January, 13th, 2017. Find below film reviews written by Peter Malone.
Tuesday 10 May 2016, by SIGNIS
May, 10th, 2016.
Find below film reviews written by Peter Malone.
US, 2016, 118 minutes, Colour.
Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Jeff Daniels, Zoe Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Maggie Q, Bill Skarsgaard, Jonny Weston.
Directed by Robert Schwentke.
We are at chapter 3 of Veronica Roth’s Young Adult series. Her third book has been divided, as with the film versions of Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games into two films. We understood what Divergent could mean as well as Insurgent. And the fourth film is to be called Ascendant. But, what does Allegiant actually mean – who is or are allegiant and to what?
The series is set in a post-Apocalyptic world (and, for some of us, we might become a little mixed-up with those worlds of The Hunger Games, of The Giver, of The Maze Runner because of similarities). In the ruins of Chicago, five factions lived side-by-side, each with particular qualities – but, with the emergence of Tris, a Divergent, things became unsettled, especially for the governing personality, Janine (Kate Winslet) and those who did her bidding, trying to establish supremacy among the factions.
Tris (Shailene Woodley with a strong screen presence, great physical agility, and intelligence) encountered Four, Tobias (Theo James) which led to a revolt against Janine and her brutal attempts at putting down the uprising, insurgency The rebels conquered with the new leader, Evelyn (Naomi Watts, off-puttingly unrecognisable in a brunette wig, the mother of Tobias whom she had abandoned as a child and had joined the rebels.
This is where we stand at the beginning of Allegiant, with Evelyn presiding over trials and executions of Janine’s officials. Tris will not stand on the platform with her; Tobias tries to persuade his mother to rethink what she is doing; the leader of the opposition, Joanna (Octavia Spencer) stands but then leaves, drawing the discontented into a band for further stances, and they are the Allegiant.
But, surprisingly, this third film adds quite a deal more of plot. Four enables Tris’s brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort) to escape and with Peter (Miles Teller), always fickle, a group goes to scale the wall which hems in Chicago and venture to find what is outside.
The wall-scaling is quite an exciting episode and the group find a no-man’s land of red radioactive waste but are suddenly rescued and welcomed by an alternate force from the Bureau, a complex and technological site where O’Hare airport used to be. It has extraordinary technological developments and many comforts, and all kinds of surveillance techniques, even virtual presence, and know all about Chicago and the factions. It is all presided over by David (Jeff Daniels) who is interested especially in Tris and her being so unique, as a Divergent. He has been eager for her to come so that he can do contact genetic testing – with the alleged aim of improving all the humans whom he sees as “damaged”. Tris, Who is shown video of her mother and herself as a child, is persuaded by him but Tobias is not.
This leads to a number of dramatic crises, Tobias discovering where the Bureau gets its children from, raids on The Range. Tris is taken before the Council and learns David’s true motivations and his role as an overseer of the Bureau and its surveillance of Chicago.
The important thing is to get back to Chicago, to try to persuade Evelyn about what is happening – but, of course, Peter then does a deal and plays the role of the betrayer once again. The Allegiants will have to make a decision as to where they stand and Tris accuse a rousing speech, her image playing in the huge skyscraper walls.
Yes, quite some developments of plot – and, at this knife-edge, the final credits, and we anticipate the wait for Ascendant.
France, 2015, 105 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Marion Cotillard, Jean Rochefort, Olivier Gourmet, Marc- Andre Grondin, Bouli Lanners, Anne Coesens.
Directed by Christian Desmares, Frank Ekinci.
What’s in an expectation? With the title so pleasing with the word April and the emphasis on extraordinary, this seemed to be a continental version of those delightful Japanese animation films from Studio Ghibli. As the film opened, it was not like that. Not at all.
It is 1870, Napoleon III on the eve of a Franco-Prussian war, going to a scientist to find a serum that will empower soldiers to win the war. But the serum did not achieve that and Napoleon dies and history is forever changed – or at least goes into an alternate world. The animation for the film is a quite striking, dark, often sinister, grim alternate world. But, with a top voice cast led by Maion Cotillard and Jean Rochefort, it is highly dramatic.
In the alternate world, most of the famous scientists, including a very visible Albert Einstein, have disappeared from the ordinary world and have joined The Project, the finding of the serum that would transform all living things, continually renewing them. A fightback begins when the young girl, April, descendant of the family Franklin, all scientists, searches for her parents who have disappeared, recovers contact with her grandfather with the help of a young street boy, Julius.
The important thing is that the young girl, April, has the talent to make the serum – and is pursued by a variety of thugs employed by a couple who, perhaps unfortunately, but sinisterly, are lizards who resemble the mutant Ninja Turtles.
April finds that her father has been imprisoned, that her mother supports The Project, and that there is a plan to transform outerspace by a nuclear explosion that will spread the serum to the moon and other planets. But, human nature being what it is – or, perhaps, lizard nature being what it is, the chief lizard has other, more ambitious, more destructive ideas.
Which builds up some split-second timing to avert disaster, to defeat the lizard, to redeem the young man who has not been entirely honest, and to reassure grandfather, mother and father, that the serum can be created and profitably used if not found in exploitative hands.
Certainly not the sweet animation that might have been anticipated – rather, an adventurous as well is reflective piece of science fantasy.
US, 2015, 137 minutes, Colour.
Abraham Attah, Idris Elba.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.
Beasts of No Nation is a difficult film to watch, reflecting, as it does, dire situations on the continent of Africa, civil wars between government and rebels – but, especially, the taking of children and training them to be child soldiers. The film was sponsored by Netflix and received its first distribution on that network.
This is not a new theme for films – there Was Johnny Mad Dog with financial support from the government of Liberia. There was also Rebelle – the Cap Witch, filmed in Congo Kinshasa, but set in an unnamed country. In the former film the child soldier was a boy. In the latter, a girl.
One of the outstanding things about Beasts of No Nation is the central performance by Abraham Attah, convincing as a playful young child in his village, lost in the jungle, recruited and brainwashed, becoming vicious, even to hacking an engineer prisoner to death with a machete, wanting revenge on the death of his father – but all the time with a sense of God and saying prayer, even when he is ashamed of his killing.
The bulk of the cast is African with international star, Idris Elba, appearing as the Commander, a man obsessed, loyal to the Supreme Commander, indoctrinating the children, ruthless in his behaviour with them, exploiting and even abusing them, letting them play football, join in singing and communal food, but all the time making sure that they were more and more loyal to him and to his cause.
The film opens in a buffer zone which is soon under siege by both military and rebels, leading to mass exile or to brutal massacre. There are other massacre sequences throughout the film.
The tone changes towards the end of the film when the Commander brings his boys into the city to be praised by the Supreme Commander. This is not what happens. Life in the bureaucratic city is quite different from life in the bush. The Commander is kept waiting, relieved of his post and, allegedly, promoted to chief of security while his 2 IC is placed in command, something which angers the Commander and leads to further brutality.
Ultimately, the Commander is left with his boys inactive in the jungle for months until they themselves rebel against him.
There is quite some pathos as well as hope in the final sequence where the young hero is once again in safe surroundings, with other children, and working with a counsellor to overcome his traumas.
US, 2016, 105 minutes, Colour.
Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinglage, Kathy Bates, Tyler Labine, Margo Martindale.
Directed by Ben Falcone.
A Melissa McCarthy comedy. and fans know what to expect. She usually office a big, bumptious, dominating, insensitive-to-others character with a modicum of concession to sentiment at the end. With a title like The Boss, it couldn’t be otherwise. Nor is it.
This character of Michelle Darnell, her look, hair-do, throat-covering wardrobe, manner, manners, tough talk, was created by Melissa McCarthy over 15 years ago for some comedy routines. She certainly brings this bossy character to the screen very vividly. She works with her husband, writer and director, Ben Falcone, who usually has a cameo in her films. And he is usually is the butt of some kind of pushy joke.
In an amusing prologue, the young Michelle is shown at an orphanage from the 70s to the 90s, being taken by adopting parents but always returned – to the same sister, Margo Martindale, incidentally illustrating the change of habits for nuns over the decades. but, as an adult, Michelle has become the richest woman in America and flaunts it – at glitzy Donald Trump-like campaign, a mighty presence to her applauding and adoring fans.
But then she is arrested for insider training, goes to jail (rather comfortable, tennis playing, and her expecting a limousine to drive away after her release!).
What is she to do? Her loyal assistant, Claire, Kristin Bell, who has a young daughter and is a single mother, has been a great help but now forced to take on another job to make ends meet. Needless to, Michelle imposes herself on the family - though she does get some comeuppance in the very funny bed sequence. And, in the background, is Renault, really Ron, in love in her past life and now a a business rival, played by Peter Dinklage.
Can Michelle make a comeback? Nothing if not resourceful, Michelle goes to the parents’ meeting and listens to the project of selling Brownies to raise money. After insulting a lot of the mothers, she picks some of the girls, Claire’s daughter and a very tall aggressive young lady and forms her own Brownies company. Of course, she is successful – although there is a huge street fight between the traditional brownie sellers and Michelle’s girls (with some comic rough-and-tumble in the street fight in the street fight which is something of a worry about the culture of American slug-it-out solutions).
