SIGNIS REVIEWS MARCH 2017
ALONE IN BERLIN
DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE
GREAT WALL, The
I AM BOLT
RULES DON’T APPLY
TRUTH BENEATH, The
ALONE IN BERLIN.
Germany/UK, 2016, 97 minutes, Colour.
Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Bruehl.
Directed by Vincent Perez.
Alone in Berlin pays tribute to a middle-aged couple and their private (and small) resistance to the Nazi government and to Hitler during the early years of the war. The screenplay is an adaptation of a popular novel about the couple.
The film is quite an international mixture, perhaps disconcerting for German audiences to see strongly German characters as well as police and Nazi officials all speaking in English – but that is the way of the commercial world, so many international directors making their films in English. Perhaps surprisingly, this film was directed by French actor, Vincent Perez, best known for his romantic and, sometimes, swashbuckling roles like Queen Margot and Fanfan La Tulipe.
The film opens with a very young German soldier running through the forest for his life, pursued by the Resistance, shot by them, lying dead in the field gazing towards the sky only for his soldiers to attack and run-off the Resistance.
In Berlin, there is a certain amount of public elation with the prospect of the defeat of France and the hope of the defeating England by the end of the year and Germany becoming the greatest and richest country in Europe. People are joyful in the streets.
A postmistress on her bike, seemingly friendly with authorities, of being seen to be kind towards people in the apartment block, especially to an elderly Jewish lady, delivers the letter to the parents of the young man, who died in giving his life for his country.
It is his parents who are the focus of the story, Anna and Otto, played very seriously and with dignity by Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson. Anna is an ordinary housewife although she belongs to the union of mothers, even having to confront the wife of an official who claimed an exception to war wives working. Otto, or on the other hand, is a foreman in a factory with further demands being made for Hitler himself and for the war effort, Hitler demanding increased quotas. Otto does not belong to the Nazi party and, when challenged, says he gave to the Fuehrer his greatest possession, his son.
But the key thing about Otto and Anna is that Otto decides to write, disguising his handwriting, messages on the back of postcards, telling mothers that their sons would be sacrificed, denouncing Hitler and claiming a free press. Quietly, he places the letters in various strategic points – almost 300 of them with 275 being handed in to the authorities. He hopes he can make some difference in awareness. Anna works with him, helping with some of the deliveries.
In the meantime, Gestapo authorities are not happy with this spate of cards and the police chief, Daniel Bruehl, is commissioned to find the culprit, who is nicknamed Hobgoblin because of his evasive tactics. There is a subplot with one of the police officers coming to Otto’s building to apprehend the old Jewish widow whom local burglars had robbed, but she had given been some help by the couple and by a kindly but outwardly severe judge.
It is the same police who are charged with finding the card-writer. Eventually, the ex-husband of the postmistress is apprehended, tortured, proven to be not the culprit but, under pressure from the Gestapo, the policeman kills him claiming that it was suicide.
Otto and Anna are quite stoic in their continued mission of their card writing and delivery. However, they know it will only be some time before they are apprehended.
The film shows the interrogation of Otto, some brutality, especially the congratulatory-toasting officials smashing their glasses on his head. The results are inevitable, Otto seeming to accept that he would be condemned and executed but had decided that this is what he had to do during the war. Anna shares this.
There is a symbolic ending with the cards fluttering again down from the building onto the streets – and the sad acknowledgement of what he had done by the policeman, somehow admiring Otto, promising to release and but failing to – and experiencing some kind of disillusionment, especially after he was bashed in the face by the Gestapo chief, and remorse.
Brazil, 2016, 146 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho.
In this film, the title, Aquarius, belongs to a building. It is not exactly the age of Aquarius. Rather, this rather long film is a portrait of a woman in her 60s, Clara, a very effective portrait by Brazilian actress, Sonia Braga.
The setting is the city of Recife, shown in opening sequences in black-and-white photos, then opening up to a beachfront and the Aquarius building in 1980. Clara’s family are celebrating the birthday of an aunt and she herself is recovering from cancer surgery. The screenplay is divided into three chapters: Clara’s Hair (which she has lost because of the chemotherapy); Clara’s Love which brings Clara, now in her 60s, into the present, the main part of the film which shows her day-to-day life; the final chapter is called Clara’s Cancer – but not a recurrence, rather a symbol of a fight she has been having with developers.
Clara in 1980 is a genial person, with a loving and devoted husband and three young children. There is a birthday celebration for their Aunt Lucia, one of those very active Brazilian women, socially concerned and who spent some time in jail – in some ways, she serves as a comparison for the later Clara.
In the present day, Clara lives alone, her husband dead for 17 years, but in good contact with her children and grandchildren. She lives alone in Aquarius where she had brought up her family. She is the only one left in the building and the developers are literally knocking on her door, trying to persuade her to move out so that they can demolish the building and rebuild “the New Aquarius Project”. Clara is not for moving.
So, while there is all kind of detail about Clara’s ordinary life, there are memories of her past as a music critic and her producing books and articles, visits with her children, babysitting a grandchild, conversations with quite a number of friends in the surrounding area and swimming and walking along the beach.
The development situation gets rather heated, a young developer, smiling and charm whom she attacks as passive-aggressive, allows a very noisy and rough party to go on in the room above her, bringing in mattresses and then burning them in the courtyard, approaching Clara’s children to try to persuade her to take a substantial financial deal and to move out. The sequence of her meeting her children and the discussions, especially with her daughter taking the aggressive position, are very effective.
