SIGNIS REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 2018
CRAZY RICH ASIANS
DARKEST MINDS, The
FLIP SIDE, The
HAPPYTIME MURDERS, The
KEEP THE CHANGE
JIMMY BARNES, WORKING BOY
LAST SUIT, The
LEAVE NO TRACE
MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, The
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT
SPY WHO DUMPED ME, The
WEST OF SUNSHINE
US, 2018, 104 minutes, Colour.
Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Craig T.Nelson, Don Johnson, Ed Begley Jr, Richard Dreyfuss, Wallace Shawn, Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton, Mircea Monroe.
Directed by Bill Holderman.
Is a book club a mainly female phenomenon? You don’t hear about many men’s book clubs. Whatever the case, the book club here is very much a women’s club – with a rather prestigious Hollywood membership, Jane Fonda at 79, Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen in their early 70s, Mary Steenburgen merely 65. It is clear that this comedy is for an older female demographic.
There isn’t exactly equal time for men but here are Andy Garcia, Craig T.Nelson, Don Johnson and Richard Dreyfuss.
And, what are the members reading this month? With a bit of a giggle, with more than a touch of embarrassment, with some eyebrow-raising and jawdropping, they have ventured into The E. L. James 50 Shades of Grey. So, we know what the film is going to be about. We are not wrong.
We are introduced to the four members of the club, Diane Keaton, a widow, with two insistent daughters who feel a compulsive need to look after their mother – and Diane Keating performing (and sometimes dressing) like Annie Hall after 40 years. With Jane Fonda, we are remembering her long career, 50 years since Barbarella, almost 50 years since an Oscar for Klute, almost 40 years since an Oscar for Coming Home. And, she is a living example of the effectiveness of aerobics! She plays an accomplished businesswoman skilled in risk management. Candice Bergen has always been an enjoyable screen presence, especially in her television incarnation of Murphy Brown. There are some humorous references that she is not as thin as she used to be. Here she plays a Supreme Court judge who has been divorced for 18 years. Mary Steenburgen, winner of an Oscar for Melvin and Howard, has been married for 35 years, several children, a husband who has retired and is trying to do with a retirement crisis.
They read the book. They giggle, imagine, speculate. And they do some venturing. Most seriously is Diane Keaton’s story, not coping with her daughters, encountering a more than charming airline pilot who has retired to a vast ranch in Sedona, Arizona, Andy Garcia. Will she? Should she? The other serious story is that with Mary Steenburgen and her all-out efforts, including dance lessons, spiking beer with Viagra, to interest her husband who has retreated to his workshop, Craig T.Nelson.
Ultimately, Jane Fonda’s story is a bit serious, meeting again an old flame after 40 years, Don Johnson (being rather benign with that Trivial Pursuit answer that he is the father of Dakota Johnson who portrays Anastacia in the 50 Shades films). Her friends in the book club persuade Candice Bergen to go online, online dating. Actually, she is very lucky that one of the earliest men she meets is Richard Dreyfuss, genial and charming.
So, the four stories are intercutting, a lot of humour, a reminder that every subject is possible for humour, even sex. As with so many American films, it starts out with tongue-in-cheek, the touch of the permissive but, eventually, arriving with four final speeches all in the name of true love.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS
US, 2018, 120 minutes, Colour.
Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shun Jr, Ken Jeong, Chris Pang, Jimmy O.Yang, Ronnie Chieng, Nico Santos, Pierre Png.
Directed by John M. Chu.
Certainly a title that does not deceive its audiences!
The film was based on novels by Ken Kwan, very popular novels. And the film has proven to be not only popular, but box-office successfully popular, especially in the United States. And it won’t do the Singapore economy any harm, especially attracting any crazy rich Asians who haven’t visited Singapore – and, probably, quite a lot of crazy rich Americans, as well is the rest of this.
There is a reference at one stage to Cinderella. So, this is a variation on the Cinderella story except that the heroine, Rachel (an attractive Constance Wu) is not indentured in hard labour and does not have a harsh stepmother or ugly stepsisters. Rather, she is a Chinese immigrant to the US living with her single mother, with a degree in economics and a professorship in Economics at New York University. No slouch!
She is in love with a charming and handsome Singapore man, Nick Ewing (Malaysia and TV host Henry Golding with an impeccable British accent, who lived in the UK in teen years – and, interestingly, most of the Singaporean characters speak with the British heritage). They had been together for a year and she knows little about his background but is pleased when he invites her to accompany him to Singapore for a friend’s wedding. However, gossip social media has photographed the two and before you can say Crazy Rich Asians, everybody in Asia has pictures, asking questions, gossiping.
When they get into the plane to Singapore, Rachel is astonished that she is taken to a first-class suite and realises that when Nick says his family is comfortable she is to understand that they are very rich. In a way, we can guess the rest (or have seen it in the trailer where most is revealed), Rachel being uncomfortable, overcoming hesitations and taking strong stances, Nick continually being charming and loving, introductions to the rest of the family with their problems but, especially the matriarchal (very matriarchal) grandmother who makes decisions about people people’s lives (veteran actress Lisa Lu) and Nick’s rather icy mother, a pleasure to see Michelle Yeoh again.
There is plenty to show in terms of the crazy rich – extravagant parties, huge payments, something which brings to mind an analogy with violence porn, wealth porn. It is showy, in-your-face, exaggerated (we hope), the self-indulgent life of the rich and – fatuous.
Actually, there is a bit of dialogue to indicate this, especially at the end at a party where the women rather hysterically indulge in shopping sprees (with a sardonic remark that the most enthusiastic about freebies are the rich) and massages, along with some catty denunciations of Rachel as a golddigger.
The crazy rich are amusingly satirised by a family with US comedy actor, Ken Jeong, as the father and Awkwafina (who was one of the Oceans 8) enjoying her comic turns as Rachel’s good friend and chaperone.
Of course, everything has to come to a head, the wedding ceremony to which Nick and Rachel had been invited, Rachel denounced, the story of her mother coming from the US to rescue her daughter – and, while it is not midnight with Nick proposing with a glass slipper, there is an ending which hopes for happy ever after. The screenplay clearly hopes for a sequel and, with the financial success of the film, it is already underway.
THE DARKEST MINDS
US, 2018, 104 minutes, Colour.
Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, Harrison Dickinson, Gwendoline Christie, Skylan Books, Patrick Gibson.
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson.
For those not in the know about the novel on which this film is based, the title, at first glance, might indicate one of those many current horror films, sinister characters, blood and gore. However, this is not the case.