Despite some appearances of having reformed, Michelle is still wary about business deals, unscrupulous in dealing with friends, especially Claire, but Claire becomes less mousey and more assertive. Michelle has a confrontation with Renault. And, perhaps, there is a multi-million-dollar future in Brownies.
Better than some Melissa McCarthy films like Tammy but not so impactful as The Heat or Spy.
US, 2016, 147 minutes, Colour.
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily Van Camp, Tom Holland, Alfre Woodard, William Hurt, Martin Freeman, Marisa Tomei, John Slattery, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo.
Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo.
Captain America has the title role, Tony Stark as Iron Man Man has almost equal importance. But, basically, this is a reunion of the Avengers (with the notable absence of Thor and of the Hulk). It is also a continuation of the narrative from the previous Avengers film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. The fight and devastation of the previous film is taken up as a theme here, preying on Tony Stark’s conscience when he is confronted by the mother of an American worker killed with the collapse of a building, but also providing the occasion for a new villain, a man who saw his wife and family killed in the attack and who is now bent on revenge.
The underlying theme is that of taking responsibility for actions.
Audiences need to bring their understanding of Captain America (Chris Evans), his history during World War II, his being preserved in ice, his recovery and revival, the previous two films and the emergence of Winter Soldier, his friend from boyhood in Brooklyn. Winter Soldier (Sébastian Stan) also gets more elaborate back story, revived by the Russians in 1991, a code implanted whereby he becomes a killer for the agency controlling him. And he is set up for the murder of an African king and delegates at a United Nations meeting in Vienna.
When the film introduces Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), there is an interesting hologram device of his interaction with his parents, his strict father, and their farewell just before they were killed in a car accident – later revealed to be more. He is still the philanthropist, and involved with the Avengers.
There is an elaborate attack staged in Lagos, involving many of the Avengers, lookouts, communication, fights. It is this that is the occasion for the American government, In the form of Secretary Ross (William Hurt) and the formulation of a document to be signed by The Avengers putting them under the control of the United Nations. Tony Stark agrees. Steve Rogers, Captain America, does not agree, which sets them on a path to conflict (not exactly Civil War).
After the bombing of the United Nation’s building in Vienna, a new Avenger is introduced, the son of the King, Panther (Chadwick Boseman – who is also getting a film of his own).
In the conflict between the two sides of the Avengers, some of the others are brought into the action including Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Paul Rudd as Ant Man, Jeremy Renner is Hawkeye. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow sides with Tony Stark but also wants to be a mediator.
Tony Stark also goes on a recruiting mission which gives us a longish interlude with the new Spiderman introduced, younger than before, played by British Tom Holland, with a glimpse of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Peter Parker is happy to be recruited and joins in the conflict – which has people flying around, Captain America with his shield, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) with her fiery hands, the android Vision (Paul Bettany) also involved – and Ant Man doing a trick or two both reducing his size as well as becoming gigantic!
Daniel Bruel is the new villain, wanting to use Winter Soldier for getting his revenge and building up a conflict between Captain America and Iron Man. The film doesn’t exactly come to a climax except for the battle between Captain America and Iron Man – rather, as with so many of the films, it lays the ground for future sequels which, judging by audience response, will be most welcome.
France, 2015, 98 minutes,.Colour.
Fabrice Luchini, Sidse Babette Knudsen.
Directed by Christian Vincent.
Courted is an interesting and entertaining French film about a judge and the justice system as well as his personal character and his infatuation with a witness.
Fabrice Luchini, veteran of French films for many decades from films by Eric Rohmer to In the House, plays a very strict judge, ritual in his entry in the court and his conduct of proceedings, considered by other lawyers as a kind of hanging judge. Into his court, comes a case where one of the witnesses is a woman, a nurse, who looked after him in hospital when he had an accident some years earlier and with whom he becomes infatuated.
During the trial, he has meals with the woman, advancing his own cause, she sympathetic but being very careful. Also in the action is the woman’s 17-year-old daughter who has a more relaxed attitude towards life and relationships.
The woman is played by Sidse Babette Knudsen, star of the popular Danish television series Borgen, was one of the two central characters in The Duke of Burgundy and appeared in the Dan Brown’s story, Inferno.
UK, 2016, 106 minutes, Colour.
Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen, Tim McInerney, Mark Benton, Christopher Walken.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher.
There’s nothing like a sports film to get the adrenaline pumping, to rouse the spirit, to affirm human qualities and talent – in others and in ourselves.
There are two main kinds of sports film, one the story of a champion, background, skills, challenges and training, achievement; the other is the story of the underdog who, despite all odds, triumphs. Michael Edward Edwards, who received the nickname of Eddie the Eagle from supporters at Calgary, has to be one of the most underdog of underdogs. Sharing in his life, in his impossible dreams, in his persistence and determination, and his achievement, is one of those cinema feel good experiences.
Back in the 1970s, when Eddie was a very fragile young lad, even spending a year in hospital with wonky knees, somehow or other, he got it into his head that he wanted to go to the Olympic Games – all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, and there is a great deal of evidence of his awkwardness and lack of skills. Then, one day it dawned on him that he wanted to go to the Winter Olympics and that he will ski.
While his mother is forbearing, his father, a workman plasterer, has no times for Eddie’s aspirations. Nevertheless, Eddie seems fairly oblivious to what seemed to be obvious, very obvious difficulties and, while at school, he does actually achieve something in skiing and win some trophies.
Full of seemingly baseless self-confidence, off he goes to a ski resort in Germany, no connections, sleeping in a cupboard and, fortunately, being given a job and some hospitality by a restaurant owner. He tries out some of the jumps, with varying success, to the mockery of the champion Nordics skiers and the wry observations of former champion, Bronson Peary, Hugh Jackman, stubbled, alcoholic, but, as always with Hugh Jackman, a very nice person underneath.
While this particular story is original insofar as there are not so many sports films about skiers, the rest of the film goes mostly according to predictions: terrible falls and injuries, renewed determination, the challenge of Peary, the mockery of fellow jumpers, and the continued acerbic criticism of the British Olympic Ski Association. He perseveres and perseveres; there are quite a lot of training sessions with Peary, which do indicate that Eddie did quite a lot of training and practice, learning some skills, readying himself for the jumps.
He wants to get a qualification that will allow him to go to the Winter Olympics in Calgary in 1988 – despite the British Association. We know that he will succeed otherwise they would not have made a film about Eddie. But, it is the exhilarating experience he had in Calgary, not great jumps but the fact that he did them, and an excited response which endeared him to the crowds and commentators and to dead to do the 90 metre jump.
Pierre de Coubertain, founder of the modern Olympics, is quoted that winning is not everything but participating years – and it is the value of the struggle.
Christopher Walken is heard early in the film and appears at the end, Peary’s former coach who had despaired of him but who comes to acknowledge him and Eddie’s achievement.
The film obviously climaxes on a high – and in the credits, the director acknowledges Eddie and his family. Actually, the film provides an enormous commercial for drinking milk and probably will attract a lot of viewers to skiing and future Winter Olympics.
UK, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Paul Blake, Jeremy Bullock, John Chapman, Pam Rose, David Prowse.
Directed by Jon Spira.
This is a documentary particularly interesting for cinema buffs but, especially, for the Star Wars Fans. It was released at the time of the new Star Wars film, 2015, The Force Awakens.
The director has gone back to Elstree studios in London in 1976, George Lucas coming from the United States to make a science fiction film, which nobody knew much about – nor so much about George Lucas himself, though he had just directed American Graffiti which the studios were puzzled as to how to promote.
Elstree provided vast sets and this film takes us onto the sets, some glimpses of the main stars, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and sequences from the film along with some of John Williams’ music.
The bulk of the film is interviews with nine men and one woman who had bit parts or brief characterisations in the film. There are glimpses of at the time and long interviews with each of them almost 40 years later. Most of them are interesting personalities, communicating well to camera, indicating their situation at the time they were auditioned and cast in Star Wars, appearing in small roles, having other jobs, doing technical work around the studios, as was Pam Rose, the only woman interviewed.
It is interesting to hear these characters reflect on their experience, the importance of the long retrospect, their subsequent careers, appearing in films, or moving away from show business, even to writing and publishing books.
Those who know Star Wars in detail will recognise the people being interviewed.
Of major interest is David Prowse, who was the figure of Darth Vader, interviewed 40 years later, reminiscing, having fallen out with George Lucas, but giving an insight into his career of a weakly boy becoming a bodybuilder, appearing in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, carrying Patrick Magee in the home sequence, and his subsequent work.
Many of these actors go to the conventions where the fans thronged, dressed up, sought the memorabilia, and wanted autographs – enabling these characters to be celebrities for those moments.
US, 2016, 120 minutes, Colour.
Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, Pat Boone, David A.R. White, Benjamin A. Onyang, Ray Wise, Hayley Orrontia, Robin Givens, Trish Lafarche, Paul Kwo, Fred Dalton Thompson.
Directed by Harold Cronk.
In 2014, the Faith-film, God is Not Dead, received a worldwide release. In more recent years, Faith-films, produced in the United States, have shown expertise in craft and have become big box office there. Beyond the United States (or, within different states in the US) these films play to their target audiences, those with Bible-based Christianity, relying on literal interpretation, and at least to that extent fundamentalist.
