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Film reviews September 2015

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SIGNIS REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 2015

5 FLIGHTS UP
BEST OF ENEMIES, The
BLUE ROOM, The
DOPE
FANTASTIC FOUR, The
GAYBY BABY
GIFT, The
HITMAN AGENT 47
IRIS
IRRATIONAL MAN
LIFE
LITTLE BOY
MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, The
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
PLAY IT SAFE
RICKI AND THE FLASH
SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY
SOUTHPAW
STALKHER
VACATION
WHEN WE WERE FRIENDS
WOLFPACK


5 FLIGHTS UP

US, 2014, 92 minutes, Colour.
Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Cynthia Nixon, Clare van der Boom, Korey Jackson, Josh Pais.
Directed by Richard Loncraine.

When we see that the stars are Morgan Freeman (who will be 80 in 2017) and Diane Keaton (70 in 2016), we know who the demographic is for this light comedy drama. It is for those who are at home in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or saw and enjoyed Shirley MacLaine? and Christopher Plummer in Elsa and Fred. It is somewhat slighter than these films but it is definitely geared for that older audience. (For those who want to be dismayed by attitudes of younger audiences, have a glance at the blog entries on the Internet Movie Database and see how There is a low frustration tolerance for this kind of story of “oldies” - boring - with the worry that this might apply not only to the movies but also to responses in real life!)

The title indicates some strain and effort on staircases, especially when we discover that there is no elevator in the apartment block where our married couple, married for 40 years, have lived all that time. Morgan Freeman’s Alex is a painter but is finding getting up the steps rather demanding – as does the couple’s dog, Dorothy, who is in more of a state of collapse than Alex. Diane Keaton’s Ruth is sympathetic to Alex and the stress and has decided that it would be better if they moved, sold their apartment, search for somewhere else to live which would be more convenient and congenial. Alex is not so sure.

In fact, Alex is less sure when Ruth’s niece, Lily (Cynthia Nixon) a real estate agent, with incessant patter, is enthusiastic about having a day when people will come to view the apartment. Anybody who has had to sell a house or buy a house and experienced people coming in to inspect places will respond with laughter and with exasperation at the range of people who come to have a look – some with no intention of buying but just to see how the other half live. And all the time, the niece is playing up to the potential clients, repeating her spiel, with incessant enthusiasm. Ruth manages while Alex gets rather sick of it all, except for little girl with whom he has an enjoyable chat.

It is hoped that dog-lovers will excuse talking about Dorothy’s crisis only now but the apartment sale seems to have priority. Alex and Ruth hurry her to the vet, and they (and us) will be gobsmacked at the price of treating a dog in New York City let alone the thousands of dollars required for surgery. Dorothy has the surgery and there are continually anxious phone calls to the vet to find out whether there is any progress. Dog-lovers will find this all much more’s suspenseful than whether the couple are able to sell their apartment or not!

While in the taxi, there is gridlock in the city, a tanker lodged on a bridge and the driver escaping, of Middle-Eastern? appearance, with rapid conclusions that he is a terrorist, compounded by the chatter of the TV hosts which serves as a thread throughout the film, illustrating New Yorker phobias, suspicions and wariness (as one girl in a shop says “I don’t speak Muslim”), and a great concern that this kind of terrorism will have a detrimental effect on property prices in the area – so, some ironic touches of satire throughout the film.

The other aspect is that Ruth decides they should look up advertisements, go to scout out a few places themselves, find an apartment that they really like, hear the crankiness of the owners, the spiel of the agent – and the niece turning up and intervening, threatening the law, eager to get her percentage…

Since this is a film for the elderly audience, it is certainly no good having a sad ending and everybody going glumly back out of the cinema, so, without spoiling what happens, audiences will leave the cinema after 5 Flights Up feeling happy and even relieved.


THE BEST OF ENEMIES

US, 2015, 87 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville.

The Best of Enemies are Conservative William Buckley Jr and Liberal Gore Vidal. With the focus on these two, and their television debates at the time of the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions, the film is an entertaining presentation of quite different points of view, personal animosities, debating techniques and invective.

The film, however, is of interest in reminding audiences how much television news footage as well as commentary have changed in the almost half-century since the conventions of 1968. While CBS and NBC were the leaders in television news at the period, with ABC third, the ABC management had the bright idea of inviting two quite bitter antagonists to make comment each night on the ideas behind each of the parties at their conventions. And high ratings were achieved.

William F. Buckley Jr was a Conservative celebrity at the time, editing the National Review, a very conservative magazine of ideas and politics, appearing on the media, a good-looking and pleasant personality who felt self-confidently at home before the cameras. He is vehemently opposed towards everything that Gore Vidal stood for. Gore Vidal came from a rather patrician East Coast American family, his grandfather in Congress, from a wealthy background, his being educated at a boarding school, naval service during World War II, writing bestselling and provocative novels, moving into the media, writing screenplays, continuing to write novels, standing for Congress in 1960 but losing, not afraid of stating his opinions on the state of America, American culture, politics and politicians, issues of sexuality, especially homosexuality.

While the film does focus on the debates and shows excerpts from all of them, it also fills in the background of Buckley and Vidal, with Buckley the less obviously flamboyant character, flamboyant nonetheless, but capitalising on the reputation of Vidal and his controversies, especially with Myra Breckenridge (and included are scenes from the film with Raquel Welch) and his political play and screenplay, The Best Man, and scenes from Ben Hur for whose screenplay he had made contributions. The film also highlights the range of novels that he wrote, covering the period from the 18th to the 20th century situations in the US, a chronicler of the United States.

The film also fills in some of the political background, the 1964 convention with Barry Goldwater, Buckley and his being at home with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, the two rivals in 1968. It shows Vidal’s connection with the Kennedys, relationship by marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, and his growing antagonism towards Robert Kennedy.

There are quite a number of talking heads, all of them interesting, commenting on the background of the politics, of each of the characters, and of the changing ways of television with this introduction of debate, commentary, which has since become a staple of television programming.

On the Buckley side there is his biographer as well as some astute and pleasant comments from his older brother, as well are some scenes from Buckley himself in the 1980s with president Reagan, in the 1990s on his television interview programmes and his final interview with Koppell and his refusing to answer questions about he how he felt during his dramatic moment in the debates. On the Vidal side, there is a friend and biographer, a study of linguistics and a commentator from the left. And, from the political point of view, one of the significant talking heads is the Conservative Christopher Hitchens. There are also many executives from ABC television.

For those who enjoy wars of words, insinuations and invective, the film is very entertaining, each of the contestants having a way with words and expression. However, the film highlights the key moment when the Vidal called Buckley a crypto-Nazi and Buckley lost his temper, threatening to punch Vidal, and referring to him as queer. While Vidal took it in his calm stride at the time, each wrote lengthy articles about the situation for Esqire magazine. Buckley then sued the Vidal, with Vidal countersuing, a case which spent three years in the courts until suddenly Buckley withdrew, stranding Vidal.

For many of the quotations from Buckley and Vidal, the film has Kelsey Grammer voicing Buckley and John Lithgow voicing Vidal.

The film, in its comparatively brief running time, has a great deal to offer, especially on American politics, culture and media. For those interested in Vidal and his life and career, there is a documentary The United States of Amnesia which is an extensive study of and portrait of Vidal.

This film shows the value of revisiting these controversies of the past, interpreting them within the context of the time, highlighting how politics in the media have changed over the decades.


THE BLUE ROOM/ LA CHAMBRE BLEUE

France, 2014, 76 minutes, Colour.
Mathieu Amalric, Lea Drucker, Stephanie Cleaut.

Directed by Mathieu Amalric.

The Blue Room is based on a story by crime writer George Simenon, very popular with his series of Inspector Maigret stories. This is not one of them, though it involves crime.

One of the reasons the film is interesting is that it stars much Mathieu Amalric who was also co-screenwriter as well as director.

The film has brief running time and, in fact, a lot of the action takes place off-screen with the audience having to supply through imagination and response to clues as to what has actually happened.

