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Film Reviews March- April 2014

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SIGNIS REVIEWS MARCH-APRIL 2014


AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2, THE RISE OF ELECTRO
ANY DAY NOW
ARMSTRONG LIE, The
BLUE RUIN
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
CUBAN FURY
DIVERGENT
EXIT FROM MARRAKESH
FADING GIGOLO
FAITH CONNECTIONS
GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA
HALF OF A YELLOW SUN
HANNAH ARENDT
HEALING
INVISIBLE WOMAN
LEGO MOVIE, The
LIVING IS EASY WHEN YOUR EYES ARE CLOSED
MINISCULE: THE VALLEY OF THE LOST ANTS
MAN OF TAI CHI
MR MORGAN’S LAST LOVE
MR PEABODY AND SHERMAN
MUPPETS MOST WANTED
NEED FOR SPEED
NOAH
NYMPHOMANIAC VOLUME 2
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
OTHER WOMAN, The
OUT OF THE INFERNO
POMPEI
RAID 2, The
RIDE ALONG
WADJDA


THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2, THE RISE OF ELECTRO

US, 2014, 142 minutes, Colour.
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane de Haan, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Paul Giamatti, Denis Leary, Felicity Jones, Colm Feore.
Directed by Mark Webb.

Audiences seem to have had a glut of Spiderman films in the last 10 years or more, three films with Toby Maguire, directed by Sam Raimi, which, on the whole, with very popular. So, it was a surprise that Hollywood had re-booted Spiderman and begun another series. Whatever the reasons, here he is – again.

One of the key things that this sequel does is to give some explanation about Peter Parkers’ parents. In the previous film, it was shown that they disappeared, taking secret material with them, and not heard of again. This was something that made Peter Parker brood about his parents and himself. This time the film has quite an elaborate explanation of what happened, the work of Richard Parker with spiders and with human tissues, the exploitation of his work by his partner, his having to get away quickly with his material, taking his wife, farewelling his son as a little boy and leaving a video message for him. It shows the Parkers in a plane escaping, but coming to a sad end. It is only later in the film that Peter himself begins to make investigations to discover what happened and to find his father’s video.

In the meantime, he is involved in all kinds of exploits, confronting a truck with nuclear material, participating in havoc in Manhattan traffic, arriving just in time for his graduation, but missing the valedictory speech by Gwen (Emma Stone). But Aunt Mae (Sally Field) is there to congratulate her nephew.

A bizarre character is introduced in the form of a scientific nerd, Max (Jamie Foxx). He is devoted to Spiderman and encounters him briefly. Gwen, on her way to work, also encounters him, a quietly courteous man who talks to himself. But, accidents happen. He falls into a vat of electric eels and absorbs their electricity, transforming into an arch-villain, with an extraordinary special effects look, wanting to confront Spiderman, and wreaking havoc on New York’s electricity system, communications, air traffic control…

So, that is the first confrontation that Spiderman has to deal with.

In the meantime, Peter and Gwen are seeing each other, in love.

Then, on to the scene, comes his old friend and schoolmate, Harry Osborne (Dane de Haan), with a terminal illness but with a determined belief that getting a transplant of blood from Spiderman will cure him. He is remembering his father’s work with Peter’s father. Harry becomes more obsessed, asks his friend Peter for help, which puts Peter in rather a dilemma. However, Harry has an injection and turns into a monster, the Green Goblin, building up to a second confrontation with Spiderman. And just when you thought everything is resolved, there is quite a shock at the end – which publicists hope will not be revealed so that audiences will experience it in its fullness.

Then the film does go on from another 10 minutes, introducing yet another villain with Paul Giamatti’s face and voice but enclosed in a monstrous creation.This means that the last 10 minutes are in fact the trailer for the next episode.

This makes this sequel something of an interim chapter – with The Amazing Spiderman 3 to look forward to.


ANY DAY NOW

US, 2013, 98 minutes, Colour.
Alan Cumming, Garrett Delahunt, Isaac Levya, Frances Fisher, Gregg Henry, Don Franklin, Mindy Stirling.
Directed by Travis Fine.

In retrospect, some of the details of situations or character may not be as credible as they seem while seen on the screen. Nevertheless, while the film is there, it is often very, very moving.

It takes up quite a number of issues and gives the audience plenty to be emotional about and to try to understand. We are accosted, so to speak, at the opening when we realise that this is Alan Cumming as Rudy, performing as a drag queen in a club. During his number, he notices a very straight, up-and-down man has moved into the club. They talk, relate sexually, are approached by the police. When it emerges that Paul (Garrett Dillahunt) works for the DA’s office, it is clear that same-sex relationships will be a key issue for the film. The setting is 1979.

When Rudy goes home, a dingy place where he finds difficulty in paying the rent, he finds a boy with Down Syndrome, neglected by his slatternly mother. Another issue, the life of and care for a boy with Down Syndrome.

Rudy approaches Paul’s office for legal help, Paul is immediately unresponsive. However, the two men are attracted towards each other and Paul finds a solution, with the mother signing away the right to care for her son during her imprisonment and the two men looking after the boy. His name is Marco and he is portrayed with great sympathy by Isaac Levya. Another issue, temporary adoption and fostering, especially by a gay couple.

Because Marco is so sympathetic (it might have been more credible for the plot and the challenges for Rudy and Paul had he had some difficulties, temper tantrum, for instance, or become ill), audiences will really respond to the parenting by the two men and the response of Marco. They involve him in a school for special students, with a very sympathetic and affirming teacher.

Life wasn’t meant to be easy, and difficulties arise for the two men, especially in their going through the courts to gain custody. Initially, the judge (Frances Fisher) is wary of Paul’s challenge for her to listen sympathetically. She is handicapped by the attitudes of the times. The prosecuting lawyer (Gregg Henry) is aggressive, seemingly homophobic in his detailed interrogations of Rudy, his work, his behaviour, in exposing Marco to his way of life. Paul acts as the defence.

The film is not as predictable as one might have thought, leaving the audience with some emotion and a challenge to think through the realities of adoption, the role of the law, awarding a child to its mother, even when she is unable to care for the child.

There is quite some humour in the film, along with the pathos. Any Day Now offers an accessible story to audiences to help reflect on the issues.


THE ARMSTRONG LIE

US, 2013, 124 minutes, Colour.
Lance Armstrong, Frankie Andreu, Betsy Andreu, Johan Bruyneel, Michele Ferrari, George Hincapie, Daniel Coyle, Phil Liggett, Bill Strickland.
Directed by Alex Gibney.



The Armstrong Lie was not the original title for writer-director, Alex Gibney’s, documentary on Lance Armstrong. Rather, Gibney had been looking at Armstrong’s career after he had won seven Tour de France titles and, after his bout with cancer and his setting up of a worldwide foundation for children with cancer, his comeback in 2009 to ride one more Tour de France. Despite rumours of Armstrong’s use of enhancing drugs, he was a hero to millions of people and Gibney followed him on this 2009 ride. The intended title was The Road Back.

But, as everybody now knows, Armstrong was found out, denounced by former friends and associates, and eventually, in 2013, gave an interview on the Opera Winfrey Show where she asked him directly about his use of drugs. He admitted to their use. Later in 2013, he agreed to do an interview with Alex Gibney and talk about himself, his lies, his drug use as well as his charity work.

Fans of cycling will have much more background as they go in to watch this film, look again at Armstrong’s rides, some of which are described in the voice-over commentaries of the times as ‘astonishing’. They will know several of the cyclists who are interviewed. They will know a number of the journalists and authors who also agreed to be interviewed. Those who do not know so much about the sport but are aware of Lance Armstrong, his career and his downfall, will be fascinated with the interviews, both his strenuous denials of drug-taking in the past, his admitting to the truth in recent years.

Most audiences, looking at the earlier interviews, will be completely baffled as to how Armstrong could have said the things that he did, keeping a straight face, defying interviewers, even ridiculing a number of them. How he could be incomplete public denial seems not only mysterious but incredible.

Alex Gibney has directed a number of very impressive documentaries including Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room, the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side, about American torture in Afghanistan, and the film about Americans sexual abuse by clergy in Sins of the Fathers, Silence in the House of God. In this present film he has been able to bring together his earlier footage for the more triumphant-intended documentary as well as sequences outing Armstrong and his deception.

The film does give the opportunity to give something of Armstrong’s background, growing up in Texas, with a single mother, highly competitive at school and in cycling, moving in the 1990s to some championships which led to his entry into the tour to France of 1999, his winning and the subsequent six wins to 2005. He himself often quotes his sense of competitiveness, his desire to win, and certainly his desire not to lose. He is praised as being determined, but denounced as being domineering and dominating.

For those not in the know, the frequent and lengthy excerpts showing Armstrong riding and his tactics will seem too long – though they seem necessary in building up this portrait of Armstrong. On the other hand, the many vistas of the multitude of cyclists in various scenic spots in Europe are most arresting.

This time the film opens with the interview with Opera Winfrey and Armstrong answering her directly. It continues with the interview with Gibney. It is in this context that the film then retraces Armstrong’s career.

Of great interest are the very many interviews with fellow cyclists, who give their impressions of Armstrong as a person, as a character, as a cyclist. Very significant are the 2005 interviews with Frankie Andreu and Betsy Andreu, his wife, who are quite blunt about Armstrong’s use of enhancing drugs – which, at the time, he vigorously denounced. Of great interest also are other comments by cycling journalists, authors of books about cycling, one of them highlighting Armstrong’s previous partnership with George Landis, and his falling out with him leading to Landis also denouncing him.

Perhaps it is not a balance to what Armstrong has done, but there is some effective footage in the film, showing him at the time of his experience of cancer and the chemotherapy and its brutal consequences. It also shows his foundation, his travelling the world to raise millions of dollars for children with cancer, his visiting the wards and being with the children. In the 2009 footage, especially when the official organisations suddenly send personnel for blood and urine tests, he is seen with his two daughters. A human touch.

