SIGNIS REVIEWS OCTOBER 2014
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
GRAND SEDUCTION, The
IF I STAY
INFINITE MAN, The
INTO THE STORM
JON DOE VIGILANTE
LAND OF THE BEARS
LIFE OF CRIME
LITTLE DEATH, The
MAZE RUNNER, The
SIN CITY: A DAME TO DIE FOR
SKELETON TWINS, The
SON OF A GUN
STEP UP ALL IN
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
WISH I WAS HERE
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
UK, 2013, 97 minutes, Colour.
Nick Cave, Suzie Bick.
Directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard.
The credits of this documentary on Nick Cave and his career start with a counter at zero. It then begins to move rapidly, very rapidly, through the numbers until it reaches 19,999. And all the time, there is an even more rapidly changing, large of photos from Nick Cave’s life.
This is an imaginary, but realistic, day in the life of Nick Cave – his 20,000 day. For many years he has lived in England, on the coast in Brighton, where he feels comfortably at home. He has a wife and children. From this domestic base, and we see him getting up in the morning, we see his relationship with his family and his admiration for Suzie and her support and advice. At the end, we see him relaxing with the children.
His day is very busy including a number of visits, especially to his collaborator Warren Ellis, an eccentric but attractive character. Inserted is a sequence with Ellis and some French children doing background singing. He also visits his archive, some rooms with an archivist at work, going over various documents, pictures, so that there is a record of Cave’s career to live on after him.
There are any number of flashbacks, and many scenes showing Cave at work, by himself, writing in his notebook, lyrics for his songs, scribbled and crossed out. We see him at his piano and his composing. There are many scenes of performance with his group, the Bad Seeds, and, towards the end, a full blast concert at the Sydney Opera House. Throughout the film there is work in composition, performance of Push the Sky.
Cave has an inner intensity which manifests itself in his response to the interviewers, revealing quite a deal about himself, his early life in the Victorian countryside around Wangaratta, the affirmation of his father, his moving into music, the 1980s which he says he largely forgets, a decade of drug-taking in Australia and in Berlin, where he did much of his work in composition.
For those who appreciate Cave and for those interested in how he came to achieve the status he has, there is a great deal of personal detail as well as response from various people, some of whom suddenly appear in the car which he is driving and join in conversation, Ray Winstone (although the connection is not very clear why Winstone is there), former Bad Seeds musician, Blixa Bargeld, and an invigorating conversation with Kylie Minogue.
A disappointment for those interested in cinema is that he does not give any information about his writing for the screen, for his friend John Hill coat, and the films The Proposition and Lawless. Given his busy music schedule, one wonders how he fitted in the writing of screenplays.
For those interested in music, for those who wonder about composers and how they work with their creative processes, and definitely for those interested in Nick Cave and his career, this is both an interesting and entertaining documentary.
US, 2013, 72 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Lina Plioplyte.
The niche audience for this documentary is probably women in their 90s or, perhaps more generously, women in their 80s or late 70s. Not that other audiences might not enjoy it, but it is a film for a feminine sensibility of whatever gender.
Ari Cohen, something of a flamboyant, at least flamboyantly dressed, photographer says he has been influenced by his grandmothers and wanted to keep in touch with their sensibilities by photographing women over 50, especially those who, in the New York streets, also dressed flamboyantly, drawing attention to the styles of their costumes and hats, as well as their poses and styles as they walked along the streets.
Cohen was impressed, and we see him interviewing a number of these elderly women in the streets, flattering one by suggesting that she was 50 when she admits to 60. And he started a blog which had many, many, many hits to see his gallery of photos.
Collaborating with photographer-director, Lina Plioplyte, he selects a number of the women, those who have very strong personalities and were able to present instantly to camera. These women are certainly articulate, very New York or very New England, unabashed in relating their life stories, and taking absolute delight in explaining their ensembles or, in their words, their outfits.
Aficionados of fashion will find the film very interesting, visually striking, and humanly both serious and humorous. Cohen takes the women to a fashion show which they revel in. He also takes them to a television studio where they strut their stuff and give interviews on the Ricky Lake Show.
A macho audience, or a semi-macho audience, or a semi-semi macho audience, might find the film a bit trying, not to their taste or interest.
One can admire Cohen’s enthusiasm. One can be impressed by the women and their vitality, and realise that if one able if one is able to take interest in one’s life and surroundings, then the 80s and then 90s will be especially lively.
US, 2014, 98 minutes, Colour.
Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfred Woodard.
Directed by John Leonetti.
Annabelle is the name of a deadly doll. Not that that was her real name. Rather, when a sinister young woman, daughter of the next door neighbours to Mia and John, kills her parents with a cult associate, and is wounded, her blood drips down onto the nameless dial doll who then becomes the deadly Annabelle.
Over the decades that have been many films about deadly dolls. Lionel Barrymore starred in a 1930s horror film, Devil Doll. Then there were the sinister dolls, Dead of Night, with Michael Redgrave, and then Anthony Hopkins in Magic. In the 1980s and 90s, there was a series of horror films, Child’s Play, with the doll, Chucky (and the director of Annabelle, John Leonetti, a longtime cinematographer, actually directed Child’s Play 3).
There is another horror connection, this time with the Insidious series and The Conjuring. In the latter, the story is told of real-life Catholic exorcists, a couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren. They were associated with the Amityville hauntings and played a part in riding the house of the devil. Needless to say, some commentators were quite wary of the claims of the Warrens, who were confident and appeared in many television programs and series. Later in Annabelle, the parish priest, Father Peres, suggests that the couple who own the deadly doll, Mia and John, should contact the Warrens. They don’t, but there is a reference at the end as to the final location for the deadly doll, in their museum (with the comment that the doll – which is a Raggedy Ann doll, not porcelain as in the film (perhaps too much information!) - is still blessed twice a month).
The film is not one of those gory horror films that is ugly to look at. Rather, this is something of a slow-burner, gradually building up a sense of terror, especially for the pregnant Mia and after the birth of her daughter, Lia. Every now and then, sometimes more often, there is one of those editing jump cuts which has the audience jumping in their chairs. But in this one, atmosphere is important.
There is quite an explicit Catholic tone in the film, with a couple going to a fairly crowded mass with many young adults (the setting is 1970) with some effective sermons by the parish priest, Father Peres (Tony Amendola). He preaches on sacrifice and laying down one’s life for others just as Jesus did. In fact, after all the events of the film, Mia and John go to Mass once again and Father Peres repeats this sermon about sacrifice. He also preaches against fear of fear. And, he is presented as approachable, the couple coming to him with their difficulties and his offering to help out – which has some temporary dire effects on him, a touch of Satanic possession and a stint in hospital.
The screenplay introduces themes of demons and demonic presence and how the devil into enters into such things as dolls to torment humans and try to take their souls.
The other central character is a book shopkeeper called Evelyn (Alfre Woodard) who is sympathetic towards Mia, offers her books, comes to the apartment to discussion discuss the demons and is finally confronted by the devil doll.
Some of the editing cuts are startling, but the film, by and large, is not so startling, relying on audiences to identify with the young couple and their troubles, the impact of the deadly Annabelle, the religious dimensions of the couple’s experience, building up to a confrontation, not nearly as explicit or melodramatic as in films like The Exorcist, but indicating that it is not improbable for Annabelle to get out of her museum glass case for a sequel.
US, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Auoade, Tracy Morgan, Steve Blumt, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg.
Directed by Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi.
Usually animation films, especially from Hollywood, and in the Disney tradition, are usually bright and colourful, even if they have sinister aspects, especially evil witches. But there is another tradition, dark and sinister stories with monstrous characters, thinking of Frankenweenie. There was also Coraline and Paranorman. These were definitely dark and relied on more sinister traditions, especially from monsters and horror films. And these two were made by an Oregon-based animation company, Laika.
Boxtrolls is a Laika film. With the word Trolls in the title, and memories of Nordic monsters, we might expect a very dark animation story – and that is what we get.
The film is based on a children’s novel, Here be Monsters. With the film’s title, we know who the monsters are – or are they?
Who are these trolls? They are small, human-enough-looking characters who are clad in cardboard boxes. Hence the name. They come out at night, scour the garbage tins and scavenge for anything that they can find and bring it back to their home, in a basement, underground. There are in process of making a giant machine – but we’re not sure of the purpose.
And where do they operate? In a lavishly drawn town which may be English but certainly looks as if it comes from the continent. In fact, everyone has a British accent so that gives it a particular tone and flavour, rather than American. The trolls are not particularly in favour in the town and there is a squad set up to find them and destroy them, led by rather gross looking character appropriately called Snatcher. He has a couple of assistants, also caricature-looking but two of them will make good towards the end, the other not and, definitely, Snatcher not. Scratcher and co are the monsters.
The townspeople are very afraid of the trolls, not understanding them at all, and made even more fearful because of the story of the abduction of a little boy, the Trubshaw boy. This story is circulated and even re-enacted in the marketplace by a bizarre singer.
A little boy was taken. We see him as a baby with the trolls. Then he grows up, is curious about the world outside, removes a manhole in the street and emerges but is pushed and shoved by all the citizens. He sees the re-enactment of the taking of the Trubshaw boy and realises that it is he.
The rather wilful daughter of the Lord and Lady of the town volunteers to act in the story, sees the boy, whose name is Eggs, because of the box which he uses for his clothes, something the other trolls do. Eggs goes back to the trolls but realises that Snatcher is getting closer. Snatcher is being driven by jealous motivation, that he will be able to wear the tall White Hat that the Lord wears can be a power in the town. He almost gets there, but the ceremony is interrupted by the trolls who had been hidden in a dungeon (where we discover Mr Trubshaw hanging from his heels and rather demented). Snatcher thinks he has crushed all the boxes and got rid of the trolls – but they are still a step ahead of him.
One of the important products of the town is cheese and the Lord is very upset with the stealing of his cheese. There is a finale, Snatcher doing a cheese-tasting with explosive results!
The animation is very distinctive for the elaborate layouts of the town, the underground basement, the machines as well as a lot of effort going into the very detailed design of the trolls and the humans. The voice cast is considerable with Isaac Hempstead Wright as Eggs, a sinister Ben Kingsley as Snatcher, and quite a number of British comedians, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Simon Pegg, as well as Toni Collette bringing good quality to the voice performances.
Having said all this, I wonder who the film is really for. Enterprising and energetic youngsters who have a taste for monsters? Surely? Impressionable children, probably not. For adults? Yes and “intriguing”. So one of those animation stories which parents need to check out because of the themes and the scares.
US, 2014, 92 minutes, colour Colour.
Luke Evans, Sarah Gaydon, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance, Paul Kaye.
Directed by Gary Shore.
Who would have thought there was more to tell about Dracula? There have been so many versions of Bram Stoker’s novel. There have been so many inventive stories(and still many more lacking inventiveness, relying rather on exploitation) about what Dracula might have done in his vampire incarnations. In the prologue to Bram Stokers Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, there was a historical prologue about Vlad the Impaler, his battles against the Turks,his vicious style of massacring his foes, the suicide of his wife and his being angry at the refusal of Christian burial for her, deciding that he would be anti-God.
Something of this latter history is incorporated into Dracula Untold.
