January, 13th, 2017. Find below film reviews written by Peter Malone.
Monday 12 October 2015, by SIGNIS
US, 2015, 96 minutes, Colour.
Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, Topher Grace, Bill Pullman, Walter Goggins, Tony Hale, John Leguizamo.
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh.
Somebody in Hollywood may have made a bet that it would be impossible to write a screenplay for Jesse Eisenberg (always on edge and nerdy), when he would play an action hero. This could be the result of the bet - and everyone has their cake as well as eating it because Jesse Eisenberg plays a slacker-stoner as well as an action hero, all in one character!
Another famous use of the word ultra is by droog, Alex, the clockwork thug of A Clockwork Orange, indulging in a little bit of the “ultra-violence”. We may not think that this would be true of this film in the first part, but, once Eisenberg’s character, Mike, is seen like one of the killers elite, it is a bit full-on - amazing what he can do with a simple spoon as well as the technique of holding up a frying pan to deflect a bullet and its ricocheting into the attacker!
Michael lives in a small town in West Virginia, enjoys getting high, works at a store with specials on Monday (and is taking out on mon and putting intues for Tuesday). He lives with his stoner girlfriend, Phoebe, who works in a bail bond office, Phoebe, Kristin Stewart.
Then we are introduced to Langley, spy satellites, agents, program of mind altering and character ordering, placing sleepers in a community, taking mentally ill characters and transforming them into “assets”. When agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) comes to town to see Mike, so does her rival, Topher Grace, and his squad of agents and assets.
Poor Mike doesn’t know what is going on, finds he has no memories of his past, and wonders whether he is a robot. Even when the armed agents attack and Mike dispatches them, he is still bewildered, is taken to prison, handcuffed, in a cell with Phoebe only to discover that the whole town is sealed off and everyone is after him.
So, what begins as a slacker comedy, with poor Mike subject to panic attacks, even about getting on a plane to go to Hawaii with Phoebe, becomes a high-powered action show, to borrow a phrase from another series, “Kick-ass”.
Absurd and weird are two words that do come to mind as we watch all these goings on and the ultimately triumphant Mike and Phoebe, his kneeling to propose to her in the middle of all the chaos…
Mike also indulges in creating a graphic comic himself, the Astronaut Monkey (who appears in great detail during the final credits). So, what we have is a kind of pleasant backwoods story turning into a graphic novel and indulging in plenty of the conspiracy theories and activities.
US, 2015, 122 minutes, Colour.
Jonny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson, Bill Camp, Juno Temple.
Directed by Scott Cooper.
Anyone expecting the dramatisation of religious sacrilege or of demonic rituals will be quite disappointed. This is an urban crime story, a portrait of a ruthless gang leader and the role of the FBI. A Black Mass involves the worship of Satan – and this may serve as a metaphor for the central relationship of the film, and a deal with the devil, in the form of Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger of Boston and his school friend, John Connolly, an FBI agent, who makes a deal with Bulger to bring down the Italian Mafia in the city.
Many audiences will find that they are observing the characters and the action rather than becoming involved. While the central character is completely sinister and brutal, there is no identification with him – unless one is something of a psychopath. The film opens with one of his drivers being interrogated by the FBI and giving up information about his boss, so the audience knows that it is a portrait of a loathsome criminal, becoming even more loathsome as we see him as a personality and in action. Throughout the film, other members of his gang are interrogated by the FBI offering further information about him.
He is played by Johnny Depp, in almost the opposite extreme from his Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean. He looks older, pasty-faced, sometimes hooded eyes, bad teeth when he sometimes smiles, receding hairline, quietly spoken but intensely single-minded and ruthless. Joel Edgerton plays John Connolly, a more complex character, who had grown up with the Bulger brothers in South Boston, Irish background, antagonistic towards the Italians, and determined to bring down the Italian Mafia. His deal but the devil, with Bulger, is getting information for the FBI about the Italians from Bulger himself, while protecting him in his empire building.
Actually, Bulger had spent 10 years in prison before the film opens but has a group of reliable henchman around him, gets rid of those he considers disloyal, and is involved in all kinds of rackets, drug-dealing, extortion. He ruled in Boston from 1975 to 1995.
Also in the picture is Bulger’s younger brother, Billy Bulger, who is a Massachusetts Senator – and a strange piece of casting with Benedict Cumberbatch as Billy Bulger, who has an ambiguous attitude towards his brother. Also in the picture is Kevin Bacon as the officer in charge of the FBI in Boston who becomes impatient when Bulger doesn’t supply sufficient information for attacks on the Italian Mafia.
For a moment, we think that Bulger might be a nice kind of person underneath as he is very kind to an old lady in the neighbourhood but this is soon dispelled. His child develops a fever, illness taken to hospital, put on life support which his partner wants to switch off but elicits an eruption of anger from Bulger who cannot bear to think of his dead child.
For those who have seen films like The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s film about racketeers in Boston and undercover agents (on both sides), a lot of the action will seem familiar. There are visits to Florida, business deals which go sour and end in murders, minor vicious criminals, like one played by Peter Sarsgaard, who is brutally murdered on screen. There is a good cameo by Juno Temple as a young prostitute, sure that she has not yet given any information to the police, but nevertheless to be got rid of.
This couldn’t last. Dissatisfied henchman are prepared to open up to the FBI. A new, straight-down-the-line FBI head, played by Corey Stoll, comes to Boston and targets John Connolly as well as Bulger.
There is a lot of detail in the film, performances, crisp dialogue, action sequences that are worthwhile – but, on the whole, we are observing rather than becoming involved.
Australia, 2015, 95 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Ryan Kwanten, Robin McLeavey, Richard Roxburgh, Deborah Mailman, Barry Humphries, Tony Collette, David Wenham, Rufus Sewell, Barry Otto.
Directed by Deane Taylor, Noel Cleary.
It was interesting to realise that Blinky Bill sprang into life as early as 1933. Illustrator of the first book, New Zealand born Dorothy Wall, continued to write Blinky Bill stories into the 1940s. Bill has also had a life on various television series and a feature film in 1992, produced by top animator, Yoram Gross. Nothing like Wikipedia to furnish a few details like the fact that Bill appeared on a stamp in 1985 – and, with the permission of the Wall estate, Blinky Bill is the official mascot of the Republican Movement.
Bill and his family and friends have been stable entertainment for youngsters and his new animation film is designed especially for the littlies. Littlies who have grown up a little may still have fond memories and so enjoy this film as well. And well-meaning parents, especially taking young children to see the film, will probably enjoy it as well.
The animation repeats the illustrations of the earlier times, a recognisable Blinky, his mother and father, his friend Nutsy, all the inhabitants of Greenpatch and more besides.
The children will enjoy the voices, and adults, especially if they recognise the voices as they watch the characters, double enjoyment. Popular star, Ryan Kwanten, voices Bill. And Richard Roxburgh and Deborah Mailman the voices of mum and dad. The large wombat with trousers at half mast is Barry Humphries. The villain of Greenpatch, the goanna Cranklepot is Barry Otto. The principal villain is the feral cat, a British immigrant, Sir Cedric, is voiced by Rufus Sewell. And, as Bill and Nutsy (Robin McLeavey) go to rescue Bill’s Dad, they are accompanied by a very Australian-accented lizard, David Wenham, and, very amusingly, two emus, Cheryl and Beryl, both voiced by Toni Collette as if the two emus were auditioning for roles in Kath and Kim.
There is an open cricket match with two kookaburras commenting, one sounding like Richie Benaud (and the sequence is dedicated to him in the least cricketer, Phillip Hughes). All live happily in Greenpatch, but then decides to go on a quest and doesn’t return for a year, with Cranklepot taking over, so that Bill decides to go to find his Dad. He discovers roads, trucks, advertisements for tea which he thinks thinking that they are real. Defines a supermarket, aisles, sweets… And fights with Sir Cedric. Finds a caged koala, Nazi who accompanies him through the desert, encountering dangers, giant crocodiles, he is finally trapped in the zoo where, of course, he finds his Dad. Mum is in pursuit with Wombo and Cheryl and Beryl.
It Is a blend of adventures, not too scary, even with the evil cat, lots of very Australian comic touches, a little bit of romance, and a happy ending.
Blinky Bill still lives.
BRIDGE OF SPIES
US, 2015, 135 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Peter McRobbie, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons, Sebastien Koch.
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Here is a film that will satisfy an audience looking for intelligent and interesting entertainment. It takes us back to the late 1950s, the period of the Cold War, the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
It has been directed by Steven Spielberg. 2015 sees the 40th anniversary of his classic, Jaws. While Spielberg is universally remembered for the broadly popular films like the Indiana Jones series, ET, Jurassic Park, he won an Oscar in 1993 for his very serious film, Schindler’s List. Since then he has made a number of dramas for adult audiences including Saving Private Ryan and, more recently, Lincoln.
Many of his films have a distinctly patriotic American tone as does Bridge of Spies. But it is not jingoistic. Rather, there is a deep humanism and respect underlying Spielberg’s films. And, in this film, he is aided by the presence of Tom Hanks who over the years has become something of an icon of an American character who is motivated by a sense of decency.
The film sets its scene by the introduction of a spy, Abel, played with car calm self-possession by British actor, Mark Rylance. He is a loner, a loyal Russian, a painter, adept at eluding followers, shrewd in his way of communicating messages – but the FBI are aware of him and take him in. While the American authorities and public opinion want him condemned, even executed, they think that there should be a show of American justice and Jim Donovan, Hanks, an insurance lawyer who had been present at the Nuremburg prosecutions, is the person to defend him.
