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Film Reviews November 2012

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SIGNIS REVIEWS NOVEMBER 2012


2 DAYS IN NEW YORK
360
ALEX CROSS
ANGELS’ SHARE, The
BACHELORETTE
DEAD EUROPE
DREDD
END OF WATCH
LOCKOUT
MASTER, The
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4
ROBOT & FRANK
RUBY SPARKS
SESSIONS, The
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS
SINISTER
SKYFALL
SOUND OF MY VOICE
TO ROME WITH LOVE
TU SERAS MON FILS/ YOU WILL BE MY SON
WUNDERKINDER


2 DAYS IN NEW YORK

France/US, 2012
Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau.
Directed by Julie Delpy.

Julie Delpy has had a significant career, not just as an actress, but as a writer and a director. She has been widely popular as star, with Ethan Hawke, of Richard Linklater’s talk dramas, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset and the soon to be released, Before Midnight. In many ways, she continues this style in her two films, 2 Days in Paris and, now, 2 Days in New York.

She is Marion who was with partner, Jack (Adam Goldberg) in Paris trying to rekindle their relationship in 2 Days in Paris. Failure. Now she is back in the US, living with Mingus (Chris Rock) with two children, one hers, one his. So far, so reasonable.

Then she hears that her father and sister are coming to visit New York. Dad (her own father, Albert Delpy) showed his eccentricity in the first film. Now he does it again – and more – complicated by his not speaking much English. Nor does Mingus. Dad is a born mischief-maker and a lot of the film shows him at work being mischievous. Marion has always clashed with her sister, Rose (Alexia Landeau), and there is plenty of that here, fights at home, fights at a restaurant… Another complication is the arrival of a former boyfriend who is now with Rose. He is an obtuse buffoon for a lot of the time, which some may find funny but others, along with the sparring sisters, many may find irritating.

While Marion is a complex character, trying to juggle the complexities of the visit, a photography exhibition opening and her relationship with Mingus and care of the children, Julie Delpy is able to handle it well. And, as we suspect, she is pregnant.

The surprise of the film is Chris Rock. Best known as a stand-up comedian with a loud and coarse mouth who can be both very funny and very offensive, he plays a straightforward character (with a couple of scene connection with his comedy routines, especially in an imaginary conversation with Barack Obama). He is quite effective, bringing together elements of frustration with the visitors, care for the children, his job as a writer and radio personality and trying to make his relationship with Marion work.

It is a talky film, plenty of farcical situations (especially when Marion clashes with a neighbour in the elevator who is upset with Rose and the boyfriend smoking pot and she invents a story that she has terminal cancer) which overlay more serious themes of love and relationships and the contradictions and the contrariness within families.


360

US, 2011,
Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Ben Foster.
Directed by Fernando Meirelles.

Not exactly a perfect circle, one episode leading into the next and then the next…, even though this film takes its inspiration from Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. Rather, there are all kinds of interconnections within the circle – which does lead us back to where we started. And that is with a Slovakian woman posing for a photographer who is, in fact, a pimp, sending her out on an assignation which leads us to a British businessman, Jude Law. But the scene shifts to Paris and another story, and to the United States where a convicted sex offender is being transferred to a parole situation. And so on. By the end, we have discovered the various degrees of separation and the surprising degrees of connection.

Some of the episodes are quite dramatic, others much milder. The latter is particularly true, unfortunately, of the British episode with Jude Law and Rachel Weisz as unfaithful husband and wife who rediscover something between them. Perhaps the most interesting story centres on Ben Foster as the sex offender - Foster seeming to specialise on repellent characters (3:10 to Yuma, The Mechanic). Delayed at Denver airport by snow, he is tense, wary of re-offending, chatting to a young Brazlian woman, returning home after a bad relationship with a photographer in London (who was having an affair with Rachel Weisz, so one begins to see connections and tangles) who is very confronting, alarming him. She had been sitting next to Anthony Hopkins on the flight. And so on.
The screenplay is by Peter Morgan who has shown more insight and versatility in his political dramas, The Deal, The Special Relationship, The Last King of Scotland, The Queen. One arresting sequence concerns Anthony Hopkins at an AA meeting. His words might have been written by Hopkins himself about his own recovery from alcoholism decades earlier. He then pays tribute to a priest who had helped him considerably, a Jesuit who alerted him that he would have a moment of grace and would recognize it. Quite a positive image of a priest for contemporary films.

It is the actors from Eastern Europe who make an impact, especially in a climax that is a combination of exploitation, violence, romanticism, and undeserved luck.

More of a time-passing entertainment than a study of human nature.


ALEX CROSS

US, 2012
Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Edward Burns,
Directed by Rob Cohen

I’m afraid that this will probably be quite a disappointment for fans of James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels, even though he and his Entertainment Company have producer’s credits. For those unfamiliar with the books and the characters, this film will be a routine police movie.

