SIGNIS REVIEWS NOVEMBER 2016
BOYS IN THE TREES
HELL OR HIGH WATER
HILLSONG: LET HOPE RISE
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
I, DANIEL BLAKE
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES
LIKE CRAZY/ LA PAZZA GIOIA
MAGNIFICANT SEVEN, The
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
PEOPLE vs FRITZ BAUER, The
SPIRIT OF THE GAME
US, 2016, 128 minutes, Colour.
Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai- Robinson, John Lithgow, Jean Smart, Andy Umberger.
Directed by Gavin O' Connor.
Here is a very entertaining thriller that keeps the audience continually alert, needing to pay attention to the wide-ranging plot developments. With such a simple title, The Accountant, not much is revealed – but the screenplay offers quite an amount of revelation. This review perhaps errs on the side of cautiousness in not revealing any of the key aspects of the plot.
One of the major themes of this film is autism. It opens at an Institute in the 1980s and a little boy, who has the makings of a genius, manifests the narrow autistic focus as well as the potential for being deeply disturbed by failure in what he wanted to accomplish and physical and psychological effects. His military father decides that he needs to face the world rather than an institution, even though the boy has made friends with a little girl there.
Then we see the boy as an adult, the accountant, working in a suburban shopfront, advising a farming couple in financial straits, very direct, unemotional, but knowing what he should do. They befriend him, invite into their home for hunting, and he accepts to visit for shooting – at which he is more than expert.
Also at the beginning of the film, the camera shadows a policeman crossing a street, gun drawn, scuffles in the street, shots inside a building, going up a staircase – and the silhouette of the gun on the wall. Fade to black. When there is a recap of this scene later in the film, it opens up all kinds of questions.
One of the key factors for the entertainment given by this film is the well written screenplay, which would seem to be based on one of those high-powered action thriller novels but is, in fact, an original piece of writing. Important in the screenplay are the flashbacks and the moments of insertion into the narrative, always revealing just that bit more about the accountant, his growing up, his father and his brother caring for him, and gradually more information as to how he became such a significant accountant and a phone voice telling him where to go for different jobs.
A praiseworthy aspect of the screenplay is that with so many threads, they are gradually brought together in ways we were not anticipating, interesting connections which throw light on the accountant and other characters, even to the very end where the screenplay does not push the final piece of information but more subtly lets the audience become aware of it, bringing it all to a satisfying ending.
Ben Affleck is the accountant. This is one of his better performances, his being able to capitalise on what some critics have referred to as his woodenness in performance – he brings it to bear on the focused autistic characteristics, the genius of maths, the intensity of finishing work undertaken, being taught how to recognise emotional situations while not being able to identify with them. In this he is very much helped by the character played by Jeffrey Tambor.
The film has a very interesting supporting cast with Anna Kendrick as an accountant who uncovers financial discrepancies at her company, which is run by John Lithgow, assisted by his sister, Jean Smart. There are hired killers, especially one played by John Bernthal who becomes entangled with the accountant. J. K. Simmons is the head of an investigative department of Treasury in Washington and Cynthia Addai- Robinson is effective as the young Treasury official who is commissioned to investigate the accountant and identify him.
Those who like this film very much, as this reviewer does, would hope that audiences would share the interest, the intrigue, and the satisfying bringing together of so many plot threads.
UK/US, 2016, 163 minutes, Colour.
Sasha Lane, Shia La Boeuf.
Directed by Andrea Arnold.
Star is a young girl, 18, with a partner, looking after her brother and sister for her mother who doesn’t seem interested, trying to survive – and we see her with the kids on the road, trying to get a lift, cars passing by, her going to the supermarket, seeing a van load of young people boisterously coming in, allowing the children to have a drink in the supermarket, fascinated by one of the young men who dances on the checkout counter, following him out where he offers her a job in door-to-door sales. That’s the beginning.
As to the title, Crystal, who is in charge of the group, asks Star whether she is an American Honey, sweet and attractive? This is also the title of the song which contributes to the finale of the film, the group of young people, including Star, singing the song as they drive into the future.
This is a road movie. This is a piece of Americana. What makes it more interesting is that it has been written and directed by Andrea Arnold from Britain (Red Road, Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights).
The way that Andrea Arnold looks at Americans and the United States along the roads of the midwest and into Texas is by using a handheld camera (somewhat irritating for those who prefer classic modes and not the jerking, “realistic” style of photography) as well as the old-style box framing on the screen. This has touches of the home movie, the capturing of life as it is in a documentary style while creating a fiction.
Sasha Lane is persuasive as Star. It is principally Star that we are watching, whom we are invited to identify with – which may be easier for a younger audience but may at times try the patience of an older audience. What she has got herself into is something of a commune group on the road, travelling in a van, a great deal of camaraderie. If we are feeling a touch censorious, we might be tempted to think that these are idle young people, judging them by their look, their clothes, their freewheeling attitudes.
But, on the contrary, they are participating in the American capitalist dream. They do actually do door-to-door sales and our highly organised by Crystal. She controls the timetables, the plans, knows the various districts they are working in, has receipts for magazine subscriptions all printed out – and, at the end of each day, she collects the money, giving the young people not such a high percentage and keeping the rest for paying for food and accommodation and travel.
So, this is a rather sympathetic picture of contemporary young people, seemingly aimless at times, yet with some purpose, but no great long term planning. Star is surprised at one stage when she is asked what her dreams are, never having been asked that before. She is not the dreamy type, initially reacting rather negatively to the spiels that are created to entice people to subscribe to the magazines, bluntly criticising. However, she moves into the vein of the work, some strange experiences, especially with a group of good old boys who take her to a ranch where she shows off, drinking too much, their all finishing up in the pool, but in fact they all take out subscriptions.
There are at truck stops, quite some encounters with a variety of truck drivers, some friendly, some overtly sexual. They are trained to be shrewd in assessing people’s characters, the context, matching their stories for sympathy and sales.
While Star becomes emotionally entangled with Crystal’s man, Jake (Shia LaBoeuf), her kindliness is also drawn out, especially when she encounters some kids in a “trailer-trash” situation, listening to them seem, buying them groceries.
Many critics have found this film quite powerful. It won the Ecumenical award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. On the other hand, it is very long, almost 3 hours and, if the characters and their situations do not draw the audience in, it could be something of an endurance.
BOYS IN THE TREES
Australia, 2016, 112 minutes, Colour.
Toby Wallace, Gulliver Mc Grath, Mitzi Ruhlmann, Justin Holborow.
Directed by Nicholas Verso.
The setting is 1997. It is Halloween.
This story of teenagers in the Australian suburbs becomes more impressive as it unfolds. At first, it looks like a typical enough presentation of youngsters, quite an amount of skateboarding, some showing off, a particularly unpleasant episode of bullying, and young males mouthing off in obnoxious ways. The males then all get dressed up in Halloween costumes, many as predatory animals with comments akin – and it is surprising, in retrospect, to see such elaborate details of Halloween behaviour at that time.
But soon the film becomes much more introspective. The central character is Corey, who literally runs with the pack, but who separates himself off at times because of his skill with his camera, intending to go to New York with a scholarship to continue photography courses, despite the objections of his father. The victim of the bullying is Jonah, looking younger, short in height, a skateboarder but obviously used to being pushed around and humiliated. Corey takes his photo and later, Jango, the dominating leader of the pack, photocopies the photo and places it prominently in the streets and in the parks.
Corey is challenged by Romany, who also wants to get out of the place, allows herself to be partly trapped with the group but goes off to work on a late shift. As Corey wanders off from the group, he encounters Jonah at the skateboard rink. Jonah falls and hurts his head, a possible concussion, and asks Corey to walk home with him as something of an apology.
And here the film moves from Corey’s introspection to a mysterious world of imagination and fantasy, combining it with the realism of the walk home, the Halloween behaviour, Corey going to see Romany at the shop, Jango leading his troop making a mess of the shop, and Corey clashing with Jango and separating off, still accompanying Jonah.
It emerges that the two boys have a past friendship but that Corey betrayed Jonah and abandoned him. To relive something of the past, going back into their memories, of Jonah’s mother dying – and their encounter of Hispanic group in a local costume commemorating a death and singing plaintively, a little girl who emerges from a huge open drain exit and a mysterious man dressed in white.
The boys are particularly convincing, Toby Wallace emerging from being a child actor as Corey; Gulliver Mc Grath who has worked for Steven Spielberg in Lincoln and Martin Scorsese in Hugo, bringing quite some vulnerability to Jonah; and Justin Holobrow completely believable as the pier-pressuring Jango. Mitzi Ruhlmann is Romany.
The film was made in Adelaide by former DJ, Nicholas Verso, who has also made a number of short films. This film should be more than a calling card for his career as a director. Early in the year, another film came from Adelaide, Girl Asleep. This was also the story of teenagers, this time set in the 70s, focusing on a teenage girl blending the realism of her school and family story with quite an excursion into a world of fantasy. The two films could be seen as striking companion pieces.
Boys in the Trees (who seem to have their head in the trees, refusing to grow up, then literally climbing trees with the potential for a fall) could be a challenge to its target audience but also makes quite an impact on an older audience.
US, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.
Jesse Eisenberg, Kristin Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Jeannie Berlin, Ken Stott, Corey Stoll, Anna Camp, Parker Posey, Paul Schneider, Richard Portnow, Sari Lanick, Stephen Kunken. Narrated by Woody Allen.
Directed by Woody Allen.
