SIGNIS REVIEWS MAY 2015
AGE OF ADALINE, The
AVENGERS, THE AGE OF ULTRON
CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
ELSA AND FRED
LONGEST RIDE, The
PAUL BLART, MALL COP 2
SALT OF THE EARTH
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH
WHO AM I
THE AGE OF ADALINE
US, 2015, 110 minutes, Colour.
Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, and, narrator: Hugh Ross.
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger.
It would have been more cumbersome, but The Agelessness of Adaline would have been a more accurate title.
There is always something intriguing about people who have the gift of longevity, agelessnessness, never changing, life for years and years – it is intriguing with vampires, but more attractive in a romantic setting.
The film opens on New Year’s Eve, 2014, and a young woman called Jenny is celebrating the eve of her birthday, the film goes into flashback, to the early part of the 20th century in San Francisco, where Adaline’s parents lived. Jenny is in fact Adaline who has spent decades assuming new identities, escaping before she is found out, and coping with remaining at the age of 29 forever.
Adaline has a job with the library which is digitising old film. She readily agrees to process the film and takes the advantage of looking at it, San Francisco at the time of the earthquake, her mother and father marrying in the Cathedral, her being born in 1908 and growing up, falling in love, her husband intrigued by astronomy, but dying suddenly in an accident on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The voice-over gives an attempt at a scientific, physiological explanation of why Adaline becomes ageless, after a car accident, and it is be fixed in a state of never-changing physically. It may or may not hold water, but the film’s emphasis on science, love for astronomy and other sciences, benefit by having a scientific-sounding explanation.
Then Ellen Burstyn appears, the actress herself being over 80 when she did this role, as Adaline’s daughter, an ageing woman, needing medical help, but devoted to her mother – sometimes a touch disconcerting when the older actress speaks of the younger actress and calls her Mama. Blake Lively is charming and a very attractive Adaline.
At the New Year’s party, a young man (Michiel Huisman) puts his hand in the elevator door to stop it and talks with Adaline, attracted by her, tracking her down in her job. His wealthy and offers his books to the library. Can there be any future? Adaline has avoided this kind of a relationship for decades and refuses him only for him to persist and for her to succumb. In the second part of the film, she goes to visit the young man’s parents, played by Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker.
Harrison Ford offers a winning performance, more akin to his age a character with a marriage of 40 years rather than an action adventurer. The plot becomes complicated when Harrison Ford recognises Adaline and, once again, she has to face the consequences – with some flashbacks to encountering him when he was a young student in England.
Audience curiosity has been aroused as to how the film well finally work out, perhaps Adaline and the young man marrying, his knowing the truth or not. Another explanation is offered with the voice-over returning to his deadpan narration of science and physiology.
One of the features of the film is to highlight how much of a single grey hair can mean an extraordinary amount in the drama.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
US, 2015, 141 minutes, Colour.
Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L.Jackson, Don Cheadle,
Aaron Taylor- Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgaard, Linda Cardellini, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschman, Aney Serkis, Julie Delpy, Stan Lee, Henry Goodman.
Directed Joss Whedon.
Some films are issues-driven. Some films are character-driven, out of which conflicts emerge. Some films are conflict-driven, out of which some character qualities emerge. Avengers is the latter kind of film, exceedingly conflict-driven. The characters we already know and there is little character-development – but a bit.
The initial Avengers film took in almost $2 billion around the world. It seems to be the most financially successful film of all time. Obviously, it has a built-in audience and so there is very little need for publicity or for review or critical comment. If you screen it, they will come! In fact, all the Avengers come and so will large audiences. Part of the enjoyment is to see one’s favourite avenger(s), meet them again, see them in action, all-conquering.
Robert Downey Jr is there once again as Tony Stark, Iron Man, working initially in his laboratories to create artificial intelligence, realising that he has created a cyber-monster, Ultron, who wishes to destroy him. He has to don his Iron Man suit to go into combat. In the laboratory he is assisted by Dr Banner (Mark Ruffalo), making every effort not to turn green, not to be angry and become The Hulk (which, of course, he does several times). In one character development, he is attracted to Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), the reformed assassin, and she to him. She is not particularly enamoured of The Hulk, but finally admits that this transformation is necessary if the Avengers are to win their battles.
Captain America (Chris Evans), the all-American, upright character, no swearing allowed, who belonged back in the 1940s before he was frozen enters into the spirit of things. Then there is the family man, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who with his arrows is a useful backup to the principal avengers, but he is always wanting to go home to his wife and family.