The plot is a prequel to the stories of Dr Alex Cross, forensic psychologist, working for the CBI. Here he is in Detroit as a detective, working with schoolfriend, Tome Kan (Edward Burns). Cross is happily married with two children and they live with his mother, Mama Nana. She is played by the fine actress, Cicely Tyson, but does not resemble the character in the novels very much. She is rather skinny and irascible rather than a nice, if demanding, mammy type of the books.

We are introduced to the villain, a skinhead, gaunt ex-army assassin, Mathew Fox (rather nasty as are so many of the villains Alex Cross has to confront). The plot takes the global financial crash as the basis for the killing of several international financiers, led by Jean Reno.

Cross does his detective work, smart in his conclusions, incurring the enmity of the ambitious but rather dumb police chief, John C. McGinley?.

After a very personal section which moves Cross to a spirit of vengeance, the main action is in the attempt to kill the victims, the subsequent chase, and the following through to who hired him. Rather formulaic, as they say.

There is probably more appeal for an American audience, especially the African American audience with writer-director-actor, Tyler Perry in the central role. He has made a number of very popular films which have had no theatrical release in Australia. He is also taking the place of Morgan Freeman who was Alex Cross in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Kiss the Girls was one of the best adaptations of a novel, keeping the basic plot, preserving the mystery and with Freeman creating a memorable character with strength and dignity.

This time the director is Rob Cohen in his action thriller vein, like The Fast and the Furious. Which all means that the film is rather average.


THE ANGELS’ SHARE

UK, 2012,
Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw.
Directed by Ken Loach.

A film about whisky – and more.

Ken Loach has been directing films on the working classes for almost fifty years. And he is definitely still on their side. And, as this film goes on, we are invited to be on their side – with mixed results, on side with some, yes, and others…

The film opens with the dopiest of the lot, a bespectacled nong on a railway station, almost killed by a passing train. But, he finds himself in court as do a succession of men and women charged with petty crimes, quite an entertaining credits sequence. Then they are sentenced to do community service. (Actually, the film makes a very good case for community service instead of prison sentences.) They are under the care of the rather benign Harry (John Henshaw) with the focus narrowing to Robbie (Paul Brannigan) who has been in jail, is bashed by his prospective father-in-law and other thugs, especially when he goes to hospital for the birth of his son.

With Harry and Robbie, the audience gets involved empathetically with them and to some of the rest of the group who paint halls, clean cemeteries and other jobs.

Harry is fond of whisky and knows more than a bit about malts. It emerges quite quickly that Rob has a nose and a palette for tasting and identifying the whiskies. He shines at a competition and makes a contact with an expert. Will it lead to something substantial for Rob, for Leonie and their son Luke?

What it actually leads to is a clever whisky heist, stealing some of the whisky, that which may not be missed, the angels’ share.

This is a film about hope, Robbie’s hope, and the possibilities of overcoming one’s background and mistakes. It is both serious and funny (especially that dopey character from the opening).

And, if you find you are leaning forward in your seat, you soon realise that it is not because you are involved (which you are) but you are straining to understand as much of the heavily-accented dialogue as you can!


BACHELORETTE

US, 2012
Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, James Marsden, Adam Brody.
Directed by Leslye Headland.

All the reviewers and many of the bloggers have been talking about women behaving badly (and they are certainly not wrong) and the influence of The Hangover and Bridesmaids (although in fact, Bachelorette was a play written some years before the release of Bridesmaids). Women reviewers have been more benign in their estimates of the humour and the vulgarity of Bachelorette.

Raucous is one of the common denominator words to describe the screenplay. It is a useful word, indicating loud, boisterous and crude. It usually indicates a screenplay that is full of sexual references and innuendo, but also of quite explicit and frank treatment of sexual behaviour. And that is true here.

The ugly duckling (Rebel Wilson doing here comic large girl comedy routines but with far more pathos and sympathy than her bridesmaids) is about to be married (unbelievably to her friends) to a tall, dark, handsome and rich fiancé. This brings out the worst in them, even as they enviously celebrate: hens’ night, stripper, club, destroying the wedding dress and desperately trying to repair and clean it in time.

They are very unlikeable. Kristen Dunst (apparently breaking free from her more serious roles) is snobby and bitter. Isla Fisher gives new meaning to ditzy. Lizzy Caplan is a promiscuous, drug-taking type, with some of the more salacious dialogue, is actually the most interesting and sympathetic of the three. And then, the boyfriends are men behaving badly and stupidly.

There are some funny moments, but, overall, there is some bitterness in the harsh portrait of the bridesmaids and a question whether they can better themselves or are in their own created ruts.


DEAD EUROPE

Australia, 2012
Ewen Leslie, Marton Csokas, Kodi Smit- Mc Phee, William Zappa.
Directed by Tony Krawitz.

