SIGNIS REVIEWS NOVEMBER 2017
BAD MOMS 2
BELKO EXPERIMENT, The
BLADE RUNNER 2049
HAPPY DEATH DAY
LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, The
MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US, The
PROFESSOR MARSTON AND HIS WONDER WOMEN
SONG TO SONG
TOM OF FINLAND
BAD MOMS 2
US, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour.
Mila Kunis, Kristin Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Cheryl Hines, Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon, Justin Hartley, Peter Gallagher, Wanda Sykes, Cade Mansfield Cooksey.
Directed by Jon Lucas, Scott Moore.
A year earlier, Bad Moms seems to have touched the funnybone of the wide audience, characters, oddball situations, plenty of vulgar touches, but quite funny in its way. It was obviously popular because, within a year, here is a sequel.
Once again, this one seems to touch the funnybone, the characters, even more oddball situations, and, of course, plenty of vulgar touches. But, again, quite funny in its way and destined to be very popular. It would not be surprising to see the Bad Moms in the future – though Bad Dads is promised.
The same team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (amongst others, the three Hangover films) are responsible. In the three moms, they created three quite different characters, Mila Kunis as Amy is in the centre, exasperated at home, divorce, bringing up the children, and fond of a friendly neighbour, Jay Hernandez, who has a daughter. Then there is Kiki, Kristin Bell, a nice, more simple mother, loving her children and her devoted husband, wary of letting her hair down. On the other hand, there is the brash and boisterous Carla, Kathryn Hahn, blunt in manner and language, not afraid of a drink, daring the other mothers to come out of themselves. And they did.
So, what are the filmmakers to do for a sequel? They had a very bright idea: introduce the mothers of the moms. And they employed a very good cast to portray these dominant and intruding (well not all of them) mothers.
Each of the mothers has very a strongly delineated character and we welcome their appearances. To that extent, they steal the show.
And who are they? Even dominating the dominating mothers is Christine Baranksi as Amy’s mother. She can steal any film or television show in which she appears. She is Ruth who behaves ruthlessly. A formidable presence, dragging along her dominated but genial husband, Peter Gallagher, taking over the house, taking over Christmas – but, we look forward to her humiliation; but, we hope, something of a conversion. On the other hand, there is Cheryl Hines as Kiki’s emotionally dominating mother, utlrasweet, insinuating herself into every aspect of her best friend/daughter’s life – with an amusing therapist sequence with Wanda Sykes. We look forward to her process of unclinging.
As might be expected, Carla’s mother is the opposite, an absent mother, a gambler, often stoned, but making an impression because she is played by Susan Sarandon. We look forward to seeing whether she can settle down.
It is Christmas – and Jesus himself might be well-exasperated at the pressures of all aspects of commercialised Christmas and expectations (though there is scene at Midnight Mass and Kiki’s mother does mention that it is Jesus’ birth). We share with the mums and moms together in crisis over the five days to Christmas, Ruth organising everyone, the three mothers sharing a drink to escape and entangling with Santa Claus, as well as some Santa Claus strippers, one of whom, Ty (Justin Hartley), a fairly simple soul, who sees into the depths of Carla.
Mess, mayhem, exasperated swearing, jokes about sex and marriage, a bit of female ogling, but somehow or other it comes together much better than we might have anticipated.
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT
US/Colombia, 2017, 88 minutes, Colour.
John J. Gallagher Jr, Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley?, Melonie Diaz, Owein, Sean Gunn, Brent Sexton, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Rusty Schwimmer.
Directed by Greg Mc Lean.
This is a very grim film.
Centuries ago, in exclusive language times, there was the phrase “Man’s inhumanity to man”. This is very much the theme of the Belko Experiment.
It can be noted first that this is a film directed by Greg McLean?. He is not a foreigner to grim stories and grim treatment. He had notable success with Wolf Creek and its sequel and then a television series. He also made Jungle in Colombia. And this film was also made in that Latin American country. The screenplay was written by James Gunn, writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy films.
Belko is an international company with a high-rise office building out in the middle of almost-nowhere in Colombia. It has a monolithic look and, soon into the film, metal shutters rise to cover all the windows and encase it in a kind of armour. Security is very high, even questioning some of the executives as they arrive for work one morning. There are about 60 people who work in the building, a company which helps place American workers in Latin American firms.
The day starts conventionally enough, people arriving, the genial man at the security desk, some rivalries in work, touch of romance, a leering co-worker, the CEO and his spacious office.
This film runs for 90 minutes and almost immediately a voice comes over the intercom setting the agenda for the day, the windows all being closed and shuttered. It has echoes of such films as Battle Royale, the Japanese film where schoolchildren were pitted against each other, sent out into the wilderness to survive and to survive by killing others. In fact, this was one of the key premises of the very popular Hunger Games series, the transferring of gladiatorial combat to the death into a future society.
An intercom voice announces that half the population of the building must be killed by the other half.
At first, people think it is a prank, and take little notice. But, in fact, Belko has inserted tabs into the back of the neck of each employee, allegedly for insurance security in a land of abductions. However, the powers that be can trigger those tabs, explosives, ‘n will – and they do.
As might be expected, there is mayhem within the group, and the question of who will take charge. There is the CEO, played by Tony Goldwyn, a family man who becomes more and more bent on survival and control. There is the leering man, played by John C.McGinley, pragmatic and cruel. On the other hand there is Mike, John J.Gallagher Jr, clearly one of the good guys, romantically involved with a fellow worker, who uses his brains as well is his goodwill to help others.
The body count is very high – that is the point of the story. And, there are gory moments and the audience beginning to feel desperate with the rising horror and cruelty.
There are some heroic people, especially the security guard who refuses the key to the weapons room. Most of the workers are Americans but there are some locals, men and women – but, ultimately, when the mysterious voice announces that there is to be only one survivor, and tabs start being pushed, the death is indiscriminate, except for a buildup to a confrontation between the CEO and Mike.
The audience presumes that the company is conducting a “social sciences” experiment, with the mysterious voice and the range of cameras observing the gladiatorial behaviour.
While something of this is revealed at the end, there are some more confronting images, along Big Brother lines, which means that the whole perspective of the film is deeply pessimistic.
Efficiently filmed, striking as well as horrifying, and, to repeat, deeply pessimistic about human nature.
BLADE RUNNER 2049
US, 2017, 163 minutes, Colour.
Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Mark Arnold, Wood Harris, Sylvia Hoeks, Edward James Olmos, Jarrod Leto, Hiam Abbas, Sean Young.
Directed by Dennis Villeneuve.
Although not immediately so popular in its time, Ridley Scott’s version of the Philip K.Dick story, Blade Runner (1982), it has become an increasingly popular cult science fiction film, dramatising Dick’s vision of a possible future.
It is a very brave director who would take on a sequel. Dennis Villeneuve has proven his talent as a director with his Oscar-nominated Incendies, as well as Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival. He seems eminently qualified to take up the challenge and critics were generally in favour of his work. However, many of the bloggers were not so enthusiastic. In fact, box office has been disappointing.
Villeneuve would have been criticised if his sequel was much the same as the original. However, he has been more than criticised because many say that it is not sufficiently like the original. They find it too slow, too reflective…
While there is action, it is a very long film. And the screenplay offers a lot of reflection about human nature, humanity, robotics, the replicants, their place in society, authorities and authoritarianism, commercial control, ruthlessness… Plenty to think about during the duration of the film.
