SIGNIS REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 2016
ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, THE MOVIE
FREE STATE OF JONES
HEAVEN ON EARTH: AS IT IS IN HEAVEN 2
HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
LIFE ON THE ROAD/ DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD
LOUDER THAN BOMBS
ROMEO & JULIET/ KENNETH BRANAGH’S ROMEO & JULIET
SECRET LIFE OF PETS, The
TRAIN TO BUSAN
ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, THE MOVIE
UK, 2016, 91 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawahla, Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield, Mark Gattis, Graham Norton, Kathy Burke, Celia imrie , Robert Webb, Stella Mc Cartney, Kate Moss, Emma Bunton, John Hamm, Jeremy Paxman, Rebel Wilson, Jean -Paul Gaultier.
Directed by Mandie Fletcher.
Comedy is always a matter of taste as well as of a sense of humour and particular sensibilities. In the 1990s, there was great enthusiasm for the British television series, Absolutely Fabulous. It was in the satirical tradition, spoofs and send ups in an elaborately stylised way. it always depended on audience response to the comedy of Jennifer Saunders, a clever writer responsible for the series, and the over-the-top of Joanna Lumley’s screen presence and calculated exaggerations. capital is a great opportunity to poke fun at the British chattering classes and their pretensions. There was also Julia Sawahla as Jennifer Saunders’ very serious daughter, comic touches from Jane Horrocks as the assistant and some cameos from veteran actress, June Whitfield, as the mother.
So, somebody decided that this particular time was right for the characters all turning up again – and all of them do, Jennifer Saunders as Edina, older and, she comments, having put on weight, Joanna Lumley as Patsy all over again, an older Julia Sahwahla, now with a young daughter, and Jane Horrocks’ Bubbles ebullient as ever.
But, what are they going to do about a plot? Edina is still an agent but on the lookout for clients, Patsy is always there, drinking, smoking, irrelevant comments, but a staunch friend. The basic idea for the film is that they go to a fashion show – with a whole lot of actual celebrities all turning up for their cameo minutes, especially Lulu who gets into the plot and designers like Stella McCartney?. And very amusing episode with Mad Men’s John Hamm. The main target is Kate Moss but Edina’s rival, played by an unscrupulous Celia Imrie, is also interested in signing up the model – and in the haste Kate Moss goes over the balcony into the Thames, disappears, is presumed dead, media uproar, the besieging of the house, and Edina accused of murder.
So, what else to do but to have the two women disguised and escaped to the French Riviera where they live the high life, always shrewd in extracting money and favours, especially with Patsy looking up an old flame, an old roue who made “adult” films – and, though it takes only a moment, we recognise he is being played by Barry Humphries. A few moments later with a lot of elderly people in a swimming pool, Dame Edna also pokes her head out of the water for a few unmistakable seconds!
There are a whole lot of shenanigans on the Riviera, Edina taking her granddaughter as a ploy, her daughter pursuing her, the police – and again, a number of cameos of celebrities, including Jean- Paul Gaultier doing a bit of prospecting on the beach. And rebel Wilson doing a very funny turn as a flight attendant on a very cheap airways.
It will depend on your sense of humour, on your liking for Absolutely Fabulous, and the realisation that it is not a rip-roaring comedy but that there are a lot of amusing situations, some amusing lines, and, mostly, the opportunity to see Edina and Patsy all over again.
US, 2016, 101 minutes, Colour.
Mila Kunis, Kristin Bill, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jay Hernandez, Annie Mumolo, Clark Duke, Wendell Pierce.
Directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.
When the title of an American comedy includes the word ‘bad’, we might expect some crass goings-on, some raucous episodes in language, sexual innuendo (as well as explicit). Which is what we get here – although, there are quite a number of good ingredients, some redeeming features that are not to be found in the Bad Neighbours or Dirty Grandpa films.
Of course, it all depends how you define ‘bad’. Since this is a film about Moms, and is on the side of the busy and harassed Moms, then the meaning of bad is relative. We are treated to a great deal of how busy many Moms are, not being able to rely on their husbands (who tend to be bossy or lazy or both), how they have to attend to every need of the children – and there is a wise section of the film where Amy, Mila Kunis, the principal Mom, is exasperated with her daughter and her complaints, her son and his expecting her to do everything, even his homework, explains to her son that he has been spoilt and feels that he is “entitled”. (This kind of dialogue needs to be something regular in many of the American films with precocious and obnoxious and demanding children!)
Amy confides in us that she has been late ever since she gave birth to her daughter and has been running late ever since, in the mornings, getting the kids to school, going to work in a coffee company where she is not really appreciated and most of the staff are young and juvenile, taking the kids to sports, to music practice, putting the evening meal on the table… When she goes to school, she encounters three mothers who are part of the PTA, Christina Applegate as the truly obnoxious Gwendolyn, nasty in manner talk, determined to be re-elected president of the PTA, and her two acolytes, Jada Pinkett-Smith? and at Annie Mumolo, two yes-women.
Things get worse, especially when Amy finds that her husband has been having a pornographic affair on his computer and ousts him. One night, exasperated, she goes to a bar and meets Carla (Kathryn Hahn,) and another mother, Kiki (Kristin Bell). They drink too much, Carla is sex-obsessed, they let their hair down and run amok in the supermarket. This is a turning point for Amy, realising that she has been too much of a “good” mom and now determined to step back, let everyone takes their own responsibilities.
Humiliated by Gwendolyn, who has strict rules forcibly observed about healthy ingredients for the School Bake and influences every word in the school, the principal and the sports coach, Amy decides she will stand for president of the PTA – what follows is a raucous campaign, Gwendolyn boring the mothers to tears with long campaign speeches, and Amy providing a party at her house and the refugees from Gwendolyn’s party all turning up. Gwendolyn uses some dirty tricks in her campaign, Amy is called in by the principal because drugs have been found in her daughter’s locker and Amy gets disheartened. But, urged on by Carla and Kiki, she arrives just in time to make a speech, urging the liberation of Moms, everyone supporting her and…
So, there is a lot of unnecessary crude language inserted too frequently, there is a lot of sex talk, especially about men and performance, but there are also a lot of good things. And, the ending is more forgiving rather than vindictive. A special bonus is that the five principal actresses are shown during the final credits sitting with their own mothers, the women discussing their childhood and how they were brought up by their mothers.
US, 2016, 123 minutes, Colour.
Jack Huston, Toby Kebble, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black- D' Elia, Moises Arias, James Cosmo, Morgan Freeman.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
A production team would have to feel very self-confident in taking on a remake of Ben Hur. The immediate comparison is the 1959 version, directed by William Wyler, starring a rather iconic Charlton Heston (who had already impressed as Moses in The 10 Commandments), winner of 11 Academy Awards, running for over three hours… This version was itself a remake of a 1925 epic, chariot race, Jesus scenes and all but able to be superseded in the 1950s by sound and colour. (For those who subscribe to Foxtel, the TCM channel regularly screens both versions.)
Unfortunately, this version has not found favour with film critics which seems to have had some dire effects on its box office success. A pity because many audiences would enjoy it, not as much as the 1959 version, but many interesting aspects nonetheless.
A major difference is that the daring Russian director, Timur Bekmambetov (action films like Wanted) has opted for a spectacular film. This makes us realise that the aims of the 1959 version were to make an Epic. if so, this version is spectacular but not epic.
For a Christian audience, the 1959 version kept the subtitle from General Lew Wallace’s novel, “A Tale of the Christ”. This film omits that subtitle. Nevertheless, there are a few more sequences with Jesus in this version than in the previous film, some original version, the two water scenes a variation on what appeared in 1959. That version had the advantage – or disadvantage – of the times, permitting the audience to see only Jesus’ arm, Jesus’ hand giving the water, or Jesus filmed from behind staring at the Centurion. This time, a recognisable actor appears as Jesus who also speaks. He is played by Brazilian actor, Rodrigo Santoro. He is a strong presence, tall, seen working as a carpenter, but not as intrinsically empathetic as one might like, rather stern and serious.
Jesus is first seen in Jerusalem, working as a carpenter, speaking about love and forgiveness to Ben Hur and Esther. He makes an impact on Esther who becomes a disciple. He is also seen rescuing a man who is being stoned, covering the man with his body and being pelted with stones himself. There is an arrest in the garden of Gethsemane with Peter wielding his sword. in the 1959 version, Jesus gives water to Ben Hur during his march through Nazareth with Ben Hur reciprocating during the Way of the Cross, recognising Jesus as he did so. This time, the action is in Jerusalem, Ben Hur arrested, being marched through the streets with a wooden yolk on his neck, falling and Jesus, defying the soldiers, giving him water. When Jesus is making his way to Calvary, the cross on his back, Ben Hur recognises him and gives him the water. There is also a crucifixion scene with Jesus speaking out his forgiveness, followed by rain, Ben Hur kneeling and praying, his mother and sister healed of their leprosy this moment.
But, of course, the popular audience has gone to see the action spectacle, opening with a glimpse of the final chariot race and the antagonism between Judah Ben Hur and Massala, his adopted brother, and flashbacks to their riding through the desert, Judah having an accident, thrown from his horse, and Massala carrying him home. Actually, the scenes in Jerusalem itself quite interesting, establishing the family as well has the activities of the zealots. Massala, attracted to Judah’s sister but disliked by her mother, goes off to war in Germany and, in Persia, encountering Pontius Pilate who then is his patron when he returns to Jerusalem.
The incident which leads to Judah’s imprisonment and the capture of his mother and sister is not the dropping of a stone accidentally but a separate firing an arrow at Pontius Pilate.
The galley scenes are quite powerful, the slavery for five years, as well as the naval battles and the ramming of the ship, Judah getting loose, surviving on planks and washed ashore.
Those expecting the story of the Roman commander, Arius, will be disappointed as he is omitted as is Judah’s time in Rome. He is immediately rescued by the African horse and chariot dealer, Ilderim (Morgan Freeman and his powerful voice – though some of the dialogue has the touch of lameness and Freeman himself says twice okay, okay.)
This means that Ilderim and Judah go straight to Jerusalem, with a build up to the chariot race – which, is on a par with the previous versions, 10 minutes of visual excitement.
There is more than a touch of unexpected sentiment at the end – hope rather than grimness or despair.
Apart from Morgan Freeman, the cast is not well-known and Jack Huston does not try to vie with Charlton Heston but makes a sufficiently strong screen presence for this version as does Toby Kebbel as Massala.
Older audiences may still pine for Charlton Heston although the film has been readily available for all for over 50 years. Younger audiences may not have this particular background and be interested in this version for itself.
US, 2015, 88 minutes, Colour.
Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, William H. Macy, Miguel Sandoval, Michael Parks.
Directed by Jean- François Richet.
Mel Gibson has been through very hard times in the last decade, personal crises, anger outbursts and prejudice, alcoholism, damaged relationships. And, he has been off the screen for most of the decade and has not directed a film since Apocalypto (2007). So, the question has arisen, at age 60 is his career over? In 2016, not so. He is starring in the thriller, Blood Father, and he has directed her a high profile war film, Hacksaw Ridge.
In many ways this is a routine action show, high octane, as they say – and it does involve cars and motorbikes.
The villains in the film are bikies and the tough enforcers of the Mexican drug cartels. covered in tattoos – handy for Link, Gibson, who has spent years with the bikes, nine years in jail, has learned and practices the tattooist trade and is able to recognise the meanings in tattoo designs and so assess the muscle that is pursuing.
His teenage daughter, who has not lived with him but with her wealthy mother, has disappeared for four years. She is seen teamed up with one of the cartel bosses, in love with him, pressurised to take part in violent raids with him, literally coked up. When he wants her to shoot someone and she finds she can’t, despite the drugs, her gun goes off with her boyfriend becoming the target.She decides to go on the run but also to phone her father who lives in a caravan out in the desert, going to AA programs, tattooing with a good supportive friend, William H. Macy, as his sponsor.
The film runs for under an hour and a half so the action tends to move, the daughter coming home, thugs tracking her down, gunshots, the overturning of the caravan, father and daughter hot footing it from the trailer camp, finding out what is happening – and Link still has some contacts in prison who enable him to get the background of his daughter’s boyfriend, and the increasing dangers they are in.