It is clear from the outset that an affair is going on, in a blue room, Julien (Amalric) and Esther (Stephanie Cleaut) are both married, she not concerned about the affair because her husband is seriously ill, he somewhat edgy because he has a wife and child.

There are some scenes showing the domestic arrangements, especially for Julien, including a scene at the beach. But, very quickly, he is being interrogated by the police. During this interrogation there are many flashbacks. It emerges – but is not seen – that as Esther’s husband is dead, that Julien’s wife is dead. Have they murdered their partners?

Then, rather quickly, we are in court, where quite a number of witnesses give their opinions, character opinions, hypotheses and speculation, some factual testimony, not the kind of thing English-speaking audiences are used to in court proceedings, Julien and Esther come together in the courtroom – and then a verdict is given and sentence.

The audience does not have all that much time to deal with what is going on, their response to the characters and situations, moral judgements and assessments, which means that the effect of the drama is tantalising rather than satisfying, making a demand on the audience as the film is ending and after the film is over to make sense of what it has just experienced.


DOPE

US, 2015, 103 minutes, Colour.
Shameik Moore, Tony Revelori, Keirsey Clemons, Kimberly Elise, Blake Anderson, Bruce Beatty, Roger Guenver Smith.
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa.

At the beginning of this film, three definitions of Dope are offered: there is the obvious one about drugs; there is the obvious one about a fool; but there is also a meaning which offers dope as slang for something exuberant and exciting.

The central character of this film, Malcolm (Shameik Moore in a pleasant and ingratiating performance) lives with his mother at home in the black neighbourhood, dangerous neighbourhood, of Los Angeles, Inglewood. He is an intelligent young man, good at studies, smart with words and ideas, loving music from the 1990s which he and his friends like to play – in fact, they hold the 1990s (which was before their time!) in great regard, especially the music, the songs and the groups. Older audiences may remember that the 1990s saw the emergence of many of the African- American street films and gangster films – and stories of Boyz in the Hood. This is a 2015 version of Boyz in the Good Hood.

There is a narration by Forest Whitaker who is also a producer of the film. He explains Malcolm and his background, his best friend Jib, played by Tony Revelori, so effective as the bellboy in The Grand Budapest Hotel, as well is Diggy, who looks like a boy, but is explained as a young lesbian. The three are inseparable, played music together, are good friends.

The three do well at school, although looked down on by some of the tougher types, and bullied – but with Malcolm giving them their comeuppance later in the film, pulling a gun on them and their cowering away.

One afternoon they have to drive through difficult streets, are set upon, and a drug dealer suddenly wants Malcolm to be a go-between with him and the girl to whom is attracted. This leads to Malcolm and his friends, not without difficulties with the bouncers at the door, getting into a club to celebrate the dealer’s birthday. When the place is raided, the dealer puts the drugs in Malcolm’s schoolbag and, when he escapes, Malcolm discovers the drugs. Another dealer phones to make an appointment to collect them, when suddenly the actual dealer, now in prison, rings for them to be delivered to a wealthy mansion.

This leads, of course, to all kinds of complications, with Malcolm using his wits, making contact with a white dealer who is able to dispose of the drugs, get the money, set up secret accounts – which Malcolm can hold over the respectable boss dealing in drugs.

There are comic touches, serious and dramatic touches, Malcolm rather unwilling to be caught up in this kind of world when his heart is set on his studies, in going to Harvard, his thesis on Ice Cube, and using his wits to survive in the Hood.

The film is very local, made for an American audience, a local Los Angeles audience – which may mean, though an audience outside Los Angeles is invited in to participate and observe, that non-Americans might find that being on the outside makes it less easy to be involved.


FANTASTIC FOUR

US, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Miles Teller, Michael B.Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbel, Reg E.Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson.
Directed by Josh Trank.


For a while, this seems to be a rather low key adaptation of a Marvel comic. The principal characters seem rather ordinary, except for their knowledge of science and technology. They certainly don’t seem to be like any superheroes or seem likely to become superheroes.

However, just before halfway through the film, there is quite a transformation, travelling into other dimensions, finding a planet with extraordinary energies, their being transformed and, yes, becoming superheroes.

In the last decade, there were two Fantastic Four films, pleasantly successful in their way. However, for this particular outing, the decision has been made to go back to the origins of the four, even back to the childhood of Reed and Ben. Reed is a technology nerd, creating experiments as a little boy, but ridiculed at school by his teacher. Ben lives in a machine dump and read befriends him, finding a motor, and inviting him to share in experiments. Seven years pass and, straining credibility, the actors portraying these teenagers are well in their 20s!, Miles Teller and Jamie Bell. They have an exhibit at a Science Fair and are again ridiculed by their schoolteacher. But, Dr Franklin Storm (Reg E.Cathey) and his protégé, Sue (Kate Mara), approach the two who are offered scholarships working at a laboratory in New York.

The equipment in the laboratory is extensive which gives Reed the opportunity to keep working on his interdimensional travel, especially with animals, hoping for transporting humans. While it is rather dramatic when it happens, the success of the experiment seems to happen too easily, but it gives the young people a chance to reflect on how those who walked on the moon got more recognition than the technicians – so, of course, what better than to quietly sneak into the machine and transport themselves, even to planting an American flag on the other planet?

Which they do, but not before encountering the extraordinary energy on the planet – and it is here that they are transformed into the Fantastic For while one of them, Victor (Toby Kebbel), is swallowed up by the energy only to emerge as energy and evil personified, wanting world domination and world destruction, for the earth to be swallowed up in a black hole!
Those familiar with the comics will know that Ben turns into a rock giant, Reed has extended limbs, Johnny (Michael B.Jordan) is consumed by fire and Sue can appear and disappear while floating in her own bubble.

The military potential of the Four is developed but Reed runs away, to be sought out again so that he can fix the machine for further transporting and the possibilities of everything returning to normal.

Normal is not the normal in this kind of story, so there has to be a confrontation with Victor, a combat between good and evil, the exercise of the particular gifts of the fantastic four.

And, so, that’s it. Plenty of stunts and special effects, reasonably sympathetic characters, but, as was said, rather low-key compared with other Marvel extravaganzas.


GAYBY BABY
Australia, 2015, 83 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Maya Newell.

As the title indicates, the focus of the film is on children of same-sex coupled families. The opening credits display many photos of traditional nuclear families, then move to the same-sex parents and their families with underlying quotations critical of same-sex families as well as supportive.

One of the important sayings for understanding others is that we should walk in their shoes for some time. Probably, a great number of potential audiences for this film would be quite unwilling to walk in the shoes of the same-sex parents, feeling uncomfortable, disapproving – or both. But, the aim of the film is to tell stories, invite audiences to identify with the characters and their situations, experience something of the reality of the partnerships as well is the parenting, the normal problems and day-by-day situations and challenges and, especially, the way that the children handle the situation, their understanding, the way they communicate this.
The documentary focuses on four families, three with same-sex mothers, one with same-sex fathers. While the parents are a strong presence, the film says its importance is focusing on the children, their voices, their experiences, the type of family living that they have, the influence of the same-sex parents, the absence of an opposite sex parent.

The film interweaves the four stories.

At the time of the filming, Gus was 11, with two mothers, and younger sister, Rory. Gus is a rather rowdy boy, with a great passion for wrestling, often wrestling in the house with his younger sister, who sometimes encouraged him, but got the worse of the bouts which led to tears. This is of concern to the main parenting mother, who has some confrontations with her son, who can be particularly wilful, storming off in the middle of a conversation, his mother trying to get him to participate in music classes as well as in debating. Many of the ordinary problems in any household and family come to the surface. While reluctant earlier, the mother takes Gus to the world wrestling exhibition.

Matt is 12 and has an older brother. There are two mothers in the house, one previously married, now divorced, with her sons and her new partner who is supportive and tends to stay more in the background, leaving the parenting to the birth mother. The mother is quite religious, explaining that she was brought up with bible stories, wanting her son to go to church on Sunday (when he wants to play Australian rules), the boy upset that the priest has condemned his mothers as sinful. He is very bright boy, a strong presence. The family was invited to have a meal with Julia Gillard, her opposition to same-sex marriage being clearly stated. They watch the program on television – and there is a scene where Matt faces the media, saying what he felt and explaining his words to the Prime Minister, a plea for partnerships where people love each other. Ultimately, his mothers do go to the football to support him, Matt not particularly wanting to go to church but explaining that his mother has not lost her faith.