These communities have come to the fore during 2016, especially with the campaigning for the US presidency. There has often been quite some conflict between these religious groups and “secular” groups in terms of moral issues, especially abortion, homosexuality, same-sex unions. In fact, these issues are not brought up in this film which presents the Christians as committed, fervent, prepared to protest and campaign for their faith.
The original film centred on a university course and intellectual and philosophical debates about God and the proofs for the existence of God as well as of faith. Audiences, fundamentalist or not, who are interested in such proofs found the film of interest. But, it is the type of film, with its proof-dialogue, which is quickly dismissed by those of a more atheistic disposition. The conclusion was that God was not dead. It was a subplot involving a journalist who lacked faith but who discovered she had cancer and who prayed and was healed. A Christian music group, the Newsboys, also featured.
The journalist healed from cancer and The Newsboys are back in the sequel. This time it is not an intellectual debate – although a great deal of time is given to the proof of the existence of the historical Jesus. This time the centre of the film is a court case.
Television star, Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina) is a faith-committed teacher at a local school. She is supported by her grandfather whom she cares for – Pat Boone, at 82, still proving himself evangelical (with some good one-liners: for instance, atheists destroy but they don’t destroy the pain). At school, she answers a question about the teaching of Martin Luther King and that of Gandhi and quotes the Gospel sermon on the Mount on nonviolence. She is reported to the principal (Robin Givens) and called before the school board who tells her that she has broken the law, proselytising in the classroom.
The parents of the girl who raised the issue are secular and take the teacher to court. She is allotted a lawyer, Jesse Metcalfe, who wanted to apologise so that everything is over and done with. She is committed to her cause, suffers a great deal during the case, especially with the always sinister -looking prosecutor, Ray Wise and even a final ordeal from her own lawyer. The judge, Ernie Hudson, is not particularly sympathetic.
To non-American eyes, the case seems somewhat silly, it being evident that this was a history class, a history question was answered with history reference irrespective of the faith commitment of the teacher. However, those against the teacher, protesting outside aggressively, media person0alities critical, are portrayed as self-righteous and intolerant. Young people support the teacher. She is shown to be willing to be a martyr for her faith and commitment to Jesus as her personal saviour.
With the issue, the possibility for featured to refer to religion, to religious teaching, in a school is something that most people would happily tolerate taught The other issues in the moral area have led to what could be labelled as viciousness on both sides. This is not part of the screenplay is. hostile critics of this film are quick to point out that Christians can be vicious and intolerant in their protests of bringing the literal Bible passages to bear on moral issues.
The film was quite emotional – on both sides, but involving its audience in the Christian cause and for religious freedom. As with the first film, there is an emotional rally climax with a song by The Newsboys.
The setting is Arkansas. At one stage the Christian pastors are ordered by law to submit the texts of all their sermons for the previous three months. One pastor who has featured in each film, with his own name, David A. R. White, has refused and an epilogue to the film has his arrest – and the potential for God’s Not Dead 3.
Italy, 2015, 87 Minutes, Colour.
Marco Giallini, Alessandro Gassman, Laura Morante, Ilaria Spada.
Directed by Eodardo Maria Falcone.
A surprising film about priesthood from Italy, Se Dio Vuole/God Willing reminds audiences of Italy’s growing secularisation, the inheritance of the Catholic tradition and rejection of it, and a low opinion of the priesthood.
A young man, Andrea, goes out frequently with a young man and when he asks his family for a meeting, they tend to expect that he will announce that he is gay. They psych themselves up for this, wanting to be broadminded, tolerant, prepared to embrace him. But, what he tells them is that he wants to be a priest. They are not ready for this at all, especially his rather arrogant surgeon father who cannot bring himself to contradict his son but will do anything to stop him becoming a priest.
His mother is more understanding. His sister, who seems to know practically nothing about Catholicism, gets a whim to learn more about it, praying the rosary, watching Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, not wanting anyone to tell and spoil the ending for her.
The father invokes the aid of friends and investigators, following his son only to find that he has gone to a Bible session, conducted by Don Pietro, an enthusiastically vigorous performance by Alessandro Gassman. He has a full house of young listeners, explains the Gospels with great gusto and theatricality. The surgeon wants an investigation done on him, finds that Don Pietro has spent time in jail, for fraud, and suspects that he has brainwashed his son.
Don Pietro is a fine contemporary, pastoral priest. He admits his use of fraud, the time in jail, influenced by the prison chaplain, joining the seminary, concerned for all people in need, rebuilding a church that his mother used to attend, a sensible man in the 21st century ministry.
He has advised Andrea about the priesthood and puts himself out when the surgeon turns up at a session, pretends to be penniless and homeless, sets up his colleagues to confirm his down-and-out status in a rundown house to Don Pietro, but is found out when Don Pietro is visiting his actual home. Don Pietro asks him to do a month’s penance, working on the church with him, where they talk a great deal, go to a hill overlooking a lake which is the priest’s favourite place for reflection, the surgeon upset when Don Pietro has a motorbike accident and spends his time finishing the work on the church. He doesn’t necessarily become a believer – but his attitude towards priests changes, he is more understanding and respectful to his staff, to patients and his wife and daughter – and Don Pietro doesn’t tell him that he actually knew for some time that Andrea, after a retreat, had fallen in love and the priesthood was not for him.
Perhaps the film is saying that celibacy is an impediment for priesthood – and that the better priests are men who have had solid and mixed experiences and are ordained later in their lives.
Japan, 2013, 134 Minutes, Colour.
Ryuhei Matsuda, Joe Odagiri, Aoi Miyazaki.
Directed by Yuya Ishii.
A fine and humane film that can be well recommended.
Although, caution may be needed for the unwary. This is a film that is about words, that delights in words and their meaning. It is a film about the research for the writing of a dictionary over a period of 15 years. And, one might add, it is a film about proofreading! Given those cautions, it is a film which could be appreciated by most audiences making allowance for the lack of adrenaline-pumping (or adrenaline pumping for the discovery of new words and preparing each proof for the dictionary!).
The context is Japan in the 1990s, a publishing company deciding that a new dictionary needed to be produced for the 21st century, acknowledging the work done on previous dictionaries, and the amount of time and energy taken, but deciding to make precise definitions of words, succinct descriptions, including classical words in those from tradition but also trying to accommodate contemporary developments.
At one stage, and this is a challenge for the audience as well as those preparing the dictionary: what is the definition of “right” (as different from “left”)? This challenge, which tantalises some of the researchers, brings home how hard it can be to write precise definitions.
In the division for preparing the dictionary is a professor and an elderly man who is expert but who has to retire because of his wife’s illness. One of the bright sparks and his girlfriend realise that there is a very quiet man in the office, socially awkward, but with a degree in linguistics, who could be invited to take on the job. His name is Matsu. He does take on the job and spends the next 15 years painstakingly working. His lively friend supports him especially when the manager of the publishing firm decides to close down the dictionary project. He pleads the case and offers to transfer to advertising and promotion to save the project – something which, eventually, is to the benefit of the dictionary when it is finally launched.
In the meantime, Matsu is cared for by a kind landlady. He is also attracted to a fellow-boarder, a trainee chef, charming and friendly who invites him to taste her preparations. There is an awkward moment when he writes a letter in old Japanese style, which she cannot read, but prefers to hear the words from him, spoken. Over the years, they become a devoted couple.
Actually, there is some drama in the narrative, especially when Matsu has his attention drawn to an error in the galleys so that he takes full responsibility but it sets back the progress of the dictionary for some time. This means that he has to hire a staff of students to do the proofreading, that they have to live in at the office, day and night in shifts, so that the work will be done on time.
There is also some human drama with the elderly professor and his wife, his becoming ill and dying, and the old man who had pioneered the dictionary comes to assist after his own wife’s death.
There is an emotional climax at the end, the launching of the dictionary and a wonderful letter from the old professor, given to Matsu by the professor’s wife, a fine tribute to what he has done and achieved.
A wonderful narrative, characterisations, images for lovers of words.
US, 2016, 114 minutes, Colour.
Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chasstain, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost, Rob Bryden, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sam Claffin.
Directed by Cedric Nicolas- Troyan.
In 2012 there was a Snow White story, Snow White and the Huntsman, a variation on the popular fairytale, which focused strongly on the wicked Queen and her interrogation of the mirror about who was the fairest in the land. The Queen was played with haughty beauty and arrogance by Charlize Theron. The film used some of the basics of the familiar fairytale but introduced the character of the Huntsman who was the champion of Snow White.
He was played by Chris Hemsworth had made an impression as Thor – and continued to make an impression as Thor in the sequel and in The Avengers films. Now he has been invited back to reprise his character of Eric, the Huntsman.
This film, in its early sequences is a prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. There is a seven-year gap where audiences can fill in what they remember from the first film and the narrative then takes up as a sequel.