In the film which runs just over two hours, there is a great deal of material – and quite a long time to look at Armstrong himself, his face as he denied drug-taking, his face as he talked with friends and clashed with enemies, his face as he finally spoke the truth. And audiences will be still puzzling about how such a high flier could have kept the deception going for so long and then fallen so far.


BLUE RUIN

US, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
Macon Blair, Devin Rattray, Amy Hargraves, Eve Plumb.
Directed by Jeffrey Saulnier.

Blue Ruin is an unexpectedly successful Gothic drama. It received quite some critical acclaim and was screened in the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. Unfortunately, the small-budget did not lead to wide distribution, but it was seen in specialised circumstances.

The screenplay is able to lead the audience on, introducing the central character as wild and hairy, having a bath in the home of absent owners. He flees and the audience probably thinks the worst of him, scavenging in garbage for food, going to his old blue Pontiac car and living in it – but also seen reading. His name is Dwight.

When a policewoman comes to the car, we assume that he will be arrested. On the contrary, he seems to be well-known and is given information, with great sensitivity as the woman takes him to a police station, to tell him that his father and mother’s murderer is being released. We wonder what he will do.

He cuts his hair and shaves his beard, looking completely different from what he was at the beginning. He then goes and kills the ex-prisoner. This continues the feud between the family and Dwight and his family, his going to see his sister to make sure she was away from home while he waited for them to attack. In the attack, he takes one of the prisoner’s brothers and puts him in the boot his car, while he himself is wounded in the leg by an arrow – which leads to his buying equipment to sever the end of the arrow, but having to go to hospital after he collapses from lack of blood.

He then continues his fight against the family because they are in pursuit. Dwight lists the help of an old school friend who gives him a gun, and saves his life when he is about to be killed. Then he has to confront the women of the family, one of them particularly vicious.

The film is well above average for this kind of drama, well written and performed, stylishly photographed and edited. Macon Blair, who appears in practically every scene, is quite persuasive as Dwight. Director, Jeffrey Saulnier, wrote, directed and photographed the film.


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

US, 2014, 137 minutes, Colour.
Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Emily Van Camp, Frank Grillo, Toby Jones, Jenny Agutter.
Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo.

Captain America: the Winter Soldier is the second in the series of Marvel comics on Steve Rogers, Captain America. Audiences were introduced to Captain America in the initial film of 2012, the story of Steve Rogers, a small weedy character who was transformed into Captain America. Captain America had been wounded in World War II but frozen until he was needed, thawing in the 21st century. Captain America has been popular – but the way that he is written, the all-time good guy, always doing the right thing, means that he is a less complex character and lacks the charisma of other characters, for instance, of Anthony Mackie as his friend, Sam.

In this film, Captain America is getting up-to-date with the 21st century, especially the Internet and technology. He is called to a mission where pirates have captured a ship and taken hostages, including some officials of SHIELD. His partner in this enterprise is the former KGB agent, the Black Widow, Natasha, played by Scarlett Johansson, obviously relishing the opportunity to get into the action. They are under the control of Nick Fury, played as in the other films by Samuel L. Jackson. He is now subordinate to the official, the Secretary, played by Robert Redford. Audiences will be surmising that Redford will turn out to be the villain and, of course, this is the case. It is interesting to see Redford agreeing to be in one of these blockbusters. And his villain is very urbane, quite phlegmatic, even in the face of defeat and death. He is not one of those ranting and raving villains.

The film begins with conversation and then moves to bam-bam-bam. This is the pattern of the whole film, conversations, then fights, conversations, then fights… There are car chases through the city, there are fights in space vehicles and on the them - all building up to a final split-second climax.

Harking back to the first film and the establishment of Hydra during World War II and its continuance into the 21st century (even to Gary Shandling having a walk-on role as a rogue Senator), the principal issue is fascism, a belief that there is a superior ruling class and all the rest of the populace should be subservient, that those in authority know best, that they can destroy what they consider weak in order to control, allegedly for the common good. At a time when there are wars in very many parts of the world as well as extremist governments, the message of Captain America is worth exploring.

For those who’ve seen the original film, there is an interesting unexpected twist which brings some drama to the whole proceedings and some complexity for Steve Rogers.

Fans will enjoy this particular episode, but it lacks something of the oomph of such films as for Thor and, especially, the Iron Man films.


CUBAN FURY

UK, 2013, 98 minutes, Colour.
Nick Frost, Chris O’ Dowd, Rashida Jones, Ian Mc Shane, Olivia Colman, Rory Kinnear, Alexandra Roach.
Directed by James Griffiths.

No, this is not a drama of the 1950s revolution led by Fidel Castro. No, this is not an action film about protesters, exiled from Cuba, angry in Miami. In fact, it is about salsa.

This is also a story with the moral of not worrying about one’s weight and appearance, that many things are possible, including winning salsa competitions. The man with the weight is Nick Frost, co—writer and co-star with Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Paul, The World’s End. So, he has a strong reputation for comedy – and this is his film, the idea, writing, starring, dancing.

‘Fury’ is probably far too strong a word for the title. Bruce, Frost’s character, does have a lot to complain about. But not ‘fury’. As a boy, he won many salsa competitions, pairing with his sister, Sam. On the verge of a big win, he was chased by a group of bullies and became so down that he opted out of dancing altogether, much to the anger of his trainer, played by Ian McShane?.

Now that he is an adult and weighing more than he should, he is the butt of jokes, especially the nasty teasing and sexual innuendo from his co-worker, Drew, (Chris O’Dowd). When the new boss, Julia (Rashida Jones) comes from the United States, he is partly smitten, but when she crashes into him as he is riding his bike, he is completely smitten. Then he discovers she does salsa, and he starts to move back towards the dance floor, encouraged by his sister.

Of course, this is a quite predictable film, but that is why people enjoy it. The put-upon Bruce tries to stand up for himself, gradually doing it more and more, pushed by his old teacher, exasperated by his experiences with Drew who even mocks him for making a cassette for Julia’s car and then passing it off as his own work for her.

Frost doesn’t always look gainly on the dance floor, but he has what his trainer calls corazon, heart. This keeps him going despite some humiliations and Drew and others even mocking the idea that he could dance, let alone salsa. However, at the lessons, he encounters a fellow-dancer, Bejan, from the Middle East, who is quite camp in dress, manner, an irritant for Bruce until he gradually gets to know and like him – and we get to know and like and are highly amused by.

As the film moves towards its climax, Bruce and his sister partner for a competition. But then Julia turns up and she happily dances with him.

Probably best to say that the film is rather slight, but often comedies that are light and slight are entertaining, as is this one, and, of course, the moral is to be self-confident and not be put off by those who think they are smart, but are actually making fools of themselves all the time. We are on Bruce’s side.


DIVERGENT

US, 2014, 138 minutes, Colour.
Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, miles teller, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney,
Directed by Neil Burger.

For a PR savvy producer, Divergent may not be the immediate choice for a popular film title. However, with Veronica Roth’s series of novels, Divergent, Insurgent, Resurgent, the word takes its place prominently in the world of young adult novels and films. By the time of Divergent, there is a tradition with the Twilight series, that Hunger Games series, following in the footsteps of Harry Potter.

Audiences will notice a great number of similarities between Divergent and The Hunger Games series, prominently the central character being an energetic and resourceful young female. The men are in supporting roles. And, in the case of Divergent, the malevolent authority figure is also female.

Shailene Woodley, so effective in her performances in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, is Beatrice Prior, who chooses her pesonal name, Tris, as she enters into her equivalent of hunger games, training in the action of The Dauntless. The overall supervisor Jeanine, is played by Kate Winslet.

Once again, this is a futuristic story, in this dystopian world, 100 years after a devastating war and focused on the city of Chicago. For organisation’s sake and keeping the peace, the population is divided into five factions, with homeless rejects from the factions, the faction-less. The factions are: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave), based on their personalities.

But there are individuals who do not fit easily into these categories, transcend several of them, who are viewed with suspicion as undermining the system. They are the Divergents. It is no surprise to find that Tris is a Divergent.

Tris comes from a family of the abnegation faction. This faction is in charge of ruling the city, her father (Tony Goldwyn) is an official and her mother (Ashley Judd) is a Divergent. Her brother chooses Erudite.

A great deal of the film is taken up by the training of The Dauntless, ultra-tough methods, ruthlessly applied by the commander, Eric (Jai Courtney). His second in command, Four (Theo James) is a more ambiguous character with whom Tris forms a bond. Needless to say, Tris overcomes her limitations and becomes one of the key Dauntless.

As might be suspected, there are rumblings in some of the factions, resenting Abnegation being the rulers. This is fomented by Jeanine and her technical program to eliminate abnegation from its key role. This leads to factional uprisings and violent confrontations with the Dauntless.

While the main focus in this film is the training of The Dauntless, the action is leading to insurgency which paves the way for the sequel, Insurgent.

Those who’ve read the novels will be eager to see the films. For those who have not read the novels, the film may be an interesting introduction – but more for the young adult targeted audience rather than the adult audience.


FADING GIGOLO

US, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara.
Directed by John Turturro.

Certainly an offbeat title. And the premise of the plot is rather suspect, though treated more gently than might be expected.

We are introduced to two characters, one in his middle age, the other older. They are played by John Turturro and Woody Allen.

Fioravante (Turturro) is a quiet character, who works in a flower shop and is an expert as at floral designs. He is helping his friend, Murray, packing up books because people are less interested in books these days. Murray has visited his doctor for a dermatology procedure and the issue has come up about sex, relationships and a menage and Murray has the bright idea that his friend, Fioravante, might respond to such requests and start a career as a gigolo. Murray is eager to be his agent – and even more eager not only to have an agent’s fee but, as waitresses do in restaurants, share tips.

