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SIGNIS Film reviews - November 2015

Tuesday 10 November 2015, by SIGNIS

  • 99 HOMES
  • ALEX AND EVE
  • BURNT
  • CRIMSON PEAK
  • DRESSMAKER, The
  • LAST WITCH HUNTER
  • LOBSTER
  • MISS YOU ALREADY
  • NO ESCAPE
  • NOW ADD HONEY
  • PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5: THE GHOST DIMENSION
  • SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE
  • SPECTRE

  • 99 HOMES

US, 2014, 112 minutes, Colour.
Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Clancy Brown, Noah Lomax, Tim Guinee.
Directed by Ramin Bahrani.

One of the dire consequences of the global financial crisis of 2008 was the foreclosure on many homes, owners who had borrowed from banks but were unable to pay, the debts sold on to other companies who made merciless demands with a great number of evictions.

This is the setting of 99 Homes, in 2010.

Dennis Nash is a builder, living in his home, with his young son and with Dennis’ mother. They are played well by Andrew Garfield, Noah Lomax as, Connor, and Laura Dern. Dennis is on a building job when the finance collapses and he is not paid. Suddenly, the real estate agent, Rick Carver, Michael Shannon always so convincing as a villain, is at the door with police from the sheriff’s department and a group of labourers, demanding that Dennis and his family leave the house, are trespassing, because the bank owns the house and has delegated the eviction to Carver and his group – and the family is given two minutes grace to hurriedly pack what they need while the rest of their possessions are removed from the house onto the footpath.

The sequence is quite powerful, disturbing the audience emotionally as they identify with Dennis and his family, their shock, desperation, anger, resignation. They then have to move into a motel where they find families in similar situations.

When Dennis goes back to find his tools which seemed to have been stolen by some of the group, Carver is faced with a crisis in another house and offers Dennis the job, to fix it for ready cash. Dennis agrees, does the job well, and is offered quite a number of jobs, once again cash in hand, by Carver.

The film becomes one of those parables on the Gospel text, “what does it profit to gain the whole world and to lose one’s soul?”. Not only is Dennis effective at his jobs, he impresses Carver and they form a kind of friendship and partnership, with Dennis called on to do further jobs, especially stealing air conditioning units and swimming pool pumps so that Carver can offer to supply replacements and so gain contracts for selling the houses. Eventually, Dennis becomes an agent of eviction, confronting, especially, a neighbour who had met him in court when the decision went against Dennis and who is now in a similar situation.

Meanwhile, Carver thrives, owns a mansion, and another house lodging a mistress, is involved in million-dollar deals to own further houses and evict more people, a substantial cut going to Dennis who buys a better home for his family. When his mother realises what is going on, especially when, during his son’s birthday party, another family arrive at the motel and confront Dennis, she moves out with Connor.

The culmination of the film is, of course, conscience-time, with the neighbour going to court, a forged document submitted, a siege at the house with the rifle, and Dennis having to decide whether his career path has been worthwhile, and whether he has lost his integrity.

Many audiences will identify with the characters and situations, share the feelings of anger and desperation, be torn by the moral dilemmas that face Dennis (but which don’t seem to affect Carver). 99 Homes won an award in Venice 2014 from SIGNIS, the World Association for Communication.

-* ALEX AND EVE

Australia, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Richard Brancatisano, Andrea Demetriades, Ryan O’Kane, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Zoe Carides, Simon Elrahi, Millie Samuels, Alex Lykos.
Directed by Peter Andrikidis.

As with all fiction films, there is a statement at the end declaring that any similarity to actual persons is merely coincidental. For this film, with its characters and caricatures, as if…

Yes, we are supposed to think of Adam and Eve, but this is an Australian story, Sydney settings (which should do a lot for Sydney tourism, especially for the Harbour Bridge and climb and the magnificent views from the top). But Sydney is no Garden of Eden.

Alex comes from a Greek family, a Greek Orthodox family, the father, now a big boisterous man, self-made and comfortable, the mother patiently supportive, who sailed under Sydney Harbour Bridge 40 years earlier as migrants to make their lives in a new world. One of the main ambitions for the family is for Alex to have a Big Fat Greek Wedding, continually taunting him about it. He is a schoolteacher, maths (and explaining that Pythagoras and other Greeks invented mathematics). They are churchgoing but faith is not a strong suit for any of the men.

Eve comes from a Lebanese Muslim family, and, at the beginning, there is a Modest Fat Lebanese Wedding, for Eve’s brother, giving us the tone of Muslim customs and ceremonies in a Sydney backyard. She is a very successful lawyer.

It is not exactly love at first sight, he being dragged along by his friend to a harbourside club, she accompanied her assistant at work, each looking the other way and pulling on a stool at the bar, Alex pulling harder and Eve falling not exactly for him but because of him and he spilling beer on her dress as he helps her up. They talk, becoming calmer, go for something to eat, and feel something of an attraction.

Alex invites Eve to come to his class, a rowdy multicultural group with Chris, a footballing and swearing type, leading the pack, urging Sir to get a girlfriend. Eve asks them who wants to have a career helping people – and there are no takers. When they are asked if they want to make a lot of money, all hands go up.

The couple goes out, enjoys each other’s company, climb the Harbour Bridge, though Alex is a touch vertiginous, but makes it to the top and they kiss.