And, from another time, from another planet, there is Thor. And Chris Hemsworth is a big and brawny warrior but with perfect English articulation, deep voice and precision as if he was speaking the classics. He gives himself over to fight all these earthly battles that the avengers are involved in.
In the initial Eastern European siege, brother and sister with ultra-human powers, (Aaron Johnson- Taylor and Elizabeth Olsen) are linked in with Ultron but ultimately join the Avengers – and so, more fights.
Ultron (voiced by James Spader) immediately goes into hostile action, absorbing Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bethany who, later in the film, is seen in human, well cyber-human, form as yet another Avenger.
Which means than the screenplay is crowded, or, really, over-crowded, with each of the Avengers looking for screen time as well as finding various opportunities for combat. Which also means that the film is battles and confrontations, with a little spacing between for some human drama.
US, 2014, 103 minutes, Colour.
Dustin Hoffman, Garrett Wareing, Kevin Mc Hale, Eddie Izzard, Kathy Bates, Josh Lucas, Debra Winger, Joe West.
Directed by François Girard.
Remembering a film about a child and music, August Rush, from 2007, I glanced at my review at the time and it struck a chord (so to speak) for the response to Boychoir. Here it is, ‘If you are a reader of reviews by the more ‘serious’ critics, you will find a rather universal dismissal of this film as far too emotional and sentimental. If you are a reader of reviews which try to communicate with the general audience, you will find the film praised for its entertainment and values – and the admission that it is unashamedly emotional and full of sentiment. It was W. Somerset Maugham who remarked that sentimentality is only the sentiment you disapprove of.’
Stet is an 11-year-old living in Texas. He is an angry boy, often smouldering, lashing out physically, problems at school, although the principal of the school (Debra Winger) knows that he has a singing talent and invites the American Boychoir to visit the school so that Stet can audition. He interprets things wrongly and runs out.
Meanwhile at home, his mother is alcoholic, a pill-taker, unmarried, her life is a wreck. Within some minutes, she is literally in a wreck and dies. Stet is emotional at the funeral but can’t bring himself to go to the grave. His father (Josh Lucas) turns up, having never seen his son but who has supplied finance for his upkeep and education. Stet is the result of a casual affair.
The father takes his son to the Boychoir school, assuming that he will get in, but the administration is reluctant, especially the Master Conductor (Dustin Hoffman) who remembers Stet running out of the audition. Sometimes a big cheque helps and Stet is accepted to the school.
As might be expected, he does not fit in with many of the boys, or with some of the staff, getting himself into quarrels, lacking discipline which the Conductor interprets as lack of respect. However, everybody recognises that Stet has a special gift in his voice.
The screenplay is more or less predictable, and while there are no great surprises, sympathetic audiences will want to follow Stet’s development in the school, relating with the boys, academic studies, sport, music theory, music practice. The audience does get a good idea of what this kind of music education entails.
For music lovers, there is quite a range of music, a range of pieces for individuals and for the choir, from Faure to Benjamin Britten. The choir, with rival eyes on The Vienna Boys Choir, wants to be accepted to sing in New York City. When they get the opportunity, because of Stet and his voice (a performance that was almost sabotaged by a jealous boy stealing his score), the choice is Handel’s Messiah, with his alleluia chorus and the soloist having to reach and sustain a very high note. Will the boy, analytic in his approach to singing, gain the day or will the more instinctive Stet be chosen?
In the background, there is also the situation with Stet’s father, his not having told his family the truth, there being some tickets to a concert sent anonymously to the family, the father wanting to send his son to a school in Switzerland, and a solution, happily, for the benefit of Stet.
The film has been directed by Canadian, François Girard, whose films included 32 Variations by Glenn Gould and The Red Violin.
Audiences will enjoy seeing Dustin Hoffman, a touch irascible, as the conductor of the choir, very demanding, with very little back story until a final conversation with Stet, a story of frustration and disappointment. Eddie Vizard is Drake, in waiting to take over from Dustin Hoffman, a perfectionist, sometimes pedantic, with favourites. Kevin Mc Hale is the very young and sympathetic teacher who supports Stet. And, as always, and enjoyable performance from Kathy Bates as the administrator of the school, and she gets a couple of very telling speeches and delivers them with great gusto.
The film introduces a Garrett Wareing as Stet. He is quite persuasive, as the angry boy, not always sympathetic, finding his way in the school, realising his great desire to sing but having to overcome anger and antagonisms.