Link decides to call on an old friend about whom he was silent in his years in prison and believes he can ask favours. He is an old bar bikie, with Vietnam memories, played intensely and strangely by Michael Parks.
While the setting is California, the film was made in New Mexico with good desert and mountain location photography, just the place for a showdown, the cartel thugs presuming they are supreme and certainly underestimating Link and his shrewdness and ingenuity.
So, daughter in peril, contact with father, father helping daughter, both on the run, problem solved, but not without a great deal of pathos.
The film was directed by Jean- François Richet, best known for his double French film series, Mesrine, the story of a celebrated French criminal played by Vincent Casell and the remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13.
US, 2016, 118 minutes, Colour.
Viggo Mortensen, George Mac Kay, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Erin Moriarty, Missi Pyle.
Directed by Matt Ross.
Beware, the title of this film is quite misleading. It does give the indication that this is a film about a superhero. But, it is definitely not. It is a film about a family, living in the wild, living an ideology that prepares them for some of the trials of life but, could be ultimately damaging.
The setting is impressive, the camera in the opening sequence flying over thick forest, trees upon trees, a beautiful wilderness. Then there is a young man, hidden in the undergrowth, stalking a deer which he then kills, is congratulated by his father for becoming a man, anointed with the blood, consuming part of the entrails, a ritual of rites of passage to adulthood.
And so we are introduced to a family with six children, the father present but the mother hospitalised with a mental condition. This is a family, but audiences will be reminded at various times of life in a cult. The family is separated from any town, lives in a wooden house and tents, with the day started in strong discipline, physical exercises, running through the forest – and sometimes exercises climbing a mountain face and, even with an accident and a fall, the encouragement to will oneself out of the difficulty and use physical and mental ingenuity.
The training is not just physical. The children are encouraged to read extensively. and they absorb what they read, even the youngest of the children who, at a later invitation when visiting cousins in New Mexico, to be able to recite the Bill of Rights. Audiences who admire this alternative life, watch father and children sitting around a campfire, singing, communing, reading, may still wonder whether this is enough, especially for the contemporary world – or are they to be separated from it all together?
Viggo Mortensen, always a powerful screen presence, is commanding as the father, Ben. He is both benign and strict, making demands on his children but always thinking of their betterment. There are three boys and three girls, George Mac Kay as the oldest initiated boy, two sisters coming after him, another boy who has the touch of the rebel and then two small children.
A situation arises as to whether they should go to their mother’s funeral – at first deciding not, especially when her father warns them off, disapproving of their way of life, of his daughter becoming part of this life, rebelliously anti-Christian in her stances and embracing Buddhist principles.
The latter part of the film raises questions about the children and their upbringing, the strengths, especially when they visit their mother’s sister, her husband and children, the children not understanding the way of life of their cousins at all, and the aunt being very disapproving of Ben’s frank straightforwardness in talking about his wife’s illness and death, of physical and sexual matters, preferring truth above all.
The crisis comes at the funeral, a Catholic funeral, the eulogising priest not having met the mother and Ben taking this as a cue to intervene in the ceremony, declaring that his wife wanted to be cremated.
Jack, Frank Langella, heartily disapproves of Ben and offers to look after the children. An accident brings the issues to a head, and Ben’s realising that what he has done is to prepare his children for any physical situation, has filled their heads with knowledge but has not trained them emotionally to deal with the world and with other people. This has been illustrated on the bus trip to New Mexico for the funeral where the oldest boy encounters an attractive teenage girl and analyses the situation, not realising what was happening to him emotionally.
Which means that the film raises a lot of issues about quality of life, of a wilderness life, but not the modern convenience life, of intellectual information, of realistic emotions, of the nature of parenting, of forming children in the parents’ likenes, of the need for children’s autonomy and, ultimately, making their own decisions.
UK, 2016, 89 minutes, Colour.
Brian Cox, Anna Chancellor, Emilia Fox, Coco Konig, Karl Johnson, Roger Moore.
Directed by Janos Edelenyi.
There have been a number of British films in recent years about the elderly and care for the elderly including the Exotic Best Marigold Hotel films, Quartet… It is a moot point whether they entertain the elderly themselves or are designed for those who are about to be elderly and for their potential carers.
Whatever the answer to that question, this film is well worth seeing for the performance of Brian Cox, a prolific Scottish actor whom many will recognise but, perhaps, not be able to name. He has appeared in many British films as well as American films. Here he is Sir Michael Gifford, an actor in his 70s with incipient Parkinson’s. He is a curmudgeon of a man, entirely used to getting his own way, pretty coarse-mouthed although he does redeem himself frequently with wonderful renditions of Shakespeare. He is not in the John Gielgud vein but rather could have taken on the role of Sir in a version of The Dresser, based on Sir Donald Wolfit.
Sir Michael lives in a stately mansion on a country estate but his daughter (Emilia Fox), stubborn like him, is wondering whether he should go to a retirement home or should have his personal carer, despite his proneness to fire potential carers at very short notice.
Enter Dorottya, a young Hungarian woman living in England, going to auditions so that she can enter drama school. in the meantime, she is working at a home for the elderly and responds to the call to be interviewed as Sir Michael’s carer. We know that she is going to succeed but the question is how will you deal with the crusty old man.
Dorottya has a charm but she is also fairly straightforward and deals with Sir Michael accordingly, something that appeals to him and he is also charmed by her. Actually, they form quite a pair as she entertains him, argues the toss, enjoying their reflections on the Shakespeare soliloquy, To Be or not To Be and how it was rendered by Jack Benny in the 1942 film and Mel Brooks’ remake. She takes him out to local pub and he begins to enjoy himself.
The big question is will he be able to go to an awards ceremony, his 23rd, but, as he emphasises, his last. He wants to go on his own and not be wearing any nappies for incontinence. His daughter and the doctor are dead against is going. Guess what!
Also in the picture are Millie (Anna Chancellor) his housekeeper who is absolutely devoted to him, protective of him, and Karl Johnson is Joseph, his assistant 40 years and now his chauffeur.
Brian Cox commands every scene is he is in, physically, vocally, emotionally – and his going to his award ceremony and the bravura of his final speech, very serious, a number of jokes, makes quite an epitaph for a British thespian.
Argentina, 2015, 110 minutes, Colour.
Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani.
Directed by Pablo Trapero.
This is a film about domestic gangsters. In the past, in the 1930s, gangsters were presented as manic in their attitudes and behaviour, but heroes in their own minds and trying to communicate that to the society of the time. This was the area of Scarface, Public Enemy, Little Caesar. With the renewed interest of in gangster films in the 1970s, especially with the Godfather films, there was a great deal of mythmaking which some viewers saw as a glorifying of the gangsters and that ethos, the Mafia mystique.
While The Clan is the story of a gangster family, there is no glorification at all, the patriarch of the family, Arquimedes Puccio, is a completely sinister figure despite his sometime smile and the cover of his being a respectable shopkeeper and family man. As portrayed by Guillermo Francella, he is a cold and calculating man, a man of planning for the success of his family, a man of planning in the several kidnappings he oversees, finding his place in the society of his time.
The society of his time is that of Argentina in the 1980s. The film shows in prologue something of the history of the dictatorship from the 1970s to the 1980s, the rule of the generals, the number of citizens who disappeared – and some choose one to the Falklands war. With the connivance of authorities, Arquimedes Puccio and his henchmen engineered the abduction first of young men from wealthy families, demanding ransoms, setting up situations for collection of money, telephone threats, and the ugliness of killing their victims before they collected the money.
What is more sinister is the involvement by Archimedes of his family. His wife, seemingly middle-class domestic, was conniving in the abductions, especially in preparing the meals for those imprisoned in the family basement. The oldest son has moved away from Argentina to New Zealand, working as a shearer, but the patriarch sends his next son to bring him back and involves him in the abductions. The next son, Alex (Peter Lanzani) is a champion rugby player, admired by his footballing team, his coach, the public. He has access to the young men to be kidnapped and is persuaded to play a role, becoming more deeply involved in the criminal behaviour, the imprisonment, the collection of the money, further setups.
Alex falls in love and wants to withdraw from this family business but there is a succession of mistakes which lead to a raid on the family and imprisonment.
All the time, the audience wonders about the role of government officials, the nature of political corruption and protection, Archimedes and his patriotic loyalty, and wondering where the police are. By 1985, three years after the abductions had begun, the police go into action.
Of particular dramatic interest are the episodes where Archimedes confronts Alex in prison, wanting his son to beat him so that he can claim he was assaulted by guards and use this as part of his defence. He over plays his tactics with dire results for Alex.
The final credits give information as to what happened to each of the characters, each member of the Puccio family, Alex’s fiancee. And the note that Arquimedes studied law during his imprisonment and died at age 84.
A piece of Argentinian history by one of Argentina’s best directors, Pablo Trapero, a most telling performance by Guillermo Francella, and a cautionary tale.
US, 2016, 88 minutes, Colour.
Jane Levy, Dylan Minette, Stephen Lang, Daniel Zovatto.
Directed by Fede Alvarez.
Unfortunately, any thriller that seems to have a sense of menace, many fans will think of as a horror movie and, if it doesn’t have blood and gore, if it doesn’t have a lot of special effects, even a touch of the supernatural, they are very disappointed. As has happened with some audiences for this one.
However, most audiences who seek and don’t Read, I’m more than satisfied – they have accepted it not as horror but as a terror film, terror for the characters involved, and a sense of increasing tension and terror for the audience themselves.
The film runs from under 90 minutes but is quite compact and generally quite taut. the premise is quite a straightforward one. Three young people take part in a series of burglaries, grabbing what they can, with touches of vandalism, and then trying to get rid of the goods via a local fence. He urges them, if they want cash, to steal cash and that gives them agenda for the next robbery.
The background is to treat, a city in collapse, with a lot of the settings here dilapidated buildings, abandoned houses, derelict streets. It also gives each of the three something in the background story, especially the girl, Roxy (Jane Leavy) who has difficulties at home, a slatternly mother and her boyfriend, and the young sister who would love to live near the surface. one complex one the Congress, Alex (Dylan Minette) is a bit wary of the robberies, does not want to go to California as Roxy does, gets information on houses from his insurance father in the case out house, a man who has received cash in a damages case, but whom they discover is blind. What could be more straightforward than getting into his house, finding the cash and escaping?
Will, of course, it doesn’t go like that at all, and that makes the process always interesting, always tense, the three discovering that the blind man is not exactly helpless and that while they might get the money, it is not a sure thing to get out of the house. One of the interesting features of the screenplay is that there are a variety of terms and developments in the plot, some quite unforeseen, which makes the morality of the stealing as well is of the blind man much more ambiguous.
Stephen Lang is particularly effective as the blind man, using all his senses to make him alert, realising the presence of the three burglars – even though they force themselves to be quiet and obey the title of the film, Don’t Breathe.
As far as home invasion stories go, this one is pretty good, quite a moral issue being raised, unexpectedly, towards the end of the film – and leaving the audience with some uncertainties about the future.
Australia, 2016, 90 minutes, Colour.
Lincoln Younes, Rahel Ronahn, Michael Denkha, Fayssal Bazzi, Alexander England, Damon Herriman, Justin Rosniak, Chris Bunton, Harriet Dyer, David Field, Marshall Napier, Josh Mc Conville.
Directed by Abe Forsythe.
Downunder is the kind of film that we say we would not like to see – but, in fact, it is a film that we should see. It is a portrait of ugly Australians.
The film draws on Australian audience memory of the race riots at Cronulla and in the Shire at the end of 2005. Mainly young protesters, becoming more violent and vicious as the protests and fights went on, declaring that they wanted to preserve Australian culture (not really having a clue what that meant), rather oblivious of Australia’s migratory history or that of indigenous people, but making the target the Lebanese community in the area, Lebs, including their presence on Cronulla beach, taken as symbolic of what they thought was wrong with this part of Sydney – and Australia.