The final chapter with Clara’s Cancer is actually a cancer of the woodwork in the Aquarius building, the developers having brought in wood rotten with termites in order to eat away foundations and columns. Just as Clara conquered her cancer in 1980, the end of the film indicates that she is going to conquer this kind of cancer and, definitely, survive.
There is a great attention to detail in film, quite a range of characters, the plot sometimes meandering, but overall a significant portrait of Clara.
Canada, 2017, 103 minutes, Colour.
Max Irons, Samantha Berks, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Pepper, Terence Stamp, Tamer Hassan.
Directed by George Mendeluk.
This is what one might call a very worthy film and some audiences around the world have considered it very important that audiences should be introduced to this story of Ukraine, Stalinist oppression, the Communist tactic of famine in 1932 and the consequences for Ukraine.
As the film released in 2017, one wonders what the intention of the filmmakers was – more than probably a Ukrainian stance against the contemporary Russian regime, the invasions by Vladimir Putin, the hostility towards Russia, the feel for Ukrainian independence, and are calling on a significant episode in the past for boosting morale in the 21st-century. And, to that extent, Bitter Harvest is successful.
It was filmed in Ukraine which also gives the film an authentic and some power.
On the other hand, while the film is worthy, and has an emotional impact as well its propaganda effect, it is not the best written or directed film which is a danger in undermining the power of the message. Some of the dialogue is very conventional, familiar and expected, lessening the impact of the characters and action. Another difficulty is that the characters are types that are expected.
The opening of the film takes the audience back to 1917, the end of the reign of Tsars, the oppression in Ukraine, the rise in takeover of the Bolsheviks, the execution of the Tsar and his family. The centre of the film is a village, the focus on a young boy and girl, the attraction, as well as the ordinary range of citizens, farmers and workers, family members, including a warrior uncle played by Terence Stamp. As the action moves into the 1920s, the situation in the Ukraine and the now satellite countries is becoming more dire, the Bolsheviks and ruthless control, merciless military men, putting into practice Stalinism and rigid control of the countries of the Soviet Union.
There are some sequences set in Moscow and glimpses of Stalin working with his associates, smiling, ruthless.
The young boy and the girl are grown-up, now Max Irons and Samantha Barks. With the presence of the Russian military, and the task of making sure that every farmer now belongs to the Collective, there is a great deal of fighting, a film of action, but also of intrigue, of cruelty towards women, and the men taking to the fields, uprisings, vicious reprisals.
There is a sadness about the relationship between the young man and woman and the continued frustrations, fuelling audience antipathy about the cruelty that the Russians impose on the villagers.
The name given to the desperate famine engineered by the Russians is called Holodomor. It is not as well-known as other famines and genocides in the early part of the 20th century and those who are supportive of Ukraine are very glad that this film is dramatises this history, the suffering, acknowledging the past – but, it would seem, reminding audiences how relevant it is to the present.
DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE
Australia, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Sally Aitken.
What a pleasure!
David Stratton, who came from England in his 20s during the 1960s, made his home in Australia but also made his career home in Australia in cinema. As director of the Sydney Film Festival for almost 2 decades, he would have made his mark with this alone. However, diligent from his childhood in keeping files on all the films he watched, including an early viewing of The Overlanders, writing reviews, he moved into the world of reviewing especially for the American magazine, Variety. He also programmed world cinema screenings for SBS television.
However, this would not have made him a household name. But, his popular collaboration with Margaret Pomeranz on The Movie Show for almost 30 years, first on SBS, then an ABC television, meant that he was an immediately recognisable personality and, a tribute to their success in the programming and their on-screen collaboration as well as sparring, they became an Australian pair who did not need their surnames to be mentioned, they were just David and Margaret.
This is a very carefully made film, an opportunity to see something of David Stratton’s biography, his family in England, his father’s war service, his father’s non-comprehension of David’s interest in cinema, a good deal of commentary from David’s brother, David deciding to go to Australia and deciding to stay. There are some photos of David during his Sydney Film Festival era, a bit of a shock for those who did not know him at that stage with his long hair, long beard, moccasins, a far cry from the seemingly fastidious silver haired and bearded gentlemen of later decades (though Margaret has quite a number of shots during this film about how poor she thinks his style and grooming are!).
During this film, David travels in the outback, to a range of Australian locations, admiring and delighting in the beauty of the Australian environment. And illustrating how well the films have capitalised on these environments.
But David Stratton, although he reviewed films from all around the world, has a great admiration for Australian cinema, reminding us that in the 60s there was almost nothing, but there was a breakthrough with such films as Wake in Fright (with extensive clips here), a film he still has on a pedestal.
What he does in this film is to incorporate clips from a great number of Australian films, those he admires, like Muriel’s Wedding, and even those he does not admire, like Brian Trenchard Smith’s Turkey Shoot which he condemns for its ultraviolence (although the film offers Trenchard Smith an opportunity for rebuttal) and Geoffrey Wright’s Romper Stomper, again with interviews with Wright still maintaining his antipathy towards David and the episode of his throwing a glass of white wine over him – and that he would do it again but it would be red!