Christos Tsiolkas has become one of Australia’s celebrated novelists. There was a 1999 film version of his novel, Loaded, called Head On. ABC television produced an 8-part series of his multi-faceted The Slap. This version of his novel, Dead Europe, a large book, runs for only 84 minutes, offers key elements by brief episodes, succinct character sketches and pieces of dialogue which reveal character and plot quickly and economically.

Dead Europe is often a morose look at Greek migrants to Australia, their culture and their faith and their superstitions, especially curses, the secrets from the old country and the need for purging past guilts. It is also something of a morose look at present Europe, from Greece to France to Hungary. While there is some beauty and vitality, the film focuses on bitterness and hatreds, betrayals, drug culture and sex slavery. And leaves us with few answers to our queries and questions.

Ewen Leslie plays Isaak, a gay photographer, who is appalled by his father’s death and his mother’s talking of a curse. He decides to go back to Greece, the first of his family to do so, and scatter his father’s ashes in the mountains. He meets relatives who are hostile to his family, a cousin who had visited Melbourne and another friend (which leads to drugs and sexual gropings). But, photographing in Athens, he comes across a teenage boy who is being beaten and rescues him (Kodi Smit Mc Phee). The boy reappears throughout the film in different guises and in dreams. He becomes identified with a boy that Isaak’s father was to have sheltered during the war but failed him. Is the boy to be the instrument of vengeance and fulfillment of the curse?
Isaak’s journey takes him to Paris to connect with a friend of his father. But that leads nowhere. So, he travels to Budapest to find his brother who had left Australia long since and has immersed himself in a seedy world of drugs and exploitation of young boys – where the mysterious Josef re-appears, again confronting Isaak.

Whether this is an adequate version of Tsiolkas large novel, experts will have their say. What writer, Louise Fox, and director Tony Krawitz (Jewboy, The Tall Man) have done is to distill the core of the novel and the characters and to portray a man’s sometimes morbid search for the truth and for his own personal, family and ethnic identity. It is striking and challenging film-making.


DREDD

UK, 2012,
Karl Urban, Lena Headey, Olivia Thirlby.
Directed by Pete Travis.

A grim future: 80,000,000 people crammed into the space from Boston to New York, high rise ugliness, a department of justice that controls the behaviour with ‘Big Brother and Sister’ screens and sends Judges to administer justice, even executions. Drug thuggery is rife.

This is really a short story at feature film length. One judge goes to a trouble area, accompanied by a recruit who is being assessed. However, she has the power to see into people’s minds. Which comes in very handily at various steps in their mission. The villain is Ma-Ma? (Lena Headey) who controls the drug traffic in her high rise and beyond.

The whole drama is the Judge and his offsider detecting the villains, confronting the villains, doing violence on the villains, executing the villains and so, despite the odds and being outnumbered and often outgunned, they succeed in their mission.

Filmed in South Africa, the film boasts futuristic sets and a lot of action, comic-book style.

Karl Urban is the judge, Judge Dredd. It won’t do much for his visual recognition in his career as he is heavily masked, only mouth and jutting and fixed jaw being visible. It doesn’t give him as much exposure as Sylvester Stallone had in the previous film, Judge Dredd.

A film designed solely for aficionados of graphic novel action.


END OF WATCH

US, 2012,
Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez.
Directed by David Ayer.

End of Watch begins with the car chase and the shootout. However, there is an even stronger chase and violent shootout at the end. In between, we are shown the day by day work of two Los Angeles cops, as well as glimpses of their personal life and relationships. This is the kind of thing that was very popular in films of the 1970s (with such titles as Supercops) and on television shows like Starsky and Hutch and, more seriously, Hill Street Blues. Then came the reality TV shows like Cops. End of Watch relies on fans’ experience, and liking, of these films and television programs.

One of the differences is that much of End of Watch is filmed as home/work movie, cameras recording people and events in close-up, some of it on mini-recorders on lapels, much of it with handheld cameras. (This can have some giddying consequences on audiences who prefer few wobbles and twists in what they watch.)

Otherwise this is familiar material, harsh situations, danger, killing, drugs, as well as the more routine patrols of the LA streets. However, this is South Central, Hispanic families (and dealers and killers) moving in on what was once African American territory. These culture clashes are to the fore. As is the multi-cultural make-up of the force itself.

We follow Brian and Mike, their good fellowship and banter, their discussions about all kinds of things, their going into action and the interaction of white and Hispanic. Mike is married, Brian about to be (with Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez as the wives). Brian is filming for one of his course projects which gives some reason for the visual style of the film.

Jake Gyllenhaal is always reliable and makes Brian convincing. Michael Pena appears in many films but this one gives him a chance to make a stronger impact.

Needless to say, with the cops but, especially with the criminals, much of the dialogue is monotonously four letter worded but, just when you might feel it is too much, the film comes up for air.

End of Watch is dedicated to the police forces in LA who collaborated with the film-making. The film is sometimes a grim reminder of the risks that the dedicated police are exposed to and take.


LOCKOUT

US, 2012,
Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan.
Directed by James Mathers and Stephen St Leger.