It is interesting to note that the film was released commercially soon after the 2016 federal elections with the emergence again of Pauline Hanson and three of her associates finding places in the Senate. The scenes in Cronulla in 2005 presage of so much of the philosophy of One Nation, anti-migration, anti-Chinese, anti-Islam… A frightening reminder that history can repeat itself.
The film uses a lot of footage from the news of the time, the very disturbing close-ups of angry young men, mainly men, but women also, an alarming peer pressure that overflows into vicious slogans and physical violence, with the police trying to cope with the protesters.
But then, the film narrows its focus considerably, concentrating on a group of white protesters and a group of Lebanese. This means particular dramas – but the screenwriter and director, Abe Forsythe, has made the choice for comic representation of the characters and their conflicts. While some of the scenes and dialogue are funny ha-ha, and we can laugh, the point is that the ideology (which, rather dignifies the ignorant attitudes), the language and behaviour is often really dopey, really dumb. The screenplay clearly demonstrates how this kind of racism, attitudes and behaviour, is really stupid.
In the white group, there is a rather genial character, whose name is Shit-Stick? (Alexander England), who works in a DVD store, takes his Down syndrome cousin for driving lessons, is often seen with his drugs and bong, who does not want to be racist but is pressurised by some friends (and his first seemingly benign uncle, Marshall Napier, who urges the group on and lends them his World War I trophy rifle and one bullet). The leader of this group is Jason (Daniel Herriman) who is all talk but has a most slatternly pregnant girlfriend with two children who interrupts the proceedings by demanding that Jason pick up some takeaway for her – and she wants kebabs! They go to buy them.
In the meantime, Hasim (Lincoln Younes) is a serious student but he too has a demanding friend, Nick, and bellicose uncle, and makes the choice to go out with them in order to find his brother who may have been caught up in the violence. Off they go to get some weapons from Nick’s drug boss Vic, David Field camping it up, a gay men with Vietnamese boys at hand, pornography on the television, and a crew packing the drugs.
After various encounters, Hasim being chased and bashed by another white group, and Jason having delivered food to his girlfriend, there is an unexpected confrontation, mainly through arguments within each car leading to a crash. This is no gunfight at the OK Corral, rather awkward chases, bashings, gunshots and some unexpected injuries, especially with pathos for the Down Syndrome cousin who has been urged on to bash Lebs but in his heart of hearts appreciates people for who they are.
One of the jokes needs to be seen – one of the Whites has had his head and face tattooed and wants to have Ned Kelly’s helmet, but the joke is what he looks like when he takes off all his facial coverings. This needs to be seen rather than described!
The language in the film is quite strident and vulgar, sexually and genitally over-focused and extremely homophobic and insulting – part of the dumb stupidity that is incorporated into racist rants.
The film is quite well constructed, the parallels made, the setting given in the actual footage of 2005, the exploration of the characters in each group. Maybe, Downunder is preaching to the converted anti-racists. Would it do anything to change the bigoted attitudes of the racist were they to see the film? Unfortunately, probably not.
Australia, 2016, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Taryn Brumfitt.
Embrace is a documentary film as well as something of a portrait of the filmmaker, Taryn Brumfitt, from Adelaide.
It is also a film designed for a female audience – although men would have quite a deal to learn from watching the film, checking their basic attitudes towards women and accepting a challenge to their inherent chauvinism.
Taryn Brumfitt posted photos of herself, Before and After, having given birth to 3 children, enrolled in a gym and gone in for pumping iron competitions and then realising that she was acceding to presuppositions about body form, returning to living a “normal” life, sharing it with her three children and a devoted husband.
In posting the photos on social media, she was overwhelmed by the response. Basically, women communicated with her about issues of the body, acceptance and non-acceptance, feelings of inadequacy as well as living up to expectations, especially from ideal (and often photo-shopped) images of women in the media. But she also received quite a number of hostile responses, especially from men, taunting her as fat and ugly and criticising her body shape, urging her to go to the gym, diets… It is surprising how openly vicious many of these comments were.
There is a reference to the “noxious ideals” about the human body, especially the ‘perfect’ female body, in the media. There are also some alarming moments and photos of the blatant sexualisation of little girls.
Taryn then decides to go on a world tour to interview women about the body, their own experiences, pressures put on them, their ways of coping.
Starting in the United States, Karen interviews people like television host Ricky Lake who, over some decades, had to deal with criticisms about her size. Taryn then moves to Canada and then to Europe.
While the interviews are somewhat repetitive, this has the value of reinforcing how dominating glamorous stereotyped bodies are – especially with the comment from the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch about advertising for good-looking people only to wear their good-looking clothes!. What is particularly interesting is the range of women that Taryn meets who have some kind of “defect”.
There is the woman, fine appearance, who tells her story of having a brain tumour which paralysed half her face, distorting her expressions, undergoing a deal of physiotherapy but also learning to accept the limitations of her condition. Perhaps surprisingly there is the woman in London who experienced an extraordinary growth of facial hair and, despite her attempts to remove it, it increased with her decision then to accept that this was her reality, lives as a woman with a beard, and has some satisfaction with who she was.
By way of contrast is the German actress, Nora Tschirner, who has a lively conversation with Taryn, talking about her film career and expectations, seeing her on red carpets and at socials, but expressing a great deal of common sense on self-acceptance.
Before returning home, Taryn goes to a photo shoot with a celebrated photographer, this time with a group of women of all shapes and sizes, large and small, one with a leg disability, a black woman who is proud of her large-size as well as a transgender woman. This is an exhilarating sequence as the women are able to accept themselves and rejoice in this.
As we watch Embrace – with the exhortation from Taryn Brumfitt’s organisation and other groups that we all accept the reality of who we are – we realise that the “perfect” body is rare and discover that glamorous models also have their doubts about themselves.
The message of the film is very sensible. some commentators have recommended that this film should be shown to adolescent girls at school to focus their attention on reality rather than image.
Spain, 2015, 119 minutes (recut, 104 minutes), Colour.
Juliette Binoche, Rinko Kikuchi, Gabriel Byrne.
Directed by Isabel Coixet.
Nobody Wants the Night is an odd title for this film, not really indicating what the film is about, even though the darkest night of the Arctic is significant for the plot. It was re-edited after a negative response at the 2015 Berlinale and called Endless Night.
Captain Robert Peary had great ambitions to reach the North Pole, going on many expeditions, sometimes accompanied by his wife, Josephine. This film focuses on Josephine herself, a New York socialite, a woman used to comfort yet happy to go on rugged expeditions, are stubborn and dominant woman, commanding and pressurising all those who worked for the expeditions.
Juliette Binoche plays Josephine. It is a role that requires her to be haughty at the beginning, to participate in the ruggedness of the travelling through the Arctic ice and snow, determined to reach the rendezvous with her husband, no matter what the storms, avalanches, injuries and deaths.
However, when she arrives, her husband is not there. There is a young Inuit woman whom she discovers had a relationship with her husband and is pregnant. She is devastated but has to survive with the young woman, especially as the Arctic darkness comes on. There is not much food to be had, Josephine becoming ill, the young woman being pregnant. It is a transforming experience for Josephine who has to let go of her presuppositions, her sense of power and importance, her sense of superiority over the Inuits, and become much more human.
Rinko Kikuchi, the Japanese actress who appeared in such films as Babel, is the young Inuit woman. There is a guest role for Gabriel Byrne as a philosophising, atheistic, lover of solitude who accompanies the expedition.
There is some interesting information at the end of the film, that Peary’s claim to have reached the North Pole first was disputed, that a doctor claimed the honour, but that afterwards, it seems that both claims were not verified. Josephine Peary returned to New York, wrote a number of books and lived until 1955.
The film was directed by Isabel Coixet, a veteran of a rather wide range of films, My Life without Me, The Secret Life of Words, Map of the Sounds of Tokyo.
FREE STATE OF JONES
US, 2016, 139 minutes, Colour.
Matthew Mc Conaughey, Gugu Mbatha Raw, Keri Russell, Sean Bridgers.
Directed by Gary Ross.
Unless you are an expert on the Civil War, you may not be familiar at all with the title of this film, the episode of the Free State of Jones, in Jones County and neighbouring counties in Mississippi in the 1860s.
The film opens with a vivid portrayal of a Civil War battle, a troop of Confederate soldiers, flag-waving, commander in front, to the beat of the drum, marching up a hill – and then the camera showing the audience amassed troop of Union soldiers. The mowing down of the Confederates who keep marching, someone taking up the flag, is shocking and bloody. Bloody is also the word to describe the scenes with doctors at work on the wounded, the numbers, the pain, the limbs, the implements like saws, no anaesthetic. And the nurses continually carrying the wounded from the field to the tents.
It is in this context that we are introduced to Newton Knight, a Mississippi farmer who is serving as a nurse, trying to cheer those he was carrying, removing their private’s jacket so that they might appear as an officer and be tended to quickly. But, it is too much for him and when he is escorting a young lad from his town who is shot in the trenches, he decides to desert, take the body home, resume his life in Mississippi.
As it turned out, ordinary life was not for him. Reunited with his wife, and a black slave from the nearby plantation coming to help his son recover from fever, he then realises that he will be tracked down as a deserter. He goes out into the swamps, his league wounded from pursuing dogs, finds a group of black slaves who have escaped and lives with them.
In the town, a commander has the task of commandeering supplies from the local farms, reducing many of them to poverty. It is here that Newton Knight takes a stand, first confronting a lieutenant with a woman and her two daughters which encourages the group in the swamp to take further stands. More deserters join the group in the swamp, a small army which leads to a confrontation with the Confederacy leading to an appeal to General Sherman, marching through Georgia, to send some reinforcements. Newton Knight and his leadership led to the announcing of the Free State of Jones and the writing of a charter.
It is here that many audiences will be expecting the film to end, but it does not. The latter part of the film is about the aftermath of the war, the unsteady reuniting of the South with the North, the freedom of the slaves, often more in principle than in reality, the twisting of legislation in some Southern states to keep the former slaves oppressed, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the racist burnings and hangings. During the war, Newt’s wife and son had left him but return after the war where they find him with Rachel, the young woman who saved the son, who is now pregnant.
Unexpectedly, some sequences are interpolated into the narrative moving it to 1947, 85 years later, and a trial with a descendant of Newt and Rachel being brought into court for trying to marry a white woman, guilty because he has some black blood. The sequences show the audience that there may have been victory, there may have been peace, but for decades, the heritage from the war and the antagonism still remained with blatant racism.
In recent years, especially with his winning an Oscar for the Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew Mc Conaughey has become a serious actor and embodies Newton Knight with some force and authority. Gugu Mbatha Raw (so persuasive in the British film about race, Belle) portrays Rachel.
This film should make an impression in the United States, but is interesting and often powerful for a non-American audience.
Australia, 2015, 77 minutes, Colour.
Bethany Whitmore, Harrison Feldman, Matthew Whittet, Amber McMahon?, Eamon Farren, Tilda Cobham-Hervey?.
Directed by Rosemary Myers.
This film began its life as a play, a story about a teenage girl, but written by a male playwright who also adapted the script for the screenplay here – and plays the part of the father of the girl asleep, Matthew Whittet.
The film has received quite a lot of very strongly favourable reviews and has won some awards. But not everyone has been caught up in its comedy and it’s a drama – and its veering into fantasy.
The film will have more appeal to female audience, into teenage audiences interested in and perhaps identifying with the central character, Bethany Whitmore. Mothers will also be interested, making comparisons with their daughters and adolescent struggles.
The setting is the 1970s, home in suburbia, school. we are introduced to Greta, the younger daughter in her family, moving from somewhere else and at school the school for the first time, approached by a nerdy young student, Elliott (Harrison Feldman) and approached by a group of Mean Girls who make demands that she moved with them. Greta is more than a little passive at this stage and complies but also apologises later to get.
Meanwhile, back at home, her mother and father are keen to host a 15th birthday party for her, something which she does not want it all. For me, she has an older sister in she can confide and who gives her good advice. Eventually, Greta agrees but is dismayed at the party dress that her mother takes her out in. At the party, many of the school students arrive with gifts, making Greta somewhat over laden. And Elliott arrives all suited up. So, we can this story go from here?
