SIGNIS REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 2014
HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, The
HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED, The
EXPENDABLES 3, The
GET ON UP
GOD’S NOT DEAD
INBETWEENERS 2, The
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
THESE FINAL HOURS
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY
US, 2014, minutes, Colour.
Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal.
Directed by Lasse Hellstrom.
The Hundred- Foot Journey is situated in France – where they don’t measure in feet and yards but have to translate anything metric for the commercially necessary non-metric audiences of the United States and Britain. No matter whether we use feet or metres, this is an entertaining film.
Statistics have indicated that television audiences are prone to watch programmes about food and cooking. This is a good reason to give up some hours of television watching because Hundred-Feet? Journey is a film about Indian cooking and about French cooking, with some most impressive visuals in the kitchen and on the tables of the restaurants a hundred feet apart.
The family of Mumbai are expert in providing the joys of Indian food in their native city but when riots occur with destruction, they decide that they need to migrate to Europe. They spend some time in London but find it too cold, especially as they try to live under the flight path into Heathrow, the plains zooming down very closely overhead. Off they go to the continent, driving through Switzerland and into France where they have a van breakdown – and the father of the family, played by Indian veteran actor, Om Puri, has an epiphany.
A derelict building, a failed restaurant, is on sale. He buys it and starts to fulfil his dream of an Indian restaurant in Europe. He discovers that there is a certain amount of racism and bigotry in France which threatens his restaurant. But the main threat comes from across the street, those hundred feet, from a one Michelen star restaurant owned and managed by the haughty French Madame Mallory (Helen, Mirren, in very regal mode with broken English accent).
The battle of the kitchens has its amusing moments, the screenplay poking fun at French snobbery and exclusivity of menu, and enthusiastically demonstrating the virtues (and odours and tastes) of Indian cuisine, so to speak.
The son of the family (is an expert cook – in the opening, he explains to passport control that he is a chef. His father is exceedingly proud of him. And he begins work at the Mumbai Palace.
At first, the rivalry is intense, Madame trying to do her best (and worst) to close the opposition down. But when antagonism from the locals turns ugly, she disapproves of the racism and begins, herself, to get rid of offending graffiti. And, as the end of Casablanca reminds us, “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”).
The chef son has a great desire to learn French cooking and he is accepted by Madame, more than proving his worth after her initial doubts. He is also attracted by Madame’s sous-chef, so there is nice romance, although it is tested when the young man achieves another Michelin star and is invited to chef in Parisian restaurants.
In the meantime, his girlfriend pines for him and begins to give up hope. Madame and the boy’s father share a very warm friendship. So, in the end, it is happiness for all, including the audience going out of the cinema feeling very good.
THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED
Sweden, 2013, 114 minutes, Colour.
Robert Gustafsson Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skaringer, Alan Ford.
Directed by Felix Herngren.
This is a title that a customer might have to memorise exactly while going to the box office, especially when this cinema is also screening The Hundred-Foot? Journey – even this reviewer, with clarity of diction, was given a ticket for the journey instead of the old man!
The novel has a strong reputation in Scandinavia. And local audiences there have enjoyed the adaptation. For audiences who haven’t read the novel, it probably won’t have the same impact. And the other difficulty would be the particularities of the Scandinavian humour (which another member of the audience stressed that she understood and enjoyed – and it may have been she who chuckled loudly throughout the film).
It is quite a wry story. Which means that it does have its amusing and funny moments, but it was not a hilarious experience.
While there is the contemporary story, the old man, Allan, played by Robert Gustafsson, turning one hundred after he has gone to a residence for the elderly, there are visits to his past. As they prepare his birthday cake, and re-count the candles, he does climb out the window and off he goes. The staff continue to search for him in the residence, the police also pursue him, one being interviewed by the media but, all in all, the film pokes fun at the ineptitude of the officers.
With a limited amount of money in his pocket, he buys a ticket to a small town – but an angry young man demands Allan look after his suitcase while goes into the toilet. But the bus arrives and so off Allan goes with the suitcase – which is the major development of the plot as criminals pursue him in Sweden, with orders by phone from their boss who lives in Bali. The case was full of money.
In the meantime, Allan has made friends with Julius and is introduced to a couple who are involved in a circus and caring for an elephant. There are some elephant jokes, a morbid one when one of the criminals looking for the money is crushed by the elephant. Another criminal is transported to Djibouti where he is killed by suicide bomber. It is that kind of film. Meanwhile, Alan is quite carefree and enjoying his liberty.
All this might have been amusing but there are various flashbacks to Alan’s life and his fascination with explosives. He is also preoccupied with screams, telling of his mother screaming when he was born, that he probably screamed back, that he screamed at his violent father, that he was put into an institution. That might have been enough but, in fact, he goes to Spain, encounters General Franco (very critical of his way of dancing, too feminine), is given the gift of a gun, then finds himself working on a skyscraper in Manhattan where he hears about the Manhattan Project and explosions and goes off to New Mexico where he meets Robert Oppenheimer and gives various theories for the successful exploding of the atomic bomb and is congratulated.
He is then recruited for the Soviet Union by a scientist, encountering Stalin but offending him and relegated to a gulag along with Herbert Einstein, who is the exact opposite, mentally, of his famous brother. After an explosion destroys the Pacific Fleet – which is the death of Stalin - he is in Paris in 1968, is in Washington DC in 1981, talking with President Reagan whose directions about a wall in his garden are taped and listened to by Gorbachev where they interpreted as a hostility towards communism. Unfortunately, this line of flashbacks just peters out. It would have been interesting to bring this train of storytelling to some conclusion, but no.
Back to the present, a gift of a flight to Bali, some more accidents and happy ever after (for however long) for Allan after his birthday.
US, 2014, 105 minutes, Colour.
Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Hailee Stansfield, James Corden.
Directed by John Carney.
Begin Again is written and directed by John Carney who had a great success with the Irish musical film, Once, which was then transformed into an award-winning Broadway musical.
Carney obviously likes songs, and is interested in those who write them, produce them, distribute them. So, this is a story about singers, musicians, producers and the recording of an album – which means that there are songs inserted every so often during the film, making it a musical but not musical comedy in the traditional sense.
The two stars, Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, work very well together.
We encounter both of them in a bar, he, Dan, drinking, she, Greta, sitting quietly, while her friend Steve (an enthusiastic James Corden) urges her on stage to sing her latest song. Nobody seems to be listening except for Dan who makes her an offer about her lyrics and the possibility of promotion.
Then we go into flashback, Mark’s story, his 18 year marriage to Miriam (Catherine Keener), is trying to be a father to his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Stansfield), the story of his founding a record company but his seven dry years without inspiration, listening to a string of demo tapes and flinging them out his car window in dismay, offering his opinion to the board meeting only to find that they are dissatisfied with him and oust him. Greta, meanwhile, has been five years in a relationship with a popular singer, Dave (Adam Levine, frontman of the group Maroon 5) who has an affair with his temporary manager, which dismay Greta who is about to return home to London when she is dragged on stage by her friend Steve, to sing her song.
