SIGNIS REVIEWS MARCH 2019
ALITA – BATTLE ANGEL
DOG’S WAY HOME, A
HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U
KING OF THIEVES, The
REFLECTIONS IN THE DUST
STAN AND OLLIE
SWIMMING WITH MEN
ALITA – BATTLE ANGEL
US, 2019, 122 minutes, Colour.
Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Jorge Lindeborg Jr, Jeff Fahey.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Not too many of us contemplate what life on this planet might be like in the 26 century? The 24th? Or the 27th? Probably not. However, if you do want to speculate in the science-fiction, science-fantasy mode, then here is an entree. It is not based on speculative science rather, it is a dramatisation of Manga comics.
You can foresee the approach if you are familiar with the names behind the film – including writer, James Cameron, meanwhile making several sequels to Avatar, and director, Robert Rodriguez, a lover of action shows (from Spy Kids stories for younger audiences to From Dawn to Dusk, Machete and Sin City). It means that this is quite an elaborate show. In fact, there are some statistics to indicate that it cost $170 million to produce! However, scanning the bloggers’ opinions in the IMDb, they are all in favour, more than in favour, so it may do well at the world box-office.
So, who is Alita, this Battle Angel? She is a cyborg with origins several hundred years prior to this action where her face and some remains are found in a rubbish tip. Fortunately, the man who finds her is an expert in reconstruction, quite a whizz in fact. He is played by Christoph Waltz (two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscars with Quentin Tarantino). He seems quite benign here – although, for a moment, he looks to be villainous as a Bounty Hunter. But, spoiler alert, he remains nice throughout the story, earnest and helping Alita.
However, there are some authorities who are not so nice. They are played by Jennifer Connelly, former wife to the scientist, and Mahershala Ali who dominates on earth, especially managing a deadly sport popular with the inhabitants, a kind of no-holds-barred rollerball derby. He also represents a higher power who lives in a mysterious floating planet above earth.
So, while there is an emphasis on cyborgs in reconstruction, their personalities, and Alita trying to remember something of her past, she is more than a feisty character, eager to step into combat, no hesitations in confronting opponents or rivals. Which does mean that quite a lot of the film is taken up with battles and the derby, the special effects personnel having more than a field day. Many of the sequences are quite elaborate, with fans panting for more. Which they get.
There is a whole range of bounty hunters, some of them human, some of them cyborgs, many of them quite sinister and monstrous – more work for the special effects experts.
There are emotional complications – just what is the status of a cyborg in terms of love and relationships? Fortunately, Alita seems to have something like a human heart.
Some romance, some tragedy, some betrayals, some power struggles – and sad finale – except that, given box office success, it is not final. Alita stands ready, more than ready, to do battle in a sequel.
US, 2019, 122 minutes, Colour.
Brie Larson, Samuel L.Jackson, Ben Mendelson, Anette Benning, Djimon Hounsou, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg, Gemma Chan, Lee Pace, Akira Akbar.
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Flick.
Prequel seems to be a keyword to appreciate Captain Marvel, where it is happening, when it is happening, why it is happening… However, all those millions of audiences who are very much at home in the Marvel Universe, they will know what is happening and be very pleased.
We have seen 20 big block buster movies with the range of super heroes for Marvel. And, we have seen them all lining up in the various Avengers movies to take their turn to do battle with the enemies. And, Captain Marvel will take her place in the forthcoming episode.
But, for those not as familiar as they might be, it may be a bit disconcerting to see Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury with two good eyes and no eyepatch (although this is explained). This story is about Nick Fury when he was much younger, not in command of SHIELD, but just one of the officers (and the same with Clark Gregg’s Coulson). (The notes tell us that each actor has been artificially modified to look 25 years younger.) Nick Fury is on the lookout for heroes who can guard earth, make peace within the galaxies, build SHIELD into an effective human weapons resource.
And, it is in this context, in the 1990s, that a former pilot who has had an accident and has had Kree DNA injected into her (causing her to forget her past), is being trained as a powerful warrior in the Kree Starforce. Her name is Carol Danvers and she is caught up in the galactic conflict with the Krees and the Skrulls attacking Earth. She is being trained by a warrior (Jude Law) to control her emotional energies (and later has to stand against him in conflict). Anette Benning turns up as Supreme Intelligence, wanting all-out control
However, in her contact with Earth, she is recruited by Nick Fury. And, consequently, there is an enormous amount of action, stunt work, special effects, booming sound editing as battles (and more battle) are done throughout the galaxies, echoes of Star Wars.
