SIGNIS REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 2013
ACT OF KILLING
HUMAN CARGO, The
I AM A GIRL
I’M SO EXCITED
IN BOB WE TRUST
PERCY JACKSON AND THE SEA OF MONSTERS
RED AND THE BLUE, The
STORIES WE TELL
THANKS FOR SHARING
US, 2013, 109 minutes, Colour.
Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, Paula Patton, James Marsden.
Directed by Balthazar Kormakur.
There is no subterfuge about the title of this film. It is certainly an action show, with many of the touches of the popular thriller.
The two guns of the title are Denzel Washington and Mark Walberg. We see them at the opening in a diner, scouting out a bank in preparation for a robbery. Washington plays the cool sardonic type. Wahlberg is the cheeky comedian. In fact, the film is often funny, the two stars playing off each other very well, Washington more the straight man, Wahlberg with the cheeky one liners. And they keep up an amusing pace throughout the whole film.
This is one of those films where it is better to be tight-lipped about the plot developments. Perhaps, suffice it to say, that appearances are not what may seem, and there are quite some twists as the plot goes on. This involves Edward James Olmos as a fairly ruthless drug lord, with headquarters in Mexico and a nice quiet suburban home just across the border in the United States - where that bank-to-be-robbed is to be found. Then there is Bill Paxton, coming on strongly about the robbery, after the $43,000,000 plus that was taken away, raises the expectation of the robbers who thought it would be three million dollars. Paxton can be very nasty in his dealings with and managers, vets who help people on the run, and the drug lords.
And then there is the director of the DEA, his assistant, Paula Patton, who controls operations but who does not come up with the help initially promised which leads, of course, to some sticky situations. There is also the naval officer, played by James Marsden, all smiles but ruthless.
All the review can do, while not revealing the plot details, is to whet the appetite of readers who may be attracted by this kind of action story, shootouts, as well as the stars. If they do see 2 Guns, they probably won’t be disappointed.
UK, 2013, 123 minutes, Colour.
Domnhall Gleeson, Rachel Mc Adams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Lindsay Duncan
Directed by Richard Curtis.
Best not to give up on this comedy because it gets better as it goes on - and on.
It has been written and directed by Richard Curtis, best known for his writing of such comic events as Blackadder and Mr. Bean, as well as writing films like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. He directed Love, Actually which was a hit. He directed The Boat that Rocks which drew no enthusiasm whatever from this reviewer! He is now back on track with romantic comedies.
The centre of the film is Domnhall Gleeson whom we first see at the age of 21, seemingly a born loser in personal relationships, a fiasco at a New Year’s Eve party and the expected kiss. However, his father calls him in for a talk and explains that the men in the family have a capacity for time travel. This is a limited gift, mainly and enabling the traveller to go back to a specific place and time and rectify a past mistake. This, of course, provides some humour as Tim does a fair amount of correcting and improving the past. Especially true of his choice of best men at his wedding and dealing with their successive speeches until he gets the right one.
Actually, for a lot of the film, Tim seems a real dill or, as another reviewer put it more politely, gormless. He leaves home in Cornwall, goes to work in a legal office, finds a room in the home of an acquaintance of his father, an extremely eccentric playwright, played with all stops out by Tom Hollander.
Seemingly hopeless in love, he goes with his best friend to a restaurant where the meal is served in darkness, people having conversations without knowing what the others look like. When he gets out into the light, he sees Mary, played by Rachel Mc Adams. It would be nice to say that Tim becomes less of a dill, falls in love with Mary and they live happily ever after. Without spoiling the end of the film, we know that actually they will be in love, marry and live happily ever after. But it is a difficult trek to get there as Tim keeps using his time travel to rectify situations which often mean that he changes his story so that he has to keep re-introducing himself to Mary.
As mentioned earlier, the film goes on and on, not just finishing with the nice romance and marriage but proceeding to show Tim and Mary and their married life, the bonds with Tim’s mother and father, Lindsay Duncan and Bill Nighy, his wayward sister getting her life in order, and the time when it will be necessary for Tim to give up his privilege. Throughout the film, Tim is very close to his father, but this theme is particularly strong in the latter part, Bill Nighy showing an unexpected warmth with his son.
Which means, again, the message of the film is that you don’t need to rely on gimmicks to fix your life but to have confidence in yourself, rely on yourself, accept your responsibilities.
There are quite a number of Richard Curtis funny lines and eccentric situations, especially the fiasco of the wedding with so much rain beating down on the guests and the tent. And there is an eccentric old uncle who is charm itself but is not exactly with it and creates quite some humour with his offhand remarks and questions.
Not a particularly memorable film, pleasant in its way, what the publicists call a ‘date movie’.
ACT OF KILLING
Indonesia, 2012, 159 minutes (Director’s cut), Colour.
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer.
This is one of the grimmest films you are likely to see.
Nevertheless, for those who can sit through it, it is a film to be recommended. It won an Ecumenical award at the Berlin film festival in 2013. Anyway, the title can act as a warning.
With the fall of the Soviet empire, one of the questions which lurked in people’s minds was: whatever happened to the KGB officials, their prison guards, the torturers?
And the same question could be raised about ex-Stasi, or any of those police regimes where there was a sudden transition and those who were in power, with a capacity for violence, had to merge into a different kind of society.
This is the background to this film. It is an Indonesian story. It takes us back to the anti-communist massacres of that year of living dangerously, 1965. There were many killers during that time. Many of them are still alive, living ordinary lives at home.
The idea behind this film is for the director to make contact with some of the killers of that time, especially Anwar Congo, who seems more than willing to participate in a film. He prides himself on being a movie fan, working in cinemas in the past, and really liking Elvis Presley. The film-makers had a plan to interview some of the killers, find out what made them tick in the past, and what they think and feel in retrospect. Another idea was then for them to re-enact a number of the killings, in whatever dramatic way they decided and wanted to.
The director, Joshua Oppenheimer, stays behind the camera and does not intrude personally into the film. This gives some control to Anwar Congo and the friends and associates he brings into the film. One is a rather more controlling killer from that era. The other is a rather large and younger man, who remembers some of the events when he was a child, tags along with Congo, likes to cross-dress, especially for the film, and finally decides that he should stand for election in a campaign for local issues. God forbid, that he should win! A momentary spoiler: he doesn’t. But he continues to hang around the film, participating in the re-enactments, giving audience plenty to think about when they encounter this kind of character in Indonesia today.
It seems best simply to say that Congo has no remorse. In fact, he has no reluctance to go back to the past, talking about the killings, the brutality of stabbings and bashings, moving to garrotting for which he gets some associates to help him re-enact with quite some vividness. At other times he is content to discuss matters and compare notes with his old friend. And he’s certainly not hesitating in talking to camera.
He takes for granted that the communists were the enemy and had to be eliminated. This was the period of the Vietnam war and American and allied antagonism towards the communists in Indochina. There were government implications in the hiring of these killers. With some nods to American movies, they saw themselves as gangsters. However, gangsters was not a slighting term. Rather, Congo explains several times, gangsters were those who really free – he says that is the main meaning of the word (with a touch of the 1965 song, Born Free to illustrate this. So, of course, this meant that the gangsters were the good guys and whatever they did, the massacres, were good.
There are many scenes in the latter part of the film where there are local elections, and some of the politicians in Sumatra give their views on the way elections work, especially in terms of bribes, special deals and promises. There also are some official scenes of banquets with these politicians who made no secret of their way of life. Then, it is something of a shock, to see Congo interviewed on local television where the role of the interviewer, a bright young woman, is to enable them to talk without any embarrassment about what they have done in the past - and receive her congratulations.
Part of the intrigue of the film is the different ways in which Congo and his friends decide to dramatize what they did. Sometimes there are very realistic, getting help from some of the local women and children to role play what I was like to be a communist and be arrested and tortured. At other times there are quite some surreal moments, especially at the opening with a strange kind of building, a cross between a Nissan hut and a giant tortoise, from which a group of dancing girls appear and in rather strange local dramas, especially with the larger man and his impersonating a cross-dresser, which make demands on the audience imagination of what they symbolize.
The director’s cut runs for over 2 ½ hours, so the film is something of an endurance experience. However, it is a document about a particular era in Indonesia’s history, the elimination of communist enemies of the state, the brutal massacres and the carefree attitudes of their murderers, even after almost half a century of from the events.
The film, harrowing as it is at times, represents not only the face of evil, but the faces of actual evil.
US, 2013, 132 minutes, Colour.
Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oleyo, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lennie Kravitz, Terrence Howard, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Clarence Williams III, Robin Williams, James Marsden, John Cusack, Leiv Schreiber, Jane Fonda, Alan Rickman.
Directed by Lee Daniels.
The Butler was very successful on its release in the U.S. in 2013. It is based on the story of Cecil Gaines, a butler at the White House serving under six presidents.
This is an interesting and entertaining film that can be dismissed by more serious film buffs and critics as being too popular and populist, obvious in its race message, and in its moralising. However, the action takes place over an 80 year period, crucial years in the change of attitudes towards African Americans in the United States.
It is a portrait of Cecil Gaines and his wife, Gloria – Gaines portrayed with great dignity by Forest Whitaker, a noble man yet a man of limitations and failings, especially with his wife and children. It is a portrait of Gloria, an ordinary woman who found herself married to the butler, proud of him, yet his not taking her to the White House, his working overtime and her feeling alienated, even to an affair, but reconciling with and supporting her husband. She is played with great strength by Oprah Winfrey.