In the 1990s, there were a number of prison break films, like Fortress, No Escape, with action stars like Christopher Lambert and Ray Liotta, some of which were set on planets in space. This is one of those films, 21st century graphic novel style. Time, 2079.

Guy Pearce plays a hero type who is more than nonchalant, fast with the couldn’t-care-less wisecrack. He has been arrested for handling government secrets, for a murder of an official. He is being tortured, questioned. He had taken possession of a case with documents which he passed on to a colleague on a subway station.
In the meantime, the daughter of the US president has gone to a maximum security facility in space to hold inquiries about prisoner treatment, especially methods of tranquilising the men to zombie states. Pearce’s subway ally is one of the prisoners. Just the moment for an uprising (with two Irish-accented leaders) and mayhem breaks out – and the lockout of officials.

The rest of the film is basically, Pearce persuaded to go to the prison to rescue the president’s daughter, officials trying to rescue hostages, communications breakdowns, lots of brutal action – and the ringleader’s brother’s mad upsetting of plans.

Underlying the action is a mystery about who committed the initial murder, so that after the mayhem and the rescue, there are the mystery-solving explanations. All tied up neatly.

It’s loud, dark, grim – except for Pearce’s cheeky performance and seeing him as an action hero.


THE MASTER

US, 2012,
Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams,
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

The Master implies a disciple. This quite long film spends its first fifteen minutes offering a sketch of the disciple, Freddy Quill (Joaquin Phoenix). At the end of World War II, he is on a Pacific Island with a squad, mucking around, sex-preoccupied, chopping cocoanuts and making liquors. Then he is in rebabilitation, mentally affected by his navy experiences and fighting the Japanese. He becomes a photographer in a large store (still drinking, still sexually active) but fights with a customer. He picks cabbages, still drinking. When an old man dies because of his alcohol concoction, Freddy flees, jumping aboard a cruise ship.

When he comes to, he meets the Master, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a benign looking presence with a way with words (and sometimes breaking into song). His pregnant wife (Amy Addams) assists him. There is an entourage for the wedding of his daughter, which the master conducts.
The bulk of the film concerns the friendship between master and disciple (sometimes touches of the intimate). We watch the charm of the master as well as his relentless ‘processes’, more repetitive and relentless, than military training or old-style religious novitiates. IN urging Freddy to recover memories, re-live his past, the master is exercising a kind of brainwashing. Freddy becomes more and more dependent, sometimes resisting (and drinking), sometimes adopting the master as a father-figure.

There is an alarming episode when the master is arrested because of accusations of financial fraud and is jailed, as is Freddy who has violently taken on the arresting officers. It is a frantic breaking point for Freddy.

At times, the master’s wife is more stern and demanding on Freddy than the master is. She is suspicious of Freddy’s motives, perhaps a spy.

The film does not offer a neat ending. It is quite open. The master expands his ministry to England. Freddy rides away, lapsing into his old way of life.
There has been much comment on the links between the film and Scientology. Whether this be the case or not, The Master and the portrait of Lancaster Dodd, his presumptions about himself, his alleged mysticism, his writings (with Dianetic overtones), his making it up as he goes along, suggest how L. Ron Hubbard might have developed Scientology. The portrait of Freddy reminds us of searching people and the need for some kind of leadership, even dependence.

Paul Thomas Anderson continues his thoughtful studies of disturbed characters and disturbing situations, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood.


PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4

US, 2012
Katie Featherston.
Henry Joost, Ariel Schullman.

With episode 4, the release of each film has become an annual event. For the fans, the only problem seems to be that they feel the series is becoming weaker and weaker though some liked this one better than the previous one. For the rest of us it is, more or less, just more of the same.

Once again, Katie is part of the action, celebrating with her nephew, then abducting him and disappearing.

Then to 2011 and a family story (tensions between mother and father), a teenage daughter and her younger brother. There is also a mysterious house across the street. When the mother is taken to hospital, the little boy comes to stay with the family. The two boys bond and play together.

In the meantime, the daughter’s boyfriend seems always in the house, with camera, with computer visual connections. Plenty of recording going on as we have come to expect. This is all fairly arbitrary but necessary for this plot.

Then, of course, all kinds of disturbances during the night, mysteries about the little boy’s behaviour, lots of threats and something of a more disastrous ending than we might have anticipated.

The directors of Paranormal Activity 3 are back again. Box Office has been up to expectations. Which means that Paranormal Activity will also be back again.


ROBOT AND FRANK,

US, 2012,
Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Sisto,
Directed by Joe Schweier.

This is a small whimsical film that will appeal to those facing ageing and will offer a little challenge to the next generation who will be responsible for their parents’ care.