When the school emphasises that Handel’s Messiah is a crowd-please, we realise that this is what this film intends to be, a crowd-pleaser about music, song, boy choir voices (which sooner or later will break) and, as the final song during the credits reminds us, the mystery of the gift.
THE CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
Friends, 2014, 122 minutes, Colour.
Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz, Johnny Flynn, Brady Corbett.
Directed by Oliver Assayas.
This film is a fine opportunity for audiences to see Juliette Binoche and admire her screen presence and acting skills. She has been performing since the mid-1980s, in French films and then internationally. In 1996, she won an Oscar for Best supporting actress in The English Patient. Since then, she has developed her international reputation at home in France and, extensively, abroad. She has also had a stage career on London’s West and won a Tony award on Broadway.
This background is relevant because The Clouds of Sils Maria is about an actress and her career, an international star, reaching middle age, challenged in her career, having to make decisions and face the future. As we watch Juliette Binoche in a most persuasive performance as Maria Enders, many audiences will be thinking about her in real life and her on-screen impact.
While Juliette Binoche won a French Cesar award for the performance, Kristen Stewart one who is for Best Supporting Actress. Though she was a child actress, appearing with Jodie Foster in Panic Room, her principal reputation rests on her presence as Bella in the Twilight series. This performance takes her well beyond Twilight. She appears as Maria’s personal assistant, the first 20 minutes or so of the film showing her continually on mobile phones, making contacts, making decisions, arranging dates, doing PR work.
The initial situation is a tribute to a playwright who put Maria on stage and on-screen, launching her career. She has been invited to receive an award on behalf of the playwright who does not wish to go – the information coming very quickly that he has died. Maria is somebody who has an instant negative reaction to things, wanting to refuse, thinking something is impossible – but actually then doing it and forgetting what she thought previously and enjoying the process.
Maria and Val decide to go to the house of the playwright and stay in the Swiss Alps, quietly domestic, walking in the mountains, Maria making a decision to perform and play, playing Helene, the nemesis of her original character, Sigrid. During their walks, Val says the lines of the other characters, almost deadpan, yet the experience of watching these rehearsals makes the audience realise that that some parallels between the characters in the play throw light on the relationship between Maria and Val herself.
The suggestion for casting the young Sigrid in the new play is for an actress, Jo- ann, Chloe Grace Moretz, Val and Maria going to Jo- Ann’s latest film, a superhero blockbuster, in a local cinema, Val really liking the film, the characters, the science fiction issues, while Maria mocks them and laughs at them. Nevertheless, there is a meeting between the two actresses and the project is to go ahead.
It is difficult to write any commentary on the latter part of the film because something dramatically happens without explanation. There is also a complication with rehearsals going head for the play, a personal scandal around Jo- Ann. But the show must go – with Jo-Ann? behaving towards Maria in a manner reminiscent of Eve in All About Eve. What is Maria to do? She does have a final interview with an enthusiastic young director who pitches a science-fiction script to her – and the film ends with a close-up of Maria’s face, the audience supplying the continuity of her story.
ELSA AND FRED
US, 2014, 103 minutes, Colour.
Shirley Mac Laine, Christopher Plummer, Marcia Gay Harden, Scott Bakula, Chris Noth, George Segal, James Brolin, Erika Alexander, Wendell Pierce, Reg Rogers.
Directed by Michael Radford.
With Hollywood’s perspective on film-making, that box office receipts come from younger audiences, there are not too many films made for older audiences. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, as well as a number of films featuring Maggie Smith new detention, are reminders that grey-haired or silver-haired (and some with the touch of dye!) enjoy a film outing. Elsa and Fred certainly fits the bill.
While it was being film, Shirley Mac Laine was 79 and Christopher Plummer 84. Also in the cast was a younger George Segal, only 81 James Brolin a mere 73.
This is a remake of an Argentinian film of the same name, from 2005, and is directed by Michael Radford, British director who has filmed all over the world, Africa for White Mischief, Chile for Il Postino, and who also directed The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino.
Christopher Plummer is Fred, getting too old to live alone and manage himself but resenting that he has to go into a unit. His daughter, played by Marcia Gay Harden, fusses about and his son-in-law would like a loan to float a business deal. Fred is something of a curmudgeon, not prone to looking happy. And he is unimpressed by the fact that they have employed a carer for him.