Vlad Is shown battling the Turks, after having been taken by them from his father at a young age and brought up by them. However, he has returned to his kingdom, based at Castle Dracula. He has restored peace, is happily married, has a son. The Turks are sending out spies and they have mysteriously disappeared. They have been killed in a cave, inhabited by bats.
Needless to say, the commanding Turk, Mehmed, Dominic Cooper, is not happy and threatens the kingdom.
What follows is very interesting for Dracula fans and so a recommendation to them to see how Dracula confronts an ageing vampire, Charles Dance, and is explanations of how he became a vampire as well as his confrontation with Vlad. A bargain is pledged with Vlad trying to save his people, save his wife, save his son who has in turn been abducted by the Turks.
This means that there are a number of battle scenes, Vlad struggling to keep the bargain with the vampire and his promise to save everyone will still struggling with his craving for blood. The film takes up all kinds of memories of vampire lore, how to protect oneself, how to destroy vampires.
Just before the end, the plot moves to indicate that there will be no sequel, which might be disappointing for those who like British actor Luke Evans as Vlad. But, we have been from definitely told, not untold, that vampires live forever so there is a reassuring ending, along with the big box office that this film has had in the United States, that there will be more to tell about Dracula.
US, 2014, 132 minutes, Colour.
Denzel Washington, Marton Czokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, Johnny Skourtis, David Harbour, David Meunier, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
The story of a vigilantes saint? The initial emphasis of the film is on the saint, the latter part is on the vigilante, in brutal in his killings but attempting to be rational and moral in his decisions for killing.
Denzel Washington has been appearing in action shows for several years, as he approaches the age of 60. He brings that impression of integrity that he has offered in many of his films. Director Antoine Fuqua directed Washington to an Academy Award in 2001 in Training Day, where, in fact, he was a policeman but the film villain.
This film is loosely based on a television series starring Edward Woodward.
The first impression that Denzel Washington makes is of a benign, serious, loner, sympathetic friend called Robert Mc Call. He lives quietly in an apartment, absolutely neat and orderly at all times. Off he goes to work in a warehouse, sympathetic to many who work there, especially Ralphie, an overweight young man who has ambitions to be a security guard. At night, he can’t sleep and goes over to a nearby diner to read a book, currently The Old Man and the Sea. He chats with and befriends a young girl who is obviously a prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz). It is in sympathy for her and the treatment she has been given by a group of Russian thugs, especially her pimp, that Robert gets involved in helping her. Involved is rather meek word for what he actually does. Quietly going to their restaurant, going into the office, checking out the four men who are there, especially the leader who has been brutal to the girl. They laugh at him, he looks at his watch, and within less than a minute they are all dead.
The Russians send their Equalizer or, perhaps better, their Leveller, who uses the local thugs on behalf of the Moscow-based boss, to find out who did the killings, suspecting Irish and Italian groups in the city. A bit of roughing up makes them realise they are not responsible.
Nikolai, the Leveller (Marton Csokas is very persuasive as a sociopathic villain the with a smooth-talking and urbane manner, but otherwise ruthless) actually tracks down, using CCTV footage, this African- American who does not seem at all like someone who executes and with such accuracy and method.
As we probably suspected, Robert was an FBI agent, skilled in killing, but opting out because of his wife and her illness. He goes to visit former agents, good cameos from Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman, gets information about the Leveller. So all we have to do is wait for the final confrontation.
While Robert is still something of a saint in his moral attitudes for wreaking vengeance, the killings themselves become much more brutal, seemingly pandering to a strong appetite for visual violence in the audience. Some of it stretches credibility, but by this stage the film is something of a 21st century Death Wish.
US, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgaard, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift.
Directed by Phillip Noyce.
The Giver is based on the Young Adult novel by Lois Lowry. Filmgoers, especially young filmgoers, will recognise the links with such films as The Hunger Games as well as Divergent although The Giver was published in 1993. In fact, The Giver begins in a very similar way to Divergent but moves to calmer and more peaceful solutions to the crises in the society and community rather than the violence of Hunger Games or Divergent’s martial training.
One of the immediate characteristics of the film is that much of it is in black and white rather than colour. Audiences are informed that this is a future society where equality and sameness are valued, that there are rules to foster the sameness, so black and white is an obvious visual leveller. No standout colour differences (which is also seen in the layout of the suburban area of the community where all houses are exactly the same). This isolated would-be Utopia is situated on a high rocky outcrop, making the moving out of the community difficult even if it were desired. There is a distant boundary which keeps people in. Not that the community wants to go out. This is very peaceful community, living in harmony, everyone following the rules, peace, happiness and friendship.
We are introduced to three friends who are about to graduate and move into adult tasks: Jonas, Asher and Fiona. At their graduation ceremony, The Chief Elder allots a place in the community to each of the teenagers, child nurturing, upholding the law, drone pilots... But, Jonas is not called in his turn and waits to the end where he is allotted a special role, working with The Giver, who retains all the memories of the past which have been obliterated from the members of the community. The Giver’s role is to advise the council of Elders.
The audience has noticed that Jonas has already had a glimpse of colour. When he works with The Giver, the older man holding on to the young man’s arms, transmitting memories – of people and events outside the community, all in colour. Jonas begins to appear in colour himself, and his perceptions of the community become coloured while all the rest are still conformed in their black and white.
As one will anticipate, there will come a time (perhaps this was The Giver’s intention), that Jonas would leave the community and break through the boundary.
The film has a strong cast. Australian Brenton Thwaites (the prince in Maleficient) is effective as Jonas. The Giver himself is played by a somewhat grizzled Jeff Bridges. And, perhaps surprisingly, the community is ruled over by The Chief Elder, who is Meryl Streep, presented in the most unglamorous way, the touch of the hag. Jonas parents (adoptive) are played by Alexander Skarsgaard whose work is in the nurturing of the planned babies and the mother, severe and an ally of The Chief Elder, is played by Katie Holmes. The director is Australian Phillip Noyce, director of Newsfront, Rabbit Proof Fence as well as such American action dramas as Patriot Games, Salt.
Unlike so many other films of this kind, the running time is very short, around 100 minutes. So, in some senses it seems like a short story rather than an epic like The Hunger Games. Obviously, it is a values-oriented film, a story that is against forced conformism in society or family, where the value is freedom of choice, self-determination, and contradicting the opinion of The Chief Elder who is against freedom of choice because humans are prone to make the wrong choices.
US, 2014, 145 minutes, Colour.
Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neal Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, David Clennon.
Directed by David Fincher.
Gone Girl seems too slight and juvenile for a title of a novel and film about adults in deep crisis. There is often a problem when a book is a bestseller and audiences find that the cinema interpretation does not live up to their expectations and imagining of characters and plot. This review is based on the film rather than the novel, which was given as a gift, and has been left to read after the cinema experience.
This is a very difficult film to review because of the plot complexities and some twists, not that many audiences, whether readers of the book will not, could not anticipate where the plot would go. The interest is in seeing how the twists are introduced and developed. The screenplay is written by the author of the novel, Gillian Flynn – so we presume she knows what she is doing.
The first sentences of the film indicate that Nick Dunn would like to kill his wife, asking her what is going on in her head and in her feelings. It is their fifth anniversary and Nick goes to The Bar, which he owns, and is managed by his twin sister, Margot. Ben Affleck is Nick and Carrie Coon is Margot. Both give very effective performances.
But we also see Nick’s wife, Amy, in a series of flashbacks, writing her diary of the past, talking about experiences with meeting her husband, the initial exhilaration, the difficult times, and his statement that she fears her husband could kill her. While the leads give solid performances, it is Rosamund Pike as Amy who gives a tour-de-force performance, obviously committed to reflecting the intricacies of her complex character.
When Nick arrives home and finds a room in disarray, with traces of blood stains in the kitchen, he is puzzled and goes to the police to report his wife missing. The main officer in charge of the investigation is played by Kim Dickens, again a very strong performance, especially in comparison with that of Patrick Fugit, her partner, who obviously needs a bit more training in police and detective work.
The screenplay shows each day passing, more and more evidence arising against Nick, including envelopes with clues provided by Amy for the celebration of their anniversary. Margot offers complete support and understanding. And then the media get onto it, especially an interviewer played by Missy Pyle, practically a caricature of this kind of interviewer, until we realise that some interviewers actually are like this, especially American interviewers. She not only goes with the flow, she creates the flow, targeting Nick and eliciting all kinds of sympathies for Amy from her seemingly insatiable audience. Then Amy is discovered, to have been pregnant, information eagerly given in a the evidence from her neighbour, her best friend.
It gets very hard for Nick. He goes to visit one of Amy’s school friends who was infatuated with her, a good acting performance by Neal Patrick Harris as a lover, rather than as a compere of American award shows. He also goes to the best lawyer in Missouri, played by Tyler Perry.
This review will now try to make a comment on the second part of the film without giving any of the plot directions away. All that might be said is that it is quite fascinating as we watch the explanations given of what happened and how it happened.
The two central characters are in no way a heroic, rather, each controlling the other, Amy more so than Nick.
Probably what can be said is that Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher, director of Seven, The Game, Panic Room, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is a very interesting exploration of two people, their psychological states and what those states compel them to do.
THE GRAND SEDUCTION
Canada, 2013, 113 minutes, Colour.
Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent.
Directed by Don Mc Kellar.
What's in a name? Seducing has all kinds of sexual overtone and leads us to expect some medical sex story. It isn't.
This film is located on a tight little bay off the Canadian coast. The central character, Murray (Brendan Gleeson at his best), remembers his childhood days when fishing was the livelihood and everybody was content. Now, the population of 125 is in the doldrums, the waters are fished out, cashing their dole cheques with little hope of renewal - except, maybe, if they can land a contract for a factory. The catches: they have to pay a hefty bribe to the company, they need to have over 200 inhabitants, they need to have a resident doctor.
And that is where Doctor Lewis comes in - and the seduction. Can they convince the city doctor who has been sent to Tickle Bay because of cocaine in his luggage for a month to look over the place. Can the inhabitants, under Murray’s leadership, persuade him tostay? They also have to raise the money with the help of the rather unimaginative bank manager who fears being replaced by a machine. They also have to convince the company boss that they have the correct population (which eventually leads to logistics problems as they have to race along back streets to get to the next venue to create a crowded impression!).
It is all very genial (except the issue of the bribe which seems to be taken for granted as business management). The doctor is a nice man but is very upset when his engagement breaks down. Everybody is so friendly, pretending to play cricket which Dr Lewis loves, helping him fish. He is attracted to the post mistress – she is not - and she reveals that everyone is deceiving him. Well, we know what happens. The important thing is watching how it happens.
Needless to say, there are a lot of characters on the island and there are lots of amusing situations (the listening in to all the doctor's phone calls and wanting to intervene when he is critical, a snorkeller putting a frozen fish on the eager angler's hook...).
The screenplay of the original, La Grande Seduction/ Seducing Dr Lewis, was written by Ken Scott and adapted for the English language version. He did the same with Starbuck which became Delivery Man.
While the setting is Canadian, the film travels well and has a universal humour and appeal.
IF I STAY
US, 2014, 107 minutes, Colour.
Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Liana Liberato, Stacy Keech, Gabrielle Rose, Lauren Lee Smith.
Directed by R.J.Cutler.
What is it about physical and mental illness that has attracted a number of up-and-coming actresses for their starring roles, Dakota Fanning dying in Now is Good , Shailene Woodley having to carry around her oxygen cylinder in The Fault in our Stars, Jennifer Lawrence mentally disturbed in her Oscar-winning role in Silver Linings Playbook, and now Chloe Grace Moretz in a car accident in If I Stay. Come to think of it, they have all been attracted by the heroics of comic-book worlds, Chloe Grace Moretz in the two Kick Ass films, Dakota Fanning as a vampire in the Breaking Dawn series, Shailene in Woodley so physically fit in Divergent, let alone Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games series. Perhaps that means they are comfortable in vigorous life as well as in sadness, illness and death.
This film is based on a popular Young Adult novel. Chloe Grace Moretz is Mia, a teenager with loving parents and with a younger brother. She is a cello player, devoting hours to her practice, playing with a professional group and ambitions for the future at Juilliard. It is as snow day and so no school. Her parents suggest an outing for the whole family, but suddenly there is a deadly accident on the road…
It is not giving anything away, one only has to look at the title, to appreciate that while it seems that Mia is fatally injured, but up she gets from lying on the highway, wanders around taking stock of the situation, grief at her parents’ deaths, concerned about her brother’s injuries, and watching herself being put on the stretcher, into the ambulance and taken to hospital. So, this is a very extended near-death experience for her. She can see and hear everything. No one can see or hear her.
Into this scenario of Mia watching at the hospital, are inserted quite a number of flashbacks, rather randomly in fact, which fill out her story, final review of life, as a little girl, as a teenager, her seeming shyness and being pushed by a cousin, Kim, (Liana Liberato), encountering a musician, leader of the band, Adam (Jamie Blackly), who takes notice of her, and the two become an item, even a couple. But there has been a clash before the accident, Adam going on tour with his band and their great success and possibility for records, Mia and her application for the scholarship in music at Juilliard in New York.
Her grandparents, extended family and friends visit the hospital urging her to live. At first, Adam is not permitted into her room, but later does come and sings to her. The moment of truth will come and whether she opts to leave die or to come back to life is the dramatic dynamic of the plot.
Chloe Grace Moretz has shown great versatility in performances, not only in Kick Ass, but in the remake of Carrie and in the remake of the Swedish vampire film, Let Me In. She clearly has a strong future before her.
This is a film for the young adult audience, especially for young females, but with the romantic subplot and the pleasing performance, young males may not be unhappy to see it as well. Parents might take something of a benign attitude towards the story, and Mia’s very close relationship with Adam, but, on the whole, it is not their kind of film.
US, 2013, 120 minutes, Colour.
Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Dagmara Dominczyk.
Directed by James Gray.
The Immigrant is a grim film.
It is 1921, boats full of migrants sail into in New York Harbour, passing the Statue of Liberty, full of hope, then landing at the migrant centre on Ellis Island, a vast and milling place where apprehensive migrants, many not speaking English or unsure of it, face the officials who grill them on their backgrounds, sometimes threatening, on the lookout for any who have contagious illnesses, eventually passing the greater number of them who then go out into the vastness of the city of New York and its streets, sometimes welcoming, sometimes welcoming.
The two immigrants at the beginning of this story are Polish sisters, Ewa and Magda, who have left their home country in some desperation and are relying on the welcome of an uncle and aunt. The plan does not go well. Magda is suffering from tuberculosis and is quarantined. There have been some accusation against Ewa and her behaviour on the ship and she is held under some suspicion.
This part of the plot is forcefully communicated with Marion Cotillard playing Ewa.
Enter Bruno, played by Joaquin Phoenix. He seems a concerned American, appearing on Ellis Island to help those in need. He chooses Ewa. We are taken in by him initially but it soon appears that he is a rogue, manipulating the authorities, sometimes buying them off, choosing women allegedly to help but actually taking them to his dive of a vaudeville theatre, where they are to perform, where they are to become prostitutes. At first, Ewa is grateful, relying on his attentions, then gradually realising the truth.
The option for Ewa is to be confined on Ellis Island and deported or to go along with Bruno’s plans and get enough money for him to buy off a guard who will release Magda. Ewa makes the option for her sister.
Bruno becomes infatuated with Ewa and falls in love with her. She can accept his help but not his affection. Complication arises when she sees a magician, Emil (Jeremy Renner) performing at Ellis Island and is attracted to him, and he to her. It emerges that he is a cousin to Bruno and that they have clashed for many years. They fight disastrously.
Ewa goes to see her aunt but is rejected by her uncle, later going again to get some financial help. As she collects her money, Bruno becomes somewhat compassionate, not entirely unredeemable.
The film has been directed by James Gray, who has made only a few films but stories of the grimmer side of American life, Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night, Two Lovers. Joaquin Phoenix has appeared in most of his films. Phoenix is a versatile actor and offers an interesting performance here, a complex man of good and evil. The emotional power of the film relies on Marion Cotillard who is a mixture of tenderness, strength and determination, someone who may realise her American dream.
THE INFINITE MAN
Australia, 2014, 85 minutes, Colour.
Josh Mc Conville, Hannah Marshall, Alex Demetriades.
Directed by Hugh Sullivan.
Which is which is the key question that audiences will have throughout most of this film. They might well be wondering, as well, when is when. and, especially, who is who at the very ending of the film.
The Infinite Man is a small and slight film, with a cast of only three and only two locations, an interesting example of small-budget filmmaking and have the filmmakers are able to work successfully within their budget. It is something of a romance, something of a romantic triangle, but mostly a variation on time-travel, raising issues of identity.
The location is the South Australian desert near Woomera. There is also use of a beach location. The cast of three consists of Josh McConville? as Dean, a romantic in love with Lana (Hannah Marshall). The third in the triangle is the caddish Terry (Alex Demetriades).
At the opening, Dean and Lana arrive to celebrate an anniversary, only to discover that the hotel out in the desert has been abandoned. Dean is a planner and had everything worked out for this anniversary – but not the arrival of Terry who disrupts the whole proceedings.
One year later, the episode is about to be re-created. But this time, Dean has been working throughout the year on a machine which will return him to the previous year and his encounter with Lana.
Well, what follows is a basic incident that Dean did not anticipate. The present Dean encounters last year’s Lana. This year’s Lana encounters last years in Dean. And Terry turns up.
And hence, the title, the various times that Dean can go back with time travel – but always with that complication that the previous incarnations of Dean will also be present. And Lana. Which is why the key question is which is which Dean, which is which Lana.
Because the film is done with the light touch, audiences may find these comings and goings rather slight and only mildly amusing. But, if they are drawn into the atmosphere of the time travel and its consequences, they may find it a pleasing entertainment.
There is happy ending with Dean and Lana, flowers and chocolates – but, we are still not sure, which is which!
INTO THE STORM
US, 2014, 89 minutes, Colour.
Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh.
Directed by Stephen Quale.
Actually, that sounds rather weak as a verbal effort to describe the impact of the tornadoes in this semi-documentary disaster film.
How to describe the extraordinary special effects, making the tornadoes (storm in the title is definitely an understatement) seem so real, visually, aurally? So that by the end of the film, though comfortably ensconced in our cinema seats, we do feel the aftermath of being battered and bruised by being immersed in these twisters. (“Awesome”, had it not been hijacked by modern usage, over-usage, could have been a word to describe the impact of the effects – a friend kindly came to the rescue and suggested “astounding” which will do!)
The plot is fairly standard, the attention of the film-makers going to the action sequences rather than to their particularly ordinary dialogue. And the characters, also, are rather ordinary. There are three groups who eventually come together.
The main group is the storm-chasers, professionals, who roam around in high-technical vehicles, one really like a tank, another with sophisticated storm-chasing computers with links to television stations to bring immediate tornado footage. They are led by a very demanding professional named Pete, harsh towards everyone, challenged that he is thinking only of money and reputation rather than the concerns of injured people, but, of course, showing himself heroic at the end. There are drivers as well as camera operators, and Alison, the university educated expert on storms.
The second group focuses on a family, widower father, rather severe on his two teenage sons, who go to a graduation at the local school only to find that the graduate son is absent, making a video with his girlfriend.
The third group, negligible (and the film could’ve done without them), are some Youtube Yobs, not a brain between them, drinking then drunk, carrying on with attitudes and behaviour and stunts like the Jackass team.
But, the screenplay posits more tornadoes on the one day than Oklahoma ever saw. And then they start to split. As has been said, the visual impact of the tornadoes, the pace of the editing for maximum shock and involvement, more than justifies the making of the film. If you want to see instant destruction, from the continually moving tornadoes, the film certainly provides it. (In the old days, Dorothy’s house rolling through the air and landing in olives’s’sOz, seemed spectacular. This time, roofs and vehicles are easy targets – by the end, there are several 747 is whirling through the air.)
By the end, there is a group in peril, the father and his son, the rescued son (in the nick of time) and his girlfriend, Pete and his team, hiding in a stormwater channel, experiencing the twisters, the calm of the eye of the storm, and the final battering.
In one sense, the film is a very average B-budget story. But, it is an above average experience of cinema tornadoes.
US, 2013, 112 minutes, Colour.
Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Burges- Frisby.
Directed by Mike Cahill.
The look of this title is better than what the film might have been called, perhaps should have been called, ‘Eye, Origins’. From the very start, the camera focuses in close-up on an eye, inviting the audience to contemplate the eye and its complexities, the wonder of its creation – or, from the point of view of the central character, Ian, the wonder of its evolution.
It should be said from the outset that this film offers a great deal for audiences to think about and reflect on, especially if they are interested in questions of religion and science. Ultimately, the science group, especially if they are of the atheistic or agnostic persuasion (and we glimpse Ian clutching a book by Richard Dawkins at one stage), may not be convinced by the religious suggestions. Those interested in more transcendent questions should be satisfied, even if the questions are not fully, or to a lesser extent, answered.
We are introduced to Ian in 2006, conducting experiments that might lead to mice and other animals gaining colour sight. Ian is on s a cientific quest to try to find some creature that started its life without sight but which evolved an eye. He is given in assistant, Karen (Brit Marling), who is no mean scientist in herself. She promises to examine the development of many creatures who have not had the power of sight and find one so that experiments can be done, giving sight to the blind. In fact, she does find a worm which is a suitable subject for the experiments.
In the meantime, taking some time off from the laboratory, Ian goes to a party where he is attracted to a woman who is wearing something like a Burkha and is attracted by her eyes, asking if he could photograph them. After a brisk and brusque sexual encounter, she disappears. But Ian finds her face on a billboard advertisement, googles and tracks her down. She is from Latin America, has had a chequered life story, but is attracted to Ian and he to her. They plan a sudden marriage but the bureau requires them to have more documentation. And, in the meantime, Karen rings with the news of what she has discovered. To not give away a surprising development of the plot, it can be simply said that something very drastic happens.
And then a shift to 2012-2013, with the Ian, a celebrity, appearing on television, commended for his scientific breakthroughs.