When Jim Donovan meets Abel, he offers him a proper defence, discusses the situation, suggests to listeners, and to his upset family, that Abel is not a traitor but a loyal soldier to his cause. Nevertheless, the presiding judge does not see it that way and, very quickly, Abel is found guilty.
But one of the points of the film is that with growing espionage during the 1950s, if the Soviet Union interrogates a captured American spy, there will be a parallel condemnation. Donovan makes the case for a prison sentence so that a Russian spy could be available when the Americans are in need for an exchange.
Older audiences may remember the Francis Gary Powers case where an American air force man flying photography missions over Soviet space is shot down, captured and interrogated. The Americans don’t want Powers giving information to the Soviets and the Soviets don’t want Abel giving information to the Americans. An exchange of Spies becomes an important factor in American-Soviet relations, especially under the CIA leadership of Alan Dulles.
All this makes the first part of the film very interesting, an exploration of American values at the time, given the context of paranoia about possible nuclear terror attacks, children being indoctrinated at school, becoming afraid at home, and the way of coping with the bomb, Duck and Cover.
The latter part of the film finds Jim Donovan asked by Dulles to negotiate the exchange, but without any authority from the American government. He goes to Berlin, warned about East Germany and its totalitarian regime, and Berlin as a divided city. This is the period of the building of the Berlin Wall and the film shows this in some detail as well is the case of an American student who wants to bring his girlfriend and her professor father from the East into West Berlin but is captured and interned.
There is a great deal of suspense, and some very good dialogue as Donovan has to meet with the Soviet authorities, the head of the KGB in Eastern Europe, with an East German lawyer and an East German official, trying diplomatic shrewdness in order to achieve the exchange. Donovan includes the freeing of the young student as well as Powers.
The film is continually interesting, especially for those who remember some of these years and this history. Perhaps audiences not so familiar with this era may find it something of a history lesson – but that is not a bad thing.
Steven Spielberg will soon be 70 with many years of filmmaking ahead of him, a very good thing in light of his success with Bridge of Spies.
Australia, 2015, 94 minutes, Colour.
Sullivan Stapleton, Alex Russell, Jessica de Gouw, Kerry Walker.
Directed by Tony Ayres.
Cut Snake is a psychological crime thriller, opening in New South Wales but most of the action taking place in Victoria. It was directed by Tony Ayres, who directed a number of interesting films including the semi-autobiographical Home Song Stories and the film on homosexuality, Walking on Water. In later times, he has worked on television, especially in production and direction of The Slap.
The initial focus of the film is an ex-convict, Jimmy (Sullivan Stapleton), nickname Pommy, walking along the streets, hitching a ride, trying to track down a friend from prison days, visiting friend’s mother, getting the address, finding his friend, Merv, working in a factory. At first, it just seems to be making re-acquaintance – but there is a certain look and expression on Jimmy’s face.
In the meantime, Merv (Alex Russell), has settled down after his prison sentence, working in a factory, engaged to an attractive young woman, Paula (Jessica De Gouw). At which stage, audiences become wary of Jimmy and his presence in the house, seemingly friendly, doing the washing up, yet with something of a sense of menace.
Which seems to be a catalyst for some kind of action is the fact that Paula and her friend, Yvonne, take Merv and Jimmy to a club, with performances by drag queens, which seems to upset Jimmy. In fact, he still has robberies on his mind and really wants Merv to take part in the jobs.
While there is some activity, especially some bashings, and Merv, losing his cool as a reformed X-prisoner, indulges in the brutality, the film becomes more of a psychological drama, the conflict escalating between Jimmy and Merv, Paula learning more about her fiance’s past which, of course, upsets her.
As might be expected, there is a buildup to a showdown, the crisis between Merv and Paula and her shock and his taste and whether it will be resolved, and how will Jimmy fare in his persuading Merv to go on a job with the but also to continue a relationship that began in prison.
This kind of psychological interaction, with crime background, always has some interest but, on the whole, this is something of an average entertainment.
US, 2015, 121 minutes, Colour.
Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, Jake Gylenhaal, John Hawkes, Ciaran Knightley, Martin Henderson, Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Debicki, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Ingvar Eggert Baltasarsson.
Directed by Baltazar Komakur.
One of the questions this film raises is, of course, why would people want to put themselves in such danger and such physical exertion, demands on mental stability, to climb Mount Everest. The screenplay does mention the obvious ones, because it’s there, and because someone can. But that is not enough to explain the exertions of Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing in 1953, the success of individuals and groups who have worked their way to the summit, and the guided climbs of the 1990s – of which this true story is one.
Sources for the film include a book by journalist John Krakauer, Into Thin Area, which became a television film in 1997, Into Thin Air: Death on Everest. Krakauer himself did reach the top as he observed those were climbing, those were guiding, those who were the supports both on the mountain and at base camp. Another source is by Beck Weathers, Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest. Preparatory filming was done in the Himalayas some years before production and photography in the Alps supplied for snow, ice and avalanche sequences.
Interestingly, the director, Baltazar Kormakur, is a native of Iceland.
Rob Hall, a New Zealander, had a company in the 1990s which arranged for clients to go to the summit. Here, he is played by Jason Clarke, a sympathetic guide, concerned about individuals and groups going up the mountain, in contact with his pregnant wife (Keira Knightley with a Kiwi accent). There are some glimpses of his American counterpart, Scott Fischer, played by Jake Gylenhaal, rather devil-may-care climber, with his support team who shunned the use of oxygen high up.
The audience leaves New Zealand with Hall and with Helen Winton, the person in charge for the base camp, played by Emily Watson, something of a strange experience hearing her also speaking with the New Zealand accent. She is the mother-figure at base camp, sympathetic but also resourceful.
Then the audience arrives in Nepal with the group, travels through the countryside, reaches the Himalayas, goes across gorges on precipitous bridges, arrives at base camp, where they relax, prepare psychologically and physically, with the help of the company doctor, Elizabeth Debicki.
Hall’s group includes a Texan, Beck Weathers, played by Josh Brolin, seemingly full of confidence, but prone to depression which disappears when he is climbing mountains. He keeps in touch with his wife (Robin Wright) and his children back home. Then there is Doug (John Hawkes), a postman who has made several attempts and has promised the children in his home town that he, just an ordinary man, will plant a flag on the summit. There is a Japanese climber, a woman who has succeeded on six challenging peaks, Everest being her seventh. Amongst the support group are Sam Worthington and Martin Henderson.
The film presents the Himalayas in all their beauty, their ruggedness, not underestimating in any way the physical and psychological challenge, the realities of some people dropping out, unable to continue, and some reaching the top, almost exhausted, planting a flag, being photographed, a lifetime achievement no matter what happens afterwards.
Perhaps there are too many characters to deal with within the running time, and the film spreads itself amongst all, But, the focus is on Hall, Fischer, Weathers and Doug, Helen and the support team.
Maybe there are a couple in the audience who would be so moved by watching this vigorous film that they would opt for a trip to Everest – but most of us will appreciate seeing this visualising of the story, its achievement as well is its tragedy, will be quite willing to stay home.
FORCE OF DESTINY
Australia, 2015, 109 minutes, Colour.
David Wenham, Shahana Goswami, Jacqueline McKenzie, Hannah Friedricksen, Terry Norris, Genevieve Picot, Kim Gyngell, Deidre Rubenstein.
Directed by Paul Cox.
Paul Cox is one of Australia’s most celebrated film directors. He has been making films since the 1960s, quite prolific, sometimes a film each year, working on small budgets – but a man who was often cranky, critical of the government, eccentric in his presentation of his stories, yet provocative and evocative storyteller nonetheless, an explorer of human nature.
Some years ago, Paul Cox was diagnosed with liver cancer and given a short time to live. However, he was approved to be placed on a donor list, and ready for the possibility of a transplant if a liver became available. In fact, a liver did become available and Cox experienced the transplant, resuming his career but devoting much of it to appreciation of what had happened to him and an appeal to the general public to be organ donors.
This is his fictional story.
The central character, Paul Cox’s alter ego, is a sculptor called Robert, played with his usual strength and charm by David Wenham. Wenham is younger in age than Cox was at the time of his illness. Cox has always been interested in a variety of arts as well as his cinema work and this is evident in this film, not only in Robert’s sculpting work and the camera’s eye for detail about his work and exhibition, but also introducing a great deal of music, and also dance.
The other central character in the story is an Indian woman, Maya, Shahana Goswami, an attractive personality, who is introduced to Robert and they become friends. Robert has been married but is separated from his wife, Hannah, Jacqueline McKenzie, and they have a daughter who is devoted to him, Poppy, Hannah Friedrichsen. These characters move in and out of Robert’s life, his ex-wife wanting to be a support but his finding her sometimes intrusive, but he always has time for his loving daughter. The friendship with Maya increases, her taking him to a concert, experiencing Indian songs and dancing, the visit to her dying uncle, a wise figure in her life, and her returning to India at the time of his death.
The friendship moves into love and sexual companionship, especially important for Robert as he thinks he is about to die.
Other characters, in Cox fashion, include cameos from longtime friends including Kim Gyngell as a doctor, Terry Norris as Robert’s father, Deidre Rubenstein as a gallery director.
Most of Cox’s films are also characterised by a particular visual style, the inclusion of home movie material, sometimes blurred in movement, but challenging the audience to think about the characters in a different way – and there is quite a deal of footage like this in this film.
