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Film Reviews October 2012

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SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS OCTOBER 2012


ARBITRAGE
ARGO
BAIT
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILDS
CHINESE TAKEAWAY
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS
HAIL
HOLY MOTORS
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA
I WISH/ KISEKI
KILLING THEM SOFTLY
LAWLESS
LOOPER
LORE
MENTAL
MONSTER IN PARIS, A
ON THE ROAD
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION
SAVAGES
TAKEN 2
WATCH, The
WORDS, The
WUTHERING HEIGHTS


ARBITRAGE

US, 2012,
Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Britt Marling, Tim Roth, Nate Parker.
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki

We might not be able to win an economics quiz accurately describing what arbitrage is, but it is a term which deals with competing bids and margins of profit (more or less). It is clearly a theme in this financial drama and thriller – it also serves as a metaphor for the behaviour of the central character, corporation high flyer, Robert Martin, concerning his life and risks as patriarch of his family (his word) and the interests and risks of his financial empire.

For most audiences, this will prove to be a fascinating drama of a man who has made major wrong decisions and is trapped when the circumstances he has created begin to unravel. He has told initial lies and they have disastrous consequences as they lead to other lies and other lies.

This is a Richard Gere film and he dominates it as he has for more than 35 years. He is Robert Miller, 60, one of those (until recently) seemingly unassailable lords of finance. The audience is quickly led into his dilemmas concerning selling his company, a false audit, his borrowing over four hundred million dollars from a colleague who wants it back while the potential buyer of his company avoids meeting him and delays the deal.

That in itself would make for an interesting film. However, while he appears as the devoted family man, has his family around him for his 60th birthday, including his loving wife (Susan Sarandon in a better role than she has had in recent years) and his daughter (a strong Britt Marling) who is also his business partner but does not know of her father’s troubles, he soon goes out to visit his mistress (Laetitia Castel), an artist whose show he is backing.

More disaster with a car crash. His leaving the scene of the crash and asking for help from the son of an old employee, lead from one deception to another, then another.

The combination of these two plots makes for intriguing watching. It is complicated for our emotional and moral response because of Richard Gere’s making Robert Miller quite seductively charming, even as he manipulates people, avoids detection and undermines his family unity. He presumes that he can do what he likes for as long as possible (despite some moments of thinking that he ought to surrender). Since his philosophy is that there are five things which matter in this world: M.O.N.E.Y., he presumes that it will solve all problems.

There are effective performances from Tim Roth as the detective who is determined to nab the billionaire and who abhors his type, from Nate Parker as the young man and driver who does not want to snitch but finds that he is trapped by the police, and from Stuart Margolin as Miller’s wily lawyer.

The film blends questions of morality, plausible arguments about how the truth might harm many others, and cynicism about how the captains of industry can walk unscathed through life


ARGO

US, 2012,
Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin.
Directed by Ben Affleck.

The plight of the hostages trapped in the US Embasssy in Tehran from 1979 to 1981 was a strong political focus at the time – and was considered one of the reasons by Jimmy Carter was not re-elected as president. However, there was a story behind the headlines, a story that still seems far-fetched, but which was released for the public only in 1997 by President Clinton.

Argo is that story.

How it relates to current attitudes to Iran and its nuclear program as well as its staunchly religious administration of the country will be an interesting issue with this film’s release, reminding audiences of Iranian history. There is an interesting summary (with images) at the beginning of the film: critique of the British and American colonial behaviour in the first part of the 20th century, the brief attempt at democracy and the nationalizing of oil in the 1950s, the placing of the Shah as ruler and his brutal and luxurious regime, the revolt and the accession of Ayotollah Khomeini as supreme ruler.

Protestors went rampant outside the American Embassy, vividly re-created here, with the infiltration of the embassy, the flight of six staff members and their refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador, with the rest of the staff (around sixty) trapped for over a year.

We are taken into the workings of the American government. There are bizarre plans to rescue the hostages (cycling to the Turkish border, agricultural experts visiting – but it was winter – and teachers visiting, but the international school had been closed).

An expert on hostage release is called in who proposes an extraordinary scenario – which worked, Tony Mendez.

The film is very well-paced, building up the details of the plan, to send in Mendez as scouting for locations in Iran for a science-fantasy (after all, it was the era of Star Wars). An Oscar-winning make-up artist for Planet of the Apes, John Chambers, agrees to participate. John Goodman gives a great and funny performance as Chambers. So does Alan Arkin as a has been director who agrees to join in the plan and move things along – with deals with agents, storyboarding and a full-dress reading of the script. It was called Argo (which leads to a frequently mouthed insult, Aah, go…).

While the planning is interesting, given the time restraints (and the toing and froing of official okaying of the venture), the scenes of the six at the Canadian house, showing them to be generally young men and women, are fascinating. But it is Tony Mendez’ daring, getting advice in Istanbul, entering Iran, visiting the minister of culture, briefing the six with new identities, Canadian passports and professional skills for Argo, which create plenty of tension for the audience even though we know the outcome.

A scene where they all go to a market, pass through a riot and cause one of the own, builds up the atmosphere for the actual departure. The scenes at the airport – will they, won’t they get away – are particularly effective.

Great credit to Ben Affleck who co-wrote the film and expertly directed it – after making the fine dramas, Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town. He also plays Tony Mendez, making his character, plan and the carrying out, always amazing.

As thrillers for 2012 go, this is one of the best.


BAIT

Australia, 2012
Xavier Samuel, Sharni Vinson, Martin Sacks, Julian McMahon?.
Directed by Kimble Rendell.

Since Jaws in 1975, which took itself quite seriously, sea creature disaster films have become more tongue-in-cheek, often downright silly. By the time of 2011 Piranha 3D and the recent Piranha 3DD, they are so absurd that they are designed for DVD release for people to look at at home and get a gory laugh.

Bait does have some of these moments but it takes itself more seriously than usual – which makes it more watchable.

It opens on the Gold Coast, everything seeming quite normal. Before long we have a Jaws situation, with bright blood flows trickling vividly towards the camera (especially if you watch the 3D version). Then, a lapse of a year, where Josh (Xavier Samuel) has regrets about the death of his lifeguard friend and his fiancée, Tina (Sharni Vinson) moving to Singapore. (The Singapore emphasis, with some performers from there as well as technicians, comes because this is an Australian-Singapore? co-production.) Josh works at a local supermarket, setting him up as a rather morose hero (memories for some of Stephen King’s The Mist).

A robbery is about to go down (as they say in America, and there are quite a lot of American twangs right through the film) when birds fly in from the sea, dogs bark, and the stillness of the air is ominous. No early warning system because a tsunami suddenly looms, sweeps over the beaches and overwhelms people, vehicles and rushes into the buildings. The car park goes almost under water and the neatness of the supermarket aisles is rocked with collapse, crashing and destruction. There are only a few survivors, characters who have been introduced during the set up in the supermarket and the car park.