That all sounds rather dismal. But the film is not dismal, audiences finding it rather cheerful, especially when Greta agrees to a recording of her songs for an album, Mark producing, and avoiding all the complications of studios by recording in a range of settings around New York City, in central Park, on a roof below the Empire State, under a tunnel, in a subway… Dan also recruits a range of musicians who have little employment but find it exhilarating to be part of this project. Steve enters wholeheartedly into the project.
There are still some personal complications, Dave not understanding how he could have entered into the affair, but his winning an award, and inviting Greta to come back – she sings a song with hostile lyrics on his phone, which challenges him. Greta also helps Violet, especially with her clothes and shopping, but invites her to play the guitar in one of the recording sessions. And then invites Miriam to be there for the recording.
The film has a nice ending, nothing absolutely conclusive on the personal side but an achievement with the record – and, something which those who download music will appreciate, the distribution of the record online at a lower cost!
Perhaps this film will work if you are in the right mood, but also have a love for popular music.
US, 2014, 164 minutes, Colour.
Eller Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke.
Directed by Richard Linklater.
Boyhood has become famous because of its making, a process of 12 years, persevering with cast and the changes in their lives.
Writer-director, Richard Linklater, greatly admired for his series of Before, Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight, and a career which has mixed documentaries with feature films, decided in 2002 that he would like to make a film about a young boy and trace his growth over 12 years from 6 to 18. He and his cast and his crew spent a week every year adding to the film, developing the story, exploring the characters, changing the development of the plot according to some aspects of the boy’s life. A reviewer reported that she had taken a friend to see Boyhood and that the friend was very impressed and asked how many actors had played the part of the boy. In fact, it is the same boy, Ellar Coltrane, developing his fictional life story over the 12 years.
As with so many of the other of Richard Linklater’s films, this is a Texas story. It captures the atmosphere of Texas, making the film a piece of contemporary Americana.
At the opening of the film, the boy, Mason Jr, is a friendly and likeable young lad. He lives with his mother, Grace, played by Patricia Arquette, a mother who makes bad choices in husbands and partners as is seen over the years. She has been married to Mason, again played over the years by Ethan Hawke, a frequent collaborator with Linklater, but they are separated, he wanting to travel and move around, still with some adolescent tendencies which make it difficult to relate to his son, even though he loves him.
As the years go on, Mason turns up at various times to see his son, take him out, trying to build a relationship with him. Mason Jr is not unwilling. And his mother, liking Mason, allows him to be with their son even though she is frequently exasperated with him. Mason Jr has a sister. She is played by Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei, who also changes substantially over the years, finally asserting herself in her adolescent years.
The family experiences a number of difficulties, especially when the mother marries a man who seems genial, lectures at college where she attends his courses, marries him and brings her two children to blend with his children from a previous marriage. All seems well until, as happens in so many of these marriages, he starts to be demanding, bullying, and is a drinker. While Mason and Lorelei have got on well with the other children, they have to get away suddenly and lose these bonds. Grace tries another marriage with a war veteran but the war has influenced his mental condition and his ability to relate to people.
However, the fascination of the film is to watch Ellar Coltrane, over the 12 years, as a little boy, growing up in school, his friends, clashes, the way that he has to fit into new families, the visits from his father, clashes with his mother despite his love for her, and into his adolescence in school. The film is rather reticent about his growth in his sexuality though he has girlfriends. Like so many of the young men of his time, he experiments with drugs, clashes with his family, wants to move out, has to plan his education – while discovering that he has a talent for photography. All in all, the processing progress of the story depends on a great deal of detail in the characters’ lives.
While some people have claimed Boyhood is something of a masterpiece, Linklater winning the prize for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival of 2014, others have wondered because they think that nothing really happens, little action and slow-moving. But this seems to underestimate the power of ordinary life, developments and challenges of a young boy and his moving into adolescence, the importance of family, finding one’s place in family, relating to parents, dependence and the move to independence and forming an individual character.
The film offers a fine opportunity for audiences, in a film running over 2 ½ hours, to watch human nature action and reflect.
Australia, 2014, 105 minutes, Colour
David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr, Luke Ford, Dan Wylie, Gary Sweet, John Brumpton, Bojana Novacovic, Ritchie Singer, Gary Waddell.
Directed by Rolf de Heer.
This is the third collaboration between director, Rolf de Heer, and celebrated aboriginal actor and dancer, David Gulpilil. The first film was in 2002, The Tracker. The second was the 2006 Ten Canoes, the dialogue in local languages. Now the focus is on the present, and spoken in aboriginal languages as well as in English.
The important thing is to focus on David Gulpilil himself. This film is particularly autobiographical. Since appearing in Walkabout when he was a teenager, David Gulpilil has had a marked career in films, Storm Boy, Made Dog Morgan, Crocodile Dundee, Rabbit-proof Fence, Australia. But he has also had a very difficult life, marked by alcoholism, domestic violence and, more recently, time in prison. The screenplay of Charlie’s Country, the collaboration between Gulpilil and de Heer, draws on all these experiences.
At the time of making the film, David Gulpilil was 60. He looks quite wizened, especially when, towards the end of the film, his hair, previously long, and beard are shaved. He looks like a very old man, wearing many deeper lines of age and experience. Which means that this performance is very courageous, allowing the limelight to be on himself and allowing audiences to know a great deal about his life-experiences.
Charlie lives in a settlement, a lean-to existence, with friends in the town, going into the supermarket to buy things, at the ATM with his credit card, family and friends asking him for money (which he gives) a blend of the traditional, the disruption to the traditional as well as to the realities of 21st-century life. Charlie goes hunting with a friend but the police confiscate their weapons. And then Charlie goes bush, going back in his mind and heart to the traditions, but he collapses and is taken to hospital.
The second part of the film is centred on Darwin, the hospital, shops and the buying of alcohol by those with cards (as Charlie has) but sharing it with the others in a settlement place in the Darwin parks. Ultimately, Charlie breaks out in anger and is arrested and imprisoned – with scenes of the monotony of prison as Charlie does laundry work, lines up (with overhead shots of the food) for meat pies, the pasta…
As with David Gulpilil in real life, Charlie has the opportunity to do something for others and chooses to train young boys in the ways of aboriginal dance and singing, a hopeful ending for this film.
US/Canada, 2014, 115 minutes, Colour.
Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Allessandro Nivola,
Directed by Atom Egoyan.
Based on the true story.
In 1993, three very young boys were assaulted and murdered in woods at the edge of the city of Memphis, Arkansas. There was a lot of talk about devil-worship, about Satanism and rituals, one of the accused of having an interest in these themes and a library with background books. The police were eager to close the case, focusing on three young men who were accused, neglecting other evidence. There were strong feelings in the city.