The audience knows that ultimately there is happy ending, that Robert will receive a transplant and that it will be successful, as happened to Cox and his experience in making this film. The writing, Robert’s voice-over reflections, and empathy with Robert and his situation, mean that the audience identifies with the character and the situation, sharing it, its alarm, its psychological and physical pain, the emotional repercussions, the need for independence yet the sometimes desperate in the for support.
On interest in itself and its theme of organ donation, it is, of course, a must for those who have been following Paul Cox’s life and career.
GIRLHOOD/ BANDE DES FILLES
France, 2014, 113 minutes, Colour.
Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Idriss Diabate, Djibril Gueye.
Directed by Celine Sciamma.
Director’s Celine Sciamma has made a number of interesting films with female themes, Water Lilies and Tomboy. She continues with this film, somewhat more ambitious than her previous films, a wider scope.
The setting is France, the outer rim of Paris, the neighbourhood with many migrants, especially from Africa. Most of the girls in the film are black with this background. The central character is first seen playing football in the mud, audiences probably expecting to see boys, but the girls are celebrating their play and their victory, then walking home through the housing estate.
The principal focus is on the teenage girl, Marieme (Karidja Toure). She seems an agreeable young girl, but audiences will begin to understand the complexity of her life, at home with younger sisters, caring for a little one, bonding with the other, but generally intimidated by their brother and his strict injunctions. Marieme wants to go to high school but is already repeating a year and the careers’ adviser suggests she go to a training school rather than high school.
But, it is the summer vacation, Marieme decides to join with a group of girls, mixing with the boys, but she is really attracted to a young man, Ismael.
After some severity from her brother, Marieme is sitting alone in a restaurant and is approached by a local leader, Abou, who invites her to become one of his girls. At first reluctant, she decides to accept his invitation, packs up and leaves home. Abou is involved in local crime, especially drugs, and uses Marieme as a deliverer, bright red dress, white wig, moving sleekly among younger society and doing her job. However, she still values some independence and when Abou tries to kiss her, she reacts hostilely and decides to leave.
And, of course, this is where the film ends, leaving her future open. Audiences have got to know her but will continue wondering about what will happen, hoping for the best for her. But, in this kind of world…
THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL
US, 2015, 103 minutes, Colour.
Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgaard, Christopher Meloni, Abby Wait, Madeleine Waters.
Directed by Marielle Heller.
Despite publicity highlighting comic aspects of this story, it is a rather depressing film to watch. There are many films where the central characters go down into their depths, experiencing the worst and their accepting the fact that there is some need for change and for redemption. In this case, this is the journey down of 15-year-old girl.
The setting is post-hippie San Francisco in 1976. There is a permissive atmosphere around in the adult generation and also to be found in the teenage generation. British actress, Bel Powley (Princess Margaret in A Royal Night Out), plays the teenage girl of the title, Minnie, who announces right at the beginning of the film with some glee that she has just had sex. Then back we go as she tells the story – and then again to her present situation, her emotional tangles, her relationship with her mother and sister, her moral recklessness.
Minnie comes across as very strongly self-willed. However, she keeps communicating that she has a very low self-image, a poor bodily image of herself (which she does her best to rectify), feels that she is loved, and feels the need for some kind of touch, bodily contact, to prove to her that she exists and has some worth.
The target of her sexual sights is the boyfriend of her mother, whose husband has walked out on her and who is let herself go – played rather quietly by Kristin Wiig. The boyfriend, Monroe, is something of a slacker though he has commercial ambitions. He responds to Minnie sexual proposal and then continues the relationship, realising after a while that she has been seductive and manipulating him.
In the meantime, she has begun a diary, recorded diary as she talks into a tape recorder, feeling the need to confide in someone or something, speaking out her desires, her experiences, her exhilaration – something which she also shares on the phone with her best friend.
The film traces the changes in Minnie’s character and perspective, the effect of the affair and its being prolonged, her desires which at some moments are insatiable, her response to a young student and sexual exploitation of him, as he of her. Throughout the film there are a number of sketches and animated sequences because one of Minnie’s skills is sketching. After the relationship with the student, there is an animated version of the giant Minnie, stomping through the city, the boy in her hand and her just throwing him away. With her best friend, as well as a drug addicted girl who comes on to her, Minnie, may be just 16, but pretending at one stage to be a prostitute, indulges in some gross sexual behaviour – which, she ultimately regrets.
Ultimately, this is a film with some kind of hope, in her beginning to realise what she has done, the effect she has had on others, and some realisation that she has to have some love for herself, some kind basis for others to love her.
The setting is 1976 but, with social media and a selfie culture and instant rapid communication amongst teenagers in these times, the film could have contemporary setting. But, with the contemporary setting, the character of Monroe could be charged with sex abuse and sexual relationships with a minor. Many things have changed, but many things have not.
US, 2015, 110 minutes, Colour.
Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Anders Holm, JoJo Kushner.
Directed by Nancy Meyers.
That was the thought continually coming up while watching this very nice film. If only life were a little more pleasant and like the characters and situations in this film, not that everything is perfect, but there is a great wish as well as efforts that life could be as perfect as possible.
One hopes that a younger audience will enjoy it, identifying with the charming Anne Hathaway as well as the young men who work in her company, an online fashion sales company, A Good Fit, that she founded and has prospered enormously in 18 months. Plenty to encourage enterprise in the younger generation.
But, this is a film mainly for the over 60s and, especially, the 70s and over. It is optimistic towards the older generation, wants to offer them possibilities for creative retirement, shows how they can draw on experience, and contribute on a business level and, especially, on a personal level at this stage of their lives.
Robert De Niro as Ben Whitaker has never been more genial, showing a good sense of humour as well as indicating that under the at times stern exterior, there is a heart of, as he says, mush! He explains himself, aged 70, widower after more than 40 years of marriage, having the taken all the opportunities for travel, sport and golf, new languages, hobbies, still has a great deal of energy and wants to fill that hole in his life. He also finds himself going to a lot of funerals. He notices an advertisement for senior interns, makes a video interview and is accepted.
Anne Hathaway portrays Jules Ostin, who had been very enterprising and started from scratch this online company, something of a workaholic, not remembering that she had approved the Seniors experiment and finding herself allotted Ben in order to be example for the rest of the company. Initially, she is not impressed.
There is quite a deal of plot: at the company, especially with Jules wondering whether she should employ a CEO because she is flat out with the work and it is having a toll on her health. We discover that she is married and has a little daughter of school age. She doesn’t give Ben much to do. The audience can enjoy the range of characters working around the office and Ben’s finding that the company’s massage expert, played by Renée Rosso, is a most congenial friend.
We know that there is going to be a rapport between Jules and Ben but we don’t quite know how. As the screenplay gradually breaks down something of the barriers, there is a lot of interesting, mostly genial, sometimes humorous interchanges between the two. And Ben is welcome in the house, bonding well with the little daughter (though with her dictating car routes, he realises that she is something of a clone!), and befriending the father who is the home carer.
There is a family plot development that we didn’t quite see coming – but that is nature of this kind of plot development. It means that Jules has to open herself up more personally to Ben and he serves as a kindly guide and wisdom figure.
There are also some episodes which are added to the plot, often enjoyably, especially with a special mission led by Ben with his co-workers trying to break into Jules’s mother’s house to delete an email that Jules has sent her by mistake, an entertaining split-timing episode.
The film does have a great deal to say about the place of women in society, in business, with opportunities, as well as opportunities for the older generation, men and women.
As has been suggested, the screenplay, by Nancy Meyers, is nicely optimistic, even in troubles and challenges – and only one expletive to be heard and a written suggestion of one and hardly a situation where an expletive would be required.
Nice entertainment. If only…
LEARNING TO DRIVE
US, 2014, 91 minutes, Colour.
Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Grace Gummer, Sarita Choudhury, Jake Weber, Matt Salinger.
Directed by Isabel Coixet.
Perhaps before we even go into see the film, but certainly after the initial sequences, we are in no doubt as to the meaning of the title and its metaphor and its meaning. While Wendy, Patricia Clarkson, does take driving lessons under the guidance of Darwan, Ben Kingsley, Wendy is not just trained how to manage a car, but is being guided as to how to reflect on her life and change its meaning. And the same is true of Darwan’s life, although he seems in command, but has to deal with personal relationships.
This is the kind of film that is popular with older audiences, who can identify with the characters and their situations, may share some of their experiences, and want to see how they deal with them – and with some hope.
It is at this point that it is probably best to introduce the word ‘raunchy’, because many audiences attracted by the film and the publicity may think that this will be an enjoyable PG portrait of adult characters. and, by and large it is. Just a warning for the unsuspecting that there is some raunchy verbal humour as well as a sex scene that might be more explicit than they are anticipating.
That said, there is much to commend the film to its target audience.
Patricia Clarkson, over the years, has given some very fine performances, able to bring to life on screen a middle-aged woman, life problems, emotional tensions. She appeared in a somewhat similar-themed film some years earlier, Cairo Time. This time she comes on screen full-blast, her husband of 21 years having just announced in public that he is leaving her. She is shocked, emotionally devastated, and going through a desperate tantrum in a cab on the way home, being driven by Darwan who has two jobs, one as a driving instructor during the day, the other as a New York cab driver at night.