For those not immediately know, there is an enormous challenge to try to work out who is who and who is on whose side! This is particularly the case with the character played by Ben Mendelson, seemingly a smarmy villain, then with particular make up, a family, one of the goodies.
Interestingly, given the Hollywood focus on equality between men and women, on proportionate representation of different racial groups, Capt Marvel’s best friend is another pilot, strong character, African-American? though Lashana Lynch is a British actress).
So, Captain Marvel is what the fans have been waiting for, who the fans have been waiting for. And, with Brie Larson (who proved her acting abilities in Room and winning an Oscar) as Carol/Captain Marvel, a bright personality, a touch of humour, tough in battles, adept in technology, able to take her place in the Marvel Universe, anticipations will be well satisfied.
One of the features of this film is a cat. It has quite a number of comic moments as it tours around the universe, is patted by Nick Fury, but, for the many fans who wait until the end of the very long credits and hopes for something interesting and amusing at the tail end, they won’t be disappointed with a plot development that is core to the Avengers but provides a funny cat hairball moment!
UK/Norway/Canada, 2019, 119 minutes, Colour.
Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Laura Dern, William Forsythe, Emmy Rossum, Micheal Richardson, David O'Hara.
Directed by Hans Petter Moland.
Here is Liam Neeson again in an action show. However, the origins of Cold Pursuit are in the Norwegian film which screened at festivals, Kraftidioten, which was released around the world and screened on Australian television as In Order of Disappearance. The director was Hans Petter Moland, Norwegian. Cold Pursuit is a North American remake, most if it filmed in Canada, the province of Alberta, with some photography in Norway itself.
This is not a film festival entry. Rather, it is a popular action show for the multiplexes. Liam Neeson has shown an aptitude for this kind of film with the Taken series and many other action films. Once again, he is the strong silent type, physically strong, not particularly communicative, but, when faced with the tragic murder of his son by heroin overdose, he becomes a vigilante bent on vengeance. (If one notices that the actor playing the son resembles his father, that is true, it is Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson’s son, Micheal.)
While there are many, many vigilante films, this one is more complex than usual. While the central character does take justice into his own hands and is quite ruthless in the confrontations, in the killings, and the planned disposal of the bodies, the screenplay also makes points about the power of wealthy criminals, their entourage of thugs, the drug agents and supervisors, the dealers, the exploitation of willing drug customers, especially the wealthy.
Neeson is Nels Coxman, named citizen the of the year in his Canadian town of Kehoe, three hours’ drive from Denver. He explains that he has taken the right road in life, the same road, with his extraordinary snowplough and his commission to make sure the roads are clear. (And, with such a huge snowplough, we know that it will have a significant role in the final confrontation).
Coxman’s wife (Laura Dern) is hit hard by the death of her son and her feeling that they had never known who he really was. She abandons her husband.
In the meantime, there are quite some plot complexities in the portrait of the arch-villain, his nickname of The Viking, a next-generation criminal, well-dressed, well-educated, a health-fanatic imposing extraordinary diets on his young son, who also presumes that there are codes for criminal dealings and that all criminals should abide by them. He is divorced and shares custody of his son who goes to a private school. This, of course, will lead to justice issues with Coxman having lost his son and using the Viking’s son for a confrontation. In fact, the young boy, proves to be an interesting and strong character in himself.
But, that would be too straightforward. The Viking suspects that the killer of his agents is a Native American Indian his father did deals thirty years earlier for territories with The Viking’s father. This leads to strong eye for an eye vengeance, highlighting the drug networks around Denver and in the ski resorts, leading to the death of the chief’s, White Bull’s, son.
And, not only that, Coxman getting advice from his former criminal brother (William Forsythe) about hiring a hitman, The Iceman – who goes to The Viking to sell the information, only to receive The Viking’s lethal disapproval of such a betrayal.
There are some sub-plot elements about race relationships between Native Americans and white Americans – and an ironic verbal mixup when the Indians want to book into a luxury hotel and are told that they should have reservations!
Cold Pursuit honours the English-language title of the original film, In Order of Disappearance, regular cards coming up with the names of the ever-increasing number of the deceased.
The film is much as one might expect from a Liam Neeson vengeance action show – but the morality is more complex than usual.
A DOG’S WAY HOME
US, 2019, 96 minutes, Colour.
Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer- King, Edward James Olmos, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi.
Directed by Charles Martin Smith.
That this is a dog-lovers table tale, pleasantly done, might be enough for a review. The obvious recommendation is that those who love dogs, have their own tales to tell about their pets, will be delighted. (On the other hand, those who can take or leave dogs, will feel that they can take or leave this story.)
