SIGNIS REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 2017
47 METRES BELOW
DARK TOWER, The
HITMAN’S BODYGUARD, The
INCONVENIENT SEQUEL, An
SMALL TOWN KILLERS/ DRAENERNE FRA NIBE
VOYAGE OF TIME: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE
47 METERS DOWN
UK, US, Dominican Republic, 2017, 89 minutes, Colour.
Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine, Chris Johnson, Yanni Gelman, Santiago Segura.
Directed by Johannes Roberts.
47 meters down could be in a shaft, a deep hole, the sea. In this case it is the sea, specifically the ocean off the Mexico coast (although the scenes were filmed in the Dominican Republic, hotels, beaches, the open sea).
Sharks have frequently been the symbols of terror – as well as providing real terror. Even prior to Jaws, there were a number of thriller films with shark in the title, Shark, Shark’s treasure… In fact, the attraction to screenwriters to provide shark and comparable stories continues, from pot boiling stories like the Sharknado television films to the Blake Lively 2016 fear-fostering The Shallows.
One of the main features of this film is that after 20 minutes, two young women go down in a cage and that for the next 55 minutes both the audience and the women spend it completely underwater.
The underwater sequences are effective and it is quite a surprise (for those who remain to read the credits) to discover that it was all done in an underwater studio in Basildon, in England.
The story is pretty straightforward because the main attention is given to the dangers and the peril. Two sisters go for a holiday to Mexico, one, Kate (Claire Holt) the adventurous type, the other, Lisa (Mandy Moore) the older sister, a touch envious of her outgoing sister, and who is experiencing a breakup, from the only man that she was ever attached to.
The director has a nice touch, the opening credits underwater, but only in the swimming pool, and a glass of red wine being tipped over and staining the water, foreboding blood.
The rest of the plot is quite simple. The women meet two attractive locals who persuade them to go out to sea and to go diving in a protective cage. The captain of the boat is played by Matthew Modine. Well, the two men go down and all is well. We know that when the two women go down, all will not be well. There are lots of explanations about how much air will be available, how to be restrained in breathing, how to read the warning signals, and a lot of dialogue reassuring everyone that everything will be okay and they will have the time of their lives!
It is not too long before they see sharks circling and are amazed in admiration, but then a shark gobbles up the camera that they drop. Then the chain of the winch holding the cage breaks and down they go, 47 meters.
For the next hour or so, we share the women’s terrors, initial panic, an ability to keep calm, some radio contact, but fears that the boat might have left them, sharks, of course, some possible help and, again of course, hopes raised and then dashed, more peril.
The two women take it in turns to be panicky then fearless with radio contact at times and Matthew Modine being reassuring – the warning against coming to the surface too quickly because of the bends as well is possible nitrogen poisoning after plugging in to relief air tanks underwater.
The film plays a dramatic trick at the ending – but it works. And it is all to do with the solution of how the two women are to be rescued.
Needless to say, but still worth saying, that this is not a film for any audience who feels claustrophobic underwater let alone vicariously experiencing some sense of hopelessness and prospective drowning and the ever present sharks.
It certainly is effective of its kind.
Australia, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.
Osama Sami, Don Hany, Helana Sawires, Rodney Afif.
Directed by Jeffrey Walker.
What to say first? That Ali’s Wedding is entertaining or that Ali’s Wedding is topical? For Australian audiences – especially those who live in Melbourne – it is very entertaining. For Australian audiences everywhere it is very topical.
This is the story, a true story – as the advertising tagline says, ‘unfortunately’ – of a family who came from Iraq, were ousted at the time of Saddam Hussein, took refuge in Iran but eventually migrated to Australia, arriving in Melbourne and settling with the Muslim community in the inner northern suburbs of the city. In case anyone was wondering about the truth of the story, there are many photos before the final credits of the actual characters on whom the story is based.
At the centre of the story is Ali, played quite engagingly by actor and comedian, Osama Sami, who also collaborated with highly-awarded Australian writer, Andrew Knight, on the screenplay.
The tone is set instantly – an open paddock outside Melbourne, a tractor coming over the hill, Ali in wedding clothes frantically driving the tractor and then the police in pursuit.
In reality, most Australians have very little idea about migrants, refugees, asylum seekers from the Middle East. There have been a number of powerful documentaries about the plight of boat people sent to Manus Island and Nauru and the conditions they have experienced there and the stances of Australian politicians and public opinion.
But, what about day-to-day living in Melbourne? The older generation, in this case father and mother, Don Hany is impressive as the father, leader of those who gather at the local mosque (men in one part, women in the other) who pray, discuss, and put on plays. Values from original countries are preserved. Yet, the importance of multicultural interactions in Australia are highlighted. And, of course, this is especially true of the younger generation – Aussie clothes, Aussie accents and Ocker language.
One of the main themes of the film is actually truth and lies. Ali walks in the shadow of his reputable father and the expectations of his mother, and memories of his older brother who gave his life to save Ali when he stepped on a mine back home. It takes only one small lie and the consequences are enormous. Ali claims that he got into medicine at Melbourne University with a very high mark, better than the proper son of the very proper alternative religious leader at the mosque. But he does give credit to the highest mark obtained by Diane, originally from Lebanon, working in her father’s takeaway shop. And Ali is infatuated, awkwardly visiting the shop to make contact.
So, some adventures at Melbourne University when Ali attends, despite his mark, and gets tangled in lectures and tutorials – rescued from one by his eager mother and her friends who have wedding plans well in hand. Ali is unwilling. He dreams of Diane. While he gets advice from his friends about how to deal with the tea ceremony and the betrothal, he is so eager that he gets it wrong, everyone initially aghast, but the prospective father-in-law delighted that Ali seems so eager. The wedding of the title, therefore, is that between Ali and his betrothed.
Not that a lot of drama does not happen in the meantime, Ali exposed, humiliated, the interesting way in which the community treats him (surprisingly forgiving), but Diane…
And so, we are back at Ali on the tractor and what has happened at the wedding.
Some audiences might feel a bit apprehensive about the broadly drawn characters and dialogue, fearful that this might be something of a putdown. But, the spirit is so exuberant, inviting the broad audience to share in the satiric touches, the spoof, the funny situations, even the cultural customs and the overdoing of them, that most audiences will be satisfyingly entertained and horizons opened towards Muslims just that bit more widely. Of course, getting to know people makes all the difference.
US, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour.
Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Jesse Plemons.
Directed by Doug Liman.
It sounds more than a bit odd to use the word “rollicking” and the word “depressing” to describe American Made. Why?