Graham has two fathers. They have fostered him and now have adopted him, one of them taking the role of the father and the other being supportive. Graham is also 12. They move to Fiji, settling in, with scenes of Graham going to school, in class, the local children, the teacher, and his having to write an essay about himself to be read to the class. There are scenes at home with his writing his essay with the help of his father. The issue comes up about whether to let people know about the same-sex family, the father indicating that there is a time and place for revealing things and for not revealing things, Graham speculating on good lies which have a good outcome.

The girl in the film is called Ebony-Rose?, from the outer western suburbs of Sydney, again with two mothers. They make a visual impact, with many facial rings and piercings and elaborate tattoos. Ebony wants to be a singer, is interested in going to a high school of the arts in Newtown in inner Sydney, prepares a song, goes for an audition, but does not get in, later, rather ruefully, saying that she had given up her ambitions to be a singer. Ebony gets a new uniform and accepts the fact that she is going to the local high school.The mothers are concerned with the problems of daily life but, especially for a son who is severely epileptic, needs medication, needs constant watching.

By way of climax, there are newsreel footage scenes of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney, 2014, the flamboyance of the participants, the floats, the marching in the Sydney streets, but with a number of parents and the participation of the children.

In view of the social and political debates of 2014-2015, the film is a timely contribution to perspectives and to discussion.


THE GIFT

US, 2015, 108 minutes, Colour.
Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton.
Directed by Joel Edgerton.

This is one of those stories that it is best to know very little about before seeing the film, wondering, as the film starts, where it could be going, and becoming more suspicious, more questioning, as the film proceeds.

The film was actually written and directed by Australian Joel Edgerton, who has written a number of screenplays, including Felony, and who has been very successful in his screen career both at home in Australia and internationally. The screenplay is very well written, relying on some of the tried and true conventions of this kind of drama as well as some surprises, establishing characters, and gradual revelation of depths in characters and bringing it to a surprisingly edge in the ending.

It all seems very familiar at the opening, an affluent young couple moving to Los Angeles, buying an attractive home in the hills, settling in, she with some business work at home, he a successful salesman with prospects of promotion. So far, so expected. Except that the salesman, Simon, is played by Jason Bateman, best-known for his comedies, his succession of put-upon characters, with characteristic deadpan response, in films like Identity Theft, the Horrible Bosses series… But, it must be said, he plays this very serious role with great skill, an ability to seem ordinary, and ability to mask what is really going on, yet gradually revealing that there is quite a different character underneath his surface.

His wife, Robyn, is played by Rebecca Hall, a versatile actress in such films as Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town. She plays her role with great charm, loyal to her husband, yet very sympathetic to the stranger who accosts them as they are at a cash register in a shop. The stranger, Gordo, is played by Edgerton himself, who reveals himself as having been in the same class at school with Simon.

It is Gordo who first leaves a gift at the door, with a card in a red envelope, as a welcome to the couple. Later, he turns up with some more gifts and happily accepts an invitation to stay for a meal, Simon revealing that he remembers Gordo (“Weirdo Gordo”) and would rather have nothing to do with him. Robyn can’t quite understand this.

As Robyn tries to understand better, while sympathetic to Gordo, step by step she uncovers a story that she had not been expecting, traits in her husband that she may have suspected but would have repressed. And, while she is in hospital for the delivery of her baby, Gordo sends three gifts to Simon, reminding him that bygones sometimes cannot be left as bygones.

This means that the film ends with the audience as well as the characters on edge, with quite some unpleasant feelings, unsettling, giving audiences something to reflect on. (Some advertising and comments might lead audiences to expect a somewhat demonic and shock thriller in the vein of the Ingenious series but it is better to think of it more straightforwardly as a domestic drama, delving into the past and experiencing consequences.)


HITMAN AGENT 47

Germany/UK, 2015, 95 minutes, colour.
Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciaran Hinds, Thomas Kretschmann.
Directed by Aleksander Bach.

Hitman Agent 47 is based on the computer game, Hitman. The film unfolds just like a computer game, quest, pursuit, hero, obstacles, deaths, final confrontation.

The film has the added advantage of some sequences in Salzburg, most in Berlin, capitalising on the scenes of the city, and the same in Singapore, once again with the atmosphere and views of the city.

An explanation is given that in the 1960s, the United States developed a plan for the creation of his men, assassins, geared to have no emotions. The assassins went into action but the decision was made to close down the program. In the meantime, the head of the company, The Syndicate, Thomas Kretschmann, wants to re-open the program. Through quite a complicated set of technical means, which might leave the ordinary audience puzzled, it is determined that the possibilities for development centre on a young girl who has grown up in Berlin. The syndicate sends its agents to find her and bring her back to start the program again.

In the meantime, she is poring over documents in a Berlin library to find a mysterious man. Ultimately, he is revealed as her father, Ciaran Hinds.

In the meantime, Agent 47, Rupert Friend, ruthless and unemotional, has been sent by his superior to save the girl, Hannah Ware – the ulterior motive, revealed at the end, being to infiltrate the Syndicate Office in Singapore and destroy the director.

This leads to quite an amount of activity and chases in Berlin, at Alexanderplatz, in the underground and in the streets. It sets up a confrontation between the special agent from The Syndicate, Zachary Quinto, who wants to take the girl to the headquarters and tries to preserve her at any costs, fighting Agent 47 who, he says, is after the girl and her death. There are some computer game confrontations, fights, especially on the electrified railway lines in the Berlin underground.

The father is discovered, an elderly man, and once again there are many chases and pursuits.

The action and the characters transfer to Singapore for a final confrontation, the head of The Syndicate remaining under guard and never coming out of his office, but persuaded to do so to confront the girl and find out the truth. In the meantime, his agent, Zachary Quinto, has taken the father and tortures him with serums.

A whole lot of chasing, a whole lot of shooting, of a whole lot of deaths, the head taking off in a helicopter with the father. This means that in the building, Agent 47 and the girl have to up to the roof, confront a lot of guards, the Agent fighting with Quinto, and the culmination where the father, for love of his daughter, explodes the helicopter. Which seems an ending except that suddenly, Agent 47 is confronted by his lookalike agent – who shows no emotion a motion except to confront Agent 47.


LITTLE BOY

US, 2015, 96 minutes, Colour.
Jakob Salvati, Emily Watson, Michael Rapaport, David Henrie Tom Wilkinson, Cary- Hirojuki Tagawa, Ted Levine, Ben Chaplin, Eduardo Verastegui.
Directed by Alejandro Monteverde.

Little boy is a nickname for the central character in this family-oriented film, a film of values with touches of religion. It is set in the town of O’ Hare in California in the first half of the 1940s, the time of the US involvement in World War II, post-Pearl Harbor, the hostility towards Japanese rounded up and interned. Little Boy is also the Nickname for one of the atomic bombs that was dropped on Hiroshima in order to end the war.

This is very traditional filmmaking, the kind of filmmaking that was very popular in past decades, pleasing and accessible filmmaking, which critics and many in younger generations dismiss as “uninventive”. Be that as it may, this is a film which will appeal to audiences who are looking for a warm and interesting story, sympathetic characters, an acknowledgement of conflict, who want some kind of hope, even prayer and miracles. Since the popularity of The Passion of the Christ in the United States in 2004, American companies have been far more confident in making films geared to the middle American audience, offering films of faith. While some of them may seem too American and their style of sentiment for audiences outside the US, this one will probably have more general appeal.

Audiences in 2007 were charmed by small-budget film with Hispanic characters, Bella. This film is from the same director, Aleyandro Monteverde. He brings the same sentiment to this film, a touch of the fanciful, a touch of the romantic, more than a touch of the hopeful.

