SIGNIS REVIEWS OCTOBER 2017
BATTLE OF THE SEXES, The
BEATRIZ AT DINNER
DANSEUSE, La/ THE DANCER
EMOJI MOVIE, The
GLASS CASTLE, The
HEAL THE LIVING/REPARER LES VIVANTS
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
INGRID GOES WEST
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
MIDWIFE/ SAGE FEMME
ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK CITY, The
US, 2017, 111 minutes, Colour.
Dylan O' Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Taylor Kitsch, David Suchet.
Directed by Michael Cuesta.
Vince Flynn is a popular writer, novels of espionage and undercover agents – even beyond Jack Reacher at times.
While this novel comes late in the series, it does provide a background story of the young agent, Mitch Rapp, and the reasons for his involvement with the CIA. This is very much a CIA story.
The film is not to be mistaken for the similarly titled American Made, with Tom Cruise as the rather happy-go-lucky rug-here. There is nothing happy-go-lucky about Mitch Rapp at all – at all.
There are some moments right at the beginning, a happy Mitch and his girlfriend at the beach, his proposal and her delighted response, his going to get a drink for them both and a sudden invasion of terrorists, machine-gunning, a massacre. It is no wonder that Mitch devotes all his energies to revenge.
While the book was written in 2010, the screenplay gives more attention to Islamist jihadists and the CIA infiltrating their cells, even to Libya.
CIA chief, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) has great faith in Mitch, wanting to capitalise on his single-mindedness, sending him to the expert trainer, Hurley (Michael Keaton in a very tough role). We get a glimpse of intense physical and psychological training, including virtual reality tests.
However, the main focus of this particular story is a rogue student of Hurley’s, Ronnie, nicknamed Ghost (Taylor Kitsch moving from hero roles to villain). Capitalising on all the tough skills that he learned from the expert, he becomes involved in smuggling and trading, especially plutonium from the former Soviet Union, with agents of such countries as Iran wanting the plutonium, wanting a bomb. It is up to Hurley and Mitch to thwart the bomb plans.
Actually, the action does move from country to country, making it enjoyable for people who have visited these places: Warsaw, Istanbul, Romania, Rome, Dubai. The Rome scenes are particularly vivid, an underground venue for assembling the bomb and shootouts, and a threat as well as exact timing for a detonation with a serious American target.
Dylan O’ Brien could continue this franchise (after appearing in the Maze Runner series), ultra-serious, unrelenting and deadly (even in the tongue-in-cheek final moments of the film). And there is David Suchet turning up at times as a CIA consultant.
In 2017 this could be Kim Jung Un’s favourite film, nuclear weapons, attacks on the US and its interests – and the potential of how easy it is for a single individual to have a bomb and detonate it rather than lots of test flights!
Australia, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.
Bryan Brown, Shari Sebbens, Sean Keenan, Elias Anton, Kee Chan, Isabelle Cornish, Carolyn Dunphy, Daniel Webber, Miah Madden, Matthew Le Nevez, Simon Alrahi.
Directed by Kriv Stenders.
There is quite a lot going on in Australia Day. More than a lot. In fact, there are three stories in one – as well as the background of January 26 in Brisbane.
While Australia Today has been celebrated throughout the country for a long time, there have been hesitations and protests, especially about January 25 being the last day of freedom for indigenous people on this continent. With only 50 years of history of aboriginal rights since the referendum of 1967, there are still many issues that can surface quite powerfully about Australia Day. Then there is the reality of so many migrants, Chinese from long ago and more prevalent in recent times, the post-war European migrants, the Vietnamese in the 1970s and 1980s, and refugees and migrants from Middle Eastern countries… How do they participate in the ethos of Australia Day?
The screenplay for Australia Day takes up race and ethnic issues as well as offering a continuous background, especially from television coverage of celebrations, sunny and raucous, as well as family and picnics. There is a Chinese story. There is a middle eastern story. There is an indigenous Australian story. Throughout the film we begin to see some connections, tenuous in many ways, between the three stories – with a fine, small but significant, connection in the last few minutes of the film.
There is a lot of running in the film, a lot of chasing. A young aboriginal girl is running from the police. A young man from a middle eastern family is being pursued by white locals. A Chinese woman is escaping from sex slavery. This running and chasing motif extends throughout the whole film giving it a dramatic urgency.
Caught up in the Chinese story is Bryan Brown as a farmer whose land has been repossessed by the bank. He has suffered from drought, the effect on his cattle and their destruction. Often in the background – and then, outside the window of his flat in Brisbane, the Minister for Trade is promoting an agreement with China that is to be signed that afternoon. The Chinese woman hails him down in the street and gets into his car.
This kind of story has been prevalent in Australian films, in the important film The Jammed about sex slavery, but also a theme in the recent Goldstone as well as in the background of Top of the Lake, China Girl. The girls are truly slaves, prostituted by ruthless owners. Can an ordinary, decent enough Australian deal with this situation? Despite his being played by Bryan Brown, it seems that he can’t. But he is a man of conscience and must take a stand and make an effort.
The middle eastern story is about young drug dealer, his dominating mother, his upright father, and the younger brother being tangled with a local girl and being pursued by her brothers, one sadistic, the other with a conscience. This is a revenge story. It is also a possible peace and reconciliation story – not explicitly tied to Australia Day but important in terms of the longer inhabitants of the land since 1788 accepting newcomers who are racially, culturally and religiously different. Some interesting comparisons could be made with the Australian film, Down Under, set in the racial riots in Cronulla.
The indigenous story has its heart-rending aspects. Two young girls have been abandoned by their mother who is a drug addict in the Brisbane streets. The father is brutal and they react violently against him, killing him, taking a car, being pursued by the police – in fact, by an indigenous policewoman (Shari Sebbens) who knows them, their grandmother and the difficult family situation. She is asked to stand down from any enquiries in the search for the girl, April (Miah Madden) but she feels that she must, tracking down where the girl might have gone to find her mother, catching up with her at a desperate moment.
While we might have seen these issues in these stories before, they are worth telling again. There interestingly acted in the film is been directed by Kriv Stenders (the Red Dog films as well as the miniseries, Wake in Fright).
Australia, 2016, 90 minutes, Colour.
Xavier Samuel, Morgan Griffin, Tess Fowler, Rob Macpherson, Elena Carapetis, Patrick Frost.
Directed by David Pulbrook.
Most of us enjoy a thriller now and then. Something a bit like the airport novels that keep us occupied and entertained.
One of the difficulties with this kind of film and for reviewers is that it is often too easy to give away serious aspects of the plot. And that would be fatal as regards Bad Blood. Best not to know anything about it before you see it.
But, it does begin with the murder, an accused murderer, his being acquitted, his coming from the United States to Adelaide, his publishing a book, his being in love – and this all within the first few minutes. But, by the 30 minute mark, there have been quite a number of clues, sinister indications, more than a touch of mystery.
One of things to say is that Adelaide photographs very nicely. The last part of the film takes place in the South Australian countryside, also photographing well.
Of course, one of the challenges of this kind of mystery is to formulate at least one theory, if not more, to be ready for the solution. This reviewer was perhaps being too smart with two possible theories, and opting for the one that was not correct!
The film is a starring vehicle for Xavier Samuel, becoming more well known for international films from the Twilight series to Anonymous to Love and Friendship, as well as being a substantial presence in homegrown films in Australia. The screenplay gives him quite a lot of scope for performance. Morgan Griffin is the veterinary expert with whom he is in love.
It can be said that there is quite a tradition of Australian films, with touches of horror, that take place in the bush, pleasant places being turned into sinister areas of fright in minutes. And the same here.
The title might be rather an obvious one but worth reflecting on. Whodunnit? Or did hedunnit it – so to speak?
BATTLE OF THE SEXES
US, 2017, 121 minutes, Colour.