Which, of course, is putting off the evil day, when they have to tell their families. In the meantime there are lots of Greek scenes, lots of yelling and screaming. And, in the meantime, there are lots of Lebanese scenes, and a fair amount of yelling and screaming as well. There is a possible fiance in Beirut with whom they often Skype and who will turn up soon in Australia.

Multicultural? The Greeks abhor the Lebanese and vice versa, their memories of hundreds of years of pride and animosity, and differences of religion, it being unthinkable that anyone should marry outside the religion, either orthodox or Muslim. Greek dad and Lebanese mother are particularly vocal.

There is a scene where the two families meet – disaster.

Of course, what are they to do? Will Alex rebel and move out? Continue to see Eve? Will Eve defy her parents, agree to a marriage with the fiance? Well, yes and no – which means then that we have to see the film to find out how true love will conquer (as, of course, we know that it will – and if we have memories of the end of The Graduate, we might make a wager as to how it will turn out).

Lots of characters, lots of caricature is, but Alex and Eve are a very pleasant couple, rather picture book and each good-looking, played by Richard Brancatisano and Andrea Demetriades. The screenplay, adapted from his play Alex Lykis (who plays Alex’s brother) is not meant to be particularly subtle, nor are the points to be made, necessary though they be, and it relies on humour with touches of satire. To many Australians, the mutual intolerance and derogatory attitudes of both sides, especially concerning marriage outside the culture and religion, may seem impossible – we might note that less than a century ago, Christians of various denominations talked this way and were not allowed into each other’s churches and marriages between churches frowned on…).

-* BURNT

US, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruehl, Ricardo Scammarcio, Omar Sy, Sam Keeley, Henry Goodman, Matthew Rhys, Stephen Campbell Moore, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander, Lily James, Uma Thurman, Julian Firth.
Directed by John Wells.

If anything were burned in Adam’s clockwork kitchen at the London restaurant in fashionable London, the food would be hurled at the wall, as with the crockery and utensils. It would be the same with anything that Adam judged not to have reached his perfectionist stances. Bradley Cooper is Adam and has shown in a number of his films that he can be something of a fierce warrior, not just American Sniper, but a now a martinet with his kitchen staff.

It was not always so. Adam has quite an interesting back story before his ascendancy in London. As a 19-year-old, he left the United States, infiltrated a restaurant in Paris, the owner then becoming his mentor, and bringing him into work with the top kitchen staff. So far, so good. But drugs and drink take the better of Adam and he behaves abominably to everyone, even putting rats in a restaurant and then calling the health inspectors, putting the owner, Michel (Omar Sy) out of business.

From this bottoming of his life, he went to New Orleans, shucked a million oysters, keeping notes and the count, and then decided to get clean and make his way to London, confronting an old friend, Tony (Daniel Bruehl) to persuade him to appoint him chef in the up-market The Langham Hotel. Now, full of self-confidence, he rounds up old friends and associates to persuade them to work for him, and wanting a special chef so much, Sienna Miller, that he gets her fired so that she has to work for him. He is in command, they have to call him Chef, and put up with his perfectionist tantrums.

There are quite a lot of interesting supporting characters played by a very strong cast. They include Emma Thompson as the psychiatrist who had to check Adam regularly to ensure that he was clean – and, with the complication that she is the psychiatrist for Tony who is infatuated with Adam. Adam persuades Michel to come and work for him, as well is Max (Richard Scarmaccio) who is getting out of prison. There is also a rivalry with a fellow chef from Paris (Matthew Rhys) who now runs another London restaurant, who admires Adam and helps him when he bashed by thugs to whom he owes money, admitting he is the best, but nevertheless in fierce competition with him.

It wouldn’t be Hollywood film unless there was a romance and, as anticipated, the fired cook, who has a little daughter, admires Adam and falls for him.

On reflection, the plot is fairly commonplace and the characters, well-acted as they are, have no real depth.

But, while the film is entertaining, it probably would go on the must-see list of those who are foodaholics, cookaholics, gourmetoholics, because, visually, a lot of time is spent in the kitchens, the detail of the preparation, the cooking, the serving – especially because Adam has two Michelin stars and is desperate to get a third.

One of the pleasures of the film is that it is set in London, offering many memories for those who have lived in or visited London.

-* CRIMSON PEAK

US, 2015, 119, Colour.
Mia Waskowski, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones, Jonathan Hyde.
Directed by Gulliermo Del Toro.

Once upon a time, the word ‘Gothic’referred to large and beautiful European cathedrals. Later centuries, especially with the 19th century fascination with mediaeval architecture in English-speaking countries, the word had overtones of larger than life melodrama, mysterious buildings, suspicious sinister characters, touches of the supernatural, images of blood and death.

It is safe to say that Crimson Peak is contemporary Gothic movie-making. It is the creation of Mexican, Guillermo del Toro, who has made films based on such graphic novels as Hellboy and Pacific Rim its gigantic undersea monsters rampaging through the world. But he also made striking films in Spain, The Devil’s Backbone set during the Spanish Civil War and the blend of grim fairytale and World War to realism, Pan’s Labyrinth.

