SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS MAY 2013
BIG WEDDING, The
DEAD MAN DOWN
GREAT GATSBY, The
HANGOVER 3, The
PLACE FOR ME, A
RELUNCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, The
SCARY MOVIE 5
STAR TREK: JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS
THE BIG WEDDING
US, 2013, 89 minutes, Colour.
Robert de Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Amanda Seyfried, Ben Barnes, Robin Williams, David Rasche, Ana Ayora, Patricia Rae, Christine Ebersole.
Directed by Justin Zackham.
The adjective ‘big’ is rather inflated for this 89 minutes comedy-drama. It is a comparatively small affair. However, it does merit at the adjective big in relation to its cast, at least.
But, at the outset, it should be mentioned that there is some unwarranted comment and criticism of aspects of the Catholic Church. It is spoken of in a derogatory way that would not be permitted about some other religions so it seems fair/unfair mockery of things catholic. These include pre-Cana conferences for marriage preparation, the rather idiotic advice from the priest (Robin Williams of all people), who has had alcohol and AA problems. There is also a farcical confession sequence, though the priest does give good advice to one of his conversationalists (that divorce is not a license for hate). And the behavior of the priest and his beliefs is completely inconsistent throughout the film, indicating more farce rather than realism.
This sets something of the tone of the film which, without it, may have been more interesting and acceptable.
However, the reason for calling this The Big Wedding is that the various characters have to participate in a lie: the birth-mother of the groom, who has been adopted by this Connecticut family, is a strict Catholic from Colombia who does not approve of divorce. The family pretend that the father and mother are still to get together.
Some of the strengths of the film are in the key performances. Robert De Niro is much more relaxed than usual as a grouchy father, past philanderer, sculptor and general rather unlikable character. His past wife is played by Diane Keaton with her usual manner and aplomb. De Niro’s present partner is played by Susan Sarandon, who has brought up his children as well as the adopted boy and is one of the more sympathetic characters. The married couple is played by Ben Barnes and Amanda Seyfried.
There are also some sub-plots concerning the groom’s sister (Katherine Heig) who thought she couldn’t have children but has become pregnant though temporarily alienated from her husband. The son, played by Topher Grace, is a surgeon, sexually inexperienced, who comes up against the aggressively sexual sister of the groom (willilngly).
One of the unexpected aspects of the screenplay is the proliferation of sex jokes, some of them funny, some of them silly, some of them crass.
All in all, The Big Wedding is something of a letdown.
Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Eloise Laurence, Rory Kinnear, Zana Karjanovic.
Directed by Rufus Norris.
A very sad film, with some touches of hope at the end. All of the characters are broken in one way or other.
This is a British film, a north London film, generally confined to a street with a closed circle at the end of it, confined to three adjacent houses. In 90 minutes, we clome to understand several of the characters even when it is hard to offer them sympathy. However, we are invited to look at them through the eyes of an eleven year old girl, her nickname Skunk, as well as look at Skunk herself. She is played with skill and verve by Eloise Laurence, her first film.
Initially we see Skunk chatting with Rick (Robert Emms), a young man just over the way. He is cleaning the car and, listening to him, we realise he is a slow-learner. Suddenly the man next door comes out and bases Rick. We learn he is Mr Oswald (Rory Kinnear), widowed with three daughters. Skunk is taken aback, even more so when the police arrive and it is Rick they are taking in.
The situation is soon explained and we begin to learn about each household.
Rick had an accident, almost drowning, when he was five. He is cared for by his loving parents.
One of Oswald’s daughters (who become increasingly obnoxious as the film progresses) is found with a condom and says she had sex with Rick to save herself from her father’s anger. Once again, we see him go and and bash Rick, calling him a pervert, which is why he was arrested.
Meanwhile, Skunk lives at home with her father, solicitor Archie (Tim Roth) who tries to intervene and make peace but is himself threatened by Oswald. Archie’s wife has left him and he has a woman in, Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) to look after Skunk and her brother, Jed (Bill Milner). Kasia has a long time boyfriend, Mike (Cillian Murphy) who is at home there.
Ordinary enough, but enough for many problems. Skunk is preparing for high school (and Jed is trying to frighten her about how hard it is). She does fall foul of the smallest of the Oswalds who runs a protection racket in the school, with a crass mouth but a determination that is a combination of a young Margaret Thatcher and the criminal Krays. She and her sister also beat up Skunk and Mike intervenes.
Rick stays in his room, his mother trying to persuade him to come out by reminiscing about how his father saved him and how they love him. He goes to an institution, later comes home for a weekend which is tragic.