The novel by Alexandra Bracken is described as a Young Adult novel. There has been something of a proliferation in recent years of Young Adult novels and films set in a post-apocalyptic world, challenge to young people, some kind of internment and categorising of them in terms of dangers and capacities, the urge to break free, the expose of the authority figures. In film terms, it was probably The Hunger Games which set the tone, followed by such series as the Divergent films, The Maze Runner, The Giver. However, these films were made in a way to attract an adult audience as well is the Young Adult audience.
The Darkest Minds seems to be aimed at what might be called a Younger Young Adult audience, and audience still in their teens. Another film like this in past years was The 5th Wave. The characters are younger, also still in their teens. Another feature of this film is that it is multi-racial in its characters, the central character is African-American? as is another in the group, a rather nerdish young man. There is also an Asian American. However, the hero and the villain are both white males.
The central character, Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) offers a voice-over, indicating mysterious illness and deaths of children, the repercussions at school, in families, even including the son of the American president. Ruby is 10, has a strange and threatening experience with her mother, but is then rounded up with other children and taken to a camp, tested and catalogued, those in the green space being less dangerous, yet interned in a camp, those classified orange as the most threatening. No surprise to find that Ruby is orange but is able to manipulate tests to pass as green.
The main action takes place six years later, the audience being introduced to the League, with adults like Mandy Moore trying to rescue the children to escape from their servitude. The guards, needless to say, are brutes.
Ruby encounters a small group, Liam (Harrison Dickinson), the leader, Chubs (Skylan Brooks) the nerd, plus a young Asian American girl. The group bonds, roaming the countryside escaping pursuit, trying to find the camp which is the refuge for the threatened children.
When they do, all is not plain sailing as might be expected and this builds up to danger, confrontations, escape, the role of the League…
There is no fixed conclusion to this episode – and, one presumes, the producers are hoping that this film is successful at the box office to get the finance for the expected sequels.
THE FLIP SIDE
Australia, 2018, 91 minutes, Colour.
Eddie Izzard, Emily Taheny, Luke McKenzie?, Vanessa Guide, Tina Bursill, Tiriel Mora, Hugh Sheridan.
Directed by Marion Pilowsky.
This is billed as a romantic comedy, a feel-good movie. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
This is a South Australian film, proudly made. There are many sequences in Adelaide itself but the screenplay takes the leading characters out into the Barossa Valley, to Handorf, to the Vineyards, out into the desert and the range of South Australian scenery. One presumes the South Australian tourist bureau will not be unhappy with the promotion (even if they might have some difficulties with the film and its screenplay, especially a lot of derogatory remarks made by a French character, especially about wines, names and French propriety of names.)
Emily Taheny is a strong screen presence, well-known to ABC television viewers from her skits and spoofs in Shaun Micalef’s Mad as Hell. In many ways, she holds this film together. But, while her character might have seemed consistent on paper, it doesn’t seem quite so consistent on screen. And this is true of each of the central characters.
Emily is Veronica James, Ronnie to all her friends (but not to the French character, Sophie, played waspishly by Vanessa Guide and referred to by Ronnie has a “French Bitch”, rather an understatement given the dominatingly catty behaviour. Ronnie was in love with a visiting British actor, conceited and fickle, played with a certain self-absorbed charm and lack of charm by Eddie Izzard, the audience wondering why he came to Australia to make this film. He had promised to take Ronnie to England but went back home without her. There is a telling sequence where he is back in Adelaide promoting a new film, doing a Q and A, playing to the audience but self-focused.
Five years later she is in a partnership with a high school science teacher and would-be novelist, Jeff. Again, he is played with some contradictions by Luke McKenzie?, most of the time a real gawk, unintentionally flirting with the French woman and she leading him on, but finally something of a man of principle. The actor pretends to take an interest in the novel he has written, talking of making a film but, of course, is not read the manuscript to Jeff’s ultimate dismay.
A comment often made about actors not particularly connecting in their performances is that there is little chemistry between them. Not much chemistry here despite some effort by Emily Taheny and Luke McKenzie?.
And, some audiences will have problems with the humour – often strained at best. The trip to the Barossa Valley and beyond, a car crash when it hits a kangaroo, a local garage manager with an over-coarse mouth delaying in fixing the car, a scene where a boomerang is thrown – and actually comes back with injuries.
There is a subplot concerning Ronnie’s mother who was in a home for the aged, Ronnie running up bills at the restaurant she has established, unable to pay for her mother’s care, her mother a mixture of common sense and incipient senility.
Perhaps the film is too flip.
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
US, 2018, 91 minutes, Colour.
Melissa Mc Carthy, Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks, Joel Mc Hale, Leslie David Baker. Voices of: Bill Barreto, Dorien Davies.
Directed by Brian Henson.
Brian Henson is the son of the celebrated Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets and developer of the Jim Henson’s studios. He died prematurely and his son, Brian, took over the studios.
It is not recorded whether there was a severe rumble of Jim Henson’s grave when The Happytime Murders was announced. Did he turn in his grave? The material and treatment of this story, cowritten and directed by Brian, is not exactly in the spirit of the Muppets. Though…
Of course, it is an amusing idea. This is a private eye story from LA, echoing the conventions of the famous private eyes and their investigations. The difference is that Phil, voiced by Bill Barreto, is a puppet, close cousin of the Muppets. And, as with so many other PIs, he has a significant secretary in the office – and very amusing performance by Maya Rudolph, spoofing the role with her manner, talking, frequent change of fashion. But, almost immediately, Phil finds that he has a client, Jessica who, despite her wearing spectacles, is shown as a variation of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
Phil has had his difficulties in the past, a dramatic flashback showing the cause of his being dropped from the LA police force, his falling out with his former partner, Edwards (Melissa Mc Carthy doing her usual raucous thing), and the accidental shooting of a father in the presence of his daughter.
Mention of the word ‘raucous’ is probably very relevant to the film and its dialogue, lots of coarse language, some explicit sexual behaviour and language, plenty of innuendo beyond the explicit.
Allowing for this, which many will probably not allow, the plot takes it usual course, a number of murders of the group associated with Phil, his investigating despite the interventions and disapproval of the local police, teaming up with Edwards again, a buildup to a dangerous shootout and heroism all round.
Actually, the idea is not bad, but had it been done with a little more subtlety, a little more finesse in the raucousness, it could have been a more entertaining spoof that a wider audience could have enjoyed.
THE INSULT/ L’INSULTE
Lebanon, 2017, 112 minutes, Colour.
Adel Karam, Kamel El Bashah, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Rita Hayek, Talal Jurdi, Christine Choueri, Julia Kassar.