The colour photography for this film is very striking indeed as are the sets, costumes and decor, opening in the American city of Buffalo in the 19th century and then moving to Cumberland in snowbound and frozen northern England. The film is also full of premonitions, ghosts, dastardly doings and revenge. This Gothic atmosphere is certainly reinforced in the episodes in Cumberland, in Allendale Hall, an enormous mansion out in bleak fields, its huge facade looking like no other building – except, perhaps, the front of St Pancras Station in London. As for the interiors, with gaps in the roof, snow falls within the building which is a mixture of ancient warehouse, whirring machinery, old-fashioned living quarters and a sinister basement.

The characters also have a Gothic touches. At the centre is a young woman, Edith, who lost her mother and has ghostly premonitions. She is played by Mia Wasikowska – who in recent years also played Jane Eyre. Actually, Allendale Hall is a place where Mr Rochester might have felt at home, with ample wings and rooms to conceal his mad wife. Then there are a British brother and sister who come to Buffalo promoting a machine for the extraction of a particularly enriched soil on their property. The brother, Thomas, played by the versatile British actor, Tom Hiddleston, seems to fall in love with Edith, and she him. We are all more wary of the sister, Lucille. This reviewer did not check who was playing Lucille before the preview of the film and could not place the familiar looking face, only to find it was American Jessica Chastain – who really steals the film with her most powerful performance.

While things may have been hard in Buffalo, matters are a far more disturbing in Cumberland, ghosts, mysterious past marriages, money and disappearing spouses, the strange machine, the blood- soaked soil, and more than a little vengeful blood and gore.

For those whose imagination tends to the Gothic, Crimson Peak can be recommended. For those of a more simple and stable imagination, it might be too much.

-* THE DRESSMAKER

Australia, 2015, 118 minutes, Colour.
Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Kerry Fox, Rebecca Gibney, Gyton Grantley, Shane Jacobson, Caroline Goodall, Barry Otto, Julia Blake, Sasha Horler, Terry Norris, Shane Bourne, Mark Leonard Winter, Alison Whyte, Genevieve Lemon.
Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse.

in many ways, this is a curious film, the characters and the plotline moving in ways that the audience might not have anticipated, sometimes very serious, sometimes with humour, sometimes with touches of a nasty vengeance. But, it is particularly well made and acted, adapted from a novel by Rosalie Ham, co-written by the director Jocelyn Moorhouse, who made such an impact in 1991 with Proof, to films in the US, but no film for almost 20 years. Her husband, P.J.Hogan, also acted as second unit director and co-writer.

The Dressmaker sounds a very quiet kind of title, rather sedate, but that also is deceiving.

The setting is 1951, a rather remote country town between Sydney and Melbourne, a small place, some homes, some shops, a local council, a local policeman, and some rivalry in football and theatrics with the next town along the line. The film offers a look back at Australia in the middle of the 20th century.

Into the town comes a very stylish looking woman, fashionable clothes, someone who obviously does not belong to the town, Tilly, played by Kate Winslet. But, in fact, she does belong to the town or, at least, she did. Throughout the film there are quite a number of flashbacks to Tilly and the other now-adults and their schooldays, their play together, friendships in the yard, bullying in the yard, and death of one of the children and the blame being put on Tilly who was sent away to boarding school and has stayed away for decades, going overseas and becoming a skilful international dress designer and dressmaker.

Why has Tilly returned at this stage? Is to understand herself better, to reacquaint herself with her mother, to find out the truth about whether she had killed the young boy or not? Or, some revenge?

The town is absolutely full of eccentric characters, played by a great number of veteran Australian screen and stage actors in cameo roles. This has to be one of the best casts of any Australian film.

First of all there is Tilly’s mother, called Mad Molly by all the people in the town, living as a recluse in a rather dirty old house, dressed raggedly, not quite all there, and not too sure about her daughter when she arrives back, cleaning up the house, getting her mother back on her feet, trying to probe what happened to her as a little girl. Judy Davis gives yet another extraordinary performance as Molly, referring to herself at one time as a tag, and looking and acting like it, but not without the wicked sense of humour and a beginning of appreciating her daughter.

Then there is the policeman, played by Hugo Weaving who welcomes Tilly back because he is something of a secret cross-dresser, secret in 1951, but exuberantly caught up in Tilly’s materials and creations – and who played a part, as the policeman, into her being sent away.

Tilly makes quite an impression on some of the young people in the town, a number of whom she went to school with, especially Teddy, a good, strong role for Liam Hemsworth, captain of the local football team – who, during a match, like the audience itself, cannot take their eyes from Tilly in her striking red dress, then in her striking black dress!

The locals are against Tilly, especially the prim school teacher, Kerry Fox, who was instrumental in blaming Tilly in the past. There are the parents of the dead boy, Shane Bourne, local councillor, philanderer, bringing in Una (Sasha Horler) as a rival dressmaker, and Alison Whyte, the withdrawn and still grieving mother. At the local store, there are Shane Jacobson and Rebecca Gibney, pillars of the community, and their plain daughter, Sarah Snook – with memories of the schoolyard of the past, and agreeing to get a fashion makeover from Tilly, especially to entice the young son, Mark Leonard Winter, of a rather snobbish citizen, played by Caroline Goodall.

Tilly mellows somewhat, though not against teeing off with golf balls from her mother’s house and swinging them towards the school and other town buildings, making her presence felt. She is also comfortable with Teddy – though this is one of the difficulties in the casting that both Sarah Snook and Liam Hemsworth are both in their mid 20s while Kate Winslet is nearing 40, the characters meant to be 35.