Once again there is Ravenna, the wicked Queen, shown instantly playing chess with the King and murdering him, assuming the throne, the younger sister, Freya (Emily Blunt) in attendance. And the mirror is once again reassuring. However, wicked queens will be wicked queens and Ravenna makes severe mischief for her sister, killing her child and banishing all love, Freya becoming an emotionless ice Queen in the northern kingdom in snnowclad mountains. Her henchman abduct children and bring them to the castle where they spend their time training in combat.
Two of the children stand out in martial arts, young Eric and young Sara. They are rivals but, in adulthood, Eric and Sara defy Freya and fall in love, trying to escape but are made to fight their fellow combatants until Freya builds an ice wall between them and deceives them as to what happens. Eric is Chris Hemsworth who becomes the Huntsman and Jessica Chastain is Sara.
And Ravenna has disappeared from the film – but fans of Charlize Theron need to remain patient.
A caption tells us that seven years pass – the time when Eric helped Snow White, but a message comes to him in the forest that the mirror has been stolen and Eric is persuaded to go on a mission to recover it, suddenly accompanied by two dwarves, played by Nick Frost and Rob Bryden, providing a lot of chatty patter and comedy. After denouncing female dwarves, two of them turn up, played by Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach, and they accompany the mission for the mirror. Eric has been put upon by Freya’s henchman – but who should such suddenly turn up but Sara!
There are some adventures, a fight with a monstrous giant, Sara showing her ability with archery accuracy, but Freya arriving and preparations for combat for the grand finale.
The writers are in the vein of Game of Thrones – but with touches of Tolkein (or touches of Peter Jackson) and more than a touch of Frozen.
While Jessica Chastain speaks her Scots accent very clearly, It is a pity that Chris Hemsworth, with his deep voice, is difficult to understand with what he calls his Celtic accent.
Familiar material, popularly enjoyable but not memorable.
US, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.
Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.A. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Wayne Knight.
Directed by Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh.
It is eight years since we were introduced to the large and jovial Panda, Po. He delighted audiences all round the world, he and his extended family, with some action and adventures and drawing on some Eastern aspects of martial arts as well as religious reflection. Three years later, he and his friends all returned for another comedy and action about.
There must be a great number of fans of the Kung Fu Panda out there, children eager to see him again – and children who are now older but still have fond memories. They will not be disappointed with this third time round.
By this stage, Po is fairly well established and well respected in his community. However, he is away from his village and, to his surprise and delight, his father comes to visit and takes them back to the village full of pandas - quite a comic lot. That would be enjoyable in itself, with lots of comic touches and, especially, with a rather large cast of celebrity voices who are all back again, Dustin Hoffman as Mr Shifu the tiny instructor, Angelina Jolie Lee as the tigress, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Jackie Chan…
But, of course, this would not be a Kung Fu Panda entertainment without some battlelines being drawn. The mystic Oogway returns and is confronted by the villain Kai whom he had conquered and confined to the other world 500 years earlier. This monstrous type, resembling a giant and sinister ox, is determined to take over the whole world. Kai has in his power, minute green creatures whom he carries on his belt, the forces whom he has subdued – and he proceeds to subdue a whole lot of creatures from the village, including Mr Shifu, turning them all green, depriving them of their personalities and making them all fighting machines.
Po, of course, has to confront this sinister and powerful enemy, supported by his family and friends in the village, although discovering that his father has rather exaggerated his own powers.
For those who enjoy the battles, they are extraordinarily choreographed, exciting for the younger audiences (though Kai is particularly fierce, looming and frightening perhaps for the very young). Adult audiences who admire the skills of animation (done in the United States, in China and in India) will be captivated by the extraordinary detail of action and movement.
While Po is a valiant warrior on his own, he is in danger of defeat unless his father and the whole village combine with each other, eliciting their inner Chi, turning their combined energy and force on Kai. Po is a delighted victor but faces the question of whether he stays in eternity or returns to his family. Really, no question at all.
Jack Black is back with his comic energy as Po, and J.K. Simmons is truly a sinister Kai.
And, with the atmosphere of eastern mysticism, the exercise of inner Chi, complimentary forces in Yin and Yang, and the strength of the inner self, the film ends with an exuberant dance of life.
UK, 2016, 180 minutes, Colour.
Dominic West, Janet Mc Ateer, Elaine Cassidy, Morfydd Clark, Edward Holcroft, Una Stubbs.
Directed by Josie Rourke.
This is a filmed version by the British National Theatre of a performance in the Donmar Warehouse, London in 2015-2016.
It is a revival of the play by Christopher Hampton, his adaptation of the 1782 French novel by Choderlos de Laclos. The play was first performed in the 1980s with great success in London’s West as well as on Broadway, a star vehicle for Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. However, when a screen version was made in 1988, directed by Stephen Frears, the two stars were not so well-known and so the roles were taken by John Malkovich and Glenn Close. (Ironically, that same year, Alan Rickman appeared as the arch-villain in Die Hard which made his film career as well.)
Other films from the novel include a 1960s contemporary version with Gerard Philippe and Jeanne Moreau, a colourful period version, Valmont, with Colin Firth and Annette Bening, directed by Milos forman, 1990, and in 1999 a modern version with a younger cast, Cruel Intentions. In more recent times there has been a Chinese version.
The stage of the Donmar Warehouse is comparatively small and the audience is able to sit in front as well as on the two sides – and are sometimes visible during the filming. The set is quite elaborate, 18th-century classic – though with a touch of the faded gentility, by candles and chandeliers, with furniture of the period and, of course, beautiful costumes.
The central roles are taken by Dominic West and Janet Mc Teer, with Elaine Cassidy.
The play opens with the two central characters, former lovers, but now living quite amoral, immoral lives, involved in changing partners and seduction. The first scene has them plotting. Valmont has as his target a pious wife, Madame Tourvel, impervious to his attentions, her husband absent, and her being a good woman amidst this world of wealth, power, sexual exploitation. Madame de Merteuil is even more devious than Valmont, wanting revenge on a former suitor who has abandoned her and wants to make a more advantageous marriage, to young girl just out of her convent education. Madame wants Valmont to seduce her and then she will help him with his conquest.
Thus, the scene is set for this hothouse melodrama, the action of which takes place seven years before the French revolution – which some might consider did not come a moment too soon.
Other characters introduced are the young girl from the convent and her ambitious mother, formerly a courtesan but now very respectable, Valmont’s aunt (Una Stubbs) who entertains him and his target at her country estate, and a Chevalier who is infatuated with the young woman but gets entangled by Madame. There are various servants who connive at the action.
The main action of the film is Valmont’s courting of the young woman, her resistance, his persistence, her asking him to go away, his giving plausible reasons for returning, the emotional effect on her and her final succumbing to his seduction. And there is her final disillusionment as he breaks with her, even though he loves her. In the meantime, Madame continues on her way, exercising her wiles, exercising her wit, relishing her power, glad of the seduction of the young woman and her revenge, but entangling herself with the young Chevalier. Valmont, angry, challenges the Chevalier to a duel – to his death.
Dominic West struts the stage with quite some energy as Belmont, clever, charming, insinuating, but trying to resist his discovery of actual love. Janet Mc Teer is extraordinary in her impersonation of Madame, standing up for women, their domination, the control – a woman of power. At one stage towards the end, she is momentarily moved and sheds tear. In Stephen Frears’ film, at the end, Glenn Close as Madame is sitting at a mirror, removing her make up, reflecting, and a tear forms in the corner of her eye. In this version, Madame steels herself, looks out at the audience and determines that the competition will go on.
Well worth seeing in itself, but is interesting in its complementarity with the film version.
UK, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam, Kevin McNally, Devika Bhise, Anthony Calf, Stephen Fry, Richard Johnson.
Directed by Matt Brown.
Dev Patel made a strong impression as a young man in the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. He has grown older since then and is able to give a fine performance in an adult role, a man from the Madras in 1914 who has a talent for mathematics.
The film is based on actual events and characters, focusing on S. Ramanujan.
The film opens with a tribute to him spoken by Cambridge mathematician, G. H. Hardy, played with his customary seriousness by Jeremy Irons. The film moves in flashback to Madras, to Indian life in the city, a young married man, rather dominated by his mother, looking for a job and finding a sympathetic manager who introduces him to keeping accounts for British Sir Francis (Stephen Fry). But, the young man has notebooks full of mathematical equations – is not able to explain how he came to them. He relies on intuitions or, as he would interpret them, visions and enlightenment from the deity. He has an ambition to go to Cambridge, to meet Hardy and work with him, to publish his material – but caste customs indicate that he cannot travel abroad from India. However, with support from his wife but apprehensiveness from his mother, he sets out and goes to Cambridge.
He meets with Hardy and his associate John Littlewood (Toby Jones). He is exhilarated to be there. They are amazed, almost overwhelmed, by the amount of material in his two books of formulas. However, he is not entirely welcomed as an Indian in this academic world, especially when World War I breaks out and young British soldiers resent him as they go to war – and bash and kick him.
While many audiences will not be privy to the secrets and beauty of mathematics, they will still enjoyed this picture of a young genius, his earnestness, his willingness to collaborate, his eagerness to publish, the challenge by his mentor to provide rational proofs rather than claim intuition, not something he can easily do (and puzzles why this is necessary). It is always not always easy working with Hardy, a reclusive man whose sole world and life is mathematics but who has to learn, even a little, what it is to be human and to have some sympathy for others.
