jeffrey, vent their angers on Rodger. There are also some tense dramatic sequences when their mother comes into the house and is bewildered by what she finds.
As has been suggested, to get away with murder, careful planning beyond careful is needed. And, who knows what the reactions will be if two people are part of the plan and begin to differ.
At the beginning of the film, the name of Sarah Snook appears in the opening credits. Just to reassure audiences who may be wondering when she is coming in, it is best to say that she comes in at the end, giving the audience an opportunity to think over what their reactions have been to the events, to the two brothers, to Rodger and the brothers’ mother, and see what has happened through her questioning eyes.
Of its kind, which may not appeal to gentler sensitivities, this story of murder in mind is intriguing and effective.
Australia, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McNQuade, Natasha Wanganeen, Bruce R.Carter, Simone Landers, David Gulpilil.
Directed by Yolanda Ramke, Ben Hollows.
Were one to ask the average filmgoer whether they wanted to see a zombie film or not, the answer, most likely, is not. On the other hand, a younger demographic might well answer that they would. And, whatever the age or generation, aficionados of the long spate of zombie films, especially in recent decades, as well as television series like The Walking Dead, might well rush to say that they definitely would.
Best to say immediately, Cargo is a zombie film.
Best to say immediately afterwards, Cargo is not your usual zombie film and it could well have a much wider appeal than just for zombie fans.
It began life as a seven minute short film. The writer, Yolanda Ramke decided to expand the short into feature length and joined with fellow-director, Ben Hollows, to make this feature. They went out into the landscapes of South Australia, choosing desert landscapes, bush landscapes, the Murray River… All of which are filmed beautifully using helicopters and drones. This is a very attractive countryside for the living dead. Not that we see so many of the living dead. That is one of the more relaxing features of watching this film.
The focus throughout is on Andy, played with quite some sensitivity by British actor, Martin Freeman (best known for, take your pick, the Hobbit or Dr Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes). As with the quiet horror film, A Quiet Place, the setting is post-Apocalyptic, an epidemic not explained at all, decimating the population and turning many into the living dead. Andy is on a boat on the Murray with his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and their one-year-old baby, Rosie. They are in search of food, the parents wanting to protect their daughter at all costs.
It is not really a spoiler to say that Kay becomes infected and dies, leaving Andy to travel through the bush, trying to find food and shelter, with a wristband counting down 48 hours since he potentially became infected.
At the opening the film, a young aboriginal girl, Thoomi, is seen running through the desert. She will later appear again and become an important character in Andy’s journey to safety. In fact, with white paint on her face, she has been feeding her transformed father and is in search of the Cleverman who has the power, she thinks and hopes, to heal her father.
Andy meets very few people along the way, only a smattering and scattering of the living dead. He gets to the small town and meets a former teacher who is very hospitable (Kris McQuade) who urges him on. He rescues a man pinioned by cylinders, Vic (Anthony Hayes) who has been working on a gas line who takes him to his temporary home where he finds the wife of one of the workers, Lorraine (Caren Pistorius). One of Vic’s pastimes is to put a zombie in a cage which then is a taunt to the other living dead to come to consume it, meanwhile firing his rifle to destroy as many zombies as possible. He urges Andy to learn to fire a rifle and join in.
Time is running out, and Andy wants to find a safe place and sympathetic people to look after Rosie. He does encounter a family – but that turns out tragically for the family. He persuades Thoomi that she has done her best for her father and she then serves as a guide and protector for Andy and Rosie.
What makes this film different from so many other zombie films which concentrate on the horror and gore and the dangers of infection and madness, is a deep humanity in Andy, audience response to the care for the baby, and Martin Freeman’s very sympathetic performance as is that of Simone Landers as Thoomi.
The aboriginal theme pervades the film, the latecomer to the land being infected, some aborigines, who are able to listen to the land, escaping infection and providing shelter and hope among them for the little white baby. The film released in cinemas in Australia but was booked for almost immediate screening on Netflix.
US, 2018, 107 minutes, Colour.
Jason Clarke, Ed Helms, Jim Gaffigan, Kate Mara, Bruce Dern, Olivia Thirlby, Clancy Brown.
Directed by John Curran.
It is surprising to find that this episode in the life and career of Senator Edward Kennedy, the last remaining son of tycoon and diplomat and powerbroker, Joseph Kennedy, has not been the subject of a feature film before this. Many documentaries, inquiries. In June 2019, it will be 50 years since the events portrayed.
Audiences have varied responses to members of the Kennedy family. There is great sympathy for President John F. Kennedy, the appeal of his personality, the speeches of idealism despite bungling of some of the confrontations, especially with Cuba in the 1960s, the impact of his assassination. Robert Kennedy also made a great impression as attorney general, advisor to his older brother, and then the impact of his assassination. The oldest brother, Joe, whom his father had destined for the White House was killed in action in World War II.
For many in the audience, 1969 will be something of past history if not ancient history. For those who remember the times, they may have strong views about Ted Kennedy and his behaviour at Chappaquidick. Audiences may not remember that the events and the death of political aide, Mary Jo Kopechne, happened at the very time of the moon launch and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, a fulfilment of John F. Kennedy’s hopes, the seeming beginning of a new era for the human race – but was also a time of political unrest, Richard Nixon’s presidency, disaster for Americans in Vietnam, a transition from the enormous social changes of the 1960s.
The action of the film takes place over a week. Australian actor, Jason Clarke, with touches of make up that make him sometimes uncannily look like Ted Kennedy, and with his New England accent, gives a strong performance of a man who, at this stage of his life in crisis, seems a weak man. Ed Helms has a good role as his cousin and adviser, Joseph Gargan. Kate Mara has some scenes as Mary Jo Kopechne, Jim Gaffigan as the Massachusetts Attorney General and an advisor, Clancy Brown dominatingly ruthless as Robert McNamara?. Bruce Dern communicates the strong personality of Joseph Kennedy despite his being inarticulate, chair-ridden, because of a stroke.
