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Film Reviews November 2010

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SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS    NOVEMBER 2010
 
 
AMERICAN, The BURIED
CLINIC, The COPACABANA
DANSE, La DETECTIVE DEE AND THE PHANTOM FLAME
DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS EAT PRAY LOVE
GAINSBOURG HUMAN CENTIPEDE, The (FIRST SEQUENCE)
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, THE OWLS OF GA'HOOL LET ME IN
LIFE AS WE KNOW IT MADE IN DAGENHAM
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 RED
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE SAW VII 3D
SOCIAL NETWORK, The TOWN, The
WILD TARGET YOU DON’T KNOW JACK              
 
 
THE AMERICAN
 
(US, 2010, d. Anton Corbijn)
  
Decline of a hitman.
 
Who are all those hitmen that we see in thrillers?  Where do they recruit all those security guards that seem to appear out of nowhere when somebody threatens a gangster or a Mafia boss?  What do they do when they are not hitting?
 
You won’t get answers to all these questions in The American but you will get a portrait of a hitman who is tiring, beginning to form relationships he never dared to form before, but who is trapped by bosses who want him to do one more job.  And then he will get out?  The boss says yes, but will he? Or will he outwit any threats?  But, ultimately, we never learn anything in detail about the hitman’s past.  The probing is all in the present.
 
This is a film with strong continental European sensibilities.  While there are some action sequences, there are a lot more inaction sequences.  Not that these aren’t interesting.  Psychologically, they are, and the audience has plenty of time to observe Jack, the American, assess his emotional crises (using prostitutes in the past and in the present for pleasure with no commitment but finding he needs love and attachment), reflect on the possibility of his redemption (becoming friendly with the local parish priest and discussing sin, confession and atonement).
 
The screenplay has been written by Rowan Joffe who went on the write the screenplay for and direct a new version of Grahame Greene’s Brighton Rock.  This doesn’t seem surprising given the Greene-like character of the American (a burnt-out case) and his Greene-like conversations with the priest.
 
The film has been directed by Dutch photographer, Anton Corbijn, who directed the film about Ian Curtis and the band, Joy Division, Control.  The film is most attractive and photogenic.  With opening settings in snow-clad Swedish forests, some sequences in busy Rome but most of the film’s action taking place in the Abbruzzi, the audience will feel that they have spent time in the mountain towns and got to know the countryside and the feel of the place.  Corbijn must be a fan of Abbas Kierostami since he has even more shots, long distance, of cars travelling the mountain roads than Kierostami has of cars on and over the mountains of Iran.
 
And the star is George Clooney.  This is a very serious role and played with seriousness and an interior intensity that Clooney and the director communicate with some dialogue but more with silent, almost inexpressive close-ups which nevertheless invite us to ponder what is going on inside Jack’s head.  This is especially true of the final sequence in the car where we understand, without a word being spoken, the crisis for Jack.
 
Fans of Clooney who want fast-paced action from him will be disappointed, despite the expertise Corbijn brings to some violent events, and perhaps neglect the strong performance the star is giving.  The supporting cast consists of European actors rather than names.  Violante Placido brings a powerful sensuality to the role of the prostitute, Clara. And Paolo Bonicelli shows how an elderly priest can be pastoral despite his own limitations (more than a touch of the Morris West Italian novels here).
 
The American may be best served by being labelled an Art-house introspective psychological thriller.
 
BURIED
 
(Spain, 2010, d. Rodrigo Cortez)
 
The opening credits take us, visually, into deeper and deeper ground and the film keeps us there.  Buried is an exact title.
 
Probably, a warning should be offered that the setting is solely the interior of the coffin where a US truck driver working in Iraq in 2006 finds himself after the insurgent attack on the convoy in which he was driving.  Anyone who has strong claustrophobia or finds the prospect of being buried alive too much to imagine will find the film too harrowing.
 
Writer, Chris Sparling, must have taken up a dare that he could or could not write a full-length feature film set solely in a coffin.  Certainly a risk – and perhaps not too much of a box-office bonanza.  But, he has pulled it off and director, editor, Rodrigo Cortez has succeeded in creating effective visuals for the writing.  This is a Spanish production, in English.
 
After the descending credits, the film stays in the dark for some moments, the audience gradually hearing some movement until the driver, Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) comes to and discovers his predicament.  This gives the audience some time to accept what the film is showing and whether it wants to watch this story or not.
 
First of all, Paul has a cigarette lighter which enables him, and us, to discover the confines of the wooden box in which he has been interred.  His mobile phone vibrates, so we know he has some lifeline.  Perhaps this is a touch unrealistic (not too many survivors to verify whether it is realistic or not) but the lighter and the phone enable the drama to unfold.  He also has a pencil and, when the abductors ring and demand that he make a confession video on his phone, he finds a beam light, a torch and the written text for his video.
 
The film works well on the human level, the predicament of an ordinary man, non-military, who finds himself trapped and the source for ransom money.  Audiences who identify with Paul will be asking themselves how they would react in these conditions, the fear, the frustration, the anger, the dread.  The device of the phone also enables him to try to contact his wife and son in Michigan, the offices of his trucking company, the State Department, his mother.
 
Time passes, the deadline gets closer, the oxygen could run out, the lighter fluid could be used up, the batteries on his torch and mobile phone could run down.  A snake slithers through a crack in the wooden planks of the coffin.
 
So, the film works well on the human level.
 
However, the film works well on a second level, that of the war in Iraq and its consequences.  Paul is not military.  He works for a company (which shows scant respect for its employees in a sequence which exposes greed and heartlessness at the centre of company bureaucracy for business interests in occupied Iraq).  While he is in contact with the authorities in Washington (some sympathy momentarily here), and they are making attempts to locate and rescue him, a lot of the dialogue, we realise, is official double talk, attempts at morale-boosting, words of encouragement to keep hopes alive.
 
The calls of the abductor, his sending of a video of an execution, the background of his and the Iraqui people's suffering add to the harrowing experience of the film.
 
The film seems about to end several times.  Because it is a Spanish film rather than an American film, we are wondering whether Paul will be rescued and the ending happy.  We think it won't, will be, possibly...  And we leave the cinema soberly reflecting on such a life and death situation, why this happens, and how we might react in such circumstances.
 
THE CLINIC
 
(Australia, 2010, d. James Rabbits)
 
The Australian film industry, like those of many other countries, has followed the lead of the United States in providing production opportunities for young and first-time directors to gain some experience by making small-budget intense dramas or horror dramas with the slasher touch (Road Train, The Loved Ones).
 
