SIGNIS REVIEWS NOVEMBER 2014
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP
BEST OF ME
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS
KILL THE MESSENGER
ROCK THE CASBAH
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, A
YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVETT, The
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP
UK, 2014, 92 minutes, Colour.
Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne -Marie Duff.
Directed by Rowan Joffe.
A more accurate title for this film would be When I Wake. In fact, when Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes every morning she cannot remember anything from the past, especially anything from the day before when she had gone through the whole routine of waking, being puzzled, being told her she was. She is suffering from a strong form of amnesia.
In some ways this is a very old-fashioned type of thriller, set in England, with a strong cast, memories of psychological thrillers like those of Alfred Hitchcock. It is based on a novel by S.J.Watson.
Nicole Kidman is again paired with Colin Firth, after their successful performances in The Railway Man. When Christine awakes, her husband, Ben (Colin Firth) is by her side and explains what has happened to her, using photos and names and dates on a panel in the room, reassuring her about her life. But, as the day goes on, she receives a phone call from a Dr Nash (Mark Strong) who tells her he has been treating her for several weeks. He advises her to go to her cupboard and retrieve a camera, on which, each day, she has added comments about her experiences in the possibilities of her memories. In the novel, she keeps a diary. The novelist has said he is very pleased with this idea, much more visual, of her keeping a camera diary.
In her meetings with Dr Nash, she gradually finds out a little bit more about her life before amnesia. Gradually, some flashes of memory return, especially about the bashing she received which has caused the amnesia. Ben explains to her that they were married in 1999, that they had a son, Adam, who had died at the age of eight or nine.
The other main character in the film is Christine’s friend, Claire (Anne- Marie Duff) and they make contact after many years. Through speaking with Claire, she discovers some aspects of the past which had been obliterated from her memory. But, she seems to be content that she now has a grasp on all the facts and can deal with them, especially relying on Ben.
Since this is a thriller, it is obvious that not everybody will be actually what they seem to be. So, it is a drama about identity, discovery of identity, surprised by facts, and becoming embroiled in more danger and violence.
The writer-director of the film, Rowan Joffe, made a version of Grahame Greene’s Brighton Rock in 2010.
This is a film which will appeal to older audiences, where they will feel familiar enough with the style of film and enjoy it. One of the problems is whether there are holes in the plot, especially where the loss of memory is concerned over several years, but given the strong performances, the interest of the characters, the difficulties may not come to the surface until well after the film is over.
THE BEST OF ME
US, 2014, 118 minutes, Colour.
Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato, Gerald Mc Raney, Caroline Goodall, Clarke Peters, Sebastian Arcelus, Jon Tenny, Sean Bridgers.
Directed by Michael Hoffman.
Since 2000, movie audiences who have a touch of romantic, sentiment and even sentimentality, have been looking forward every couple of years to a film version of one of Nicholas Sparks’ novels. It began with Message in a Bottle, a high-profile film with Paul Newman, Kevin Costner and Robin Wright. Most audiences seem to agree that the best film version and the most popular was The Notebook with Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdam?, James Garner, Gena Rowlands. The films include Dear John, The Lucky One, Night in Rodanthe, The Last Song.
The Best of Me is more complex than many of the other novels and films. Like The Notebook, it has two time focuses, the present and 20 years earlier. We are introduced to the present and that is where the main story develops. But, all the way through, there are many flashbacks to the earlier time, the main characters in their early adulthood, their meeting, in love, the consequences of a number of surprising events.
James Marsden is Dalton, who is first seen on an oil rig, helping fellow-workers when a vast explosion occurs, which knocks him into the water, leaving him there for a long time, when he is eventually rescued and hospitalised, everybody, including himself, amazed that he has survived. We see Michelle Monaghan’s Amanda gazing at the stars, unhappily married, with a teenage son. What do they have in common?
They both received a message telling them that their old friend, Tuck (Gerald Mc Raney) has died and has left his possessions to them. When they meet, there is a hostility between the two which makes us suspicious. They go to Tuck’s house, look at the possessions, discover photos, and the tension lessens between them.
The story in the present is fairly straightforward. The couple have not seen each other for 20 years and, as they meet we find that Dalton has never stopped loving Amanda. Amanda, on the other hand, is married and has a family. Dalton is free, Amanda is not, and there is her son to think about. We follow Amanda’s confrontations with her husband, her support of her son, the reactions of her husband. On the other hand, Dalton, who comes from a poor redneck family dealing drugs, comes up against his hostile father and his brothers.
It is the story in the past that is presented much more interestingly. It shows the background of Dalton and his violent father and his wretched treatment of his son. Amanda, the other hand, comes from an affluent family and is destined to go to college. They meet by accident, form some sort of friendship, Amanda taking a lot of initiative, Dalton rather shy, leaving his home and being taken in by Tuck who is a generous father-figure.
The way the screenplay gradually reveals the details of the past, some of them quite unexpected, gives some attention to the drama and makes the audience interested in what happens to the couple, especially in view of the fact that in the present they have not seen each other for those 20 years.
Plenty of opportunity for smiles, even more opportunity for tears. But, there is a cause of complaint to the writer and the director: the melodrama of the final ten minutes of the film. At first, we think that it might do what seems over the top, then it seems it won’t - then it does, defying a great deal of credibility. But, allowing for this, The Best of Me offers an opportunity for feeling and sentiment.
Sweden, 2014, 118 minutes, Colour,.
Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Jakob Granqvist, Kristofer Hivju.
Directed by Ruben Ostlund.
Many of us with a smattering of romance languages might draw the quick conclusion that the title of the film means a major force, something that the trailer would seem to indicate with its scenes of an avalanche. Not at all.
The main clarification, which needs some Googling for most of us, indicates a technical meaning, a legal meaning, and a focus on responsibilities in a contract, like marriage. With this in mind, we look at a happy Swedish family who are on holidays in the Swiss Alps. It all seems very nice, no need for any worrying about force majeure. The action takes place over five days. In the early days of the holiday everyone is full of family love, affirmation of the children, going skiing, having a break from work and ordinary life…
Then comes the avalanche, not as terrifying as it looked in the trailer, rather, a different kind of avalanche but with dire consequences.