The film often veers into quirky Australian comedy, ironic and satiric in its way, especially with the rivalry between the two dressmakers, a drenched wedding sequence, and the competitiveness between the two towns for the award for best costumes at the Theatre Festival (Una with elaborate costumes for Macbeth and Tilly for the rival town with costumes for The Mikado).

Towards the end of the film, it seems that it is about to end several times, but it does go on with some surprising developments, not all of them happy, and, in apocalyptic fire ending with Tilly, of course, vindicated.

For those who are intrigued as they watch it, a second viewing could be recommended.

-* THE LAST WITCH HUNTER

US, 2015, 106 minutes, Colour.
Vin Diesel, Michael Caine, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Rena Owen, Judy Engelbrecht, Isaach de Bankole.
Directed by Breck Eisner.

For any audience who has always wanted to see Michael Caine on screen as a priest, at last an opportunity. After more than 50 years in films, he is still a significant screen presence.

Not that every Michael Caine fan would necessarily want to see the The Last Witch Hunter. It is one of those action adventures, a blend of the historical and the contemporary, overtones of witchcraft and the demonic, scenes back in the Middle Ages where the wicked Queen Witch is unleashing the black plague over Europe, eerie battles in dark and caves, then to contemporary New York City (where, according to American films, so many apocalyptic crises have to take place).

As one can tell by the title of the film, it is one of those stories with a graphic novel imagination. And this is a special project for Vin Diesel who is one of the producers as well as the star – a bit more humane and sometimes smiling than his Fast and Furious outings… But, he is the action hero, the witch hunter, whose destiny is to save the world.

The Medieval scenes definitely have an atmosphere, though an unrecognisable Diesel (hair and beard) has a robustly difficult time confronting and destroying one of those special effect hags with a threatening and sinister voice.

To continue with the atmosphere, there is a transition to Abu Dhabi airlines (strong product placement) and a young which on board the plane causing an enormous storm which alarms the passengers – but the hunter, Kalder, takes the witch to task, calms the storm and makes a date with the flight attendant. And this brings him to New York City in the present, when he continues his witch hunting, cursed by the Queen with immortality and his having to adapt for over 800 years to each generation. (He is particularly up-to-date on IT, taunting Michael Caine’s priest about having an IPad - with Caine later squashing a sinister beetle with his book and remarking that you couldn’t do this with an iPad!).

The reason that Michael Caine appears is that he is the 36th in a line of priests who belong to the organisation, The Axe and the Cross, protectors of the witch hunter. He is about to retire and, of all people, Elijah Wood, is to be his successor, a very earnest young priest, diligent about his mission and trying to learn.

The other principal character is a witch, Chloe, who runs a bar with New York witches as her clientele. Kalder helps her and she then supports him in his quest for the disciples of the Queen and, eventually, the Queen herself whose heart has been preserved by her disciples and in their plan for her comeback for the 21st century world.

One doesn’t have to be a genius to work out what happens, especially the final confrontation – though there is a twist with one of the characters that might have been anticipated.

The Last Which Hunter doesn’t pretend to be anything else than it is, a comic-book action show – and that is what it achieves.

-* THE LOBSTER

Ireland/Greece, 2015, 118 minutes, Colour.
Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, John C.Reilly, Olivia Colman, Ariane Labed, Lea Seydoux.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

A number of people have described this film as “weird”. And they are not entirely wrong. But, it is an interesting kind of weird!

As we first look at the film, it does not look particularly weird at all. The director, Yorgos Lanthimos, famous for his weird film Dogtooth, is Greek, has filmed in Ireland and in English. The setting is woodland by a river, one of those old Greystone Irish buildings standing in for a hotel. So far, so arresting. But it is when we start to listen to the dialogue, that the weirdness begins to set in.

This is a somewhat future society, one of those dystopian societies, where this hotel has been set up and managed for single people to come and find a partner in life. But, they have 45 days to do this, otherwise they will be turned into an animal of their choice! The central character, David, has opted for becoming a lobster!

David is played by Colin Farrell, who has put on some weight for the part, is not as young and vigorous as he was in his early screen days, is rather reticent, even deadpan, shortsighted with his spectacles. His wife has left him. He is welcomed by the staff who have all been drilled in the ethos of the hotel, has to hand in all personal possessions including clothes and is supplied with clothes and shoes from the hotel. Is given a spacious room, but on the first night has an arm handcuffed to his back and has to manage nonetheless. Breakfast is announced, he goes to the dining room where he meets the Lisping Man (John C.Reilly) and the Limping Man (Ben Whishaw).

There is a narration by Rachel Weisz, explaining the characters and situations, and she will make a later appearance is one of the Loners out in the forest who will find a relationship with David. One of the exercises for all of the guests is to be issued with a rifle, dart guns in order to hunt down Loners in the woods. And so the days go, with lectures from the manager and roll plays to illustrate dangers in company, a dance, with introductions to various characters with descriptions rather than names, like the Biscuit-eating Woman or the Blood Nose Woman (who becomes a partner with The Limping man who engineers nosebleeds in order to relate to her).

David seems to manage at first, but then goes into the woods with the Loners, meeting the Short-sighted Woman and bonding with her, especially on a trip to the city, which seems rather normal except for the interrogating guards, with the help of the Leader of the Loners, Lea Seydoux.