From quirky and some deadpan situations into a whole realm of fantasy, with some of the wild things are or seem to be. Greta goes into a rather dark forest wonderland, encountering characters who encourage, who told, who confuse – and are played by the actors who portray her parents, her sister’s boyfriend, talking with Elliott’s voice, as well as a benign kind of fairy, female guide. For a puzzling audience, what happens is not always clear – frequently not clear, so the best thing is to surrender to the fantasy, observed Greta and see what the experience of being lost, chased, warned, encouraged leads to.
One of the things it does lead to is a bit of rebellion on Greta’s part and her persuading Elliott, whom she has insulted by suggesting that people say he is gay but has apologised, to give her his suit to wear and feed to wear her dress. Done .The party continues and the film suggests that Greta has gone through something of a rite of passage and will come out well at the other end.
HEAVEN ON EARTH: AS IT IS IN HEAVEN 2/ SA OCK PA JORDEN
Sweden, 2016, 144 minutes, Colour.
Frida Hallgren, Jakob Oftebro, Niklas Falk, Lennart Jahkel.
Directed by Kay Pollak.
As It is In Heaven was an extraordinary box office success in many countries, screening in some Australian cinemas for a year. This has not been the fate of its sequel, Heaven on Earth.
While the original film had a great deal of music, singing, likeable characters in this context, the music has been greatly reduced here, some country music for dancing, some emotional songs, and rehearsals for Handel’s Messiah with an amateur country choir and a range of proper and make-piece instruments.
Lena, the central character of the first film, is now pregnant although Daniel, the choir conductor, has died. Lena (Frida Hallgren) is a lively character, up and down with moods, wanting to go on stage on the very verge of giving birth, staggering offstage, berated by some of the men in the village, caught in snow and going to her home after finding the depressed minister, Stig, drunk on the road but who has to help her with the birth because the midwife is stranded in the snow.
Much of the activity of the film is the gathering of the choir, the rehearsals for the Messiah concert, the decision to change the format of the church, removing the pews – the picture of the Lutheran Church in this film is a very authoritarian and dour church – decorations and the plan to hold a dance in the church. There also has to be a lot of action to keep Stig away from the alcohol.
Actually, the dance goes well and is reported with colour photos in the local magazine much to the ire of the authorities and the barring of the church door to visitors.
Lena has her drama with Arne, the kindly man who took her in when her parents were killed in an accident and her grandmother blamed her for their deaths, and with Axel, a widower who works on local jobs and is attracted to her. Lena also has to devote a lot of attention to her baby son, Jacob.
There is something of a dramatic crisis when crowds press into the church for another dance and they have to be removed for health and safety reasons, Tore, a benign but mentally handicapped man takes Jacob to save him but goes on a rowing boat on the lake with some dire results.
Obviously, the film has to have a happy ending, the recital of The Messiah but not after Lena has to come to her senses about blaming herself for deaths, love or Axel, and support for Stig.
At almost two and half hours, the screenplay is too prolonged for this lightness and treatment of the plot.
UK, 2015, 119 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes.
Directed by Ben Wheatley
High-rise can be used as a symbolic word in class conflict situations, the lower class wanting to rise higher – and that can all take place in a symbolic multi-story building, high-rise. That is the premise of a 1980s novel by J. C. Ballard, who has two film versions of his novels, quite diverse, the autobiographical Empire of the Sun, and the controversial exploration of humanity and technology in Crash.
The director of this film, Ben Wheatley, has developed a reputation for hard-hitting crime dramas with a sense of surprise, especially violence from central characters, Kill List and the sinister Sightseers.
Whether Ballard has a strong sense of narrative in his novels, it does not matter for the film version because Wheatley is much more interested in images, montages, a succession of episodes which might fit as successive panels in an installation rather than in exploring causality in the succession of narrative events. While this has quite an impact visually, and many critics have acclaimed the film for it, it is much less satisfying for audiences who really want character development rather than character presentation and plot development rather than a succession of episodes.
With this in mind, there is a great deal of interesting material in High-Rise.
Class conflict has been mentioned and that becomes more and more evident as the film proceeds – but it is a quotation, voiced by Margaret Thatcher at the end of the film, about class and government intervention and private enterprise (the latter of which, she asserted, provides true freedom for individuals), that makes more sense of what has gone on.
The central character is Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a doctor who is seen with his assistants examining the human skull, but whose main activity for the film takes place in the new high-rise building where he has bought an apartment. He is a successful doctor, a man with qualities and flaws, with aspirations to higher status, easily entangled in sexual relationships, an observer as well as a mingler.
The film opens with some bizarre sequences, a bearded Laing, roasting a dog on a spit on his balcony, some dead bodies – and then the narrative goes back three months for the audience to find out and puzzle over how this could have happened.
There is an amount of socialising in the high-rise, one party on an upper-class floor where everybody is dressed as if they were in the cast of Barry Lyndon. Later, there is to be a more modern party with a touch of the orgiastic.
Laing meets the architect of the building and its owner, Royal, played by Jeremy Irons, an ambiguous character with ambitions, with a dissatisfied wife even though he has built a roof garden of luxury, a horse for riding included.There are other encounters with a rough documentary maker, Wilder, Luke Evans, and his pregnant wife, Elizabeth Moss. Upstairs, there is Charlotte (Sienna Miller) who has a precocious young son. In the meantime there is a fuss pot who doesn’t want the garbage chutes to be clogged and discovers his wife in a relationship with a television announcer.
Included in the high-rise is a gym, squash court where Laing plays with Royal, and a supermarket where the customers parade as well is purchase – and an indifferent checkout girl who is given the French grammar by Laing during French Week which she uses to learn the language.
There is also a very aristocratic and snobbish group led by Pangbourne (James Purefoy) who have no scruples about using violence, even a lobotomy to tame a rebel-Rouser.
The class struggle does break out, the power goes off on various floors of the high-rise, violence ensues
Which brings us back to the starting point – and Wheatley’s style of filmmaking which emphasises the class conflict and that it happens rather than how it happens.
US, 2015, 79 minutes, Colour.
Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Wes Anderson, Paul Schrader, Olivier Assayas, James Gray, Kyoshi Kurosawa, Arnaud Desplechin, Richard Linklater,
Directed by Kent Jones.
Although he has been dead for over 35 years, Alfred Hitchcock and his name have become a byword for screen thrillers. So many of his films remain as classics.
The young French directors of the 1950s were in great admiration of Alfred Hitchcock seeing him as an artist more than as a popular director. In 1962, François Truffaut who had made quite an impact with his initial film, The 400 Blows, contacted Hitchcock and asked if he could spend a week interviewing him, going through all his films, exploring themes, exploring techniques, exploring impact. Hitchcock agreed and Truffaut went to California, the discussions taped but a translator also present to facilitate communication. The resulting book from these conversations finished up in every cinema library and the personal libraries of cinema buffs.
Director Kent Jones has gone through the material – but his limitation was that his documentary runs for only 80 minutes. Many of those watching the film, always with the utmost interest, will wonder why particular favourite films scarcely rate a mention, including Spellbound and North by Northwest.
This is a good opportunity to appreciate Hitchcock himself, his portly manner, his semi-sepulchral voice, his touches of wry humour, and his cooperation with Truffaut. Truffaut, is young and eager.
At the beginning of the film a great deal of attention is given to the 1936 film, Sabotage, a serious thriller with strong close-ups and a stabbing sequence. Later, most attention will be given to Vertigo, many sequences included, and quite a lot of discussion about the film and its sexual implications, as well as to Psycho, an analysis of the first half, the mundane office work of the central character and her stealing the money, going to the Bates Motel and the famous shower scene.
A number of contemporary directors are interviewed, mostly American, some French, and their views on particular films, their insightful comments on the techniques, camera use, editing, are very helpful. Martin Scorsese is particularly interesting on Vertigo but, particularly, on Psycho and the lesser-known thriller of 1956 with religious implications, specifically Catholic, with Henry Fonda, The Wrong Man.
Besides Scorsese, some of the directors interviewed are David Fincher, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Linklater, Paul Schrader, James Gray, Olivier Assayas.
This is a film which will interest every cinema buff – and, with the clips of so many films, with the intelligent and insightful discussions, with the enthusiasm of Truffaut and the generally benign comments of Hitchcock (they both keeping up a correspondence for the next 15 years), it is a documentary well worth seeing and reflecting on.
A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING
Germany, 2016, 98 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Sidse Babette Knudsen, Tom Skerritt, Ben Whishaw
Directed by Tom Tykwer.
An arresting title. What kind of hologram? And who is the king? Both questions answered in due course.
Something of the tone (both light and serious) is set at the opening where Tom Hanks as Alan Clay appears in a video clip advertisement, he being persuasive and everything in opposition going up in a puff of pink smoke. Alan Clay is a salesman and we see him discussing a project with his boss, developments in IT for a deal in Saudi Arabia.
The hologram (which we eventually see illustrated) is for communication developments in the Kingdom and the King is the king of Saudi Arabia.
Alan has had a difficult past, working for a bicycle company which then lost its local base with the bikes being produced in China, leading to work retrenchments which Alan had to preside over. He realises it was a mistake and this recurs in his dreams – as do scenes from his past, his marriage and its breakup, his little daughter and her growing up, in communication with her, communication with his father. And he has these interludes because of his flight to Saudi Arabia, the jet lag, the pressures of the job…
It soon becomes obvious to Alan that lifestyles, customs, business rituals in the Kingdom are certainly not those of the United States. Executives say that they will be present on a certain day but are not, say that they are in New York City but they are in fact upstairs. and King has not been to the demonstration centre for 18 months, is discovered to be on a visit in Yemen. Will he turn up?
What happens to Alan is that he enlists the help of a local driver, who spent a year studying in Alabama, Youssef (Alexander Black) who is a genial friend, has a girlfriend who is the wife of a rich Arab and is fear in fear that his car will be set up with bombs, has a loud taste in music but can be relied on by Allen as the days go on – except when Alan accepts an invitation to go to his home out in the desert and Youssef neglects to follow the notices on the highway which indicate that all non-Muslims must take an alternative route and not go through the city of Mecca (but they do, which does give the audience some intriguing images of this most sacred city).
As for the contract, his staff are put up in a huge marquee away from the main building, have to bring food each day from the hotel, and there is no Wi-Fi! Alan does get some help from a Danish woman who works in accounts, goes to a party at the Danish Embassy where all the foreigners let their hair down plus. In the meantime, Alan has to go to the doctor, is helped by a local woman doctor (Sarita Choudhury), has to have some minor surgery for a burdensome cyst on his back and becomes involved with her.
After some complications, the king does turn up, there is a demonstration of the hologram – but, as always, the Chinese have a better offer!
There is quite some interest in the characters and the whole treatment of an American trying to find his feet and his way in Saudi Arabia, quite a lot of local colour.
But, in the latter part of the film when Alan and the doctor get together (and quite a number of bloggers have questioned the possibility of this kind of relationship, especially a surprising scene of topless bathing), the pace of the film slows down considerably and seems something of a dramatic anti-climax.
But, Alan does find some possibilities for his future in relationships and in work.
The film was written and directed by Tom to quote, German director well known for such films as Run, Lola, Run and his contribution to the mysterious Cloud Atlas, which also featured Tom Hanks.
US, 2016, 110 minutes, Colour.
Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein.
Directed by James Schamus.
Indignation is based on the novel by Philip Roth, best known for such novels and film versions of Portnoy’s Complaint, Goodbye Columbus and The Human Stain. Indignation is a lesser known novel – which would gain in readership because of this film version.
The film opens with an old people’s home and an elderly lady – with a revelation about who she is at the end of the film. There is a then a shift to career, the Korean War, soldiers in the basement, Americans and Koreans and the death of a soldier. Then there is a move to New York City, a Jewish funeral, grieving parents, and the introduction of the central character, Marcus, a fine performance from Logan Lerman.