This one opens in south western New South Wales and its vast open country around Deniliquin.  Pregnant Beth and her boyfriend, Cameron, are on their way to visit her parents for Christmas.  It is all very leisurely and chatty until a speeding ambulance pushes them off the road.  That should have been enough of a warning.  Then they stay at a seedy motel beloved of this genre of film, with a seedier receptionist to boot.
 
Then Beth (Tabrett Bethell) disappears.
 
Cameron is not too pleased and gets tangled with the local police when he threatens the receptionist.  But, Beth wakes up naked in a bath of ice cubes.
 
The film is one of those which builds up slowly even though there are a few shock moments as Beth finds herself in a uniform in a vast abattoir.  And she is not alone.  Several other women have given birth, are imprisoned and don’t know what has happened to their babies.  The women don’t realise, but the audience does, that they are being watched on monitors as they try to find a way out, bond and then clash, and realise that they are diminishing in rather graphically gory ways.
 
As the tension mounts and we discover what this macabre clinic is about, we find that there is a very grim climax and then a twist that takes us by surprise.
 
With its focus on pregnant mothers, babies and the threats to the children and a bizarre adoption theme, this is a thriller for making its female audience tense.
 
COPACABANA
 
(France, 2010, d. Marc Fissout)
  
Year after year after year, since at least 1977, Isabelle Huppert has been making films in which she stars.  She is one of cinema’s greatest actresses.  Her films are worth seeing for her performances alone.
 
While she is always recognisably her same self, Isabelle Huppert is able to interiorise her characters so intently (though seemingly effortlessly) that they can seem vastly different one from the other.  Most of her characters are quite serious.  Copacabana provides an opportunity for her to bring a lighter, carefree, even irresponsible, woman to life.
 
She plays Boubou, an unconventional woman, often oblivious of others and of the effect she has on others.  She can be really irritating.  As the film opens, she is wandering the streets and the shops, trying on make-up which gives her a trollopy look, and then embarrassing her daughter, Esmeralda, at the restaurant where Esmeralda works.  It might occur to you, as you look at the close-ups of Esmeralda’s face, that the casting director has been adept at finding an actress who more than resembles Isabelle Huppert.  But, in fact, it is Isabelle Huppert’s actual daughter, Lolita Chammah.
 
In many ways, the plot is a take-it-or-leave-it one.  But, as we see more of Boubou, her inability to hold down a job, her flirtatious ways, her attempts at a looking-younger-than-she-is wardrobe, her upset when her daughter forbids her to come to her wedding, we see that Boubou is a woman of more potential than she gives herself credit for – or that anyone has given her credit for.  Stung by her daughter’s reaction, she goes off to Ostend to apply for a job interesting tourists in time-share apartments.  We think she will fail – au contraire.  She does well at her job, proving herself a natural at meeting and communicating with people in the apartments.  In the meantime, she clashes with her older and snobbish room-mate at work (but who wouldn’t!), meets up with a charming Flemish cargo worker, is kind to a pair of vagrants, becomes friendly with her rather superior boss.
 
But, all the time, she would love to go to Brazil.  Copacabana is a dream.
 
Actually, the more we see of Boubou – and this is the skill of Isabelle Huppert in creating a believable three dimensional character out of someone who seems in real life to be rather two dimensional – the more we appreciate her.  She still does selfish things (ask the poor Flemish worker) but she does some really good things for Esmeralda and her fiancé.  And, if she can’t go to Brazil, then, as you will be pleased to see, Brazil comes to her.
 
LA DANSE
 
(US, 2009, d. Frederick Wiseman)
  
For decades, Frederick Wiseman has been making documentaries.  He has covered a wide range of institutions, interested in presenting them, exploring them, and leaving his audience able to form opinions and make their judgments about the value and values of the institution.  His documentaries tend to be long and thorough and offer the impression of objectivity.
 
This is what he has done here.  The institution under observations in the Danse Theatre of the Paris Opera.
 
It is as if we were invited to go on a tour of the Opera House, not just the theatre auditorium (which appears only briefly with its Chagall roof).  Rather, we go upstairs and downstairs, through corridors and basements, to offices and workrooms behind the scenes and, especially, to the rehearsal rooms.
 
It is a long tour, just under three hours.  Those whose favourite music form is not ballet will enjoy it but perhaps want to move to other rooms.  Those whose favourite music form is the ballet will not worry too much about the time spent.
 
The tour is mainly inside, though it is punctuated every so often by a breather.  We look at Montmartre, the overview of the geometry of Paris boulevards, the gabled roofs, the Opera facades, local detail.  We are definitely in Paris.
 
Ballet is the focus of the film and it stays.  There are some scenes with the artistic director, her vision of the company and its program, some pep talks to the group and to a dancer, and some scenes of meetings about contracts and pensions, and the dancer’s active career ending at 40.
 
But, most of the film is watching rehearsals and some performances.  Anyone who thought that ballet might be a dance soft option will have to marvel at the strenuous rehearsals, the requirements of timing, balance, the tough physical realities of mime, motion and agility.  We listen to several choreographers and instructors in action and pay attention to the small details they require of the dancers for greater perfection.  We see the dancers repeat their lessons, sometimes failing, affirmed when they succeed.  We see the dancers with natural talent and those who have to work on technique. We see the achievements in the selections of ballets, some classical but many quite modern in their visual style and action as well as musical score.
 
Interestingly, there is no real indication of house politics or disputes, though we can see where tensions could rise, bureaucratic and/or artistic temperament.
 
However, Wiseman and his director of photography (who offers models of framing, zooming quietly, blending medium shots and close-ups, with fine-tuned editing, for how cinema can unobtrusively capture the movement, grace and talents of the dancers in action) offer us the luxury of a visit and the observing of a world class ballet company in action.
 
DETECTIVE DEE AND THE PHANTOM FIRE
 
(China, 2010, d. Tsui Hark)
 
Tsui Hark was one of the veterans of the Hong Kong group of directors, like John Woo and Johnnie To, who directed classic martial arts films.  He also went to the US to direct Jean-Claude? Van Damme.  With the incorporation of Hong Kong into China, including its film production, the directors have been able to find bigger budgets and broader stories.
 
This one sounds like a blend of Nero Wolfe and Hercule Poirot – in fact Dutch author, Robert van Gulik has written some Detective Dee mysteries, referring to the detective as Judge Dee.  However, the setting is the Tang Dynasty, China in 689 AD, so not a simple or cosy mystery and detection.
 
In fact, the film, based on a Chinese tale of Dee, is very spectacular, re-creating the empire in lavish detail of costume, decor and courtly etiquette.  A central location for much action is a 60 metre high statue of the Buddha in progress outside the palace.  It is the interior of the statue, with extraordinary engineering devices, that is most impressive.
 