Wendy has a daughter, played by Grace Gummer (one of Meryl Streep’s actress daughters) whom she is putting through college and who is working on the land in Vermont. Wendy goes into depression, wants her husband to return, finds that he has proceeded with separation papers, comes to collect his books and she finds that she is ousted from her own house and has to find somewhere else to live. She would like to go to visit her daughter but has never found the time or the will to learn to drive. She has, upset, left a manuscript (she is a writer and reviewer of books) in Darwan’s cab and he courteously returns it.
As expected, she contacts him to take driving lessons.
We would all we should all be so lucky to have such a competent, calm, focused driving instructor like Ddarwan. Ben Kingsley has gone back to his roots, his Indian roots. Darwan is a Sikh, our Prof, imprisoned in India, accepted as a refugee in the United States, a calm man, a man of principle, training Wendy to be calm, conscious of the rules of the road, focused and not committing to distractions. She is prone to distraction, and it is no surprise that she has a crash, fails her first test.
The film also shows a lot of Darwan’s background, his living in digs with quite a number of Indian workers, not always possessing papers as we see when they are rounded up. He cares for his nephew, while his nephew’s mother, Darwan’s sister, is busy trying to arrange a marriage. His prospective wife arrives in New York City, Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), a middle-aged woman who cannot read, does not speak much English, is fearful of going out, and is not a good cook. There is a beautiful ceremony in the Sikh tradition but then comes the hardships of daily life.
So, Wendy has to learn how to cope with her new life, without her husband, taken unwillingly on a double date by her sister (and going home with the prospective husband), but learning a great deal from Darwan and quietly discussing the meaning of his marriage with him so that he might do something positive to encourage Jasleen.
Well, the metaphor is obvious – but, nonetheless, it is interesting and entertaining to see how it works out.
UK, 2015, 131 minutes, Colour.
Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Paul Bettany, Taron Egerton, Christopher Eccleston, David Thewlis, Colin Morgan, Aneurin Barnard, Tara Fitzgerald, Kevin McNally, Chaz Palminteri, Sam Spruell.
Directed by Brian Helgeland.
Interesting that the title for this film about the infamous Kray brothers settles for “legend”. It has been said in the past that Americans making gangster films, Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather series, Martin Scorsese for Goodfellas, go beyond legend into the area of “myth”, not just a history of the exploits of these gangsters but creating tales that, while not necessarily glorifying them, puts them on some kind of higher plane.
During Legend, the characters have quite a number of cups of tea. Frances, Reggie Kray’s wife, does the voice-over commentary, a means for getting the audience to identify with her and her perspective on the Krays. It is she who makes the comments about locals always relying on a cup of tea to solve everything. So, it might be said, that the Krays were very cup of tea gangsters and so, the stuff of legend rather than myth.
It is half a century since the Kray brothers dominated London, from the East End where they grew up and began their criminal activities (while being very kind and neighbourly, with pleasant words and donations to the locals), getting money from protection extortion, trying to go somewhat legitimate by having clever accountants work for them, buying up clubs, sponsoring gambling, going more up-market as time went on, attracting a great number of celebrities who traded on the reputation of the Krays. They became gangster celebrities in their own world and a little beyond (the Mafia becoming interested in them with London as a possible English Las Vegas but a bit bewildered by the British style, less flamboyant than Italian gangsters, their heightened self-image and their families and mamas).
There was a film, The Krays, in 1990 with the twins, Gary and Martin Kemp in the central roles, but with a very strong focus on their mother, Violet, played by Billie Whitelaw. While Violet does appear briefly in this film, especially providing cups of tea and plates of cake, the focus is definitely on the twin brothers. And the key arresting aspect is Tom Hardy, always an excellent actor, who plays both brothers. We recognise him as he plays Reggie Kray, the brains behind the duo, the leader, decision-maker. It is far more difficult to recognise him as Ronnie Kray, different head, chubby face, spectacles, and a certified psychopath. Hardy gives two tour-de-force performances.
The London 1966 world is well recreated, streets and facades of old homes, local shops, restaurants and, then, the clubs. There is quite a range of songs from the period, strongly reinforcing the atmosphere.
The film traces the career of the Krays, their self-image, their ambitions, their being in love with the idea of the gangster, putting it into practice in their rather limited world, building up a group of thugs around them, moving somewhat into the big time, even with political connections. Yet, Reggie agreeably goes to jail for six months, they indulge in intimidation of witnesses in court cases, and Reggie sees himself as just another character, or rather a dominating character, around the East End.
Ronnie, on the other hand, finds himself very early in a mental institution, his brother intimidating a psychiatrist, who privately acknowledges Ronnie’s madness, to declare him fit for release – surviving as long as he takes his tablets. The other complication is that Ronnie is unembarrassedly homosexual, two young men always in tow, wanting to build a village in Nigeria for helping the locals, trying to get political endorsement and finance but only linking himself with Lord Boothby and homosexual orgies. This is brought to the attention of Harold Wilson, trying to deal with scandals and political motivations before an election.
And, in the meantime, Scotland Yard tails Reggie Kray who chats with them, offers the officers cups of tea, taunts them. Inspector Read is played with single-minded determination by Christopher Eccleston.
As has been mentioned, the voice-over is by Frances, Emily Browning. Her brother works for the Kray, she marries him, but fails in her ambitions to reform him and she takes an overdose.
For those who do not know the ending, they might expect gangsters to go out in a blaze of the ending gun glory, something like the American gangsters. On the contrary, Ronnie after an attempted murder is confined to a psychiatric institution for almost three decades. Reggie Kray, after a brutal murder, spends more than thirty years in prison. But, they caught the British imagination, and here they are still living as cinema legends.
UK, 2015, 113 minutes, Colour.
Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris, David Thewlils, Paddy Considine, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Raynor, David Hayman.
Directed by Justin Kurtzell.
When there is a theatrical production of Macbeth, the cast and staff usually have a tradition/superstition of not mentioning the play by name. Rather, they call it “the Scottish Play”.
The Scottish aspect of this film version, directed by Australian Justin Kurtzell, is very much to the fore. For a start, most of the actors speak with the Scottish accent, or a Scottish burr, which doesn’t make it necessarily easier to understand for the wider audience – but it does give it that feel of authenticity. There is even more authenticity in the locations where the film was made, the Scottish Highlands, the mountains and crags, the rather desolate looking plains, primitive-looking dwellings and church, a large castle, and some scenes by the sea. It is, to say the least, very atmospheric.
Irish actor, Michael Fassbender, is a physically imposing Macbeth, seen early in the film in full battle mode, wielding his broad sword. But he is a man of intense complications, sometimes pausing before lines, within lines, thinking, reflecting, even brooding. He is certainly influenced by the three witches who are not terrifying hags but rather ordinary looking women, one with a child standing by her, the other holding a baby – who reappear at crucial times, especially in the finale, when their prophecy that Macbeth will be killed by someone who is not human born and Macduff’s premature s birth is explained to him - they stand and then walk away, to do some prophesying elsewhere.
This means that we are constantly re-assessing Macbeth, perceiving his ambitions, the influence of Lady Macbeth (even with sexual impetus and persuasion), the truly bloodthirsty killing and repeated stabbings of Duncan, Macbeth’s hypocritical pretences after the murder, and his mental deterioration, especially at the banquet scene, and seeing Banquo’s ghost. His madness and cruelty assert themselves, especially with the alarming murder of Lady Macduff and her children, tied to the stake to be burnt. With Lady Macbeth’s death, his soliloquy, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow is delivered so quietly, almost with a whisper, and deep interiority.
Audiences may well be surprised at the interpretation of Birnam Wood’s coming to Dunsinane and not in the way that has been traditionally presented but this time in apocalyptic fire. This certainly gives a dramatic turn to the finale, the confrontation and fight with Macduff, the arrival of Malcolm through the flames – and Macbeth still kneeling, dead, on the battlefield.
It is surprising to see French Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, ruthless in a more subtle way, more feminine than is usual (rather than her cry of “unsex me”). She is very much complicit in the murders, devoted to her husband, but having to take control when Macbeth appears more and more berserk at the banquet. Her final soliloquy is very impressive, all in close up, the camera not moving to her hands and her awareness of the blood on them.
Veteran British character actors are in support: Duncan, David Thewliss, Banquo, Paddy Considine, and a very effective Sean Harris as Macduff.
The text has been significantly abridged, the film running under two hours, and there is no Porter’s scene, for instance. Rather, this adaptation focuses on Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Macduff and the restoration of the damaged kingdom under Malcolm. There are many vistas of the bleak Scottish landscapes, but a great deal of the drama is communicated by intense close-ups, individuals, two people speaking to one another. Mostly it is dark but there are some surprising sequences in the light.
There are complaints when the film is re-made, many critics comment on the value of the original (even when it is decades since they have seen it). With Shakespeare’s plays, audiences do not worry about having seen many versions, learning something different from each, enjoying making comparisons. This version is a significant contribution to the impact of Shakespeare’s tragedies and of the Scottish play.
US, 2015, 141 minutes, Colour.
Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover.
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Most audiences will find The Martian very interesting and, with its blend of serious and comic touches, satisfying entertainment.
It is based on a novel by Andy Wier and the screenwriter, Drew Goddard, best known for a number of television series (Lost, Alias, Buffy), offers a very intelligent interpretation of the material, the work of NASA, space exploration, the possibilities for assessment of Mars, space technology, travel, and responding to crises.