This might not be the story an audience would like to watch – but, it is treated with more humanity than might have been expected, raises issues of sexuality and relationships, and does so with some humour.

There is little given about Fioravante’s background or why he should agree to take on this role. Seeing him with a number of clients shows his sympathy, kindness and regard for women. One is played by Sharon Stone, initially shy, but wanting revenge on her husband. Another is played by Sofia Vergara, who is in for the experience. But one woman he encounters is a widow from the strict Jewish community in Brooklyn, who stirs emotions in him as well as in herself.

It should have been said earlier, that the role of Murray is very much a typical Woody Allen character, full of anxious remarks, full of one-liners, keeping the audience very much amused with his worrying character and his style. And suddenly it is revealed that he has an African-American? wife and several children with whom he is a tender father.

This brings in the Jewish community, very strict in its regulations, Murray not fitting into their ideals. Liev Schreiber is one of the local equivalent of police, keeping an eye on everyone’s behaviour, even to arresting people and bringing them before a bench of Rabbis for judgement.

This means that there is a lot of comedy about groups in New York City, humour about this Jewish community, for instance, serious young Rabbis-in-the-making, refusing to be interested in or coached in baseball – but some relent!

The screenplay was written by John Turturro, who also directs, so it is a vehicle for himself, his character, his moral behaviour, his concerns, the experience of being a local gigolo and its repercussions for himself and his moral perspective.

A different New York story.


FAITH CONNECTIONS

India, 2013, 115 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Pan Nalin.

Faith in general? Or a particular faith? The answer is Hinduism. And the focus is on a particular religious celebration, pilgrimage, gathering of 100 million people, the Kumbh Mela.

Film director, Pan Nalin, tells us at the opening of the film that he was urged by his father to go on this pilgrimage, to bring home something of faith, as well as faces and stories. And this is what he has done, roaming among the pilgrims, talking with them, exploring their faith and devotion, as well as finding all kinds of faces which offer portraits of contemporary India (and probably past India) as well as a range of differing stories.

It should be said that the film is visually most arresting. Just seeing the massing crowds and crowds, old and young, men and women, is sometimes overwhelming. But, to prevent the film from being too overwhelming, the director pauses very often, holds his camera on an expressive face and lets the audience contemplate, identifies a range of people from yoga practising experts to parents who have lost their children to some children themselves.

The director arrives by train, joins the throng, keeps moving. The key religious ritual is that of, using the word of the subtitles, a ‘dip’ in the confluence of three rivers where the celebration is held. This motif recurs during the film, people going into the river, washing, dipping, experiencing something of the sacred.

Audiences will have seen other world religious pilgrimages – which tend to be more orderly in their conduct, a visit to the Vatican, a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and, in the Muslim world, the pilgrimage to Mecca for the Hajj. This celebration is a kind of mixum-gatherum, more perhaps akin to a crowded music festival: some groups focusing on one experience, individuals going searching, watching a Guru in extraordinary yoga contortion positions, reverencing images of the gods, quietly recollected.

The main narrative focuses on a young boy, who gives the impression of a worldly-wise street kid, glibly talking about being a Mafia gangster, committing murders during the day, arbitrarily choosing four intended killings, victims to be the police and anyone he comes across. Someone remarks that the boy has seen too many movies – probably an understatement. He is cheeky, moves around amongst the people, swaggering. But a religious man, a Sadhu, semi-adopts him, trying to take care of him, shelter him, feed him, urge him away from his violently melodramatic imagination. At the end of the feast, he disappears, and the main searches for him, ultimately finding him living in a quiet village. There is an interview with his father, and the boy declaring that he himself wants to be a Sadhu, The influence of good example? A worthwhile ambition?

Another holy man adopts an abandoned child, making strong comments about Indian youth that (sounding like youths from other cultures) they are only interested in sex, drugs, their own self-centred lives. There is also comment about young girls becoming immediately pregnant then abandoning their children when they are born.

On the other hand, there is a lot of talk about ganja, smoking marijuana and linking it to spiritual experience.

Not everything in the film is religious. Quite an amount of the footage is about the logistics in managing 100 million people. There are glimpses of lines and lines of people sitting, waiting for the serving of food. There are the police, trying to manage traffic and movement. And there are quite constant images of the centre for Lost and Found, children straying away from families, husbands and wives separated, a full-time job for a large staff.

Which means then that the audience is immersed in the Festival, in the traditions of Hinduism, in the ordinary life of Indian people, colourful, surprising, sometimes dismaying. There is no explicit faith connection to other world religions, but audiences of different faiths or no faith will have the opportunity to contemplate and reflect on the phenomenon, so ingrained in millions of people, of faith and devotion.


GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA

US, 2012, 83 minutes, Colour and Black and white.
Gore Vidal.
Directed by Nicholas Wrathall.

If you are a fan of Gore Vidal, even when you don’t agree with him, this documentary is a must.

It is a fairly complete portrait of Vidal himself, from his birth in 1925 into an aristocratic American family to his death in 2010, a life brimming with activity, writing, talking and chronicling American history.

The film uses a great deal of footage of each period, from the affluence of the 20s into the 30s, World War II and the Navy, Vidal’s literary career from his novels in the 1940s to the controversy about Myra Breckenridge and his important series of novels on American history. We see footage of J.F.Kennedy in the 1960s as well as the Vietnam war. Vidal was a political and cultural commentator from the 1960s and was most uncomplimentary about Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Vidal was very involved in theatre, especially with his play The Best Man, revived in the 2000s, and with screenplays including Ben Hur.

He stood for the Senate in 1960 but was unsuccessful.

Vidal bought a house in Italy, a beautiful mansion on a very beautiful coast and lived there for many decades with his partner. On the death of his partner, and his becoming elderly and ill, he moved to California, regretfully leaving Italy but certainly not opting out of life back in the United States. A scene towards the end of the film has him watching and commenting on the Obama election.

Vidal moved in many circles in the United States, political, cultural, in the entertainment business and was an actor in quite a number of films.

Among a lot of the issues about which he had much to say was that of homosexuality, including his own, and his relationship, a platonic one, with his partner, though permissive as regards other relationships.

Throughout the film there are various quotations from Vidal, many paradoxical and witty, many satirical, many quite incisive on American life – in what he named, and is the title of the film, The United States of Amnesia.


HALF OF A YELLOW SUN

UK/Nigeria, 2013, 111 minutes, Colour.
Chiwitel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Anaka Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle, John Boyega.
Directed by Biyi Bandele.

Good question. What in fact is the half of a yellow sun?

The answer is that a half sun was the symbol, emblem, on the flag of the fledgeling nation, Biafra. But, after the 1960s, Biafra has faded from many memories – except the memories of citizens of Nigeria and emigrants leaving Nigeria from which Biafra seceded in 1967 and which was conquered by the Nigerian army and reincorporated into the nation. These years were tragic for the citizens of the new country, many killed in warfare, in the air raids, many placed in camps where they experienced starvation.

This drama offers an opportunity for worldwide audiences to learn something of this part of Nigerian history. It opens with great fanfare on the day of Nigerian independence in 1960, local celebrations and a visit from Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. But, Nigeria was an artificial creation by the British government and its colonial mentality, gathering together a number of tribes which, if not enemies of the other, left them with great tensions. This artificial creation, as with so many of the countries of western Europe and Central Europe, would lead to bitter conflict, to armed conflict.

One of the advantages of this film is that it incorporates a great deal of film footage from the 1960s. This enables the audience to see some of the participants in independence movements, in the subsequent governments and in military coups. There is footage from television coverage, including reporting from author, Frederick Forsyth, and from the newsreels screened in the cinemas.

The star of this film is Chiwitel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), born in London of Nigerian parents. This is an opportunity for him to return to his roots, this struggling time in Nigeria which meant that his parents emigrated to the United Kingdom. He plays an academic, comfortably off, teaching at a university, in a relationship with a woman who is also an academic. She is played by Thandie Newton, born in the UK, but with a Rhodesian background.

As the film opens on Independence Day, we see her wealthy family entertaining one of the new ministers, but also vying for financial contracts, and the minister eyeing the daughters to see what benefit he could gain. The two daughters, twins, then go to a club where one of them (Anika Noni Rose) encounters an Englishman, working in the colonies but aiming to be a writer, and they begin an affair which leads to their partnership. He is played by Joseph Mawle (who had played Jesus in the 2008 BBC series, The Passion).

These characters live in the part of Nigeria which was to become, for such a short time, Biafra. The first couple live in a university town, but the professor is heavily influenced by his tribal mother, who comes from her village with a servant and encourages her son, plying him with drink, to make the servant pregnant. This does not quite have the effect that she intended, but it does change the couple’s lives. The other couple live in Port Harcourt and look after the business interests of the family. When trouble breaks out, the well-to-do parents move to England.

The first half of the film establishes the characters, their situations, the new country with its independence, but the inevitable trouble with ambitions, tribal clashes, leading to violence – and a surprisingly shocking massacre at an airport.

The second half of the film is concerned with the war, its effect on people in Biafra, the mass movements out of areas which we are were being bombarded. Some of the sequences, especially with cars trying to get along roads which are continually being bombed, bring home something of the effect of the war.

By 1970, Biafra no longer existed – which throws light on the subsequent history of Nigeria, tribal rivalries, and the clash between Christians and Muslims.

In some ways the film is fairly straightforward, with its story of relationships, prosperity, hardships. But, seen in the context of this part of Nigerian history, it reminds us that history needs to be relived so that later generations can be aware of what has happened.


HANNAH ARENDT

Germany/Israel/Luxembourg, 2013, 113 minutes, Colour.
Barbara Sukowa, Janet Mc Teer, Axel Milbert.
Directed by Margarethe von Trotte.