The depressing part of the film is that it is all true. This is the 1970s and 1980s, the era of Jimmy Carter giving speeches about things declining in the US, Ronald Reagan coming in to talk optimistically about the 1980s, Nancy Reagan saying “say no to drugs”, but also the period of the Medellin cartels and Pablo Escobar, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the arming by the United States of the Contras and training them in America, Oliver North and the proposal for Iran to aid the Contras… Very depressing. And it makes one wonder what films about activities of the present will feature in films of 30 years time! Given the American history of 2016-17, it is somewhat depressing already!
As regards “rollicking”, this is very much the tone and style of the film, bright and breezy, bright saturated colours for landscapes, tunes of the times, very boisterous hero with boisterous exploits. And he is played by Tom Cruise.
Both Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, in the Mission Impossible series and his performances as Jack Reacher despite the ironies, are pretty serious, very serious missions, impossible or not. But, as Barry Seal, the true-life action hero of these escapades, he can let his hair down, so to speak, let his inhibitions down, and enjoy himself while giving the solid impression that the hero is enjoying himself.
At the end of the 1970s, Barry Seal was a TWA pilot, enjoying turning autopilot off to disturb his co-pilot as well as give the passengers some unexpected and unwelcome turbulence, laughing all the way home. But, on the way home, he is smuggling drugs through various American cities. He is happily married, and glamorous wife (Sarah Wright), two children and his wife pregnant, a home in Baton Rouge.
Then, one day a government agent (hush-hush), calling himself Monty Schaefer (Domhnal Gleeson) turns up with files all about Barry Seal’s activities. We have already seen the political situation in Central America, especially the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Ronald Reagan speeches (as well as some rollicking excerpts from his Bedtime for Bonzo and some westerns), so the offer is to secretly photograph hotspots. So successful is he that he is commissioned to transport gun secretly to the Contras in Nicaragua. It is an offer that Barry can’t refuse, in fact an offer that he eagerly embraces.
The trouble is that he has been in league with Pablo Escobar, so what eventuates is a combination flights, guns to Nicaragua, drugs from Columbia dropped at various centres along the way home. Schaefer assists him, and another cargo is introduced, Contras from Nicaragua being flown in to a training camp outside the town of Mena, Arkansas, where Barry and his family have not only quickly moved to stay ahead of the law, but which provides open space for the training camp, an enormous amount of equipment care of the government as well as massive, massive amounts of cash coming in, eagerly banked,, being stored all over the place, even buried in the yard because there is so much.
Isn’t America great – as Barry often thinks and states.
It is all very well for Monty Schaefer to run this operation but the DEA becomes interested, so does the FBI, the local police, Arkansas government…
So, in order to avoid time in prison, Barry is persuaded to set up Escobar and associates, now in exile from Columbia, with evidence for the American authorities. Whether intended or not (one is inclined to bet on intended), Barry is exposed and becomes a target for the Columbia cartel. Barry narrates all his exploits on a series of tapes, all labelled for discovery by the authorities.
Not exactly a rollicking end to this real-life story, except that the Reagan Administration goes on, as does the Bush administration, Oliver North gets exposed – but American life, American-made, goes on.
A sardonically pacey harking back to an American past which can now be exposed.
US, 2017, 109 minutes, Colour.
Anthony La Paglia, Miranda Otto, Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard, Mark Bramhall.
Directed by David Sandberg.
After the success of the two Conjuring films and then the spinoff with the murderous doll, Annabelle, commentators have talked about the creation of a Conjuring Universe. Now we have the prequel to Annabelle and a further episode taking up the character of the murderous nun in The Conjuring 2, with intimations given in this film.
Most of the characters in this film are female. There are a few men, Anthony La Paglia as the doll maker, Sam Chambers, a priest driving a bus for orphans who also blesses a sinister house, police at the end and some adoptive parents. But, there is a great emphasis on the women, especially from Miranda Otto as Esther, the doll maker’s wife. And there is a little daughter who very early in the film is killed in a car accident.
Most of the action takes place 12 years later with a bus load of orphans, under the charge of Sister Charlotte (a very sympathetic nun played by Stephanie Sigman), who have been invited to transfer their institution to the Chamber’s house, a vast and somewhat Gothic exterior with a myriad of rooms. The two youngest girls at the centre of the drama, Janice (Talith Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson), are two very convincing performers, especially Janice who is taken over by the evil doll who was evilly possessed by the Chambers’ young daughter.
Having emphasised the female presence and the feminine sensibility of the film (although written and directed by men), it needs to be said that macho audiences have expressed disappointment at how “tame” the film is. Rather, it could be said that the film is a “slow burn” leaving the expected mayhem for a final climax.
Interestingly, there is quite a Catholic background to The Conjuring Universe. The Chambers go to church on Sunday, ask the priest to bless their house when it falls prey to the sinister presence of their daughter who has possessed the doll (and a reasonable explanation given later in the film). The children are Catholic, pray, are guided well by Sister Charlotte – with, interestingly, Sister and Janice sitting back to back but Janice formally making her confession to Sister Charlotte.
On the one hand, for evil possession sceptics, the film could be seen as rather well-written and well-acted hokum. For those who are susceptible, a different horror experience, because of the doll and the little girls.
(For those wondering about the connection between the Annabelle films and the Conjuring films, the murderous doll, Annabelle, finally found her place in the museum run by the Warrens, the famous couple, and TV personalities, who had a career in exorcisms and appear in The Conjuring films and came into prominence with the possessed Amityville house in the 1970s.)
US, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.
Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Ellar Coltrane, Bill Paxton, Glenne Hedley, Karen Gillan, John Boyega.
Directed by James Ponsoldt.
Well, this is embarrassing. Do you often have that message appear on your computer screen when Word or Mozilla is telling you that it is not responding and they come up with that embarrassment apology and make suggestions about how you could rectify the situation?
Well, this is embarrassing. When this reviewer consulted the IMDb entry on The Circle and found such hostility towards the film, its subject, the screenplay, performances, it was a very awkward moment. Principally because the reviewer had liked the film a lot and was being shamed by a vigorous, sometimes vicious, combination of reviewers, bloggers and trolls. Perhaps I should have guessed it because the cinema release in Melbourne was at only six venues in outer suburbs, for one week only, one session per day at 10:15 am.
So, the challenge was to articulate what was so interesting in the film.
It was the subject. The Circle is a technology company which is moving so fast that it is gaining members as prolifically as Facebook, Link-in, Twitter…, especially members in the younger age bracket who are eager to be in instant and detailed communication with as many people as possible and as instantly as possible. The aim seems to be to make everything, every thought, every feeling, even every secret, as available as imginable.
At the centre of the story is Mae, a strong performance by Emma Watson, a young woman doing secretarial work who gets the opportunity to have an interview to work for The Circle, assisted by her good friend, Anna (Karen Gillan) who has a significant position in the company. Mae gets the job and is delighted. She goes to the weekly Friday evening gathering of workers and members, enthusiastic young adults, who listen in admiration to the genial and good-humoured self-promotion of the CEO, Eamon Bailey, played, significantly, by Tom Hanks.