Elsa lives across the way, and in her behaviour and attitudes, chatting and laughing, she resembles the Shirley MacLaine? of so many films over the decades. And why not? Audiences have liked her and responded well to her – and, ultimately, so does Fred.
One of Elsa’s idiosyncrasies is her love for Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita, especially the Trevi fountain scene with Anita Ekberg going into the water, watched by Marcello Mastroianni. Elsa has a poster on the wall and watches the film over and over. And she has a dream that one day she will go to Rome, dress up like Anita Ekberg and re-enact the famous scene.
Fred has no such dreams and finds Elsa a little irritating, though he kindly believes some of her wild stories, especially when she pleads and describes needy family so that he will give her back the cheque to pay for the damage she did to his daughter’s car. Truth is not her forte and we discover throughout the film that she has told some little white lies as well as whoppers. But she takes a shine to Fred, trying to persuade him to take a little step by step and move outside his room.
She does and gradually Fred comes to life, though his goodwill is sorely tested by Elsa, her behaviour, and her playing with the truth.
But, this is a feel-good film for the older audience and, despite ups and downs, moments of love, moments of exasperation, Elsa and Fred offers an affirmation of life and its possibilities.
US/France, 2015, 115 minutes, Colour.
Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Ray Winstone, Idris Elba.
Directed by Pierre Morell.
The Gunman is definitely a Sean Penn film. Not only does he star, he has some credits as a producer and as contributing to the screenplay. While this is an action story, there is strong critique of the methods of international corporations, their ruthlessness, the background to their bargaining for contracts and are not being afraid to stoop to murder to achieve their ends and cover all this up. Sean Penn concerns.
The film is based on a novel by French writer, Jean- Patrick Manchette who died in 1995. His novels were action thrillers and his plot is taken here and updated to the 21st century.
The initial action takes place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a group of expatriates, American, British, Spanish, seem to be an advisers on projects, with links to humanitarian activities in the area. It is 2006, issues of rebel fighting, governments working against corruption and a minister deciding that there will be a veto on international contracts. It is probably inevitable in these circumstances that he is assassinated.
The audience realises early in the piece that the expatriates are not as fun-loving or charming as they might seem. Penn plays Jimmy, the designated assassin, and has to leave the country instantly, even abandoning his girlfriend who works in a clinic in Congo. Her asks his Spanish friend to take care of her.
The action moves to 2014, with Penn again working in Congo, but this time for an NGO, seemingly regretting his actions in the past. When a gang of armed men appears on a worksite intent on killing him, he flees to London where he makes contact with one of his old associates, Cox (Mark Rylance) and tries to get information as to who might be pursuing him. His other London contact is Stanley (Ray Winstone) a tough type, especially in action in a London pub where Jimmy loses his cool, which leads to him being taken to a doctor and found that he has brain damage which threatens his life.
Nevertheless, of he goes to Barcelona to confront his other associate, Felix (Javier Bardem) who has married his girlfriend. All the action that one might have anticipated with such a title, Gunman, for a film, certainly takes place – and then some. We have already realised that, at 54, Sean Penn has decided that he also wants to be an action star (and the current director, Pierre Morrell, directed Liam Neeson in Taken). There are many, many scenes where Sean Penn has his shirt off giving obvious evidence that he has been many times to the gym and is keeping himself tough (a credit to the man listed in the final credits as his Personal Trainer).
The film also has action sequences in Gibraltar, introducing a CIA contact (Idris Elba).
The final action is symbolic and contrived, taking place in Barcelona and its bullfighting ring, enabling a confrontation between Jimmy and the villain, with bulls accidentally set loose and killing the villain. There is an important note in the final credits saying that Barcelona since 2011 is an anti-bullfighting city.
The description of The Gunmen is probably more exciting than the real thing, which has many points of interest, some alarming bloodshed and some goring in the arena, but at the end, with both noble repentance and love, it is not as satisfying as it might have been.
THE LONGEST RIDE
US, 2015, 128 minutes, Colour.
Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda, Oona Chaplin, Lolita Davidovich,
Directed by George Tilman Jr.
What could be better than having one Nicholas Sparks’ story in a film? The answer is: having two Nicholas Sparks’ story in the one film. And that is what happens here.
Once again we are in Nicholas Sparks country, the state of North Carolina. We remember Message in a Bottle, The Notebook, Dear John, The Last Song, Night in Rodanthe. However, this time we are in from the Atlantic coast, at a college campus and at a centre for bull-riding (it is explained to us that this is not, not, a rodeo).