As with so many other historical epics from China, there is a great deal of martial arts fighting, swordplay and elegant leaping through the air a la Crouching Tiger.
 
On these levels, the film is worth seeing.
 
However, while showing foreign guests through the statue, a manager literally explodes.  Not only whodunit, but how was it done?  And there are several more such startling deaths.
 
The social situation is tense as the wife of the dead emperor, Wu, is about to be crowned as the first (and, in fact, the only) female emperor in Chinese history.  She has killed or imprisoned many of her enemies.  However, she entrusts the investigation of the murders to an imprisoned rebel, the detective Dee.
 
We can enjoy Dee’s pursuit of the solution to the crimes and, eventually, he and we realise who the murderer must be.  In the meantime, there are servants of the empress, a loyal woman servant and an albino soldier, stalking Dee.  There is also a talking stag who utters oracles and a great deal of Chinese ritual.
 
Veteran Andy Lau portrays Dee.
 
Spectacular, stirring and entertainingly investigative.
 
DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS
 
(US, 2010, d. Jay Roach)
  
Somebody must have written it, a reviewer or a blogger, but I haven’t seen it, so I can take the liberty of saying , ‘Movie for Schmucks’!  While watching it – and it did have some amusing moments, but... – it gave me the opportunity to mull over the different nuances in ‘daft’, ‘ditsy’, ‘silly’, ‘stupid’, ‘idiotic’ and whatever word combines, laughing at, mockery and meanness.
 
Francis Veber’s original film of the late 1990s, Diner des Cons, was a farce with French daft sensibility, a sense of the absurd, while keeping a perspective on snobbery and mockery.  Jacques Villeret made a sympatheric ‘con’, now translated as ‘schmuck’.
 
One wishes one could say the same of Steve Carrell, excellent comedian as he has proven himself to be.  He does his best with the role of the idiot, Barry, invited to dinner to be mocked by arrogant businessmen.  But his character is written so inconsistently, is too ditsy to believe so that, even as a schmuck,, his behaviour does not make sense.  At one moment, he is as simple as a dove, at another, he is the cause of sniggering (quite a lot of that) with a touch of leering.  In the original, the con builds models of famous edifices with toothpicks.  Here, quite a nice idea, he makes representations of famous paintings with mice.  These dioramas look quite good.  So, on the whole this character is a puzzle.
 
Paul Rudd has an easier time of playing the ambitious businessman who wants to provide everything for his fiancée (a pleasant Stephanie Szostak) and agrees to bring a schmuck to the dinner hosted by his boss (Bruce Greenwood) and encounters Barry and latches on to him.  His dilemma, after Barry seems to ruin everything for him by intervening at the wrong time, mistaking identities and altogether acting schmuckingly, is whether he wants to do the decent thing or not and reclaim his life – and fiancée.  It won’t spoil anything to know that at the end, he does, and true friendship and some integrity win out.
 
The dinner itself mocks a whole group of eccentrics in a way that the film seems to be saying the audience should not mock when it comes to Barry.  (But, the mean businessmen do deserve their ultimate mocking!)
 
Along the way, there are some amusing moments and many which seem just too laboured.  Three bonuses occur in the presence of New Zealand comedian, Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, and a very funny turn in Gentleman Broncos) as a really oddball photographer, David Walliams as a wealthy Zurich art collector, and Zach Galifianakis doing another of his really peculiarly oblivious to reality characters (The Hangover, Due Date).
 
Jay Roach has been responsible for the Meet the Parents series and can do much better than this.
 
EAT PRAY LOVE
 
(US, 2010, d. Ryan Murphy)

For the many readers who liked Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, they will know that the title refers to the twelve months that the writer took out of her life to take stock, enjoy and marvel at the world, and to come kind of self-forgiveness and acceptance.  She spent four months in Rome (eat), four months in India (pray) and four months in Bali (love).  For those who did not read the book, the film is an opportunity for them to accompany Liz on her geographical, psychological and spiritual journey.
 
What makes the film easier for many audiences is the fact that Julia Roberts plays Liz Gilbert.  Twenty years ago, she was the glamorous Pretty Woman.  Ten years ago, she was the feisty saviour of victims, Erin Brockovich.  Now she offers a character for women in mid-life who want to take an initiative to discover their better selves.  Julia Roberts, looks beautiful at all times, but harried at first, becoming more radiant and then, without make up, her older, even plainer, self.  Though we are conscious that it is Julia Roberts we are watching, she does transform herself into Elisabeth Gilbert making the journey credible.
 
Though the film is long, the first episodes are rather hurried, too hurried to really grasp the personalities of her husband who loves her (Billy Crudup) but whom she divorces, of her younger, actor partner (James Franco).  We get glimpses (and during the journey some flashbacks) of the relationships and why they failed.  Viola Davis is solid as her best friend.
 
Then the film settles down to indulge us with the vistas of Rome and plenty of food, glorious food, Italian-style.  With good friends and learning the difference between entertainment and real pleasure (Italians pointing out that this is a mistake that busy Americans make), Liz puts on the kilos with happy abandon.  And, then she is in India.
 
At the ashram in India, Liz assumes the dress styles, the rituals, the manual work of service (yes, that is Julia Roberts scrubbing floors), the silences, the hospitality and the meditative space that leads her to a conclusion that ‘God is within me, as me’, a reflection worth some more reflection.  The film captures the colours of India, even at a wedding, and should entice happy visitors to Italy to take a second look at their affluent world in comparison with the poverty and hardships of India.
 
There is a standout sequence in the Indian episode, a clip that could stand alone for  use in seminars on alcoholism and self-improvement.  The writing of the film takes off and is brought to dramatic power by the performance of Richard Jenkins.
 
What do you do when you have purged yourself of some spiritual ailments?  Go to Bali, seek the help of a wise man and some alternative healing – and allow yourself to fall in love.  That requires inner freedom, an acknowledgement of past failures but, most importantly, discovering self-forgiveness.  In the beauty of Bali and with Javier Bardem on hand, it is, after many difficulties, possible.
 
The trouble with Eat Pray Love is that one wants to respond to the character and how she handles her journey rather than sit back and accept the film and Liz Gilbert.  This is very much a First World story, the aftermath of New Age fashions and the discovery of Eastern mystic practices if not Eastern religion.  Very few (very few) women can take the time, let alone afford the time and expenses for such a journey.  This is the spiritual trek of a wealthy woman.  While holiday and break are necessary, and Liz is introduced to some mysticism and asceticism in India, we ask, ‘to what purpose?’.  By the time she has come to terms with herself and found love, we wonder what the moral bases of her life consist of, what is the nature of her integrity and the tension between some absolutes she has discovered and the relative importance of principles to be held on to or discarded.
 