If you thought that was bad for all concerned, what should be washed into the supermarket but a 12 foot shark? So, this is a Jaws variation with a small cast in a confined space. The heroics are shared around, with a character from Singapore giving his life to switch off the power source while loose wires dangle over the water. A young woman who is angry with her policeman father (Martin Sacks) – he is there too because of the robbery – does a courageous swimming feat. Meanwhile in the car park, there are three survivors – and the wrong one gets eaten by the shark. I think we would have willingly sacrificed the bird-brained (apologies to all birds), self-absorbed young woman instead! Xavier Samuel gets the opportunity to heroically face the car park shark (under water) and destroy it, while Julian McMahon? (on a holiday home to Australia with his American accent) helps our hero, Josh, to the final destruction and liberation and a Poseidon Adventure-like ending – except for the final seconds where we all jump.

This is genre material, full of conventional situations adapted to a supermarket. The dialogue is often basic, not all that much attention given to finesse. Most of the performances are functional rather than dramatic. But, as this kind of entertainment goes, it is better than most others.


BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILDS

US, 2012,
Quvenzanhe Wallis, Dwight Henry.
Directed by Benh Zeitlin.

Beasts of the Southern Wilds has received a great deal of acclaim at Festivals, from critics and from the public. (One of its awards in Cannes was from SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication.) It is blend of realism and fantasy, set in Louisiana.

The central character is a little girl, Hushpuppy. Quvenzanhe Wallis is impressive, a strong character, in herself and in her care for her ailing father. There has been quite a lot of, as PR calls, ‘Oscar buzz’ for her performance.

The southern setting introduces us to a survival way of life with a group of poor people who live on the water. Floods come and the way of life is disrupted. Father and daughter sail along the river, encountering their friends who are struggling with the flood. Eventually they are rounded up and taken to a shelter for food, care and for hospital attention. They are wary, want to get back home – which they do.

As a picture of a different community, the film has many vivid and moving moments.

The title, Beasts of the Southern Wilds, has reminded many viewers of Where the Wild Things Are. Not a misplaced reminder, especially as Hushpuppy’s imagination actually sees these almost mythical lumbering beasts – but can tame them as they bow before her. She is indomitable.

In fact, the film is a tribute to the indomitability of the human spirit.


CHINESE TAKEAWAY

Argentina, 2011.
Ricardo Darin, Ignacio Huang.
Directed by Sebastian Borensztein.

Chinese Takeaway has a lot going for it. An entertaining story and interesting central characters but with many comic touches and quite serious humane undertones.

It starts romantically in China – but this lasts only a few minutes before an absurd accident brings disaster to the couple. The film does say that it is based on actual events and the final credits are worth staying for, as glimpses of television news show the events in Russia on which the film is based, quite absurd in their way but tragic.

Then we are in Buenos Aires with one of Argentina’s top actors, Ricardo Darin, who can do serious police roles as well as more ordinary characters as he does here. He is Roberto who has his own hardware store. He is a middle-aged loner, a man of routine (lights out at 23.00 on the dot) who keeps a scrapbook of newspaper reports of would-you-believe-it stories. He can’t be drawn out of himself, even by a woman from the country who obviously loves him.

Where could this be going? China disaster to suburban Argentinian shops?

One of his pastimes is sitting outside the airport watching planes. Suddenly, a young Chinese man is tossed out of a taxi. It is the young man of the opening. Roberto goes to help him – and thus begins a tale. Jun cannot speak Spanish. Roberto is frustrated by the young man’s incessant Chinese speech and urgency.

The screenplay poses the question. If this happened to you, what would you do? Jun has an address tattooed on his arm. No luck. Try the police who are not only unco-operative but leads to a moment of violence which becomes very important in the resolution of the dilemma of Jun’s future. Take Jun to the Chinese embassy? Of course. But, while initial inquiries seem promising – Jun has worked on a ship and is seeking his uncle who has sold his shop and disappeared. Roberto takes Jun in and gives himself a week to find the uncle.

Not only does the film raise issues of language and verbal communication, signs and miming. It raises questions of language and culture and groping for understanding. And, it does raise the basic questions of human kindness, hospitality and the challenge to be a decent human being. Roberto is not always successful. He gets Jun to work in cleaning up his yard. He is worried about Jun’s nightmares. There is a false hope about the uncle, but is an error from the embassy, the staff of which later prove detachedly unhelpful.

The main help comes from Mari, the woman in love with Roberto. She takes Jun on a day of tourism around the city. It culminates in Chinese takeaway – which does provide some relief for Roberto and for the audience (though we, of course, know Jun’s sad story). The young man delivering the food is able to do some translating. Verbal communication at last.

There is a moment of disaster and Roberto’s anger with Jun and ousting him. But, a neat coincidence involving the policeman from earlier in the film leads to some hope.

Darin is completely believable and very sympathetic though we might find him difficult had we met him in real life. Ignacio Huang is also sympathetic who copes in his performance with speaking in Chinese only.

We smile. We are moved. A touch of tears. In fact, ‘touching’ is a good word to describe this blend of the serious and the comic, a film of human decency and kindness as the way we should live.


DAMSELS IN DISTRESS

US, 2011,
Greta Gerwig, Analeigh Tipton.
Directed by Whit Stillman

Whit Stillman has not made many films, three in the 1990s (Metropolitan, Barcelona, Last Days of Disco), the last of which was in 1998. So, after thirteen years, a new film, in the vein of the previous films but set amongst college students. Stillman could be considered something of a cousin to Woody Allen, with his wry look at his characters, an emphasis on dialogue and a delight in language and play on language.

This means that Stillman’s films are an acquired taste, giving two valid impressions: that there is a serious observer of human nature at work but that the touch is quite light, sometimes witty, sometimes frivolous.

The main focus in on Violet, a character with verve and supreme self-confidence (with some moments of being undermined) played with a performance that demands notice by Greta Gerwig. She looks as if she has everything together, a leader with a clique of like-minded young women, who have no hesitation in criticising men (and the group on display here are very criticisable, quite dumb at times, mentally and socially). Violet makes pronouncements on everything, especially as she runs a suicide prevention club – and intervenes in people’s lives. She also believes in speaking directly and in taking criticism on board, an expert on rationalizing.

Then she experiences a betrayal in love and goes into a tailspin. One way out is her belief in dancing (especially tap-dancing, as a remedy for depression). Despite being mocked, she finally creates a dance which she believes will change world history.

At the beginning of the film, the clique welcome a newcomer, Lily (the other two in the group are Rose and Heather) played by Analeigh Tipton, who has a broader view on life and relationships and offers the audience a way of judging Violet’s attitudes and behaviour.

It’s difficult to judge how far Stillman has taken us by the end of the film (a long way or, rather, some marking time), but, if you can take Violet, then it is a serious and comic reflection on young adults and their questions, quite different from those many raucous and coarse comedies.