One of the pleasant features of the film, for those who believe that dogs have their own distinctive personality, intelligence, and even an interior voice, is that the whole adventure is narrated by Bella, the heroine, very sweetly but sensibly by Bryce Dallas Howard. In fact, her voice-over seems perfectly natural and acceptable, making the whole adventure credible enough.
Actually, Bella, before she gets a name from her rescuer, Lucas (a sympathetic Jonah Hauer-King) has been born, along with other pups, under the foundations of a building which has to be demolished. But not only are there dogs, there are plenty of cats, many of them immediately being impounded as the film opens. But, Bella is cared for by the mother cat, a characteristic of getting on well with felines which is going to be most significant for Bella in her adventure, her way home.
Other human characters include Lucas’s mother, Ashley Judd, a war veteran in throes of depression, doing voluntary work at the Veterans Affairs centre in Denver, Colorado, where they all live. Also working there is Olivia, Lucas’s friend and – spoiler alert, obviously to be his wife! Bella, now having a name, can’t stay at home one day and is brought secretly to the VA centre, discovered, and an enormous hit with the vets.
However, all is not easy. The owner of the buildings which are to be demolished gets a court order, confronts Lucas and his mother, wants all-out war, Lucas knowing his law and getting a restriction, so more tension. However, while Bella confides in us, describing all the different games that she has learned to play and her feelings about all the humans, she breaks out of the house chasing a squirrel which leads her being taken into the pound. But, all is not lost, Lucas and Olivia are able to get Bella to safety in New Mexico.
We are told that New Mexico is 400 miles from Denver so, the dog’s way home is going to be a long one and, in fact, takes 2 ½ years, including two winters.
Lots of adventures for Bella as she jumps over the fence in New Mexico, hungry but learning to seek out humans, helped by a group of scraggy dogs who do the rounds of the bins in one of the towns, find lakes for water, keeps advancing over the territory as she plays the game that Lucas taught her, “Go Home”.
The scenery is beautiful. There are threats from wolves. Hunters kill a giant cougar but Bella befriends the young kitten and they travel the wilds together. There are hunters, one caught in an avalanche and rescued with the help of Bella and his dog, Dutch, who are taken in by two young men who live in a hut in the mountains. Bella also encounters an old homeless veteran (attracting passers-by to put money in his tin), but he goes out into the cold and dies, Bella fortunately being rescued by two kids who find her.
So, plenty of episodes on the dog’s way home – and, as we leave the cinema, everyone happy, Lucas, his mother, Olivia now Lucas’s wife, and the welcoming vets. (And even the dog catcher, a nasty type, is removed from his catching job by his superior!)
US, 2019, 98 minutes, Colour.
Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Nick Dodani, Yorick van Wageningen.
Directed by Adam Robitel.
If you are going to make a terror thriller about a group of young people trapped in a range of rooms in a multi-storeyed building, trying to survive, trying to escape, then this is how you could do it well. It could be seen as an up-market, up-up-market, variation on the Saw series (rather more low-key, much more low-key on the violence and more literate in its word choices in the screenplay, opting for intelligence rather than the crass).
The film makers are rather smart. They offer us a prologue in which one of the characters, one of the less sympathetic characters, is trapped in a room with the walls gradually closing in, his being desperate to find a clue and a key to stop the potential crushing. Then, this prologue stops, and, if audience adrenaline is pumping effectively, the decision is made that, yes, this is a terror and threats thriller that I want to watch.
After which the central characters are introduced, a couple of them quite interestingly. Taylor Russell plays Zoe, a very timid young woman who is intelligent, expert in physics, but contained within herself. By contrast, Jay Ellis portrays a very successful businessman, completely confident in himself. Both of these characters are black. Then there is Ben whom we saw originally, rather ineffectual in his jobs and ambitions. In the waiting room in the building where the escape rooms are situated, we are introduced to Amanda, ex-military (with severe scars on her back after time in Iraq), Deborah Ann Woll, and a rather older man, Michael (Tyler Labine) who is interested in the challenge of going into the escape rooms. Then, Michael and Amanda are white. There is also a rather nerdish young man of Asian subcontinent descent who has participated in a huge range of these escape room games.
So that is the setup, the six people hoping for a financial reward in getting through the game, urged to look for clues, having the possibilities opting out when necessary. (Of course, this doesn’t happen.)
These Escape Rooms are like living through video games in real life, or created fantasies life. They are very difficult, extreme heat, cold and ice, a pool room where the floor gives way and the table is upside down, with Petula Clark singing Downtown, a hospital ward with files on each of them, especially concerning survival when somebody close to them has died. The question soon arises whether they have been personally chosen and are to be punished.