One of the advantages of having all these clips as well as the continued interviews to camera by David Stratton is that the editor can come and do all kinds of inserts and cuts, sometimes characters in one film answering the dialogue of a character in another – and sometimes, the film character responding to some comments by David Stratton himself. It is an engaging device and treated lightly as the clips moved briskly from one to another.
For those who have lived with the industry since the 1980s, this is a wonderful opportunity to reminisce, to be nostalgic, to be amazed, to admire – for instance the memories of Picnic at Hanging Rock. This means that an Australian audience has much to be proud of, the films, the style, the directors, the actors, a great number of whom are interviewed for this film. It should mean for non-Australian audiences a wonderful introduction to Australian cinema.
Each member of the audience will bring their own experiences – this reviewer (a month older than David Stratton) who has been reviewing since 1968 and has lived through the development, and has met David and Margaret over the last decades, found the experience of watching the film exhilarating, affirming, delightful, and the continued desire to share this appreciation of Australian cinema and be thankful for David Stratton’s contribution.
THE GREAT WALL
US/China, 2017, 103 minutes, Colour.
Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal.
Directed by Zhang Yimou.
With The Great Wall as a title, many, including the present reviewer, were looking forward to a good slice of Chinese history. And with Zhang Yimou as the director, and remembering his films of the late 1980s into the 1990s, really bringing Chinese history and culture alive (Raise the Red to Lantern, The Story of Qui Ju), and then his modest stories of Chinese life (Not One Less, The Road Home), but also remembering his move to martial arts, The House of the Flying Daggers, and his work for the Beijing Olympics, hopes were high for The Great Wall.
A great disappointment.
The film opens with a comment about the building of the Great Wall of China and the many centuries it took to complete. It then mentions the history of the wall – and refers to legends. This film opts for legends.
While it is an American-Chinese? co-production, and the director is Chinese, the screenplay was written by Americans and quite a number of the producers are also American. Nevertheless, it was highly successful at the Chinese box office. (The dialogue is matinee-basic.)
In fact, this is not Chinese history but a monster movie. Or, to be accurate, a monsters movie, thousands of them. A lot of technical know-how went into the action sequences, quite spectacular in their way, the effort to enhance this film is in the area of special effects, especially for the horrible monsters, huge, metallic, seemingly armour-plated, gaping mouths, fierce teeth, a propensity for blood and gore and death.
These monsters are alleged to appear every 60 years, attacking the humans, to test the humanity of their motivations. When the monsters appear, humanity is almost forgotten.
This is the time of the Dark Ages in the West, with two foreigners arriving to try to find black powder, gunpowder, and take it back to the west. They have been involved in many wars, mercenaries. They are played by Matt Damon (William) and Pedro Pascal (Tovar). Also in the cast is Willem Dafoe, eager to get the black powder, steal it and transport it to the west. No surprise that he does not survive – death by gunpowder.
When William and Tavor are captured, and about to be executed, the monsters attack and they are free to help in the fight. While the film runs for about 100 minutes, the first 30 minutes are very much occupied with the attack of the monsters and a fierce battle; and in the second 30 minutes the monsters attack again; and in the last 30 minutes, the monsters have borrowed through the Great Wall and have reached the capital where they are mounting an enormous attack (actually the monsters look more like millions rather than thousands this time).
The general of the Chinese is killed in action and bequeaths the leadership to a young woman, Lin (Jing Tian). Needless to say, there is initial rivalry and standoffishness between William and the new general, he showing his skills with arrows, she urging him to trust and to dive from the parapets. Not at first – but, it is inevitable that he will, going down into the midst of the monsters to slay them.
At the end, there are hot air balloons to take William and Lin to the capital, to use the gunpowder against the monsters but, particularly, the Queen so that if she dies, all the rest stop their aggression
So, if you are expecting history, don’t. If you like monster movies (this is something of a higher class monster movie), then this may be one of your favourites.
US, 2016, 127 minutes, Colour.
Taraji P.Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glenn Powell, Kimberly Quinn.
Directed by Theodore Melfi.
Here is a film which should please many audiences. It received Oscar nominations including for Best Film.
There is an ambiguity in the title: more obviously, it refers to the women, the African- American women, who worked assiduously for the American space program. But, with so many of them and their computer skills, the hidden figures were those on the computers and, more especially, the formulae and equations that had to be developed for spacecraft, for astronauts, for the competition with the Russians, for the race to the moon.
While the film is predominantly about the space program, is also a film about American racism, the realities of segregation at the beginning of the 1960s, at the time of greater progress for Civil Rights and the work of Martin Luther King.
The opening sequence of the film is set in 1926, in the south, a young girl, Katherine, being taken to an examination board for possibilities of a scholarship, and her quick and ingenious solutions to blackboard equations. Well-educated, by 1961 she is at work in the computer room, the Coloured Computer room, working on computers with a good number of her black sisters, supervised (without the official title and salary as Supervisor) by Dorothy Vaughan.
Katherine is a wonderful opportunity for Taraji P.Henson, well-known for television work and supporting film roles. She brings great energy as well as a courtesy and decorum (and some insistent communications when necessary) to the portrait of a woman who was a maths expert. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (also nominated for this role) brings strength as well is humorous support as Dorothy. The third person in the trio of significant women for the film is Mary Jackson, Janelle Monae, who has the skills to be an engineer but authorities find it difficult to conceive of a woman, let alone a black woman, as a NASA engineer.