In 2049, the replicants are superior to the old models, many of whom are being sought and destroyed. And, in the background, there is a rebel group waiting for revolution.
The new replicant is K, Ryan Gosling. When sent on a mission to destroy an old replicant, he uncovers some secrets which may or may not involve himself, his origins. There is a story of a replicant actually giving birth and the mystery of who the child was and where the child is.
This sets K on a mission, not quite authorised by his control, Madam (Robin Wright). K lives in the city, very reminiscent of the visuals of the original film) and has a holographic companion, Joi, Ana de Armas. He also becomes entangled with a woman of the street, Mackenzie Davis, which leads to some bizarre explorations of intimacy and sexuality, but also to the revolution.
The film explains how entrepreneur, Wallace (Jared Leto) has taken over replicant business from the the old Tyrell manufacturing company. His assistant, Luv (Sylvia Hoek) is reminiscent of the old-style tough replicants, a loyal assistant but a propensity for violence and martial arts skills. Clearly, there will be a buildup to a confrontation.
But K goes out into the polluted area to find the hero of the past, Deckard. So, here is Harrison Ford again, appearing at the middle of the film, but immediately taking command with his strong presence and personality. The mansion in which he lives is intriguing, grand but decaying, the gambling palace, memories of the 20th century (including holograms of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra).
This means that Deckard and K go on their mission, to find the mysterious child, to understand what happened, to a buildup to battles between Deckard, K and Luv.
There is enough material here to lead to a sequel – and one might hope that those who appreciated this film will be offer enough support for the making of the sequel.
US, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour.
Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fisher, Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson, Shazi Raja, Luisa Lee, Mike White, Xavier Grobet.
Directed by Mike White.
There is a lot going for this film. It is definitely a film about “men’s business”, which is not to say that women will not be very interested.
It is specifically geared towards middle-aged men. However, younger men will be interested to see what might be in the future for them. Older men might appreciate looking back at how they have handled their middle-age.
Brad is played by Ben Stiller, approaching 50, his 17-year-old son about to go to college. He lives in Sacramento, is head of a non-profit organisation which gives advice to charities. His wife is very contented with her life, her love for her husband, love for and pride for her son, and has a satisfying job working for the government.
But Brad is full of discontent – not only do we see him in his restless state, his voice-over frequently tells us and describes why this is the case. He feels that his life has eluded him.
As we see him restless during the night, unable to sleep, preoccupied about finances and position, wondering when his wife’s parents will die soon and bequeaths them some money (and her appropriate response to his nocturnal meanderings and suggestions is a justified “shut up”).
Actually, his son Troy, a calmly sincere performance by Austin Abrams, is ready to go to college, quietly eager, skilled at music performance and composition. He does not share his father’s neuroticism. Off they fly to the East Coast, for interviews at Harvard and Tufts. The tone is set by Brad’s tantrum at the airport trying to get an upgrade and trying all kinds of manoeuvres, unsuccessfully.
Most of the problem is in his comparing himself with four friends from the past, with whom he went to Tufts during college. Their lives visualised on screen, at least as Brad imagines them. There is tycoon Willie (Jemaine Clement), wealthy, retired at 40, living a life of luxury on Maui. There is Jason (Luke Wilson), a successful businessman, with a family, and his own luxury Playing. And there is Craig (Michael Sheen), advisor to politicians, a television celebrity along with his wife. There is Nick (Mike White who wrote the screenplay and directed), an increasingly successful Hollywood director who is able to marry his producer partner, Xavier. This is the success that irks Brad, continually pressing him to wallow in his self-destructive misery.
Brad follows Troy to his interviews, boasting to any parent willing or unwilling to listen, finds that there has been a mistake with the date which doesn’t seem to faze Truly at all but sends Brad into a funding frenzy calling his friends to pull some strings, even though he has not seen them for years (and discovers that he is not been invited to their various functions).
We know that Brad is going to have to learn some lessons but we don’t know how. One interesting episode occurs when Troy joins up with some fellow students and they go out for a drink, Brad discovering that one of them is very earnest, social justice minded, interested in hearing his ideas on non-profit organisations. He makes a huge faux pas in answering one of her questions by saying that the best advice he can give is to make money!
After Troy’s interviews, he meets up with Craig for dinner at a fashionable restaurant – and, of course, is placed at the table next to the exit to the kitchen then moved when Craig arrives and the waitress is all attention and upgrades them to a classier table.
So, what is Brad to do? He is helped by his son who worries that his father is having a nervous breakdown. He is also helped by listening to musicians playing Dvorak’s humoresque.
The screenplay is intelligent, witty, often stimulating even as we are exasperated with Brad’s self-pity. And the ending is sufficiently open-ended to offer us great pleasure in speculating what might happen to Brad and to Troy.
US/UK/China, 2017, 114 minutes, Colour.
Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Orla Brady, Lia Williams, Charlie Murphy, Rufus Jones, Dermot Crowley, Michael Mc Elhatton, Ray Feely.
Directed by Martin Campbell.
The Foreigner is a fairly generic title. It depends on which country you are in and who is coming into the country. In this particular case it is both the UK and Northern Ireland and the person coming in (although he has lived there for 30 years) is Chinese. In fact, The Novel on Which This Film Is Based, by Stephen Leather, is called The Chinaman.
And, The Chinaman is Jackie Chan. The screenplay indicates that he is age 61, as he was when the film was made. But that does not mean that he has lost all his agility. While he might not have the martial arts movements of years gone by, he can still put up a fairly good fight – and his past training, as we find out, is in surveillance tactics, tracking tactics, trapping tactics.
When we look at the cast list, we see it is Jackie Chan versus Pierce Brosnan.
We find out the situation at the opening of the film, Jackie Chan’s Mr Quan picking up his daughter from a London school and a sudden explosion, an IRA bomb. This means that we are back in the stories of the 20th century, updated for the 21st-century. Mr Quan’s daughter is killed. What he quietly grieves, he becomes intent on righting the wrongs, on unmasking the killers, on wreaking justice.
This means that he has to confront the UK government, the UK police – who, while momentarily sympathetic, see him as a nuisance and something of a crank. So, off he goes to Belfast, to confront a deputy minister there, Pierce Brosnan, who also tends to dismiss him, declaring that he does not know who detonated the bombs.
What is a grieving father, an outsider, foreigner, to do?
This is where the plot becomes explosive, literally. Mr Quan is an expert at using fairly ordinary materials to create bombs and sets off a few, to the deputy minister’s detriment and fear. This is especially the case when he retreats to his country house and there is a huge explosion. The minister has quite a number of aides, more along the thuggish lines and diplomats, but have no chance against Mr Kwon and his fighting abilities.
There is also diplomacy. The minister sent his nephew secretly to make deals with the London police, has contact with government minister.
It all builds up to a confrontation when there is a second bomb explosion of a London Bridge, a bus being destroyed with many deaths. And there are a number of twists involving old IRA stalwarts, betrayals, twisting of information.
Clearly, there is going to be a confrontation between Mr Quan and the IRA cell. And, this does happen, Mr Quan being very shrewd as well as being very active – and, really, able to solve all the problems single-handed.
This is a kind of story that Jack Higgins used to write many decades ago, the IRA, the British, individuals who have courage and a knack for solving problems with brawn and brains. director Martin Campbell has directed two James Bond films, one with Pierce Brosnan, as well as some significant television series, including Edge of Darkness.
A contemporary entertainment in the old vein.
Germany, 2016, 104 minutes, Colour.
Heino Ferch, Thomas Thieme, Samuel Finzi, Johanna Gastdorf, Lisa Friederich.