Needless to say, not everybody will survive, some dying by accident, some willing to give their lives so that the rest can survive.
At the end, there are some revelations that the Escape Rooms are in the line of reality television but the question is raised of who is the mastermind, who is master of the games and controls the progress of the games, what is the motivation, prurience, placing bets on survivors? There are some final explanations of future plans which are not necessary for this story which is quite well told in its own way, but there is an opening, of course, for more Escape Room stories (after all, how many Saw films have there been, up to eight or nine!).
US, 2018, 98 minutes, Colour.
Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Fiore, Zawe Ashton, Stephen Rea.
Directed by Neil Jordan.
Greta is a woman with deep problems. And, the screenplay depicting her and how she acts out her problems has some plot problems in itself.
This is a psychological thriller, a collection of all kinds of familiar ingredients all stirred together and coming up with a story and developments which are still quite familiar. To this extent, pervading the whole film and its characters and situations, it is rather disappointing, especially as it comes from director Neil Jordan who for over 30 years has built up a solid reputation and some outstanding films, including The End of the Affair, the Crying Game, The Butcher Boy.
Greta is played by Isabelle Huppert who has been headlining films for over 40 years, an actress of great virtuosity, capable of performing all kinds of roles. We haven’t seen her quite like this although she uses her capacity for sometimes looking quite impassive while a whole lot is going on inside her mind and with her feelings.
However, the story belongs to a young woman, Frances, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who sees an abandoned briefcase in the New York subway, takes it home where her roommate, Erica, Maika Monroe goes through it. But, Frances is honourable and takes it to the owner who welcomes her, is friendly, allows Frances to take her to buy a dog as a companion in her loneliness.
Fatal! Greta’s response is definitely a fatal attraction.
What follows is, as mentioned, familiar enough. Greta starts to be present, ever-present, standing vigil outside the restaurant where Frances works, suddenly appearing, stalking, mysteriously taking and sending photos as she follows Erica through the streets. When Frances complains to the police, they say they can’t do anything and that Frances will just have to endure it.
Desperate, Frances is advised to pretend to go away, trying to placate Greta. Fatal!
By this stage, some of the elements of abduction, torment and the touch of torture, come into play, Greta really out of mind (having created a personal back story which has no element of truth). Stephen Rea, who appears in most of Neil Jordan’s films, turns up as a private detective but obviously has not seen the enough films about private detectives leaving themselves open to attack by the stalker and so has only a very small, brief cameo role.
The device for the solution for the film also seems exceedingly contrived.
It is an opportunity to see Isabelle Huppert and her working with Chloe Grace Moretz but, the whole venture is rather ordinary.
Denmark, 2018, 87 minutes, Colour.
Jakob Cedergren; Voices of: Jessica Dinnage, Omar Shagawi, Johan Olson.
Directed by Gustav Moeller.
The Guilty was Denmark’s official nomination for the 2018 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. It won many awards and was critically praised – and bloggers seem to be unanimous in their appreciation for the film.
On paper, the film looks fairly straightforward, a police story, cases that they have to handle. At first, this is confirmed with a man ringing in complaining of being mugged – and it turning out that he had picked up a prostitute who mocked him. There is also a drunk who does not know where he is. In this way we are introduced to the Emergency Service in Copenhagen, and the work of the man on duty, Asger.
In fact, the film is not quite as we expected at all. The action does not leave the Emergency Services rooms, concentrating completely on Asger, some interactions with the other members of the staff at the office, his communications by phone with other officials in order to get action going, some communication with a friend (which has serious repercussions by the end of the film).
A number of commentators have been reminded of the film, Locke, with Tom Hardy, the action which takes place completely in a car as the central character drives. Then there is Buried, with Ryan Reynolds, the action taking place in a coffin which has been buried. Quite a challenge for a writer and director to keep audiences interested. But, The Guilty, certainly retains the interest.
It is night. Asger is a sympathetic man though with some tensions which manifest themselves either by his becoming oblivious to his surroundings or being sharp with other officials.
The main part of the film, which is a comparatively short film, concerns a woman phoning in, gradually revealing that she has been abducted, is ringing the police but pretending to be talking to her young daughter. Asger keeps her on the phone, gets what information he can, communicates it to other officers. He also uses his wits, finding the address of the abducted woman, phoning and talking to her little daughter, gaining more information about the father and the parents’ separation, his visit to the house, his violent outburst, the little girl caring about her little brother and concerned about her mother.