The study of the natural world is physics. Philosophers tell us that we can mentally abstract from the physical world to a plane of mathematics with its own order and beauty, open to Infinity. Beyond that is metaphysics. There is one moment for the uninitiated when 4 is explained: 1+1+1+1, 1+1+2, 1+3, 2+2, 4 – the several realities of a number which gives them a more complex life.
Ramanujan at one stage goes to a maths class, has an intuition which he writes on the board, only to be rebuked arrogantly and with racist tones by the professor who will later oppose Hardy’s nomination for Ramanujan to be a fellow of the College.
In the meantime, his wife is lonely for him in India, his mother proud of his publication but not forwarding her daughter-in-law’s letters which further isolates both husband and wife.
Ultimately, he will return to India after the end of the war, but suffering from tuberculosis.
At one stage, Hardy shows Ramanujan various manuscripts, including some from Isaac Newton, in the Wren Library in Cambridge – and, the audience will feel an emotional sympathy at the end, viewing one of Ramanujan’s manuscripts preserved in a glass case there.
In many ways the film is uplifting, and despite the mathematical themes, feelgood.
France, 2016, 129 minutes, Colour.
Catherine Frot, Andre Marcon, Michel Fau, Christa Theret, Denis Mpunga, Sylvain Dieuaide, Theo Cholbi, Sophia Leboutte.
Directed by Xavier Giannoli.
The opening of this film says that it is based on a true story. In fact, it is a French variation and interpretation of the singing career of the American Florence Foster Jenkins (subject of her own film in Stephen Frears film of the same name, Meryl Streep appearing as the singer). Her story has been transferred to France, to the 1920s, and some imaginative interpretation about Marguerite’s delusions about her singing.
Audiences will enjoy the 1920s settings very much, elaborate costumes and award-winning decor, the picture of wealthy French society, the mores of the time.
However, it is Marguerite and her singing that audiences have come to see and hear. In the opening society concert, we are treated to beautiful renditions of the duet from Lakme and other singing performances. In the meantime, Marguerite is dressing, preparing, with her peacock feather (there are peacocks in her husband’s estate and their raucous cry mimics the sounds that Marguerite will utter). She is introduced, welcomed with applause, and then the audience, and we the audience, have never heard Mozart’s song of the Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute rendered in such a loud and confidently off-key manner. Marguerite screeches. And later she will sing the Marseilleise as well as La Habenera from Carmen with the same extraordinary rendition.
Marguerite is deluded but no one has the confidence or courage to let her know, not even her husband who is urged to do this by his mistress, almost does it, but fails. The extensive staff of the mansion applaud their mistress – and she is supported by the Butler of the house, who serves as something as her protector and guard, Mandelbos, who takes a number of photos of her, groups, Marguerite dressed in opera costumes, drives a car, arranges the floral tributes, wards of unwelcome guests.
The trouble is that her performance goes well, according to Marguerite, and she gets the idea that she should give a public recital. She cannot be persuaded otherwise. She is encouraged by a young man, a newspaper writer who is in love with the genuine young singer whom Marguerite had encouraged. He takes her to a performance of Pagliacci, quite a powerfully rendered, which delights Marguerite and the suggestion is that the singer, actually down on his luck and a frequenter of a gay bar, should be her teacher.
Marguerite undergoes extensive training, breathing exercises, movement, loosening up, all the while singing off key, her teacher shuddering, but forced to continue with his work by Mandelbos’s hold over him because of his relationship with his young assistant, and with a medium, a bearded lady in tow.
What will happen at the recital? While this is the climax of the film, the narrative goes on after the event, Marguerite’s illness, her friends recording her voice and intending to play it so that she can really hear how she sounds. And that is the climax that the film audience will have to wait for.
Catherine Frot is completely persuasive as Marguerite, full of life, enjoying life, longing for the love of her husband, wealthy and able to offer others patronage, yet absolutely tone deaf while music is her lifelong passion, and believing that she has the qualities of a star.
And the question, with the pathos behind it: can no one tell her the truth?
Australia, 2015, 110 minutes, Colour.
Anthony La Paglia, Julia Blake, Justine Clark, John Clark, Wayne Anthony, Indian Crowther, Donal Forde, Gary Sweet.
Directed by Matthew Saville.
Actually, this title doesn’t give much away at all and we may not be sure by the end what it means. But that can be put aside. It doesn’t really matter because the important thing is the film itself and its impact, a film that many audiences will like.
It should be said that the film has been sponsored in Adelaide and by the Adelaide Film Festival, and has been filmed in the Adelaide suburbs – which, in fact, make Adelaide look like a very liveable city. The city centre is seen only in distant outline several times – this really is a suburban film, about people, generally middle-class, ordinary Australians who live in the suburbs.
And, it should be said that Adelaide is the hometown of the main star, Anthony La Paglia.
And La Paglia appears in every scene. At the beginning, he mooches into a house, giving the impression that he is somewhat depressed. And he is. He is a 40-something real estate agent, who sees every building and every piece of land in terms of the words of advertising that he would put in the papers describing the particular house, its style, its amenities, its desirability, and the fact that if this did not suit potential buyers, the agency had another one which really should be theirs! It is rather amusing that right throughout the film, whenever he sees house, the voice-over has him offering these quite flowery and flattering descriptions.
Frank is going through a divorce. His wife (Justine Clark) has become a well-known TV star from a soap opera, Major Surgery. His teenage son, Frank Jr, can answer him only monosyllabically, “good” to every question his father asks about himself, school… His father does do a lot of picking him up from school and is able to sit in on a rehearsal of a rather contemporary sounding King Lear and to attend, with his wife, the actual performance at the end.
So, where is this going? Another thing that should be said is that in some ways the film meanders from one episode to another, but that this is not unenjoyable, but this is not one of those tightly controlled and disciplined screenplays, and while there is a driving force, it is not so dynamically forceful. What does set the drama going is a wrong number phone call when Frank answers the phone to a woman who think she is talking to her son. The woman, Sarah, is beautifully played by a most engaging Julia Blake. The two become friends, somewhat to the disappointment of her actual son. The friendship is tested when Sarah goes to a doctor for a diagnosis and Frank realises that she is ill.
There are some wonderful emotional sequences throughout the film, especially due to Julia Blake and her sympathetic performance. This is especially the case when Frank asks his boss whether she can visit the boss’s father who is in a home suffering severe dementia. The scene where she does this, talks with the old man – and later explains to his son something of his father’s history and what he endured in new Britain during World War II, a scene which is very moving indeed.
The estate agent boss is played by John Clark, whose presence throughout the film is always welcome. Australian audiences over the years have appreciated how John Clark can actually look the same, sound the same, sound as we expect him to sound, and yet actually communicate a range of different characters, from politicians to, in this case, an estate agent with a tendency to pomposity.
While there is something of a happy ending, perhaps not quite, this is a very life-affirming film, touching on quite a catalogue of social and moral concerns, including marriage and divorce, death and grieving, senility and communication, a touch of the issue of homosexuality and secrecy, father and son relationships and affirmation, and palliative care and decisions about life support.
A Month of Sundays has been written and directed by Matthew Saville, a credit to his sensitivity, for making – and this is in no way a putdown – such a “nice” a film.
Australia, 2015, 89 minutes, Colour.
John Brumpton, Damian Hill, Maeve Dermody, Malcolm Kennard, Mark Coles Smith, Kerry Armstrong, Tony Rickards, Daniel Frederiksen, Ngoc Phan, John Orcsik.
Directed by Paul Ireland.
There is a lot to like, and a lot of people to like, in this Melbourne slice of life. The action takes place in Barkly Street Footscray, the street, the traffic, the range of shops, centring on the pawnshop, and the whole action of the film taking place from morning till evening.
This is an Australian slice of life, a Melbourne suburban slice of life, a slice of life in the western suburb of Footscray. The audience gets to know quite a number of characters in themselves, their interactions, the range of men and women, young and old, wealthy and poor, homeless people, women working in restaurants and takeaway, in bookshops, multi-cultural community, multiracial, aboriginal, Vietnamese…
The screenplay was written by Damian Hill who appears in the central role of Daniel. It is a perceptive screenplay – although peppered with some extremely blunt language – showing the harshness of people as well as the kindness of people, serious and humorous, some wisecracks, some thoughtful remarks.
The film opens with the pawnshop opening, John Brumpton as Les, the owner, a touch world-weary, imposing on Daniel to do odd jobs in the shop, but kindly to many of the customers, tough with some, even brutally bashing one, a man with a kind heart, but not always kind.
The cast includes Kerry Armstrong as the sad mother, Malcolm Kennard and Mark Coles Smith (so effective in Last Cab to Darwin) as the two homeless men, and Maeve Dermody in the bookshop.
Over the day, many quiet times in the shop, but a range of customers including the father with young boys, appearing in drag, who needs a loan to take his sons to the movies; an older man, Harry, rich and with a family, who seems to spend his time yarning with Les; a man who wants to sell his video camera but leaves the memory card with some sex escapades on it; an Indian taxidriver, with background as a dentist, who wants to get a GPS so that he can be a pizza delivery man; a wealthy woman whose son has disappeared and taken her jewellery and who wants to find him again; the young man earnestly wanting a ring in order to propose to his girlfriend. The characters are well enough written and well enough acted for each to make an impression.