Frank lives alone. His memory is going – and, in fact, with his burglar background, he tries to steal from his own house. He is played by Frank Langella in a pleasantly low-key way. Frank is Skyped by his world-travelling daughter (Liv Tyler). His son (James Marsden) visits him every week. Frank is more than a little obstreperous, in denial about his forgetting details. One week his son brings Frank a robot (the setting is ‘the near future’) who is programmed to care for Frank, keep an eye on his diet, his rest, all the details of his daily life. Frank is not happy, but, bit by it, he warms to Robot and finds himself having friendly chats with him.

He is fond of Jennifer, the local librarian (Susan Sarandon) who is being edged out of her job, also by robots. Frank’s urgings to be on the job again are fostered by his stealing a book from the library. He then has eyes for the jewelry owned by yuppy neighbours. Robot is not in favour but thinks the planning (rather than the execution) might be good for Frank’s health.

A number of comic hijinks ensue, with the local sheriff suspicious of Frank, keeping him under surveillance. The situation exercises Frank’s ingenuity. And Robot’s.

Then the film veers towards care for the aged, especially those with memory loss. There is a nice feel about these episodes, especially with Frank having a meal with his family. But, the film ends with a wry comment about where the jewels are hidden.

It has a short running time. I wouldn’t have minded some more.


RUBY SPARKS

US, 2012,
Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Elliot Gould, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas,
Directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Farris.

There have been many films about imaginary friends, even films where a writer’s muse comes alive. This is one of those films. Ruby Sparks is the creation of a young writer, Calvin (Paul Dano), who had success in a novel published in his late teens and has been silent for ten years. Critics are clamouring for his new work.

But, he is something of a recluse, especially in contrast with his over-libidinous brother, Harry (Chris Messina) and his eccentric mother (Annette Bening) who has taken up with a furniture-artist (Antonio Banderas). He is going to a psychologist (a genial performance from Elliot Gould) who urges him to write something, however small. He meets a girl in a park who takes a liking to his dog. He begins to write about her, Ruby Sparks, vividly – and then she is there, alive and sparking in his life. Not only that, his brother and then his mother and others are able to see her and interact with her as normal.

He is rather possessive and discovers that by typing her story, he is able to control her, to speak French, to be angry, to be loving.

A main reason why Zoe Kazan is so believable as Ruby is that she wrote the screenplay herself, doing what Calvin is doing in the film, giving her a rich and varied life, which she as screenwriter, can control.

At this stage, while watching the film, and its picture of bringing a person to life, of having control, of creating in one’s own image and likeness (or not), the screenplay was suggesting far more than the life of a creative writing. The emphasis was on creation – and, what is lightly called, ‘playing God’. There was in old philosophy curricula a course called Theodicy, a reflective course on the meaning of life and the possibilities of God (rather than Theology which is an exploration of revelation about God). This film would be an intellectual-emotional illustration of issues of playing God (or whether God’s creatures are endowed with free will and can choose their destinies and behaviour even if it is not what the creator intended and hoped for).

So, the film took on new meaning over and above the entertainment value of watching a writer and his creation and personal dilemmas.

Paul Dano often specialises in sad sack characters, like the non-talking young man in the directors’ previous Little Miss Sunshine) or in his eventual confronting of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will be Blood. This suits the film. We sympathise with Calvin but not overly. It is more interesting thinking about the implications of what he is doing in creating Ruby Sparks.


THE SESSIONS

US, 2012,
John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy
Directed by Ben Lewin.

Sex and the disabled.

This is not a topic frequently seen in films, although there have been a number about some persons with mental disabilities and their relationships. It is significant part of the recently popular, The Intouchables. This one is more probing, physically, emotionally, morally. It highlights the issues for a 38 year old man who virtually lives in an iron lung, his muscular system debilitated by his contracting polio at the age of six.

One of the factors which complicates audience response (especially for practising Catholics) is that Mark O’ Brien has been brought up a Catholic and visits his parish priest, Fr Brendan, not exactly for Confession but for him to listen to his questions, his decisions and his experiences. He says he wants advice from Fr Brendan as a friend rather than as a priest.

The issue is that Mark wants to experience his full sexuality. He is put in touch with a sex surrogate who has a program of body awareness leading to full sexual experience, a limit of six sessions. Though exceedingly nervous, he begins the sessions, then follows through. Intercut with his experiences, are his conversations, quite frank, in church, with Fr Brendan.

The film, based on an article by Mark O’ Brien, has been adapted for the screen and directed by Ben Lewin (Australian director of The Dunera Boys who himself had polio when young) who has not had a prolific career at home or in Hollywood. It is quite sensitively written, with a lot of humour, tracing the effect of the therapy on Mark, on the surrogate, Cheryl, and on Fr Brendan. The surrogate Cheryl Cohen acted as an adviser for the film, as did Susan Fernbach, a volunteer who was the love of Mark’s life.