Hannah Arendt was a significant thinker in her time. She had written on the Origins of Totalitarianism and was appreciated as a philosopher. Jewish, she had escaped with her mother from Germany in the late 1930s to the United States and became an American citizen. She lectured in New York and was esteemed as a woman of depth and intelligence.

This is a film which is of interest to those who know about Hannah Arendt, her life and career. It will also be of interest to those who know little about her but want to find out her contribution to 20th century thinking. If an audience is not interested in Hannah Arendt and her work, they will find this sometimes detailed look at her and her philosophy hard going, or too-hard going.

The director, Margarethe von Trotte, has had a long career in film and has concentrated so many times on significant women and women’s issues. Her leading lady for Hannah Arendt, Barbara Sukowa, has appeared in several of the director’s films playing, amongst others, Rosa Luxembourg and Hildegard of Bingen. Here she creates a very strong impression as Hannah Arendt.

The principal focus of the film is Hanna and on Adolf Eichmann, his being taken by Israeli agents in Argentina, his extradition to Jerusalem and his trial, where he was held in a glass cage, and ultimately found guilty of the charges and hanged.

Hannah Arendt asked the editor of the New Yorker to report on the trial. Her husband, Heinrich, was against her going. But, wanting to ground her philosophical reflections in facts and experience, she was determined to go. The film has some brief scenes of the trial, Hannah sitting in the benches, working in the press room watching the television screen, and some actual television footage of Eichmann himself, the prosecutor and the judge. There are several re-enactments, as well as footage, of some of the witnesses and their emotional response to the treatment of the Jews and the Holocaust. Looking at Eichmann, we see a small man, very ordinary-looking, a bureaucrat rather than any charismatic leader. This was to be the core of Hannah Arendt’s comments on the trial.

After the publication of the articles in the New Yorker, there was a groundswell against Hannah. Jewish authorities and many of the Jews, whether they had read her articles or not, felt that she had betrayed her people, especially with her comments about the complicity, witting or unwitting, of some Jewish leaders with the Nazi authorities and so being responsible for more deaths of Jews. For many this was incomprehensible, leading to hostile phone calls, letters and death threats.

But Hannah Arendt was a strong character, accused of arrogance (which is displayed in the film) and a lack of feeling. However, influenced by the philosopher, Martin Heidegger, with whom she had a relationship when she was a student, rejecting him when he affirm Nazism and later visiting him to ask him to make a public apology, she was a philosopher who was also passionate, invoking ‘passionate thinking’.

The dramatic finale to the film is a lecture she gave at the New York New School, in the presence of the University officials who wanted her resignation, and to a full room of students. It is here that she speaks the phrase which most people know, even if they do not know who originated it, ‘The Banality of Evil’. Eichmann was an ordinary man, a bureaucrat, not a man with a vision or leadership qualities, but someone who obeyed orders because he believed in the authority and that the authority should be obeyed, passing on his orders to others who fulfilled them while he was detached, not even knowing necessarily what the consequences were. This is a particularly important message at any time, but particularly now, where communications and social media give us immediate information and a multitude of opinions.

Perhaps this film is more of a visual lecture about Hannah Arendt than an inventive cinema experience. But, to the extent that it portrays Hannah, her ideas, and the controversies about the Eichmann trial and her reporting, it is worth seeing.


HEALING

Australia, 2014, 115 minutes, Colour.
Hugo Weaving, Don Hany, Xavier Samuel, James Leonard Winter, Tony Martin, Robert Taylor, Jane Menelaus.
Directed by Craig Monahan.


This is a film one can heartily recommend to a wide audience. It is a beautiful film. It is a humane film. It is a film of hope and, as the title declares, of healing.

Writer-director, Craig Monahan, has not made a great number of films. He had success with his film, The Interview, 1998, about police and a criminal. It featured Hugo Weaving and Tony Martin who both appear in this film. Weaving appeared in his 2004 film, Peaches.

And, again criminals are an important part of the film. Hugo Weaving plays an officer in a Victorian prison. Don Haney plays a murderer serving an 18 year sentence. What brings them together, dramatically? The answer is birds.

Appearing during the opening credits are beautiful and moving sequences of an eagle in flight. In fact, throughout the film, there are many sequences of flight, eagles and owls, as well as close-ups of the faces and profiles of the birds. For these alone, many will find Healing well worth seeing. One of the birds, who is later named Yasmine, crashes into a fence. Matt Perry (Weaving) who has been looking after birds with his wife and setting them free for the wild, gets in touch with authorities at the Healesville Sanctuary to arrange care for the birds.

Perry comes to the idea of setting up cages and a sanctuary area within in the prison where the inmates could actually look after the birds and assist in their healing and re-training.

One of the prisoners, originally from Iran, Viktor, (Don Haney) shows an affinity with the birds and is commissioned to look after them, starting with Yasmine. He has been assigned a room (rather than a cell) which he shares with two young prisoners, the lazy Shane (Mark Leonard Winter) and the reclusive Paul (Xavier Samuel). Other prisoners help build the project.

While life is generally quiet in the prison, there is Warren (Anthony Hayes) who dominates the other prisoners and is dealing in drugs. He has a hold over Shane and unsuccessfully tries to dominate Viktor. Shane gradually understands the training of the birds and defies Warren – and after going to his twin brother’s funeral, accompanied by Perry, he decides to build a pathway amongst the cages in memory of his brother. In the meantime, Paul, secretive about his crime and his background, responds well to the birds and their training.

Another aspect of the plot is day leave for Viktor, to see his estranged son. But the day fails and Viktor seems to be back where he started, with Perry suspicious of him.

However, Glenys (Jane Menelaus) who is in charge of the birds at Healesville, trusts Viktor and pressures for the authorities to return him to working with the birds. The attempt to free Yasmine for the wild fails and she goes to Healesville.

While the film shows the healing of the birds, they are a symbol, of course, for the healing of the prisoners, with respect for them as persons, sensitivity to their problems, enabling them to walk free when their time has been served.

There is a very pleasing finale with the birds at Healesville Sanctuary.

This is quality Australian film-making, drawing on the talents of a wide range of technicians as well as of the cast and director.


THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

UK, 2013, 111 minutes, Colour.
Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, Joanna Scanlan, John Kavanagh.
Directed by Ralph Fiennes.

While The Invisible Woman might sound like a science-fiction sequel to The Invisible Man, it is nothing of the kind. Which means that it is probably an unsatisfactory title, although it derives from the book by Clare Tomalin. The invisible woman this time is Ellen Lawless Teman, the mistress of author, Charles Dickens.

For audiences interested in Dickens, not only his books and celebrity but his private life, this film will be of great interest. For those less interested, it may prove tedious, even boring. The reason for this is that the film takes us back into the 19th century, immerses us in England in the latter part of the century, at Margate on the coast, in London. The costumes and decor, production design are meticulous in their re-creation. The language and the dialogue is that of the period, that of Dickens.

It is also the style of film-making that will entice or repel. It is the very antithesis of the contemporary fast-paced action film and slick and rapid editing. Here we have long takes, a kind of portraiture for the characters, filmed from different angles, with screen compositions, characters at the side of the screen helping us to observe them as well as their background. Many of the sequences are long takes, dwelling on the characters and situations. On some occasions there is a musical score, but very often the long takes are presented in silence for our contemplation.

The screenplay is by Abbi Morgan, who wrote such films as The Iron Lady and Shameless. The direction is by Ralph Fiennes, his second film as director (after his Coriolanus). He is clearly a man of fine taste in the way that he has created his world, the world of Dickens and of Nellie Ternan.

And he himself plays the central role, Ralph Fiennes’ appearance being recognisable but different, through the effect of his hair and beard style, that of the portraits of Dickens himself. He has the opportunity to put on a play and star in it, be a celebrity to his many fans, read some of his work, and be the author in the public eye. But he also has the opportunity to be the private Dickens, the husband with the large number of children, separating from his wife, wooing Nellie Ternan, falling in love with her, sharing his life with her, grieving over the death of their child, finally installing her in a house in London so that he could keep his relationship with her private to preserve his public image.

This means that the film does depend on the performance by Felicity Jones as Nellie. We first see her after Dickens’ death, married, walking the beach at Margate, putting on a play in the local school. These scenes recur but the main focus is on her past, her life with Dickens. We readily believe that Felicity Jones is Nellie. She is supported very strongly by her mother, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, a more genial role then she usually plays.

Something of the contradictions of the Victorian era and its formalities and properness is suggested by this relationship, as well as the stance of author, Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander), who does not believe in marriage and lives with his partner and child – something which Nellie is shocked at.

An important focus for the film is that of Dickens’ wife, Catherine, portrayed as a rather large and dowdy woman, mother of his many children, seemingly unresponsive to him, accepting his life of celebrity and being present at so many functions. But, Dickens falls out of love with her and, in an extraordinary gesture, sends a letter to The Times explaining the rumours about his relationship with Nellie and his separation from his wife, seemingly oblivious to the pain that this letter causes her. Joanna Scanlan portrays Catherine perfectly and has several very moving scenes which make an impact, where she has to take a birthday gift to Nellie on behalf of her husband and speaks plainly to Nellie about him. The other sequence is her son reading out the letter in The Times and her weeping.

For those who are absorbed by this story and filmmaking, there is much to reflect on, a different era, its code of morals, private lives, as well as the genius of Dickens as an author and his celebrity in his times.


LIVING IS EASY WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED

Spain, 2013, 107 minutes, Colour.
Javier Camara, Natalia de Sofia, Francisc Colomer, Jorge Sanz, Ariadna Gil.
Directed by David Trueba.

The title comes from John Lennon’s song, Strawberry Fields. And John Lennon is a significant presence in this film.