Every reviewer has already said it but it is worth noting the impact that Gravity had several years ago and the impact of Interstellar. Interstellar was futuristic and took us into the exploration of what might be and its scientific implications as well as its transcendent cosmological implications. Gravity had a small focus, Sandra Bullock as an astronaut trying to deal with malfunction for survival, inviting the audience to share a dangerous and heroic space experience.
There was some sense of realism in Gravity, but the sense of realism, even naturalism, is the strength of The Martian. It is written and it is all presented as if this could be happening right now and in this way. There was something mythic about Interstellar and Gravity. This is realism that audiences can identify with, certainly the vastness of space and the enormous distances through space, the role of Mars in our consciousness, the skills and work of astronauts and their coping with crises. The dialogue is realistic, lots of (or not quite appropriately phrased) down-to-earth language, including some earthy expletives, and a background of popular songs including Starman by David Bowie, Abba’is Waterloo and, in part of the final credits, very appropriately, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
British Ridley Scott has been making films for almost four decades, with one of his earliest films being the space drama with touches of horror, Alien. He has had an interest in the future, Blade Runner as well as returning to science-fiction-fantasy with Prometheus (and the promise of a further Prometheus episode). This time, his material and treatment is much more assured, consistent, audience-friendly as well as audience-challenging.
We all have some idea of what Mars could look like, the red planet. Jordan was chosen as one of the locations for Martian-like scenery. As the film opens, a team is collecting samples when, suddenly, an enormous storm looms up and the decision has to be made to return to earth. Botanist, Mark Watney, is knocked over by debris and thought to be dead. The team, with great reluctance, leaves Mars and returns to Earth. Mark is not dead and is faced with the options of succumbing and dying or to find ways of surviving and even communicating. (Memories of Robinson Crusoe, Cast Away - and even the 1960s Robinson Crusoe on Mars.)
Matt Damon is completely at home in the role, is always popular with audiences, and this serves him very well in getting audience sympathy and understanding as he confides to his in-space-suit camera and to cameras within the centre, how he is dealing with a stranded situation.
Two things to note. The film is highly optimistic in its perspective: that it is possible for the astronaut to survive for a long time, using his intelligence and wits, drawing on skills in improvising; and, secondly, that science is most important for survival. Advocates for the study of science will find this film a huge morale-booster and those who are not skilled in science will find that they have a greater appreciation of the need for scientific knowledge, investigation, and collaboration between nations (and collaboration with Chinese experts in this film is topical for the relationship between the US and China).
The film is quite long and great deal of it is devoted to Mark’s survival, saving machinery, making oxygen, sowing potatoes and using tarpaulins and engines to produce moisture, getting space vehicles going in order to rendezvous with the next Mars mission in several years time.
The film also has many sequences on earth, with the different NASA officials dealing with the situation, how much the public should be told, even whether to tell the homecoming astronauts of Mark’s survival, but all the time using expertise and lateral thinking to make communication with Mark, to find ways of landing supplies, of an ultimate rescue.
Everything does not go according to plan (although Mark is lucky not to have any major health and medical problems during his stay on Mars), there are some crises, differences of opinion between the experts, some individual decisions with touches of rebellion, and the use of common sense, practical expertise and deep knowledge.
On earth, the authorities include Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, Chiwitel Ejiofor as the supervisor for the missions, Sean Bean as an expert, Kristen Wiig (moving to more serious roles lately although she stands out more in comedies). Jessica Chastain is the commander on the returning spaceship.
Because the film seems so topical, contemporary realistic, it does not come across as futuristic or as science-fiction. But it is most interesting and entertaining on these themes, building its tension and suspense in the final moments of the rescue mission.
THE MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS
US, 2015, 132 minutes, Colour.
Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillan, Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor.
Directed by Wes Ball.
It is probably best to have seen the original film before seeing this sequel (which will also lead to a third part of the trilogy). Some recapitulation information is offered right at the beginning, but it goes straight into the new action, the group of young people who have escaped from the Maze, who have entered into a post-apocalyptic world, and have little idea where this is going to lead.
We have also been introduced to the organisation, WCKD, presided over by Patricia Clarkson, which is involved in experiments to find a serum to counterbalance the infection that has pervaded survivors of the catastrophe. Hence, the important of young people, like the group from the Maze, who can be used in experiments – which are shown to be rather dire and destructive.
They are welcomed into a centre for young people by the smiling Mr Janson (Aidan Gillen) but we are immediately suspicious that his smiles are not as pleasant as they are cracked up to be. When another young boy alerts the leader of the group from the Maze, Tom (Dylan O’Brien), about the nature of the experiments, they organise an escape which leads them into the outer world. In terms of set design and production, the picture of the destroyed city, the wrecked tall buildings, the imminent danger of collapse, is quite striking.
The rest of the film consists of trials that they experience out in the world which is called The Scorch, involves them meeting up with some strange characters, some ready to exploit them, some willing to help, voyage out into the desert to reach the refuge of the mountains and further, into a rebel stronghold, where they come under attack, and experience betrayal, but surviving nonetheless for a future episode. Younger audiences would identify with the characters, their age, their experiences, the dangers, the quest, the hope for some kind of overcoming of the tyrannical and experimenting regime.
And then the film ends, everyone looking at Tom and asking what his plan is… To be answered in the next episode.
Australia, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Shane Jacobson, Sarah’s Luke, Alan Tudyk, Deborah Mailman,
Directed by Stuart McDonald.
Oddball is a very easy film to watch – especially if you love dogs and, an added bonus would be a love for the fairy penguins. This is mostly what the film is about.
The setting is the Victorian southern coast, along the Great Ocean Road, the coastal town of Warrnambool. Since much of the film was made there, along with a great deal of added footage of the 12 Apostles (or however many there are these days) which should do wonders for the Victorian Tourist Commission, with the backing behind the final credits continuous helicopter turns around the cliffs and the Apostles.
And, again, this is a true story, with a comment at the end that it served as an example for other organisations and local councils for protection of endangered creatures.
On the human side, the main star is Shane Jacobson, as Swampy Marsh, big and cuddly in many ways, memorable, of course, for being Kenny, but appearing in quite a number of films, including the Jack Irish television movies. This time he is the, scruffy, bearded, a local organic egg producer – with a large pet dog, a Mareeba, who is also cuddly - if one could get one’s arms around him. But when they go into town, Oddball inevitably causes all kinds of rumpus and destruction. We see him at a rehearsal for the opening of a model village, with all kinds of technical equipment, all up-ended and a lot of it in smithereens. At a local council meeting, Oddball is roundly condemned and confined to Swampy’s farm. But there is sympathy from the Mayor, who has a soft spot for Swampy (Deborah Mailman).
And as if acting with an animal and with penguins was not enough, Swampy also has one of those screen-cute granddaughters, Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies), living with her single mother who is the local officer on Middle Island, a walk through the tide from the beach, for the preservation of the Penguin Colony. The famous W. C. Fields’ dictum of not acting with animals or children does not seem to phase Shane Jacobson. In fact, when they find an injured penguin, he and his granddaughter discover that Oddball is attracted to the Penguin in a most protective kind of way.
Since the penguin population is going down on the island and there is a threat of funding being stopped, Swampy’s daughter, Emily (Sarah Snook), who has inherited the job and interest from her late mother, the penguins have to be protected from a marauding fox.
And, there is a little bit of romance, as Emily is attracted to a visiting American (Alan Tudyk) who works for tourism, responsible for the creation of the historical village, and interested in whale-sighting, suggests that the family might move to the United States if the penguin colony fails.
The screenplay indulges in a little bit of anti-Americanism, especially when someone fires a relaxant dart at Oddball and introduces a fox. Actually, we were all a bit anticipatory in thinking about the American.
All in all, this is the kind of film that we would watch comfortably in the cinema and families would enjoy watching on DVD and television, a nice Australian film, emphasising Australian characteristics and accents, which, one might say, is in something of the tradition of films like Storm Boy and Red Dog.
US, 2015, 111 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Rooney Mara, Garrett Hedlund, Amanda Seyfried.
Directed by Joe Wright.
There must be some producers and audiences out there who like this film but it did not appeal at all to this reviewer. And there have been quite a lot of films about Peter Pan, including the classic Disney film 1953, the story of J.M.Barrie with Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland, 2004, a live action remake of the basic story by Australia’s P.J.Hogan, Peter Pan, 2003, and a British miniseries, Neverland, 2011, with a plot that he is very similar to the present one.
The action is updated to World War II, with the Peter dropped at an orphanage by his mother, Mary, who actually comes from Neverland. The dreadful orphanage is borrowed from Dickens’ Oliver Twist, including the need for more porridge. Many will find these sequences obnoxious especially Catholic audiences. The orphanage of the Sisters of the Eternal Prudence, looking like Daughters Charity in the past, ruled by large tyrannical superior, Mother Barnabas, who and bearing woman beating the children, hiding an enormous amount of gold coins in the basement along with a huge supply of food, despite wartime rationing. There also secret files on all the orphans.
There is a particularly distasteful scene where Peter sees the traditional statue of the Virgin Mary and tweaks her nose - which opens the door into the basement. This aspect seems unnecessarily offensive. And the film returns at the end to the orphanage and the comeuppance of Mother Barnabas.
Hoping that the scenes in Neverland its would overcome some of these memories, this reviewer was very disappointed to find that the action was a conglomeration of hodgepodge, magic galleons sailing out of reach from British artillery during the Blitz, to find Neverland when Captain Blackbeard the pirate rules tyranically, boys captured from orphanages working in mines to discover fairy dust. He puts scapegoats to the plank, including Peter who survives by being able to fly. It would be nice to say the Blackbeard was a good part for Hugh Jackman but he performs with dastardly bombast.
