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Film Reviews March 2012

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SIGNIS REVIEWS MARCH 2012



50/50
ANY QUESTIONS FOR BEN
ARTIST, The
BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL for the elderly and the beautiful, The
BUCK
CARNAGE
CHRONICLE
CONTRABAND
DANGEROUS METHOD, A
DEVIL INSIDE, The
GONE
HEADHUNTERS
JOHN CARTER
ONE FOR THE MONEY
PROJECT X
SAFE HOUSE
THIS MEANS WAR
TYRANNOSAUR



50/50

US, 2011,
Joseph Gordon Leavitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard,
Directed by Jonathan Levine.

The makers and marketers had a lot of trouble finding just the right title for this film – and for audience acceptability. It is 50% (perhaps a bit more) about terminal illness and 50% (perhaps a little less raucous comedy). Working titles included ‘Live with it’ and ‘I’m living with cancer’. The trouble may be that those who want the raucous comedy (with the promise of Seth Rogen sex dialogue blurted out in his usual way) may find the illness theme too much of a downer, while those who are interested in the illness and treatment may find the other aspects too raunchy for their taste.

So, what they came up with for the title is 50/50 which does cover all bases. The statistic is that given to Adam (Joseph Gordon Levitt in a quite moving performance, mostly quietly and accepting of his situation) of whether the treatment for his cancer will be successful or not. The audience lives with that statistic throughout the film.

Adam is 27, fairly ordinary, a television program maker, who has an overwhelming mother (Anjelica Huston) and a father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s (Serge Houde). He is living with a seemingly attractive young woman, Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard). His best friend is Kyle (Seth Rogen whose dialogue and delivery remind us of his character and performance in such films as Knocked Up).

A lot of the film is not just about Adam coping with the diagnosis and the chemotherapy but about how his relatives and friends deal with it, some well and some not.

He is assigned a therapist, a 24 year old who is researching her thesis. This makes for some very awkward scenes as the polite and common-sensed Adam works with Katherine (Anna Kendrick) and her theoretical approach and some of her gaffes.

50/50 has a lot of things going for it, especially a young person facing up to the possibility of dying without having lived a great deal of life. The behavior of mother, best friend, girlfriend and doctors means a range of reactions which ring true – but also challenge us as to how we react in this kind of situation (worried about ourselves and feelings before the state of mind of the person diagnosed).

Director, Jonathan Levine, has been unpredictable in his choice of projects, from the horror story, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, to the odyssey of a young man in 1990s New York City, The Wackness.

We may not always approve of how Adam and his friend, Kyle, try to cope with Adam’s illness, but we will realise that coping with terminal illness is not something one does according to a worked-out plan.


ANY QUESTIONS FOR BEN?

Australia, 2012,
Josh Lawson, Rachael Taylor, Daniel Henshall, Felicity Ward, Christian Clark.
Directed by Rob Sitch.

The title comes from a session at a school where past students come back to address present students about their life and work. Alex (a vivacious Rachael Taylor) captures their attention with her explanation of her aid work in Yemen and other countries. Ben (Josh Lawson) talks about product campaigns. The students want to ask her questions. When the headmaster (a typically enjoyable cameo from director Rob Sitch) asks ‘Any Questions for Ben’, hands go down, there is not a one.

Of course, the main concern of the title is whether Ben has any questions for himself. At the opening, he sees himself as living the good life – even the better life. He has an apartment, a solid job, a flow of girl friends, the possibilities of being out and around socially whenever he wants. By the end of the film, especially when he botches his relationship with Alex, the questions arise, especially echoing that for Alfie back in the 1960s, ‘What’s it all about?’.

Ben is 27, turning 28. The film is geared towards that audience who, one hopes, will identify with Ben by the end. Because it has been written by the team who brought us The Castle, The Dish and many entertaining television programs, it is a perspective of 40 somethings who have been through all of this. Which makes it that bit more interesting, eventually, for those who are beyond 27 (or can’t remember it).

Ben is fairly casual with ex-girlfriends (and we meet a few) and stupidly casual with Alex. He has a best mate, Andy (Christian Clark) who shares his flat but who has little conception of what Ben is talking about when he begins to question. But, he does have a best friend, Nick (Daniel Henshall who won so many awards for a completely opposite character, the serial killer, John Bunting, in Snowtown), a lawyer, but rather a simple soul who has values in his happy life. His future wife is played with sense and humour by Felicity Ward.