HAIL

Australia, 2011
Daniel P. Jones, Leanne Letch
Directed by Amiel Courtin- Wilson

Writer, producer, editor Amiel Courtin- Wilson has said that his film has polarised audiences. This was true even of the small group at a press preview where several reviewers left during the film. Sitting towards the front, I did not realise this until afterwards and was surprised because, even though the film is demanding and confronting, it seems to me to be something of a high artistic achievement. Which means a limited audience but, for those who are drawn into it, a tellingly disturbing experience of sanity and madness, humanity and inhumanity, ugliness and a great deal of beauty.

I thought the director’s statement from the Media Kit explains the intentions.

“HAIL is the culmination of my intensely personal 6 year collaboration with Daniel P. Jones.

I first met Danny in mid 2005 while shooting a documentary about Plan B, a Melbourne theatre company founded to rehabilitate ex-prison inmates through performance. Danny had been released the previous day and arrived at a Plan B rehearsal to take part in that year’s performance. I was instantly taken by his mercurial storytelling ability, his inky black sense of humour and his unique turn of phrase. As the weeks went by, I recorded him rehearsing several scenes with the other men in the group and his intensity on stage was striking.

We slowly got to know each other and after six months of shooting, Danny and I become close friends. As I had met Danny in the context of a very collaborative, improvisational theatre group, it was easy to ask him if he wanted to make the leap to film. Danny was thrilled.

In 2006 I started conducting in-depth interviews with Danny about his childhood, life on the streets and life in jail. It was around that time that he first told me the story that unfolds in the short film entitled CICADA.

I was moved to tears by his experience as a 5-year-old and when I spoke to Danny about the impact it had on him, he quoted Oscar Wilde: ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Per Ardua Ad Astra ...’

This was a pivotal moment in my collaboration with Danny as it inspired me to develop a process that was also used in the shooting of HAIL. I interviewed Danny, transcribed that material, edited it, then fed it back to him as honed dialogue in the context of dramatic scenes. In this way Danny was able to truly own the material while performing, thereby transcending the all too common problem of non-actors being given dialogue that never really sits comfortably with them.

This working methodology proved highly successful with CICADA premiering internationally at Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2009 as well as winning and being nominated for several major awards in Australia.

HAIL was the exciting next step in our creative relationship and it has become a life changing experience.”

We are asked to contemplate a classical painting for the first few minutes of the film, something like the rape of the Sabine women, then a king on horseback with a mallet. The director places all kinds of images before us, artistic, realistic, surreal, as well as the widest range of musical accompaniment and sounds in any film. At one moment, there is an increasing intensity and volume of sound, accompanied but white flashes on the screen that made me wonder how long I could sustain it – a evocation of the torment of a disturbed psyche.

While the narrative to the latter part of the film is clear, once Danny’s madness turns into some terrifying brutality and time shifts are part of his madness, it is more complex but always leading us deeper into Danny’s statement that there is disturbance in his inner self.

One reviewer remarked that this encounter with Danny and his friends, the working class backgrounds and their pubs, homes, drinking, drugs… is something so many of us do not experience unless our work takes us their directly. How would we handle meeting them? This is part of the challenge that director and actor want to offer their audiences. It is a sombre experience, not to everyone’s taste or liking, but very well done indeed.


HOLY MOTORS

France, 2012,
Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Kylie Minogue, Michel Piccoli, Eva Mendes.
Directed by Leos Carax.

Both Holy Motors and David Cronenerg’s Cosmopolis screened in competition in Cannes 2012. Both of them featured a central character who travels around the city all day with a variety of appointments. At the end of Cosmopolis, Robert Pattinson wonders where all the limousines go for the night. In Holy Motors we see the answer, they all drive to a vast parking lot, Holy Motors, where they blink their lights and have a conversation about how the day has been for them and how they might be destined for the scrap heap. That is the tongue-in-cheek jokey ending for what is one of the strangest of screen rides, serious, comic, sometimes absurd.

Leos Carax has made a number of really offbeat films. He appears at the opening of the film, waking, lighting a cigarette, breaking through a wall into the balcony of a theatre with a full house watching a silent film clip. (A personal reflection: in 2007, guests at the Golden Apricot film festival in Armenia all stayed at the same hotel: Carax sat in the same corner for breakfast the whole week, eating but also smoking incessantly, not talking with anyone and saying that he did not do photos or communication! Much of his film is in this vein. )

Denis Lavant (who starred in several of Carax’s films) is Monsieur Oscar, seen leaving home and family and getting into a white stretch limousine driven by a well-coiffeured chauffeur, Celine (Edith Scob). He has a series of nine appointments. We get a shock when we see him at his make-up mirror. In fact, the interior of the limousine is a dressing-space. He emerges as a hunch-bent beggar and spends time on the streets asking for money. Then it is back into the car and preparation for the next appointment where he emerges in diving gear and enters into an office building.

The whole film goes on from there: a provocative intruding, dressed as a kind of human monster, into a photo-shoot with Eva Mendes and then abducting her into a cave for a graphic sexual encounter. For another appointment, he goes into a garage with a mission to kill a worker who turns out to be a mirror image of himself. He also shoots a banker at a street restaurant.

It is all performance, performance art, the love of acting and taking on a diversity of roles. There was a Bacharach-David? song, The Dreams of the Everyday Housewife. These appointments are enactments of the fantasies of the everyday man taken to extremes. Many of them are confronting, even affronting to sensitivities. Many of them are beguilingly beautiful and ugly. They are always intriguing even if sometimes unpleasant.

Audiences have to be patient for Kylie Minogue’s appearance. It comes late in the film. Quite an effective performance from her, looking attractively middle-aged, in a sequence which may be more realistic than the others. One of the final appointments, Monsieur Oscar as a dying old man with a grieving young woman, has more pathos than the others. But, Carax has decided that the whole thing should be sent up with a midnight appointment – with monkeys. Celine takes the limousine back to Holy Motors and then dons a mask as she returns to her ‘real life’.

French, creative, ugly, confronting – might as well use the word phantasmagoria to describe this (very) adult variation on going through the looking glass of performance.


HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA

US, 2012
Voices of: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi, Kevin James.
Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

A very pleasant surprise.

After the advertising: monsters, their own hotel, humans as the enemy – and the voices of Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg after the ugliness of That’s My Boy, it didn’t look so good. But, I would imagine adults taking their children will quite enjoy it, even get a kick out of it with its playing on the old horror conventions. But, almost immediately, as we are introduced to Dracula in 1895, the birth of his daughter and his planning of his hotel resort just for monsters to get away from it all, the thought comes: what will smaller children make of his this monster lore that they have not been exposed to yet (we hope)? They will enjoy it with all the shenanigans, the odd-looking characters and the comedy – maybe this is their introduction to Dracula and co.

The film is quite bright and breezy, with lots of incidental jokes and plenty of references to the movies for those who enjoy that kind of thing. There is Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James), large but tending to fall to pieces (and not being put back together quite correctly). There is Wayne the Werewolf (voiced by an excellent Steve Buscemi) and his wife Wanda (Molly Shannon) and their crowd of obstreperous pups (except for the little girl who comes into her own with tracking skills for the climax). There are plenty of zombies, there is Quasimodo, and with his glasses, The Invisible Man (seen shaving his invisible face!).