John Hawkes, who has appeared in minor roles in many films but has stood out in Winter’s Bone (with an Oscar nomination) and as the cult leader in Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, makes Mark a completely convincing character, a poet (because, as he says, he has to live most of his life in his mind), a writer, a man who blames himself for his young sister’s death because his mother had to focus on him so much, a man with a religious culture, and a man who experiences the ordinary sexual longings and desires and who lacks the opportunity for fulfillment – or, at least, fears there will be no opportunities. Much of Hawkes’ performance is in voiceover, telling his life story, recounting his feelings and reciting his poetry.

Helen Hunt brings an extraordinarily sympathetic presence to the role of Cheryl, seeing herself as a professional sexual surrogate rather than in any way a prostitute, with her own private family life. She is quite uninhibited, though restrained in her work, in being comfortable with her body, considerate for her clients. Again, she is not a character one sees often in films, which is a challenge to how we respond to her in theory and in practice.

William H. Macy spends most of the film as Fr Brendan, listening to Mark, making his judgments about morality and compassion with a priority on his sympathies before traditions of moral teaching.

There are good performances from several actors who portray the helpers upon whom Mark is dependent.

This is a sensitive, not exploitative film. However, it does raise moral issues concerning sexual behaviour which might seem easy to solve in principle but which require pastoral considerations as well.


SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS

US/UK, 2012
Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson.
Directed by Martin Mc Donagh.

Two people in the audience, sitting side by side in the cinema, could well be having opposite experiences. One might be thoroughly amused by the bizarre plot and characters as well as the black humour. The next might be finding it quite distasteful, a lot of violence, random and planned, too silly to enjoy. A bit of checking on the film is necessary to decide which seat one wants to sit in.

Martin Mc Donagh had a great hit with In Bruges. It was bizarre and funny, oddball criminal characters, black humour and wordplay – and the beauty of the city of Bruges. This time he is in Los Angeles, not so beautiful.

Seven Psychopaths is not only the title of the film, it is the title of the potential film within the film. It is being written by Irish screenwriter, Martin (Colin Farrell, this time rather quietly subdued). He is desperate to find some psychopaths to fill out a plot for his title, and he certainly finds them, especially among his friends.

The most psychopathic is actor, Billy, played cleverly with general nonchalance and an amoral outlook on life by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell can take on any kind of role with flair. He does so here. Although rivalry for the title of most psychopathic comes with thug, Charlie, Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is devoted above all people and all things to his pet dog, Bonnie. Billy teams up with Hans (Christopher Walken at his best) to abduct dogs and turn up for the reward. You can see the set-up when Bonnie is dognapped.

Meanwhile, Billy offers all kinds of suggestions for Martin’s film – many played out on screen for the audience. Hans also has suggestions. In the meantime, we see Charlie’ search for his dog who scares the walker who lost his dog by shooting at her, then racially hostilely shooting someone for revenge (real killing, not a scare). It all builds up to a shootout climax, contrived by Billy.

Other characters wander in and out: Charlie’s mistress, Martin’s edgy girlfriend, and Tom Waits with a story all of his own (a violent one) which he wants Martin to put into his film (and he interrupts the film’s credits to complain that it is missing).

Then there is the story of the Viet Cong soldier who plans to murder those responsible for the massacre at My Lai – the subject of Hans’ final suggestion for Martin, described so well by Christopher Walken.

So, a movie about a movie, of how movies and real life can relate and connect – but all with tongue very much in cheek. It won the People’s Choice award for the Midnight Madness screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Not surprising.


SINISTER

US, 2012,
Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance.
Directed by Scott Derrickson.

Sinister? Definitely.
As a reviewer who rarely really jumps at films (after all, ‘it’s only a movie’!), I will confess to jumping any number of times during sinister – even at the last image. Not only the jumping, but frequent peculiar feelings of spine-tingling. It was the succession of things that were banging and bumping in the night, the eerie atmosphere from the opening shot of four hanged people, through the sense of ghosts and the mystery of why this was all happening. And the synthesizer score, the percussion, the pounding.

Which means that if you are prone to be unsettled during a film, you perhaps should be alert to the effects of this one.

Actually, the plot is well worked out and all explained (well not explained but story lines logically followed through. Perhaps another reason for the atmosphere is that it is all played straight, no winking at the audience or tongue-in-cheek ironies. And one can identify with the family at the centre of the story, ordinary enough but the victims of sinister powers.

Basically, it is the story of a writer who moves house so that he can do a true crime story on the spot. He does research, finds a mysterious box of old film which shows the family who have been killed, except for a missing daughter. Most of the action takes place inside the house, especially at night as the writer looks at the films and asks questions of himself. Then the bangs begin, boxes fall, loud sounds (quick cut editing with the synthesizer sounds) and he (and we) begin to be really jumpy.

The sheriff warns him off. A deputy agrees to find out information for him. His wife is supportive, but his young son and daughter start to behave strangely. He receives computer chat information from a professor who says that the signs he has seen and images at the other crime scenes lead to a cult of an ancient evil deity, Baghul (the Boogy Man). The worship of Baghul includes the sacrifice and devouring of children.

Then the ghosts appear.

