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SIGNIS Film reviews - November 2017 - part 2

SIGNIS Film reviews - November 2017 - part 2

Melbourne, November, 22nd, 2017 (Peter Malone). Below, find the second part of film critics written by Peter Malone for the month of November. LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, The LOVING VINCENT MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US, The PROFESSOR MARSTON AND HIS WONDER WOMEN SNOWMAN, The SONG TO SONG SUBURBICON TEACHER, The THOR RAGNORAK TOM OF FINLAND THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM UK, 2016, 109 minutes, Colour. Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Daniel Mays, Maria Valverde. Directed by Juan Carlos Medina. This is an impressive period drama. London, 1880. But using the word drama does not indicate the range of the film: the city of London, Dickensian London, Limehouse and the area, poverty and vice, the music calls, a serial killer anticipating Jack the Ripper, Scotland Yard and police investigations and detection. The film is based on a book by London and Dickens expert, Peter Ackroyd, Dan Leto and the Limehouse Golem (1994) . The film is also well-crafted, atmospheric set design and locations, the colour photography design with the suggestions of darkness. And arresting performances with Bill Nighy as the Scotland Yard detective, Olivia Cooke, whose performance impresses throughout the film but even more so in the last quarter of an hour, is the toast of the music halls and Douglas Booth, based on the title character of Ackroyd’s book, Dan Leto and the Limehouse Golem (1994), is the star and (real-life) entrepreneur of the music hall. There have been gruesome murders in the area and, with clues painted on walls, the press has nicknamed the killer The Limehouse Golem, drawing on the Jewish legend of the diabolical killer. The dead include a family who ran a local shop. At the opening, Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) is accused of poisoning her husband. The local constabulary investigate, including an earnest policeman, Daniel Mays. When Scotland Yard is called in, an inspector, who can be the scapegoat if the investigation fails, is Inspector Kildare. He is played effectively in a kind of mournful, withdrawn but earnest fashion by Bill Nighy. Investigations lead to the British Library and a group of men who read there, including Karl Marx and novelist, George Gissing. They provide the four suspects for the murders – and, as Inspector Kildare interviews them, the film visualises each of them committing one of the murders, building up for the audience the detail of what happened to each of the victims and the involvement of the killer. In the meantime, Lizzie Cree is arrested and imprisoned. Inspector Kildare becomes intrigued, then quietly infatuated by, listening to her sad life story, visualised in flashbacks, with her as harshly treated little girl, going to the music hall, being a given job assisting, stepping in to perform and charming the audience while feeling exhilarated. She has married the journalist John Cree who is one of the suspects as the Limehouse Golem. Inspector Kildare becomes rather desperate, building up a portrait of the killer, aided by the writing in one of the books from the British Library, a distinctive writing style, asking each of the suspects to write in that manner. And, there is quite a twist at the end, quite unforeseen, and a tragic re-enactment of the case in the theatre presided over by Dan. The screenplay, by Jane Goldman (X-Men, Kingsman), keeps the audience very much involved, takes them back to live in a strange and even sordid past, and providing a profile of murderous madness.   LOVING VINCENT Poland/UK, 2017, 94 minutes, Colour. Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Chris O'Dowd, Saiorse Ronan, John Sessions, Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Helen McCrory, Directed by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman. Vincent van Gogh is considered the father of Modern Art. He is well beloved not only in the art world but by the public. While he had minimal sales of his paintings during his short life, 37 years, his paintings are now sold for millions of dollars. It could be said that everybody is loving Vincent. However, the title of this film comes from the end of his letter to the wife of his brother, Theo: “… Your loving Vincent”,  highlighting his care for his brother and for his sister-in-law. Over the years there have been quite a number of films about van Gogh, feature films and documentaries. During the 1950s, Kirk Douglas portrayed him in Lust for Life. Later Robert Altman directed Tim Roth in Vincent and Theo. In the 1980s, Australian director, Paul Cox, made a film with the