The brief opening of the film is quite effective, taking place in Georgia in 1926, in the cotton fields where the black workers are still doing the equivalent of slave work. Cecil is a young boy. His mother is sexually assaulted by the son of the owner of the plantation, Alex Pettyfer, who shoots the boy’s father. Vanessa Redgrave portrays the mother, kind, yet still racist in attitudes. It is a powerful reminder of race relationships in the early 20th century.
As bigotry continues it is dramatized by the protests in the American south in the late 1950s and the first half of the 1960s until the changes in legislation. This is personalized in the film when Cecil’s and Gloria’s older son, Louis, David Oleyo, chooses to be part of the protests in the south, experiencing the prejudice, the Ku Klux Klan, 16 times in prison, sympathy for the Black Panthers.
In the meantime Cecil is employed at the White House, one of the many black staff who were not paid the same wages as the white staff, even for decades. The history of America and its race issues is portrayed over the period 1957-1988. During that time there were six American presidents. Some of them are portrayed in cameos, quite effectively, a serious Robin Williams as Eisenhower, a young and eager James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, a rough and ready Lyndon B. Johnson by Liev Schreiber. Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are seen only in archival footage. But Alan Rickman appears as Ronald Reagan, sometimes kind, sometimes stubborn, especially in the issue of the raising sanctions against South Africa. He is against the sanctions. Surprisingly in view of her political past, Jane Fonda appears as Nancy Reagan.
Then the film moves 20 years to the election of President Obama, including one of his speeches. Cecil Gaines has lived from being a virtual slave in the cotton fields to witnessing the election of a black American president.
The film was directed by Lee Daniels who made an impression with his film Precious, caused some controversy with his film The Paperboy, but received great acclaim for The Butler.
UK, 2013, 109 minutes, Colour.
Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Juliet Stevenson.
Directed by Oliver Hirschbirgel.
Diana, Princess of Wales, was always a controversial figure, especially during the last three years of her life. She had separated from Prince Charles and was trying to live her own life, bitter at her treatment by Charles and the royal family, desperate to have more contact with her children, needy in terms of relationships. She moved into the public arena with different charitable causes and her concern about issues of land mines. And she was hounded by the paparazzi.
She was beloved by many people, called the Princess of Hearts, the object of an outpouring of national grief at her death, the subject of conspiracy theories concerning the manner of her death.
The screenplay for this film is based on a book by Kate Snell and is really a speculation about Diana’s relationship with the Pakistani heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan. He has remained silent about the relationship, so the material in this film is a story, imagined in detail, of love and frustration. Ultimately, Dodi Fayed is introduced but there is a strange ambiguity in the latter part of the film about Diana’s relationship with him.
The film offers a sympathetic portrait of Diana, especially as played by Naomi Watts, who does not always look like Diana but is able to give an impersonation, with accent, body language, especially the flirtatious tilt of the head in speaking to people and in giving interviews. She seems to be a asking to be loved.
For those devoted to Diana, the sympathetic portrait may please, but going behind the scenes as well as into scenes of her intimacy with the doctor may seem too intrusive.
For those not devoted to Diana or who are neutral about her, the film does offer a dramatisation of her loneliness and her need for a relationship. It also dramatises the relentless regimentation of her life and appointments, the continual scrutiny by royal officials of what she said and what she did (especially the famous interview with Martin Bashir), and the perennial hounding by reporters and paparazzi, the callous behaviour towards her, the impertinent questioning, the never ending need for yet another photo.
But what is mysterious is Diana’s treatment of some special reporters and photographers after her separation from Hasnat Khan. She phones a reporter, allows him to take secret photographs of her, including kissing Dodi Fayad which then appear in the papers. How much was defiance? How much was a manipulation? How much was getting back at Hasnat Khan? In the great scheme of things does this really matter? How important is it have those who idolise Diana?
Naveen Andrews is particularly serious, even stolid, devoted to his work, as Dr. Khan. The credibility of his meeting Diana, the continued association, their attachment and falling in love is real enough. As is her meeting with Dr. Christian Barnard to arrange a job outside the country, something she really wanted to do, escape from England, while still seeing her children. She goes to Australia for a memorial for Dr. Victor Chang. She goes to Boston for heart foundation social. She goes to Angola to campaign about land mines.
There is also an interesting sequence where she goes to Pakistan to meet the doctor’s family, happily received by many of them, feeling at home with the extended family and the children, listening to the complaints of the doctor’s mother about the sad experiences of partition. Could living outside England have really been possible? But the doctor, with reluctance, opts for his own privacy as well as maintaining his practice.
Which means that the film serves as a biopic, but without the guarantees that the details and the insights are actual because Diana is long dead and the doctor silent. Much of the treatment is in the style of popular magazines or popular television programs. But it is not quite enough for a valid and useful study of Diana, not enough insights into her personality.
US, 2012, 116 minutes, Colour.
Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgaard, Ellen Page, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson, Jamey Sheridan.
Directed by Zal Malmangliz.
The title does not immediately indicate where this film is set or what its themes are. There is a prologue to the film where we see oil pollution in the ocean and its consequences for the beaches and, especially, for the bird life. A CEO is attacked for his responsibility for the disaster and a group sabotage his house, introducing oil to destroy it. The CEO resigns and retires. This is the work of an eco-terrorist group. Their name is The East.
The film was written by actress Brit Marling who appeared in Another Earth and Arbitrage. Her co-writer was the director, Zal Balmanglizze. TheyI had worked together on the film about a sect and brain-washing, The Sound of my Voice. In fact, The East with its drop-outs as eco-terrorists, this film is also about some brain-washing and the life of a secular sect.
Brit Marling is cast as a corporate spy. She is ambitious and has interviews with the chief, Sharon, played by Patricia Clarkson. And her partner at home thinks she works for the FBI and is sent to countries like Dubai. However, she goes undercover locally, following known rebels and possible terrorists, photographing them, sending the data in for verification. But she is caught by railway officials when they are stowing away on a train. She slashes her arm which gives reason for one of the group to take her to the headquarters for the doctor to stitch arm wound. As Sarah, she is received into the group, tested at a meal where everyone wears a straitjacket but has to feed themselves. She is surprised when they use a spoon with their mouth to feed each other. This gives something of a motif for their collaborative world where they target those who have committed ecological crimes.
She manages undercover, joining in the rituals, the hard life in the woods, allowing herself to be bathed by the group. She also goes back to report to the boss and discovers information about members of the group.
The nominal leader, Benji, is played by Alexander Skarsgaard. However, many of the practical decisions are made by Izzy, played by Ellen Page.
Sarah participates in what the group call a ‘jam’. This involves infiltrating a society party where the producers of pharmaceuticals are promoting a drug which the group thinks contains toxins and has affected members and their relatives. Sarah’s role is to distract one of the hosts, a sex addict. During the toast after the speeches, the guests drink champagne which includes the pharmaceutical. The jam is a success.
Another is planned, this time involving the pollution of water which has killed a young boy in the town area. They watch a television commercial with an official from the corporation explaining that the water is perfectly safe. This jam is partially successful but has a divisive effect on the group.
Because of her attachment to Benji and her feelings about the issues with which they are involved, Sarah is put in crisis, confronting Sharon, getting information that Benji wants, and having to make a decision to leave the country with him or not.
The screenplay is particularly interesting in view of many of the revelations about American surveillance of ordinary citizens to. As well as by such organizations as the FBI. The other interesting aspect of the film is the eco-terrorism and the criminality of the large corporations. Audience sympathy for Sarah, her work for the big companies and her undercover experience will depend on the attitude towards infiltration of protest groups and the guilty aspects of the companies which destroy the environment.
Australia, 2013, 86 minutes, Colour/Black and white.
Directed by Lawrence Johnston.
What an interesting documentary!
Lawrence Johnston made a number of interesting short films in the 1990s, especially Eternity, his evocative and poetic documentary on Arthur Stace, the man who went around Sydney writing the word ‘Eternity’ on footpaths and walls. This time he turns his documentary attention to Melbourne. As the title indicates, there is a focus on the consequences of the dropping of a nuclear bomb. But the even more particular focus is on the dropping of the bomb and the end of the world in the novel and the film version of Neville Shute’s On the Beach.
By the end, the audience is amazed at the amount of footage that Johnston has found and assembled, the film being a fine example of what one can do with archival material. It is always interesting and, very often, quite evocative. And, in just under 90 minutes, Johnston has really made the equivalent of four films in one, so full of information and insight is the film.
First of all there is the brief history of the development of the atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project, the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, the visuals of destruction, the close-ups of people suffering from radiation, the information about the reality of the destruction and the radius of collapse and death from the centre point. There is the development of the cobalt bomb, the tests throughout the world and in Maralinga, South Australia, with the Menzies government interests in participating in nuclear development. And there are the American fears, the familiar scenes of that ‘Duck and Cover’ commercial to warn people for their safety. And the film opens with a very sobering reflection about the future of the nuclear age and potential for destruction spoken by John F. Kennedy.
Then there is a biography of Neville Shute. Once again, this is particularly interesting, with commentary throughout the film by journalist and author Gideon Haigh, with intelligent insights, as well as from Shute’s daughter, Heather, also articulate and intelligent on her father, his work, and On the Beach. Johnston uses footage of England at the beginning of the 20th century to illustrate Shute’s origins, his work in the air industry, especially for the development of air ships, establishing his own company, his war service among the intelligence boffins, his disillusionment with England under Atlee, his decision to migrate to Australia, his settling in Frankston, the farm in Langwarren. And, all the time, his writing and his popularity and success.