When one of the Oswald girls has a miscarriage at a party at home, Oswald assumes the worst, bashes Mike. Archie is solicitor for the detective’s questioning.
And that is not all, quite a few more plot complications, but it gives an indication of what can happen in any suburban street. We all know people who may live in one or other of these houses. But, this is a brief, effective slice of life which raises the question of who is to blame for what happens, who is responsible – or whether small things, quick lies, temper, betrayals, misunderstandings can lead to more tragic consequences.
US, 2013, 94 minutes, Colour.
Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, Roma Mafia.
Directed by Brad Anderson.
For the most part, this is quite an engrossing thriller. The two central characters are women and watching and experiencing their ordeals will probably be more intense for women in the audience rather than for men. While it is a police drama, the central character is employed for answering 911 calls, some of which are quite tough and harrowing for the operative, emotionally demanding and draining. The victim is a teenager abducted from a mall car park and subjected to violence and some mental and physical torture. In the US, it was released not long before the rescue of three women who had been abducted in their teens and held prisoner in a Cleveland house for ten years.
The film opens very interestingly with views of Los Angeles before going into the key room where the 911 calls are answered. It gives quite a picture of those staffing the phones, of what is required of them, skills in talking to upset callers, typing in information, enabling police to identify callers, bring up their photos as well as tracing car number plates and finding addresses and information as well as doing fingerprint checks.
The first episode has Jordan (Halle Berry) working with a young girl while an intruder is in the house. The case ultimately leads to failure when the mobile phone cuts out and Jordan makes a connection, the intruder still being in the house rather than outside which was presumed. This has quite an emotional effect on Jordan. She does get good support from other workers and her supervisor.
She becomes a trainer. But, while she is showing the interns around, another call comes in from another teenager (Abigail Breslin) and the core of the film is Jordan keeping Casey on line, advising her on how to knock out lights on the boot of the car where the abducter has put her, pour paint out the hole… But, she has a temporary mobile which can’t immediately be traced. And so, the search for the suspect involves police, some concerned citizens on the freeway and Jordan using her wits to encourage Casey to fight.
It is only gradually that we see the face and then the whole person of the abductor who then becomes more desperate and more impulsively violent.
When Jordan is told to stand down and rest, she doesn’t (of course) and then goes out in search of Casey. While mobile phones are key to the process, there are a few inconsistencies in their use (leaving a message on a phone which we have seen receives no signal, and Jordan (of course) dropping it a crucial moment.
While the confrontation is tense and an exercise in using wits, it is the final key moment that jars. It is emotionally comprehensible, but morally…?
Strange how a final minute of a film can change a moral perspective and what has been a satisfying thriller leaves the audience cheering (when it shouldn’t) or aghast at the decision Jordan and Casey make.
France, 2012, 115 minutes, Colour.
Noemie Lvovsky, Samir Guesmi, Yolande Moreau, Jean- Pierre Leaud, Denis Polydades, Matthieu Amalric.
Directed by Noemie Lvovsky.
Poor Camille. At 40, it looks as though her world is collapsing. Her marriage certainly is. Her husband, Eric, has gone off with a younger woman. Camille is left with her daughter, and a huge bout of self-pity.
She has been drinking. There is an accident. She wakes up. Lo and behold, she is 16 again.. And she is resuming her life as it was, though she knows what is to come. Will it be the same? Can she change it? Does she want to change it, despite knowing?
This serious comedy has been written and directed by Noemi Lvovsky. And she plays Camille, looking rather dowdy at 40 and, to the audiences’ eyes and her own, looking the same when she reverts to 16. There she is with her friends at school, back in the styles, the music and the would-be daring of the 80s. There she is at home, amazed to see her mother and father again, relishing the time with them but knowing when they are to die – some particularly strong pathos scenes in her last talk with her mother and her realising that she has died, again.
And Eric? Is he the insensitive middle-aged man that we have seen? Was he always like this? And will Camille fall in love with him again? Well, Eric is not so bad when young – and one of the feelings as we watch is that we wonder how he could turn out as he did and how could he treat Camille in this way in the future.
There are some magic realism moments, especially with veteran Jean- Pierre Leaud behind the counter in a pawn shop and Denis Polydades as the teacher who reappears at the end.
All very French, though the Americans did a variation on the theme in Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married with Kathleen Turner.
Light touches, serious touches – and Camille comes back to the present, a little wiser, a little more realistic, ready to take charge of her life.
DEAD MAN DOWN
US, 2013, 117 minutes, Colour.
Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert, F. Murray Abraham.
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev.
Promotion for Dead Man Down might give the impression that this is an action show. The film is book-ended (film-ended?) by two big shootouts, one is a drug-dealer’s headquarters, the other in a gangster’s mansion. But, for the most part, the film is a drama, a revenge thriller that leads to some deeper characterisations and issues.
After that first confrontation where we see Victor (Colin Farrell) save the life of the gangster, Alphonse (Terrence Howard), where we have made judgments about Victor, Alphonse and their gang, we are led to see a different side of Victor. His being part of the gang is to wreak revenge for the death of his wife and child two years earlier. We see him quietly watching the DVDs of the family.
But, across the way from his apartment – and they are several floors up – there is a woman watching him. Victor has a scarred heart. She has a scarred face, treatment after being hit by a drunk driver. She is Beatrice, French, a beautician, living with her mother. She makes more direct contact with Victor and surprises him and the audience with what she is after.
She is played by Noomi Rapace, the Swedish actress who was the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. In fact, the film is directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who directed the first film in that Swedish Trilogy, Millennium. And her mother is played by Isabelle Huppert, a bonus for lovers of French films. Another brief bonus is the appearance of F. Murray Abraham as Victor’s uncle.
The world we are shown is certainly a world of violence, with some alarming scenes. And there is the puzzle that we do not see any police.
So this is the story of Victor and Beatrice and their relationship, the revenge motivation that has been mentioned, and the theme of sadness and grief.
There is a further complication with Darcy, a young man hoping to climb the gangster ladder, but who has a wife and young child with Victor as godfather. How does Darcy respond when he learns the truth about Victor.
The screenplay by J.H.Wyman is clever, making all kinds of links with some unexpected connections. However, the no police is a puzzle and there are some convenient plot devices that are contrived. So, realists beware. But, of course, this is not a documentary and contrivance is of the essence of this kind of storytelling. The world is brutal but the story is well told.
US, 2013, 92 minutes, Colour.
Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pulci.
Directed by Fede Alvarez.
Horror fans have put the 1981 original The Evil Dead, directed by an as-yet-t0o-be-discovered Sam Raimi, near the top of their horror cult classics. Small-budget, gory, brutal and a mish-mash of supernatural and demonic eeriness.
Bigger budget this time and slicker production values. Mixed reviews, but the devotees of the original have not always been persuaded.
Of course, this is a film only for horror fans. Anyone not on this wavelength wandering Evil Dead by mistake will be exiting the cinema quick smart. Horror films like this intend to be as visually striking (and sometimes disgusting) as they dare or as their imaginations will let them. This usually means a diminishing cast, dispatched in frightening circumstances, capitalising on stunt work and special effects.
And, that is what happens here. It takes itself seriously, not really doing the ironic or tongue-in-cheek thing, though there are moments when fans will gasp and laugh. Unlike the old slasher films, this is not a group of young people going into the woods where they let their capacity for sleazy behaviour loose.
This group is much more serious, trying to help a friend to go cold turkey. Unfortunately for them, their cabin in the woods (there are always cabins in the woods) is the site for witchcraft (which we see in a pre-credits’ sequence).
The group find a book of the evil dead and let the demons or whatever evil it is take over and destroy them.
To the extent that the characters are a little more rounded and interesting than usual, to the extent that the gore, slashes and amputations are splashed with large blood spurts, then mission accomplished.
THE GREAT GATSBY
Australia/US, 2013, 140 minutes, Colour.
Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Cary Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Thompson.
Directed by Baz Luhrman.
Baz Luhrman has said that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel did not receive good reviews when it was published. Nevertheless, it was popular, was quickly adapted for the stage and then filmed, a silent version which has been lost. Baz Luhrman’s version of what is now called the great American novel has not received good reviews either, many of them complaining that he has not filmed the book as they know and like it, losing its subtlety, and indulging in the flashy flamboyance that is Luhrman’s trademark. They tend to be reviewing Luhrman rather than the film. And, after all, it is not the novel, but an interpretation.
There have also been three other versions of The Great Gatsby, one in 1949 (in black and white) with Alan Ladd, another in 1974 with Robert Redford, and a television version in 2000 with Toby Stephens (giving it a limited world audience). Which means that there has not been a version in cinemas since 1974, the year that Leonardo di Caprio was born – and he filmed the current version when he was the same age as Robert Redford was for his.
Which means that this is a version for the 21st century. It is bigger and brighter. It is more forthright about relationships, betrayals, and sexuality than the previous versions. It has a brighter soundtrack and was filmed in 3D.