As Marcus and his friends talk about the draft, it emerges that Marcus has a scholarship to a Christian University in Ohio, meanwhile working in his father’s kosher butcher shop, with some strong scenes indicating Marcus and his work, his father concerned about him, even wary about being his led astray – but Marcus has a strong relationship with his mother and also with his father, despite his tensions.
At college, Marcus shares a room with two young men, Jewish (part of a Jewish minority at the college where Marcus is canvassed by the fraternity leader to join the Jewish group but he refuses) with whom he eventually clashes and moves rooms. Marcus has a strong background as a student, debater, free thinker.
This comes to the fore when he is challenged by the Dean of the College about his behaviour and beliefs, his not coping with others by moving rooms, his objections against going to Christian Chapel which is obligatory, his ideas, with Marcus having mounting resentment against the interrogation, using debating styles, articulate and strong, praising Bertrand Russell whom the Dean condemns personally and morally. The intelligent dialogue and the two performances make this an outstanding intelligent sequence.
Marcus, who has very limited encounters with girls, is attracted by the blonde Olivia (Sarah Gadon) and goes on a date with her when she surprisingly initiates sexual activity which he finds very difficult to deal with, avoiding her, but her pursuing him, especially when he is hospitalised with appendicitis. Again, she makes sexual advances which are seen by the nurse.
There is another highly intelligent discussion sequence when Marcus’s mother visits him in hospital, sees Olivia’s scars from an attempted suicide, warns her son against her – and they make an agreement that he will as long as his mother does not divorce his father who is showing strong signs of mental disturbance.
The issue of Chapel becomes a major problem for Marcus which leads to his presence in Korea and a reinterpretation of the initial sequence of the war, with his reflections about life, choices, moments of death, and a very sobering ending.
This is a fine, strong, intelligent portrait of a young man, a piece of Americana of 1951, well written and directed by James Schamus, who has been a producer and writer for some time, and this is first film as director.
US, 2016, 126 minutes, Colour.
Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger, Juliet Aubrey, Olympia Dukakis, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs, Yul Vazquez, Art Malik, Michael Pare, Elena Anaya, Said Taghmaoui.
Directed by Brad Furman.
How can they do it? And why?
These are two questions that this film raises. How can men and women go undercover, the deception that they have created, no matter how significant the motivation, the perennial risks and dangers, the false relationships that they have to establish and maintain which involve betrayal and emotional damage?
As can be seen from the title, this is a story about such undercover work. it is based on the memoir of Robert Mazur, the protagonist of the story, his memories of his undercover work on behalf of American agencies, especially in the 1980s and the spread of cocaine smuggling, the huge importations to the US, the traffic from Colombia and the influence of Pablo Escobar. Bryan Cranston gives a strong performance as Mazur, though, despite the darkened hair and moustache, he does seem too old for the role and the character.
It is 1985, in Florida. The film recreates the period, the look, clothing, the music and songs of the period. It opens with Mazur, in disguise, involved in an exchange of drugs and money followed by a raid. He is suffering from a wound and is entitled to retire, the authorities offering him the possibility but his refusing. He has connections with another officer, Hispanic, Abreu, played with a cheeky bravura by John Leguizamo. He has some local informants and the point is made that the agents should follow the money trails rather than the drug trails. The two set up a project, false names and documents, a dummy bank, making connections with some of the local drug dealers, especially those in the Escobar organisation, overcoming suspicions, beginning to launder money and gaining a reputation that leads them to crooked bankers in Panama and, eventually in France and England.
In the meantime, Robert Mazur has a loving wife, Evelyn, and two children. There are a number of domestic sequences and Mazur’s wife’s support for him in his work.
And the difficulty arises when one of the locals hosts Bob at a bar and procures a prostitute for him – Bob improvising with an excuse that he has a fiancee. This means that the agency head, played by Amy Ryan, has to organise an agent who can join Bob as his fiance, Kathy. She is played by Diane Kruger, a professional agent, who is challenged also in her undercover work, keeping up the facade of the happy engaged couple even when it leads them to New York City and friendship with a significant dealer, played by Benjamin Bratt, and his wife.
The audience is constantly tense along with Bob and Kathy as they live their dangerous second life.
The engagement become significant and authorities decide that the wedding date should go ahead and that all their contacts should be invited to the wedding, the deception being so convincing that everyone accepts. Then the raid.
As with so many true stories, there are photos of the principal characters during the final credits, information about those arrested and their sentences, as well as of Bob Mazur and his family – and the surprise that he has continued his undercover work in succeeding decades.
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
US, 2016, 102 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Charlize Theron, Matthew Mc Conaughey, Brenda Vaccaro, Art Parkinson, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary- Hiroyuki Tagawa.
Directed by Travis Knight.
Kubo and the Two Strings is an entertaining animated feature which should appeal to younger audiences as well as families.
It is not surprising to see a Japanese story and animation these days with so many films coming from Japan itself and, especially, the Ghibli Studios. But, this is an American production, writers and director as well as voice cast.
The filmmakers show great sensitivity towards Japan as well sensibility about its characters, history, culture, mythmaking, rituals as well as the beauty of its locations.
During the final credits, there is a focus on the making of the puppets, especially the Cockroach, which are used in the film – an insight into the type of animation that is present. The landscapes are quite vivid, the characters well drawn, there is a great deal of action and special effects.
The film opens with Kubo and his mother caught up in a huge storm at sea but finally landing on the beach and becoming resident on high rock above the village. Kubo is active but his mother has long periods of distraction, not being aware of where she is, but at night, cautioning Kubo not to stay out after dusk. In the meantime, he goes down into the village, well-received, with his strings, plucking them and narrating heroic stories. He also has an extraordinary origami talent, creating creatures, especially a small origami warrior, and many others in action.
One afternoon, he follows the crowd to a cemetery, sees a girl invoking her grandmother and decides to pray and call on his father – to no avail. But he is caught in the cemetery after dark and suddenly dark and sinister creatures swoop down on him and the village, two sisters, his aunts who are vengeful about their other sister, his mother, who set out on a quest to destroy a Lord but fell in love with him, married him and had Kubo. The father, the Moon King, has urged them to seek out this sister, Kubo and destroy them.
What follows are adventures at sea, in an origami boat, with a warrior beetle turning up, a bit slow on the uptake but genial, who protects Kubo and his mother who has been transformed magically into the form of a monkey toy that the boy had. Once again there are storms, with the Cockroach, Kubo diving into the sea to find a suit of armour, the Beetle having to rescue him, their arriving on land and, of course, a final battle confrontation with the Moon King who can transform himself into a dragon and the avenging sisters.
The characters are much more interesting than in many an American animation film and there is plenty of good dialogue and, certainly, plenty of action sequences.
Art Parkinson voices Kubo while Charlize Theron is his mother. Rooney Mara voices the sisters and Ralph Fiennes their father. But, many times, Matthew Mc Conaughey steals the show as the Beetle.
LIFE ON THE ROAD/ DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD
UK, 2016, 90 minutes, Colour.
Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey Smith, Tom Bennett.
Directed by Ricky Gervais.
David Brent was Ricky Gervais' character in The Office. Now he has a rep job for a laundry products company. We see him on the road, already manifesting quite some insensitivity to those he is dealing with. He is even worse back in the office, most workers cringing in his presence though there is a receptionist who is rather sympathetic, one of the women working there who is a touch in love with him and Nigel, a somewhat idiotic co-worker who plays along with his jokes and performance (and played by Tom Bennett who was the rather simple landowner in Love & Friendship).
The device of the film is a documentary being made about David Brent, his ambitions, his rounding up a rock group, his going on tour – and while they have a lot of footage of him in action, the camera always seems to be around when he is talking off the record, picking up so many of his insensitive remarks and highlighting his complete self-deception.
He imagines himself as a young rock star but he is definitely not, despite his clothes, despite his singing, despite his gyrating while singing, despite his being one of the boys with the band. By and large they find him very difficult and do not communicate with him unless they agree to be paid £25 an hour to sit and have a drink with him. One bright spot in his life is Dom, Ben Bailey Smith, of West Indian background who sings some rap while David Brent is singing, something which he finds often excruciating, but stays pretty loyal to Brent throughout the ill-fated tour. His manager finds him exasperating but relents a little at the end and allows David an indulgence with an absurd song about Christmas and having snow falling during the performance.
David Brent comes from Slough which is filmed and about which there is a song with lyrics representing contemporary Britain and Brits. In the meantime, David is insensitive in his lyrics, a cringe-making song about Native Americans, a song about the disabled and the aforementioned Christmas song about a boy going blind and not able to see Santa!
There are a number of amusing scenes and Ricky Gervais’ fans will be appreciative – for others, it may be a take it or leave it but with admiration for Gervais who can perform this obtuse character but is skilful enough in writing the obtuse character with clever insights.
LOUDER THAN BOMBS
Norway/France, 2015, 109 minutes, Colour.
Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, Devon Druid, Amy Ryan, David Strathairn, Rachel Brosnahan.
Directed by Joachim Trier.
Louder than Bombs is an evocative title. While there is a great deal about wars, bombs and their consequences and destruction, this occurs mainly in a series of photos rather than in the narrative of the film. The potential for bombs is not in overseas wars but in conflicts within the family.
In fact, this is very much a film about family and its tensions. It opens with the older son of the family, Jonah, played by Jesse Eisenberg rather more calmly than his usual performance, minus a lot of the Jesse Eisenberg-tics.His wife has just given birth, and he is awkward with her. But, this is to set the tone of the film because he is not the main character.
We then meet Jonah’s father, Gene, a former actor but now a teacher. In the past, he has related well with his two sons but now there is a tension with his younger son, Conrad (Devon Druid in a very convincing performance). The basic situation is that his wife, his boys’ mother, has died two years earlier. We have learned that she was a war photographer, absolutely fearless, going to the Balkans, going to the Middle East, involved in all kinds of dangerous situations with a portfolio of extraordinary photos. In the film, the photos do make quite an impact with their close-ups of war situations of all kinds – and in the final credits it is noted that many photographers contributed to the portfolio. There is a plan for an exhibition of the photos which means that father and sons have to look into their mother’s room and assess the various photos that she left behind.
in an interesting piece of casting, the mother, called Isabelle, is played by Isabelle repair it, one of the most versatile actresses for many decades. she appears a great range of flashbacks as well as in a number of the photos, in the memories of her husband and children, are sometimes enigmatic but powerful character.
Conrad is at school, exceedingly introspective, telling his father he is with friends when he phones but in fact is not, his father following him (and then an effective sequence where we see the same scene from Conrad’s point of view). Conrad locks himself in his room, plays computer games and becomes very involved, shutting his father out (though his father does try to enter the game, creating a character, but is killed off almost immediately).
As the film builds up, there is a further complication insofar as the father is having an affair with Conrad’s teacher. She is a sympathetic woman (Amy Ryan) but becomes a target when Conrad accidentally sees them embrace in the school precinct.
Another part of the conflict is the information we are given early that their mother has killed herself after returning from wars but that the father and Jonah have not been able to tell Conrad the truth, he idolising his mother.
It would almost seem that many bombs will explode in the family in their desperate conflicts – but, not spoiling the outcome at all, it is safe to say that the film is not without some hope.
US, 2016, 96 minutes, Colour.
Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Mead, Miles Heizer, Juliette Lewis.
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
Sounds as if it is a horror thriller, geared for people leaping from their seats. Not at all. Not at all for the audience, even though some of the characters have to go through some nerve-racking experiences of the “we dare you” variety.
This is definitely a film for younger audiences, practically all of the characters 20 plus or minus and really only Juliette Lewis as Emma Roberts’ mother (reminding older audiences that that is life, actresses who used to be teenagers now portraying mothers) in an older age bracket. This is also a film for audiences who like computer games – except this is a game in real life, played on the streets of New York (or on cranes or scaffolding high above the city streets) watched by an extraordinarily big following on their phones, computers or large screens.
Audiences are meant to identify with Emma Roberts’ Vee (Venus), quite a controlled young woman who tags along with the much more extroverted Sydney (Emily Meade) an ambitious fan of the game Nerve where dares come from a central IT company and people can join up to be watchers or doers. Sydney is a doer – and when the d is successfully accomplished, substantial winnings are transferred to bank accounts. With an ever-growing audience of watchers, there is extraordinary peer pressure to undergo the dare, which Sydney discovers, trying to cross a data over the span between buildings many storeys high.