Outside the pawnshop there are two homeless young men, one a bit more simple but imagining himself tough, the other unemployed but who enjoys reading books and has some culture, getting into mischief during the day; there is the proprietor of the takeaway restaurant, a Vietnamese woman who has a sexual relationship with Les; and there is Claire, who works in a bookshop and gets her glasses frame fixed by Daniel who has something of an infatuation for her, writes a poem, she returning a smiley thank you note – and the possibility of their going out together.
In one sense, not a lot happens, but, in fact, quite a lot does happen in the somewhat miniature but effective episodes, the buildup to quite a humane day, not without serious problems, in the suburb of Footscray, but which has a great deal of universal relevance.
Iceland, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Sigurour Sigurjonsson, Theodor Juliusson.
Directed by Grimur Hakonarson.
A film from Iceland, a film about farm and rural issues, family clashes. For many years Iceland has had a substantial film industry, many films being internationally released at festivals and commercially. This has been the case with Rams.
There are a number of rams in the film, especially at the beginning where there is a competition as well as later when a champion ram mates with the ewes. Icelandic sheep are big and solid, horned, thick and woolly, able to withstand the rigours of the winter.
But, they are only the incidental characters illustrating the title. The main two Rams are the elderly brothers, brought up together but with past difficulties and bitterness about the inheritance, living on adjacent farms in the north far from the capital, Reykjavik. They have not spoken for 40 years and each of them prides himself on his flock and his Rams – with one of them winning the competition by only half a point!.
This is an opportunity for audiences perhaps familiar with Reykjavik and from films set in the capital but not far beyond. This is mountain country, snow in the winter, rugged, and a valley where many of the inhabitants have sheep farms. And the screenplay takes as through the various seasons.
Audiences beyond Iceland may be familiar with the dangers of infections and disease, mad cow, foot and mouth, equine flu. In Iceland it is Scrapie, probably brought to the country at the end of the 19th century with the importation of British sheep. But, if it is detected, it has a devastating effect – although some of the local farmers are sceptical and not particularly pleased with the bespectacled and academic types “from down south”. But, it is not just the infected sheep which must be slaughtered but all the sheep in the valley, all pens and hay destroyed, with no breeding for two years, government financial compensation, and eventually the possibility of starting again. Some of the young farmers are already in debt with loans and are prepared to give up, uncertain as to where to go.
Ultimately, the drama is between the two brothers, the older one angry, a drinker, collapsing on the roadside but helped by his brother who is antagonistic but has some softer moments, especially helping his collapsed brother – or taking him to the hospital in the scoop of his tractor and tipping him at the entrance!
When there is a dramatic move by the authorities, the two brothers take sheep into the mountains, into the snow and ice – and the older one mellowing and trying to revive his younger brother, the final image of embrace and reconciliation.
This is a small drama, focused, well played by the two actors, giving a picture of life in rural Iceland and dramatising some universal themes of farming but of sibling rivalry, long clashes, and possibilities for reconciliation.
Canada, 2015, 94 minutes, Colour.
Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Jurgen Prochnow, Dean Norris, Henry Czerny.
Directed by Atom Egoyan.
One of the best films of the year with a most powerful impact. It is a film that can be thoroughly recommended and, after the final 10 minutes of the film, even more thoroughly recommended.
Remember has been directed by celebrated Canadian director, Atom Eagle yarn, who has been making powerful and striking films since the 1980s (and has one several ecumenical awards over the decades for Family Viewing, The Sweet Hereafter, Adoration).
The film was chosen for Australian screening in a series of films about the Holocaust. This is certainly the subject of the film even though the setting is 2015, over 70 years later. As the title indicates, we have to remember – but, the film explores the theme of memories, sadness, lies and deception, dementia and confusion, retribution.
Christopher Plummer, at the age of 85, portrays a man nearly 90, Zev Guttman, a survivor of Auschwitz, but all his family were killed. He is in a nursing home, suffering from confusion and moments of dementia, especially concerning his wife and he always calls out to her seeks her when he wakes, but she has died two weeks previously. In the nursing home, he has found a friend, Max (Martin Landau – 86 when he made this film and gives a powerful performance) who has been tracking down Nazis, associated with Simon Wiesenthal and his Nazi-hunting, who helps serve with the ritual celebrations in memory of his wife, and gives Zev a letter and a task to track down a commandant from Auschwitz who is responsible for the murder of families.
Christopher Plummer is in every scene, eliciting sympathy, eliciting concern, eliciting apprehension as he leaves the nursing home, takes a train with a prepaid ticket and an envelope of cash from Max, and pursues each of the names on the list to try to track down the officer from Auschwitz who has used the name Rudi Kurlander. In his quest, he finds several Rud I Kurlanders, two of whom are played strikingly by the German veteran actors Bruno Ganz and Jurgen Prochnow.
He travels across the United States with its extraordinary scenic beauty, going over the border into Canada, finally travelling by bus to Idaho, to Reno and to his final destination outside Tahoe. Meanwhile, his son and his wife, the son played by Henry Czerny, are anxious about their father and his disappearance, eventually tracking him down at a dramatic moment.
This is a film to be seen rather than described. It is particularly well written, tightly-written by Benjamin August, an atmospheric score by Mychael Danna, the excellent performances - and audiences being absorbed as well as disturbed, even up till the final moment.
Australia, 2015, 86 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Nickolas Bird, Eleanor Sharpe.
The title of this documentary is a variation on Holding the Man, the memoir written by Tim Conigrave, published posthumously in 1995, about his relationship with John Caleo from their time at Xavier College in 1976 to John Caleo’s death from AIDS in 1992. Tim Conigrave himself died from AIDS in 1994. His memoir was soon adapted for the stage and, in 2015, the film version, directed by Neil Armfield was released to critical acclaim.
The emphasis in the first half of the film is on the relationship between the two boys at school, its development over the years, the change in relationship of each boy in his early 20s, and their initial careers. While this story continues, in the second half of the film the focus shifts to the AIDS epidemic. In fact, at the end of the film, there is a statement that Holding the Man is a key contribution to the history of the pandemic in the 1980s and into the early 1990s.
Those who have read the book, or seen the play, or seen the film, we will be familiar with most of the events which are portrayed here. Of course, the Holding the Man screenplay amplified many of the events noted here – but this film gives far more attention to the acting career of Tim Conigrave and his play and its performance, Soft Targets.
The film makers have been able to assemble a great number of photographs of the two boys, of the two men, as well as quite some video footage. They are incorporated into the narrative of this film. When photographs or video material is not available, some actors portray the two men, their parents, and some others associated with them in dramatic portrayals.
As with most documentaries, there are many interviews and talking heads, from school friends from Xavier days, both men and women, from friends who shared houses with them, with many who studied at NIDA with Tim Conigrave, and the number of men and women who were involved in social work and hospital care. The impression that they all give is that John Caleo was a quiet young man, a talented sportsman, and effective chiropractor, the more stable of the two, while Tim Conigrave was quite flamboyant from his earliest years, something which developed in his theatrical interests, his theatrical training and performances.
One of the values of this film is that there are considerable excerpts from three audiotapes of interviews which Tim Conigrave made in 1993 for a National Library project of witnesses to the experience in Australia of AIDS. It is interesting to listen to the tone of voice, generally quite sober, and, Conig recollections – much more serious than many of the photos and video excerpts that are shown. He was only a year or so away from his own death.
There is a lot of historical footage from the 1970s, especially with public opinion against homosexuals, scenes from Gay Mardi Gras as well as scenes of protest, especially some led by the Rev Fred Nile, quotations from the book of Leviticus, and other denunciations and, in more secular sequences, for example from Australian television in 1976, Monday Conference, a great deal of poofter-bashing. This gives the context of the relationship – something which has changed fairly extensively in the subsequent 40 years.
Tim Conigrave is supportive in his opinions of the Jesuits who ran Xavier College, a re-enacted scene with a priest at a holiday house and finding the two young men together and leaving them be. The understanding of the Jesuits is named explicitly Conigrave.
As regards the funeral Mass for John Caleo (somewhat contentious in Holding The Man), at which Father Peter Wood MSC, the AIDS Chaplain in Melbourne at the time, presided (who is credited as one of those interviewed for the film), it is mentioned that there were six priests present – although, as in the movie, but much more explicit here which does explain the funeral sequences in the movie, John Caleo’s father was quite clear to Tim Conigrave that there was to be no mention of homosexuality or AIDS and that Tim Conigrave was not to sit with the family. There is a very disappointing priest postscript when one of the friends explains how Tim Conigrave had asked these friends to light candles for him in the church (St Patrick’s Cathedral), but a priest tells them to go away and is seen locking the iron gates against them and walking away. However , there is religious feeling as the camera goes inside a church, a Catholic Church, and tracks up to the altar where there is a photo of the two men (and a Mickey Mouse doll which Tim Conigrave used as a symbol of himself).
