SIGNIS REVIEWS NOVEMBER 2011
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
FIRST GRADER, The
OUR IDIOT BROTHER
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3
THREE MUSKETEERS, The
WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER
(US/Germany, 2011, d. Roland Emmerich)
‘Brush up your Shakespeare’, Cole Porter wrote for Kiss Me Kate. ‘Brush up your Earl of Oxford’ doesn’t go nearly as well (let alone ‘brush up your bacon!’).
If you like that question, then try this interesting and often amusing speculation (yet again) about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. The candidate this time is Edward, Earl of Oxford. If you don’t like the question, then check some of the bloggers on the Internet Movie Database who will prove to you, very seriously indeed, how impudent this question is. They probably didn’t enjoy Shakespeare in Love.
This film owes more than a little to Shakespeare in Love but a great deal also to all those films about Elizabeth I of England with their differing focuses on the Dudleys, the Cecils and the Duke of Essex. Whom did she love – and was she in fact a virgin queen. (This speculation is definitely answering no, with some scandalous implications as well.) But, John Orloff’s complex and often ingenious screenplay links the plays to the politics, especially the writing of Richard III and a performance at the Globe Theatre to rouse the groundlings against Robert Cecil (and his hunched back).
The film looks very good, re-creating London in the late Elizabethan era (plus some flashbacks to when Gloriana was younger). The dialogue is often witty, especially at poor William Shakespeare’s expense, since he was an average actor who stepped up at the cry, ‘author, author’, to take the credit (and the money) from the anonymous Earl of Oxford (who had offered the job and salary of a ‘front’ to Ben Jonson who could not take the responsibility.
Rhys Iffans gives one of his best performances (very serious, so unlike his ruffian in Notting Hill) as the Earl who loved writing more than anything – the film has him writing and performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was about twelve. Some scenes are re-enacted from different plays with Mark Rylance (who has been until recently the artistic director of the restored Globe Theatre in London) showing us how well a lot of the verse and performance work so well if played to the audience (his prologue to Henry V is a case in point, and there is a rousing cheer at the end of the St Crispin’s Day speech). To be or not to be also works well.
So, the mystery of the authorship is presented intriguingly (with Rafe Spall very good as the rather bumpkin Shakespeare). The building of the Globe, the murder of Christopher Marlowe (Shakespeare again!), Hounslow and Burbage and the others associated with the Globe as well as Jonson make for provocatively entertaining sequences – with Derek Jacobi in the present providing an on stage prologue and epilogue asking us to believe this tall story.
The politics is also interesting with the sinister roles of William and Robert Cecil (David Thewliss and Edward Hogg), the reasons given for the stand of the Earl of Essex in 1601, the place of the Earl of Southhampton (and an intriguing reason for Shakespeare’s very personal dedication to him). And Elizabeth. Vanessa Redgrave must be very satisfied in having the opportunity to do a portrait of Elizabeth in old age (bewigged and rather embalmed with make-up as was Bette Davis in her two films portraying the queen). She is, as might be expected, very good. Her daughter, Joely Richardson, is cast as the younger Elizabeth.
Dates are skewiff if you want to review the film as history rather than as intended, a pleasing cinema hoax. Which means that it is (mostly?) nonsense – so why not enjoy it all, tongue in cheek. It does help in brushing up our Shakespeare.
(US, 2011, d. Miguel Arteta)
A slight, comic and satirical look at Middle America.
Candide is a character who comes to mind as we watch the rather ingenuous and naive adventures of Tim Lippe, an insurance agent in a small town, who has never quite grown up even though we find him in a sexual relationship with his former teacher (Sigourney Weaver). When his boss asks him to go to Cedar Rapids after the former top agent of the firm dies, he not only has to represent the firm but is expected to bring back the top award made by the annual conference. It would seem he doesn’t have a chance.
Ed Helms (The Office, The Hangover films) as Tim is a rather gangly innocent who falls into the clutches of exploiters – who then turn out to be his friends when he discovers that his boss and the conference boss are dishonest. This means that he gets caught up in drinking, going to a club with a prostitute, having a relationship with a seductive colleague and pushed by the insurance agent that his boss had advised him against.