There are various tribes in Neverland, with rather absurd costumes, ceremonials and rituals, especially for Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily – until she takes off an odd headdress and seems more normal, a cheerful point in the film. James Hook, later to become an enemy, is an ally of Peter, with Garrett Hedlund and his abroad American accent and his eye firmly on the exploits of Indiana Jones.
Later there are battles with the magical little fairies.
Not sure who the film was intended for – some children’s audiences may find the adventures enjoyable, but for parents and adult audiences, it is a rather trying experience, all the more disappointing for the talent behind the scenes, the cast, including young Levi Miller, quite creditable as Peter, special effects and stunts, huge budget for costumes and design, and director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, The List, and Karenina).
PEOPLE, PLACES, THINGS
US, 2015, 85 minutes, Colour.
Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Jessica Williams, Stephanie Allynne, Michael Chernus, Aundrea Gadsby, Gia Gadsby.
Directed by James C.Strouse.
This is quite a pleasant film to watch, brief, some serious themes, but with the light and comic touch. It is a New York story.
Over the years, New Zealand actor and comic style, Jemaine Clement has made something of an international impact, especially with the television series Flight of the Conchordes. But he has had something of a Hollywood career as well, evil in Men in Black 3, and dastardly comic villain, Chevalier, in Gentleman Bronco. And a sinister voice character in the Rio films. More recently, he was Vladislav, one of the several funny Wellington vampires in their flat in What We Do in the Shadows.
This time he is a rather simple soul, Will, always trying to do his best, an artist, working on cartoon panels as well as a graphic novel. It is his twin daughters’ fifth birthday and, suddenly, he discovers his partner being unfaithful and accusing him of being to blame. He is both flabbergasted and dismayed, not understanding how the relationship could have collapsed, with still loving his partner.
Move forward a year, the twins’ sixth birthday party, a very modest episode compared with the year before. Will has the girls for a party but they are living with their mother and her new partner, a seemingly inoffensive comedian, specialising as a monologist. In the meantime, Will is making very slow progress with his book, sketching rather sad cartoons, with him as a bewildered victim. He also lectures at a college, explaining to his students how cartoons work in terms of storytelling.
One of the students invites him home to meet her mother, a professor of literature at Columbia, and, after some pleasant moments, they begin to argue, she never having read a graphic novel, thinking that they did not belong to literature – and feeling somewhat guilty because she does not approve of her daughter’s study course.
The film shows some of the ups and downs in Will’s life, taking his daughters at weekends, wanting to have more time with them and experiencing a whole lot of tangles in getting them to school on time, finding one day that there is a bomb alarm and relying on his student to babysit them for the day – leading to more complications, and something of a reconciliation between himself and the Columbia professor.
His ex-partner tells him that she is going to marry the monologist. He is rather dismayed, but is still hoping for a reconciliation. But, as so often, he has misread the situation but does go to the wedding ceremony.
Is there hope for Will? Can he once again make contact with the professor? how will he relate to his daughters? There are indications of the end of the film but no answers – it leaves it all up to our own hopes and imaginations.
US, 2015, 106 minutes, Colour.
Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gadd, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Fiona Shaw, Jane Krakowski, Dan Aykroyd, Lainie Kazan, Tom McCarthy, Serena Williams, Martha Stewart.
Directed by Chris Columbus.
This is definitely a film to exercise the imagination.
And one of the exercises for a wild imagination is the application of the premise that every American could become president - it is seen that the President in this film is played by Kevin James! How he ever got there is a minor miracle of the imagination – but, once he is there, we take it for granted, especially since he has to save the world. And even more exercising the imagination, the saviour of the world is Adam Sandler.
This is a film for those who love computer games, who think and imagine computer games, who play and are fiercely competitive – and the film reminds us that this has been the case for a long time, opening with competitions in 1982, when arcades were the place where the groupies played and there were no such things as personal Play Stations. In 1982, there are three young friends, Brenner, Cooper and Ludlow and their arch-rival, Eddie, who nicknames himself The Fireblaster and who wins the competition, especially Donkey Kong.
Over 30 years later. Brenner (Adam Sandler as per usual) has a company called NE RD, for installation of televisions and other technical work. Ludlow (Josh Gadd in a now familiar kind of role) is a conspiracy theorist, living in a kind of nerd isolation. And Cooper is the President of the United States.
This is where we really have to work hard with our imagination. Earth is being invaded by aliens. They have collected the time capsule sent into space in 1982 with all kinds of computer game data and the aliens have decided that this is a challenge to their authority and they intend to play, win and take over and/or destroy Earth.
Brenner has had a bad encounter with a mother (Michelle Monaghan) whose husband has left her, but then discovers that she is high-powered military at the Pentagon and amazed that Brenner should be arriving at the White House at the same time as she – and one ups him as she goes towards the War Room, while he then one ups her, smugly invited to speak with the President.
Now, we see where this is all going. The military chief, Brian Cox, is not particularly impressed, especially when Brenner and Ludlow have to train Navy seals to play computer games, discover patterns, fire their weapons to destroy the aliens. In a move that will please British audiences, the first confrontation is to occur in London, in Hyde Park, with the President conferring with British authorities, especially the Prime Minister, Fiona Shaw, who is doing an extreme parody of Margaret Thatcher. The British forces are led by a very aggressive Sean Bean.
Needless to say…
The next encounter is to happen in New York City, a Pacman confrontation – which means they have to track down Eddie, who is in jail for fraud, still extraordinary self-assertive but the Pacman champion. He is played with aggressive vigour, taking time off from Game of Thrones, by Peter Dinklage. There is even a scene with the Japanese inventor of Pacman.
Needless to say…
Many in the audience may have thought that this was the grand climax and finale of the film – big mistake. The last game is donkey Kong, a chance for Brenner to beat Eddie who had defeated him 30 years earlier. And, by this time, there is a thing going between the military lady and Brenner, cheered on by her young son. Eddie has been promised a reward, a choice between a date with at the White House ball with either Serena Williams or Martha Stewart. We all know the Serena Williams is definitely a good sport and she enjoys herself with this cameo appearance, with a supplementary moment by Martha Stewart.
Those not in the know about pixels and computer games and play stations will find that the screenplay (written by Tim Herlihy who had written ten of Adam Sandler’s films) conveys enough information so that they do not feel quite out of it.
Nonsense (we hope) but enjoyable nonsense nonetheless.
US, 2015, 121 minutes, Colour.
Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Jon Bernthal, Victor Garber, Jeffrey Donovan, Daniel Kaluua.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Sicario is strong stuff, in a good, if dismaying, sense.
In 2014, there were reports from Mexico about the murder of over 40 students and the disappearance of their bodies. Blame has since been laid on the authorities in the town where were they killed, the Mayor as well as some police.It seemed like a headline at the time: how could 40 students just disappear? The opening sequence of this film shows how it could be alarmingly true.
Sicario is the word used in Mexico for hitman. The film has the advantage of having been co-written and directed by Canadian, Denis Villeneuve. He was nominated for an Oscar for his powerful French-language film, Incendies in 2011, a story of Palestine and Canada at the end of the 20th century. He also made a powerful police investigation film, Prisoners with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gylenhaal (whom he also directed in an enigmatic short feature in which Gylenhaal two characters who became interchangeable, Enemies). This is his first Hollywood film but he does not seem to have been restricted in any way by interfering producers.
And the central character is female, an FBI agent, Kate, played with a blend of steel and vulnerability by Emily Blunt. She is involved in the opening sequence, an FB I raid on a suspected dealer’s house only to find no one at home except a man who seemed to be guarding a wall – and when the wall was broken down, bodies were found as were many others concealed in corridors throughout the house. Information is given that this was the work of a respected Hispanic- American businessman who was linked to a major cartel.
Enter some mysterious agents, especially Josh Brolin as a rather laid-back, cheerful agent who is combining in operations with a lawyer from Columbia whose wife and daughter have been killed by the cartels, Benicio Del Toro, to go from El Paso into neighbouring Juarez to capture a suspect and interrogate him (not without pressure and touches of torture) to reveal information about the cartel bosses. Kate is invited to come along, observing, somewhat alarmed at the personalities and the tactics, but a successful mission although it leads to an ambush and day huge shootout on the freeway before the border controls back into the US.
But that is only the beginning. There are plans to entice the Hispanic-American back into Mexico by creating trouble that he has to handle their and then confronting him and getting him to lead them to the overall boss. It is no spoiler to say that this mission is achieved – but the interest of the film is in how it is achieved, the role of the seemingly quiet, eyes-shaded, Benicio Del Toro, with touches of revenge. The film also shows how Kate is involved, disregarding some warnings from the agents, who are CIA, of course, which leads to dangers for herself, especially in the final action within a tunnel under the Mexican-American border.
Nor is there an easy ending, especially with pressures on Kate’s conscience about the mission and how it was carried out.
Those who like action features will find plenty to draw them in, strong, well-paced, sometimes disturbingly violent. But, all the time, there is much to provoke the moral conscience of the audience, questioning the role of the agencies and their methods, questioning the role of American agencies and their interventions in other countries, and personal moral dilemmas for those who become involved.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
US, 2015, 147 minutes, Colour.
O’Shea Jackson, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Neill Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge, R. Marcos Taylor.
Directed by F. Gary Gray.