The second story is set in New England, and begins in 1940, shown in a series of flashbacks throughout the film. While younger audiences would be caught up in the romance in the present, older audiences would identify with the older couple and be moved by their lives in the stories from the past.
The focus of any Nicholas Sparks’ story is the romance. Sophia is a student, an art student, with a scholarship from New Jersey to the North Carolina campus. She has the prospect of an internment with an art dealer in New York City when she graduates. She is dragged, rather unwillingly, by her roommate to go to the bull-riding when she sees Luke, whom we have already seen as a champion with ambitions to top the international list of riders but who has had a serious accident. She picks up his hat – and the sparkle begins. Luke is very much the southern gentleman with manners to match and is handsome and charming. Though she knows she is returning north, she agrees to go out with him and they have a riverside picnic. So far, a potential for a sad story of separation.
On their way home, they see an accident and rescue an elderly man from a burning car. Sophia is asked to go back to the car to rescue a box. When she goes to the hospital to bring the box, she begins to read one of the letters and so begin the flashbacks to 1940, his letters written to the love of his life, later his fiancee, then his wife. The old man (whose age by arithmetic should be at least 90) is played as a bit of a curmudgeon but with charm by Alan Alda.
Sophia is played by Britt Robertson who handles her role very pleasantly. Lucas played by Scott Eastwood, yes, his son – and from some angles he definitely looks like his father, and at many moments he sounds like his father. This is the kind of role that Clint Eastwood might have played at this age of 28, but he was starring in Rawhide and the Spaghetti Westerns was still to come.
It seems to be going nicely, Sophia in love, Luke in love, taking her home to meet his mother (Lolita Davidovich) and she bringing him to an art exhibition which he does not understand at all.
In this, they are mirroring the older story, where Ira (Jack Huston, grandson and John Huston) works in a local store, enlists in World War II, is injured and returned home. Jewish, he is intrigued by refugees from Austria, especially the daughter, Ruth (Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and daughter Geraldine), a lively young woman who has a great appreciation of art.
Sophia returns to the hospital to read his letters to Ira, filling up the background story, their marriage, their inability to have children, Ruth’s desperation at not having a family, her coaching a young boy – with a later happy piece of information to cheer both Ira and Ruth).
The Longest Ride, by the way, refers to living with art rather than the eight seconds required for success on the bull.
Needless to say, there is a clash, the romance seems to be falling to pieces. But, something wonderful happens to them to do with Ruth’s huge collection of art pieces over the years and her eye for successful artists. You will have to see the film to find out what happens – but the happy ending (as if we did not know) actually goes beyond happy…
PAUL BLART, MALL COP 2
US, 2015, 94 minutes, Colour.
Kevin James, Raini Rodriguez, Eduardo Verastegui, Daniella Alonzo, Neal McDonagh?.
Directed by Andy Fickman.
If you saw the original film, Paul Blart, Mall Cop and enjoyed it, then this is certainly a film for you. It is not a film for highbrow critics who may consider it below their dignity. In fact, it is a light comedy, for passing enjoyment rather than for posterity, some slapstick, some comic situations and lines, the overcoming of villains and heroism for the little guy (metaphorically, because Kevin James is a rather large!).
Kevin James established himself as a comedian, working in stand-up comedy and clubs, moving to television, moving to movies, especially with Adam Sandler whose company has produced this film. He portrays the large man and his attempts at extroverted ego cover a diffident self-image. However, he has found his place of life, working as security man, mall-cop, ever ready to help, communicating with the mall shoppers, even when he does mess-up a lot of things.
At the opening, he marries again, his wife leaving, divorcing after six days. His mother, a glimpse of Shirley Knight, is almost immediately knocked over by the truck, leaving himself and his daughter at home. She, secretly, wants to go to UCLA to study and has been accepted but can’t face telling her father.
So, where is the screenplay to go from here – Las Vegas.
There is a conference of mall-cops and Paul is delighted to go, throwing his weight around when he arrives, with the bus boy, to whom his daughter is immediately attracted, to the man at reception, to the manager of the hotel whom he rather crassly insists is coming on to him. He is advised that he is to give the keynote speech but his colleagues soon disabuse him of that prospect. So, just to be there, with old friends, hang out with them and enjoy the visit.
So, where is the screenplay to go from here – have some arch criminals arrive at the hotel with a plan to steal the paintings, including Van Gogh, some statuary, substituting fakes, and storing everything downstairs to be sold to the highest bidders.