The situation is re-created, an evening party, Ted Kennedy still morose about the death of his brother a year earlier, the memories of the President, the expectations of his father (which seem to be rather low). Some drinking, some brooding, giving a lift to Mary Jo Kopechne, the bad turning onto the bridge, the car going over the bridge, his escaping from the car and sitting on the bank, Mary Jo Kopechne drowning after some time trying to breathe the remaining air in the car. While the episode was an accident, Ted Kennedy’s behaviour was that of the hit-run driver, in denial, going to get friends to try to remedy the situation, promising to report the accident to the police but failing to do so, going to bed, having breakfast at the hotel with friends until he is confronted and has to act.
The screenplay has him saying to his friends as they arrive at the scene of the accident that he won’t be President in 1972. And, with ups and downs, with phone calls to his father, with a visit to his father, with all the legal advisers and political bosses trying to make the best of the scenario, continually sabotaged by statements released by the police to the press, changes to the story, and even Joe Gargan advising him to do the right thing and resign, he is weak.
The theme of the film is summed up by Gargan telling Ted Kennedy that his television broadcast to the people of Massachusetts in which he accepts responsibility for leaving the scene of the accident, should be seen as a situation of integrity and not of opportunity.
The film ends with people being interviewed about their views on Kennedy and his broadcast. There is a great deal of sympathy for the family. How much to forgive? How much to forget? In fact, Kennedy was re-elected to the Senate and the end of the film reminds us that he finished as being the fourth longest serving senator, contributing to the politics of the United States.
Chappaquidick raises issues of responsibility and blame, of authenticity in people from privileged backgrounds, issues of human weakness and possibilities for redemption.
UK, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour.
Max Irons, Glenn Close, Stefanie Martini, Honor Kneafsey, Christina Hendricks, Terence Stamp, Julian Sands, Gillian Anderson, Christian Mc Kay, Amanda Abington, Preston Nyman, John Heffernan, Jenny Galloway.
Directed by Gilles Paquet- Brenner.
Another Agatha Christie murder mystery.
This is one of her stand-alone novels, a young private detective involved in an investigation, not relying on her super-sleuths Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. The setting is England in the late 1950s.
The film opens with the news of a murder, the private detective, Charlie Hayward (Max Irons) seeing the newsreel about the death of a millionaire from Greece who came to settle in England. His granddaughter, Sophie (Stefanie Martini) who had had a romance with Charlie Hayward in Cairo but broken it off, comes to his office (a bit poor and seedy with few clients) and invites him to come to investigate the death – the audience having seen only a hand an alarm in the filling a syringe and it being inserted into the old man’s arm in bed.
The first part of the film, as expected, is the detective going to the mansion where three generations of the family live. It gives the opportunity for him to meet each of the suspects and for the audience to get some information, begin to get suspicions, start to make a preference list of who is the most likely murderer and who the least likely.
He meets the grand dame of the family, the dead man’s sister-in-law, Edith De Haviland. We are already on familiar ground because she is played by Glenn Close, at times rather similar to her sinister presence as Cruella de Ville. There are the dead man’s two sons, one bailed out of a bad gambling debt, Philip (Julian Sands) who now lives at the mansion with his would-be actress wife, a sardonic dilettante a and alcoholic Magda (Gillian Anderson). The other son is Roger who manages the family business, although ineptly, (Christian McKay) and his somewhat disgruntled wife, a scientist, Clemency (Amanda Abingdon). Magda has three children, Sophia, her very young little sister, wise beyond her years, Josephine (Honor Kneafsey). She tells the detective that she too is doing her detective work and writing everything in her diary. There is also a handicapped son, Eustace (Preston Nyman), rather bitter and offhand. The millionaire’s young wife, Brenda (Christina Hendricks) whom he met as a dancer at a casino he owned in Las Vegas also lives in the house, resented by everyone, except by Laurence Brown, Eustace’s tutor, (John Heffernan) who is obviously in a relationship with Brenda. Finally, there is the family nurse who looks after Josephine (Jenny Galloway).
And there we are. Whodunnit?
It is rather old-fashioned in its visual style, dialogue (with Julian Fellowes, the Downton Abbey, is one of the writers).
Each of the characters, of course, has suspicious moments. The film consists of a lot of interviews with each of the characters, and there are some red herrings about the dead man’s links with the CIA and anti-Communist movements.
Terence Stamp also appears as a detective from Scotland Yard. He has ups and downs with Charlie Hayward but, eventually, there are some arrests. Or are they wrong arrests?
The payoff and the murderer is not bad – depending on how high the suspect was on your list of most probable released probable.
Perhaps best recommended as an entertaining Agatha Christie night out for those who are more senior rather than those who are more junior.
US, 2018, 119 minutes, Colour.
Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison, Marina Bacarin,Zazie Beetz, Brianna Hildebrand, TJ Miller, Terry, Rob Delaney, Alan Tudyk, Eddie Marsen, Leslie Uggams, cameos: Brad Pitt, Bill Skarsgaard, Matt Damon, Terry Crews.
Directed by David Leitch.
The original Deadpool was very well received by the public. It was something of an acquired taste which moviegoers were eager to acquire. While it derives from the Marvel Universe, so-called, its characters are really at the periphery (although the film does open with a joke about Logan, a little statue impaled, with Deadpool speaking derogatorily about Wolverine – who does get the chance to appear in Hugh Jackman form at the end of the film – and uncredited, so many of the characters popping in from the X-Men? series).
Deadpool is certainly an example of pop culture. However, with its tone of parody, with a variety of spoofs and send ups, with the in-references to movies and actors and actresses, with the sudden appearance of Barbra Streisand singing Papa can you hear me from Yentl, a CGI fight with Dolly Parton singing 9 to 5 in the background, with a buildup to a climax with the singing of Tomorrow from Annie, Deadpool might be considered and is an example of “flip-culture”. (Trivia, like that in the film: Barbra Streisand is Josh Brolin’s stepmother – and she thanked in the credits for giving permission to use the song and clips from Yentl.)
As regards plot! Prior to the initial credits, Deadpool, with his costume on, confronts an enormous range of villains from Hong Kong to the US with all kinds of martial arts and stunt work. And then, in a moment of quiet, he visits Vanessa “Morena Bacarin) and they discuss domestic possibility of having children. Not to be. An assassin intervenes and Deadpool, unmasked and his remnant-of-burns face is tearful.
Actually, the initial credits are examples of the flip culture with all the technical aspects being parodied by descriptions rather than by actual names, the director being referred to as one of those who were responsible for deaths in John Wick (which actual director, David Leitch, was).