Without revealing any of the plot, it can be said that there is quite a twist in this episode, audiences asking themselves how they responded to the interrogations, the evidence, the behaviour of the mother, the behaviour of the father, the repercussions on the little girl, especially when Asger is able to advise police to go to the house.
This development makes the film more involving for the audience, interested in how Asger is handling the situation, the relative behaviours of the mother and the father.
Throughout the film, Asger has been phoning a friend who is to give testimony the next day in a court case – the friend has testified to firing a gun but the revelation is that Asger fired the gun. In a moving conversation at the end, Asger admits the truth in the film leaves him at the door, going home, with the audience speculating on what he is thinking and how we will he will behave in the court the next day, his career, his friend, his conscience.
India, 2019, 155 minutes, Colour.
Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Siddant Chaturverdi, Vijay Varma, Kalki Koechlin.
Directed by Zoya Akhtar.
The title refers to the central character, Marud (Ranveer Singh) who has a talent for creating rap lyrics and performing. What holds him back is that he belongs to the lower class, possibly the lowest cast, lives in an impoverished area of the city where it is taken for granted that the inhabitants will never rise to anything in their lives, are servants, and need to know their place.
This is Mumbai USA! Although, perhaps, some American audiences might be rather envious of the talent of these Indian rappers and the opportunities they create for themselves and search for. In fact, the screenplay is very American, a story parallel to rappers in the city neighbourhoods – with English subtitles always referring to homies, bro, the hood. And there ae drugs and drug dealers in the area.
As for many Indian films, this one runs for over 2 ½ hours. It is in Hindi. It is set in Mumbai. Although the central characters are all Muslim. Interesting to see that the director taking on these themes and male characters is a woman.
The film opens with three friends at a carjacking, a theme that will recur during the film, an episode of desperation that will jolt the consciences of the men.
Murad is doing some studies, financed by his father who is strongly of the opinion that his son must seize any opportunity, working in an office, because that is the most he will achieve in life. The father is a very harsh and physically brutal man towards his son and towards his wife. This harshness of parents is a strong theme of the film, occurring also in the family of the rather tough young woman, Safeena, studying medicine, ambitions to be a surgeon, who has been in love with Murad since they were 13. In her case, the mother is the one who is rather demanding, more than demanding, also physically brutal at moments, wanting to arrange a marriage and only then to allow her daughter to continue studies.
There is a very genial rapper, Sher, who befriends Murad, with friends, speculate on a name for him – it turns out to be Gully Boy. He records for YouTube? and continues to get many hits, many fans. Included is an American-Indian? young woman who has the money to do a project for the University of Music in Boston, working with Sher, lyrics, rhythms, working in a studio, but a very elaborate and entertaining video of one of the songs filmed in the music-video style, right throughout the streets of the neighbourhood – and everyone in the neighbourhood enthusiastically applauding.
So, many emotional problems, confrontations, Safeena being particularly brutal towards women that she feels Threatened her relationship with Marud. In fact, she has a surprisingly short fuse which does not do her any credit and gets her into trouble.
And, as with this kind of film, there has to be a competition. An American rapper is about to visit Mumbai and the call goes out for auditions amongst rappers to be part of his supporting show. Gully Boy walks out on his office job, performs (a competition of pairs sparking off each other with insults galore) and, of course, well, we know what will happen.
In the last part of the film there is a final performance, everybody in Marud’s life present, including his father, and the possibility that he and Safeena will have a future together, he rapping and she as a doctor
So, a blend of Indian contemporary urban problems as well as an enthusiastic embracing of rap music – a different entree into music and dancing in the home of Bollywood.
HAPPY DEATHDAY 2 U
US, 2019, 100 minutes, Colour.
Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suaj Sharma, Sarah Yakin, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine, Steve Zissis, Charles Aitken, Missy Yager, Jason Bayle.
Directed by Christopher Landon.
Christopher Landon, who directed the first film, Happy Deathday, has written the screenplay here. He really must have enjoyed doing the original and let his imagination run while writing (he had lots of horror-touch speculation with the Paranormal Activity series). And what about his use of the Flower song from Lakme as background to the central characters being hurled through the air in slow motion and the jauntiness of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive for the final credits as the heroine of both films, Tree, finally stayed alive!
Technically, Happy Deathday 2 is described as a sequel. However, with all the déjà vu and with all the déjà vu all over again, it is more of what we might call at a meal, seconds, a second helping, the same course but with extra garnishings. Again, it could be called an exercise in recycling, all the key plot elements, the central characters, the murder mystery and the ever-suffering and often-dying heroine. One of the jokes was that in the first film she had never heard of Groundhog Day and this time is bewildered when Back to the Future is quoted!