The family is at lunch with many people at the outdoor tables when the avalanche occurs – but it is a controlled avalanche, the authorities concerned about the massing of snow and having various mechanisms around the snowfields to monitor what is happening. But, as the snow advances on those who are lunching, it seems more ominous and people get to their feet, looking and wondering at what is happening; some even run away.
And that is the problem with the family. The mother stands her ground, thinking about her children. The husband, alarmed, moves away from the table. And that is his fatal move, it is the force majeure occasion in the marriage relationship. At various times, especially with groups of visitors, the husband tries to explain himself away, talk about photos, thinking about the family. His wife is in no way convinced and his behaviour and her reflection on it gnaw away at her attitude towards her husband, questioning her love for him.
This means that the film is a Swedish drama, looking intensely at characters, their external behaviour, their interior lives. The screenplay gives quite some opportunity for discussions, especially with an old friend and his very young companion, having a meal with a couple, wondering what they would do in similar circumstances.
The wife begins to keep to herself, alarming the husband, who finds himself locked out of their unit in the chalet. Realistic breaches between the couple are presented as well as symbolic, and, not giving anything away, the final scene where passengers are anxious about a bus on the mountain curves which cannot get round and people feel in danger, means an alarm for the wife and an opportunity for the husband to step forward and help.
And the question remains whether the couple will be able to regain their love in view of what has happened, whether the wife will be less severe in her demands of her husband, whether the husband will be honest in admitting what happened. When they return to Sweden, what will be the status of their marriage and how will they relate to the children?
This is a film for those who like intense Swedish dramas, and audiences who like exploration of characters in crises. The Swiss mountain scenery, of course, is very beautiful.
US, 2014, 134 minutes, Colour.
Brad Pitt, Shia La Boeuf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal.
Directed by David Ayer.
It is surprising to find a World War II film, with such a big budget 70 years after the events portrayed. After all, Brad Pitt’s previous film was the futuristic zombie film, World War Z. In many ways, Fury is a strong reminder of so many of the films of the past, the events of the American troops moving forward into Germany in the last months of the war.
In fact, Fury is the name written on the gun of an American tank. We focus on the tank and its five-man team. There a number of smaller roles in group military scenes as well as in the town occupied by the Allies but the main focus is on the group of five. Brad Pitt is the commander, strong-minded, tough, with a knowledge of German, and an ability to read his men and control them. Shia La Boeuf is a tough young man and a continual Bible reader, able to quote Isaiah chapter 6 and God calling the prophet into action. Michael Pena is Hispanic. And Jon Bernthal is a grizzled veteran, aggressive, sometimes obnoxious, but with a deep-down heart.
The other member of the group has been killed and they are sent a very young man, played by Logan Lerman, as the replacement driver.
One of the themes is the father-figure, mentor role played by Brad Pitt in helping the young man to adjust to the war situation after being only eight weeks in the army. Norman does not want to kill, lets a young German survive, to the anger of the other members of the group. In many ways, the film is the story of the blooding of Norman, his being transformed into a fighter and a killer.
There is also another theme for Norman. When the Allies capture and occupy a town, the commander sets himself up in a house, a reluctant woman allowing them in. Quite a lengthy part of the film is taken up with quiet time, a meal, cleaning up in the house. Pitt suggests that Norman and the young woman in the house go into the bedroom, a sexual initiation. This also has an emotional effect when the house and the town are bombed.
In the latter part of the film, Pitt’s tank is the only one to survive an onslaught. Soon they encounter several hundred German soldiers on the march and decide that they will stand their ground. While they cause a lot of destruction and death, it is finally a moment of self-sacrifice. Some commentators have found that the last 10 minutes undermine the previous part of the film – this review disagrees because the experience of Norman parallels his previous encounter with the young German soldier.
The re-creation of war, the military, the town occupied and bombed, the final stands are meticulously recreated. The effects and action are impressive. However, one needs to be in the mood to watch such a grim film and to reflect on the issues it raises about war and men in war.
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS
UK/Germany, 2014, 118 minutes, Colour.
Simon Peg, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgaard, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, Barry Atsma, Chantelle Herman.
Directed by Peter Chelsom.
The title sounds like one of those self-help books – and, in fact, it was such a book and is translated into film to invite all those on a search for happiness to share the journey of Hector. Not that Hector is always likeable and easy to identify with, though Simon Pegg does his best to do some comedy but with serious undertones. Hector is a bit over-earnest at times, over-eager, not always empathetic to his clients. He is a psychiatrist, with comfortable practice, a good income, but increasingly irritated with the clients who do have some irritating traits. Hector is also lucky to have Clara, Rosamund Pike (rather different from her Gone Girl) as his longtime partner. That she has stayed with him all this time is something of a mystery.
One of his clients has some psychological insight and suggests, along with a touch of fortune-telling, that Hector should go on a trip. Fortunately, he has the time as well as the money to go on such a long trip, searching for happiness. Clara is more than a bit surprised and, though he sometimes keeps in touch with her during the trip, it would be understandable if she were not their when he comes back. Spoiler: she is!
The first destination that Hector chooses is China. On the plane, he causes a bit of kerfuffle and is moved to business class where he sits next to a rather self-centred businessman played by Stellan Skarsgaard. In the event, Hector accompanies Edward into Shanghai, beginning to take notes formulating his principles for happiness or situations which are not happy. Edward is rich which allegedly enables him to be happy. Edward also introduces Hector to a young Chinese woman, an attractive and very sympathetic student and, dabbling in a bit in extra-marital search for happiness, Hector spends the night with her only to find that she is not at all the girl that he thought she was. Plenty of lessons there.
The next destination is Africa, something of the Africa we see in the movies which may or may not be the real Africa. However, he comes to visit one of his fellow students from his American university days. Michael is a doctor, helping the locals in the best possible way and in partnership with one of the locals. That might have been all right, Hector seeing some happiness in altruism, but, one night, on his return to headquarters, some thugs waylay the car and take Hector as a hostage. He does indeed have a very difficult time in captivity, no amenities, his abductors rather sophisticated in their talk and in their hopes. Happiness is not being tortured.
Hector had encountered a European drug lord, Diego, Jean Reno, and they got on well, he providing a good prescription for the drug lord’s wife. Fortunately, Diego’s name can put terror into terrorists and Hector is released. Quite a lot of reflection on happiness or not here.