Many men in the audience have found sharing this journey a tedious movie experience.  Many women will be encouraged to follow Elizabeth Gilbert in her search in as much as their means allow them.  Her story, book and film, is at least an attempt, in a pluralist world that has become even more pluralist, to attempt a search for life values.
 
GAINSBOURG
 
(France, 2009, d. Joann Sfar)
  
20th century music aficionados will be familiar with the work of Serge Gainsbourg, both music and lyrics.  Film fans will remember that he was married to Jane Birkin and appeared in a number of films with her and is the father of actress, Charlotte Gainsbourg.  Those with a memory for controversies and scandals will remember his record of ‘Je T’Aime’?, which was considered too explicit in lyric, sentiment and breathing, when it first appeared.
 
This is a biopic but moves away from the standard storytelling although, despite some flashbacks, does have a linear plotline.  But, realism is not of the essence.  The writer-director, long a fan of Gainsbourg, his music and his paintings declares that he prefers the Gainsbourg lies rather than the Gainsbourg truths.  Eric Elmosino seems a perfect incarnation of Gainsbourg, in odd looks, in manner and in singing the Gainsbourg songs.  Gainsbourg died in 1991 at age 62.
 
The film opens quite strikingly reminding us of the Gainsbourg Jewish background. (In fact he was born Lucian Ginsberg.)  It is occupied Paris and the little Lucian lines up to be the first to receive and pin on his yellow star.  On his way home, a billboard image comes alive as a monstrous anti-Semitic creature who chases the young boy.  This visual device becomes more imaginative as the film progresses, the writer creating a papier mache giant creature who accompanies Lucien and then Serge, something of his alter ego.  This creature (in the subtitles referred to as his ‘mug’, his strange face and fool persona) continually reappears, a device that enables the film to have what might normally be an interior dialogue, up there verbally and visually.  In this way, the audience grasps and emotionally responds to different crises, the different decisions, the mistakes, the successes.
 
Ginsberg grows up to be a short but gangly-awkward young man.  He hates the piano despite his father’s domineering insistence.  He prefers art school, where he is somewhat precocious.  But, as a young adult, he realises that he has a talent for music, for melodies, and for recitative lyrics that are poetically challenging as well as expressions of the ordinariness and, sometimes, the ugliness of life.  His heritage is, in fact, hundreds of songs.
 
While he does have a kind of Gallic, raffish charm, sometimes with moments of charismatic personality, it is not always easy to see why women fall for him.  And they do.  He dances with Juliette Greco.  Brigitte Bardot was besotted with him (and Laetitia Castel captures her mood and sexiness very vividly).  Jane Birkin was attracted, pursued him, married him and stayed with him as long as she could.  Lucy Gordon plays Jane Birkin well, but she looks too strong and healthy for the waif-like figure that Jane Birkin was (and still is).
 
What we have is a life story (with its truths, exaggerations, imaginations, and falsehoods).  We have a portrait with plenty of warts – Gainsbourg can be a fickle lover, a fickle friend, a self-publicist with a high quotient of narcissistic nonchalance.  We have the evocation of the Parisian music world, with the touch of the bohemian, of the 1950s to the 1980s.  And we have an interesting device in the conception of the ‘mug’ in making a film communicate an inner life as well as the outer events and encounters.
 
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE)
 
(Netherlands, 2009, d. Tom Six)
 
An example of a minor horror film (mad scientist experiments on abducted tourists) that has found its reputation growing as marketing informs prospective patrons (but, maybe, far more prospective non-patrons) what the film is about to capitalise on the disgust factor.  It sounds repugnant, though its surprise value makes people think it is worse than visualising a chainsaw massacre (and there have been lots of those over the years on screen).  It isn’t.
 
Actually, this brings up the old question of making the distinction between ‘what’ is presented and ‘how’ it is presented.
 
The grisly ‘what’ of this film, a human centipede, sounds awful, and it is.  However, it is not nearly so explicit in gore and ugly sequences as publicity would lead us to believe.
 
The plot is straightforward.  Two American girls (the synopsis refers to them as ditsy but they seem much more sensible than most who finish up being tortured in movies like the Hostel series) get lost one night on a road in Germany.  A mad man whom we have seen menace a stranger with a rifle offers to ring for help when they stumble on his luxurious home in the forest.  As expected, especially from this doctor whose face is overtly reptilian, he drugs them, kills the man he abducted and finds a Japanese substitute.  One of the girls breaks free and the doctor pursues her through his house – more time on this than on the actual surgery. 
 
The doctor  is famous as a surgeon for his skills in separating Siamese twins.  In his madness, he wants to reverse his surgery and connect his victims and make them function as one, a human centipede.  He explains with diagrams what he intends to do but, mercifully for those who watch it with good intentions, very little is actually shown of the surgery. We move to the fair accompli.  However, the resulting creature, with the three joined together and suffering, shows his sadistic nature and, perhaps, our masochistic nature in watching it.
 
The rest is a conventional police investigation and search, the Japanese thwarting the intentions of the doctor and...  Since the title of the film says First Sequence, the ending is an abrupt one.  Presumably, the writer-director set off to find the money for his Second Sequence.
 
Much less repulsive than many a current slasher movie, the film has relied on word of mouth and marketing to gains its sensationalist reputation.
 
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE
 
(Australia, 2010, d. Zach Snyder)
 
Impressive, but not quite satisfying.
 
The film is advertised as 'from the producers of Happy Feet'. While this is true, the implications are quite misleading.  Yes, birds are involved, owls instead of penguins, but, while Legend may be a literal hoot, it is not a cheery, funny hoot as was Happy Feet.  It is not a film for young children unless you want to frighten them.  It is for an older children's audience.  Had the poster said, 'from the director of 300 and Watchmen', that would have been more indicative of the tone.
 
The other difficulty is that while the owls don't exactly look alike, it is still hard to recognise one from the other (and their names aren't the easy Tom, Dick and Harry types either), so that a great deal of psychic energy is exercised trying to recognise who is who (actually, that sounds like an owl cry!).
 
That said, the film is visually strong, the forests, the seas, the rebels' retreat under the guise of an orphanage with captured owlets.  The action is powerful, as good owl battles bad owl, in the tradition of The Lord of the Rings (and Soren, the little hero does have an Elijah Wood look at times).
 
The film opens in an Eden-like forest where good parents have two sons, rather Cain and Abel like, Soren a dreamer who loves to listen to the legends of the heroic owls, Kludd an unimaginative realist.  When they get lost in the forest, they are abducted, along with their sister, and taken to the hidden fortress where a would-be-king and his imperious queen, are brain-washing the young owls into becoming a rebel army.  Soren escpaes but Kludd finds a congenial home.
 