So, in a way, we meander through Ben’s life with him, his fickleness, his visits to his parents, his being advised, sometimes badly, by friend, Sam (Lachy Hulme), at his work, wanting to change jobs, wanting to move, unable to contact Alex…

There is some humour, of course, a mixture of interesting and less interesting episodes, some impatience with Ben, which means that, despite its good intentions, it is rather a hit or miss slice of life.


THE ARTIST

France, 2011,
Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller,
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius.

The surprise winner of the 2011 Oscar for Best Film as well as for Best Director, Score and the Best Actor, Jean Dujardin. And winner of a host of other awards around the world.

The appeal? A film in black and white? Silent for words (except at the end) but not for sounds? A nostalgic memoir of the years in Hollywood for the transition from silent films to sound? A genial, if sometime despairing hero, a charming and bright leading lady? Success and failure? All of the above – and many more.

Actually, the basic plot is not original. It is a variation on A Star is Born, where the actor’s career diminishes while his younger partner’s career takes off and flourishes.

There is a great deal of enjoyment in the opening far-fetched 20s adventure on screen in one of those old picture palaces. Then the applause and the ego of the actor at the expense of the actress and the despair of the director. And all done, silently, in that theatrical miming style of performance.

Jean Dujardin shines on the screen, even when he is being egotistical, when he is desperately filming another old-fashioned silent adventure, when he is caught up with the ingénue, Peppy Miller, and arguing with his wife, his director, even his loyal chauffeur. But, he is always genial with Uggie, the dog, who is also a scene stealer.

Berenice Bejo (who is the director’s wife) shines on screen in every appearance, in her chance photo for Variety and her audition, her films (in the Clara Bow vein of the times), her singing and dancing. She also shines in her devotion to George Valentin and her care for him in his despair.

So, arresting characters, a chance to look back at Hollywood of old and Hollywood in transition, the age-old stories of flops and successes – and, with zest at the end, of new beginnings.


THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL for the elderly and beautiful

UK, 2012,
Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Walton, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, Diana Hardcastle.
Directed by John Madden.

If you don’t enjoy this pleasing story of elderly British in Jaipur, responding to India, you are probably a stone – or, maybe, young!

First of all, this is an excellent cast, British character actors at their best. And they are well served by an amusing, often witty, script by Ol Parker who has adapted a novel by Deborah Moggach, These Foolish Things. And, apart from the opening which introduces the main characters in a less than attractive Britain, the rest of the film was shot in India, colourful and full of verve.

We find seven people who are having difficulties in England and in need of some kind of move. For most of them it is going away from home, job or, even, family. One has need for an immediate hip replacement operation. They all come across a brochure advertising the hotel of the title – the brainwave of a young man (gifted with enthusiastic dreaming but not with managerial skills): just as so many industries outsource to India, why not the care for the elderly?
Anyway, off goes this motley group, only to find it (you’ve guessed it), exotic and best are the last words you would use to describe the hotel. But, a saying is repeated, the optimistic ‘Everything will be all right at the end. So, if it is not all right, it is not yet the end'!

As the visitors begin to adapt to Jaipur, so do we (though there is one resister in the group). One does tours and delights in India, two are after partners and have roving eyes, one gets a job tutoring at a Call Centre, one is searching for a long lost friend. This provides quite some emotional and entertaining action. But, all the central characters get at least one opportunity for some heavy emoting.

Judi Dench is at her quietly charming best. Maggie Smith (who needs the hip surgery) is prejudiced and unashamed at her xenophobia, effectively delivering some bigoted lines in dominating form. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton are a couple, he discovering a new world, she resisting it. Celia Imre and Ronald Pickup are the two who are on the lookout for someone else in their lives. The Slumdog Millionnaire himself, Dev Patel, is credibly enthusiastic as the proprietor of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (who has to cope with a dominant mother who disapproves of his love for a modern young woman who works at the call centre).

While the film is basically light entertainment, there is still enough depth in the dialogue and characterization to raise some more serious thoughts and feelings about ageing, care for the elderly – and taking advantage of opportunities in later years.

BUCK

US, 2011,
Buck Brannaman.
Directed by Cindy Meehl.

This is a most amiable documentary, all the more surprising because of the early hard life of its central character, Buck Brannaman. Buck is a horse trainer, one of the inspirations for The Horse Whisperer, and a consultant for that film.

Easygoing would be another word to describe the experience of watching Buck in action and learning about his story. First-time director, Cindy Meehl, obviously became an enthusiast as she went around after Buck to what he calls his ‘clinics’. These are sessions with a variety of clients (mostly in states like Montana, Wyoming or Texas) who want to learn how to handle their horses better and more humanely. This is what Buck is very good at. It is fascinating to see him communicate quietly with the horses, give them some leeway with the reins, touch them gently with cloths so that they are not afraid.