This might make the goings on seem worse than they are and how they are presented. Tim has to discover his naivety, the double-dealing of authorities and that his friends who lead him astray are good at heart.
There are some amusing episodes but it is the cast which move things along to a more sensible and happy ending. John C. Reilly is, as always, very good as the at-first-obnoxious agent. Anne Heche is the seductive colleague. Stephen Root is the fickle boss and Kurtwood Smith is the surface respectable president of the association. The baddies are unmasked and the goodies improve.
Not necessary, but it has its surprising moments.
(US, 2011, d. Steven Soderbergh)
Catchy title? No, that’s far too flippant a comment for this kind of very serious film. It is about contagion. It does show how a virus can spread. It is alarming how an epidemic can gather momentum. It is frightening in its visualising of the life and death consequences, in health, in the ensuing chaos in public order, in the time needed for antidotes to be developed, in the consequences in the disrupting of organised and routine lives.
One can sit through many a slasher film or monsters devouring humans (or nor) and know that it is only a fantasy. But, to watch the spread of a virus and realise that this kind of thing has happened and could happen, creates much more genuine alarm and fear in a cinema audience.
Steven Soderbergh has turned his director’s hand to all kinds of film since he won the main awards at Cannes in 1989 for Sex, Lies and Videotape. He has made small and experimental films. He has made big-budget movies like the Oceans trilogy. He has made the two part portrait of Che Guevarra. And now he has made a disaster movie. Not unlike those of the 1970s with a big star cast. He has three Oscar-winning actresses in leading roles, Gywnneth Paltrow as a bearer of the virus who dies at the beginning of the film (but, spoiler, is seen in later flashbacks), Kate Winslet as an American expert who is sent by Laurence Fishburne to work on site in Minnesota where the outbreak has occurred, Marion Cotillard as a Swiss World Health Organisation expert who goes to investigate in Hong Kong where the virus may have originated.
Matt Damon is the human face of the consequences, playing Gwynneth Paltrow’s husband. And Jennifer Ehle has an important role as a scientist who works for Elliot Gould who has been able to isolate the virus. Jude Law plays an obnoxious, interfering exploitative blogger.
So, plenty of good actors and plenty going on.
It is interesting to see the efforts of authorities to search for solutions, to handle the logistics of an epidemic in an American city, to control the media against alarmist reporting. The film shows scenes of rioting and looting but to make convincing impact with this theme, some more explanatory sequences are needed. The riots and looting happen quickly without sufficient explanation – though, of course, the audience does supply this.
The search for explanations of the origins of the virus lead to Hong Kong and some scenes in China.
Contagion is interesting in its rather realistic speculations of what might happen. It is also strongly cautionary in its promotion of hygiene and cleanliness. Without the big names, Contagion might have been too much of a downer for most audiences. But, the stars mean that more people will see the film – and perhaps be more thoughtful and cautious.
(Australia, 2011, d. Simon Wincer)
Plenty of cups around the world but, for Australians and for international racing, the cup is the Melbourne Cup when the nation allegedly stops to watch or listen to the race (as we see them do in the film).
Films about racehorses have always been popular. The first film shot in Australia was the Melbourne Cup in 1896. Australian film makers have made Archer and Phar Lap. In fact, director Simon Wincer made Phar Lap almost thirty years ago and returns with The Cup. He knows how to craft popular, even old-fashioned, films for the wider audience (which has occasioned some surprisingly negative reviews for The Cup from some critics).
If you want to sit back, look at the racing industry and some races, see the story of Australian champion jockey, Damian Oliver, the sadness in his family life as well as his triumphs, then enjoy The Cup even as you become more than a little tearful at the tragedy and then, with excitement and sympathy, at the running of the 2002 Melbourne Cup and the achievement of Damian Oliver and the Irish horse, Media Puzzle.