Bring everything together, including the daughter and the bus boy and the criminals, pursued by them and held hostage. In the meantime, the keynote speaker collapses and Paul has to take his place – and, in his earnest speech, he has the ears and tears of all the participants, including the manager standing at the back, and receives thunderous applause.
Back to the criminals, their plans, the crew, the smart execution of stealing, Paul trying to phone his daughter and she him, and then his going into action, the rather hefty man outwitting the arch-criminal and his associates. Of course, this means plenty of comics situations, quite a lot of tasering, people going into swimming pools, and the final confrontation when Paul seems outwitted and outflanked only for his security associates to come and win the day.
And he realises he has been selfish and his daughter is to go to UCLA.
It is mainly a happy ending, although the trailer has a final sequence where Paul flirts with a policewoman on a horse, is given her number, pats the horse who does an enormous back-kick landing Paul across the road. It is that kind of film, geared for a family audience, not a swear word in earshot, something of a slapstick and humorous line comedy.
THE SALT OF THE EARTH
France/ Brazil, 2014, 111 minutes, Colour.
Sebastiao Salgado, Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.
Directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders.
This humane documentary combines the story of the Brazilian photographer, Sebastiao Salgado, with a gallery of his powerful photographs, taken over many decades, and a study of the people and places where he photographed.
The narrative begins with photographs of the silver mine in Brazil, the many gnarled characters scaling rocks, drilling, all eager to find some silver – and the commentary adds that people are the salt of the earth.
Celebrated film director, Wim Wenders, tells us that he came across one of these portraits, a study of a woman, and has had it hanging over his desk for many years. Which means that he was very pleased to be associated with this film, co-directing with the photographer’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, a cinematographer himself.
Introduced to the gallery with black-and-white photographs of the silver mine, the audience will be in intrigued as to the background of the photographer himself. He came from a poor family in Brazil, moved to the city for further education, especially in economics, got a job, married, and seemed to have a future in international companies with economic advice. However, he loved photography and decided that would give his full time to this work, supported by his wife who managed his photos, cataloguing, especially when on long trips.
Which he did. In those days, in the 1960s and 70s, he was tall and thin and rugged, wild hair and long beard. As he is interviewed for this film, often with super impositions of his face on locations and photographs, he is older and bald, but intensely serious, a lifetime of concern for his subjects and with profound and moving reflections.
Among the journeys he took was across South America, taking almost a decade. He is also shown visiting West Papua with its jungles and indigenous people. The journey which he found most heart-wrenching was that to Ruanda at the time of the genocide in 1994, observing, photographing, being caught up in the deep distress, finding that he could not go on photography expeditions for several years.
What caused him to be involved again was his awareness of the environment, the depredation of forests in his native Brazil, and his setting up an institute with his wife for the reforestation. Audiences will be amazed at the number of trees and the depth of the forests that have resulted from these initiatives. This also gave fresh impetus to his photography career, starting a Genesis Project, focusing on nature – and people - especially with intriguing photography of his working with the Brazilian jungle native community long hidden from “civilisation”.
By the end of the film, photographed in some detail by his son, co-directed by Wenders, the audience will have had a masterclass in photography but also a masterclass in human compassion, seeking out the salt of the earth and communicating something of their destinies, lives, hopes.
New Zealand, 2014, 71 minutes, Colour.
Dustin Clare, Camille Keenan.
Directed by Michelle Joy Lloyd.
Sunday is a small and modest film coming from New Zealand.
It is really a two-hander, played by Dustin Clare and Camille Keenan. The action takes place over 24 hours.
Eve goes to the airport to meet Charlie, who is away most of the year driving army vehicles in war zones. Eve wants to tell Charlie that she is pregnant and that she would like him to stay at home. The drama focuses on her longing for some kind settled life, the preparation for giving birth, her love for Charlie and her sometimes-desperation with him and his attitudes. The drama also focuses on Charlie, his personality, fairly macho, sometimes sensitive, but enjoying his work and his commitment to it.
The setting of the film is Christchurch, after the destruction by the earthquakes. As Eve and Charlie move about the city, visiting the cathedral to talk about a wedding, going for a cup of coffee, playing outdoor chess, going to the water and remembering the lyrical times they had which you have seen during the credits, they continually pass by buildings which have collapsed and other signs of destruction as well as the beginnings of building again.
