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SIGNIS Film reviews - December 2015

Wednesday 9 December 2015, by SIGNIS

December 9th, 2015.
Find here film reviews written by Peter Malone.

  • 5 TO 7
  • ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING
  • BY THE SEA
  • CROW’S EGGS, The
  • END OF THE TOUR,The
  • FREEHELD
  • HE NAMED ME MALALA
  • HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2
  • HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2
  • LOVE THE COOPERS
  • LOOK OF SILENCE
  • IN THE HEART OF THE SEA
  • MAN UP
  • MISSISSIPPI GRIND
  • NIGHT BEFORE, The
  • PHOENIX
  • SECRET IN THEIR EYES
  • TANNA
  • TRUTH

-* 5 TO 7

US, 2014, 95 minutes, Colour.
Anton Yelchin, Berenice Marlohe, Lambert Wilson, Olivia Thirlby, Glenn Close, Frank Langella, Erich Stoltz, Jocelyn De Boer.
Directed by Victor Levin.

“I love you” may seem the same, exactly the same, as the French phrase “Je t’aime”. This film reminds us they are not exactly the same at all, the cultural differences between the English language and the French language coming to the fore, but American moral stances compared with French moral stances, as we have often heard from the French, have quite a number of differences.

Perhaps this is not the best introduction to a film review of 5 to 7. But this reviewer liked it very much indeed, surprisingly so.

The phrase “5 to 7” is used by the French to indicate a time in the afternoon, between work hours and whatever is to take place in the evening, when affairs can be arranged and lived out. All Americans might have affairs, but this more explicit approach by the French, and the alleged rules by which the French have their 5 to 7 soirées, differs from the Americans and their more explicit moral stances.

Brian Bloom is a young would-be author, from a wealthy background, getting lots of rejection slips which he pastes on his wall, who encounters a Frenchwoman as they both have a cigarette in an afternoon break from work. He is immediately attracted. And so is the audience. She is Arielle (the name of The Little Mermaid as Brian notes) and is played by French actress Berenice Marlohe who was a strikingly memorable Bond girl in Skyfall who had quite an unhappy end. While she has the potential for an unhappy ending here, she is a woman who has an extraordinary smile, more than fulfilling the cliche saying that her smile would light up a room – and beyond. Fortunately for us all, and for Brian, she smiles a lot during this film.

He is 23. She is 34. And she is married and has two young children. But, in the alleged French manner, so attracted is she by Brian, that she suggests a 5 to 7 arrangement, which he eagerly accepts. They meet frequently, enjoying each other’s company, going to art galleries, she blindfolding him to test his palette for red and white wines (he mistakes a white for a red) and then tests her for beer and Guinness (and she mistakes a Guinness for ordinary beer).

And her husband, Valerey (Lambert Wilson)? He also has a 5 to 7 arrangement with a young American editor, Jane (Olivia Thirlby). Personal relationships and social relationships are all carried out with the best of all possible good manners, Brian is invited to a meal at home by Valerey. And Brian takes Arielle’s children out and teaches them some elements of baseball.

Of course, the question is, how can such arrangements continue – if they are purely sexual arrangements, they could go on forever until one or other tires. But, if genuine love enters in, with a mixture of possessiveness and single fidelity, what could happen?

Which is what happens between Brian and Arielle. Again, civilised manners, except when Valerey momentarily strikes Brian. Brian declares his absolute love – but what of Arielle? The best thing for a reviewer to say is: go to see the film to find out and check how this ending fits with romantic sensitivities and moral sensibilities. Suffice to say that the film’s story goes on little longer than might have been expected, which gives a little more depth to the experience of all concerned.

An extra bonus for the audience is the presence of Glenn Close and Franklin Langella as Brian’s parents, he continually complaining about something, especially the price of parking and taxis in New York City, and also about his son’s relationship with a married woman. Glenn Close reminds us of what a good and significant actress she is.

The good memories from this film certainly last beyond 5 to 7.

-* ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING

UK, 2015, 85 minutes, Colour.
Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Rob Riggle, Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley, Robert Bathurst, Sanjeev Bhasker, Meera Syal.
Voices of: Robin Williams, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Pailin, Terry Jones.
Directed by Terry Jones.

The Monte Python Flying Circus was extraordinarily popular in the 1970s and the 1980s, with their television series as well as films like Jabberwocky, The Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life. They were always very talented with short sketches, and their films really included a succession of sketches. This is the case with Absolutely Anything, based on the script by Terry Jones but not produced when he wrote it, now resurrected and the opportunity for some Python humour as well as the reuniting of the team to provide eccentric voices.

Audiences stumbling into the film and not aware of Python humour may be puzzled. The fans may not think it is one of the greatest but, nevertheless, there is quite some enjoyment.

The basic plot is one of those “what-if?” stories where a character is given unlimited powers to effect anything they desire. All they have to do is formulate their wish and wave their hand – and there it is. The character who receives this power is Neil (Simon Pegg), a high school teacher (with an impossibly unruly class and a head teacher who puts down) who lives by himself, is infatuated by the television producer upstairs, Catherine (Kate Beckinsale), who quite likes him but… nothing special.

In the meantime we go into the realm of Terry Gilliam animation, into a world beyond the stars, to be introduced by some rather farcical hideous-looking characters, an interplanetary Council who have the power to test out a human to see whether they want Earth or not. And the joke is that these ugly looking creatures, who mistakenly all have girls names, are voiced by the Python team. The President of the Council is, needless to say, John Cleese with his dominating and vigorous voice. Eric Idle pops up now and then as does Terry Jones – though not always easy to pick Michael Pailin.

We go into space now and again but most of the action focuses on Neil who is a hapless individual but rather enjoys having the power to achieve anything he wishes. Like Dudley Moore in Bedazzled, granted many wishes, he makes some inept choices, especially when he wants a better image and sexual prowess for himself. But, by and large, there are some amusing variations on the wish-fulfilment thing, getting rid of his class by an explosion but able to restore them so that they all are absolutely delighted when they have to read a whole chapter of Dickens quietly.