The setting is NASA and the three women, all with families, live in Virginia. The film shows a great deal of the realities of segregation, special parts of transport at the back, particular rooms, specific entrances, drinking fountains, and, especially, separate toilet facilities. It is hard to believe as we see this discrimination but civil rights legislation was yet to come a few years later.
In charge of the space program is Al Harrison, played with authority by Kevin Costner, a character who wants the best maths advisors and who comes to admire Katherine very strongly (and facing the reality of separate toilet facilities when he discovers the effect on Katherine and her work). The women’s supervisor is Mrs Mitchell, played by Kirsten Dunst, a rather prim woman, devoted to rules and regulations, a surface sympathy for the women under her supervision – but, later in the film, when she declares to Dorothy that she is sympathetic, Dorothy replies that she believes that Mrs Mitchell sincerely believes that she is sympathetic.
Jim Parsons plays Paul Stafford who works with Katherine, not sympathetic, even rather supercilious, but who, in the end, is to acknowledge Katherine’s genius.
The drama of the film is the preparation for spaceflights in 1961, especially in the aftermath of Yuri Gagarin going into space and the blow to American pride in coming second. There is extraordinary intensity of work, calculations for flight paths, re-entry points, circumstances changing within minutes and more calculations required. Katherine uses a blackboard and is able to show clearly her skills in calculations. Later, she makes the point about going into briefing sessions to be up-to-date with changing circumstances – and Stafford’s complaint that this is not the place for a woman, let alone a black woman.
In 1961, NASA introduces huge IBM computers but the experts do not have the know-how to program and to use the computers – something which Dorothy, going into the computer room in her spare time, is able to work out, teach her computer staff to use, and they are transferred as a group to staff the computers in 1961-62.
There are some human stories in the background, Katherine being a widow with two daughters and a military man, retired (Mahershala Ali) who begins to court her, Mary Jackson and her husband’s wariness about her studying to be an engineer (where she takes her case to a Virginia court because the only locations for her course is a whites-only college).
The audience is also introduced to Alan Shepherd on the preparations for his flight and, especially, a very genial John Glenn who trusts Katherine’s calculations, especially for the uncertainties for his flight and orbits.
Audiences may be familiar with all this background from the 1982, The Right Stuff.
While the film is interesting with its characters and storylines, it is also a tribute to these women – with photos and footage at the end of the film of the actual women, and the trajectory of their careers, Dorothy seen as an expert with computers, Katherine, 97 at the time the film was made, having contributed to the space travel over many decades.
I AM BOLT
UK, 2016, 107 minutes, Colour.
Usain Bolt, Palais, Serena Williams, Sebastien Coe, Yohan Blake, Ziggy Marley, Chronixx.
Directed by Benjamin Turner, Gabriel Turner
While there was no one in the world without doubt who Usain Bolt was at the time the film was released, future interest will depend on how well an audience is aware of Bolt, his talent, his career, his record Olympic gold medals…
This is a British documentary about Bolt, the fastest man alive. It shows him as an athlete but it also shows him, quite strongly, as a person.
The film serves as a biography, outlining Bolt’s Jamaican background, his birth in 1987, the portrait of his mother and father and their comments about him as well is their watching his achievement in the Olympics, his life at school, his sport success, the initial coaches and their prognostications, training him. There are also a number of talking heads with his friends, filling in his background as well as their personal esteem of him.
While the film shows him as a teenager, it is when he is about 20 that he starts to win gold medals and starts to break records. The film has a great deal of video footage and records of his sprints.
While the film, outlining his career, opens at track events in Beijing in 2015, there are quite a lot of flashbacks, and the earlier part of the film showing the races in Beijing and his gold medals; the flashbacks to the London Olympics occur in the latter part of the film, no less exciting even though one knows the results, just having the opportunity to watch the races from various angles, hear Bolt’s comments on them afterwards, and all with speeds under 10 seconds.
The film indicates that Bolt can be nervous before events, but he seems a fairly calm personality, with religious undertones and invocation of God, enjoying partying and mixing with people, finding the ascetic discipline for sports very difficult, but able to submit himself to the rules and regulations for the regimen. His personal coach makes a lot of appearances, giving information about training, health, demands, and seems a very genial personality.
Prior to the Rio Olympics, Bolt seem to be at wary of participating but, according to the film, all of which was being made during the years preceding Rio, Bolt listens to Justin Gatlin, who had been disqualified for drug offences, but had made a comeback expecting to beat Bolt but failing to win the events. He broadcast a challenge before Rio, Bolt accepting – and, of course, ultimately succeeding.
There was also injury before Rio which required him to have some time off, go to a doctor in Germany who understood his injuries and was able to diagnose what was wrong and help him to recovery.
The film is interested in the talking heads who give their testimony, sports personalitires like the Brazilians footballers Peke and Reyer, like friend and four times Olympic gold winner, Serena Williams, Lord Sebastian Coe, as well as commentators and Jamaican musicians like Ziggy Marley and Chronixx from Jamaican media (and scenes of jubilant celebrations in the streets). These are combined with the biography sequences as well as the training sequences, keeping audience interest.
Bolt had achieved his record nine gold medals before the age of 30. After the film was released, it was revealed that one of the runners in the 2012 4 x 100 m relay was found to be influenced by drugs and the gold medal withdrawn – which Bolt took rather philosophically.
For those interested in sports, this film is a must. For those not interested in sport – it is almost a must.