It is well served by the young Jakob Salvati playing the eight-year-old boy in the town of O’ Hare, Pepper. Salvati is one of those screen presences who is often described as cute and appealing. And he is, able to sustain the whole drama. He is very short, Little Boy, bullied by the big kids in the town. But, he has a very close relationship with his father, shared imagination storytelling, delighting in the comic books of Black Eagle, especially enjoying a live performance at the local cinema when Black Eagle comes to town and Pepper is invited on stage and invited to will the movement of a bottle.

He does, and this leads to a religious theme, the quotation from the gospel about having faith the size of a mustard seed and being able to move mountains. There are two priests in the parish and the parish priest, Father Oliver (a sympathetic Tom Wilkinson) reflects on faith and prayer with Pepper, giving him a list of good things to do, Gospel-based, visiting the sick, feeding hungry, clothing the naked (and his being involved in a knitting bee for those without clothes). It is a pity that there is not more explicit explanation of where these injunctions come from, from the Gospel of St Matthew, but they are general enough to appeal to any person of good faith who is not necessarily Christian.

Not sharing this faith is an elderly Japanese man, Mr Hashimoto, released from internment, returning to O’ Hare but the subject of disdain, enmity and, often, violence. The parish priest adds visiting Mr Hashimoto to Peppers list, not something easy because Pepper has been involved with his angry older brother and pelting the Japanese man’s house with stones. But, gradually, they form a bond.

There are flashes to the involvement of Pepper’s father in battles in the Philippines, and his being a prisoner of war, with the Japanese guards shooting at the Americans at the time of the dropping of the bomb, Little Boy, on Hiroshima, something which Pepper sees on the newsreels and dreams about, wandering about the ruins of the city.

While Jacob Salvati is very effective as Pepper, Emily Watson brings her warmth to the role of the mother and comedian Kevin James has a small role as the local doctor. Michael Rapaport is the father and Ben Chaplin is Black Eagle.

Of course, there is a great deal of sentiment in the film, but, unfortunately, this often gives rise to a certain cynical response to such human warmth, which is a pity.

A pleasing, traditional, pleasant and sometimes challenging re-visiting of California during World War II.


IRRATIONAL MAN

US, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips.
Directed by Woody Allen.

A word of warning before the review. If you have not seen the film and don’t know anything about the plot, don’t continue reading here but go and see the film and be surprised. This is a review for those who have seen the film.

Released some months before Woody Alan turns 80, Irrational Man does not seem to be the work of an elderly director or writer. Certainly, it will remind audiences at a number of films from Allen’s CV, something which has annoyed critics who accuse him of repeating himself, but for those who appreciate his films, why not rework themes?

And one of the criticisms that Woody Ellen has had to face over the years is that some of his films are funny and some people think that they are all supposed to be funny and, if not, there is something wrong with them. And, Irrational Man, is a case in point. Allen is not trying to be funny.

Another complaint is that the film has too much philosophy in it – as if that could really be a problem. Yes, there are philosophical questions because the leading character is a Professor of philosophy in an American college and we see him quite a number of times in the classroom, specifically mentioning philosophers like Conte, Kierkegaard, Edmund Husserl, phenomenology and existentialism, Jean-Paul? Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Martin Heidegger. Allen certainly remembers his history of philosophy. Which indicates tones of depth in the exploration of philosophical questions.

In recent years Joaquin Phoenix has been playing offbeat roles, Inherent Vice, Her, The Master, and here Allen provides him with another one. He is Abe, arriving at a college, subject of curiosity, middle-aged with a very evident paunch, a reputation for relationships with his students, and eager do-gooder and traveller to countries in distress in his younger days, but now a touch dissipated and a touch world-weary as well is impotent.

He first attracts the attention of another lecturer, Parker Posey, dissatisfied in her marriage and eager to ingratiate herself with Abe. That doesn’t quite work out, though she tries hard.

More satisfying is the admiration of a young student, Jill, Emma Stone, who appeared in Woody Allen’s previous film, Magic in the Moonlight. She seems a sensible young woman, an eager philosophy student, flattered when the professor praises her assignment – but then preoccupied with him, talking about nothing else but him, more than infatuated with him, enjoying his company, discussions, and falling in love.

In an innocent incident, listening in to a conversation amongst a group in a diner, leads to consequences that Jill certainly did not anticipate, nor did Abe, as he gets angry with the judge who is partial, refusing custody of children to a deserving mother, and, reading Dostoevsky and Crime and Punishment, with annotations, he sets out to rectify the situation, finding what he thinks is a moral freedom but which is an amoral freedom, which not only has an effect on himself but also on Jill and her integrity.

Which means that audiences for and against the film will be going back to Woody Allen’s 1989 classic, Crimes and Misdemeanours, as well as thinking about his 2004 Match Point, issues of principle, issues of responsibility, issues of conscience, and deviation in conscience.

So, not a funny Woody Allen film, but very well-written, well-acted, an evocative jazz score as well as classical excerpts, and, for this reviewer, one of Woody Allen’s best.


IRIS

US, 2015, 83 minutes, Colour.
Iris Apfel, Carl Apfel.
Directed by Albert Maysles.

Some commentators have remarked that if one is heavily into fashion, this is a documentary for them. Then others have remarked that if one is not heavily into fashion, this is a documentary for them. Both commentators are right.

The film is a celebration of life, the portrait of a quite striking woman, aged 90 at the time of filming, also celebrating the hundredth birthday of her devoted husband, Carl. And the director himself, the celebrated Albert Maysles, of the Maysels documentary-maker brothers, was 88 and died in March 2015. Not only is this a celebration of life, it is a celebration of age and creative ageing.

Somebody also remarked about Iris Apfel, born of Jewish parents, growing up in New York City during the Depression, marrying in the 1940s, that she could serve as a role model. For zest, yes, but probably not for her style and taste in fashion. It is extraordinary to look at, but not many women would probably want to be so flamboyant – nor men wanting to wear the range of colourful trousers that she designed for her husband, which he quietly wears. Nevertheless, she is always fascinating to look at and, perhaps a comment on her style would be that Dame Edna Everage would probably be very jealous!

Iris has spent a lifetime buying clothes, principally for herself, and wearing them, but with her delight in design, colour, fabrics, and extraordinary finished products. Her expeditions to Europe twice each year meant that she went to many auctions for all kinds of articles and artifices for home design and decoration. These are kept in her and her husband’s storage space in Long Ireland, now a museum kind of space with all kinds of objects which may – or may not – appeal to the viewer.

As Iris reached her late 80s, she made the decision to part with most of her fashion possessions, arranging for the transferred to the Peabody Museum, a singular collection and heritage that she has bequeathed to the people of New York and to international visitors. She is an exemplar of the detachment that is required in old age.

Every time she appears, Iris is dressed in the most colourful clothes – and large lensed and framed glasses. And her comments match her clothes, or go beyond. She is articulate, has a way with words, is very direct in her expressions, not concealing her feelings and attitudes. And there is Carl, often accompanying her, short of breath, sometimes feeling his age, but celebrating his hundredth birthday with his wife making his speech for him. After all, she is only 90.

This is a very likeable portrait, Iris being an interesting woman, uninhibited but with good manners, reminiscing about her long life, her passion for fashion, her status as a fashion icon. She is very strong at times on the fact that she is not pretty, that she does not do pretty, and noting that after prettiness vanishes, what is left…? With her celebrity status, she does remark that she has become a geriatric starlet!

For an observer, especially one who may not feel much empathy for this world of Iris, it is still an interesting, enjoyable, very entertaining documentary and portrait, find last contribution to the work over so many decades of our Albert Maysles and the indefatigable energy of Iris Apfel.


LIFE

US, 2015, 111 minutes, Colour.
Robert Pattinson, Dane De Hahn, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton.
Directed by Anton Corbijn.

September 30, 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the death of emerging actor, James Dean, in a road accident. This film moves into his early career and serves as an effective memorial for his life and death.

The Life of the title is a reference to Life Magazine which devoted a story published in February 1955 to Dean. It also refers to the short life of Dean himself.

This is actually a photography story. While the object of the photography is Dean, this is the story of Dennis Stock, the freelance photographer who discovered his fascination with Dean would be shared by the public and who worked on Dean to agree to a photostory for Life Magazine.