It is that peer pressure as well as her image of herself that propels Vee to commit herself – to kiss a stranger in a public place. She does and it wasn’t so bad and then she finds the stranger, Ian, Dave Franco, is also a participant in Nerve and off they go to be a team, starting with Vee going into a fashionable store to try on a dress which costs almost $4000.
And on it goes, with ever more difficult dares, including Ian having to ride his motorbike through the New York streets getting up to 60 miles an hour, blindfolded. Vee steers him through this ordeal and on they go, the bank transfers for the dares accomplished going higher and higher. This puzzles Vee’s mother, a hard-working nurse in hospital.
One of the images that might go through an audience’s mind in watching the ever-increasing danger of the dares as well as the increasing number of watchers is that of Roman Empire times, gladiatorial combats, the same crowd-think, urging each other on as well as the combatants. And, in the social media age, cameras are continually on the dares, invalid without their being photographed, but also the most private of conversations between contestants being overheard by thousands, Vee unwittingly making judgement or comments about Sydney which she and all her friends listen into.
Not everyone is happy with Nerve and as the pressure increases, into a literal contemporary gladiatorial arena with guns drawn, the danger and illegality come to the fore, watchers being accused of participating and as accessories to murder.
So, by the end, this is a morality play, critical of young people and their succumbing to peer pressure, the low self-image and capacity for making decisions that means they go along with the dares despite the dangers and irresponsibility, and age of social media, it is very easy to be swept along with the excitement without giving much or any thought to personal or social consequences.
US, 2016, 104 minutes, Colour.
Oakes Fedgley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oona Lawrence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Directed by David Lowery.
Back in 1977, Disney produced a family film, with some special effects and starring Helen Reddy, Pete’s Dragon. Almost 40 years on, Disney have reworked the story and produced a film that will have strong appeal to family audiences – although there is a disturbing sequence at the beginning involving a car accident which may be a bit much for younger audiences, the little boy involved, Pete, being only five.
The setting is the forests of Northwest America, some rather remote territory (filmed in New Zealand) although the film shows the timber industry making incursions and cutting down a lot of trees. But, in the trees, six years after the accident, Pete is living in a tree hut, which may remind audiences who know The Jungle Book, of young Mowgli out in the jungle. But, instead of friendly bears and threatening tigers, Pete’s main friend, who rescued him after the accident, is a rather genial Dragon called Elliot.
Children will enjoy Elliot, a very friendly Dragon, not one of those menacingly flying around and breathing smoke and fire monsters. Pete and Elliott have been companions over the years, enjoying each other’s company, flying through and over the trees, with Elliot having a great talent of camouflage, seeming to disappear into the forests.
Then we see the adults. Meacham, Robert Redford, is a very friendly man, who tells the local children stories about having seen a dragon in the forest which they take with something of a grain of salt. So does his daughter, Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, who works as a ranger in the forest and whose fiance, Jack, Wes Bentley, has a bright young daughter, Natalie, Oona Lawrence,
For a while, Pete watches the humans and puzzles over what they are doing, since Jack owns a lumber mill and his brother, Gavin, Karl Urban, is cutting down more trees than he should. Eventually, Pete lets himself be found, Grace is all attention, Natalie has climbed a tree with Pete – and fallen down quite a long way – with Pete in hospital but escaping back to the forest.
Of course, there is the question of Elliot. Gavin becomes the baddy and goes to great lengths to capture Elliot and bring him back to the town.
After this, with a lot of effects, Pete and Meacham, who really has seen a dragon in the past, drive to the forest to free Elliot with Gavin, other workers, and the sheriff all in pursuit. It all looks a bit dangerous as Gavin blocks a bridge, Grace and Jack are in danger, and Elliott has to do his Dragon thing.
While Pete’s Dragon is an average kind of film for most audiences, families will probably be glad that it is one that most of them can watch with enjoyment, the children able to identify with both Pete and Natalie – and perhaps wishing they had a dragon friend like Elliot.
ROMEO & JULIET/ KENNETH BRANAGH’S ROMEO & JULIET
UK, 2016, 140 minutes, Black and white.
Lily James, Richard Madden, Derek Jacobi, Meera Syal, Marisa Berenson.
Directed by Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh.
In 2015-2016, Kenneth Branagh’s theatre company spent a year at the Garrick Theatre in London with such productions as A Winter’s Tail and The Entertainer. This version of Romeo and Juliet was part of the season.
Kenneth Branagh introduces the film and highlights how he was influenced by the style of the Italian films of the 1950s, where he sets the play, especially the black-and-white photography of films like La Dolce Vita of Federico Fellini. This version is filmed in black and white widescreen. Given the austerity of the stage set, flat space, steps, pillars, it works very well.
Branagh himself does not appear but he has changed the subsidiary character of Mercutio into a swinging man in his mid-70s in the form of Derek Jacobi who presents the Queen Mab speech with great elocution as a series of images. He also literally jive-swings onto the scene, has a stick with a sword, and adds boom-boom to his witticisms. Perhaps not so persuasive with the sword and the confrontation with Tybalt, but it is an interesting variation on the character.
Also interesting is British stage, screen and television actress and comedian, Meera Syal (The Kumars at number 42) as the down-to-earth nurse. And Marisa Berenson, perhaps best known for Barry Lyndon, is Lady Capulet.
The casting of Romeo and Juliet is the important central feature. Branagh had directed Lily James and Richard Madden in the cinema version of Cinderella, a very successful adaptation of the fairytale. Richard Madden looks the part but, somehow or other, is not as strong as he might be and, while he is a stage presence, his delivery somehow or other lacks the oomph and articulate a rendering of the verse by other performers of the role. in contrast, Lily James is very good as Juliet, young and inexperienced, doing a cartwheel across the stage, and (with audience response divided in opinion) swigging from a bottle of wine during the balcony sequence – and later having hiccups when she is nervous. However, she delivers her lines strikingly and holds the stage in the latter part of the performance.
The action moves fairly quickly, not all that much attention given to the brawling in the streets of Verona, moving the action with Friar Lawrence and the potions rapidly – and Juliet progressing, perhaps too rapidly, from young teenager to wife.
There have been many versions of Romeo and Juliet, including the Leslie Howard-Norma? Shearer version of 1934, a much older couple; Laurence Harvey and Susan Shental in 1954; Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in Zeffirelli’s 1968 version; Leonardo DiCaprio? and Claire Danes in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet; Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld in a less than sparkling 2013 version.
US, 2016, 89 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Seth Rogen, Kristin Wiig, Michael Cera, Salma Hayek, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, David Krumholz, Danny McBride?, Edward Norton, Craig Robinson.
Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon.
An anarchic cosmological allegory.
Not the first description that might come to mind for audiences rolling up for Sausage Party expecting a raucous comedy, especially since Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote the screenplay and Seth Rogen has the central role. For this audience it might seem just an MA certificate raunchy comedy.
And, of course that is what it is also – a crude and often crass surface while, for those who have the time and patience to go under the surface, listening to the clues amid the crass, Sausage Party is trying to take on some of the meaning of life.
Not that most audiences will necessarily want to go to this kind of story of the meaning of life – it will depend, as one reviewer remarked, on the compatibility of the sense of humour of the film and the audience sense of humour. In the words of Mark Twain for many, for very many, never the tween shall meet.
So, what is the sausage party? Setting is the supermarket with customers coming in preparing to celebrate fourth of July. And the main characters are sausages altogether in a packet adjacent to a group of buns. These products, anthropomorphised with strong vocal talent, have the belief that if they are sold, they will be taken out of the supermarket and find out a life after shelf in the Beyond. They sing quite an elaborate song to the Guards, the humans in the shop, projecting on to them a great benevolence, all their hopes and securities – and, we hear, as they sing Guards, the it does sound like God.
The humans and film are all ugly and aggressive characters, cooking the sausages, slicing them, or else aggressive customers and obnoxious staff, especially one who takes a sausage home but is high on drugs and decapitates himself. Stupid humans!
One of the sausages, Barry (Michael Cera) gets separated from the packet, sees the death of his friend Carl, wanders through terrifying he underworld which includes a vicious mop, but eventually get back to the packet and is reunited with his friend Frank (Seth Rogen). Frank has his eye on one of the buns (a quite anatomical female bun), Brenda (Kristin Wiig), who also gets waylaid, chased, and has to team up with a group of products, a Jewish bagel and a Muslim bread, and the Mexican taco (Salma Hayak).
Whether the screenwriters knew how to end the film, they opt for all the products involved in an extreme orgiastic climax (either satirically funny or offputting) and the products surviving 4th July. There are a lot of familiar voices including Paul Rudd, James Franco,
While animation films are generally geared to children and family audiences, Sausage Party is not!
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS
US, 2016, 89 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dyna Carvey, Steve Coogan.
Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney.
What Toy Story did for children and toys, this film does for adults and pets – the revelation of what goes on behind closed doors when humans are not looking!
Do films influence our behaviour? On a personal note, while out walking the morning after seeing this film, I saw a big dog approaching me with his owner at the end of the leash and the question arose: what does this dog get up to, who are his friends, where does he go as soon as the master leaves for work…?
This is a very amusing animated film, much better than the highlights picked out for the trailer, a film which should amuse youngsters as they watch the liberated antics of the pets and which should amuse adults with some smart dialogue, some funny situations, and, of course, wondering about the behaviour of their own pets.
This is the story of Max, found by Katie in a box outside a store, taken home, growing up, a devoted pet who is prepared to sit all day at the door waiting for Katie to come home. He is not the brightest. But, there are a whole lot of pets in the surrounding apartments who are his friends, Gidget, a fluffy white dog who is infatuated with Max, Chloe, a literally fat cat who cannot resist temptations of chicken in the fridge, a Chihuahua who turns on the mixer in order to scratch his long back, a hamster running around all the ventilation trying to find home, a little bird… They all seem to get on well and are amusingly introduced.
But then, Katie finds a new dog, a very big fellow called Duke, from the pound, he begins to take over from Max, his bedding, his food, affection by Katie.
When Duke and Max go out for a walk, they end up in an unsavoury neighbourhood (a lot of scrawny cats) and they have to run for their lives. The adventures begin, the posse from home all going in search for Max, Max and Duke sharing a lot of adventures, the introduction of a pattering rabbit who fancies himself as a rebel, Pops, an old dog resting his tail on wheels, chases within the sewers of New York, in the harbour, and a changed Duke going to find his previous home only to find a new family – and an aggressive cat.
And the adventures don’t finish there, but there is a dog-pound truck crash into the harbour from the bridge, underwater heroics, the rabbit undergoing something of a conversion experience, and everybody getting home just in time as if nothing had happened!
There is a very entertaining voice cast with Louis CK as Max, Eric Stonestreet as Duke, Jenny Slate as Digit, Lake Bell as Chloe the fat cat, an unmistakable Kevin Hart (unless you think it is Chris Rock) as the rabbit.
A reviewer friend sitting next to me chuckled out loud the whole way through so it was a bit of a surprise to find that some other reviewers weren’t so enamoured of the film, some complaining that there were too many characters to keep focused on or that they’d seen it all before…
Maybe, but this reviewer, rather more quietly, shared the chuckles all the way through.
US, 2016, 86 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serrra?.
The Shallows is a shark story for the 21st century. Clearly, it is in the tradition of Jaws – although Jaws is now 41 years old.
Audiences who see shark films are expecting some terror arising with men and women by the shark, expecting this shark to be demonised, expecting some jump cuts in the editing so that they share in the terror of the victims. There are all these ingredients in this film.
In fact, it is a rather small film, a rather more modest film compared with so many of the post-Jaws films, including the Jaws sequels. The focus is on one person and her experience of being terrorised by the shark.