Soren discovers the realm of wise owls and the home of his legendary hero, the island of Ga'Hoole.  As expected, he trains, absorbs the ethos of the owls and, when the crisis comes and the owls are betrayed by an ambitious governor, battles ensues.  It is the making of Soren and a duel with his brother.
 
The screenplay emphasises the vanquishing of evil by the good.
 
As mentioned, director Zach Snyder knows battles with his Thermopylae film, 300, and heroics with Watchmen.  The voice cast is led by British Jim Sturgess as Soren.  Helen Mirren is there but the rest of the voice cast list is an extensive catalogue of top Australian actors including Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Barry Otto, Richard Roxburgh, Anthony LaPaglia?, Ryan Kwanten, Abbie Cornish, Emily Barclay.
 
Spectacular, but not as involving as one would like.
 
LET ME IN
 
(US, 2010, d. Matt Reeves)
 
A vampire film with a difference, a seemingly realistic story which becomes more surrealistic.
 
There is a movie mythology that remakes are intrinsically doomed to failure, especially remakes of foreign language films which, despite their qualities, American audiences do not watch because they are averse to sub-titles.  And the taunt is that they become too ‘Americanised’ which usually means bland, or unsubtle, kitschy, sentimental or all of the above.  There is no difficulty in a play being staged over and over again.  It is just another version and interpretation.  Kenneth Branagh did not re-make Olivier’s Henry V or Hamlet.  His films were different interpretations of Shakespeare.
 
So, why not accept the possibility of a re-make (or another interpretation, located even in a different culture) which might succeed?
 
Many critics and audiences seem to be agreed that Let Me In is quite an effective and respectful remake of the Swedish original, Let the Right One In from 2008.  It has been relocated to New Mexico and the year is 1983 – though the reason for this time is not highlighted (except for President Reagan being seen on television), unless there is some allegorical meaning for the rise of AIDS at this period.  Matt Reeves, who had success with his apocalyptic, ‘realistic’ drama Cloverfield, has worked on the Swedish screenplay as well as the novel, both written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who, it seems, has given his approval to this version.
 
While Reeves has his own visual style, with sombre orange colour design for the outside meetings between Owen and Abby, with a suburban American look for the school sequences, especially the bullying of Owen, and the use of the dark for the vampire activities, the initial feel of the look and the storytelling is that this is being put across as plausible and possible.  Gradually this changes as Abby attacks a victim in a subway for blood, as her father (Richard Jenkins) goes on his sinister and violent quests for blood to keep her alive, and her mysterious appearances, her flying and climbing until she is revealed as a savage predator.
 
The plot is reminiscent in some ways of the Twilight series.  A human is in love with a vampire and, ultimately, is willing to forego ordinary life to be with the loved one.  But Owen and Abby are twelve and their quiet relationship is one of friendship in a naive and innocent manner.
 
It is to the credit of the director that he draws such sympathetic performances from his two leads.  Kodi Smitt-McPhee? has proven himself a sensitive talent in Romulus, My Father, The Road and Matching Jack.  Chloe Grace Moretz is the exact opposite of her vigorous and precocious performance as Hit-Girl? in Kick-Ass?.  At one stage, the class is shown Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, and there are overtones of the innocent side of this romantic tragedy for Owen and Abby.
 
There are quite some gory moments and some startling ones (as the vampire victim biting into her arm and then bursting into flame).  But, while the story uses the traditions of the vampire’s incessant search for blood, there is also a ‘humanising’ of the vampire which is unsettling, especially as the film moves to its conclusion and Owen’ decision.  Abby is monstrous while being a winsome 12 year old.  She does wreak vengeance on Owen’s taunters (the film not dwelling on detail or offering the audience much vicarious satisfaction as might have been expected).  Owen is faced with moral questions especially concerning the fate of the investigating detective (Elias Koteas).  But, he is only 12.  His mother is preoccupied with religion and she and his father are getting divorced.  Abby has urged him to hit back at life and its attacks on him.
 
This means that we have been lured into a horror story that is more intelligent than most,  but that we have to deal with its moral ambiguities.
 
LIFE AS WE KNOW IT
 
(US, 2010, d. Greg Berlanti)
  
Every year there are quite a few romantic comedies.  Here is another one.  Katherine Heigl has appeared in quite a few of them in recent years, 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth, Killers.  Here she is again.
 
It is easy to criticise this kind of popular genre, dismissing it as providing ‘chick flicks’, condemning it as trite or an indulgence in sentimentality.  This reviewer saw the film with a paying audience, about twenty to thirty late teenage girls mostly and realised that they were really enjoying it, often laughing out loud at dialogue quips and the familiar jokes about babies and adult helplessness in looking after them.
 
Babies is the key idea.  Life as they knew it for Holly (Heigl) and Messer (Josh Duhamel) was predictable.  She, a control freak, who is a great cook with a popular and profitable bakery, he a television sports director who feels himself carefree and sees himself as a sex magnet (which he is).  Holly and Messer are the close friends of Peter and Allison who have a young child, Sophie.  They do not get on well together – to say the least.
 
When Peter and Allison are killed in a car accident, they are named in the parents’ will as the guardians for Sophie.  Can the hostile Holly and Messer really undertake bringing up baby, taking their responsibilities seriously?
 
There is a lot of familiar (but often enjoyable) jokes about crying, spitting – and a good example of nappy changing where nothing is actually seen but the comedy is entirely in the focusing on Holly and Messer.  Visual restraint is possible, and works.
 
Josh Lucas is in the background as a sympathetic doctor whom Holly likes.  But, as you will guess, he does the right and gentlemanly thing and steps away as the odd guardian couple, change and fall in love.
 
An easy-going, generally pleasant look at the importance of children and family and the possibilities for love and commitment.
 
MADE IN DAGENHAM
 
(UK, 2010, d. Nigel Cole)
  
The title probably says a lot for British filmgoers, but most of world audiences will ask ‘where is Dagenham?’.  This enjoyable film will go a long way to answering the question.
 
It is a film about industrial action in 1968.  And, Dagenham is a suburb of London.
 
Interesting to wonder why this story was greenlit for the screen at the time of the global financial meltdown and released in October 2010, a period when the newly elected British government introduced austerity measures to bring down the budget deficit.  Has this kind of working-class film and its appeal to some idealism, as well as pragmatism in the workplace, a role to play in 21st century financial and industrial crises?  And how does it play to other cultures, especially western countries, where strike action and industrial demands have a long history?  And what of other countries, especially in Asia, with the sweat shop conditions that are far worse than those that the women of Dagenham fought against in the 1960s.
 
Made in Dagenham is the story of the strike by the women who worked, 187 of them compared to the thousands of men, making coverings for the car seats in Ford’s London factory.
 