screenplay compiled from van Gogh’s letters, spoken by John Hurt, with a simple title, Vincent. This present film is being promoted as the first oil-painted animation film, incorporating the work of 125 artists. It is quite a project – and it is quite impressive. The director, Dorota Kobiela, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. As the credits open, there are swirls of paint, a variety of colours, myriad shapes – all in the recognisable van Gogh style. This continues throughout the film, each sequence painted as if it were a van Gogh. This is a continual reminder throughout the film of the work of the artist, his vision, his colours, his response to nature in the south of France, the flowers, the sky. The screenplay incorporates many of his paintings – and there were 800 over comparatively few years – so that the audience is continually conscious of the work of the artist, affected by its impact. Yet, the film is a narrative. And there are quite a number of characters from the painter himself to his brother, to a young man, Armin, searching for Theo to give him his brother’s last letter, the postman, the doctor who took in Van Gogh, his daughter, his housekeeper, the proprietor at the local inn… For those not familiar with van Gogh’s portraits, it is something of a revelation during the final credits where the painted portraits are juxtaposed with the photos of the cast who portray the particular characters, remarkable likenesses. The cast includes Chris O’Dowd, Douglas Booth, Aidan Turner, Helen McCrory, Saiorse Ronan and Robert Gulaczyk as the artist himself. It should also be noted that the film is a Polish production with cast from Poland and from the United Kingdom. In some ways, the film serves as crime detection, focus on the mental state of van Gogh, the episode of his cutting off of his ear, his joy in painting, his reliance on his brother to provide him with art materials, the suddenness of his death, taunting by local youth, the possession of a gun, his work with the local doctor who was also an art enthusiast, the admiration by his daughter, his wound, self-inflicted, the strange angle of the shot, his lingering before his death. This means that Loving Vincent provides an overview of Van Gogh’s life, the years of his painting in France, the background of his family, the mental disturbance that plagued him, his premature death. But the film also takes us into the artistic world of van Gogh, his sensitivity, his sensibilities and his creativity. During the final credits, Don Maclean’s Starry, Starry night is played – and never seemed more poignant.   THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US US, 2017, 112 minutes, Colour. Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney, Linda Sorenson. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad. For a great deal of this film, Kate Winslet, as Alex a photojournalist, has a brace on her leg and limps, finding it difficult to walk, moving very slowly. Idris Elba as Ben, a surgeon, suddenly find his leg caught in an animal trap in the woods. This could be taken as rather symbolic of the whole film and its dynamic, much of the movement by plodding, the effect of lameness. The intentions of the film are very worthy and it is directed by celebrated Palestinian director, Hany Abu-Assad whose films, Paradise Now, Omar and The Idol have been quite striking. The lead actors have a strong screen presence and work well together, even when they are clashing. It is interesting to see Idris Elba in such a sympathetic role, not an action star. The film opens at an airport in Idaho during January, all flights being cancelled because of an oncoming storm. Ben has to get to New York to conduct surgery, Alex to go to her wedding. On an impulse, she hires the pilot of a small plane (Beau Bridges) and they set out, initially calm, she taking photographs, the pilot telling stories about his action in Vietnam, and his big Labrador on the plane as company. They crash, confined at first to the shell of the plane, which, of course, confines the action a great deal, slowing it down. The question is raised whether they should stay at the crash site to be found or to move on, Ben first going to survey from a height what the landscape is like, high snowy mountains (filmed in British Columbia standing in for the American Rockies), deep valleys. Fortunately, Ben being a doctor is able to attend to Alex as well as to the dog, especially after a cougar attacks and is shot with a flare (providing food for some days, snow always being available for water). Alex is very strong minded and can’t stay in the one spot. Ben eventually follows, with their wisely trying to descend and reach the tree line. As has been said, they have to plod, as does the dynamic of