Important are characters in the background of Mae’s life, especially her parents (Bill Paxton and Glenne Hedley who both died soon after completion of the film) and a kind of boyfriend, Mercer, played by Ellar Coltrane (whom audiences saw growing up, year by year in the twelve years of the making of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood).
Mae is constantly challenged by exuberant co-workers, wondering why she doesn’t participate in all the communal activities of the company. Mae likes to kayak and, one night, to get away from things, she takes a kayak from a locked facility, goes onto San Francisco Bay, gets into trouble and immediately there are searchlights and rescuers. Everybody knows about and has looked at what she has done. The consequence is that Mae is challenged, acknowledging how she felt bad when she was keeping secrets, enthusiastically agreeing to wear a mini-camera all the time so that all the members of The Circle can her see her every action, share her every thought and feeling, including her contact with her parents, her father suffering severely from MS.
While the audience in the cinema is looking at Mae, brief message after message, Twitter -like, sail across the screen, everybody participating in Mae’s life. Mae is so buoyed by all of this even to suggesting that as individuals register for The Circle, automatically they are put on the electoral roll – leading to an optimistic sharing of ideas and attitudes, everyone united. She doesn’t think of the word ‘totalitarian’.
So, the challenge to the film’s audience, the screenplay written by Dave Eggers who wrote the original novel, is where we stand on communication, where we stand on privacy, where we stand on invasions of privacy, guilt feelings and shame and shaming, and where social media is taking us and is taking us so rapidly.
Maybe the bloggers felt threatened by the message of this film, a caution on the repercussions of social media, some of them potentially tragic.
This reviewer liked the message and its challenge, the performances, the implications of the themes. It is hoped that there are some out there who will also like The Circle.
THE DARK TOWER
US, 2017, 95 minutes, Colour.
Idris Elba, Matthew Mc Conaughhey, Tom Taylor, Dennis Haysbert, Claudia Kim, Jackie Earle Haley, Abby Lee, Kathryn Winnick, José Zuniga.
Directed by Nikilaj Arcel.
For more than 40 years, Stephen King has been regaling worldwide audiences with a variety of horror stories in his novels and then in the screen versions of the novel is. They run an enormous range, horror, both apocalyptic and contemporary, and this film combining both.
The film opens with children playing – not for long in a Stephen King story. They are targeted by an evil sorcerer, Walter, and their inner energy, their “shine” is extracted by machines and fired towards a thin high tower that reaches towards the sky – a kind of transcendent presence that might guarantee safety to the world or, because of a variety of portals, many worlds. It seemed to have a similar function to the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This is the stuff of nightmares. And, literally it is, young Jake, Tom Taylor, has these dreams continually, spending his time drawing them, stark black and white pictures of the tower, the evil Walter and a blurred figure of a gunslinger. Jake has lost his father tragically in a fire. His mother is concerned about his mental health as is his stepfather who, of course, he dislikes intensely.
Then, the film reveals that this other world, other planet, has its own reality and not just in Jake’s dreams. Just as he is about to be taken to a psychology camp, he escapes the representatives who, of course, are servants of Walter. He is given a clue that a mysterious house of his dreams can be found in Brooklyn and then makes his way there, and is enticed to go through a mysterious portal.
He soon encounters Roland, the gunslinger, whose mission is to destroy Walter, especially after Walter destroys his father. The two protagonists are played by a rather high powered-stars: Idris Elba as Roland, the gunslinger, and eerily mysterious and evil, Matthew Mc Connaughhay as Walter.
While there are a lot of mysterious activities in the other planet, especially with the staff working on the children and extracting their inner “shine”, there is a sinister researcher, Jackie Earle Haley. The trouble is that Water has powers over life and death and can say, in a Matthew McConnaughey?,” stop breathing” – and they do.
One of the intriguing aspects of the plot is that there are several portals in New York City and that the central characters can come and go, Jake searching for his mother, Roland needing medical help (but helped by medication, hotdogs and Coca-Cola).
The plot is particularly American with an enormous reliance on guns. With the gunslinger and the guns, the gun is seemingly glorified as the weapon of choice for winning the battle and evil. And, quite a body count. Roland does say that whoever aims with his hand has forgotten his father’s face and that aiming should be through the eye and the heart. This is what he teaches Jake – and this will clinch the victory of good over evil.
Idris Elba is certainly an earnest hero. Matthew Mc Connaughey, dressed in black, employing his Texas drawl in a menacing way, is an unexpected devil figure.
Stephen King offers us an inter-connected world and a science fantasy parable of the struggle between good and evil.
US, 2017, 91 minutes, Colour.
Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, Ana de la Reguera.
Directed by Stella Megghie.
Everything, Everything is something of a contemporary fairytale. It is set in affluent California where money seems to be no object and so everything is possible.
The film also dramatises inter-racial themes but does not draw attention to them explicitly, leaving the audience to accept the realities.
The film is very much geared to feminine sensibility, director, the original Young Adult novel by Nicola Yoon, as well as most of the central characters. Female audiences, older and younger will be able to identify with the characters, and young male audiences should find Nick Robinson’s Olly sympathetic.
The initial voice-over comes from a teenager, 17 turning 18, Madeline, Maddy, played with some charm by Amandla Stenberg. We learn immediately that she is confined to her home and has been since she was a young child, diagnosed with a severe auto immune deficiency. She cannot go out, has lived inside the house, relating to her mother who is also a doctor and cares for her and a visiting nurse who sometimes brings her little daughter. Otherwise Maddy has no communication outside but has a greater yearning, as indicated in the opening credits where, in her imagination, she looks through the glass window and it breaks and she steps through and then floats in a pool.
Some audiences may remember the John Travolta television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Other moviegoers may recall the plot of a lesser-known farcical comedy, Bubble Boy, with a young Jake Gylenhaal who has been confined to a plastic bubble in the house, not allowed to go out, cared for with ultra-attention by his mother. It played on comedy. This scenario is much more serious.
One day Maddy notices a family arriving next door, especially the teenage son of the family, Olly, Nick Robinson. He and his sister bring a bunt cake as a neighbourly gift but Maddy’s mother rejects it. However, beginning with eye contact and waves, the two begin to communicate, especially when he holds up a page from the window with his mobile phone number and the communication begins.
While we know that Maddy would like to get out of the house but is apprehensive about her condition, we don’t quite know what is going to happen in terms of this teenage attraction and relationship.
We might guess that at some stage Maddy and Olly will meet and that Maddy’s mother will not be best pleased. Then, will Maddy go out of the house, risking her health for Olly’s sake, testing out how ill she is or not?
As the film goes on, it seems less and less plausible in terms of realistic action, especially in the character of the mother and her motivation and love for her daughter, in Maddy’s motivations for decisions and the consequences.