Directed by Gordian Maugg.
Fritz Lang is considered one of the 20th century’s foremost film directors. His films in Germany include Metropolis and M. His films in the United States ranged over many genres, especially dark thrillers and some westerns. He died in 1976 in Hollywood, aged 85.
Lang’s life was also interesting. A Jewish mother who converted to Catholicism. Pioneer in writing and directing films during the 1920s, some silent classics. Goebbels approved of him and in 1933 offered him a leading role in the German film industry. Lang decided to leave Germany and moved to the United States. His wife and collaborator, Thea von Harbou, divorced him and remained in Germany, writing for the Nazi regime. It is said that he was very difficult to work with.
While the title of this film is Fritz Lang, it is a fiction, based on facts but doing speculative interpretations of his character and of his filmmaking.
One of the significant features of the film is that it is filmed in black and white, framed in the traditional box form of the silent era so that the filmmakers are able to incorporate a great deal of actual footage of Berlin and Düsseldorf around 1930, providing an authentic background to the action. This enables them to incorporate footage from some of Lang’s films, especially Metropolis and Woman on the Moon. By the end of the film, it is also in able to incorporate footage from Lang’s first sound film, M, which is the particular subject of this film.
Lang had focused on issues of German mythology as well as on futuristic interpretations of humans and machines. He was wary of silent films but realised he had to move with the times. He was intrigued by some newspaper headlines of a serial killer in the city of Düsseldorf. This film explores his fascination with the crimes and the criminal, going to Düsseldorf, making contact with the police chief and getting permission to go to the crime scenes and eventually interview the killer who has confessed to his wife and is apprehended. (He was executed soon after the release of Lang’s film, M.)
Lang seems to have a morbid interest in the crime and the criminal, going to locations, walking the streets, imagining the state of mind of the killer, the vicious attacks on women, the screenplay seeming to suggest that psychologically he sometimes identifies with the killer. The audience has seen him in relationship to his wife, his sexual activity, flashbacks to his first wife, Lisa, who nursed him after injuries in World War I but who killed herself after discovering his relationship with writer Thea von Harbou. In a film within a film, this episode is dramatised by different actors. Lang was not a particularly nice man at all.
Lang was a genius in his area, reminding the audience that a genius does not necessarily have to be a nice or a good person.
By the end of the film, Lang and Thea von Harbou have prepared a screenplay to meet producers demands, there are glimpses of the filming of it, actors, sets, action. Peter Lorre was the star of the film and, at the end, there are very significant, even graphic, sequences from the original Incorporated here.
An intriguing film in terms of its content, the portrait of an artist, his genius and flaws, personal relationships and obsessions, and his strengths as a filmmaker. And, in its black and white photography, incorporating of documentary footage and films, it is also intriguing in its visual style.
US, 2017, 109 minutes, Colour.
Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris, Robert Sheehan, Richard Schiff, Mare Winningham, Zazie Beetz.
Directed by Dean Devlin.
There is always an audience for a disaster movie. Ever since such films as The Poseidon Adventure in the 1970s brought widescreen misadventures, on ships, at airports, on flights, in towering Infernos, rollercoasters, audiences have relished the opportunities for identification with characters in perilous situations.
The star of this film is Gerard Butler who previously had appeared in Olympus has Fallen and London has Fallen. He has always save the day, even saving the American president in peril. Perhaps the writers of this film have had more than an eye on the Has Fallen franchise because once again there is an American president and this film might have been called ‘Earth has Fallen’.
This is the future although the sequences on Earth look fairly familiar.
17 nations have combined to create an extraordinary space station, Dutch Boy, which will be able to control any crisis on Earth, especially those caused by climate change. The person behind the whole project is Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler, who might have been the better choice to portray Jack Reacher!). But, he is one of those individualistic heroes and falls foul of the Washington bureaucracy who sack him. The new man in charge is Jake’s younger brother, Max (Jim Sturgess), more the bookish and bureaucratic type. He is in a relationship with a Secret Service agent (Abbie Cornish proving that any female officer is more than the equivalent of a male officer).
Things begin to go wrong. An isolated village in Afghanistan is frozen. A lot of Hong Kong is destroyed by rising temperatures and ensuing fire. For the record, other cities which we see being destroyed include Tokyo, Moscow and Red Square, the freezing of the beachfront in Rio, a tsunami overwhelming Dubai, storms in Mumbai… For audiences with a penchant for seeing cities destroyed, Geostorm should be high on the list.
Needless to say, who has to go back to rectify everything on Dutch Boy but Jake, with Max supervising him. While Geostorm is something of a Space Odyssey of the 21st century, it is not any HAL computer that is the villain. The villain is an ambitious human – and our options are the US president, Andy Garcia, or the Secretary of State, Ed Harris.
And there is a mercenary agent on Dutch Boy and some rogue activity in the space station. Which means that Jake has a lot to do, discovering the virus that is infecting files, unmasking the villain on the space station, checking with Max as to who is the villain on Earth – with the culmination at a Florida Democratic Presidential Election rally.
If you want to see an enormous space station exploding, here it is.
But, with the new head of the space station, Alexandra Maria Lara, Jake is able to save the day.
It might be much as you would expect, though probably more spectacularly so, plenty of special effects and action, entertaining in its way.
US, 2017, 101 minutes, Colour.
Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdi, Talia Webster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, Peter Verby, Rose Gregorio, Eric Paykert.
Directed by Benny Safdi, Josh Safdi.
The title of the film is Good Time, it might be described as Hard Going.
This is the New York streets and many commentators have remembered Martin Scorsese’s 1974 film Mean Streets, the characters who lived there, young characters, difficult pasts, uncertain futures.
The film opens by the audience introducing us to one of two brothers, Nick (played by the co-director, Benny Safdie). He is rather slow-witted, is in a session with a sympathetic therapist who is showing him cards, making him do word association games but with comparatively little success except the revelation that he had thrown a pan at his grandmother. Before anything further can happen, his brother, Connie (a very effective and different Robert Pattinson) intrudes into the office, making demands on the therapist, taking his brother to exclamations of “shame” from the therapist.
Connie is desperate to help his brother. But why he would choose to get guns and masks and the both of them go into a bank for robbery, handing over a note, writing directions and then writing back, demanding even more money and making their escape but seemingly unaware that there would be a dye in the money bag that would cause the car to crash and their being covered with red paint. Connie has to hide the money, get rid of the paint but his plan is thwarted when police come after them and Nick runs away, only to be arrested, taken to a police station, put in a cell.
What is Connie to do? Disguise himself and his hair? Certainly. Recover some of the money? Go to a bail bondsman and make very impatient demands on him to try to organise Nick’s immediate release. He also goes to his girlfriend, Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and wants to use her credit card to get the extra $10,000 for the bail. Her mother has shrewdly stopped the card.
Connie then attempts to recover Nick but ends up, mistakenly, with a drug dealer, Ray. This leads to a dramatic flashback on Ray’s part, falling foul a taxi driver and leaping from the car, injuring himself. Then a connection with the drug dealer and a young girl, Connie then trying to hide what remains of the money in a theme park.
Again, in these mean streets, with characters so very limited in mental ability, things go badly again, he and the dealer bashing the security guard, disguising themselves in his coat and, taking his car, going to his apartment to arrange for the sale of some drugs.