Emma Stone, Steve Correll, Andrea Riseborouoghr, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elizabeth Shue, Eric Christian Olson, Jessica Mc Namee, Lewis Pullman, Austin Stowell.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Farris.
This is how a famous tennis match was billed in 1973. It was the initiative of veteran tennis champion, Bobby Riggs, at that stage aged 55, challenging a female player, fully expecting to win – after all, he had issued a challenge to Margaret Court, who had accepted, but lost to Riggs. He had previously challenged US champion, Billie Jean King, who had declined but, after the defeat of Margaret Court, accepted. And the rest, as they always say, is history!
This is a tennis film for enthusiasts of the sport, with some highlights of the Riggs- Court match, and a substantial, well-choreographed presentation of the important features of the King- Riggs match, enabling the audience to see skills and tactics, King wearing out Riggs, making him run all over the court. And she won.
Steve Carrell has something of a luminous presence on screen, is able to do the very serious, but also has a capacity to excel at clowning when required. And this is certainly required in portraying Bobby Riggs, antics on the court, playing with two dogs on a leash, dressing up as Little Bo Peep along with some sheep… He was an inveterate gambler, trying the patience of his wife, Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue), winning a Rolls- Royce as prize for a game and selling it to get the prize money for the tournament, relying on the support of his son (played by Lewis Pullman, Bill Pullman’s son). Carrell certainly brings Riggs to life.
The title, however, says much more. This is a film about equality and about equity. In terms of equity, the film opens with Billie Jean King, played with zest and enthusiasm, although with a kind of luminous quality, by Emma Stone, accompanying her manager, Gladys, Sarah Silverman, to the bosses of the American Lawn Tennis Association and defying them about payment to women players. The proposal by the Association was to pay men eight times more than women – alleging that men were far more interesting and athletic to watch.
The women created their own women’s tennis tournament, sponsored in the manner of the times by a cigarette brand, Virginia Slims. They were successful, succeeding in drawing Margaret Court (Australian actress Jessica Mc Namee) to play with them. Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) head of the Association, with a rather smug superior attitude towards women, was to do the commentary on CBS for the Battle of the Sexes but Billie Jean King refused.
However, the title has a touch of the ambiguous because it is also a battle about the sexes, about relationships, about same-sex relationships. The narrative here has Billie Jean King attracted to Marilyn, the tournament hairdresser, Andrea Riseborough, and discovering her orientation. With this theme, the film is very topical in the light of worldwide discussions about same-sex marriage and issues of legislation. (In the background is a gay couple who designed the dresses for the women, characters, including Alan Cumming, able to make comment about the situation in the context of the 1970s.)
And, as we see often in films based on actual characters, information about their continuing lives and photos of the real persons.
BEATRIZ AT DINNER
US, 2017, 82 minutes, Colour.
Salma Hayak, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, Chloe Sevigny, David Warshofsky, John Early.
Directed by Miguel Arteta.
Beatriz at Dinner is an enigma of the film. It is definitely not an entertainment for those who like QED or its equivalent as they walk out of the cinema.
It opens with a rowing boat on a river, a woman in the boat. She passes a white goat on the bank. And then Beatriz wakes up, a black goat in a cage in her room and a pet dog barking at it. It looks as though this film is going to be a combination of magical realism and practical realism. And it is.
Salma Hayak is Beatriz, who lives alone, has a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe as well is a Buddha statue in front of which she contemplates in her house. She goes to work in a Cancer Centre, relating wonderfully to those there for treatment, an expert in all kinds of alternate medicines. Clearly, Beatriz belongs to a New Age World, especially as the setting is California.
Beatriz also does house calls and is welcomed by Kathy (Connie Britton), less so by her husband Grant (David Warshofsky). She has cared for their daughter, a teenager with cancer. Beatriz has trouble with her car and it won’t start as she goes to leave. Her friend cannot get to the house, a mansion, for a couple of hours.
Kathy, always grateful, invite Beatriz to stay for dinner. She has on a kind of uniform but is helped out from Kathy’s wardrobe. Then the guests begin to arrive, two couples, involved in the business world, in property development in the US and in Mexico, the women more interested in Beatriz who seems to be just hanging about and is mistaken for the maid by Doug (John Lithgow).
We get some background of the deals and the development – which leads into Beatriz’s conversations at dinner. She is not exactly shy and retiring. She certainly offers opinions – feeling that she has known Doug before, something confirmed when, after the meal, she demonstrates her massage skills and feels a link with him.
These are the kinds of screenplay clues that we are meant to be alert to, this one being more obvious than others.
Beatriz is invited to give something of her background, with Kathy supplying, sympathetically, a lot of the detail. She is from Mexico, her parents dead, her being brought up by relatives, having to leave when developers came into the town, took over the land, built a resort which did not flourish, leaving the residents impoverished or having to leave.
Doug is one of those superficially genial businessman, who can turn on the charm, but is ruthless in his dealings, supported by his wife who is more friendly to Beatriz than Doug is. Jay Duplass and Chloe Sevigny are the other couple, she again giving more attention to Beatriz than her husband.
So, the dinner could be seen as a verbal allegory of contemporary US, the exploiters, the exploited, the wealthy preoccupied with wealth, the immigrants and their place in that society. Amongst Doug’s opinions are questions of whether Beatriz was an illegal immigrant or not – though he praises her for getting a job and being employed. He also makes remarks about the environment, rather apocalyptic with some of his utterances, wondering whether the environment or even human beings will be around for much longer – an eat, drink and be merry approach to moneymaking and life.
The car is fixed and Beatrice suddenly rushes from the car – and a sequence that will surprise, even alarm. Then another emotional jolt, and then something quite unexpected…
And then, the film continues, Beatriz rowing on the river. No QED, leaving the audience to ponder on what they have seen and heard and how it relates to contemporary American life.
US, 2017, 97 minutes, Colour.
Kyle Mooney, Greg Kinnear, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Adam Samberg.
Directed by Dave Mc Cary.
A film reviewer should never be lost for words. But while – and after – watching Brigsby Bear, what is one to say? Yes, it is best seen without preparation and reading reviews afterwards.
The first thought is to alert audiences looking for a cuddly film for the children and the family, a kind of cuddly Paddington, this is not it. The second thought is that this film is likely to become a favourite cult movie, screened at special timeslots, drawing in an audience who may want to see it again – and again (and they may not be all that dissimilar from hero James and his friends).
In a sense, watching Brigsby Bear is something of an emotional and intellectual journey. At the opening, we’re watching a television program on a small screen, a very elementary animated series, very limited effects, a couple of human images, but generally Brigsby himself, going on a quest and confronting the Sun who turns out to be a villain. The episode we’re watching – as is James, about whom in a minute – is from volume 35 on VHS, shelving around James’s room piled with VHSs. Who is he? What is he watching? And why is he enjoying it so much, absolutely identifying with characters and situations?
James is a young adult, living with his parents, underground, isolated, with an enclosed observation tower – but when the father goes to work, he has to wear a gas mask. Are we in a post—apocalyptic situation? Well, for James, it is.
It quickly emerges, when the police turn up, James was abducted as a child and shielded by the eccentric abductors, who created the series of Brigsby Bear for him and the two are experts, as is James, on all the esoteric, names, characters, instruments, situations to be seen on screen.
Most of the film, in fact, is the story of an innocent abroad. James goes back to his birth parents who underestimate the sheltered, extraordinarily sheltered, life he has led. He himself is rather ingenuous, rather eager to discover new things but hanging on to the reality that Brigsby’s story is the key part of his life.
He does make some friends, discovers some contemporary mores amongst young people, parties, drugs, sexual behaviour, but in some ways is able to transcend them. And, believe it or not, in his telling the tale of Brigsby, the young people become fans. What is James to do but to make his own film about Brigsby. Thank goodness for Google where he is able to find all the necessary information about filmmaking, editing, and even tracking down the young woman who had appeared in the television series.