Stephen Curry looks and acts the part of Oliver and makes him a sympathetic ordinary bloke with a talent for riding racehorses. Damian MacPherson? is his brother, Jason, also a rider. Their grandfather had been a jockey as had their father who died in a sad accident. Accidents dogged the sons as well. Singer Colleen Hewitt appears as their mother.
The Irish connection in the film is well served by having Brendan Gleeson as trainer, Dermot Weld, stroppy, demanding, shrewd and, ultimately, sympathetic. It is interesting to see Tom Burlinson back on screen – he was the champion’s trainer in Phar Lap – as the assistant trainer to Dermot Weld. A host of Australian character actors appear like Lewis Fitz Gerald, Martin Sacks, Shaun Micaleff and Bill Hunter in his final role, playing Bart Cummings. Added to that are quite a number of cameos from commentators like Eddie Mc Guire, Denis Cometi as well as a studio session with the Coodabeen Champions. It definitely is a Melbourne film.
While the nationalism and the national spirit are strong, we are reminded that just before that Melbourne Cup in 2002 and the Oliver family tragedy, there was the Bali bombing and death toll, which gives quite some edge to the national spirit.
Thos who know what happened in fact will enjoy seeing it played out. Those who do not know won’t be surprised at the final outcome. But, the important focus of the film is on Damian Oliver’s response to his brother’s accident and the soul- searching as to whether he should ride Media Puzzle. Media Puzzle was a puzzling horse and quite unpredictable and not the favourite except in sentiment.
The kind of film that gives pleasure to a wide audience that enjoys a local story like this.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
(US, 2010, d. Troy Nixey)
There was once a little, scary telemovie, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, 1973. A husband and wife go to redecorate an old house and the wife discovers little, lethal monsters in the basement. Now, almost forty years later, there is a more up-market re-make, co-written by Mexican director, Guillermo del Torres (Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies). It is no longer the wife who goes down to the basement and encounters the monsters, it is a little girl, which probably makes the film that much more scary.
The title is misleading insofar as the film-makers hope that you are scared of the dark but don’t mind being scared, especially if the scares come from the screen.
There is a prologue in an old-English Gothic looking house, with a gory touch or two concerning teeth, that can set audiences on edge – and it is all explained rather clearly later. But, the perpetrator, an artist distraught at the death of his son, is played by Gary Mc Donald – and then Jack Thompson (with the eerie American accent he has done in so many films and which you never hear from anyone else, Julia Blake and Nicholas Bell turn up so we realise that it was probably filmed in Australia, standing in for the US.
The plot is fairly basic when you think of it. Divorced father has to look after his daughter as he renovates a mansion. His girlfriend is with him and the daughter does not like her. When the daughter encounters the monsters, no one believes her. Fortunately, the girl and her father’s girlfriend bond and...
Katie Holmes is quite good as the girlfriend. Guy Pearce does a turn as the father. But, it is Bailee Madison who has to do all the dramatics in confronting the monsters. The latter are effective small, snarling, teeth-bearing creatures who look like relatives of the Gremlins.
It is all more or less predictable (except part of the ending which seems more than a little cruel so that you can’t say it all ends happily ever after), but that it what this kind of blend of horror, thriller and monsters is all about.
THE FIRST GRADER
(UK/ Kenya, 2010, d. Justin Chadwick)
At first, we might think that his is a feelgood film. An old man hears that the Kenyan government states that all Kenyans have a right to free education. He applies but is rejected. He does not give up and a sympathetic teacher takes on his cause, battles for him. All that is in the film, but there is a lot more.
The First Grader states that it is based on a true story. It also gives information at the opening about the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s. This means that different audiences, especially for those who have a lived experience and memories of this period, will have different stances.
The film is very critical of the British, their occupation, colonial presuppositions, their military tactics against the Mau Mau, interrogation and torture. Kenya eventually achieved independence in the 1960s.
British residents and landowners who not only experienced dispossession but were the targets of savage violence will not look so benignly on this story of a former Mau Mau who had made the oath of loyalty to the movement and would not renounce it.