It should be mentioned that the director, Anton Corbijn, has been a photographer for many decades, still photos, documentaries, music videos as well as several films including Control (the story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division), a story of an ageing agent played by George Clooney, The American, and a version of a John Le Carre novel with Philip Seyemour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man, all very interesting in their way. Corbijn knows what he is doing and has quite an intense empathy with his portrayal of Dennis Stock.

For movie buffs, the film also offers an interesting glimpse into Hollywood at the beginning of 1955, with the film narrative taking place over a few months, from the promotion of James Dean’s first starring role, East of Eden, to his audition for his next role, Rebel Without a Cause, and Dean’s having to make a decision about his ambitions and what was necessary to fulfil them and the issue of studio control, not just of his career but also of his personal life, especially for the promotion of his movies.

Again, film buffs will appreciate the sequences with Warner Brothers mogul, Jack L. Warner, and his ruthlessness, which he had been exercising for decades, and his egotistic decision-making over every aspect of his films and of his stars’ careers. Although he appears in only three sequences, Ben Kingsley’s cameo as Jack L. Warner is one of his best performances.

For the modern generation, there will be a lot of identification with Dennis Stock, his back story of being in the Navy at 16, with a pregnant wife at 17, leaving his wife and child, wanting to pursue a photography career, going to galas and premieres, taking on-set photos, being published in magazines, but always looking for the breakthrough story. He is played by Robert Pattinson (who has been getting more and more significant dramatic roles since his Twilight years).

The narrative of the film is quite angst-ridden because persuading James Dean to agree to the photo-shoot is a prolonged, quite prolonged, process and Stock, making every effort, phone calls, visits, conversations, following Dean to New York City, notes under the door, living with frustration, is a thread of this drama.

And James Dean himself? He has been the subject of several telemovies and documentaries and audiences who know his films will be expecting not just an impersonation but a dramatisation of his character. Audiences may not be familiar with the actor Dane De Haan, who has been very effective in quite different roles in such films as Lawless (a slow-witted, crippled young man involved in bootlegging), the young hero in Chronicle, playing a wilful, hedonistic character in Kill Your Darlings, and the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spiderman 2).

He makes James Dean an interesting character, seemingly nonchalant, casual in the face of Hollywood, cheeky during press conferences, in a relationship with actress Pier Angeli, hoping for better roles, the touch of the rebel especially against the control by studio heads and agents, with his mumbling communication and moodiness. It is something of a shock to find that at this stage of his life, he has just turned 24, his character still being moulded and a life before him.

While Stock tries to influence Dean, Dean invites him to go to Indiana to meet his family, with a powerful scene on a train as, quietly, Dean tells the story of his family, the death of his mother, her funeral, revealing something of the personal intensity behind the facade. It is something of the same in the scenes in Indiana, on the farm, Dean reading stories with his nephew, agreeing to attend the local school dance and making a hesitant speech (saying he did better with scripts).

A good word for Joel Edgerton as Stock's agent, John Morris.

Most audiences may know that East of Eden was a success, as was Rebel Without a Cause and, Deans last film was Giant. But, six months later, Dean was dead at 24, the life that was before him gone.

The final credits are worth watching because the actual Stock photos are shown – and we realise how carefully the director had established this context for each of the photos and how skilfully he had set up the action of his film exactly like the photos.

This is a fine contribution to American cinema history.


THE MAN FROM UNCLE

US, 2015, 116 minutes, Colour.
Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris.
Directed by Guy Ritchie.

Way back when, or way way back when, depending on how old you are or how old you admit to being, there were many Bondish spy stories on the big screen and on television, including Napoleon Solo and his Russian ally, Ilya Kuriakin, in the forms of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum?. It is half a century later and, of course, in this age of superheroes, we have their new incarnations, Henry Cavill who was the new Superman and Armie Hammer who was the Lone Ranger.

The film was directed by Guy Ritchie who has a flair for action, with his initial Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, his gangster films like Revolver and Rock‘n rolla, and with his breakthrough films about Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. He brings something of this flair for action, verve and colour to this re-booting of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
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The initial television series setting is retained. We are in the early 1960s.There is quite an elaborate collage during the initial credits giving something of a history lesson visually, clips and glimpses of the war, post-war Europe, the Iron Curtain, the Cold War, nuclear fears, President John F.Kennedy. And, in the middle of the film, there is another collage taking us back to Nazi Germany, the development of weapons, the development of torture.

Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuriakin are presented as agent icons. And it will depend on your opinion of them as screen presences, good-looking heroes – and, as a reviewer smartly noticed, different in ideologies but united in square jaws! Henry Cavill portrays Napoleon Solo as something of a Christopher Reeve-Clark? Kent, his performance in the 2012 Man of Steel. His humour is very dry, and his emotional display is kept very much under control (or is not there in the first place). He seems tall by himself at six feet one, but is rather dwarfed by Armie Hammer at six feet four! And Hammer has the showier role, single-minded in his loyalties, prone to anger at having to pretend to be calm as he poses as the fiance of Gabby, (Alicia Vikander, A Royal Wedding, Ex Machina, Son of a Gun, Testament of Youth) who Is the daughter of a nuclear scientist, used by the Nazis, at work in the US, abducted by a powerful wealthy Italian couple who are getting him to develop a nuclear bomb for their clients.

There are all kinds of action sequences, the two getting into all kinds of trouble, even Napoleon experiencing torture, but each emerging relatively unscathed.

Elizabeth Debicki (Australian actor from The Great Gatsby) is a tall, slinky, arrogant villain. But there is counterbalance in the perennial stiff-upper-lip British controller, played by Hugh Grant in his ineffable way, still in the For Weddings and a Funeral mode two decades later!

This is a reasonably enjoyable show, good to look at, not particularly memorable, but an insertion into the Cold War past – and with the prospect of a sequel!


ME AND GIRL AND THE AND DYING GIRL

US, 2015, 103 minutes, Colour.
Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Katherine C. Hughes.
Directed by Alphonso Gomez-Rejon?.

This is a very likeable film and won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. It also won an ecumenical award.

It is also a very film-friendly story and treatment, the director, Alphonso Gomez-Rejon?, having acted as a personal assistant to a number of directors including Martin Scorsese. The author of the original novel, Jeff, is also a film lover and his two central characters who are shown to have been making their own movies for many years, in childhood and adolescence, parodying well-known films and their posters (and there is a very long funny list in the final credits), for example, Sockwork Orange (with sock puppets), 2.48 p.m. Cowboy, and Vere’d he go! And there are quite a few entertaining snippets. And another enjoyable feature is the action going into animation at various times, amusing as well as concentrating the audience attention onto the characters and what is happening to them.

Perhaps this review has been a bit remiss in focusing on the film and cinema buff aspects of the screenplay instead of indicating what the title has highlighted, that the hero is Greg (Me), along with his good friend, Earl, and the dying girl, yes, she is dying of leukaemia, Rachel. These characters are very well played, especially by Thomas Mann as Greg. RC Cyler is the African-American? Earl, from a neighbourhood that seems on the wrong side of the tracks. And Olivia Cooke is charming as Rachel.

The film has many of the characteristics of the teen movie, especially the high school movie, since the three central characters are still at school, specialise in film studies, hoping to get good results to go to college. They are especially friendly with their history teacher (with clips and quotes from Werner Hertzog and Klaus Kinski), played by Jon Bernthal. And, they are pushed around by the local bullies.

Greg’s mother has a phone call from Rachel’s mother (Connie Britton and Molly Shannon) and Greg’s mother thinks he ought to go to visit the sick Rachel. He eventually does and finds himself in a rather awkward situation, but perseveres, a lot of silences initially, but Rachel liking him, he becoming more talkative and listening, and friendship is established – to her amusement with those funny little films, and his deciding to make a film especially for her. Reassuring us that Rachel is to recover…

One of the charms of the film is also the fact that each section is captioned, from Greg’s point of view, indicating his feelings for this particular part of the story, and enumerating the number of days into his ‘doomed relationship’ with Rachel.

While the story is that of Greg, and secondly that of Earl who also becomes a good friend to Rachel, falls out at one stage with Greg, the two are reconciled through Rachel’s good graces.