Directed by Ziad Doueiri
A film to be recommended. It was the Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film from Lebanon for 2017.
The title is very straightforward. And, in some ways, so is the incident which leads to the insult but does not anticipate many of the dire consequences.
It can be said at the beginning of this review that the director has explained that his screenplay is based on a real incident, and that it involved himself, an outburst of criticism and insult to a plumber. The consequences were not as he expected and they made demands on him for some kind of reconciliation – but it provided personal experience on which to base a screenplay which takes the insult much further.
It is not necessary to know a great deal of the history of Lebanon in recent decades to appreciate this film. It is something of an allegory of resentments, hatreds, angers and conflicts in the Middle East. However, it introduces immediately a militant Christian group in Lebanon and its fierce loyalties, as well as a background of hate talk on the radio. The central character, Tony, is a garage mechanic in Beirut, a Christian area which contrasts with the Palestinian camps. The other character is Yasser, a Palestinian refugee, living in a camp, a calm man generally who is supervising building sites with great success and finesse.
The insult incident is trivial in many ways, Tony hosing his balcony, an open pipe spilling the water onto passes by. Yasser confronts Tony, tries to fix the pipe, Tony smashing it, leading to a verbal confrontation, provocative because of the hate messages on the radio, and a punch which leads to broken ribs in hospital. Tony demands an apology of Yasser. Yasser is not prepared to give it.
This part of the drama is interesting in itself, the director creating quite a sense of tension, Tony absolutely fixed and rigid in his stances and prejudices, Yasser remaining calm but then provoked.
The main part of the action of the film actually takes place in the court. Tony decides to sue Yasser. A top Beirut lawyer, Christian, interviews Tony and prepares a spirited and somewhat bigoted prosecution of Yasser. The irony is that Yasser’s defence lawyer is the daughter of the prosecutor, her first case, quite a rivalry. There are three judges who preside – and the trial proceeds with interrogation of witnesses but spontaneous interventions from both lawyers.
The trial gives the opportunity to the audience to appreciate what is behind the hostility, the experience of the Palestinians, the behaviour of Israel, the role of the PLO, the refugees in camps in Lebanon. But it also gives the opportunity to appreciate the experience of the civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s, the role of PLO and Palestinians, massacres in Christian villages and still-unresolved animosities.
While the film is involving and itself, audiences off-put by the angry Tony, appreciating the calmness of Yasser (and the introduction of complications of Yasser’s behaviour when he was a young man in the camps and involved in violence), the film asks its audience to think about the conflicts in the Middle East, what is behind them, and possible solutions for peace if not reconciliation.
JIMMY BARNES, WORKING CLASS BOY
Australia, 2018, 99 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Mark Joffe.
This documentary about singer, Jimmy Barnes, has a lot going for it. And it offers quite a lot as well.
The film is based on interviews with Barnes himself as well as with relations and friends but also on a performance at this State Theatre in Sydney, where he recounted his story as well as offering a selection of his songs. And, there is a great deal of historical footage included in the film which brings alive Jimmy Barnes’ past both in Scotland and in Australia.
Jimmy Barnes (born James Dixon Swan) is well-known to most Australians, one of the most successful singers as well as for his presence in the band, Cold Chisel. This film is about him more than about the band.
While the film does have quite a number of Barnes’ songs, they tend to be longish excerpts rather than whole songs and are all related to particular themes as he recounts his story. He sings with his current musicians, with some members of his family, but especially with his daughter, Mahalia (her name given because of her father’s admiration for Mahalia Jackson), a powerful singer in her own right. For some songs he teams up with Ian Moss and David Walker, who initially auditioned him for their band in 1973 and went on to success together has Called captures all. He also introduces his son, daughter of his girlfriend in the early 70s, who was brought up by his maternal grandmother and only as a young boy discovered that Barnes was his father, singer David Campbell, who also joins his father on stage and sings a duet with him.
The film is very interesting as an autobiography, quite a deal of attention given to Barnes’ origins in Scotland, in very harsh streets and homes in Glasgow, many clips of the city and the environment, comments from some of his relatives. His parents were married very young, had six children, fought continually, his mother a hard woman, his father a champion boxer who never achieved expected fame in Australia, hard drinker who often abandoned his family.
The film is also interesting in its presentation of the migrant scheme from Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, the family coming to Australia, going to Adelaide, being settled in the newly developed town of Elizabeth. Barnes has quite a deal to say about the hard life in the town, his absent father, his mother leaving for several years before she returned with a genial man, Reg Barnes, who married her for the children and served as a father figure. Barnes took his name. He also notes that his own father was his father but Reg Barnes was his dad. There is also testimony from Barnes’ sister, Lisa.
Growing up in Elizabeth was particularly harsh and, eventually, Jimmy started to repeat the patterns of his father, the drinking, chasing the girls, drug experimentation.
It was a music which saved him, although he did have hard years of drinking and drugs during his musical career. After a successful audition, he was accepted into the band which became Cold Chisel – and a hugely successful career.
Barnes’ wife, Jane, also appears, a good wife and mother, a stabilising influence in her husband’s life.
And, at this stage of his life, where he says he is happy, he has come a long way through many difficulties, many of them enough to crush a less strong personality. He is a good raconteur, has an ironic sense of humour, engages with his audience, not only in song, but in conversation.
Directed by Mark Joffe, who directed many feature films as well as episodes of Jack Irish), this is a very well-made documentary, always interesting, always engaging.
Australia, 2018, 78 minutes, Colour.
Sam Smith, Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad.
Directed by Benjamin Gilmour.
The film comes from a religious perspective, the father of the film’s director and cinematographer, Benjamin Gilmour, was a minister. This humane and religious perspective was also a feature of the first film by this director, Son of a Lion, a story of post-9/11 Pakistan.
It is also an Australian film, the main character a soldier returning to Afghanistan on a personal journey.
We are told immediately that Jirga means a meeting of council elders.
The opening invites its audience into military action, a raid on a village, dangers and shooting, all filmed in green night-light. At the end of the episode, one of the men is filmed staring at what has happened, the death.
The director knows the landscapes of Afghanistan as well as the city of Kabul and audiences may well feel as they look at the cityscapes from above, move through the streets and markets into the small hotel, into the shops, that they have been there.
However, this is the story of a personal journey of the soldier from the night raid, Mike Wheeler (played by Sam Smith). It is not clear at first why he has returned from Australia to Afghanistan. He has a large amount of money. He asks a taxi driver to take him to the combat area, the driver refusing many times, resisting the money, but eventually taking Mike part of the way, sharing the journey, some music, a meal, his Muslim prayer and rituals.