Actually, this is a father-daughter film. The widowed Dracula (yes, he is voiced, and very effectively, by Adam Sandler) wants to protect his daughter and has arranged a special 118th birthday party with all the monsters invited, and accepting. She is a typical 21st century teenager (who assures her father that she is not 83 any more) and wants to see the world. Daddy does not want her to leave, even though he and his wife were married in Hawaii. Lots of father-daughter talk and arguments.

But, who should arrive at the hotel but a human, Johnny (Andy Samberg)? He is well traveled, and is a party organizer. He persuades Dracula to let him stay – and, sure enough, romance ensues. Dracula gets to like the human despite all the propaganda at the Hotel against them. There is a dramatic climax, including the real monsters encountering a monster festival in the town, a race to the airport to bring Johnny back, and Dracula (in his bat form) risking his life through sun exposure chasing the plane to bring Johnny back.

The parody of the monsters acting as themselves, but also acting like humans, has some very funny moments as well as some poignant ones. And this has to be the nicest Dracula who every trod the screen, the pleasantest Frankenstein monster and the funniest werewolf.

The character drawing is lively, the castle and other backgrounds vivid. I could have done without the rap song at the end – but, I suppose, it is the 21st century!


I WISH/KISEKI

Japan, 2011.
Koki and Ohshiro Maedo.
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.

About eight years ago, I was very taken with a Japanese films about children who had been abandoned by their parents and who had to fend for themselves. Watching I Wish, again with children as its subject, I was inevitably reminded of Nobody Knows. So, it was a pleasure to find when checking the previous films of writer-director, Hirokazu Koreeda, that he had indeed written and directed Nobody Knows. While I think Nobody Knows is the better film, I Wish offers a lot of enjoyment for the audience.

We open with Koichi, a 10 year old, waking up and looking at the nearby volcano which was erupting. He cleans up the dust. This begins his day, breakfast with his mother and grandmother (father lives elsewhere), off to school with his friends, chatting as they walk up hill, a class and an essay on professions which they mostly get wrong. Later, he phones his younger brother, Ryu, who lives with their father. The two brothers miss each other.

There is a great deal of pleasing detail in the storytelling which, without our immediately recognizing it, permeates our experience of Japanese life in its everyday ordinariness. We feel we are there and getting to know the boys and, to a lesser extent, the adults.

A new bullet train line is about to open and Koichi hears that when trains traveling in the opposite directions pass each other, it is a magic moment to make wishes. Koichi decides to visit Ryu and that they will go with a group of young friends to see the trains passing and make their wishes.

One of the drawbacks of the films, especially for critics judging how well the screenplay is written, but less so for audiences who have surrendered to the tale, is that it meanders, some flashbacks, dreams, imaginings, diversions from the main thrust of the story. However, the two boys, Koichi with his assurance in manner and way of talking, Ryu with his engaging grin, carry us with them, especially when they meet, when they travel to watch the trains and the moments of wishing, are very engaging. Then, we discover that they are brothers in real life and have performed together as a comic group.

This is a sometimes delightful, often charming, introduction to contemporary Japanese life, off the tourist track, out in the provinces, with people that we can identify with, in circumstances that might seem mundane but which come alive with personal vitality.


KILLING THEM SOFTLY

US, 2012,
Brad Pitt, Scoot Mc Nairy, Ben Mendelssohn, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins.
Directed by Andrew Dominik.

Definitely a killing film. However, while there are some grizzly fights and shootings, and this is the world of American thugs (with Ben Mendelssohn joining them as a particularly grinning, callous scammer and thief), it very much a talking film, quite a deal of it, which moves the impact of the film to that of ‘arthouse’ thug movie. Added to that is the frequent use of speeches (by radio and television) by Barack Obama and George W. Bush, the latter explaining the financial collapses of 2008, the former offering his exhortations on US equality and all Americans being part of one community. Which is treated with some cynicism by Brad Pitt’s killer who asserts, for the ending of the film, that the real America is a land of individuals

The film is based on a book, Cogan’s Trade, by George V. Higgins who wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle, one of the notable gangster films of the 1970s. It has been adapted and directed by Australian, Andrew Dominik. Dominik’s three feature films have been strongly focused on criminals. Eric Bana gave a memorably alarming performance as Mark Read, Chopper. Brad Pitt worked with Dominick earlier as Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

This film opens with quite a long preparation for a robbery between two petty criminals (who definitely prove that many a petty criminal is pretty dumb). Actually, the scam, prepared by the criminal who employs them, is smart. But, of course, it neglects to be aware of stupid bragging and the long arm of criminal interests and their outreach to hired killers.

The killer is played by Brad Pitt with a blend of ruthlessness but some consideration of what his victims might suffer. He opines that he kills them softly.

Much of the film is his having conversations with the go-between from the criminal bosses (played with his usual excellence by Richard Jenkins) as well as with a self-indulgent boss (James Gandolfini excellent as well). This means a lot of reflection on the state of the nation, crime-wise, and how that is dealt with. This means a lot of character revelation (which would be too much and too slow for the action brigade).

The film is visually elegant and dark, experimental at times (especially the handling of an anxious conversation between the two thugs while the Australian is high, very high, the visuals showing us his loss of awareness and his drifting). And, of course, the language of thugs is not polite – though often tiresomely repetitious.

Dominik’s films are quite distinctive but he takes us into uncomfortable, often ugly, worlds.


LAWLESS

US, 2012
Shia La Boeuf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska,
Directed by John Hillcoat.

The original title, from the book by one of the descendants of the three brothers, Bondurant, was ‘The Wettest Country in the World’, a story about Prohibition days and moonshine smuggling. However, after watching the film, Lawless does seem a much more appropriate title.

While there have been films about moonshine in the 1920s and 1930s, the emphasis on the city gangsters or the outlaws who drove around the US robbing banks has been a bigger staple of crime thrillers about the period. However, while there is reference to Al Capone, this is a story of the Virginia mountains and a family (based on a true story) that brewed, delivered and sold around the county (with a wink from some of the police).

We are introduced to the Bondurant brothers as boys, with Jack, the youngest, unable to shoot a pig on the farm. The oldest boy, Howard, drinks a lot but is under the sway of the middle brother, Forest, who had harsh experiences fighting in World War I. The action of the film takes place in 1930 and stays in the small town, in the brothers’ home, on the roads and local bridges and at the still. Chicago takes an interest and some gangsters come down to throw their weight around but to buy from the brothers.

But, the law is interested. The law is embodied by one of the most detestable agents we have seen on screen, in demonically ruthless and relentless pursuit of the brothers. He is a fashion dandy with perfume, bow tie and suit, polished black hair, parted in the middle – and no eyebrows. He can beat people brutally. He resents any implications when he is referred to as a nance. He orders attacks on stills but has little personal loyalty from the police and his deputies. In many ways he steals the show in Guy Pearce’s near or over the top performance.