And who would believe that the centre of the main plot would be a 15-year-old, chubby, New Zealander called Russell? It must mean that The Hunt for the Wilderpeople served as a marvellous audition and an entree for Julian Dennison, is able to make strong rapport with his audience, to become an international star. He has superpowers of fire in his hands but is confined to a sinister orphanage, presided over by Eddie Marsan, who parodies Gospel Beatitudes with “blessed are the wicked…” And there is a whole atmosphere that he and his staff are paedophiles.
Enter Cable, Josh Brolin taking time off from being Thanos in the Avengers series. He can time travel. He has experienced disaster in his own life, knows how the world is going to end (badly!) And wants to prevent Russell from becoming a killer. This leads to a prison break, Deadpool and his friend Weasel (TJ Miller) auditioning their own X-Force? of rather inept heroes, one of the funnier and gruesome sequences in the film being their skydiving and their various spectacular demises.
The screenplay is very conscious of equality for women, so Domino (Zazie Beetz) is now black, is an extraordinary truck driver (she says her talent his Luck) and her commandeering the truck, driving through the metropolis, an enormous smasheroo sequence with probably more cars destroyed in this film than the body count!
In one sense, the final confrontation to liberate Russell is fairly low key – but, a lot is made of it with Deadpool’s heroics (which he remarks to the audience he hopes have been filmed in slow motion) combined with a giant fight between the metallic Colossus (on Deadpool’s side) against the even bigger and gigantic Juggernaut (the enemy).
If this film is successful, as initial box office seems to indicate it will be, there are all kinds of directions it can go in for a sequel – time travel and remedying the past certainly enables all possibilities. (And, in the final credits, Ryan Reynolds who has made Deadpool his own, with the heroics and the deadpan references and talking to the audience, suggests that The Green Lantern isn’t his most favourite film.)
Ordinary cinemagoers will have to adjust fairly quickly to the tone and style of the film. Aficionados will want more.
UK/Ireland, 2017, 114 minutes, Colour.
Rachel Weisz, Rachel Mc Adams, Alessandro Nivola, Alan Corduner, Bernice Stegers.
Directed by Sebastian Lellio.
Not quite a title that would entice legions of fans into a cinema. But, for those who are interested in the title, this is quite a strong drama with impressive portraits of the central characters. It has been directed by the Chilean director, Sebastian Lellio, who has made an international impression with Chilean stories, Gloria (which he has remade in the US with Julianne Moore) and The Fantastic Woman as well as a significant American story, Jackie, dealing with the First Lady and the assassination of President Kennedy.
The theme is presented powerfully in the opening sequence, a London synagogue, strongly, sometimes fiercely, Orthodox, the men with tassels, vests, hats and Scriptures, the women separated. The old rabbi gives an interpretation of creation, highlighting that angels are pure spirits whose wills are directed to God, contrasting with the beasts who are part of creation but have no will. In the middle are humans, with free will, with the possibility of choice – and with the possibility of sinning, incurring judgement, being disobedient. He then collapses and dies. However, at the end of the film, the rabbi designated as his successor recalls this explanation of choice at the old rabbi’s funeral. By then, the significance of the title and the theme of will and choice has been interestingly explored.
We are introduced to Ronit (a strong performance by Rachel Weisz), a photographer in New York City receiving a mysterious phone call to return home to London. She is the late rabbi’s daughter. It emerges that she has been ostracised by the local community – and it soon emerges why. She goes to the home of the rabbis adopted son, Dovid, Alessandro Nivola, friendly but strict in his interpretation of Orthodox customs, even to women not touching men. Ronit is surprised that he has married – and even more surprised when she meets Esti, Rachel McAdams?, who was significant in Ronit’s past and is now married to Dovid.
Ronit is very much an independent woman, defying the local critics of her and her behaviour, wanting to sell the rabbi’s house only to find that he bequeathed it to the community. The important part of the drama is Ronit’s relationship with Esti, passionate in the past, the reason for Ronit’s exile, and the dilemma for the relationship now that she has returned to England. While there is pressure on Ronit, there is even more pressure on Esti and her marriage. She is part of the community, happily teaching at a school, but disturbed by Ronit’s presence.
While much of the drama is about relationships, especially about same-sex relationships and the attitudes of the community, the drama is also about independence and – with the reprisals of the rabbi’s initial sermon and the focus on choice, the issue for the resolution of the drama is whether Esti will have a choice.
This is a film of emotion, sometimes passion, sometimes sadness and disappointment – and the dilemmas of obedience, disobedience, constraint, freedom and choice.
Belgium, 2017, 107 minutes, Colour.
Lily James, Jai Courtney, Christopher Plummer, Janet Mc Teer, Ben Daniels, Eddie Marsan.
Directed by David Leveaux.
The title for this drama, quite worth seeing, is not at all exceptional. However, the title of the novel on which it is based, The Kaiser’s Last Kiss, is more evocative.
There always seems to be an audience for British films or films from the continent which deal with World War II. Some are based on fact. The screenplay here is based on a novel but grounded in fact.
The setting is Holland in 1940. The Nazis have just invaded Belgium and Holland. One of the principal residents of Holland is the former Kaiser, Friedrich Wilhelm, living in exile after his resignation in 1918 in a mansion in the Dutch countryside, living with his wife and an entourage. He keeps out of the way, working on the property, proud of his collection of military uniforms, feeding the ducks. He is still ideological, fixed in rather aristocratic ways (after all he was one of the many grandchildren of Queen Victoria), longing for a restoration of the monarchy.
In Berlin, a young officer, Captain Brandt, wounded in battle, reacting against an officer who had massacred many people in a village, now has a desk job but is assigned to be head of security for the Kaiser and his wife. On arrival in the town, he encounters the local security officials, the officer who manages the Royal household, the Dutch staff, including a very attractive maid.
This is a fictional story about the Kaiser and his wife but it some commentators have indicate close relationships to facts.
The Kaiser is elderly and portrayed excellently by Christopher Plummer. Janet Mc Teer is certainly very good as his wife, more ambitious than her husband, with connections in Berlin, machinating behind the scenes so that the couple will be restored to their status by Hitler.
The captain does not seem at first a particularly interesting character. He is initially seen back in Berlin with a prostitute. He is immediately seductive of the maid. He is played by Australian Jai Courtney. She is played by Lily James.