As Mike Wheeler continues his journey on foot through the desert, we realise that he is on a pilgrimage, to go back to the village, to confess, appear before the Jirga, the Council of Elders, for them to decide his fate.
For a Catholic watching the film, the parallel with the Sacrament of Penance becomes ever more clear. In this sense, the film does serve as a paradigm for the Sacrament. There is the offence, the perpetrator of the killing deciding that he has “sinned”. He has examined his conscience quite profoundly which leads him back to the Jirga meeting which is his confessional. He is sorry for what he has done. He has repented. But this is not enough. He needs to confess aloud, to acknowledge his sin. He certainly has a firm purpose of amendment. He wants to atone – although some of the locals note that the money he has brought is something of a curse and we see some of it blowing in the wind. He wants to make reparation and to perform a penance.
He experiences both condemnation and forgiveness – and, in the ritual styles of the Middle East, an animal is sacrificed, shedding its blood, symbol of the suffering and reconciliation.
The film is worth seeing as a film, brief, some beauty, some dread. A non-religious audience watching it would appreciate the humane themes while the Christian audience, especially those with a sacramental tradition, would appreciate how the pattern of penance and reconciliation is played out before their eyes.
The film can be recommended for discussion, for religious education.
KEEP THE CHANGE
US, 2017, 94 minutes, Colour.
Brandon Polansky, Samantha Elisofon, Jessica Walter, Jonathan Tchaikovsky.
Directed by Rachel Israel.
A New York story, combining the familiar, the wealthy self-confident family, along with the unfamiliar, a course for young adults with a variety of disabilities.
The focus is on David, a young man, from the wealthy background, an only child, spoilt by his doting mother who is also controlling and his more genial laid-back father. He has been required to go to this course and is seen being driven by the family chauffeur. At the course, one of the participants he encounters is a very talkative Sarah, enthusiastic about many aspects of the course, partnered with David for a project (the supervisor hoping to get David involved instead of playing with his phone).
This seems an unlikely partnership, audiences probably feeling rather critical towards David and his seemingly arrogant attitudes, but feeling rather sympathetic towards Sarah although probably thinking that they would find it very hard to go out with her and experience her continual enthusiastic chatter.
It emerges that the course is for those with a variety of disabilities. David’s is not immediately evident although he does have peculiar mannerisms, a facial tic which is disguises as a sneeze. Sarah is more obvious and very quickly explains to David that she is autistic and has learning disabilities.
David has felt the need for relationships with women and is a constant devotee of online dating – and we see him on one of the dates which concludes almost instantly, the woman walking away.
But, probably to our great surprise, David forms something of an affection for Sarah, especially when they have to go to the Brooklyn Bridge and write a report of their visit, she always broming with enthusiasm.
On the whole, this is a very gentle story about two needy people, autistic men and women dealing with their disabilities, forming bonds, David taking Sarah home to his disbelieving mother, Sarah, always full of life, becoming very hurt when David seems to neglect her. He has an actor cousin who shows an immediate awareness of Sarah and her needs, something of a relief to the audience that there are people who are sensitive.
How can this develop? What are the challenges in terms of personality, abilities and disabilities, affirmation of personalities, love and sexuality, hurt and possibilities for reconciliation? The only answer to these questions is that audiences should go and see – and find this brief film with its unexpected focus rather rewarding.
US, 2018, 104 minutes, Colour.
Myles Truitt, Jack Raynor, Zoe Kravitz, James Franco, Dennis Quaid.
Directed by Jonathan and Jesse Baker.
With a title like Kin, the main expectations might be a story of family and bonding. And, in some ways, it is.
There are quite some intriguing elements in the screenplay. However, there are three main strands of the narrative, eventually coming together though a bit disparate at times along the way. Since there are touches of science-fiction introduced early, the film is a blend of gritty realism and fantasy speculation. Credibility and plausibility are not a major feature.
At the centre of the film is a young African-American? boy, Elijah, Eli, played quite effectively by Myles Truitt. He is bullied at school because of his mother. Suddenly Dennis Quaid appears as his stepfather, a stern man of principle, who warms Eli to be wary of his step-brother, Jimmy (Jack Raynor) who is being released from six years in prison.
Some difficulties at the dinner table, Jimmy going off to see a group of thugs, led by James Franco being sleazily brutal, about paying off debt. Then, we are off on a cross-country car trip, Jimmy and Eli. There is a series of adventures, especially when Jimmy takes his young brother to a disreputable bar, drinks, gets into a fight with the owner, and making friends with one of the dancers at the bar, Milly, Zoe Kravitz.
It is here that the science-fiction opens up, an ultra-powerful weapon that Eli has found in a warehouse where he used to collect scrap metal and has taken this strange box with him, discovering its lethal power.
There is an episode at a gambling den at the back of a farm. There is an episode at the casinos in Las Vegas. Jimmy wants to confess his guilt about what has happened to Eli but is interrupted leading to a drama between the two brothers, an arrest in Nevada, being interned in the police precinct – with the thugs attacking the station, a rather brutal shootout, the FBI also arriving on the scene and, some mysterious bike riders (including Michael B. Jordan who produced the film) and an explanation of the science-fiction elements.
This is one of those you might like it, you might not, depending how intrigued you are with the various strands, especially the science-fiction, and how it all comes together.
THE LAST SUIT/EL ULTIMO TRAJE
Argentina, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.
Miguel Angel Sola, Angela Molina, Martin Piroyanski, Natalia Verbeke, Julia Beerhold, Olga Boadz, Jan Mayzel.
Directed by Pablo Solarz.
This is a very fine film, a film that makes life worthwhile for a film reviewer. It can be well recommended.
The basic setting for the film is Argentina, opening with a joyous celebration of the Jewish community, music, dance, a reminder of the old traditions. However, the keeper of the traditions in this film is an 88-year-old patriarch of the family, significantly called Abraham, who is terminally ill, has a leg which strictly needs amputation, who is being sent by his daughters and their families to a retirement home. On the surface, he seems to accept this, but… He is played persuasively by Miguel Angel Sola.
In the middle of the film, when he reluctantly seeks out his youngest daughter in Madrid after he has been robbed, having previously refused to apologise for his disinheriting her in favour of her two sisters, there is a strong reference to the plot of King Lear. The daughters in Argentina who are sending their father to the retirement home have professed their love for him while the youngest daughter, Claudia, accuse them of hypocrisy. (There is an explicit reference to Shakespeare and King Lear in the final credits.)