While Shia La Boeuf has the main role as Jack, somewhat timid, brutally beaten, wanting to be a someone in the business, meanwhile attracted to the daughter of a pastor in charge of a closed and traditional community, it is Tom Hardy as Forest who is more interesting. Hardy has proven himself in the last five years to be a versatile actor (and handy with American accents). He is quiet but what one might call indomitable, especially when slashed, beaten and shot so often. Jason Clarke is Howard.

There are only two main women in the film, Jessica Chastain as a dancer who has fled from Chicago, and Mia Wasikowska as the pastor’s daughter. They have limited screen time but do establish their characters strongly. Gary Oldman has some scenes as the gangster from Chicago.

Filmed in Georgia, the film looks good. The cast is solid. The screenplay, by Nick Cave (who also wrote the score, as he did with John Hillcoat’s The Proposition) is stronger on characters than offering a complex plot.

The Bondurant brothers were not exactly lawless. They lived outside the law. Their vicious pursuer is much more lawless, exploiting the law on his side. There is a quiet epilogue which reminds us that Prohibition was repealed and so many of the bootleggers settled down to respectability by the time that World War II broke out, another era.


LOOPER

US, 2012,
Joseph Gordon- Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels.
Directed by Rian Johnson.

Almost at once, Joseph Gordon- Levitt’s character, Joe, explains what a Looper is and we see vividly how he works. It is 2044 in a futuristic Kansas where gangsters prevail and people live in fear. We also learn that time travel had not been invented but in the 2070s it had and been banned – one of the effects was that it was used as an underground (perhaps more ‘undertime’) by the new mafia to send victims back to 2044 where loopers await their arrival, shoot them and then burn their bodies while they keep the silver bars that accompanied those to be killed.

Joe has no qualms about his profession. He dresses in a dapper suit and tie style, has been secreting silver for himself, is a man about town. However, he is dependent on eye drops which enhance his perceptions. When his close friend, Seth (Paul Dano) confides that his future self has returned and he could not bring himself to kill him, Joe hides him but is summoned by his boss and patron, Abe (Jeff Daniels as a persuasive heavy) to betray Seth.

Then, Joe’s older self arrives in the form of Bruce Willis. To kill or not to kill. In the meantime we have been shown how Joes has survived the thirty years from 2044, gone to China, met his wife, is still addicted to his eye drops, but has been attacked so that the Rainmaker (the ruthless boss of the future) can close Joe’s loop by sending him back to his death.

We are also introduced to Sarah (Emily Blunt) who lives on a corn farm with her son, Cyd. Younger Joe takes refuge with her from Abe’s shooters. Since the older Joe has brought a mysterious number and a map back from the future, Joe is able to work out what his older self’s mission is – (shades of The Terminator movies) to kill the child who will grow into the Rainmaker.

This leads to some tense and some action sequences as older Joe confronts Abe and his henchman and then pursues Cyd – leading to the younger Joe having to make some moral decisions.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt? has become one of Hollywood’s most dependable character actors (Inception, 50/50, Dark Knight Rises). Emily Blunt is effective in a strong and different action role. We have seen Bruce Willis do this kind of this before, but he does it well.

The production design is imaginative for a dingy future. There are some moments of special effects, especially the rising of the characters and the corn to be suspended in the air at the end. Speaking of the end, it is very quiet, almost imperceptible after the drama and the action.


LORE

Australia/ Germany, 2012
Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina.
Directed by Cate Shortland.

This is her first feature film since director Cate Shortland won so many 2004 Australian Film Institute awards for her debut feature film, Somersault. Lore is quite an unanticipated follow-up in terms of story, themes and the decision to film this German story in Germany and in German. (This has enabled Lore to be Australia’s submission for the Foreign Language Academy Award.)

Lore is Hannelore, the oldest daughter of five children. Their parents are Germans, the father having fought in Belarus, the mother a mysterious figure. There are glimpses of swastikas and pictures of Hitler. Then comes the news that Hitler is dead. We realise that the mother and father are aware that they will be imprisoned. They want their children to escape the American invaders. There is a moment when the parents burn their documents with a glimpse of a cover which may indicate that one or other was involved in medical experiments.

Most of the film is the trek of the children from the Black Forest to Hamburg to the home of their grandmother.

This survival trek is interesting in itself. How does a teenage girl cope with a younger sister, younger twin boys and a baby? Shelter, food, washing, hostile people? Some money and jewellery to obtain desperately needed food? Hardship in finding ruined buildings, sleeping in the forest? Cate Shortland presents all these hardships with a blend of surreal suggestion (mountains and mists) as well as realism.

Along the way, they are helped by a young man, Thomas, who tells them to say he is their older brother. Lore sees that there is a yellow Jewish star in his documents. This challenges her beliefs. Lore and her family are Nazis. The children have been part of the Hitler youth. They have presumed that the Third Reich would prevail and their realization that Germany has been occupied by Americans, Russians, French and British defies Lore’s comprehension. Interestingly, with Thomas helping the children, befriending them, finding food, caring for the baby, they adapt to Thomas, whoever he is.

But, there are some twists in the screenplay which means that this journey is not entirely predictable. One of the complexities is Lore’s beginning of sexual awareness and her response to Thomas, sensually but in disgust because he is a Jew. She has moments of bigoted, stereotypical outbursts of anti-Semitism. There is a later, surprising development in terms of Thomas’ papers. Another complication is an act of brutality which means that Lore is saved from attack but which disturbs her in terms of responsibility and conscience. The audience is given another shock, some violence as they journey through the Russian territory.

When they finish their journey, the focus is still on Lore and what this trek has meant in terms of her attitudes towards life and her family, to traditions and all that she has taken for granted and can no longer believe in.

One of the most moving of post-war films was Fred Zinneman’s The Search (1948) where a Czech mother travels over bomb-ravaged central Europe looking for her son. We had been attuned to sympathizing with the refugee-victims of Nazism. We have not been attuned to refugees, Nazi survivors – the leaders, yes, smuggled out of Germany, especially to Latin America, but not the children. How much sympathy do they deserve? How should they be helped? And what would their experiences contribute to their growing up and their future? Some of the questions we are left with at the end of Lore.


MENTAL

Australia, 2012,
Toni Collette, Anthony La Paglia, Liev Schreiber, Kerry Fox, Caroline Goodall, Deborah Mailman.
Directed by P.J. Hogan.

Often funny, very often uncomfortable and confronting.

Most people are sensitive as to how they actually refer to, let alone talk about, mental illness and its variety of manifestations. There is a culture of reserve, people not wanting to discriminate or offend. On the other hand, there is a blatant and insensitive reference, and insensitive language, to mock the mentally sick as well as insult those with whom they disagree. These were thoughts continually rising while I watched the film and will probably be the reaction of many audiences.