There are power struggles in the mansion, the Princess rather haughty in her manner and proud of her household, Sigurd (Ben Daniels) is the proper officer who protects the couple, making sure that the Kaiser is not indiscreet in any outbursts, especially about the Third Reich.
There is news of a British spy in the village and audiences do not have to be particularly astute to realise that it will obviously be Mierke, the maid. While she is in a relationship with Captain Brandt, she steals off to the village to meet the pastor who sends messages to Britain and receives instructions. And the captain follows into the town.
He begins to doubt his loyalties in his relationship with Mierke but there is to be a significant event. Himmler announces that he is to visit the Kaiser and his wife and dine with them. Eddie Marsan and has only a few sequences as Himmler but makes the most of them and the sinister dialogue, especially a dinner table anecdote about experiments on young children and poisoning them. The Kaiser and his wife are in fact quite repelled. Captain Brandt then questions his loyalty to his country – with the Kaiser advising him to ask what his country really is.
The possibilities raised for the Kaiser and his wife to go back to Berlin – but Himmler throws doubt on the idea. The security agents track down the radio signal and so, as you might imagine, the finale of the film is how to get the spy out of the mansion, out of danger after the pastor has been arrested and tortured. What is the Kaiser’s attitude towards the maid and her behaviour? What will Captain Brandt do?
And so, there is action adventure, symbolic of the microcosm of the film and World War II focused on small Dutch village and the Kaiser’s mansion.
This film, and its cast, should appeal to those who enjoy World War II stories, fact or fiction.
Australia, 2018, 90 minutes, Colour.
Jacqueline Mc Kenzie, Myles Pollard, Hayley Mc Elhinney?, Shannon Berry, Ben Mortley, Ryan Panizza, Shirley Toohey, Troy Coward.
Directed by John V.Soto.
The Gateway was not anything like what was expected. There was talk of science fiction, horror, making it sound like one of those selections for the B-Budget? films at horror festival.
Yes, it certainly is a science-fiction film but focused more on laboratory work, experiments with teleportation, discussions about multi-universes and parallel worlds, some science-fantasy. However, the film is also something of a domestic story, of tragedy in a family. It then moves towards more psychological drama, menace and threat in a marriage. And, all the time, exploring the possibilities of moving in and out of the parallel worlds.
The film was made in Western Australia on a small budget but generally looks very effectively and efficiently made. Perhaps the laboratories are somewhat simplified and might be said that security looks very lax! However, Jacqueline Mc Kenzie gives a strong performance as Jane Chandler, in charge of the teleporting experiments, assisted by a genially geeky Regg, Ben Mortley, and under threat from the powers that be with deadlines and budget cuts.
At home, Jane has a very nice husband-author, Matt (Myles pollard) and teenage son and daughter (not so very strong in acting for performance, undermining the family impact).
In the lab, the experiments concern the teleporting of an apple from one vehicle to another. But, when the apple disappears, Jane suspects it has gone somewhere else in the world and, trying to find out how and where, discovers that it has gone to one of those parallel universes. Contact is made. The locations in each world are the same, the persons are the same, real cases of alter egos.
All this moves briskly along but is jarred by Matt’s death in a road accident. So, when Jane gets to the lab in the other world, she meets the other Regg, and then meets the other Matt (with Myles Pollard doing quite a significantly different Matt while remaining the same).
Since this is a dramatic thriller, and Matt comes back to her own world with Jane, it will not be smooth sailing – although that is what it seems for some time, the family keeping the secret of his still being alive.
The climax moves to a combination of Jane being menaced, moving from one world to another, trying to deal with the different Matt, getting the help of the new Regg, even her getting to visit another parallel universe.
This works well enough as an interesting entertainment – although the final 30 seconds are somewhat disconcertingly unnecessary. Best to forget about them and just remember the dynamic of the film itself.
US, 2018, 111 minutes, Colour.
David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Sharlto Copley, Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried, Harry Treadaway, Yul Vazquez, Bashir Shallahuddin.
Directed by Nash Edgerton.
Back in the day, Gringo was one of those white Americans who ventured into Mexico or other Latin American countries, the term of identification but not necessarily complementary. This film breaks through that barrier. The central Gringo in this film is African- American with a family coming from Nigeria. To the Mexicans, he is a Gringo.
Much of this film is set in Mexico and, as often with action films, shows us the evil and violence of the drug cartels. The cartels, their chiefs and their thugs, the murders, the attacks on the police, might seem an exaggeration until we read the headlines of contemporary Mexico and the statistics about deaths, the statistics of murders in connection with the drug cartels.
So, with this as a basis, Gringo begins in California but soon moves to Mexico. The context is pharmaceutical companies in the US and their double dealings, and one of the executives, being victimised, and sent down to Mexico – the film opening sequence having him phoning the bosses in America, screaming that he has a gun at his head, and that his attackers want $5 million. Actually, this is rather unexpectedly enjoyable when we finally overcome the “two years earlier” flashbacks and come to the scene itself. Not as expected.
The star of the film, David Oyelowo has tended to have serious roles, Martin Luther King in Selma, the King of Botswana in A United Kingdom. His agent may have sent him this screenplay and encouraged his desire to do some comedy as well is something in an action show. He is Harold, working for the pharmaceutical company, with a Joel Edgerton as his boss as well as Charlize Theron as his cold, calculating partner. Harold does not realise his own marriage (with Thandie Newton) is on the rocks. He suspects there is something wrong with the company, is able to download some files, he is sent to Mexico on business but to be scapegoated. Which leads to the opening sequence not being as expected!
So, there are cartel bosses, ruthless thugs, go-betweens from the company to the cartel, torture, killings, the whole Mexican cartel thing…
Meanwhile, a young Englishman is caught up in local drug deals and is sent to Mexico to recover some samples – from a prison, but originating from that pharmaceutical company. He works in a music shop and decides to invite the salesgirl to Mexico with him. They are played by Harry Treadaway and Amanda Seyfried. And their connection with Harold? They happened to be staying in the same hotel where he is hiding out… and then some!