This is a cheerful and optimistic film despite James having his difficulties, his making friends with the acting-aspiring detective, Greg Kinnear, and the serious therapy sessions with Claire Danes.
The creator of the story is Kyle Mooney (a Saturday Night Live alumnus, so ready wit offbeat humour) who collaborated with the screenplay and takes the part of James. He makes this character extraordinarily credible, playing it straightforwardly, no mugging or winking to the camera. This makes the film more affecting.
Mark Hamill and Jane Adams play the abductors. Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins his parents, Ryan Simpkins his sister, Jorge Lendeborg Jr his sympathetic friend and collaborator. And, one of those things one might notice, Kyle Mooney, Matt Walsh and Greg Kinnear are all left-handed!
There is a lot to enjoy about Brigsby Bear with all its eccentricity and, especially, James’s final cinematic success, and, quite a lot to think about, human nature, the effect of upbringing and emotional abuse, parenting and enabling young people to be themselves and to grow.
LA DANSEUSE/ THE DANCER
France, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Soko (Stephanie Sokoilinski), Gaspard Ulliel, Melanie Thierry, Lily-Rose? Depp, François Damiens, Louis-Do? de Lenquesaing, Amanda Plummer, Dennis Menochet.
Directed by Stephanie Di Giusto.
The Danseuse/ Dancer of the title is Mary Louise Fuller who came from the American West, out there with her French prospector father, roping the cattle at a rodeo yet with an interest in dance. When her father is killed by men who think he has found gold, as he has boasted, there is nothing left for her to do but return to mother (Amanda Plummer), a staunch member now of the Temperance League, in Brooklyn. It is 1892.
However, this is really a Parisien story. The young Mary Louise does do auditions for dance in New York – although at first she finishes up at a photo studio of suggestive pictures – but has a talent for sketching and designing elaborate dance movements. She auditions, dances. A rather decadent French count befriends her – but she takes his money, leaving a note, and sailing to Paris.
Soko (stage name for dancer, Stephanie Sokolinski) is a very good choice for Mary Louise who changes her name to Loie. She is physically strong, continually exercising, enabling her to perform dance movements which take a toll on her body. Undeterred, she makes an impression at the Folies Bergere and is hired for performance.
Part of the attractiveness of the film is seeing her perform, metres and metres of diaphanous material, her ability to swirl them, athletically moving but aesthetically beautiful, audiences and reviewers likening her performance to flowers.
There are complications in her personal life. She collapses at the Folies Bergere but recovers. Gabrielle (Melanie Thierry) becomes her assistant, friend and confidante, supportive in management. And the count, Gaspard Ulliard, divorces his American wife and returns to Paris, devoted to Loie and she, in complicated ways, devoted to and dependent on him.
But her ambition is to do her dancing at the Paris Opera and, despite the initially snobbish reactions of the director, she is given permission to perform. More and more material, more and more mirrors, more and more lighting, more and more costs.
A further complication in the plot arrives in the form of the young Lily-Rose? Depp as Isadora Duncan (whom many audiences may remember far more than Loie especially through documentaries and the feature film which starred Vanessa Redgrave in 1968). Instead of seeing Isadora as a rival, which in her scheming way and ingratiating manner, she is, Loie allows herself to be seduced by Isadora.
There is a physical and emotional toll on Loie , her having to wear dark glasses to protect her eyes, a brace to protect her shoulders, a collapse of. Nerves.
Will Loie triumph at the Paris Opera?
2016 saw another very interesting film about theatre in Paris at this time, Monsieur Chocolat, the comedy in mime of a black comedian with a white comedian and the surfacing of racial issues of time.
THE EMOJI MOVIE
US, 2017, 85 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: T.J.Miller, James Corden, Anna Farris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Patrick Stewart, Christina Aguilera, Sophia Vergara, Sean Hayes.
Directed by Tony Leondis.
A 2017 Cyberspace Odyssey.
The first emoji was patented in Japan in 1999 so that in 2001, this kind of Cyberspace Odyssey would not have been possible. But, here it is, the subject of an animated movie for young audiences and the family. Who would’ve thought? Well, probably, those in the IT industry, always on the alert for developments.
A word of advice for intending audiences. This is a film for youngsters who are completely at home with their smart phones, with all their potential for communication and all the apps. It could be a relaxation for older IT experts, looking at the fun side of their professional work. But, a word of warning, when grandparents take their grandchildren to see these films, it is certainly best if the grandparents are technology alert, otherwise what on earth are they to make of it all…?
There are some human characters in the film, especially at school, where, of course, they are dependent on their phones. One boy is attracted to one of the girls but very shy, both using their phones but he having some doubts and intending to delete all his apps. (Actually, sequences where monstrous black devouring emojis appear and begin their demolishing could be a 21st-century version of animated horror!)
So, into the phone, into the cyberworld. Again who would’ve thought (well young audiences probably do think this) that there would be such a variety of apps and emojis? In fact, the outline of the story is a romance within the phone, a kind of frog Prince, Gene, a Meh emoji, who seems to be stuck in a two-dimensional unemotional life. As well there is the princess in disguise. They meet and come alive in a dance competition – and Gene is helped by a five-finger emoji, Hi 5. And, presiding over all the emojis with malicious intent is Smiler, an equivalent of a wicked witch, all gushing sinister smiles.
And, of course, the voices help. T.J.Miller is Gene, is the princess, James Cordon (British, of course, but very popular as a host on American television) is Hi 5, Anna Farris is the escaping princess (and her name is Jailbreak) and Maya Rudolph is the witch lady. And, a credit to be noticed and for Trivial Pursuit, Sir Patrick Stewart as Poop!
One of the goals of the journey in this film is to arrive in The Cloud and there are all kinds of difficulties with delete, trying to find correct passwords, breaking through the firewall after Access Denied…
Colourful, relying on a basic fairytale outline but absolutely full of emojis of every kind and the implication that no one should be using an emoji that indicates indifference like Meh. Communication ought to be bright and sprightly!
US, 2017, 90 minutes, Colour.
Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clemence Poesy, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud.
Directed by Stanley Tucci.
Final Portrait is a brief film about artist and sculptor, Alberto Giacometti, living and working in Paris in the middle of the 1960s. Much of the film is confined to his studio, his workspace, living quarters, upstairs storage and the workshop for his associate, Diego.
The film was directed by noted American actor, Stanley Tucci, his previous films in direction included The Big Night, Imposters, Joe Gould’s Secret. Tucci does not appear in this film but his friend and collaborator, Tony Shalhoub, portrays Giacometti’s assistant.
The screenplay is based on a memoir by an American, Jim Lord, who encountered Giacometti in Paris and was persuaded to remain there to pose for a portrait, taking a far longer time than Lord anticipated, but Lord agreeing to remain, fascinated by the work of the artist as well as his continually scrapping the work he had done, beginning afresh, seemingly dissatisfied, but finally
This makes much of the film a two-hander, conversations between Lord and the artist, the sequences where Lord poses, is momentarily distracted, arouses Giacometti’s ire…
Geoffrey Rush is obviously enjoying his interpretation of Giacometti, Moody, artistic in every way, a perfectionist always dissatisfied, working on his sketches, on his paintings, his sculptures – with the audience having the opportunity to view many of these as the camera roams around his studio.
Armie Hammer is Jim Lord, a well-to-do American, interested in the artist’s work – and later writing about him.
There are some complications in Giacometti’s personal life, his relationship with his wife, played by Sylvie Testud, loving her husband but also tempted to other relationships. Giacometti is not only tempted but is in a long-term relationship with a local prostitute, Clemence Poesy, who operates from a local club, is unembarrassed in her relationship with the artist, easily cavorting and canoodling with him at the club, letting him buy her an expensive car…
So, the film itself is also a portrait, a kind of final portrait not only of Jim Lord but of Giacometti himself and his artistic achievements.
US, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.
Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Kiefer Sutherland.
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev.
Flatliners is doing two things. In the first part, it is something of a horror film. In the second part it is a moralising story, something of a cautionary tale. It is also a remake of the popular film of 1990 which featured amongst others, Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon. (A link is Kiefer Sutherland here turning up for a cameo as a disciplinarian supervising doctor, with white hair and a walking stick!)
This time the story is set in Toronto. The focus is on a group of doctors in training – and, judging by their behaviour, there is something of a risk to our future health unless they really improve their attitudes and standards. Being responsible isn’t high on their personal agendas.
The first person we are introduced to it is Courtney, played by Ellen Page, driving with her sister, distracted by her mobile phone, and crashing into a truck with the consequent death of her sister drowning in the river. Nine years later, she is part of the group of trainee doctors, more skilled than the rest of the group.
The most responsible of the rest of the group is Ray, Diego Luna, who knows his medicine but is drawn into the plan that Courtney develops, with her studies about afterlife, with her theory that were someone to have their heart stopped for a minute, to flatline, then brain activity could be checked and photographed. She makes demands on Jamie, played by James Norton far away from Grantchester and his rather edifying presence there, this time a too happy-go-lucky medical student. She also persuades her friend, Sophia, Kiersey Clemons, who is finding studies very difficult.
They do the experiment and we share Courtney’s after death or near death experience, walking in cosmic lights, rapt. It is easy to see where the plot development will take us, the other two, then their friend Marlo (Nina Dobrev) not only wanting to undergo the same experience but extending the time when the heart is stopped.
Clearly, there will be consequences – and, in fact, a sharpening and alertness of memories, knowledge, self-assertion.
But, some of the experiences are nightmarish. And, each of the subjects has something very worrying in their past, ghosts and hauntings surfacing, strange and unwanted experiences.
Which means then that the group has to face each individual conscience challenge, going back into the past, acknowledging the truth. And the question is: at the point of death is there some kind of what we might call “judgement”? And, in a secular perspective, without any benefit God, how can conscience be healed? Is forgiveness possible? Does each person who acknowledges their guilt have to forgive themselves?
So, these are some of the questions that the audience is left with as they leave the cinema and wonder whether flatlining is possible, wonder about the moral responsibilities of the medical profession, and wonder about personal responsibilities, forgiveness and reconciliation.
THE GLASS CASTLE
US, 2017, 127 minutes, Colour.
Woody Harrelson, BrIe? Larson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Chandler Head, Max Greenfield, Josh Caras, Iain Armitage, Sarah Snook, Brigette Lundy-Painen?, Robin Bartlett.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.
Once again the story of a dysfunctional family. But this family did not live in a big American city, pressures of urban life, personality clashes and abuse. Rather, this is the story of a family with a West Virginia, hillbilly background, moving from place to place, a great deal of love in the family but the parents having dreams rather than being anchored in reality - and the consequences for their children.
It is based on a true story, the 2005 memoir of writer, Jeanette Walls. After the harrowing experience of watching her story, her childhood and that of her sisters and brother, and of her adult experiences, there are photos of the actual characters before the final credits as well as some video excerpts of the parents in 1989.
If you want to see admirable performances, then The Glass Castle should be high on your list. The film is not exactly an entertainment. But it is a challenging look at its characters, their behaviours, their mindsets, and the effect that each has on the other.
Rex Walls comes from tough family living in the hills. Several times he takes his wife and children to visit his family, especially his dominatingly stern mother (with the touch of the sinister which gradually emerges). Rex is played by Woody Harrelson, one of his best performances, award-worthy, and building on several decades of his quality acting. Rex is a dreamer, knowledgeable, former air force. Strong skills in engineering, imagining building a house, and always drawing plans, which is environmentally friendly, made of glass. But, the fact is, he is a dreamer rather than an achiever.
While he has four children, the most significant in his life is Jeanette. The film introduces us to her as an adult, remarkably poised, well-dressed, going to an important business dinner with her fiance, the audience learning that she is a columnist, has written stories and gossip columns.
The structure of the film means that the adult Jeanette and her story is the framework for the narrative but the most dramatic part of the action is in the flashbacks. The audience knows some of this and the results of the childhood experiences. Interest is not where it is going but rather how it is going to get to this adult destination. What has Jeanette experienced, her relationship with her father, with her mother, with her siblings?
As regards the acting, Oscar-winner Brie Larson is very strong as the older Jeanette. The two young actresses who portray her as a child, especially Ella Anderson, are worth noting. While her mother, Rose Mary, an artist, is often taken for granted, sometimes in the background, she is nevertheless a very interesting character and unglamorously played by Naomi Watts.
While Rex is a dreamer, moving his family from place to place, a gambler, a drinker, unreliable, he still has great love for his children and there is intensity in his relationship with his wife. His life is an “if only…”. Particularly powerful is the episode where he goes off drink and suffers cold turkey anguish.
In fact, the children fare particularly well given all the disadvantages. But they do have a devotion to their parents, do have a sense of reliability, especially the young Jeanette, and they develop ways in which they can survive and do.
Audiences will not find this an exhilarating experience but, as they live with the characters, discover secrets. They will be encouraged by human resilience. They will realise that this kind of story, if it is to have any meaning, has to be a healing of memories.
HEAL THE LIVING/ REPARER LES VIVANTS
France, 2016, 13 minutes, Colour.
Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Dorval, Bouli Lanners, Finnegan Oldfield, Theo Cholbi.
Directed by Katell Quillevere.
Heal the Living might seem a superfluous kind of title – who else can be healed except the living? But the very serious point being made is that the dead can be instrumental in healing the living.
There are two stories in this film connected by a young man, a surfer, who has gone out one early morning with friends to surf, drives back home but is involved in a car accident. The first part of the film is his story, life and death, especially the effect of the news of his sudden death on his parents. As they grieve, the father blames himself for introducing his son to surfing, the mother grieves powerfully as a mother.
The second part of the film focuses on an older woman with heart disease, a woman of culture and music, with two sons, facing the prospect of dying.
One might say that this is a film of “heart spirituality”, that a heart which has enlivened the young man still has the power to enliven the older woman.
It might seem obvious that a heart transplant can heal the living – but, the decision for the transplant and organ donation weighs very heavily on the parents, listening to the urgings of the young doctor and his enthusiasm, the father angry, the mother still grieving, and their finding a way to give consent.
For audiences who have some connection with illness and organ transplants, this may seem quite obvious. On the other hand, many in the audience do not have a direct link with death or have it only rarely. Organ transplants are not at the forefront of their consciousness. This film doesn’t pull its punches when visualising the excision of the heart, the physicality of the surgery, the urgency of the transport from hospital to second hospital, by car, by air, the need for haste, for – ice-cooling the the container to carry the organ to be transplanted.
With the shift in age and gender, the second part of the film focuses on Claire, older and having lived a lot her life, and her having the potential for living with the gift of the transplant and its suitability for becoming part of her.
The film shows two facets of contemporary French life, allows us to spend a lot of time with the characters, with families who have problems – and, somewhat to the fore, includes story issues of same-sex relationships.
Heal the Living makes demands on the emotions of the audience, identification with characters, with situations – but also makes demands on intellectual understanding of the reality of organ donation, the repercussions for the body of the dead person, of the responses by close family and their making decisions as well as anonymity and living with a life-giving organ from another person.
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
US, 2016, 93 minutes, Colour and black and white.
Voiceover, Samuel L. Jackson.
Directed by Raoul Peck.