Stanley Kramer, the producer of On the Beach, also gets a brief biography, glimpses of some of his social-minded films, including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, scenes from a documentary about him, his acquiring the rights for On the Beach, the decision to film it in Melbourne, the rejection by the American navy for help and his appeal to Robert Menzies who agrees to contribute, and the marketing of his film and its ultimate success. His wife Karen also contributes a great deal of commentary to this documentary.
Fallout also serves as a mini-documentary about the making of On the Beach, the decisions about production, the arrival of the stars, scenes on the Mornington Peninsula, especially Canadian Bay, of the filming. There are interviews with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, many scenes with Anthony Perkins but no mention of him by name. Donna Anderson was introduced in the film and is one of the talking heads in Fallout. One gets quite an impression of the film, its plot, the drama about the nuclear destruction of humans, an empty San Francisco, the empty Melbourne streets, and the human drama of the romance, the submarine leaving Melbourne, the young couple and the challenge about their baby, having to kill her so that she may not linger after they both have died.
Neville Shute did not like the adaptation for the screen, was critical of Stanley Kramer in correspondence. He did not attend the premiere and died three weeks later, his daughter suggesting that the experience of the filmmaking caused his illness and led to his death.
The film is also something in a documentary about Melbourne in the late 1950s, many visuals, focus on the city, its use in the film, especially for the clearing of the streets for the aftermath of nuclear destruction. It also shows Melbourne’s obsession with celebrities, the pursuit of Ava Gardner by the media, a cultural cringe to the United States, the contribution of the government to the making of the film.
As mentioned, the running time of this documentary is brief, but it incorporates a great deal of material, all of it interesting.
US/France, 2013, 112 minutes, Colour.
Robert de Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D’ Leo.
Directed by Luc Besson.
The Family sounds like an innocuous title for a situation comedy. Actually, there are some touches of situation comedy, but the film is definitely not innocuous.
This is the story of a Mafia family, where all the members of the family can be callous and brutal, and there are such episodes for each of them throughout the film, even when they are in witness protection, with surveillance by FBI offices. They’re a troublesome family, especially the head of the family, Giovanni Manzoni, ready to erupt in violence, causing the FBI to have the family continually on the move for their safety sake. An imprisoned Mafia chief in the US keeps sending killers to get them and to recover money stolen.
The film opens with a family being shot by hitmen. They resemble the family of the film, who, for their cover, are called the Blake family. At this time, despite their wishing to be on the Riviera, they have been relocated to a small town in Normandy. They arrive under cover of night. The accommodation is somewhat ramshackle, they find their possessions have been transferred, though they lack a television set. The FBI are not ultra-efficient. So far, so mysterious.
Father is played by Robert De Niro, just a variation (or only a little variation) on his usual performances, though he has an amusing opportunity later in the film to be invited to a local film screening to discuss Some Came Running. But the wrong film has turned up. It is Goodfellas and he has to make comments on the film and gives a speech about the Mafia. His character in this film is often close enough to that of his character in Goodfellas. He does not live peacefully in the town, claims that he is a writer and does begin some kind of autobiography which is not appreciated by the FBI officer in charge, played by Tommy Lee Jones as his usual Tommy Lee Jones persona.
Mother is played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Impatient at the supermarkets’ scorning of Americans and their liking for peanut butter, she sets up an explosion which destroys the supermarket. And that is just on the first day. She does encounter a priest while looking at stained glass windows in a church, eventually goes to confession pouring it all out, and turns up for a charity event to the utter dismay of the priest who forgets his seal of confession and vigorously denounces her and tries to get rid of her.
The 17 year old daughter becomes involved with a student teacher at her school, falling rapturously and love, having sexual experience, only to find that he says he is not ready. As she contemplates suicide on the top of a church, fortunately for her, the hitmen arrive and she has to go to save her family. The 14 year old boy is bashed by some of the school thugs, but is able to set up a kind of protection racket in the school.
A lot of this is intended to be funny. However, the family is so obnoxious with their behaviour that it is hard to have any sympathy for them. Admittedly, the Mafia head in prison is ruthless and wants to get rid of them and sends a very large squad to do the deed. It is not difficult to anticipate the body count at the end of the film - not the family, as they have to pack up and move again.
The film was directed by Luc Besson who began a successful career as a director in the 1980s with offbeat films like The Big Blue, then moving into action films like Nikita and The Professional. While he directed the fine biography of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, he has specialized in producing a great number of violent, even over-violent action shows like The Transporter series or the Taken series.
Despite the attempts to be funny, the film is often ugly and brutal.
US, 2013, 91 minutes, Colour.
Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, voice of: Ed Harris.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.
Gravity was a critical and popular success on its first release. It seems that the public was interested in a more the realistic space story.
The 1960s saw great interest in space both in cinema and on television. Star Trek began in that decade and has continued in popularity through many series as well as many cinema features, Star Trek into Darkness appearing only some months before Gravity. The 1960s also saw the release of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was an immense cosmic poem which included an evolutionary sequence, a space station in 2001 and a finale of a psychedelic journey through space beyond Jupiter as well as rediscovering a classical 18th century room setting. The symbol was a vast monolith which represented, if not God, then transcendence. And the film ended with hope and the image of the birth of a star child.
45 years later, and a world that has become accustomed to space journeys and star wars, Gravity seems to be a welcome visual look again at space, 21st century style. While there are elements of a cinema vision in the beauty of the photography of space, space vehicles and space stations, and the gravity-less movement in space which looks like mime and dance, this is a realistic film.
The plot, in fact, is quite slight in its way, the work of director Alfonso Cuaron and his son, Jonas. A spaceship is doing experimental work, one of the experts working on some technical design. There is an explosion, a storm of space debris, and the work and the expedition is imperilled.
With the members of the crew dead, there are only two survivors, Ryan, played by Sandra Bullock, and Matt, played by George Clooney. When Ryan seems to be drifting far from the craft, Matt rescues her. However, a number of difficulties ensue and it is up to Ryan to make a decision to bring the craft back to earth and to survive.
The film has many moments of tension and Sandra Bullock is fine as the strong-minded-astronaut in danger. George Clooney offers his usual pleasant and reassuring presence.
There are some moments when audiences may think that screenplay has become contrived, desperate for a happy ending. However, that is something of a hallucination - but it does provide some almost mystical-like moments, a sense of great solidarity, and reinforcement of the will to live.
The film was photographed in 3 D and the recommendation for the audience would be to see it in that format, giving great depth to the experience of outer space.
It is said that films can make a great impression on a person’s life. This reviewer, having seen Gravity and been impressed, is determined never to go into space. On the other hand, the mysteries of space and its future may well entice younger audiences to look forward to the future - out there.
US, 2013, 91 minutes, Colour.
Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Salma Hayak, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Taylor Lautner.
Directed by Dennis Dugan.
Puerile. That is as good a word as might be found to describe this sequel to Grownups, which was not so good in itself but certainly quite a deal better than this sequel.
This story takes place over one day. It seems to be a collection of skits and episodes dreamed up by Adam Sandler and his co-writers, the continuing story of the family which has come back from Hollywood to their hometown in Connecticut, has settled in even though some of the inhabitants have bad memories from the past. And it is an opportunity for Adam Sandler to hang out with his buddies. Kevin James, Chris Rock are much the same as they were in the first film.
There are a whole lot of pratfall jokes, especially for David Spade, the slightest of the group, who led the beginning of the day by discovering that he has a son he knew nothing off, a huge lug of a boy, rebelling against his father, seeming to indicate some tension in the family. However, once the group of men are confronted by a group of self-important frat boys from a college, the son takes the side of his father and his friends and no family conflict.
Speaking of the frat boys, they are having a holiday on the cliff overlooking the river where everyone in the past jumped into the deep water. This is a lead in for the boys to challenge the men not only to dive, but to dive naked. They do. Later, the men with friends from the town go to the cliff to confront the frat boys and there is an all-in melee.
The film give some attention to each of the characters, relying on the audience friendliness to accept them. However, not much attention is given to their wives who are critical of their husbands though loving them, join together for some chat and gossip, but, it seems, that their role in the film is more of female decoration.
That may seem a little mean-minded, but mean-minded is one of the characteristics of the film: the men are continually slinging off at each other, one-upping each other or associates from the past, wanting to win in any argie-bargie. This gives something of an unpleasant edge to the proceedings.
Grownups! Puerile! While Adam Sandler can be entertaining and clever when he wants to be, especially in a film like Funny People, he is not particularly funny in performance or screenplay this time. That Chris rock does say when confronted by the students, ‘isn’t any one afraid of a black man in America anymore?… Damn you, Obama!’ is a high point. Though that line could have come out of one of his stand-up comic routines rather than just for the film.
THE HUMAN CARGO/ LA NAVE DOLCE
Italy, 2012, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Daniele Vicari.
Stop the boats! Turn back the boats!
No, this film is not about current Australian asylum seeker policy. It is a documentary about events in Italy and Albania in 1991. Already this episode about Albanian refugees has been the subject of a feature film, L’America?, directed by Gianni Amelio in 1994, winner of the Catholic Film Office award.
This time, a documentary has been made utilizing footage shot at the time, home movie, film material, television footage. It is a striking compilation and tells the very interesting story of thousands of Albanians who took the opportunity to storm a cargo boat and sail to Italy. Thre are quite a number of talking head interviews from men, women and boys who made he trip as well as from the captain and local Italian authorities.
The film gives background to Albanian history in the later 20th century, especially under communist rule. When the Berlin wall came down, there was a sense of relief in many Soviet empire countries, including the very strict Albania. Protests began, people wanted to move away from the somewhat impoverished country.