In the meantime, Rachel’s leukaemia is becoming more threatening, her head shaved, she becomes a more gaunt, is growing weaker. Greg spends much of his time with Rachel, to the neglect of his studies, and, while he was accepted into College, his increasingly poor results mean that he may not be accepted – and there is a fine, sympathetic intervention by Rachel, highlighting how important Greg support of her really was.

While the school scenes are familiar in a way, the whole story and the setting of terminal leukaemia gives the film a quite different impetus and emotional impact. The central characters perform well and there are interesting performances from Connie Britton as the pressurising mother, Nick Offerman as Greg’s academic father (with a lot of free time without bothering to get dressed) and Molly Shannon as the Jewish mother, emotional and demonstrably affectionate.

This is one of the best films about young people with terminal illness, a comparison would be the young adult novel and film by John Green, The Fault in our Stars. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has a much broader appeal and dramatic effect.


PLAY IT SAFE

Australia, 2015, 91 minutes, Black and white.
Nicholas Kato, Maya Aleksandra, Christine Lui, Alasdair Tremblay- Birchall, Clayton Jacobson, Christina Kato, Spencer Gigacz, Kane Felsinger.
Directed by Chris Pahlow.

Play it Safe is a micro-budget film, made locally in Melbourne, utilising suburban locations as well as sequences in the city. It has also been filmed in black and white, to advantage in presenting the perspective on characters in the city.

The principal appeal of the film will be to the under-30s, the young adults trying to begin a career, especially in music, performance and composition. There is a variety of music, some rap songs, touches of jazz, some personal, moving towards classical composition in sequences of playing simply at home or in performance in clubs.

Nicholas Kato plays Jamie, in his mid-20s, part of a band who have been on tour but people have not gone out to see and hear them. They are still rehearsing, but squabble and the band disbands.

Jamie plays quietly at home, an introspective character, put upon by his room mate, Jeff (Alasdair Tremblay- Birchall, actor and writer for such TV programs as Sean Micaleff’s Mad as Hell), unable to respond to playing at a girlfriend’s exhibition opening, criticised by his father (Clayton Jacobson) who is urging him to do something worthwhile.

The film picks up as it moves along, audiences becoming used to Jamie, understanding him better, liking him more. This is especially the case when he does an interview with a rather I-am, Alpha-male founder of a small college for teaching music, with strict instructions to keep to his absolutely worked out curriculum. There is an amusing collage where we see Jamie meeting a variety of students, an enthusiastic older woman, a little girl, a seemingly indifferent boy, and Spencer, who really does not want to be there and how much he prefers to play with his Rubik cube and to read out the fantasy stories that his parents do not approve of.

There is some brightness in Jamie’s life when he is attracted to the secretary of the college, Chloe (Christine Lui) and they date for a while – although she is put off when he invites her home and they have a conversation with Jeff, and she is upset that Jamie doesn’t intervene to defend her.

Obviously, things will not go too well at the college and Jamie has to look further employment, the relationship with Chloe lapses, he meets the former girlfriend again, gets a new and seemingly worthwhile job, using his personalised methods of interacting with the students rather than an imposed curriculum, and, he is still moving towards 30…


RICKY AND THE FLASH

US, 2015, 103 minutes, Colour.
Meryl Streep, Kevin Klein, Mamie Gummer, Audra Mc Donald, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan, Ben Platt, Hailey Gates.
Directed by Jonathan Demme.

So, what were we expecting? Rock ‘n’ roll? Meryl Streep as a rocker? Another performance where Meryl Streep completely immerses herself in her character? Yes to all of the above. And that is definitely what we get.

It is not as if Meryl Streep had not sung in films before. She had many songs in Postcards from the Edge, some comic singing in Death Becomes Her, singing the role of the Witch in Sondheim’s Into the Woods – and, of course, Mamma Mia. It is not as if Meryl Streep can’t sing – but for this role, as with all her roles, she did her homework and training, the range of songs by a number of songwriters from Tom Petty to Bruce Springsteen, and learning to play the guitar as well. There are quite a number of songs, most of them in the Calilfornia club where she and her band, Ricky and The Flash, have been entertaining the locals, generally a rough and ready but enthusiastic audience, for years. And, as might be hoped for, Ricky and the Flash perform a grand finale at the family wedding.

We are introduced to Ricky, braids and heavy make-up, rock ‘n’ roll costumes, belting out the songs, playing with her band and with Greg, Rick Springfield able to play his music and in a sympathetic role. Then, we see her the next day, working the supermarket at the checkout, with the young enthusiastic floor manager continually urging her to smile, something which he continually demonstrates.

Then a phone call, to come home to the family she had abandoned decades earlier, with her daughter, Julie, in crisis after being abandoned by her husband. Now, she is Linda, her ordinary name, and she decides to travel to Indianapolis, and the mansion, clean and orderly and luxurious, where her former husband, Pete, Kevin Kline, has lived with their children, Julie and two sons, married to Maureen, whom we don’t see at first and perhaps judge her a bit too superciliously because of Linda’s reaction to the almost-perfect house, but in fact, as we get to know her, she is probably the most sympathetic character in the film, played by Audra Mc Donald – and, interestingly, it is an inter-racial marriage which is taken for granted, never even commented on.

Julie is played by Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter who has appeared with her in other films. They play well together, Julie on medication and somewhat out of it, gradually mellowing with her mother’s exuberant presence, which includes going out to eat doughnuts and a hair and make-up makeover – and also her mother telling off the ex-husband and his girlfriend when they happen to see them in restaurant. Julie is depressed and is in therapy, helped by her mother – who later glimpses and realises just how much influence Maureen has had for the good and the better during her long absence.

The other crisis is the forthcoming wedding of one of the sons and his rather snobbish fiancee. The son has kept in touch with his mother, but the influence of his fiancee and family means that she is not invited to his wedding, just as she was not invited to Julie’s. The other son is gay and is critical of his mother, accusing her of homophobia. And this is mainly at a dinner sequence in a restaurant, one of those exceedingly loud and embarrassing dinners with aggression.

The film is a story of sadness and regrets, a story of dreams, career and selfish decisions, but it is also a story of hope, finishing on a happily dancing ending, courtesy of bringing Bruce Springsteen’s music, and the realisation that, although it is late, it is not too late to make some kind of reparation and, even within the limits of circumstances that cannot be changed, to bring some love and hopeful expectations.

The director, Jonathan Demme, has made a number of documentaries about musicians and concerts, as well is such films as Silence of the Lambs, Rachel at the Wedding. The writer, Diablo Cody, has been responsible for Juno, Young Adult and episodes of The United States of Tara. It is not great, but it is very enjoyable – and, once again, as for almost four decades, admiration for Meryl Streep.


SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY

US, 2014, 93 minutes, Colour.
Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Rhys Ifans, Kathryn Hahn, Will Forte, Jennifer Aniston, Illeana Douglas, Cybil Shepherd, Richard Lewis, Austin Pendleton, George Morfogen, Debi Mazar, Colleen Camp, Tatum O’ Neal, Jennifer Esposito, Lucy Punch, Joanna Lumley, Quentin Tarantino.
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich.

She’s Funny That Way is an amusing comedy geared to an older audience. It was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, now himself so much older than in his heyday of the 1970s. He had his ups and downs as a director, but his ups were mainly in the first half of the 1970s with his American classic, The Last Picture Show, then one of the funniest comedies of all time, What’s Up Doc and the nostalgic piece, Paper Moon. It is 13 years since his last film, The Cat’s Meow.

This is a comic farce, a whole lot of coincidences, people turning up at the same place at the same time unexpectedly, people turning up in the wrong place, and then more people turning up… And it has a theatre background, which enables the whole story and characters to be quite theatrical. A lot of visual tumour, verbal humour, situation humour.