The comic and the serious are blended together with Harold trying to escape, the cartel capo thinking that he is actually the boss of the company and therefore trying to abduct him, Harold using his wits and sometimes a gun and a car crash to elude capture. In the meantime, his boss’s brother, thuggish but involved in Christian charitable works, is hired to bring Harold back to the US. The brother, again serious and comic, as well as having a long discussion with Harold about Jesus and the relative betrayals by Judas and Peter, is played by Sharlto Copley.
More accidents, more tangles, the young woman helping Harold, her boyfriend in trouble going to the prison, and exposes and double-dealing in the office in the US – with Charlize Theron, both icy and seductive, almost auditioning to be Lady Macbeth, while Joel Edgerton does his usual reliable performance.
Entertaining in its roughhouse way, as well as its comic way, as long as you don’t take it too seriously while, in fact, the underlying issues in real life are very serious.
The film was directed by Nash Edgerton (Joel’s brother), a long-time expert in stunt work in films which serves him quite well here.
LIFE OF THE PARTY
US, 2018, 105 minutes, Colour.
Melissa Mc Carthy, Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan, Adria Arjona, Julie Bowen, Stephen Root, Luke Benward, Molly Gordon, Jacki Weaver, Falcone, Christina Aguilera.
Directed by Ben Falcone.
Probably, it all depends on how an audience takes to the comedy of Melissa Mc Carthy. She achieved some success on television but then moved to the movies with even greater success. She is a somewhat larger-than-life personality, even louder than life! She has combined with a number of actors, like Sandra Bullock in Heat, often providing a kind of Laurel and Hardy partnership with comic touches.
She sometimes acts with her husband, Ben Falcone, who has cowritten the screenplay with his wife, directs and has a nice cameo as a sympathetic Uber driver.
In a way, in Life of the Party, as Deanna, she is on her own. She does have Maya Rudolph as Christine, a bluntly-spoken best friend, Molly Gordon has her daughter at college, and is supported by a range of her daughter’s friends. Stephen Root turns up as her father in several sequences and, yes, that is Jacki Weaver as her mother.
This is a film of changing moods. It is also a women’s film in the sense that yes, there are some men in the cast, one particularly obnoxious (Deanna’s husband), one agreeable and charming (in love with or, infatuated, with Deanna) and a couple of husbands more or less in the background. The invitation is for women of all ages to identify with these characters, the comedy, and sadness and its consequences, the precipitation of a midlife crisis so unexpectedly.
While seeing her daughter off for the year at college, full of exuberant joy, she is bluntly told her husband that he wants to divorce her. Cataclysm in an instant. Her parents are sympathetic but her mother keeps insisting that she should make her a sandwich! She vents her feelings with hard played racquetball with her friend Christin. And then she decides to enrol in college to complete the degree in archaeology that she abandoned, on the advice of her husband, over 20 years earlier.
Then the film turns into one of those frat party comedies, raucous parties, obnoxious young girls who feel superior to everyone else, the strange group of her daughter’s friends and her getting on so well with them. Her daughter comes to terms with her mother being at college, the same college, but changes her make up, her hairstyle, her clothes. And then Deanna goes extrovert off the page, drinking, dancing, a one night stand with the nice young man, then trying to break it to him that they should break off but, in the library, not succeeding.
But there are some bitter moments, comic for the audience but not for the participants when they go before an official to discuss questions of division of property – with the rule that they must address the arbitrator rather than their opposites at the table, and the poor woman officiating experiencing all the barbs and angers.
It doesn’t seem to be in character at one stage when Deanna gets up to make her presentation for her course and becomes awkward, tongue-tied, sweaty, desperately in need of a glass of water, collapsing on the floor. She seemed to be too extrovertedly hardy for this to happen to her!
There is still one more let-go mayhem scene, smashing chaos let loose at her ex-husband’s wedding reception, to go before the end. No, not quite, the girls decide to raise money for Deanna’s course completion, which her parents are prepared to pay for, but the idea is to have a party to end all parties. Bad luck, that is the night when Christina Aguilera is performing with everybody going to the concert. Brainwave, advertise that Christina will turn up to the party. Will she? Won’t she? We all know that she will – but there is an amusing reason why she does come.
Graduations, happy together, power to the women!
LOST IN PARIS/ PARIS PIEDS NUS
Belgium, 2016, 84 minutes, Colour.
Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Emmanuelle Riva, Pierre Richard.
Directed by Abel and Gordon.
Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon are something of a cinema treasure and, like much treasure, has not been open to the public. A great pity. They made some short films but their features, Rumba and The Fairy, would go on many audiences lists after they see Lost in Paris – the French title more evocative, Barefoot in Paris.
The two have been married since the 1980s, meeting through their love of the Circus. Belgium is their base. However, Fiona Gordon is actually Canadian but was born in Australia. She is obviously proudly Canadian because Canada and her character as a Canadian feature strongly in Lost in Paris.
The film is a droll comedy. However, audiences searching for raucous comedies should not look here. These films are much more subtle even when a lot of the action is slapstick. It is as if they were paying homage to the silent comedies and the type of comic performances from the time of Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The acting is quite stylised, quite a lot of mime, comic postures, exaggerated situations (early in the piece, a door is opened to an office during a blizzard and everybody performs in mime being blown at precarious angles on their chairs by the blizzard, covered in snow, resuming normal positions when the door is finally able to be shut).
There are words in the film and there is a reliance on music, from Shostakovich to Erik Satie and more contemporary songs. However, the delight is in the stylised performances, not only of the central characters, of so many of the others during the action. They include a Canadian Mountie in Paris whom Fiona keeps encountering, her aunt’s exasperated neighbour at the laundromat looking for his socks, and a nurse caring for the elderly, a group of diners in fashionable restaurant (who keep bouncing in their seats as the sound system booms).
Fiona comes from Canada to seek her aunt in Paris, goes through an extraordinary number of adventures including falling into the River Seine, twice. Her aunt is played by veteran actress Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Leon Morin Priest and, Oscar-nominated in her 80s for Amour). She enters vigorously into the character of the ageing lady, not quite with it. At one stage she meets Norman, played by veteran French comic actor, Pierre Richard. There is a delightful interlude when they are sitting on a park bench, the music starts, and the focus is on the pair of feet tapping in time to the music and an entertaining choreography.
Speaking of choreography, there is also a delightful dance sequence in the fashionable restaurant showing that while Dominique and Fiona can do very awkward comedy, their dancing and movement has great finesse.