Yes, there have been some teenage stories of romance where the heroine actually dies, so throughout the film we are actually open to whether the love story is one of happiness or one of doom. So, no spoilers in this review.
US, 2017, 101 minutes, Colour.
Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, John M. Jackson, Glenn Plummer, John Finn.
Directed by Marc Webb.
Gifted is a word more frequently used than before, referring to individuals who could be classified under the title, genius. It is particularly used in reference to young children who are emerging as prodigies, be it intellectual, be it with a talent for performance…
This is quite engaging film which focuses on a seven-year-old, Mary (played rather convincingly by Mckenna Grace) who is about to go to school, an ordinary school, where she is bored as the teacher asks the children basic sums. When she is asked more complicated addition and multiplication, she adds in the square root which alerts the teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) to wonder where Mary would be best helped.
The thing is that Mary is living with her uncle, Frank (Chris Evans in a very sympathetic role), the brother of Mary’s mother, Diane, a mathematical genius who has committed suicide but entrusted her daughter to her brother. He has been a philosophy professor but has given it up and works on boat-mending in Florida, parenting Mary.
In comes an enormous complication in the form of Frank’s mother, Evelyn, a very British and determined woman (Lindsay Duncan, a strong stage and screen actress which is evident in a crucial court scene where she is cross-examined and gives strong-minded answers).
Head or heart?
When Evelyn takes Frank to court for custody, the past story emerges, Evelyn herself talented in mathematics, Cambridge-educated, but marrying and coming to the United States and living out her mathematical frustrations in the genius of her daughter. She has intervened strongly in her daughter’s life and relationships. On the other hand, she has been rather dismissive of Frank.
In the court sequences, with powerful cross examinations of both Evelyn and Frank, the audience is challenged to make their own decision about what is best for Mary. Should she have every opportunity to develop intellectually and mathematically? A decision for the head. Should she have more opportunity to act her age, to have a “normal” young girl’s experiences and grow into a rounded personality? A decision for the heart.
The judge has to make a decision. The question is raised whether it can be some kind of compromise. And, even if the answer is yes, how is the compromise to work in practice and what is the effect on Mary, especially her emotions.
To reinforce the issue of emotions, Octavia Spencer appears in something of a now-familiar role for her, as a sympathetic neighbour with whom Mary bonds, providing a kind of grandmother and nurturing figure.
This is a film which does appeal more to the heart than the head in asking the audience to respond to Mary, and the dilemmas about her education and her growing up.
US, 2017, 122 minutes, Colour.
Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jade Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Mike Colter, Kate Walsh, Lara Grice, Mike Epps and, as themselves, Sean 'Diddy' Combs, Common, Faith Evans, Terry McMillan?, Morris Chestnut, Ava Du Vernay, Mariah Carey.
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee.
This film was hugely successful in the United States when released. It is very American. And the focus is African-American?. It is difficult to say whether it travels well internationally although it was highly promoted.
It is an obvious statement to make: this is a film about women behaving badly. But, the bad behaviour is meant to be not only funny but highly entertaining with the premise that “anything goes”. And it does. One of the questions raised by women in the audience is how much this film actually demeans women by presenting them in this light and as the equal of men behaving badly.
The premise is reasonable enough. Four women have a long history of friendship, singing in the 1990s, the Flossy Posse. As time has passed, there has been distance and some hostility between some of the group. When one of them, Ryan (Regina Hall) becomes highly successful, with books saying you can have it all, with television interviews with her husband and their being presented as a wonderful celebrity couple, the group gets together again with a promotion trip to New Orleans.
So far, so ordinary. However, one of the group, Dina (a hyper kinetic and no-holds-barred, Tiffany Haddish) sets off a blustering, boisterous tone. Jada Pinkett as Lisa (one wonders what her husband Will Smith thought of the script) is married, and a mother, more reserved and cautious though the screenplay allows her to throw caution to the winds fairly quickly and, at moments, she outdoes Dina. Then there is Sasha, played by Queen Latifah, initially a journalist but currently managing a scandal mongering blog, compromising photos of celebrities, which has caused something of a rift between her and Ryan.
And, behind the scenes, Ryan’s husband is two-timing her with an ambitious femme fatale – but, in the wings, there is a bass player who has always been devoted to her.
So, it is not so much the plot but how the plot is handled. First of all, it is very much a film for Extroverts Anonymous. Introverts in the audience may well be quickly exhausted by the loudness, the brightness, and the excessiveness of all that is going on. Actually, there is a whole lot of screeching going on. Girls together, out on the town, spiked drinks and hallucinations, donning weakness and causing cat fights, ogling the men…
Now, in recent decades, American comedies especially, have been trying to outdo each other in breaking the boundaries of good taste – and certainly succeeding in breaking more and more boundaries as time goes on. This is especially the case with sex and sexuality. In the past commentators mentioned innuendo. Innuendo is often rare is in this film – it is all, one might say, outnuendo, which enables a certain blatancy. It is upfront and frequently in your face. How funny is it? Or is the audience being forced to laugh because this is the in thing and expected? A favourable Melbourne review (four stars out of five) praised its inventive sex talk and joyful vulgarity.
The other aspect of this kind of American film, especially those made in the last decade by producer Judd Apatow, is what might be called the Judd Apatow-syndrome, indulge the audience in all kinds of raucous and crass comedy and, in Girls Trip, gross and gross-out sex, bodily function sequences but, by the end, a return to some kind of moral stances, speeches about being honest, sympathetic glances of for-the-moment repentant faces and some resolution to return to, at least, some moral decencies. Except in this one, after all the humble breast-striking, the Flossy Posse women are all joking in bed, smoking and passing pot to one another.
It is something of a surprise to see how many prominent African-American? personalities have cameos as themselves, frequently in singing roles, including Common, Sean Diddy Combs, Faith Evans, author Terry McMillan?, Morris Chestnut, Mike Epps, Mariah Carey and director, Ava Du Vernay.
When asked by a fellow reviewer to encapsulate in one word the experience of watching Girls Trip, the word was “excruciating”. And that is from an introvert.
UK, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour.
Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson, James Norton, Lesley Manville, Simon Callow, Phil Davis.
Directed by Joel Hopkins.
There is often a nice expectation about a film when it has a title referring to a particular area of London. Will we see a lot of the area? Who are the people who live there? And will the area lend itself to some romance? Yes, to all the questions.
Hampstead Heath has been the location for quite a number of London-set films. We do see a lot of the Heath, the open park lands, the houses surrounding and the streets and shops, the view of the London skyline in the distance. A pleasure for the audience to be there.
This is Emily’s story. She is an American, she herself referring to English opinion that she is something of a quirky American (still shades of Annie Hall), has married an Englishman, lived in London for years, has a son. But, her husband has died and has left her in quite some financial difficulties.