These characters are ill-fated. Police chases, falls from buildings, inept attempts at rescue…
A final close-up of Connie. What future? But some hope with Nick as the therapist introduces him to group work, some men and women who are introduced to a psychological game, asking, if they identify with the theme presented to them, they cross the floor. This activates their minds, even Nick’s so that…
HAPPY DEATH DAY
US, 2017, 94 minutes, Colour.
Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken.
Directed by Christopher Landon.
How many times can the director kill off the leading lady? There was hullaballoo in 1960 when Janet Leigh was killed off so early in Hitchcock’s Psycho. In Happy Death Day, I think the heroine mentions she has been killed 16 times. 16 times you may ask – but, fairly soon into the film movie buffs will be thinking Groundhog Day. Hence the at-least 16 times.
In fairness to the writer and the director and their “borrowing” the main idea behind Groundhog Day, they do make amusing references to it at the end, the noble boyfriend telling the many-times surviving heroine about the original film. She has never heard of it. He tries Bill Murray. Never heard of him. He tries Ghostbusters. Never heard of it. Shame on her!!!
For the first 10 minutes or more, many audiences hearts will sink. Those were very fond of fraternity and sorority raucous comedies will feel they are unfamiliar ground, so why not another one! And our heroine, Tree (short for Teresa), Jessica Rothe, is one of those presumptuously arrogant, knock-everyone-out-of-the-way-types, immediately dislikeable. How are we going to survive the film? Well, mainly by her not surviving her particular Groundhog Day murders but her waking up every morning, her birthday in fact, her death day in greater fact!
Actually, the film does improve as it goes on. And the filmmakers do employ some ingenuity in highlighting what happens to Tree, waking up in a strange fraternity room with Carter (an agreeable Israel Broussard), his friend arriving with a lewd comment, her fears, racing away, literally knocking people out of her way, encountering a would-be boyfriend, and then the comments by the other women at the sorority. And a cupcake with one candle on it from her roommate, Lori, which first time round she throws into the garbage. Tree is that kind of person.
The whole point of Groundhog Day is the fact that the person re-living the day and has the opportunity to learn, to alter (at least for the rest of the day), and for Tree to work out who might be killing her. Actually, it is somebody in a mask – but, unlike the mask in Halloween and in the Scream movies, this is a cheerful mask, for supporters of a football team, chubby, bucktoothed. But, by the end of the film, it is sinister nonetheless.
On one of the days, Carter does his best and, unbeknownst to himself, Tree takes quite a shine to him. On some of her days, her injuries take her to hospital where she discovers that a maniac killer is present under police guard.
There are some twists as the scenario goes on, Tree testing out potential suspects, the encounter with the killer, and, just when you thought it was all over, the real killer appears!
Interestingly, the screenwriter gives Tree quite a lengthy speech, spoken to Carter, about realising how selfish she is, not supporting her father because of her grief for her dead mother, rude to everyone about her, as she says: not a nice person. So, there you have a horror film with a highly explicit moral which you can’t disagree with!
US, 2017, 97 minutes, Colour.
Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Candice Bergen, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Lake Bell, Eden Grace Redfield, Lola Flanery.
Directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer?.
This is a variation on the popular American romantic comedy. Actually, rather later in the film, the clue is given about the central character, Alice, Reese Witherspoon, and the three young men who live in her guesthouse and are wanting to make a film. As they go to see a producer, they actually say that one of them has a brain, and the second a heart, and the third, the nerve. Fans of The Wizard of Oz will know the reference instantly.
But, Alice, is not on an easy yellow brick road. As the film opens, she is looking resignedly in her bathroom mirror. It is her 40th birthday. It turns out that she has separated from her music industry husband, Michael Sheen, has two daughters, one of whom tends to be depressed, the other not. The audience is given a resume of her very successful film director father, his films, his many marriages, the house that he built in LA to which Alice and the children are now returning.
The three young men, Harry (Pico Alexander), the producer who thinks he is God’s gift to everyone (the nerve); Teddy (Nat Wolff), the earnest actor (the heart); and screenwriter George (Jon Rudnitsky) who is the brain but really has the most heart.
They cannot pay for their hotel room but a chance encounter with Alice at her 40th birthday party, drinks and dancing, leads to them going home with her, her mother (Candice Bergen) turning up the next morning, being charmed by their flattery because she was the star of her husband’s films, she invites them to stay.
There is a caustic interlude when Alice goes for an interview for a job in room decoration but finds her prospective employer, Lake Bell, presumptuously arrogant – they later have a rather public falling out at a restaurant.
Harry wants to charm Alice but stands her up. She is rescued by George. Teddy’s action will be when Alice’s husband, Austin, decides to come to Los Angeles to see what is happening and they have a punch-up.
The three men, all in their mid-20s, are a hit with the two daughters, especially George since the older girl is preparing a little play for presentation at the school – an event which provides something of a climax for the film.
In the meantime, the three go to discuss their prospective film with a typical Hollywood producer who wants to amplify the modest script, sex it up et cetera – and, as you would expect them to, they walk out on him. George meanwhile has been commissioned to write a TV script and Teddy has an audition.
A happy outcome with the school play and what better than to see Alice and the girls, her mother, her former husband and the three men all sitting around the table and enjoying one another’s company.
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM
UK, 2016, 109 minutes, Colour.
Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Daniel Mays, Maria Valverde.
Directed by Juan Carlos Medina.
This is an impressive period drama. London, 1880. But using the word drama does not indicate the range of the film: the city of London, Dickensian London, Limehouse and the area, poverty and vice, the music calls, a serial killer anticipating Jack the Ripper, Scotland Yard and police investigations and detection. The film is based on a book by London and Dickens expert, Peter Ackroyd, Dan Leto and the Limehouse Golem (1994) .
The film is also well-crafted, atmospheric set design and locations, the colour photography design with the suggestions of darkness. And arresting performances with Bill Nighy as the Scotland Yard detective, Olivia Cooke, whose performance impresses throughout the film but even more so in the last quarter of an hour, is the toast of the music halls and Douglas Booth, based on the title character of Ackroyd’s book, Dan Leto and the Limehouse Golem (1994), is the star and (real-life) entrepreneur of the music hall.
There have been gruesome murders in the area and, with clues painted on walls, the press has nicknamed the killer The Limehouse Golem, drawing on the Jewish legend of the diabolical killer. The dead include a family who ran a local shop. At the opening, Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) is accused of poisoning her husband. The local constabulary investigate, including an earnest policeman, Daniel Mays. When Scotland Yard is called in, an inspector, who can be the scapegoat if the investigation fails, is Inspector Kildare. He is played effectively in a kind of mournful, withdrawn but earnest fashion by Bill Nighy.
Investigations lead to the British Library and a group of men who read there, including Karl Marx and novelist, George Gissing. They provide the four suspects for the murders – and, as Inspector Kildare interviews them, the film visualises each of them committing one of the murders, building up for the audience the detail of what happened to each of the victims and the involvement of the killer.
In the meantime, Lizzie Cree is arrested and imprisoned. Inspector Kildare becomes intrigued, then quietly infatuated by, listening to her sad life story, visualised in flashbacks, with her as harshly treated little girl, going to the music hall, being a given job assisting, stepping in to perform and charming the audience while feeling exhilarated. She has married the journalist John Cree who is one of the suspects as the Limehouse Golem.
Inspector Kildare becomes rather desperate, building up a portrait of the killer, aided by the writing in one of the books from the British Library, a distinctive writing style, asking each of the suspects to write in that manner.
And, there is quite a twist at the end, quite unforeseen, and a tragic re-enactment of the case in the theatre presided over by Dan.