Another difficulty in Kenya was the tribalism – and, in recent years, has been shown to be still a difficulty. The Kukuku were the core of the Mau Mau and there are still conflicts between the Kukuyu and other tribes.
Outsiders who look back at the racial and colonial injustices in African countries (and Australia and Latin America) will see justice and injustice on both sides and will ask how to progress from this conflicted past.
Oliver Litindo plays the illiterate farmer, Maruge, portraying him in the vein of a rural Mandela. There are flashbacks to his torture and the death of his wife and children. He can also have his tough moments as the parents of children resent his taking up a scarce desk in overcrowded schools, the criticisms of the old idle men, the hostility of the adult men.
Naoemie Harris plays the sympathetic teacher, Teacher Jane, who takes Maruge in, coaches him, finds that he is a good influence on the children, encouraging them with their own language, with singing and dancing and the issues of freedom. Jane is married to a husband working in Nairobi in diplomacy. The Education Department is not helpful in Maruge’s case and an inspector is actively opposed and intrusive. The character of Jane is the ideal educator with a concern for justice. The fight for Maruge takes its toll on her life, her marriage and her career.
Evernutally, Maruge takes action himself, facing the Kenyan bureaucrats in their comfortable offices, with their suits and ties, reminiscent of their British predecessors.
The education situation reminds us of many other stories of teachers and classes but engagingly so. So are the bureaucratic struggles, but that means we are urged to feel the injustices. The characters may seem idealised or stereotyped, but the film is trying to makes its point through these confrontations.
Since the Kenyan situation, past and present, may not be familiar to many audiences, The First Grader offers an opportunity to remember, to face regrets, and to ask what are the best directions for the future. Maruge, before he died in 2009, addressed the United Nations on issues of education in Africa.
(US, 2011, d. Andrew Niccol)
The concept for In Time is interesting, tantalising. It ‘s a pity that the dialogue is sometimes a bit trite and a lot of the action is rather conventional – that does not do enough justice to the ideas.
Andrew Niccol was responsible for such interesting ‘futuristic’ films like The Truman Show, Sim One and Gattaca. He also did the tough expose of arms dealers, Lord of War.
In this future world, which looks exactly like Los Angeles of the present, but that doesn’t matter, there is no more money. We might wonder how this could be. But, the premiss of the film is that time not only means money, it is the money equivalent. In this society, humans can live to age 25 without complication (shades of Logan’s Run but less lethal). But, their metabolism is put on permanent hold and they look 25 for the rest of their lives. And, immortality is theoretically possible if you have the time. Everyone has a luminous code on their arm so that they know how long they have to live. They can donate. They can receive. And their code serves as a bar code for all expenses.
There is still a gap between time-rich and time-poor, with separate zones which cost a lot of months and years to pass through. The rich have vast stores of time (and in banks where small time registering machines are kept). The poor eke out time from day to day and live in a ghetto zone.
All very interesting. The plot is quite straightforward. The hero resents his mother’s untimely death (you can make all these word plays with time as the dialogue does as well). While helping a time-rich young man who is set upon by a gang, he is given time and drives to New Greenwich, the wealthy enclave. Discovered, he abducts the corporation head’s daughter and they become a new age Bonnie and Clyde, pursued by a Timekeeper (played chillingly like a futuristic gunslinger by Cillian Murphy). They rob banks. They are media notorious. There will be a confrontation and a shoot out.
Actually, with this subversive scenario, this could become a cult classic for demonstrators at G20 meetings or for Occupy Wall Street and similar movements.
Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried are Will and Sylvia who spend a lot of time almost running out of time. Average film, above average ideas and themes.
(Australia, 2011, d. Louise Alston)
A Brisbane comedy which will resonate there – and, hopefully, all round Australia.
The title? A combination of the names of the two leads, Jackie and Lucy. This film owes a great deal to the combination of talent seen with, say, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. Jackie (Cindy Nelson) is the larger than life comedian. Lucy (Francesca Gasteen) is the slighter but more sardonic comedian. They are both 20-somethings who have not entirely grown up.
