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Film Reviews October/November 2013

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SIGNIS REVIEWS OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 2013


ADORATION
AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS
ALAN PARTRIDGE, ALPHA PAPA
AUSTENLAND
BIG ASS SPIDER
BLANCANIEVES
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
CLOSED CIRCUIT
COUNSELLOR, The
ENDER’S GAME
ENOUGH SAID
ESCAPE PLAN
FIFTH ESTATE, The
FRUITVALE STATION
HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2
JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA
KILL YOUR DARLINGS
MAGIC MAGIC
MACHETE KILLS
MARY MEETS MOHAMMAD
MR PIP
MYSTERY ROAD
PATRICK
SPECTACULAR NOW
THOR: THE DARK WORLD
WALESA – MAN OF HOPE


ADORATION

France/Australia, 2013, minutes, Colour.
Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Gary Sweet, Jessica Tovey, Sophie Lowe.
Directed by Anne Fontaine.

It was too good a phrase not to use: a reviewer-friend remarked at the end of Adoration, “a film of vexatious morality”.

Indeed, the film is a story which raises moral issues. It is too easy and glib simply to note the tagline of two women falling in love with each other’s teenage sons. This is something of what the film is about but does not indicate anything of how the subject is treated. A number of audiences have found the film very romantic. Others have worried about the relationships, the effect on each of the characters, and some have worried about the closeness of the friendships and relationships, even suggesting overtones of incest.

The title of the film, Adoration (previously, Adore) is suggestive of how, during the relationships, each partner sees the other. However, the original title of the film was To Mothers and, indeed, the original title of Doris Lessing’s story is To Grandmothers. Doris Lessing, in her stories, often set in Africa, and was not afraid to tackle troubling situations. Hence, the interest in exploring the characters, friendship, affairs of the two grandmothers.

While the director is French, Anne Fontaine, the adaptation of Doris Lessing’s novel comes from noted British playwright and screen-writer, Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons). And the setting has been adapted for Australia, the central coast of New South Wales, filmed at Seal Rocks, a beautiful ocean location with beaches and cliffs, the atmosphere of a small town.

We are introduced to the two mothers when they are children, playing in the bush and on the beach, on the verge of puberty. We are made aware of the strong bonds between the two, sharing everything, the best of friends. As they look at each other, there is a visual transition to them as grown-up, as mothers, attending the funeral of the husband of one of them. As with the mothers, their two sons formed strong friendships and bonds, the best of friends. And, the same visual change is used to bring the boys to their late teenage years. Still best friends, surfing, in and out of each other’s houses, ordinary situations. But, there is some tension in one household as a marriage seems to have gone cold, the husband wanting to move to Sydney, to teach at Sydney University, his wife seemingly willing, but this being the last bond being cut, he moves away.

It seems best to mention here the strength of the performances. Naomi Watts, perhaps a bit more subdued than in her other performances, is Lil, whose son is Ian (Xavier Samuel). Robin Wright is Roz whose son is Tom (James Frecheville). Ben Mendelsohn is Roz’s husband who moves out. While the performances are strong, Robin Wright’s portrayal of Roz stands out, a complex portrait of a middle-aged woman and her profound emotions.

It is in this context that Ian makes an approach to Roz, Tom resentful when he finds out what has happened, approaches Lil. It is here that many audiences become uncomfortable, though some are asking would the audience be so questioning had the genders been reversed, the younger women approaching the older men. It is still rather unusual to have the younger men approach the older women and to want a relationship rather than merely an affair.

But the film makes a move to two years after the beginnings of the affairs. Which gives the film some more substance, on how each of the couples handles the situation, well or not well. There are further complications when Tom goes to Sydney, to work with his father, meets an aspiring actress and all four have to take stock of their situation.

And the complications do not stop there because each of the young men does marry, and has to face whether the marriage is substantial or the initial love is still all-pervasive.

Stories are able to take us into areas which may not be familiar, to characters faced with moral dilemmas, who do not look to the consequences at the time but are capable of being particularly hurtful. And, Adoration leaves us with these questions.


AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS

US, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Nate Parker.
Directed by David Lowery.

That’s quite a question in the title. But whether it is answered is a moot question. The first inclination is to say that the bodies are not saints. This is a film where there are quite a number of bodies, in the context of crime, prison escapes, vengeance.

The film announces that this is a Texas story. The picture of Texas is almost like that of painting, vistas of open fields, sometimes drab landscapes, nothing special. And, maybe, this is the kind of context for the central characters, drab in their way, seemingly nothing special. We are introduced to them as Ruth (Rooney Mara) walks away from home and from her husband, Bob (Casey Affleck). He pleads with her and they go home. She is pregnant. However, they have little time to settle back home when there is a police siege and some shootings, the upshot being Bob sentenced to prison.

The years pass. Ruth’s daughter, Silvie, is now a little girl. She and her mother live in a house provided by Bob’s father (Keith Caradine) who runs a local store. She also receives the attention of one of the local police, Patrick (Ben Foster). But she keeps her mind on Bob, hoping against hope.

Then Bob is able to escape from prison, describing the experience in somewhat mystical terms to his friend, Sweetie (Nate Parker). He is able to dig up money from past robberies and wants to find Ruth and settle down with her and his daughter. Needless to say, this is not going to happen. The mood is pensive and the audience senses that the film is something of an elegy.

The climax comes with a group seeking vengeance on Bob, some shootings, and Ruth left bereft. Perhaps the audience feels a little of the same as this is a film which is character-driven, but also dialogue-driven, with plenty of silences as well, so that while there is some action, there is an overall sombre and reflective tone. One of the regrets is that Casey Affleck has a somewhat inarticulate way of speaking his lines which means that many of them are muffled and the audience does not really know what he is saying.

The film, with its title which, on reflection, sounds more than a little pretentious, aspires to be something of a Texas classic, in the tradition of the early films of, say, Terence Malick.


ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA

UK, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney.
Directed by Declan Lowney.

For British television watchers, Alan Partridge could be a household name. But, beyond the shores of Britain and beyond his favoured Norfolk, he is not so well-known. And this provides a difficulty for a feature film based on a successful television program. Because it has run for so long, the writers and actors are so familiar with the character that they take many things for granted which an audience new to the show may well find strange. And this seems to be the case with Alan Partridge.

For a long time, Steve Coogan’s creation has appeared in many television series. Partridge has been a lively, not admirable, media personality but, in this film, he is now in his mid fifties, co-hosting a radio program in Norfolk. Which means that the film is also a satire on commercial television.

The radio station has fallen on hard times and is being taken over by an aggressively commercial company. Old DJs must go and the choice comes down to Alan Partridge or his friend, Irishman, Pat Farrell, played with vigour by Colm Meaney.

Partridge’s style is immediately communicated in his attitude towards his fellow-host, always silencing him, and blithely carrying on as if the program were completely his own. He is supportive of his friend, Pat Farrell who does the late night shift, and goes in to the new director and board to plead his cause for staying on. When he notices that the alternative to be sacked is himself, he immediately urges them to sack Pat. Which they do.

And Partridge manages to ignore the forlorn Farrell.

But Farrell is not quite so forlorn, taking the board members as hostages during a party and not wanting to communicate with the police except through Alan. This gives Alan an extraordinary new platform, not only a hero in the public’s eyes, but liaison with the police despite his initial fears and touches of cowardice, but going on air to co-host a program with Pat, siege and all, playing popular music, taking phone-in calls, frustrating the police.

This means that the audience is far more on Pat’s side than Alan’s, especially as he continues through the siege, hiding in a room for a liaison with one of the staff, ingratiating himself with the police who become frustrated with his lack of cooperation, double-dealing with Pat all the time, and drawing on the advice of his personal assistant and then turning on her when she is interviewed on television.

In fact, there are some funny and ironic lines, and Alan Partridge gets itself into precarious situations, especially trying to get in a window and having his trousers caught so he gets more media exposure than he anticipated. Of course, he is found out, and that means Pat pursuing him with a rifle and a crisis on the pier.

It may be that in the series, Alan Partridge became a lovable rogue even when people raised their eyebrows at his behaviour. But, an audience plunged into his story without preparation, sees him as more rogue than lovable, despite the comedy, and so it does not sympathise with him as might have been expected.


AUSTENLAND

UK, 2013, 97 minutes, Colour.
Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour, Bret Mc Kenzie, James Callis, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle.
Directed by Jerusha Hess.

2013 sees the bicentenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one of the great classic novels. However, Jane Austen, with her acute observation of daily life in the Regency period, was not without a satirical eye and a wry comment. Would she have approved of Austenland? Perhaps a bit too broad in its comedy for her general taste, but she may have made allowances for the eccentricities of the Americans coming to England as well as the pretensions of some of her fellow-countrymen and countrywomen.