By this time, we wonder whether Hector is going to visit all the continents but he takes off for Los Angeles to catch up with Agnes, Toni Collette, his good friend from study days along with Michael.
This is where the film does improve, especially with Toni Collette’s strong performance, a decent, common-sensed woman, now married with children, a bit unsympathetic to Hector’s self-indulgence and offering him plenty of words of wisdom and challenge. She also takes him to see their old professor, now doing research on the activities of the brain and persuading Hector to take part in an experiment with the experiencing of various emotions which will light up the figure of the brain on the computer. The great benefit of this part of the film is that Christopher Plummer plays the professor, very urbane and challenging in his lecture, very practical and common-sensed in his advice to Hector.
By this time, Hector has quite a lot of points which have been up there on the screen for our consideration. And then he goes home, we presume a happier and wiser man, anchored in realities with its ups and downs rather than idealising a state of earthly happiness.
The film is quite entertaining in its way, especially if you are really interested in getting points for happiness, tolerable if you want some entertainment (with a few morals tossed in).
US, 2014, 169 minutes, colour.
Matthew Mc Conaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo.
Directed by Christopher Nolan.
During the last 10 years, a new film from writer-director, Christopher Nolan, has become something of an event. He has made the very successful Batman trilogy, Batman Returns, The Dark Night, The Dark Night Rises. Somewhere in there is a less well-known drama about magicians, well worth seeing, The Prestige. And in there as well is the extraordinary story of dreams and dreams within dreams, Inception. Quite a career following an initial black and white 70 minute experimental feature, Following, the now classic exploration of a character, the screenplay going from the present into the past, Memento, and the re-make of the Scandinavian police thriller with Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank, Insomnia.
Expectations were very high for interstellar.
For Nolan fans, there is so much to relish. Interstellar is the story of a post-apocalyptic future in the United States, the collapse of the environment, crops failing, people hungry, aspects of ordinary life still functioning but grim prospects for survival. Interstellar is also the story of NASA experiments to find planets in the galaxies where humans might be able to survive. These two themes are interwoven over a period of decades, birth still battling to survive, extraordinary experiences in space.
While Inception was tantalising with the exploration of psychology, dreams, parallel worlds, Interstellar as much of the same except that the focus is very explicit on science and technology as well as imagination and dreams. It may be that some audiences will find the scientific language and detailed explanations beyond there ken and will accept them or feel overwhelmed by them. Depending on in audiences interest in space exploration and the particular mission to find other planets, this scientific perspective may be too much.
It would seem that the screenwriters, Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, have been influenced by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space To see of 1968. There are many similarities in the plot, especially in Kubrick’s vision of a space traveller going further and further into the future and rediscovering the past.
This is a long film, almost 3 hours, has so much to do like the eye and the year, especially in space, in the spaceship as well as in the various planets. (some of the spectacular sequences were filmed for IMAX screening and this is a recommendation for those who want to see Interstellar, to go to the IMAX cinema.)
The success of the film also depends on audience response to Matthew Mc Conaughey. While filming this, he won an Oscar for that Best Actor in The Dallas Buyers Club. In recent years he has been in many successful dramas including Mud, The Paperboy, and filmmakers can rely on him to sustain audience interest in such a long film as this. Michael Caine, who has appeared in all of Nolan’s films in the last 10 years, is the scientist overseeing the voyage into space. His daughter, who goes on the expedition, is played by Anne Hathaway.
The screenplay posits relativity in time, travel through black holes, a year in space corresponding to many years on earth, which means that the travellers stay younger as people on earth grow older, shown in video messages to the explorers. Matthew’s precocious daughter, Murphy, who did not want her father to leave but had enabled him to make contact with NASA because of a seeming ghost or pot poltergeist in the house and series of gravity, appears in the second half of the film with Jessica Cass stain in the role.
The mission to find explorers who have gone before, leads to some exciting travel through space, some crises which are handled well, dangers on planets which are found to consist of water and enormous waves (spectacular in IMAX) or dissidents mountains (again spectacular in IMAX and filmed in Iceland). It is here that Matt Damon appears as a significant character even though he is credited for the film.
The last part of the film may be confusing or challenging, or both. It presupposes the relativity of time, time folding and unfolding back on itself, communication and lack of communication, the mysteries of time and the future.
Interstellar is a film of its time, in more senses than one. It is spectacular, thought-provoking, indeed, a cinematic achievement.
US, 2014, 101 minutes, Colour.
Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palecki, Bridget Moynihan, John Leguizamo, Ian Mc Shane.
Directed by David Leitch, Chad Stahelski.
John Wick is a violent film. It is the story of a hitman, now retired, whose wife has died and he is in grief. When he is accosted at a service station by a smug and stupid son of a Russian gangster boss who wants his car and comes to his home to steal it, he goes into action. With balletic style, he shoots all the intruders and begins another journey of vengeance.
This is a film for fans of action shows, many of the bloggers calling it the coolest film of the year! Audiences who do not like a violent plot let alone continuous violent action, would be best warned to leave this film be.
It is a star vehicle for Keanu Reeves. For several decades, Reeves has had a penchant for action films. We think of him as Neo in the Matrix series. In more recent times he has appeared in martial arts films like 47 Ronin and Man of Tai Chi which he also directed. While his John Wick is a particularly American character, his dark clothes, his lithe movements, almost balletic as he moves, aims and fires all at once with deadly success, are a reminder of martial arts.
The villain of the peace, the Russian, is played by Michael Nyqvist who made an impact in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and has now come to appear in a number of American films, Abduction, Mission Impossible 4. He gives a strong performance which gives a little more depth to the film. His wayward and self-indulgent son is played by British actor, Alfie Allen.
One of the interesting features is that a number of actors appear in cameo roles, including Willem Dafoe as another hitman, Ian Mc Shane as the manager of a club of hit-persons, John Leguizamo as the manager of a garage. An original feature of the film is a hotel in central New York which is not as it initially seems. The guests are all assassins who work by a code, administered by Ian McShane?. There is a solemn concierge who makes all the arrangements, especially for a service entitled “dinner reservations” which is key to ordering a company of “cleaners” who come in and restore a bloody crime scene back to normal.
While there is a lot of brutality about the film, there is a certain fascination with the story, the motives of vengeance of the retired hitman and the enigmatic style with which Keanu Reeves plays his roles.
KILL THE MESSENGER
US, 2014, 112 minutes, Colour.
Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie de Witt, Oliver Platt, Robert Patrick, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Andy Garcia, Michael Sheen, Richard Schiff, Ray Liotta.
Directed by Michael Cuesta.
Everybody loves a conspiracy theory. How many people killed President John F.Kennedy? Was Pope John Paul I murdered? Was the moon landing in 1969 faked? In Kill the Messenger, the question is raised as to the CIA importing drugs into the United States, especially to Los Angeles South Central, to make money to buy arms for the Contras in Nicaragua during the 1980s, during the Reagan administration?
This is a film about journalism, about investigative journalism. We remember All the Presidents Men and Deep Throat revealing information about the Watergate scandal to Woodward and Bernstein. This film is not in that league but it is very interesting nonetheless. It is based on the research by San Jose journalist, Gary Webb.
The film opens with a visual collage of American presidents from Nixon on proclaiming a war against drugs. Gary Webb is working at a small newspaper but is asked by a young woman, Paz Vega, to take some court documents that have been released by accident. He follows through, going to the court, raising suspicions in some of the lawyers when a key state witness is giving evidence about his being an agent for the government, bringing large supplies of drugs into the United States.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Webb’s editor, and Oliver Platt plays his boss. They are wary because this is a huge story and they don’t have the resources or the reputation. Nevertheless, Webb goes to Nicaragua following up some leads and interviews an imprisoned drug boss, played by Andy Garcia, who gives him even more information, including a source in Washington DC, played by Michael Sheen, who is wary and later phones Webb to urge caution.
When his article is published, there is an extraordinary response, especially from television stations asking for interviews and he is named journalist of the year in Sacramento. What follows is the drama of conspiracy to cover up, especially from suited agents who even raid his home in the middle of the night. Then there is the campaign to discredit him, criticising his sources, criticising his reliability and his personal life.
The screenplay gives a lot of attention to Webb’s home life, his moving from Cleveland to California in the aftermath of an affair with a fellow journalist. He has an ever-loving and ever-patient wife, played by Rosemarie de Witt, three children, especially a 16-year-old who has had him on a pedestal. Webb is assigned a post in the quiet town of Cupertino, California, in the hope that the case will go away.
There is a dramatic scene at the making of the award for journalist of the year, his family supporting him, journalists tending to shun him. There is final information about what happened to Webb and some late 1990s television footage of John Kerry, amongst others, indicating that there was truth to the story and the CIA involvement in drug dealing, along with a lot of footage of politicians from Los Angeles Central, calling the CIA to task for targeting African- Americans as potential for drug customers and so ruining many lives.
The film is interesting, at times exciting, a lot of the time focusing on the domestic life of Gary Webb as well as his work at the local paper, not a masterpiece of movie communication but offering a lot to think about in terms of government, cover-ups, and, especially, investigative journalism.
UK, 2014, 110 minutes, Colour.
Sam Claflin, Lily Collins, Suki Waterhouse, Tamsin Egerton, Art Parkinson, Christian Cooke, Jamie Winstone.
Directed by Christian Ditter.
It was only after the film was over that this reviewer realised that we are present in Dublin. Everybody speaks with such clear British accents. Half of the film is located in Dublin, the other half in Boston.
This film is based on a 2004 novel, Where the Rainbow Ends. Perhaps the film does end at the end of the rainbow but the film could have been called Long Years Journey into the Evident. So, this is the story of Rosie and Alex, childhood friends, teenage best friends, adult distant friends and the ups and downs of their lives.
Rosie and Alex are shown as young kids, bonding, sharing experiences with each other, each at home with the other. But, at Rosie’s 18th birthday, she drinks too much, flirts, can’t remember anything afterwards. In the meantime, Alex, for some reason that he (and we) can’t quite work out, does not see Rosie romantically and enters into a relationship with the vain Bethany. On a kind of rebound, Rosie has a one night stand with Greg, satisfying to him after a few moments, unsatisfying to her, when she has to go to hospital because of her not being able to find the condom he used.
The best played laid plans… Alex has a scholarship to Harvard to study medicine and off he goes. Rosie was intending to go to America to do a hotel management course but, morning sickness, and…
Supported by a wonderful and wise father, and her mother, Rosie gives birth but instantly bonds with her daughter and decides not to put her up for adoption.
Years pass, Rosie gets a cleaning job at a hotel, works with her best friend and confidante, Ruby, brings up her daughter, with the usual bouts of colic, sweetness, first steps, and the years pass. Greg come back on the scene and, for some moments, we hope that all will be well and Rosie, Greg and the daughter will become a family. But.
In the meantime, Alex gets tangled with a supremely snobbish young woman, invites Rosie to visit Boston, a visit which is a disaster. And so on…
By the time 12 years have passed, the daughter is verging on teenage and disagreeing with her mother, there is a death in the family which brings grief, Bethany arrives on the scene as a top model and goes to Boston to see Alex. Nothing ever seems to go right for either Rosie or Alex.
Lily Collins and Sam Claflin portray Rosie and Alex over a period of 12 years, from 18 to 30, and have a good on-screen rapport. So, what begins like one of those raucous teenage films, drinking, loud music, fumbling sex, gradually becomes the story of adolescents moving into adulthood. Which means that it turns out better than might have initially been expected.
US, 2014, 88 minutes, Colour.
Jenny Slate, Jake Lacey, Gaby Hoffmann, Richard Kind, Polly Draper, David Cross.
Directed by Gillian Robespierre.
The title of this film comes from a song by Paul Simon.
It is the story of Donna (Jenny Slate) who attempts to be a stand-up comedian. The film opens with her routines at a club, the personal story, the sexual and physical emphases.
In this brief film, we see various episodes in Donna’s life, relationship to her pleasant father, Richard Kind, to her rather superior mother, Polly Draper. She becomes involved in a one night stand with a pleasant young man, Max, Jake Lacey, who admires her performance. She does not expect to see him again but later discovers that she is pregnant. He also turns up a number of times, wanting to keep the contact with her, going out on a date. She resists him, even going out to the apartment of a sleaze at the club, played by David Cross.
She is uncertain about her life, working in a bookshop which is closing down, getting advice from various friends. Her pregnancy becomes the focus at the end with the decision to get an abortion. She has two weeks to consider the situation, trying to sort out things, but finally deciding to have the abortion. At the end, she has calmed down and is seen with Max, watching Gone with the Wind.