Writer-director, P.J.Hogan made on of Australia’s best wry comedies, Muriel’s Wedding. The town then was Porpoise Spit, somewhere near the NSW-Queensland border. This time it is Dolphin Beach, not too far away. And, once again, there is a very dysfunctional family (five daughters who think they are mental and keep looking up books and have spirited discussion to affirm that they are), an absent father who is the local mayor, campaigning for re-election, but never home, neglecting his wife, despising his daughters, with plenty of local liaisons (Anthony La Paglia). But, as with Jeanie Drynan’s portrait of Muriel’s sad and quietly despairing mother. This time it is Rebecca Gibney, similar in many ways. She gives a fine performance. Hogan has explained in many interviews how he has dramatised his own family experiences in both Muriel and Mental.

The film spends time setting up the family scene, the girls running wild as the neighbours complain. As with the use of ABBA songs for Muriel, Mental capitalises on the songs from The Sound of Music (even to the opening flying over the Gold Coast hinterland mountains to the overture until the camera lands in the backyard with Mum doing a Julie Andrews). There is some exuberant singing as well as an ironic use of Edelweis towards the end. The next door neighbour, Nancy (Kerry Fox) is an obsessive cleaner and a gossip. Mum has to go to an institution – they say she is in Wollongong for a holiday.

What is Dad to do? Then, in the street he notices a hitchhiker and invites her to look after the girls. She is the seemingly (and actually) outlandish Shaz, played with such enthusiastic relish and diverse skills, by Toni Collette.

As with those older films like Teorema or Entertaining Mr Sloane where a stranger comes to live with a family and transforms it, Shaz in her own eccentric way, takes the girls under her wing and helps them learn self-esteem, gets the feel of things from Nancy (a well-coiffeured disciple of Pauline Hanson) and her daughter (which leads to a surprisingly funny and feeling lesbian sub-plot with Nancy’s daughter and Shaz’s aboriginal friend, played with mischievous verve by Deborah Mailman. Caroline Goodall is very good as the mother’s uptight and jealous older sister.

As if this was not enough, there is a sub-plot with Coral, the eldest girl, and her working in a shark exhibit and a romance with a fellow-worker, as well as the intervention of the owner (taking a long time to recognise who this bearded and heavily Australian-accented actor was: Liev Schreiber) and his interactions with Shaz. (Though I could have done without so much ‘youse’, ‘wuz’… and other over-flat accents and grammar, and there is some crass language.)

While all the characters have plenty of screen time and develop their characters strongly, the film does belong to Toni Collette who gives a whirlwind of a performance, often right over the top, at other times emotionally quiet, manifestations of her own life and being ‘mental’.

You might not want to do this, but the film would probably reveal a lot more on a second viewing.


A MONSTER IN PARIS

France, 2012,
Voices of (English version): Jay Harrington, Adam Goldbert, Danny Huston, Sean Lennon, Vanessa Paradis.
Directed by Bibo Bergeron.

French animation films that have been released for a wider audience are very different from the familiar material from Hollywood studios (which have been developing a variety of skills in their productions during the last ten years). The American product is generally aimed at a children’s audience or family audiences (and entertaining parients and grandparents who may be taking the children). This is not the case with the French films. Examples are Les Triplettes de Belleville and A Cat in Paris. It is the same with A Monster in Paris. However, a number of bloggers have said that it appealed to the children they took to see it.

It is really an adult story, a period story which highlights familiar landmarks of Paris while showing us the ordinary streets, homes, cabarets, laboratories. The style of drawing is idiosyncratic, evoking the art of the beginning of the 20th century. It was filmed in 3D.

The plot would be more at home in a comic strip, broad sweep of characters and situations, plus a great deal of fantasy. For some adults, it may be too fey and twee.

The monster is not really a monster. Rather, a scientist has been working in his laboratory and two friends dling deliveries explore and discover a flea that has been transformed into something larger than life. They disguise it as a tall man, a singer, who teams with a girlfriend-singer in a cabaret, Lucille, and the couple are a great success. In the meantime, a policeman, ambitious in his career, goes on a quest to arrest a mysterious killer who is identified as a monster. Needless to say, there is a happy ending and comeuppance for the policeman.

One of the best elements is the professor’s assistant, a monkey who does not speak but holds up cards with his humorous dialogue.
The musical side of the film (with some attractive songs) has more than a passing resemblance to The Phantom of the Opera and echoes of Beauty and the Beast. Vanessa Paradis sings as Lucille and the singing voice of the flea is Sean Lennon.

A mixture of the familiar and the offbeat.


ON THE ROAD

France/Brazil, 2012.
Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge.
Directed by Walter Salles.

On the Road was writer Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical novel of his travels along the highways of America, the exuberance of discovery of the wide range of American lifestyles as well as his seeking for greater freedom and freedoms. It was the novel of what was called The Beat Generation, a reflection of life between 1947 and 1951 which was to influence young Americans, especially, over the next decade. A number of film-makers have wanted to transfer it to the screen but failed. Now, using a screenplay by Jorge Rivera, Brazilian director, Walter Salles (best known for his Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries) has filmed it.

British Sam Riley is Sal Paradise, the Kerouac character, with writing ambitions who is introduced to a literary group which includes Carlo (the novel’s equivalent of poet Allen Ginsburg) who then introduce him to the confident and charismatic Dean Moriarty (the equivalent of Neal Cassady). Sal and Dean immediately click. Sal is in admiration of Dean’s energy and freedom despite his car-stealing life and prison, Dean admiring the more dependable and creative Sal. There is also Dean’s young ex-wife, Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and his new wife and baby, Camille (Kirsten Dunst).

Sal has already been on the road after his father’s funeral and travelled across the states, joining in casual work including cotton-picking in California. Sal then travels with Dean and Marylou, sharing their escapades, from sex and drugs and shoplifting to encounters like that with Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Jane (Amy Adams) and their alternate lifestyle in Louisiana.

All the time, Sal is taking notes, writing.

On another trip to Mexico, Sal becomes very sick and is finally abandoned there by Dean. Which means that Sal goes back to his more ordinary life in New York to write his book – yet still pondering on the influence of Dean. Dean has become inspiration – and, at one stage, is referred to as holy, almost sanctifying his freedoms quest.

Audiences who have read Kerouac and been moved and inspired by his work will have a judgment on whether the film dramatises the book well or adequately, capturing the depths of its themes. Audiences who have not read the book or who do not know the Beat Generation may be fascinated by this road movie of rebellion against the status quo. Other audiences may wonder about what freedoms the film is really exploring and expounding. Is it transcending one’s limitations, developing oneself – and in relationships with others? Or is it, as seems so often during the film as we see, over and over, sexual promiscuity, indulgence in drugs, personal betrayals and refusal to take responsibility for behaviour (which is what Old Bull Lee seems to be saying about Dean), freedom merely as the capacity for moving beyond any felt restraints just for oneself. (And that leads to the temptation of thinking that a lot of what we are seeing is just the Emperor’s New Clothes.)