The screenplay, by Jane Goldman (X- Men, Kingsman), keeps the audience very much involved, takes them back to live in a strange and even sordid past, and providing a profile of murderous madness.
Poland/UK, 2017, 94 minutes, Colour.
Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Chris O' Dowd, Saiorse Ronan, John Sessions, Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Helen Mc Crory,
Directed by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman.
Vincent van Gogh is considered the father of Modern Art. He is well beloved not only in the art world but by the public. While he had minimal sales of his paintings during his short life, 37 years, his paintings are now sold for millions of dollars. It could be said that everybody is loving Vincent.
However, the title of this film comes from the end of his letter to the wife of his brother, Theo: “… Your loving Vincent”, highlighting his care for his brother and for his sister-in-law.
Over the years there have been quite a number of films about van Gogh, feature films and documentaries. During the 1950s, Kirk Douglas portrayed him in Lust for Life. Later Robert Altman directed Tim Roth in Vincent and Theo. In the 1980s, Australian director, Paul Cox, made a film with the screenplay compiled from van Gogh’s letters, spoken by John Hurt, with a simple title, Vincent.
This present film is being promoted as the first oil-painted animation film, incorporating the work of 125 artists. It is quite a project – and it is quite impressive. The director, Dorota Kobiela, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
As the credits open, there are swirls of paint, a variety of colours, myriad shapes – all in the recognisable van Gogh style. This continues throughout the film, each sequence painted as if it were a van Gogh. This is a continual reminder throughout the film of the work of the artist, his vision, his colours, his response to nature in the south of France, the flowers, the sky. The screenplay incorporates many of his paintings – and there were 800 over comparatively few years – so that the audience is continually conscious of the work of the artist, affected by its impact.
Yet, the film is a narrative. And there are quite a number of characters from the painter himself to his brother, to a young man, Armin, searching for Theo to give him his brother’s last letter, the postman, the doctor who took in Van Gogh, his daughter, his housekeeper, the proprietor at the local inn…
For those not familiar with van Gogh’s portraits, it is something of a revelation during the final credits where the painted portraits are juxtaposed with the photos of the cast who portray the particular characters, remarkable likenesses. The cast includes Chris O ’Dowd, Douglas Booth, Aidan Turner, Helen Mc Crory, Saiorse Ronan and Robert Gulaczyk as the artist himself.
It should also be noted that the film is a Polish production with cast from Poland and from the United Kingdom.
In some ways, the film serves as crime detection, focus on the mental state of van Gogh, the episode of his cutting off of his ear, his joy in painting, his reliance on his brother to provide him with art materials, the suddenness of his death, taunting by local youth, the possession of a gun, his work with the local doctor who was also an art enthusiast, the admiration by his daughter, his wound, self-inflicted, the strange angle of the shot, his lingering before his death.
This means that Loving Vincent provides an overview of Van Gogh’s life, the years of his painting in France, the background of his family, the mental disturbance that plagued him, his premature death. But the film also takes us into the artistic world of van Gogh, his sensitivity, his sensibilities and his creativity.
During the final credits, Don Mac Lean’s Starry, Starry night is played – and never seemed more poignant.
THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US
US, 2017, 112 minutes, Colour.
Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney, Linda Sorenson.
Directed by Hany Abu- Assad.
For a great deal of this film, Kate Winslet, as Alex a photojournalist, has a brace on her leg and limps, finding it difficult to walk, moving very slowly. Idris Elba as Ben, a surgeon, suddenly find his leg caught in an animal trap in the woods. This could be taken as rather symbolic of the whole film and its dynamic, much of the movement by plodding, the effect of lameness.
The intentions of the film are very worthy and it is directed by celebrated Palestinian director, Hany Abu- Assad whose films, Paradise Now, Omar and The Idol have been quite striking. The lead actors have a strong screen presence and work well together, even when they are clashing. It is interesting to see Idris Elba in such a sympathetic role, not an action star.
The film opens at an airport in Idaho during January, all flights being cancelled because of an oncoming storm. Ben has to get to New York to conduct surgery, Alex to go to her wedding. On an impulse, she hires the pilot of a small plane (Beau Bridges) and they set out, initially calm, she taking photographs, the pilot telling stories about his action in Vietnam, and his big Labrador on the plane as company.
They crash, confined at first to the shell of the plane, which, of course, confines the action a great deal, slowing it down. The question is raised whether they should stay at the crash site to be found or to move on, Ben first going to survey from a height what the landscape is like, high snowy mountains (filmed in British Columbia standing in for the American Rockies), deep valleys. Fortunately, Ben being a doctor is able to attend to Alex as well as to the dog, especially after a cougar attacks and is shot with a flare (providing food for some days, snow always being available for water).
Alex is very strong minded and can’t stay in the one spot. Ben eventually follows, with their wisely trying to descend and reach the tree line. As has been said, they have to plod, as does the dynamic of the film, even though they are moving towards safety. There are caves, and firewood available for warmth, the dog hunting, the danger of ice pools.
While initially the two fight, each of them mellows in terms of dependence and of being able to survive. Ultimately, this raises a situation not just of dependence but of sexual dependence and emotion.
While the film does show the relationship rather romantically, despite difficulties, it does spend some time more soberly in the aftermath of the journey, reflecting on how both Alex and Ben have been affected by the situation, wondering whether the relationship was just something unreal on the mountain or whether there was something more.
To that extent, the latter part of the film is rather romanticised and some of the dialogue leads to a touch of cynicism about romance. But, the film’s heart (and there are discussions about whether the heart is the source of emotion or just a muscle) is in the right place.
PROFESSOR MARSTON AND HIS WONDER WOMEN
US, 2017, 109 minutes, Colour.
Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, J J Feild, Chris Conroy, Oliver Platt.
Directed by Angela Robinson.
What we find in this film is probably not what we were expecting to find. William Marston has the reputation for creating the celebrated comic strip of the 1940s, Wonder Woman. While it was a success, a lot more was happening behind the scenes.
The film opens with an American Board entrusted with supervision of children’s education interviewing Marston, wanting to ban the comic strip. As he explains what he intended with Wonder Woman, the interview is regularly interspersed with quite lengthy flashbacks to Marston’s life, his academic career, his personal life, the women, irregularities, one might say, in his relationships and the consequences for his career.
The first flashback takes us to 1928, to a classroom, to Professor Marston explaining a theory that he considers significant for understanding human behaviour: DISC – which means Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance. And the film’s screenplay gives him ample opportunity to explain and illustrate these characteristics of behaviour. With him in the classroom is his wife, Elizabeth, who serves as his assistant because, with the prejudices of that era, she is not recognised with her professional qualifications.
It seems that the Marstons are looking for a volunteer, a young student who can serve as an assistant but whose behaviour they can observe to understand whether the DISC theory is valid. The lie detector was emerging at this time and the Marstons were able to contribute to a mechanism for recognising heart pace for truth and lies.
The student they choose is Olive, the niece of prominent feminist and birth control promoter, Margaret Sanger.
Luke Evans plays William Marston and Rebecca Hall is quite striking as his dominant and opinionated wife, Elizabeth. It is interesting to note that British actors have been chosen to portray the couple while Bella Heathcote, from Australia, plays Olive.
While Olive is confronted by Elizabeth to forbid any sexual activity, it soon emerges that Olive is attracted to both – which, with some difficulties, and a pregnancy, leads to a long-lived ménage a trois. Oliver’s fiance denounces them, the university authorities fire the Marstons. Olive keeps house, Elizabeth getting a job as a secretary, Marston wanting to prove his theories, sketching, which leads to the creation of Wonder Woman.