At first, it seemed that we were going to have an alternate character having the nightmares and being continually killed, quite an entertaining lead-on. But, after getting interested in Ryan, the scientist and inventor, we discover that he was part of Tree’s recurring nightmares. She again was the target. It is entertaining déjà vu, seeing her initial birthday scene from the first film as she walked through the university grounds, our being reminded of those characters she met. And then, there she was of waking up in Carter’s room, same dialogue, the enjoyable repetitions.
One enjoyable aspect was the whole tongue-in-cheek approach to the dialogue, sometimes very corny, at other times witty, the cast playing it for laughs as well as fright, the creative variations on the being murdered every day theme.
There is also a good twist in the plot, the murderer in the first film still alive and not guilty, nor the criminally insane man – but an enjoyable shooting denouement.
And, for the young audience, the creation of the time machine with all its logarithms (and the device of having Tree memorise what she learned every day and communicate that to the inventors who are getting it every day for the first time, cumulative effect for a solution). As regards the multiverse possibilities, we can enjoy the quick demonstration of folding a serviette, poking a pen through it, opening it up and finding six identical pieces with holes. There were other explanations which we wouldn’t try to understand!
This all added up to a pleasing re-visit, enjoyment of the twists in the plot, something akin to those ways of storytelling where the audience has the option of pressing one button, a “what if…? and going in that direction or pressing alternate button and finding a different plot development, a different “what if…?”. So, some sentiment with Tree meeting her mother again, some romance with Carter who was involved with the insufferable Danielle; but the screenplay did capitalise ironically on the character, pretentious pontificating, but utilising her practising acting as a blind person so to distract the Dean with his knitting as an antidote to smoking, get the Dean’s keys to steal back their machine which he had angrily confiscated many times at the zero moment.
A warning for exiters who must leap up to leave soon as the first credit appears, there is a very entertaining episode during the credits.
THE KING OF THIEVES
UK, 2018, 108 minutes, Colour.
Michael Caine, Charlie Cox, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Paul Whitehouse, Ray Winstone, Michael Gambon, Francesca Annis.
Directed by James Marsh.
Towards the end of The King of Thieves, there is a reference to the 1952 Ealing Studios classic comedy, The Lavender Hill Mob, a surprising heist story, touches of comedy, led by veterans Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway. There are certainly some old codgers in this one, touches of comedy, an extraordinary robbery from a security venue in London, Hatton Gardens. The present film is also from Ealing Studios. Though not nearly as good!
There are several pleasures to be had from the film, of course, especially from the veteran cast. Come to think of it, Michael Caine has been toplining films for over 50 years. Tom Courtenay’s big movie breakthrough was in 1962 with Billy Liar. Jim Broadbent is almost 70 – but Paul Whitehouse and Ray Winstone are comparatively junior, just over 60. They make a motley crew – but, certainly living in their memories and their criminal achievements.
The film opens with Michael Caine as Brian Reader, out with his wife, Francesca Annis, who is terminally ill. His promises her that he will never go back to prison. But, even at the wake, the old lags join in conversation about past jobs. However, there is a young fellow there, listening into the conversation, going out with Brian and revealing that he has inside knowledge of Hatton Gardens, the layout, IT information. He seems a bit timid, Basil, played by Charlie Cox.
The robbery takes place rather earlier in the film than expected. The screenplay pays a lot of attention to the detail, getting in, Basil turning off alarms, breaking down walls (although their special instrument itself has a breakdown), eventually getting into the vault, ransacking all the safe boxes.
Not that everything goes smoothly although, for such a group to achieve so much given technology and security, the whole thing looks comparatively easy! But, Tom Courtenay has Kenny nods off on the job, Jim Broadbent’s Terry is rather cantankerous and eager for a stoush! At times, Paul Whitehouse as Cal Wood looks as if he would prefer to be back with his vegetable garden. And, they have a difficulty with Basil’s disguise, his wig and his being young.
While the thieves give the impression of general good fellowship, the screenplay reminds us that there is no honour among thieves. We see a falling out, some taking strong stances about Brian’s leadership, dispute about the carving up of the loot – and, poor Basil, a bit overwhelmed by what they have stolen as well by the group, agrees to take a cash handout. But Basil, we find, might look like a blushing violet but underneath (and in his pocket…).
One of the irritations of the film is the continued superfluous swearing which may be authentic but we might say, give us a break! Perhaps the older actors never got the opportunity to swear like this in their earlier films and are making up for lost time – and, as great an actor as he is, Tom Courtenay swearing is not the least bit convincing! (But, of course, other audiences may not notice it at all!).