She is a friend of a number of the women in the area, middle class to upper-class women, used to a comfortable way of life, assuaging their consciences by taking on a number of protests (like the elimination of mobile phone towers in the area) and interested in the pulling down of old hospital buildings and new accommodation development. Emily is part of the group. She also works as a volunteer in a charity shop and friendly with the young man who is distributing leaflets for particular courses like preserving the salmon.
Emily has a son, Philip, played by Grantchester’s James Norton. A complication arises when the Hampstead ladies set up an eligible middle-aged bachelor lawyer who could help solve Emily’s financial problems – which he is only too eager to do and to form a liaison with Emily.
So, where can this go? The answer is in the form of Brendan Gleeson, something of a bear of a man, initially with a grizzly impression but showing more cuddly signs as the film goes on. He is Donald, who lives in what looks like from the outside a dilapidated shack, an independent life, growing his own vegetables, gruff with outsiders. Actually, Emily notices him when she is looking from her attic with binoculars she is thinking of selling and becomes intrigued by him, sees him being attacked and calls first-aid.
Curiosity gets the better of her and she approaches him. Yes, it is an unlikely romance but, of course, that is where it is going. The couple hit it off, he tells his story of coming from Dublin, escaping his home and family, a relationship with a London woman, her death, his building the shack and living on the Heath – to the disgust of his uppercrust neighbours.
The developers are wanting to pull down an old hospital and are certainly wanting Donald’s land. Emily helps him, the young man protesting for the salmon joins her in sprucing up Donald’s house, Emily getting a protest group to act for him (which he initially gruffly disavows).
The problem goes to court, presided over by Simon Callow, the developers eager to oust Donald and reclaim the land, he trying to show that he has a claim, relying on a neighbour (Phil Davis) who kindly offered to carry an oven all those years ago but whom Donald criticised and attacked. He becomes linchpin for a solution to the problem.
That is, the problem of the shack. But, the further problem arises whether Emily could live with Donald in the shack or whether she should sell her flat and buy a cottage in the country.
As we are puzzling how this can be resolved and how the film can end, it does rather nicely and romantically. But how, you might ask!
THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD
US, 2017, 118 minutes, Colour.
Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayak, Elodie Yung, Gary Oldman, Richard E.Grant, Joaquim de Almeida.
Directed by Patrick Hughes.
It would have to be a very strong candidate for the adrenaline-pumping action film of the year. As might be expected from the title, there is a fair amount of violence but most of it is quite tongue-in- cheek – and the tongue-in-cheekiness extends to a lot of ironic humour, deadpan remarks, and the use of popular songs to counterpoint the action.
In fact, the title even sounds tongue-in-cheek. Why would a hitman need a bodyguard?
It takes a little time before there is an answer to this question. The film opens with a rather James Bond-like introduction, cars through London, helicopter over London, a respectful scene at an airport with a sudden assassination. This is the realm of the bodyguard, Michael (Ryan Reynolds). With the assassination of his client happening right in front of him, Michael is demoted, fired and has to go into private enterprise. To keep the humorous flavour, there is an interlude where Michael, looking rather dishevelled – although he usually operates in a suit and tie – has to escort the panicky businessman, Richard E. Grant, from a building from which he has eliminated all the shooters.
There are also some sequences early in the film with the president of Belarus, Gary Oldman at his most sinister and savage (interesting that they chose the president of Belarus who, for a long time, has exercised rather despotic power in this country). The president interrogates a rebel professor and murders his children. We see that later he is on trial at the International Court in the Hague.
Then, at last, the appearance of the hitman. He is played with considerable zest by Samuel L. Jackson, who is being called by Interpol as a witness against the president of Belarus and has to be transported from Manchester to the Hague via Amsterdam.
Incidentally, the variety of European locations, especially the cities, offers many an opportunity for audiences to enjoy the touristic aspects of the cities – and, especially towards the end, the most elaborate chase through the streets and canals of Amsterdam and then through the streets of The Hague. They are very adrenaline-pumping!
Needless to say, the Belarus president has his contacts, thugs roaming England and the Netherlands, and a traitor within Interpol who is revealed almost immediately so that we can see his machinations, the ambush to kill the hitman, continually tracking him throughout the countryside, with lots of shootouts and explosions.
Actually, the film plays like a variation on the odd couple, the hitman, Darius, not worried about rules, regulations, not waiting for Michael to do his planning, consider the logical best, require the wearing of seatbelt… And they have arguments along these lines, working off each other, and Darius obviously enjoying himself, singing at various times, including getting a lift in a van full of singing nuns!
And there is romance. There are quite number of flashbacks explaining Darius and Michael, especially their stories of falling in love. Darius has married Sonia, a more than tough Salma Hayek, who worked in a Mexico City bar, fighting recalcitrant customers – and all of this shown with Lionel Richie singing romantically in the background. There is a similar treatment of Michael falling in love with the French Interpol officer, Amelia (Elodie Yung).
There is split-second timing at the end, loads of gunmen trying to prevent Michael and Darius getting to the court, the defence counsel telling the judge that the time had passed but, with only a few seconds to spare, Michael and Darius arrive.
Actually the film doesn’t end there, there is a whole lot more action including a helicopter and explosions.
One hopes that the writers will think up a nicely complex plot, some funny as well as serious situations and good lines for the sequel. It could be The Bodyguard’s Hitman, but, in fact, ironically, this is the climax of the film.
Yes, it has touches of the violent, and Salma Hayek and Samuel L. Jackson exploit what a prim American friend referred to as “cuss language”. So, perhaps something of a guilty pleasure.
AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER
US, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Bonni Cohen, John Shenk.
Al Gore has made his mark on American society. Serving for six years as vice president to Bill Clinton, he then stood for the presidency, losing in a decision from the Supreme Court of America to George W. Bush.
In not becoming president of the US, Gore was able to devote his time to environmental causes which he was always interested in (with scenes from his presence at international meetings from the 1980s). And he was able to appear in the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary of 2006. His name became commonplace with environmentalists as well as politicians, whether believers in climate change or sceptics. After the film, he set up an institute for environmentalist trainees with candidates from all over the world, able to contribute to the environmental discussions and influence political decisions. A number of scenes show participants and his workshops, listing the variety of countries from which they came.
A decade later, a sequel, with some tones of desperation about what has happened and what has not happened since 2006 – but, some optimism about the increasing consciousness throughout the world, the serious look at disasters in the last 10 years, developments in such countries as India, and the 2015 Paris agreement. (There are many downbeat moments towards the end of the film with Donald Trump’s campaign, his election as American president, his anti-environment advisers, his withdrawal from the Paris agreement.)
But, something can and must be done. Learning more of the truth leads to an effective exercise of power as the subtitle suggests.