Some of the images in Fairfield Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital of AIDS sufferers are quite graphic and bring home to audiences just how surprising, shocking and disturbing this new epidemic was and the toll that it took on those who were positive and who died of AIDS .
A significant film for going back into Australian gay history as well as the Australian experience of the beginning of AIDS and the development in the 1980s and 1990s.
UK, 2016, 160 minutes, Colour.
David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Judi Dench, Joseph Fiennes, Al Murray, Simon Russell Beale, Roger Allam, Harriet Walter, Benedict Cumberbatch, Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Tim Minchin, Rory Kinnear, Anne-Marie Duff.
Directed by Gregory Doran.
A Shakespearean feast!
This is a wonderful anthology of Shakespearean entertainment. Director Gregory Doran introduces this celebration of Shakespeare’s 400 centenary, performed at Stratford on Avon on 23rd April 2016. While Doran gives the background of Shakespeare’s town, the theatres, the performances, a huge cast of noted Shakespearean actors with support from the members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, it is not simply a filmed event of portions of Shakespeare’s plays. though, indeed it is that. Throughout the performance there are short films hosted by Joseph Fiennes taking the audience through various seasons and years of Shakespeare’s life, the two of Stratford on Avon.
While the words are paramount, there is a great deal of music and dancing. It is a celebration of how Shakespeare has influenced culture over four centuries, including opera excerpts from Berlioz and Verdi, a pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet, an extraordinary contemporary dance performance of the death of Desdemona to the music of Duke Ellington. Tonight from West Side Story opens the proceedings and there is a most entertaining opportunity to Brush Up Your Shakespeare in Cole Porter’s song from Kiss Me Kate, and engage really comic performance, with encores, from Henry Goodman and Rufus Hound..
The hosts for the evening were David Tennant (not sounding like Dr Who but in his native Scot’s brogue) and comedian, Catherine Tate. She immediately sets the tone with a vivid rendition of Jacques’ Seven Ages speech from As You Like It, each phase represented on stage from baby to ancient.
One of the features of the celebration is the number of songs from the plays themselves as well as music derived from the plays, including a lively hip-hop song comprising significant quotes, and a song from Rufus Wainwright and male choir.
There are soliloquies, Simon Russell Beale with John of Gaunt’s This Sceptred Isle from Richard II, Roger Allum as King Lear inveighing against the storm, Harriet Walter as the dying Cleopatra, Helen Mirren as Prospero. Most of us do not know the speech by Sir Thomas more from Shakespeare’s contribution to a play on Henry VIII, a vigorous lament and indictment of attitude towards migrants, spoken with passion by Ian McKellen, and relevant right now.
There are some very funny moments when an actor, Paapa Essiedu, begins To be or not to be and is suddenly interrupted by Tim Minchin urging him to put his accent on “or”, only to be followed by a whole range of actors each with their different emphasis on different words, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen. the famous soliloquy then presented excellently and in all seriousness by Esseidu. News bulletins at the time gave away the ending of this scene with Prince Charles coming on stage to give his particular emphasis on the “question”.
The scenes from the plays are striking, Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the aftermath of the murder of Duncan, Judi Dench and Al Murray making the encounter between Titania and Bottom more hilarious than usual, Anthony Sher flaunting himself as Falstaff.
A grand climax with all actors singers and dancers on stage, David Suchet and Judi Dench as Oberon and Titania, with David Tennant reciting Puck’s words from A Midsummer night’s Dream.
This is a sometimes exhilarating opportunity for Shakespeare lovers, for those who want to brush up their Shakespeare – and could prove a fine opportunity for those who want to broaden and deepen their familiarity, as well as on occasion for those wary of Shakespeare to enter into his world of word and of music.
Ukraine, 2015, 74 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Eva Neymann.
Song of Songs is a brief poetic film, based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, of life in a Ukrainian Shtetl in 1905. It is still a very old-worldly atmosphere, although there is a brief comic sequence with a group of musicians posing for a photo and an old-fashioned camera and photographer.
In the first half of the film, there is a visual attention to the life, the homes, the streets, the occupations, the schools, the religious men, the pious Jewish atmosphere. In the latter part of the film, the focus is on two young people whom we have seen together when there were children, the boy thinking that he was a Prince and the girl was a Princess and that they would go far away. In their growing up, they play with each other, have a great affection for each other – but there is the caution that it is not appropriate according to the law for them to touch.
In the second part of the film, the boy has grown up, gone away to study, returns to the Shtetl, quite impressive in his appearance and manner, yet very serious, because the young woman is betrothed to someone else. They meet. There is a bond between them but a quiet frustration for the young man that they can never marry. In the final part of the film, they go at into the woods, a beautifully sunny day, attractive photography, the lyrical atmosphere as the audience watches the two, contemplates their love, and the dialogue draws on the biblical book of the Song of Songs, some of the Biblical text, references to the text – especially in the sensual images which are poetic expressions of the glory of human love.
The film was awarded an Ecumenical Commendation at the Czech Festival in Karlovy Vary, 2015.
Australia, 2015, 83 minutes, Colour.
Hunter Page-Lochard, Aaron Pedersen.
Directed by Stephen Page.
One might call Spear a cinema event. It was screened at a number of festivals and then received some limited cinema release.
The reason for seeing this cinema event is that it presents the Bangarra Dance Company, celebrated in Australia for over 25 years, an indigenous company, performing promoting aboriginal art, dance, and exploration of ideas. Is also draws strongly on aboriginal history, before the white arrivals and settlement as well as the uneasy coexistence and hostility between black and white.
Stephen Page is the director of the company and the director of the film. His son, Hunter Page-Lochard, is the principal dancer. The full complement of dancers includes black dancers as well as white. There are also some acting roles, principally that of the Suicide Man, played by veteran actor Aaron Pedersen (Mystery Road, the Jack Irish series).
The film has striking visuals, cinema being able to provide an enormous range, and, with the editing, intercutting them with great effect. There are scenes from the city, dark alleyways, a tenpin bowling rink, escalators… Some of the film was made in Sydney, in studios on Cockatoo Island, but there is a great deal of location photography, especially in Arnhem Land, with its waterways, with its desert, foliage, and a pervading red.
The narrative the film concerns Djali, a young man on a journey, a quest for his identity in himself and as an aboriginal man. At the opening, there is a complex ritual, a kind of awakening for the young man, and the consecration. Ochre and paint are frequently placed on him and on other characters, indication of the tradition of the corroboree. As he goes on his journey, he walks through the city, and encounters the Suicide Man and his alcoholic haze, his wry comments, his anger at people passing by. Later, there will be an Old Man, a kind of guide, who eventually hangs himself. Others are described as Alcoholic Man, Androgynous Man, Abused Man, Big Man, Prison Man.
While the film has an immediate impact for an indigenous audience, there are various moments when a white audience will be challenged, invited to reflect, invited to appreciate – and a comically ironic episode featuring the very popular (if now seen as fairly racist) song, My Boomerang Won’t Come Back!
Djali moves through the city and then out into the deserts, encountering a range of characters including an Old Lady, Earth Spirit, Woman of Desire, sometimes presented like icons against the desert background, as are some of the tribal men, covered in white, and standing in the desert.
Accompanying the young man on his journey are a number of dancers, enabling the audience to appreciate the virtuosity and talent of the dance group. While there are some female presences, Spear is predominantly a film about males. At various times there are also white dancers and white actors involved in interactions, both in harmony and in disharmony, struggle and fight.
The event builds to a climax, the achievement of the young man, his coming into his own – although, as one of the few lines of dialogue mentions, he has a foot in each world but his heart is in none.
Israel, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Natalie Portman, Gilad Kahana, Amir Tessler.
Directed by Natalie Portman.
This is certainly a tale of love, especially a mother’s love for her son, but even more certainly a tale of darkness, a tale of depression.
The subject of the film is the Jewish writer, Amos Oz, a memoir about his childhood and his relationship with his mother and father, but especially his mother. The film opens with an older actor as Amos walking through the streets of Jerusalem in more recent times but his memory going back to the 1940s, especially the end of World War II, living in Jerusalem, the uncertainty with the Palestinians, the movement towards the State of Israel and the presence of the British and their withdrawal – and the United Nations vote in 1948 for the State of Israel.
Natalie Portman is the driving force behind the film, not only portraying Amos Oz’s mother but also adapting his memoir for a screenplay and directing the film. She brings a certain intensity to the film which is something of a grim experience even, at times, a glum experience.
Amir Tessler portrays the younger Amos Oz, the young boy who relishes stories, especially listening to those various stories told by his mother, in the film visualising them, for instance, a woman drowning and being rescued, with mother and son seen in these roles, and two monks silently wandering the desert until there is a crisis and they have to speak. Amos’ father is a literate man, writing on literature, even publishing a book and working in a library. Amos’s mother, has a strength of character, but is overcome by the situation at home, in Jerusalem, and, especially, in the British occupation and its consequences.
While the film highlights the diaspora of the Jews over millennia and the great joy in the establishing of the State of Israel (a strong scene showing the crowds listening to the radio in the streets with the countdown of the countries voting yes, the Arab countries voting no and various countries abstaining, including Britain), Finia descends into deep depression. The screenplay points out that she came from the Ukraine with her mother and sisters, has a hankering for her past life and the idealised picture of a young working man, contrasting with severity of her mother’s views, although she gets great comfort from her sisters.