Her character has been criticised by number of bloggers, accusing her of complete self-centredness as regards the birth of the child.
UK, 2014, 120 minutes, Colour.
Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine, Dominic West, Ben Schnetzer, George Mc Kay, Andrew Scott, Jessica Gunning.
Directed by Matthew Warchus.
The title, Pride, might immediately suggest Gay Pride Marches. And the suggestion is not wrong. However, this is a much more complex film in its themes: support for the miners in the 1984 British strikes as well as themes of Gay Pride and, eventually, because of the times, raising the issue of AIDS.
This film may well marginalise different groups from the outset.
With a glimpse of a television interview with Arthur Scargill, the leader of the striking miners, those not in favour of Scargill, of the strike, of the miners and of the labour movement, may not be fans of the film. On the other hand, there is also an initial television interview sequence with Margaret Thatcher speaking, the speech where she emphasised the strength of her leadership and assured everybody that she was not a softie. Those who remember the Thatcher era or who do not approve of her and her policies, may not be fans of the film either.
And then there is the gay and lesbian issue. A fellow-reviewer told me that when he went to see another film, there was a trailer for Pride, and a man near him growled loudly, ‘effing faggots’, and walked out of the cinema until the trailer was over. Anybody sharing that homophobic comment will not like this film at all.
While the strike was in 1984 (and we remember Billy Elliot was set in the same time and context), this was 30 years ago. The portrayal of the gay and lesbian group echoes that of 1984 rather than of the present. There is far more understanding these days, despite homophobic outbursts, and despite communities, especially those Bible-based, but not exclusively, who are still repelled by homosexuality. (As Pride is being released, some of these issues were raised by the Vatican Synod during October 2014, with discussions and struggles to find outreach pastoral language that gives priority to compassion rather than to judgement.
This theme is very much to the fore in Pride. At the Gay Pride March in London, 1984, a small group of enthusiasts collect money to support the miners, feeling that because they understand oppression and hostility, media criticism, dislike and misunderstanding from the community, that they decide to collect the money, calling themselves Lesbians and Gays in Support of the Miners. Further, they want to find a community to give the money to and decide on Wales. They stick a pin in a phone book page, ring the number and the old lady at the other end doesn’t quite understand what she heard but welcomes them.
It is often said that if we don’t understand an issue, we should meet and be with someone who represents that issue so that it has a human face, a human character, and, even if there is disapproval, there is the possibility for understanding and respect. As might be anticipated, this is to the fore in the film when the group go down to Wales and are initially received with hostility by the miners and the community. But, as the weeks go by, as the individuals share with the locals, especially when a rather flamboyant actor, portrayed with zest by Dominic West, shows them how to dance, modern-style, they gradually win over most of the locals.
One particular member of the Miners’ Council disapproves completely of the miners taking supportive money from the group. Her character is very bitter. We realise that while she is entitled to have her views, and express them, we also realise that her hostility and righteousness come from deep anger and judgemental attitudes to life. We are shown that hostile attitudes like outbursts of homophobia can lead to malicious behaviour and cause mischief in a community. Perhaps this is one of the main messages of the film, that holding opinions is one thing, acting out with malice, or hatred, is quite another thing.
While there is a cheerful mood overall in the village which accepts not only the charity but also the different persons and unfamiliar types, there are some very serious undertones to many of the characters.
There is a gallery of characters from the village, including a very serious Bill Nighy and bubbly Imelda Staunton. Paddy Considine is the most sympathetic character, the member of the local council who was commissioned to meet the group, speaks in a gay bar, and begins to understand men and women who are different by being and working with them. The other standout character in the Welsh village is Sian, a housewife who is not afraid to speak her convictions (and who, we are told in the credits, became a parliamentarian after being encouraged to do studies).
Ben Schnetzer is Mark Ashton, very serious about social concern who gets the group going, is behind it in begging for money, keeping up morale, putting on a music concert event to counter the adverse headlines caused by the malicious woman in the village phoning journalists. Others in the group include Adam Scott (Moriarty in the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series), Dominic West as his partner, and George Mc Kay as a 20-year-old, struggling with his sexual orientation, his very respectable home and parents, the welcome that he receives in Wales, the support from the group, and his eventually confronting reality with his parents.
The film ends with the Gay Pride Mark March 1985, the end of the year-long strike which included this story of collaboration between gay and lesbians and miners (with final credits information about the Labor Party’s incorporation of gay and lesbian rights into their platform because of the mutual support during the strike and the beginnings of mutual understanding).
20 years ago, an American Archbishop visited Australia and in his conference with the Catholic media explained that he took a year to write any pastoral letter in his diocese, consulting all those with connections to the particular theme so that while he was writing in the Catholic tradition of teaching, he was also writing with the gospel mentality and pastoral outreach. Any person doing something equivalent these days could well have a look at Pride, whether they agree with everything or not.
ROCK THE CASBAH
Morocco, 2013, 101 minutes, Colour.
Morjana Aloui, Nadine Labaki, Lubna Azabal, Hiam Abbas, Omar Sharif.
Directed by Laila Marrakshi.
We don’t often see films from Morocco, so this is a welcome opportunity for the audience to immerse itself in a country where many films are made, mainly American and biblical period films, but whose way of life, in an Islamic country, is little known.
While there are some serious things in this film, it opens with panoramic helicopter views of a Moroccan city, the coast, the beach full of people, a sunny Mediterranean country. And, in the background, Bing Crosby and Bob hope singing We’re off on the road to Morocco (which has the classic lyric, “like Webster’s dictionary, we’re Morocco-bound”).
We meet an old man walking in the spacious park grounds of his mansion, telling us about his movie-going in the past and our sometimes mistaking the movie for reality. He is played by Omar Sharif, reminding us of his more than 50 year film career, acting at the age of 81. But, as we watch him walk, goes into a room where a body is being prepared for burial. He confides to us that it is his. He will make a number of appearances during the film, a genial ghostly figure, commenting on his life and his family.
Because this is one of those films where a significant figure in the family dies, everyone gathers for the funeral rites – in the reading of the will.