Veteran Canadian director, Atom Egoyan, makes his first American film, with a strong interest in the case, most especially in those involved in the defence. The screenplay has been written by Scott Derrickson and Philip Boardman, Derrickson the director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, and the New York police thriller, with possession and exorcism, Deliver Us from Evil.
This film has not been well reviewed, nor widely-released. The main reason seems to be that there were three very strong documentaries, entitled Paradise, which dealt at much greater length and with greater detail on the case, on the accused, on the judicial processes, on the aspects of Satanism. With such a thorough treatment, many who saw this present film thought it superfluous and were very critical of its seeming bias. However, for those who have not seen the documentaries, and are not familiar with the case, it makes very interesting viewing for those who like reconstructions and investigations of true crime.
We are introduced to the events through one of the boys, Stevie, going on a bike ride with his friends and going into the woods, with the promise that he would be back by 4.30 in the afternoon so that his mother (Reese Witherspoon) could go to work. Her husband (Alessandro Neville) tells her that the boy has not come home. It soon emerges that three of the boys have disappeared, although a voice-over of a little boy begins to tell us that he was there and what happened, tapes of a boy who claimed to have been there but was inventing the story as he was interviewed by the police.
The police investigate, people search through the night, but in the morning the naked bodies of the boys are found. Several of the teenagers in the town come under suspicion, one mentally disabled boy who confesses, then later retracts. Another boy is drawn in just by association. And the main accused, who suffers from mental illness and has been in an institution, becomes the main target because of his interest in devil-worship. There is another boy who might have been involved but who has immediately gone to California, is brought back, and fails a lie detector test during his questioning.
While the film focuses on the family, especially the parents’ grief, it introduces a central character, a private investigator with his own company who, pro bono, devotes his and his staff’s attention to examining the behaviour of the accused. He contributes this material to the defence counsel who find it very hard to do their work because of the presumptions and dogmatic decisions of the presiding judge (Bruce Greenwood).
The investigator is played by Colin Firth, a determined man in process of a divorce from his wife (Amy Ryan). He observes, he questions, he analyses evidence, lack of evidence. One of the reasons for taking on his work is that he is against capital punishment, the taking of three more lives in the city, and the harsh judgements made about them. He does make contact with Stevie’s mother and, as the film ends, gets from her some leads which might help the boys.
In a postscript to the film, it is explained that through a particular legal circumstance in Arkansas, the three convicted men were released in 2011. The film also offers suspicious indications about two of the fathers of the murdered boys, perhaps indicating devil-worship activity in the town at the time.
While it would be important for those interested in the case to see the three documentaries, they are not readily available, and this particular rendition would rouse interest in the case, the administration of justice, and the effect of the later release of the accused.
THE EXPENDABLES 3
US, 2014, 120 minutes, Colour.
Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammar, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz,
Directed by Patrick Hughes.
Apparently they are not expendable at all. With the original and now two sequels, they are obviously inexpendable. Although, arch-villain, Mel Gibson, says they should all be ‘deletable’. There is no obvious reason for the expendables not to go on and on – except for most of the casts advancing age!
Within minutes, Sylvester Stallone is leading his squad in an extraordinarily daring raid on a moving train, guns and helicopters blazing against him, to rescue Wesley Snipes (who, in a tongue-in-cheek nonchalant remark when asked about why he was in prison for so long, replies “tax evasion”). And that’s before the credits.
There are several missions throughout the film, all gung-ho, all weapons blazing, though with the contemporary nod to computer skills and hacking for defusing bombs with minimal deadlines, and an extraordinarily high body-count, especially in the final mission which culminates with tank and rocket fire, and an imploding building, from which, of course, the goodies escape, Stallone hanging on to an extension from a flying helicopter. But, of course, it is that kind of film and that is what the fans want (reports of millions of illegal downloads 10 days before the American release of the film).
Words came to mind during the preview: macho, belligerently bellicose, hawkish, invincible American action… But what also came to mind were the May-June? 2014 exploits of ISIS in Iraqi, a group going into the city of Mosul, their taking all the money out of the banks, rounding up citizens, bombardments and the execution of Shia military. Real life imitating the movies!
This is a film for a very masculine, macho sensibility – though one of the younger protagonists, the new expendables, is a big strong young woman who works as a bouncer at a fairly difficult club but who joins in the spirit of the expendables, though muttering several times in disgust, “men!”.
Arnold Schwarzenegger turns up as a military contact, along with offsider, Jet Li. Harrison Ford appears as a government suit but finally gets into the action himself, piloting a helicopter and letting fly with weapons.
With apologies to Cormac Murphy, this is definitely a country for old men.
It says something about Hollywood promotion that we know most of these performers just by their personal name: Sly, Arnie, Mel, Harrison, Jet, Kelsey, Wesley… For action fans, Jason Statham is instantly recognisable.
We expect this kind of thing from Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, and Wesley Snipes. When Stallone retires his expendables, he accompanies Kelsey Grammar on a search around the United States and Canada and Mexico for replacements. They are good, but do find themselves captured by the villain, Mel Gibson (as villain in last year’s Machete Kills and now as a despicable villain, Hollywood is giving work to Gibson but putting him in roles that elicit no sympathy from audiences).
This means a final mission to a fictitious former Soviet republic to rescue the young expendables.
Interestingly, the film was directed by an Australian, Patrick Hughes, who made a big impression with his contemporary variation on a Western story, Red, Hill. With this showing, and directorial flair, he shouldn’t be out of work for some time.
Australia, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Joel Edgerton, Tom Wilkinson, Jai Courtney, Melissa George.
Directed by Matthew Saville.
By definition, a felony is a serious crime. Because of the title of this film, audiences may be expecting a high-powered crime drama. They may well be disappointed because this is a very-low key but realistic treatment of a crime, an unintended careless knocking of a paperboy to the street with a car and the driver not immediately facing up to the reality, the responsibilities and the consequences.
But audiences might welcome the fact that this is a drama confined to suburban Sydney streets, characters being fairly ordinary, people one might pass in the street every day. This means that they can identify much more readily with the characters and situations, situations anyone could find themselves in unexpectedly.
Actually, the film does open with some police action, a raid in a warehouse, shots fired, the chase, arrests – and then the squad celebrating down at the local pub, pleased with an proud of their success. It is in the aftermath of the celebration that the accident occurs. While there are some moments of attention to other cases being investigated, including tracking down a man who has assaulted a young girl and has been supported in hiding by his girlfriend, finishing up in court. And there are further arrests consequent to the raid on the warehouse.