In many ways, the film is quite conventional in its story of the factory, the episodes with the women, their inexperience of industrial unrest, the cavalier attitudes of the capitalist bosses, the arrogance of the American company heads, the stalwart action of the women (characters in themselves), the repercussions on families, the animosity of many of the men who objected to equal pay for women, the background of the Labour government and of minister, Barbara Castle, the emotions, the urgency, the victory.  And many of the plot developments are signalled in advance, familiar scenes of husband clashing with wife or inept ministerial assistants who get their comeuppance.
 
That said, the film is still highly entertaining, except for those who see communists under the bed and social improvement as the first step towards a socialist state.  Perhaps Americans who are suspicious of National Health benefits, Medicare or  medical insurance as a surrender to the proletariat won’t warm to the film. Actually, billionaire company directors may not like it much either!
 
The Dagenham strike led to demands for equal pay for women (which the US Ford representative (Richard Schiff)  assures his listeners the company could never afford (and threatens Barbara Castle with withdrawing manufacture from the UK).  This equality in pay was achieved by legislation in 1970.
 
The women are those familiar from so many working class films of the past, Thora Hird, Irene Handl, Dora Bryan....  But, the solid cast bring them to life.  Sally Hawkins won acclaim and awards for her exuberant performance in Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky.  She brings the same zest to her role here as Rita O’ Grady, wife and mother, who found a voice and was able to lead the striking women.  She makes this kind of unexpected leader both credible and sympathetic while not ignoring the nervousness, the possible cost to her family, and affirming  the decency and honesty that she brought to the campaign.
 
Geraldine James is moving as the shop steward with a war-damaged husband (Roger Lloyd Pack different from his role in The Vicar of Dibley).  Rosamund Pike is the well-to-do wife of a Ford executive (Rupert Graves) who treats her as a trophy wife and servant.  Miranda Richardson obviously relishes the political bumptiousness of Barbara Castle.  Most of the men are given less attention.  Daniel Mays is Ed O’ Grady who comes to terms with what his wife is doing.  Bob Hoskins is the union man who supports the women while Kenneth Cranham is convincing as the quite self-serving union official.  Harold Wilson (John Sessions) does not come off too well as a less than assertive, more pragmatic than hoped for PM.
 
This is a film that reminds its audiences of the dignity of women, the rights of women, women’s equality.  Many audiences and reviewers will be making comparisons with director Nigel Cole’s other entertaining film about women, Calender Girls.
 
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2
 
(US, 2010, d. Tod Williams)
  
Not finding the original Paranormal Activity an overwhelming terror/horror experience, expectations were low for this one – and were fulfilled.  Audiences may not even be whelmed but underwhelmed – unless they psych themselves up before they go in to have a terrifying experience.
 
Perhaps the psychological tactics of the writers and the director were to have the first hour so ordinary with the smallest of hints now and again that when the cupboards flew open at about minute 65, there was some cause to jump.  Then there was some rough and tumble and a climax that moved beyond the realism the film seemed to be aiming at to have a hocus pocus experience and explanation.
 
As with the first film, the camera work is handheld, often by one of the characters, so we have close-ups of the family, the rooms, the swimming pool, and are we jerked around quite a bit.  Then the camera work is that of the surveillance cameras placed around the house after the residents come home and find most of the rooms trashed.  But, mainly, we are looking at the most mundane of situations that do not really rouse much interest.  Day after day, night after night, glimpses of the pool, the dog, the baby (very cute), the empty rooms...
 
While the first film left it much more to the imagination to speculate on where the paranormality was coming from, this time there is a great deal of superstition which, surprisingly, most of the characters seem to take on.  There is a Hispanic maid who wafts smoke to get rid of evil spirits (and obviously that didn’t work at all).  Then the teenage daughter goes on line and finds out about deals done with demons for power and wealth and how the demon will return to take the firstborn male, however long it takes through the generations, as a sacrifice.  This kind of mumbo jumbo, which most people in waking hours would not give a second thought to, is put forward as plausible – with some demonic possession to boot.
 
The films have been paranormally popular.
 
RED
 
(US, 2010, d. Robert Schwentke)
  
A very entertaining show.
 
Red does not mean the colour but stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous and refers to CIA operatives (a euphemism for  licensed assassins).  While that might put off some prospective audiences, especially when they learn that this is a screen version of a graphic novel, this is conspiracy with a difference.  The difference is humour.
 
The witty screenplay, acted to the hilt by quite a top-name cast, each playing to their eccentric strength, is continually a blend of the deadpan and the droll.  Most of the time, the audience will be smiling, despite the action up there on the screen.  There are all kinds of little bits of play that are also amusing but presented in almost throwaway fashion.
 
In fact, it seems that the humour makes the action, preposterous as it sometimes is (in the vein of Salt), more acceptable because we are not looking at it in any realistic way.  The exaggeration is part of the joke.  On the other hand, had it not been amusing, there is enough CIA conspiracy theory and slambang action to satisfy the thriller fan.
 
Someone is out to kill a list of people who were in Guatamala in 1981 and are potential witnesses to a massacre that could undermine the career of a public figure.  Since Frank (Bruce Willis), who, lives a dull life in suburban Cleveland (nicely satirised), finds himself an immediate target, he goes on the run and on the hunt, dragging with him an unwilling (yet increasingly willing) Sarah (Mary Louise Parker), a pension clerk with whom he has a phone friendship.  Willis is at his sly-smile best and Parker plays along with gusto.  They seek out the old team, Morgan Freeman doing his dignified thing with tongue in cheek, John Malkovich, who often seems a bit odd, even a bit mad in some of his roles, but here he indulges these idiosyncracies in one of his most engaging performances.  And then there is Helen Mirren (‘I kill people, dear’), having to give up her baking and flower arrangements, to get behind a machine gun once again, evening dress and all.
 
And there are more bonuses along the journey which seems to take them all over the eastern US (signalled on screen by postcards).  Ernest Borgnine, looking fit, 92 at the time of filming, is the file keeper at Langley and Richard Dreyfuss enjoys himself as a crooked billionaire boasting insistently that the is the baddy.  Karl Urban is the CIA pursuer and Rebecca Pidgeon his boss.  And Julian Mc Mahon finally turns up as the Vice President.
 
It’s not great art, of course, and doesn’t intend to be.  But, it hits the spot of what it set out to do: bring to exciting and humorous life a graphic novel - with all acting and action stops out.
 
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE
 
(US, 2010, d. Paul W.S. Anderson)
 
Resident Evil is a computer game movie that led to sequels and by this fourth instalment, the first in 3D, it has become a franchise – especially, since we are given the opening scenes for Resident Evil 5 at the end of this one.
 