Woody Allen at 80. For decades now, with a film a year, sometimes serious, sometimes lighter than light. Café Society is somewhere in between. It is set in the 1930s, the first half in Los Angeles and Hollywood, the second half in New York City. It is not hard to see where Woody Allen’s sympathies lie, definitely not in Hollywood, with some satire at its expense, some rather sharp dialogue barbs, some delight in the moviemaking, but a critique of the moviemakers. Woody Allen is far more at home in New York.
Jesse Eisenberg plays the newest incarnation of the Woody Allen screen character – and this character as well as the story must have appealed to Allen himself strongly, not only writing and directing the film but actually providing the narrative voice-over throughout.
Eisenberg plays Bobby, coming out to Los Angeles looking for work, with a recommendation to have an interview with his top-producer uncle, played by Steve Carrell. The producer is forever busy but he finally gets his nephew some menial, post-sorting, delivery jobs. But the best thing for Bobby is his encounter with his uncle’s assistant, Vonnie, played by Kristin Stewart in one of her best roles. Bobby is in love, Vonnie seems to reciprocate but explains that she does have a boyfriend. It is the revelations about the identity of the boyfriend, and Bobby having to deal with his uncle, that is the central emotional core of the first part of the film.
In the meantime, there is plenty of glitz and glamour, parties interrupted by phone calls, lots of references to movie stars, MGM, casting, budgets, deals…
And then the film transfers to New York, Bobby going home, getting a new job and his character seeming transformed from the shy and bumbling type to the friendly and lively host at his brother’s nightclub, welcoming everyone, friend of everyone, genial, charming. The background is that his brother is a gangster, getting rid of opponents, having a plot overlooking the river where he can deposit corpses and pour concrete over them.
Allen toys with Jewish and religious themes with the character of the brother, brought up by a very strict Jewish mother (Jeannie Berlin) and a critical father (Ken Stott) who is forever critical of his wife’s brother, the non-religious producer in LA. There is a discussion about the afterlife, the Jews not believing in an afterlife, which gets to the son in prison who takes instruction from a priest, because he really wants there to be an afterlife.
In the meantime, the screenplay slips over some time spans with Bobby meeting glamorous socialite, Veronica, Blake Lively, then marrying her and having a daughter. The complication is that Bobby still has quite a flaming torch for Vonnie, tantalising him when she visits New York, when he visits LA with the possibilities of opening a night club there.
All in all, Café Society is emotionally serious, with some Woody Allen one-liners, of course, and some satire at the expense of Hollywood film making – but with the audience leaving the cinema more on the serious side, with long close-ups of Bobby and of Vonnie, a final close-up the back of Bobby’s head, his wondering about his life, our wondering about his life.
US, 2016 115 minutes, Colour.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel Mc Adams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins.
Directed by Scott Derrickson.
Does every film reviewer have a yen for using the word Phantasmagoria at least once in a lifetime? Well, Doctor Strange certainly offers the opportunity. In visual style, special effects, in complex plotline, it certainly is a phantasmagoria.
We are in the Marvel World, and audiences have relished being in that cinematic and comic book world of the Avengers, singly and in combating people together. Dr Strange is now newly introduced but, for those who wait during the final credits, there is not only a trailer for forthcoming events but two trailers (in the first doctor Strange is sitting down and having a conversation with Thor!)
Audiences have plunged into this exotic and fantastic world right from the beginning of the film, scenes of combat in London between the ferocious villain, Kaecilius (Mads Nicholson) and The Ancient One, an androgynous guru figure with an impeccable British accent (Tilda Swinton). While the battle is powerful, it is the special effects that begin to boggle the mind. Buildings begin to fold in on themselves, sweeping vistas of the city begin to fold in on themselves, activities go upside down and sideways, intriguing the imagination. and, thankfully, there is more, when some of the action goes to New York City, the folding and in-folding continues and, we avoid any disappointment when the final action transfers to Hong Kong and then we have it again.
Then we are introduced to the supremely arrogant surgeon, Dr Stephen Strange, with more than a touch of the obsessive in his knowledge of popular music, tapping his feet as he does intricate operations, absolutely confident in his abilities and prowess. As everybody knows, he is played by Benedict Cumberbatch as something of a distant relation to Sherlock but with more openness, eventually, to versatility in action.
One of the things about this Marvel hero is that initially, he is not part of the world of superhero powers with mystical and mysterious origins. That comes later. In matter-of-fact terms, he is severely injured in a car accident, with great detriment to his hands, impatient in physiotherapy, informed about somebody who was able to transcend injuries (Benjamin Bratt) and is advised to travel to Nepal, to a monastery with Buddhist overtones where he is invited to submit himself to experiences of discipline, asceticism, self-abnegation. This is not an easy call for Dr Strange and we follow his training under the instruction of The Ancient One, her assistant Mordo (Chiwitel Ejiofor) and some comic touches from the librarian (Benedict Wong).
It is here that the audience is drawn, as with Dr Strange himself, into a world of time and times, doors into other worlds, parallel universes… and an overall demonic universe controller.
And, it is here we learn that Kaecilius is a renegade from this world, with a power complex, wanting to dominate his world and every world, taking a discipleship of thugs with him. It is inevitable that there will be a showdown, or showdowns between Dr Strange and Kaecilius. Which leads to the confrontations in New York in New York and in Hong Kong. (There is another medical interlude after Stephen Strange’s injured and he goes back to get the help of his former love, also a surgeon, played by Rachel Mc Adams).
The upshot of the confrontations is not quite what we expected either in terms of The Ancient One, Dr Strange’s Groundhog Day battle of wits with the demonic, or in terms of Mordo and his experience with Dr Strange – which leads us into the post-credits previews and the news that “Dr Strange will return”.
Frantz, 2016, 130 minutes, Colour.
Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Judith Magre,Christian Berkel, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz,
Directed by Paul Verhoeven.
Elle is a very uncomfortable film to watch. It has many characters and plot strands, quite complex and complicated. And the characters are ambiguous. And the situations provide moral, immoral and amoral questions.
Isabelle Huppert has been toplining films for almost 40 years, one of the world’s significant actresses, and her performance here is very striking, and she has never shied away from difficult roles and difficult interpretations (remembering such films as The Piano Teacher). And the director is the Dutch Paul Verhoeven who has never shied away from difficult themes either – audiences tend to remember that he was the director of Basic Instinct and of Showgirls (unfortunately forgetting his powerful Dutch war drama, The Black Book).
Of the many themes, it seems best to state first that is a film about rape, the film opening with a brief sequence, made all the more telling because of the camera most of the time focused on the pet cat, but later shown in more graphic detail, and even a sequence where Isabelle Huppert as Michelle imagines her violently vanquishing the masked man assaulting her.
This means that Elle is the kind of film that Pope John Paul II wrote of: ‘…even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.’ (John Paul II, Letter to Artists, 1999.)
This is also a film where audience sympathies for each of the characters can veer sharply from sympathy to antipathy. This is especially the case with Michelle herself, victim of the rape but then shown in her workplace, manager of a company which produces violent and sexually aggressive computer games, urging her team to make them even more vividly confronting. She has a son, rather ineffectual but devoted to his pregnant girlfriend whom Michelle disdains, but trying her best to help her son. She has a friendly but often vindictive relationship with her ex-husband.
Perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film is her partner, Anne, a friend since each gave birth to their children at the same time, but unaware that her callow husband is having an affair with Michelle.
And then there is Michelle’s mother, even having Botox treatment which makes her look grotesque in her 70s, with her toyboy and her intending to get married again. More traumatising is the character of Michelle’s father, whom we know was something of a monster and is in jail, the extent of the horror of his crimes and Michelle’s presence as a young child at the time is revealed later. Michelle, as we eventually see, has some propensity for violent sexuality.
Redemption doesn’t seem to be at the fore in this screenplay, although it must be said that Pope Francis makes two appearances via television news, once as he is celebrating Christmas midnight mass in the Vatican, something that the young devout neighbour, who has set up her own large crib at her house, wants to view; and a glimpse of him going to Compostella, participating in the Camino, a sign of some astonishment to Michelle’s son who sees the Pope as an august figure and cannot imagine him with his shoes off… An interesting use of a moral reference in the film.
There does seem to be some kind of peacemaking with a number of the characters, although Michelle does get a last, unexpected, revenge on her father, as well as a grim revenge on her assailant.
This is a strong film, some intense drama with comic moments, but one which asks for a great deal of reflection about good and evil, right and wrong, morality, immorality and amorality.
Finland, Estonia, Germany, 2015, 99 minutes, Colour.
Mart Avandi, Ursula Ratasepp, Lembert Ufsak.
Directed by Klaus Haro.
Actually, the title is quite literal. The central character has been a fencing champion earlier in his life.
And, actually, there is a fair amount of fencing in the film, with the hero himself, his teaching youngsters at school, and, finally along the lines of many sports film, a competition where the underdogs have to prove themselves.
But, that said, there is so much more to the film. It is a coproduction between Estonia, Finland and Germany, principally set in Estonia.
The prologue informs us that the the Nazi occupation of the Baltic states meant the conscription of a lot of young men to work and fight for the Germans. In the aftermath of the war, and Estonia being part of the Soviet Union, Stalin set his secret police to search out and arrest these young men.
The setting for this film is the school year, 1952-1953. We arrive in a remote Estonian town with the hero, the camera following him down the drab streets, his immediately going to the school principal’s office where he is to teach and to coach the sports club. The principal is one of those bureaucratic types, power in a small pond, later explaining that he always did what was expected of him by the authorities. And he has a younger assistant, one of those incessantly toadying types.
The hero, Endal (Mart Avandi) is in his late 20s, obviously hiding himself from authorities. He has been in Leningrad where he has a close friend who gives him advice, especially to stay hidden.