In August 1991, a cargo ship which had travelled around the world and had brought back a load of sugar to Albania, was mobbed by, possibly, 20,000 citizens. It was a sunny day, people were at the beach, the word got around, and men and women and children headed for the boat, climbing aboard en masse. The visuals of the thousands on the boat are quite striking, prow to stern people.
While the ship needed some repairs, the captain decided to move out with his human cargo. They sailed to the port of Brindisi but were refused entry to the port. They sailed along the coast to the port of Bari which they entered. The mayor responded favourably but the government in Rome was far more cautious and ultimately critical of the behaviour of the mayor, condemning his him as unpatriotic.
However, what the mass of people as well as the authorities in Italy did not take immediately into account the need for food and water as well as hygiene. On arriving in Bari, many of the men leapt from the ship and authorities contained them on the docks. Others were bussed into the local stadium, food being thrown in by helicopter, gangs set up in order to commandeer the food, and there were riots on the wharves.
Ultimately, the people were returned to Albania.
The value of this kind of documentary is to present the visuals within the space of 100 minutes, reflection on what happened in Italy and the 1990s, but a challenge to what is happening in Italy, with refugees from North Africa, at the present, let alone the migrations of asylum seekers and refugees from the Middle East. The film is a sobering experience for Australians to watch, considering the comparatively few refugees who come by boat from Indonesia, the demands that it makes on government, on the detention centres as well as all that logistics of processing, housing, education.
The English version of the title, The Human Cargo, gives a particular emphasis compared with theatre Italian original, La Nave Dolce, The Sweet Ship.
I AM A GIRL
Australia, 2013, 88 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Rebecca Barry.
I Am a Girl is a brief documentary focusing on six young women in different countries around the world. The director, Rebecca Barry went with her team photographing the different countries and the countrysides with great beauty, but sometimes they are sometimes sinister as in Cambodia, sometimes, as in Sydney, very ordinary.
The six girls chosen came from the United States, Afghanistan, Australia, Cameroon, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea. Some of the girls are still at school. Some did not have the opportunity to study, although the girl from Afghanistan is making a somewhat defiant stance in pursuing her education. For several of the girls the issue of self-confidence is very important, the African American girl from New York City moving out into the world, the young girl in Sydney still at school but having suffered from bipolar disorder and depression.
Sexual issues are important for three of the girls. The young girl from Papua New Guinea, from a village, talks frankly about sexual relationships and permissiveness as well as the severity of her father in disapproving of her behaviour, getting pregnant. Ousted from the house, she goes to the city, marries the young man, gives birth in a long sequence and lives for a happy future. It is the same in the Cameroon except that the girl is Muslim, is a virgin at her marriage, receives instructions, quite severe, especially in subservience to the husband, in preparation for marriage. The ceremonies themselves are very colourful and the girl wants to stay married ‘till death do us part’.
The hardest life is that of the girl in Cambodia. At age 12, her virginity was put on sale and sold for $400 with the man raping her, then offering $100 a month for her to be his mistress. Her mother agrees but asks for an extra $10.00 per month. The mother is poor, dependent on her daughter, not preventing her from living as a prostitute. The young girl herself has a daughter, continually clashes with her mother and her father. With her only prospects being to remain at home as a prostitute or to leave home, she leaves to find a new life.
The film does not aim to find definite conclusions. Rather, it is a series of portraits, a cinema essay focusing on six young women to highlight some of the problems for women in the 21st century, some of the oppression, many of the hopes.
I’M SO EXCITED
Spain, 2013, 91 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Pedro Almodovar.
For many fans of the films of Pedro Almodovar, Spain’s leading director for more than a quarter of a century, with some great cinematic achievements, they might wish they were able to say with some conviction, ‘I’m so excited’. The characters in the film are over-excited, many of the audience much less so.
When Almodovar first began directing films in the 1980s, he had small budgets, but he had very good casts and plenty of imagination. In the post-Franco era, there was plenty of room for opening up dramas as well as humour, especially with satire. And that is what Almodovar did. Cheeky. He was cheeky. He was rude, capitalising on sending up sexual behaviour and attitudes and capitalising on his own gay sensibility.
With I’m So Excited, he seems to be returning to the style of 30 years earlier. For those who are happy to indulge in it, there will be plenty of enjoyment. For those who find the characters in the film overly over-excited, it becomes a bit tiresome, not as funny as all that.
He does start brightly, literally with all the pastel colours during the credits, then with cameo performances from Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. Then they vanish from the film and we go aboard a flight to Mexico which, in the circumstances, has to circle around Spain and finally try to land at the La Mancha airport, something of a white elephant airport in the film as in real life.
It is important to say at this moment that many of the commentators have pointed out that the broad parody and satire is it the expense of Spanish society today, of the government, of people’s responses, of attitudes towards communication, towards crime, both financial and violent, about clairvoyants and drug dealers. Audiences who know Spain well and can make the connections will probably find that there is deeper comedy and meaning in the characters and events. Others might be at a loss and be surprised when such connections are made.
It is also a very gay film. The three male flight attendants are as camp as a row of tents. This is in their demeanor, their way of speaking, interests, relationships, the jokes with more than a touch of crassness at times, and the miming to the Pointer Sisters singing Cole porter’s ‘I’m so excited’. The two pilots are bisexual, leading to a lot of discussions about their relationships, a married man having to accept his preferences and the other being forced to acknowledge his preferences.
The stewards have drugged everybody in economy class as well as the flight attendants. Is this meant to portray Spanish society asleep and authorities keeping them asleep?
Then there are the half dozen passengers in first class who have not been drugged. One is a naive and over-eager clairvoyant, a middle-aged woman will who is anxious to lose her virginity, and achieves her ambition with an unconscious economy passenger. She has a sense of death around the plane and around one or other of the passengers. There it is the ageing film star who, it emerges, is really a madame and has made porn films. Next to her is a tall, dark handsome man to whom she’s attracted, only to find that there is more to his sinister character that she might have dreamed. There is a businessman who wants to contact his mistress who is being taken away to an institution and contacts another who relates to him what has happened and meets him at the airport when they land. There is another businessman, looking mightily suspicious, as well he might because of the reports of a bank going bust with the double dealings of this manager. Then there is a young couple, allegedly on a honeymoon, the groom keeping the woman unconscious by slipping her drugs throughout the flight.
Lots of goings on, lots of sexual behaviour, lots of jokes, but all at a very, one might say, superficial level, no matter what the satiric levels underneath. Perhaps this is Almodovar relaxing before he makes his next serious film.
IN BOB WE TRUST
Australia, 2013, 104 minutes, Colour.
Fr Bob Maguire, John Saffran.
Directed by Lynn- Maree Milburn.
With a title like that, there is an air of divinity attributed to the larger-than-life subject of this very well-made documentary, Fr Bob Maguire of the archdiocese of Melbourne.
The context of the film is the requirement of all parish priests and bishops to offer their resignation from the position at the age of 75. It is low-key to say that Bob was not willing to go from his parish, Sts Peter and Paul, in South Melbourne. At the top of the poster is a statement that this is a conflict of biblical proportions, a David and Goliath struggle. With the towering presence of Bob throughout the film, one suspects at times that Archbishop Hart, the definite villain of the piece, might be the David!
‘Who will rid us of this troublesome priest?’ – Henry II on St Thomas a’Beckett.
This is a partisan documentary. It is Bob Maguire’s campaign against his removal from the parish, the film-makers and photographers following Bob around for quite some time, shooting footage in the church, in his presbytery (and with his dog), in the streets, outside the James Good Building where the Archbishop has his office. There is lots of Bob to camera – not hesitating to give his opinions of the archbishop, sometimes muttering the word ‘fascist’ to camera.
A note at the end says that both Denis Hart and George Pell (shown at the end going into the Victorian Inquiry into sexual abuse) were offered the opportunity to be interviewed but declined.
Bob is nothing if not articulate – though very extroverted in manner, in the vein of ‘how do I know what I think until I’ve said it!’ This makes for a lot of repartee which can be quite amusing, though making an audience laugh does not necessarily mean that you are right. Over the years, Bob has developed, even cultivated, a persona which many audiences, even outside of Melbourne or Victoria, will have heard on many radio interviews (excerpts here from studio interviews with John Saffran and with Neil Mitchell – the film also includes Neil Mitchell questioning Denis Hart about the resignation issue) and on television, especially on the ABC and SBS. He is the bluff, rough and ready priest, something of an ecclesiastical ‘shock jock’, glad to be a bloody stirrer, ever ready to speak out about bullshit, with an accent that favours a slangy approach and a larrikin tone and a blokey dropping of g’s at the ends of words.
On the other hand, he has lots of Shakespeare references, Churchill quotes and mention of theology books which belie the bluff exterior and voice. Often advising those near him, if they have not got the reference, to look it up or Google it.
One of the clever devices for the film is the framing of the story as a benign spoof of the scene from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, where Death plays chess with the Knight and they discuss life and fate, with John Saffran, bespectacled as Death and Bob dressed as the Knight, reminding us that his battle is a crusade. The film goes back to this black and white seaside chess joust throughout the film.
Another device is a long collage at the beginning of the film, incorporating a great deal of classic art pieces of Jesus Christ, intercut with an impressive number of brief clips from biblical films, including De Mille’s The King of Kings, The Ten Commandments, King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Pasolini’s Gospel According to St Matthew (although the commentary on St Paul is accompanied by Finlay Currie as St Peter in Quo Vadis). And, all the while there is Bob’s voiceover history of the Church, very larrikin-style in vocab and observations, comic but not designed to stand up to close scrutiny for accuracy.