The time is 1966. The place is Almeria in southern Spain. It is a comparatively quiet summer, school is in and we meet Antonio, a teacher of English, using the lyrics of John Lennon’s songs, especially Help, for his students to learn and pronounce English. But, John Lennon himself is in Almeria for the filming of Richard Lester’s How I Won the War, one of Lennon’s few screen appearances. Antonio not has not only has a great desire to meet Lennon and talk with him about his lyrics, but he sets out on a special mission to meet him.

Antonio is played engagingly by Javier Camara, star of several of Pedro Almodovar’s films, a standout in his Talk to Her.

Living is Easy then becomes a road movie, significant for Antonio but also for two hitchhikers he encounters. We have seen one of them at a home for unmarried mothers, severe in treatment in taking the babies from their mothers when born, but touches of kindness for this girl, Belen. She decides to go to stay with her mother and so goes on the road, avoiding a man who shows suspicious attitudes towards her and driving off with the genial Antonio. He also sees a teenager on the side of the road. We have already seen him in the context of his family in Madrid, a kind mother with her many children, a severe father, a policeman. He has decided to run away.

With the sun shining brightly and with vistas of the sea, it is a cheerful journey. When Antonio books into a rather dingy motel, with a squat receptionist who speaks a dialect that nobody understands, he gets a room for Belen and persuades the friendly owner of the restaurant and bar, a refugee from Italy for the sun with Bruno, his son disabled with cerebral palsy, to employ the young boy part time.

By this time we are all eager ourselves to see John Lennon and to see whether Antonio can get on to the film set. There are various drawbacks and it would be a pity to spoil the plot outline by mentioning whether he sees Lennon or not. In the meantime, there are problems at the bar, some locals trashing it and bashing the young boy, as well is a sexual encounter, a ‘rites of passage’ kind of thing, between the boy and Belen.

Whatever has happened with John Lennon or not, Antonio has had a significant journey and has had a good influence on Belen and the boy whose father comes to take back home.

It is at this juncture that the lyrics of the song are spoken – a wry Lennon comment on what has happened.

This is a very pleasing film, with interesting characters, an interesting quest – and frequent touches of humour and good nature.


MINISCULE: THE VALLEY OF THE LOST ANTS.

France, 2013, 89 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Helene Giraud, Thomas Szabo.

this is a pleasing film, mainly for little children, and for their parents accompanying them who would be able to explain some of the details about insects.

It is also an example of French animation, based on the television series of 2006, Miniscule. The animation is fairly straightforward, but very attractive. Much is made of the beautiful French countryside, the mountains, the grass on the hills, the trees and woods, the roads through the mountains. It is only at the beginning that any humans appear, a husband and wife having a picnic on the grass, she heavily pregnant. During the meal, labour pains come on and they have to hurry away in their car, leaving some of the picnic goods on the blanket on the grass.

In the meantime, we are treated to the birth of little ladybirds, their parents looking on, helping them to flex their wings and then urging them on to fly. One of the ladybirds becomes one of the main characters for this film.

With the food left of the blanket, especially a box of sugar cubes, it is a signal for the insects to come out. On the good side, are the black ants. The film, like a documentary, shows great deal about the ants, their size, the hierarchy and command, the ants working as a group, in unison, scenes of their marching, going over the ground, finding the sugar, the attempts to carry it and take it back to their nest. The plot shows the ladybird becoming friendly with one of the ants.

On the villainous are the red ants. Once again, the film shows them in great detail, their nest, their working together, their leadership, the approach to the sugar. The film builds up to a clash, but the Ladybird and the little black and are able to thwart the ambitions of the red ants.

This is the kind of story and documentary that nature channels show on television. And, the real thing is probably more persuasive than an animation story. However, for little children, the animation and the story will capture their imagination and help them in their discovery of the world of insects and their place in the world of nature.


MAN OF TAI CHI

China, 2013, 91 minutes, Colour.
Keanu Reeves, Tiger Hu Chen, Karen Mok.
Directed by Keanu Reeves.

What can one say about this film except that it is about martial arts, and the use of Tai Chi in martial arts bouts? Except, of course, to say that it was directed by Keanu Reeves – and he also has a starring role, a complete villain.

It is competently made, taking advantage of the martial arts actor and stunt performer, Tiger Hu Chen, and his strong ability to fight – even though, in his training with a Master of Tai Chi, he knows that he should be employing his inner energy rather than any fighting vengeance. However, he is persuaded to go into fights which are televised and the source of huge on-line betting revenue When Keanu Reeves’ security company puts his guru’s building in danger, he decides to consent to fight in order to give the prize money to his mother and to fix the building.

This leads to a number of fights, the domination by Reeves, the setting up of a battle to the death with an Indonesian fighter. But our hero regains something of his conscience, especially when he is put in contact with a policewoman whose mission it is to arrest Reeves and destroy his company.

Probably of interest to non-Asian audiences because of the presence and work of Keanu Reeves.


MR MORGANS LAST LOVE

Germany, 2014, 116 minutes, colour.
Michael Caine, Clemencei Poesy, Justin Kirk, Gillian Anderson, Jane Alexander.
Directed by Sandra Nettlebeck.

After 50 years in films, Michael Caine can still get top billing. Here he is playing Matthew Morgan, an expatriate philosophy professor, who has lived in Paris in retirement with his wife but who is still grieving three years after her death from cancer. Interestingly, Michael Caine is playing a character who is his exact age, 78 at the time of filming.

The film opens with his wife’s death and his stubbornness concerning the removal of her body. But, he has survived for several years, going through various daily routines, somewhat alienated from his son and daughter who live in the United States. Perhaps not a great premise for an almost two hour film. In fact, it is, with the first hour showing a light and happy touch, the second hour becoming more serious.

When Mr Morgan stumbles in a local bus, a young woman, Pauline, assists him, accompanying him home. She has a lively and attractive personality and when Mr Morgan sees her in a bus again, he gets out at her stop – and thus begins a most genial acquaintance and friendship. Mr Morgan starts going out more frequently, discovering that Pauline is a dance teacher, cha-cha and other lively dances. Slowly he becomes a participant. But, he has always had thoughts of suicide after his wife’s death and he makes an attempt with pills, fails, and finds himself in hospital.

His son, Miles, arrives from America, finds his father embracing the young woman and thinks the worst, that she is a gold-digger after his father. He is an angry man, his wife leaving him, with his resentment towards his father and his poor parenting as well as seemingly preventing himself and his sister from saying farewell to their mother at her dying abroad.

The sister also arrives, a much tougher character than her brother. This leads to many discussion sequences, the sister returning to America, the brother staying, antagonistic towards Pauline, not happy with her intervening to make peace. In the second half, after our sympathetic attitude towards Mr Morgan, we begin to see the other side of his life and behaviour, his inability to affirm his son, his keeping his distance, and the perceived selfishness in keeping their mother’s death from her children.

Clemence Poesy is charming as Pauline. Justin Kirk is Miles and Gillian Anderson is the sister. (But, Michael Caine’s American accent sounds forced and reminiscent of his terrible accent, despite his winning the Oscar) in The Cider House Rules.)

Towards the end there is rather sudden or too-sudden dramatic development, which the audience is not quite prepared for, but it paves the way for a resolution, for Miles, Pauline and for Mr Morgan himself.

This is a film for older audiences who will identify with Mr Morgan and his situation, with his wife and her terminal illness. It is a film for middle-aged audiences who have to think about their relationship with their parents and imminent old age and death.


MR PEABODY AND SHERMAN

US, 2014, 92 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Alison Janney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann.
Directed by the Rob Minkoff.

Mr Peabody is a beagle who introduces himself to the film audience as something more than a genius. Sherman is a seven-year-old boy with big glasses and spiky hair. He has been adopted by Mr Peabody which means that we have a comic reversal of roles of ‘every boy must have his dog – every dog must have his boy’!

This brightly animated film has been directed by Rob Minkoff, the director of that popular family film, Stuart Little. Once again we have tongue-in-cheek comedy about children and dogs.

Whether you enjoy this film or not will depend on whether your fancy is tickled by eccentric visits to the historical past – and by an enjoyment of puns. A lot of it will go over the heads of children who may enjoy the images nonetheless. Adults will be amused with some of the references from Bill Clinton joining Washington and Clinton and making a brief comment about his pardons, and a scene where everybody supports Mr Peabody by exclaiming ‘I am a dog’ – with an image of Kirk Douglas as Spartacus proclaiming ‘I am Spartacus’.

Mr Peabody has invented a time machine and off he and Sherman go so that Sherman’s education can be fostered. They visit France at the time of the French Revolution, see a largish Marie Antoinette eating cake (and Sherman enjoying the cake as well). Robespierre is there and would later get his comeuppance. But Mr Peabody is one of the aristocrats and finds himself under the blade of the guillotine with Sherman watching in the crowd – but, luckily, he can escape through the time machine. There is a visit to Egypt and King Tut, a visit to Troy and being inside the wooden horse, with conversations with Agamemnon and co. And there is quite a long visit to the Renaissance, Mr Peabody discussing physics and other matters with Leonardo da Vinci (who is having trouble with his severe model for the Mona Lisa) while Sherman and his school friend, Penny, who has accompanied them, test out da Vinci’s flying machine.

Where can it all end? There is a rift in time with all the historical characters turning up together – and some extras including Einstein – in the present with Mr Peabody trying to work out how to resolve the problem. It is Sherman who actually comes up with the final solution, driving the time machine backwards!

The main villain of the piece is one of the teachers at school who dislikes Mr Peabody and is severe with Sherman. She is Mrs Grunion – and an interesting fate awaits her!

Ty Burrell voices Mr Peabody, Max Charles is Sherman. A good supporting cast of voices includes Alison Janney as the fearsome Mrs Grunion.

An entertaining story of a dog and his boy.


MUPPETS MOST WANTED

US, 2014, 101 minutes, Colour.
Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, cameos by Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Jermaine Clement, Sean Combs, Rob Corddry, Mackenzie Crook, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifiniakis, Tom Hollander, Salma Hayak, Tom Hiddlestone, Tony Jones, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy?, Chloe Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronin, Danny Trejo, Til Schweiger, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz.
Directed by James Bobin.