Austenland is not an exploration of Jane Austen’s novels but a bit of a visit to her world, a British theme park devoted to Jane Austen and offering visitors the opportunity to dress up, speak, behave like 18th-century characters, perhaps find a little romance themselves. At least this something of a hope of the main character, called to Jane, rather than Elisabeth, (Keri Russell), a young American who is enthralled by Jane Austen’s novels, a longing look across the Atlantic to 18th-century Britain, and in need of some romance in her life having experienced disappointment with some ex-boyfriends.

Off she goes, only to find that her investment entitles her to the copper tour rather than the platinum tour. Dressed in costume at the airport, she is transported to Austenland along with another American tourist who was given the name Miss Charming, whereas Jane becomes Miss Erstwhile and finds herself lodged in equivalent of the servant’s quarters.

One of the joys of the film is that Miss Charming is played by Jennifer Coolidge, well-known in comedy circles for her role as Stifler’s mother in the American Pie series but also for her satirical performances in the films of Christopher Guest, like Best in Show. She sends up American ignorance delightfully, making all kinds of odd and sometimes bizarre remarks, with some funny one-liners as well is setting her cap one of the performers at Austenland.

And they are performers, led by the rather prim and demanding Mrs Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour). Everything is in costume, manners are to be observed, there is crocheting, games of whist, a performance of a rather silly romantic play composed by Mrs Wattlesbrook as well as hunting and a proper ball. Jane is treated with some distain by some of the guests and is partly disillusioned with her visit. However, she is attracted to one of the stable hands, thinking that he was not one of the group of actors who were there to portray the 18th century types. She is also wary of Mr Nobley (J.J.Feild), the nephew of the proprietor, an obvious Mr Darcy equivalent. There follows a slight plot of unrequited love which echoes Jane Austen’s novels.

There are some laugh out loud sequences, amusement at much of the dialogue, the film offering some giggles and some smiles throughout. Of course, it is a slightly moralising film, Jane having to learn the difference between fantasy and reality, romance and real-life personal love and commitment. It does not spoil the endin to say that she learns lessons and finds romance. No matter what the external manner, even coldness, it is, ultimately, the Mr Darcys who will prevail.


BIG ASS SPIDER

US, 2013, 80 minutes, Colour.
Greg Grunberg, Lomabardo Boyar, Clare Kramer, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Patrick Bauchau.
Directed by Mike Mendez.

You may not want to be seen walking into Big Ass Spider. Apart from the use of the word, Ass, who wants to be seen going into one of those old-fashioned animal menace, spider-menace, films from the 1950s and 60s? Well, rest assured that if you are a fan of this kind of film, you won’t be disappointed. Of its kind, it is very enjoyable and rather well done.

The film is something of a homage to those old movies like Tarantula… But, it is also something of a spoof, a pleasing parody of the conventions of this kind of film. And, it is blessed with dialogue which is a good blend of the witty and the deadpan, as well as conventional characters who are cardboard in their way, but do have a bit more life than the usual. Some have complained of the artificiality of the special effects – however, these are done quite well, and what do you expect in this kind of B-budget spoof?

The central character is a good-natured post-exterminator (Greg Grunberg) whom we see in action, helping literally clinging old lady to get rid of her mouse and paid, as always, with fruitcake! But he is bitten by a spider and goes to hospital where he encounters a dire situation, a morgue attendant bitten by a spider and physically deteriorating. Our hero volunteers to examine the situation and gets the help of the Hispanic security guard (Lombardo Boyar), who provides a lot of the verbal humour and deadpan reactions. They are a kind of odd couple, a contemporary B-budget movie Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Then the army arrives, ultra-serious. An experiment (as always!) has gone wrong. The scientist is there to help out but with his wordy explanations, he gets in the way and is ousted. There is also a very efficient woman officer who seems, at the beginning, an unlikely romantic contact – but, of course,…

The film is not particularly gory, but has enough jumps, shocks, grimace-making sequences that are not overly disturbing for any audience. The spider keeps on quadrupling itself and eventually finishes up, like King Kong in New York, straddling a skyscraper in Los Angeles.

The film has received distribution in horror festivals and Monsterfest screenings. As far as it goes, it is a pretty good example of this kind of enjoyably exploitative creature film.


BLANCANIEVES

Spain, 2013, 106 minutes, Black and white.
Maribel Verdu.
Directed by Pablo Burger.

Blancanieves, the Spanish for Snow White.

This film would be interesting enough if it were just a re-telling of the Snow White tale. But, it is the manner of its telling that is arresting. It is set from the 1890s until the late 1920s. And it has been filmed in the silent movie styles of the period, though there is, of course, a musical accompaniment and some sound effects added.

The question is, of course, whether 21st century audiences want to see a black and white silent film these days. It is certainly different from what we are used to seeing and that makes it novel, ‘everything old is new again’! But, some critics, who know their silent films, bemoan Blancanieves as an anachronism, which lacks the impact now of the freshness and originality of those long-gone times.

Anachronism or not, this telling of the old story is original and that keeps the interest.
A famous bullfighter in Seville of the 1890s is the darling of the arena. He is a 19th century superstar, ready to face any bull. When a photographer’s flash causes him to be gored, he is hospitalised and his pregnant, loving wife dies in childbirth. As might be expected, the father has a disdain for his daughter, Carmencita, and leaves her in the control of his new wife, the nurse who tended him and sees fortune in a marriage which she engineers. Maribel Verdu seems to relish the hiss-the-villain role of the wicked stepmother.


CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

US, 2013, 134 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener.
Directed by Paul Greengrass.

The Red Sea, the Horn of Africa and the Somali Coast probably seem a long way from most countries unless you live in the Middle East or in the countries of north east Africa. They are often in the headlines, especially with news about pirates.

We are fortunate in 2013 to have two good and solid films about Somali piracy: the Danish film, A Hijacking and the American film, Captain Phillips.

A Hijacking took a storyline of the pirates attacking, taking hold of the ship, keeping the crew hostage over some months while negotiations were conducted between the CEO of the Danish shipping company and a mediator. It was a long haul story. By contrast, Captain Phillips is based on a true story, an act of piracy gone wrong, the captain taken hostage followed by intervention by the American coastguard. Negotiations were minimal.

The trouble with piracy, especially in the popular mentality, is that it takes us back to Treasure Island and Long John Silver or Blackbeard or any of those swashbuckling stories with a kind of Saturday matinee mentality. We could watch the swordfights and the body count lost in another time and place.

21st century pirates are not so romantic in their stories. Rather, we see Somali fishermen, Somali thugs motivated by a mixture of poverty and greed, controlled by the demands of warlords, taking it for granted that they can take up their automatics, board a ship, take over and demands millions of dollars in ransom.

Captain Richard Phillips commanded the first American ship to be attacked by pirates in 200 years. A container ship, with food for deprived peoples of Africa in its cargo, it was boarded by a small group of men. The Captain had protocols in place for such contingencies. There are scenes of tension as the ship is searched and the crew hides. There is a lot of roughhouse with the captors as if they had been watching too many American films.

The Captain deceives the pirates to a certain extent but is taken by them in the ship’s small vehicle and a pursuit begins. The cat and mouse with the pursuers and the pirates comes to a head. Captain Phillips tries to use his wits, not always successfully.

The cast portraying the pirates are convincing, young men with mixed motives, abilities, and attitudes towards the ransom, trying to make do with their botched tactics. But, it is Tom Hanks at the centre of the film, who gives it its focus. Over the decades we have come to expect that Tom Hanks can effortlessly play this kind of role. He has to undergo a lot of physical hardship in this film – and it is interesting that the film goes on after the resolution but spends some time on the Captain’s physical and mental condition and Hanks is persuasive as a courageous person in shock.

Director Paul Greengrass has made three Bourne films as well as on the 9/11 situation with United 93. He adds here to his list of intelligently written action films.


CLOSED CIRCUIT

UK, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent, Ciaran Hinds, Kenneth Cranham, Julia Styles, Ann Marie Duff.
Directed by John Crowley.

Here is one for conspiracy theory fans, not a great film, but both interesting and entertaining – until a fellow reviewer revealed that he did not find it very interesting at all, that this kind of film he could take or leave. Enjoyment will also depend on one’s perspective on politics, on government, on secrecy and cover-ups. If you are suspicious or cynical, then this one, involving terrorism and investigations and political double-dealing, should be on your list.

The film lives up to its title in the opening minutes, surveillance of the Borough Market in London, first one camera looking at shoppers, then split screen and gradually splitting until there is overall coverage. A truck, then an explosion, chaos, rubble and dead victims.