Sometimes the mood is serious, sometimes humorous – especially when they are at home and there is a knock on the door and a very awkward rap-greeting singer arrives to deliver a message; they discuss baby's names (even Sunday) and whether it is a boy or a girl.
Many audiences will identify with the two characters, the dilemmas, their problems, their hopes – and the uncertainty when employment clashes with settling at home. Some of the dialogue shows great sensitivity and challenges the audience to consider where they stand emotionally and in objective judging of what they think ought to happen.
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH
UK, 2014, 129 minutes, Colour.
Alicia Vikander, Kit Harrington, Taron Egerton, Emily Watson, Dominic West, Miranda Richardson, Joanna Scanlon, Colin Morgan, Anna Chancellor, Hayley Atwell.
Directed by James Kent.
This is the kind of film that admirers of British-making really appreciate. It is beautifully mounted, re-creating its period. It has a fine cast and impressive performances. It dramatises British themes and explores the British character. It is in the tradition of the Merchant-Ivory? period films of previous decades.
The title comes from a memoir by the central character, Vera Brittain. Like Gertrude Bell, ten years earlier, whose adventurous life was dramatised by Werner Hertzog’s Queen of the Desert, Vera wanted to go to the University but this was thought of as impossible. A young woman should be considering suitors and marriage. The setting is 1914.
Initially, Vera comes across as a wilful young woman, somewhat tomboyish in an opening swimming scene with her brother and his friends, upset with her father who has bought her a piano which she considers a bribe to stop her going to the University. She stands up to her father who relents and, at least, allows her to sit for the entrance exam. On her way to the exam she meets one of the staff of the College, Miss Lorimer (Miranda Richardson in a somewhat acerbic, blue-stocking presence). Although she does not answer some of the questions properly, her independent way of mind gains her a place at Oxford. Exhilarated, she goes to the college and begins her course.
But, it is 1914 and her brother, Vera pleading with her father to let him go, enlists, as do some of his friends, including Roland, with whom Vera has fallen in love. As more and more young men go to battle for King and Country, the challenge to Vera is whether she should continue her studies or volunteer as a nurse. When she does volunteer, and is belittled as upper-class by some of the matrons, she proves herself, comforting wounded and dying men, exercising skills, and even sent to France where she has to care for some of the dying German soldier patients.
Needless to say, this has a profound effect on her as well as on her brother she later tends and in her relationship with Roland and immediate preparations for their wedding.
In many ways this is very sad film, the fate of the young men going off to war, romanticising some of their war action in poetry (as did a number of the English poets who served in France).
The situation is mystifying to Vera’s parents, played effectively by Dominic West and Emily Watson, who obviously belong to a previous generation, a mix of the Victorian and Edwardian era, never contemplating what World War I was to bring to the world and to England itself.
Vera is played by Alicia Wikander, the Swedish actress who are impressed in the Danish film A Royal Affair and moved internationally very quickly to such films as the mediaeval The Seventh Son, the Australian Son of a Gun, and the intriguing science-fiction, Ex Machina. She brings both strength and tenderness to her interpretation of Vera Brittain. Kit Harrington, of Games of Thrones and Pompeii, is very sympathetic as Roland.
Vera Brittain returned to the University, completed her course, became a writer and, in 1933, wrote this memoir, Testament of Youth.
UK/Brazil, 2014, 114 minutes, Colour.
Wagner Moura, Rickson Tevez, Eduardo Luis, Gabriel Weinstein, Selton Mello, Martin Sheen, Rooney Mara.
Directed by Stephen Daldrey.
Trash has several meanings in this film. First of all, there is the literal huge mountain of garbage, filmed in its trash ugliness, and filled with so many people, adults and children, rummaging through the rubbish to see what they can find. It is into this rubbish that a significant wallet is tossed leading to a surprising change in the lives of three of the boy’s who live in the favela.
Another significant meaning for trash is that society considers the people who live in the favela as human trash. This is a film that says they are not
While the story is Brazilian, the film is a co-production between the UK and Brazil. The screenplay, written by Richard Curtis, a surprising choice because he is well known for Blackadder, Mr Bean, Four Weddings, Love Actually, who brings an outsider’s view to the situations as well as drawing an audience right into the situations. And the director is British Stephen Daldrey, whose reputation was enhanced by Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader.