Dom lives on the street, in the tent, scrounging garbage bins, coming across some of Fiona’s goods and backpack, surfacing on the Seine, and, by chance, encounters her at the restaurant. They are attracted but not willing to acknowledge it. They have a number of adventures, especially getting to the aunt’s funeral – only to find that it is not the aunt. So, the destination of the film, though they are lost in Paris in some ways, is to find the aunt and a happy, if comic ending.
One of the best things about the screenplay is that small details at various times become very important in the later development of the plot.
Most of the action seems to take place on the Right Bank of the Seine – but, Fiona gives more meaning to the word gauche in her character.
MY FRIEND DAHMER
US, 2017, 107 minutes, Colour.
Ross Lynch, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Alex Wolff, Vincent Kartheiser.
Directed by Michael Mayer.
Many of the audience will have some awareness of Jeffrey Dahmer, a notorious American serial killer who, in 1991, as the end of the film indicates, confessed to the murder of 17 men. There have been documentaries and some feature films about Dahmer himself and his serial killing. The danger always is the possibility of prurient curiosity from the audience being met by some sensationalism. While there is curiosity for the audience for this film, it is not sensationalist but, of course, given the foundation in fact, it is very disturbing.
The screenplay is based on a book by one of Jeffrey Dahmer school friends, Derf Backderf.
The setting is a town in Ohio, in Middle America, 1978. Dahmer is in high school, a loner. The opening sequence immediately sets a tone, Dahmer sitting by himself in the school bus, kids in the background playing 20 questions, suggesting issues of mysterious identity. Dahmer also looks out the window at a doctor who is jogging along the street, going to the back of the bus to watch him, the driver demanding that he sit down. Plenty of suggestions for audience reflection already.
So, this is a portrait of Dahmer over several months, culminating in his graduation from high school.
Once the audience sees the family, it is not difficult to realise that there could be quite some psychological problems which need attention. The mother (Anne Heche, not immediately recognisable) has mental problems, erratic behaviour, hectic and screaming one minute, loving the next. The father is much more quiet, reclusive in his laboratory, trying to cope and finding it more and more difficult, and an eventual divorce. There is a younger brother, David, presented ordinarily enough.
Dahmer has slightly stooped shoulders, walks in a kind of shuffle, mainly avoids people although he plays tennis and plays an instrument in the band. He avoids the school bullies. However, in some strange behaviour in the library, feigning and mercilessly mocking palsy and epileptic seizures, he is taken up by a group of the boys who think this is very funny and clever, continually urge him to repeat the performances, in the school corridors and, as a culmination to their fun, to behave in a berserk palsy fashion in the local Mall.
This does give some affirmation to Jeffrey, coming out of himself a little more, his father urging him to lift weights to improve his physique and helping to make friends. But Jeffrey is seen to have his own laboratory, a hut in the woods where he experiments with roadkill, saying that he is interested in bones and structure. His father, however, smashes his equipment and dismantles the hut.
The prom is coming up and Jeffrey invites, awkwardly and hesitantly, a young girl to go with him, though, at the dance, he is even more awkward and goes home.
He graduates, his mother and David going off to the grandparents because his father will be at the ceremony – and is present and gives him the gift of a car.
The film ends with sinister suggestions. Backderf, the author of the memoir, gives Jeffrey a lift in his car, noticing blood on his hands (the audience having seen Jeffrey with a knife and a dog). Jeffrey is menacing to his friend but resist the impulse. Finally, he offers lift to a shirtless hitchhiker on the road after deliberating as to what he should do – fade to black and information that the hitchhiker was never seen again and the further information about Dahmer’s confession.
The screenplay offers suggestions, cues, possibilities for the explanation of Dahmer’s psyche, impulses, killings.
US, 2018, 110 minutes, Colour.
Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Rhianna, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Richard Armitage, James Corden, Dakota Fanning, Elliot Gould, Griffin Dunne, Elizabeth Ashley, Mary Louise Wilson, Marlo Thomas, Dana Ivey, Matt Damon, Carl Reiner, Anna Wintour, John Mc Enroe, Katie Holmes, Kim Kardashian West.
Directed by Gary Ross.
Many people might have missed the news that Danny Ocean had died in 2018. (That Danny Ocean, played by Frank Sinatra in the 1960s, by George Clooney in later times.) We actually see his grave and his sister, Debbie, released from prison after five years or more actually sits there, at first taunting him, later toasting him! Apparently, heists were in the family blood.
So, that means no Oceans 14. We now go back to Oceans Eight, in this age of remakes with women taking previous men’s roles. Strangely enough, the film was cowritten and directed by a man, Gary Ross. However, the cast has quite some exhibitions of women’s power.
We meet Debbie, Sandra Bullock, tearfully reassuring the parole officer that she will be very good when she gets out of prison. Not a chance. Almost immediately we see her pulling a con in a fashionable New York store, pulling another one pretending to be a tourist stranded and having to take back the room she and her husband were staying in, which she comfortably occupies. It seems she has been planning a huge heist for all the time she was in prison, refining the details month by month till it all seemed the perfect heist. Spoiler alert – of course, it will be.
She meets up with her old friend Lou, chef and bikie, Cate Blanchett, and confides the plan to her. Lou is persuaded of the plausibility and they go about auditioning five other women with expertise ranging from knowledge of diamonds, IT interventions, catering management, pickpocketing and costume designing. It also offers a multi--ethnic cast, Mindy Kaling from India, Awkwafina with an Asian background, Rhianna with African- American contribution. Sarah Paulson is from the US tradition while Helena Bonham Carter, Irish accent included, is from Northern Ireland.
Part of the entertainment is watching all the women in action and their expertise, the planning of the detail of a robbery of a necklace from the neck of Anne Hathaway during the traditional First Monday in May party and exhibition at the Metropolitan, New York. (With the guest list of celebrities in the cast, from Anna Wintour to Kim Kardashian West, it may well have been filmed on location at the 2017 May Monday.)
As with the other Oceans films, there is an enormous amount of detail in the planning of the heist and the preparations as well as the split-second timing. That is one of the most interesting aspects of the film, seeing the plan go into complex action and go without a hitch. Or, rather, the hitches are part of the plan!