The core of the film is Endel’s work in the school, with a group of children who are poor, some of their families having disappeared. He mends skis but is then told by the principal that they have to share the skis with the local military base. He decides then to unpack his fencing gear and to suggest that some of the children might like to train in fencing – and over 20 turn up for the initial session.
While the children are very loyal, Endal confesses that he himself is very bad in dealing with children, commanding them sometimes severely. The screenplay focuses on a couple of the children, a little girl who showed initial curiosity, Marta, and the young boy, Jaan, who is hurt by Endal and wants to drop out. His grandfather, who studied in Germany, was a fencer and gives his weapons and gear to Endal. The principal of the school decides that fencing is feudal and therefore not appropriate.
A feature of the film is the principal’s meeting with a group of rather subdued parents, an image of the Soviet Union and government, but with the parents surprising daring, raising hands very tentatively, to support the fencing training in the face of the principal’s opposition. Democracy can achieve some things.
While Endal is very private person, one of the teachers at the school, herself rather reticent, is attracted and the film shows their relationship in a very gentle manner.
The film does end with a fencing tournament, Endal choosing four students to represent the school in Leningrad. He obviously runs the risk of arrest, with the principal present, with military presence, which means that there is a dramatic tension between what is achieved with the young students and what is going to happen to Endal.
In many ways quite low key in its look, in its performances, in its treatment of situations – but very telling nonetheless.
Russia, 2016, 128 minutes, Colour.
Danila Kozlovskiy, Vladimir Mashkov, Agne Grudyte, Sergei Romanovich;
Directed by Nikolai Levedev.
Flight Crew seems rather a quiet and unassuming name for this adrenaline-pumping disaster and heroism film.
In the latter part of the 20th century, the American film industry capitalised on so many disaster films, whetting the audience appetite for dangers that they could identify with, especially with airport and so many flight disaster films – which continued into the 21st century. More latterly, the Russian film industry has been producing its own disaster films. This one is quite competitive with American productions.
Because the film is so exciting, audiences will make allowance for the plausibilities and implausibilities of the plot – and there are many of these. The screenplay is humanised by its focus on the central characters. Young pilot, Alex, is shown to be quite genial, especially when he takes a stand against an official who uses a cargo plane for getting gift cars to a wedding and wanting to dispose of a cargo of charity goods. He loses his job and goes for another and is tested quite effectively in a sophisticated simulator. The officer in charge is rather disdainful but eventually hires him and becomes reliant on him.
There is also the touch of romance, a chance encounter between Alex and Sandra and his helping her with her locked-in parked car. There is a back story for the stern pilot, his being away from home, his relationship with his wife, the troubles with his teenage son who has moments of rebellion.
The next flight scenes to lull the audience into relaxing and watching commercial flights – though Alex does challenge one of the Russian Mafia who wants to drink cognac and smoke as the plane takes off. There is an episode indicating dangers when a flight goes to Africa and has to take off with fleeing foreigners leaving the locals storming the runway during a revolution.
But this is all to get us ready for the big moments, a rescue flight to an island which has been experiencing earthquakes, shattering the airport terminal, planes disabled – and this because of the eruption of a volcano which sends out fireballs and lava streams. There is chaos at the airport, plenty of panicking passengers, shouting and screaming, trying to escape…
There are heroics with minibuses amidst the lava, dangerous takeoffs, even more dangerous flights – and a mid-air feat which has to be seen to be believed. Even at the end we might wonder whether it was possible or not.
So, reasonably interesting characters, even more interesting situations, and even more exciting action sequences and special effects – but definitely not an in-flight movie!
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
US, 2016, 112 minutes, Colour.
Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Alison Janney, Lisa Kudrow.
Directed by Tate Taylor.
A number one bestseller by Paula Hawkins, this was a much anticipated film version. Perhaps audiences were expecting something like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. However, this is a film much smaller in scope, smaller in its plot, depending on the complications and the style of storytelling.
It is a New York story, a story of New York State, especially with the trains running from New York City upstate along the Hudson River, pleasing scenery, and the ability to have a close look at many of the houses on the way, even some close-ups of the people who lived there. This is the point of view of Rachel Watson, a regular commuter. She is the girl on the train – but, at the end, she makes a comment that through the experiences she is no longer the girl; she is the woman on the train.
As mentioned, the complications come in the storytelling. After being introduced to Rachel, with the caption of her name, we soon see another caption, Megan, with her explaining herself in a voice-over, followed by Anna and her story. The lives of the three women will intertwine, Each of the women has dealings with Tom, formerly the husband of Rachel but divorcing her after a failure in her becoming pregnant and IVF treatment and the lack of finance for further trials. He is now married to Anna and they actually do have a baby. For some time Megan has been a nanny in their household.
In fact, pregnancy is an important theme in the story, Rachel and her failure, Anna and her success, Megan and her stories of several pregnancies. To complicate matters, the actresses portraying Megan and Anna, Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson, both blonde, do resemble each other.
But the focus of the film is certainly on Rachel.It is a star turn for British actress, Emily Blunt, who has had a successful career in England and the United States for a decade. Rachel is a disturbed woman, saddened by her failure to get pregnant, obsessed with her former husband, sometimes stalking his new wife and child, an alcoholic who does go to an AA meeting, but who has memory lapses and blackouts. She has also lost her job and has been travelling on the train, back and forth, for over a year. Her life seems to be going nowhere.
When Megan disappears, Rachel decides to act on what she has seen with Megan and her psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez) on the veranda of Megan’s house. She visits Megan’s husband (Luke Evans), creating difficulties for him and decides to become a patient of Megan’s psychiatrist as well. The two men also becomes the target of suspicions by two detectives (one played by Alison Janney).
The structure of the film is also complex, or complicated, the action taking place in the present but, frequently, captions coming up on the screen indicating action of months earlier, weeks earlier, days earlier. This gives the audience an opportunity to create all kinds of scenarios with all kinds of speculations on characters and motivations – until a revelation at the end which, when one thinks of it, is rather commonplace.
Were the story to be told in direct narrative, it would be fairly slight and developments rather familiar – which means that the film relies very much on the jigsaw structure and its tantalising its audience.
Korea, 2016, 140 minutes, Colour.
Min-hee Kim, Kim Tae-ri, Jang-woo Ha.
Directed by Chan-wook Park.
In recent years there have been a number of Korean films set in the 1920s and 1930s, the period of Japanese occupation and colonialism: The Last Princess, Age of Shadows. These films have been political but The Handmaid goes in another direction, a Japanese woman under the care of a Korean “uncle” and her being exploited by a fake Korean Count.
The film has many aspects of a dramatic thriller as well as some explicit scenes of erotica.
The development of the screenplay is tantalising, being divided into three parts. In the first we are introduced to the situation, especially through the character of a young woman, a petty thief who lives in a community of thieves and is groomed for further criminal deception. She is employed by the Count to be the handmaiden of the Japanese woman, getting into her confidence, urging her to marry the Count. The Japanese woman is very withdrawn, subject to fear, seemingly innocent in the ways of sexuality.
In the second part there is more than a dramatic twist, looking at the same episodes but further developing them from the point of view of the Japanese woman. Seeing matters from her perspective, we also get a different perspective on the young woman as well as the Count.
And then there is a third part, taking the plot much further, showing the audience more of the life of the Japanese woman with the repression by her uncle who gets her to read erotic stories to his male friends. And then there is a new perspective on the Count and his dealings with the uncle.
The film is elegantly made, strongly visual, and directed by Chan-woo Park, who has specialised in violent stories in the past, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Old Boy, and while this film is not so explicitly physically violent, many of the interplays between the characters are psychologically violent.
Australia/US, 2016, 140 minutes, Colour.
Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughan, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey, Matt Nable, Richard Roxburgh, Ryan Corr, Bill Young, Robert Morgan.
Directed by Mel Gibson.
A very impressive war film, World War II, on the island of Okinawa in 1945. It is not an easy watch.
Headlines have noted that this is Mel Gibson’s comeback. The last film that he directed was Apocalypto in 2007 and, since the crises in his life, he has appeared in very few films as an actor. Hacksaw Ridge reminds us how well Mel Gibson can make films.
The opening immerses the audience immediately in the experience of war, close-up. rifles, mortars, grenades, flamethrowers and the camera in amongst the soldiers capturing instant death, capturing harrowing wounds, the horror of flames and fire.
But, then the film goes back 15 years and takes us to the blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia to the Doss family. It should be added that the film will return to the close-ups and immersion in the war sequences at the end of the film. While the Americans do defeat the Japanese, this is not quite a gung ho patriotic story but a sometimes horrifying portrayal of the physical and psychological damage done to all soldiers.
Hacksaw Ridge was filmed at the Fox Studios in Sydney and in New South Wales the strong Australian supporting cast all impersonating, quite effectively, Americans. Hugo Weaving is a sometimes brutal, alcoholic father of two young sons, prepared to give them beatings, but then turning on his wife, played by Rachel Griffiths. The film establishes the relationship between the two young brothers, rivalry in climbing the mountains, getting into fistfights and one hitting the other with the brick, suddenly shocked at the potential to kill.
It emerges that their father served in World War I, all his young friends being killed in action.
Then it is World War II, one son signing up to the anger of his father, the other, Desmond (Andrew Garfield in a fine performance), the brother who struck with the brick, has no wish to take up arms, even to touch a rifle, but feels compelled to enlist, wanting to serve as a medic, emerging as a conscientious objector, powerfully motivated by his faith and his Seventh Day Adventist religious practice. (It is interesting to be aware that Mel Gibson is still interested in religious themes, a focus on the Bible and texts and prayer.)