The cast is particularly strong, contemporary comic stars and quite a number of cameos from favourites from Bogdanovich’s earlier films, including Austin Pendleton as an obsessed judge, Tatum O’Neal? as a waitress, Colleen Camp, and Cybill Shepherd, Bogdanovich’s partner from way back when, as the rather frumpy mother of the central character. And there is another cameo at the end of the film – but it would be spoilsportish to anticipate the pleasant surprise of discovering who it is…

The she of the title is a New York escort, Izzy, looking attractive and glamorous, telling her life story to Judy, Illeana Douglas, who is taking notes and trying to understand what has happened to Izzy. The rest of the film is made up of flashbacks, but returning all the time to Izzy and her interview.

Izzy is played by English Imogen Poots, immersing herself in the atmosphere of Brooklyn and New York City, carrying off an ambiguous role with some charm and aplomb.

She remembers going to a hotel room of a man calling himself Derek (Owen Wilson) who is charming and finally offers her $30,000 to make a new life. She lives at home, with her parents, Cybill Shepherd and Richard Lewis, who are not enthusiastic about her acting career. But she goes to the audition, only to find that the director is Derek, whose real name is Arnold, who finds it really awkward that she has turned up for the role – and she auditions, perfectly and quite movingly, with Arnold’s wife, Delta (Kathryn Hahn). Also present is the leading man, Seth, who had spied on Arnold the night before and seen Izzy.

And also present is the playwright, Joshua, played by Will Forte. The audience has already seen him walking a New York Street with his peremptory girlfriend and her dog, dismissed by her as she goes to her office, vacated by her alcoholic mother (another humorous cameo appearance by a British actress at the end of the film, a blink and you might miss it). Jane, the younger psychologist, is played by Jennifer Aniston in one of her best, blunt and dominating and domineering, performances.

So, there are all the ingredients for all kinds of mixups, especially since Seth and Delta have appeared on the London stage and formed something of a bond. And, before you know it, several other women are approaching Arnold to thank him profusely (and loudly) for their $30,000 and how it enabled them to make a new life.

The main scene in the first part of the film, apart from the audition, is set in an Italian restaurant with the playwright taking Izzy for a meal, so impressed is he by her audition. And then, the rest of the cast all turn up, including Jane taking the obsessed judge out and, at another table, the private detective that the judge has hired to follow Izzy! Needless to say, a fine mess.

The other fine mess occurs towards the end, in the hotel where Arnold and Seth are staying, Delta turning up for a rendezvous, Arnold summoning Izzy for a discussion, another escort who doesn’t speak English well (Lucy Punch) causing revelations as she is discovered hiding in the bath, only to find that she went to the wrong room! Confusion and attacks all round.

And then we finally go back to Izzy and her interview with Judy, and her explanation of what happened to everyone.

Very light, but quite entertaining.


SOUTHPAW

US, 2015, 124 minutes, Colour.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel Mc Adams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent Jackson, Skylan Brooks, Naomie Harris, Beau Knapp.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.


This is a surprisingly good film, even for those were not keen on boxing. It is definitely is a boxing film, two long championship fights, one opening the film, the other bringing it to a climax, as well as a charity demonstration bout, some fistfights and a great deal of attention given to details of training.

But, there is a great deal more to the film. In fact, several times the screenplay refers to redemption.

The central character is Billy, a middle-aged boxer, a world champion, with the significant surname of Hope. He is seen in the initial fight, fierce-looking, challenging his opponent, bloodied, determined and angry, but winning. He is played by Jake Gyllenhaal in a completely convincing way, his physical appearance making his performance as a boxer credible, the choreography of his fighting in the ring, the details of training. This is to the credit of Jake Gyllenhaal who, in recent years, has given extraordinarily different and fine performances in Prisoners as well as Nightcrawler.

He is encouraged in his career and in his life by his devoted wife, Mo, played very attractively by Rachel Mc Adams. Billy and Mo were both orphans and grew up in orphanages in Hells Kitchen, not far from Madison Square Garden where the first fight takes place. It is she who is the support, the strength in the family, the adviser about his career and contracts. It is an emotional shock when the situation changes. The young daughter, convincingly played by Oona Laurence, devoted to her parents but suffering the consequences of the shock.

Billy goes into freefall, falling lower and lower, ultimately losing everything, being banned from boxing, losing his house, family, on the streets and looking for some kind of employment – and redemption.

He wanders into a gym managed by Tick, Forest Whitaker, a sympathetic wisdom-figure, who runs a gym for training young men, especially black men, from the tough neighbourhood. But Billy is still particularly angry, is ordered by the judge to have anger management sessions, not to drink, not to take drugs, and make himself a proper guardian for his daughter. At first, he is so angry that he cannot bring himself to take on a menial job at the gym but realises that he must.

As might be expected, this is the first step on the road to some kind of redemption, of moving out of the depths.

An opportunity does come for him to fight again, to challenge the new champion, from Columbia, with the significant name of Escobar, whose defiance has been the trigger for Billy’s downfall. He trains, with Tick being supportive and giving good advice. Which means that the climax of the film is a long fight in Las Vegas, 12 rounds, with Escobar asserting himself, Billy fighting back, only a matter of points difference in the final decision. Whatever the outcome, Billy has controlled himself, has given his all to his boxing skills, has won the admiration of his daughter, guaranteed the loyalty of his supporters.

The film is well written by Kurt Sutter, who wrote many of the episodes four television of The Shield and Sons of Anarchy. Everything comes together well in terms of the story, the performances, the drama, the possibilities for some kind of hope and redemption despite the deepest of failures.


STALKHER

Australia, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
John Jarrett, Kaarin Fairfax, Robert Colby.
Directed by John Jarrett and Kaarin Fairfax.

The play on words in the title seems obvious but it is surprising that this has not been used so much more in the past. It sums up of the action of this film – but not quite because there is a twist that might become more and more apparent as the action goes on.

This is a joint project by the two actors, John Jarrett and Kaarin Fairfax, with the screenplay, performances and co-directing.

There are some scenes in a hospital and, towards the end, in a supermarket, but this is basically a two-hander, the action taking place within the confines of a suburban house. Two-handers are always a challenge for the audience, accepting that the action and dialogue would be confined to the two characters, requiring concentration, offering little relief. Attention requires strong and dramatic dialogue as well as powerful performances.

This time the performances are forceful in their way. We have seen John Jarrett do this kind of tough and rough and many audiences will remember his performances In the Wolf Creek films. Kaarin Fairfax has the more nuanced role. One of the difficulties for concentration is that the dialogue is expletive-filled, tiresome at the best of times, but too easy a copout for more dramatic and intense writing.

It is established that Kaarin Fairfax is a nurse in a hospital and John Jarrett’s character is a pharmacist. There are some flashbacks reinforcing this. But, of course, the question is are the characters what they seem. When a masked man intrudes into a house seemingly to terrorise the occupant, and the occupant overcomes the intruder, we have a set up for cross-interrogation, explorations of character – and further revelations.

In some ways, the toing and froing (both realistic and, sometimes, in the imaginations of the characters) has some fascination – but the danger is that becomes repetitious, and repetitious.

There is a twist but, with insinuations, invective and physical violence, many audiences will see is coming before the revelation. This twist has been used in other stories, most particularly and more effectively in the film version of Neil LaBute’s?, Some Velvet Morning.

Which means that the film does have some interesting aspects but, as for both the central characters, it is something of an ordeal.


VACATION

US, 2015, 99 minutes, Colour.
Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steel Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D' Angelo, Charlie Day, Catherine Missal, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael? Key, Regina Hall, Michael Pena, David Clennon, Colin Hanks.
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M.Goldstein.

If you are looking for intelligent comedy, this is not the place!

Back then, there was the humorous and satiric magazine, National Lampoon, probably best known for the film version of Animal House in the late 1970s. Then there were all kinds of Lampoon’s at the movies. One of the areas was vacation, both in the good old US, and at Christmas, as well as to Europe. And in those films, National Lampoon’s Vacation, the central characters were Mr and Mrs Griswold and their two children. The Griswold were played by Chevy Chase and Beverley D’ Angelo. The films were amusing in their way, lots of pratfalls, lots of awkward situations, touches of the vulgar, but acceptable enough for audiences in the 1980s and 1990s.