There is also his friend Ray, Sanjeev Bhaskar, who has an infatuation with one of the teachers – but is alarmed when Neil wishes her to worship Ray and she starts a sect, with touches of the Hari Krishna. There is also the American Grant, Rob Riggle, who is absolutely obsessed with Catherine, making life a misery, but tricking Neil into giving him the powers with, of course, dastardly results.

But, there in the foreground is Neil’s pet dog, Dennis. He is voiced by Robin Williams in one of his last roles, always amusing, a touch of the frenetic as well as sardonic quips – although it is Dennis who is wise enough to think out a solution to the whole problem.

While the film does not give its audience anything it absolutely wants, it does give 90 minutes or so amusement.

-* BY THE SEA

US, 2015, 122 minutes, Colour.
Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Nils Arrestup, Melvil Poupard, Richard Bohringer.
Directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt.

One of the experiences while watching this film is to find a word that would pinpoint its impact. One of the word choices was “languid” or, to be more precise, “very languid”, or “tres, tres, the languid”. It is one of those films judged by those who are addicted to action pace: “slow”.

The film is set in France, although it was filmed in Malta, standing in for France – beautiful countryside, the roads, the mountains, the bay, the sea, the cliffs, the village and the villa… At the opening, audiences introduced to the central couple, Vanessa and Roland, driving through this beautiful scenery, going to the luxury villa, settling into their apartment. But, all is not well. Roland gets out his typewriter, tries to write but has a writer’s block. Vanessa seems particularly listless.

Over two hours, we share the experience with the couple, something of a novella prolonged into the two-hour film.

Days go by, she staying at home, reading a book she doesn’t like, doing some sunbaking, wearing her wide-brimmed hat, sometimes going for a walk, and not particularly responsive when Roland comes home each evening. He spends his time in the bar, trying to write, still blocked. He drinks.

There are two agreeable characters at the bar, Michel the manager, Nils Arrestup, whose wife is dead, whose memory he cherishes, who listens to Roland, and tries to give him advice, especially about his drinking. And there is Patrice, the old owner of the bar who sits, watches, eats, plays chess with Michel.

Then a young couple on their honeymoon take the next apartment, Melanie Laurent and Melville Poupard. They are friendly – but do not know that there is a peep hole from one apartment to the other, discovered by Vanessa, watching through it a great deal, and with the audience, sharing prurient curiosity. Eventually Roland discovers it and he and his wife share a great deal of gazing at the life of the other couple, especially the more intimate parts of their life, their talk, nudity, the sexual relationship.

And all the time and there are quick edited glimpses of some kind of traumatic experience that Vanessa has had – and which the audience may well suspect almost from the beginning.

Roland is exasperated with his wife, sometimes trying hard to build the lost love, sometimes just giving. And she often gives up as well. They share some experiences with the couple next door, sailing, playing cards, going shopping.

Ultimately, there is some tension leading to a final confrontation and truth-telling, especially Roland speaking bluntly to Vanessa. Whether this is what she needs in her depression could be discussed but, ultimately, there is some effect, even hope.

Speaking of prurient curiosity, this is inevitable with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as the stars, the producers, and Angelina Jolie (several times in the credits referred to as Angelina Jolie Pitt, and even in the final credits as Mrs Jolie Pitt) writing and directing. And the niggling question: does this reflect their real-life relationship? It must be said that Angelina Jolie, quiet voice, listless, depressed, is the exact opposite of Lara Croft and some of her more vigorous characters. So, a drama that probably owes more to French cinema of the 1950s and 60s and to the existential portrait of characters, lost and found, of Italian Michelangelo Antonioni.

Languid as we watch it – but much of it stays in the memory.

-* THE CROW’S EGGS/ KAAKKAA MUTTAI

India, 2014, 91 minutes, Colour.
Directed by M. Manikandan.

The Crows Eggs is a Tamil film from the city of Chennai (formerly Madras). Films from the industries on India’s west coast, from Kolkotta and Chennai, tend to be dramas and comedies without the colourful romantic song and dance of Bollywood, from Mumbai and the east coast.

Many were surprised when Slumdog Millionaire won the Oscar for Best Film in 2008. Before and since there have been many slumdog films and this is one of them, something like Slumdog Pizza. Blog reports from India indicate that the Indian population really warms to this film.

The focus of the story is a family in the slums, father is in jail, mother works and tries to raise money to pay a lawyer to help get her husband out of jail (without any results). Her mother-in-law lives at home, sitting and getting older, giving advice to the two young boys who have to go out to collect coal, especially that falling from the trains as they pass, to get money for the family rather than go to school. There are quite a number of children with similar lives in these slums.

The boys, generally smiling, even when the younger one has problems, as in the opening of the film, with wetting his bed mat. The go out to play, give rice to the local crows and climb up to the nest so that they can drink the yolk from the crows’ eggs. They nickname themselves as Crow’s Egg.

Their lives are fairly routine, but, on the whole, they seem to enjoy them, not having had the opportunity to live better in any way. Until their playground is taken over, a building is put up and it turns out to be a Pizza Parlour. They have no idea what pizza is but they are attracted by the multi-coloured flyer, even persuading their grandmother to try to reproduce it.

They spend a lot of the film collecting the coal, helped by a friend who guides them to a government store and they gradually build up the money, only to be rejected at the Pizza Spot for being dirty urchins. Their next goal is to buy clothes so that they can be respectable as they try to get pizza.

In case this is too schmaltzy (which, in many ways, it is), there is a subplot about financial wheeler dealings to buy property, to put up buildings, to line the pockets of officials…

It comes to a head when the manager of the Pizza Spot actually punches the older boy – and it has been filmed on a mobile phone, leading to TV exposition, TV panels, discussions about the wealthy and the poor, politicians getting in on the act, locals trying to extort money from the Pizza boss, and, without spoiling the ending, no surprise when they get a free pizza (and then turn up their noses at it).