Actually, Buck makes comparisons with the development of children in his comments on how the horses react and overcome their apprehensions and fears.

Which is important for Buck. He and his brother, Smokie, travelled the west at rodeos and other events when they were young children, doing rope tricks. They worked with their father who was a hard taskmaster and used to beat them physically. When their mother died, they were taken into foster care and Buck has good memories of Mr Shirley and is in touch with Mrs Shirley (who tells a joke during the final credits – which hosts a gallery of photos). There is not much mention of Smokie and what happened to him after he grew up, something we wonder about.

Friends and clients are warm in their telling of their experience with Buck. Particularly genial is Robert Redford who recounts his experiences with Buck in the filming of The Horse Whisperer, with Buck talking amusingly about the stunt horses who couldn’t do their stunts whereas his untrained horse, with his guiding, finished a delicate scene with Scarlett Johansson in 20 minutes.

We see Buck’s family, though he is on his travels around the west for most of the year, his wife accompanying him sometimes, his daughter doing her training with her father.

This is a very pleasing and hopeful portrait of a genial man.


CARNAGE

France/ Poland, 2011
Jodie Foster, Kate Winslett, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilley.
Directed by Roman Polanski.

Carnage is used to describe mayhem and consequent bloodshed. How could it apply to a very brief feature film (79 minutes), set in one room with four characters, two sets of parents who have come to discuss a school incident where one eleven year old has struck another on the face, destroying two teeth, in a kid’s argument?

But, it does.

The title of Yasmina Reza’s play was God of Carnage. One of the participants refers to God in this way, a pessimistic view of human nature and the consequences of disputes.

The film is directed by Roman Polanski who is nearing eighty. But, there is a visual energy in the film despite the confinement to the apartment (with moves to several rooms and the outside corridor) and the film’s reliance on words with its theatrical background. With a play, we can watch the whole stage and the ensemble or we can pick and choose which character we want to focus on and give full attention. With a film, the director does this for us. Some audiences may be unwilling, feeling they are being dictated to or manipulated. Others will go with the director’s and editor’s flow, looking and listening when there are close-ups or reaction shots, or a view of the group.

This is what happens here. It means that some dismiss the film as too stagey, too wordy, too confined. Others prefer to listen and follow the director’s intentions.

Visits can be ominous. Films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf helped audiences to listen to what was said, a flow of invective, note body language and gauge how conversation can descend into argument, into altercation, into hostility, into parties ganging up against the others, into self-revelation and alarming self-discovery.

This is what happens to the two New York couples who meet to come to terms with the behaviour of their sons.

Jodie Foster, cultured, politically correct, protective, and John C. Reilley, rough but amiable, conciliating, are Penelope and Michael, the parents of the victim. Kate Winslett, social, concerned, up-market, and Christoph Waltz, smart lawyer, detached from the events, unwilling to be present, are Nancy and Alan, the parents of the aggressive boy. As they talk, return to the room instead of leaving, discuss, let bias rise, some intolerance, hostility (and not just between the two groups but, eventually, between husbands and wives) and some desperation.

The four actors are particularly good, sustaining the good manners, then succumbing to aggressive criticism. The talk is punctured and moved to action by two surprising moments. One is a sudden scene of vomiting which alters the dynamic of the relationships. The second is the tossing of a mobile phone into a vase of flowers. Most audiences will applaud this action since Alan has spent almost as much time on his phone discussing litigation as he has in giving attention to the behavior of his son (probably more).

Yasmina Reza, who also wrote the witty and word-conscious play, Art, has more than a way with words (translated here from the French), and has many an insight into relationships and behavior.

If you like Carnage, it would probably repay a second viewing and, especially, a second opportunity to listen to the interplay of ideas, emotions and words and to study the body language.


CHRONICLE

US, 2011,
Dane de Haan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly.
Directed by Josh Trank

Chronicle sounds a fairly straightforward title – though the film runs for only 84 minutes, rather a short time for a chronicle.

This is another hand-held camera story, allegedly using footage taken by Andrew (Dane de Haan), the central character, with his new camera. In the latter part of the film, other alleged footage from surveillance cameras and other sources is edited in. So, we are in the Blair Witch tradition, though the story takes us in quite a different direction.