The film is also a Holocaust memorial film. Abraham lost his family in the camps ini Poland, was able to escape with the help of a friend. He had been able to migrate to Argentina but had let contact with his friend lapse. As he faces his death, he decides to return to Poland and the bulk of the film shows his journey.
He is a resourceful old man, relying on a literally underground agency to get his ticket to Europe. He imposes himself on a quiet young man on the plane – who later does ask Abraham’s help and offers to drive him in Madrid. Before he gets his train to Poland, Abraham goes to an old hotel, encounters Maria who runs the place, who takes him to a club where she sings after he misses his train and they reminisce about the past.
There are various episodes, all interesting and entertaining, as Abraham pursues his travels, getting tangled with language in Paris, being helped by a young woman archaeologist who is able to speak Yiddish – who then has to bear the brunt of Abraham’s hostility towards Germans, not wanting to set foot on German soil as he makes his way from France to Poland. As with his daughter, so with this young woman, Abraham has to learn to let go of some of his angers and hostility and appreciate the kindness of others.
There is also great kindness in Poland, especially from the nurse in the hospital where he is taken after collapsing on the train (aggravated by his memories of the past, seen in flashbacks, his injuries after the war, his seeking help from his friend, but a cruel sequence of memories where he is mocked by decadent German soldiers and their women).
There is great emotion at the end of the film, great hope in a film which acknowledges human weakness but also invests in human resilience, forgiveness and reconciliation.
LEAVE NO TRACE
US, 2018, 108 minutes, Colour.
Thomasin Mc Kenzie, Ben Foster, Dale Dickey, Jeff Kober.
Directed by Debra Granik.
Directed Debra Granik has not made many feature films. Some years ago, she attracted a great deal of critical attention with her film Winter’s Bone, featuring Jennifer Lawrence in an early role which earned her an Oscar nomination. The film was set out in the back blocks.
This film is also set out in the black blocks. This time it is in Oregon, with beautiful photography in close-up detail in the forests beyond the city of Portland. The screenplay shows a father and daughter surviving in the forest, continually on the move, found at one stage and moved into the city (we we have actually seen them walk to shop in a supermarket). Because we have been plunged into their forest life, their independence and interdependence, the visit to the city is momentarily unnerving, and when they are taken in and interrogated by the authorities, psychological questionnaires, we share their unease.
Gradually, the background is filled in. The father, Will, played by Ben Foster (who is frequently cast in rather abrasive rules but is much more sympathetic here), is a war veteran, a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, returned from the war zone but unable to live in society. His wife has died. He is protective of his teenage daughter, Tom (played with conviction by New Zealand actress, Thomasin Mc Kenzie).
The film slowly builds up its portrayal of Will and his psychological condition, a principled man, trying to do the right thing, unable to settle in society, schooling his daughter, training her to survive in very harsh conditions. The attempt to settle him on a farm with a genial owner, with visits to the local church, does not work.
After an accident when Will needs treatment, Tom is able to rescue him and draws on the help of an isolated community, older men and women, withdrawn from society, living in huts and caravans, but building up a sense of interdependence.
Will this be enough for Will? Will it be the kind of life that Tom wants? That is the dilemma at the end.
A sympathetic woman, Dale, takes care of Tom and, in a striking sequence, shows her the beehive, trusting bees walking on her hand – something which Tom herself is able to develop and show to her father. Tom also helps Dale and the groceries, discovering that there has been a man living in the forest for years, leaving a bag hanging on a tree that is to be filled by provisions. That is the only trace he has left.
For some who have experienced Post Traumatic Stress, there seems to be a great desire to leave no trace. Is it possible? And is it possible for those who are loved?
US, 2018, 113 minutes, Colour.
Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Shuya Sophia Cai, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Jessica Mc Namee, Masi Oka.
Directed by John Turteltaub.
The Meg has to big. And it is! The focus on the film is a mega shark, the prehistoric shark which has survived in the depths of the ocean until today (and not only just one).
During the last 40 years or more any audience seeing a shark on a film poster will immediately think of Jaws. And rightly. It is the archetypal shark film. This film pays some homage to Jaws especially in the final sequences at a crowded Chinese beach resort, lots of people in the water, the celebration of a wedding and a poodle falling into the water (will it be chomped – so we are led to believe and, for those of tender emotions towards dogs, spoiler alert, it is saved!).
However, with the shark being prehistoric and surviving into the present, there are memories of Jurassic Park, so this is a kind of Jurassic Deep Ocean Floor.
Chinese producers have invested heavily in this film as have the Americans – which leads to the setting being the oceans off China, with a climax at the above-mentioned beach resort, some key Chinese characters in the drama and lots of extras on that beach resort. It is not surprising to find that the film was a box office success in China – and, more surprisingly, in the United States.
Jason Statham, who has survived 20 years of action shows and shows no sign of easing off, is a popular hero of this kind of film. He is something of a kind of antihero, involved in a disaster in the initial action here, retired to Thailand, unwilling to come back to deep sea diving when there is an emergency but, of course, persuaded to do so.
The centre of most of the action is a huge facility (perhaps something of an understatement given the size, affluence, high-technology) in the ocean, scientists doing research on the ocean floor and sponsored by one of those bluff American billionaires (Rainn Wilson). The assorted experts include the veteran Chinese scientist (Winston Chao), his daughter who is skilled in science and deep sea diving (Bingbing Li) whose young daughter is present and proves a significant presence not only in the drama but in fostering a relationship between her mother and our hero. There is an eccentric young inventor (Ruby Rose), a Scandinavian expert in diving, an African- American whizzkid on theory but who gets very anxious in the water – and the hero’s former wife (Jessica Mc Namee). More than enough for interpersonal clashes in crises.
But, of course, the big focus is on the shark, savaging an initial diving expedition, biting at the reinforced windows of the facility, and doing all the menacing things that sharks do in the movies if not in real life.
Which means, there is plenty of tension, plenty of action, plenty of heroics, plenty of dangers, the American owner being arrogant and getting his comeuppance, a touch of romance, and a super-abundance of mayhem.
This is what The Meg promises – and what it delivers.
US, 2018, 94 minutes, Colour.
Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich, Rhonda Rousey.
Directed by Peter Berg.
This action film is rather exhausting to watch even as we sit in the comfortable multiplex seat. There is a lot of action.
Just to get ourselves into the picture, it is useful to know where Mile 22 actually is. The action of the film, apart from a shootout set in the United States, is in a fictionalised Southeast Asian city (although actually filmed in Colombia). There is some drama in the American Embassy in the city and the need to get a subject to the airport, with the group being continually threatened, which is at Mile 22 from the Embassy.