They have done everything together for years – a kind of co-dependence and friends wonder about their ‘womance’, the female version of ‘bromance’. They work in a video store for customers with ‘alternative’ interests and tastes and give their advice to the eccentrics who are looking for their favourite or new ‘genre movies’. They socialise but turn events into messes for themselves and others. It is the same with relationships.
When they branch out, especially with a local production of Jane Eyre, where an oddball company have rehearsals (with Jackie and Lucy vying for parts and attention, especially for the role of Jane rather than the mad wife), where they tangle with the director and the leading man, where there are complications with the printing and distribution of the posters. Jealousy rears quite an ugly head.
So Jackie and Lucy have to experience alienation before they can accept themselves and each other – which, of course, they do.
The film was co-written and directed by Louise Alston who made another local comedy, All My Friends are Leaving Brisbane (2007).
Jucy’s initial release outside Brisbane is in local country areas rather than in the capital cities. (Parochial distribution? Or apprehension about interstate rivalries and criticisms?)
OUR IDIOT BROTHER
(US, 2011, d. Jesse Peretz)
The Russians have Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Dostoievski’s The Idiot, classic characters who reveal self-centredness (the sisters) and ingenuous goodness that can be taken advantage of (the idiot). Of course, it is a bit of a stretch from Russian drama and literature to a 90 minute Hollywood movie for the multiplexes, but it does indicate what this film is trying to do at a very popular level.
Whether it succeeds or not depends on the performance of Paul Rudd as our idiot brother – the ‘our’ being the three sisters. Rudd can be an engaging screen personality even when he is in broad comedies and even crass comedies. He is very engaging here and makes Ned, a rather naive and agreeable middle-aged man, a man who can be generous to others, believes that other human beings (despite so much evidence to the contrary) are good and trustworthy, worth the benefit of the doubt. Director, Jesse Peretz, has commented that Ned does not use irony as a weapon. At times, he is unwilling to believe in bad behaviour even if it is right in front of him. He is also a believer in the simple life – loves ordinary work, loves his dog (Willie Nelson, the dog, not the singer, though he appears on the soundtrack), is a great and playful uncle to his nephew. Actually, it’s a wonder he has survived so far – and we see him right at the beginning selling marijuana to a cop in uniform who tells him a sob story about how he needs it and Ned is touched – and arrested, and jailed.
If you want to see human nature at its mundanely unpleasant, you have only to look at the three sisters and Ned’s former girlfriend. They are selfish and self-absorbed. We remember poor old Lear and his selfish daughters, though here is no Cordelia here. Ned, out of prison, is shoved off by the girlfriend (Kathryn Hhan who doesn’t like but keeps Willie Nelson), stays with his sympathetic mother (Shirley Knight) and then with each of the sisters. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a go-getting journalist and a control freak with her boyfriend (Adam Scott). Natalie is a would-be stand up comic with a girlfriend and some complications with an artist (Hugh Dancy). Liz (Emily Mortimer) is the nicest. She is in a marriage where her fickle documentary maker husband (Steve Coogan showing again how effectively he can do hypocritically unpleasant characters) who have a politically correct agenda for bringing up their son.
Needless to say, Ned embarrasses them and they move him on. Where can he go? Is goodness catching? Has he a future? Can the sisters change and face themselves and look beyond themselves? Americans like happy endings – they offer some kind of hope, even if temporary.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3
(US, 2011, d. Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman)
The previous Paranormal Activity movies have been strong box-office successes. So has this third episode.
The present reviewer was not taken (or taken in) by the first two films. While they were emulating The Blair Witch Project and the many other films that purport to be records of actual happenings (and the Paranormal Activity films even have the time code on the screen to prove what they are showing), they seemed too contrived, even taking their time to build up an atmosphere as if it were real. It would seem that you would have to be easily scared to be upset by the poltergeist kind of happenings that they were showing.