What is interesting is how much of Marston’s private life as well as the illustration of DISC, one might notice specially dominance and submission, episodes of inducement (sex and violence) leading to compliance. There is quite some attention to Wonder Woman’s background in ancient Greece, with the Amazons, the island of Lesbos, and the emerging of Steve Trevor into her world and her transition to the 20th century.
Those familiar with Wonder Woman, from the comics, the television films with Lynda Carter and the very successful superhero movie with Gal Gadot, will appreciate.
Marston was unconventional, to say the least. But it is interesting to note that his psychology studies and the emphasis on sexuality coincided with the early years of Kinsey and Masters and Johnson.
Not exactly what we might have been expecting at the beginning of the film, something of a jolt and challenge as we watch the private lives of the characters, but also interesting as providing the background of Wonder Woman. It can be noted that the Marston family did not endorse this film and DC Comics distanced themselves.
UK/US, 2017, 119 minutes, Colour.
Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michael Yates, J.K.Simmons, Val Kilmer, David Dencik, Toby Jones, Genevieve O' Reilly, James D' Arcy, Adrian Dunbar, Chloe Sevigny, Jakob Oftebro.
Directed by Tomas Alfredson.
Have you read Jo Nesbo’s novels? With his interestingly often-depressed police detective, Harry Hole? This reviewer has read a number of them including The Snowman. Unfortunately, this film version may not encourage readers to pursue Nesbo novels. For those who enjoy crime fiction, this would be a great pity.
Harry Hole (played by Michael Fassbender) comes from Norway, a lot of the action takes place in the capital, Oslo, as well is in the countryside as far out towards the fjords and is Bergen. Actually, one of the best features, is the photography of Norway in winter, snow and ice, a chill atmosphere.
In fact, the chill atmosphere applies to the whole film, the characters rather colder than might be expected, the serial killer’s murders gruesomely cold, and the climax of literally cold.
All this is a pity because there is great potential. There is an intriguing prologue concerning a young boy being tested by the local policeman on his knowledge of Norwegian history at the end of the war, his mother having an affair with the policeman, pursuing him by car and then skidding onto the ice and drowning, a snowman outside the house. The snowman serves as a motif during the series of killings.
The director himself, Tomas Alfredson, has gone on record that he is not satisfied with the film, with difficulties in production, in timing, in rectifying situations. Alfredson has a good cinema record including the John Le Carre adaptation, Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy.
The plot is very convoluted and there are significant flashbacks to 9 years earlier, deaths in Bergen, the gruesome killing of the police inspector, Val Kilmer, and interviews with a husband whose wife has been killed. Meanwhile, in the present, a mother disappears and her husband is suspect. Then there is a warning that another woman has been killed – but she is still alive, and then killed. Some of this is sorted out but not always clearly, a complex motivation for the murders, of women who have children by different fathers, have been involved in abortions, victims of a righteous moralist with his own personal agenda and mother issues.
There is what seems to be an interesting subplot concerning a suspicious doctor, David Dencik, (who had been in Bergen nine years earlier) and a smug politician, J.K.Simmons, announcing that Oslo has won the Winter Games, harassing the new detective on the case, Rebecca Ferguson, but, after the death of the doctor, there is no more of the politician and his story. That would have been interesting.
And all the time, Harry Hole is investigating, travelling, interviewing. There is also the complication of his former girlfriend, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and her son who sees Harry as something of a father-figure. In the meantime, a respectable surgeon, has taken up with Charlotte Gainsbourg but not succeeding so well with the son.
The new partner also has a tendency to go out on her own, not always informing Harry, which leads to some rather grim conclusions.
More deaths. More mystery. More snowman. And a climax out in the snow, in a secluded hut – and the revelation of the killer whom we might not have suspected. But, whether there were enough clues, whether there was enough in the screenplay to keep audience attention and focus, it is a rather confusing murder mystery and detection drama.
SONG TO SONG
US, 2017, 130 minutes, Colour.
Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchet, Holly Hunter, Berenice Marlohe, Linda Emond, Tom Sturridge, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, John Lydon.
Directed by Terrence Malick.
Fragments, jigsaw pieces, snippets…
Jigsaw pieces mean that there can be a whole and coherent picture. Fragments, not – diverse, disparate, a partial picture. Snippets offer quick glimpses that come and go, may be connected, unconnected, disconnected.
Song to Song. Songs, Austin, Texas, music scene, producers, musicians, the enormous range in the music credits list, but how much noted and noticed over 130 minutes? The great range of singers playing themselves, Patti Smith, different bands. Chants, hymns and St Francis Peace Prayer.
Reality, fantasy, surreality.
Rooney Mara, soft voice-over, “am I walking in a dream?”. Is she waking in a dream? “I drift.” Michael Fassbender, macho, romantic, playful, exploitative, love or lust? Contrasting Ryan Gosling, younger, playful, more love than lust?
Scripted, improvised, director in control.
Snippets can mean narrative, contributing to a story: beginning, middle, end, but not necessarily in that order. In the end is the beginning.
Threesome, love, joy, play. Fidelity forever. Human nature – suggesting not, rather, betrayal.
Suddenly, Natalie Portman, luminous, love, fidelity, hopes. That’s Holly Hunter as her mother.
Mexico, peasants, music, the contrast with the American metropolis, affluence, ordinariness, academic auditoria, concert arenas. Performance, backstage, Val Kilmer and wild hair.
Who is that from Paris? The lesbian relationship. Rooney Mara, did she, could she?
130 minutes of handheld camera, motion, variety of angles, framing, editing cuts (three editors in the final credits), speed, cause and effect, juxtapositions – to what purpose?
And Cate Blanchett? Divorce, children, Ryan Gosling? Connections? Children, playing, parents, ageing and dying.
Clips from old movies. Scenes of cosmic beauty (this is, after all, Terrence Malick), days of heaven.
Is this Malick’s visual poem, thematic dream, extended visual installation?
And the reviewer in the audience watching, listening, experiencing, much to appreciate, much to endure, but how much to comprehend? And does it matter? For a lover of story, yes!
US, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour.
Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Gary Basaraba.
Directed by George Clooney.
Suburbicon is not a word we regularly use. As can be seen, it is made up of the word suburb and icon. At the opening of the film, Suburbicon, is presented as an ideal. As the film progresses, the irony progresses.
This is definitely a Coen Brothers’ screenplay. Apparently, it was written in the 80s and not filmed then but brought out again for their friend, George Clooney, with his writing partner, Grant Heslow, to write and direct. But the bizarre Coen Brothers’ touches are forever present, the irony, the satire, the critique of society.
The film opens like an advertising catalogue. Suburbicon, is a post-war development, parallel to Levittown, a town created by William Levitt who was an idealist for the American middle class about also racist. Everything is nice at the end of the 1950s. Everybody wears proper clothes. Everybody has proper manners. Families are ideal. The colour photography is bright, optimistic.
We are introduced to the Lodge family. The father is the respectable Gardner Lodge, Matt Damon, serious, a good job, a proper suit… His wife, Rose (Julianne Moore) has been injured in an accident and, as they all sit on the porch, she has to be carried inside to her room. Also present is her sister, Margaret (two Julianne Moores for the price of one), all smiles and charm. The son is Nicky (Noah Jupe) a very respectful little boy.