We also see that he has married Karen and she is pregnant. When the child is born, an expert suggests that the boy might be autistic and does several tests, including eye tests where the attention of the child goes to alternative photos, opting for one. The parents have been told, computerwise, that their child has the identical eyes of an elderly man from Idaho.
This presents Ian and Karen with different challenges. Karen, is far more open (as was Sofia) to explanations beyond the accurately scientific. For Ian, this is anathema. They try to find out if there are other examples of identical eyes – only to discover in the eye computer register that a girl in India whose eyes are exactly the same as Sofia’s.
Karen urges Ian to go to India, to find the girl, to investigate and to see whether such a thing is possible, the same patterning, suggestions of reincarnation. Ian puts up a huge billboard in Delhi and receives many unlikely callers, only to find the little girl and to do some tests with her, the results of which Karen accurately tables and Ian, left bemused and puzzled by the exact likeness of eyes, which, scientifically, should not happen.
And that is where the film ends, sharing the experiences, pondering the scientific, pondering the possibilities of God or something transcendent As Sophia has said the worm that cannot see is still surrounded by light which it cannot see but might come to see. Humans may be surrounded by God or a transcendent presence which they cannot see, but could - or might - some day.
US/France, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
Alejandro Jodorowsky,Brontis Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R.Giger, Chris Foss, Christian Vander, Devin Faraci, Diane O' Bannon, Drew Mc Weeny, Gary Kurtz, Jean- Paul Gibon, Jean- Pierre Vignau, Nicolas Winding Refn, Richard Stanley.
Directed by Frank Pavich.
For the film buffs who experienced films in the 1960s and 1970s, and for those who appreciate the history of cinema, this is an essential film, a portrait of Chilean director Aleyandro Jodorowsky and an illustrated lecture on the director himself and his career. At 84, he is a vigorous and intelligent participant in the film, responding eagerly with passion to questions about his career. He is a commanding presence.
The focus on of the film is on his attempt to make a movie of Frank Herbert’s Dune in the 1970s. Everything seemed to be in place after a long and painstaking pre-production effort. He and his producer, Michel Seydoux, who had brought the directors films to France with great acclaim, went to, shop the screenplay at all the Hollywood studios. They Were commended for the completion of such a planned project, but were wary of the director himself and his reputation and all turned down Dune.(Ironically, the de Laurentiis company greenlit a project in the early 1980s with David Lynch, whom Jodorowsky admired, directing – and we see Jodorowsky amusingly explaining how we went to see the film and had great contentment to find that he thought the film was awful!).
This documentary stands as a very interesting portrait of Jodorwosky, originally from Chile, maker of provocative films in provocative style, especially El Topo and Holy Mountain, both of which were screened in Australia shortly after their release. These are considered as the first of the Midnight Movies, finding a home in the United States for these late night screenings. Jodorowsky himself says here that he did not urge audiences to take LSD but wanted to provide films which offered the visual equivalent of an LSD experience with hallucinations. And he succeeded. The next step was to make Dune, which he saw as a prophetic novel – even though he changed some of the plotlines and situations according to his own prophetic interpretation. Jodorowsky is not above seeing himself as rather Godlike.
The film makers here have scored many a coup, gathering together most of the chief collaborators for Dune, and interviewing them. One, writer-director, Dan O’ Bannon, who had sold up everything in the United States and moved to Paris to work on the project, had died but there were visuals of him and an interview with his widow. Together, they explain how they saw their task in bringing Dune to visual life, with illustrations of many of their designs.
After the disappointment of Dune’s demise, many of these collaborators worked together, for example, Dan O’ Bannon and H.R.Geiger created Alien. There is very interesting section here with sequences from many of the signs-fiction films from the 1970s which were directly influenced by the planned Dune – since the quite large book compiled by the director was available at all the studios.Jodorowsky himself worked with the artist, Möbius, especially with a number of what are now called graphic novels.
This is exemplary filmmaking, keeping audience interest, moving at a great pace, introducing a variety of characters, insightful explanations of the creative process, interviews with Jodorowsky’s son, Brontis, who was to be Paul Atreides in Dune, as well as the commentary from the director himself right throughout the film.
It is some consolation that he directed a film. The Dance of Reality with his son which was screened at the Cannes film Festival 2013.
JOHN DOE VIGILANTE
Australia, 2014, 90 minutes, Colour.
Jamie Bamber, Lachy Hulme.
Directed by Kelly Dolen.
To say a film is interesting is not meant to be put-down. If the film is considered interesting, it is stimulating, emotionally involving, giving the audience a challenge and something to reflect on.
It can be said, definitely, that John Doe Vigilantes is interesting, even confronting.
But that is not to say that all audiences will want to have this experience. This is a story, set in Melbourne and using Melbourne and locations effectively, about a serial killer who is called John Doe. When it comes to screen vigilantes, many might remember Charles Bronson in the Death Wish series in the 1970s and 1980s, a man whose family has been violently assaulted and who feels that justice cannot be done by the legal system and so takes the law into his own hands, wreaking vengeance. A more recent example is Denzel Washington in The Equaliser, a seemingly virtuous man, edifying even, who goes to the defence of a young girl and turns into an exterminator of hyper-exploitative gangsters.
The thing is that the audience found these men of vengeance initially sympathetic, and found that what they were doing was righting wrong. John Doe is definitely not sympathetic. His serial killing (some of it shown in harsh or suggested detail, especially the intense confrontation with a brutal childkiller) has as its target criminals who have moved beyond the justice system or those who have served time, been paroled and offend again.
At the opening of the film, the verdict is about to be given in his trial. The screenplay introduces a journalist, played by Lachy Hulme, whom John Doe has allowed to interview him. This gives the audience the opportunity to look at and listen to John Doe, rather phlegmatic as he talks to and listens to the journalist, remembering the various episodes. Within the interview, there are many flashbacks, the first focusing on a paedophile priest, his treatment of a little girl, and he is killing being taped. John Doe tapes many of his killings and forms an alliance with a television interviewer, sending him the tapes for newscasts.
This introduces a theme which is most significant in the film, the role of the media. We have the journalist interviewing John Doe, who goes about his investigative work by interviewing an array of people, the police, psychiatrists, the television journalist, the producer of the program, and some ordinary people in the street. This raises the issue of exploitation by the media and individuals and communities allowing themselves to be manipulated.
By this device, the film-makers are able to introduce all aspects of serial killing and vigilantes killings, for and against, nuances of Justice, difficulties of law enforcement and prison sentences, the role of parole, the different perspectives of the media, exploitative or restricted, and the attitudes of people who want to watch the videos of the killings and those who do not. This means that the audience may be shifting positions all the way through the film, approving, disapproving, being challenged, thining that some episodes might be exploitative or necessary for the message of the film, wondering about their own stances.
The film focuses on several of John Doe’s more than thirty victims, and abusive husband, brutal bouncers at nightclubs, horriblel abusers and killers of children… The point that John Doe makes is that they have escaped the law but deserve to be punished rather than to be kept alive at the taxpayers’ expense.
Another effect is the influence of the vigilante vengeance on the public, demonstrations in favour of the vigilantes, and individuals who set up posses, inflamed by their hate and wreaking Justice, or what they think to be justice, and indulging their vicious passions. The journalist raises the question for John Doe and whether he enjoyed his killing or not.
Lachy Hulme is very good and insistent as the investigative journalist, wondering why he has been chosen – and finding out with something of a shock. Jamie Bamber (British but working extensively on US TV) is intense as John Doe, though given some humane moments in video material with his wife and daughter.
The ending, dramatically speaking, is quite clever, though it will give audiences reason to reflect because it comes so suddenly.
This is a well written and directed film, which is definitely not an entertaining night out, but a contribution to issues about the law, justice, vigilantes.
US, 2014, 142 minutes, Colour.
Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duval, Vera Farmiga, Emma Tremblay, Vincent D' Onofrio, Billy Bog Thornton, Ken Howard, David Krumholz, Jeremy Strong, Leighton Meister, , Balthasar Getty,
Directed by David Dobkin.
It was a bit of a shock to find a reviewer referring to this rather serious film as something of a soap opera. However, in the early part of the film, with the establishing of characters, the setting up of relationships in a dysfunctional family, the sadness of a mother’s death, some melodramatics in a small Indiana town, the idea of some soap opera aspects did come to mind.
But, soap opera is not exactly the tone of the latter part of the film. It is much more serious, probing character, probing relationships, probing integrity, probing justice and the law.
As might be expected from the title, this is a film about law, prosecution and defence, the realities of justice and lack of justice. The judge of the title is Joseph Palmer, played with his usual power by Robert Duval. At one stage he refers to his character’s age as 72 – but the actor made this film at the age of 82, a strong performance by anyone let alone a veteran at this age. The other star of the film is Robert Downey Jr, playing his son, a hotshot lawyer in Chicago, no holds barred. But he has long left his home town and has not returned to see his family, not even his mother to whom he had been devoted.
The tone of the film is set by the opening sequences with Downey, literally peeing on his prosecuting opponent, very glib with his words, extraordinarily shrewd, but then receiving the news of his mother’s death and asking for a continuance of the trial he is involved in.
There were a number of films in the early 1990s where very successful men experience some kind of emotional crisis which led them to reassess their life and their work and move on to a new path. Some examples were The Doctor, Regarding Henry, The Fisher King, starring prominent actors, William Hurt, Harrison Ford, Jeff Bridges. Here is Robert Downey Jr with the possibilities of some kind of change in his life, facing the realities of divorce, his devotion to his little daughter, and, most of all, meeting his father again after many decades.
The emotional crisis is for the whole family, including Henry’s older brother, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) who has lived in the town all his life and the autistic younger brother, Nate (Jeremy Strong). Henry also meets his love in High School, Sam, Vera Framiga, who challenges his memories about the past and his abandoning her as well as the family. As the screenplay unfolds, there are flashbacks to Henry’s relationship with his father, very tough in his stances, although he explains that he could see his son going wrong and felt that this was the best way to deal with him. Audiences, interest in father-son relationships, will find much to be interested in and moved by.
Audiences interested in the law will also find much to be interested in. While Hank is a clever and shrewd, articulate lawyer in Chicago, when he has to return to his home town in Indiana at the death of his mother, we realise the distance between himself and his father, but his admiration for him as a judge when he goes into court to listen to him. The events on the day of his mother’s burial are critical, when the judge went to the supermarket to buy some things for the family and there is news of the death of a man who committed murder in the town, had spent 20 years in jail, and was not liked by the judge. When the judge has to go to court, Hank defends him, finds out about his medical and health background, preps his father for the cross examination. Billy Bob Thornton appears as the prosecutor, a sharp performance as he rivals Hank in his abilities to probe and to impress the jury. There are many telling moments in the interplay of the questioning.
Ultimately, this is a story of the judge’s integrity, what he did or did not do at the time of the death, his state of mind and memory, and prepared to accept the jury’s verdict.
An interesting blend of the humane and the legal.
LAND OF THE BEARS
France, 2013, 86 minutes, Colour.
Narrated by David Gasman.
Directed by Guillaume Vincent.
It is a 99.9% safe bet to say that most people have never and will never visit the Land of the Bears. And where is this land? Almost immediately, this interesting documentary tells us that it is in the eastern part of Siberia, the Kamchatka peninsula. Since most of us are not going to Siberia let alone this peninsula, watching The Land of the Bears is the next best thing.