By the time of number 3, you would have to be easily and quickly unsettled rather than easily scared to be affected or frightened. There is a continuity with the other films (apart from a lot of resemblances with camera set ups in bedrooms and bumps and noises in the night) because Kate, from the other films, is reminiscing and showing footage of episodes from twenty years earlier and what happened to her and to her sister. A mysterious presence in the house has an effect on Kate’s younger sister. No wonder Kate has led a life of paranormal activity.
This episode was directed by the makers of the pseudo-documentary Catfish and they have obviously enjoyed themselves (except when they make their characters swear a lot).
Probably a bit better than the second film because of the ghostly presence and the story of the girls, but the whole series seems rather underwhelming.
(Australia/France, 2010, d. Luc Vinciguerra)
A Christmas story for very young audiences (and not too long for parents and grandparents). Easy to look at animation. And Australian voices for the local version, French for the French.
It has good credentials. It won the special UNICEF award at the 2011 Annecy International Animation Festival in France. This prestigious award recognizes the best animation which highlights the goals of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
There have been so many Santa stories, it is hard to find another one. Here we have a Santa who has a time limit on his role and must train an apprentice, just as he was trained in the past. He is rather unwilling to give up his year job, but the old retiree Santas remind him that rules are rules. But, where can he find an apprentice whose name is Nicholas, is an orphan and who is pure of heart?
Well, the filmmakers have decided that there would be such a boy – in Sydney. Nicholas is a nice boy but can be put upon by a bully (whose name happens to be Nicholas as well). When the Santas do their research and settle on Sydney, it is the bad Nicholas who wants the job and takes over. It is not long before Santa (and the put-upon reindeers) realises that he has the wrong apprentice. Good Nicholas goes to work in Santa’s factory, prepares the gifts and travels on Christmas Eve, even to the orphanage where all is made smooth.
No objections to this variation on the Santa theme (except to lament that Christmas shows no connection to the story that gave it its name and meaning, Christmas without Christ yet again).
Some pleasing Australian voices, with Shane Jacobson as Santa and Magda Szubanski as Beatrice and Jack Versace a nice Nicholas.
The message is obviously, be good, be kind – and look what happens when you are!
(Australia, 2010, d. Sandra Sciberras and Kate Whitbread)
No, not a drama about the southern states of the USA. Rather, this is a small Australian film about families and relationships. It is set, rather beautifully, in the Victorian town of Warburton at the foot of the ranges.
Georgia is the mother of two daughters whom she abandoned when they were young, and disappeared. She is the over-extraverted type with a penchant for tangling with men. One of the daughters, Heidi, is very reserved and works at a glass factory in Melbourne. The other daughter, Rose, seems to be on a path similar to that of her mother. She has a young son.
Suddenly, they find that their mother is in Warburton but terminally ill. Grudgingly, they go to the town and begin to make a life there. Rose meets up with the local policeman who was sweet on her in the past. He also gets on very well with her son. It actually gets a bit more complicated because of their mother’s partner who has persuaded them to come back. And then they encounter their mother.
It is mainly a drama about relationships, of regrets on the part of the daughters and of the mother, and the two younger women finding their true selves.
The daughters are played by Pia Miranda as Heidi and Holly Vallance as Rose. Theatre singer and dancer, Caroline O’Connor?, is Georgia. A pleasing presence is Shane Jacobson as Johnnie, the rather large but affable policeman.
Modest and modestly entertaining.
THIS IS NOT A FILM
(Iran, 2011, d. Jafar Panahi)
‘This is not a film’ has to be the title of this home movie from directors, Jafar Panahi Mojtab Mirtahmasb, - because Panahi has been sentenced to six years in jail and forbidden to make a film for twenty years. An appeal against the sentence has been lost and other avenues to repeal this unjust sentence are being sought. The international community has been vocal in its support of the director. His chair as a member of the 2011 Berlin film festival international jury was left vacant during the festival and there was a retrospective of his films.