The film was directed by celebrated documentary maker James Marsh whose feature films are less convincing though their range is interesting, Man on a Ledge, The Mercy. He does include one interesting feature, brief black-and-white clips of each of the main actors from one of their earlier films.
US, 2018, 104 minutes, Colour.
Matt Smith, Marianne Rendon, John Benjamin Hickey, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mc Kinley Belcher III, Mark Moses, Brandon Skelener.
Directed by Ondi Timoner.
Robert Mapplethorpe is not exactly a household name. However, he has a considerable reputation in the American art world and in the world of successful photographers.
In some ways, his initial reputation had a kind of notoriety. He began by sketching, intending to be an artist, but became more interested in photography, especially when given a camera, finding that he had an eye for composition, for creativity with light and darkness (not using colour).
The notoriety concerned his interest in the male body, the naked body, male sexuality. While there were many changes in American society in the 1970s and 1980s, and Mapplethorpe’s photographs were admired and sold during those decades, there were still difficulties in their exhibition, raising the continued issue of the distinction between pornography and the obscene, the distinction between what is sexually arousing and what is more objectively considered human images of behaviour considered sexual.
The film offers a quick opportunity to understand Mapplethorpe and his background, some home movies excerpts, with a religious emphasis, his first communion, the staunch Catholicism of his parents.
After leaving the Navy in the late 1960s, he had a chance encounter with Patti Smith (Marianne Rendon), later to become the well-known singer, living with her, telling his parents on a visit to them that he had married her.
Patti Smith asks Robert at one stage whether he is gay and he says that he is not. However, his awareness seems to have been a late emergence and he becomes more curious, going to a gay club. When Patti Smith moves out and begins her successful career, he has the opportunity to take photos with the gift camera, finds more and more supporters, develops his talent with the camera.
Mapplethorpe begins to have sexual relationships with some of his photography subjects, encounters a benefactor, collector, Sam Wagstaff (John Benjamin Hickey) who supports him as well as having a relationship with him.
The film shows his gradual development of talent and his becoming better known during the 1970s, his success in the 1980s, his increasing frankness, the number of models and poses, some rough sexual behaviour.
Mapplethorpe’s brother, Edward, comes for advice, works as his assistant, is advised not to use the Mapplethorpe name. While Edward is hurt, he supported his brother during his final AIDS illness and his death.
The screenplay includes a religious dimension with the visit of the parish priest who gave him his first communion, the discussion about belief in God, Mapplethorpe saying that beauty and perfection were his solace instead of a God – and then his taking some photos of the priest.
It is interesting that in 1989, an exhibitor was prosecuted because of the subject matter – and here is a film of 2018, explicitly frank and watched by a wide audience.
The director has had a long career in documentary films, winning many awards. This is her first feature film.
REFLECTIONS IN THE DUST
Australia, 2018, 75 minutes, Colour/Black and white.
Sarah Houbolt, Robin's Royce Queree.
Directed by Luke Sullivan.
This is a small budget experimental drama, for a specialist audience.
Mainly filmed in black-and-white, there are colour sequences, however, with the two central characters speaking to camera, explaining themselves and their motivations. One of the characters is a younger woman, blind, disfigured teeth, wispy hair, talking about wanting to be loved and not having had the experience of love. The other character is her father, a paranoid schizophrenic, made up as a clown, talking quite frankly and directly to camera, erratic with his daughter, discussing love and her not being married, intimations of his own attraction towards his daughter and trying to deal with her, a mixture of moods and a mixture of gentle and violent behaviour.
Some of the characters move in and out, somewhat anonymous – although there is a doll, male, with the father pulling off its head, and a glimpse of a young man lying on the ground and the daughter’s attraction towards him. There is also another old man who makes comments about the girl and her parents in the past.
There are suggestions that there has been some kind of disaster, a touch of post-apocalyptic, a few survivors out in a kind of wilderness.
The film depends on the performances of the central actors and their creating figures who are sufficiently intriguing for the audience. With the sequences in colour, it means that the black-and-white photography is all the more impressive.
STAN AND OLLIE
UK/US/Canada, 2018, 98 minutes, Colour.
John C.Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones.
Directed by Jon S.Baird.
If there is anybody not in the know, Stan and Ollie are the famous comedy duo of the first part of the 20th century, in film and on stage, British Stan Laurel and American Oliver Hardy.
For those who remember, this will be a wonderful indulgence in nostalgia as well as an opportunity to have a look behind the footlights and the camera, some of the real life of the duo. For those who do not know them, this may be an encouragement for them to search out Laurel and Hardy films (and, there are quite a few on YouTube).