As might be expected, the visuals are often very impressive. This is particularly true of disaster sequences, floodwaters in the streets of Miami, the devastation of hurricanes in the Philippines, the contrast between floods, drought, the reality of evaporation and the weakening of soil and its consequences for farming and food producing.
The film ranges around the world as might be expected. Al Gore has many contacts. His visit to India and discussions with the authorities there, their choices concerning coal, their comments about being where the United States was 150 years earlier and the needs of people for energy and electricity, seems to offer something of an impasse, even in Paris. However, the film shows Gore contacting a businessman with an interest in renewables and the making of a deal concerning loans and interest rates with the Indian government – and final view of extensive solar panels in India.
Al Gore is a genial speaker, connects with an audience, is enthusiastic, sometimes impassioned. And he uses power points and video clips to great effect – as does the film.
Which means that the film is something of a visual lecture, an inspirational movie, a challenging documentary.
The environmental movement has developed over the decades but there are still many who are sceptics, have political and/or business interests, or even religious arguments about climate change.
But, for believers as well as sceptics, there is still the enormous human responsibility to control carbon emissions, for recycling, not wasting, and a growing consciousness for the preservation and health of the world – and for those who will inherit it in the future.
Australia, 2016, 88 minutes, Colour.
Aaron Pedersen, Aaron Glenane, Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Mitzie Ruhlmann, Tiarnie Coupland, Maya Stange, Stephen Hunter.
Directed by Damien Power.
Over the decades, Australian film makers have been fascinated by the Australian bush as well as the Australian outback. Sometimes it is a place of wonder, where aboriginal people went walkabout, where city people, escaping from the humdrum ordinary life, could live amongst the trees and bush, the rivers and waterfalls, the beauty of nature. And sometimes, in the thrillers, it is not a comfortable place to be.
There have been two versions of Long Weekend, and, of course, there has been the menace of the films of Wolf Creek and the television series. There are very strange, psychotic, characters out there in the bush, in the outback.
And, Killing Ground, is in the same vein.
It starts in a breezy kind of way, a young couple going camping, to the place where the young man went as a boy. He is a doctor, they chat about anatomy on the way, it is a wonderful chance to get away. We also learn that it is New Year’s Eve, and a marriage proposal is in the air. The couple set up their tent, noticing another, rather large tent some distance away on the sand of the river.
We also see the family who occupied the large tent, mother and father, teenage daughter, young child. The parents go on a walk towards the falls, the daughter staying behind to look at photos on her phone.
We have glimpsed two men at the pub where the couple stop, the woman (and ourselves) startled by the sudden barking of a vicious dog. The two men are German and Chook, hunters, pals who go out into the bush. There is some sinister talk, suggestions of prison sentences, of sexual assault.
Eventually, the audience is able to put these different pieces together, working out the timeline of the events.
Most audiences going to see Killing Ground will know that it is a story of menace, of violence, guns, assault…
Sadly, news stories over the decades indicate that the horror of this scenario is not entirely invented. There have been some sinister murders in the bush and the outback.
As this kind of horror story in the bush goes, it is well made, the audience immersed in the beauty and then the menace of the bush, characters, briefly sketched, but credible enough – and truly ugly, insane killers.
It is surprising to find Aaron Pedersen menacing as one of the killers, supported by Aaron Glenane, also effective.
And the film does raise the issues of how to deal with such situations, notions of courage, bravery, panic, self-protection…
US, 2017, 118 minutes, Colour.
Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keogh, Hilary Swank, Sebastian Stan, Seth Mac Farlane, David Denman, Kathryn Waterston, Dwight Yokam,
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Logan Lucky is another American heist film, not surprisingly coming from Stephen Soderbergh, who showed how he could do extraordinarily elaborate casino robberies in Ocea's 11 – and then followed up with Oceans 12 and Oceans 13.
This time we are in the states of West Virginia and North Carolina, getting to know the Logan family which has, so far, not been particularly blessed with luck. Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) have served in Iraq and have come back wounded, Jimmy and his leg and Clyde having an artificial arm. Jimmy works in a North Carolina project where sinkholes are being filled in under a racing car arena. Clyde works in the bar. Then Jimmy is fired.
There are further family complications with Jimmy's ex-wife, Katie Holmes, who has married a car salesman, Seth MacFarlane?, and Jimmy dotes on their young daughter who sings competitively in a local school. What is Jimmy to do?
A robbery, of course, and, most elaborate robbery which, on paper, would seem to be beyond the capacities of those who are participating, not only Jimmy and Clyde, but a prisoner, Bang, who knows how to blow up safe doors, and his rather hillbilly brothers.
And, of course they do it. It is surprising how successful they are, given that there are several glitches during the operation, that an escape from prison by the explosives expert and Clyde has to take place on the afternoon of the robbery with them getting back to prison, safe and sound, in the evening. And, the robbery takes place while there is a race going on above in the arena.
A big part of the enjoyment of this film is the character of the explosives expert – of all people, Daniel Craig, a long way from James Bond, with local accent and articulation, rather casual, even in the face of failure, but calmly using his expertise, in the device of getting out of the prison, and, with the collaboration of fellow prisoners, calmly getting back into prison as if nothing had happened.
Jimmy, of course, is watching his daughter sing – and pleasing her father with her rendition of his favourite song, John Denver’s Country Road. This really is a West Virginia film.
Finally, the FBI is called in, in the form of Hilary Swank. She has a shrewd idea of what happened – but all alibis and contingencies are covered.
Nothing particularly startling but enjoyable in the heist kind of way.
France, 2017, 91 minutes, Colour.
Toni Collette, Harvey Keitel, Rossy de Palma, Michael Smiley, Tom Hughes.
Directed by Amanda Sthers.
This is a French film with an international cast, a French writer-director who brings a female sensibility to the story and the central characters.
In fact, the real central character of the film is not Toni Collette as Madame, Anne, married to the older Bob (Harvey Keitel), his second marriage, with a stepson as well as three children of her own. The main character is Maria, played by Rossy De Palma who appeared in a number of films by Pedro Almodovar. She is the maid in the Paris household.
In many ways, this could be considered a comedy of manners – and a comedy of quite some bad manners.
Bob has financial problems and is trying to sell off a Last Supper by Caravaggio. The evaluator for the authenticity of the painting is a good friend, David (Michael Smiley). Bob and Anne decide to host a lavish dinner which will also include the buyer of the painting and his wife, and a French tutor who is trying to coach Bob in conversational French. There are 12 to sit down to dinner. However, Steven (Tom Hughes), Bob’s oldest son, suddenly turns up, invites himself to dinner and, horror of horrors, that means thirteen places at table.