A suspect is arrested and the case is to be prosecuted. But audience attention is drawn to the defence, a successful lawyer picked out by the government. English law has a requisite that there be a special consultant for the defence who examines documentation, but is to have no profession contact with the defence lawyer. There may be some sense in this, but it is not made clear to the audience. And it is further complicated by the fact that the two have been in a sexual relationship, though now finished, and the dilemma as to whether they let this be known to the powers that be.

The powers that be take a great interest in the case and the lawyers, especially the Attorney General, an urbane, rather silver-tongued politician, played by Jim Broadbent. The lawyer is played by Eric Bana and the consultant played by Rebecca Hall.

We see visits to the accused and are puzzled by his seeming fatalistic attitude towards his trial. We see visits to his family and focus on his son who has a key to the whole proceedings. Things become messy when the lawyer discovers that his predecessor has died and that the circumstances, formerly not suspicious, become highly suspicious. An official, a Muslim (Riz Ahmed) recruited by the spy agencies after the bombings in London of July 2005, pays sinister visits to the consultant, not without threats of violence. An American journalist (Julia Styles) who seems to have significant contacts gives information to the lawyer. And there is a government worker (Ann Marie Duff) who is not as she seems and becomes the determined face of MI5.

So, put this all together, add some court scenes, so klling attempts and a twist that explains how things can go wrong and information suppressed – the public does not need to know. Oh, and in case you did not guess, the affair is back on!

The stuff of airport novels, perhaps. But airport novels, especially about spying and terrorism, can be very entertaining.


THE COUNSELLOR

US, 2013, 117 minutes, Colour,
Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Janvier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Ruben Blades, Goran Visnick, Dean Norris, Edgar Ramirez, Natalie Dormer, Bruno Ganz, John Leguizamo.
Directed by Ridley Scott.

Divided opinions on this one. Those who are interested in the novels and films of Cormac Mc Carthy have shown interest in it. However, many have been very disappointed by the convoluted plot as well as the time taken out from action for elaborate monologues, the kind of dialogue that nobody uses in real life, plus, at times, a specialised vocabulary.

The film is quite unpleasant in its way, with characters who are in no way sympathetic, even though the screenplay seems to be asking for the audience to have an interest in and warm to the central character, The Councillor (never given a specific name), played by Michael Fassbender, who worked with Ridley Scott in Prometheus. He plays a lawyer who for greedy motivations, to give his wife a comfortable way of living, becomes involved in drug trafficking from Juarez, Mexico, and becomes mixed up with a number of wealthy criminals as well as many of those who usually described as low-lives.

The film is something of a fable, especially on the gospel theme of “what does it profit a man…?”. We soon realise that this is going to be true of the counsellor himself. However, another character does gain the whole world, but by the end of the film we are wondering whether this character ever had a soul to lose in the first place.

Michael Fassbender plays his role in a rather subdued way, although he has to express desperation by the end of the film and sadness at the fate of his wife. She is played by Penelope Cruz with a touch of glamour and a touch of shrewdness. There is a strange couple played by Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz, he unashamed about his Greed, his ambitions for building a club, with something of a carefree attitude towards life and issues until he has to meet them face-to-face; she is all glamour, a blonde femme fatale, unscrupulous in her dealings, manipulative. There is also Brad Pitt, seemingly a middle-man in the drug trade. He manages to have quite a spectacular exit scene.

While a lot of the convolutions of the plot are just presented rather than explained, especially the counsellor’s involvement, if we pay attention, it all works out in the end. And, there are all those monologues about the meaning of life, the meaning of greed, the nature of the world we live in, the choices which we make which create a world different from the one we are living in… They are spoken by quite a number of the characters, especially the main characters, but also a barman, a lawyer, the head of the cartels.

Some have accused Cormac Mc Carthy of a kind of misogyny. However, he is very interested in sex and its different and sometimes extreme variations. Some of the sequences, especially the opening sequence, highlights the sexuality and continues to give a tone to the film, more than especially a scene involving Cameron Diaz in the car as well as her wanting to confess to a priest who is quite disturbed by her approach. At age 80, Mc Carthy, along with director, Ridley Scott who is 77, they could be called dirty old men.

After this exploration of crime, sin and the wages of sin, Ridley Scott is directing a film version of the book of capital Exodus. (Though there is a lot of sin and wages of sin in that book as well!)


ENDER’S GAME

US, 2013, 106 minutes, Colour.
Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Spenser.
Directed by Gavin Hood.

All the publicity suggests ‘Harry Potter meets Star Wars’. There is something in this insofar as the hero of this film, Ender, is something of a child intellectual wiz, if not a wizard, and his mentor is Harrison Ford, older and more grizzled than Han Solo. The film will have an appeal to younger audiences, especially those who enjoy playing computer games.

In fact, the film has been planned for several decades. Based on a novel by Card, it defied screen writers and producers for some time. But now, with its computer graphics and all kinds of special effects, it is a film of this time.

The film focuses on Ender, bullied in school, disappointing his father because of his seeming lack of success, but actually, one of the most intelligent and shrewd children at the training school. There is need for a training school. Fifty years earlier, the Formics (ant-like creatures) had invaded the earth and almost destroyed it. The heroic leader who destroyed the invading forces has become the legend for the earthly warriors, the film of his attack being watched by the students many times. The plan for earth is to be always ready for an invasion.

Ender is under perpetual surveillance by Graf, Harrison Ford, and Dr. Anderson, Viola Davis, who are on the lookout for the champion who will save the world. Ender looks like the most able candidate. He is taken into space for further training, clashing initially with his team, befriending hanks, Hailee Steinfeld, who supports and encourages him.

Asa Butterfield who was successful in The Boy but the Striped Pajamas and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, is an effective Ender, tall and gangly, with a tendency to be abrupt, earnest in his training, yet strong in character to stand up to the authorities. He is finally ready to do a simulation of an attack on the world of the Formics. He is disturbed, however, by the appearance of his sister in some dreams, especially in the landscape of the Formic planet. Ender stands in front of a vast cosmic vista, almost conducting like a symphony, this war of the worlds.

This battle and Ender’s control of it plays like a computer game, of Ender playing a computer game-but something more sinister is revealed at the end, Ender being a warrior not bent on destruction but on relationships and peace.

Harrison Ford plays his role with some grim intensity. Ben Kingsley, the national hero, has Maori paint on him and speaks with a New Zealand accent. Viola Davis, as always, offers a strong performance.

Card has written a number of Ender novels since the 1980s, so there is plenty of potential for sequels if this film is a box-office success. And that will depend on the younger audiences rather than older audiences.


ENOUGH SAID

US, 2013, 92 minutes, Colour.
Julia Louis- Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone.
Directed by Nicole Holofcener.

A film of great feeling – and feelings. This is a film for middle-aged and older audiences, characters they can be interested in, identify with in some ways, puzzle about their relationships, their handling of situations and crises. It may also be interesting for young adults who are sympathetic with their parents, perhaps puzzling over decisions they make, wondering what it is like to be 50 plus or minus.

The film has an inbuilt sympathy factor for those who know the actor James Gandolfini and his work, especially his central role in The Sopranos. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 51 in 2013. This is his second last film.

The focus of the film is on Eva, a woman divorced for 10 years, with a daughter who is about to leave home for college. She works as a masseuse and we are introduced to her as she goes on her rounds, working with a cross-section of people, with their personal oddities, like bad breath, incessant chattering, a young man to whom it doesn’t occur to help the masseuse up the staircase with her table. At a party, she meets a woman to whom she gives a card and who later rings her for an appointment. She also meets a middle-aged man, overweight, pleasantly genial, who rings her to make a date.

Eva, the masseuse, is played by Julia Louis- Dreyfus, best remembered by older audiences for her role in the long-running television series Seinfeld and the current series, Veep. She may not be the brightest star in the firmament, but she is a sympathetic woman, doing her work, helping people, reaching out to a daughter, to her daughter’s best friend (which leads to some envy), making do with life as well as being disappointed in the failure of her marriage.

Albert, who begins to date her, is played with great sympathy by James Gandolfini, perhaps unexpected because of his best-known gangster role. However, he is a genial man, slightly embittered by the rejection of him and the constant criticism by his ex-wife (Catherine Keener). The ex-wife is the woman to whom Eva gave her card at the party. Which means some complications for Eva, especially when she becomes aware of who Albert is.

There are some amusing situations, some humorous lines, but above all, a strong rapport between Julia Louis-Dreyfus? and James Gandolfini. There are also some telling sequences as each couple has a daughter going to college.

In the background is Eva’s great friend, Sarah (Toni Collette with her Australian accent!) And her husband, played by Ben Falcone, with whom she is constantly sparring. Is this what marriage is really like!