With the new Muppets movie in 2012, the younger generation was introduced to those favourite characters of past audiences who are now parents and grandparents, appreciating the Muppets, their television shows and their movies since the 1970s.

This one opens with the finish of the first film, the Muppets all back together again and enjoying the bonding, but left with a camera – and what better than to make another movie!

The plot for this one is a bit complicated – but enjoyable for all that, with a load of guest stars doing amusing cameos, from Christoph Waltz to Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey, to Salma Hayak and to a singing and dancing group, rehearsing I Need This Job from A Chorus Line (and Machete’s and Bad Ass’s Danny Trejo of all people doing a solo recital!). That may be significant for the adult audiences – the teenagers were happier with a cameo sequence from the singer, Usher, which may have been lost on the adults.

A villain played by Ricky Gervais, Dominic Badguy, persuades the Muppets that he would be an excellent agent for them, urging a world tour, encouraging them each to develop their own act, which they are eager to do. The only dissenting voice is that of Kermit who suspects something. But the Muppets believe Badguy and off Kermit goes, only to be arrested because he resembles the most criminal frog in the world, the Russian Constantine. Constantine is in league with Badguy and they are planning a series of robberies which will culminate in stealing the British Crown Jewels.

The road to London requires a number of other robberies and, therefore, the Muppets go on tour. It includes a first visit to Berlin, than a performance in Madrid (and it is enjoyable to see the television opening of The Muppet’s Show in Spanish). Some of the acts are so noisy that they drown out the digging and explosions which Constantine and Badguy are involved in. And, to Kermit’s later disappointment, the Muppets are taken in completely by Constantine’s attempts at impersonating Kermit, even Miss Piggy.

In the meantime, Kermit is interned in a Gulag. His guard is Nadia, played by Tina Fey, with songs, dances, Russian parody, comedy routines, obviously enjoying herself in this role. Kermit tries a number of escapes but Nadia is always ready because she has seen all the escape movies and knows the obvious attempts. Then she asks him to advise on the annual prison revue. This is where the song and dance routines come in, especially that parody of a A Chorus Line. Ray Liotta is amongst the hoofers! Then it is off to Dublin and finally to London where Constantine, who has proposed to Miss Piggy, is going to stage a ceremony in the Tower of London to cover the robbery.

Fortunately, in the meantime, Fozzie and Animal have hurried over to Russia to free Kermit to be back in time to thwart the wedding.

Most of the popular characters from The Muppet Show have a chance to appear and make their mark.

Watching the Muppets, most audiences will probably have a smile on their faces and get some laughs as well and be happy that here they are, hopefully not for the last time.


NEED FOR SPEED

US, 2014, 123 minutes, Colour.
Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Harrison Gilbertson.
Directed by Scott Waugh.

Some people have a need for speed. Other people have no need for speed. This will be the criterion on which people can make their choice as to whether they see this film or not. It is definitely for the need-for-speeders, mostly definitely not those who have no need for speed.

The niche audience for this film is probably teenage boys, young adult men, though there is quite some attention in the screenplay to make it attractive to young women. It is based on a computer game, plays like a computer game – best not to examine the screenplay minutely for credibility or consistency in detail, the speed and the adrenaline are the thing.

Everybody then makes a comparison with The Fast and the Furious – which a hostile reviewer dabbed ‘The Fast and the Fatuous’. Perhaps it’s too unkind to use this for Need for Speed, but it is a strong temptation…!

The stunts are everything, as well as the way they are photographed and edited, for maximum impact. There is a warning at the end that these stunts were supervised and would be too dangerous for anyone to try them on their own – but, unfortunately, the rush-to-the-exit-as-soon-as-the-credits-loom audience are already on their feet and they will miss this salutary warning.

A couple of young men who run a garage in New York state are the main ones with the need for speed. Toby (Breaking Bad’s popular star, Aaron Paul) is an expert at work, as well as driving. He is also in competition with driver, Dino, who turns out to be more than nasty, (Dominic Cooper). In the background is a millionaire who whose adrenaline activity is hyper. He is played by Michael Keaton something in the way that he did 30 years earlier (hyper) when so many of his characters and their performances were frantic. He runs a secret and illegal competition, so we know that by the end Toby and Dino will have a confrontation. And they do.

However, there is some drama in the meantime, the young men having access to Mustangs with power to go over 200 mph. Something goes wrong during a race, Toby behaves well, Dino does not and Toby has to bear the consequences.

Two years later, Toby has the opportunity to drive in the secret race. Dino is already a candidate. But it does mean that Toby has to drive from New York to California in 44 hours – which gives a lot of opportunity for high speed, police chasing, helicopter guiding and pursuing, a range of American scenery, especially in the Colorado-Arizona? area, plenty of stunt work. Toby is accompanied by Julia, Imogen Poots, a British expert in handling the sales of cars. It is her expert driving in the western states that is the film’s reaching out to female audiences.

It is silly to be too critical of this kind of film. Motor fans will enjoy it immensely. Surprisingly, there is scarcely a swear word, no delaying over sex scenes and the nudity is by way of a joke! And, all things considered, it does achieve what it sets out to do, a night out for petrolheads (or whatever name is appropriate for the fans).


NOAH

US, 2014, 138 minutes, Colour.
Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connolly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Anthony Hopkins.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Noah has been produced as a big budget entertainment movie for world release. It is not a documentary, and it is not a visual aid to study of the book of Genesis.

The film is divided into two parts: the establishment of the character of Noah and his family, his sense of mission, the building of the Ark. This part plays very much like an epic movie, or one of those Marvel Comics movies. The second part has the family on the Ark, focuses on the character of Noah, especially his interior life, his doubts, his questioning of his mission. The way the film is written and performed may remind audiences of Greek tragedy, or of Noah being something like a King Lear. The popular audience will appreciate the first part of the film but might find the second part hard going. A more thoughtful audience will probably appreciate the second part, possibly wanting to forget the first part.

Religious audiences will immediately realise that God is not mentioned at all in the film. Rather, the makers have opted to use the term, The Creator. In fact, this alternative to God, works particularly well, reminiscent of the creation accounts and emphasising The Creator’s intentions in making the world and all living things, including humankind. This leads to what could be called a subtext about creation, the environment, and ecological message. But, throughout the film, it is alluded to so often, and then made explicit, that it becomes something of an instruction about care for the world.

There is an interesting section of the film when Noah and family begin their Ark journey. Noah recites the key Genesis 1 text of the days of creation and there are visuals to illustrate each of them, a sequence that is very effective.

Noah has an enemy, Tubal- Cain, who has killed his father and defies Noah, offering another variation on the Genesis theme, when Tubal- Cain stows away on the Ark. He is given a speech, using the old translations of Genesis 1, about the role of humans to subdue creation. He upholds old values of domination rather than respect for creation and the environment.

A particular difficulty is the variation on the Genesis text about the three sons of Noah taking their wives on board. This time only Shem has a wife, the rescued orphan girl. Noah has become so obsessed by this time that he threatens to kill the child if she is a girl and predicts that, if it is a boy, he will be the last of the humans to die. Ham has gone amongst the people to seek a wife to take on to the Ark, but is thwarted by his father, later resenting him (and giving support to the stowaway, Tubal- Cain). This means that the film raises the question of how the human race is to continue, the same question that is implicit in the story of Cain, Seth and their descendants and how children came to be.

This gives people the opportunity to discuss the Noah and Deluge story, what it meant in the times that the saga was created and handed on by word of mouth and finally written down, to discuss the religious and theological meaning of the Flood story as part of the basic relationship between God and humans.

As regards the film itself, the locations have the look of the prehistoric, and were filmed in the various terrains of Iceland. They are both interesting and exotic. The film also relies on computergraphics, especially for the animals assembling and going into the Ark, the flights of birds first, then the procession of animals, all computer-generated. While the film makers actually built an Ark, using the specifications in the book of Genesis, the flood and the sea of waters are also computer-generated. As, of course, are the Watchers, their building of the Ark, their defence against the enemies, the battle sequences and their ascension to the skies.

The sequence in the book of Genesis, chapter 9, where Noah drinks of the wines that have been cultivated and lies naked, drunk, and his sons respectfully move backwards to cover him, is included in this film, but immediately after the waters subside. Noah is still in confusion about his mission his behaviour and becomes drunk, with his sons covering him as described in the Bible.

The production design and the costume designers have opted for quite anachronistic choices, manufactured material, metal buckets and pipes, armour and weapons. And the choice for clothing looks a variation on the modern, a denim and leather look and something of an ancient T-shirt culture.

Russell Crowe gives a very dignified performance as Noah and Jennifer Connelly has dignity, looyalty and patience as his wife. On the other hand, Anthony Hopkins gives only a slight variation on his Welsh-accented genial performance as Methuselah. Ray Winstone, a little more subdued than usual, is a vicious Tubal- Cain. Emma Watson, post-Harry Potter, is the orphan girl. Most of the principal cast are not Americans and it is interesting to note that Jennifer Connelly and Logan Lerman as Ham use a more English accent.

Some audiences may think the film a winds down in the second half concentrating as it does on Noah, his interior life, his questioning of the commission, his relentless understanding of The Creator’s intentions for destroying the world and wanting to remain faithful. This makes him something of a tragic figure, his growing older, less certain, mentally disturbed, even to wanting to destroy his son’s child. He is like a tragedy figure, with a tragic flaw which will destroy him and those around him. As mentioned, it is something like a variation on King Lear.

The film-makers have counted on this being a commercial success. Religious audiences may well be interested. Audiences who have little interest in religion may not want to see the film. And with its striking differences between each part, word-of-mouth may well be cautious.