At well over two hours, with a lot of repetition, and despite Garrett Hedlund’s arresting performance, what are we left with?

(Audiences interested in these characters should see Heart Beat with Nick Nolte as Neal Cassady and Sissy Spacek as his wife; John Heard is Kerouac and Ray Sharkey is called Ira but is based on Allen Ginsberg. There is also the 2011 film about Ginsberg’s poem, Howl, with James Franco. Ginsberg is to be portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe in the forthcoming, Kill Your Darlings, with Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac.)


RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION

US, 2012.
Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez.
Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson.

Number 5 in the franchise. And the film: shootouts and chases, chases and shootouts, then more shootouts and chases. The series derives from computer games and has that kind of aggressive plot, characters who are more cyphers of good and evil rather than personalities, special effects that enable guns to blaze, blaze and then blaze some more.

The opening does give a resume of what happened in the previous episodes (the first one ten years ago), so we are reminded of the dastardly doings of the Umbrella Company and how it developed malicious viruses which by this stage are monstrous zombies (who do a fair amount of chasing and of being shot) whose mouths open to repulsive extended tongues.

Milla Jovovich (who is now married to her director, Paul Anderson) is once again heroine Alice, svelte, leatherbound, agile and nimble – and deadly. Except that he has acquired a daughter (with happy memory implants), which gives her more motive for defence and attack. There are her old allies, her old enemies.

There is an interesting feature in Rainbow’s setting up experimental neighbourhoods, Moscow, New York and Suburbia. The Moscow sequences at least arrest the eye with something different.

Retribution? Not exactly. Rather, when the film looks as if it will end, it goes on to a Washington DC, White House sequence which, we realise, serves as a trailer for the next installment. Maybe retribution will come next time. In the meantime, it’s repetition!


SAVAGES

US, 2012,
Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayak, Benicio del Toro, John Travolta.
Directed by Oliver Stone.

Well, the film lives up to its title. This is a film which is often savage, sometimes brutish. It is the work of Oliver Stone, attempting to portray the ugliness and inherent violence and greed in the Mexican drug cartels as well as in the American growers and dealers – with the Mexicans moving in on the border states, and with the connivance of some DEA officers.

Stone knows how to make films and has two directing Oscars to demonstrate it (Platoon and Born of the Fourth of July). Come to think of it, this reviewer prefers his Vietnam trilogy and his forays into American presidential politics (and conspiracies) of JFK, Nixon and the two Bush presidents. Savages has a lot in common with his Natural Born Killers (1994) and the picture of violence and the exploitation by the media.

The cast all do their contribution well, interesting to see Salma Hayak as the drug (usually lord because usually a man, but what is the title for a woman) boss. Benicio del Toro is her enforcer, unscrupulously brutal and double-dealing, a character without a redeeming feature.

But, the focus is on young Americans. While they have their own brutality and see the tactics of the Mexicans as ‘savage’, the screenplay makes the point they too are caught up in this world, a consequence of their choices to grow, sell and deal (and use) and that they do savage things (and they do). But, they are ambiguous central characters. They might be set up as the victims of the brutal cartels, but by the end, despite some regrets, they escape into sunsets, tropical isles and glorification.

Taylor Kitsch is the Afghanistan veteran, short (very short) fuse who is used to violence and deaths. And he has military buddies who come to the party against the Mexicans. Redeeming features? Not particularly. Aaron Johnson, his buddy from school days and wiz at economics and business, has set up the marijuana project (the best in the US, he claims). He devotes some of his profits to charity and developments in Africa. Obviously redeemable – and it is he who is forced to set fire to a cartel officer who has been set-up as scapegoat. Blake Lively is the attractive girl, to both of the men, a ménage a trois. For a lot of the film, which she narrates, she is an abduction victim to pressurize the two men to deal with the cartel. Then there is John Travolta (not looking particularly healthy) as the corrupt Drug Enforcement official.

The presence of Benicio del Toro will remind many audiences that he was in Traffic (and won an Oscar for his performance). Traffic is the more impressive and impactful film on US-Mexican drug issues. Savages is harder to take.


TAKEN 2

US/France, 2012,
Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbidzija.
Directed by Olivier Megatron


Liam Neeson is an actor who seems to be able to bridge any gap between action fans and more serious cinemagoers. In recent years, he has opted for a number of action films, The A-Team?, Taken, Unknown. On its first weekend in the US, Taken 2 gained $50 million at the box-office, audiences being older rather than younger.

The original Taken (with some flashbacks here for reminders) was an abduction story, security agent Bryan Mills (Neeson) has to rescue his young daughter who was taken in by a smooth-talking Frenchman and found herself captive with a group of brutal Albanian sex-trade smugglers. Mills hounds them down and rescues his daughter – of course.

This sequel is far more straightforward. The head of the Albanian gang (Rade Serbidzija) is bent on revenge for the death of his son. His wife and daughter (Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace) join Bryan for a holiday in Istanbul. As foreseen by the audience, Bryan and his wife are abducted, his daughter escaping. And, after shootouts and a smasheroo car chase, Bryan confronts his enemies – and wins, of course.

One very interesting aspect of this thriller is Bryan’s skill, not just with guns (no doubts of that) but with his mind. During the abduction, he notes all street turns, counts between each turn, notes any sounds. This enables him to calculate where he is – with the help of a concealed mobile phone and conversations with his daughter, her setting of grenades so that he can count and calculate distances from the sounds… Brains and brawn.

Down with the Albanians – again. They seem to be ready villains these years in the movies, especially targeting Eastern Europe and the sex-trade.

Liam Neeson is a big man, commanding with his screen presence, always a good man, even a nice man at times, who nevertheless draws on his guns and his wits to rescue those in peril, a hero that appeals to older audiences who can accept him as an action hero.

The film ends comfortably back in LA with some humour about his daughter’s passing her driving test (after surviving all that speed and crashing in Istanbul) and a meal where her boyfriend is invited. Well, of course, he could be the subject of abduction in Taken 3 – all that is needed is a photogenic city, after Paris and Istanbul, for it all to take place.

THE WATCH

US, 2012.
Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie de Witt, Billy Crudup.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer.

Trying to think of a reason why you might want to watch The Watch.

If you have to see all Ben Stiller’s films… though again he does his typical serious shtick in the middle of mayhem (think Greg Focker). If you have to see all Vince Vaughan’s comedies (and he does put a lot more energy into this one than is merited). Not, if you have to see all Jonah Hill’s comedies. He is rather more subdued than usual. And, you may not want to see Billy Crudup as a creepy neighbour with some leering innuendo. Rosemarie de Witt, who has done some good films, has a smaller role as Stiller’s wife. Will Forte is a dumb local cop. The director in recent years has been working at Saturday Night Live.