After we have settled into the dimensions of the Crusade, with interventions by ardent supporters from South Melbourne parish, we move back to Bob’s ardent charity work on the streets of Melbourne, and get some glimpses of his growing up and his family story. There are some moving examples shown of people he helped from the streets to survive and find some dignity.
It is entertaining to listen to and watch Bob’s primary school teacher, Sister Maria Kavanagh, at the end of the film recounting the story of Bob’s autobiographical stories and imaginings when he was at school and at the seminary in Weribee (where, in a final story, he finishes up becoming a bishop, dying and lying in state).
What we finish up getting out of the film is a portrait of Bob and his vision of his priesthood and his life in the Catholic Church, more at the edges than in the centre. Yet, for many in Melbourne he has become the face of the Church, something that this film reinforces. With his blunt remarks and criticisms, and his jocoseness and his ironies, he makes it easier to be critical of authorities. A pity they didn’t take part in the film. It would have been interesting to listen to a to-and-fro between Denis Hart and Bob and discover that, perhaps, the archbishop might have had a point or two in his favour.
But, Bob, age 79 at the time of the release of the film, is still battling on, working for his charities, and that the Capuchins moved into the South Melbourne presbytery – their superior makes a sympathetic appearance.
However one responds to the on-screen Bob Maguire, we can say that Lynn- Maree Milburn knows how to put a film together and tell a story.
THE INTERVAL/ L’INTERVALLO
Italy, 2012, 89 minutes, Colour.
Salvatore Rucco, Francesca Risi.
Directed by Leonardo di Costanzo.
The Interval is a brief drama, more for a specialist audience than for a popular audience. It is set in Naples, with a background atmosphere of the mafia. However, it focuses on a small amount of time, a couple of hours, where a young woman who has fallen foul of a boss is guarded in a warehouse by a young man who sells ice creams with his father. The woman, obviously, does not want to be there. The young man does not want to be there either and does not know exactly truth about the woman.
At first, the woman is sullen, taunting the young man. He is patient, putting up with her tantrums. However, as time goes by, they begin to talk, begin to share their stories and a friendship is underway. This is important when the thug who has put the woman there returns with subsequent clashes.
The film moves at a leisurely place pace, the indicating the slow passage of time for each of the two protagonists. The performances are convincing and we can believe that this kind of low-burning drama could happen on any afternoon in Naples. The Interval won six awards at the Venice Film Festival and Best Film at the Italian Golden Globes awards.
Australia, 2012, 101 minutes, Coloour.
Directed by Luke Walker.
Perhaps, the legend of Lasseter and his reef of gold is not so well known these days. Back in the 1930s and the succeeding decades, probably everyone knew about Lasseter and his search for gold. It was dramatised for eager readers by Ion L. Idriess in Lasseter’s Last Reef. We all read it in those days.
The reef has never been found again. Was it a real? Was Lasseter’s account and his diary telling the truth? Was the man who allegedly found him and buried him telling the truth? Or was Lasseter a con man and a fraud? Did he really die in the desert? Did he actually flee the country and go to the United States? Many people have answered ‘yes’ to all these questions?
Documentary filmmaker, Luke Walker, not only became interested in the story and wanting to find out the truth, he became deeply obsessed. This is his story, his own personal compulsion to search out the truth, his going to the different locations, his tracking down anybody connected with Lasseter and his story, the interviewing them, raising all kinds of questions.
This makes for a very interesting documentary. Walker is very much at the centre of the film, on screen a great deal of the time, inviting the audience to share his experience.
However, he really does search out quite a number of characters to interview. The most prominent is Lasseter’s son, Bob, who is still searching for the reef. He discusses the story with great enthusiasm, reveals that he has been searching the years – he is 85 at the time of the film being made. There is a striking scene with him standing on a ladder with binoculars searching for significant mountain landmarks, and the camera pulling back to show that the ladder is standing on the roof of his vehicle. There is an image of him at the end, sitting in front of his father’s memorial statue, outside Alice Springs.
Walker has done a lot of research about Lasseter, his early years in Northern New South Wales near the Clarence River, his having many brain waves about developing the town, submitting to the government all kinds of intuitions about contributions to the World War I effort. Then there is his diary, claiming that there was a relief. And then his death.
Walker also tracks down relatives of Lasseter’s partner, relatives of the man who found Lasseter and buried him, relatives of those who researched Lasseter’s claims at the time as well as those who accused him of fraud. The film also includes footage from American Lowell Thomas’ television documentary of 1957 in search of Lassiter. Walker goes to libraries, to archives, getting a variety of opinions about what happened.
There was also talk of the reef being near an aboriginal sacred site. Walker goes out into the desert, interviews a group of aboriginal women who offer memories of Lasseter’s last days, feeding him, caring for him. There is also an extended interview as Walker goes out with an elderly aboriginal man near a sacred site and the aborigine reluctant to tell the story, threatening spears if Walk were to go to the site, and his being tired of giving the interview.
With all this information, the different perspectives, Walkers and supporters and critics, it is still up to the audience to make up its mind about what really happened to Lassiter and whether there really was a reef.
US, 2013, 106 minutes, Colour.
Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Amber Heard, Embeth Davidtz, Julian Mc Mahon, Lukas Till.
Directed by Robert Luketic.
The title sounds far more dramatic than what is seen in the film itself. Suggestions are that it is a psychological drama - or even a horror drama. However, this is a film about industrial espionage in New York City.
The film is an adaptation of a very interesting novel by Joseph Finder, an author of thrillers which explore the developments of technology, how they are used and abused, marketed and exploited. Perhaps one of the difficulties with Paranoia is that it intends to be a thriller but takes a lot of time out for the romance. In fact, at times it seems more like a romance with elements of espionage added in. But, as it progresses, there are some moments of tension and a couple of twists, not entirely unpredictable, which make the plot more interesting.
The film has a very good cast which does give it some strength. The central character, Adam Cassidy, is played by Liam Hemsworth can capitalise on romantic comedy good looks but with the serious plot, he is more serviceable than dramatic, a role which demands showing the audience his moral dilemmas more tellingly.
There are two quite a ruthless company owners. Gary Oldman, with a flattish British accent, is a powerful CEO. He had worked with a mentor but moved out and established his own company. It has fallen on hard times, and he is interested in stealing information about an invention, a computerised wallet full of personal information and apps, from his former boss. He is cruelly ambitious but also quite weaseling in his dealings. Harrison Ford is the former mentor-boss, charming surface, but icily manipulative. There are some moments of satisfaction for audiences as each squares off and then receives his comeuppance.
Adam Cassidy has humble origins but wants to succeed in the world of technology, gathering a young team around himself, making a play to the CEO but seemingly rejected, then employed to insinuate himself into the rival company. He had already encountered one of their marketing stars, Emma (Amber Heard), and he uses her while falling in love with her. There is also a sinister presence with Embeth Davidtz as Gary Oldman’s main adviser and fixer. Julian McMahon? turns up frequently, also a fixer, but in a brutal and murderous sense.
There is some relief in the very affable presence of Richard Dreyfuss as Adam’s father, a retired security guard with emphysema, but still smoking.
The screenplay is something of a Reader’s Digest paring down of Finder’s novel. Which means that it is an OK time-passing thriller entertainment with romance but not a story or a film that remains in the memory.
US, 2013, 118 minutes, Colour.
Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chicklis, Nick Nolte, Clifton Collins Jr, Wendell Pierce, Bobby Cannavale, Patti Lupone, Emma Booth.
Directed by Taylor Hackford.
Parker is a criminal character created by Donald E. Westlake writing under the name of Richard Stark. The have been several films featuring Parker. This film was based on the novel, Flashfire.
The film was directed by Taylor Hackford, who for more than 30 years has directed a wide range of films with such high points as Ray. This film was not particularly successful commercially, appealing to Westlake’s fans but not generally, in some areas going straight to DVD.
However, it is a higher profile role for Jason Statham, the diving athlete from England who made an impression in gangster films in the UK and, with the help of some French-financed films, especially the Transporter series, he became something of an action icon. For more than a decade he made at least two films a year, reaching a wider public with the Expendables films.
In a first, he appears at the Ohio State fair disguised as a priest, doing some priestly work comforting a panic-written security guard. However tough he might be, he falls foul of the group with whom he was doing the robbery and as they try to kill him, they assume that they have. This leads, of course, to a vengeance film as he tracks down criminals with the help of his contact, played by Nick Nolte, whose daughter, Emma Booth, he is in love with. In his plans to find where the gang is holed up to prepare another heist, he encounters a real estate agent, played by Jennifer Lopez, who finds that she has bitten off more than she can chew in getting this particular job.
For those who like this kind of thriller, and who like Jason Statham, this should be a satisfyingly entertaining film.
PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS
US, 2013, 106 minutes, Colour.
Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith, Brandon T. Jackson, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Head, Nathan Fillion.
Directed by Thor Freudenthal.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is a sequel to Percy Jackson: Lightning Thief, from 2009. The two films are based on a series of novels by Rick Riordan, very popular, serving as a possible substitute for Harry Potter stories. However, the films did not have the success anticipated though they were popular.
Logan Lerman is Percy Jackson, the hero, the son of Poseidon and a human. Along with other half-bloods, he goes to a park where they are sheltered from interaction with humans. In the first film he was given a quest. In this film he has another quest.
While in the first film, actors appeared as the gods, they do not appear in this film, only Hermes as an American businessman (Nathan Fillion) and Kronoss as a computer-generated Titan.