Most of the action, however, takes place with five central characters. Joel Egerton portrays the hero of the raid, escaping being wounded because a shot has hit his protective vest. It is he that has had the accident, bumping the paperboy in the dark at 5 AM, delaying momentarily to help and then not telling the full truth. Tom Wilkinson plays the chief detective, who has had some personal grief, is on the wagon, but has given his life to the police and continues intensely with the cover-up. Jai Courtney is the earnest young policeman, something of a righteous crusader, who is suspicious of the accident report, re-listens to the recording of the call for ambulance help; also becoming very sympathetic to the mother of the victim, going out of his way to help her, something which bewilders her. Melissa George plays Joel Egerton’s wife, made participant in the cover-up and facing the dilemma of whether her husband should admit the truth or should be more caring of her and his family.
This is a drama about conscience played in the context of ordinary day life, which means that the audience is challenged, perhaps more than usual, to test themselves and see where sympathies lie and what they would do in such a situation themselves. While conscience demands honesty, circumstances can untangle the motives for admitting responsibility or not. We also see that it depends on ultimate integrity as well as an emotional response to being guilty of such an accident, silence, and making peace with those who have been affected by grief.
US, 2014, 98 minutes, Colour.
Cuba Gooding Jr, William Sadler, Sharon Leal, David Rasche, Terrance Mann, Jubilant Sykes, Tony Sheldon.
Directed by Peter Cousens.
Freedom is a bold name and title for a film. The freedom, and the desire for freedom, portrayed here is that of the African- American slaves of the 19th century, the hardships of the transportation from Africa, the sales, the plantations and their owners, often violent and vicious, and the possibilities of escape through the Underground Railroad.
This is a very worthy film, a strong message about freedom, linked with the religious conversion of John Newton, author of Amazing Grace. While many audiences appreciate this kind of film, critics tend to be very cautious, not wanting to be identified with a religious-themed film, expressing over-sensitive remarks about the social and religious messages.
Be that as it may, many audiences would be very interested in the two stories in Freedom, that of the slaves in the 19th century and the story of John Newton in the 18th century. The two plotlines are intercut throughout the film, but brought together at the end where the main slave taking his family to freedom is the great grandson of a boy slave that John Newton gave his Bible to.
Cuba Gooding Jr has a substantial role, (different from the many straight-to-DVD action films in which he has appeared for so many years). He is also one of the executive producers of this film. He plays Samuel, who organises plans for his family’s escape, for his elderly mother, his wife (who is actually the daughter of the vicious plantation owner, mixed-race) and his son. And the film shows in some detail the various steps for escape via the Underground Railroad, the places travel to, the time taken, the wide range of dangers and difficulties even to the Canadian border and freedom, and the reality of legislation against anyone helping the slaves escape, the setting being the 1850s, not too long before Lincoln’s abolition of slavery.
The slaves on the plantation are helped by a Quaker, Mr Garrett, who helped slaves over many decades, to a refuge beyond the plantation, travel by cart and horse, risking road barriers with plantation-hands and guns, to a Quaker house and hiding, to escape on horseback, to hiding on a train in cotton bales, assisted by slaves, to the Mason- Dixon line where they are taken in by a theatrical troupe and helped across the line to meet the famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.
Life on the plantation is presented vividly, especially in the anger of the owner and his whipping of one of the slaves who risked his life to let the others go and was caught. Audiences will be moved by watching the experience as well as being informed on the realities of the Railroad.
And, intercut with this story is that from 100 years earlier, the story of John Newton. Newton had been in the Navy, had been flogged, had found himself put in charge of a slave ship – accepting the reality of the slave trade as part of Britain’s life. He is engaged to be married and his fiancee gives him a Bible with an inscription about freedom. We see Newton in Gambia, at the slave market, the branding of the slaves, their being put on the ships in cramped conditions, which leads to a number of deaths and illness. There is an educated slave, Isaiah, who has an influence on Newton and who consoles the young boy whose family had died – the great-grandfather of Samuel, escaping 100 years later.
Moved by the slaves, tormented by dreams and buffeted by a vast storm, Newton has something of a conversion experience and, on his return, after the wedding ceremony, he sings Amazing Grace – as do the descendants of the slaves in the 19th century.
The story of Newton and his influence on William Wilberforce was seen in the film Amazing Grace, a film to be recommended. Another film on Britain and slavery, social and political attitudes, which is worth seeing is Belle.
GET ON UP
US, 2014, 139 minutes, Colour.
Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Ackroyd, Viola Davis, Lenny James, Craig Robinson, Octavia Spencer, Tika Sumpter, Aunjanue Ellis.
Directed by Tate Taylor.
Get on Up is a movie portrait of the celebrated soul-singer, James Brown. He is played with great energy by Chadwick Boseman (who had the opportunity to portray another African- American icon on screen, baseball player of the 1940s, Jackie Robinson, in the film, 42).
This is a film for those interested in the popular music scene of the 20th century, especially in the United States and its influence beyond. James Brown was born in 1932 and died in 2006, his career spanning the second half of the 20th century.
Get on Up opens with a number of sequences over the time of Brown’s life, a bizarre episode at a consultant’s meeting in 1988 (later taken up and developed, a significant moment in Brown’s life), an awkward interview with a less-than-savvy white interviewer, as well as his going to Vietnam to perform for the troops in 1968. Then it is back to the 1930s and scenes from Brown’s childhood.
Some audiences have found this difficult, the moving frequently from one time period to another, with captions providing information about dates but with references to Brown’s song’s and their success. But the juxtaposition of episodes is a way of providing explanation of behaviour over the decades. There is also a difficulty for some audiences in trying to pick up all the dialogue of the film, especially that of Brown himself, with his Georgia accent and his rather harsh and screeching voice tone.
However, audiences will be able to put together, even though it is given piecemeal, the narrative of Brown’s life and career. He had a particularly harsh childhood, living with his mother (Viola Davis in another interesting and different performance), his father away for work but, on his return, a violent man who drives away his wife and will not let his son go with her. James learns something of music from his father, but eventually he is sent into town to live with his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer). One of the influences in this part of his life is going to church, hearing the music, experiencing the rhythms, movement and dancing, and being encouraged to develop his music. There is another powerful sequence where eight young boys are blindfolded, one hand behind their back, commanded to fight to the end – while the affluent whites watch from their balconies and a formally-dressed band plays.
By the 1950s, James is part of a band, taking every opportunity (even from Little Richard having a break during performance) to perform for the public. Brown is not a blushing violet, taking every opportunity to promote his band and himself, and had a talent for the business side. This leads to an audition, the making of an acetate record, being introduced to the King Recording company, being taken on by one of their agents, Pop (Dan Aykroyd), who persuades the boss who doesn’t understand Brown’s music, expecting verses and chorus for the definition of a song. The main crisis, as with any outstanding individual performer, is a company wanting him to perform without his backup and band. His closest friend, Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) does stay with him until it finally becomes impossible.