A family film, more attuned to family audiences and younger audiences than Slumdog Millionaire, audiences identifying with the boys who, for most of the film, seem to have as their goal, money, money, money – but, of course, they discover their generosity at the end.

-* THE END OF THE TOUR

US, 2015, 106 minutes, Colour.
Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Anna Chlumsky, Joan Cusack, Mickey Sumner, Mamie Gummer, Ron Stevenson.
Directed by James Pondsolt.

The End of the Tour is something of a specialist film, a film for lovers of literary fiction, especially American fiction. it is basically a two-hander, several days of conversation between the novelist, David Foster Wallace, and a Rolling Stones reporter, David Lipsky, who accompanied him on part of his tour to promote his book, Infinite Jest, published in 1996. It is based on the reporter’s memoir, Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself.

It does not matter if the audience has not heard of David Foster Wallace. They will have quite an impression of him by the end of the film. It does begin somewhat grimly, with the news in 2008 that he had killed himself. The reporter, David Lipski, is shocked to discover the news and prepares a eulogy of the novelist which he delivers in New York City.

Then the film goes into flashback.

Jesse Eisenberg, who is almost always the same in every film (well, always the same) whether he be Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network or David Lipski – always a little hunch-shouldered and forward-stooping, nervous manner in speaking, always on the edge even when he is relaxed. But this suits him here, a reporter tired of writing about Boy Bands, and proposing to its editor that there is a story in the success of David Foster Wallace and his thousand page novel.

For those familiar with Jason Segel’s career, almost always in comedies, including Knocked up and similar comedies, Gulliver’s Travels and The Muppets, his performance here as Wallace will be a complete surprise – except that he does remind us that earlier in his career, it would be Jeff Daniels as Wallace. some commentators have said that he captures Wallace’s manner very well, a tall and rather lumbering man, always wearing a bandanna, chunks of hair emerging from each side of it, in old clothes (Joan Cusack’s chauffeur in Minneapolis exclaiming rhetorically as he goes to radio interview, “you’re not wearing that”). And, he doesn’t mind McDonald’s and other takeaway food…

David Lipski goes to Bloomington to do the interview, recorded but Wallace has a few reservations, especially about the privacy of his parents. What follows is a great deal of conversation, relishing of words and delivery, interactions between the two men, Wallace speaking at a book signing, on radio, with a friend from university days (Mickey Sumner) and enthusiastic fan (Mamie Gummer).

There is a great deal of self-revelation from the two men, the reporter nosing out details for his story, but, somewhat envious of the writer, who does not take himself too seriously with his fame, who has a certain charm, despite living alone with his large dogs, friendly with students in his creative writing course, able to reflect on the themes of his work, especially the theme of loneliness and a future prospect for marriage and having children.

Direction is by James Ponsoldt whose work includes specialist films, Smashed and The Spectacular Now.

Words, words, words, – those who enjoy conversation will not be sick of words but will relish the conversations.

-* FREEHELD

US, 2015, 103 minutes, Colour.
Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell, Josh Charles, Luke Grimes, Kelly Deadmon, Dennis Boutsikaris, William Sadler.
Directed by Peter Sollett.

The title is intriguing but not really helpful until we have seen the film. It seems to relate to the two central characters, Laurel (Julianne Moore) and Stacie (Ellen Page) and their relationship, and issues of civil equality. But, then, at the meeting of the Ocean County Council, underneath the plaques with the names of the councillors was the title, Freeholders. Ultimately, there is a civil liberties and legislation clash between citizens and Council.

The film has several genres in the plot development.

Freeheld opens as a police investigation drama with touches of the thriller, the career of Laurel, who had been in the Ocean County, New Jersey, police force for over 20 years, working with her partner, Dane (Michael Shannon). We see them in action, in raids, courageous. And we see the authorities congratulating the pair but the Chief looking only at the man, bypassing the woman. We are also shown Laurel doing her research work at home, coming up with leads and the follow through which involves her being dragged along the street holding onto a car, then a bad cop/good cop method where she is able to elicit the information needed. Laurel and Dane get on very well together, he having a crush on her.

After work, Laurel goes to a local gay club. She notices a young woman, Stacie, and joins in conversation, dancing, and they go home together, developing their relationship and, after a year, with Stacie doing garage work (being shown able to change a wheel more quickly than the expert at the garage) and the couple deciding to buy a house and renovate it. It is at this juncture that Dane discovers the truth, is momentarily shocked, but disappointed that she had not confided in him as he had confided personal matters to her.

Michael Shannon is very effective as Dane, portraying a good guy when, as so frequently in films, he can be extraordinarily sinister (as in 99 Homes, made at this time).

Freeheld then develops the theme of gay relationships, friendship, love, intimacy.

But then there is a transition when Laurel complains of a sore nerve and is urged to go to the doctor. She has lung cancer, quite advanced. In 2014, Julianne Moore gave her Oscar-winning performance as Alice, a 50-year-old succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease, Still Alice. Here she puts her deepest self into the performance, audiences convinced that she is terminally ill, going through the chemotherapy, accepting the limitations on her lifetime, being helped by the, at first, unbelieving Stacie.

It is here that the film becomes political. Laurel has decided, according to New Jersey legislation of 2005, to leave her pension to Stacey so that she can pay the mortgage on their house and live there. The local council, five male members, the Freeholders, hear the petition presented personally by Laurel and reject it. They offer different reasons, principles about the same-sex relationships, the possibility that this would lead to legislation on same-sex marriage, religious principles and their invoking that this is what the majority of citizens, older, of Ocean County believe in.

A campaigner, Steven Goldstein, suddenly erupts into the film. He is played vividly by Steve Carell, reminding people that he is middle-aged, middle-class, white, Jewish and gay. One of his lines is to remind people that his protests, rounding up followers, placards, slogans, shouting and singing, are “political theatre”. He takes up the cause of Laurel and Stacie even though Laurel will not endorse his campaign for same-sex marriage. What she is after – and she makes two speeches to the council, one when she is very sick – is gender equality.