This is a French documentary, unobtrusively filmed, the bears not looking at the camera at all (though there are some tracking shots where the crew must be in a boat gliding along photographing the bears) but a style of photography that captures the realities without drawing attention to itself.
We are introduced into a wintry landscape, snow melting on rocks, and the viewfinder opening up to a mountainous region, snow and ice-clad, a territory that looks isolated and undisturbed, that no human beings have ventured there. But there is life. We are told that there are 20,000 Bears, and as spring progresses, there is quite a deal of birdlife. At some moments, in the sea at the shore, there is some sea lions looking for fish to eat. And the fish available are salmon, swimming upstream so that they will spawn millions of more salmon, ready for the bears to capture them and devour them so that they will have full bellies and be able to go into their dens and sleep for eight months, hunger satisfied. This is a cycle of life, quite a vast and particular eco-system.
So, in we go to a den, and are introduced to a mother and her cubs, and learn that bears live solitary lives in general, and that after some seasons, the mother lets go of the cubs as they become adult bears and fend for themselves. At this stage, however, the mother cares for her cubs, finding them salmon, protecting them in times of danger. There are some moments of danger, the male bears being huge and dominant, territorial concerning the salmon that they are hunting.
Which means that the film covers the four spring and almost-summer seasons, where the bears come out and roam, spending most of their life in the water, waiting for the salmon to come, catching the salmon as they arrive, eating the salmon, (with some close-ups of how they eat, tearing skin, cutting into the flesh, and between those teeth and into the mouth).
In some ways, the film and its story is rather repetitive but there is a fascination at this opportunity of looking at the bears (longer snouts and faces than the bBears we are used to from the Americas – although the final credits indicate that a lot of the base equipment for this film was set up in Alaska, comparatively close by.
In the French version, Oscar-winner Marion Cottillard is the narrator. For the English language version, the narrator is David Gasman, who has a quietly low key and easy-to-listen-two voice, certainly not intrusive in any way, leading us more gently into the narrative and the life of the Bears. While there are some moments of feeling, especially about the young bears, some of them excluded by other cubs, possessive of their fish, and with the young male cub alerted to the female cub and gradually becoming aware of the mating instinct. But there is no sentimentality at all, with the functions of eating, swimming and surviving. There is a kind of anthropomorphic perspective, but it is not indulged in any way to make the cubs and their behaviour seem cute.
Land of the Bears was filmed in 3D and best to experience it that way. While it would look good in 2D, especially on the big screen, it would also look good in 2D on a television screen.
Devotees of nature films and films showing details of the lives of animals will not want to miss this one.
LIFE OF CRIME
US, 2013, 93 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Aniston, Yaiin Bey, Isla Fisher Will Forte, Mark Boone Jr, Tim Robbins, John Hawkes, Charlie Tahan.
Directed by Daniel Schechter,
Life of Crime is a very generic title for this kind of kidnapping fraud drama. It is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, set in Detroit 1978, with the title, Switch, which may not be much better than Life of Crime.
This is a rather slight entertainment, something of an amusing diversion from more serious films.
We are introduced to 2 criminals, Ordell and Louis, played by Yaiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and John Hawkes. They have a big plan to abduct the wife of a real estate entrepreneur, Frank, played very smugly with the touch of brutality and dumb deceitfulness, by Tim Robbins. He is a golf champion, with many trophies – including, says he, his wife. She is played by Jennifer Aniston, the society wife, with a son, but lost in some bewilderment at the behaviour of her husband.
The abduction happens, though a friend of Mickey, the wife, turns up to make a move on her but finishes up knocked out. Some later comic and serious scenes with him. In the meantime, a room has been prepared for Mickey during her abduction, but she has to wear a mask to avoid seeing the kidnappers. Ordel and Louis enlist the help of a pot-bellied, rough-haired Nazi sympathiser expertly played by Mark Boone Jr to ensure complete audience antipathy – as well as the disgust of Mickey.
It does get rather complicated because Frank has said he was going to the Bahamas, but he didn’t, going instead to a little love nest with Melanie, Isla Fisher. The kidnappers seem to know all about his financial frauds and demand $1 million.
It gets even more complicated when Ordell goes to threaten Frank personally and Melanie wants to do a deal. But, the abduction experience does a lot for Mickey’s self-confidence and, as might be expected, tables are turned at the end. Hence, Switch (rather than Life of Crime).
Lightly entertaining while on screen – but a bit of in one eye and out the other!
THE LITTLE DEATH
Australia, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Josh Lawson, Bojana Novamovich, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvaney, Patrick Brammal, Kate Box, Alan Dukes, Lisa Mc Cune.
Directed by Josh Lawson.
Quite a while ago, actually in a theology class, we were told that everything human, everything finite, could be the subject of humour. Otherwise it would become something of an idol, placed on a pedestal and needing to be toppled. That included sex and sexuality – and we were reminded of the tradition of Rabelaisian humour. Writer-director, Josh Lawson, was not born at the time that we received this advice, but it is something like this that he has in mind in his screenplay for The Little Death.
The Little Death, as we are reminded at the opening of the film, is from the French Le Petit Mort, which is a poetic way of referring to orgasm. This is a film of several episodes, some of them intercutting, where we are introduced to each of the couples by name. Already with the first story, Paul and Maeve (Josh Lawson himself with Bojana Novakovic). She confides to her husband that one of the fantasies that sometimes preoccupy is her is that of being raped. Paul is rather shocked, as many of the audience might be, especially the female audience identifying more readily with the character of Maeve. The fantasy is accepted, with a challenge to Paul – with some moments of apprehension and some moments of embarrassed laughter.
After that, the different sexual fantasies, the technical name and description put up there on the screen, are more laid back. For Richard and Rowena (Patrick Brammal and Kate Box), Rowena finds that she is stimulated by Richard’s tears, noted at the time of his father’s death, which means that she puts pictures of his father around the house, pretends that his pet dog has run away, and tries to get him weeping until final confrontation.
Confrontations are standard for (Alan Dukes and Lisa Mc Cune portraying something of a harridan wife). It emerges that he is aroused only when he sees his wife sleeping, which means that he has wide awake nights which have repercussions on his sleeping at his job, irritating his boss (Lachy Hulme) threatened with the sack – and his story not ending happily.
There is more humour to be had with Daniel and Evie (Damon Herriman and Kate Mulvaney) had been recommended by their counsellor (Zoe Carides) to be more experimental in their relationship. They decide to go for roleplays, she sometimes getting the gigles, remarking about his acting abilities, which he takes ultra-seriously and get acting classes.
The odd character is Steve (Kym Gyngell) knocking on everyone’s door, newly moving into the suburb, bringing everyone a gift, a box of biscuit golliwogs, and to announce that he is a registered sex offender and is obliged to let them know. Those who open the door are more preoccupied with their own questions to give Steve much notice, except remember remark on the racist nature of golliwogs. To say that the offender is crucially involved in the ending does not give anything of what happens rather it is an alert for the audience to be ready for it!
There are many laugh out loud moments and bits of dialogue which means that the audience is focusing on farcical aspects of sex and putting this kind of perspective on taking sexual behaviour too seriously.
It is the same with the final story, which does not seem part of the whole, but one of those sequences about phone sex. A hearing-impaired man uses a video relay company to make his phone calls. Monica, who has shift-work for this kind of work, is a very nice and proper person, concerned about growing hearing-loss. She takes Sam’s call which is to phone a sex company. It is the old joke of the unlikely individual on the other end of the line who is also preoccupied caring for her mother with dementia. She has to sign the questions for Sam, relaying them, as well as the answers. This story ends more positively with Sam obviously liking Monica.
And then there is a sudden ending, bringing some of the stories to a connection which, definitely, we and the characters were not expecting.
UK, 2013, 89 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hardy, voices of: Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Bill Miner, Tom Holland, Andrew Scott, Danny Webb.
Directed by Stephen Knight.
Locke is an evocative name for this film because the audience, in a sense, is locked into one place for the whole 90 minutes. For those philosophical bent, they might wonder whether the title comes from David Locke. And the place where the central character and the audience are locked is in a car, moving along an English Motorway one evening.
The film has been written and directed by Stephen Knight, prominent writer for such films as Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things, Hummingbird. Interestingly, reviewers who like his tough films neglect to mention that he wrote the screenplay for the immensely popular The Hundred Foot Journey.
The film opens at a huge building site which we learn is to have a record-breaking quantity of cement to be delivered for a precision pour the next morning. We learn also that the supervisor, Ivan Locke, is driving away from it. He gets into his car as does the audience, the director skilfully moving the camera within the car, looking into the car from outside, as well as showing the flowing traffic, the speed and slowing down, eliciting a sense of our being passengers with Ivan Locke.
What is interesting is the drama that Ivan is involved in, the several decisions he has to make, the growing tension because of these decisions.
The main reason that he is driving to London is that a woman that he was associated with but did not really know is about to give birth to his child. It is premature. She wants him to be present at the birth for support and security. This means that, because his wife does not know, he has to tell her the truth and experience the consequences. The complication here is that he has two sons. But Ivan Locke is a good man, a man of principles, someone who tells the truth and is prepared to accept what follows from the truth.
But what makes for further dramatic tension is his driving away from his responsible work at the building site.
What connects all these decisions is the phone in his car. His journey is filled with phone calls, calls he makes as well as calls to him. He treats most of them in a very calm way because that is his personality, but the pressure on him is enormous.
Taking it for granted that he is hurrying to the birth, the anxiety is about how the woman will cope, with phone calls from the nurse and from her doctor, explaining the necessity for Caesarean surgery. Our emotional concern is how his wife responds and the contact with his sons who are watching a football match on television. The responsibility tension is his contact with two of the men who will be participating in the pouring of the cement, a supervisor who contacts the bosses of the International Corporation in Chicago who, to say the least, are not pleased. The other man is on the spot, and Ivan has to get him to make sure that the organisation for the pour, the stop-go action in the surrounding streets is organised (with complications from the police who want a signature with only 25 minutes to get it, finding the phone number of the local councillor, contacting him at a restaurant to ensure that all is in order). The man on site has been drinking, initially denying it, and Ivan has to get him to ensure that everything is ready, which includes his running to another building site and enlisting the help of some extra expertise.
Quite some action off-screen.
This ensures that we have 90 minutes of personal drama as well as industrial drama.
It is to the credit of Tom Hardy (who has become very popular in films in the UK as well as internationally and is to be the new Mad Max) that audiences are engaged with him, sympathise with him, hope for him… It is a very effective performance, all the more so because of his sitting at the steering wheel for the whole of the film.
The film also has strong British voice talent for those at the other end of the phone: Olivia Colman as the pregnant woman, Ruth Wilson as the wife, Bill Miner and Tom Holland as the boys (the final phone conversation with one of his sons indicates that there might be some hope), Andrew Scott (Moriarty in the Sherlock television series) as the man on the spot.
Audiences might not be in the mood for watching this kind of confined drama, but it is well worth watching.
THE MAZE RUNNER
US, 2014, 113 minutes, Colour.
Dylan O' Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie- Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson.