Is it funny? Think crass humour, jokes and farce with little wit. It is both raucous and strained. There is a lot of pratfall humour and mock violence. It looks as if it were made by committee, someone suggesting one line, someone suggesting a different plot development, others looking at box-office possibilities for coarse comedy - and it all went into the pot, not a melting pot as the whole thing does not brew (or gel, to mix metaphors).

Is it clever? It moves from one genre to another and doesn’t really bring them together very well. Set in a small Ohio town, it looks like a domestic comedy, set in a supermarket. When a character is gorily killed, Stiller (who has inaugurated many clubs in the town) organises a neighbourhood watch group, with only three volunteers. Stiller plays a control freak. Vaughn is an exuberant hedonist. Hill lives with his mother and wants to break away and branch out. Ayoade is British, eager but not all that he seems.

On the one hand, it is a comedy of male bonding and unbonding. When it is revealed that there are aliens in town and that they plan a take over of the world, the film descends into some stupid situations and behaviour, especially confronting the monsters – and suddenly organising a happy ending that overstrains credibility.

Given the cast, it is a disappointing show.


THE WORDS

US, 2012,
Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Denis Quaid, Ben Barnes, Zoe Saldana.
Directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal.

Perhaps it is not so surprising that many younger reviewers (thirty plus or minus) have not been impressed at all by The Words. Older reviewers have liked it. Yes, it is a film for older audiences who are interested in a more literate plot, even if it relies on some familiar devices, complexity of character, and arresting moral issues to chew on.

The film opens with Dennis Quaid reading from his recent book. In fact, quite a lot of voiceover from Quaid throughout the film. As he reads to his audience, the film visualises his story of a contemporary celebrated author who, after having his novels praised but not published, discovers a manuscript in an old brief case his wife buys him during their honeymoon in Paris. Of course, his dilemma is whether he should present it as his own or not, so moved is he in reading it. He resists, but circumstances, including his wife’s reading of the manuscript and telling him that he has revealed his truer and deeper self, he goes ahead. He is feted as a great and sensitive novelist.

The core of the story (and we ignore the coincidences and accept them as plot devices) is the approach of an old man who, we quickly, realize is the author of the manuscript. And, so, there are flashback as this back story comes to life, set at the end of World War II with a young American and a young Frenchwoman, their love and his writing their story – and its being lost. The celebrated author is played by Bradley Cooper who brings credibility to his role. The great benefit of the film is the presence of Jeremy Irons. He plays the old man (Ben Barnes in the flashbacks), moving in his telling of the story, challenging in his questions about the ethics of what has been done.

In the meantime, there is another plot development with Quaid and Olivia Wilde as a student who is a groupie of the author – which leads to Quaid finishing his story, but making the audience ask whether we are getting a story within a story, within…

The Words is not going to set the movie industry on fire. Rather, it offers some now old-fashioned pleasures of perhaps familiar plot devices in a story, stories, that have an emotional interest as well as raising questions as to the appropriating of the manuscript and what should be done to atone – or should that be an end of it?


WUTHERING HEIGHTS

UK, 2011.
James Howson, Solomon Klave, Kaya Scodelario, Shannon Bear, Lee Shaw.
Directed by Andrea Arnold.

Wuthering Heights is Emily Bronte’s 19th century literary classic. There have been a number of versions, especially the romantic doom and gloom of William Wyler’s 1939 version with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. In a cinematic sense, Olivier with his theatrical delivery became the visual equivalent of the Bronte prose and Merle Oberon’s classic beauty was that of Catherine Earnshaw. The Internet Movie Database lists 15 version since 1920. Luis Bunuel made a version in Spanish (Abismos de Passion). Keith Michel and Claire Bloom in 1962 and Ian Mc Shane was Heathcliff on television in 1967. Anna Calder Marshall teamed with Timothy Dalton (also a smouldering theatrical presence) in 1970. In the 1990s, Ralph Fiennes was Heathcliff to Juliet Binoche’s Catherine. Tom Hardy, who has proven himself a strong and versatile actor, was Heathcliff in a British television in 2009 with Charlotte Riley.

Audiences expecting a continuation of that kind of classic cinema should not venture into this much more experimental interpretation unless they want to see something quite different and to be challenged.

Andrea Arnold made her mark with awards for her contemporary domestic dramas, Red Road and Fish Tank. Now she takes her visual style back into the 19th century and the Yorkshire moors and dales.

A gathering in the dark. Dim hallway. A face. Sky vista. A half-framed picture of two riders. Quivering camera.

This is the technique that Andrea Arnold brings to this 129 minute version of Wuthering Heights. It is both intimate and sometimes off kilter. It is dark. It is grubby. It is episodic. Characters are sometimes glimpsed, then contemplated in close-up. The first part of the film, centred on the dingy Earnshaw farm, has little relief. The second part of the film with much more attention given to the Linton mansion is much more sunny (at times), even with blue skies, the interiors, with some red walls, far more colourful than we had become accustomed to.

The director and her director of photography are attempting an interpretation of the novel via the visual style rather than literary style, although the screenplay offers much of Emily Bronte’s words. It is a disruptive style, at times upsetting, at times puzzling with its idiosyncratic handheld camera work that avoids finesse or neatness. And there are several jolts as characters use expletives that Emily Bronte may not have even known.

This is the context for unsettling characters. Hindley Earnshaw is a brute. His foreman, Joseph, has moments of cruelty. The rest of the family are there, often in the dark, not particularly delineated. Except for Cathy, in her teens, a wild, impetuous young woman. Into this household comes a black slave, bought in charity in Liverpool, to be brought into this Yorkshire life and to become a Christian, Heathcliff. Already this is a jolt for purists, but one of the most interesting features of the film. At first, Cathy spits at him. But, soon, they are kindred spirits, escaping to the top of the heights, riding over the moors. Heathcliff becomes the centre of the film. His plight holds the interest and the emotions.

When Cathy goes to the Linton home and finds herself at home in this different environment, Heathcliff leaves. He disappears for some years.

When he returns, there is different casting for both Heathcliff and Cathy. The continuity between Solomon Glave as the young Heathcliff (offbeat and memorable) and James Howson as the older and more sophisticated Heathcliff is well sustained. This means that Heathcliff’s made passion and revenge and his cruel marriage to Isabella more credible. However, the younger Cathy (Shannon Bear) is what can be called a buxom country lass, full of verve, even of song, impetuous, contradictory, at home at the Earnshaw farm rather than at the Linton’s. However, the older Cathy (Kaya Scodelario) is glamorous and svelte (despite her attempts at a rough accent). Many audiences will find it hard to accept this transformation. Which undermines the drama and Cathy’s responses to Heathcliff.

Edgar Linton is what was once called ‘a wet and a weed). Isabella is hard done by. Nelly Dean must have been there earlier but emerges more significantly when Heathcliff returns. It is Lee Shaw as Hindley who is the most consistent character.

Doubtless there will be more versions of Wuthering Heights. This is the more puzzling and challenging one.




Created by: malone last modification: Saturday 24 of November, 2012 [21:53:25 UTC] by malone


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