Director Peter Berg has become something of an expert in making fast action films in recent years. Famous for Friday Night Lights, he has been to Saudi Arabia for The Kingdom, Afghanistan for Lone Survivor, the Gulf of Mexico for Deepwater Horizon, the Boston Marathon for Patriots’ Day. He has worked with Mark Wahlberg in several of these films – so we really know what to expect.
Because of the unnamed country, the variety of racial types, the presence of the Americans and their covert activities, the main part of the film with a desperate mission to get those 22 miles, the plot is not always easy to follow.
In the opening, there is a siege as a house in the American suburbs, agents outside, well-armed, a huge surveillance centre presided over by John Malkovich. It seems there are Russian agents inside. All this serves as an introduction to the covert agents and their supervision. There Is actually a twist which is revealed at the end.
In the Southeast Asian city, Alice (Lauren Cohan), who is also observed in a number of domestic problems at home, his partner with Jimmy Silva, a hyper- intelligent whizzkid, seemingly emotionless agent, played by Mark Wahlberg, has contact with a local policeman who has the key to some kind of code which the agency is trying to open. This man, Li, is played by Iko Uwais whom fans of tough action films will remember from the two Indonesian action shows, The Raid. (In those films he showed an extraordinary agility with his martial arts and get several opportunities to show this agility here.)
The local authorities do not want Li to leave the country and take every opportunity to make the trip to Mile 22 a dangerous obstacle course. This provides a whole lot of car chases, car explosions, detours into dangerous buildings, agents sacrificing themselves with explosives to stop pursuers.
And, as mentioned, there is something of a twist at the very end.
This film might be successful with action fans – but Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg should move onto the next one (which they apparently have).
THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST
US, 2018, 91 minutes, Colour.
Chloe Grace Moretz, Jennifer Ehle, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Kerry Butler, Dalton Harrod, John Gallagher Jr, Christopher Dylan White.
Directed by Desiree Akhavan.
The title clearly indicates that something is wrong.
Cameron Post is a teenage girl, still at school, living at home with her guardian. She has a girlfriend and they are being prepared for prom night, dresses, make up, photos… The boys come calling. However, Cameron is not an enthusiast about the prom. She is in love with her girlfriend.
This is a film about sexual orientation, same-sex orientation, teenagers facing their orientation, hiding it, experiencing shame. When the girls are caught by the boys, Cameron is sent off to a re-education institution, for re-orientation, for, as is said, being de-gayed, confronting gender confusion. However, this is a Christian-based institution, with quotations from Matthew’s Gospel and, powerfully at the end, St Paul’s comments about his own experience with torment and the thorn that he asked God to be rid of (interpreted here in sexuality terms).
The facility, as it is called, is run by a brother and sister. The brother, Rick, has been re-oriented from being gay. His sister has a doctor’s qualification and runs everything by herself. At one stage, and the audience is possibly thinking this, there is a question as to what qualifications they actually do have and whether they are making things up as they go along. Jennifer Ehle brings the charm from her other roles but turns it into a sweet-smiling but iron-controlling personality. And the question is asked about what accountability the brother and sister have for their initiatives, for the course, for their control.
Chloe Grace Moretz, in her late teens, has had a very successful film career. She is convincing as a girl who is confused, made even more confused by the re-orientation, puzzled by the appeal to God, remedies based on overcoming sin, and stating eventually that she was tired of being disgusted with herself, something that the course re-emphasises.
The treatment of the facility is particularly American, echoing something of a cult, with a kind of Pentecostal enthusiasm, with TV programs which are ultra-zestful in the name of God, and some approaches to aversion therapy.
Cameron is allotted a roommate who is very earnest, says all the right things, tries to do all the right things, but is unaware (as the audience actually is) that she really is not changing in her orientation. There are group meetings and we are introduced to a range of those participating in the course including a chubby young woman who wants to sing but has a low self-image, a rather arrogant young man, a young man whom his father labels as effeminate who is driven to drastic physical action against himself. Cameron bonds with two of the members, Jane (Sasha Lane), a rather tough-minded young woman and Adam, Forest Goodluck, earnest and a good friend.
By these years in the early 21st century, such programs have generally been discredited although they are supported earnestly by those who believe that such re-orientation is possible and, especially by homophobic people who consider that it is essential.
The film has a comparatively brief running time, focuses on female same-sex relationships principally, invites the audience to understand as well as empathise with the young women, also invites the audience to be critical of those running the program, raising the questions and leaving the audience to reflect on possible answers. (A forthcoming film, Boy Erased, raises the issues in terms of male-male orientation.)
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT
US, 2018, 147 minutes, Colour.
Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Wes Bentley, Wolf Blitzer.
Directed by Christopher Mc Quarrie.
What more is there to say about the Mission Impossible series? It began on television decades ago, enjoyed a gimmick where messages detonated within five seconds of their being read, at a theme melody by Lalo Schiffrin which stayed in the imagination and was transformed, even inflated, into a huge-budget, star-filled drama by Brian DePalma? in 1996. It consolidated the action career of Tom Cruise – if it actually needed consolidating! And that was over two decades ago. And then, sequel upon sequel, the box office and audiences reinforcing the popularity.
So, here is Cruise’s Ethan Hunt now in his mid-50s, not slowing down at all, and the actor continuing to do his own daring stunts. Christopher McQuarrie? has been writing screenplays and directs for the second time.
There is some continuity with the previous film, the villain played by Sean Harris, the presence of Rebecca Ferguson as an MI6 agent, the continued support of Ving Rhames as Luther and, comic touches, with Simon Pegg as Benji. In a sense, we know where we stand.
This film opens with action adventure, plutonium deals in Berlin which go awry, talk about an arch-villain who wants to control world power with nuclear weapons, and associates who proclaim a bizarre philosophy of peace coming through violent upheaval.
Authority figures appear, Alec Baldwin in charge of mission, Angela Bassett asserting authority from Washington DC, and a kind of minder imposed on Ethan Hunt in the form of agent Walker, played with some customary stolidity by Henry Cavil.
One of the attractions of watching these espionage stories, tough fights, traditional car chases through cities, slam banging into traffic, motorbikes and mayhem, is the interspersing of the action with vistas of cities, this time the landmarks of both Paris and London, attractive helicopter flights over the cities. The use of St Paul’s in London, the cupola and the roofs creates excitement. But, the best is kept to last, the action taking place in Indian Kashmir, a village with medicos from the West working with the locals, vast mountainscapes and deep valleys, cliff ledges, and some final climax moments with both Walker and Hunt literally cliffhanging.