Brown’s personal life is rather in the background, marriage and children, a roving eye, divorce, a second marriage, more children.
The important thing, of course, is the music, the range of songs and lyrics, the particular style, not only singing but agility in dance rhythms, characteristic of him himself and his backup singers. The screenplay traces the years, the decades, highlighting a number of songs and their contribution to Brown and his success, his concerts, his growing audiences, his influence on younger musicians and singers. There is a scene where he performs in Paris in 1981 – which is also the time when Bobby Byrd has had enough and leaves him, commenting that he has always been alone.
The concert in Boston, and whether it should go on or not, after the death of Martin Luther King, shows Brown’s intelligence and shrewdness, quite an affecting sequence.
Audiences may remember that Brown spent some time in prison – and that is the situation for the 1988 encounter with the people at a meeting, Brown firing a rifle shot, driving off and being chased by police, and eventually finishing up in jail.
The film ends more peacefully with a reconciliation with Bobby Byrd and his wife and information that Brown kept performing until his death, into his 70s.
There have been a number of dramatic films about African- American musicians, including Clint Eastwood’s 1988 Bird, about Charlie Parker, and Taylor Hackford’s 2004 Ray, about Ray Charles.
GOD’S NOT DEAD
US, 2014, 113 minutes, Colour.
Shane Harper, Kevin Sorbo, David A.R. White.
Directed by Harold Cronk.
This is more a film for believers rather than being an effective means for change of mind or for conversion. It is a faith-based film from faith-based production companies – and, at the end, there is a very long list of court cases, federally and in various states of the US, where universities and colleges have been challenged because of their bans on the activities and meetings of Christian groups.
The plot is quite straightforward illustrating its title. A young man, Josh (Shane Harper), enrols at university for pre-law courses. He is interested in a philosophy course but is warned about the hard line of the lecturer. The lecturer is Professor Grandison (played by Kevin Sorbo who has spent a lot of his careers portraying invoicing Hercules in television films and series and in animated films – and who has weathered the years much more successfully than Arnold Schwarzenegger). The professor is anti-God, exceedingly hostile, not afraid to voice his opinions with some arrogance and who requires everyone in the class to write on a piece of paper, God is dead, and initially it and hand it in.
The point is that Josh hesitates, decides not to sign to the chagrin of the professor. Josh is to be allowed three 20 minute sessions after the lectures in order to make a case that God is not dead. At the front of the lecture room is a list of prominent thinkers of past and present who were or are atheists, including Richard Dawkins.
There is pressure on Josh to drop his case, his rather demanding fiancee walking out on him (perhaps lucky escape) and his parents disapprove. Nevertheless, he gets books from the library, reads to prepare, goes to church and encounters a sympathetic pastor, and, with some growing success, he makes his three presentations. It is here that the screenplay incorporates a lot of of philosophical, scientific and religious argument.
There are several sub-plots: a Chinese student who attends the course, meets Josh, listens attentively and is persuaded that God is not dead, shocking his Chinese father back home who is definitely not a theist; a young woman who visits her mother in a residence, the mother having dementia, turns out to be the girlfriend of the professor who is very controlling of her, which she resists, and professes her faith, and discusses things religious with the pastor; a young Muslim girl is taken to work by her devout father, she removes her veil when out of his sight, works in the canteen, hears Josh talking about his case – and then she is revealed as having been a Christian for a year and is ousted by her father; it is also the story of the pastor who wants to go on a break with his visiting African missionary friend, but his car and rental cars won’t ignite and he remains at home, encountering those in need – and hearing his African friend always saying, in every circumstance, God is good. The professor’s girlfriend has a very worldly brother, very successful in business, fulfilling all his desires, but who is grossly arrogant towards his girlfriend, a journalist who has been diagnosed with cancer. This brother does not want to visit his mother because of her dementia but, ultimately, does so and suddenly she makes a lot of very telling statements that have an effect on him.
This is one sequence which works particularly well dramatically, the mother saying all the challenging things, which might seem impossible – and then she turns to her son and asks who he is.
At times, the script is somewhat sermonising, which tends to alienate non-religious and unsympathetic audiences. To that extent, the film is preaching to the converted, a rather fundamentalist converted, who are wary about challenges to the Bible by science. This is where comments about challenges to such writers as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking are incorporated into the screenplay.
There is something of a shock ending for one of the central characters, a deathbed conversion so to speak, which does not work particularly well as drama but as a high-intentioned illustration that God is good, no matter what. Everyone ends up at a rally with a religious music group, The Newsies, singing and giving good counsel to the journalist with her cancer interviewing them.
A glance at the Internet Internet Movie Database indicates that there are over 400 bloggers commenting – a huge percentage of them expressing themselves in very hostile entries.
US, 2014, 88 minutes, Colour.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, Caleb Landry Jones, Eddie Marsan.
Directed by John Slattery.
The actual place, God’s Pocket, is not nearly as cosy as the title might suggest. It is a tough-looking location in the city of Philadelphia. The action takes place in the 1980s.
This is a particularly grim film, enabling the audience to peer into the life of a number of families in the area, their personal relationships, their work – with the touch of the criminal – and the violence and cover-ups which are part of the code of God’s Pocket.
It is with regret that we note that it is one of the last films of Philip Seymour Hoffman, a strong performance as always, father and husband, worker, small-time criminal, partly at home in God’s Pocket but reminded, when the chips are down, that he is not a native of the place despite years living there. He is still an outsider.
Christina Hendricks plays his wife. Caleb Landry Jones portrays her son, seemingly sympathetic as he goes off to work on a building site, but a loud-mouth with little respect for anyone, making racist jibes against a black worker. The old man gets a bar and hits the young man, killing him. His mother has a feel that the official report, that the young man was hit by a falling object, is a cover-up and urges her husband to find out. He makes enquiries, eventually does some confronting of the people concerned, but uncovers nothing.
He lists the help of a friend, Arthur (John Turturro) who has a number of connections, but the investigation takes a dour turn when local enmities erupt in violence.
There is some very black humour concerning the hijacking of trucks filled with meat and attempts to sell them to local bars and butchers, and the very mercenary funeral director (Eddie Marsan) refuses to conduct the funeral unless he is paid and puts the body waiting for burial out in the street. Then it is stowed in the truck which is involved in an accident, the corpse going hurtling down a hill…
The film as well acted, and audiences interested in the cast will want to watch it, but most people in real life as well is in the cinema may want to avoid spending time in the grim and glum God’s Pocket.
THE INBETWEENERS 2.
UK, 2014, 96 minutes, Colour.
Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas, Emily Berrington, Belinda Stewart- Wilson, David Field.
Directed by Damon Beasley, Iain Morris.
The synopsis for The Inbetweeners Movie described the four central characters as “socially troubled”. Publicity for films doesn’t usually go for understatement, but this is a case in point. They are definitely “socially troubled” and more, much more.