What is quite remarkable about the film is how persuasively the two stars embody the characters. John C Reilly can do a great range of characters (even Dr Watson before this one). He is in a fat suit building him up to resemble Ollie, very successfully. On the other hand, Steve Coogan needs little make up for him to resemble Stan. While Stan had some funny routines, as they both do, he is the more serious one, writing a lot of their material, while Ollie is just happy performing and pleasing audiences.
The film opens with the couple at the height of their popularity, having started to make films in the 1920s, short features moving into full-length features. They have been contracted by the entrepreneur, Hal Roach (played by Danny Huston) who has a hold over Ollie but not over Stan. Stan walks out, Ollie makes a film without Stan and the two break up. The scene in 1937 at the studio gives the atmosphere of the dramas and conflicts and contracts but also shows them doing one of their routines, rear projection out West, moving to a cinema audience with rollicking laughter.
The main action of the film takes place 1950s, an arranged tour of England and Ireland, to bring them together again, relying on their routines on stage. There is also a plan to raise money for them to make a film about Robin Hood – Stan telling some jokes and stories about aspects of the script (even visualising it later in the film). However, it is 1953, they are certainly living in good memories and, while they are put up in poor hotels and small theatres by entrepreneur Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) and are unhappy, he persuades them to do some commercials, some small episodes for television, which they enjoy and which then gets in the crowds.
Both Stan and Ollie were multi-divorced. They had to pay alimony and so needed the money and Ollie had betting on horse races habit. We see their current wives of the time, script writer and editor, Lucille (an unexpected presence and performance by Shirley Henderson) who was married to Ollie for 17 years until his death and who took care of him, as she does here, when he collapses and the doctor forbids him to go on stage again. Ida (Nina Arianda) is, to say the least, a tough Russian cookie, but devoted to Stan.
At one stage, Stan and Ollie have a dingdong verbal argument, surfacing all the resentments each of them had about the other, then not speaking. However, ultimately, they choose to resolve the fight because they were generally devoted to each other, so much so that Ollie decides he will go back on the stage, travel to Ireland with a huge welcome as they dock, and goes for a final performance.
Throughout the screenplay there are some of the physical jokes from their films as well as a lot of the verbal banter – the two doors sketch at a railway station is particularly funny.
Most of the final credits need not have been there because at the side, there are scenes from the films and their famous dance routine which everybody will be watching and laughing with.
Yes, it is probably time to go back and search for Laurel and Hardy films.
SWIMMING WITH MEN
UK, 2018, 96 minutes, Colour.
Rob Brydon, Rupert Graves, Thomas Turgoose, Adeel Akhtar, Jim Carter, Daniel Mays, Charlotte Riley, Jane Horrocks, Nathaniel Parker.
Directed by Oliver Parker.
This is an entertaining small film written and directed by Oliver Parker (Othello, Importance of Being Earnest). He is not to be confused with writer, Ol Parker (the Marigold Hotel series, Mama Mia, Here We Go Again.)
In many ways this is a familiar story and can be traced back to such films as Brassed Off, The Full Monty, Finding Your Feet…
It is a story of a group of men, frustrated in their lives, personal dissatisfaction, personal griefs. The therapy is swimming. The central character is Eric, played by Rob Brydon in his familiar hangdog style, an expert accountant, suspicious of his wife who is running for local office and is constantly attended to by her boss. He also has a teenage son. His therapy is private swimming – but he finds the group at the swimming pool who practice synchronised swimming. He gives them some advice based on mathematics, pivots for their movement… They see him drinking at the pub and decide to ask his advice as well as inviting him to join the group.
A strong group of character actors portray the group, led by Rupert Graves, supported by the older Jim Carter, the quarrelsome Daniel Mays, the Middle Eastern man, Adeel Akhtar, and the youngster, in trouble with the police, played by Thomas Turgoose. There are two other members of the team, one being always silent, the other being beginning hefty, get very little attention from the screenplay. At the pool, there is a coach, Susan (Charlotte Riley) who encourages the men, gets them an opportunity to work at a children’s pool party, accepts the task of being their coach when a member of the Swedish team suggests that they are competitive.
There are scenes of training, scenes of bonding, rehearsals for movements, going to Milan for the competition, seeing the work of various teams – and finding that Great Britain comes second to the Swedes. Obviously, an enormous morale booster for the men – especially as they demonstrate outside the local council buildings and their swimming trunks with an appeal for Eric’s wife to reconcile with him.
Obviously, a great film candidate for men’s groups to see and discuss.