Baz Luhrman keeps close to Fitzgerald’s plot about the mysteriously rich man who has bought a Long Island mansion in 1922, throws lavish parties even though he himself is not always visible. The gliteratti of the time rush uninvited and swamp the wild goings on. But, behind the scenes is a rather simple, even naïve, plot where a man wants to meet his lost love and arranges opportunities so that he can win her back.
The plot is told from the point of view of broker, Nick Carraway, who rented a cottage next to Gatsby’s mansion, is a cousin of Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s love, and went to college with Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband. The film opens with Nick in an institution where he recounts his memories to his doctor who urges him to write it all down. Nick admires Gatsby, inviting us to do the same, even though Gatsby has more than a shady past, which he lies about, amplifying his reputation - and a more than questionable present. Some critics think that Luhrman has made him too much of a romantic hero, and there is a point in that comment.
The trouble is that Fitzgerald did not have much time (at least in theory) for this rich and self-indulgent crowd, and Nick certainly makes some condemnatory comments about them at the end. The other trouble is that Daisy may have been a sweet young woman when Gatsby, in the army, first met her. But, in truth, she is shallow, selfish and ultimately, quite fickle. Gatsby loves her but over-idealises her. Buchanan is something of a rotter and has an affair with the wife of the local garage operator and throws sex parties at the apartment he has set up for his lover. The situation builds up to a confrontation between Buchanan and Gatsby and a motor accident which leads to more manipulation and tragedy.
There is also that mesmerising billboard near the garage, the eyes staring out at all that is going on.
So, small and rather ordinary scenario given multi-million dollar treatment to bring to the screen a lavish era in America.
The cast is wide-ranging with many Australian actors in supporting roles. Jack Thompson is the doctor, Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke are the Wilsons at the garage, Elizabeth Debicki is Daisy’s friend, Jordan. There are glimpses of Barry Otto, Vince Colossimo and other Australian character actors. The production was done in Australia, relying on effects work as well as the costumes and design by Luhrman’s wife, Catherine Martin.
But, for the American novel, the stars are American – well, Cary Mulligan, Daisy, is British. Leonardo di Caprio has been a strong and intense performer for over twenty years, since he was a teenager. He creates an effective Gatsby. Toby Maguire (and his voice) are something of an acquired taste, but he fits the role of Nick Carraway very well. But it is Joel Edgerton who gives a striking performance as Tom Buchanan, a selfish and angry man, who won’t let go of what he possesses.
As with Baz Luhrman’s films, you surrender to them and get carried along, or you resist them and spend the time cataloguing what you think is wrong with them. It’s a choice.
THE HANGOVER PART III
US, 2013, 97 minutes, Colour.
Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galafiniakis, Justin Bartha, John Goodman, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham.
Directed by Todd Phillips.
Who would have thought that The Hangover would have become such a successful Hollywood franchise? This one is not as funny (a guilty pleasure) as the first film, which even won a Golden Globe as Best Comedy. This one is much better than the second one which was a raunchy repeat trying to rely on an exotic Asian atmosphere to make a difference. So, somewhere in between one and two! And there are not so many drinks around, until the final credits.
Zach Galifiniakis has always been a strong focus of the films even though he does not get top billing. But it is he, Alan, who tends to control, not always intentionally, what happens. The film opens with a dead animal’s joke (and there are more dead animals in the body count this time, chickens and dogs, than gangsters), a giraffe, which has the power to put off some audiences right from the start. But, allowing for the unreality (we hope) and absurdity, it leads us into the tantrums, blind consequences of Alan’s man-child attitudes and behaviour. He can be most irritating and, yet, often quite funny. Ed Helms, Stu the dentist, relies on timing rather than flamboyant comedy. Top-billed Bradley Cooper (who has been extending his on-screen range and getting award nominations for The Silver Linings Playbook) doesn’t deserve it. He is serious-faced a lot of the time, sometimes suggesting that he would rather be elsewhere, a spoilsport face that doesn’t communicate any humour.
Then there is Ken Jeong the mad Mr Chow, who obviously relishes the more screen time he gets and the more manic behaviour that is asked of him. John Goodman as a surly gangster is surly and cruel. The main plotline involves the trio trying to get stolen gold back from Mr Chow for the gangster while the other friend, Doug (Justin Bartha) is being held hostage.
There are some amusing moments and Melissa McCarthy? (after funny turns in Bridesmaids, This is 40 and Identity Theft) has a more restrained funny cameo.