All seems rather domestic at first: Andrew’s room, his alcoholic father, his ailing mother, school where he is put down all the time, a party where he irritates people by filming. His main friend is his cousin Matthew (Alex Russell) who tries to put the brakes on all the filming, hoping Andrew will get a life. He does, but the most hoped-for.

Matthew is joined by class president, Steve (Michael B. Jordan) as they explore a mysterious hole in the ground and ask Andrew to film. Something in the hole exercises a strange power and they become telekinetic as well as finding they can soar into the air.

Strong change of pace at this juncture.

What first seems something jokey and a bit of horseplay becomes something dangerous, fatal for one of the group. And Andrew seems to be taken over by the power, becoming extremely vindictive, cruel to friends and his many foes, ultimately becoming, not a superhero, but a supervillain. He could have become a Spiderman type for good but turns into the Green Goblin and the other evil characters from the Spiderman films.

The film becomes rather spectacular by the end as Andrew wreaks his revenge as well being destructive just because he can. He rationalizes his attitudes with theories of evolution and survival of the fittest, rather Nietschean (though Schopenhauer and Plato are quoted), an evil super-man beyond morality.

Chronicle was filmed in South Africa with quite some interesting special effects – South Africa did a very good job with District 9 and its effects some years ago.

Younger audiences will identify with the characters and the situations and then be challenged by Andrew’s behaviour. This one has proven popular and may be on its way to cult movie status.


CONTRABAND

US, 2012,
Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, David O’ Hara, Diego Luna, J.K. Simmmons.
Directed by Baltasar Kormakur.

Gritty is one of the words that a reviewer might grope for while watching Contraband. The story is gritty. The characters are gritty – and not easy to sympathise with. Most of them have had difficult lives, and where we catch up with them life is certainly not any easier.

The setting is New Orleans, especially the waterfront (and without the tourist glamour). Much of the action is at sea. There is a visit to Panama City (which looks quite up-to-date).

Most of the characters are involved in contraband, one way or another. A young man gets himself and his friend into trouble by dropping smuggled drugs into the sea when they are pursued by the authorities. Their dealer (Giovanni Ribisi at his most repellent) not only wants compensation, he uses the incident to force the older brother of the rash young man to resume what he used to do before he married and had a family. This is not only dangerous in terms of contraband and detection, but there are, of course, shady characters, violent characters, whose actions are unpredictable except for their nastiness. Gritty.

The story and the action, the threats and the violence, are all up to expectations. The film is a re-make of an Icelandic film of 2008, Reykjavik-Rotterdam?, and it is directed by award-winning Icelandic director and actor, Baltasar Kormakur (Jar City, A Little Trip to Heaven) who took the lead in Reykjavik-Rotterdam?. Perhaps that is why it seems tougher (and grittier) than the US equivalent.

Mark Wahlberg can do this kind of role without effort. Kate Beckinsale is his wife (and becomes victimized more than we might have anticipated). Working class people for whom life can always be a struggle (except when you have an ending like the one here with who gets away with what!). Lurking in a sinister way is Ben Foster who seems to be making a career of playing really unpleasant villains (The Mechanic, 3:10 to Yuma). J.K. Simmons is the captain of the ship carrying not only drugs but counterfeit cash from Panama as well.

It is all done very efficiently, but it is a dark kind of action show.


A DANGEROUS METHOD

UK/ Canada, 2011,
Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightly, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel,
Directed by David Cronenberg.

A Dangerous Method by John Kerr was the title of a book about the therapy methods employed by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, focusing on the processes of psychoanalysis, the client talking and the therapist listening. The book was used as a basis for a play by Christopher Hampton which he called The Talking Cure.

Christopher Hampton (whose plays and films include Dangerous Liaisons, The Secret Agent, Imagining Argentina, Cheri) has written the screenplay for this film based on his play. It has been directed by David Cronenberg who, for more than thirty years, has made a wide range of films, from horror science-fiction to psychological dramas like Spider, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.

The film has been promoted as dramatizing birth of psychoanalysis or the break between Freud and Jung. This is certainly the case, but there is much more. In fact, the attention is principally on Jung, his ideas, his work and his personal life. While Freud is present, he is seen in conjunction with his friendship for Jung and then their parting of ways. The screenplay reminds us of the differences between them, Jung from Switzerland, Freud from Austria, Jung wealthy, Freud poorer and with a large family, Jung Protestant, Freud Jewish.

It is important to realise that while the action of A Dangerous Method takes place over a ten year period to 1914, Freud was not to die until 1939, exiled from Austria to London. Jung did not die until 1961. Freud still had a great deal to achieve, but Jung’s main life work took place after the action of the film ends.