While there are some standard scenes of harsh military training and a surprising non-comic performance from Vince Vaughn as the harsh Sergeant, they serve as a context for Desmond’s commitment to the Army, willing to put up with the taunts of authorities and fellow-soldiers, some brutality on their part, the demands of his commanders to take up arms and the possibilities of a court-martial for his refusal.
There is an engaging romantic background to Desmond’s story, his encounter with the nurse, Dorothy (played with great charm by Teresa Palmer), portrayed with a pleasing blend of romance and humour.
Then it is off to the war, to Okinawa and the need for the Americans to scale a cliff-face, Hacksaw Ridge, and take it from the Japanese, with troop after troop of Americans climbing, facing the heavy artillery, and a wave of Japanese. Once again, and for a greater length of time, the audience is immersed in the close-up of action. The significant difference is the work of Desmond, present with the troops, helping with the wounded, and, eventually, carrying over 70 wounded to the top of the cliff and lowering them with a rope for medical care.
His overwhelmed fellow soldiers and officers admit that they were wrong in their initial judgment and condemnation of him. He was the first conscientious objector to receive the American Medal of Honor, with a final credits image of the actual Desmond’s receiving his medal from President Truman. After the audience’s sharing Desmond’s life and ordeal on screen, it is satisfying to see glimpses of him in real life, and his reflections even in his old age.
In 1999, Terence Malick directed The Thin Red line, about the conflict with the Japanese on Guadalcanal, vivid fighting with a background of meditative reflection. Hacksaw Ridge serves as an effective companion film.
HELL OR HIGH WATER
US, 2016, 102 minutes, Colour.
Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham.
Directed by David Mackenzie.
This is a contemporary western relying on audience memories of the traditions of Texas bank robbers, memories of the outlaws and their mixed motives in the 19th century, the tradition of Bonnie and Clyde and the enthusiasm for crime and robbing banks, the more organised gangsters of the later 20th century. So, here are bank robbers in the 21st century – one with the touch of ruthlessness and recklessness, the other having a serious motive for the robberies.
The setting is West Texas and, if the film is to be believed, it is a very drab place, businesses running down, lots of signs for loans and properties for sale. Except for the mountains, the scenery is not all that attractive either (although, to be fair, it was filmed in New Mexico).
We are plunged instantly into a bank robbery, two masked men waylaying a bank assistant before 8.30 in the morning, working on the principle that robberies do not usually take place that early and so should be easier to achieve. And they are right. The thing is that they take only cash and not enormous amounts of it either. They immediately then do another robbery.
The robbers are two brothers, the older brother, Tanner (Ben Foster in yet another angry and villainous role) and Toby, more upright but a lot in his life not to be proud of (Chris Pine taking time off from being Star Trek’s Captain Kirk). Tanner has been a long time in jail and alienated from his family, especially their mother who has just died. Toby is divorced, has two young sons and is concerned about their future, especially since he has inherited property on which oil has been discovered and which will bring in substantial revenue. He has a time limit (hell or high water) to pay mortgage and loans and ensure the security of his sons.
Toby is quite smart and the method for laundering the cash is to drive to Oklahoma, go to the casinos, exchange chips, and then get cash back.
The main credit for the film, however, is given to Jeff Bridges who plays a Texas Ranger, pretty laid back in his way, who is about to retire. His assistant, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) has both Native American and Mexican ancestry – and he is continually the part of the Arranger’s racial teasing. The Ranger is shrewd, interviews witnesses, a number of whom could identify Toby, and waits out the next robbery.
As might be expected, things go wrong and there is a pursuit, car chases, sniping in the mountains.
There is an interesting discussion at the end between the Ranger and Toby, raising the issues of the intelligence behind the robberies as well as the motivation.
The screenplay is by Tyler Sheridan, an actor, who was praised for his first screenplay, Sicario. His work here is both clever and sardonically humorous, some good wisecracks, especially on the part of Jeff Bridges – when asked by Alberto why he is sitting on a porch, he replies that he is practising his future! But Jeff Bridges, who has been making films were almost 50 years, has now achieved some cult status and can take on old codger roles in the vein of Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood – and, by the look of him and his performance, Chris Pine could be doing the same thing in about 30 years.
The musical score is by Nick Cave who collaborates with his writer, Warren Ellis in some songs.
HILLSONG: LET HOPE RISE
US, 2015, 103 minutes, Colour.
Brian Houston, Bobbie Houston, Joel Houston, Michael Guy Chislet, Matt Crocker, Jonathan Douglass, Jad Gillies, Taya Smith.
Directed by Michael John Warren.
This is an enthusiastic documentary about the Hillsong church and its movement, its origins in Australia, its international spread, especially in the United States. This film is an American production, principally for an American audience, but also geared towards Australia.
At the beginning of the film, there is an invitation on screen for those in the cinema to participate in the experience of worship.
Hillsong, as the name suggests, is a film of music, religious music, in something of the traditional manner, but adapted to the 20th and 21st centuries and their rock style. While the experience might be called religious and worship, it is very much a spectacular rock concert. and there are many talking heads, from the founder, Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie, to their son Joel who is prominent in leadership, composition of hymns, writing of lyrics, performance at the concerts, to various leaders of prayer, musicians and the lead singer, Taya Smith. (Nothing to do with religion, but the trendiness of the leaders and performers, long hair, piercings, and Joel Houston wearing the same trousers throughout the film, even at the Los Angeles concert, with more than a huge trendy tear across the knee and down to the shin is more than a little distracting!)
Important as well of the huge crowds who attend the concerts – with a performance at the Los Angeles Forum as a framework for the documentary, but concerts in Australia, and in different parts of the world, especially with fervent thousands in the Philippines. The crowds respond as they usually do to a rock concert, caught up in the music, the beat, identifying with the singers in the band, but also caught up in a spirit of interior recollection, religious fervour, some spiritual experiences. To enable cinema audiences to participate, the lyrics of many of the songs appear on the screen.
Hillsong began in 1983 in western Sydney, there are video clips of early performance as well as a visit to the old site of the concert, now a library, giving Brian Houston and his wife the opportunity to reflect and be amazed at the success of the church. (In recent years there were media exposures of Brian Houston’s father and his sexual abuse – with the film appropriately acknowledging this, Brian Houston talking about confronting his father, and this acknowledged, the film moves on.)
The prayer leaders who speak to camera are young, earnest, comfortable with using God-language, very fervent. The film takes on a more humane tone as back stories of some of the leaders are told, scenes of family and the men having to be away from home, the repercussions for the children, and a pregnancy and birth sequence.
Particularly impressive, both on stage and in her interviews, is the lead singer, Taya Smith, religiously committed, with a powerful voice and an intensity in her performances.
Interestingly, the worship is focused on the songs, performance, the beat, the lyrics – there is no preaching. Which means that the church is one of enthusiasm, but spiritual highs through the concerts, with the hope that people will leave the concert with some kind of faith and further in their daily lives. There is no follow-up with participants, the film relying on the effect of Hillsong experience in the lives of the leaders and their families.
There is a certain sameness in the songs, the melodies, the rhythms, the beat, but this does not seem to matter at all to the congregations. The lyrics are important, relying on a range of metaphors, some rather poetic, some rather puzzling and not easily understood – “Love bends the sky to heal…”. The leaders in the film quote some Old Testament passages, refer to the cross as well as to the resurrection but there is no reference to the historical Jesus, his life and words from the gospel, a reliance on a Jesus of faith in the present. One of the speakers refers to theology and faith being based on Scriptures but there is no further development of this thinking.
Hillsong is a church which certainly favours and fosters a sense of community, using music and song to bind people together, evoking responses of faith. To that extent, it is a church of the Word, but fairly minimal on the Word of Scripture. It is a church which does not draw at all on the sacramental traditions of the centuries. It encourages spiritual experiences with the hope that these are experiences of faith to take people through life.
It is interesting to note that Brian Houston exhorts the audience at the end to find a local church where they might be able to worship.
This is a documentary which preaches to the converted, hopes to encourage the audience to participate in the worship concerts, but which will not hook those who come upon it unprepared – they might have some sympathy with the songs but may find the religiosity more alienating than attractive.
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
Ireland/UK, 2016, 104 minutes, Colour.
Max Records, Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Karl Geary.
Directed by Billy O’ Brien.
When someone claims that they are not a serial killer either they are telling the truth (and there may not be much more subtle material for plot development) or they are lying (and that opens up all kinds of developments) – or they may be deceiving themselves, which is something of the case here.
This is an Irish film production but was made in the United States, based on a novel in a series by Dan Wells, exploring the central character with the evocative name John Wayne Cleaver, not just the John Wayne part but also the implications of Cleaver. So, this is something of an Irish perspective on an American phenomenon.
Max Records plays the teenage Cleaver, who goes to school, whose father has walked out on the family but sends inept gifts for Christmas, has a rebellious older sister, and who works in the local small-town mortuary with his mother and her assistant. John seems morbidly interested in serial killers, and wonders whether he himself has that capacity, reassuring his counsellor that when he has killer feelings, he tries to say something good and affirming instead.
He is seeing a psychologist, and they discuss what it is to be a sociopath, which seems to be an accurate diagnosis for John. He does not make emotional connections and does not really know how to make them or to deal with personal interactions with people, even his mother.
What leads to a development, the fact of a series of killings in his town on, the bodies (at least those which are discovered) coming to the mortuary for the family preparation for burial. There is something bizarre about some of the corpses, the removal of organs, suggestions of oil…
The Cleavers have neighbours, an elderly gentleman with a kindly wife, who has been a community leader in his past. He is played by Christopher Lloyd, an interestingly challenging role for him in his old age.