Just as we might have thought the film would come to an end, an insurance investigator from London, James Corden, turns up to interview everyone involved. So, after the heist, there are some other complications – and, finally, quite a complication that nobody might have anticipated and once again the split second timing for the exercise of this particular heist.
As with this kind of film, it is a glorification of crime – but always with tongue in cheek. And, the cast of the women is quite impressive.
SOLO, A STAR WARS STORY
US, 2018, 135 minutes, Colour.
Alden Ehrenreich, Amelia Clark, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bethany, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge?, voices of: Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt.
Directed by Ron Howard.
A solo Solo story. So low in early box office returns, a major financial disappointment. Moving away from the wordplay, expectations of any Star Wars film, in the series or spin-off, are very high. But audiences didn’t flock to Solo as hoped for. Some suggested that it was released too soon after the previous episode in the series. Some suggested, and this has a point, that the lack of a strong adventurous female presence meant that it lacked an overall appeal.
But, the focus has to be on Han. And, for those who wondered about his name, Solo, and for those who didn’t, there is a scene where he is leaving his dark planet to enlist in the Empire’s air force and is questioned about his name. He has only the name, Han. And, he is alone – and so the official designates him Han Solo.
Alden Ehrenreich shows some courage in taking on the role. We all know that he has to grow into Harrison Ford, not an easy task for anyone. However, he gives it his best, young, rather cheeky, adventurous, eager for risks.
As regards the plot, long ago in the faraway galaxy, a lot of things are comparatively modern. While young Han is involved in some shady activities and is really attracted to Qi’ra (Emilia Clark), he is quickly involved in a car chase that looks like any other thriller chase only a bit more spectacular and crash-worthy. He is separated from Qi’ra, does his training in the air force, joins in battles – after all this is Star Wars.
However, he is caught up in some confusion and comes to the attention of Tobias Beckett, a space adventure and smuggler, along with his associate, Val (Woody Harrelson always welcome, Thandie Newton unfortunately killed off rather quickly). He joins them in an enterprise which provides the most spectacular part of the film, a raid on the super train, travelling through snowy and icy mountains, often on the edge of the cliffs, turning from horizontal to vertical towards its destination. The group is to steal some chemicals and, with great risks and special effects, they do so but not as intended.
They have been commissioned by Dryden Vos (a sinister Paul Bettany) and who should be in his entourage but Qi’ra. The adventurers offer to do another robbery and Qi’ra is sent to share the adventures with them. Plenty of expected Star Wars stuff here. But, there is something of a difference because Han, at one stage, is thrown down into a muddy pit and forced to fight a seeming monster – who, when washed, turns out to be none other than Chewbacca. A welcome return.
There are some twists in the plot, some goodies are really baddies and some expected baddies who turn out to be goodies – one of them are female warrior but coming in fairly late to the film.
There have to be some betrayals, there have to be some confrontations, the villain has to be thwarted – and, somehow or other those in control of the Empire have to have their say.
Partly a happy ending but, of course, an ending that the film is about Han will not be Solo but we might expect a Duo companion piece.
THE SONG KEEPERS
Australia, 2017, 87 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Naina Sen.
Most Australians would have heard of the Lutheran mission established in the 19th century at Hermannsburg, 1877, south-east of Alice Springs. One of the earliest Christian groups to work with aborigines and, while Christianising them, respecting their rights and fostering local languages, protecting their rights, especially at the time of the Stolen Generation. Albert Namatjira came from Hermannsburg. One of the features of Lutheran worship was the tradition of German hymns.
Over the years, especially in the middle of the 20th century, women’s choirs were established at Hermannsburg and in various settlements, Arrarnta and Pitjantjatjara. And the hymns were translated into the local languages. The choirs had sometimes long lives, sometimes short.
The screenplay of this documentary fills out some of this historical background – enhanced by the use of a number of photos from the period as well as clips from home movies.
Then, enter a larger than life character, Morris Stuart. As the audience is wondering about where he came from, not easily identified at once as indigenous to Australia, he is revealed as coming from Latin America, from Guiana and slave families there. He is a big man with something of James Earl Jones voice and resonance. He is also a man of music. Throughout the film he speaks to camera explaining that he moved to England, met an Australian tourist, Barbara, married her and they came to Australia, moving to the Northern Territory.
He is extroverted, affable, made contact with the women at Hermannsburg and the other towns. He wanted to revive the choirs and, for 20 years or more, has not only achieved that, but has affirmed the women and their love of their stories and land, their songs, as well as their Christian devotion in the Lutheran tradition. But he was more ambitious for the women and their singing.
There is quite a lot of music throughout the film, a number of the hymns. There are there are practice sessions, rehearsals for concerts, performance. Most of the women had been in choirs earlier but responded to Morris and, despite their age and the difficulties of living in the far-flung settlements, they bond together to make the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir. There are some men, the local activist as well as a young man whose grandfather was in choirs.
And there are a lot of interviews and storytelling spread throughout the film, many of the women having a chance to talk to camera about themselves, their lives, their music. These interviews offer pleasing opportunities for appreciating the women, their lives and their culture.
But at the core of the film is a tour to Germany by the choir. Maurice, assisted by Barbara, gathers the women together for rehearsals, planning a program of songs, contacting Lutheran churches in Germany and, an adventure for the women, the plane trip to Melbourne, Melbourne to Frankfurt and then travelling around Germany. We see the countryside, a touch of the travelogue, through the eyes of the women who have not lived in any towns or country like this.
The Lutheran communities throughout Germany come to the churches, appreciate the singing, respond very well to Morris who conducts with some vigour. The congregations prove genial hosts to the women for this memorable tour.
This is another documentary, like Gurrumul, like Westwind, which offer tributes to indigenous music makers but offers a wider audience both in Australia and overseas, find opportunities to get to know these traditions better.
TEA WITH THE DAMES
UK, 2018, 84 minutes, Colour.
Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Joan Plowright.
Directed by Roger Michel.
If you ever wanted to sit in on a conversation, chat between the four famous Dames, this is definitely the opportunity. Actually, there are very little tea seen, if any, but rather water and champagne! The original title, seen on the clapper boards is the quote from South Pacific, Nothing Like a Dame.
The four senior actresses, in their 80s, agreed to go to Joan Plowright’s home in the countryside and to sit down and talk. There are some conversation with the filming crew, some of the new technicians at their work, and some questions from director, Roger Michel (best known for such films as Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, My Cousin Rachel).