Australia, 2017, 102 minutes, Colour.
Levi Miller, Aaron L. Mc Grath, Anghourie Rice, Kevin Long, Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving, Matt Nable, Dan Wyllie, Myles Pollard, Susan Prior.
Directed by Rachel Perkins.
You don’t meet many (or any) Jasper Jones’s around the place. Which makes his name a standout for the title of this film. While his presence initiates the drama, he is not the central character. This character is Charlie Bucktin – but how many people would think that they needed to see a film entitled Charlie Bucktin!
This film, co-written by the author of the original novel, Craig Silvey, is set in Western Australia, in the wheat belt, in 1969. Corrigan seems an ordinary enough town, familiar Anglo-Saxon-Irish? types, some aboriginal presence, but on the outer (including mixed-race Jasper Jones himself), a family from Vietnam (which does seem rather early in the history of migration from that country), a sense of civic spirit, especially during a meeting where the townspeople gather and volunteer to search for a missing girl, a love of cricket, especially for the Vietnamese boy, Geoffrey (a sprightly Kevin Long), who is bullied by the locals, and his mother subject to insult through a woman who has just heard that her son has died in Vietnam the day before.
So, the film is taking us back into the past, the taken-for-granted ordinariness in Australia but, now in hindsight, open to extensive critique.
As has been said, Charlie Bucktin is the centre of the film. He is a 14-year-old, bookish rather than athletic, helped by the strong screen presence of Levi Miller (who was also present in Western Australia in 1969 as the central character in Red Dog, True Blue).Jasper is played by Aaron L. Mc Grath, a teenager, on the outer in the town, but approaching Charlie to help him with the body of a young girl whom he found hanging. Charlie, reluctantly agrees to help Jasper, involving him in situations that he was not prepared for, the disposal of the body, keeping quiet, deceiving his mother and father as to where he has been, following Jasper in his suspicions of the mad old man who lives on the periphery, Mad Jack (Hugo Weaving) and his attachment to the dead girl sister, Eliza (Anghourie Rice).
On the one hand, the film details the day by day life of Charlie, at school, reading, friendships with Geoffrey, watching Geoffrey at last triumph at cricket, discussing Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Eliza as well as try to appreciate his parents, his somewhat reclusive teacher father (Dan Wyllie), a gentle man who retires to his study to write, gradually alienating his outgoing wife, who becomes more and more exasperated with his quiet and seeming inactivity. She is played well, as always, by Toni Collette.
The plot does not quite play out as one might have expected, the death of the young woman more complicated, the role of the family the subject of critique, the revelations about Mad Jack more benign than we might have thought.
The film is directed by Rachel Perkins (Radiance, Bran Nue Day). There is much that is dark and sinister, no denying that, and the ending is not exactly easy for most of the characters, and, while an amount of the action takes place at night, and in the bush, the scenes in daylight make it not quite as oppressive as it might have been.
US, 2017, 135 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant.
Directed by James Mangold.
Dear, oh dear! Words of sympathy for Logan. When he first emerges after binge at a bar, he looks dreadful. He looks much older, certainly scruffier, bearded and lined – rather similar in look and voice to the later Mel Gibson (though taller!). Loglan catches sight of some thugs stripping his car, his inner Wolverine starts to emerge, as well as his shears, and there is some familiar mayhem. There is this story of Logan going to go… where?
One of the first things to note is that it is the year 2029. And we discover that Charles Xavier, a proud nonagenarian, memory and concentration lessening, in need of constant medication, is hidden and protected by an albino (Stephen Merchant), Caliban, who has to protect his head and whole body against light.
The real drama starts when a Mexican woman appeals to Logan to help her and her daughter. Professor Xavier senses the daughter is a mutant and needs protection. This very quickly emerges when a tough mercenary type, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) turns up with armed guards and threatening Logan. Pierce is a nasty piece of work, especially when he deals with Caliban, torturing him with the light, but he and his mob are carrying out the orders of Zander Rice (Richard E.Grant), the executive in charge of an experimental facility, which is seriously playing with genetics, implanting codes from mutants, including Logan, into Mexican women who are then disposed of.
The plan is now to move on to a next phase, more deadly, the children as weapons, more machine-like and without soul. They are rounding up mutant children who have escaped, including Laura (Dafne Keen in quite a striking performance). By now, we can see where the film is going – and the destination is named, Eden in North Dakota, allegedly a refuge for mutant children (though Laura’s protector got this information only from an X-Men? comic). The film is going to be a road movie, Logan driving hell for leather and beyond, Charles Xavier as his passenger and needing care, Laura, not speaking, fiercely determined, a fierce weapon.
Along the road there is a visit to a shop which Laura has never experienced and a clash with the assistant. There is a motel stop with Laura watching a lot of scenes from Shane which Charles Xavier tells her he saw when he was her age. There is a visit to a casino in Oklahoma City, buying new clothes. And there is an episode along the road with some horses running across the highway and Professor Xavier able to calm them, the grateful family inviting the group to a meal and a quiet night. Well, not quite…
As the film moved towards its close, we realise that this is an end to an X-Men? era, Logan ready to lay down his life for Laura, battling a clone that the facility has created of him, confronting Xander Rice who gets short shrift in the middle of an impassioned speech, and a realisation that a new era of mutant action films is in store.
US, 2016, 132 minutes, Colour.
Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Mbatha Gugu Raw, John Lithgow, Sam Waterston, Alison Pill, Jack Lacey, Chuck Shamata, Douglas Smith.
Directed by John Madden
There’s something to be said about a serious film that presents machinations, manipulation, Machiavellian strategies and tactics. Which means that there is a lot to say about Miss Sloane, an intriguing (in all meanings of the word) of such machinations and manipulations in the screenplay that is able to draw on all kinds of tactics and strategies and bring them to a striking conclusion.
The location for this story is Washington DC and Capitol Hill. It is a world of lobbyists – not the most attractive of worlds to live in but fascinating to watch. At the core of the film is a bill to restrict the presence of guns and for background investigations for owning guns. It has been pointed out that this film did not do well at the US box office and that the gun lobby actually agitated against the film, posting negative comments, running the film down – an example of the effects of lobbying in itself.
The Miss Sloane of the title is a lobbyist played by Jessica Chastain, a very astute actress in recent years succeeding in a variety of roles. Elizabeth Sloane is a woman in her 30s who has no other life than her lobbying, no family, no indication of background, suffering from insomnia but eager to spend all her waking hours lobbying, competitive, desperate to win. The only outlets are the taking of pills and her connection with a Washington escort, for momentary sexual release.
The framework of the film is a Senate hearing, presided over by Senator Sperling (John Lithgow) examining difficult issues in Sloane’s career, particularly in providing finance for senators to go on education trip to Indonesia repercussions and importation of palm oil. But, on the whole, this is a red herring, though some documentation is key to findings of the hearing.
What it is all about is the fact that the gun lobby had tried to headhunt Miss Sloane to enable them to get a majority to defeat the intended bill, arguing that the potential for the campaign is to focus on women, not just in terms of gun violence but as people need to take up arms to defend themselves. This is not Miss Sloane’s perspective, she rejects for her, and takes her staff with her when she goes to work for a company lobbying to find senators to pass the bill.
One of Miss Sloane’s principles is that when the enemy has played their trump card, then you produce your trump card. The latter part of the film is quite dramatically exhilarating showing the effectiveness of this tactic, the audience and Miss Sloane’s associates not anticipating it at all.
Miss Sloane does not want a sympathetic response though she does acknowledge the reality of emotions and sympathy but they are not part of make up or tactics. Her boss is played by Mark Strong, an honest man who has principles. One of the staff is a young woman was terrorised in a gun episode in an Indiana School, hiding from a shooter. She is played by Mbatha Gugu Raw (Belle, Concussion, The Whole Truth).
The company that the gun lobby uses is headed by a seemingly venerable elder statesman, yet sinister, Sam Waterston, and the head executive, Michael Stuhlbarg is a ruthless lobbyist. One of the key sequences to illustrate the no holds barred lobbying takes place on a television interview, each talking over the other, and Miss Sloane then pulling a trump card that turns the spotlight relentlessly on someone’s privacy.
The dialogue in this kind of film is very important, the conversations, the plotting, the tactics, the working rooms at society gatherings, the pressure by powers that be – one Senator being told that if he does not comply with orders his career would be annihilated with an explanation of the origins of annihilated.
While this is an American story, one of the things that nags under the enjoyment of seeing such goings-on is: what is it like in the pressures and lobbies of local government, as bad as that in the United States, the same or worse? It would be very interesting in to see a local version of Miss Sloane.
Australia, 2016, 113 minutes, Colour.
Dan Ewing, Tim Pocock, Jessica Green, Sophie Don, Ben Chisholm, Gregory J.Fryer.
Directed by Luke Sparke.
With billabong in the title, audiences will know that this is an Australian film – and wonder about the red billabong, suggestions of blood.
It is worth saying at the outset that many aspects of the film will seem quite absurd to the ordinary viewer. This means it is also worth saying that the target audience for this film is those who like to go to horror fests or movie monster fests. It is there kind of film – and the ending, the confrontation with the monster, is clearly designed to get this kind of audience both cheering and laughing. Which rather precludes most other audiences.
Apart from the prologue where the audience is introduced to the monster, The Bunyip, and the death of a significant character, the screenplay is ordinary enough, one brother managing a farm, but also dealing in drugs locally, and the other coming from the city, asked for advice, especially as their grandfather had left a letter before his sudden death asking that the land be left to the local aborigines or for consideration of the sale.
Then a group of rather unappealing thirtysomethings all turned up, a drug dealer who is full of himself, his associate whom he dominates, and three women who trail along. Capita meal, they get high, while the serious older brother is examining documents and getting suspicious about the sale of the land.
There is an estate agent with an American accent who is eager to have the land minute with all that is found to be on the property – with documents indicating the grandfather was a scientist, researching aboriginal law and especially, The Bunyip, which the men’s father (who returns) and the agent are wanting to exploit.
One of the visiting girls go swimming in the billabong and is taken possession of by The Bunyip, and this happens to another of the girls. An aboriginal leader turns up with advice and indicates that the Bunyip needs three women under control and that this situation needs to be prevented. The rest of the film is The Bunyip, the search, the women and the dangers, deaths…
As indicated, this is a film for those who like monster movies – it would not be credible to any other audience.
US, 2017, 107 minutes, Colour.
Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D' Onofrio, Amy Teegarden.
Directed by F. Javier Gutierrez.