‘On December 20, 2010, Panahi was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to six years in prison and barred for the next twenty years from film-making, political activity, traveling or giving interviews. Panahi's colleague Mohammad Rasoulof was also sentenced to six years in prison.’ This information comes from the Internet Movie Database for Jafar Panahi. The heading is, insensitively, ‘Trivia’. Even less sensitivie is the rubric which follows this dire information, ‘See more trivia’ which gives information about cinema people protesting his case.
Jafar Panahi is one of the most respected of Iranian directors world wide, his films winning prizes at prestigious festivals (The Circle winning the Golden Lion in Venice in 2000). His films have been selected for awards by the International Catholic Cinema Organisation, The White Balloon and The Circle. This reviewer had the pleasure of being with him at a festival in 2007.
Panahi was under house arrest. What he and his friend, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, did was to use a camera as well as mobile phone to record what a day confined to a house, life within an apartment, was like. Clearly, it was more comfortable than being in prison, but it is still a curtailing of freedoms and human rights. The camera was placed at various points in the bedroom, kitchen and sitting room. Obviously, there is not going to be much ‘action’ in this kind of film, so the running time has been kept short, 75 minutes. While watching the director in the morning, beginning his day, having breakfast, we are compelled to identify with him and wonder how we would manage in a similar situation.
When his friend arrives and uses his camera, there is discussion about the situation and what it means personally to Panahi.
There is an interlude where a neighbour comes to insist that Panahi take care of her dog while she is out. He resists – as we would when we see the spoilt dog.
Just when we think the film might come to an end in the evening, Panahi by himself again, a young man comes to the door. He is a student with casual jobs whose task is to collect the rubbish from all the apartments in the block. The director accompanies him from floor to floor – just a little bit of opening up to an outer world even if it is still within the apartment block walls. The young man chats (and we wonder at times whether he is something of a spy). It is a sad thing for house arrest when one of the most interesting activities of the day is to go from floor to floor, looking for rubbish, knocking on doors (including that of the lady with the dog who complains that Panahi had not taken it in).
And the climax of the film? The student and the director arrive at the basement, parking floor. There is activity in the streets outside. The young man advises Panahi that it would not be prudent to go any further. Nothing left to do but to get in the lift and go up again.
And the prospect of the prison sentence...
THE THREE MUSKETEERS
(US, 2011, d. Paul W. Anderson)
One of the most filmed books of all time. Ritz Brothers in the 1930s, Gene Kelly and co in the 1940s, Oliver Reed and the spectaculars of the 1970s, Kiefer Sutherland and the younger brigade in the 1990s, and now a mixum-gatherum of international actors for a 3D version with period design and Matrix-like effects, let alone Leonardo da Vinci inspired airships!
Truth to tell, it’s all more than a bit silly. But, audiences who want a touch of colourful escapism and are not too discriminating may find it a hoot. After all, there are probably few claims that Dumas’ novel is top French literature. So, why not adapt it to the tastes (and even gimmicks) of a later generation?
It certainly is good to look at. Filmed in Bavaria in some castles (with very ornate interiors) to stand in for Versailles, it has costumes to match (and discussions about trendy colours as well). The court of Louis XIV looks quite sumptuous as do the dresses for Milady. The airships look impressive as well, though the engineering for them boggles the imagination, not just the huge exteriors but the spacious interiors as well. And we get time to gaze at two of them as they do battle over Paris and finish up on top of each other on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral (which gives the occasion for D’ Artagnan to have a sword fight with Rochefort on the thin peak of the gables and the battlements, even to hanging from a gargoyle). It is that kind of film – and even more so, with some martial arts choreography and slow motion a la Matrix. And then one airship crash lands in the gardens of Versailles just in time to get the queen’s necklace around her neck for Louis (portrayed as a gawky teenager by Edward Fox’s son, Freddie).
This should not be surprising since the film is directed by Paul W. Anderson who has made films of video games but is best known for the Resident Evil series. So, Dumas meets Resident Evil. This is more the case since Milla Jovovich who enjoys herself, her gowns and her stuntwork as Milady, is now Mrs Anderson.