Noah is an entertainment, one might say of biblical proportions. But it is not a film that would be compulsory for students of the Bible.


NYMPHOMANIAC VOLUME 2

Denmark, 2013, 123 minutes (abridged version), Colour.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgaard, Shia LaBoeuf?, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, William Dafoe, Jean- Marc Barr, Mia Goth.
Directed by Lars von Trier.

Nymphomaniac Volume 2 begins, of course, where the first Volume stopped. Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is still talking with Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard), the therapeutic conversation that she began when he rescued her from her injuries in the street.

There is something of a different tone in many of the sequences in this Volume. Joe is played in the flashbacks by Charlotte Gainsbourg, instead of Stacey Martin as in Volume 1. She is still with Jerome (Shia LaBoeuf). They marry and have a child. But, as the years pass, Joe’s psychology and sexual proclivities manifest themselves again.

A great deal of time is spent in Joe’s encounter with K. When she loses all sexual feeling, she goes to visit K in his office, with the waiting room full of other women. The point of K’s therapy is that it is sado-masochistic. With her various visits to K, and the long part of this film that is devoted to these visits, there is a certain prurient curiosity aroused in the audience, and at times the director seems to be indulging that curiosity, allowing the audience to pry. But, since this is not the usual experience of most audiences, there is a certain feeling of being repelled by this part of Joe’s life.

Her loss of sexual feeling is extended to feelings for her son, when she leaves the child alone since the babysitter had not arrived. What follows is a sequence that parallels the episode in von Trier’s Antichrist, the little child going to the window, on the windowsill, with the possibility of its falling to its death. The result is that she loses her child to her husband – but seems to manage without him.

The next new character, not in Volume 1, is L, played by Willem Dafoe, who runs a company that uses standover tactics to pressurise clients to recover money from debts. Joe applies for a job and, for many years, is successful, not afraid to use violence to torment people – quite a powerful sequence with Jean-Marc? Barr as an unaware paedophile whom she taunts and tortures. These episodes add another touch of grim nastiness to the tone of the film.

This is increased when K advises her to prepare her successor and she grooms a young girl, an awkward young girl with the lack of self-esteem, to be ready for the standover job. Over the years, she is completely successful, but, in the vein of the film, there is a sexual relationship between the two women.

And then the story comes full circle, an unexpected situation and some violence.

This Volume is a little different in that there is an intellectual and artistic component, a number of references to Christian history, to iconography, to music, to Freudian psychology, digressions generally instigated by Seligman. The main difference for Joe is her story, told by her father (a welcome return from Christian Slater as the father) about everyone finding their own personal tree. There is a more lyrical and symbolic sequence where Joe scales a mountain, finds her tree in the glow of the sun.

It would be a relief to say that the film’s climax is in this vein – but it is not and the dramatic ending is quite unexpected and shocking.

Nymphomaniac is certainly a cinematic achievement, an exploration of sexuality in so many of its forms, sometimes clinical, often therapeutic, daring in some of its explicit sequences, not the kind of film that mainstream audiences would be interested in or enjoy – it is a specialist film, the type of film that might be expected from Lars von Trier who is never restrained by inhibitions.


ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

US, 2013, 117 minutes, Colour.
Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright.
Directed by Jim Jarmusch.


In recent years, there seems to be a multi-presence of vampires in books, television programs, films. Is this a subconscious longing for readers and viewers for some kind of immortality? With many of the answers on offer, vampire immortality is not something to be sought. However, the two vampires in this film lead very comfortable lives, as long as the blood supply is readily available.

This is a vampire film for adult audiences. Teen audiences have been able to enjoy the Twilight series and popular comedies like Vampire Academy. Those with a taste for more violent stories have been amply catered for, especially with the television series, True Blood. But what about adults? There have been some adult vampire films but not so many. One of the much better adult vampire films, Byzantium, directed by Neil Jordan, failed to get cinema release in some countries. Actually, this reviewer would recommend Byzantium instead of Only Lovers Left Alive.

Jim Jarmusch is the writer and director here, an idiosyncratic film-maker for the last 30 years, working in a wide range of genres. While his story is rather simple: centuries-old married couple, one living in Tangiers, the other in Detroit, meet up again, enjoy each other’s company, are disturbed by the visit of a free-wheeling sister who wreaks a bit of havoc, including draining her potential boyfriend, and is ousted, the couple deciding to return to Tangiers. And, in Tangiers, they have a great friend, Kit Marlowe, in fact the celebrated playwright, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt).

The film was very stylish in its visuals, everything happening at night, the creative use of colour, camera angles, editing. The film was also very stylish in the range of the musical score, quite different styles of music as background to a variety of sequences. But the language… this is a great drawback for some audiences who have a more cultivated sensibility. But with the proliferation of four letter expletives, some of the dialogue, especially from the husband, becomes irritating and tiresome – surely a film-maker like Jim Jarmusch has a wider range of creative vocabulary at hand instead of the lazy approach of four letter substitutes. This coarsens the impact of the film and the characters.
Tilda Swinton is the wife, a cultured woman, adept at speed reading and so absorbing a great deal of knowledge, as well as enjoying her friendship with Christopher Marlowe. Tom Hiddleston is the husband, the composer living in the Motown capital, adapting to contemporary musical styles, with a large number of guitars, many of them supplied by a young man in Detroit, Ian, played by Anton Yelchin. The troublesome sister, all 21st century attitudes, language and narcissism, whose last annoyance to the couple was in Paris 87 years earlier! is played by Mia Waskikowska.

There is a doctor in Detroit, played by Jeffrey Wright, who is not above supplying specialist blood for a cash price. Since there are literary allusions in the film, the couple being called Adam and Eve, there are jokes between Adam and the doctor with all kinds of literary references to various doctors, including Dr Faustus.

Which means that the film is one of atmosphere rather than significant plot, a film that plays on vampire traditions and overturning them or parodying them – although, the quest for blood and survival remains very serious. Many will like this film – and, probably, many will not.


THE OTHER WOMAN

US, 2014, 109 minutes, Colour.
Cameron Diaz, Lesley Mann, Nikolai Coster-Waldau?, Don Johnson, Kate Upton.
Directed by Nick Cassavetes.

Well, we know what we think and feel when we hear about that kind of woman. This time it is Cameron Diaz, playing Carly, a sophisticated and well-healed lawyer. But, she is not quite as bad as we might initially suspect.

Somebody used the phrase ‘deserving victim’, a nicely precise description. Here it refers to businessman, Mark (Nikolai Coster-Waldau), whom we initially see romancing Carly. Everything seems wonderful, Mark genial and cheerful, Carly wondering whether this might be the real thing – and experiencing wry comments from her secretary,. And then suddenly, the audience sees him in bed – with his wife, Kate (Lesley Man). Mark is not nice, a two-timing philanderer.

Then Carly, believing that he has plumbing problems at home, turns up in her overalls with tools to help, only to encounter Kate. In several films, especially those directed by her real-life husband, Judd upper tail, Leslie Mann has been playing 40-ish wives with some kind of problems, often with the touch of hysteria. This time, with cause, she has more than hysteria.

Once upon a time in 1996, there was a very funny comedy, The First Wives Club, with Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler – and another group of philanderers. The film showed how the wives got together against their respective unfaithful husbands and became judges and jury to find ways of retribution. The Other Woman is not quite in the league of the 1996 film, but it has its interesting characters, vengeance and retribution situations (with Mark suffering quite a number of indignities but holding out as long as possible in his deceptions). And by 2014, dialogue and vengeance is more racy, raucous and raunchy than in 1996.

And just when it was a collaboration between wife and girlfriend, they discover Mark with yet another rather younger and beautiful woman (Kate Upton). She is immediately on side with the two women and they begin their work as three fateful furies.

As mentioned, Leslie Man is adept at this kind of role, her hysterics more than a little irritating at times – though one can understand how she feels. For 20 years, Cameron Diaz has shown versatility in her roles, from comedy to high drama. In this film she shows what a good sport she is, and how good she is at slapstick and physical comedy, having to do a fair amount of this in her quest. .

The film is enjoyable in its way, especially if you feel like sharing the vengeance on this current deserving victim, quite an amount of comedy and moralising, but not particularly memorable.


OUT OF THE INFERNO

China, 2013, 100 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Oxide Pang, Danny Pang.

When audiences think of a disaster film with a skyscraper on fire, they tend to think of The Towering Inferno. And they are right. However, The Towering Inferno was released in 1974, quite a time ago. Perhaps it is time for another towering Inferno film.

This one was made in China, situated in Guangzhou, quite a business city and centre in southern China.

The directors are the Pang Bros, responsible for some dramas set in Thailand, like Bangkok Dangerous, as well as some horror films. With this one, they show that they are able to work on a large scale, with a big cast, and with spectacular special effects.

We are introduced to two brothers at the beginning of the film, one opting to stay with the fire department, the other, the younger, going to a business company which specialises in technology to prevent fires.

4 years pass. The older brother is married, his wife pregnant, but he is dissatisfied in himself and not supportive of his wife, even avoiding going to see an ultra-scan with her. The younger brother is quite an executive and is on his way to a launch and a party celebration on the 40th floor of a new building. By chance, he meets his sister-in-law, on her way to the ultrasound, as he enters the building.

A worker is careless with a cigarette butt and throws it down, still alight. The sparks carry upward and soon the building is ablaze. Publicity notes indicate that the Pang Bros used real fire to create a sense of dread, fear and danger for the cast.

What follows is the expected panic, the saving of people, the use of new technology to fight the fire, some characters in danger, two young men stealing diamonds and killing the owner of their shop, the older brother leading the rescue but not taking his wife out first and the younger brother has to lead a lot of people to safety, even their swimming underwater, reminiscent of The Poseidon Adventure.

As a disaster film, Out of the Inferno is very watchable. However, it is surprising that the bloggers on the IMDb are generally quite negative towards the film.