There is gentleness and warmth in the treatment by writer-director, Nicole Holofcener, who, over the years, has made a number of brief and gentle films about relationships and, especially, about women and their lives and issues (Friends with Money, Please Give).


ESCAPE PLAN

US, 2013, 115 minutes, Colour.
Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Sam Neill, Amy Ryan, Curtis Jackson, Vincent D’ Onofrio.
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom.

All those going into see Escape Plan will have presumptions about Sylvester Stallone co-starring with Arnold Schwarzenegger: it’s probably going to be just a variation on the brawn and brawn action series, The Expendables. It isn’t. In fact, it is far more interesting, combining brains with brawn.

Sylvester Stallone plays a prisoner who organizes an escape from a Colorado prison. At least, that’s what we think for the first few minutes. In fact, he is the top expert in the United States, and probably in the world, of discovering how prisoners could escape from the most maximum of prisons. He is invited to go into a beyond-maximum security facility and advise how escape-proof it is.

There used to be those films in the 1990s about isolated prisons with Ray Liotta or Christopher Lambert, films with titles like No Escape or Fortress. Escape Plan becomes a variation on that theme, except that the prison has used all kind of devices to become absolutely escape-proof - and there are several interesting revelations throughout the film. But Stallone, as Ray Breslin, is determined to escape and is helped in his quest by a fellow prisoner, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in a more subdued manner than usual, though not with some bruising battles. With a beard, Schwarzenegger seems rather different, and even more benign – and speaks some German.

While the film does offer the opportunity for audiences to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger together, hostile at first, becoming friends, doing battle together in order to facilitate a daring escape plot and plan, there are quite a few other character actors in the cast which bring it to a higher dramatic level. And that is despite the presence of Vinnie Jones, always a brutal presence in violent shows, and not blessed with the gift of acting. He gets the chance to throw his weight around, mostly a caricature of this type of prison guard.

On the other hand, there is Jim Caviezel, dapper and deadly sinister as the sadistic warden of the prison, not against brutality, but never soiling his hands in this; his approach is psychological threats and clash. Also on hand is Sam Neill as the prison doctor. And, in charge of the security company, there is Vincent D’ Onofrio as well as Curtis 50 Cent Jackson and Amy Ryan.

Our heroes do get that chance to show their capacity for brawn and action, but with the ingenuity of the prison security schemes and the sometimes ingenious plans for escape, they have to use their brains as well. Which makes the screenplay much more interesting,-with a couple of twists at the end.

It seems as though the action fans have been pleased with the pairing of the two super-heroes. Those who come across Escape Plan looking for a more thinking thriller than might be expected, will also be pleased with watching the plans go into action.


THE FIFTH ESTATE

UK/US, 2013, 128 minutes, Colour.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruehl, Morris Bleibtreu, Carice van Houten, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, David Thewlis, Dan Stevens, Peter Capaldi, Anthony Mackie.
Directed by Bill Condon.

A film about Julian Assange. It is presumed that everybody knows who he is and what he has done.

Some key quotes from the film: “a mad prophet who needs boundaries”, “a manipulative asshole”, “a media empire that is accountable to no one”, and Assange himself says at one stage “I dangle at the edge of autism”. They are useful in helping the audience to assess Assange as a person, his personal relationships, his relationship with those who worked with him, his technical skills, the work of WikiLeaks?, and the changes in attitude from 2007 to 2009. There is also a mention of “ego”.

Already in 2012-2013, there were two films made about Assange. One was a television film, Underground, made in Australia by Robert Connolly, about Assange and his family life, and the initial hacking into official American sites. It ended when he was about 20. Then there was the extensive documentary by Alex Gibney, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks?. The Fifth Estate runs parallel to the Gibney documentary in its presentation of Assange.

The film opens in 2009 with the release of extensive documents which embarrassed many governments around the world, especially the United States, but also officials in such countries as Kenya, with stories of corruption and killings. The film then moves back to 2007, Assange and the beginnings of WikiLeaks?, his attempts to make his work public, his finding Daniel Schmitt (in fact, Daniel Berg) who shared his idealism, worked constantly with him at great personal cost and financial cost in the early years of WikiLeaks?.

Benedict Cumberbatch bears a significant resemblance to Assange and is made up accordingly, especially his white hair, which he makes something of in passing but which emerges as something the children in the sect to which he belonged as a child had to do. He is imperious in his manner, brooking no position opposition. He severely lacks interpersonal skills, riding roughshod over people in word and manner. But he does persuade people to share his vision, to become volunteers, to staff the sites, to protect them, and so not reveal sources for WikiLeaks? and the whistleblowing.

Daniel Bruehl is very good as Schmitt, serving as Assange’s anchor and checking fact and fiction. Moritz Bleibtreu is Marcus, friend of Schmitt, a hacking expert who is able to protect WikiLeaks?. However, it is well known that Assange fell out with Schmitt, dismissing him, accusing him of disloyalty. Then, it was his Schmitt’s decision, along with his hacking friend, to close down WikiLeaks?.

Audiences will be on side with Assange in the early years, especially as he reveals the conspiracies and atrocities in Kenya, and, especially, as he reveals the footage of helicopter pilots in Iraq gunning down innocent civilians as well as a Reuters correspondent. This brings him to the notice of the American State Department and the CIA, officials in the film played by Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie.

With the extraordinary documents coming through, thousands of them, about American activity in Afghanistan, supplied by Bradley Manning who is briefly seen in newspaper photographs in the film, the newspapers become involved, especially Germany’s Der Speigel, the United States New York Times, the British Guardian.

This brings to a head the conflict with some of Assange’s friends and himself, his principle of publishing everything, while others urged a redaction of the documents, removing personal names for the safety of informers. There is a scene to illustrate this with a contact from Libya whose name is published and who has to escape to Egypt and to the US with his family.

The film raises issues of ethics in publication, the need for truth, for honest expression, but with more nuances than Assange wants to think about. This brings him into conflict, not only with governments, but with some of the editors of the newspapers. He is warned that there will be publicity against him, all kinds of rumours circulated, and audiences are familiar with the accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden.

The film ends with some discussion by the British about Assange, his ambitions, and the availability of all news instantly online, the new fifth estate. This is a film which will divide audiences, upset those who favour Assange (and this was true of Assange himself who contacted Benedict Cumberbatch urging him not to do the film) and those who might have favoured him initially but who, like his associates, found him to autocratic, an extraordinary controller of every aspect of WikiLeaks?, and, one is tempted to use the word, a narcissist.

But, in his work is in the public domain, he is a celebrity-figure of his own making, a crusader who did a lot of good, and ambitious man who, as the film ends, and at the time of the film’s release, is still resident in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. While the story will be continued, it has been stalled a long time inside that embassy.


FRUITVALE STATION

US, 87 minutes, 2013, 87 minutes, Colour.
Michael B.Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.
Directed Ryan Googler.

This film is based on actual events. They took place in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2009, the location, Fruitvale Station, on San Francisco/Oakland’s Bay Area Rail Transit, BART. The men involved were African-American?, the victims. The perpetrators, the Fruitvale Station BART Police. The events were captured by eye-witnesses on their phones, and the footage later used in evidence in the case against the police.

However, the film opens in darkness, just with voices talking about their hopes for the future. A sad irony as they were not to be fulfilled.

The main protagonist in these events was Oscar Julius Grant III, a young man of 22. The film opens on New Year’s Eve, 2008, a time when Oscar had decided that he needed to get his life in order. We see him at home, reconciling with his partner, Sophina, sorry for his infidelities. We see him with his four year old daughter, Tatiana, at breakfast, dropping her at school, picking up later in the day. Sophina goes to her work.

There are a number of episodes we see as the day goes by. Oscar phones his mother whose birthday it is and promises to get some food for a dinner. His sister phones him about the birthday, but also wanting to get money from him to pay her rent – but the calendar shows that Oscar’s rent is also due. He goes to the market where he used to work, talking to his brother, encountering a young white woman who is puzzled about the fish she should buy to fry. There is an irony when she is also on the train at Fruitvale and photographs the events. Oscar phones his grandmother and puts her on the line to the woman to give hints for the recipe. But Oscar also wants to get his job back, lost because of his arriving late at work, but the manager cannot give him his job because it would mean sacking someone more reliable.

Oscar phones a drug dealer and arranges to meet him by the Bay. This gives him time to reflect, to remember a year earlier, also his mother’s birthday, when she visited him in prison. While they talk, a fellow-prisoner taunts him and Oscar becomes very aggressive, his mother leaving. Clearly, he wants this year to be better than last. He breaks off contact with the dealer and gets rid of the marijuana he is carrying.