The film is of interest for those who want to know more about Jewish settlement from Europe in the 1940s, in the consequences for their living in what was about to become Israel, tensions with the Palestinians (although is that there is a pleasing sequence when the young Amos befriends a young Arab girl), establishing Israel in the 1940s and the consequences.
UK, 2015, 110 Minutes, Colour.
James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox, Daniel Mays.
Directed By Paul McGuigan.
Every few years seems to be a new Frankenstein film. The emphasis is here should be on the title, an emphasis on the doctor himself rather than on the Monster, although it emerges that there is a close relationship between them
The setting for this retelling is London itself, using many of the landmarks, and having a detective inspector from Scotland Yard pursuing Victor Frankenstein to control him and bring his experiments to an end. He is played by Andrew Scott, who plays Moriarty in the Sherlock television films with Benedict Cumberbatch, some of which have been directed by the director here, Paul McGuigan dollars
Initially, it seems that this is going to be the story of a young hunchback man who works in the circus, the butt of jokes by the clowns in the arena, laughed at by the rather well-to-do and well-dressed audience, put upon by the owner of the circus. He is played by Daniel Radcliffe. He has no name, imagines that this will be his life forever – although he is infatuated with the trapeze artist, played by Jessica Brown Findlay, and comes to her aid when she has a disastrous fall from the high wire. As he helps, a doctor in the audience moves in to assist, seems at first dismissive of the misshapen young man but comes to admire his practical skills and knowledge. He decides that he will employ this young man as an assistant.
It is not as easy as all that, a riot breaks out, the owner pursues the doctor, there is a death, which means that there will be the police pursuit.
The young man is bewildered, especially when the doctor recognises that the shape on his back is a cyst which can be drained and the young man will be able to stand upright. The doctor gives him the name, Igor.
Of course, the doctor is Dr Victor Frankenstein who had been at the circus in search of animals that he could use in his experiments. Frankenstein is very well played by James McAvoy, a versatile actor, who appears as the younger Charles Xavier in the X-Men series.
The scenes in the laboratory are present but not as pervasive as in so many other versions – while some creatures are produced, it is the demonstration for academics at the University where things go wrong. The doctor’s father, Charles Dance, denounces him because of his being the cause of his older brother’s death. But a wealthy young man, is impressed, offers the funds for continued experiments in his castle on the coast.
Those who are expecting some gory and ghastly details may very well be disappointed, with the emphasis on the character and hubris of the doctor, a darling of London society, unscrupulous in his ambitions. But, the film does build up to a climax in the new and vast laboratory, the wealthy young man and his associates witnessing the lightning during an enormous storm producing electricity to bring the creature alive, the doctor and his achievement, the rage of the creature, Igor trying to save the day – and the Scotland Yard Inspector, a religious man grieving at the death of his wife, quoting the Bible and denouncing Dr Frankenstein’s work is that of Satan, is caught up in the dramatic violence.
If you want a variation on the Frankenstein films, is very British production provides a different alternative.
US, 2016, 120 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Michael Moore.
For a while, documentary-maker, Michael Moore, was a hero, on television and beginning to make feature films, especially his portrait of his home town, Flint, Michigan, Roger and Me, and the car industry and its collapse.
Then he became headlines with controversial documentaries, especially with his Oscar-winning film about guns and students in schools, Bowling for Columbine. He followed this up, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes with his political film, Fahrenheit 911, America after September 2001. Further documentaries were Sicko, comparing America’s health-care system with the benefits of other countries from France to Cuba, and Capitalism: A Love Story.
But that was six years ago. Now, with this new film, it sounds as if he is going to take on American militarism, American involvement after World War II (and he does list and give visuals of American defeats after 1945, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan…). But, actually, this film is much more positive and is certainly not what we might have expected it to portray.
The ever shambling, lumbering, heavy Michael Moore, shabby clothes and hat, making him a character with characteristics rather than a glib-looking and sounding smooth interviewer, has decided that he should invade quite a number of countries but not militeraly. Rather, he takes a look at some of the significant things that these countries are doing, matters that could well be transferred to the United States to make it a better place – something like re-shaping the American Dream.
So, this is a jolly Michael Moore, off to Europe and Tunisia, with his camera crew, making most of the situations look casual, listening sometimes with astonishment, although arranging some more formal interviews, especially with the President of Slovenia.
His interviews and his exploration of themes will probably make many audiences sit up and take notice. Despite problems in the various countries, some of their social policies have been very successful.
He meets up in Italy with a couple who explain the amount of paid holiday time they have and their possibilities for travelling; he meets owners of factories and managers of factories who are comfortable with higher pay, benefits like going home for lunch and cooking, elimination of stress for greater productivity. By contrast, when he moves to France, he shows gourmet meals in close-up and their preparation, only for us to discover that he is visiting a school and this is the chef and the lunches for the students whose lunch-hour is the equivalent of class enabling them to be more discerning about food and health. He does show audiences, by contrast, the typical American school lunch, where health does not seem to be a preoccupation.
Among other countries in Europe that he visits are Finland, checking their education system where homework is virtually eliminated enabling the students to be free, develop their interests and hobbies; and Slovenia where tertiary education is free, with a number of American students going there to study at the University. It is industry in Germany that he investigates, factories which are salubrious, with windows and light, with good conditions for workers and better productivity. Portugal is famous in having abolished criminal drug legislation and Moore has an interesting chat with a rather laid-back government official and interviews with local police, being reminded that with the decriminalisation of drugs, crime has gone down in Portugal.
When he visits Norway and goes to a prison, many audiences who feel that prisoners should be punished and feel the punishment will think that the prison is something of a comfortable motel. And there are only four guards. Interviews with the prisoners highlight government interest and policy is in human dignity and rehabilitation. And just when vindictive audience attitudes might be on the rise, Moore anticipates the criticism and visits a maximum security prison in Norway, presenting, tongue-in-cheek, music videos sung by the guards welcoming people to the prison. But, once again, it is a matter of human dignity, not revenge. This is highlighted by an interview with a father whose son was killed by Brevik and who went to the trial but does not believe in an eye for an eye Justice, lowering people to the level of the criminal.
There is a surprise visit to Tunisia, praising the role of women, their presence in Parliament, and the availability of sex education, abortion since 1973, and the philosophy that the government should not interfere in people’s private lives. Iceland is another port of call, a reflection on the financial collapse and its devastation, the small nation’s recovery, the trial and imprisonment of rogue bankers, an interview with the first woman president and a golf game with three female CEOs and their observations about the role of women in Iceland.
Moore wants to be optimistic, that change is possible despite the odds. He remembers the Berlin Wall coming down, his presence there with a friend, people scraping at the wall, then a hole, people escaping, the collapse of the wall, and change and unification in Germany. He also remembers the end of apartheid, the freeing of Nelson Mandela and his becoming President.
At the end, Moore makes the point that most of those improvements that he valued and wants to take back to America after his invasion all had precedents in American history and the American experience – and they need re-discovery.
Australia, 2015, 87 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Lisa Nicol.
Most audiences should enjoy Wide Open Sky very very much, even if they are not so strongly into music, song and choirs. The personalities of those involved and of the children will certainly win them over.
This is a story about singing, about children singing, about a choir in north-western New South Wales. The energy behind the program is from a singing teacher and conductor, Michelle Leonard, who hailed from Coonamble and now has returned to these country towns with her project, the Moorambilla Voices. She is an engaging personality, a touch larger than life, able to communicate with the children particularly well.
Every autumn she goes round to the towns, visits schools, especially the primary schools, asking the children to sing, listening attentively to their voices, their pitch and their accuracy in notes. She chooses over 150 and they all go to a camp in the town of Baradine for three days, bonding, rehearsing, getting ready for a concert which takes place in Coonamble. While a lot of the film is taken up with the rehearsals, the boys’ part of the choir, the girls’ part of the choir, learning the songs, the words and the music, there are also scenes of children at play, the different kinds of bonding between the girls and the boys amongst themselves.
Six children have been singled out for particular attention in the film. It is the two boys who make the most impression. For one, Mack, it is a kind of Billy Elliot story, not interested in football so much but wanting to sing and certainly a talent for dance and movement. He is confident in speaking to camera, in singing solos, and is supported by his parents who did try to get him interested in football but now foster his music ability. The other boy is a little boy, with some aboriginal background, who loves playing football, is short in stature, a touch of the cheeky, and certainly anxious to succeed in singing. One of the girls is certainly more assertive, wanting to be an actress, good at singing, but at times self-conscious, something she calls “shame”. There are three other girls, one talented singer was interested in medicine, and two girls who are interviewed together and bounce energetically off each other.
We also see the associate staff, the young choir assistant as a composer, a driver, the camp manager, youth workers, especially young man who has come up through the ranks and come out of himself, and the cooks and kitchen staff.
Children appreciate affirmation, recognition of their abilities, of who they are, the development of talents that they may not have realised – and this is what Michelle Leonard does with these children, over 20oo in ten years, and watching her and the children leads to the words like inspiring, encouraging, – and even exhilarating.
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