Vacation is not exactly a sequel or a remake – rather, this is the younger generation, the young boy of the old Vacation is now 40ish and has an idea that he should get his family to share in a nostalgical trip in his memory of his parents’ taking him and his sister to the theme park, Wally World. So far, so good.

The film is full of reminders of the past, this time with Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as the parents, with photos of the old parents – and, lo and behold, the new generation coming to San Francisco to stay with Rusty’s mother and father. It must be a long time since Chevy Chase was on screen because he is surprisingly older-looking than what we might have expected, larger, white hair (what the result it) but Beverley D’ Angelo looking an older version of what she used to look like.

Once again, there are all kinds of awkward situations, slapstick, pratfalls, misunderstandings and misinterpretations – but!!! This is 2015 so no-holds-barred for four letter interventions, even from the younger Griswold boy. There is no inhibition on sex language, sex talk, sex jokes – a step beyond the risque. Admittedly, some of this is funny, depending on your sex joke tolerance. And bodily functions are not left out – and seeing is believing when the family skip a queue lining up for hot springs in Arkansas, only to be maliciously advised to go on the back road, where the mud in the hot spring is not what we or the family expected because it is… (supply four letters).

Rusty is a pilot on an economy air company, Economair, with some comic touches that remind us of Aeroplane/Flying High. Debbie is at home trying to manage the two boys, the younger is murderably precocious, bullies his sensitive older brother who writes diaries and poetry, is not into fighting, and is at the stage of eyeing girls and becoming romantically infatuated.

Rusty hires an Albanian they had – which gives rise to a lot of slapstick jokes. There is an ominous truck driver with the final confrontation in the Arizona desert. They stop off in Missouri to go to Debbie’s old college where she finds she has a reputation for rather wild days – with some slapstick disasters as she tries to relive her past. There is an occasion where they sneak out to make love on the corner where force states meet, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Arizona – only to find a long queue already there and police representatives from each of the State who start to assert their authority and draw their guns. And the jokey guide at the Grand Canyon goes suicidal during the white water rafting.

After they are robbed at the hot springs, they drive to Rusty’s sister’s place. The sister’s husband, is Stone Crandall, is played by Thor himself, obviously relishing the opportunity to do something American, something comic, something dumb, something which highlights macho prowess (and a large prosthetic appendage). The couple are played by Lesley Mann and Chris Hemsworth.

Yes, there is a lot of soul-searching, the younger brother put in his place, the older brother experiences the touch of romance, a reconciliation between husband and wife who appreciate better what they have – and a visit to Wally World and the biggest and longest rollercoasters (and amusing pratfalls).

There are cameos from Colin Hanks, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Michael Pena and Charlie Day – all getting a bit of extra pocket money!

Perhaps it is best to say that this is American comedy, for the multiplex audience, and its status in 2015, styles of comedy, visual and verbal, raucous and coarse, – and the memory that the earlier Griswold’s also had a European vacation, so…


WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS

US, 2015, 96 minutes, Colour.
Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, John Bernthal.
Directed by Max Joseph.

This is a film for a generation in its 20s. Older audiences might find it difficult to identify with, some remembering their past and realising they have well moved on, others not finding the characters or the situation congenial. The screenplay has lines such as a description of those who participated in the parties, with the music, drugs, drink, sexual behaviour, as “gyrating tweens”. One of the characters, in his early 40s, also remarks that at 23 a person has not lived long enough to learn the meaning of ‘irreparable’! And also asserts that a person has not become themselves until age 27.

The central characters of this film, the four friends, a not yet 27!

For some times, there have been many fifth a reference to the Valley Girls from the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. While there are some Valley Girls here, this is a story about four Valley Boys. At this stage of their life, they don’t have any full-time jobs, are on the lookout - sometimes, but more involved in promoting music and parties and, one or other of them, dealing drugs.

The central character is Cole, a young DJ, or with ambitions to become a DJ, played by Zac Efron, who, after his High School Musical escapades, has had the opportunity to appear in quite a number of serious films. This one is in between.

His other friends include Mason (Jonny Weston), a carefree type, helping with some building work, enthusiastic about party promotions. Then there is Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) wanting to be an actor, but more interested in dealing drugs. Then there is Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), the rather put-upon member of the group. At one stage, there might be an improvement with work in the office of one of the drug clients, a company which allegedly helps those in difficulty with home finances but is really exploitative, wants to get homes for a cut-price and then selling them off while promising to rent them to the previous tenants. The four work in the company but, eventually, it gets to Cole, especially as he visits a woman with her child and realises that she is the victim of a scam.

The other track of the story is Cole’s encounter with James, Wes Bentley, a 40 something DJ who has a strong international reputation, who takes a shine to Cole, gives him a lot of advice, helps him with his tracks, advises him to listen and hear rather than just simply rely on possibilities from his laptop. But, there is no plain sailing, because Cole is attracted to James’s girlfriend and Personal Assistant, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).

There are some grim moments in the film, especially a drug overdose death which challenges the group. And, after the first hour or so of seeming indulgence in hedonism, the screenplay starts to take a moralising tone, which means that by the end, Cole has to make some decisions about life, what he wants, positive aims, and capitalising on his musical talent.

Perhaps this review makes the film sound more interesting than it is except for its target audience.


THE WOLFPACK

US, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Crystal Moselle.

As we watch this film, it is something with something of disbelief. How could the situation be? And how could it be on the Lower East Side of Manhattan? Is it real? Did this really happen? Could it have happened? This is a New York story, but a story with a great difference.

And the opening of the film rather compounds the disbelief. Here we see half a dozen young men, dressed like the characters from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, re-enacting some of the key scenes, doing role-plays of the violence – allotted each of the characters of Mr… And dressed in those black suits. And it continues, with one of the young men transcribing all the dialogue from Pulp Fiction, and re-enacting the car wash scene. And who are these young man – quite obviously brothers, with strong facial resemblances.

And, how could they possibly have allowed the film makers into their apartment to photograph everyone in such detail?

Actually, the answer doesn’t come in the film but rather in the press notes. The film’s director, Crystal Moselle, says she was walking down a New York Street when she saw the six men on the sidewalk, was fascinated by the way that they were dressed and how they walked. She spoke to them, listened to what they had to say and asked could she photograph them – and they agreed.

The father, Oscar Angulo, came from Latin America, married an American, and always planned to move his family to Scandinavia where he thought they would be much safer than in New York City. But, they never hade the money and so they stayed. He was fascinated by Indian Vedic religious traditions and gave his children Indian names. But, he kept them all inside the apartment, six boys and a girl, home-schooling, making them wary about going outside (although they could see so much of the city, the lanes of cars on the road outside their window) and finding that they could live their lives within their apartment. His main concession was allowing them to watch the movies, which they did avidly, discussing their preferences in the film, showing their reenactments – making us realise that they had absorbed a lot of the expletive-dialogue that they heard in the movies.

We contemplate this for quite a while and there is very little seen of the father until almost halfway through, an interview with him, his explaining his philosophy of life, his fear of the violence of the city, his protectiveness. We see a great deal more of the children’s mother, a friendly kind of woman, loving her husband, going along with his plans, but now coming to the realisation that perhaps they were too over-protective and that the young men need to venture out into the world. Which one would think would be easy, given their familiarity from the films, but as they go out, they are quite tentative, travelling on the subway, walking along the sidewalks, going to the first film in an actual cinema. The sequence where they go out into the countryside and breathe the air, experience the sunshine, pick fruit from an actual tree reminds us of how limited their life had been.

At this stage, there are moments of rebellion, criticism of the father – but a certain generalisation about what they had experienced with him, although the film is dispersed with home movies of their childhood and growing up.

So, the filmmakers observe life within the house, some of the venturing outside – but there is very little given by way of explanation (the director not intruding with questions or voice-over) of their growing up, the tensions within the family (they are never shown clashing with one another), emotional development, psychosexual development.

The story seems very bizarre at times and we are somewhat relieved that the young men are venturing outside – but it would be very interesting to do a follow-up, to see how they cope, and hear how they begin to articulate their experience of what happened to them, their growth, and their criticisms of what was, in many ways, an imprisonment.


Created by: malone last modification: Thursday 17 of December, 2015 [23:29:12 UTC] by malone


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