While the audience might be guessing that there is something suspicious about the neighbour, it quickly emerges that John and everyone should be suspicious. What follows are some bizarre killings – and, perhaps surprisingly, a step into what is usually referred to as the supernatural but which generally means something demonic.
What will John do? How does a sociopath handle this kind of situation? Will it inflame his serial killer motivations and action?
Well, that is what the latter part of the film is about an audience will just have to go and see!
I, DANIEL BLAKE
UK, 2016, 101 minutes, Colour.
Dave Johns, Hayley Squires,
Directed by Ken Loach.
Seeing I, Daniel Blake, is an activity to be recommended.
This film is a moving slice of contemporary life in Britain, Newcastle upon Tyne, but a story that many audiences around the world will resonate with. It is the work of Ken Loach who, for almost 50 years, has been committed to social concern, the problems of daily living in real life, showing them with compassion – but also an undercurrent of anger. Some have commented that this film is partisan, unsubtle, lacking artistic complexity and finesse – but, that is the way Loach makes films and presents his story with a force that most audiences do respond to.
So, who is Daniel Blake? He is a 59 year old carpenter who has had heart problems, a widower, no children, but the kind of decent man that you might find in the street, or anywhere. He is played by stand-up comedian, Dave Johns, who has not appeared in many films but has made television appearances – a new face for most audiences who comes across as a very likeable character.
The film opens in darkness with Daniel heard filling in a form with a succession of bureaucratic questions that don’t necessarily meet the situations in which he finds himself as regards health, possibilities of working again, financial help from government agencies. He is frustrated – and we along with him. That is only the beginning. There is a lot more bureaucratic frustration as the film goes on – maybe exaggerated a little when he tries to make contact by phone, hears the various recorded responses, and the music played over and over – and over – with a wait of over an hour and a half. Many in the audience are really on side by this time, everyone thinking about their similar experiences.
His visits to the government offices are not much better.
Only this morning in the local paper, somebody has written a brief letter saying that all bureaucrats and those who work in such centres need to see this film. It is not as if Daniel Blake is saying that there should be no bureaucracy. Rather, it is how the rules and regulations, interviews and forms, should be handled with people as people and not as file numbers. We know this but seeing some of these officials in action, obtuse in their demands for details the client is unable to offer, insisting on forms being filled in online when the older person is not adept at using a computer let alone the online complexities…
But, Daniel Blake is a very nice man, sticking up for a young woman with two children in the office as she is ushered out because she cannot answer questions accurately. This is Katie, moved up to Newcastle from London to government accommodation which has been impossible in London. Katie is played by Hayley Squires, and creates a very believable and sympathetic character, a good woman, conscientious with her children, wanting the best for them while going hungry herself. But, with Daniel she finds a kindly friend whom the children can respond to and who does a lot of handy work around the flat.
Daniel also has an interesting neighbour who imports sneakers from China, dubiously, and sells them cut-price in the street. Daniel is a wise figure in his life as well.
So, for much of the film, we follow Daniel trying to phone, trying to answer questions in the interviews, struggling with the forms, going from place to place enquiring about job opportunities – only to be told that he has no proof to offer that he actually did this, even after he was ordered to go to a workshop on writing CVs, which he did, handing them out.
The film becomes much sadder as it goes on, especially for Katie trying to make decisions for the children, a moment of shoplifting, a seemingly kindly offer of help from a security guard that isn’t. And, it is sad for Daniel as he finally gets a date for his appeal to get some kind of financial subsidy, his doctor and physiotherapist truly angry at the way that the bureaucracy has mishandled the case.
One of the criticisms of the film is that Daniel and Katie and the next-door neighbour are engaging characters and not the kind of dole-bludgers whom it is easy to condemn. But, we know this – and do we really want to spend this time with cons and bludgers and their way of doing things or do we want to see genuine people and share their experiences? Of course. But, they (and we) are so often trapped, become the victims of people whose characters are rules and regulations focused, rigidly interpreting them instead of listening to people and trying to be sympathetic if not empathetic.
(Of all film directors, Ken Loach is the director who has received the most awards from Catholic and Ecumenical juries around the world, including this film. Invited to Cannes in 2004 to receive a lifetime award from the churches, he attended, gave a speech of appreciation, saying that he grew up with an image the Catholic Church as a monolith but, over the years, especially because of his 20 year collaboration with Scots, Paul Laverty, who spent a number of years at the Scots seminary in Rome, and writes all Loach’s screenplays, he has become a great dramatist of social justice issues. Actually, at the time of the award in Cannes, the entertainment union was on strike in can’t and Loach brought in to young people on strike as a symbol of his film concerns.)
US, 2016, 121 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen.
Directed by Ron Howard.
The poster for Inferno is not wrong. It features Tom Hanks with Felicity Jones behind him racing through the city of Florence. This begins the pattern of novels and film versions of Dan Brown stories, Professor Robert Langdon, an associate, and a quest.
With The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, there was something of a pattern for Dan Brown’s plots: some kind of world-shattering crisis, the deciphering of an obscure code, a race against time, danger after danger, and one of the characters doing a 180° (rather unbelievable, if not preposterous) moral change. This is what happens here.
One of the ingredients that intrigued readers and film viewers but irritated many Christians, especially Catholics, was the focus on the Catholic Church, especially in Angels and Demons. This is not a Catholic story – though there is plenty of an atmosphere of Catholicism with settings in Florence, St Mark’s in Venice – and a Muslim touch with finding an Italian buried in Hagia Sophia.
This time the code belongs to Dante and the Inferno of the title is his – although, the villain of the piece who dies at the beginning of the film!,intends to create and Inferno of death by infection, the purging of half the human race, allegedly for its betterment because of overpopulation and the demand on resources.
This villain, seen in flashbacks, is Zobrist, played by Ben foster, a millionaire who is obsessed by overpopulation and is developing a virulent infection attack for his purposes.
Powers that be from the World Health Organisation come to Robert Langdon, familiar with his Da Vinci and Angels and Demons success, to decipher some illustrations on human bone which will lead to the discovery of where the potential plague is stored and how it will be let loose on the world.
This is the third time that Tom Hanks has played Robert Langdon so he is obviously at ease in the role. But, as the film opens, he is not at ease because he has been injected with drugs, injured, abducted, landing in hospital under the care of Dr Sienna Brooks, played by Felicity Jones (who must have been eager to take on the role after reading the screenplay and its complexities). For most of the film, Sienna and Robert Langdon are on the run, trying to evade pursuit by a murderous policewoman, an African (Omar Sy) who may or may not be their friend, a strange expert in faking elaborate scenarios (Irrfan Khan) and the WHO, led by Elizabeth (Sidse Babett Knudsen). In case we were ever wondering about Robert Langdon and his past and his relationships, the screenplay creates a past with Elizabeth.
And the code to decipher? We are shown Botticelli’s painting of Dante’s Inferno on which some letters have been inserted, leading the searching couple to the museum in Florence, contemplating paintings, looking for the death mask of Dante himself, more pursuit which leads the couple to the roof above the painting galleries (and someone crashing through the roof and devastating a classic painting). Escape from the museum leads to the baptistery in Florence, the finding of the mask, and some instructions (from whom and for what reason!) they find by scraping the back of the mask.
On the train through the Italian countryside, on to Venice, St Marks, some surprising revelations of what has happened and then on to Istanbul. All this very attractive for those who have been there that – and attractive for those who haven’t.
As with the other stories, all this happens very fast, packing an enormous amount of activity and travel into one day, for a grand climax and Robert Langdon saving the world yet again.
Someone remarked that the film is quite close to the book – which might satisfy the legion of Dan Brown fans and provide some pop entertainment for those who aren’t.
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
US, 2016, 118 minutes, Colour.
Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yaroch, Patrick Huizinger, Aldis Hodge, Holt Mc Callany.
Directed by Edward Zwick.
This reviewer is quite partisan about the novels by Lee Child and his tough character, Reacher, having read all the novels. As with so many of the fans, it was a surprise to find Tom Cruise cast as Reacher, almost a decade older than the character in the books, and, even more surprising, at least 12 inches shorter! But, allowing for that change in age and height perspective, and Lee Child taking cameo roles in each film offering his approval, Tom Cruise did quite a good job.
And he does quite a good job here – age 53 when he shot the film. But one thing does emerge for readers of the novels, which may not seem at all important for those not familiar with the books, Tom Cruise has a kind of earnest righteousness in his Reacher whereas in the books, Reacher is more sardonically righteous. (And there is the difficulty that Lee Child’s Reacher has a rugged appearance whereas Tom Cruise will still remind audiences of his Maverick in Top Gun – 30 years earlier).
Reacher used to be a major in the military police but left, roams around the United States (waylaid by all kinds of crimes and adventures), a loner who is satisfied with his own company.
Here there is an entertaining prologue with Reacher in cuffs, threatening a sheriff that there will be a phone call in 90 seconds and then the sheriff himself will be in cuffs – all of which happens. That is the kind of assurance that Reacher has. But, he is indebted to a military officer in Washington DC, Susan Carter and phones her to thank her and to make a dinner date. Instead, he finds that she has been arrested – enough for him to go into action, confront other officers in Virginia, check with her lawyer, decide to get her out of prison, which he shrewdly does, leading to car chases and crashes and a mystery with thugs pursuing them and a mysterious killer, called The Hunter.