This is a very powerful and relevant documentary. While it has a particular American focus, it is illuminating about race attitudes in the 20th century and what has been inherited and how race issues stand at the beginning of the 21st-century.
This is a film about American author, James Baldwin. He is a significant 20th century American literary figure but, from the 1960s on, he had an important role in American consciousness about African- American history.
The title belongs to Baldwin himself. The word “Negro” has passed from common usage, descriptive of African-Americans? but with a derogatory past from the slavery era. In fact, during the filming Baldwin gives an explanation of this usage.
The film was directed by celebrated director, from Haiti, Raoul Peck, whose career has focused, in features and in documentaries, on racial concerns, from a drama about Lumumba to an exploration of the genocide in Rwanda, Sometime in April.
What is done here is to assemble an enormous amount of footage, television and film, of Baldwin himself and to edit it into what might be a political essay as well as a political biography. So, the audience sees as well as he is his voice – and with other quotations read by Samuel L. Jackson.
Baldwin was born in 1924, grew up in New York City but in the 40s moved to Paris where he lived for many years. He was able to develop his literary career, the breadth of personality in a different culture – but was also at times dogged by his sexual orientation (which put him, ironically, on the investigation list by FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover).
Baldwin intended to do a book on three significant African- Americans, their campaigns as well as their deaths: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medger Evers. So, there is a lot of material about the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and these men who, in their way, were martyrs to the cause. Baldwin outlines his relationship with each of the men, admiration, friendship, but some tensions in outlook with Malcolm X.
Baldwin appears in quite a number of television interviews. One of the other interesting features of this film is the assembling of clips from a range of movies. Baldwin is rather critical of the presentation of African- Americans in American feature films, even in those of the 1940s and 50s which had some basic sympathies. Examples of this kind of criticism include the Sidney Poitier-Tony? Curtis drama, The Defiant Ones and other films with Sidney Poitier including the 1950s No Way Out as well as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
Baldwin is also interested in music with a number of reflections on the Negro tradition and performers like Lena Horne.
There are some caustic comments on the Kennedys, their New England background and what that meant in their trying to deal with the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. The film was a nominee for Academy award for best documentary, 2016. It reflects some of the more recent topical history including riots in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, with the deaths of black men at the hands of white police. There is also a quote from Bobby Kennedy about there being a black president 40 years after the 1960s and the turmoil – and the presidency of Barack Obama.
A mixture of the entertaining and the enthralling, thought and emotion-provoking.
INGRID GOES WEST
US, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.
Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O' Shea Jackson Jr, Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnusson, Pom Klementieff, Joseph Breen.
Directed by Matt Spicer.
Are you on Instagram? If so, you will identify immediately with this film? If not, after 97 minutes you may well (or not well) feel that you are actually on it? One wonders whether there is already a support group, Instagrammers Anonymous, for the addicted, whose life seem to depend on it. (And, on public transport, walking up and down the street, there seem to be plenty of candidates.)
Ingrid is a prime candidate. She is played most persuasively by Aubrey Plaza. At first we see her as a morbid young woman, mourning the death of her mother. She is on her phone and looking at a friend’s wedding to which she has not been invited – and promptly gatecrashe hello s the party, spraying the bride, being tackled and finishing up in an institution finding affirmation in group work.
Ingrid’s life is certainly going west in the sense of going downhill. But, some seeming salvation occurs with her finding a young woman, a star on Instagram, Taylor (a lively performance from Elizabeth Olsen). With $60,000 in cash that she has inherited from her mother, and finding that Taylor, a photographer, bright media personality, her opinions on contemporary living quoted in magazine articles, lives in Venice, California. So, Ingrid goes West.
If ever there was a film about emotional neediness, Ingrid Goes West is certainly it. Ingrid is extraordinarily needy, low self-image, unable to relate well to people. She tries to imitate Taylor, dyeing her hair and change its style mimicking tailors, going to the restaurants where Taylor is reported to have eaten, then encountering her, awkwardly, in a shop and having the bright idea of stealing her pet dog and responding to the lost dog advertisement by returning the pet. Taylor and her partner, Ezra (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt and Goldie Hawn) welcome her and they become best friends.
Also in the act is Ingrid’s landlord, Dan (O’ Shea Jackson Jr, looking and sounding exactly like his father, O’ Shea Jackson Sr, whom we all know as Ice Cube). He is pretty needy as well but finds all his fulfilment in Batman, the comics, the films, even trying to write a screenplay, doing re-enactments….
Clearly, this is not an ordinary relationship story. Can it last? Well, given the bad foundation of the friendship, Ingrid and her deceits, her incessant taking of selfies, of herself and everything to do with Taylor, something has to come undone. The catalyst for this is Taylor’s brother, Nick (Billy Magnusson) a smooth-talking rogue who takes an instant dislike to Ingrid, making her intensely jealous.
If this film were to have a subtitle it could be #self. As it is, the film does end, rather unpredictably and not without pain, with Ingrid being given #iamingrid.
US, 2017, 135 minutes, Colour.
Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfahrd, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgaard, Nicholas Hamilton, Owen Teague.
Directed by Andy Muschietti.
Stephen King has been publishing novels for over 40 years, an extraordinary career, considered the doyen of horror writing. He has sold millions of copies and so many of his novels and short stories have been made into television series and films.
It was made into a television series in 1990. There is an intrinsic piece of information in the film, that the murderous clown, Pennywise, and his associates appear every 27 years. So, in 2017, 27 years later, here is It again.
As most frequently with Stephen King, the setting is in his own state of Maine. So many of his stories might be subtitled, Malevolence in Maine. Certainly the case here. And, remembering his other story and film about youngsters, this one could be Stand by It – or, rather, Stand against It!
This version of it has done extraordinarily well on release in the United States, over $100 million in the first week, and parallel box office in other English-speaking countries.
If it’s horror atmosphere you want, then It certainly provides it. While the setting is the American summer, and a lot of the action takes place in the sunny streets of the town, out in the countryside, quite a lot of it is dark, very dark, in sinister drainpipes, in sinister seemingly haunted houses, in dark wells and, literally, a vast underground.
The film is quite long and the early part spends quite a bit of time establishing the characters of the young boys who are at the centre of the action, especially in Bill’s younger brother, George, is seen with a paper boat at the opening of the film, following it down the rainy streets where it floats into a drain opening – only for the horrible clown, Pennywise, to appear, to tantalise George and then to devour him.
Bill (Jaeden Lieberher, the boy so effective in Midnight Special) and his friends, age 13, are tormented by the 15-year-old bullies of the town, one of them doomed, not a moment too soon, and the ringleader eventually getting his gruesome comeuppance.
The group of boys includes Richie, loudmouth and crude, Eddie, small and pampered health-wise by an overlarge mother, Stan, Jewish and preparing him for his bar mitzvah, Mike, African-American?, working for his grandfather in an abattoir, Ben, the large new boy to the school who is more particularly the subject of bullying. Ben is helped by Beverly (Sophia Lillis in a strong performance), also tormented by the local girls, kind, despite her abusive father, and, emerging as a significant leader of the group.
There are a number of parents, teachers, police – but they tend to be minor characters because all the attention is given to the youngsters.
As Bill gets his friends to investigate where George might have disappeared to, each of the children is confronted by the personification of their fear, especially by that horrifying clown and in room collection of venomous associates. Their fears come to life as malevolently aggressive, building up to a climax in the extraordinary underground set, dead children floating in a tower, sudden apparitions, and a great deal of physical violence.
And, at the end, the credits announce that this has just been chapter 1. We won’t have to wait another 27 years for the sequel’s release because the setting of this film is 1989 and so the sequel will have to be set in 2017! Just wait a year or two…
(And a word of complaint about the 13-year-olds and their incessant swearing, wearing and wearying – and a challenge to the screenwriter to be more creative with language.)