It is only for the fans of the series.  Those not in the know may well be counfounded by the plot.  They may well be intrigued by the action sequences – and that is for most of the running time – but they are exercises in director’s skill, stunt work, computergraphics and 3D effects that are as eye-popping as the ads say, and the need to fill in plot time more than create plot or character development.
 
Even for those who have seen the other films, like the present reviewer, they are not masterpieces whose storylines remain etched in the memory.  Fortunately, heroine (and that is an understatement watching her in derring-do, also an understatement, as she leaps and swings, unleashes her weapons and demolishes more opponents at a time than the stars of Kill Bill Part One – forgive this mouthful of a parenthesis but that is what the film is like!), Alice, initially fills in a few bits of information to keep us on track.
 
Basically, she is out to destroy the Umbrella Corporation which has been experimenting with drugs, has killed the odd thousands of victims, who have decided not to lie down but to become the living dead, and now wants to get rid of a liner, the Arcadia, where non-infected people are being used for further testing.  Also, the large and brawny actor (no, he really can’t act) who is in control wants Alice’s soul and DNA so that he can become the exemplar of a master race.
 
Alice is joined by a survivor or two from previous films, especially Ali Larter who performs as though she is auditioning to join The Expendables.
 
Milla Jovovich (now the wife of the director) has been in all the films.  She is a grim-faced (but, just to spoil the ending, she does laugh, completely unexpectedly,  in some final scenes), fights with mind power, will power, gun power, sword power and acrobatics that defy belief, especially since the films gives the impression that she neither eats nor sleeps but just keeps heroineing away.
 
The Resident Evil films are just entertainment concoctions, bringing the world and the impossibilities of computer games to the big screen and a blasting sound system.  Anderson knows he can do this well, commands extraordinary looking sets, and just puts his cast through these outlandish paces.
 
SAW 3D  (SAW VII)
 
(US, 2010, d. Kevin Greutert)
 
You need balance to see Saw.
 
You need a lot else as well.  The series has built up a fan base, horror buffs who like to imagine the fiercest horror and gore nightmare scenarios, or horror buffs who like a good laugh at the increasingly ugly torture set ups and sadistic psychological games.  The others who go to see them by now are probably completist film reviewers (as at present!).
 
There is a prologue with a grisly saw set up in a glass case in a prominent city square – with people gathering and gawping (as we are in the cinema), taking mobile phone pictures or just gasping with transfixed gaze at the deaths.  The film is punctuated with other set-ups and, as with all the other films in the series, a quest where someone has to do superhumanly painful feats in order to save others (usually a futile hope).
 
Actually, there is quite some amount of plot.  Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw has the opportunity to appear in flashbacks.  Rogue accomplice policeman, Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is continuing the murders, even to pursuing Jigsaw’s widow.  He is also out for revenge for the policeman whose life he saved but who reported him to authorities (and is willing to let all the police who stand in his way die as well).  The original bit of plotting is with an alleged survivor of a Jigsaw trap who has written a book, holds self-help groups for other survivors, has written a book (a nice touch in a flashback when Jigsaw himself comes to get an autograph) and has become a media personality.  It is all lies, so the quest is his to save his co-conspirators and his innocent wife (her demise is too sadistic even for a Saw film).
 
There is also an inventive ending which unexpectedly takes us back to Cary Elwes, the first victim six films ago and allows for another sequel (which has been denied but the box-office may say otherwise).
 
But, in the realistic terms of what is shows and imagines, it is all rather horrible.
 
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
 
(US, 2010, d. David Fincher)
 
I really don’t like Mark Zuckerberg.
 
That does not sound like a review.  But, it is.  And a favourable review at that.
 
Of course, I don’t know the actual Mark Zuckerberg.  I am responding to the portrayal in The Social Network, the performance by Jesse Eisenberg and the direction by David Fincher.  They show his abilities and skills, his ingenuity – and his rather unpleasant personality (which some commentators endorse, though his smiling photo in Wikipedia looks far more genial than Jesse Eisenberg does).
 
Whether we are Facebook members or not, this is an intriguing film about the communications phenomena in our time, of the internet in general and of sites like Facebook in particular.  With the introduction of  Facebook we are dealing with a short time ago in the history of the world, quite some time ago in the history of the net, 2003-2004.
 
While the film shows the action of this period, it is framed by legal meetings where Zuckerberg is being sued by a group of Harvard undergraduates who had invited him to develop a site for students at the university, The Harvard/ Connection.  He didn’t do this work.  Instead, with the help of his best friend, Edoardo Saverin, he developed The Facebook, later, on the advice of Sean Parker, dropping the The.  He is also being sued by Saverin.  The settlement discussions provide quite some drama in themselves, with Zuckerberg showing almost supreme disinterest, doodling and occasionally intervening.  He is sometimes referred to as nerd and dork – and that is how he comes across, the intelligent, obsessed, technically wizard creator who lacks person skills.  Jesse Eisenberg, who has done some interesting variations on this type, including Rodger Dodger, The Emperor’s Club, Cursed, Adventureland, Zombieland and The Squid and the Whale, perfectly embodies this interpretation of Zuckerberg.
 
The interpretation comes from writer, Aaron Sorkin, who has tackled the complexities of people in power and power struggles in the military (A Few Good Men) and in politics (The American President, The West Wing).  It also comes from director David Fincher, who seems to revel in dark themes and psychological game playing (Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Zodiac).  Fincher is always able to bring a dark visual look to dark themes.
 
The other two principal characters in The Social Network are Eduardo Saverin who was business manager but edged out by Zuckerberg’s lack of trust in his abilities and on the advice of internet wiz, Sean Parker, who had founded such sites as Napster, for the downloading of music.  If the film has a sympathetic focus for audiences, it is Saverin, played nicely by Andrew Garfield.  Which leaves Parker (played with nasty arrogance by Justin Timberlake) as the unsympathetic focus, taking the heat off Zuckerberg.
 
There is plenty of dialogue that may delight geeks but will bamboozle the ordinary audience who will accept it as a necessary evil if they are to delve via the film into some of the history and mystery of the internet.
 
The final information reveals the results of the multimillion dollar settlements – and informs us that Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire.
 
THE SWITCH
 
(US, 2010, d.  Josh Gordon, Will Speck)
 
Another Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy.  Yes, but not quite.  It is more of a Jason Bateman romantic comedy, and that makes it far more interesting.
 
Like many American romantic comedies these days, it begins with some up front language and detail about sexuality and relationships.  It also tackles an issue for some more ‘trendy’ (whatever that means) middle aged women who sense the biological clock is ticking and want to bear a child even though there is no husband or even father-figure at hand (more recently Baby Mama, The Back-up Plan).  Advocates of marriage who are wary of surrogacy and IVF will not be happy.
 