Which means that the early part of the drama is how to solve this dread situation. Anne gets the brainwave that Maria should sit down to dinner, fourteen places. So, rather unwillingly, Maria gets dressed, comes down to dinner, is placed safely beside Bob so that he can control her, with Anne critically surveying everything from the head of the table. Maria sits next to David and he is immediately charmed (although told by Steven mischievously that Maria has royalty connections). There is tension at the dinner – relieved, not for Anne, when David persuades Maria to tell a rude joke.
It is not all’s well that ends well. David is smitten, keeps contact with Maria, invites her out to the cinema, to meals (with Bob and Anne spying on them with the dilemma of whether to tell David the truth or not, Bob hesitating until the Caravaggio is authenticated). But, for Anne, it is a matter of class, social status, and, despite some gestures of friendship and kindness towards Maria, 26 is a dominating snob.
Rossy De Palma brings dignity to her role as Maria, something of a fish out of water, in no way glamorous, but a woman of feeling, who has her own daughter, and is thrilled by the attentions from David and falling in love.
How can it all end? Because this is a French film there is discussion about (and some dismissiveness concerning) happy American endings. In fact, just before the final credits, Steven, who has overcome his writer’s block by writing a novella based on the experience of Maria and David, refers to audiences and whether they want an American happy ending or not.
And the film stops, leaving the audience to ponder the clues and decide for themselves whether there can be a happy ending or not.
SMALL TOWN KILLERS/ DRAEBERNE FRA NIBE
Denmark, 2016, 94 minutes, Colour.
Ulrich Thomsen, Nicolas Bro, Mia Lyhne, Lena Maria Christensen, Marius Docinski, Gwen Taylor.
Directed by Ole Bornedal.
No, this is not a serious Danish look at serial killers out in the countryside in small villages. Rather, it is a black comedy – not without a body count.
Early in the film, the local policeman refers to the two central characters, two private enterprise builders, Edward and Ib (Ulrich Thomson and Nicholas Bro), as Dumb and Dumber. He means the characters played by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in the 1995 comedy. In fact, the policeman could have referred more tellingly to the prequel, Dumb and Dumberer. They certainly are.
Older audiences may enjoy the marital problems of the two builders and their wives. The men are sex-preoccupied, sex on the brain (though brain does seem to be an overstatement in this case). They discuss it, one going to a therapist, the other ogling his wife as she prepares to go salsa dancing in the local church. The wives, on the other hand, have more things on their minds, the possibility of having children, a more meaningful relationship. And, at the salsa lessons, they are enthralled by the enthusiasm and verve of the instructor (and regret that he is gay).
And the title? First of all, the men decide to divorce their wives but find that this would be hugely expensive, even though they have a whole lot of cash stashed away in the fridge in the basement because they are doing a lot of their work by hand and cash payments rather than contracts. Then, Edward gets the bright (only for the moment as he goes online) to hire a hitman to get rid of the wives. He chooses a Russian. Actually, when the wives discover what has happened and encounter the hitman, they decide to go British, so much more understated and disciplined, and hire Miss Nippleworthy (it’s that kind of comedy), Gwen Taylor, doing something of an audition for a murderous Miss Marple.
Obviously, things are going to get out of hand. The Russian is continually drunk and always drinking, murdering the Afghan taxi driver who curses him. Corpse number 1 to get rid of. And there will be more.
Of course, the men change their mind, trying to persuade the hitman to go back home, trying therapy so that his memories will be erased, dressing up in drag and pretending to be their wives declaring that they now love their husbands and he needn’t kill them!
The ending will provide very little surprise – not the facts, of course, but the manner in which it all happens, Miss Nippleworthy going down as she sings Rule Britannia.
Ulrich Thomsen as Edward generally plays in dramas and comedy is not his forte, even though he does let loose at the end dancing salsa. Nicolas Bro on the other hand, a large actor, is much more at home in comedy – especially when he lets his inner female out, pretending to be his wife, and reminiscing about a first date as a teenager (girl).
In fact, the Danes are not noted for their light comedies – and when the two wives explain to Miss Nippleworthy that they would like their murder to be Scandinavian, she replies “dull and dark”.
Some amusing moments – but, all concerned may have been trying too hard.
VICTORIA & ABDUL
UK, 2017, 112 minutes, Colour.
Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Piggott-Smith?, Olivia Williams, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Eddie Izzard, Fenella Woolgar, Adeel Akhtar, Julian Wadham.
Directed by Stephen Frears.
Lest anyone think or suspect that this picture of Queen Victoria is a throwback to 19th century ra-ra Empire days and glorification of the Victorian era, there is quite a lot of Britons satirising themselves and their past in the early part of this film.
Yes, it is a picture of Queen Victoria. One might say that it is something of a warts and all picture, highlighting how crusty she could be but also how lonely she could be in her record-breaking long reign. And, since she is played once again by Judi Dench, the impact on the audience is particularly strong. In searching for a word to describe Judi Dench’s performance, this reviewer would decide on the word “perfect”.
The title is something of a surprise except for those who are experts on the reign of Queen Victoria. The opening of the film says that it is based on real events and then adds “mostly”. A look at the rather long Wikipedia entry about Abdul Karim shows that the events in the film and the characterisation seem to be quite strongly true to life.
We know who Queen Victoria is from the many films about her reign. In 1997 we even saw Judi Dench, in an Oscar-nominated performance, as Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown and her strong friendship with the Scotsman, John Brown. In this film, John Brown has been dead for some time and there is an emotional hole in the heart of Queen Victoria. She has little satisfaction from her children, considering her rather profligate oldest son, Bertie (to be Edward VII) as an embarrassment. She has affection for some of the servants but the official members of her household seem to be career servants.
So, who is Abdul (very empathetic Indian actor, Ali Fazal)? He is a rather genial Moslem from Agra, a clerk in a prison, filing names and dates. He has given some opinions about a carpet sent to England for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. He also has the advantage of being tall and so is chosen by British officials to go to London to present a special coiin to the Queen. He was to have a tall companion but this man had an accident with an elephant and so a rather shorter man goes instead, Mohammed (a very good comic role for Adeel Akhtar) who finds it very difficult going to England, being there, finding the food and manners barbaric, longing for home, but able to criticise England in British terms, a bloody terrible place.
At this time, Victoria is nearing 70, describing herself as a crusty, greedy old lady, fat but an inordinate love for power. She has servants galore, to dress her, to wait at table for ambassadorial functions (and the banquet scene with all the servants in livery, the cooks in the kitchen, the little boy running up the corridor with announcements, is enough to stir aggressively socialist attitudes in the audience). And there are rituals, especially for the presentation of the medal with strict instructions not to look at the Queen.