One of his daughters arrives from the United States where she is a film star, portraying terrorists (and we have a glimpse of one of her films towards the end with the family watching, her grandmother taking it rather literally). Her husband is a director of horror films and she brings her little son to Morocco. She has left the Moroccan way of life behind as well as her family and, though sometimes lonely, she is an American. She has three sisters, though one of them has died long since. Another is a teacher, devout, patriotic, a touch hard, with a supportive husband and a son who has a camp manner and wants to sing in Broadway musicals. The other sister is bored with life, lazy, and indulging herself in corrective surgery for her vanity.
Interesting is the widow, full of grief and tension, snapping at the servant who has been with the family for 30 years. She is played by the Palestinian actress, Hiam Abbas.
The film is divided into three days: the living, the burial, the separation.
Which gives us plenty of time to get to know the characters, their strengths and weaknesses, the interaction of the sisters, the importance of their mother, the importance of the maid and her son who was involved with the daughter who died. There is also the dead man’s brother, unmarried, rather eager to get his hand on his brother’s will as the male heir with priority in Moroccan law before women, even the deceased’s wife and daughters.
But, as we might guess, these reunions are far from happy and we become aware of secrets and lies, secrets gradually being revealed, some devastating consequences for lives.
The film has a strong feminine sensibility, the writer-director, Laila Marrakshi, who was written the female characters with insight and some sympathy.
Looking at this affluent Moroccan family, with action mainly within the house, though there are some sequences in clubs and streets outside the house, we realise that Morocco offers a rather more open society (even if still fairly patriarchal), behaviour, dress for women, prayers and rituals than in, say, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Always interesting, always humane.
US, 2014, 96 minutes, Colour.
Melissa Mc Carthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Alison Janney, Dan Aykroyd, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Nat Faxon, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, Ben Falcone.
Directed by Ben Falcone
This is very much a take-it or leave-it kind of comedy. It all depends whether you like Melissa Mc Carthy or not. She has been around for quite a while but came into wide prominence with her comic turn in Bridesmaids. Since then she has been successful in such films as Identity Thief or as Sandra Bullock’s contrasting police partner in Heat.
Tammy was co-written with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed the film (and appeared in a cameo role as the manager of a fast-food outlet who sacks Tammy and is pelted with food by her). Melissa Mc Carthy often plays larger-than-life roles and this one is no exception. But the trouble is that Tammy is not a very likeable person at all (either by many of the characters or by the audience). She is moody, childish and her behaviour, generally self-absorbed, as well as being something of a slob. It is very surprising to find that she is married to Greg (Nat Faxon) who, perhaps understandably but not justifiably, is in a relationship with, of all people, Toni Collette.
But this is a road movie because Tammy is so exasperated with every one, everything and her life, that she decides to go on the road, but having to borrow a car because the opening of the film shows her crashing into a deer because of a distraction and smashing the car. And, because she was late, and so many times, she has been sacked.
Her parents are played by Dan Aykroyd and Alison Janney. Her grandmother is played by Susan Sarandon. Her grandmother’s friends, a lesbian couple, are played by Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh. And then there is Gary Cole who is attracted to grandma and Mark Duplass, a nice fairly simple soul, who is genuinely attracted to Tammy. If nothing else, the film boasts a very, very strong cast with Susan Sarandon standing out as the extroverted, alcoholic, few-holds-barred grandmother.
Of course, there are all kinds of incidents along the road, especially because of grandmother Pearl, which includes a jail sentence and robbing a diner to get bail to get her out.
The culmination is at a fourth of July party held by the couple where grandmother behaves very badly, Tammy feels hurt, and the host, Kathy Bates, gives her a few solid words of advice.
Happy ending is implied – and reconciliation with mother, father, grandmother, and the nice young man. But, whether it will work out that way…?
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU
US, 2014, 103 Minutes, Colour.
Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, Ben Schwarz.
Directed by Sean Levy.
Some years ago, there was a Jewish film called Seven Days/Shiva, about a family observing Shiva, sitting in the house for the week, mourning the dead. This film is a very American version of Shiva, often raucously so. It is based on a novel by Jonathan Tropper, who wrote the screenplay for the film.
This is a story of the death of the father of the family and the assembly of brothers and sister as seen from the point of view of the second son, Judd, with Jason Bateman in the role, using his talent for comic timing but having a much more serious role than usual. Within minutes of the opening of the film, he discovers that his wife has been having an affair with his boss. He sits glumly and then receives the news that his father has died.
The sister is Wendy (Tina Fey), unsatisfactorily married with two children (one of whom is continually seen with his potty, doing his training in public – and one wonders what this little actor will think and feel when he watches this film in 10 years time, 20 years time!). The older brother, Paul (Corey Stoll), has stayed close to his father, managing the family store, and trying with his wife, Annie (Kathryn Hahn), quite intensely, to become pregnant. Then there is Philip (Adam Driver), much younger, brought up by Wendy as a mother figure, now irresponsible, self-absorbed, bringing his former therapist Tracy (Connie Britton) who thinks she is in love with him.
As can be seen by this small summary, the potential for conflict is mighty – and is seen in many sequences, verbal clashes, physical clashes, comparisons, psychological rivalry…
And all is presided over by the matriarch, Hillary, who is played by Jane Fonda, still looking glamorous in her mid 70s, but, as part of the humour of the story, she has silicone enhanced breasts (of which she is not at all ashamed). She has written a book in the past about families, with thinly disguised portraits of her own children. She has now called them together, loves them, tries to help them, while still rather airily going about her carefree way of life.
As if the family is not enough, there is the neighbour, Horry (Timothy Olyphant) who was in love with Wendy but suffered brain damage in a car accident and is still at home. His mother, Linda (Debra Monk) is in and out of the house, providing some of the refreshments. And yet another character. Rose Byrne is Penny, who still lives in the town, has had a crush on Judd in the past, finds matters complicated when he returns, but is a woman who is very direct, speaks her mind, and often with commonsense.
Stir all of this together, and we have the close family sitting in the one room, forbidden to go out of the house (which is interpreted exceedingly freely), have them go to Temple, presided over by the siblings’ friend, now a rather trendy Rabbi resenting his family nickname of Boner.
Here we have multi-multi problems, often taken seriously, sometimes exuberantly, and sometimes treated farcically. Many audiences may think it too much – especially a final revelation much too late, dramatically speaking, in the film and barely prepared for, which makes it somewhat implausible.