The film goes on from there, the activities in the woods, the loners going on exercises like raiding one of the yachts where couples live, attacking the room of the manager of that hotel and her husband…

After some grim episodes, the film stops… Or rather leaves its narrative, its themes, its strange humour, its seriousness, for the audience to reflect on, wondering what has happened to human nature, what has happened to relationships and love, and what will be the consequences.

-* MISS YOU ALREADY

UK, 2015, 112 minutes, Colour.
Tony Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Tyson Ritter, Jacqueline Bisset.
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke.

At a recent conference, a speaker was very strong in her declaration that men did not really understand how women tick. It was an impassioned intervention. This came to mind while watching Miss You Already. It is very much a women’s film, writer, director, performances – a film that men should see to help them understand women.

That might not be such an easy thing to arrange when potential audiences hear that the film is about breast cancer, mastectomy, chemotherapy, illness and death. But it is also about strong friendship, love, family, fidelity and infidelity, hope.

This story of the friendship of two women, one who experiences illness and terminal cancer, the other who desperately wants a child and becomes pregnant, is enhanced by the strength of the writing, the sensitivity of the direction, and two very fine performances.

The opening traces the beginnings of the friendship between Jess and Milly, inner London setting, where the American Jess comes as a child and has to settle in, befriended by Milly, growing up with her, schooldays, some rather wild days, especially in their 20s, and settling down to family in their 30s.

Toni Collette, one of Australia’s most versatile actresses, gives a complex performance as Milly. she is an extroverted girl about town, falling for a roadie for a rock group, Kit (Dominic Cooper) and, surprising to herself and to others, settles down to married life and raising a family while keeping and promotions job. Drew Barrymore is Jess, happily married to Jago (Paddy Considine) trying all kinds of means to become pregnant but finally having to go for in vitro. She is a happy woman herself, generally content to play second fiddle to Milly, but always there as a confidant, always there to rescue if need be. Jacqueline Bissett plays Milly’s and believes flamboyant actress mother.

There have been a number of films about cancer, especially for teenagers experiencing it, The Fault in our Stars and Me and Girl and the Dying Girl. But this is a story of a woman turning 40, trying to deal with this experience in her life, undergoing chemotherapy (presented quite graphically for what is a movie entertainment), the issue of mastectomy and its consequences for herself, for herself-image, for her relationship with her husband and much of his bewilderment and unwillingness to cope with the situation. While there is some relief, it is only temporary and she has to face the realities of a short life.

The film is not all sweetness and light. Milly is not that kind of person. She takes up with an American barman, even going to Yorkshire and Bronte country (she and Jess are devoted to Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff), but it is Jess who has to confront her.

This is a story which most women will basically identify with, the reality of breast cancer or other cancers, ways of dealing with illness and coping with the effect on children and husband. This is a story which, in a comparatively brief running time, a men’s audience can allow itself to be challenged to empathy and understanding.

This reviewer found the film very moving, shared the joy in the women’s lives, was saddened by the reality of illness and the consequences, disappointed in Milly’s moments of give-up, but impressed by the sequences of what might be called in religious terms, confession and reconciliation.

-* NO ESCAPE

US, 2015, 103 minutes, Colour.
Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jeruns, Clare Geare, Sahajak Boonthanakit.
Directed by John Erik Dowdle.

This is a very gruelling film to watch, and its plot and treatment are quite gruelling, not a film for an easy night out.

It is set in something of a fictional South East Asian country, audiences particularly focusing on Thailand, where it was filmed, and the recent uprisings, clashes in the cities, changes of government, military command. The geography of the film is not accurate, a city on the river with a large American Embassy is only a few minutes away down the river to the border with Vietnam.

This is one of those stories for American audiences focusing on an American family in an alien situation, continually under threat, showing a skill for survival when most of the locals are threatening, violent. It could have been set in Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia…

The Dwyer family have had some difficulties in finances and the father, Jack (Owen Wilson surprisingly convincing in a non-comedy role as something of an action hero) has accepted an engineering job in the Asian country, working on its national water system. Towards the end of the film, audiences will realise that this is a message film about American corporations, their role in Asian countries, building up systems, banks organising loans which are difficult to repay and the corporations taking possession – with anti-American sentiment in the country.

While everything seems nice and sunny in the morning after their arrival, Jack wanders down the street to buy a newspaper only to be caught in the middle of a rioting mob and helmeted truncheon-holding military marching to confront them. He has to use his wits, and some local help, to escape back to the hotel, only to find the mobs rampaging already, killing the guests in their rooms. While he manages to get to his wife and children, he has to go downstairs to the pool where one of his little girls has gone swimming. From then on for the next hour or more the film shows the ordeal of the family and the struggles, ingenuity and luck for them to survive.

They do encounter a friendly scruffy-looking man on the plane, played by Pierce Brosnan. He helps at the airport to get a lift with his associate, a local whose nickname is Kenny Rogers – which is also the name of his van which is plastered inside with photos of the singer.

The steps of the survival are going to the roof, enduring a helicopter attack, killing many people on the roof, the adults leaping from building to building and Jack throwing his daughters across to his wife, climbing down a building, finding office workers trying to save documents only to be bombed by a tank, the continued search by masked rebels, going down to basements, disguising themselves as locals and riding a motorcycle, even through an advancing group in the night, trying to reach the embassy… Luck does intervene when Pierce Brosnan and Kenny Rogers turn up again, enabling them to get some refuge before the final, perilous attempt to get to the river and the Vietnam border.