There are two main approaches to awareness about social issues, campaigns and principles: some take the crusading path, as do the protesters in this film; others take the education path, telling stories, inviting people to step into the shoes of people whose causes are being promoted. This is what Freeheld does. With the expert performances, the modes of storytelling, audiences are invited to step into Laurel’s shoes and walk with her, as a person, in her career, in her sexual orientation, in her partnership, in her illness, in her fight for the issue of her pension going to her partner.

The advantage of this kind of storytelling is that it gives some possible compassion for people whether an audience agrees with them or not.

-* HE NAMED ME MALALA

US, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Davis Guggenheim.

If ever a bullet did not achieve what the shooter intended it to do, it was that which the Taliban and fired into the head of the young student, Malala Yousafzai. The intention of the shooter was to kill Malala to make an example of her because she advocated education for girls.

Despite expectations to the contrary, when Malala was flown to Britain for surgery and for recovery, recover she did. And, although Malala is only 18 now, the rest is history.

This documentary, from director, Davis Guggenheim, who won the Academy Award for his Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, presents a portrait of Malala as something of a jigsaw or patchwork quilt. His material is not presented in conventional chronological order. Rather, we are introduced to Malala, some information about her work as a young student in Pakistan, but then a focus on her recuperation, her becoming something of a public figure, her campaign for education for girls.

Interspersed throughout the film are animation pieces, a device used to move quickly over events and perspectives by offering sketched images of Malala herself as well has of the countryside and other backgrounds. Some have found this a bit disconcerting or not appropriate to such a serious subject. However, it does allow for a change of mood, a shift in perspectives, a way of getting the audience to reflect on what they are seeing and what it means.

With the emphasis on the title, it is clear that Malala’s father is quite a significant presence in her life. He often accompanies her. He is an educationalist with strong ideas, obviously a major influence on his daughter. By contrast, her mother is quiet and stays in the background. One of her siblings, her younger brother, offers some cheeky and playful comments about his sister. Malala herself is often playful.

One of the significant aspects of the film is Malala, after her recovery, pursuing her education, but also travelling widely to a variety of countries, especially in Africa, again to encourage girls to go to school and receive an education. She is a strong teenage missionary for female education.

It is only towards the end of the film that it focuses on Malala in Pakistan, the threats to education, her being shot, the immediate impact, strikingly visual, her being saved and brought back to health, and her appearance in headlines throughout the world.

It was thought that she would receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, but this did not happen. She was pleasantly stoic about all of this. But, in 2014, she did win and, at the end of the film, we see her making her acceptance speech and her exhortations about education.

Malala has become a significant figure already – and it will be very interesting over the coming years to see how she manages her celebrity and how she continues her education campaign.

-* HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2

US, 2015, 89 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Asher Blinkoff, Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, Megan Mullaly, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle, Dana Carvey, Mel Brooks.
Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky.

A couple of years ago, audiences were surprised to find that there had been some kind of truce between vampires and humans, especially with the opening of Hotel Transylvania welcoming human guests. Not only that, the patriarch of the vampire family, Drac, was consenting to the marriage between his daughter, Mavis, and human with a touch of the hippie, Johnny.

And this is where this sequel takes up, the preparations for the wedding and the wedding itself, the vampires and the variety of monsters at the Hotel Transylvania hosting the humans from California and everybody having an enjoyable time. Then a year passes, Mavis is pregnant, then she gives birth – and the big question, is Dennis (called Dennisovich by his adoring vampire grandfather) a human or a vampire. While he has a mop of reddish hair, he doesn’t have any fangs. Nevertheless, he grows up happy, at home with vampires and monsters, comfortable with his human grandparents, an ordinary boy although everybody quibbles about the word “normal”.

Mavis and Johnny go to California for a holiday where she is overwhelmed by the Slurpee choices in a mini-mart and shows her prowess at bike riding on skateboarding centres. She really enjoys living in the human world. In the meantime, Drac and other monsters decide to take Dennisovich on a holiday, to a summer camp for him to prove himself a vampire, able to fly… It doesn’t turn out as hoped for and Mavis and Johnny, unable to get a flight, rely on Mavis’s bat-power to get home before the camp-goers.

There is a big climax for Dennis’s birthday, especially with the arrival of his great-grandfather (voiced inimitably by Mel Brooks), a fight of good monsters against bad monsters and revelation about Dennis…

The voice cast is very entertaining with Adam Sandler reprising Drac, Selena Gomez is Mavis, Andy Samberg as Johnny, and comic voices like those of Steve Buscemi, David Spade and Kevin James as a very benign Frankenstein monster who is accommodating for the tourists to take selfies with him. In small roles are Fran Drescher, Megan Mullaly, Molly Shannon.

It is all very brightly lit, vivid animation, action, and quite a lot of humour, both visual and verbal, with reference to vampire traditions and movies – an easily enjoyable film.

-* THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2

US, 2015, 137 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutchison, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershalaher Ali, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Natalie Dormer, Elden Henson, Wes Chatham, Sarita Chowdhury, Patina Miller, Michelle Forbes, Rob Knepper.
Directed by Francis Lawrence.

Three years ago, audiences who had not read the series of books, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, were introduced to strong heroin, Katniss Everdene. She lived in an oppressed sector of the dictatorship and became the tribute to the annual futuristic fight-to-the-death games, akin to the gladiatorial combats of ancient Rome, with an effete society, decked out in outlandish costumes, watching or following the breathless television commentary. The president was a tyrant, President Snow.

Then, two years ago, most of us were in the know, watching the developments of Katniss and her friend and survivor, Peeta, and the manipulations of the President and his entourage.

It was last year that we were taken into the rebellion, introduced to a new potential president, President Coin, and the mobilisation of forces to topple President Snow.

And here we are, now, witnessing the uprising, the manipulation of Peeta, the plans of President Coin, the commando raid into the capital and the final confrontations.