It is not so good to listen to. There is the usual, irritating, mix of accents, from accented (Christoph Walts is Richelieu, Mads Mickelsen is Rochefort, Orlando Bloom is Buckingham, Til Schweiger is Cagliostro, Juno Temple is the Queen – and that is German, Danish and British). While Matthew McFadyen? is resonant British as Athos, Logan Lerman, who was born in Beverly Hills, LA, sounds it as a too young, too unwarrantedly arrogant and haughty D’Artagnan). And there are lots of anachronistic bits of dialogue, many of them intentional, ‘are you kidding?’, ‘sexy’, ‘is your hair retro?’.
Perhaps the next Three Musketeers will be better – probably!
WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?
(US, 2011, d. Mark Mylod)
When Anna Farris, as Ally Darling (what’s in a name!) mentions an article in Marie Clare which tests young women on how many sexual partners they have had, we suspect that this film is the equivalent of this kind of magazine article, partly prurient, partly sensationalised, probably (because this is an American film), partly moralising by the end. And it is. It is the kind of thing that during the week tabloid newspapers might disapprove of, especially if they are reporting current events and behaviour, wagging their morally superior finger at less than moral behaviour – and then fill their weekend sections or magazines with several of these stories, often with salaciously inviting titles.
So, Ally tots up her lovers and is shocked to find that her sister and friends are well below the recommended limit before someone is judged to have gone over the top (twenty according to Marie Clare for those who are not going to see What’s Your Number?). The statistic means that the next partner for Ally has to be the final one – or to contact each previous candidate and see if till death do us part can be with him. Needless to say, this involves a lot of embarrassing moments with some character actors, including Martin Freeman, Anthony Mackie, Zachary Quinto.
Meanwhile, across the hallway is the rather cavalierly promiscuous Colin (Chris Evans) whom Ally asks to help her find the twenty. Well, you know the rest... but not how it all gets to that final clinch.
One of the troubles with the film is that Anna Farris is very good at portraying and sending up the dumb blonde image which she does here (Scary Movies, House Bunny...). She does some really dumb things here. And, that does not make her character a particularly likeable woman who deserves a solid chance in life. And if Mr Right came along, her life has not indicated that she would become Mrs Right. Nor does Colin’s story impress that he would commit forever. So that when they do, it is not very credible at all.
So, while we are taken on self-indulgent side trips, when we arrive at the final destination for Ally and Colin, we are not sure whether we believe that this could be the final destination .
(US, 2011, d. Gavin O’ Connor)
‘Go to war’. This is the command of the referee in the bouts for the multi-martial-arts tournament, Sparta, in Atlantic City. And go to war they do in a combination of boxing, wrestling and other techniques. This is adversarial competition – though there seems to be a breakthrough by the end.
This is the story of two brothers who are filled with resentment, especially towards their alcoholic father. The older brother, Brendan, who had fought in bouts, is now a happily married physics teacher. But, with a visit from his father, the old angers surge. The younger brother, Tommy, had escaped the family brutality with his mother who has since died. He is consumed by anger and resentment. When he unexpectedly visits his father, the outpouring of anger begins.
However, Tommy (Tom Hardy) decides to train and enter the Sparta tournament. He asks his father to be his trainer, no bonds, no attachments. When Brendan (Joel Edgerton)is suspended from his job because of participating in a club car park bout to get money because the bank threatens to foreclose, he too enters the Sparta competition, training with an old friend.
While there are a lot of bouts, especially in the final competition itself – and they do remind audiences of Rocky, The Wrestler, The Fighter and other sports films – there is a continued focus on each of the brothers, revelations about Tommy and his time in the marines, on Brendan and his wife’s support for his fighting.
However, the big impact of the film is in the character of the father. It is a top performance from Nick Nolte. He admits the past, has found religion and wants to be reconciled with his sons, a seemingly impossible challenge.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are good as the brothers, but Tommy’s behaviour, especially at the end, takes a lot of acceptance and Brendan, training as he does, still does not look as if he could be a champion. Strong, but not as strong as The Wrestler or The Fighter.