The basic plot is not particularly new, mad villains, nuclear threats, dominating authorities, betrayals… However, for some minutes at the end, Michelle Monaghan appears as Hunt’s former love interest (having appeared in two previous films).
Audiences will know what they are getting – and, because this is what they want, they will be satisfied.
US, 2018, 96 minutes, Colour.
Demian Bechir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, Vera Ffarmiga, Patrick Wilson.
Directed by Corin Hardy.
There is an exorcism sequence in this film, but it is not an exorcism film in the vein of The Exorcist. Rather, it is a general kind of horror film which uses some of the conventions of exorcisms and other religious themes.
For audiences who enjoyed the two Conjuring films, they will remember that in the second film there was the image of a sinister nun, an embodiment of evil. There was some discussion about the background, possibly Romania. The screenwriters then decided that they would fill out this prequel story. (And the two Conjuring films were directed by James Wan, who helped establish the Saw horror series – cowriting this time because he was working, more upmarket, in the DC film of Aquaman.)
So, the setting is an enormous castle in the Romanian forests, imposing exteriors, very sinister interiors, crypts, basements, corridors, a door which states “God ends here”, the chapel. It is 1952 and there are memories of bombs dropping on the Castle (suggesting some diabolic activity but not pursuing this theme much further).
The film opens with a young nun and the Superior venturing beyond that sinister door and, the nun wanting to avoid possession by evil, hanging herself. This raises issues in the Vatican, a group of cardinals and priests meeting and authorising their representative, Father Anthony Burke (Demian Bechir) to investigate. He has a lead with a young novice in London and decides that she should accompany him to Romania. She is played by Taidda Farmiga, the younger sister of Vera Farmiga who is glimpsed, along with Patrick Wilson, reprising their roles as the famous Warrens, the experts in exorcisms in Amityville and London’s Enfield.
There is also a young French-Canadian?, Frenchy (Jonas Bloquet who discovered the dead nun and helps the visitors with their inquiries. It should be pointed out that the screenwriters were not as accurate in their depiction of things Catholic as they might have been – one could contribute a list of “Goofs” to the IMDb entry!
Most of the film is in the dark, during the night, in the eerie castle, out in the cemetery – with some early discussion about being buried alive and bells being provided to alert passers-by followed by some moments of tension when Father Burke finds himself buried alive.
The abbess is seen sitting in a high chair in the basement, her face covered with a black veil. Various nuns appear at times, especially in the chapel where, it is said, there is a tradition of perpetual adoration with nuns reciting the rosary. But, then they appear and disappear, the sinister nun looking frightening, the young novice trying to cope.
Needless to say, it builds up to a huge climax, threats to all those concerned – though the novice decides that facing this crisis she should make her first profession and Father Burke officiates (from an alleged book of prayer but the title of the Bible is very clear on the book). The expected mayhem then ensues.
This is what the filmmakers intended to do, make a frightening horror film, borrowing Catholic images – and that is what they have done.
US, 2018, 102 minutes, Colour.
John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee.
Directed by Aneesh Chaganty.
Searching… Is one of those messages that sometimes blinks on our computers. And, this is the key to this film, not only in its plot and themes but in its whole cinematic treatment.
The film has the audience looking continuously at computer screens – which means that if Searching… were to be downloaded on a computer, it would mean watching a small screen presentation of the big screen film of a small screen story and treatment!
Audiences may appreciate the inventiveness of the technique: homepages, photos and uploading, emails, texting, room surveillance, television news, police interviews, phone calls. On the other hand, some may find it at times something of a trial, being fixated on the computer screen for an hour and a half.
On the inventive side, the film quickly establishes the central characters by uploading photos, husband and wife, birth of a daughter, a file of uploads tracing her growth and development, the bonding with her parents, her mother’s illness… Most of us can identify with uploading photos.
The main action of the film takes place when Margot, the daughter, is in her final years of high school. She has many friends, enjoys texting, but there are some tensions with her father, especially in their shared grief at the death of her mother. She is not quite as open with him as she should be or has he expects. The father, David, played by John Chu, is sympathetic, wanting the best for his daughter.
She does some texting but when her father responds, there is no reply. This means that the film moves into the familiar story of the missing daughter, the possibility of abduction, the mystery of what has happened to her, the father and his growing anxiety, making demands on the police, confronting his brother who has been keeping some secrets from him.
A lot of the sequences on line from surveillance in various rooms of the house, split screens, characters walking from one side of the screen into an image on the other – we are continually conscious that we are watching the computer screen.
And the other central character is the detective (Debra Messing) who is assigned to the case, interviews the father, makes investigations, finds that a criminal has confessed to the abduction. These sequences are all done by television newscasts, the on air talking heads, the on-location photography, helicopter shots…
Just when the audience thinks that the film is going along in an expected manner, there is a dramatic twist, leading to an ending that is not quite what was anticipated.
For those who enjoy this kind of thriller, quite satisfying. For those intrigued by the cinema technique and the use of the computer screen in its various guises, intriguing.
US, 2018, 93 minutes, Colour.
Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Annalise Basso, Alex Fitzalan, Taylor Richardson, Javier Botet, Jessica Blank, Michael Reilly Burke.
Directed by Sylvain White.
Every other week there is a new horror film. Many are of the blood and gore variety, probably with a raucous male audience in mind. Not so many geared to a female audience – as is this one.
It is not as if we have not seen this story before. In fact, according to the bloggers, they have seen it before and generally better. Although there are a few who defend the film.
The central characters are four older teenage girls, still at school, with an eye on the boys but happy in one another’s company. The boys go off by themselves to be with their computers, to look up the mythological Slender Man online, the girls decide to do the same thing. There is an eerie video, a mysterious gangly male presence in the forest, face concealed, white-masked. There are all kinds of weird touches of information, threats – and, on googling, all kinds of stories, especially about abducted young women.
What else is the screenplay to do but look at the characters of the four girls, put them in difficult situations, put them at the mercy of Slender Man. One disappears in the forest. One has a frightening experience at home. One is more resourceful, goes to the library to research the phenomenon, has a very weird experience, thinks she has the solution from a book discussing vibrations and force fields, and tries to persuade her friend. Which leaves the main drama to the friend, friendly with one of the boys but then experiencing hallucinations, having a number of nightmares (which often is a bit of a cheat on the part of the writer to have their scares and then back to reality), concerned about her younger sister who seems to become involved in the Slender Man experience and is hospitalised.