The one person is Blake Lively as Nancy, a medical student who is still sad at the death of her mother from cancer, has emotional tangles with her father, is protective of her younger sister. She decides to go to Mexico to visit the beach that her mother had enjoyed when she was pregnant with Nancy, an isolated beach in Mexico. She travels with a friend who backs out of the trip to the beach, gets a lift with a local to the beach (he giving her the wise advice as she checks through the photos of her mother on her phone that she should look outside the car into the beauty of nature – which she does).
And she goes on her surfboard, huge waves, and two young locals also surfing – but soon, they go home.
Nancy discovers a dead whale with various birds picking at the flesh – and then, of course, the shark attracted by the blood attacking the carcass and getting ready to torment Nancy.
The film initially lulls the audience with the beauty of the beach as well as quite a lot of surf action but, once the shark appears and threatens Nancy, her leg is gashed but takes refuge on a rock, one of the problems being the changing of the tides and the rocks going underwater at high tide. There is a beacon buoy nearby and Nancy is challenged, even with her wounded leg and loss of blood, to time the circling of the shark and to swim to take refuge on the buoy.
Time passes. a seagull has been hit by the shark, bleeding from its wing – which, practically and symbolically, she fixes. Night, the sun during the day and has she shades herself a little with part of the broken surfboard. Will anybody find her? And, if they do, will the shark deal with them as well?
Of course, everybody is hoping for a happy ending – but the point of the film is sharing the experience with Nancy, the pain of her pinning her wound, the discomfort of the hours on the rock, having to swim through a whole lot of jellyfish, the buildup to the shark attacking the buoy and her using her wits as well as desperation.
At the opening of the film, a young boy has found a helmet and a camera with scenes of the shark, so we realise after a while that this will be important at the end of the film.
In a way, it is no great shakes (although the audience does jump out of its seat a couple of times) but, despite some plausibility holes in the plot, especially the time passing, her not having any food or water, Blake Lively, with whom the camera is in close-up love, is an engaging presence to make the film a brief time-passer. (And it was filmed in Queensland and on Lord Howe Island.)
US, 2016, 123 minutes, Colour.
Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Ezra Miller, Jai Courtenay, Common, Jay Hernandez, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman, Adam Beach, Adewale Akinnuoye Agabje, David Harbour.
Directed by David Ayer.
An enthusiast for Suicide Squad noted that it is a movie for those who are fans of DC Comics and are familiar with the characters, especially when they enjoy them. The enthusiast then noted that it was probably not a film for the casual movie viewer. Very true indeed!
While this reviewer has seen the Superman films and the Batman films and so has some esteem for DC Comics, this one was too much. For much of the running time, there was the temptation to label the film as absurd. As it went on, the temptation was to label it as bizarre. Then the realisation came that it was not a matter of either/or but of both/and, absurd and bizarre.
A lot of this was the intention of the writer-director, David Ayer, noted for some strong, muscular dramas in the past, like the World War II film, Fury. Actually, World War II stories led to an inspiration for this screenplay, a 50 years-on reinterpretation of the basic plot of The Dirty Dozen.
An American city is under siege from strange creatures and a powerful political/police chief, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has the idea that to deal with the threats to the population who are fleeing in fear is to round up a group of criminals with aggressive talents and set them on to the enemy.
It should be mentioned that the DC connection is there insofar as Batman has been instrumental in the imprisoning of some of the criminals – and, for those who are patient to wait during the credits at the end, there is a conversation between Bruce Wayne and Amanda Waller, the powerful woman in charge, which indicates that this bizarre, non-suicidal half-dozen will be back again.
In setting the scene, the film introduces us to a range of these villains who are now in prison. There is Deadshot, played by Will Smith as Will Smith, an assassin with a deadly target success and a range of weapons which enables him later to be gun over-crazy. Then there is Harley Quinn whom we discover was a psychologist treating the Joker, falling in love with him, taunted by him to dive into a vat and then rescued by him – and the film has intermittent flashbacks to her memories of him as well as his coming to rescue her at the end. There has been a lot of publicity about Jared Leto as The Joker, a rather gaunt Joker, quite manic but different from Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger.
Amongst the other members of the suicide squad are The Crocodile Killer, The Flash, Boomerang, an Australian robber, and several minor characters who are led by Rick Flag, played by Joel Kinnaman. While he is appointed by Amanda Waller, he and she have a personal interest in the enemy, especially his girlfriend June, Cara Delevingne, who is transformed into The Enchantress, working with her sinister brother to take over the city.
The film relies a great deal on stunts and action, lots of fighting, lots. The film also relies on the make up of several of the characters, the tantalising girlie look and behaviour of Harley Quinn, the scales of the Crocodile Killer, and a moment of fire display from The Flash. As to be expected, there is a lot of deadpan dialogue.
Which means that Viola Davis as Amanda Waller is a very serious presence in what is often very flip film.
The big box office success reminds us that there are a lot of fans out there while the non-fans are going to see something else.
US, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Jamey Sheridan, Mike O' Malley.
Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Many of us will remember the story from January 2009 from New York City, the plane that landed on the Hudson River, safely, with no loss of life. Many will remember that the nickname of the captain was Sully, and his name was Captain Chesley Sullenberger. Here is the story.
We are used to aviation stories on screen. We are used to aviation danger stories on screen. we have seen many many crashes. This is the opportunity to see a plane coming down and not crashing, as Capt Sullenberger insists to the examination board, of a plane not going into the river, but a plane on the river. There is a linguistic difficulty of saying landing because we don’t have a word for this kind of event like watering…
And who better to portray this serious gentleman of the year, clear-thinking, calm-reacting pilot with 42 years flying experience, from farm planes, military, to commercial airlines, and Tom Hanks? With white hair and moustache, he has a rather patrician bearing as he goes about his work, as he saves the day, helps in the orderly evacuation of the plane, is concerned about numbers of survivors, prepares to go to a board examining what he did, challenging the information provided by simulations with similar data to what he experienced, hailed a hero by the media and by passers-by in the street – and, ultimately vindicated and praised.
Speaking of the elderly and their abilities, the film has been directed by Clint Eastwood at the age of 85, along an exceptional career not only in performance but in film direction, winning two Oscars, and, since his 70th birthday, providing a long list of top cinema entertainments.
The structure of the film is something of a challenge, starting with Sully and his dreams of what might’ve happened, memories of 9/11 only seven and a bit years earlier, introducing the character, the appearance before a board, flashbacks about his past, and phone calls to his wife – Laura Linney with sequences only on phone calls. The actual experiences kept to the middle of the film the actual experiences kept.
Capital happened rather quickly, the plane taking off from LaGuardia? airport on its way to shop Charlotte, North Carolina, almost immediately running into a flock of birds, the engine is failing, altitude lowering, contact with flight control and recommendations to return to the airport or tried landing in New Jersey, with Sully estimating that the safest thing was to try to go down on the river. As he says at the end, the whole episode was saved by the combined work of his co-pilots, played by Aaron Eckhart, the flight attendants who keep their calm, the cooperation of the passengers in disembarking, the speedy response of Hudson River ferries, of helicopters and divers, rescuing people from the water, from the life rafts and the number of people standing on each wing.
The examination board is portrayed as rather severe on Sully, implying that he should have turned back to LaGuardia? and could have reached it, relying on several simulation exercises – But Sully reminds them that it was not a simulation but reality, that there was some time needed to weigh up the alternatives, something omitted by the simulations.
The film runs for only 95 minutes but it keeps the attention with its characters, especially Sully, with the media response, Sully becoming a hero on an ordinary working day in the US, the reconstruction of the flight and the response of authorities, the public and the media.
UK, 2016, 134 minutes, Colour.
Agyness Dean, Kevin Guthrie, Peter Mullan.
Directed by Terence Davies.
British director, Terence Davies, has had a long career, acquired a very strong reputation, but has not been able to make as many films as he would like, at one stage almost 10 year absence from the screen owing to lack of financing. He has made some classics, especially Distant Voices, Still Lives, one of the most compelling and sadly harsh portraits of an English family, The Long Day Closes, a version of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, a powerful version of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea and a forthcoming biography of American poet, Emily Dickinson.
For this film he has gone to a novel by Lewis Grassic Gribbon, a Scottish setting, the years before World War I and into the war itself. Location filming was done in Scotland as well is in New Zealand.
One of the things to consider with Davies film is that it is more than likely to be slowly-paced, meditative with a touch of the contemplative. There is more than ample time to immerse oneself in the lives of the characters, in the atmosphere of their surroundings, to listen to what they have to say as well is to what they don’t say.
The central character of this story is Christine, Chris, a young woman, with a voice-over narrating and commenting on her story. She is played somewhat passively by Agyness Dean. She is one of five children, her farmer-brother the object of the fierce and bullying attention of her stern father (Peter Mullan doing yet another more than harsh father), two younger brothers with the birth of another baby, her mother enduring the difficult life and circumstances of her marriage and the family, it all becoming too much for her.
Chris is a reader and writer, intent on becoming a teacher but circumstances alter everything and she inherits the farm and some money from her parents. While an uncle and aunt take the young children for care, Chris remains on the farm, working very hard. There is a certain grimness about many of Davies films and this one has its moments of gloom for Chris as well.
One of the young men around the town, Ewan (Kevin Guthrie), seems a bit insignificant when we first see him but he is attracted to Chris and, eventually, she to him, a romantic union which seems to be heading for happiness.
The film gives a great deal of attention to life in Scotland, the times, customs, work, the countryside – although it is interesting that a number of Scottish bloggers question the feel and the authenticity of some of the characters and the situations. For those of us who are not in the know, we accept the presentation of this Scottish life.
The community seems remote, outside Aberdeen, but there are rumblings of war, and eventually the war breaks out, young men volunteer, others like Ewan are committed to their farm – but the pressure of the patriotism of the time, the sending of white feathers to those who do not join up and are considered cowards, become too much for Ewan and the story assumes an extremely downbeat tone, Ewan going to war, the loneliness of Chris and her son, the effect of the close trench warfare taking some toll on Ewan. And audiences, now aware of the traumatic stress of war experience are reminded of how drastic was the action by military authorities on those who did not measure up to expectations.
The title suggests that this may not be an entirely happy film, nor is it. It is one where the filmmaker wants to re-create a world and immerse his audience in it, for both better and for worse.
New Zealand, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by David Farrier, Dylan Reeve.
Tickled! Tickled pink! Ticklish! They sound rather funny if you repeat them often enough. And this film begins with scenes which are rather funny, a blend of ha-ha and peculiar.
If you would judge this film just by the trailer, you might imagine that it was just about a sport you had never heard of, Endurance Tickling. Well, it is, but more, much more.
David Farrier is a New Zealand documentary filmmaker, eagerly on the lookout for the odd tidbit that might prove an interesting and entertaining story. When he came across some video material about Endurance Tickling as a sport, naturally enough he followed it up – and bit off far more than he would have to chew.
The videos, mainly with young men, being tickled by other young men, seemed more than a touch bizarre, the tickled men giggling and laughing – as one would. So, he and a friend, Dylan Reeve, not only decided to follow through but check out a name and address, Jane O’Brien? Media, that was credited on these videos. All well and good, except that as they pursued their inquiries, a representative of Jane O’Brien? started to email, warning them off, even threatening legal action.
One of the first responses was for three Americans to go to Auckland to meet with – confront – the would-be film-makers. What else does a New Zealand journalist do but decide not just to follow it up but for he and his partner to travel to the US.
If this sounds intriguing, and it is, then it is well worthwhile sharing this investigative journalist journey and explore the world of the sport as well as some of the personalities behind it. David Farrier does quite a good job of following up leads, finding people willing to talk on camera, running the risk of legal action and threats, filming all the way, to end up with a documentary that was not what he thought it would be, but much better.
Yes, there is a sport, and there are many videos available, especially on social media. In talking with some young men who became involved, they discovered a mysterious story, auditions, tickling sessions, and the three people who visited New Zealand involved in the filming. Once they had discovered someone who was professionally interested in this kind of tickling and who would help them with their investigation, the film becomes something of a detective story. They were trying to unravel a mystery, starting with a rather glamorous photo of a woman who sponsored the videos in the 1990s but then had disappeared, then a personality who had been involved in promotion and PR, which led them to an American teacher who seemed to have been involved but who had disappeared from the scene.