The end is not what we expected when the film started but it seems more inevitable as the film goes on – and the end of the film is where all the information (with the solution worked out by the deputy) as to what has happened – and will happen.

Ethan Hawke is convincing as the author who is obsessed with his research and book, more and more tormented, more frightened. Juliet Rylance is his wife.

Scott Derrickson directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. He knows how to do eerie films – and has been most successful with Sinister.


SKYFALL

UK, 2012,
Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes.
Directed by Sam Mendes.

It looks as though this is a James Bond film that you will have to see to make up your own mind. The critics have been generally very favourable. The box-office has been very good. But, the bloggers on the net have been devastating in their critiques and condemnations.

This review will be favourable.

While admittedly there are some plot holes and some improbabilities (and should you want details, the IMDb has more than 590 entries and counting, some growling about in minute detail and numbered lists, the flaws), this celebration of James Bond’s fifty years is quite entertaining. It is also a consolidation of Daniel Craig’s taking on the role. He is a rather unsmiling actor and has been tough and rugged in his previous two films. Here he is still rugged but has a little more debonair charm than before and does a lot of his confronting of villains wearing suit and tie. This is true of the opening sequence, chases in Turker and over the roofs (as in The International and Taken 2), car chases, pursuit on the top of a train (with the help of a bulldozer) and a sequence where he is shot and plunges into a river. And that’s just the beginning.

Fans have complained that the film is boring. Depends on what you want. If it’s non-stop bursts of action and guns, then it will be boring. However, there is much more to the plot. The list of agents has been hijacked and M and Gareth Mallory (Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes) are being pressurised by expert computer hacking and the blowing up of MI6 buildings. It’s about time for Bond to return – and he does.

In tracking down the villain, there is an assassination in Imax-like panoramas of Shanghai. There is a femme fatale (Berenice rather good in what turns out to be a small role) and, ultimately, a meeting with the arch-villain. His entry is most striking. A long shot as he walks towards a bound Bound, arriving in close-up as he explains himself. It is Javier Bardem as Silva. Barden won an Oscar for his oddly-coiffed assassin in No Country for Old Men. This time he is much quieter, somewhat camp in manner and conversation, blonde hair, a master narcissistic psychopath – whose motives are revealed and make sense in the contxt of MI6.

But, most of the final action is in England and, then, in Scotland. Silva, after being captured by Bond, is targeting both Bond and M and engineers an escape which sets him loose in London where he wreaks disaster (the Tube crash of a Wimbledon-bound District Line train) and death (especially at a parliamentary enquiry).

Bond decides that a showdown is needed and opts for the highlands (where Albert Finney turns up for an entertaining cameo).

While there are explosions and shootouts, the level of sex and violence is played down compared with previous films.

Women are to the fore in this outing. Naomie Harris has plenty of action in Turkey, action and glamour in Shanghai before she settles down as Miss Moneypenny. And, this is very much Judi Dench’s film, appearing right throughout the film and essential to plot development.

The film is long and there may be too much character development and talk for the action-only addicts, but Sam Mendes is a stylish director, the performances are fine, there is wit in the dialogue and some sentiment, with even Craig-Bond? shedding a tear at one stage.

And the late explanation of the title helps bring it all together nicely.


SOUND OF MY VOICE

US, 2012,
Christopher Denham, Brit Marling, Nicole Vicius.
Directed by Zat Batmanglij

The voice in question is that of Maggie, played with confident allure by Brit Marling (Another Earth, Arbitrage) who co-wrote the screenplay. It is a charming voice, but can it be trusted?

As the film opens, we see a young couple being showered, robed, bound, blindfolded and transported to a mysterious destination. On arrival, we realize that they are coming to a cult group and are about to be received. Then, Maggie, with breathing apparatus support, comes in veiled, suggesting a sacred presence. She seems to be from the future and has returned to bring salvation to chosen ones.

We then realize that the couple are documentary film-makers, getting footage surreptitiously to expose Maggie as con and fake. Most of us will realize that we share their scepticism and listen to Maggie’s plausible moralizing, her condemnations and her embracing her disciples. Brain and emotion-washing.

It is not as easy to infiltrate a cult as the couple imagination and Maggie is a mixture of charm and insightful insinuation. She also makes a demand of the young man which could put him outside the law. Will he do it? Has he succumbed to Maggie’s persuasion?

As is probably proper for this kind of hypothetical situation, there are enough indications that Maggie is a fraud, but also some moments where we wonder whether she is actually who she claims she is. Which means that there could be a lot of discussion and argument after the final credits.


TO ROME WITH LOVE

US, 2012,
Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz.
Directed by Woody Allen.

For almost ten years, Woody Allen has been filming around Europe, several times in London, in Spain, in Paris and now he has come to Rome. He has taken as his model those Italian portmanteau films of the 1960s, several stories, intercut but not connected to each other in characters or plots.