At one stage in this sequel, Jay is asked whether he is a moron. It is surprising that they needed to ask the question! Any impartial observer, or even a partial observer, would readily declare that Neil is definitely a moron – or worse. Simon has tendencies either way, often moronic, sometimes indicating that, deep down, he may have some common sense. While Will is not a moron – he continually wears his spectacles, even while swimming, and no matter what – he is definitely one of those “silly-ass” Englishman, educated accent, strong vocabulary, but prone to get caught up, because of his low self-image, in too many of the multi-moronic activities.
Audiences who have enjoyed the television series and wondered whether, because of television restrictions, it could have gone further in its gross-out episodes and language, will find a ready and frequent answer to their questions. The language is crass, not just in the swearing, but in the almost-perpetual obsession with sex and sexual activity (and a lot of false boasting there). and, if audiences are wondering about bodily functions, excrement, urine, vomit, then there is quite a bit, and often quite grossly explicit.
The main interest for Australian audiences is that the four find their way to Australia, Jay has come in search of his lost love (since Australia is an island he was under the misapprehension that if you went down to the shops he would run into her), pretending that he has an important job in a hotel (whereas he is really supervising the toilets). With boastful messages and phone-images to the other three about his beyond-Lothario sexual activities (visualised explicitly for the audience in case they did not understand what he was talking about). The other three are having problems of their own, impulsively deciding that they should come to Australia.
When they arrive and discover the truth, they find that Jay is camped out in a tent on his uncle’s lawn. Australian actor David Field is the main Australian contribution to the film, apart from the locations, and is no mean contributor to crass language and suggestions.
The tone of Neil’s moronic capacities is quickly observed when he mistakes the Opera House for an alien craft. Then, where else should this kind of British tourist go but to Byron Bay and a water theme park. Plenty of opportunities for malfunction here, especially Neil feeding a dolphin with fast food and its quick demise. Will is beguiled by a school friend who is a tour guide and he think she is in love with him. After some disillusionment, he flies from Byron Bay/Ballina airport directly to Birdsville and chases his friends who have driven there to find the long-lost love. The final comedy is their being stranded in the desert, no idea of the size of Australia, no idea of traffic on the Birdsville track, no water, no petrol, thinking that they were dead and ready to give up the ghost when they are rescued and are told that they have been out there for two hours!
So, there are some amusing moments of course, but a lot of the characterisation, dialogue and episodes are quite crass and tawdry.
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
US, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Eileen Atkins, Simon Mc Burney, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Catherine Mc Cormack.
Directed by Woody Allen.
Since 1979, one of the annual events for a film reviewer has been the preview of Woody Allen’s new film, sometimes with two in one year. He has been one of the most prolific American directors as well as having a career in acting. So well-known as a comic, valued for his one-liners, he has also explored the meaning of life, the presence and absence of God, the nature of belief and unbelief, often putting this kind of questioning into the character that he plays.
The 2014 annual event is a quiet pleasure, not a full on comic drama like his previous film, Blue Jasmine, but a pleasant-key, sometimes tongue-in-cheek romantic comedy.
One of the difficulties of Woody Allen being so prolific is that critics and his fans tend to spend a lot of their time making comparisons between his films rather than focusing on the film on view.
This film is very stylish, opening at a theatre with a magic performance in Berlin, 1928, and a brief scene in one of those cabarets with a song by Ute Lemper. But then, it is off to the south of France, lovely countryside, the Mediterranean coast, the mansions of the rich.
The central character, Stanley, played by Colin Firth, world-renowned magician using a Chinese name and Chinese clothes and decor, is tempted by his friend, Howard (Simon Mc Burney), to expose a young woman, Sophie (Emma Stone), who passes herself off as a medium, having vibrations to discern the facts about the past and intimations of the future as well as conducting seances. It is a great challenge. He is an arrogant man with a fair amount of disdain for others, and fancies of his reputation for exposing fakes.
At the house in France is an interesting array of characters. Jacki Weaver (who must be continually offering prayers of thanksgiving for the many international roles she has gained since the award-winning performance in Animal Kingdom) is a widow who owns a mansion, living there with her son Brice (Hamish Linklater) who is in love with the medium. He is a genial enough young man, a touch of the foolish, wooing Sophie, the medium, by playing Jerome Kern songs on his ukelele.
It is Emma Stone’s Sophie who demands audience attention as well as that of Stanley. He is unimpressed by her seance, but puzzles about mysterious aspects and her knowledge of thing she could not possibly know. She is accompanied by her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) who is in the background, planning funding for a foundation for research, but, unfortunately, having very little to do in the action. Much more dominating with her presence is Eileen Atkins as Stanley’s aunt, an amusingly strong performance, especially towards the end when she surreptitiously guides his thinking with what seem to be suggestions but which are designed towards his making a final choice about his life and romance. (Had I been second director, I would have liked Sophie to be sitting in the armchair at the end of the film – you will see what I mean.)
There is something rather strange about having the Woody Allen lines spoken by Colin Firth with his clipped British accent, but many of the lines are those we have heard from Woody Allen himself. Stanley is a rationalist, of the British uptight manner, touches of Noel Coward, but nevertheless he has many Allen lines about the meaning of the world, the meaning of life, the possibilities or not of prayer, the role of God. Some critics and audiences, charmed by the pleasant surface of the film, have decided that there is little depth in it – perhaps they have missed the depth because of the manner of delivery and the Firth tone and voice. (One aspect of the dialogue that should be commented on favourably is that, while Allen has been using a great deal of seemingly unnecessary coarse language over the last 15 or more years, Magic in the Moonlight is refreshingly free of this, no swearing within earshot).
This time the film doesn’t have the wide scope of the excellent Midnight in Paris or the dramatic tension of Blue Jasmine. Nevertheless, it takes its place comfortably in the Woody Allen cannon and provides pleasing enjoyment for fans and audiences.
US, 2013, 112 minutes, Colour.
Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt.
Night Moves is a drama that could divide audiences. A smaller audience will be impressed by the themes and the very measured treatment of issues and characters. A larger audience will find the film far too slow, no adrenaline-pumping, and will be bored.
The reason for the different perspectives audiences is the director herself, Kelly Reichardt. She has made comparatively few films, but there have been critically well-received, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and a film which drew much more favour from audiences as well as critics, the story of a pioneering group moving west in America in the 19th-century, Meeks Cut-off. Kelly Reichardt is a contemplative director, in no hurry, shooting tracking sequences which are very long, other shots dwelling on characters and nature, and a very low-key musical score, quietly instrumental, especially with piano. She is also her own editor, determining the lengths of the shots and the pace of editing. It is easy to understand why she has only a cult following.