By this time, some audiences might have guessed what happened, but mainly we are carried along with the momentum, a visit to a group in Michigan and the interview with a practitioner and his family, to New York City and interview with a lawyer who was sending David Farrier a letter of please explain.
By the end of the film, the mystery is solved, but not necessarily the mysteriousness of the sport, questions about those who are addicted, and why, to the spectacle of young men enduring such tickling.
David Farrier himself does the commentary and Dylan Reeve appears, especially when they have to decide whether they will continue with the project or not. Just as well they did.
TRAIN TO BUSAN
Korea, 2016, 118 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Sa-ng-ho Yeon.
The title makes it sound like one of those old thrillers, where all kinds of things happen on the trains like that of the Orient express. This train, however, is on a one-hour-long journey from the capital of Korea, Seoul, to the city of Busan. What happens is certainly disaster but not so much in the vein of those old disaster movies.
What distinguishes this film is not that it is a zombie film but that it is a Korean zombie film.
It opens in the familiar way, a truck driver on the highway being stopped by masked military, told that there has been an accident at the local plant, he grumbling about threats to his crops, and then hitting a deer on the road which rises up with zombie eyes.
So, the scene having been set, we are introduced to the characters who will be on the train, most explicitly a father who has his daughter living with him but tends to neglect her, is separated from his wife, is caught up in his job as a fund manager, making some ruthless decisions. Urged by his mother, and it being the little girl’s birthday and his giving her a lavish present which he has given to her on a previous occasion, he decides to take her to see her mother.
At the platform, there is a sports team, there are two elderly sisters, and on the train there is a large worker guarding the toilet for his pregnant wife.
Pretty soon it is clear that the zombie effect is all the rage, zombies on the platform storming the train, causing mayhem – and observers have noted that Koreans, unlike Americans in similar situations, don’t carry guns so combat is either with fists or baseball bats. When the passengers think they have arrived safely at the station, more zombies have taken over and they have to flee back to the train, some in a compartment, some in a toilet who have to be rescued by the father, the worker, a rather wild man who first alerted people to the zombies and one of the sports team – the pregnant wife, the daughter and one of the old ladies are trapped in a toilet.
A lot of the action takes place as the rescuing group tries to get through the zombie-filled compartments, distracting, crawling along the luggage racks and relying on tunnels because zombies cannot see in the dark. There is further complication when a self-centred businessman does not want the rescuers to come in for fear they are infected and, when they do get in, the crowd relegate them to isolation.
The zombie special effects are quite effective, faces infected, angular contortions – and there are a lot of scenes with crowds of zombies, at one stage massing against the glass wall and crashing and falling through, leaping onto trains and, finally, being dragged en masse by an engine through the railyard.
One of the main points is self-sacrifice, exemplified by the little girl but all the men characters, the rescuers, have to face up, and do, to the challenge of saving others through self-sacrifice.
This is certainly one of the better zombie films.
US, 2016, 114 minutes, Colour.
Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Kevin Pollock, Ana De Armes, Bradley Cooper.
Directed by Todd Phillips.
The Dogs of War is a phrase used to describe combat hardship, difficulties, heroism. War Dogs is not the same thing and, in this case, definitely not the same thing.
The story is told from the point of view of David, Miles Teller doing a variation on his raunchy comedy routines but, basically, a more seriously decent type. At this stage, 2005, he is something of a pothead, trying to sell quality sheets to homes for the elderly (where the managers think that quality is useless for their clientele), then doing male massages in hotel, and in a relationship with an attractive partner, iz, who is pregnant.
At a funeral, he meets an old school friend, Efraim, Jonah Hill doing a bossy and scheming variation on his raunchy comedy routines. He has been getting arms from the police in California and selling them on eBay. Now, in Florida, he intends to expand and invites David along to be an associate, 70-30.
So much for entrepreneurial twentysomethings. But, this is a true story which takes us more than a bit beyond belief.
Efraim is rather shrewd in the sense that he doesn’t go for huge contracts but rather deals with “crumbs” and amasses quite an income. But, he becomes ambitious, entering into a contract with an officer in Iraq to supply him with Italian Beretta weaponry – but, in serious comic style, Efraim has to use his wits and David his diplomacy with the officer because Italy has introduced legislation against this kind of sale of arms, Efraim thinks they should be delivered to Jordan, the two men go over to Jordan, deal with local smugglers, drive into Iraq, are pursued by bandits but finally deliver their goods – and get a reputation with American military procurement officials.
Emboldened, they go off to a weapons exhibition in Las Vegas, encounter a famous arms dealer (played by Bradley Cooper who produced the film) and decide to go for broke with his encouragement, an enormous contract for the military.
They are able to fake their papers and accounts, and are surprised to get the contract – which seems to go off well, with visits to Albania and more dodgy deals, then dodgy deals, which brings the situation to a climax and a crisis.
The plot is interesting as one looks at American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time, the huge contracts and movement of arms, remembering the exploitation by various American companies in Iraq, but this picture of two young men becoming involved in arms sales while having no moral stance about rights or wrongs of the war, has reminded audiences of the comic expose of the entrepreneurs, young, prior to the global financial crisis, The Big Short.
Efraim becomes more and more a dislikeable character, foul-mouthed and unprincipled, while David is the one who has his conscience challenged.
In Snowden, Oliver Stone’s film about the man who leaked information, the background of his work for the CIA takes place at the same time as the action in War Dogs, even with some comment about the profligacy of military procurement. Into that setting of American management and mismanagement, War Dogs finds its place.
US, 2016, 96 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg.
There is plenty in this documentary to fascinate its audiences. The film has a solid reputation, winning awards, including Grand Jury Prize, Sundance 2016. It is a fly-on-the-wall documentary, access being allowed to the filmmakers to be present to the subject, Anthony Weiner, and his wife, Huma, allowed into their privacy, even intimacy. The director of the film previously served as a chief-of-staff to Anthony Weiner.
Anthony Weiner has been a politician, American, Jewish, married to an Arab, having a son – and with enormous potential for political success. However, audiences going into the film will know what happened to him, the sex scandals, his having to resign from the Senate, his 2013 campaign to be mayor of New York City and the new round of scandals which emerged, and his losing the election.
In the early part of the film there are several clips of his giving speeches in the American Congress, his role as a senator, the importance of financial aid to be given to veterans of wars and his impassioned pleas, challenging the opposition, ridiculing the stances of some politicians and engaging a great deal of media support.
He was also strong on communications, a locally personality, his lean look, his brashness, touches of narcissism, his relationship with his wife and son then the revelations about his sexual communications, photos, and the emergence of some kind of addiction – which led to television interviewers asking what was wrong with him.
there is a certain audience prurience and curiosity on the issue of the emergence of the photos, seeing them, wondering about them – and the effect that it would have on his wife. There was a great deal of media commentary, in the press, on television – and the comedians making a great deal of satiric fun at his expense.
The film spends a lot of time on his campaign to be elected mayor 2013, to overcome the previous scandals, to show himself as a sincere and honest politician, supported by his wife, an aide for Hillary Clinton – with the irony that Bill Clinton had presided over Anthony Weiner’s marriage to Huma (and the scandals attached to Bill Clinton).
Weiner’s supporters and campaign staff are shown to be young, enthusiastic, active. They are shown in action, in meetings, and strategy talks, for the causes that Weiner was supporting.
The new scandals are rather devastating on the morale of the campaign staff. This is compounded when there were revelations about the woman with whom Weiner was in contact in Las Vegas, Sydney Leathers, young woman, her sexual bravado, her interviews and her declaration about expectations of him, and media appearances, social media, and her trying to get into the hotel at the end of the election, not being allowed in – with information about her later career in adult films.
A great deal of the interest of the latter part of the film is looking at Weiner’s handling of the situation – in close-up, warts and all. Many of his staff are seen in meetings, trying to develop strategies. And then there are the television interviews – and asking “what’s wrong with you?”.
Of particular interest, is the portrait of Huma, her political savvy, the marriage, her pregnancy and birth, care for her son, the continued support of her husband – although looking less and less enthusiastic as the campaign goes on.
Nevertheless, Weiner continues to go out campaigning, meeting happily with supporters, kissing babies… However, it is an unexpected loud skirmish with a Jewish man, the confrontation in a shop, the man continuingly posing questions to Weiner and Weiner losing his cool, hitting back, insults, all for the onlooking journalists and their cameras.
Weiner loses the election, getting the lowest percentage vote. He goes to the hotel, decides to send his wife home instead of facing the waiting media. The directors have continued access in these dire situations, Weiner willing and self-centredly ruminating, Huma becoming more detached.
There is a postscript with Weiner and a photo opportunity with a young boy in the street realising who the celebrity is, getting excited, phoning home and wanting a photograph with Weiner - granted.
At the time of the film’s general release, August 2016, Huma and Anthony Weiner separated, a crucial time in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the US presidency.
US, 2016, 88 minutes, Colour.
Lily- Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Johnny Depp, Austin Butler, Justin Long, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne, Genesis Rodriguez, Vanessa Paradis, Haley Joel Osment, Stan Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Conroy.
Directed by Kevin Smith.
For the last 20 years or more, it is a standard statement in any review of Kevin Smith’s films to say that it is for Kevin Smith fans – and others be alerted or warned. Definitely the case here.
Smith’s film prior to this one was Tusks, a rather grotesque story about grotesques. This is something of a follow-up, taking up some of the characters and their investigations into oddities in human nature. The main proponent is Guy Lapointe, an odd looking old codger with a French- Canadian English accent who lumbers through a whole lot of activities – while many might not recognise that under the make up there is Johnny Depp, as in Tusks, doing yet another of his expert oddball performances.
However, the film opens with two young 14 ½ schoolgirls playing their guitars, singing vigorously with a middle-aged drum player. While some of this is amusing in itself, especially when they go back into the store where they work, and meet a whole lot of strange customers, and then have encounters with their demanding parents, we might wonder where it is all going.
We should have been more alert to one of the customers who goes out from the shop and suddenly is attacked from behind by this miniature soldier and dies. This leads to a number of deaths, including two young Satanists who had invited the girls to the year 12 party, with the girls being arrested and Guy Lapointe coming to investigate.
By this stage, the non-Smith fans might well have given up. The fans can be reassured that it improves, in absurdity of course, from this point on.
The girls go to school where it certainly emerges that they are not the brightest sparks, very much living in the present, no idea of history, absolutely devoted to their phones which they cannot live without and addicted to Instagram (and this is the manner in which all the characters are introduced).
Even if one were to recount the plot, one would get lost in a lot of the details – suffice it to say that we are taken back to Canada’s fascist past during World War II, Nazi infiltration, a rabble rouser with moustache – played, of all people, by Haley Joel Osment – and a sympathiser who is able to cryogenically preserve himself for later generations as well as his giving his blood to choice sausages (yes sausages) who all wake up prematurely and become an army of little fascist military out to destroy everyone (played by Kevin Smith himself). The newly-revived fascist comments on his funny accent and decides to communicate in the voices of Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger…
What has Kevin Smith got against Canada? The whole story is set in Winnipeg (with an attitude a bit like the creators of South Park towards Canada). And everybody speaks, highlightedly so, pronouncing the word ‘out’ and all its combinations and variations as ‘oot’, much more emphasised than we ever noticed before.
One other thing that needs to be said that this is a very family affair. The two girls are called Colleen and one is played by Lily- Rose Depp, the daughter of Johnny Depp and singer Vanessa Paradis (who plays the history teacher who opens up the Nazi past for her students). The other Colleen is played by Kevin Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith (who else could Kevin Smith would call his daughter Harlequinn), with her mother, Jennifer Schwabach, playing a supporting role and being one of the main producers of the film. So, definitely all in the family. (And Lily- Rose Depp does make quite an impression).
A number of Kevin Smith’s friends have supporting roles and Marvel Comic guru, Stan Leey, plays a police patrol officer. and, satisfyingly for those who enjoyed all this silly entertainment, there is announcement that the two Colleen’s will appear in a film entitled Moose Jaw.