The American bloggers have decided against it – with a vengeance. The message may be that while you are on a good thing, stick to it (at least for box-office returns), but too many repeats is a risk and you can run out of steam, and puff.
THE HUNT/ JAGTEN
Denmark, 2012, 109 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg.
In the last twenty years, awareness of the realities of sexual abuse of minors, individual, in families, in institutions, in the churches, has increased, more than could ever have been anticipated. The Hunt, an excellent film, can be seen in an important and significant context.
But, the consciousness is quite different in different cultures. English-speaking countries were the first to experience this surfacing of issues of abuse with consequent police investigations and court proceedings. In the 1990s, many commentators from countries in continental Europe were in denial about such events in their cultures. They have had to face the problems since. So, it is interesting to see a film from Denmark. While it is an education situation that is dramatized here, it is a secular case, nothing to do with church or church institutions (although it is a Lutheran ceremony that serves as a catalyst for a confrontation, as will be mentioned later).
It can be noted that The Hunt was awarded the prize of the Ecumenical Jury in Cannes 2012.
The focus is on a kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town. He is shown as a popular man with the men, many of whom are literal hunters of deer since venison is a favoured meat. The teacher himself, Lukas, hunts. We see him playing in a lively way and vigorously with the children at the kindergarten (something that would not be permitted in many countries now). He is a good man, an average man, who is lonely after his separation from his bitter wife who allows him to see his son only every other weekend.
Klara, the daughter of his best friend, Theo, is fond of Lukas’ dog and wants to take him for a walk. When her parents quarrel, he takes her to school. One day she kisses him and he tries to tell her that this is not quite right. At the same time, her brother and his friend show her pictures of an erect penis (which we, the audience, see so that we are experiencing our own reactions as well). In a little girl pique, she indicates to the principal that Lukas had exposed himself to her.
The audience knows that Lukas is innocent, so the film-makers invite us to share the experiences of a man who is not only the victim of a little child’s lie, but incurs the wrath of the town who readily believe that a child does not lie. He is demonized and is ostracized, even in the supermarket where we are horrified at the violence and hate in a bashing from people who assume the worst. This is lynch mob mentality in a contemporary setting.
The audience is made to witness the handling of the situation by the kindergarten principal and an expert she calls in. While they are sympathetic and think they are doing the right thing, their questioning is completely unprofessional, asking leading questions, putting ideas and images (especially in naming aspects of male sexual behaviour) in Klara’s mind. While the little girl does hesitate and even contradict herself, it is clear that she has become confused as well as willful, can’t quite remember what she has said and acquiesces in what could become implanted memories.
The only support Lukas gets is from a friend and his family where the father is a lawyer who helps, especially after Lukas is arrested and interrogated by the police. This interrogation is not part of the screenplay. We do not know how the police handled it. By this time, all the children believe that they have been abused – but their memory describes places that do not exist. The other support for Lukas is from his son who is also ill-treated, becoming angry and angrier.
As mentioned earlier, it is a Christmas Eve ceremony in the local Lutheran church, with prayer and the children singing hymns where Lukas is able to confront Theo about his innocence. The Christmas spirit and his conscience touch Theo.
Then, the film seemed to be moving towards a very Hollywood ending, nice, until a final shot jolts Lukas and the audience as well. The experience and the stigma might never go away.
Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen has played many a villain in his local films as well as in international films (like Le Chiffre in Casino Royale). He won the Cannes Best Actor award for this role and, generally quietly, bewildered, then angry at people’s unquestioning hatred, he enables us to share something of what this experience is like, how at times, it seems that he can never escape from it, that his fate is doomed.
Director Thomas Vinterberg is no stranger to these themes. His 1998, Festen has become something of a classic, the audience going into a home to share a feast and celebration only to find the surfacing of the ugliest of secrets, and sexual misconduct, within the family.
The public these days have strong opinions and feelings about sexual abuse, especially towards perpetrators and to authorities who have protected them. Stage government enquiries and the Royal Commission will surface more and more horrendous stories over the coming years. The Hunt is a reminder that, especially with small children, greater care needs to be taken when they tell their stories so that they will be protected but that the truth will come out and anyone wrongly accused will be treated with justice and compassion.
(Indictment: The Mc Martin Trial is an American film of 1995, well worth seeing. The staff of a child care centre were the targets of some false accusations, the children caught up in sharing each other’s alleged memories, with the danger of psychiatrists not simply surfacing repressed memories but suggesting and implanting memories.)
US, 2012, 130 minutes, Colour.