Directed by Wes Ball.
There have been so many Young Adult stories in recent years, from novels turned into films, which show dystopian societies, the revolt of young men and women, the power of the authorities and the need for rebellion, that these films form part of a now recognisable movie genre. The Maze Runner is an interesting addition to The Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, The Giver.
What it a group of older male teenagers found themselves in what seems the countryside, called the Glade, where they can’t remember anything about themselves except their names. They have managed to subsist, growing fruit and vegetables, no electricity, rough housing, and their having to get on well with one another, not knowing why they are there? And, surrounding the Glade is a very high wall, with an opening, into what they call the Maze. Some of them have been nominated as runners, going into the maze but having to get out before it closed its massive entry.
Some of them become ill, stung mysteriously, going into the maze to die.
At the opening of the film, a young man arrives, confused, Thomas, who immediately tries to run but is caught. He is given a tour of the Glade and finds that some of the group like him, especially Newt, an intelligent leader, and a chubby young boy, Chuck. On the other hand, there is the hostile Gally, who insists that the rules are the most important thing and that they can never get out of the Glade.
Thomas soon appears as a leader as well as critical of the group not trying to escape. At one stage, he rushes into the maze to save someone who has been stung. He encounters huge metallic monsters, called The Grievers. He and another runner, Minho, find a central metal core with a light in a Griever which may indicate a possibility for escape.
In the meantime, they are surprised when a young woman is sent up mysteriously from the elevator, knowing her name, weary, and then defensive against the males.
It must be acknowledged that the sequences of the young men in the maze and the pursuit by the Grievers is highly and adrenaline-pumping. And this is heightened when a group, as might be expected, try to escape through the maze.
There are intimations throughout the film, especially in Thomas’s dreams, where he sees laboratories and scientists going about their work. This is explained at the end – but not entirely because, as the mysterious Doctor announces before the final credits, they must move to the Phase.
The young cast is particularly strong, especially Dylan O’Brien? as the strong-minded and keen-witted Thomas. Young British actors who have appeared in a number of British films, Thomas Brodie-Sangster? and Will Poulter, are particularly good as the sympathetic Newt and the obey-the-rules-at-all-cost Gally. Patricia Clarkson is also effective as the seemingly sympathetic doctor.
With the young people out of the maze, it will be interesting to see what happens in the Next Phase.
PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE
US, 2014, 84 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Curtis Armstrong, John Michael Higgins, Hal Holbrook, Wes Studi, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Stacy Keech, Cedric the Entertainer, Barry Corbin, Regina King, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller. Fred Willard, Erik Estrada, Patrick Warburton, Rene Auberjonois.
Directed by Roberts Gannaway.
A film for parents and children who enjoyed the two Cars films as well as the original Planes. This will be an enjoyable outing, possibly better than the other three films.
But, for one thing, it depends on audience ability to accept cars and planes and other vehicles as the equivalent of human beings, talking in the same way, doing the same things, particularly idiosyncrasies, and, of course, the heroism of winning.
Actually, the anthropomorphism is a strange experience. Here are obvious-looking cars and planes, and vehicles old and new (perhaps that should be ‘younger’) who substitute for human beings, not in the was animals do when they can talk and laugh and cry, but here are machines who are human! Most of this is done, quite effectively, with eye movements and some brow movements. Then there are the slits or other openings in the planes and vehicles which can be the equivalent of mouths. And, off they go, tearing along the highway, sweeping through the air amidst forests and mountains, having parties and refuelling with gasoline, off to a tourist resort for holidays, and even doing line-dancing.
Dusty Cropduster was the hero of the first film, a little plane, coming from behind to win races, eventually becoming the champion of the world, doing a complete circling of the world. Now he is back home, the champion and well-liked, revelling in his fame, but what is Dusty to do in his old backwater town, despite all the encouragement of his old friends, The Skipper, Mayday and that whizz at fixing machines, Dottie.
Something has to happen to keep the film going, so what does happen is that Dusty finds that his bearings have gone. If he goes too fast and energetically, he will crash. Unfortunately, his type of engine is now out of date and so there is little hope for replacement.
In the meantime, with Dusty unable to do his flying, his hometown will be unable to cope with security and repairs at the annual Corn Festival. Will Dusty save the day and the Festival? (Obviously that is a completely superfluous question!).
What Dusty does is to go off to another town to join the firefighting force. He is more than a little arrogant, relying on his reputation (which they all admire) but too ashamed to tell anyone that his bearings have gone. He undergoes the training, with the demanding Blade Ranger as well as the Native American plane, Windlifter. It certainly is not as easy as Dusty had thought and he doesn’t do too well with his training, being too presumptuous, and being careful with his engine bearings.
While the film is in the air, it is quite exhilarating, wonderful flying sequences, through mountains, over rivers and, eventually, in the firefighting sequences. Once again, Dusty is too presumptuous and does not work effectively as a team member, even crashing into a river and having to be pulled out by Blade Ranger.
In the meantime, a very vain and fussy bureaucrat car has arranged a meeting at a resort, full of cars, and in the presence of the Secretary of the Interior. The bureaucrat will take no advice, ignoring the advancing fires so that he can finish his speech, only to find that the danger is real and there has to be a huge evacuation, even cars on a railway station getting into a train to take them to safety, others going by road and stranded on the highway. Small vehicles have to be parachuted into the danger area to clear the roads and the lines.
By this stage we are so identifying with the planes and cars that we are in danger of forgetting that they are not human beings! Needless to say, but saying it nonetheless, Dusty comes good, does a heroic rescue of a romantic couple who are on a bridge reminiscing about when they met and then stranded needing action while the bridge collapses under them. And they are rescued.
The animation is bright and colourful, the flying sequences and the fire sequences very effective, and there is a very good voice cast led by Dane Cook as Dusty, Ed Harris as Blade Ranger, Stacy Keach as The Skipper, Wes Studi as Windlifter.
Not the greatest of animation films, but very enjoyable in its own way.
Australia, 2014, 86 minutes, Colour.
Jonathan la Paglia, Luke Hemsworth, Viva Bianca, Hannah Mangan Lawrence.
Directed by John P.Soto.
There have been a number of films called The Reckoning. This is an Australian one, set in Perth.
Reckoning always seems to include some kind of calling to account and justice being done. And that is the case here, although much of the justice is avenging justice, vindictive justice.
An initial focus is on flashback memories of two sisters who are devoted to each other, together on a beach. We are then introduced to a Perth detective, played by Jonathan La Paglia, woken early in the morning to be told that one of his police partners has been shot.
So, on one level, this is a police investigation and detective story, trying to find the killer of the policeman and discovering a long trail of killings over several days. This involves quite some footwork for the detective and his partner (and there are some domestic complications concerning the detective’s wife and daughters in the presence of his female partner). But, he discovers a memory stick in the pocket of the dead policeman and find some video, a young girl (one of the sisters we have seen at the beginning) saying that she has little time to live, is making a documentary about her search for all those responsible for her sister being high on drugs and being killed in a hit and run accident.
As might be expected, there are several twists in the narrative, not everybody being what they seem to be.
However, what makes the narrative somewhat different is the religious dimension. Rachel, the girl on the quest, who was accompanied by a young man who has just been released from a mental institution and has no qualms about violence, is particularly religious, even going to a church and insisting that the reluctant priest marry the couple instantly. She seems to have an unlimited number of quotations in her memory from Old Testament and New Testament, to put as captions in her documentary, relating to each of the guilty parties that she discovers.
(Although there is a script editor credited, when a quotations from Romans 13:4 is discovered and one of the officers in the police precinct doesn’t know what it means, Jonathan La Paglia actually says it is a book of the Old Testament – and soon after, on screen, there is a quote about those who commit heinous crimes getting not their just deserts but there just desserts!. Maybe not too many people noticed, but they are disappointing slips in a rather polished production.)
It all leads up to a confrontation, some revelations that we may not have been expecting, a sad ending for Rachel and an uncertain ending for the detective.
Canada/India, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Rajesh Talling, Tannishtha Chatterjee.
Directed by Richie Mehta.
No, not a story about the Buddha. Rather, it is a contemporary Indian story about a boy who is lost.
This film, an Indian-Canadian? production, takes its audience, vividly, into the streets of Dehli, a poorer area where a family lives, where young boys play cricket on the hard ground outside the house, and the father going into a slightly more affluent quarter where, with his megaphone, he announces to people that he can mend their zippers and mend other household articles.
It can be said that, while the film is vivid, it also presents characters and the sad events of the film in a somewhat low-key style. No Bollywood songs and dances here.
Mother and father farewell their young son, Siddarth, as he goes to work in a factory some distance away, doing a job that will bring some money into the home. And, at home, is a little sister, Pinky.
The boy phones his family when he arrives at the factory and promises to be home for a feast in a month’s time. He doesn’t come home. The father tries to get information, an address, phone number, and even talks to the factory owner. He is told his son has run away.
The film makes a point about the changing world, and how difficult it would have been in the past to get information, but even now is still difficult despite computers and everyone, even the poorest, having mobile phones to take pictures, to communicate – the parent generation still bewildered by much of the technology but the film showing how these young children take this technology for granted and are extremely adept at using it.
The rest of film is the sad and quietly desperate father’s search his son. He travels to the factory, is courteously but am feeling the heard by the owner of the factory, and information from the young man that shared his room that the boy might have been abducted. The police offer some help as to personnel and shelters but it emerges that many young boys and girls are abducted in India.
The father’s journey takes him to some homes for runaway children, to no avail. A centre in Mumbai is mentioned but most people don’t know about it. There is some affirmation of human nature when some young men, who admire the father, and say they have been influenced in their own work by him, make a donation, and other means are found to get some money for the father to travel by train to Mumbai.
The father is a good man, loving his son, loving his wife and daughter, suffering through his search, his eyes open to worlds he had not dreamed of.
There are all kinds of stories of disappearances of children, trafficking, sexual exploitation, from many parts of the world. This story is not graphic, and we don’t know where the boy has gone or been taken to. Rather, sadly, we are invited to share the father’s and the family’s experience, and through them the suffering of so many people who experience the loss of their children.
THE SKELETON TWINS
US, 2014, 93 minutes, Colour.
Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Boyd Holbrook, Ty Burrell, Joanna Gleeson.
Directed by Craig Johnson.
As the film opens, the audience sees a masked man dangling two skeletal dolls, like puppets, for the entertainment of his daughter and son. We soon learn that this man has killed himself. So, it is not surprising to see his son, Milo (Bill Hader) a would-be actor in Los Angeles, gay and lonely, getting into a bath and slitting his wrists. In counterpoint, we see his sister, Maggie (Kristin Wiig) married and living in New York City, contemplating a handful of pills.
Which means that The Skeleton Twins opens very seriously. However, when the sister receives the phone call about her brother’s attempted suicide and realises that they have not been in contact for 10 years, she goes to visit him and soon there are wry remarks, jokes and touches of comedy. She offers to taking back to New York and live in the guestroom in the house which she shares with her husband, Lance.
It is this contrast between serious themes and humorous treatment and behaviour, that gives this film quite an edge.