This is an echo-protest story. The audience is immersed directly into the plot rather than given any explanations about the central characters, their motivations for protest, their going into dramatic action. We see them contemplating a dam and the water spill. We see them going to the screening of a film about the environment and the destructive threats, with something of an apocalyptic touch, while the director urges her audience to perform small and significant protest-action.
The two central characters, Josh, Jesse Eisenberg doing his expected quiet and jittery performance, and Dena, Dakota Fanning now an adult actress after her years of child-star success. The third member of the group is a former marine, who spent some time in prison, Harmon, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Time is spent watching Josh and Dena bargaining to buy a boat which they will use, packed with explosives. Harmon is the coordinator of the action, which requires Dena to go into a store buy 500 pounds of ammonia fertiliser, resisted at first, but finally persuading the salesman with the help of some friendly locals.
The action scene is, in fact, minimal. the trio simply sail to the dam wall, leave the boat, packed with explosives, paddle canoe to shore – but with some tense moments as a car pulls up in the distance. We look at the car and the man from the same distance as the trio. They decide to go back to disarm the bomb, but the man finally drives away and, mission accomplished.
After the action, the film slows again to its meditative pace, even though Josh is nervy. Dena becomes more frightened and reclusive, some minimal contact by phone with Harmon. With news of a fatality, the impact is stronger for both Josh and Dena.
There is a shock sequence which will leave audiences wondering about Josh and his character – and then the film just stops, dramatically, leaving the audience with issues about empathising with the characters, with their action, or not. The film leaves the audience with numerous challenges and numerous questions about the environment, about protest, about “theatrics” rather than solid demonstration.
Australia, 2014, 97 minutes, Colour.
Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor.
Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig.
Predestination used to be a theological term (well, it still is in religious circles). It was associated with John Calvin and his theology, of God’s grace to some predestined people, and the sign of their grace and predestination shown by their prosperity in this world. This concept developed in the United States and is part of the belief in manifest destiny that America rules unless it falls from grace and has lost its predestination – symbolised in the experience of Richard Nixon, his claiming his authority and presidency until he was exposed and lost his predestination.
This is a film with an American setting, an American consciousness, much of the action taking place in Boston. But it should be added that this is an Australian film, made in Melbourne, re-creating the American atmosphere, totally convincingly.
Some audiences may have the religious meanings of predestination in mind when they watch this film but they soon have two readjust their understanding of the word. It is used here in a secular context, a focus on human fate and destiny, and the mysteries of human nature. Because the plot entails complex time travel, this makes the challenge to understand the meaning of the film and the presentation of the characters much more interesting, even though continually puzzling.
The film is based on a short story, All You Zombies, by Robert A. Heinlein, author of such stories as Starship Troopers, The Puppet Masters. It has been adapted for the screen by twin brothers, the directors Michael and Peter Spierig. Their previous film was an arresting vampire film, Daybreakers.
They have brought the star of Daybreakers, Ethan Hawke, to be one of the two central characters in Predestination. He first appears as a bartender in the 1970s but it is revealed that he is a time traveller, an agent used by a bureaucracy for police work and the prevention of crime. His main task is to prevent a massacre in 1975 by a murderer nicknamed The Fizzle Killer. We see The Bartender moving from one time to another – and it is finally revealed that he does much more travel than we had initially expected.
The other central character whom we also meet in the bar, talking to The Bartender, is a character called in the cast list, The Unmarried Mother. This is a name which does not do justice to the complexities of the character, especially as we first see her as a man, revealing that she has had sex change surgery. And she is somehow or other involved in the quest for The Fizzle Killer.
Her time travel is portrayed in flashbacks. As a little girl, she was taken by a mysterious stranger and left at the door of an orphanage. She grows up there, as a girl, but a feisty one, especially in conflict with fellow orphans and authorities. She goes to college, falls in love, has a child (The Unmarried Mother). But then, her inner identity as male comes to the fore and she undergoes the surgery.
It must be said that The Unmarried Mother is played by Sarah Snook (Sisters of War, Not Suitable for Children, These Final Hours). It is an excellent performance (both as female and as male), totally convincing, award-worthy.
A review is not meant to be a synopsis of the film and enough indications have been given here to suggest the tone of the film rather than detail the plot. Predestination definitely needs to be seen, to be able to comprehend the meaning of the time shifts, the growing identification of The Bartender with The Unmarried Mother, the quest for The Fizzle Killer and the revelation of who the killer is.
Audiences will enjoy the relativity of times and spaces. They will be intrigued by the central characters and their interactions. And there are a lot of philosophical implications in the presentation of human nature, fate, destiny – and whatever predestination means.
Korea, 2014, 126 minutes, Colour.
Chris Evans,Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Kang-ho Song, Octavia Spencer, Ewan Bremner, Ah-sung Ko, Allison Pill.
Directed by Joon-ho Bong.
Snowpiercer is quite striking film, receiving strong critical acclaim.
The actual Snowpiercer of the film is a train with a vast number of carriages, continually travelling around the world, through landscapes, over bridges – but the world has frozen and it is now 2031 and survival is only for those only in the train.
This is really an international film on many fronts, perhaps enabling it to be appreciated in a wide range of countries throughout the world. It is based on a French graphic novel and has been adapted by its Korean director, Joon-ho Bong, whose past films (like Mother, The Host) have, to say the least, many bizarre characteristics, plotlines and characters. And the cast is also international, Americans Chris Evans, as leader of the revolutionaries from the back of the train, and Octavia Spencer as the mother of a little boy who is taken for cruel purposes in the running of the train. Britain is represented by Jamie Bell as the leader’s second in charge, by John Hurt as the guru amongst the revolutionaries and by Tilda Swinton, almost unrecognisable in look and voice as she was in The Grand Budapest Hotel, as the link between the poverty at the back of the train and the wealth and comfort at the head of the train. Ed Harris also appears towards the end of the film. Korea is represented by Kang-ho Song as an expert on opening the doors to successive carriages.
In one sense, the plot is fairly straightforward. Since the beginning of the train’s run fifteen years earlier, there has been a group of poor survivors at the back of the train, crammed into their carriages, clothes deteriorating, and a strange block of food to be cut up, providing minimal protein. There have been some revolutionary uprisings in the past – but, now, it seems is the right time for a new revolutionary movement. Chris Evans as Curtis, who has some dark shadows in his past, is reluctant to be the leader, despite his being encouraged by Gilliam, the guru who has sacrificed one of his arms in the struggle for freedom. Curtis is supported by the wilful and often headstrong Edgar, Jamie Bell.
While the revolution is being prepared, there are visits from the front of the train, a big blonde woman who measures up children and takes away those she has chosen – with a later revelation of the ugly consequences of her action. There is a visit from Mason, the bizarre intermediary between the proletariat in the back and the wealthy in the front.