The wider audience will probably enjoy it a great deal. (There are some warnings, especially with the careless worker and the cigarette butt but also an entrepreneur stocking dangerous chemicals, illegally, on the floor which is the refuge room.)


POMPEII

UK, 2014, 106 minutes, Colour.
Kit Harrington, Carrie-Anne? Moss, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Jared Harris, Jessica Lucas.
Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson.

Most audiences know that the city of Pompeii was destroyed by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Which probably means that audiences who go to see Pompeii will want to see the eruption and its consequences. They will not be disappointed because the special effects are quite special, and the sequence goes on for over 30 minutes. During the film, there are several overhead shots of what is brewing in the volcano, followed by various tremors, then the molten fire and lava are thrown into the air and then come down the mountainside – while there is quite an amount of ash, the main special effects are many, many fireballs which rain down on the city, on the people, on the harbour, on ships with people trying to escape the disaster not. As disaster movies go, this part of the film is quite effective.

But there is a whole story prior to the eruption. Audiences who have seen Spartacus as well as Gladiator will recognise a great number of similarities in Pompeii. Actually, it opens in northern Brittania with a Celtic people, experts in horsemanship, brutally conquered by the Romans under the leadership of the later Senator Corvus, played with laid-on arrogance and venom by Kiefer Sutherland. A young boy survives the massacre of the whole people and of his parents, only to be captured and taken to Londinium (explained as the capital of Brittania!) where he trains as a gladiator, impressing a local authority (who looks a little like Frank Thring and gives a Thringinsh performance) who takes him to Italy, and to Pompeii.

The gladiator, Milo, is played by Kit Harrington, not well-known on the big screen, but with a huge reputation as one of the key stars of television’s Game of Thrones. Pompeii may not be the answer to his big-screen ambitions, but will get him noticed, although he has to play a rather humourless role, bent on revenge, skilled at fighting as a gladiator, but a bit solid and stolid nonetheless. On his way to Pompeii, he has the opportunity to stand out, when Cassia (Emily Browning) is travelling in the carriage back from Rome and her horse stumbles and he is able to put it out of its misery. She is fascinated and attracted, though the soldiers in charge of gladiators are certainly not.

Cassia’s parents, played by Carrie Anne Moss and Jared Harris, are interested in development of the city of Pompeii and are relying on the intervention of the now Senator Corvus, who has set his lascivious eye on Cassia. The ground is set for confrontations, gladiatorial fights, brutal treatment by the Senator. In the cells under the arena, Milo encounters and African champion gladiator (Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje) who is about to get his freedom after his last fight. Milo warns him that this will not be the case and in the arena, when all the gladiators have to fight Roman soldiers, they see that this is the truth. Milo and Atticus defeat all the soldiers and are appreciated by the sadistic crowd. Cassia gives a thumbs up and is able to save their lives.

While the film does get complicated, the complications are different because of the eruption and the wilful and brutal behaviour of the Senator. And we’re back at the eruption and, as many have pointed out, an ending which owes great deal to the end of Titanic!

This is a kind of film that it is easy to turn up one’s nose at. its director is best known for making the Resident Evil series which is a recommendation only for horror fantasy fans. But, despite all this, this reviewer rather enjoyed Pompeii.


THE RAID 2

Indonesia, 2013, 148 minutes, Colour.
Iko Uweis.
Directed by Gareth Evans.

The Raid was an extraordinary box office success right around the world. Director, Gareth Evans, had moved to Indonesia and begun making feature films. With The Raid, he put the Indonesian film industry on the map. Which meant that the sequel was inevitable. Here it is.

The hero of the original film, Rama (Iko Uweis) is a martial arts champion, discovered by the director and used as the protagonist of his film as well is of this sequel. Iko Uweis also appeared in Keanu Reeves’ martial arts film, The Man of Tai Chi.

The first film was strongly focused, most of the action taking place in the one building after the police squads arrived and moved throughout the building to confront thugs and gangsters. The screenplay offered a great number of opportunities for frequent fights. Sometimes the violence of the action was marked by many touches of brutality. This made the film offputting for some audiences.

This film opens on the same day as the first film ends, with the prologue showing an execution in the countryside and indication that gang warfare was building up. The chief of the operation chooses Rama to go undercover and infiltrate the major gang. Worried about the security of his wife and family, Rama nevertheless obeys orders, is convicted of a crime, goes to prison where he encounters the son of the gang boss.

The Raid 2 is reminiscent of themes of The Godfather films as well as of stories of agents going undercover, like Donnie Brasco.

When Rama is released, he is given a job by the Indonesian Godfather and has to keep an eye on the man’s son who is reckless and ambitious, wanting to take over from his father, in league with leaders of other gangs, antagonising Japanese gangs in the country.

While the plot outline is familiar enough, Rama is quite an interesting character, taking the opportunity, almost every 15 minutes in this 2 ½ hour film, to get involved in a tough fight, sometimes one-on-one, sometimes demolishing a whole gang. Various assassins turn up, an old assassin-retainer of the gang and a hammer-wilding blind woman. The Godfather plot is also interesting, the head of the Indonesian Mafia-type family being urbane and suave, in control for 30 years, yet absolutely ruthless.

The film highlights the danger for Rama undercover, his need to check on the security of his family, his contacts with the chief who generally leaves him on his own.

In the climax, the son and the leader of a rival gang as well as a politician who is dining with them bargaining to get athe bigger payoff, feel secure from any attack. They have underestimated Rama who, though wounded, is able to get through a gang of thugs as well as the son’s main hired assassin and there is, as might be expected, slaughter all-round before the happy ending and the need for The Raid 3.


RIDE ALONG

US, 2014, 105 minutes, Colour.
Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, John Leguizamo, Bruce Mc Gill, Laurence Fishburne, Tika Sumpter.
Directed by Tim Story

Ride Along is an American term, perhaps universal, for someone accompanying a police officer in his rounds. This is what it means here in this very American comedy.

Ride Along was extremely successful at the American box office – perhaps the reason that it had featured release in other countries around the world. While it is specifically geared to the American audience, especially the African-American? audience, it is much more accessible than some of the other comedies, especially some in the past which have featured Ice Cube.

One of the pluses (perhaps minuses) for the film is the presence of comedian Kevin Hart. For some audiences, he will be particularly irritating with his patter and his stupidities. For others, he will be hilarious. And, for others, he may be an acquired taste. Since he is going to appear in a number of upcoming films, his reputation and appeal will be tested.

He is the comic figure in this rather odd couple, playing Ben, the comedian, to Ice Cube’s straight man. And Ice Cube plays it very straight indeed. His James is a straight arrow policeman in Atlanta, tends to go out on his own, trying to find and confront a big drug dealer, Omar. One entertaining piece of the film is that when Omar eventually turns up, he is played by Laurence Fishburne. James has a sister who is in love with Ben. James can’t believe it and says he will only give his blessing if Ben accompanies him on a ride along.

The ride along provides most of the comedy as Ben makes out that he is a top policeman and gets himself entangled with bikies, one of whom is woman whom he mistakes as a man; goes to a park to interrogate a boy about his criminal brother who gets the better of him; accosts a drunken man in the supermarket; and goes to a gun range and tries out guns beyond his capacities with kickback results.

When he discovers that he has been set up for jokes at his expense and destined to fail, he decides he will play along and goes to the next episode, ultimately finding out that it is real and that he was dealing with actual gangsters.

Of course, Ben is going to prove himself and this is the case when James confronts the drug gang and Ben steps in to handle the situation by impersonating Omar – which, whether we like Kevin Hart or not, is quite funny.

All’s well that ends well, except the final boo-boo that is typical of Ben.

Anyone for Ride Along 2 – more than probably. (Actually, it is already listed in the IMDB for 2016!)


WAJDJA

Saudi Arabia, 2013, 98 minutes, Colour.
Waad Mohammad, Reem Abdullah.
Directed by Haifaa Al Mansour.

A very interesting film, a portrait of a young girl, precociously forward, with ambitions – which, however, are not considered appropriate for a girl growing up in Saudi Arabia. She is the Wajdja of the title.

Saudi Arabia does not have a film industry and this is one of its first films, and the first to be directed by a woman, who did her studies in cinema at Sydney University. She had some difficulties in making the film, especially in associating with men in the workplace, she doing her direction from inside a van, watching a monitor, with walkie-talking communications with her cast. That she has made such a well-crafted as well as interesting film is to her great credit.

This a significant film about life in Saudi Arabia. It is particularly significant as regards the place of women in society, the restrictions, the prohibitions for activities as well as for communication, especially with men.

Wajdja lives at home with her mother – and inside the house, there is a certain freedom, especially in dress, make up, conversation. But this changes when the women go outside, the importance of the woman covering herself, being cautious in the presence of men, and not being allowed to do such ordinary things as drive. Wajdja has a great ambition at this stage of her life to have a bike and to ride it and to race her friend down the street. But, if the women come into the eye line of men working outside the house, they have to hide…

Wajdja is at school, something of a mischief maker, but decides to learn more about the Koran and enter a competition about references and texts from the sacred book. There is prize money which she intends to use to buy the bike – but, when she wins, the teacher thinks it more appropriate for her to give the money as a donation for Palestinians.

In the meantime, her father who works away from home, is disappointed that his wife has not given him a son and is unable to do so. He is in the process of marrying again and moving out of the house, despite his declarations of love for his wife and daughter. Again, women as victims of marriage traditions and expectations of others to have sons.

The film was very cheerful for most of the time despite the sad and sometimes grim undertones. Wajdja herself may be engaged in the future in transitions in the status of women in her country. In the meantime, she offers an entertainment, the story of a young girl, and, especially for Western eyes, quite a different cultural experience.


Created by: malone last modification: Wednesday 15 of October, 2014 [01:06:24 UTC] by malone


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