It should be said that Luke Wilson, at his nicest, is Lance, Maggie’s husband, a truly good-natured and decent man, welcoming Milo, offering him a job (clearing grounds of sticks and brambles with Milo managing only to pick up one stick at a time) as well as an outing at a ‘Dudes’ Day’ at a climbing centre. He and Maggie are hoping to have a family, but several complications are soon revealed, especially as Maggie moves from hobby to hobby every couple of months, scuba diving when Milo arrives, with the instructor having more than an eye on her and she, despite herself, succumbing to him.
One of the interesting features of the film is the issue of sexual abuse of minors. It comes rather later in the film, although we know that Milo has a particular interest in one of his former English teachers, Richard, who owns a bookshop in New York. We realise early that they had had a relationship but not the details which Maggie reveals and challenges Milo with, he saying that this was the first time that anyone had shown him affection and did not see it as abuse. Maggie is rather severe in her perceptions of this episode in Milo’s life.
There is also a telling scene when Milo invites his absent mother (Joanna Gleeson) to a meal, Maggie completely unforgiving in her mother’s neglect of them as children and scornful of her New Age career in Sedona, Arizona. A new insight into the dire effect of their parenting on the brother and sister.
Kristin Wiig and Bill Hadar have been very effective in comedy films. They have been prominent on television as comics on Saturday Night Live. They still retain many of the characteristic of their comic styles, ironic in situations, clever with one-liners and other verbal humour, Milo bursting into a mimed song and drawing Maggie into singing it with him.
This is the story of a brother and sister who have been locked into a lack of self-confidence, whose horizons, generally, are limited to their own experiences, wracked with regrets. Which means that, in one sense, the film is very narrow, the characters enclosed in this narrow world. On the other hand, the exploration of sad aspects of human nature give it a more universal interest and appeal.
The strong cast brings characters alive, so that audiences do have quite a deal to reflect on.
SON OF A GUN
Australia, 2014, 108 minutes, Colour.
Ewan Mc Gregor, Brenton Thwaites, Alicia Vikander, Matt Nable, Damon Herriman, Nash Edgerton, Jacek Koman, Tom Budge.
Directed by Julius Avery.
Son of a Gun is a swaggering kind of title, with the touch of the macho. It is a story of criminals in Western Australia, in prison, out of prison, and carrying off a huge robbery at the Kalgoorlie Gold mines.
The international star is Ewan Mc Gregor, using his Scots accent, playing Brendan, a famous robber, who finds himself in jail, looking for an opportunity to escape, looking for a young patsy that he can rely on to make connections when he gets out of jail after a short-term sentence.
The young man is played by Brenton Thwaites, a young actor from Cairns and a stint in Home and Away. 2014 was a particularly good year for him, playing Prince Charming in Maleficent and the futuristic hero of The Giver. His role in Son of a Gun is a strong one and he keeps audience attention on himself, even when working with Ewan Mc Gregor.
The film establishes the two characters in the first part of the film, with the young JR (Thwaites) entering into prison in the usual style, assigned to a cell where his cellmate is the sexual victim of some bruisers in the prison, JR trying to help him but warned by Brendan (McGregor) to be very careful. A bond is established between the two, with JR giving Brendan advice about chess moves and Brendan saving him from the bruisers. Prison life is a mixture of routine and moments of brutality.
The film opens up when JR is released, goes to make contact with the criminal recommended by Brendan, finds himself in somewhat luxurious surroundings, attracted by a young woman from eastern Europe who is controlled by the master criminal. He Is able to arrange an escape after an amusing, but serious, encounter with an arms dealer (Damon Harriman) and a lesson on guns and their power, using a helicopter – and this looks so easy, despite some shooting by prison guards, that audiences might think this is quite credible and possible. It is not only possible here but actual, so Brendan and his close associates are out and it is time to plan that gold robbery in Kalgoorlie.
There are romantic moments for JR and Tasha (Alicia Vikander from the Danish film, A Royal Scandal), some clashes with some young would-be tasks toughs and supportive tuition from Brendan.
The latter part of the film shows the robbery in detail, the escape, and, as we might have suspected, no honour among thieves.
By the end of the film, JR has certainly learnt a lot from Brendan and shrewd enough to get an upper hand.
The film makes Western Australia look attractive as well as desolate in the mines around Kalgoorlie. And, as heist and caper films go, with its Australian touches, this is quite an – even improbable – entertainment.
STEP UP ALL IN
US, 2014, 112 minutes, Colour.
Ryan Guzman, Briana Evigan, Adam Sevani, Mari Koda.
Directed by Trish Sie.
It is about eight years since the first Step Up film was released to great enthusiasm, offering an opportunity for Channing Tatum to dance and for Rachel Griffiths to have a serious role. But that seems a long time ago. However, it is not that the dancing has been out of mind with several sequels, Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3 D, Step Up Revolution. There has been no abatement of dancing and competitiveness.
So, what is left? The old group have come from Miami to Los Angeles for auditions, led by Sean (Ryan Guzman) who was in the last film. During the opening credits, there is quite an amount of dancing as a panel are looking for a particular dancer – there are all kinds of characters, all kinds of costumes, all kinds of movement during this opening sequence. But, the group does not win, because it seems that the result was rigged from the start.
They are glum for a few minutes and then intend to go back to Miami but Sean becomes full of enthusiasm and decides that the group should come back together again because he has discovered that there is a significant competition in Las Vegas. He meets Moose, from the previous films who connects him with some of the dancers and introduces him to Andie (Briana Evigan) from Step Up 2. They click and one does not need to be prophetic to know that romance will be in the air.
Off to Las Vegas, some scenes of rehearsing, then a performance by the rival group and then themselves who are now called LMNTL (elemental!). Since this is halfway through the film, both groups go into the finals, so that there will be have to be a competitive finale (and there is).
But, since this is only halfway through the film, there has to be some drama as well and Sean and Andie fallout, she not trusting him when he asks her to be lifted by him and then do a complete somersault with him catching her and lowering her to the floor. Off she goes. Fortunately there is an old couple with a history of dancing and they have a good talk to Sean enabling him to discern that an apology is in order.
So, for the rest of the film, Sean gets the group together again, Andie decides to return, they go to Las Vegas, participating in the competition with an extraordinary blend of acrobatics and mime and dance (though the timeline of the film does not seem to give them any time for rehearsal to achieve this kind of success). And, of course, that somersault destined for great applause. The compere has been backing the other group behind the scenes but there is nothing like audience acclaim for our group to win absolutely.
And the prize was worth dancing for, a three-year contract for them all in Las Vegas. Were this reviewer a screenwriting type, he would already have the screenplay for Step Up Las Vegas well underway.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
US, 2014, 101 minutes, Colour.
Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg, voices of: Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub.
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman.
This is one of those films that is beyond review! If you see the title and think “not me”, don’t go. If you see the title and feel a movement of exhilaration, do go.
This version of TMNT delivers exactly what it promises. With the credits and the opening sequences, there is a longish explanation of the origins of the turtles, their mission, good versus evil on the streets of New York City, and the leadership of Splinter. Many of us knew all this already but it is handy to hear it again at the beginning of the film. But, the Turtles themselves are not fully seen until about 20 minutes in.
But that means that while we are waiting to see them, although they have been glimpsed in energetic action, it offers the opportunity to think about the absurdity of the whole thing. Turtles? Mutations? Ninja skills? – And teenage?
During the film we get several explanations of what happened in 1999, Dr O’Neill? and Dr Sacks working together, experiment with turtles, rats and other creatures, and a fluid ingredient that would mutate. Dr O’ Neill is killed but his little daughter, April, saves the turtles, puts them in the sewer where the transformation happens: they become virtually human as does their carer, the kindly rat, Splinter. For those not in the know or who have not followed the almost 30 year history of the turtles on screen, they will scratch their heads and think this is pretty silly, to say the least.
In many ways, the concept of the turtles was something of a jokey response to the action films of the 1980s. But, it took on, comic books, an animated series for almost 10 years, three feature films in the early 1990s, continued series and experiments with keeping the turtles in the headlines.
It must be admitted that the entry on the TMNT in Wikipedia has all this detail – and more, much more.
Back to this film. It has a bigger budget than before, has quite some spectacular special effects and action, plenty of martial arts fights for the fans, vehicle chases, especially through snow-covered countryside of New York State. At one stage, the Turtles are being drained of their vital fluids by the evil doctor but the process is halted and they are recharged with adrenaline. And that is the clue for the audience, so much of the action is adrenaline-charged (and our responses as well!).
The basic plot is an old one. Evil scientist wants to control the world and make money – and, within about 10 seconds of the final climax, it looks as though he might achieve it. He abducts the Turtles as well as the now adult April (Megan Fox). It does not give much away to say that the seeming benevolent patron of the city, Dr Sacks (William Fichtner) turns out to be the arch-villain, trained in Japan, expert in martial arts, with an extraordinary multi-blade robot weapon, Shredder.
This is something of a comeback for Megan Fox who has not received good reviews for the films she has made. However, she enters wholeheartedly into the action, is something of an intrepid reporter, having studied for four years, but relegated to frothy pieces, trying to persuade her camera partner, Will Arnett, that she has seen the Turtles, and trying to persuade her boss, Whoopi Goldberg, to let her investigate further. Instead, she gets the sack.
However, tracking down the Turtles, meeting Splinter, and realising that she was instrumental in the turtles being saved and their growing up to be these teenage warriors, she experiences so many action sequences and moments of peril that Lois Lane could well be envious.
And the turtles are definitely teenagers, the way they speak (although Leonardo is voiced by comedian, Johnny Knoxville), their brash ways of behaving, bickering amongst themselves, their taste in music…
These observations may help the undecided to make a choice, to go or not to go. If you should go and tend to enjoy some absurd and exhilarating action, you might well enjoy it.
US, 2014, 102 minutes, Colour.
Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, Johnny Depp, (as Guy Lapointe).
Directed by Kevin Smith.
What to make of Kevin Smith’s new film? In fact, many critics and audiences over the years have wondered what to make of Kevin Smith himself? Cloaks, Chasing Amy, Dogma the various adventures of Jay and Silent Bob. It is definitely true to say that Tusk will not settle any questions or disputes.
It is probably best to offer a warning before the review. There will be some spoilers concerning plot characters. However, the film has some grotesque ideas, coming from mad character in the film, and the visualising of his grotesque ideas could well be disturbing. The fall shifts from comedy to touches of horror.
It all begins cheerfully enough, a lot of guffawing and giggling from Wallace and Ted, two jokers who spend their time recording pod casts and are particularly stuck on a Canadian video of a young boy who wants to imitate Kill Bill films but unwittingly amputates his own leg. The two consider this so funny, that Wallace decides to go to interview the boy. But, it does not turn out at all like this.
So, this first part of the film is both light-headed and light-hearted, with a touch of romance, although Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), Wallace’s girlfriend, reminisces about how she liked the old Wallace but does not particularly like new Wallace this offhand, joker with an eye to the money. (audiences may well get surprised to find that Ted is played by Haley Joel Osment, 15 years after The Sixth Sense).