Lake Bell is strong as the mother, supporting her husband, continually trying to keep the daughters safe and quiet – but the film does raise the issue of the defence of family and the exercise of violence, even to killing someone who is a threat.

The story may seem remote to many Americans for whom Asia is a long way away – but for audiences who live in the region and are aware of uprisings, the story may seem only too real.

-* NOW ADD HONEY

Australia, 2015, 100 minutes, Colour.
Robyn Butler, Portia De Rossi, Lucy Fry, Phillipa Coulthard, Lucinda Armstrong Hall, Hamish Blake, Erik Thomson, Robbie Magasiva, Lucy Durack, Angus Sampson, David Field.
Directed by Wayne Hope.

The success of a comedy does not necessarily depend on the quality of the film itself – but, rather on the mood of the person watching the comedy at a particular time. This comedy has many moods, some funny, some serious, many somewhere in between. With the title, the Honey is not necessarily a sweetener. Which means a mixed response.

The film is the work of writer and star, Robyn Butler, and of her husband, director, Wayne Hope. Their contributions to television, The Librarians, Upper Middle Bogan have been much appreciated. Perhaps they work better in a brief running time format.

Here is a suburban Australian couple, she, Caroline, a lawyer, with two daughters, he a writer (who is soon discovered to be cheating on his wife), causing something of a breakdown – but not as much of a breakdown as the arrival of Caroline’s older sister, Beth (Portia De Rossi) with her precocious, ultra-spoilt, daughter, honey (Lucy Fry). Honey is about 16, going on 40 in precocity, going on 9 in terms of growing up. And her mother, self-absorbed except for promoting her daughter in Hollywood (where she has been successful in a series of films with the character, Monkey Girl). They have arrived in Australia to make a record – with a video which make might make Miley Cyrus blush!

It gets complicated at the airport with Beth having her special photographer into who is particularly demanding about light and angles. Then it gets worse when Beth is taken in by customs officials because of the amount of drugs, all for her health, of course, that she has in her cases – and she is soon sent off for rehabilitation leaving Honey stranded, to be taken in by the family.

While some of the satire on the ignorant and, perhaps, innocent, Honey has its moments, she is such an exasperating character, not only to the family but to the audience, so that a lot of it is rather hard to take. We do have great sympathy for Caroline, who is on the receiving end of a lot of barbs from Beth about her age, her looks…, Difficulties in getting time off at the office, but having some pleasant moments encountering a television chef. Then there is her younger sister, continually smarting about the description of her as fat in Beth’s biography and dealing with her fiance who, to put it politely, is rather dumb. And Caroline’s two daughters get involved, one a fan and the other definitely not.

There is a sleazy photographer wanting to get in on the act and to do some exploitative stuff with Honey who, bewildered and a touch of eventual against her mother and the family, decides to go through with it – with some slapstick comedy in the family’s attempts to rescue her.

There is a lot going on in the film, perhaps too much for its brief running time, but, if it catches you in the mood, you may well enjoy its comic touches. On the other hand, if…

-* PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION

US, 2015, 88 minutes, Colour.
Chris J.Murray, Brit Shaw, Ivy George, Dan Gill, Olivia Taylor Dudley.
Directed by Gregory Plotkin.

For the last six years there has been a Paranormal Activity thriller each year, much of a muchness in content and style. But, they have appealed to the fans, though this last episode has not received such an enthusiastic response.

The earliest films were based on “found footage”, videocassettes from the past, especially the 1980s, capturing all kinds of weird goings on in houses at night. there were indications on screen of the number of nights involved, and, with the filming, the time of the activity was noted. End, the activity tends to be of the poltergeist type, mysterious and sudden shocks, things banging on the night, people being afraid (sometimes, very afraid).

The effect of the films depended on the audiences willing suspension of disbelief in such goings on at the susceptibility for jumping out of one seat at sudden editing cuts or loud noises.

Once again, we have some found footage from 1988, a mysterious deaths, a strange character talking to 2 little girls and persuading them to follow him. Cuts 2013, a family moving into a house (something like at Amity feel where people don’t know about the weird goings on at the deaths in the house before they bought it). There are the parents, the little girl, Lila, and her visiting uncle, and a friend of the family staying in the house.

But, this time the screenplay gears towards demonically presence and to Monica possession. And it is the little girl in 2013 who seems to be the target of the strange man, this time on Demon, called Toby. The various Catholic symbols in the house, rosary beads, and a Christmas creep with little girl able to identify who Mary’s baby is, Jesus.

With all the troubles, the mother phones the parish priest, Father told, if this is the house, put holy water on the forehead of the little girl and her Tory, explains that the Demons take students to conceal themselves and that, even if they moved out of the house, Demons tend to create fear but only with persons rather than places. Later, he returns to perform an exorcism, those he is a bit doubtful about it and its effect. so, while he prays and performs the rituals, making this let loose – and, with Toby and the little girls are all appearing, there is no great prospect for survivors.

Perhaps the fans have had enough of Paranormal Activity, and the producers signal that this is the last in the series.

-* SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

US, 2015, 93 minutes, Colour.
Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, David Koechner, Cloris Leachman, Halston Sage.
Directed by Christopher Langdon.

If the title sounds off-putting, then be off-put. If the title sounds somewhat intriguing, then perhaps it might be worth trying out since you are a zombie movie fan on the lookout for something zany.

This could be called something of a Night of the Living Dead Junior.

It opens with a zombie-like cleaner at an experimental lab who, of course, unleashes a zombie who then goes on a rampage, biting and creating a town full of living dead.

But, the film also introduces the local Scout team, three young men in their mid-teens and a very earnest scoutmaster, played by comedian David Koechner looking quite strange with a hairpiece (which soon gets knocked off). The three boys are a mixture, the last remnants of the Scouts squad, unable to recruit anyone knew and staying on for the sake of the scoutmaster. The sympathetic one is Ben, played by Tye Sheridan, who looks too smart and serious to be acting in this kind of film. On the other hand, Logan Miller as Carter is pretty hormonal, horizons fairly limited by sexual longings and curiosity. Then there is Augie, the earnest nerd Scout, accumulating his badges, loyal to the scoutmaster, pudgy and eating too much – but, it must be admitted, the screenplay gives him plenty to do in combat.

The two Scouts want to leave Augie and sneak out to a party but have been given the wrong address, going back into town where they have previously found a glamorous stripper, oops, cocktail waitress, from the local joint who has bought them beer. Going back into town, and seeing the bouncer from the club absent, in they go, only to find the place empty – except for a zombie dancer – and then the pursuit is on. The film does give quite a lot of extras the opportunity to lurch around the town as zombies, pursue humans and get bashed, shot, decapitated etc.This includes the scoutmaster as well as a cranky old lady, played by Cloris Leachman who perhaps is fulfilling a life’s ambition to play a zombie!

It probably helps to appreciate this film if you are a boy aged between 12 and 16, enjoying the kind of bodily function jokes, sex anticipations, that are generally attributed to the imagination of boys of this age.

The cocktail waitress helps the boys in their various attempts to find the party, to report the apocalypse to the authorities, to save anybody they can.

Which means there that this is something of the tail end of a long resurgence of zombie stories on our screens, some slapstick and juvenile humour, with the touch of the rights of passage themes.

-* SIMSHAR

Malta, 2014, 101 minutes, Colour.
Lofti Adbelli, Jimi Busuttil, Sekouba Doucoure, Chrysander Agius, Adrian Farrugia. Clare Agius, Mark Mifsud.
Directed by Rebecca Cremona.

It is not often that we see a film from Malta. Many western films have sequences made there but not one that is made by the Maltese themselves. This is a topical story, a story of an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, on the route from Libya to Italy, to the not-so-distant island of Lampedusa. It is a story of refugees from Africa as well is a story of families and fishermen from Malta itself. Simshar is the name of a boat.

On the one hand, the film is principally about the Maltese themselves, their fishing livelihood, the impositions of bureaucracy, the challenges to fishermen to bypass the impositions, the role of the fishermen and their families, the work of doctors who are called on to help on the refugee ships, the role of the police and authorities.

The film introduces three younger middle-aged men who are friends. The principal friend is Simon, who works tuna fishing on the Simshar with his father (the man playing the father, Jimi Busuttil, is not a professional actor but an actual fishermen), has a loving wife and a mischievous young son, Theo. (Theo with his friends, sometimes dressed as altar boys ringing the church bells, is not above testing out whether a cat has nine lives and throwing it over the belltower.) Simon is visited by an officious bureaucrat, threatened about his catch, refrigeration, regulations and limitations – but decides to go out with his father and with Theo, going south beyond the boundaries towards Libya.

John is a police official, married and friends with Simon’s family. We see him in action when a refugee ship is caught in international disputes between Italy and Malta, sailing back and forth on the Mediterranean, in discussions with the captain and crew, and in discussions with Alex who comes as a doctor inspecting the health of the refugees and involved in the search and rescue helicopter operation.

Alex is a married, a doctor, going on to the refugee ship, examining a range of passengers including a pregnant woman whose husband has died but who does not want to go ashore because she is being supported by her brother who is not allowed to leave the boat. There is also a man suffering from dementia. The audience sees many sequences of the people on the boat, sitting listlessly, with hopes of getting ashore and refuge, clambering when there is an opportunity to leave the boat. There is also an African woman refugee who serves as a translator for Alex and who challenges him to behave more compassionately towards the refugees.

This means that there is a great deal in the plot to reveal something about Malta and the situation of so many refugees crossing the Mediterranean and drowning.

But the climax of the film is the focus on Simon, his father and his son, going beyond where people are expecting them to be, encountering difficulties, especially the disregard by a Libyan vessel captain who does not want to be caught up in rescuing people at sea. What makes this part of the film particularly moving is that on the boat with the family is an African man who is working in Malta, a hard-working and diligent man, who tries his best in the face of impending loss at sea.

The film was co-written and directed by Rebecca Cremona who has an eye for filming the islands and the seascapes beautifully and who brings a sensitive awareness of the complexity of situations for Malta itself at this time as well as for the local protagonists and their stories. Malta’s Oscar nominee for 2015.

-* SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE

US, 2015, 101 minutes, Colour.
Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Jason Mantzoukas, Margaret Odette, Amanda Peet Adam Scott, Natasha Lyonne Mark Blucas.
Directed by Leslye Headland.

The title is not particularly subtle and does indicate something of the theme of the film – though it underplays the most important part of the film, the difference between sexual activity and love.

This is in New York romantic comedy with a difference. It opens in 2002 on a college campus, an eccentric young woman, Lainey (she abhors being called Elaine) carrying on in a corridor, angry with the medical student with whom she wants to have sex. She is rescued by an onlooker, Jake, who takes her into his apartment, calms her down, they talk, and each, for the first time, has sex. They don’t see each other for another 12 years and then only by accident.

The bulk of the film takes place 12 years later. Lainey is still having an affair with the medical student who has now become an ultra-serious doctor, who has also become engaged. Lainey is still infatuated, bitterly disappointed, not handling things particularly well and her therapist advises her to go to a sex addicts’ meeting, a 12-step meeting. Jake, who now has a good job, has been inventive with his work, is a serial womaniser notices her. When they meet, they recognise each other, dwell on the memories.

What happens is not what we might expect in terms of their relationship – they continue acting according to the title of the film, but not with each other. Instead, they renew their friendship, which remains Platonic, deepening all the time, a genuine intimacy arising, their trusting each other, confiding in each other, relying on each other for their different personal crises.

The key to the film is this exploration of what this Platonic relationship means.

During this friendship, Lainey takes up with a businessman, thinking that this will be the solution – but he takes to her to a social where, who should be present but the doctor and his now pregnant wife. It is too much for her. In the meantime, Jake and his close friend, Xander, who has been married a long time to his wife, and they have a son, have been successful in business and have been bought out by Paula. Jake sits his sights on Paula. It seems to be a future, especially as he relates well to her son.

When Lainey goes interstate to study medicine, they both realise how much they miss each other, that they have genuinely fallen in love – and the challenges as to what are the consequences…

Alison Brie as Lainey and Jason Sudeikis as Jake convince us while they are on screen, especially in their living out the Platonic relationship.

The Lainey and Jake of 2002 could never believe that this is how they could be 12 years later – something which may make an impact on audiences in their 30s who may have gone through similar experiences and are being challenged to make decisions about their future lives.

To that extent, the film is something of a moral parable in an age of confused sexual morality and very frank expression of it.

-* SPECTRE

UK, 2015, 148 minutes, Colour.
Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, Naomie Harris, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista, Jesper Christensen.
Directed by Sam Mendes.

The on-screen James Bond is 53 years old, arriving in the form of Sean Connery in Dr No in 1962. Spectre is the 24th official James Bond film, though there have been some others including Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. And this is the fourth film with Daniel Craig who has proven himself a popular, if quite different, James Bond.

The previous film, Skyfall, made quite an impact on audiences and the box office. While it had the usual ingredients, it presented a more human James Bond, especially in his relationship with M, played in all the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films by Judi Dench. Audiences emotions were shaken and stirred by her death at the end of Skyfall – though we are all happy that she has a few moments video glimpses in Spectre. Ralph Fiennes was taking over at the end of Skyfall and is in command here, though not entirely in command because there are moves afoot to combine MI5 and MI6 and the MI6 building is in a state of collapse.

This is the background for the action of this film, fulfilling most of the expectations of the conventions of the James Bond film – but with some differences.

As so often, the opening is quite spectacular, filmed at The Day of the Dead in Mexico City, crowds, costumes and masks to represent the dead, elaborate processions, with Bond present, using a woman to get into a hotel but with operational intentions to listen to the group planning sabotage and to shoot the leaders. He is in some danger as the whole building almost collapses on him. The main assassin gets away and there is a pursuit through the procession, and in the helicopter which came to rescue the villain, soaring over the crowds and eventually crashing – but with Bond escaping.

M is not particularly pleased and stands Bond down. Bond does his tests with Q – Ben Whishaw taking over the role effectively and having much more to do in this film, as does Miss Moneypenny, Naomie Harris, helping Bond with research, with technology. The fly in the ointment, so to speak, is C, Andrew Scott, who is all for security and surveillance but not in favour of democracy and thinks the 00 division is out of date.

Bond, taking Q’s brand-new super-technology car, follows links to Rome, goes to the funeral of the deceased assassin, encounters his wife, Monica Bellucci. The tradition of the Bond girls is changed in this film, Bond relating only to the widow and to Madeleine, Lea Seydoux, the actual sexual encounter scenes quite truncated and brief.

Further action, in the Bond tradition of multi-locations, takes place in Austria, where he encounters Mr White from Casino Royale, tracks down his daughter, Madeleine, who grew up learning about Spectre, with the action then transferring to Morocco, to the desert with a spectacular fight on a train, the headquarters of the arch-villain, played by Christoph Waltz.

More explosions in Morocco and then a finale back home in London involving the collapse of the MI6 building, helicopter pursuit and crash on Westminster Bridge, and a moral dilemma for Bond himself as to how he will treat the arch-villain on the Bridge, with M beckoning on one side and Madeleine watching on the other.

We are given small family details about Bond and his growing up, which gives the film a more humane touch, as does Daniel Craig, especially in his relationship to Madeline, even though he is still adept at doing battle with enemies.

Audiences will all welcomed the final statement, which always appears, “James Bond Will return”.

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