Matthew Mc Connaughey, Tye Sheridan, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon, Ray Mc Kinnon, Sarah Paulson, Joe Don Baker.
Directed by Jeff Nichols.
There are many good things in Mud (despite the tone of the title). It has been written and directed by Jeff Nichols who made the striking mid-American apocalyptic drama, Take Shelter. Once again, he is in the mid-West, on the Mississippi River in Arkansas. The photography of the small town, the boats on the banks, the rivers in mid-stream, helps us to feel that we have been there.
This is the story of two young lads growing up, working on the river and with fish sales, dealing with problems at home, discovering the attractiveness and the sometimes fickleness of girls, then faced with some crises that they should never have had to face. Tye Sheridan as the young Ellis gives an excellent performance, credible and sympathetic. As his friend Neckbone, Jacob Lofland is hardier, more wary of what happens, yet a backup to Ellis.
But what is the mud of the title? The wet beach on the island? The sludge near the houseboats on the river? Rather, the question is who is Mud?
He is a local who has gone away, experienced a muddled kind of life, always following his childhood sweetheart, Juniper, who falls in and out of love with him. In anger, Mud has shot a man who was violent to her and is now on the run. He has found a boat stranded by low tides in a tree on the island. The boys come to claim it and find Mud. He asks for help, for food, for tools, for an engine for the boat. While Neckbone is suspicious, Ellis likes Mud and helps him.
Life is complicated for Ellis because his mother is tired of life on the boat, wants to move to town and take Ellis with her. But he is devoted to his father as well, working with him on deliveries. Neckbone, meanwhile is being looked after by his oyster-farming uncle (Michael Shannon who starred in Take Shelter).
Mud plans to rendezvous with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and asks Ellis to be a go-between, involving him in matters he cannot quite understand and appreciate. And which becomes dangerous when the family of the dead man come searching for vengeance.
The other character is an old CIA agent and assassin (Sam Shepard) who had been a father-figure to Mud and whom the boys bring out to the island to talk with Mud.
The characters are well-written and well-acted, drawing the audience deeply into the story. The star attraction is Matthew Mc Connaughey as Mud. In recent years, Mc Connaughey has moved away from the romantic comedies he seemed to be stuck in and has made fine appearances in Bernie, Magic Mike, The Paperboy.
On paper, Mud might seem ordinary, even slight, but on screen it makes a strong impression.
THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST
US/UK/Qatar, 2012, 130 minutes, Colour.
Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Martin Donovan.
Directed by Mira Nair.
A strikingly challenging film.
Based on a Pakistani novel, this is a parable for a post-9/11 world. It is the story of Changez, a young man from Lahore, who goes to the US, to Harvard, where he completes a successful degree and is head-hunted by a top Manhattan financial company, a company who not only advises but closes down unprofitable businesses. He lives a late 20th century version of Wall St and greed is good. Changez excels in his work, travels to Manila and Istanbul, and is offered a partnership. We see all of this in a series of flashbacks as Changez is being interviewed by an American journalist, Bobby Lincoln.
British actor, Riz Ahmed is convincing as Changez. Liev Schreiber has a substantial role as Bobby.
But, the context of the interview is the abduction of an American university professor in Lahore and the surveillance of Changez’s family, his father (Om Puri) being a celebrated poet and the family in the spotlight because by this time, 2011, Changez is a professor at the university, teaching courses on ideologies and violence, well-respected by his students, but under suspicion by the local CIA operatives, led by Martin Donovan.
An important development in Changez’s life is his encounter with a photographer (a solid performance from Kate Hudson) which mellows him. But, unintended events after 9/11 have disastrous consequences.
After the flashbacks narration of Changez’s life in the US, there follows the narrative which makes Changez the reluctant fundamentalist of the title. He is in Manila when he sees the planes crashing into the twin towers. He returns to a United States already embarked on the war against terror. In declaring it a war, President George Bush set up a fierce dichotomy against American citizens and Arabs from Middle Eastern nations as well as Arabs in the US who became targets of the bigoted patriotism that ensued the declaration of war, compounded by the attack on Afghanistan and, later, on Iraq.
We are shown this American aggression and bad-thinking bigotry: an wrong identification in mid-Manhattan where Changez is taken into custody (just doing my job says the arresting policeman), his tyres let down in a car park and a driver spitting on him, calling him Osama. The worst, which audiences will find irking, is his being taken aside on his return from Manila, segregated and strip-searched on the assumption that he was suspect because of his look and his beard. There are even unthinkingly snide remarks in the office.