Some years ago there was a film called Life as it Is. A religious reviewer found it very objectionable, stating that it is better to have stories about Life as it should be. In fact, our lives are life as it is, messy, sinful, hurtful as well as striving for some kind of happiness and decency. This is what this film is like, raucous and rude, silly and serious, with an underlying family warmth that does not always come out the right way.
A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES
US, 2014, 114 minutes, Colour.
Liam Neeson, David Harbour, Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook, Astro.
Directed by Scott Frank.
Many of us used to enjoy reading the crime novels of Lawrence Block, especially back in the 1990s. It is surprising to find that, previously, only one of his novels had been brought to the screen, 80 Million Ways to Die, starring Jeff Bridges as the former policeman, private detective, Matthew Scudder. It would have seemed a very promising franchise, a series of films with Matthew Scudder.
It is only now that Liam Neeson portrays Scudder. In recent years Liam Neeson has been doing a lot of action roles, especially in his series, Taken, but also in, Unknown, Non-stop. While there is some action in the film, this is rather a private eye investigation film.
It opens in 1991 with an alcoholic Scudder involved in a shooting confrontation with some robbers, but also killing a little girl by accident. The action shifts to 1999 when Scudder has left the police force, has given up drinking and has been attending AA meetings for all these years. He looks a little bit more spruced up than previously but one wonders how many cases he has actually had.
He is approached by a young man who wants him to help his older brother, Boyd Holbrook and Dan Stevens. The latter reveals that his wife has been abducted, he has paid the ransom but the results have been disastrous. Scudder is reluctant to take on the case, because Kenny, Dan Stevens, lives in a luxury apartment and is clearly a drug dealer (or trafficker as he prefers). On a compassionate whim, he finally decides to take the case.
The film is interesting because there are several abduction cases which Scudder investigates. They also lead him to quite a range of characters, with the abductors revealed halfway through, which means than that from a detection story it becomes a pursuit story. The abductors are particularly ruthless, David Harbour, physically resembling Michael C. Hall as Dexter, a sadistic serial killer.
There is no romance. The main emotional support comes from the young African-American? lad, T.J., whom he encounters in a library. He is unwell though not admitting it, has some ambitions to be a detective and tries to tag along with Scudder. Eventually, he uses his wits and becomes very involved in the final confrontation.
A values perspective is offered during the final encounters with the killers. The AA 12 steps are voiced at each moment.
Liam Neeson is expert at this world-weary kind of character. On-screen as a character actor since the early 1980s, he has become a top-billing star for more than 20 years after his performance as Oscar Schindler. In his early 60s, he still has a commanding screen presence.
This all makes them very interesting but, of course, given the nature of the plot and the cruelty of the abductors, there are a couple of scenes of rather graphic violence. But, Lawrence Block would probably be pleased with the film as will fans of private detective stories.
US, 2014, 107 minutes, Colour.
Miles Teller, J.K.Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Chris Mulkey.
Directed by Damian Chazelle.
One of the pieces played often in this film has the title, Whiplash. But Whiplash has overtones of torture, beating, suffering. And that is what happens in this very strong and fascinating film.
The writer-director, Damian Chazelle, studied music himself and draws on his own experience in shaping this story. He brings quite an intensity to the characterisations and conflicts.
Miles Teller, who has appeared in a number of rather obnoxious and forgettable sex comedies, makes his mark as young drummer, Andrew, who hopes to be a top performer. He is at a music college, studies in a band, is overheard one day by the chief director of the school’s main band, Fletcher, played by J. K. Simmons, a fine character actor for many years. This has to be his best performance.
One day, Fletcher marches into the smaller band rehearsal and summons Andrew. At first, Fletcher gives the impression of friendship and encouragement but very soon is too demanding of Andrew, Andrew going too fast, too slow, not the right timing, Fletcher throwing things at him, mocking him about the one tear in his eye… And it goes on from there.
Audiences with movie memories of martinets and the harsh treatment of those under their command may remember Louis Gossett Jr’s treatment of Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman or R. Lee Ermey in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. This is on a par with those performances. There are some moments when Fletcher seems to be human, especially in his grief at a student who has died – but that also has its harsh and bleak sides.
Most of the film is the confrontation between Fletcher and Andrew. At least Andrew has the support of his fond father, Paul Reiser, and, for a short time, dating with a girl who sells tickets at the local cinema. But, Andrew has great perseverance as Fletcher does his best to humiliate him – and the others in the band, especially the fellow-drummers.
The key question is how far should a teacher, a mentor, a parent-figure, put pressure on a student. Towards the end of the film, there is a confronting discussion between teacher and pupil. The teacher says that he does not want his students to be ordinary. He claims that “a good job” is the worst of compliments, being satisfied with the ordinary.
It also raises the question of the teacher, mentor, parent living through the student, a precarious success.
The trouble is that there is some traumatic effect on the student when there is so much pressure from the teacher. For the audience, this is clear in looking at Andrew, his bleeding hands, his intensity and using every moment for practice, cutting off relationships, the consequence of complete dedication to craft and wanting perfection.
So, the film shows both sides of this pressure question and its consequences, confronting the audience and its belief in excellence and achievement as well as feeling towards those whose lives are altered for the worse because of the pressure.
It builds up to a psychological confrontation, a musical confrontation, and a tour-de-force performance by Andrew which makes a difference to Fletcher’s perceptions of him.
For those who appreciate music, especially jazz, the film has a strong score which plays throughout the whole film.
Turkey, 2014, 196 minutes, Colour.
Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sozen.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Wintersleep is the latest film from the distinguished Turkish director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It is fair to say that his films are only for a specialised audience, not for the multiplex audience.
His earlier film was Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, immersing the audience in the mountainous countryside, the lives, happy and unhappy, of the inhabitants. This description is true of Wintersleep (although the screenplay is based on some stories by Anton Chekhov). As the winter season moves in, we are almost trapped in a snow-covered town, sharing lives with a few of the inhabitants, listening to their interactions, liking and disliking some of them, spending a great deal of time listening to their conversations.
Ayden, a former actor now writing the history of Turkish theatre, lives in retirement with his young wife, Nihal, managing a hotel for visitors – there are rather few. He is sometimes reclusive, is rather commanding of his wife who begins to resent this, having long discussions with his somewhat acerbic sister. One of the main conversations with his sister must go for about half an hour, very interesting if you have become involved, tedious and off-putting if you have stopped listening. There is a later conversation with his wife which does not go on for so long but has the same effect.