A lot of the film is taken up with the progress of the revolutionaries, not without some gun battles and a high body count of the soldiers and of the revolutionaries, as they move forward from carriage to carriage, discovering different aspects of the carriages, including a water carriage, an Arboretum carriage, a school for the wealthy, arrogant children, a club car for socialites.
Eventually, there is a climax as they come to the door of the carriage where the owner is ensconced – as we have heard from the beginning of the film. It is in his carriage that there are many revelations about what is happening, about what has happened, and what the future might entail.
The film is intriguing in its plot to say the least and impressive in its unfolding of its story, development of its characters, indication of themes of post-apocalyptic oppression.
Having said that, with the Korean director’s interest in bizarre aspects of plot development, it is important to note that with the many violent sequences, Snowpiercer is not for the faint hearted audience.
THESE FINAL HOURS
Australia, 2013, 87 minutes, Colour.
Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice, David Field, Lynette Curran, Sarah Snook, Jessica de Gouw, Daniel Henshall.
Directed by Zak Hilditch.
These Final Hours are, in the film, literally humanity’s final time before the absolute destruction of Earth.
The film works well in the apocalyptic genre, offering a plausible end of the world, a meteor crashing into earth setting off an ever-increasing fireball that destroys the northern hemisphere, Africa and is headed, finally, to Australia. Audiences interested in this kind of film will have in mind the basic core plot of Neville Shute’s On the Beach. There are many differences, this film is more focused on the final hours alone – though it does finish on the beach. Another recent film with this theme is Searching for a Friend at the End of the World with Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley.
The challenge of the film to its audience is to ask what we would do if we had only a few hours to live. The central character, James, played well by Nathan Phillips, is a self-centred man. At the opening, we see him sexually involved with his girlfriend, discovering that she is pregnant, but nevertheless leaving her and going to see another girlfriend at an end-of-life party. He is an Everyman character, but seemingly a less than worthy one. He takes his car, driving to the party, a device which enables the audience to see what is going on in the streets and how people are responding.
One thing that makes an effective impact is that the setting is Perth, ordinary suburban streets, the car passing by very comfortable homes which now are empty, still looking realistic despite what is going on. Most audiences can identify with this setting. The streets are not crowded, though there are bodies lying on the street, one hanging from a light pole, a group of with their Bibles praying in the street, some predators attacking a little girl…
It is this episode the challenges James’s conscience. Reluctantly, yet willingly, he goes to the rescue of the little girl, confronting the brutal predators and killing them. He takes the girl, Rose, who wants to go to find her father. James is still somewhat unwilling but goes to the local ice rink where her father is not to be found, and she asking him then to take her to her aunt’s place where her family were to gather. But, James still wants to go to his party.
The party is a conventional scene of loud music, young people dancing, sexual activity, some of it orgiastic. James leaves Rose with the partyers, and teams up with his other girlfriend, Vicky, who has been looking forward to spend a sexual end of the world with him. He meets up with his friend, Frank, the host of the party who ultimately does not understand James’s altruistic decisions. After disillusioning Vicky that the bunker she and Frank have prepared will not save them from death, she lets him go. In the meantime, there is a woman, mentally deluded by grief and drugs, who thinks that Rose is her daughter and gives her a pill which has a terrible effect on the little girl. This reinforces James and his decision to save Rose.
The final part of the film is, indeed, very sad. Rose finds her family but in tragic circumstances, deciding to stay, that this is the right place for her at the end of the world. James visits his mother, a low-key visit, with a fine cameo performance by Lynette Curran. She is going to stay in her home, quietly doing her puzzles until the end comes.
Which leads James back to where he started, to the girlfriend, seeing the enormous furnace in the sky which is devouring earth, the culmination of these final hours.
Not a film for everyone, rather disturbing in its way. But it is an interesting contribution to the ever-popular apocalyptic imagining of the end of the world.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
New Zealand, 2014, 86 minutes, Colour.
Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori González- Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Jackie van Beek, Rhys Darby.
Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
The important part of the title is not the “shadows” but the “we”. “We” are, in fact, dwellers in Wellington, New Zealand, but vampires! Migrants from Europe, they found New Zealand a peaceful place to which to migrate and settle. Further, in fact, there are many witches, groups of werewolves as well as vampires peacefully living as citizens of the New Zealand capital. At least, that is what this film claims.
And who would think up such a scenario? The answer is Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. The two of them are very talented Kiwi writers, directors and actors. Waitit directed The Flight of the Conchordes and directed the moving New Zealand film about a Maori boy, Boy. Clement has acted in The Flight of the Conchordes as well as a number of American films including Men in Black 4 and gives his distinctive voice to the villain, Nigel, in the Rio films.
It is hoped that nobody is taking this too seriously. This is a comedy, and quite a funny comedy it is, plenty of rollicking jokes, deadpan verbal humour, and a smile on the audience’s face throughout the whole film. It is a very good example of the mockumentary genre, even with old-fashioned title-images from the New Zealand documentary unit of the past. It is Un- Reality TV!
Viago (Waititi) is the host for the documentary, welcoming the camera crew into his house, a flat which is shared with three other vampires. They are of varying age, the age of Viago himself almost 400, but they also have a resident in the basement, Petyr, several thousand years old and the image of the famous Nosferatu. We are soon at the kitchen table because Viago has called a meeting to discuss the roster for the chores, to criticise The Deacon, for avoiding his responsibilities and not wanting to wash up – but he is soon at the kitchen sink washing up bloodstained crockery. It is that kind of film.
Viago is a very pleasant host, working very well with the camera crew who seem to be in on every scene (no matter how impossible). A lot of amusing episodes within the flat. However, the vampires want to go out on the town and, not having any appearance in mirrors, they are not sure how properly they addressed – they are not, very old-fashioned. And often they are not allowed into clubs. Sometimes on the way they encounter a group of young men who turned out to be the local werewolves.
It does become a bit complicated when a young man, Nick, is invited into the flat and at the end of the evening is bitten and transformed. He thinks this is something of a hoot, giving him definitely a better lifestyle, and he has no hesitation in telling everybody what has happened to him. This does arouse the interest of a vampire hunter who comes to the house and wreaks a bit of devastation.
The other principal character is Stu, a rather silent, all laconic, passive young man, an expert in IT, who is able to introduce the vampires to the Internet and working on their laptops. This is especially the case for Vladislav (Clement) who has been disappointed in love, referring to his former partner as The Beast.
There is another entertaining character, Jackie, who desperately wants to be transformed but who is a vampire slave, doing all the cleaning and tidying up in the flat. She has no hesitation in talking to camera and explaining everything.
We have been told at the beginning that there is a big social event coming up, where all vampires, werewolves and local witches turn up for dancing. There are some climactic moments, especially with The Beast and some of the guests at the social taking a dim view of Stu gate-crashing, being an ordinary human.
And, in the appropriate words of Shakespeare, all is well that ends well! Quite a different entertainment.