Percy is a modest young man, with a sense of destiny which he does not want to pursue, rather plagued by self-doubt. However, he is encouraged by the managers of the park, Stanley Tucci and Anthony Head, playing Chiron the Centaur, to pursue that destiny, especially after he has defeated a monstrous special-effects bull which has invaded the park.
The quest takes him and his friends into New York City with three strange Fates and a taxi, to Hermes and his factory, to Washington, DC, to a boat going to the Caribbean, to the discovery of a Civil War submarine, to a strange destination in the Bermuda Triangle which appears as an entertainment park, complete with a roller coaster. He has to confront Luke, who has betrayed his half-blood heritage and the gigantic god Kronos. He is accompanied in his quest by the athletic champion, Clarisse, as well as Annabeth who has a crush on Percy and Grover, his centaur friend. Also along is a young Cyclops, Tyson, who turns out to be a half-brother of Percy.
Quite some action at the end, Percy achieving the quest, the return home and the celebration and the possibility of another film in the series.
US, 2013, 91 minutes, Colour.
Dane Cook, Stacey Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss?, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards.
Directed by Klay Hall.
Planes comes from the Pixar Studios. It is not one of their outstanding films but is more entertaining, better than their two ventures into the world of Cars.
This time they have a very simple plot: a small crop-dusting plane with Walter Mitty-like imagination and heroics, wants to break free from ordinary life and the routine of crop-dusting. His old boss plane he is wary. The repair machine is positive that Dusty will have no success. However, he does enter the competition, just missing out on a spot with his timing and flight but finally being accepted when another plane is accused of cheating.
In the meantime he makes contact with a World War II veteran plane who has not flown for decades. The old captain tests out Dusty and decides to support him, helping with his training for the competition, because Dusty finds that he has a fear of Heights.
The animation for the flying sequences is quite spectacular, one of the best features of the film – also the locations for the different stops along the way. The voices are also good with Dane Cook as Dusty, Stacey Keach as the old captain and, very recognizable, John Cleese as very British plane, Bulldog. There is also a Mexican plane who has fallen in love with the Australian entrant, but is rejected by her until he serenades her romantically.
The main part of the film consists of the various stages of the competition, the stops around the world in the air race, (though confined to the northern hemisphere): Iceland, Germany, through the Himalayas where dusty go through a tunnel instead of flying over them and gains time, China, Mexico and the final stage to New York City.
Obviously there has to be a villain, a vain and cheating competitor, who falls foul of his vanity and his playing to the media.
There is also a subplot about the captain and his World War II activities leading to Dusty’s disappointment.
It is the story of the little plane, looked down on, but drawing on energy and self-confidence and winning in the end.
US, 2013, 156 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Jackman, Jake Gylenhaal, Paul Dano, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Len Cariou.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Prisoners is one of the strongest dramas of 2013. It has been directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve, who made a great impact with his Oscar-nominated film, Incendies. He has not failed in his follow-up film.
There are many prisoners in this film, some held in abduction and detention, some trapped in their own personalities.
On paper, the plot about the abduction of two little girls might seem fairly straightforward. The police investigate. The fathers become involved. The mothers share in the grief. The search goes on over many days and the audience is always unsure of the outcome.
The film opens with two hunters stalking a deer in a wintry November setting. The soundtrack has a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. There will be themes of hunting during the film. There will be some Christian themes.
Two families celebrate Thanksgiving together, the Dovers and the Birches. Keller Dover is played by Hugh Jackman in one of his best roles and Maria Bello is his wife. The Birches are played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis. Before the meal the two little girls go for a walk and wamt to play on a camper van parked in the street. After the dinner, they disappear as does the camper van.
The film is very powerful showing the desperation of Dover. An intense man, a carpenter and builder, he is a reformed alcoholic and a devout Christian, listening to tapes in his car. Angered by the seeming lack of effort by the police, he takes the search into his own hands with brutal and devastating results. He persuades his friend Franklin Birch to join him to find out where the girls have been him.
In the meantime, it is Jake Gylenhaal as the local detective who has never lost a case using police methods to try to track down the lost girls. It is one of Jake Gylenhaal’s best performances also, a loner, serious, with several tattoos, and no back story. It is inevitable that the two men will clash.
There has been controversy about the torture sequences in the film, whether they are too brutal, or if they bring home to the audience what is truly happening in the interrogation. Many have seen this plot line as echoing Americans taking people captive, interning them, torturing them, the superior Americans, righteous, against those they perceive as enemies, right or wrong. And the possibility is always there that they are wrong.
Central to the film is the man accused of abducting the girls. An accident in his early life has meant that he has an IQ of the boy about 10 years old. Played by Paul Dano, a versatile actor who does not always take on sympathetic roles, the audience is puzzled about his role in the taking of the girls because there seems no real evidence against him. Which makes the interrogation more brutal.
Another suspect enters the picture and is pursued by the detective, interrogated, his house searched, but the connection is not what the audience expects. In fact, by the time the film has ended, we realise that there were many clues given as to what had happened, especially in the subplot of an alcoholic priest and a dead body in his basement and his story of a man wanting to make a confession about abductions. One of the difficulties in investigations is the credibility of the witnesses, and a presumption that they will be telling the truth. Here, vicious lies are told.
There is a strong supporting cast with Len Cariou as the priest and, especially the very versatile actress, Melissa Leo, who appears in a great many films, several in 2013, very different roles and characters. But it is the focus on Hugh Jackman’s strong character and the counterbalance of Jake Gylenhaal’s detective which makes this a very strong drama, even to the final moments, which incorporate yet another clue and create an uneasy sense of what is to follow.
A dark exploration of human nature, evil choices begetting evil consequences. Sombre but strong.
THE RED AND THE BLUE
Italy, 2012, 98 minutes, Colour.
Margharita Buy, Riccardo Scarmaccio, Roberto Herlitzka.
Directed by Giuseppe Piccioni.
The Red and the Blue is the story of a teacher, a substitute who comes into an average school in Rome, with its own difficulties, especially in staffing, in financial management, in accepting students who are not interested in education.
The film opens with a voiceover by an old teacher, Professor Fioretti, looking rather ancient, played with effective cynicism by Roberto Herlitzka. He sounds as if he despises the students, sees them as failures, unable to respond to his course in art history. He is aloof and alone in the staff room. He is critical of substitute teachers and behaves that way towards the latest teacher, Prezioso, played by Riccardo Scarmaccio. After this introduction, the film shows the journey of Prezioso and his encounters with staff and students.
The film has the usual group of teenage students, familiar from many American films. They are not particularly interested in the course, Italian literature, and tend to misbehave in a nonchalantly dismissive manner.
There are several subplots, including Professor Fioretti’s being contacted by a past student, who did not pay attention in class but has affectionate memories of the Professor. Is it possible for him to change, come out of himself?
Another subplot involves the Principal, Margharita Buy, whose main preoccupation in managing the school is to avoid potential lawsuits. When she has to take care of a boy whose mother seems to have abandoned him, she takes him to hospital, and something of an attachment develops, her bringing him pyjamas and some Manga comics, and she even considers adopting him.
Prezioso teaches literature, eliciting some gradual responses from the students, especially from a young Romanian student, attached to a girl who is his exact extroverted opposite and who wants to act out her frustrations, with the boy helping her, even to finding a gun and an episode in which brings him back to reality.
Prezioso becomes attached to a rather sullen and insolent girl, trying to help her, especially when she says her mother has just died. In his encounters with her, with cautions from the Principal, he think she has been lying and gives up on her. But there is something of a twist towards the end in his encounters with her.
To this extent, the film is episodic, building up its portrayal of life in a school, especially in the classroom, and the consequences for the students.
It is a small story for this part of Prezioso’s life and career. We might hope that he will become a substantial teacher and that this will have an effect on his life - or he could become cynical and become a Professor Fioretti of the future.
France, 2012, 111 minutes, Colour.
Michel Bouquet, Christa Theret, Vincent Rottiers.
Directed by Gilles Bourdos.
Renoir is a celebrated name in French history, especially of the arts. For those who appreciate the paintings of the older Renoir as well as the films of the younger Renoir, this partial biography will be of interest and aspects of it, fascinating.
This is a leisurely film, capturing the mood of rural France in 1915. There are references to the war and the realisation that it is being waged not far away. In fact, two of the painter’s sons, including the later director, Jean, have served on the front line. But, for the film and its plot, we are in a beautiful French village, a lovely French countryside, a world of visual beauty.
Beauty is an important theme for the film. The artist is surrounded by nature, but is drawn more to portraying the human form, of painting women, and, as he says, his appreciation of flesh. By 1915 Renoir had painted a great number of pictures, and some of them are seen hanging on his wall. There is also the reminder that he painted scenes of ‘lunch on the grass’, with a sequence in the film where the family are at the river, he is painting, and gusts of wind come up tossing cloths and other aspects of the picnic into the water. We also see the artist painting in his studio, especially with his models.
The models have always been important. Renoir has memories of Gabrielle who chose to leave him - but does reappear and joins the family at the end. Renoir has also many memories and paintings of his late wife, the mother of his children, the model to whom he was most devoted.
As the film opens, we see a young girl, Andree cycling towards the Renoir villa. The artist’s wife had recommended her to apply for modelling. She does. She is accepted. Renoir delights in painting her. It is a happy existence except that the rather snobbish staff have a contempt for her.