Jennifer Lawrence quickly established herself in the imagination of filmgoers as Katniss Everdene and then won an Oscar for Best Actress in The Silver Linings Playbook (2012). We cannot imagine anyone else as this strong character and strong leader.

And most of the cast have continued throughout the film including Josh Hutchison as Peeta, Liam Hemsworth as Gail, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Woody Harrelson as the adviser, Haymitch, and Elizabeth Banks as the fashion adviser, Effie Trinket. Julianne Moore had been introduced as President Coin as had Philip Seymour Hoffman has adviser, Plutarch. They both continue their roles with Philip Seymour Hoffman having filmed a number of scenes before his untimely death.

So, what is there to say about this final chapter of the saga? The characters continue, although there are complications with the mind-influencing of Peeta, the greater prominence of Gail and his relationship with Katniss and his involvement in the revolt, ambiguities about the role of President Coin, the buildup to the confrontation with President Snow, a long and special effects filled commando sequence as the rebels enter the capital, go through sewers and underground and seem to lose.

The battle sequences are strongly filmed and a certain amount of savagery in the resolution of hostilities – but, not quite what we anticipated, the series comes to an end in an atmosphere of peace and domestic hope.

-* IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

US, 2015, 121 minutes, Colour.
Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Frank Dillane, Charlotte Riley, Jordi Molla, Donald Sumpter, Jamie Sives.
Directed by Ron Howard.

This film opens with deep underwater photography with a voice-over, that of novelist Herman Melville, who reflects on the impact of the sea and who arrives in Nantucket to get background for his novel, Moby Dick.

But the main story is that of the voyage of the SX in 1821, a whaling ship on expedition to the southern Atlantic and then into the Pacific Ocean. this story takes place in flashbacks as Melville interviews the last living survivor from the voyage who was a young lad, his first voyage, experiencing life on board, fierce storms, the confrontation of the giant white whale, the capsising of the SX and surviving on C for over three months.

Ben Wishaw plays Melville and Brendan Gleeson the man, now an embittered alcoholic, keeping the secrets of the voyage, even from his loving wife, but who was persuaded to reminisce and recount what happened.

The main action takes place in the 1820s, focusing on Bowen chase, Chris Hemsworth, newly married, his wife expecting a child, rather look down on by the shipowners and merchants of Nantucket as a land man, but who gets the appointment to be first made on the’s SX, under the command of an establishment captain, George pollard (Benjamin Walker). Their commission is to bring back as many barrels of whale all oil as possible, the oil used for lighting the lamps of the city streets.

With the difference in background in temperament, there are clashes between captain and first mate, brought to a head in a decision about confronting a vast storm. The storm sequence, coming early, helps audience appreciate the difficulties and dangers of sailing ships on the oceans.

The film also gives us a close-up on the tracking of the whales, the men in rowboat getting close, sailing amid the whales, finding the right moment to throw the harpoons, letting the rope go as far as possible before the whale is exhausted, the bringing of the whale blubber on board and its being cut up as well as the barrelling of the Orwell oil – with the young sailor being lowered into the belly of the whale to facilitate collecting the ordeal.oil.

This all takes place in the South Atlantic, the ship then rounding Cape Horn and putting into Chile import where they hear news of a giant white whale which has destroyed a Spanish ship. They going pursuit and this leads to the confrontation with the extraordinary whale, the foundation for Moby Dick, an image of nature versus humans and not vice versa. As with the novel, the great whale is an instrument of destruction, even pursuing the sailors after the sinking of the boat.

This is a film for audiences who appreciate going back into the 19th century and sharing these dangerous experiences. This is also a film for audiences, especially those inspired by Greenpeace, who have campaigned in recent decades against the exploitation of Wales, some of the barbarity in the harpooning and dissection of the whales, as well as the exploitation of the whales as a resource – with an ironic remark at the end as the old man mentions to Melville that he has heard that someone has struggled in Pennsylvania, something which he could not believe so extraordinary did it seem!

Direction of the film is by Ron Howard who for over 30 years has directed an extraordinary range of different genre films, from space in Apollo 13, a western in The Missing, and, to mention in passing only, two of the Dan Brown film adaptation, but winning an Oscar for A Beautiful mind Mind.

-* THE LOOK OF SILENCE

International co-production, 2014, 103 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer.

The Look of Silence is a companion film to the director’s The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer’s earlier film took audiences by surprise, sometimes making them aghast at the stories of the massacre of communists by the military in 1965. What was horrifying in that film was the actual footage of some of the killers remembering what they had done, no compunction, re-enacting the killings on screen.

The Look of Silence is, in some ways, easier to watch than the previous film though no less confronting.

Oppenheimer filmed in Indonesia, especially in 2003 and in 2012 in various locations, collecting a great deal of material which has been edited into the two films (the new film having some American television footage and reporting of the time).

This film uses the device of having a central character, Adi, born after the massacres, a son as a consolation for his parents saddened by the arrest and murder of an older son, Ramli. We see Adi with his wife and children, his little boy going to school listening to a teacher with an anti-Communist tirade, with his father contradicting the point of view of the teacher.

Adi is an optometrist, travelling round, testing the eyes of his clients, using a red frame (which features in a sinister way on the poster for the film) for the different lenses, helping people to see more clearly. This is obviously an image for the film and its perspective and message.

This time Addy interviews several of the killers. They are no less callous than those who re-enacted the massacres in the former film. Here, they speak to killers who were proud of what they did, have no hesitation in describing the killings, take Addy to the Snake River where they disposed of the bodies, one of them even having a sketchbook of drawings of what they did. Adi later goes to visit the family who are shocked at the news, and his showing television footage about their father, about the sketchbook. As can be imagined, the first reaction is to deny the past, but Adi has evidence.

Another person interviewed is his uncle who was a guard for the prisoners who eventually makes excuses for what he did, that he was not in charge. Gradually, with the help of someone present at the time but who escaped, the true story about Ramli and his arrest, escape, re-arrest and torture and death is revealed.

There is a further interview with a man and his daughter, the daughter having to admit what her father had done – including tossing a head amongst a group to frighten the Chinese.