It would help a great deal to have some knowledge of the ghetto music of the 1980s and 1990s, the development of rap music, especially the lyrics of the gangster rap which emerged in Los Angeles, much of it as an anti-authoritarian reaction, especially to the treatment of African-Americans by the police. The Rodney King incident occurs in the middle of this story, giving a great deal of objective criticism to the implications in the rap lyrics.
Straight Outta Compton has been very successful at the American box office. The guess would be that it is extremely popular with African-American audiences. Which means that it plays well to its target audience. Audiences outside the United States will find that they are observers to this culture, to this music, to the social crises – although, with the release in 2015 of the film, there have been so many headlines in the US, read about outside the US, of police violence towards African-Americans, and a number of police shootings of unarmed black men.
There is a prologue in a house in Compton, and the clash between drug dealers and the police, invading the house and destroying it with the tank like vehicle. Later, the musicians themselves are harassed by the police, made to lie down on the sidewalk – and then Rodney King incident, the riots, the charges against the police, the heightened feelings and rioting, the police officers being found it not guilty. We, the audience are now caught up in this atmosphere of injustice.
There are also the musicians who soon became, especially Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy E… These men came from the streets, with a love of music, way a with words, who developed what became known as gangster rap, with its frank lyrics, the accusations against the police, the taunts. With the help of the producer, a white man, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), a businessman but ambiguous in his deals, they record the songs, producing a record, Straight Outta Compton, and go on a national tour with enormous audiences identifying with the musicians and the songs, enthusiastically embracing lyrics. the policing threatening the singers. In Detroit, a shot rings out, panic, chases, arrests – and still defiant musicians during their press conferences.
The cast is quite convincing in its representing the different singers, and audiences who are not familiar, may be surprised to find O’Shea Jackson Jr in the role of ice Cube, bearing quite a physical resemblance to the original. He ought to. Ice Cube’s actual name is O’Shea Jackson and this is his son playing him.
Cinema buffs amongst the audience may remember the films about the gangster clashes between recording studios and personalities from the East Coast and the West Coast, especially the stories of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, ending with murders. This is reflected here as the original group NFW breaks up, Ice Cube going out on his own, successful as a singer, and beginning a career as a screenwriter and film star. Dr Dre was also a success as a musician and moved on from his Death Row Records which was being controlled by thugs. Eazy E died early, having contracted AIDS.
The film is long, almost two and a half hours, but it creates it atmosphere, shows the personalities involved in the movement, the music and the lyrics and the popular repercussions as well as the social repercussions. Perhaps it is not surprising to find in the final credits that two of the producers for this film were Ice Cube and Dr Dre.
This film contributes to the popular musical history of the US in the late 20th century.
THE TRANSPORTER REFUELLED
France, 2015, 96 minutes, Colour.
Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Loan Chabanol.
Directed by Camille Delamarre.
Well, that’s not a bad title for a rebooting of the Transporter franchise. And, at least given the car chases in this one, the re-fuelling title is quite fitting.
The new transporter is Frank Martin, played by British actor Ed Skrein, tall, a bit gaunt though muscular, fashionable stubble, taking his dark glasses on and off… And his accent is a bit more upmarket than that of his predecessor, Jason Statham. One of the things with Jason Statham is that he could play everything straight but, with slight tongue in cheek and, often, more than a touch of irony. The new transporter is not so much into irony but into a relationship with his father who keeps calling him Junior.
For those who like car chases, there are two big ones – and in the first, it is the police who need better stunt drivers because all of their cars crash quite spectacularly. So that when the time comes for the second chase, this time on the tarmac at Nice Airport, a pilotless plane moving towards crashing, when we see the cars with the label Gendarmes, we know that the worst will happen, that is for the police and their cars. And so it happens. For those who enjoy the chases, lots of glimpses of the French coast, the Riviera, the beaches and mountains. And for those who do not enjoy the chases, lots of glimpses of the French coast, the Riviera, the beaches and mountains – which may bring back memories of visiting these locations. But nothing like the potential crash at Nice airport!
The new transporter, looking like a model in an advertisement on a billboard, has been something of a mercenary and eventually falls foul of fellow soldiers from Eastern Europe who are now controlling prostitution on the Riviera, having promptly massacred the previous African pimps. One of the girls sold into prostitution has decided to get revenge and involves Frank in driving her associates but, to make sure, she and abducts his father who, on retiring from being a spy, is living a life of luxury. He is liberated but very soon after he is abducted again - by the pimps.
Which means a lot of action, the girls getting Frank into all kinds of trouble, Anna, the ringleader setting up a scheme to transfer all the pimp’s finances and causing trouble amongst the men which leads, of course, to a shootout. Except for the main villain who makes a run to escape, to the top of the cliff, the venue, of course, for a spectacular fall after he is shot!
But there is a fair deal of plot, quick editing and pace, a touch of romance, Frank still needing to develop some more humane acting skills to be a romantical lead. And there are some comic touches in the repartee between dad (a genial Ray Stevenson) and Junior.
The film was directed by Camille Delamarre who directed the third of the transporter films as well as Taken 3. The Transporter Refuelled is designed for transporter fans – and, apart from getting over the loss of Jason Statham, they probably won’t be disappointed.
India, 2015, 98 minutes, Colour.
Suraj Sharma, Tony Revelori.
Directed by Prashant Nair.
Umrika.. as in America, the United States. It is the way that villagers in India pronounce this dream country, Umrika?
This is a film for Indian audiences, but is also a film that has a wide reach to audiences outside India. It offers the possibility for outsiders to enter into India, into a country village and its way of life, the simplicities of tradition, changes for a new life. It also has sequences in the city, the enormous contrast to the village, the busy streets and population, the difficulty in getting jobs, the possibilities for getting entangled in debt, in criminal activities – and all with the dream of getting away to the United States.
The film opens with scenes of the village, and the farewell to Udai on his way to America, fulfilling his mother’s dream when her uncle came back from United States with wealth, and this is what she has wished for her beloved son. There is voice-over, from Udai’s younger brother, Rama, not so well loved by his mother, but devoted to his father, having his brother on a pedestal. For some months there is a crisis as there is no letter from Udai as he has promised. And then, letters arrive regularly, full of news, details of life in the United States, with pictures accompanying the letters.
By this time, Rama (Suraj Sharma, an engaging screen presence) has grown up. When his father dies, he discovers some surprising truths about the letters and decides that he will go to Umrika to track down his brother. What happens is that he is trapped in the city, given accommodation by a cousin and making friends, getting a job delivering sweets, but also stealing a bicycle to help him on his way. His friend Lalu (Tony Revelori, from The Grand Budapest Hotel and Dope) arrives in the city, a blunter and more direct personality, yet support for Rama.
Rama might imagine that he could be a Slumdog Millionaire, but there is no television competition here, no easy money, on the contrary, some surprises, some disillusionment, some indebtedness to shady entrepreneurs.
The film ends just as we have reinvigorated our hopes that there will be a future for Rama, and an audience desire to know what will happen to him, whether he really will get to Umrika and what he will do there.
This is a very humane and genial film, with plenty of the flavour of India, and a pleasing invitation for the audience to immerse itself in Indian life.
Australia, 2015, 102 minutes, Colour.
Tanishta Chatterjee, Brett Lee, Arka Das, Maya Sathi, Sarah Roberts, Adam Dunn, Nicholas Brown, John Howard, Tiriel Mora, Anupam Sharma.
Directed by Anupam Sharma.
Local audiences may not know that there is an Australian Indian film foundation. It is Australian-based and, the company hopes that this film will be popular with Australian audiences, and, of course, with Indians who have settled in Australia. It is to be hoped that it will be popular in India but it does tackle some social problems that may be too much sometimes for Indian censorship.
Not that the film needs much censorship. Rather, it is a very cheerful film which provides quite a number of laughs, quite a number of emotional moments, does send up some of the stereotypes of Indian in-laws as well of Ocker Australians.
One of the key publicity aspects for both Australia and India is the fact that it stars veteran test cricketer, Brett Lee. While Lee has his done a number of commercials, he is not generally thought of as a movie leading man. Actually, he is quite a pleasant screen presence, cheerful, genial, and his romancing is quite credible.
The film spends a lot of time with Meera () and her 10-year-old daughter, Smitha. Meera has settled well in Australia, works as an executive for the firm Cochlera which promotes cochlear implants for hearing impaired people – and Cochlear is one of the sponsors of the film (with Brett Lee, in fact, as its international ambassador). Meera’s parents are of the old school, her mother busy ritually incensing a new house, planning to marry her daughter off to a surgeon (Indian background of course) and interfering in a stereotypical way. Her father is low key, less prone to action.
Brett Lee teaches a course at the University of New South Wales (well promoted in the film – for prospective students – and also a sponsor of the movie.). His course is a specialty, on Australian culture, training the overseas students to immerse themselves in Australian culture, vocabulary, accents and pronunciations – and quite a few funny scenes concerning Australian slang and, especially, the pronunciation of the word mate with its difficult vowel for newcomers to the country. There is a little drama of the department wants to axe the course – and the media comes to the rescue in the form of coverage by SBS.
It’s one of those love at first sight stories, at least on Brett Lee’s part. He seems to be meeting Meera all over the place, at an Indian celebration with people blowing paint all over each other, at some cricket practice, and then doing camera work for his close friends, TK and Mitch, for a TV series on cooking.
So, this is a film about courting, about parental disapproval, about coffee and romance.