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
UK, 2017, 141 minutes, Colour.
Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Edward Holdcroft, Hannah Alstrom, Michael Gambon, Lena Endre, Pedro Pascal, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson, Thomas Turgoose, Calvin Demba, Keith Allen.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn.
Kingsman was a popular and box office success right around the world. Based on comic strips, it had a particularly British flavour, enhanced by the writing team of Jane Goldman and Matthew Bourne who had worked in the previous film as well as other action adventures like Kick Ass.
While the film was particularly successful in Britain, it had an appeal in the United States and so this sequel reaches out to the Americans, incorporating them both as villains and as heroes.
There must be a very strong Colin Firth fan club in England and, perhaps, the United States. After all he was George VI in The King’s Speech. However, despite his strong and gentlemanly presence as Harry in the first film, he was killed off in a rather sensational manner. Screenplay writers have a certain omnipotence so what else but to resurrect him, with a touch of the sensational, but letting him go into final action even more sensationally.
The emerging hero of the first film was a young man from a poor background who was chosen for his personality and skills, personally trained by Harry, and becoming a gentlemanly hero while working at that most elegant of British gentleman’s clothes shops, Kingsman. He was played by Taron Egerton, Eggsy.
There is a slam bang opening for this sequel, gentleman Eggsy confronting a rogue former agent, Charlie (Edward Holdcroft), elaborate fights, a spectacular car chase ending up in Hyde Park and a lake, with an underwater exit, although through the sewer, with everything under the IT control of Mark Strong’s Merlin, a welcome return.
But, the American connection. Julianne Moore obviously enjoys herself as the eccentric, folksy and chatty villain, the ruthless Poppy, running a drug empire from the jungles of Cambodia but having all the pop comforts of American “culture”, a diner, a movie theatre, streets just like back home. And she makes a mean hamburger – especially with some of her enemies going through the mincer!. The Kingsman team suffers a great blow, everyone, including Michael Gambon, being blown up. But Merlin discovers a link to Kentucky, to a whiskey company, Statesman. And the action transfers to Kentucky. (With disputes about the British and American spellings of whiskey/whisky.)
The members of Statesman all have alcohol names, Channing Tatum being Tequila, Jeff Bridges, the boss, being Champagne, Champ for short, Pedro Pascal being Whiskey and, because she works behind the scenes, Halle Berry is only Ginger. So, a lot of action in Kentucky, especially with Whiskey who is able to confront homophobic as well as anti-British rednecks with his lassoo and whip.
But the main discovery, of course, is that Harry got a severe injury to the eye but was rescued – now suffering from amnesia and thinking he is a butterfly expert, no therapy helping until Eggsy has a bright idea and Harry recovers, though initially uncoordinated, joins in all the action, some of it very spectacular in Italy. Poppy has sold drugs around the world but has infected people – so her scheme is to manufacture the antidote and exploit it, even threatening the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) and his chief adviser (Emily Watson). But, in a reminder of President Trump, this president is against drugs and rounds up in cages all those infected.
While the action in Italy is spectacular, especially a cable car rolling down the mountainside, the final action is in Cambodia, umbrella weapons as in the old British television series The Avengers as well as modern guns. Who should be Poppy’s hostage in Cambodia but actual Elton John – it does get to do a few martial arts moves!
So, plenty of action, well-choreographed, eccentric characters, international and elaborate situations, incessant swearing as in the first film, and happy ending that could lead, of course, to a further sequel.
US, 2017, 97 minutes, Colour.
Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen, Melora Waters.
Directed by Azazal Jacob.
There have been many films with this title. One of the differences for this film is that the central protagonists are aged 50.
We are quickly introduced to each of them, Michael involved in an emotional argument and clash with someone who may be his wife or girlfriend, Lucy. Then we see Mary, involved with a younger writer, Robert.
And then, the scene shifts to their home and we find that Michael and Mary are married and have been for 25 years. They have an adult son. At home, there seems to be a certain amount of intimacy but also a certain amount of tension. And we see both of them at work, realise that each of them is carrying on an affair, covering the affair by excuses at work, but not confiding in each other.
So, the scene is set for an explanation of relationships. It would have been more accurate to have in the title, instead of “love”, fidelity and infidelity.
What exactly Michael sees in Lucy, a very temperamental ballet instructor might puzzle some audiences. And, the writer is rather full of himself and difficult to see what attracts Mary to him.
The film has a strong cast with playwright Tracy Letts is Michael, Debra Winger making a rare screen appearance these days as Mary, Melora Waters is Lucy and Aidan Gillen as Robert.
Michael and Mary intend to separate but are waiting for their son to come home for a visit and to tell him. He is particularly bitter against his father, seeing him as seriously unfaithful. The young man turns up with his girlfriend and, as always in a film like this, there is a meal sequence with all kinds of tensions. The truth is exposed.
So, Michael and Mary separate, take up with the new respective partners – but the ironic question arises whether the affairs are completely satisfactory now that they become more stable relationships and whether some infidelity, between Michael and Mary on the side, is still necessary for their emotional life. While the characters and plot may resemble a lot of real life, the screenplay takes a rather distanced view of marital love, especially after 25 years (although the son and his fiancee are intending to be together for life), so it is all rather amoral.
THE MIDWIFE/ SAGE FEMME
France, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve,
Directed by Martin Provost.
It is a pleasure to see two important actresses working together. In 2016 Catherine Frot made a powerful impression as Marguerite, the French equivalent of the off-key singer, Florence Foster Jenkins. Catherine Deneuve, in her early 70s, has been making films, quite prolifically, and receiving top billing since 1964, a French icon.
The title, Sage Femme is the French for Midwife. The emphasis is very female – but there are lines of dialogue in this film to indicate that the name will have to be changed, both in French and English, with men becoming significant in birthing. The son of Catherine Frot’s Claire tells his mother that he is stopping his medical studies but that he intends to work as a midwife.
The film opens with quite a number of births scenes, an opportunity to show Claire and her skills, her ability to deal with mothers giving birth, to encourage, to cajole, to sympathise, and spreading her expertise to the attending nurses. There are other sequences throughout the film enabling us to appreciate Claire’s commitment and professionalism. She is also unhappy at the move to great technological change in care for mothers and birth, moving away from the personalised midwife care.
And Catherine Deneuve? She plays an older woman, Beatrice, who wants to get in contact with Claire’s father with whom she had a relationship decades earlier. This puts a great strain on Claire who is very serious at the best of times. It means going back into her past, her attitude towards her father, her resentment towards Beatrice, her long held the ring that Beatrice had betrayed her.
The main complication is that Beatrice announces that she has terminal cancer, tumours. Claire is very positive in her outlook on illness and recovery and, at first, it is her sense of medical duty that she gives attention to Beatrice. Which is not always easy because Beatrice is one of those people who can never settle down, is always out on the town, is still smoking despite warnings, fond of a drink, and a propensity for gambling. She switches moods in an incident, upset, then over-gracious.
There is one other complication, apart from Claire’s son and his fiancee announcing that she is pregnant. Claire has a garden plot on the outskirts of the city, working with her vegetables, and encounters the son of the manager, Paul (Oliver Gourmet) an international truck driver who befriends Claire, a genial and obliging man, someone who can open up Claire and her capacity for one-to-one affection. There is an exhilarating scene at the end where Claire, Beatrice and Paul go for a country drive in the lorry and Beatrice gets the opportunity to drive.
So, it is a great pleasure to see the two actresses embody these two characters, their interactions, the changing relationship, going back into memories, and the possibilities for some reconciliation and forgiveness. Bringing to birth, so to speak, a new life of relationships.
US, 2017, 120 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnal Gleeson, Kristin Wiig.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Reviews in response to Mother! have been quite polarised. Some headings have stated: “love it or loathe it”. Definitely!