The conversation begins outside in the garden, a sunny afternoon – but rain soon started to fall and everybody having to adjourn inside. And the conversation is very entertaining, the four ladies laughing with great gusto at some of the stories – and the audience somehow rather empathising so strongly that they also laugh at times with great gusto.
The film is based on anecdotes. And it is supported by quite a number of photos, some home movies, some sequences from televised plays, some film clips. In the short amount of time, there are quite a number of clips but are many in the audience would be hoping for even more.
Each of the actresses has quite a distinctive personality. Joan Plowright is the matriarch. She is legally blind, with hearing aids, still bears herself with great dignity, being assisted by a walking stick as well as her daughter guiding her. Questions are asked about her marriage to Laurence Olivier, her status as Lady Olivier, her meeting with the actor, her appearance in The Entertainer, subsequent appearances as well as the story of their children, the travels, his work in the National Theatre. And there are glimpses of Joan Plowright’s appearances on stage and on television. In some ways she is rather proper but she also has a sense of fun and is enjoying the conversation and the memories.
Eileen Atkins is less well-known than the other three women but has had a distinguished career on stage, on television, in cinema. She speaks about her childhood, dancing, moving to acting, appearing in some kind of burlesque. She comments on her stage experience and the actors she has performed with, including her first husband, actor Julian Glover. She has something of a sardonic tone, especially about her appearance, not pretty, but having a talent for acting and enjoying her career. Interestingly, when asked what she would change from her past, she says she would be less angry and less confrontational – something which doesn’t quite appear so strongly during the conversation.
Maggie Smith probably has the widest reputation, beginning in films in the 1950s, having good roles internationally, in the UK and in the US. She won an Oscar in 1969 for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, winning another in the 1970s as Best Supporting Actress in California Suite. And, all the time, she was appearing on stage. She has quite a lot of comment, partly teasing Joan Plowright, of how severe Laurence Olivier was with her, with some clips from various performances including the stage and film version of Othello (where, in close-up, he seems rather a ham). With a stage career of more than 50 years, Maggie Smith is particularly well-known. But this film does not include many striking performances including those for playwright, Alan Bennett. She is asked about her relationship with her first husband, Robert Stephens, and there are some scenes of them acting together in a novel card would play. While he had many difficulties, including alcoholism, she says she prefers to remember the happy times. (She knows that she has not had time to look at all of Downton Abbey even though they gave her a box set!)
For the last 20 years, Judi Dench has been quite a significant stage and screen presence. She had performed on stage for many decades, part of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s. There are also photos and sequences of her performance in Miracle Plays in the early 1950s. With the flashbacks and the clips from plays, she has had quite a range of performances from Cabaret to Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra. There are scenes from Mrs Brown which brought her to the attention of the world of cinema, winning an Oscar the following year for her portrait of Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love. There are clips from Tea with Mussolini (Joan, Maggie and Judi), from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Judi and Maggie). She has quite a sense of humour, laughing vigorously at so many of the stories – and a surprising angry swearing at an insensitive carer! There are also pictures of her with her husband, Michael Williams, in their televisions series A Fine Romance and on stage.
The conversation ranges widely. It is not a portrait or study in depth. Rather, the audience sees the actresses in themselves, in their performances, in the changes over the decades. They do have quite a lot of commentary about performing, being apprehensive and fearful, techniques, the effect of experiences. There is also a sequence for each of them when they were made Dames, presented by the Queen or by Prince Charles.
This is a pleasure of a film – but, something of a pleasurable treasure for those who admire the actresses.
US, 2018, 97 minutes, Colour.
Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Elaine Tan.
Directed by Jason Reitman.
A film with which female audiences will identify, especially mothers, and, even more especially, mothers coping with young children. Tully is also a film with which a male audience might not immediately identify (a bit like some of the husbands in this film) – but Tully is definitely a film they ought to watch.
Diablo Cody, and to play with her name, has a devilish kind of ability to combine the serious and the comic (Juno, Young Adult), she has written a screenplay that is close to the bone in its seriousness but also provokes the audience to smile, even laugh, despite themselves. The film is directed by Jason Reitman who also directed Charlize Theron in Young Adult.
And, despite the title, which refers to the engaging of a night nanny who is hired for the family night shift, and her name is Tully, played quite exuberantly and charmingly by Mackenzie Davis. The centre of the film is Marlo. And Charlize Theron, who can definitely be glamorous in films and has been over the last 20 years, also excels at roles which are not glamorous at all. She won an Oscar in 2003 for her portrayal of the serial killer, definitely not glamorous, Aileen Wournos, Monster.
At the opening of the film, she is very pregnant, hassled by all the care of the house, by her two young children, a daughter aged nine and a younger boy who is described throughout the film as “quirky”, overstimulated by external sources, sometimes an exasperating and burdensome child whom, each night, Marlo gently brushes. This is being recommended by a therapist to calm her son down. Her husband, Drew, Ron Livingston amiable but a man who could be far more attentive than he realises, is supportive, but…
Rather exasperating for Marlo in her condition is her affluent brother, Craig (Mark Duplass) and his wife who is prone to making blandly wearing comments that do nothing for Marlo’s patience. However, Craig does give the gift of money to hire a night nanny.
There is an exhausting collage (for the audience, let alone Marlo) of the three weeks after the birth of the daughter, Mia. There is the demanding routine of crying in the night, waking up, going to the baby, breastfeeding, putting the baby down, going back to bed, and the possibility of the routine happening all over again. Eventually, Marlo gives the night nanny a ring.
Tully, the nanny, is all that a nanny might be. Despite Marlo’s hesitations, Tully is wonderful with the baby, watches happily as Marlo breastfeeds, tidies up the house, becomes more of a friend and a confidante with some wise advice.
Sometimes there is a mixture of reality and fantasy, Marlo’s dreams with her son banging the back of the driver’s seat in the car, scenes of a mermaid and an underwater rescue from a waterlogged car, the fact that Marlo’s maiden name was Tully, sexual encouragement for Drew.
Perhaps Tully is too good to be true. But her message, the hopeful message of the film, is that a strong inner self should emerge to confront the difficulties of day by day, and that husbands become much more aware of the reality of their wives’ experiences and support and for them. No quarrel with that.