The racism surfaces when an African-American? family move in next door, the proper citizens going to a meeting, decrying the local board, uttering all kinds of prejudices, mockery and bigotry. This will lead to citizens camping outside the house, violent demonstrations, attack on the house, destruction and terrorising. In a key scene where the mother goes to the supermarket, the manager callously ups the prices on her.
But the main action of the film is with the Lodge family, a home invasion, everybody tied up and chloroformed, and Rose dying. The police start an investigation – but the audience has seen the thugs. It doesn’t take long for the penny to drop for the audience that the Lodge family is all respectable veneer. Rose’s death has been orchestrated.
The plotting for Rose’s death could have been done far more meticulously. Money loans had been sought from Mafia connections and registered in their account books, extra insurance taken on Rose’s death. The film brightens up when the insurance inspector, Oscar Isaac, turns up and confronts Margaret who handles the situation badly, then George returning - and the plight of the family moving towards mayhem, death, disposal of bodies, thugs blackmailing, murders and the house, even the nice uncle contacted by Nicky coming to the rescue but meeting his fate as well.
All this is happening while the anti--black riots are getting more loud and violent on the street outside. Finally, Gardner confronts his son – and, as he talks, the audience is wishing that he would eat the jam sandwich prepared for Nicky by Margaret and drink the milk. For some justice to be done!
The themes have been explored in such films as Pleasantville and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. This is an ironic take on 1950s suburbia, George Clooney, with his contemporary social concerns, indicating that the roots of present injustice were grounded in that period despite its respectability.
Slovakia/ Czech Republic, 2016, 103 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Jan Hrebejk.
The Teacher might be called something of a sly film. It begins nicely enough but then begins to steer us in different directions, then in rather drastic directions and finishes up with an ironic ending. A film from Slovakia taking us back to the Communist era in the then Czechoslovakia.
This is the 1980s. The Communist Party is very strong in the local village and the new teacher is the president of the local party. 23 comes to the school, meets the children, meets the parents – all much as we might expect. The only trouble is, she has quite different expectations, not only of the children but, even especially, of the parents.
Zuzana Maurery is a strong presence as the teacher, able to turn on extraordinary front and charm, able to turn on extraordinary bullying in the classroom, able to turn on some seductive persuasiveness with the male parents.
While she might publicly subscribe to Communist principles, they certainly do not influence her personal life. She is as materialistic as you could imagine, not satisfied with the ordinary things that a Communist should be satisfied with.
At first, what she asks of different parents might seem reasonable enough, something of the equivalent of an apple for the teacher. The trouble is, she has no limits. She wants everything. And she wants everything done for her.
And, she has that knack of a controversial public figure of being able to divide people’s opinions. There is a growing number of parents who are against her, especially as they realise how she is treating their children, favouring some, harsh on others, manipulating the child so that the parents will do all the favours for her.
There is something of a rebellion as parents meet to discuss the teacher but, again, she is able to divide opinion, exerting charm and sometimes a little sexual seductiveness. Meanwhile there are plots behind her back.
Which means then that the themes of the film are fairly serious, the portrait of the teacher in herself, in her role as president of the Communist party, as a manipulator…
Then the Berlin Wall comes down, the Soviet empire collapses and, without revealing too much of the ending, it is fair to say that the teacher is able to find her feet again, adapting to the new ideological situations.
The film received an award from SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communication) at the 2017 Hong Kong International Film Festival.
THIS BEAUTIFUL FANTASTIC
UK, 2016, 100 minutes, Colour.
Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Tom Wilkinson, Jeremy Irvine, Anna Chancellor, Eileen Davies.
Directed by Simon Aboud.
This is the kind of film that could be described as “nice”. It is also rather twee and very sweet.
It is also very British, rather low-key in its presentation of its characters and even their crises.
This is the story of Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay). Telling the story is Alfie, played by Tom Wilkinson. We see Bella’s origins, her being abandoned as a baby, an eccentric biker finding her beside the water with ducks, her going to an orphanage with the nuns, but eventually her growing up, renting a house, wanting to be a writer, working in the local library, rather reserved.
She clearly irritates her neighbour, Alfie. He has told her story so far - she is not a friend. In fact, he is very critical of the way that she has left the rather large garden of her home in some rack and ruin.
Alfie has a cook, an Irishman named Vernon (Andrew Scott) who has two young daughters. But Alfie is dismissive of Vernon who goes next door to stay with Bella. He also supports her when the landlord arrives, giving her a one-month deadline to clear up the garden or she is out. Bella is not a gardener. She does try to do some work, even with Vernon who suffers from hay fever trying to help.
As might be expected, Alfie begins to relent, even reaching a deal with Bella that he will help working in the garden as long as Vernon still provides him with some meals – which Vernon does through a servery slide which he can slam shut at will.
Not all of Bella’s time is spent in the garden. She works at the local library which is administrated by rather bookish and prim librarian, Anna Chancellor. And there is a young man, Billy (Jeremy Irvine) who turns up for research, is noisy when he shouldn’t be, eats in the library when he shouldn’t, but there is a mutual attraction.
Alfie also has a book about gardening – which was written by his late wife. Bella reads it and that helps the bond between the two.
So, beautifying the garden within the month offers only limited dramatics for the film. Bella is supposed to go out with Billy but she sees him in town with another woman and retreats to her room in an emotional tantrum. In fact, there is an easy, over-easy solution about her seeing Billy and there is a nice reconciliation.
A touch of sadness, Bella finishing her book and reading it to Vernon’s girls, and, as has been said, nice, twee and sweet.
US, 2017, 130 minutes, Colour.
Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taiki Waitit, Clancy Brown, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Luke Hemsworth, Sam Neill, Matt Damon.
Directed by Taiki Waititi.
Chris Hemsworth made quite an impact as the original Thor. This is the second sequel and Thor has appeared in two Avengers movies and is about to appear on the third. Quite a lasting impression.
Hemsworth has never taken himself too seriously nor does Thor. There is always a place for irony and for a joke. And now, with New Zealand director Taiki Waitit, who charmed audiences with Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople and joked with them in What We Do in the Night, there is plenty more irony and there are plenty more jokes.
Gone is the Viking Asgard but there are still memories of Loki and his betrayals at and the downfall of Odin. Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Anthony Hopkins made such an impression as Odin that they are back again, Loki having his moments of heroism but always the trickster lurking. There is a great deal of action and it takes place among the various planets and strange communities, especially one presided over by Jeff Goldblum in a very campy manner. Crowds pack into a huge amphitheatre for gladiatorial combats where his main warrior is actually Hulk, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) imprisoned in the form of the Hulk for two years, finally coming up against Thor, with Banner re-emerging, Thor victorious. Also present is an alcoholic young Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) a mercenary who has captured for but who might be persuaded to join forces to retake Asgard.
And Ragnarok indicates an apocalypse for Asgard.
We have had a glimpse of Odin living in exile and then disappearing from his two sons (though Anthony Hopkins getting a chance for more footage to inspire Thor in his battles). And the battles?
The main villain of the piece is the hitherto unknown daughter of Odin, Hela. She wears black. Has black hair, black eye make-up, a black headpiece of horns – which indicate that her heart is deeply black as well. And, she is played by Cate Blanchett.
So, plenty of plot. Plenty of battles. Plenty of intriguing characters. Plenty of superhero activity – though Thor receives plenty of body blows as well as losing an eye, in the tradition of his father. On the heroic side there is Karl Urban as a warrior who becomes the instrument of Hela’s malice but, we guess, will have a change of heart. There is also Idris Elba, the Asgard warrior leading the remnant of scarred to safety.