And then Jean, wounded in the leg, comes back from the war. He is played by the young and versatile actor, Vincent Rottiers years. A patriot, he wants to go back to the front when his wound begins to heal. His father certainly does not want this. Dede (Andree) has fallen in love with him, and he with her, which complicates his emotional life, and the discovery of the possibilities in a relationship with a woman. This leads to some difficulties in the household, the father wanting Dede to return after she has left the house. Jean goes to find her.
This means that for the audience it is principally a portrait of father and son. But it is also a cinema essay in exploration of French art, impressionism, the artist driven to paint.
The family watches cinema, especially Intolerance, released in 1915. The audience is caught up with the magic of cinema and we are given glimpses of the response of Jean who does finally make up his mind that he wants to work in film.
The performances are very strong. 86 year-old Michel Bouquet certainly conveys the character, the genius, aspects of the tortured life of an artist. Vincent Rottiers portrays Jean before he discovers his vocation in life.
There are notes at the end of the film indicating that within four years the older Renoir had died. Jean worked with Dede in film until they parted in 1931. But from the 1930s, with such films as mark La Marseilles, The Rules of the Game, the great war, and into the forties when he went to Hollywood and made a number of specialised features, then into the fifties when he returned to France and continued to make masterpieces including his Lola Montez, The Golden Coach and The River. He was to die, celebrated as one of the 20th century’s great directors, in 1979.
US, 2013, 119 minutes, Colour.
Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Bokeem Woodbine, Karl Urban.
Directed by David Twohey.
You have to be a strong Vin Diesel fan to sit through Riddick. And, of course, Diesel does have his fans who will relish this film. Box-office returns for this film and for the Fast and Furious franchise, seem to indicate that his fan base is growing. He has a particular screen presence, physically tough which belies the shrewdness of intelligence that the screenplay spells out for his character.
It is thirteen years since Riddick first appeared on screen, in a science fiction film set on an alien planet, Pitch Black. It made quite an impact on his fans at the time and a sequel went into production, the Chronicles of Riddick where Diesel had as a co-star, Judi Dench. Now, with Diesel having proven himself as fast and furious, he is back as Riddick.
You know whether you are going to enjoy the film or not during the first fifteen minutes and whether you pay attention or find that your mind is wandering. It is totally Riddick. Well, that is not perhaps entirely true, because on this alien planet where he has been banished, there are a number of deadly prehistoric-looking creatures, sinister dingo-like dogs and even more sinister large eel-like reptiles in the pools. Riddick has to spend a long, long time fighting them, suffering grievous wounds and enduring an enormous amount of pain. There is a flashback interlude going back to his previous career and the accusations of murder as well as his being exiled. However, that first half hour or more indicates that this is definitely a film about Riddick.
But this is well calculated by the screenplay because Riddick virtually goes off screen for act two, when space ships arrive on the planet to bring him back, dead or alive. One team is a group of bounty hunters led by Jordi Molla, a really unpleasant type, with equally unpleasant henchmen, and a relentless determination to get Riddick and put his head in a box cage. The other group a more organized, led Boss Johns (Australian Matt Nable) who believes that Riddick has murdered his young son and is out to find the truth and some justice or vengeance.
The group spent a lot of time bickering amongst each other, many flashpoints with the only female in the team, presented as butch as the men. Riddick is able to pin the group down, tantalising them by infiltrating their centre and then disappearing. Which makes them all the more determined.
But, by the third act, Riddick is back with the two teams, even trapped by them. But also returning are some of the creatures. They loudly attack the headquarters, terrifying everyone and killing of some of the unwary. It all builds up to a desperate cycle ride through the desert, pursued by the creatures, Riddick disempowered and almost destroyed… But…
The alien planet is a desert and mountain place, little vegetation, and with a yellow streaked sky. There is a thumping score. There are lots of action bouts and confrontations - lots and lots. There are the computer-generated creatures to contribute to the eerie atmosphere. And there is always Riddick, Vin Diesel older, bigger, more muscles, more capacity for endurance, laconic, but with a redeeming characteristic that he has tamed one of the ferocious dogs who has become fiercely loyal to him.
David Twohey as written the screenplay. He has written some interesting screenplays like Perfect Getaway and Secret Window. But with this one, he has some less than literary dialogue, peppered with four-letter ‘what the…’, ‘shut the…’, which seem like those word-bubbles in panels of comic strips.
And, at the end, Riddick is in a spacecraft flying off into a possible sequel.
US, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker, Kevin Bacon.
Directed by Robert Schwenke.
What film would have its leading man shot to death within the first ten minutes? Well, RIPD. But this is not to spoil a plot, because right from the beginning we learn that the hero is dead. Then we get an instant flashback to the situation where he dies. While the film is about action on earth, the plot also takes us into a very bureaucratic version of the afterlife, at least in the police department, RIPD, the Rest in Peace Department.
Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) dies and time stands still, action is frozen. He finds himself in a tornado-like whirlwind and sucked up into the skies and suddenly sitting at a desk opposite Miss Proctor who is the administrator for the RIPD. She does a quick explanation, which is helpful for the audience, and informs us all that the squad is to go back to earth and bring ‘deados’ - evil types who have died but have remained hidden on earth - back to the office or eliminate them. So far, so odd.
While Nick is ordered to go back to earth, he is also given a partner. This turns out to be Jeff Bridges, looking like Buffalo Bill or Wild Bill Hickock or some other characters from the 19th century west, which is, in fact, when he came from when he arrived at the RIPD. Bridges must have enjoyed his role as Rooster Cogburn in the remake of True Grit and he does quite a similar role here, boisterous, loud and strident at times, with a touch of humor.
By this stage, or earlier, most movie fans will be thinking that this is Men in Black RIPD-off. This time the men are not in black. In fact, on earth they have different appearances so that they are unable to communicate with their loved ones. Nick looks like an old Chinese gentleman. Roy is a more than glamorous young woman. The audience principally sees the two agents as they are, with some humorous moments when we see how the characters are perceiving them in their disguise, with appropriate and inappropriate responses.
Nick had a loving wife, Julia, but deceived her by burying some gold that had fallen into his and his partner’s hands. The partner is played slimily (literally at the end) by Kevin Bacon. We see him shoot Nick, play the sympathetic friend before he reveals his true self.
In between pursuing ‘deados’ with all kinds of special effects, climbing buildings, car chases, and exploding monstrous ‘deados’, as well as returns to Miss Proctor and her reprimands, they uncover a plot to gather together gold pieces to make and ancient column of gold which, when completed, would return all the dead back to earth where they could live forever.
Needless to say, this is not an entirely plausible plot! It is based on a comic novel and so feels free to do what it likes with life and death, police work from the afterlife, and mayhem in downtown Boston…
While the leads do their best, they don’t have such screen presence as Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, so there may not be RIPD 2. However, as an amusing pastime, it will entertain an undemanding audience.
US, 2013, 90 minutes, Colour.
Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, John Heard.
Directed by Brad Furman.
This is one of those thrillers which might have sounded well worthwhile on paper but that somehow doesn’t quite deliver on screen.
While the setting is gambling, casinos, and the gambling culture in the US and in Costa Rica, it is once again the story of the young man, ambitious, who overestimates his capacities and becomes the victim of someone he admires and then discovers is devious and an exploiter. Memories of such stories as the Grisham’s The Firm.
This time the young man is played by Justin Timberlake, a student who has a father with gambling addiction, who organizes online play at his college campus. Warned by the head of the college, he decides to go to Costa Rica to meet the man whom he considers the top of online and international gambling. He is played with suitable aplomb and ever-growing sinister behaviour by Ben Affleck. Also in the picture is Gemma Arteton who does become involved in the plot but seems to be there more for conventional decoration, and she doesn’t give a very lively or credible performance.
Anthony Mackie appears as one of the more ruthless FBI agents on screen in recent times, relentless in his pressuring of American young men who become involved with the boss and gambling types, who would be arrested as soon as they set foot on American Territory. Also in the mix is John Heard as the hero’s father, being set up to pressurize his son to do whatever the boss asks.
Our hero learns the way of the world in being smart and outsmarting opponents. Having been bashed, he then calls on the help of those who were his opponents but now want the opportunity to get back on the boss.
There are some dramatic moments at the end of the film, reinforcing the cleverness of the hero, especially in his outwitting the boss.
Just OK and watchable while it as on the screen, then out of mind and memory.
US, 2013, 132 minutes, Colour.
Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruehl, Alexandra Maria Lara, Olivia Wilde.
Directed by Ron Howard.
Any fan of Formula One will not want to miss Rush.
And for those who are not so keen or dislike it intensely, there is a human drama here amongst all the races and competitiveness which is of more than ordinary interest.
The focus of the film is on the Formula One races of 1976. The film has established both the characters of British James Hunt and Austrian Nicky Lauda. They both come from wealthy families and have fathers who disapprove of their choices of racing driving. However, they are independent-minded, stand up to their parent and decide that this is their vocation. James Hunt is the very British public school student who lives a privileged life - and rather exploits it in his partying and womanising. He has a group of friends who finance him in his move up the rungs towards Formula One. Lauda, on the other hand, invests money in racing companies and makes himself indispensable to them, especially with his engineering skills and his ability to work on cars to make them go faster.
Both coming on the scene at the same time brings an almost inevitable move towards the competitiveness - although it appears that they shared rooms initially, something omitted from the film to highlight the rivalry.