As with The Act of Killing, there is an exposé of this year of living dangerously in Indonesia, the role of the military, the role of the government, the number of people involved in arrests, torturing and killings of a barbaric kind, and, while the past is past…, yet.

-* LOVE THE COOPERS

US, 2015, 107 minutes, Colour.
Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Alex Boeyfried, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Jake Lacey, June Squibb, Jon Tenny.
Directed by Jessie Nelson.

Sometimes, it is hard to – not all the Coopers love each other, at least on the surface.

This is a film for northern hemisphere Christmas release, full of family celebrations, but in winter, with many snowed in at airports and unable to travel, Christmas decorations everywhere, plenty of Santa Clauses, preparations of the family meals – and all the trimmings, but which, of course, do not go to plan.

One of the difficulties of the film is that it has almost too many characters, each demanding a percentage of the screen time, time that is not always there for their stories to develop. In fact, the film seems a collection of short stories mixed in together. Some of them get our attention more fully than others. Older audiences will be following the story of the grandparents and their gradual falling out of love with each other; younger audiences may identify with the tentative teenager, pimples and all, and his struggles with his first kisses.

As can be seen, the Cooper Family is fairly dysfunctional.

The film spends a lot of time introducing us to each of the characters and setting up particular stories. Some of them have comic elements. Some of them are romantic. Some of them dramatise hardships, divorce and job losses. Some of them have the touch of tragedy.

And the whole story is narrated by the family dog, Rage, whose story this is as well, voiced prominently by Steve Martin.

Diane Keaton, who is one of the producers of the film, has what might be called the villain’s role. She is the matriarch who is prone to smother with her love and care, something which she does not always see, something she always defends – and, we hope, that she will see the light by the end of the film, especially because her husband, a genial John Goodman, really loves her and experiences a growing disappointment in her alienation, criticism, proud declarations of her role as mother.

This is somewhat complicated by their daughter, Olivia Wilde, a playwright who is having an affair with a local doctor and feels pressure to make a good impression on her mother, not wanting her mother to give her “that look”. This character is better developed than others, sitting in the bar at the airport, not wanting to go home immediately, chatting with a soldier (Jake Lacey) who turns out to be something of her opposite, Republican, literal Christian, a good man who experiences her ups and downs of moods but eventually agrees to go home pretending to be her boyfriend. He is the catalyst for some of the changes.

In the meantime, her brother (Ed Helms) is separated, has lost his job as a photographer, goes through a failed interview, relates to his three children, a little girl who is not backward in being forward, a sympathetic young son who wants to help his awkward teenage brother (the one who gets involved in kissing). Their aunt, Marisa Tomei, is lonely, is arrested for shoplifting, and spends most of her part of the film involved in amateur counselling of a police officer, Anthony Mackie, whom she accuses of being a robot in his behaviour. His is one of the interesting characters, especially in his response to Marisa Tomei.

Then there is the great-grandfather, played nicely by Alan Arkin, who befriends a lonely waitress, Amanda Seyfried, and invites her to the Christmas dinner. And June Squibb is on hand as the friendly family aunt with touches of dementia.

Some have attacked the film as too formulaic – and, probably, it is. But that doesn’t mean that many audiences will not enjoy the formula, interested in some characters more than others, but watching how it will all turn out and whether there would be some change of heart and some Christmas cheer.

-* MAN UP

UK, 2015, 88 minutes, Colour.
Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear, Olivia Williams, Ophelia Lovibond, Henry Lloyd- Hughes, Sharon Horgan, Stephen Campbell Moore, Ken Stott, Harriet Walter.
Directed by Ben Palmer.

Man Up as a title does not do justice to this comedy, with serious undertones. It is an amusing film with an appeal for both men and women in middle age, whether undergoing their crisis, or anticipating one, or just interested how men and women tick at this age.

It is something of a comedy of errors. Lake Bell is particularly good as Nancy, and with a British accent, a 34-year-old who has been for some years getting over a broken relationship, has a career as a journalist, something we don’t see much of, and is being urged on, especially by her married sister, to date and to make some romantic connections. We first see her invited to an engagement party, backing out, having room service at the hotel, being hounded to go down and being pushed to meet someone with whom she has no rapport.

Next day, on the train, she meets a rather prissy young career woman, Jessica (Olivia Lovibond) who is reading a bestseller on relationships, giving Nancy a little lecture, and leaving the book for Nancy to pick up. Jessica has planned to meet on a blind date a man under the clock at Waterloo Station. As Nancy hurries to give back the book (while Jessica is buying another one), Jack (Simon Pegg), who has been waiting, mistakes Nancy for Jessica. And the cautious Nancy throws caution to the winds and goes on a date with Jack, he incessantly talking, taking her to a bar, their having drinks, going to a bowling alley and exercising rivalry, going to another bar when Nancy meets Sean (Rory Kinnear in a somewhat over the top comic performance) who has had a crush on Nancy and causes her to reveal the truth before she was ready.

Some more rivalry and an encounter with Jack’s ex-wife and her boyfriend – with Nancy deciding to play up her connection with Jack, much to the amazement of his ex-wife, and with some slapstick consequences.

In the meantime, Nancy should have been at her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary to give the speech. Eventually she does get there, but so does Jack, relying on the good offices of Sean (which he should not have), and things get more or less sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction (except Sean’s).

There is quite an amount of witty and entertaining dialogue, audiences probably enjoying the farcical situations and the mixups, and probably pleased to see romance winning out for this middle-aged couple.

-* MISSISSIPPI GRIND

US, 2015, 110 minutes, Colour.
Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Upton.
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Mississippi Grind offers audiences an American road trip – but with quite a difference. It opens with the ravaged face of Ben Mendelsohn as Gerry, sitting and contemplating in his car. It looks very existential with angst, and it is. But Gerry is contemplating his fortunes and misfortunes in gambling, eventually going in to a familiar casino situation and trying his luck.