Despite the financial difficulties, things should have improved, especially with the dinner, and as he and Sophina and some of the family and friends go in to San Francisco for the celebrations. It is on the way home in the train that a scuffle breaks out when somebody recognises Oscar and begins a fight. When the train arrives at Fruitvale Station, the police are ready, summoning four young men, not involved with the fighting, to come off the train where they verbal them and treat them roughly. They also demand that Oscar come out of the train and they treat him in the same way, ready with guns and lasers, there is a shot and Oscar is wounded.

Michael B. Jordan is persuasive in his portrayal of Oscar. A man of limited background, with prison records, we still see an inherent goodness in him. Melonie Diaz is Sophina, his Hispanic partner. There is great strength in the performance of Academy Award-winner (The Help) Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s quite indomitable mother, powerful, especially in the hospital sequences where she gathers the family and urges them to prayer, as well as her last look at her son.

The credit sequences give information about what happened to the police – and there is a visual epilogue as people gather in memory at Fruitvale Station in January 2013.

A sad film, reminding audiences of racism in the United States and incidents like that of the confrontation with Rodney King in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. Fruitvale Station won the audience award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. It clearly touches the American conscience and an American nerve.


THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

US, 2013, 145 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Liam Hemsworth, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer.
Directed by Francis Lawrence.

It is important to advise audiences intending to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire that it won’t have much impact if they have not seen the initial film. This sequel, the second in the series, takes for granted the characters and actions from the first film.

Audiences familiar with Suzanne Collins’ books were pleased with the film version of The Hunger Games. And many audiences, and critics, were surprised to find how well done the film was and how interesting and entertaining. They won’t be disappointed with Catching Fire.

Although this film runs for almost 2 ½ hours, the filmmakers have relied on audience memory. For instance, there was huge fanfare to introduce the contestants, the tributes from the 12 districts, who would fight in the hunger games, television interviews, lavish costumes, dramatic introductions with spectacle. There is something of this in Catching Fire, but we remember the first film and supply the atmosphere which means that, for the budget, there is only a small presentation of the contestants this time. It is the same with showing the television audience with its costumes, make up, and intense reaction to the contestants.

The familiar characters are back, the opening with Katniss and Gale Hawthorne back in district 12, with the prospect of a victory tour around the districts for the victors of the games. She and Peeta are unwilling. But, there is unease in the districts, the oppressed populations signalling possibilities of revolution. The President, Donald Sutherland, is also scheming to use Katnisss to promote popularity for himself and for the capital. He wants her to foster her public relationship with Peeta, the populace identifying with her in her (alleged and publicised) romance.

The previous organiser of the games has been executed because of his failure to produce an outcome. The new organiser is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He collaborates with the President in new games, especially designed for the 75th anniversary of the uprising, with the smart idea that there be no new tributes to fight but rather the previous victors from the various districts participate again.

Which means that for the second part of the film, we have a repeat of Hunger Games, but in quite a different format, dangers, deaths, interesting but a greater spirit of collaboration between some of the contestants. There are some interesting special effects for the dangers and the threats during the games.

Jennifer Lawrence, who, between the two films, won an Academy Award for her performance in The Silver Linings Playbook, is still a strong presence as Katniss. Challenged in her ability for personal relationships, she nevertheless is a sympathetic warrior. Josh Hutcherson is back as Peter, sharing the victory to with Caithness, and showing some smartness in his dealings with the manoeuvres of the President. Liam Hemsworth has a few more appearances this time as the man from the district who loves Katniss. It is a great pleasure to see Woody Harrelson back as the former victor and coach, Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as the fey and fashion-conscious, Effie Trinket, still managing the victors. And Stanley Tucci once again relishes his role as the hyper-enthusiastic manipulative television compere.

As with the second films in most trilogies, this is a bridging story, anticipating the revolution that must come in the third film, Mockingjay.

Hunger Games Was Very Successful in Novel Form.The Hunger Games was very successful in novel form. It is very successful in film form. Audiences will be looking forward to the completion of the trilogy.


INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2

US, 2013, 104 minutes, Colour.
Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lynne Shay, Leigh Whanell, Angus Sampson, Barbara Hershey.
Directed by James Wan.

Insidious was very popular with audiences on its first release, exceeding box-office expectations. After all, there have been many haunted house thrillers and many ghost horror stories. Here was another one. But it had a good cast, was well written, created its eerie atmosphere, invented a few alternatives to going into the land of forgiveness and the afterlife, called The Further.

What can filmmakers do except to make a sequel! They have capitalised on what was successful in the first film and offered some variations and similar repetitions. And this film has been successful as well.

Insidious: Chapter 2 was written by Australian Leigh Whannel who wrote the first film (and wrote the first in the Saw series) as well as the first Insidious. The film was directed by James Wan who directed Saw and Insidious – and had great success, critical and box-office, in 2013 with his exorcism film, The Conjuring. And the star also comes from Australia, Rose Byrne.

However, this is a very American film, a film about a family, with grandmother (Barbara Hershey), parents (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) and three children, capitalising on the bonds between them all. It is also haunted house story, the audience being taken back at the opening to 1986 and some experts trying to help a mother who has a haunted child. This was the house of the grandmother and the proceedings had an influence on the father of the family who, in the initial film, was taken into The Further. This time we wonder whether he actually returned or whether he was possessed by a sinister Bride in Black from the past. This sets up the new hauntings, bizarre behaviour by the father, and the self-sacrifice of the son, who previously saved his father, to do it again.

Entertaining in its way, not one of the classics, but a respectable contribution to the genre.


JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA

US, 2013, 92 minutes, Colour.
Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll.
Directed by Jeffrey Tremaine.

When a movie announces Jackass Presents, it is either a hearty welcome or a dreaded beware!

With the television series and with three movies, the last one in 3-D, diehard Jackass fans know what to expect. The unwary stumbling upon Jackass movies may well be very wary the next time.

What the Jackass movies present is a collection of what might at best be called “pranks” or, at worst, “idiotic death-wish stunts”.

However, what we have here, is closer to pranks than the accustomed stunts, though there are a few of these with the warning at the end, as always, that they have been contrived for the film and should not be tried at home.

Also this time is a semblance of a plot, a young woman is about to go to jail and leaves her eight-year-old son with her father, with the instructions to take him across the country and give him to his father. Actually, underlying all the pranks and the stupidities, there is a strong vein of sentiment – although grandpa is certainly hard to warm to and his grandson seems far too knowing and precocious, entering into all the pranks wholeheartedly.

Grandpa is played by Johnny Knoxville who is the foundation for the Jackass movies. Billy is played by Jackson Nicoll whom Knoxville met when they were acting together in the rather unfunny, Fun Size (where Nicoll played a rather creepy character).

As the couple across the country, they encounter all kinds of people, and test their reactions to some outrageous comments and behaviour. Then we realise that what the film is is really a Candid Camera kind of movie, setting up people in situations so that they react for the hidden camera. To be fair to the film and the victims, there are closing credits sequences where the audience sees how the cameras are set up and how people react – and all those who unwittingly participated are all listed as appearing as themselves.

Most of the jackass movies are “no holds barred”. But this film does not go to those extremes. Yet there are some very tacky and crass situations, some gross-out bodily function sequences and a lengthy one with (how can one put it?), genital prosthetics.

There is a huge audience for this kind of jokey film, a blokey kind of audience, a very extroverted kind of audience who relish this kind of humorous embarrassment. And it made $90 million at the American box office in its first two weeks!


KILL YOUR DARLINGS

US, 2013, 104 minutes, Colour.
Daniel Radcliffe, Dane de Haan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyra Sedgwick, David Rasche, John Callum.
Directed by John Krokidas.


In recent years there has been a greater interest, at least in films, with the members of the so-called Beat Generation: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs. While there had been a film about Kerouac in 1980 with Nick Nolte and Sissy Spacek and there was a 90s version of William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch, within a year we have had Kerouac again in On the Road, Ginsberg in Howl and the three named above now in Kill Your Darlings.

Younger audiences may not be aware of them and their influence in the 1950s and 1906s and the recent films may be something of a revelation, a discovery of a group who wanted to challenge conventional values. Some older audiences might resonate and see them as a precursor of the hippy generation, even though they lived beyond that period. Older audiences might see them as nuisances, full of themselves and their concerns, enjoying ideas and moments of anarchy and needing to grow up which, sometimes, they did.

The focus of Kill Your Darlings is the killing of a gay man, David Kammerer, by his young protégé, Lucian Carr in 1944. The prologue of the film shows something of the killing, Carr in gaol and his friendship and relationship with the young Allen Ginsberg. The film then goes back to offer a portrait of Ginsberg, his studies at Columbia, which ended in expulsion, his being introduced to the Carr, Burroughs’ word, his self-discoveries, including unconventionality, his poetic talent and his sexual orientation.