There is a further complication when one of the officers is murdered and Reacher’s fingerprints are on his phone. Not only is he being framed but there is a report that a woman has made a claim that he is the father of her daughter – whom he tracks down and saves from The Hunter by taking her to the boarding school where Susan Carter was educated. But no rest, the thugs appear again and this little nuclear family has to go on the run, to hide, to follow leads in New Orleans, to risk more dangers, and the uncovering of a sinister plot in arms dealing in Afghanistan.
Cobie Smulders is a strong Susan Carter, not a romantic interest for Reacher, more interested in her career as well as an assertion that men and women are equal in their line of work. Danika Yaroch shows her metal as the young girl who makes a contribution to the investigation of the case.
Apart from Tom Cruise getting older, there seems to be no reason for there not to be another Reacher film.
Spain, 2016, 99 minutes, Colour.
Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte, Michelle Jenner, Rossy de Palma, Inma Cuesta, Daniel Grao, Dario Grandinetti.
Directed by Pedro Almodovar.
This is a quietly interesting portrait of women from Spain.
For over 30 years, Pedro Almodovar has been at the head of the Spanish film revival after the Franco era. Beginning with slighter, more comic films, he moved into more serious explorations of Spanish society, winning Catholic awards for All About My Mother, Oscar awards for Talk To Her, challenging the Catholic Church and the sexual abuse crisis in Mal Educacion. He has been praised for his films exploring the characters and psyche of women.
Julieta is a middle-aged woman, living in Madrid, planning to move with her partner to Portugal, eager for the move, engaged in packing. By chance, in the street, she encounters a young woman she used to know as a girl who gives her information about her daughter who has been missing from Spain for 13 years. This has profound repercussions for Juliata, sending her back into her memories, sending her back to her regrets, and breaking the plan to move from Madrid.
What occupies her then is writing to her daughter, without real hope of being able to send it, explaining herself, her life, her relationship with her daughter’s father, her growing up and the tragedy that struck them.
This means that the central part of the film is told in flashback. Almodovar has chosen two actresses for the younger Julieta, Adriana Ugarte, and for the older, Emma Suarez, very similar in looks and manner which makes the character most credible.
Because we see Julieta disturbed by the news about her daughter, she initially appears very serious so that we are quite surprised at the beginning of the flashback when Julieta, a temporary classics teacher, engages a class with stories of mythology and the sea with great vivacity. She has a mysterious experience on a train, a passenger near her disappearing, the train unexpectedly stopping, and the finding of his body – and she is moved to blame herself for not responding to him in the train carriage.
But she does encounter a man on the train, goes to visit him in his seaside house, is pregnant and gives birth to their daughter.
While there are some scenes of the daughter as a little girl, there is more focus on her as a teenager, going to a youth camp, becoming friends with the young girl from Madrid, going to stay with her – at the very time the tragedy strikes.
It is meant as a compliment to say that the film and the narrative are not sensationalist, not for hope and stated. Here is the story of a woman, younger and older, a wife, mother who suffers for years at the disappearance of her daughter.
The final scene, again understated, when Julieta is seen driving to Portugal with her partner, is one of hope.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
US, 2016, 105 minutes, Colour.
Zach Galifiniakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gaddo, Patton Oswalt, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Munroe.
Directed by Greg Mottola.
This is an entertaining suburban story, not particularly demanding, with some amusing characters, comic situations – and some suburban espionage in Atlanta, Georgia.
It is the Gaffneys, Karen and Jeff, who are the couple who have to keep up with the Joneses. He is played by Zach Galifiniakis, proving in 2016 to be an entertaining comic performer, here and in Masterminds, more restrained than in his Hangover days. She is played by Isla Fisher (who is married to Sacha Baron Cohen which should keep her in training for offbeat comedy). They see their two sons of to summer camp and decide to enjoy the time off – with a humorous imagining of sexcapades but settling down with some snacks to watch The Good Wife.
Jeff works at a highly specialised industrial centre in Human Resources and we are treated to a collage of some funny, seemingly inept, attempts to settle disputes. He is a kindly man, even allowing workmates to come in to use his computer for contacts that are forbidden by the company. Meanwhile, Karen is an interior designer and their neighbours have decided that they want a Brooklyn-style urinal installed in their house and she has to be creative about it.
But Karen is distracted because, across the street, a new couple move in, the Joneses. He is played by Jon Hamm (partly answering the question about what does Jon Hamm do after 92 episodes of Madcap men), Tim Jones and Gal Gaddo (the Israeli actress who has already been seen as Wonder Woman in Batman versus Superman and will soon have her own film, and is definitely suited to the part) is Natalie Jones.
The trouble is that Jeff is benign and accepts the invitation by Tim to go to a Chinese restaurant, specialising in snakes, so that Tim can loosen him up and pump him for information about the company and the workers. Karen is more assertive, following Natalie, seeing her make a drop, and exposed, in more ways than one, when she is caught by Natalie trying out lingerie.
Actually, it is not hard to see where the plot is continually taking us, to see whether the Joneses are the good guys or the bad guys, sinister motorbike pursuits, dangerous car ride (with Karen getting a phone call from the two boys at camp about cookies) and Jeff having to get out onto the back of the car to remove a dynamite pack that the enemy has tossed there!
We might be a bit surprised at who the villains are, selling the secrets, but it is all given a suburban and employment explanation. And as for the climax, the lavish hotel in Atlanta receives a huge boost as being the scene of some mayhem as the Gaffneys act as decoys to ferret out the archvillain, Patton Oswalt in an enjoyable comic performance as well.
There are some humorous writing and performances which will while away a pleasantly and demanding hour and a half.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS
UK, 2016, 133 minutes, Colour.
Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Florence Clery, Jack Thompson, Thomas Unger, Jane Menelaus, Gary Mc Donald, Anthony Hayes, Bryan Brown, Emily Barclay, Leon Ford.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance.
This is a genteel, often gentle, romantic story that takes its own time to unfold over more than two hours. it is obviously not a drama for adrenaline junkies.
The setting is Western Australia at the end of World War I and into the 1920s, based on a bestseller by M. K, Steadman. The filming actually took place in New Zealand and on the north-west coast of Tasmania, some beautiful and some disturbing rugged scenes as well as of seas and storms.
Tom, Michael Fassbender, who had served on the Western Front during the war and had experienced the harshness of the trenches and the killing, returns to Australia and takes a temporary job on an isolated lighthouse out in the Indian Ocean. It gives him a chance to recover, to recuperate some of his physical and psychological strength, and he welcomes being alone.
Before he goes, he has a meal in the coastal town with a local family, with Gary McDonald? and Jane Menelaus as the parents of Isabel, Alicia Vikander. He is a local teacher. Isabel is attracted to Tom, going on a picnic with him, sharing thoughts and feelings, and beginning a letter correspondence which, in a quiet way, leads to proposal, acceptance, marriage, and the couple going to live at the lighthouse.
Th in e are not completely isolated as a boat brings them supplies, captained by Jack Thompson doing his old rough and ready lag performance. The couple are at home on the island, loving, he very much a duty-bound and conscientious about his job, logs and reports. Isabel becomes pregnant but, during a storm scene, she has a miscarriage.
It is a bit difficult to review this film because of the complications of the plot so, let it suffice to say that it does become more complicated, especially for Isabel and her desire to be a mother, for Tom and his being prepared to do anything for his wife.
The other central character Hannah, is played by Rachel Weisz who has experienced tragedy in her life, especially with the disappearance of her husband and young daughter. She has been disowned at the time of her marriage by her wealthy father, played by Bryan Brown.
The latter part of the film is not easy, tensions between Tom and Isabel, a sympathy for Hannah and her plight.
Michael Fassbender has played quite a range of roles, some sinister, some very complex. But his performance as Tom communicates the personality of a decent and conscientious man, a loving man, sometimes torn between duty and love. And Alicia Vikander has shown what a strong screen presence she has from A Royal Affair to Ex- Machina, to Testament of Youth and her Oscar-winning role in The Danish Girl.
Director Derek Cianfrance has made few films, the interesting Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines.
This is a film to recommend to an adult audience interested in drama and characterisation and not worried about the measured pace in which the plot unfolds.
LIKE CRAZY/ LA PAZZA GIOIA
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Micaela Ramazotti.
Italy, 2016, 118 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Paolo Virzi.
When Italian filmmakers are able to combine the serious and comic, create interesting and likeable characters, explore unusual situations, they come up with very entertaining films. This is one of those films.
While the English title is Like Crazy with its slang nuances, the Italian title has an emphasis on joy, even though it is a mad, crazy joy. This more accurately describes the experience of the central characters and something of the audience response.
There is something of an ominous prologue, a young woman seen at a distance walking across a bridge – but it is only in the latter part of the film that there is a revelation of what this scene has meant and the visualising of it.
And then we meet Beatrice! In most ways she has to be seen and met to be believed. She is played by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, always a versatile actress but now are giving one of her most exuberant performances. Beatrice is in a mental institution, something of a free and easy place to live, a caring doctor, some sympathetic staff, and Beatrice’s feeling free to lord it over everyone, remembering her past with something of an unreal glow, forgetting how her marriage failed, but looking back to her infatuation with a gangster, helping him with the lawyer, spending the family money on him. She comports herself with a great deal of style, fashion, and a great deal of disdain for most other people except for those she chooses to like.
This is true of Donatella, Micaela Ramazotti (the wife of the writer-director, Paolo Virzi) in a performance complementing that of Beatrice. Donatella arrives at the institution, depressed, emaciated, tattoos… And, when the doctor leaves Donatella at reception, Beatrice is able to step in and enjoy herself impersonating a doctor. The two women do not bond instantly but gradually, sharing a room, talking, Donatella gradually able to reveal something of her story, and Beatrice loquaciously non-stop commanding every situation.