There is some drama when Ayden is driving with his manager and a young boy throws a stone which shatters the glass of the car window. This leads to some conflict, the father of the boy who has spent time in prison reprimanding him but resentful of the situation. His younger brother, a local imam, is a good man of peace who tries reconciliation. Just when we might have forgotten about this subplot, it is reintroduced towards the end of the film, a visit from Nihal, a gift for the family, the reaction of the boy, of the cantankerous brother, of the genial imam.
Ayden has some friends with whom he goes hunting, spends a lot of time drinking and talking with them. In between the conversations there are some visitors at the hotel, especially an Asian couple who have cheerfully enjoyed their stay.
The screenplay is intelligently written, well worth listening to. The design of the film and the photography are exemplary. The director’s pacing, with more than three hours at his disposal, means that this is a beautifully directed film, destined to be something of a cult classic, confirming the reputation of the director who had already won the Best Director award in Cannes 2008 for Three Monkeys, and The Grand Prize of the Jury in 2003 for Uzak and for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia in 2012. Wintersleep is something of a culmination for the director, winning him the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2014.
THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVETT
Canada, 2014, 91 minutes, Colour.
Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, Callum Keith Rennie, Niamh Wilson, Jakob Davies, Dominique Pinon.
Directed by Jean- Pierre Jeunet.
An entertaining film, serious and humorous, some interesting characters, some offbeat situations, and a general feeling of niceness (except for Judy Davis’s character who has an angry outburst and some expletives which seem a bit out of place for the intended young audience). The photography captures the beauty of the Canadian and American countryside, especially if you see it in 3D (highly recommended because it is excellent use of 3D).
And who is T.S. Spivet? Actually, this is a question that the academics at Harvard are asking.
Let’s go back a little. The setting is a farm in Montana. father, Callum Keith Rennie, is an old-fashioned cowboy type, not so well-educated, but practical. We might wonder how met his wife, Dr Clair, a very sympathetic performance by Helena Bonham Carter, who is a dedicated entomologist, continually inside studying her insects. They have two children, twins. One of them takes after his father, out in the paddocks, playing with guns, a roustabout. He bonds very well with his younger twin. T.S. who is intellectually curious, absorbed in experiments and calculations, expert in maths and physics. The twins are 10 years old.
When there is a sadness in the family, T.S. decides to send in one of his project constructions for a competition. Not only does he win, he is invited to travel to Harvard to receive this award and speak. What is the 10-year-old to do?
And this is the delight of the rather tall tale where T.S. cannot tell the family what he has done. He impersonates his father on the phone so that Harvard (that’s Judy Davis on the other end of the phone) assumes that the winner is an adult.
Then the film become something of a road movie, a railroad film, as T.S. runs away from home, uses his wits as he travels across the country, encountering all kinds of people, all of whom are sympathetic, a woman selling food in a diner, a farmer giving him a lift, various characters giving him wise advice…
The people in Harvard must be very balanced types because it doesn’t take them long to accept T.S. There are many comic touches as he prepares for his speech, is dressed formally, surprises the public that he is a young boy, but manages to get out some words for his speech. He delights everyone. We can see that he is young, but everybody can eventually tell that he is definitely prodigious.
Of course, there is a happy meeting with his parents, their pride in him, and, one presumes, a prodigious life in physics and experiments in Harvard and beyond.
The films made by French director, Jean- Pierre Jeunet, noted for his often delightfully eccentric films, especially Amelie. He also directed Delicatessen, A Very Long Engagement, as well as in the Alien series, Alien Resurrection. One feels his delight in making the film, creating the characters, with the fine photography and the special effects, especially for 3D, with the suspicion that he might have been young and prodigious himself.
It definitely is very entertaining.
THE VATICAN MUSEUMS 3D
This is a documentary being screened at special cinemas, described as An Event, in the vein of the screenings of plays from the National Theatre in London or operas from Lincoln Centre in New York City. It is an Italian production, hosted by the director of the Vatican Museums.
It is said that millions of tourists visit the Vatican museums, especially the Sistine Chapel, each year. But this means that many more millions do not have the opportunity to visit the museums and wonder at the paintings, statues, frescoes. And, even when we might have an opportunity to do this visit, there is so much to see, so many crowds, not as much time as we might have hoped, and we achieve some glimpses of the works of art. This means that this documentary is a kind of supplement for those who have visited and, hopefully, an eye-opener for those who have yet to visit.
The director explains the origins of the Vatican museums, the discovery of the classic statue of the priest, Laacoon and the serpent’s, in the 15th century and Pope Julius the second, the Pope who hired Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel roof, establishing the museums.
The first part of the tour is a look at the classical statues from the Greek and Roman period. While interesting in themselves, they serve as a prelude to what most audiences would be wanting to see, the mediaeval paintings and the Sistine Chapel.
The director does a commentary in Italian, with a voice-over, rather plain and less-than-involving, giving the information in English. It is a pity that one can still hear, as with television and radio news, the original voice underlying the voice-over.
But the main part of the film is quite exhilarating. The 3D is effective in showing the scope of the museums, the vast corridors, the rooms full of paintings, the Sistine Chapel. But it also has the strange effect, when we look at paintings in close-up, of producing 3 De effect on the paintings themselves which is not what we see when we look at them up close.
The main benefits of the film are the time spent with Raphael’s paintings and with Michelangelo’s. Audiences may not be so familiar with Raphael’s paintings and this is a wonderful opportunity to see some of his great works, huge paintings in the Vatican halls, in their large perspective as well as in detailed close-up. Audiences will be in great admiration of the work of Raphael.
But then, there is the Sistine Chapel, a look at some of the key paintings on the roof of as well as time spent gazing at the overall impact of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement as well as appreciating so much of the detail. One of the difficulties with the commentary is that as soon as the director does some explanation of a particular part of the painting, the film editors cut immediately to the next sequence, whisking us away, without giving the audience sufficient time to look and to appreciate what they have just heard.
Statistics are given about the length of the corridors, the size of the rooms, the number of works of art in the museum, with some glimpses of the work of other painters, including van Gough. But it is the paintings of Raphael and Michelangelo that audiences will be happy to have had the opportunity of seeing.