The film is aimed more at an arthouse audience than audiences in the multiplexes. The first twenty minutes or so with its emphasis on poetry and quotation from poets, the formulation of a New Vision (and anti-censorship stances), may be somewhat alienating. However, the screenplay is literate and has interesting lines, like that of the conservative professor of literature who announces ‘no creation without imitation’.

The story and the characters get tangled in protest stunts at Columbia, family difficulties, emotional dependence, and issues of World War II and the war in the Pacific. Then we are back at the killing of David Kammerer and the consequences.

The casting is certainly of interest. Daniel Radcliffe, looking considerably older, is Ginsberg. However, it is Dane de Haan as Lucian Carr who gives a more striking performance, sometimes a more dominant performance. Dexter’s Michael C. Hall is Kammerer, devoted, sometimes desperate, sometimes pathetic. The usually wildly sinister Ben Foster is surprisingly calm in an effective portrayal of the young William Burroughs. Jack Huston is an enigma (even to himself, sportsman, married, yet caught up with this Beat group leading to his subsequent career). Times move on and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyra Sedgwick portray Mrs Ginsberg and Mrs Carr.

The film brings to life these characters, their behaviour and their times.


MACHETE KILLS

US, 2013, 107 minutes, Colour.
Danny Trejo, Demian Bishir, Mel Gibson, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lady Gaga, Walter Goggins, Alexa Vega, Vanessa Hudegens, Sofia Vergera, Charlie Sheen (billed as introducing Carlos Estevez).
Directed by Robert Rodriguez.


There is one thing you can say about the Machete series. It does not take itself too seriously. But it takes being deadpan and ironical with the humour quite seriously – and in that way it works successfully. Not that everybody would want to see the Machete films! They demand a fairly macho approach to movies from both men and women in the audience!

Writer-director (and director of photography, editor and co-composer) Robert Rodriguez, Texas-based, has always had an interest in genre films, loving action, but always ready to delve into the shadow side of human nature and present (exploit) human capacity for evil in fairly graphic ways, a Grindhouse imagination (From Dusk to Dawn, Sin City, ). His career has given him freedom to do as he wishes – and that is obvious from his indulgences in Machete and Machete Kills.

The film starts with a trailer of Machete Kills Again – in Space. It looks like a joke, but just see how this plot progresses and how it ends. The trailer is not so implausible (at least in the Machete context).

Then Machete goes into action – in Mexico. This time he has been requested to investigate drug dealings and other crimes. He is portrayed again by Danny Trejo whose gnarled looks (very) make him look mean and meaner, enough to give anyone a fright. Though he can shows his more human side. But, it is Machete in action, even without his machete, that look more like computer games violence than anything real.

There is someone who is after him, but takes different human forms, The Chameleon. Some of the forms include Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr and Lady Gaga. And there is a succession of young actresses and Sofia Vergera as a villain.

There is a joke in introducing trouble-prone Charlie Sheen, with his real name of Carlos Estevez, putting him in the role of the president of the United States – jogging audience memories of his father, Martin Sheen, portraying President Bartlett in the television series, The West Wing.

As Machete seeks the drug lord, the films seems a bit James Bondish, larger-than-life villain and tough action. Played by Demian Bichir, he is at one minute a ruthless gangster, the next a respectable agent trying to do his work in dangerous circumstances. But, that is only the half of it. The US government want Machete to track down an arms-dealer. This is even more James Bondish with a Blofeld-like villain, Voz, played by Mel Gibson.

This gets Machete into all kinds of dangers and trying to stop Voz launching into space with a group of wealthy humans who have paid big money to be re-located in space – as well as our hero, like Bond, trying to defuse a nuclear weapon within seconds. Off they go – and we realise the trailer is all too relevant to the adventures of Machete.

It has its violence and gory moments. It has its gross moments. But, with its solemn and, with respect, ugly antihero, a stock of one-liners and a mentality that likes to spoof the conventions it is using, Machete Kills can be listed as one of those guilty pleasures that you wouldn’t like your friends to know about!!


MAGIC, MAGIC

Chile, 2012, 80 minutes, Colour.
Juno Temple, Augustin Silva, Emily Browning, Michael Cera.
Directed by Sebastien Silva.

Magic, Magic is a film by Chilean director Sebastien Silva who directed the atmospheric 2009 film, The Maid. Atmosphere is an important word for this director, who concentrates very much on atmosphere surrounding his characters.

In this case, the characters are generally a group of young adults, with some older local Chileans added in. The central character is Alicia, played by the British Juno Temple, a young woman who has not travelled outside the United States but has come with her cousin, Sarah (Emily Browning) and her Chilean friends. They are on holidays in the countryside, travelling to an island off the Chilean coast.

All seems normal enough except that Alicia is a nervous traveller, compounded by the fact that Sarah is called back to the United States to sit for an exam. This disconcerts Alicia but she is persuaded not to return home and to travel with the group to the island.

Augustin (Augustin Silva) is Sarah’s boyfriend and is considerate towards Alicia. His older sister (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is rather aloof and unwelcoming. The other character is a friend of Augustin, an American from a diplomatic or family, Brink (Michael Cera). He is a rather obnoxious character, pranks and jokes, with a sadistic touch.

However, the point of the film is Alicia’s mental deterioration on the island. Away from home and what she is used to, she feels alienated from the group, welcoming Sarah back from the United States, but unable to sleep, on tenterhooks, wandering away from the group. One major episode, long in this short-running film, is the challenge to Alicia to jump from a cliff, continually urged by the others, focusing on her delay and fear. Later, when things come to a head, the night, the darkness, strange experiences with animals, local traditional rituals, Alicia goes to the cliff again to jump.

The film stops rather than bringing the drama to a conclusion. It is over to the audience to speculate on Alicia’s future, what will happen to her in the short term with the others on the island, what will happen to her long-term.

Since the characters are not particularly engaging, some audiences will find it difficult to identify with them or warm to them. Rather, it is a film of atmosphere and observing Alicia and her mental collapse.


MARY MEETS MOHAMMAD

Australia, 2013, 83 minutes,.Colour.
Directed by Heather Kirkpatrick.

There will probably be no surprise to find that when Mary meets Mohammad, there will be a meeting of minds and hearts. However, the surprise was all Mary’s.

With so many headlines highlighting refugees and asylum seekers, many Australians have been stuck with the names as labels, rather than as seeing the refugees as persons. This documentary is a contribution to understanding and appreciation by doing that most ordinary of things, showing people meeting one another, getting to know one another as persons, and breaking through prejudices.

The film begins with the Australian Federal government’s decision to build a detention centre outside Hobart, at Pontville. It shows the various stages of building, as well as local citizens meeting, objecting to the very idea of a detention centre, claims made about the nature of the refugees, especially as potential terrorists because they are Muslim. The nearest neighbours, sheep farmers, are asked about government consultation which was proclaimed as having happened. They are definitely stating that they were not consulted at all. And the farmer has some harsh things to say, not wanting these people bringing their problems to Australia.

Somebody remarks that Australian and American forces have not been able to defeat the Taliban, what are the Hazaras expected to do!

Factual information is given about Australian policy, information about detention, and information about SERCO who manage the centre.

But then the film becomes quite domestic, showing people that most audiences can identify with (especially older people): the Bridgewater knitting Society. The women decide that they will knit beanies for the anticipated refugees. They become enthusiastic, and liaise with the local Anglican priest and Bishop. There are also two young women, volunteers for visiting refugee centres, who are trying to cut through red tape in order to visit some of the internees. They are required to have the exact names of the people they want to visit and are turned back when there are inaccuracies in the names. The Anglican priest promises to use her influence in getting accurate names.

The volunteers are enthusiastic women in their meeting with the knitters and their talk to camera, communicating their feelings about their work, about the detainees, and preparing visits for the Bridgewater Society.

Amongst the knitters is 71-year-old Mary, a widow, living alone, and quite definite in her not wanting Afghan refugees around the place, let alone in her home. However, she is curious about the stories she has heard about detainees and their luxurious lifestyle – the farmer’s wife quoting three course meals, spas… Well, Mary goes, finds that the men are different from what she was expecting. She continues to visit and becomes very friendly with a Hazara Afghan refugee, Mohammad. Because there was no filming for the media inside Pontsville, some of Mohammad’s conversation is presented as text on screen.