One trouble is that the stories are so slight. Perhaps intercutting them makes them seem better than they are when taken separately. The sum is certainly no better than the parts.

There are plenty of wonderful views of Rome. No problem there. And there is a very good cast who do their best with the material.

There are some good one-liners, especially those delivered by Allen himself, with Judy Davis offering wry support as his wife as they are concerned about their daughter planning to marry an Italian. A lot of the comedy here comes with the contrast between the Americans abroad and the Italians at home. This is particularly the case with the Italian father, a mortician who sings beautifully in the shower. Allen is playing a director with avant-garde tendencies and this story develops as the auditions the singer, realizes that he needs the shower to perform well and provides concerts and then Rigoletto with a shower on stage! Tenor Fabio Armiliato proves himself a good sport, singing in the shower (wherever it is, even on stage, mid-opera).

There is a Roberto Benigni short story. He is an ordinary office worker who suddenly becomes a TV celebrity and is followed around reality TV style, even to morning shaving. He speaks what are really platitudes but is hailed as an expert. It cannot last long and doesn’t. It is a pleasure to see Benigni in the kind of role he does well.

The story of the young couple who come to Rome full of hopes and are seduced by some decadence and opportunity, he with a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) who comes to his room by mistake and his young wife who is charmed by one of her favourite actors as she comes to a film set by accident.

There is also a magic realism story – is it happening in the present time with Alec Baldwin something of a ghost from the past or is it a story that parallels his from the past. It concerns an American student, Jesse Eisenberg intense as usual, and his girlfriend, Greta Gerwig, who has the least interesting role despite her talent and an erratic would-be actress (Ellen Page) who turns up at the apartment and turns the students’ head.

Having listed the stories and their casts, there are no great memories except for Allen, Judy Davis and the opera singer. On to Woody Allen’s next film.

TU SERAS MON FILS/ YOU WILL BE MY SON

France, 2012
Niels Arestrup, Lorant Deutsch, Patrick Chesnais.
Directed by Gilles Legrand.

An impressive French drama. Set in the beautiful and fruitful Provence countryside, a vineyards town, this is a family story as the title suggests.

It can be said that those tempted to see the film principally because of the vines, the harvests, the production of the wine – and the tasting and descriptions of the taster – will be satisfied. The audience will really feel as if they have been living the French tradition and its modern developments.

But, the family…

Paul is the patriarch, from a long line of wine producers. He is played by NielsArestrup? who has been making a strong impression in recent years and in his senior years with performances as different from the prisoner in Un Prophete and the grandfather in War Horse. Paul lives for his wines. They fields and vines are his kingdom. But, his son, Martin - not only does he not like him, he despises him, putting him downas often as he can, meanly, sometimes in pettiness, but always with the intention that his son will not succeed him even though he wants an heir from Martin and his wife (who can stand up to the old man).

The complication comes with another father and son. Francois (Patrick Chesnais) has been Paul’s manager for many years, with skilled knowledge and experience of all aspects of wine. He is a confidant of Paul but can never be his equal. Francois’ son, Philippe, has been working in vineyards in California. He has developed many skills himself and is not lacking in confidence. When his father becomes fatally ill, he returns home.

While he has been Martin’s friend, he finds himself being asked by Paul to do more and more for him. It is clear that, in the words of the title, Paul is indicating to Philippe, ‘you will be my son’ and acts accordingly.

How can this be resolved? Not In the way we might have expected, so that there is a highly dramatic ending which we (morally uncomfortably) will sympathise with.


WUNDERKINDER

Germany, 2011
Gedeon Burkhard, Natalia Avelon.
Directed by Markus Rosenmuller.

Wunderkinder are child prodigies. The three children in this moving World War II drama are musically talented, two violinists and a pianist. They are around 12 years old.
The setting is a town in Ukraine. It is 1942. The population consists of Ukrainian traditional families as well as Jews. Two of the children are Jews. The other, who becomes friends with them, plays music with them, introduced by the local music teacher, herself Jewish. All seems to be calm despite the war. And that other girl is German, son of the local diplomatic representative who also owns the local brewery.

When German troops arrive, the purging of Jews begins. However, the three children are still in demand for performances. But, then, the German pact with Stalin broken, Russian troops arrive and situations are reversed. While the Jews are still cautious and have been sheltered in a country house by the benign German, it is the German family which now has to go into hiding. And, in a reverse of so many films where Jews are sheltered by sympathetic locals, it is now the German girl who is protected.

The film presents the possibilities of harmonious living but does not shirk the anti-Semitism which is quick to rise to the surface, the exercise of power by local officials (who then have to go into hiding when the politics change). However, it is the basic, common humanity which underlies this portrait of people who share values, who communicate by music. It is a sad story of childhood, with some tragic consequences.

Audiences will appreciate this different perspective on World War II, the experience of Ukraine, and the effect on children.

Created by: malone last modification: Saturday 24 of November, 2012 [21:43:57 UTC] by malone


Language: en