This is whether spoilers come in. Wallace reads a letter on the wall of a urinal one, the writer inviting the reader to come to his house to listen to his adventure stories. So, what better than to hear a few before Wallace goes back to New Jersey – there are quite a number of jokes where Americans versus Canadians about pronunciations, about hockey, about Americans seeing the Canadians as fools (later, Wallace in torment, says “I don’t want to die in Canada”), and the Canadians bemused by the attitudes of the near-neighbours.
If you happen to have seen The Island of Dr Moreau in its various versions, Britannia Hospital and its story about a man and a pig, or the ugly and frightening imagination of The Human Centipede series be alert.
Justin Long, best known for comedies fits the bill for Wallace very well. And contrasts particularly strikingly with Michael Parks (who appeared to such good effect in Kevin Smith’s Red State) as the old veteran with stories to share, with a dignified vocabulary and somewhat willing to tolerate the crassness of his visitor. He tells his stories, but begins to control his visitor, and here is the definite spoiler, surgically transforming him into a walrus, calling him Mr Tusk, in memory of the walrus he encountered long since when his ship was destroyed by an iceberg and he alone, a young cook, survived.
The scenes of Wallace, trapped inside the walrus, either funny if you think that this is a humorous satire or spoof (which, of course, it is meant to be), or really disturbing if you empathise with Wallace and enter into his mind and emotions as he is doomed, trapped.
When Ally and Ted begin to track down Wallace to rescue him, they encounter this most eccentric former detective from the Canadian Surete, with the most bizarre appearance, hat, straight hair sticking out, slightly crossed eyes, with strange eating habits, who has been investigating the disappearances of a number of men. The character is called Guy Lapointe and in the credits is credited as Guy Lapointe (he did look familiar but it was only the IMDb information that revealed that Guy is actually Johnny Depp).
Over the final credits, Kevin Smith and a friend giggle and guffaw as they jokingly discuss the film. This reviewer found the levity, touches of mockery, rather incongruous to the experience we had just had, a mixture of the comic but also a rather pessimistic view of human nature.
Well, that must be Kevin Smith at this stage of his life and career.
Germany, 2013, 105 minutes, Colour.
Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Marlen Kruse.
Directed by David Wnendt.
This is a very confronting film, although many audiences found it amusing and funny.
The central character, Helen, is a complete narcissist, generally unaware of sensitivities towards others, even of her parents, her best friend, the nurse at the hospital. She is also completely obsessive, genitally and anally so. And the plot as well as the visuals illustrate this more than many audiences might want to see and hear.
At the film’s opening, Helen tells us that she is not particularly interested in hygiene, something which is very evident in what follows. With a scene on a dirty toilet seat, we are taken into the world of Helen’s obsessions. All bodily functions, all secretions and excretions make their appearance. Which will be fairly abhorrent to fastidious audiences. It is not a matter of being prudish, although there is quite an amount of nudity and sexual behaviour, but of personal interests and tastes. One of Melbourne’s chief film reviewers referred to the effect of the film as “endearing”. Others will find it repulsive. The reviewer suggested that this would become a cult film but referred to it as a favourite for adolescent audiences.
The film is based on a controversial bestseller,
Helen is a young adult, has been adversely affected by some of her parents’ behaviour, including her mother offering to catch her but letting her fall so that she would learn to trust no-one, even parents. Her mother continues to be an influence, embracing Catholicism at one stage, going to church, but having a number of men in her life. Her father has gone off on his own, is interested in younger women, as we see, but still visits his daughter. It is suggested that she has been somewhat traumatised in her relationship with her parents – which are shown in a number of flashbacks.
She comes across a young woman, becomes very friendly, explains her life to her, suggests that the friend behave somewhat similar fashion – which she does so with an ecremental episode with her boyfriend – but actually becomes pregnant and wants to live more normally, much to Helen’s disdain.
Helen explains that she has haemorrhoids. She also injures herself in the anal area requiring hospitalisation and an operation. She clashes with the doctor, with the head nurse, but is friendly with a nurse, Robin, and discusses a lot of sexual matters with him – and - one doesn’t quite know how - he declares ultimately that he is in love with her.
There is more blood in the hospital as Helen injures herself in order to stay there. Which seems to indicate that she has something of a death wish exhibited in extreme manners of self-harm.
There would be different responses from women watching this film, with its female exposure and exposé, women identifying from the inside of the character with the male audience observing, comfortable or uncomfortable at such detail and in such close-up. There are many gross sequences as Helen certainly proves that she has no concern for hygiene, claiming that unhygienic behaviour has never harmed her, and some gross-out sequences such as men masturbating on a pizza.
This is a German film, perhaps with a German sensibility. At quite a full press preview, there was a great deal of laughter, sometimes in embarrassed disgust, but audiences perhaps feeling a sense of liberation as well as they watched and listen to Helen. There was some applause at the end.
Certainly different senses of humour and, more to the point, different tastes.
WISH I WAS HERE
US, 2014, 106 minutes, Colour.
Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Pierce Gagnon, Joey King, Alexander Chaplin, Jim Parsons, Allan Rich.
Directed by Zach Braff.
One of the main reasons for seeing Wish I Was Here is Zach Braff. He not only co-directed and wrote, he also stars. And the important factor for the film ever being made was that Zach Braff and his co-producers advertised online, on Kickstarter, the site for ordinary people to donate for the production of a film. There is a huge list at the end of people thanked for their contributions.
The title sounds a little fey. And this is reinforced at the opening with a bizarre picture of Aidan, the central character, in a kind of science-fiction scene. And then he wakes up. But, during the film, he has some of these recurring images, especially concerning his brother and his father.
Aidan is an aspiring actor in Hollywood, landing mainly commercials and supporting roles. He is happily married to a very nice wife, Sarah, Kate Hudson being charming. He has two very energetic children, the older is a girl (Joey King), with the symbolic name of Grace which is important at moments during the film. The younger child is a lively son, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon). The first family scene is at the breakfast table which, somewhat disconcertingly, has a fair amount of swearing – with the family having a swear jar on the fridge and dad having to contribute a great deal. Then it lightens up as Aidan goes to sit with a crowd waiting for an audition – where the role has been changed, without his knowing, to an African- American role (with all the aspirants in the waiting room noting how they had all played Othello).
Almost immediately, a very strong Jewish theme is introduced. It is interesting to note that Zach Braff’s father is Jewish and his very New England traditional mother converted to Judaism. Aidan drops his children at a Jewish school which they thoroughly enjoy, Grace being particularly religious, knowing the scriptural background, interested in God issues, a girl who prays. The trouble is that they might have to move out of the school because their grandfather, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin at his best) has recurring cancer and needs the money with which he paid their fees for his treatment.
A lot of the film is consists of moments which are anecdotes, the decision to mend the fence and clean the swimming pool after his father’s criticisms, several conversation sequences, a visit to Aidan’s brother, Noah (Josh Gadd) who lives in a trailer where the door is rarely opened, working on a blog, some fine moments where Aidan is home-schooling his children because they cannot afford to go to the Jewish school.
The film is strongly pro-family, Aidan’s wife conscious that he is not always present when he is actually there, tries to find ways to bring him back. Both parents are devoted to their children. There are many fine, sometimes amusing, sequences showing family life.
Another very strong theme is that of dying. Aidan, close to his father, while Noah cannot bring himself to see his father, arranges a room in the house so that his dying father can have his final days at home. Mandy Patinkin’s performance shows a lot of the reality of fearless dying, including a beautifully intense conversation with Sarah, her gratitude to him for helping her through her sister’s death, talking with Aidan about the past, Gabe saying that he was not afraid and Aidan finding this most reassuring. Aidan phones Noah to come for his father’s death, Noah resisting but Grace going on the phone and very movingly persuading him to come. Which means that the death scene is quietly powerful.
Mention has been made of Judaism. There are various visits to Temple, to the school, to the ceremony for Gabe’s funeral. Aidan, who feels that he is not particularly religious, still focuses on questions of God and prayer, coming to talk to the rabbi in the Temple, the rabbi giving sound advice by asking Aidan how he might imagine God, with Aidan replying, using the word infinity to indicate his feel for the wonder of the universe. The rabbi urges him to reflect on how that works in his life. Aidan is really resistant to the phrase, God works in mysterious ways. And yet, a lot of the resolution of the film indicates mysterious ways, what other people might call Providence.
There is a nice ending, involving another audition and meeting with a man who was at a previous audition, Paul (Jim Parsons) and Aidan gives him good advice about his supporting role in a Star Trek kind of film. This is so much appreciated by Paul that he offers Aidan at some possibilities in theatre education that he never dreamed of.
Just before the final credits there is a collage of the events of the film and the central characters are all together a theatre performance.
Wish I Was Here illustrates that the humanity in the earlier film that he directed, Garden State (2004) is now even more evident.
THE 2014 ITALIAN FILM FESTIVAL
Each year Palace Cinemas host an Italian film Festival, sponsored by Lavazza. It is that time of year again, the Festival running in capital cities from mid-September to mid-October.
Publicists for the Festival send copies to or on-line links to several films that will be screening, an opportunity for a mini-review and information about the scope of the Festival. This year, there were seven of the films for reviewers to watch. As with previous years, there is a great variety in the range of the Italian films from the last year.
One of the most interesting was provocatively called The Mafia Kill Only in Summer. Despite the light tone of the title, this is quite a serious film, taking audiences back into the 1980s when the city of Palermo witnessed many assassinations, killings in the street, especially of judges who had come into the city to try to put it in order and rid this part of Sicily from Mafia influence. (The Mafia is still there, and Pope Francis, recently excommunicated many of them.) But the film is made accessible by showing the story through the eyes of a young boy, at school, winning a journalism competition, taking Giulio Andreotti as his model, but growing into an adult where he could look back but was much less effective in his vocation of communication. So, there is some amusement in this wry look at what was happening in Sicily.
Two other films are set in Sicily but in the city of Catania. One is a rather grim story of a young boy, uncertain as to his personal identity, especially with gender, who runs away from home and abusive father and tries to find his life on the street. The other one is also grim, The South is Nothing, this time about a young teenage girl, androgynous in appearance (for a lot of the film we think that she is a boy) who grieves about the disappearance of her older brother, depends on her widower father who is being forced to sell his fish market store and move out of Sicily to find some kind of prosperity.
Financial difficulties are the subject of a film set in the Apulia region, east of Rome, Quiet Bliss, where a family business founders because of hard times and is declared bankrupt. The sister of the owner, a somewhat embittered and harsh woman, decides to go back to her mother’s country property to raise fruit and vegetables, eggs and other produce in order to survive. Her mother is a kindly woman, her daughter is a lazy and ignorant girl, defiant of her mother, and who finds herself pregnant. The other woman in the house is the mother’s sister, wanting to be an actress and participating in plays in the Parish Centre. The film looks beautiful in its countryside setting, and there is some humanity in it even though a lot of the experience is harsh.
The other films sent for review include an award-winning documentary, Sacro GRA, a portrait of the ring road around the city of Rome and the people who live near it, with their different occupations. There is a slight comedy, Stay Away from Me, about a psychiatrist who is unfortunate in relationships, accidents always happening to him or to his girlfriends, unsure of who was responsible for the jinx. The final film was called Those Happy Years, an ironic title, of course, because an adult is remembering his years as a young boy, his self-centred artist father, his loving mother and her trying to find herself.