And, back to Changez and Bobby, the CIA attacking the café where they are speaking, student protests, deaths and the anti-American stances, even of those who love America (as the final words of the film indicate).
It is easy, outside the United States, to look at both sides than it may be for American audiences. There is great regret at the events and deaths on that September day. But, it is the consequences that we live with, one of which was the often blinkered anti-terrorist responses amongst officials and from ordinary citizens.
SCARY MOVIE 5
US, 2013, 86 minutes, Colour.
Ashley Tisdale, Simon Rex, Erica Ash, Terry Crews, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Jerry O’ Connell, Mike Tyson.
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee.
Scary Movie 5 comes in quite a long line of film parodies of horror stories. They began in the 1990s, introduced by members of the Wayans family. They relied on broad parallels with some of the popular horror films of the time, on some fairly obvious puns and jokes, on a fair amount of crassness. And some of the Wayans family participated in writing and acting. Anna Faris was a regular as the put upon heroine. This time it is Ashley Tisdale.
Once again, current films have been targeted.
The obvious popular target at this period is the film series, Paranormal Activity, four of them to date. This means that a lot of the film is done with handheld camera with the timing patterns, and the speeding up, in the bottom right hand corner. However, while there are parallels to scenes in these films, the basic plot is taken from the thriller Mama, with Jessica Chastain: an uncle searching for his nieces who disappeared, their reappearance in a wild state, the inability of their uncle’s partner to deal with them, her getting used to them. In the meantime, the eerie mama keeps appearing in the background until the anticipated cliff-top climax. References also to The Cabin in the Woods.
The film unexpectedly brings in The Black Swan, the aunt having a career in ballet, scenes with a very camp director, auditions, a black rival who is able to do pole dances, but helps the heroine in the search for the children - along with a gratuitous lesbian fantasy. And the finale of the ballet is nothing like Tchaikovsky!
Another film parodied is The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with the uncle working in laboratories, bringing of the Caesar, the ape home, his reactions after its discovery that it could speak, its collaboration with other apes – but not nearly as much mayhem as in the original.
And, even though the film has not yet been made, there is a send-up of Fifty Shades of Grey with Jerry O’ Connell and Mike Tyson!
The other spoof at the beginning and the end is a bedroom scene with Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, full of speeded up sexual gymnastics, parodying the reputation of both stars always in the news for their behaviour. And there are some extra jokes about Lindsay Lohan’s drinking and bad driving. Whether this was good judgment on their part is another matter, though it is funny.
Given the list of films that are being parodied, it is not so much a matter of surprise with parallels but rather audiences enjoying the parallels as well as the contrasts.
This kind of spoof film is ephemeral, and pokes fun at the tastes and interests of its period.
US, 2013, 117 minutes, Colour.
Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Rafi Gavron, Benjamin Bratt.
Directed by Rick Roman Waugh.
Audiences have generally found Snitch much better than they anticipated. And that is probably because of their opinion of Dwayne Johnson and remembering that he started in show business in wrestling as The Rock. His early films were action shows (as have been some of his later films) and required more brawn than brain. However, over the years, he has shown that he can be a strong screen presence and can do ironic comedy (Get Shorty, Get Smart, and his turn in Tooth Fairy with Julie Andrews) as well as drama. Here he opts for drama.
The opening proclaims that the story is based on actual events, and the closing credits that it draws upon a television documentary. It is about drugs, the strict legislation against dealers and suspected dealers, the work of the DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency, and the role of prosecutors.
When his son is arrested for ecstasy-dealing, construction company boss, John (Johnson) confronts the law and, especially the district prosecutor, Susan Sarandon handling a good, strong role, with a proposal that, if he could bring dealers down, his son’s sentence could be lessened. He enlists the help of one of his workers, Daniel (Jon Bernthal) who has served time for drug offences – though he does not tell him what he is really up to – and he hauls drugs from El Paso where a Mexican cartel boss opens fire on the local dealers.
Which leads to an even bigger deal for the prosecutor, to transport millions of dollars in cash to the cartel. While the drama has been tense up till now, adrenalin is pumped all round with some spectacular car/truck chases in the American extroverted way. And the prosecutor is up for re-election and this is a publicity ploy as well.
It can be said that there is some use of guns, but far less than might have been expected. But, most of the time, it is a drama about family and the lengths a father will go to save his son.
US, 2013, 94 minutes, Colour.
James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Britt, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine.
Directed by Harmony Korine.
Interesting is not the first adjective that comes to mind while watching this surreal and gaudy film.