the film, even though they are moving towards safety. There are caves, and firewood available for warmth, the dog hunting, the danger of ice pools. While initially the two fight, each of them mellows in terms of dependence and of being able to survive. Ultimately, this raises a situation not just of dependence but of sexual dependence and emotion. While the film does show the relationship rather romantically, despite difficulties, it does spend some time more soberly in the aftermath of the journey, reflecting on how both Alex and Ben have been affected by the situation, wondering whether the relationship was just something unreal on the mountain or whether there was something more. To that extent, the latter part of the film is rather romanticised and some of the dialogue leads to a touch of cynicism about romance. But, the film’s heart (and there are discussions about whether the heart is the source of emotion or just a muscle) is in the right place.   PROFESSOR MARSTON AND HIS WONDER WOMEN US, 2017, 109 minutes, Colour. Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, JJ Feild, Chris Conroy, Oliver Platt. Directed by Angela Robinson. What we find in this film is probably not what we were expecting to find. William Marston has the reputation for creating the celebrated comic strip of the 1940s, Wonder Woman. While it was a success, a lot more was happening behind the scenes. The film opens with an American Board entrusted with supervision of children’s education interviewing Marston, wanting to ban the comic strip. As he explains what he intended with Wonder Woman, the interview is regularly interspersed with quite lengthy flashbacks to Marston’s life, his academic career, his personal life, the women, irregularities, one might say, in his relationships and the consequences for his career. The first flashback takes us to 1928, to a classroom, to Professor Marston explaining a theory that he considers significant for understanding human behaviour: DISC – which means Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance. And the film’s screenplay gives him ample opportunity to explain and illustrate these characteristics of behaviour. With him in the classroom is his wife, Elizabeth, who serves as his assistant because, with the prejudices of that era, she is not recognised with her professional qualifications. It seems that the Marstons are looking for a volunteer, a young student who can serve as an assistant but whose behaviour they can observe to understand whether the DISC theory is valid. The lie detector was emerging at this time and the Marstons were able to contribute to a mechanism for recognising heart pace for truth and lies. The student they choose is Olive, the niece of prominent feminist and birth control promoter, Margaret Sanger. Luke Evans plays William Marston and Rebecca Hall is quite striking as his dominant and opinionated wife, Elizabeth. It is interesting to note that British actors have been chosen to portray the couple while Bella Heathcote, from Australia, plays Olive. While Olive is confronted by Elizabeth to forbid any sexual activity, it soon emerges that Olive is attracted to both – which, with some difficulties, and a pregnancy, leads to a long-lived ménage a trois. Oliver’s fiance denounces them, the university authorities fire the Marstons. Olive keeps house, Elizabeth getting a job as a secretary, Marston wanting to prove his theories, sketching, which leads to the creation of Wonder Woman. What is interesting is how much of Marston’s private life as well as the illustration of DISC, one might notice specially dominance and submission, episodes of inducement (sex and violence) leading to compliance. There is quite some attention to Wonder Woman’s background in ancient Greece, with the Amazons, the island of Lesbos, and the emerging of Steve Trevor into her world and her transition to the 20th century. Those familiar with Wonder Woman, from the comics, the television films with Lynda Carter and the very successful superhero movie with Gal Gadot, will appreciate. Marston was unconventional, to say the least. But it is interesting to note that his psychology studies and the emphasis on sexuality coincided with the early years of Kinsey and Masters and Johnson. Not exactly what we might have been expecting at the beginning of the film, something of a jolt and challenge as we watch the private lives of the characters, but also interesting as providing the background of Wonder Woman. It can be noted that the Marston family did not endorse this film and DC Comics distanced themselves.   THE SNOWMAN UK/US, 2017, 119 minutes, Colour. Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michael Yates, J.K.Simmons, Val Kilmer, David Dencik, Toby Jones, Genevieve O' Reilly, James D' Arcy, Adrian Dunbar, Chloe Sevigny, Jakob Oftebro. Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Have you read Jo Nesbo’s novels? With his interestingly often-depressed police detective, Harry Hole? This reviewer has read a number of them including The Snowman. Unfortunately, this film version may not encourage readers to pursue Nesbo novels. For those who enjoy crime fiction, this would be a great pity. Harry Hole (played by Michael Fassbender) comes from Norway, a lot of the action takes place in the capital, Oslo, as well is in the countryside as far out towards the fjords and is Bergen. Actually, one of the best features, is the photography of Norway in winter, snow and ice, a chill atmosphere. In fact, the chill atmosphere applies to the whole film, the characters rather colder than might be expected, the serial killer’s murders gruesomely cold, and the climax of literally cold. All this is a pity because there is great potential. There is an intriguing prologue concerning a young boy being tested by the local policeman on his knowledge of Norwegian history at the end of the war, his mother having an affair with the policeman, pursuing him by car and then skidding onto the ice and drowning, a snowman outside the house. The snowman serves as a motif during the series of killings. The director himself, Tomas Alfredson, has gone on record that he is not satisfied with the film, with difficulties in production, in timing, in rectifying situations. Alfredson has a good cinema record including the John Le Carre adaptation, Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy. The plot is very convoluted and there are significant flashbacks to 9 years earlier, deaths in Bergen, the gruesome killing of the police inspector, Val Kilmer, and interviews with a husband whose wife has been killed. Meanwhile, in the present, a mother disappears and her husband is suspect. Then there is a warning that another woman has been killed – but she is still alive, and then killed. Some of this is sorted out but not always clearly, a complex motivation for the murders, of women who have children by different fathers, have been involved in abortions, victims of a righteous moralist with his own personal agenda and mother issues. There is what seems to be an interesting subplot concerning a suspicious doctor, David Dencik, (who had been in Bergen nine years earlier) and a smug politician, J.K.Simmons, announcing that Oslo has won the Winter Games, harassing the new detective on the case, Rebecca Ferguson, but, after the death of the doctor, there is no more of the politician and his story. That would have been interesting. And all the time, Harry Hole is investigating, travelling, interviewing. There is also the complication of his former girlfriend, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and her son who sees Harry as something of a father-figure. In the meantime, a respectable surgeon, has taken up with Charlotte Gainsbourg but not succeeding so well with the son. The new partner also has a tendency to go out on her own, not always informing Harry, which leads to some rather grim conclusions. More deaths. More mystery. More snowman. And a climax out in the snow, in a secluded hut – and the revelation of the killer whom we might not have suspected. But, whether there were enough clues, whether there was enough in the screenplay to keep audience attention and focus, it is a rather confusing murder mystery and detection drama.   SONG TO SONG US, 2017, 130 minutes, Colour. Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchet, Holly Hunter, Berenice Marlohe, Linda Emond, Tom Sturridge, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, John Lydon. Directed by Terrence Malick. Fragments, jigsaw pieces, snippets… Jigsaw pieces mean that there can be a whole and coherent picture. Fragments, not – diverse, disparate, a partial picture. Snippets offer quick glimpses that come and go, may be connected, unconnected, disconnected. Song to Song. Songs, Austin, Texas, music scene, producers, musicians, the enormous range in the music credits list, but how much noted and noticed over 130 minutes? The great range of singers playing themselves, Patti Smith, different bands. Chants, hymns and St Francis Peace Prayer. Reality, fantasy, surreality. Rooney Mara, soft voice-over, “am I walking in a dream?”