But, as with so many of the same romantic comedies (especially those produced or directed by Jud Apatow), the initial shock, or even disapproval, has to give way to acknowledging that these are choices made by people in good faith and that there are consequences – which may be good.  This certainly happens in The Switch which by the end advocates happy marriage and the strong presence of a father or father-figure.
 
Jennifer Aniston is Kassie who is determined to become pregnant and is on the lookout for the best possible donor.  This does not include her best friend and confidant, Wally.  He is a mopoke of a man and Jason Bateman makes him an interesting and entertaining mopoke.  And, he is responsible for the switch in the semen for the impregnation.  Then, time passes...
 
Jennifer Aniston does her usual performance.  But, with Bateman on screen more than she is, and telling the story, attention is less on the rather self-absorbed woman who wants a baby but who then shows herself a devoted mother and more on the dilemma Will finds himself in as to whether he should tell her the truth, especially when he observes the character and behaviour of the son (an effective Thomas Robinson).  Jeff Goldblum enjoys himself as Wally’s friend and adviser.  Juliette Lewis gives another of her getting near the top if not over it screechy performances.  Patrick Wilson does a good job as the nice, rather naive and all-American putative father.
 
These are choices made by a number of Americans (and others) today.  The film, with its comic touches and its sentiment, offer an easy-going opportunity to react to them and reflect on them.
 
THE TOWN
 
(US, 2010, d. Ben Affleck)
  
This particular town is Charlestown, a blue-collar neighbourhood of Boston.  We are immediately informed that this town has the reputation for having the highest number of car thieves and bank robbers.  Before you can say ‘Boston’, we are in preparation for a bank robbery and immersed in its brutal execution and getaway, with a hostage.  Quite breathtaking stuff.  Not entirely new.  We have seen bank robberies before.  But this one is filmed and edited with pace and panache – and the death’s head masks and cloaks are menacing.  Then the credits come on screen.
 
This is a Ben Affleck film.  He worked on the screenplay, has the lead role and directs very effectively.  Once upon a time, he and friend Matt Damon won an Oscar for their screenplay for Good Will Hunting and Damon went on to a top rank acting career, including Jason Bourne three times.  Affleck went on to some romantic comedies and some thrillers and to ridicule for appearing in Gigli with Jennifer Lopez.  Three years ago he wrote and directed an acclaimed adaptation of the Denis Lehane novel, Gone  Baby Gone.  It had a top cast.  It had liveliness and excitement.  It was hailed as a fine directing achievement.  Affleck also won the Best Actor award at Venice for Hollywoodland.
 
This was not all a flash in the pan as is proven with The Town.  This is a police and robbery thriller with the emphasis more on the robbers.  As the story of Doug Macray (Affleck) is revealed, we see he comes from a long line of Boston criminals, fated for a criminal career.  And, in action, he can be quite violent, machine gun and all. Veteran Chris Cooper appears as his father, a brief but scene-stealing performance. But, Doug’s close friend, Jimmy (Jeremy Renner whose career is developing after appearing in the unexpected Oscar winner, The Hurt Locker) is made of even sterner, mad and more savage stuff.  He kills.  It is he who takes the hostage from the bank, Clare (the versatile British actress, Rebecca Hall – Vicky Christina Barcelona, Please Give).
 
Meanwhile, an intense agent, Frawley (Mad Men’s John Hamm) knows who the criminals are but is out to prove their guilt and imprison them.  Pete Postlethwaite gives a sinister performance as the drug-running florist who masterminds the crimes.
 
There are two more robberies (one with horror film masks and nuns’ habits), a desperate car chase and a finale at baseball’s Fenway Park which turns into something of a siege.  Once again, they are filmed – and, especially, edited – for maximum effect. And, yet, the film is also a love story, played quite tenderly by Affleck and Hall, he deceiving her and wanting to protect her from the mad Jimmy, she succumbing to his charm, not suspecting him.  It is one of those ill-fated, star-crossed relationships that spells doom.  Affleck can do both rough and charming, so the falling in love is quite credible.
 
It is interesting to watch how the moral angle is treated, possibilities of redemption, admiration of criminal prowess and quick-wittedness, and the issue of paying the price for wrong done.
 
Affleck’s directing style relies on a great number of close-ups, often profiles, so that we are in direct touch, it seems, with the characters.  He also inserts quite a number of aerial shots of Charlestown as well as authentic street scenes which means that we feel we have visited Boston.
 
The Town shows how a familiar genre can be re-invigorated.
 
YOU DON’T KNOW JACK
 
(US, 2010, d. Barry Levinson)
 
There was a time, especially in the 1990s, when most people had heard of Jack even if they did not know him.  They knew of him.  He was Dr Death, the American who not only advocated assisted suicide but actually helped clients to die – and scenes of death were shown on television.  He was Jack Kevorkian.
 
This is the kind of biography which, when advocates for life issues hear about it, sets off alarm bells.  (And there is a slang tone in the title which may be a cheeky challenge to opponents.)
 
However, what Home Box Office in the US have done is to commission a portrait of Jack Kevorkian, some warts and all.  The director is Barry Levinson, Oscar-winner for Rain Man. The writer is Adam Mazer who also wrote the interesting film about the FBI traitor (a devout Catholic), Robert Hanssen, Breach. The action takes place during the 1990s when the retired doctor decided to go into action, advocating changes in consciousness and in legislation concerning euthanasia issues and practice. 
 
Those against Dr Kevorkian will not change their opinions.  Those in favour of Dr Kevorkian will not change their opinions.  An audience which is still considering the ethics and morality of the issues as well as the legal ramifications, will find a film which presents people suffering and wanting to end their pain by death, a very emotional and humanitarian approach to decision-making, evoking sympathy for  assisted suicide.  This is a reminder that the visual media make their impact through story, identification with characters and their crises, and through sympathies while the print and radio media offer more of an opportunity to listen to different views, listen to them more objectively and consider principles.
 
That said, it is important to recognise that in contemporary societies where basic values are shared but where there is also a diversity of opinions held in good faith, this kind of film, even if it were propaganda for the issues, which it is not, has a place for points of reference for discussion and debate.  (We are usually pro films which support our outlooks, even when they take stands, but get our backs up – perhaps wishing that they be banned - for those which challenge us and differ from our points of view.)
 
This film has special credentials.  Al Pacino gives an award-winning performance, entering completely into the persona of Dr Kevorkian.  Kevorkian is not a particula

Created by: malone last modification: Tuesday 02 of November, 2010 [06:55:38 UTC] by malone


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