The producers of Rings seem to be under the impression that audiences all over the world cannot get enough of the Ring stories. It is not Lord of the Rings – but, rather those phone calls that audiences became aware of in the late 1990s in the Japanese horror film, Ring and its sequel, then to American versions soon afterwards.
In case there are some in the audience who are not familiar with the ghostly video, featuring the emergence of a young girl and her sinister behaviour and look, which, when anyone watches it, they get an immediate phone call telling them that they will be dead in seven days, there is a prologue. We see a young man in a plane, explaining his situation to some young women, his telling them that his seven days were up, his fears, his bleeding nose, hiding in the toilet – but the plane then (perhaps limiting the screening of this film as an in-flight feature) goes into crash mode.
Now that we’re all familiar, more or less, it’s time to take the story further. Not that the sinister video is not seen in whole or in part many times throughout this film – and we live to tell the tale or write a review. By now, a university lecturer (John Galecki) who tinkers with technology, has seen the film, has not died, but has obviously made copies and passed them on. He has also begun a course at the University, enlisting the participation of students who see the film, make a copy and pass it on, and so survive – and, in case there are difficulties, he finds “tails” to protect the student or to become the next victim, not to die but to make a copy and pass it on…
In the meantime we have been introduced to Holt and Julia (Alex Roe and Matilda Lutz), a couple in love, he going off to the University and admiring the professor and becoming part of his program. While Julia is mystified, a young woman comes onto her computer screen screaming about Holt, which certainly disturbs Julia enough that she gets into her car and drives to the University, going to a lecture, confronting the lecturer, following him to his laboratory and rather shocked at what she finds. But she is even more shocked when she goes to the young woman’s apartment and finds herself locked in a room while Skye realises that her seven days are up and, no matter what plugs she pulls or what screens she smashes, the sinister Samara emerges and Skye dies, it looks like from fright.
At this stage, Rings does seem rather familiar but then it takes a turn and moves towards the development. Julia is no frightened heroine. Rather, she decides to watch the film, save Holt, but starts her own investigations as to what was behind the film. She then has several visions, about Samara, and visions of her pregnant mother. Julia is a young woman of initiative, tracking down locations, finding Samara’s grave (with some rather terrifying moments when she is locked inside, a feeling of her being buried alive), tracking down a church, retired blind man (Vincent D’ Onofrio) who reassures her.
But she’s also told about a priest in the town, now retired, who seems to have taken on a woman and made her pregnant…
So, anyone interested in finding out what the consequences of this are (and there are a few shocks and frights), it is necessary to see the film.
Some fans have complained that it is not enough of a horror film – it does have some scary jump out of your seat moments but, on the whole, this is a film about Julia solving the mystery of Samara. And, just to be sure, the makers have set up situations where one might expect a sequel, or sequels.
RULES DON’T APPLY
US, 2016, 127 minutes, Colour.
Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Candice Bergen, Haley Bennett, Paul Sorvino, Taissa Farmiga, Oliver Platt, Alec Baldwin, Steve Coogan, Dabney Coleman, Paul Schneider, Hart Bochner.
Directed by Warren Beatty.
Billionaire, Eccentric.. Two words which describe noted 20th century American industrialist and producer, Howard Hughes, even during his lifetime. And, at the end of his life, another word, reclusive. There have been a number of films about Howard Hughes, his life and his career, but it is now half a century since his death and he is part of American history.
However, Warren Beatty became interested in Hughes, has written a screenplay and directed the film, casting himself as the eccentric and reclusive Hughes. Warren Beatty himself will be 80 this year so it is not a stretch to portray the elderly Hughes. Because Hughes thought himself above most people, Rules Don’t Apply is not an unreasonable title (and is given further emphasis by the film’s song and its lyrics).
While the plot is rather complicated, one thing emerges that must have interested Beatty and his co-writer. These days, confronted by eccentric behaviour, or idiosyncratic behaviour, words that come to mind include autistic and Asperges, “on the spectrum”. But this is one of the interesting things about this film that Hughes is particularly obsessive, especially when it comes to aviation, plane design and preoccupations about this. His reclusiveness, self-protection, seeming inability to be aware of others sensitivities, expecting everyone to jump to his commands, and a preoccupation with his father’s memory, his father’s achievement in the tool industry and his inheriting the company, resenting and firing anybody that he thought was trying to be a father-figure to him.
This portrait certainly makes the film worth consideration.
However, the context is 1964, his connections with the government under consideration, and the media concerned that he is not compos mentis. In his refusal to make himself available to the media and make a statement to reassure them, the plot goes into flashback, the late 1950s, the RKO Studios and Hughes having a number of starlets under contract, providing lessons for them at the studio but not necessarily providing any movies for them to appear in.
Devout Christian, Marla Maybury (Lily Collins), comes with her protective mother (Annette Bening) to audition for Hughes. Drivers are provided for the starlets and the man assigned to her, Frank, (Alden Ehrenreich) himself rather devout, becomes attracted to her. Marla is quite strong-minded in many ways and determined to meet Hughes and have an audition. Frank is supportive, falling in love with her, having to deal with a fiancee in Fresno, but finding himself also asked for advice by Hughes who takes a shine to him and makes him a close assistant. Marla is faced with great moral challenges.
This gives the opportunity for audiences to see something Hollywood in this period, the star system, the starlets system, the personal interactions, the casting couch, career decisions and ambitions, disappointment and disillusionment.