The other important characters in the film are Jung’s long-suffering and pardoning wife, Emma (Sarah Gadon), as well as Jung’s key patient, Sabine Spielrein, whom he treated, with whom he had an affair, who contributed to ‘freeing’ him from his rather strict, even repressed, persona. Another character is introduced, an eccentric psychological study who advocated a freedom from a morals-bound world, Otto Gross, played by Vincent Cassel.

One thing that should be said, is that the films looks very handsome indeed, recreating the elegant European settings pre-World War I and capitalizing on the scenic beauty of Switzerland.

What does the film have to offer on Freud and on Jung?

As played by Michael Fassbender (rather the opposite of his powerful performance as the sex addict in Shame), Jung is a dignified man, proper in dress and manner, fascinated by the human psyche and the ‘talking cure’ for his patients. He is married and beginning a family, more devoted to his wife than loving her. At this stage of his career, it is the psychoanalysis and its possibilities that interest him and so draw him to Freud, correspondence and, eventually, a visit to Vienna and a 13 hour conversation with the master. Freud respects Jung, seeing him as a kind of surrogate son or nephew.

The complication for Jung’s life is his work with the Russian, Sabina Spielrein. She is played with some force by Keira Knightly, especially in the early therapy scenes where her traumas take physical hold of her, strain, jutting chin, rigidity, and she eventually admits to masochistic feelings derived from her father’s beating her and humiliating her as a child. Nevertheless, she wants to study psychology and become a therapist (which, historically, she did, practising in Russia for almost thirty years before a round-up of Jews and Nazi execution early in World War II).

The further complication for Jung is Sabine’s transference of affections and Jung’s succumbing to her seduction and being transformed by her, worrying about professional ethics, about his wife and her pregnancies, deceiving Freud as to the truth of his relationship.

As played by Viggo Mortensen, Freud is the elder statesman of psychoanalysis, rather sure in his professional activities, his reputation and his ideas. He has a touch of the pompous. Which makes his break with Jung a matter of principle before emotion.

Students of psychology are familiar with Freud’s emphasis on more rigorous scientific methods in his approach to patients, his theories about the sexual origins of human behavior and sexuality in psychological understanding and healing, his excluding of religion and other ‘mystical’ aspects of the psyche from psychology. This is dramatised in several discussion sequences in the film and in the final correspondence. Jung is wary of the pan-sexual approach to personality. He also trusts in ‘the mystical’ and dreams which led him to pursue his work on archetypes.

Audiences not familiar with Freud and Jung except from hearsay may find the film rather difficult as they have to listen to conversations and watch therapy sessions. On the other hand, experts may find themselves arguing with the film’s treatment of particular events or particular issues and psychological niceties. However, the film is not a text book, nor a treatise, but a dramatization of a significant period (rather than their whole life’s work) in Freud’s life and formative years in the life and career of Jung.

It is not often that a mentally stimulating film like this comes along, and it is to be welcomed.

(In 1962, John Huston directed Montgomery Clift in Freud (which was sub-titled, A Secret Passion). An amusing – and more than amusing – flight of fancy had Freud treating Sherlock Holmes and Holmes learning something about detection from psychology in Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven Per Cent Solution (1976). The relationship between Jung and Sabina Spielrein was dramatized in The Soul Keeper (2002), with Iain Glenn as Jung and Emilia Fox as Sabina.)


THE DEVIL INSIDE

US, 2012,
Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth.
Directed by William Brent Bell.

It is almost forty years since the release of The Exorcist. Movie-makers and audiences have had an almost non-stop fascination with diabolic possession films and exorcisms. Fascination with ‘the dark side’? An indulgence in superstition? Morbid curiosity? Of course, those of a more sceptical frame of mind have an in-built resistance and can dismiss these films as harking back to medieval beliefs or treat the films as horror films and sit back in their seats with dismissive judgmental sensibilities.

Then there are those who are believers, who may have experienced possession and exorcism remotely, on television or in films, and wonder whether there is something in these bizarre stories and seemingly secret rituals.

In recent years, the Catholic Church has established a course in Rome for exorcists and those interested in these experiences of the devil. The course featured in the 2011 film with Anthony Hopkins, The Rite, and also features in this film.

The Devil Inside might be seen as a commercial rip-off of such films as The Rite – and it probably is. However, quite some thought has been given to the screenplay and its plausibility and checking out a lot of Catholic details. Critics will say that too little thought has been given to the screenplay – and with some justification concerning the ending since the film just stops (surprised laughter at the session I attended) with a more than melodramatic moment. Perhaps, the makers had run out of ideas and/or budget.