Chris Hemsworth who has proven himself a very reliable Thor in both the original film as well as The Avengers and the soon-to-follow new adventures of Thor. This time he has a fine opportunity to create a character and he does so with great aplomb. Daniel Bruehl is a very reliable screen presence in many films from Germany and Spain (he has parents from both countries) as well as in a number of English-language films. Hunt is handsome and debonair, Lauda is a driven and disciplined man in a severely Teutonic way, has some protruding teeth which, he acknowledges, makes him look rather rodent-like. However, whenever he looks like, he is a champion driver and absolutely determined.
The film then settles down to show the races of 1976. They are filmed with a pounding musical score as well as the inevitable noise volume of the cars, heightened by the sound engineering, so that fans will feel (and hear) that they are actually watching races in real life. The filming and editing of the racing sequences is expert, capturing all the excitement not only for an observer but with shots from inside the cars, the drivers’ take on the speed, the dangers, evading other cars, finding the gaps, as might be facetiously said, from their vroom with a view
Then comes the gruesome accident where Lauda is severely injured, especially in his face, which required some reconstructing. The film shows the pain he put up with in the process of healing, urged on by his watching Hunt on television beginning to catch up on point scores for world champion. Within weeks, the relentless Lauda is back on the track, determined to preserve his championship status from the previous year.
The film makes many points about the dangerous nature of Formula One at that time, Lauda organising a meeting of fellow drivers to ask them not to race because of the dangers. He is not a persuasive negotiator and they refuse.
Once back on the track, in the Formula One race in Japan, Lauda decides that the rain and wet track is too dangerous and withdraws from the race. Hunt perseveres in the very difficult circumstances and is able to achieve 1976 world champion status, by one point.
The film has an interesting gallery of supporting characters, especially from the different companies, and sponsors, indicating the background of finance needed to race Formula One cars. There is also some attention given to the human interest stories in the relationships of the two men. Profligate in his relationships with women, Hunt meets Susie Miller and impulsively decides to marry her. He is involved in his sport and partying life. She works in New York. The marriage is doomed, especially when she meets Richard Burton who leaves Elizabeth Taylor for the second time and marries her. The relationship between Nicky Lauda and his wife is much more serious, beginning with a humorous episode where she doesn’t believe he is a racing driver. When her car breaks down and two men give them a lift and are overawed that Lauda is driving their car. She is a strong-minded woman, allowing Lauda his passion for driving, not intrusive but very supportive.
We are informed at the end that James Hunt died at the age of 45 of a heart attack, and probably from very hard living. Nicky Lauda went into flight company work and established his own airline.
Two years ago there was a documentary on Ayrton Senna and his rivalry with Alain Prost, an intriguing and well-regarded film. But here is biography, semi-documentary, wiith a screenplay written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, The Audience, Frost/Nixon) and directed by Ron Howard, an expert in making films which are very popular, well-crafted. Howard is oone of the best Hollywood story-tellers (though no studio would finance this film and he made it with independent companies – with Lauda-like tenacity).
STORIES WE TELL
Canada, 2012, 108 minutes, Colour.
Michael Polley, Sarah Polley, John Buchan, Harry
Directed by Sarah Polley.
There is an ambiguous tone in the title of this film. We tell stories becaurse we enjoy storytelling. However, some of the stories we tell are not always true or accurate. This underlies this film about the actress-director, Sarah Polley.
Sarah Polley has a very fine reputation. She is a Canadian, born in 1979, in films and on television during her childhood. She made the transition successfully to adult actress and to film director: Away From Her and Take This Waltz. She is also the director of this ambitious documentary.
Sarah Polley was close to her father, Michael, especially after the death of her mother, Diane, a very lively, very extroverted actress. In home movie material and re-creations of events, Diane Polley makes quite some impact on the screen. After her death, the young Sarah spent her years at home with her father. She has some brothers and sisters, some from her mother’s previous marriage.
Randomly during meals, some of the brothers and sisters would comment on how she did not resemble her father. This suggested the question of whether Michael actually was her father. This leads to some searching, asking an actor from Toronto if, in fact, he was her father. Another candidate emerged, a producer, also from Toronto. In an important scene, Sarah discovers who her father really was. And experiences the effect that it had on Michael, who had cared for her as her father.
Sarah Polley herself does not intrude into the film even though it is about her. She assembles a group of relatives and friends and they agree, some of them rather nervously, to be interviewed. This includes the actor and the producer from Toronto. But it also includes her father who has written a text about his life and experiences and he records them as she photographs him doing so, sometimes asking him to re-read a line. His text, his investment in reading the text, and the revelation of what it means to him is a very moving part of the film.
There are many funny moments as her brothers and sisters reminisce. There are very many serious moments, of course, as they remember Diane, her personality, the impact she made, her death from cancer, the theatricality of her funeral.
The film is well-constructed, the inter-cutting of the interviews makes for interesting commentary and cross-commentary, different angles on revelations and memories, and all the time focusing on Diane and what all this means to Sarah.
For audiences who do not know Sarah Polley or her career, the film is strong enough in terms of creating characters, spotlighting their self-revelations, inviting the audience to share the experiences of this family, to identify with the experiences or, as observers, to be amazed at some of the repercussions. It is always interesting and affecting.
US, 2013, 96 minutes, Colour.
Voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Samuel L. Jackson.
Directed by David Soren.
Turbo, like Planes which was released the same time, is a film about an unlikely hero. While in Planes, the young crop duster is in a race around the world, Turbo’s ambition is to participate in the Indianapolis 500. And he does. And, like Dusty, he wins. Of course!
The film, however, gives new meaning to the phrase, snail’s pace.
Turbo is a snail. He is voiced by Ryan Reynolds. And he has a very cautious brother, Chet, voiced by Paul Giamatti. He doesn’t encourage his brother to follow his powers for racing (until the finale!).
However, Turbo finds a whole lot of friends who have all kinds of ultra-snail powers. When he comes to Indianapolis, they are there to support him, especially at the pit stops. Needless to say, there is a villain, a human car driver from Canada who gives very pleasant television interviews but, underneath, is a relentless opponent and does dastardly things to turbo during the race.
Turbo also gets a great deal of support from a young Hispanic man, who also has a reluctant brother, who joins with the group at the pits. He is voiced by Michael Pena and, amongst other snails, there is Samuel L. Jackson.
The animation for the races in Indianapolis his very effective. And, for Turbo, there is a great deal of stunt work. The race is dramatic, has some very exciting moments, has an ending with gridlock on the course, a relentless attempt to win by the villain and Turbo having to rely on his snail nature to get himself to the finishing line. An inspiration for us all to be a true selves when we are in competition!.
Not one of the great animation films, but should attract boys’ attention, as well as girls who are fans, and those who will find Turbo very cute.
THANKS FOR SHARING
US, 2012, 117 minutes, Colour.
Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Carol Kane.
Directed by Stuart Blumberg.
A film from Hollywood about self-control? Not likely. About self-control and sex? Even less likely. But, here it is, Thanks for Sharing. And a good film too. About sex addiction.
2011 saw Michael Fassbinder locked into sexual addiction in the deadly serious Shameless. Thanks for sharing alerts audiences to AA and 12-step programs. The central characters here are in such a program for sexual addiction.
Director and co-writer, Stuart Blomberg, takes a less deadly approach than Shameless. It has a lot of humour in it and its characters display greater humanity. It is well-written, taking us into the minds and feelings of its characters which leads to some sympathy, if not empathy, and some insight about the experience of sexual addiction. It takes us into meetings with the self-consciousness, the desperation, the listening, the support. It also shows us the demands made on sponsors: phone calls at low points, being direct with each other, and the strains when the sponsor is also an addict.
There are three central characters, very well played. The main focus is Adam, a business executive who appears competent and charming but has been wracked by past excessive behaviour and the constant temptations. He shows how self-control can be maintained but how fragile this can be. It is interesting to note that he and the others use the word ‘sober’ to describe how long they have been fall-free. Adam is played by Mark Ruffalo, sometimes intense, at other times mastering his situation. Some redemption appears in the form of Phoebe. Both are attracted to each other, enjoy each other’s company. She reveals she has had breast cancer. He cannot reveal the truth. Much of the drama of the film comes from his avoiding the situation and how each confronts the situation when it is revealed. Phoebe is played by Gwynneth Paltrow in a welcome return to the screen.
Adam’s sponsor, Mike, is played by Tim Robbins, with 15 years sobriety. A builder, he gives job opportunities to addicts to build up confidence but has to take responsibility when they crash. Joely Richardson plays his long-suffering wife. Particularly telling is the sub-plot with Mike’s son (a good performance by Patrick Fugit), alienated, some time in prison, returning to reconcile but falling foul of Mike’s dominance despite efforts to bond with his son. The scene where the son asks for an apology from his father for the treatment he received while Mike was so drunk is quite powerful, a reminder of an alcoholic parents responsibility for the damage to a child.
The third character is a young doctor, Neil (Josh Gad, Steve Wozniak in Jobs). His story begins somewhat farcically, being a boorish, overweight hitter on women. Mike doesn’t like him. Adam has difficulty in being his sponsor. He has the disadvantage of an overbearing Jewish mother (Carol Kane). However, his struggles and falls, his attempts to find self-control become more interesting, especially when he interacts with another addict, Dede (Alecia Moore/Pink), puts himself out to come to her help and she enables him to be better.
Most people know of sexual addiction from headlines where celebrities have gone into rehab. Thanks for sharing is an opportunity to get to know people and their addictions through their lives rather than through theory. These are middle-class people, to that extent ordinary. The tough struggle (illustrated more graphically towards the end of the film than earlier) dramatizes for outsiders to addiction what the experience, illness, can be like.
All bows are not neatly tied at the end, but the perspective is definitely one of help for others – and some hope.