Towards the end, there are some more serious themes, especially about Meera’s ex-husband and the fact that he is gay and the issue of his coming out, of his wanting to abduct his daughter and take her back to India – and there is some apprehension on the part of the film makers that this may not be too welcome in India and might damage the film’s distribution.
Be that as it may, this is a film that for audiences wanting an easy night out will be easy to enjoy and get some laughs. And, maybe, Brett Lee will get to do another film!
US, 2015, 94 minutes, Colour.
Olivia De Jonge, Ed Oxenbould, Kathryn Hahn, Peter McRobbie, Deanna Dunagan.
Directed by M. Night Shayamalan.
M. Night Shayamalan, born in India, reared in the Philadelphia, has become something of a sign of contradiction in film critical circles. He was critically lauded for his first film, The Sixth Sense, an intriguing psychological drama with something of a supernatural twist. It has been the “something of a supernatural twist” which has been at the core of all the directors of films, including this one.
By 2006, especially with his Lady in the Water, Shayamalan had become a critical target, compounded with his successive, rather than successful, films, The Happening, the fantasy, Last Airbender and a rather doomed interplanetary adventure After Earth, with Will Smith and his son, Jaden. The Visit will probably not fare any better.
On the other hand, there is a public that goes to see his films, quite enjoys them without raving about them. They probably say that they didn’t mind seeing the films – which is the perspective of this reviewer. No great claims for the films, but not minding seeing them.
The film’s title is fairly straightforward. Two teenagers, wanting to give their mother, whose husband had abandoned her and the children several years earlier, some space to make something of her life. They decide to go to visit their grandparents, their mother’s parents, who had cut her off when she left home at the age of 19 and whom she has not seen since. So far, so ordinary.
However, the director has immediately introduced the making of a documentary, the daughter, aged 15, interviewing her mother and planning, quite efficiently at times, to film all that happens to her and to her brother, during the visit to the grandparents. The brother is younger and has quite a way with words, knowing his film vocabulary – and priding himself on his capacity for rap words and singing (twice during the film and once during the final credits).
What the director is also doing is following in the line of the “found footage” films, the seemingly amateur footage that is discovered, edited together, with some eerie scenes and some eerie results. This makes more sense in this film because the hand-held camera footage as well as the fixed camera are all part of the documentary which the audience more readily accepts.
One doesn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to suspect that there will be some strange happenings during the visit. While the grandparents are welcoming, the grandfather seems somewhat aloof, a farmer who seems a bit old for his work, and the surprising news that he and his wife act as counsellors at the local hospital. Nana is more welcoming and is a dab hand at cooking. But, Nana also exhibits quite some odd behaviour, especially after lights out at 9:30 pm. However, the children take it more or less in their stride but documenting it all in their film.
The days go by. They Skype their mother who is enjoying her time off. They go to town where the grandfather suddenly turns on a young man violently accusing him of stalking them. Some characters turn up at the door with information. Clues and strange events compound the eerieness of the household and the visit.
Of course, it has to build up to a more than eerie climax, the audience realising that the grandparents went off the deep end long since and are more than menacing (with a nice Hansel and Gretel episode with Nana enticing the daughter to get into the oven to clean it, twice, but this is just a distraction).
Deanna Dunagan’s Nana is a combination of the charming and nice with sudden mood changes. Peter McRobbie is just suspiciously sinister. Kathryn Hahn is the mother, quite effective in her scenes talking straight to camera about her life and the conclusions at the end of the visit. Surprisingly, the teenagers are played by Australian actors, believable as American children, Olivia De Jonge as the daughter and Ed Oxenbould as the brother (so effective in Paper Planes as well as Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Not Good, Very Bad Day).
This reviewer didn’t mind it.
US, 2015, 122 minutes, Colour.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, Clement Sibony, James Badge Dale, Cesar Domboy, Steve Valentine, Benedict Samuel.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
The title seems rather innocuous, but the actual walk, and its repetitions, are far from simple. This is no walk in the woods but rather, a wire walk from one of the Twin Towers in New York City to the other, 101 stories above Manhattan.
Movie audiences may be familiar with the story from the excellent documentary made by James Marsh, Man on Wire. It relied on the walker himself, Philippe Petit, as does this film, based on his book, To Reach the Clouds, as he himself served not only as adviser but as coach for the walking on wire sequences.
A warning that this film is not for the vertiginously- challenged, especially the 3D version which is very vivid. Audiences are invited to identify with Philippe and the walks, especially those on high buildings like the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris as well is the Twin Towers. He spent a lot of his time on the sides of buildings, on roofs, with practically nothing between himself and thin air. For those of a more adventurous sensibility, the film will probably be very exciting.
It comes as something of a shock at the beginning to find Joseph Gordon-Levitt, portraying Frenchman, Philippe, standing on the lamp on the Statue of Liberty – where he remains throughout the film narrating his story with the action in flashbacks. He speaks his English with a broken-French accent.
Philippe’s father was not very impressed with his little son’s delight in going to circuses, watching the wire acts, trying to emulate them – his father dismissing him as a circus clown. While trying his feet on the wire in the big top, he is caught by a master wire walker, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), who eventually reveals to him many of the secrets of his trade. Which makes the audience aware that is not simply a matter of balance but there is much technical work to be done, the setting up of a wire safely, testing it, testing whatever holds it on each side of the space, and the engineering feats required for the higher the walk and the longer the walk. Philippe just simply didn’t get the bright idea of walking between the Twin Towers (well, perhaps he did) but it required a great deal of preparation, planning and meticulous execution.
Philippe is a Frenchman, works as an entertainer in the streets of Paris, initially clashes with a young woman, Annie, singing and playing in the same square where he was writing on a minor cycle – but, they do click, and she becomes one of his staunchest allies. Then there is a photographer, Jean-Louis, who admires Philippe and becomes his photographer and his assistant.
They take all their equipment, especially the wire and tools, and are let into the US by a customs officer who is slightly amused at their bravado, not believing it for a minute. They spend a lot of time scouting the Twin Towers which were in 1974 in a state of near-completion, which helps and impedes access to the buildings. But, a businessman who works in the towers and had seen Philippe in his Notre Dame feat, also becomes an ally giving him access to the building. And when they go to buy communications, the American who is trying to sell them wire-less, is revealed also as a Frenchman and he becomes an enthusiastic helper. There are two others, one of them perpetually high, who decide to some of the drudge work, carrying the big box with all the materials into the towers but running away, especially when the police begin to make their presence felt.
For dramatic effect (and probably happened in real life) there are a number of difficulties in getting the box up to the floor, in security guards being present, in the arrow shot from one building to the other almost not landing – and all the preparation done during the night, especially the cable going from one building to the other.
As might be expected, the film builds up a lot of tension before the walk and there is some shared exhilaration with Philippe not only as he walks but as he goes back and forth, explaining the exhilaration of his being one with the wire, and that this being his vocation in life.
The film has been directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has shown versatility of interest over many decades: Romance in the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forest Gump, Beowulf, Flight…
Philippe’s feat was not simply a walk in the clouds but the work of a single-minded artist/athlete, working without permissions…, who achieved his dream, quite a spectacular dream.
A WALK IN THE WOODS
US, 2015, 104 minutes, Colour.
Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman, Kristin Schaal.
Directed by Ken Kwapis.
A lot of people have read Bill Bryson’s books, his travel, his observations of nature and history, his sense of humour as he encounters people, especially in the United Kingdom where he lived for many years, his return to his roots in the United States, other travels including Australia. Fans of his books may be interested to see how well they translate on to the screen. Of course, opinion is divided, some happy to share in Bryson’s experiences, others highlighting the limitations of a 104 minutes adaptation.
Many will appreciate Robert Redford’s presence as Bill Bryson. Again, on the other hand, Redford is decades is older than the real Bryson. In fact, Robert Redford at 78 when he made this film and, despite the dyed hair, generally looks his age or a touch beyond. But, he looks reasonably good in comparison with his companion on the Trail, Stephen Katz, the fictitious name for a real character from Bryson’s past who accepts invitation to do the walk (after so many friends him turned down, reasonably, especially one who had died sometime earlier!). Katz is played by Nick Nolte, looking larger than life, unkempt, lumbering around, certainly not a likely candidate to do this long hike.
As with Wild, the 2014 film about walking the Pacific Trail with Reese Witherspoon, there is activity, a long hike, expending energy, and looking at a lot of attractive scenery – perhaps enticing sitting-down audiences to venture out to see more of the US.
There is a great deal of humour in the repartee between the two (and more than a touch of compensation as they reminisce about sexual experiences and enjoy quite a bit of innuendo). It is inevitable that there are funny sequences as two old men, at times with the touch of the grumpies, pitch their tents, are enveloped in a snowstorm, fall into a river, gingerly walk along a ledge to little avail is over they go, try to frighten away huge bears…
There are also the people they meet along the way, generally friendly and helpful, although there is single-minded hiker called Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal) who is absolutely full of herself, talks incessantly, is critical of the old men, praises herself for her achievement and is not plagued for a second by self-doubt. While irritating to them and to us, she stands out as one of the livelier characters of the film.
This is an opportunity to see something of the countryside of the United States, along the eastern rim, the Appalachian Trail. But, as maybe with the book, it is really a series of anecdotes any one of which could be eliminated, and any other one substituted in its place. While this does make the film enjoyable in its way, the anecdotal overcomes any of the more serious possible themes.
A great plus for the film, at the beginning and at the end, is the presence of Emma Thompson as Catherine Bryson.
A film night out rather than any deeper exploration of characters and their motivations.
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