Eventually, Mohammad receives a temporary visa and is released into the community. He is invited to a holiday house owned by Joy, the leader of the knitters. Mary happily goes as well. Again, we see ordinary scenes of Mohammad, in the parks and gardens, talking with the two women, reminiscing about his home in Pakistan, where he lived illegally and could not go to school, his wife still there, though his ringing her for cooking hints for the ladies, his period of mental disturbance. He has a prayer mat and prays, with Mary saying that he seems to be more open to other religions than she is. There are meals, going fishing, conversations between friends, with Mohammad seeing Mary as his Australian grandmother.

It might seem that this is what we should expect from a film like this – but, considering some of the statements of the Tasmanians wary of the detention centre as well as apprehensive about the men themselves, the scenes may well come as a surprise to some Australians, as they would have to Mary before she met Mohammad.

There is a warmth about the film as well as strong campaigning on behalf of the detainees, especially the point of the 90 day limit on detention. And a note to say that the visa for Mohammad’s wife to come could take several years – and one wonders why.

This is a film with a definite point of view, but one worth watching and sharing.


MR PIP

New Zealand, 2012, 116 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Laurie, Elka Darville.
Directed by Andrew Adamson.

Mr Pip is a New Zealand production, based on a story by Lloyd Jones, a journalist reflecting on the experiences of Bougainville in 1989, the closure of the copper mine, the financial crisis and the international companies, the rise of rebels and the intervention of the Papua New Guinea military. It has been adapted for the screen by the director, Andrew Adamson, director of the first two Shrek films and the first two Chronicles of Narnia films.

The photography for the film, in Bougainville itself, is very beautiful and offers the audience the flavour of the South Pacific. The audience is immersed in the life of the village, the hardships of the blockade, the closure of the schools. Later in the film the action will move to Mt Isa in Queensland as well as to London.

In fact, the film opens in London where the central character, the 14-year-old girl grown to womanhood, Matilda (ZX) is visiting the Dickens Museum. Audiences will be wondering what the girl is doing in London. The film then moves to flashback and tells the story of the girl and her encounter with an Englishman, Mr Watts (Hugh Laurie making a strong impression).

The core of the film is Mr Watts deciding to start some classes for the children on the island. He is not a teacher but has a profound love of Dickens, especially for Great Expectations. This seems an unlikely book for children on Bougainville. However, he begins to read and the children respond, especially with their imaginations and the development of comprehension. Matilda responds very well to the novel, even to imagining herself in the situations of the novel, with Pip and Magwich in the cemetery, with Pip going to see Miss Haversham, with the grown-up Pip in London… The film is strong in showing the power of the storytelling, the power of the imagination, the possibilities for education with such storytelling. (And a reminder of how the Taliban takes stances against this kind of schooling for girls.)

There is a difficulty with Matilda’s mother, the leader of the church on the island, a Protestant-evangelical church, where she also conducts the choir, carries the Bible, and thinks that there is something too secular about reading Dickens instead of the Bible. When the military arrive, she has taken the book and hidden it in a large mat. There are dire consequences because of this.

While the sequences of Mr Watts working with the children are very congenial, the mood changes considerably with the arrival of the military, the toughness of the commander, the laissez-faire attitudes of his soldiers and their disregard of the locals. The commander makes the mistake of thinking that Mr Pip is a real person and that the village people are hiding him. When he returns second time, his avowed intention is to uncover Mr Pip with grim threats to the villagers. It is at this moment that there is a change of atmosphere with the shock of military brutality, murder and rape (and a reminder that this kind of brutality continues all over the world, in such places as the Congo and Sudan, and in the civil war in Syria).

The experiences have harsh consequences for Matilda. However, she is fortunate in being to go to Australia, to Mount Isa and stay with her father. And, in some act unexpected circumstances, she goes to London for the visit that we saw at the opening of the film. There she meets Mr Watts’s wife (Kerry Fox) and learns a lot about her teacher and why he was in Bougainville, about his Bougainvillean wife, her depression, the pathos of the reasons for it and Mr Watts’ self-sacrifice.

In many ways, the film takes on too many issues, so that during the film the audience have to move dramatically from one to another, sometimes surprisingly, but, by the end, within the two hour running time, the audience does have the opportunity to consider all these issues, whether political and economic, whether educational, whether economic or dealing with refugees and working migrants.


MYSTERY ROAD

Australia, 2013, 116 minutes, Colour.
Aaron Peterson, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, David Field, Bruce Spence, Roy Billing, Tasma Walton, Tony Barry, Zoe Carides, Damian Walshe-Howling?, Robert Mammone.
Directed by Ivan Sen.

One of the best Australian films of 2013 It works in the genre of police investigation, murders, mystery in the context of an outback Australian town.

It is the work of writer-director, Ivan Sen, who made impact with such films as Beneath Clouds and Toomelah. It is set in an outback town of north-western New South Wales and draws on Sen’s experience of this environment. He also comes from an aboriginal background, using this in his previous films, and making it quite central to Mystery Road.

Sen not only writes his screenplay and directs his film but is director of photography, editor and composer of the musical score. With Mystery Road, he has brought all these talents together most successfully.

Aaron Pedersen proves himself to be an imposing screen presence as Jay, the local man who made a mess of his marriage with his drinking, and his wife drinking, and abandoning them to go to Sydney where he trained to be a detective. He has now returned and is involved in the investigation of a dead aboriginal girl. He himself is aboriginal.

Jay is rather taciturn, has something to prove, wants to re-unite with his daughter but finds her unwilling and his wife still bitter and drinking. The local police chief relies on him but does not involve himself personally in the case. Which leaves the onus on Jay to uncover clues, to interview people, to do some surveillance. He uses his powers of observation and his wits as well as a spirit of independence to uncover what is happening in the town, prostitution for the drivers of the road trains, the girls becoming addicts as well as being suppliers of drugs.

While the plot has its ugly dimensions, the photography of the town and its surroundings, a blend of contemplative longshots as well as probing close-ups, contribute to the atmosphere. And, the story is interspersed with a number of aerial shots, looking down on the town itself, the houses, the streets and the vehicles moving along them.

Pedersen leads a strong cast, peopled with a number of Australian character actors. Hugo Weaving is an enigmatic fellow officer. An almost unrecognisable Jack Thompson is an old codger who gives information to the police. Roy Billings is the owner of a gun shop. Bruce Spence is the coroner. David Field is the local landowner with Ryan Kwanten as his son. Robert Mammone is the police partner. Tasma Walton is Mary, Jay’s wife.

This means that the film is interesting and entertaining in its genre, but also offers insight into the Australian character. And all this in the unusual beauty as well as some squalid human conditions. The film was shot in Winton, Queensland.


PATRICK

Australia, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
Charles Dance, Rachel Griffiths, Sharni Vinson, Damon Gameau, Jackson Gallagher.
Directed by Mark Hartley.


This reviewer has not seen the original film of 1978, its first release. This review will not be a comparison with the original film. After the review, a look back to the 1978 review of Patrick.

One of the advantages of a re-make is that the director and writer can take advantage of developments in camera equipment, styles of photography, in editing and pace, in special effects. This is certainly the case for this film. The photography is mainly dark and gloomy, creating the atmosphere of the old convent which has become a centre for research on comatose people and the possibilities of bringing them back to consciousness. The environment is not much cheerier, coast road, clouds, rain, fog. And within the convent, still with its many statues of the Sacred Heart, Mary, St Joseph, crucifixes, it is always very dark and eerie.

This is important because the head of the Institute, Dr Roget (Charles Dance) is urbane in a British kind of way, accent and all, and seems dedicated to his work. but, he is, of course, a mad scientist. His assistant in the Institute is his daughter Julia (Rachel Griffiths), who for most of the film is being the stereotypical hard matron, starchilly repressed. But, she has some more active moments at the end of the film.

However, the audience sees everything through the eyes of an eager young nurse, Kathy, played by Sharni Vinson, who becomes involved with the central patient, Patrick (Jackson Gallagher), a young man lying immobile, eyes open, but seemingly without consciousness. It soon appears that he does have consciousness with telekinetic powers. They are not the just the traditional powers, but an ability to use his power links to a computer to communicate in words appearing on the screen – not something possible in 1978.



Cathy is advised to socialise by Nurse Williams, the other member of the staff, a cheery young woman who does not take work over-seriously. She and Kathy meet Brian, a psychiatrist, rather flirtatious and interested in a relationship with Kathy. This leads to some danger for Brian and, ultimately, his death. Also in the picture is Kathy’s former boyfriend, Ed (Damon Gameau), who also becomes the victim of telekinetic violence. And it all builds up to a hyper-melodramatic finale.