At the centre of the film are three young boys, who had not acted before but their performances are so authentic that they are completely persuasive. One is Raphael, the boy who finds the wallet mysteriously thrown into the trash, who proves himself a boy of integrity, trying to do what is right, strongly believe in God, who puts himself into all kinds of dangerous circumstances, taken by the police, tortured by being bounced around the car boot and threatened with death, but following through on his mission to discover the truth about the contents of the wallet that he has found. His best friend is Gardo, a tough egg of a boy, outgoing, daring, always with a trick up his sleeve in awkward situations. The third boy has Rat as his nickname, a shrewd little boy who can do a deal with anyone.
This review has emphasised the role of the boys, but it is in a political context of Brazilian corruption: a wealthy man who is candidate for mayor but who has taken bribes from many companies, hiding the cash at his home, along with his accounts book. We are also introduced to José Angelo, a mysterious man who is arrested, tortured and killed – not before he has thrown his wallet into the garbage truck. More emerges about him as the film goes on, his association with the candidate, his taking the bribe money, hiding it while trying to get a letter to a lawyer in prison for justice stances who has Bible which can interpret the code to indicate where the money has been hidden.
The film is set in this part of Rio, the depressing shacks, despite videogames and access to the Internet, the poverty of boys, their seeming to have no family, the filthy water in which they swim, and the dirt of the trash.mountain.
One aspect to emphasise is that the film has a strong Catholic background, part of the inherited culture, with a sense of faith and devotion and ability of the boys to pray. Rooney Mara portrays a volunteer who teaches the boys in the local presbytery. And there is Martin Sheen once again playing a priest, older and a touch more grizzled liking a drink, the local hierarchy threatening to transfer him, but his wanting to stay with the people, angry at corruption, fighting for justice, especially when there are refugees flocking to him from the shacks which had been set alight by the police.
Trash has a great deal of realism about it, the actual poverty, the role of the police, police corruption, crowded prisons, political deals, the film also serves has something of a favourable happy ending. It is a moral fable showing that there is a blessing for those who do the right thing.
WHO AM I - KEIN SYSTEM IST SICHER
Germany, 2014, 103 minutes, Colour.
Tom Schilling, Elyas M' Barek, Wotan Wilke Mohring, Antoine Monot Jr, Trine Dyrholm.
Directed by Baran bo Odar.
WHO AM I (on screen and thematically correct as WHOAMI) is a contemporary German film, an interpretation of the phenomenon of hacking in the 21st century. It has been made by film-makers in their 20s and 30s, produced for that age group and its response, especially knowledge of Internet technology and hacking skills, a thriller for a technological age.
The film as well and persuasively made, carrying the audience along with its characters and plot, with the addition of a constant throbbing beat score.
The film opens dramatically with the central character, Benjamin (Tom Schilling) discovering his friends dead and his giving himself up to the government and submitting to an interrogation. This is conducted by Hannah, a government official, played by the Danish actress Trine Dyrhom. Benjamin seems something of a pathetic young man, bowed and somewhat distraught as he begins to answer the questions. What has happened to him is presented in vivid flashbacks.
Benjamin was considered invisible when he was at school, thought of as a freak, which meant that he spent a lot of his time in his room, a computer-nerd, but developing skills for hacking, which are tested when he infiltrates the University exam site on behalf of Marie, whom he has always liked, but has ignored him.
He also explains how he came into contact with three men, also skilled in computer technology, who are impressed by his work and taking him on as part of their team. They are particularly interested in an anonymous virtual person, MRX, who is visualised in a virtual room, masked, with his dialogue printed out in box form. The group try some hacking and Benjamin is successful, wanting to prove himself to his friends, and adopting some of their lifestyle, drinking and the use of cocaine.
When they become more adventurous, they decide to go physically into a government building, penetrate its technology rooms and files and steal information. Benjamin stays back and discovers more information which he does not tell the others about. There are all kinds of repercussions when a hacker is murdered in the woods and is revealed as a government agent. Then Russian government is involved, perhaps MRX being an agent for them.
Benjamin becomes even more daring, infiltrating buildings in The Hague while the conference is going on, only to return back to the apartment which we saw at the beginning with his friends murdered.
At this stage of a review, the reviewer can only say that there are quite a number of twists in the final part of the film, giving more depth to the title of the film, playing with the character of Benjamin and what is going on in his mind and the response to him by his interrogator.
Younger audiences will probably relish this thriller and its dramatisation of hacking. A similar film, Blackhat, directed by Michael Mann, did not have the good reviews expected nor the distribution expected, it being considered, perhaps, too intricate and involved for mainstream audiences. This may be the case with Who Am I, but it is fast-paced and intriguing.