Inside the place, there is a cheerful character, Curtis, played pleasingly and effectively by Ryan Reynolds, who clicks with Gerry and they finish a night on the town. Actually, Gerry is a not very successful real estate agent, separated from his wife and daughter, living a rather miserable life, so it is not difficult for him to agree to go with Curtis on a trip from Iowa to New Orleans with a plan to visit his ex-wife and daughter on the way and (misguidedly) achieve reconciliation.

We see a whole range of characters, especially Curtis, his girlfriend and the girls who work on a Mississippi riverboat. Curtis has many charming but fickle moments, brought to a head in New Orleans when he goes to a bar, listens to the ageing singer who turns out to be his mother. Gerry has no success at all with his wife, even trying to steal some of her savings from her.

The two gamblers fall in and out of the luck, but Curtis has an easy going way about him and is able to succeed on the rebound while Gerry is an all-or-nothing risk taker. He perseveres in the ending is (probably temporarily) beat.

The film was written and directed by the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, responsible for such films as Half Nelson, the sports film, Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Their shrewd understanding of characters, of the impulse to gamble and its consequences, are well served by the performance of Ben Mendelsohn, long a top stalwart of the Australian film industry, venturing sometimes overseas but, in more recent years, making his mark in American films, Killing Them Softly, Exodus: Gods and Kings, A Place Among the Pines. This is one of his best performances and well worth seeing.

-* THE NIGHT BEFORE

US, 2015, 101 minutes, Colour.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzie Kaplan, Michael Shannon, Ilana Glazer, Aaron Hill, Tracy Morgan.
Directed by Jonathan Levine.

Might be best to start this review by indicating that it is a variation on the classic It’s a Wonderful Life, though American style of living has vastly and openly altered in many areas from that of small towns in upstate New York in the 1940s. This reference is to indicate that there are some redeeming features in The Night Before, despite initial suspicions to the contrary.

This is one of those raucous, crass, drug-filled American comedies that are so popular in recent years, especially with people like Seth Rogen in the cast. But, if you are not responding to this kind of comedy, and you have the patience, there is some resolution part of the way through and right at the end. The thing is with these crass comedies is that they have their cake and eat it as well: they enjoy indulging in all the raucous aspects of the screenplay, have no holds barred on the coarse and explicit language, and have no problems in their central characters reliance on drugs and hallucinating trips. But the audience which enjoys all this may have quite some difficulties with the ending where there is redemption all-round, confessions of wrongdoing, giving up drugs, wanting genuine romance, extolling marriage and babies, put off by the highly moralising message at the end.

It is the night before Christmas, and nobody is really asleep. We have seen three friends in 2003 consoling one of them, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on the death of his parents in a car crash. One of the friends is Isaac (Seth Rogen) and the other Chris (Anthony Mackie). They have a great desire by 2008 to go to the Christmas Eve Nutcracker Ball but cannot find where it is held. Come to 2015. Ethan has no job and is supplying as an elf carrying the entrees at a Christmas social. Isaac is married to Betsy (Jillian Bell) and they are expecting. Chris has become a champion sportsmen – though relying on steroids. They are still friends but this is to be their last traditional night before celebration.

Whatever the providence, Ethan finds and takes three tickets to the Nutcracker Ball and goes to find his friends. For some reason, Betsy gives a Christmas present to Isaac of some top drugs – which sets him up for the night, on a vivid trip which includes going to midnight mass, getting sick in the aisle, to claiming that the Jews did not crucify Jesus, (a reminder that Christianity is far more tolerant about religious jokes than some other religions we might think of). Chris wants to buy drugs for a white sportsmen (Chris is African American) and they set off to meet the dealer who supplied them when they are in high school. This is Mr Green who turns out to be Michael Shannon, supplying all the drugs, but also giving them a pipe to smoke which projects them into the future, some grim pictures of what they might be, which helps them eventually to change their ways. Michael Shannon is generally an unsettling screen presence and is so here – until we realise who he is and what he is doing (It’s a Wonderful Life), confirmed, as was Clarence, in getting his wings.

A lot of the time is spent in stupid shenanigans, Chris and the sexual encounter with a tough girl who steals his stash and whom he chases through the city; Isaac and his hallucinations; and Ethan wanting to find Diana (Lizzie Kaplan) in order to propose to her - which he does while singing with Miley Cyrus (and James Franco turning up for the Ball). He later has to do a more genuine proposal.

There is also an interlude where they go to dinner at Chris’s mother’s house – she has a shrine to her champion son, wanting him to go to church, but giving them the leftovers from the meal to take to the homeless down the street.

For those devoted to this kind of raucous comedy, no problems. For those not devoted to this kind of raucous comedy, probably best to let it pass. But, if for some reason those unfavourable are watching, there is reconciliation, confession, and firm purposes of amendment by the end of the film – and everyone sitting happily around the Christmas table.

-* PHOENIX

Germany, 2014, 98 minutes, Colour.
Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf.
Directed by Christian Petzold.

It is not often that a film review starts with a recommendation for audience to see it because of the final scene, but this is the case with Phoenix. This final scene is most effective: song, Speak Low, its melody has been heard throughout the film – a song by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash for the musical, One Touch of Venus, a Pygmalion story of a statue coming to life – and now sung by Nelly, the central character, her husband Johnny playing the piano, and a glimpse of a tattoo which makes all the difference. It is an ending which does not spell out its consequences, leaving it for the audience to respond and to decide.

With a title like Phoenix, it would seem that this is a film about a character rising from ashes to a new life. And that is correct. It is the dramatic story of Nelly, a Jewish woman arrested in Berlin in 1944, interned in the camp at Auschwitz, thought to have died, but returning to Berlin at the end of the war.

Phoenix has been directed by Christian Petzold, director of a number of very successful German dramas, many of which starred Nina Hoss (Barbara, a story about East Germany, Yella, Jerichow). Nina Hoss one a Best Actress award at the Berlin film Festival, 2012, for Barbara and her performance as Nelly is as good and as powerful.