The director is Mark Hartley who made the very interesting documentary on Ozploitation movies, Not Quite Hollywood (narrated by Quentin Tarantino). The film opens with the conventions of dark mansion, mysterious laboratory, mad doctor, of the odd goings-on, then it moves more and more into some shock-horror moments - and really goes fairly bonkers towards the end. The audience will laugh at various times, sometimes from the pleasure of a shock which makes them jump, sometimes with the kind of spoof treatment of the theme, other times with some really ludicrous lines. But, we can suppose that this is what the filmmakers intended, and atmospheric and sometimes tongue-in-cheek hoot.


THE SPECTACULAR NOW

US, 2013, 97 minutes, Colour.
Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh,
Directed by James Ponsoldt.

The opening of The Spectacular Now shows us the central character, Sutter (Miles Teller) at his computer, typing an essay on something that was hard and challenging in his life as part of his application for college. He recounts his exploits of the night before, with flashbacks indicating to the audience something of his character, his partying, his relationship with Cassidy (Brie Larsen) the glamorous blonde beauty of the class. He also starts to tell something of the truth about himself but deletes the letter.

As the film takes as into those high school parties, loud, dancing, drink… teenagers and young adults may get excited by this, while older audiences may slip back into their seats and wonder what they are going to be asked to endure. However, the film does improve both for its target audience as well as for those who may not be drawn into it immediately.

Sutter is 18, in the final year at school, not particularly interested in classes, full of wisecracks, considered something of a clown by others at the school. At this stage we are not sure that he has anything more to his character.

The Spectacular Now obviously means living to the full in the present, relishing it, glorying in it. At least, this seems to be the philosophy of Sutter. But Sutter, living in the now or in the immediate past, partying, drinking, trying to make an impression on his girlfriend, Cassidy, and generally failing.
As with so many films, all films really, we need to wait until the end to see how the situation develops and whether it resolves itself. This is particularly the case with The Spectacular Now.

The film is Sutter’s story. He lives with his mother, separated from her husband, working on night shifts in a hospital. This gives Sutter plenty of time to indulge himself, with Cassidy, with his best friend whom he is trying to set up with a girl, making wisecracks which he discovers later make him seem like a clown to his fellow-students. And he drinks, often and strongly, with his concealed flask. What is to happen to Sutter, especially as he deletes the application for college?

The main crisis of the film is Sutter, drunk, disappointed, driving home and crashing his car, and waking up at 6.00 am with a fellow-student looking down at him on her lawn. She is Aimee (an impressive performance from Shailene Woodley, a rather unprepossessing young woman, dominated by her mother, even to doing her mother’s paper delivery route. But, Sutter and Aimee unexpectedly click. She falls for him, he is comfortable in her company but does not see it as a loving relationship.

It is interesting to see the development in Sutter despite himself, becoming a more normal person, not just simply joking around, but really interested in keeping Aimee company. But he doesn’t stop drinking, actually enticing Aimee herself to start drinking.

He is challenged by a lecturer to improve his geometry studies, and he asks Aimee to tutor him. This gives them the opportunity to be together, for him to learn something about her (a love of reading graphic novels, for instance) and for him to be more himself.

He has never known his father and his mother will not give him address or phone number to make contact. He dares Aimee to stand up to her mother (using language she never would have dreamt she would use) and she dares him to find out about his father. Eventually he does and asks her to go with him, an experience that he has been looking forward to but which, inevitably, ends in disappointment and anger. And he also asks Aimee to go to the prom with him. He becomes a changed young man, even when, in times of retrenchment, his boss wants him to stay on with his part-time job, asking him to give up drinking; he is honest enough to say that he cannot.

There is a strong scene towards the end when he begins to talk honestly with his mother and she talks honestly with him, not reprimanding him, but pointing out all his good qualities which he covers with his low self-image.

The film is clearly a moral fable, especially about being one’s true and genuine self, not setting up a facade image, as well as in developing a sense of responsibility – and knowing that there can be a spectacular now another tomorrow, the next day, and…


THOR: THE DARK WORLD

US, 2013, 112 minutes, Colour.
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Chirstopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgaard, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Kat Denning, Chris O’ Dowd, Benicio del Toro.
Directed by Alan Taylor.

A venerable film reviewer often used a phrase to indicate that he thouhg a film was rather silly: ‘a load of codswallop’. Thor: The Dark World probably deserves this epithet, though in a kindly way. It is an enjoyable, though not great, Marvel Comics entertainment. But the plot is rather silly and the screenplay does not want to take the proceedings too seriously. There are quite a number of deadpan lines and some sending up of the heroes and villains. As with other Marvel Comics films, it is best to wait to see the inserted trailer of a film to come, this time featuring The Collector. And, better still to wait until the very end of the long credits where there is another minute of the plot, with the happiest of endings as well as a tongue-in-cheek joke.

Once again, Chris Hemsworth is the hero, Thor. He is more confident than ever, deep-voiced, vocally articulate, full of swagger. As before, he has to defy his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins more rhetorical than ever), grieve the death of his mother (Rene Russo), who is given a Viking funeral. He has to confront sinister and evil powers, deal with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston relishing the role again), going back and forth between Asgard and Earth, teaming up with scientist Jane (Natalie Portman). In this sense, the story is not full of surprises as was the original film.

And, once again, there is an evil race, led by Christopher Eccleston, who have discovered the Aether, which they need to possess in order to take world domination, especially at the time of the configuration of the nine elements. This means that there are many sinister scenes and battles, especially to introduce the story. Meanwhile, on earth, scientist Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard), has gone berserk running around Stonehenge with his equipment but naked, landing in in a mental institution. Jane is still doing her work but goes out to lunch with a co-worker, a cameo by Chris O’ Dowd. Her assistant Darcy, Kat Jennings, is still sardonic, but has a naff intern, Ian, Jon. And then Thor turns up on earth after two years’ absence, with Jane angry at him.

However, with the threats of the enemy, Jane is taken up to Asgard and later abducted with Thor rescuing her as she becomes a victim of the enemy, wanting to take her life-force. Loki is imprisoned before Thor takes the risk, with conditions, for Loki to help him in his mission. But the climax is to be held on earth, in London for a change instead of New York or an American City, specifically at Greenwich where it will be meantime in more senses than one.

More battles, more heroics, more romance.

One of the advantages of the sequel is that there is a good deal of attention given to Loki, the fans having appreciated him in the original film as well as in The Avengers. He has quite a few amusing comments and ironic remarks, which audibly pleased the preview audience a great deal. Since the screenplay, serious, does not always take itself too seriously, there are some amusing moments which make the codswallop acceptable.


WALESA – MAN OF HOPE

Poland, 2013, 128 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Andrej Wajda.

There was a time, from the early 1980s and through that decade, that most people knew who Lech Walesa was and how the Solidarity Movement in Poland, starting on the waterfront of Gdansk, led to the downfall of the Polish government and offered an example to other Soviet countries of how, especially after the death of the Russian President, Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union could never be the same. Then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down.

At the time, celebrated Polish director, Andrez Wajda, made a number of films that reflected the situations of the late 1970s, early 1980s. One of them was a fiction/semi-documentary, Man of Iron (1981), about Solidarity and how it was beginning its move against the government presiding over a failing Polish economy. It was also a society plagued by officialdom, bureaucracy, secret police and oppression of civil rights.

Wajda was in his mid-80s when he made this portrait of Walesa, his opportunity to go back to this period, not just to show it as it was, but with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight and almost a quarter of a century of freedoms. From this film, it is clear how admiring he is of Walesa of Solidarity and the changes in Poland.

Walesa is shown at the opening of the film being interviewed by famous Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci. As the film keeps going back to the interview, it offers the screenplay the chance to ask significant questions as well as to show Walesa’s character. He would not have been an easy man to deal with, sometimes a stolid waterfront worker and union man, not a smiling man. Rather, he is determined, strong-minded, prepared to be jailed many times, to keep to his principles. We see him at home with his long-suffering and loving wife. We see him in discussions with the workers. We see him at demonstrations. We are told of his charisma – which does quite come across. Perhaps the English sub-titles do not do justice to his charisma.

Nevertheless, the film is of interest to find the Polish point of view on Walesa. Involved in disputes and strikes during the 1970s (and sacked from his job), he survives with mechanic’s work but finds that the 1980s are bringing to the surface the earlier uprisings of the 1970s. Authorities are exasperated by him and are out to get him. He is put to disadvantage personally and politically during the strikes and the consequent hardships of unemployment, loss of wages, hunger and the failing economy.

All the time there is the interest of John Paul II, elected in 1978, seen re-visiting Poland and supporting the goals of Solidarity. And his picture is on the wall of the Walesa household.

Ultimately, Solidarity prevails and we see footage of Walesa and his speech to the United Nations in 1989. He will soon become the President of Poland.




Created by: malone last modification: Tuesday 19 of November, 2013 [10:44:06 UTC] by malone


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