When they are permitted to work outside the institution and miss the vehicle home, they go on their own variation of a Thelma and Louise spree, Donatella caught up with Beatrice’s continued enthusiasm and inventiveness, taking cars, dining at a top-class restaurant with no ability to pay (and Beatrice returning the wine because of a cork tang), a world that Donatella has not moved in.
Part of the getting out of the institution is Beatrice’s return to visit her ex-husband, his present wife angry with her, Beatrice exercising a certain seductiveness, with support of the staff, and taking money and jewels. On the other hand, Donatella visits her mother who is looking after an infirm elderly gentleman and expecting an inheritance while her father is a singer who was hardly ever present for Donatella’s growing up. She also visits the club owner, the father of her child, who wants to get rid of her.
The pathos of the film comes with Beatrice tracking down the adoptive parents of Donatella’s son and the audience sharing quite some feeling in the encounter with the family.
One is tempted to think all the time that the world is full of mad people, not just in the mental institutions – but the question arises of whether a person can get better or is destined to live in their mental condition.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
US, 2016, 133 minutes, Colour.
Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D' Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfolo?, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Luke Grimes, Matthew Bomer, Cam Gigandet.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
As with many remakes of significant films of the past, there have been outcries against this version of the classic The Magnificent Seven, the 1960s Western, directed by John Sturges, with a group led by Yul Brynner and significant action stars of the time. And, of course, there was, Elmer Bernstein’s famous score and rousing melodies which made their way to Marlborough Country. A quick comment usually is that those exalting the past and decrying the present may not have seen the original film for many years and remembering their experience of watching the film rather than the quality of the film itself. Be that as it may, it is 56 years since Yul Brynner and co defended the oppressed people of the Western town.
One thing that should be said is that The Magnificent Seven was itself a remake, a re-imagining of Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, from the 1950s.
Quite a lot has happened in Hollywood moviemaking in the half century or so since the original film, and there are different sensibilities around the world, especially in terms of racial equality. So, the leader of the Seven this time is Denzel Washington. And, amongst the Seven, there is an Asian American, a Mexican as well is a Native American. (Audiences who like westerns and themes could do well to track down the 1996 American miniseries, Children of the Dust, with Sidney Poitier in an equivalent leadership role in the West.).
The villain here is a mining boss, with no scruple whatsoever, assuming that he is the law and that his will and whim are sacrosanct. He wants to move many of the farmers out of their land, uses workers in the mine like slaves, confronts the town people who have been having a meeting in the church, and, when some stand up to him, he shoots them. And then his thugs draw their guns and shoot more. He is played by Peter Sarsgaard who, when he goes to Sacramento, he hears of the revolution in the town, raises a little army to come back to confront the Seven.
Many of the townspeople leave but a strong-minded woman, Emma (Haley Bennett) whose husband has been shot by the mining boss, sets out to employee gunfighters to defend the town, coming across Sam Chisholm (Washington) who is quick with the gun, tracks down criminals, not as a bounty hunter, but as an employed law enforcement officer. Watching him do his job in the saloon is Faraday (Chris Pratt), a gambler and a con man, with a touch of the clown, who joins up with Chisholm. They then go looking for a Civil War sharpshooter, Goodnight (Ethan Hawke), now drinking sponsoring the fighter, Billy (Byung-hun Lee). Then the Mexican, then the Native American, Red Harvest, and then a most unlikely candidate, Jack Horne, an eccentric but good with weapons, played by Vincent D’ Onofrio in a way that a lumbering Orson Welles might have taken on the role.
The Seven ride into town, work with a population in setting up all kinds of defences, traps, trenches, getting dynamite from the mine, and planning to corner many of the invaders in the streets of the town. There is a lull before the attack at dawn. And then, of course, it is on, a high body count, but audience sympathies are with the townspeople and the Seven, no sympathy for the invaders, especially when they produce a Gatling gun and fire on the town.
There are quite a lot of heroics and, without spoiling the plot, it can be said that not all of the Seven survive. Sam Chisholm does, of course, for a final confrontation with the boss, his retreating into the Church, and Emma, remembering the death of her husband, making the final decision.
The film looks good, the town, the desert, the attack, the battles, the gunfights. At times, the musical score seems to be going back to Elmer Bernstein but then goes in its own direction. For those who are missing that original score, they can relax a little because, thank goodness, in the final credits when the images of the Seven appear on screen with the names of the actors, there it is. It does have to be one of the most rousing score is in the movies.
Antoine Fuqua has worked with Denzel Washington in Training Day for which Washington won his second Oscar as well as in The Equaliser.
The basic plot works well so it is most probable that there will be another remake.
US, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.
Zach Galifiniakis, Owen Wilson, Kristin Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Kate Mac Kinnon, Leslie Jones.
Directed by Jared Hess.
Masterminds they are not!
This is a surprisingly enjoyable comedy, better than might have been expected, providing some laughs and some appreciative chuckles. While it is a comedy, the film has a serious underlying plot, based on actual events of 1997, the robbery of $17 million from an armoured car in a somewhat backwoods area of North Carolina. Working title of the film was Armoured Car.
What makes the difference, and one wonders how much this was based on the actual character, is Galifiniakis’ performance as David Ghant, a very ordinary type, more than a touch of the dumb, yet with a certain innate shrewdness, engaged to a harridan of a woman (Kate Mac Kinnon) who feels she needs to get married especially after her loving fiance dies and all that seems to be left is David.
He works for a company transferring cash for banks, and is partnered with a woman that he does not realise he is smitten with, Kelly, Kristin Wiig, though she is part of a bunch of crooks, led by Steve, Owen Wilson, who think that it would be a good idea to use David to rob the armoured car company.
This actually happens – but not without a great deal of goofy pratfalls as David single-handed takes all the money in the vault.
Needless to say, he is to be the fall guy, urged to go down to Mexico with his trousers full of cash, Kelly promising to come to be with him, but…
On the one hand there is the comedy as the less than mastermind Steve is goaded by his wife to buy clothes, then a sports car, then more sports cars, then a mansion…
In the meantime, David becomes a bit more savvy, is able to elude the police, disguise himself, but is confronted by a hitman sent by his colleagues. The hitman is played by Jason Sudeikis who provides a lot of the comedy with his serious take on his job, discovering that David has been given his name and, instead of being suspicious, remembers The Parent Trap and how two siblings could grow up without knowing each other!
There are some final shenanigans at a big party hosted by Steve, with the FBI agents closing in for arrests.
Though the film was made before the recent Ghostbusters, this film does feature three of them, Kristin Wiig, Kate MacKinnon? and, as an FBI agent, Leslie Jones.
Probably rather silly, but not a swear word within earshot, some very mild rude jokes, but a pleasing enough hour and a half.
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
US, 2016, 127 minutes, Colour.
Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Alison Janney, Chris O' Dowd, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Finlay Mac Millan, Lauren Mc Crostie.
Directed by Tim Burton.
Peculiar is definitely the right word for the title of this film version of Ransom Riggs’ novel. He is an American writer and the action opens in Florida but moves to the United Kingdom.
When we think about the career of director, Tim Burton, ‘peculiar’ is certainly a word that comes to mind whether it be films of decades ago like Beetlejuice and his Batman films or his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd or his Alice in Wonderland. No lack of peculiarity.
Strangely enough, defying the expectations of a Tim Burton film, it opens in a very sunny Florida, with our hero, Jake (Asa Butterfield with an American accent) being harassed at his job in the supermarket. But, his main concern is his elderly grandfather to whom is devoted and who has told him stories of monsters and fables all during his childhood. Grandfather, Abe, is a very British Terence Stamp. Then it takes on a touch of the weird, Abe going out into the woods, a sinister monster appearing, his dying and his eyes disappearing but his final words encouraging his grandson to seek out the monsters and save the children.
What are his parents to do? They take him to a psychiatrist, played by Alison Janney, who quietly sits and listens, suggesting that he go to Britain to track down the home that his grandfather had spoken about. His father, Chris O’ Dowd, decides to go and then pays some youngsters to keep his son company on the island that they have arrived at.
So, Jake decides to try to find the home – and does, finding it situated in a time loop, stuck in September 1943, Miss Peregrine taking care of Peculiars (and, with some of them, that is rather an understatement given their appearance, their powers, touches of fire, blowing of air, little girls with tremendous strength, an invisible boy… Miss Peregrine herself (Eva Green), looks very glamorous, but is something in the vein in her British articulation of Mary Poppins and Nanny Mc Phee.
Gradually, we enter more willingly into this world with Jake, fascinated by the home, the reliving the past including German bombers flying over the house and dropping a bomb – with Miss Peregrine able to wind back her watch and save the children in the house. There is a lovely girl called Emma who is attracted to Jake and he to her – she has a huge capacity for blowing air which comes in handy when they go underwater and she examines a wreck, removing all the water, and also comes in handy at the end in a confrontation with the villain.
Jake and the audience learn the story of Abe. The dilemma is whether Jake should stay in 1943 or go back to 2016 and his father. Without giving the plot away, one might say “something of both”.
Then we start to see the monsters – although the children cannot see them. Miss Peregrine realises that Jake is a Peculiar because he actually can see the monsters – and that takes us to the rest of the film, the confrontation with the strange creatures, and the humans who have become monsters and depend on (and this is really macabre and peculiar) on gouging out eyes and eating them to regain something of their humanity!
The villains are led by Samuel L. Jackson, hamming it up exceedingly, looking like a voodoo zombie with luminescent eyes and going through all the tics of villainy that he can imagine. On the other hand, there are some cameos by Rupert Everett and a very welcome Judi Dench.