And, for the fun of it, there is an early re-enactment of the betrayal of Loki which has Sam Neill acting the part of Odin, Luke Hemsworth, Chris Hemsworth’s older brother, as Thor and, uncredited and pretty unrecognisable, Matt Damon as Loki.
Perhaps overseas audiences might not get the joke but Australian audiences and New Zealand audiences will delight in the character of Korg, a giant creature made of rocks, not quite the full quarry, but with very funny dialogue, a very strong Niew Ziland accent and delivery, very amusing, and played by the director himself, Taika Waititi. Actually this version of Thor is fairly Antipodean with both Thor and Hela originally coming from Melbourne, with a touch of Sam Neill, another Hemsworth, and Karl Urban and the director coming from New Zealand. And the film was made on the Gold Coast.
Perhaps some of the purists may think this is a bit too flippant, but most fans will enjoy it – and, creator Stan Lee, having a cameo in all his films, signals his imprimatur with a very amusing one here.
Australia, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour.
Robert Sheehan, Rebecca Breeds, John Waters, Michael Caton, Magda Szubanski, Deborah Mailman, Jacqueline Mc Kenzie, Kelton Pell, Peter Rowsthorn, Amay Jain.
Directed by Ben Elton.
Why Three Summers? They refer to a country town Festival in Western Australia, a Westival, celebrated annually with a good crowd coming to enjoy a range of music, performances, workshops, camping and the sheer pleasure of an Australian outing.
The film was written and directed by British playwright and screenwriter, Ben Elton – who has been an Australian citizen for many years. He is based in Western Australia and obviously has an affection for the state. But he has also absorbed a great deal of the Australian spirit, Australian history and, especially, Australian social concerns. He can be both comical and critical.
The film creates the atmosphere of the town, the stream of cars arriving, the various locations for parking, camping, the buildings and halls for performance, the pub – and even the hall for sessions for Alcoholics Anonymous.
And, we get to meet the characters one year, share their experiences and then find them all arriving again for the second year, variations on their experiences, and then find them all arriving again for the third year. Three summers.
The audience is introduced to the Westival by the radio host, Queenie, Magda Szubanski at her enthusiastic best, folksy comments, spirit-rousing, introducing guests and acts, a pleasing chorus to all the events.
Amongst the arrivals are a father and daughter (John Waters and Rebecca Breeds) who are part of a band called the Warrikans (WA larrikins, as you might expect). John Waters gets the opportunity to sing and play the guitar. Rebecca Breeds, as Keevy, is a lively screen presence, singing, dancing, and meeting up with an unusual Irishman, Roland (Robert Sheehan) whose professionis dog-washing but who plays the theremin. While they might play romantic leads, their interactions are not nearly as romantic as one might like, quite some conflict, especially concerning Roland’s enthusiasm for Keevy and her talent to have an audition at the Concervatoire and the consequent misunderstandings.
Deborah Mailman is there as Pam, who runs the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Kelton Pell is Jack, leader of an aboriginal troupe of dancers, with one of the young men in tow having an ankle bracelet and being a sullen and silent refugee from youth detention. The group have an opportunity to do an emu dance, Jack having the opportunity to make jokes about Terra Nullius and the invasion as well as serious points about the aboriginal community and traditions.
There is also an Afghan band allowed to come to the Westival out of detention, their presence organised by a quiet young refugee who is being fostered by a local family.
There are also two couples who come every year, go through a parking ritual with cones, sit in the same place, say the same things, have the same meals, drink the same wine and congratulate themselves on a great break.
This review has kept Michael Caton as Harry till last though he is one of the most important characters. He was a child migrant from the UK, had a harsh upbringing, but has absorbed many of the local prejudices, intolerant of aborigines, harsh on refugees, proud to be an Australian… He criticises the aborigines for strutting around like emus covered in paint while he and his troupe are British Morris Dancers with very quaint costumes and straw hats covered in flowers!
One of his final sequences is the most seriously telling scenes on the whole film, relying on Michael Caton’s impact on Australian audiences from The Castle and Last Cab from Darwin, voicing Ben Elton’s challenge to contemporary Australia and any bigotry against multiculturalism and the forming, continually, of the Australian story.
Ben Elton knows how to write comedy, some parody, some satire – and has a very good cast to communicate it. Both enjoyment and challenge.
TOM OF FINLAND
Finland, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.
Pekka Strang, Lauri Tilkanen, Seumas F. Sargent, Jakob Oftebro, Jessica Grabowsky, Taiso Oksanen.
Directed by Dome Karukoski.
And who is Tom of Finland? Probably best to ask this question and to do a bit of homework before deciding to see this portrait of an artist. It is also the Finish nomination for Oscar consideration.
There are three approaches to viewing this film.
First, it is the portrait of a significant Finish artist, Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991). We first see him in action during World War II, the Finnish army supporting the Russians. After the war, he has a job as a commercial artist in an advertising company. He begins to do more personal sketches and, later sends them to the United States where they are accepted and he becomes famous and something of a celebrity.
Secondly, the film can be seen as a social study of homosexuality during the 20th century. Tom of Finland was a gay man, in the closet in a very strict Finland, living part of his life in a gay underground, finally finding some freedom of movement and expression in the United States.
Thirdly, the film can be seen as the controversial work of a gay artist, his drawings, their content, style, popularity in the gay community, there becoming icons. The film also raises the issue of the art, its expressions and influence and the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s.
Touko Laaksonen played by Pekka Strang, first seen as a soldier in his 20s, then moving through the decades and, with effective make up, the same actor portraying the artist in his 50s and 60s. He is not a man who is easy to warm to, personally. He has suffered trauma during the war, even to the killing of a Russian parachutist which had quite an effect on him and is shown in the film. He has bad experiences from the police during a visit to Berlin. He also experiences police raids on homosexuals in parks and in bars and in private homes. There is a certain coldness and detachment about his personality.
He lives with his sister, also a commercial artist, and when she takes in a 21, he is infatuated but keeps undercover, not wanting to live separately with the boarder who is a professional dancer.
As regards the criminalisation of homosexuality and homosexual behaviour, the film shows much of social homophobia, expressions of hate, the sometimes vicious police raids and interrogations. It can be seen how the decriminalisation of homosexuality had a more positive effect in society and for individuals. (There is an amusing sequence when Tom of Finland goes to California and is present in the gay community when the police suddenly rush in – not to arrest the men as he presumes but searching for a thief who robbed a bank down the street!)
Many of us may have seen Tom of Finland sketches as illustrations but not recognised them as the work of a single artist what their original intent was. While he could not publish them in Finland, American magazines on Physical Culture put them on the cover and then they were adopted by the gay community. He sketched over 3000 drawings. They are of men, caricature sketches in the sense that they are huge chested, thin waisted, large buttocked, with prominent sexual organs and sexual behaviour. Tom had a penchant for uniforms, military (even the Nazi uniforms, but not Nazism), police, leather and bikie. They were widely circulated from the 1970s and used in all kinds of illustration, in advertising.
The question is raised for Tom when AIDS emerges and his sketches are criticised, singled out as promoting sexual permissiveness which leads to AIDS. He acknowledged this but then turned his attention to the sketches campaigning against behaviour which led to AIDS.
The film offers quite a deal to think about, the portrait of the artist, the social context in which lived, his work and the issues of pornography, but it does provide a look at transitions in the 20th century, which have had social consequences for greater freedoms in the 21st century.