Again, the makers use the now tradition of The Blair Witch Project, disguising fiction as fact. They also do quite a bit of hand-held camera work to pretend that it is all authentic footage (often with dates and times indicated as in the Paranormal Activity series). It opens with a video of a crime scene walk through by detectives with commentary introducing the deaths of two priests and a nun during an exorcism of a housewife. After being declared criminally insane by the Connecticut courts, she was transferred to a Roman institution for the criminally insane. That was in 1989.

Now, in 2009, her daughter, Isabella, wants to understand what happens and decides to make a documentary. For the first part of the film, it continues in a documentary style, a film that you might see on television.

Isabella sits in on the course in Rome, which gives the film a chance to offer some thoughts on possession and raise questions about true possession and mental states. In the class are an American doctor become priest and an English priest whose uncle was an exorcist. They use technological equipment for their exorcisms and reveal that they are doing their work without church approval (with some comments in the vein of hierarchy cover-ups and bureaucratic mind-sets).

They take Isabella and her cameraman to an actual exorcism – echoes of The Exorcist with contortions, hurlings and prayer in English and Latin. Isabella agrees to a similar exorcism for her mother who has recognised her but is hostile – and has been officially declared mad rather than possessed.

By this time, the sceptic audience is probably in full scorn mode. The believers are wondering whether this can really happen. Those who have been following it sympathetically are hoping that the exorcism will be a success but their moviegoing experience is probably warning them that this is the stage where you surrender belief and just go with the ever-increasing melodramatic and violent flow. It actually does become more melodramatic than expected – and then that stop and the final credits.

It’s only a small-budget, 83 minute possession thriller so better not to make a mountain out of a mole hill. (In 2010, there was a Protestant/ Evangelical variation on this theme, The Last Exorcism). There is an initial disclaimer that the Vatican did not give any official approval of the film or help in its making!


GONE

US, 2012,
Amanda Seyfried, Dan Sunjata, Wes Bentley, Michael Pare.
Directed by Heitor Dhalia.

Gone is an abduction story. Amanda Seyfried plays Jill, trying to recover after being abducted two years earlier and escaping from her captor. However, she lives in dread that he will try to take her again.

She is not wrong. But, he takes her sister instead and then lures Jill back to the deep hole in the forest outside Portland, Oregon, where he had imprisoned her before. Though she has been on suicide watch and having therapy, she takes control of events when she discovers her sister missing. The police dismiss her claims because of her medical and mental history.

Most of the action takes place over the one day, with Jill’s discovery and then her quite skilful detection work to track down the criminal – the police could take lessons from her! It all builds up to a climax, of course, with Jill confronting her captor.

It’s a film that would have more impact on its female audience, especially younger women who would identify with Jill, both in her suffering the abduction and in her taking control of her life and the case.


HEADHUNTERS (HODEJEGERNE)

Norway, 2009,
Aksel Hennie, Nicolaj Coster- Waldau.
Directed by Morten Tyldum.

Headhunters is a novel by Jo Nesbo whose crime stories are beginning to be more prominent on bookshop shelves. This film might encourage this interest.

With its Norwegian settings, business and fraud plot, many audiences with be thinking of Stig Larsson and his Millennium series. However, the storytelling here is more direct, leaving the complications and twists until the end. In fact, the screenplay is exemplary in taking the audience step by step along the plot, each episode ending with a surprise or a thread that needs development – which does follow. This provides continued interest and curiosity and for some surprises.

During the credits, the central character, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) , explains (and the films shows) the steps needed for an art thief to go into a house and substitute a fake work of art for the real thing (and then sell it on the black market). This is the introduction to Roger, who comments on his short stature and his statuesque blonde wife, his good fortune (built on the profits from stealing) and his job as a headhunter, interviewing prospective executives for companies.

When a Danish businessman, Clas Greve (Nicolaj Coster- Waldau)comes from Holland and a prestigious company there to visist his wife’s gallery, Roger interviews him for his job. Greve claims to have a lost Rubens in his apartment. When Roger cases the apartment, he finds his wife’s mobile phone and subsequently rejects Greve’s application for the job.

The tone changes when the arrangements for selling the painting are upset. Some murders ensue and Roger is found under suspicion and attempting to escape the police. Of course, Greve is behind the pursuit and we learn why. After that, it is cat and mouse – and an ending which we may not have anticipated.