Marla has been attracted to Hughes and he to her with consequences that neither of them expected – but the screenplay uses the consequences to galvanise Hughes into action with the media, Frank still there working for him but the plot bringing Marla and Frank together again…
One of the advantages of the film is that there are all kinds of character actors in brief roles, including Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Matthew Broderick, Candice Bergen, Steve Coogan, Alec Baldwin…
THE TRUTH BENEATH
Korea, 2016, 102 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kyoung-mi Lee.
The Truth Beneath is a rather ominous title, indicating truth of the of the surface and the deceits which might underlie this.
This is a Korean drama, with a political setting as well is a story that involves a domestic situation. It moves very rapidly, involving the audience in the election and campaigning, the abduction of the daughter of the new candidate, the mother’s search for her daughter – and the revelation of the true truths which lie under the surface of what seems to be apparent truth.
The situation shows a Conservative leader, in power for years, who is now being challenged. The new candidate campaign steadily, has good support, but needs to keep his reputation. With the abduction of his daughter, he fears that this might be used by his opposition to discredit him.
His wife, has a different opinion, and wants the campaign stopped, with the parents to concentrate on finding their daughter again. The candidate is wary of social media which might want to exploit the situation against him and so he does not want the disappearance of his daughter immediately revealed.
In the meantime, the wife begins her own search, collaborating with the police, searching her daughters computer, getting lists of people that she was in contact with, discovering the identity of a close friend, from a poor family whom the daughter was trying to help. They also played in a band together with songs about the family and touches of rebellion.
Further investigations take the wife to the school and discussions with the homeroom teacher who indicates that the reports on the daughter had improved over the years.
Then the girl’s body is discovered. In further investigations, the friend gradually reveals more and more of the truth, especially the two girls setting up a camera which spied on the teacher and her relationship with a lover – who turns out to be the father, stating disparaging words about his rigid wife. The teacher was sending exam questions to help the girls who were blackmailing her and eventually demanding money which was to be for the poor family.
Any mergers that a hitman was hired by the teacher and by the politician – and the girl had run him over, a hit run on the night of the abduction.
The wife is angry with her husband – for many reasons. After she attacks him, she decides that he should live and bear the burden of his responsibility even though he has just won the election.
Quite an interesting drama.
UK, 2017, 117 minutes, Colour.
Ewan Mc Gregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, James Cosmo, Shirley Henderson,
Directed by Danny Boyle.
Trainspotting became a classic of the 1990s, based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, it was setting Edinburgh but in the sub culture of drugs in the city, focusing on four men in their 20s, their exuberantly reckless life, the impact of drugs – and a certain move toward self-destruction.
But, here they are again, 20 years later. Have they changed at all? Have they learned from their experiences? And what have they been doing during the previous 20 years? This is a story of four men in their mid-40s, also Edinburgh, and there is still something of a drug-culture.
For those who appreciated the first film, there is no doubt that this film will be more than interesting. One very serious reviewer remarked that all the “magic” from the original film had gone. “Magic” is not exactly the word that comes to mind when considering Trainspotting. There is a lot of sentiment, of the affectionate and affable type as well is the hostile and aggressive type, but there is also a great deal of reminiscing with one character remarking that they were “tourists in their own nostalgia”, something which many of the audience will be indulging in as well.
And what has happened? Ewan Mc Gregor is Mark Renton returns to Edinburgh after 15 years in Amsterdam, a finance course, a job, a wife – but this all now collapsing. Johnny Lee Miller Simon is involved in blackmailing clients of a prostitute that he is set up with a camera and has inherited a derelict pub. Ewen Bremner’s spud, quite an interesting character in this film, has been on drugs, tried rehabilitation, been on several jobs but, there is an enjoyable collage showing how he turns up an hour late for everything and is now on his own, yearning for his wife and son. And Robert Carlyle’s Begbie? In prison all these years, but now with a brainwave to get a fellow prisoner to stab him so that he has to go to hospital and where he can walk out, trying to resume his life, meetings wife and son, the son intended to go to college but his father forcing him to go on a botched burglary expedition.
So, there we are. What will they do now?
Mike finds he doesn’t want to go back to Amsterdam, is reunited with his father, experiences the animosity of Simon but then decides to stay and help on a project where Simon can turn his pub into a sauna (that is, brothel). He is in a relationship with the prostitute he set up, Veronica, who is from Bulgaria and a shrewd operator as well. Spud helps with the renovation of the pub meanwhile writing down his stories which Veronica is fascinated with. And Begbie, he is after some revenge on Mark.
All this happens, more or less, but Simon does get charged for his blackmail, but not before going to members of a fund to appeal for a grant and then going to a club where he and Mark Steele all the credit cards and, in a high point in the film, because all the crowd is loyalist and hasn’t forgotten the Battle of the Boyne, are forced to sing the song, Mark improvising, the song being 1690, and the end of each chorus is “not a Catholic left” which is an amazing hit with everybody vigourosly joining in.
There is a buildup to a climax with Begbie attacking Mark, defended by Simon, and Begbie delivered in the boot of the car to the prison gates. And Veronica, with the help of spud, is no mean exploiter herself, especially with the financial grant money.
Trainspotting fans may well be invigorated by this sequel – but it does present a kind of sub- culture world, some dead ends in life unless one is in exploiter. but spud is a great success with his stories, going to see his wife and son and she suggesting a title for them!