It is quite a complicated film, something to be expected from its writer-director who over a 20 year period has made such films as Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan – and, more straightforwardly, The Wrestler. Darren Aronofsky is not afraid to take his audiences into the realms of imagination and fantasy and the complex world of allegory.
If one were to be asked what the film is about, it is easy to say that it is about a husband-and-wife setting up a house, she repairing and restructuring it, he a writer enjoying some seclusion. He invites people to stay. There is a family altercation with his visitors and, consequently, more and more people come to the house with strange results. But that is not even the half of it!
In looking at the final credits, we see that the cast are not named with personal names but with designations. Jennifer Lawrence is Mother. Javier Bardem is Him. Taking Him as a clue leads us into all kinds of speculations, especially religious. Aronofski has no hesitation in setting up many religious connotations.
Since his previous film was a biblical saga, Noah, religious concepts, the Judeo- Christian tradition has been strong in his consciousness.
The film begins and ends with a spectacular fire, death, the finding of a glass heart in the fire and its being set up as a shrine. It seems as if the world we have been invited into is cyclic. And the beginning and the end are apocalyptic, apocalyptic fire, destruction and potential renewal or cruel recycling and repetition.
Since the husband of the narrative is designated as Him, it is easy to make a God reference. Him is creative, has moments of writer’s block, seeks stimulation by sharing other’s stories, inviting them into his home. Mother is younger, is loving, wants a child, eventually becomes pregnant. She can be seen as something of an earth mother/Virgin Mary figure, giving birth to a child to great acclaim but to destruction. The Judaeo- Christian references are there and open to interpretation.
One of the main speculations is whether the film is religious or anti-religious, whether it is theist or anti-theist. Him seems good but seems also to be self-absorbed, loving Mother but also cruel to her. His creation is beautiful but spasmodic. And, one might also speculate that the couple played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (Michelle Pfeiffer giving almost a masterclass on haughty malice) are like Adam and Eve with a sudden intrusion into their new hope for Paradise by their two clashing sons, with Cain and Abel results.
In the religious/anti-religious speculations, the film has a great deal to show about cult, cult-figures, fans and fanatics, committed disciples, irrational disciples, the madness of putting people on pedestals and knocking them off.
So, while the above can be considered as a review, it is very much a rumination about a film that is often wildly imaginative, sometimes delirious in its action and visual style, a dream allegory of our world.
Australia, 2017, 74 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Willem Dafoe.
Directed by Jennifer Peedom.
Whether you love mountains or not, spending an hour and a quarter contemplating the beauty and ruggedness of mountains is well worthwhile.
Director Jennifer Peedom has made a number of short films about mountains, including Everest, and then made the very interesting documentary about the scaling of Everest, the role of the local Sherpas and their being underestimated until they stood their ground for proper recognition and payment, the growing crowds lining up to climb Everest, commercial queues, something to do rather than something to achieve. This documentary was called Sherpa.
While there is an underlying message in this film, communication is mainly visually and aurally.
Quite a number of cinematographers took part in this project, filming all around the world, in the Himalayas, in the Andes, in New Zealand, in Australia… Their material is generally spectacular and a lot of time and effort have gone into the choice of visuals as well as the editing placement for best effect. While the camera sometimes stand still to contemplate a peak, a range, a valley, much of the photography has been done from helicopters with an extraordinary sense of moving in and through and above the mountains.
Particularly spectacular are sequences of volcanoes, eruptions, the vast extent of lava flows.
We see a variety of mountains in a variety of seasons. We also see a number of the climbers, caught in what seem to be extraordinary positions, foothold on the side of a sheer cliff, hundreds of metres high; climbers triumphing through the snow having achieved peaks; climbers swinging, seemingly perilously, out into the vast void.
The particular feature of this project is the musical accompaniment. The score has been composed by Richard Tognetti who conducts the Australian Chamber Orchestra, a symphonic piece that provides background but does not overly intrude.
There is also a spoken commentary, written by Robert McFarlane?, which also provides background and does not overly intrude. It is quietly spoken by American actor, William Dafoe, glimpsed in black-and-white in the studio at the opening of the film. It tends to be contemplative of nature, with a great sense of wonder, offering reflections on creation and beauty. There are some moments when we see a Buddhist priest in a small chamber, prayer and incense and mysticism.
The film offers a wonderful opportunity to be immersed in mountains.
THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK
US, 2017, 89 minutes, Colour.
Callum Turner, Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersy Clemons, Bill Camp, Wallace Shawn, Debbie Mazar, Tate Donovan
Directed by Marc Webb.
Innocent or naive? Quite a significant question that audiences will raise in getting to know this only boy living in New York City. He is 25 but the title is boy. And is he innocent or naive? Certainly awkward, gawky, not knowing the ways of the world but having to learn them. And, in what ways is he living?
There is a lot of voice-over in the film, welcome because it is spoken by Jeff Bridges who plays the next-door neighbour to the boy, tells his story, writes it – substituting for the boy’s own father, listening, counselling, a kind of father confessor as well a psychiatrist.
The boy’s actual father is a millionaire in the publishing business, an interesting character study from Pierce Brosnan. The boy’s mother is quite neurotic with a charm of her own, played by Cynthia Nixon. Their marriage is brittle and is on the verge of breaking, another woman.
The boy, whose name is Thomas, is played very effectively by Callum Turner (who, it turns out, was born in London). Actually, so was the other main character in the film, Johanna, a book editor, in complicated relationships with the father and the son, played by Kate Beckinsale. The other central character is Mimi, a friend more than girlfriend for Thomas (Kiersey Clemons).
It is surprising, with these complex characters, how much material is on-screen in just under 90 minutes, keeping audience attention, listening to dialogue which is well-written, often quite arresting and thoughtful. (The screenplay was written by Alan Loeb who has done quite a number of genre films as well as 2016’s somewhat pretentious Collateral Beauty – which means that the screenplay is quite a surprise.)
The voice-over has quite a lot to say about New York City and speculations about the soul of the city, the various trends, the shifting community, the art world, the drug addicts, the changes in neighbourhoods – which would make it interesting for anyone who has spent some time in New York City. One of the key sequences occurs at a Jewish wedding, a most elaborate event, with an unexpected philosophical speech by Bill camp as Uncle Buster. Not sure whether most of the audience will retain the extensive content of the speech.
There are some surprises in the screenplay and some twists that may or may not have been anticipated which gives something of a different perspective on some of the characters and their behaviour.
The title comes from a song by Paul Simon, sung by Simon and Garfunkel and incorporated into the screenplay towards the end of the film.
US, 2017, 109 minutes, Colour.
Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty.
Directed by Geremy Jasper.
This is definitely a film for audiences rapt in Rap.
While Rap is an American phenomenon, especially developed by African-Americans?, it has spread in more recent years right throughout the world, many indigenous groups drawing on the traditions of Rap to explore ideas and feelings in the lyrics and the rhythms.
Basically, this is a familiar story about young people with musical ambitions, developing their talent, spreading their hopes, experiencing setbacks, working through them to achieve some kind of success. It has been seen as the foundation for many films about singers and musicians. This time about Rap. The director of the film is obviously an enthusiast because he has contributed to many of the songs throughout the film.
Patti is a young woman living in New Jersey with her mother and grandmother. She is played by Australian actress, Danielle Macdonald, and one might she is in the tradition of Rebel Wilson. And she loves rap, composing songs, practising, getting a few local gigs. She is joined by a young man who works in a local pharmacy, Indian background, who is enthusiastic as she is, even more so in performance. The other member of the group, by contrast, is a rather laconic African-American?, replete with facial rings, who goes under the name of Bastard field, is Bob.