It all excites the imagination, time loops, the closing of the loops, opening up more loops, the survival of the children in other worlds, their growing day by day within the loops but the threat of their immediate ageing if they were to come into the present. What should Jake do?
Well, the only thing is to submit oneself to Tim Burton and his imaginative recreation of Ransom Riggs’ novel and wonder what one might do in Jake’s situation.
THE PEOPLE VERSUS FRITZ BAUER/ DER STAAT VS FRITZ BAUER
Germany, 2015, 105 minutes, Colour.
Burgart Klaussner, Ronald Zehrfeld.
Directed by Lars Kraume.
At the same time as this film was released, there was another German film, Labyrinth of Lies, going over some of the same material and featuring the character, Fritz Bauer, as central to the action. However, in this film he is quite centrestage.
Fritz Bauer may not be a familiar name to film audiences or, perhaps, German audiences. The screenplay fills in his background. He was a strong socialist in the 1930s, in the public eye, clashing with the Nazis, arrested, sentenced to a concentration camp but, to his later regret as expressed in this film, submitting to them and being released. He was also Jewish.
This film is set in the late 1950s. Bauer is one of the attorney generals in Germany, based in Frankfurt. Part of his role is to pursue Nazis who had taken up significant positions in the now prospering West Germany under the leadership of President Adenauer. He has many files, has young attorneys pursuing the suspects – and these include files on Adolf Eichmann, creator of the Final Solution, but who has disappeared since the war.
Burgart Klaussner makes an impression as Fritz Bauer, busy about his work, not being physically will, upset by the action of a number of authorities, men who had been in the Nazi party and resented him and kept him under surveillance.
One of the principal aspect of this film is his role in the abduction of Adolf Eichmann and his being taken to Israel for trial – though Bauer actually wanted him to be tried in Germany itself so that Germans would become conscious of what it happened in the 1930s and 1940s.
There are some scenes with Eichmann in Argentina, living an ordinary life, his son dating one of the local girls, her father recognising him and writing to Bauer, leading to further investigations, Bauer getting in touch with Mossad for his return to Germany but the Mossad wanting a second independent source. In the meantime, Bauer has appointed one of his junior attorneys whom he trusts to help him. It is he who has a journalist friend who is able to confirm that Eichmann is in Argentina although the German authorities suggested Bauer that he is in fact in Kuwait.
The abduction scene is very brief but effective.
There is a subplot concerning the young attorney, his defending a young homosexual man in court, Bauer (who had some pre-war convictions of homosexual acts suggesting a precedent with the lenient sentence which the judge ignores. The young woman in the court invites the attorney to visit a club – which leads to the attorney, a married man, and his potential downfall.
The film does not go on to the Eichmann trial – there are many films which illustrate the taking of Eichmann, The House on Garibaldi Street, The Man in the Glass Booth and the role of Hannah Arendt in the film of that name. Final information indicates Bauer’s role in the taking of many former Nazis to court in the early 1960s – which is also, in more detail, a subject of Labyrinth of Lies.
New Zealand, 2016, 92 minutes, Colour.
Patea Maori Club.
Directed by Te Arepa Kahi.
This pleasant documentary is something of a New Zealand home movie, very appealing for New Zealanders and those in the know, enjoyable for those not in the know for whom it can be entertaining or just be of passing interest.
There was a great deal of video camera work being done in New Zealand in the early 1980s and a lot of it is very evident here. And there is a lot of talking head material in 2015 when this film was shot – and some enjoyment in seeing some of the people being interviewed in the early 1980s and the older incarnation and in the present.
It should be said that this is not just a New Zealand story but a very Maori story.
The title refers to a popular song, developed by a strong entertainment personality, Dalvanius Prime, Poi E. it is a blend of traditional Maori music with the popular styles of the 1980s. Dalvanius composed it with an elderly lady, Ngoi Prehairangi, blind, much admired in the community, using the lyrics. It soon became quite a hit in New Zealand, though many of those involved in watching its composition were not particularly enthralled. However, tapes were made, a director was persuaded to make a video and Prime travelled around to various clubs and gymnasiums with the song, with its eventually finding its way onto New Zealand radio and New Zealand television. It has become something of an unofficial national anthem.
It was a hit.
So, while the film traces the origins and development of the song, with quite a number of performances, there is excitement when Prime and his group are invited to the UK and appear on the television program, Blue Peter. And this leads to their being included in a Royal Gala performance in the presence of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne.
Dalvanius Prime died in 2002, so his presence in the film is through the many video clips and television clips, a big man, genial, intense with his ambitions, encouraging Maori people in the use of their language, rediscovering it or developing it, with music and with pride.
The song was written in the town of Patea, North island, West Coast, near Hastings. Initially, the song was sung by the locals and this developed into the Patea Maori Club, men and women, in traditional dress and paint, the women swaying and playing with their poi, the balls on thread, who toured with the song.
The memories have been preserved, the singers, a dancer with the Michael Jackson-like moves, the television shows, the performances. And the oldies have the chance to think back, to reminisce enjoyably, and pay tribute to Dalvanius Prime.
SPIRIT OF THE GAME
Australia, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Aaron Jabukenko, Ken Sarbo, Grant Piro, Mark Mitchell, Denise Roberts, Marina Prior.
Directed by J. D. Scott.
It should be noted immediately that this is a ‘Faith Film’. Audiences who appreciate Faith Films will find it much to their liking. Those who are wary of Faith Films will probably remain wary.
The story of the film is based on actual events, focusing on the Australian basketball team for the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956.
The film opens in Idaho in the early 1950s, portrayed almost as ideal America in the calmness and prosperity of the Eisenhower era. DeLyle? Condie (Aaron Jabukenko) is what one might call a regular fellow, conscientious, a student, a basketball player, devout, comfortable in using faith and prayer language with his parents. He is to be engaged, goes off to Salt Lake City for studies and is disappointed when his fiancee breaks off the engagement and does not give him a reason.
The Church of Latter Day Saints has not been mentioned explicitly up to this point but audiences may have intuitions that this is the faith base for the family. DeLyle? opts to go to Australia for two years of missionary work. Since the writer-director was born in Dandenong in Melbourne, it seems fair game that he can present the Australians of the 1950s as rather down-to-earth, slamming doors on the visitors, their being pelted with tomatoes by kids, and the screenplay having the missionaries repelled by Vegemite.
On arrival, the missionaries find that their regime is fairly strict, that in some sense they are a closed community except when they try their door-knocking outreach. On arrival, Condie is invited to participate in a basketball match, much to the ire of the President and his wife (Mark Mitchell and Denise Roberts). There is quite some discussion, familiar to religious communities about contact with the world and yet this contact being a possibility for evangelisation.
After some interventions, especially by Condie’s father with the elders in Salt Lake City, permission is given for the Mormon Elders to form a team and, at the invitation of Ken Watson (Grant Piro in a very persuasive performance), considered the father of Australian basketball, they begin to coach the rather hopeless Australian team.
It is here that the film picks up a great deal of excitement for most audiences, even for non-faith audiences, as the team show their skills, play a team of prisoners at Bendigo prison, and are challenged by the French Olympic team whose coach is certainly a very bad and angry sport. The climax of the film is a rematch against the French who play with no holds barred against the earnest Mormon Yankees. Whatever the hostility initially towards the Mormons, religion-wise, the crowd (and the cinema audience) are enthusiastically and vocally supportive of the American team.
This is the kind of film that is called inspirational and could contribute a lot to a changing image of Mormons and their beliefs, their mission. The director does have a missionary background, some time in PNG as well as in the Solomon Islands and has made a number of religious features and documentaries.
But, even with reservations, it is not hard to be caught up in the spirit of the game.
Spain, 2015, 108 minutes, Colour.
Ricardo Darin, Javier Camara, Dolores Fonzi, Elvira Minquez, Oriol Pla.
Directed by Cesc Gay.
No, not a biography of the American President, Harry Truman. In this Spanish film, Truman is the name of a dog, the pet dog of Julian, originally from Argentina, who has been living in Madrid. He is separated from his wife and his son is away studying in Amsterdam.
Julian has a terminal illness and is spending a lot of his time putting his affairs in order, wanting to right broken relationships – and, spending a great deal of time, interviewing a range of people so that Truman will be well looked after when he goes.
A close friend from the past, Tomas, who now lives in Canada, comes to visit him.
So much of the film is taken up by conversations between Julian and Tomas, Tomas not understanding his friend’s attitude towards his illness and death, urging him to get medical help, accompanying him on visits, to restaurants and meals, remembering the past and the times that the two had together.
One of the features of the story is Julian’s decision to go to Amsterdam and to take Tomas with him. It is a sudden and impulsive journey as they track down the son at the University, meeting with his girlfriend, with Julian beating about the bush in terms of his health and the reason for his visit – although the son has been told by his mother the truth about Julian’s health. But, it is a pleasing sequence of love and reconciliation.
Julian and Tomas also encounter the ex-wife in the street, and he experiences her concern. Also in the picture, is a relation who is concerned about Julian and who has been in contact with Tomas – with a reminder of the relationship in the past and the possibility of taking it up again.
The strength of the film comes in its screenplay but is enhanced by the performances of Argentinian actor, Ricardo Darin (The Secret in their Eyes) and Spanish actor, Javier Camara (best known for his work in the films of Pedro Almodovar, Talk to Her, Bad Education).
An intelligent and emotional film for an adult audience. It won the SIGNIS award at the 2015 Hong Kong film Festival.