A caution for sensitive audiences. There is a vivid sequence in an outhouse when Roger tries to elude his pursuer. It may be too realistic for some, even though it is a strong point in the plot. There is also a car accident with some graphic close-ups of injured bodies.

But, on the whole, Headhunters is well-plotted, written and acted, a satisfying thriller of its kind.


JOHN CARTER

US, 2012,
Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Colllins, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, Mark Strong, James Purefoy;
Voices of Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Samantha Morton.
Directed by Andrew Stanton.

Andrew Stanton won Oscars for his animation classics, Finding Nemo and Wall- E. He won’t be up for many awards for John Carter.

The film has good intentions and an even bigger budget and is in 3D. However, while one would like it to be better, it is rather cumbersome in its storytelling. A pity, because many audiences will enjoy it, but could have enjoyed it more.

It is very much in the Star Wars tradition with its alien planet, its strange special effects characters and creatures, an action hero, and a lively princess, plenty of flying machines and battles.

The film is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story, A Princess on Mars, one of many stories he wrote (while not writing his Tarzan stories) about imaginary life on Mars. It opens in the Star Wars’ vein with futuristic-looking cities, space ship style planes for wars between rival cities, and the introduction of a power-hungry ruler (Dominic West) and the Therms, the elusive rulers of the universe, malicious beings who control power, set up rulers and then watch how populations clash and destroy themselves and their planets. Mark Strong (who seems to be in every other film) is the dignified but deadly chief Therm.

Then we are in New York City, 1881, rainy and dingy, while John Carter eludes a pursuer. Soon we are at his country estate with his nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs, discovering his uncle is dead and reading a manuscript he bequeathed him. This manuscript sends Edgar and us back to 1868 and the American west where former confederate cavalryman, John Carter, is not popular with northerners as he searches for gold. Escaping from Apaches, he finds a cave, a dying man and a medallion by which, when a formula is spoken, he is whisked to Mars.

The adventures on Mars involve his discovery by a community of creatures, The Tharks, his meeting the princess and helping her escape to home where she is to be married off to the power hungry ruler to save her city. Before she can be saved, John Carter has to endure a fight with giant white apes in the arena, defeat the usurping leader and rouse the Tharks to rescue the princess and her city.

So, plenty of adventure, plenty of effects and stunts, a solid British supporting cast, including Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy and Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church and Samantha Morton voicing the Thark characters. Taylor Kitsch, looking a bit Heath Ledgerish (though not moving towards Oscar nominations) is the American hero who comes in and, with some help, still shows how American heroes can come in and save the day, even on Mars.


ONE FOR THE MONEY

US, 2012,
Katherine Heigl, Jason O’ Mara, Dan Sunjata, Debbie Reynolds,
Directed by Julie Anne Robinson.

Stephanie Plum is the central character in a series of popular novels by Janet Evanovich. She is sometimes slow, sometimes fast and, as in this film, brings in her man.

At the opening, Stephanie’s voiceover tells us of her failures, marriage, keeping a job… but her grandmother, a sprightly, almost-80 Debbie Reynolds still acting with the same verve and cheeky lines, gets her a job at her cousin’s bail-bond firm. Her first target is a former boyfriend of whom she has bad memories, as has he of her because she broke his leg in a car accident.

It’s a mixture of crime solving and romantic comedy, the ups and downs of both.

Katherine Heigl is a strong screen presence – and is not as persuasive as slow Stephanie as smart Stephanie – and carries the film. Jason O’Mara? is the policeman who is accused of murder and has skipped bail. Stephanie tracks him down and heads for the happy ending we are sure is going to happen.

Light lite!


PROJECT X

US, 2012,
Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper,
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh.

Depressing viewing.

Other words that come to mind are: irresponsible, stupid, would-be lascivious (and sometimes succeeding), too frequent four-letter inanities…

For those who have not walked out, there is some interest towards the end, though it is also far-fetched, when a drug-fuelled dealer (whose garden gnome (full of extasy tablets) has been stolen by the teenagers who were organizing a party for a 17th birthday when the parents were away) arrives with a flame-thrower and destroys homes in a Pasadena street with SWAT, police and media all covering the mayhem.

However, any good will towards the film and its pseudo-documentary style in covering the party is lost when some slight apologies are mouthed but the film glorifies the mischief-makers as great guys, especially amongst their school friends – and the father even pleased that his previously-considered loser son had this in him. Final captions are cynical – this kind of film having no sense of irony.

And a thought. These are the future adults of America who will be part of occupying and peace-keeping forces. Many from other cultures must be scratching their heads in puzzlement as they watch this kind of thing.