Spring Break films (and there have been many over the decades) are generally an excuse for showing college students behaving badly, a self-indulgence experience where goals are completely hedonistic, sex, drugs, sex, drugs, sex…
This is all here in Spring Breakers (and then some). There is a credit for costume designer (which would have made almost no demands for the female characters). But Harmony Korine is making an ambiguous film, boring us into understanding as someone wrote.
The film is like a visual collage rather than a narrative. One can draw out a narrative. Four girls think they live boring lives (though one is a born again Christian) and are determined that their spring break is going to free them and change their lives. What is involved is a robbery for them to finance their holiday, an encounter with a gold-filled toothy mounted character called Alien. He finds them in court, takes a shine to them but is also interested in getting them to do some of his dirty work against a rival. It ends badly for some of them.
But, it is a collage, not presented in linear form, dipping into episodes moving backwards and forwards in time, repeating phrases, especially phone calls home to mother or grandmother. It is as if the director told the cast what to do, how to pose, perhaps improvise with some dialogue and then films short sequences, ready to edit them in whenever he feels like it. This means that the performances, especially of the girls (who are a bit interchangeable), do not create credible characters, cyphers for the points Korine wants to make. James Franco, on the other hand, with those gold teeth and banded hair-do, is much more successful. But, he too is still presented as a collage character. There is also a black dealer and his women and a violent end.
Many commentators have said that Korine is anti the spring break ethos. Probably, but there is lots of sex and sand and drugs that looks like self-indulgence as well.
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
US, 2013, 132 minutes, Colour.
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Directed by J.J.Abrams.
We are into it instantly. We are in the middle of a mission, Kirk and Bones fleeing from a primitive, spear-brandishing tribe, with Spock descending to deal with a fiery-fierce volcano. This review is based on a 3D version on an IMAX screen with pounding score.
But, the tribe and the volcano are not the main story. In London, a Starfleet expert, John Harrison, wreaks destruction on a vast plant. In San Francisco (both cities 200 or more years hence looking futuristic, of course, with tall buildings and speeding vehicles), the Starfleet conference room is attacked by the same expert. He is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is having an increasingly important film career in films but also as Sherlock in the modernised television movies. Yes, another British villain! But, as we listen to his speeches (and he has quite a few), we realise that Americans don’t have the diction, accent or voice modulation that a clipped, clear, rounded, vowel-perfect British voice can give to such rhetorical interventions.
But, back to the crew and the plot.
We are four years on from J.J.Abrams first Star Trek film which brought the franchise alive again on the big screen and which brought a younger cast in to replace, with as many similarities as possible, the orginal crew of Starship Enterprise.
Chris Pine became Captain James Kirk and continues his adventurous, sometimes pig-headed, leadership of the Enterprise – with some scenes of American superiority at its gung hoest. Zachary Quinto is a very effective new Spock. Simon Pegg provides humour and his scientific know-how as Scotty (with some beaming ups – or beamings up), Zoe Saldana is something of glamorous Uhura, John Cho is a Korean Sulu, instead of the original Japanese, Karl Urban a wry Bones and Anton Yelchin fiddling with an Eastern European accent as Chekov. There is another addition to the crew, Alice Eve as another expert, daughter of the Starfleet admiral (Peter Weller).
So, there is quite some satisfaction with the crew. There is more than satisfaction with the set and production design, the vast sets of the space ships and their docking bases, the enormous interiors. And, as for special effects and stunt work, they are most impressive. Plenty of action.
At one stage we see Leonard Nimoy on the screen, the older Spock talking to the younger Spock. In probing the identity of John Harrison and his cargo of cryogenic allies planted secretly in powerful space torpedoes, the older Spock makes a vital link with the past, a connection in characters, plot and issues with the films of the past. Which, of course, makes it that much more interesting.
Lots of heroics, of course: Kirk prepared to give his life in the radiation core of the ship to save his crews’ lives, which gives Spock the opportunity to do invidividual battle with Harrison, Uhura coming to the rescue. Bones helps dismantle torpedoes as well as looking after health. Scotty races and uses his wits so that Kirk and Harrison, in flying suits hurtling through space can rendezvous on the admiral’s ship. Sulu has the chance to be acting captain.
Mix all that together, especially in a plotline that is always clear, even when it is convoluted, and you have a spectacular screen experience, vast action along with 3D cameras which enable you to see every contour, every line, facial hair on Kirk’s face in minute close-up!
It has been announced that J.J. Abrams’ next project is directing Star Wars Episode 7. On this evidence, no wonder. And, as fans might say, ‘Bring it on’.