Patti works as a caterer, fairly successful in a restaurant but then going out to cater for various functions – including a dinner for a celebrated rap artist, slipping him the CD that she and her group have made, he proving to be an arrogant snob. She is disheartened and prepared to give up. At home, there is a crisis with her grandmother, with whom she is great friends (Cathy Moriarty) having a stroke and then dying. Her mother (Bridget Everett) as they might say is a tough broad, a big strong woman, a talent for belting out a song, which she does in a local club – but finds her moment at the culmination of the film in joining Patti in song.
The film fills in the background of life in the suburbs of New Jersey, indicating the this is not necessarily the place to build a musical career. However, Patti does get an opportunity to revive her group, apologise to the others for her harsh treatment of them, gets her mother to dye her hair, dresses up, goes to a local club to perform in a competition. The group is on its way…
Australia, 2017, 85 minutes, Colour.
Debby Ryan, Genevieve Hegney, Andrew Creer, Naomi Sequeira, Valerie Bader, Aaron Jefferey, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Danielle Carter, Marcus Graham.
Directed by Rhiannon Bannenberg.
Rip Tide is a small film combining surfing with fashion.
This is very much a film made by women, featuring women, of particular interest to women. But, the men are quite good characters as well…
The story is not unfamiliar. It opens in New York, the world of high fashion, the focus on Cora (Debby Ryan) an 18-year-old who is dominated by her mother, an ambitious businesswoman, whose hopes are being fulfilled in her daughter and who does not realise how little attention she really gives to her daughter as a person. The stage is set for some kind of eruption, especially when the daughter suggests to the designer how the dress could be improved – he is played by Marcus Graham in a very small cameo, mainly having a hissy fit.
Mother and daughter do on in fact am come from Australia and have visited in the past. The contact is the mother’s sister, Margot, a strong screen presence by Genevieve Hegneyi. Her husband died the previous year in a surfing accident and Cora and her mother did not make the funeral. Cora decides to buy a ticket fly to Australia – and there are some humorous moments, at least from the Australian point of view, where Cora really doesn’t understand Australian idiom especially when the genial young surfer, Tom (Andrew Creer), asks how she is going and her response is “where?”. Her mentality is completely focused on first-class in everything.
With the help of Margot and with the help of Margot’s mother-in-law, a very sympathetic old girl, Cora adjusts, is encouraged by the ever smiling, ever-twee, Chicka (Naomi’ Sequeira), and finds that she can surf well, revise memory with the attractive Tom, finds that she might have a possibility of staying back in Australia – and it is all filmed rather glowingly on the New South Wales Illawarra Coast.
Needless to say, there are a few crises, especially when Cora is asked to design dresses for a local celebration, the centenary of women surfers, and she treats one of the local girl models who tears the material to improve the dress exactly as the hissy fit designer in New York treated her. With Chicka’s help, she naturally repents, designs the dresses – and, spoiler alert, it all goes very well!
The other crisis is whether she should return to New York after her mother phones her with news of a new and substantial contract. No spoilers here – everybody will guess has to be a happy ending.
UK, 2016, 112 minutes, Colour.
Peter Mullan, Jack Lowdon, Ophelia Lovibond, Sam Neill, Peter Fernando.
Directed by Jason Connery.
And who is Tommy? Actually, there are two Tom Morrises in this film, the old and the junior. And anyone who knows the history of golf will be able to identify them immediately.
This is very much a golfing film, a film for enthusiasts for the sport and with a knowledge of its history. Non--golf-fans may well feel on the outer as they watch the film, allowing for the fact that there will be details of tournaments, strokes and difficulties, achievements. But they will acknowledge that this film offers significant golf history.
The setting is 19th century Scotland and information is given at the end about the careers of the Morrises as well as a number of photos of the actual characters, a reminder that Tommy Morris Jr is considered the greatest golfer of the 19th century. And his father who lived to the age of 85, was the designer of over 70 golf courses.
So, who were the Morrises and where did they live? Actually at St Andrews – so not far to go for play. The film opens in the 1860s and moves into the 1870s with Tommy Morris national champion at the age of 17 and winning four successive championships before he was 21.
The important theme for the film is that of class in British society in the 19th century. The Morris family were servant class. Old Tom Morris was seen as a servant, working as groundskeeper and caddy for the Lord of the manor. And this was the world into which his children were born. And it is very clear that they were to keep their place, that they were often told that they were not gentlemen, that they could never become members of the golf club at St Andrews, that they were paid to play by the aristocracy who bet on their success.
Tommy Morris Jr was something of a rebel, sometimes defying his father, who was always very proud of him and his achievement, challenging the local aristocrat, demanding more professional payment, but always treated, humiliatingly, as a person.
There is a Scots humane story underlying Tommy’s Honour, the dour Scots family life with its churchgoing and Bible reading, a very stern mother, young Tommy attracted by a local servant girl, six years his senior, defending her reputation, marrying her, her pregnancy.
Veteran Scots actor, Peter Mullan, is the older Thomas. Jack Lowdon, young and brash, brings Tommy Morris Jr to vivid life. Ophelia Lovibond is Meg, his wife, also humiliated as a servant but also powerfully defying Tommy’s rather puritanical mother. Sam Neill is the local aristocrat.
It is a film for sports lovers and golfers will personally be interested in the history, in the influence of the Morrises and the development of the contemporary sport. For others, watching the film might be a bit like being a member of the crowds who tag along, moving from hole to hole.
(A bit of Scots history. The film was directed by Jason Connery, actor and director with an Australian mother, Diane Cilento, and a Scots father, Sean Connery.)
WHAT IF IT WORKS
Australia, 2017, 95 minutes, Colour.
Luke Ford, Anna Samson, Brooke Satchwell, Wade Briggs, Karen Fairfax.
Directed by Romi Trower.
There have been many films over the years, especially in recent years, about relationships, romantic relationships, potential healing relationships between people who are physically and/or mentally disabled. We don’t always expect to see these stories acted out in the ordinary streets, in the ordinary suburbs of Melbourne. They are acted out here – but, at the end, there is still the question that the title raises, will it work, what if it works?
It takes a few moments to get into the feel of the film We are introduced to Adrian, Ford, a young man in his 30s, driving a fast car, getting into trouble, landing unsuspectingly into a group of drag queens. Who is Adrian? When we see him behave, gloved hands, hands raised in the air, wary of touching anything, fastidious, we realise that he is absolutely obsessive, has a compulsive disorder. Which means that while he is friendly in his way, it is not always easy to like him. Non-compulsiveness will feel very impatient with him. But, as we get to know him, see him in all his foibles, there has to be some sympathy. In fact, he is very intelligent with science and engineering and is able to help people in the art commune, even calling in the aid of the drag queen friends.
He almost runs over a young woman (Anna Samson) who lives just up the street, who walks dogs (which he abhors). When he encounters her on his session with his therapist and she comes to visit, mistaking him for the therapist and pouring out a rather salacious life story, he is upset. He later meets her in the street.
It emerges that she has multiple personalities, explaining to him that she is rather like a block of flats with 10 particular rooms, some of the inhabitants being aware of the others, each able to emerge at various times. She has a reasonable personality, Grace. She has a very progressive personality G. She is also an artist, involved with a fellow artist who, in fact, is rather jealous of her art and exploitative of her as a person. She is unaware that she has an opportunity for an international exhibition, he concealing it from her.
A lot of the film is the interaction between Adrian and Grace, and how a relationship can develop between a fastidious untouching and untouchable man and a reticent woman who will erupt, often unexpectedly, with another self. There is a further complication that Adrian has had a relationship previously with a young woman who also is afflicted, by her self-image and self-doubt.
The film does not take us necessarily very far but invites its audience to contemplate these central characters, to reflect on how they are hampered by the disabilities, to wonder whether therapy will help, to wonder whether the relationship will enable some breakthroughs and some healing.
And at the end, we are left to wonder, of course, what if it works?