SAFE HOUSE

US, 2012,
Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson,
Directed by Danial Espinosa.

National secret agencies, rogue operatives, surveillance and secrets – popular ingredients for espionage thrillers. Safe House takes up a story of the interior workings of agencies and dealing with agents who have betrayed their country, selling top level information.

The setting is South Africa and the film takes advantage of Cape Town locations as well as of the countryside. The rogue agent in question is Tobin Frost, played with his customary charm, intelligence and shrewdness by Denzel Washington. When he is taken by mercenaries, he escapes to the US consulate where he is transferred to a safe house with Ryan Reynolds as his keeper and where he is interrogated. However, the safe house is attacked and both men go on the run.

There are a number of scenes in Langley as supervising authorities try to control the flow of events. They are played by Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson. It is interesting to watch how the US manages matters in a distant country and the means of surveillance and communication.

Most of the film involves chases, Frost escaping into a crowded sports arena, the pursuit by mercenaries and a final confrontation and the revelation of the villain (not too hard to spot).

It works quite well, offers both interest and excitement, with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds playing well off each other.

THIS MEANS WAR

US, 2012,
Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Top Hardy, Til Schweiger,
Directed by Mc G.

Despite the bellicose title, this seems to be a perfect date film!

It starts with action, villains, explosions, derring-do agents in a Hong Kong setting. The men who like this kind of stuff reeled in.

The two young agents are played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, initially charming, even over-smooth but soon revealed as he-men. The women who are attracted to the stars and this kind of image reeled in.

But, back home in LA, the romantic comedy style sets in. Chris Pine is a bachelor on the loose. Tom Hardy is separated and has a young son. We are then introduced to Reese Witherspoon, a wiz on testing the efficiency of products, whose wise-cracking, sounding-permissive-but-happily-married friend (Chelsea Handler) has posted her on a dating web-site. The next complications lead to her meeting Hardy, then meeting Pine, and liking them both. When they discover what has happened, ‘this means war’!

This is a romantic comedy with the surveillance and technological intervention means of a covert agency at their disposal to spy on each other and sabotage dates. But, of course, the villain comes to LA to get them which, of course, leads to chases (with an unwitting Reese Witherspoon along for the rides) and all kinds of heroics and explosions. She has to choose – and if you are alert to the formula, it is clear on paper, if not convincingly, which hero she will choose.

Happy endings all round – and those who have seen it on a date movie outing acknowledging that it worked for them!


TYRANNOSAUR

UK, 2011,
Peter Mullan, Olivia Coleman, Eddie Marsan,
Directed by Paddy Considine.

Written and directed by actor Paddy Considine, this is a most impressive piece of film-making. However, it is tough watching. It is a portrait of two damaged people, depicted with emotional and psychological intensity.

Peter Mullan is a fine serious actor (My Name is Joe, Neds). Here, as Joseph, a lonely widower in Leeds, he is the embodiment of rage, taking it out on his dog, on young Pakistanis, on friends. Many a time in the film, Paddy Considine simply focuses the camera on him as he sits, not speaking, yet communicating volumes. But, he is capable of some tender moments and apologies. He is concerned for the little boy across the street who plays by himself while his mother and her boyfriend ignore him. He goes to the bedside of his dying friend. Yet, the rage can surface. He can feel himself provoked and lashes out physically and verbally with a vicious and cutting tongue.

After being bashed at home by the Pakistani youths, he takes refuge in an op shop, hiding behind a rack of clothes. The volunteer on duty is Hannah who is only momentarily taken aback but talks to Joseph and prays for him. Hannah seems a cheery soul but she too becomes a target for Joseph’s vitriol against God and against her and what he sees as her social status. Hannah is played most movingly by Olivia Coleman (Carol Thatcher in The Iron Lady) who creates a complex and memorable character, a woman battered by her husband and by life.

Eddie Marsan plays Hannah’s erratic husband, charming on the outside, cruel, jealous and vindictive on the inside.

As the film progresses, we learn more about each of the characters, that there is far more to them than the immediate, desperate impression. There is always an appeal for compassion for Hannah – but a surprise (but, perhaps, not unsurprising) turn of events in her life. Joseph, despite the recurring rage, has many redeeming features below the surface.

If you would like to see a finely written and performed but challenging picture of human nature, not without some hope, then Tyrannosaur can be recommended. (Perhaps the title with its mix of tyrant and dinosaur is a bit too clever, especially as introduced in the film in connection with Joseph’s late wife.)

Created by: malone last modification: Thursday 08 of March, 2012 [05:19:03 UTC] by malone


Language: en