The Queen is interested in him, attracted to him, favours him, having him as an advisor, teaching her Urdo, appointing him her Munshie, religious mentor. And the friendship becomes closer over the years, allowing him to go back to India to bring his wife and mother-in-law, wearing burkhas, allowing him more access to her presence than many of her staff, taking him to Scotland and Balmoral and picnics in the Highlands, for a visit to Florence (and a meeting with Simon Callow as Puccini, truly hamming it up).
The film becomes more and more serious as it progresses, especially with the Royal household becoming more and more antipathetic to Abdul, insulting and racist in their comments and behaviour, conspiring to dishonour him in the Queen’s eyes, invoking Bertie (Eddie Izzard) who certainly does not approve of his mother and her seeming insanity.
This makes the drama all the more interesting, offering insights into the work of the Queen as head of state, her royal duties and responsibilities, her decisions, the influence of the Prime Minister (Michael Gambon), the head of the household, Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Piggott-Smith).
The film moves to the death of Queen Victoria in 2001, the reaction of Edward VII to Abdul, Abdul and his return to India and his complete loyalty and devotion to the monarch who favoured him.
Given the Muslim ascendancy in today’s world as well as fears of and antagonism towards Muslim asylum seekers and refugees, let alone Islamist jihadists, this is a timely entertainment to alert audiences, especially Western audiences, to prejudices and intolerant behaviour.
The film was written by Lee Hall, who also wrote Billy Elliot, and directed by Stephen Frears who directed The Queen and directed Judi Dench as Philomena. It is quite sumptuous to look at. It is often very funny at the expense of upper-class 19th century aristocrats. It is serious in its reflections on the role of the British Empire, especially its presence in India, it is exploitation of Indians and the move towards independence.
In all aspects, it is very interesting and enjoyable.
VOYAGE OF TIME: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE
US, 2016, 45 minutes, Colour.
Narrated by Brad Pitt.
Directed by Terence Malick.
This is a 45 minutes IMAX experience that invites its audience to surrender to it. (It should be noted that writer-director, Terence Malick, produced two versions of his Voyage of Time. The first is a feature length documentary film narrated by Cate Blanchett. The second is this film, a briefer IMAX experience, narrated by Brad Pitt.)
Audiences will remember the cosmic sequences in the award-winning The Tree of Life. In that fiction film, Malick was exploring the human family, love and conflicts, but tracing it back to the history of the evolving world and evolving humans. This is the presupposition here, focusing on a little girl on a building estate, addressing the film as a letter to her, inviting her to wonder about the world in which she finds herself.
Wonder is probably a keyword for this film. (Another of Malick’s films is titled, To the Wonder.)
It is a powerfully visual experience, especially on the vastness of the IMAX screen. With spectacular special effects, suggestions are made about the void of the universe, the Big Bang, the explosions, an expansion of energy. Contemporary landscapes from such countries as Iceland and Chile provide visual images that suggest these primaeval times. Gradually, there is the evolution of basic life forms, the development of these forms, life in plants and then the evolution of live creatures with bodies, and then consciousness.
Particularly striking, literally, is the arrival of the meteor that transforms the world, setting back a lot of the geographical and geological evolution, almost starting again.
Within the short space of the film, the narrative moves to primitive human beings, hunting, community, again showing developing consciousness. The transition to the contemporary world, the skyscraper modern city, the night views of car lights racing through the city streets comes more quickly than might have been anticipated.
So, on the level of the visuals, the film is something of a cinema poem.
The audience is conscious throughout the film of the orchestral music as well of the religious choral music – and quite a list of credits to particular pieces at the end of the film, ranging from Bach to Arvo Part.
For some audiences, it is the narrative which might cause some difficulties. It is spoken with many pauses, sometimes hushed words, sometimes a reverential and awestruck tone, by Brad Pitt.
This is where many scientists might baulk at this poetic interpretation of evolution, the quick sketching in of aspects of the universe and then the quick move to the planet, Earth. They might also baulk at the generalisations, wanting more precise language and observations. And the danger of this kind of narrative is that it becomes so solemn that it seems more than a touch pretentious. There was something of this difficulty for many audiences for The Tree of Life and its cosmic overview and its insertion into the contemporary family story.
Obviously, it would be interesting to make comparisons with the full-length documentary and to discover what has been omitted (almost the length again of this IMAX experience) and to hear the dialogue spoken by Cate Blanchett.
In the meantime, for those who surrender to its images, it is a visual poem that raises so many questions about infinity and finitude, the origins of the universe, how life came to be, what were the first experiences of death, how did consciousness evolve…?
US, 2017, 107 minutes, Colour.
Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Julia Jones, Graham Greene, Tantoo Cardinal, Gil Birmingham, Kelsey Asbille, Jon Bernthal.
Directed by Taylor Sheridan.
This is a murder mystery with a difference.
Wind River refers to a Native American settlement in Wyoming. It is winter. There is a great deal of snow in the mountains (actually filmed in Utah). Cory (Jeremy Renner in a more substantial role than usual) is a hunter, seen initially confronting a wolf to save cattle, later hunting mountain lions. While checking the lions, he discovers the body of a dead girl in the snow.
The girl belongs to the community of Wind River, an 18-year-old who was a good friend of Cory’s daughter, some years dead in mysterious and tragic circumstances, Cory regretting that he could not save his daughter and now alienated from his grieving wife. His wife also belongs to the community of Wind River. Cory has rights to some time with his son and takes into his Native American grandparents.
Because of the nature of the injuries to the dead girl, her lungs frozen in the snow through which she had run some distance barefoot, there is an autopsy but the doctor able only to give details of death rather than make a murder charge. This is immediately frustrating to the young FBI agent, Jane, Elizabeth Olsen, who has been called in from Las Vegas to supervise the investigation. Originating from Fort Lauderdale, she is young and somewhat out of her depth in the investigation, especially in handling the news and death for the dead girl’s parents.
Graham Greene represents the local community police force. Because of the difficulty of the terrain, and travelling through the snow on a ski bike, with the fluctuations in the weather, there are some difficulties in retrieving the body and giving information to the girl’s family. The mother grieves by cutting herself. The father grieves stoically. There is also a younger brother who has stayed in the community but is on drugs.
So, there is a murder, the need for a solution. But also challenging material about the nature of the Native American communities in such states as Wyoming, the old traditions, the younger generation breaking through, opportunities for progress, many barriers.
Investigation into the girl’s life leads the police and the FBI to a rig which is being closed down for the winter but is staffed by a group of security officers. The girl was having a relationship with one of them.
The film uses a dramatic device of the FBI agent knocking on the door of the security house and the transition made to a flashback which explains and dramatises what actually happened. Resuming the action, there is a confrontation between the security guards and the police with Cory able to intervene – and then take justice into his own hands, wreaking vengeance on the perpetrator according to the manner in which the girl died.
Writer-director Taylor Sheridan was responsible for the screenplay for the strongly dramatic Sicario as well as Hell and High Water. This film is as good, possibly better.