The film is literally very dark a lot of the time, especially with excursions into the deep forest. The other camera technique is focusing on the close-ups of the four central characters, the audience being fixed on them and their experiences. Actually, the film does get a bit scarier as it goes on – and does not really let up at the end.
THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME
US, 2018, 117 minutes, Colour.
Mila Kunis, Kate Mac Kinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Hehghen, Gillian Anderson, Jane Curtin, Paul Reiser.
Directed by Susanna Fogel.
No mistaking the direction in which this espionage adventure will go. The keywords are spoof and mayhem. And, in fact, there is plenty of both and increasingly veering towards over the top.
It was James Bond who was “The Spy who Loved Me”. Actually, there is an English agent in this film although he is played by Scots Sam Heughen, a regular in the television series, Outlander. There is also an American kind of James Bond equivalent, played by Justin Theroux. He is the spy who does the actual dumping. The important word, of course, in the title is “Me”.
It doesn’t sound particularly grammatical to ask “who is Me?”. But, that is the question. In fact, she is a regular American woman, in her 30s, Audrey, played by Mila Kunis. She is an attractive character, tends to put herself down a bit, is, obviously, more than a bit put out to find that she has been dumped but even more put out to find that the man who dumped her is a spy.
But, she does have a best friend who is the exact opposite of her, Morgan, played by Kate Mac Kinnon. Kate Mac Kinnon has excelled on Saturday Night Live with many impersonations, madcap satire and spoof, was one of the new Ghostbusters, and takes every opportunity here to excel even more. While she is outspoken, zany in her attitudes towards life, even finishing up performing on the trapeze with high wire acts at an arty reception.
When the dumping spy is shot, he asks Audrey to get his important sports trophy and to take it immediately to Vienna where she will find a contact at a restaurant. What else are the girls to do but immediately book a flight, get to Austria, go to the hotel, misinterpret contact and so begin a series of adventures that will remind audiences of the more serious shows while sending them up in terms of danger, escapes, drawing on desperate resources, anything available or improvising, to fend off danger.
And, there are some travels into the bargain, careering around Europe, from Vienna to Amsterdam and tourist spots in between.
As with all spoofs, some audiences will find a particular episode extraordinarily funny while the person sitting next to them might be offering a mild smile. It is that kind of screenplay, but one rushing from one episode and send up to the next, audiences identifying with Audrey, wondering what Morgan is going to do – and, what Gillian Anderson is doing as the controller at MI 6 and whether the blonde protector is the hero or the traitor.
And that, probably, is enough for a smiling or laughing-out-loud night out.
Australia, 2018, 98 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Jeremy Sims.
In 1987, Wayne Gardner was an Australian celebrity, an Australian sport icon. It was the year that Jeff Fenech was a boxing champion and Pat Cash won Wimbledon. Wayne Gardner was voted sportsman of the year, winning the world championship in motor bike racing.
This is an opportunity to look back on Wayne Gardner’s life, his sports history, his achievement, the years after his achievement. So, this is interesting as a piece of Australiana. However, for those who do not have a passion for motor bike racing or motorbikes, it will not be so compelling.
Wayne Gardner himself is an agreeable interviewee, talking straight to camera, quite genial, remembering his past in industrial Wollongong, his first five dollar bike, the encouragement of his sometimes reticent father, his enthusiastic mother, a range of friends from Wollongong itself. Also very agreeable and articulate talking to camera (and being seen in the historical footage over many years) is Gardner’s girlfriend, Donna Lee.
While the film is a portrait, generally agreeable, not so many warts and all, it is also a look at the development of motor bike racing throughout the world from the 1960s to the 1980s, many of the personalities, Japanese promoters, American rivals, Australian collaborators. And, it has its excitement, as Gardner comes up through the ranks, eventually achieves his championship goal at quite some energy cost. But it also shows his subsequent history of developing Phillip Island as a venue in the late 1980s for the sport – and the excitement of his achievement on winning there.
The film has some dramatic and romantic overtones with the wedding of Wayne and Donna in 1989 – and a surprise for those who don’t know the subsequent history, a divorce after five years, strange given Donna’s years of devotion and support to Gardner. The film ends with scenes of Gardner supporting the racing career of his son, Remy.
A film for its niche audience, an opportunity for the wider audience to think about sport in Australia, celebrities, as well as an opportunity to think about the status of motor bike racing.
WEST OF SUNSHINE
Australia, 2017, 78 minutes, Colour.
Damien Hill, Ty Perham, Arthur Angel, Kat Stewart, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Kaarin Fairfax.
Directed by Jason Raftopoulos.
Here is a small budget piece of Australiana – or, more particularly, Victoriana and, even more particularly, of Melbourne’s western suburbs. (Those not familiar with Melbourne will not notice but, in fact, most of the action takes place east of Sunshine.)
The film also has a brief running time. It covers the day in the life of Jimmy, a rather dismal and disillusioning day at times, some crises points in his life. He is played convincingly by Damian Hill and he plays against his stepson in real life, his son in the film, Ty Perham.
The film opens with Jimmy waking up, getting ready to go to work, going to his wife’s house to pick up his son, Alex, trying to get another friend to mind the sun for the day but he refuses. He is accompanied to work by his good friend, Steve. They work at a delivery centre and, they arrive late for work, Jimmy initially unwilling to use his own car, pride and joy inherited from his father, but he finally agrees and begins his rounds.
This gives the director the opportunity to drive around Melbourne, showing the variety of the suburbs, the skyline of the inner city, the different views of streets, homes, warehouses, cafes, pubs… In many ways, the film offers an arresting portrait of Melbourne.
Jimmy really hasn’t made much of his life. He says he loves his wife. He loves his son but there are continued tensions between them as the day goes on, Jimmy forced to have Alex in the car with him, trying to get him to stay in the car but Alex wandering in and, despite warnings, inevitably touching things. He is bored, plays games on his father’s phone, gets hungry. And, inevitably, he gets into real trouble when his father does some drug-delivering to get extra cash.
Cash and repayment are at the centre of the plot. Jimmy owes a great deal but has a certainty at the races with the possibility of a big win, encouraging Steve to go along with him. It partly works out – and it partly doesn’t which leads to more tensions, Jimmy at first willing to sell his car, finally turning up to the loan shark, and his thugs, who is owed the money.
So, a slice of life from the western suburbs of Melbourne. It is the first feature film by Jason Raftopolous who also wrote the screenplay. It won him and award at the Barcelona International Film Festival and was screened in 2017 at the Venice Film Festival.