At the opening of the film, Nelly’s face is in bandages as she travels by train from Poland to Germany in the company of a friend, Lene (Nina Kunzendorf). She goes for an operation for facial reconstruction, wanting her old face as much as possible instead of a new one. But, her face is sufficiently different as she goes to seek out her husband who works in a Berlin club. He does not recognise her. This is very sad for her as she still loves him.

Her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) is a handsome type, with some charm. However, he decides to transform Nelly into his wife, overtones of Pygmalion. There are many scenes where Nelly has to write, walk, be transformed with clothes and make up into Johnny’s wife because he thinks she is dead, but if she is alive, she and he can claim her money.

The audience knows the truth while Johnny does not, so there is a tension in Nelly’s love, her following the directions that Johnny gives her, but her wanting to know whether he actually had betrayed her to the Nazis or not.

The film gradually builds its tension, the focus on Nelly and her anguish and love, the focus on Johnny and his ambitions, the sadness of Nelly’s friend Lene and her despair after the war, and the drama of Nelly’s train ride and alleged arrival from the East – and that final, powerful scene.

  • TANNA

Vanuatu, Australia, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Martin Butler, Bentley Dean.

This is a story from Vanuatu, a story from the Yakel tribe, set in 1987, a story of a doomed romance.

The film is a co-production between Vanauatu and Australia, people of the island performing, Australians writing and directing after their experience in being with the tribes people.

Many audiences will be thinking of Romeo and Juliet as they watch this film, star-crossed lovers.

The film opens with a focus on two young girls, Selin, a sprightly young girl and her sister Wawa who is at the verge of her initiation into adulthood and, therefore, an arranged marriage. However, she is in love with another member of the tribe, a Hunter, Dain, who has been away from the tribe but has now returned. The couple elope, going away from the tribe to the rim of an active volcano in the centre of their island. Selin follows them and they declare that they will not return.

This leads to a state of warfare between the two tribes, Wawa having been promised to a man from a neighbouring tribe, continually antagonistic towards Yakel.

Following the Romeo and Juliet lead, the young couple are found dead, which leads to a cessation of hostilities, grief for those who have died, a challenge to the traditions of arranged marriages – with a final songs celebrating this transition to greater freedom for love amongst the people.

The Yakel tribe are proud that they have their customs, that they have resisted colonialism, that they have resisted Christianity, that they have resisted the lure of money, that they have kept to their old customs.

Actors and others involved in the film had not seen a film before this production and travelled overseas to be feted at the Venice film Festival, an extraordinary change of life that they had been used to. There is simplicity about the performances, and authentic feel about the people, and some spectacular photography, which means that a wide audience will enjoy the story, its romance and tragedy.

-* TRUTH

US, 2015, 120 minutes, Colour.
Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Mossa Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, David Lyons, Dermot Mulroney, Rachael Blake, Andrew McFarlane, Noni Hazelhurst, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Philip Quast, Steve Bastoni, Nicholas Hope.
Directed by James Vanderbilt.

Truth is a very broad title from any film, let alone one about journalism, especially investigative journalism. director, James Vanderbilt, as written screenplay adapted from the 2005 memoir by Mary Mapes, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power. Mary Mapes was an award-winning television producer, latterly working with television celebrity host, then Rather, and the attempted 60 Minutes program on George W.Bush and his being eased into the National Guard instead of action in Vietnam.

Mary Mapes wrote the book explaining the process of researching and compiling the program, or the producers being subject to a cbs internal investigation and Mapes being fired from her job – and has not worked in television production since. obviously, the film is from her point of view, her explanations and justifications of the behaviour and procedures, the felt prejudices at the time of the 2004 presidential election, the behaviour of CBS network.

Investigative journalism has become very significant in recent decades. With such an appetite for news, radio, television, the press, online, there is also a public desire to go behind the headlines, often sensationalised, often the personal opinion of the journalist with the byline. The Social Media, with easy access for people to offer opinions, blacken reputations, foment conspiracy theories, there is certainly a need for investigation.

Information came in to Mary Mapes about George bushes cracked Bushes military service. She gathered together a crack team and is authorised by CBS to research the program. phone calls were made, documents received, attempts were made to verify the truth of the documents, checks were made on opinions of military personnel… Some were persuaded to be filmed for the 60 Minutes Program.in the immediate aftermath, there were denials, criticisms of the lack of verification of the documents, even to questions about the use of typefaces and particular on typewriters in the 1970s. Of the networks created controversy and the investigator to particular to many lengths to try to verify the truth – unfortunately, not successfully.

This inside look at the methods and processes of such journalism is fascinating in the investigations on current media, whether it be of corruption in racing industries, low wages and exploitation of overseas workers or the royal commission can still into institutional sexual abuse. It is certainly a cautionary tale.

What makes it powerful, whether one agrees with the attitudes of the characters and their conclusions are not, is the presence of Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes. A commentator noted that the powerhouse performance, one of the best (actually most of Cate Blanchett’s performances are best) almost this film to succeed. We are all on her side but appreciate the strengths and flaws, the intensity of the work, the powers of persuasiveness in person and on the phone, admiration for Dan Rather, the glimpses of life, the son and supportive husband.

Robert Redford is always a reassuring presence (despite his age and dyed hair) as Rather, a well journalist who had, in some ways, to fall on his sword. the supporting cast is particularly strong, especially Tofu Grace as at the 30th tracking down leads, with Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss. Stacy Keach is military source who supplies the documents which have to be examined. And then we might notice that Noni Hazelhurst plays his wife, and there are quite a number of Australian actors are present in the film, Andrew McFarlane as Mary Mapes lawyer, Nicholas Hope as a handwriting expert, Rachael Blake and David Lyons as CBS executives. Then, at the end, we are informed that it was all filmed in New South Wales, with a few New York scenes. Indeed, the director of photography, Mandy Walker, the editor Richard Francis-Bruce, and others in the technical credits are also Australian.

The film is an interesting picture of the significance of investigative journalism and the need to try to get everything right – or else.

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