. Is she waking in a dream? “I drift.” Michael Fassbender, macho, romantic, playful, exploitative, love or lust? Contrasting Ryan Gosling, younger, playful, more love than lust? Scripted, improvised, director in control. Snippets can mean narrative, contributing to a story: beginning, middle, end, but not necessarily in that order. In the end is the beginning. Threesome, love, joy, play. Fidelity forever. Human nature – suggesting not, rather, betrayal. Suddenly, Natalie Portman, luminous, love, fidelity, hopes. That’s Holly Hunter as her mother. Mexico, peasants, music, the contrast with the American metropolis, affluence, ordinariness, academic auditoria, concert arenas. Performance, backstage, Val Kilmer and wild hair. Who is that from Paris? The lesbian relationship. Rooney Mara, did she, could she? 130 minutes of handheld camera, motion, variety of angles, framing, editing cuts (three editors in the final credits), speed, cause and effect, juxtapositions – to what purpose? And Cate Blanchett? Divorce, children, Ryan Gosling? Connections? Children, playing, parents, ageing and dying. Clips from old movies. Scenes of cosmic beauty (this is, after all, Terrence Malick), days of heaven. Is this Malick’s visual poem, thematic dream, extended visual installation? And the reviewer in the audience watching, listening, experiencing, much to appreciate, much to endure, but how much to comprehend? And does it matter? For a lover of story, yes!   SUBURBICON US, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour. Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Gary Basaraba. Directed by George Clooney. Suburbicon is not a word we regularly use. As can be seen, it is made up of the word suburb and icon. At the opening of the film, Suburbicon, is presented as an ideal. As the film progresses, the irony progresses. This is definitely a Coen Brothers’ screenplay. Apparently, it was written in the 80s and not filmed then but brought out again for their friend, George Clooney, with his writing partner, Grant Heslow, to write and direct. But the bizarre Coen Brothers’ touches are forever present, the irony, the satire, the critique of society. The film opens like an advertising catalogue. Suburbicon, is a post-war development, parallel to Levittown, a town created by William Levitt who was an idealist for the American middle class about also racist. Everything is nice at the end of the 1950s. Everybody wears proper clothes. Everybody has proper manners. Families are ideal. The colour photography is bright, optimistic. We are introduced to the Lodge family. The father is the respectable Gardner Lodge, Matt Damon, serious, a good job, a proper suit… His wife, Rose (Julianne Moore) has been injured in an accident and, as they all sit on the porch, she has to be carried inside to her room. Also present is her sister, Margaret (two Julianne Moores for the price of one), all smiles and charm. The son is Nicky (Noah Jupe) a very respectful little boy. The racism surfaces when an African-American family move in next door, the proper citizens going to a meeting, decrying the local board, uttering all kinds of prejudices, mockery and bigotry. This will lead to citizens camping outside the house, violent demonstrations, attack on the house, destruction and terrorising. In a key scene where the mother goes to the supermarket, the manager callously ups the prices on her. But the main action of the film is with the Lodge family, a home invasion, everybody tied up and chloroformed, and Rose dying. The police start an investigation – but the audience has seen the thugs. It doesn’t take long for the penny to drop for the audience that the Lodge family is all respectable veneer. Rose’s death has been orchestrated. The plotting for Rose’s death could have been done far more meticulously. Money loans had been sought from Mafia connections and registered in their account books, extra insurance taken on Rose’s death. The film brightens up when the insurance inspector, Oscar Isaac, turns up and confronts Margaret who handles the situation badly, then George returning - and the plight of the family moving towards mayhem, death, disposal of bodies, thugs blackmailing, murders and the house, even the nice uncle contacted by Nicky coming to the rescue but meeting his fate as well. All this is happening while the anti--black riots are getting more loud and violent on the street outside. Finally, Gardner confronts his son – and, as he talks, the audience is wishing that he would eat the jam sandwich prepared for Nicky by Margaret and drink the milk. For some justice to be done! The themes have been explored in such films as Pleasantville and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. This is an ironic take on 1950s suburbia, George Clooney, with his contemporary social concerns, indicating that the roots of present injustice were grounded in that period despite its respectability.   THE TEACHER Slovakia/Czech Republic, 2016, 103 minutes, Colour. Zuzana Maurery. Directed by Jan Hrebejk. The Teacher might be called something of a sly film. It begins nicely enough but then begins to steer us in different directions, then in rather drastic directions and finishes up with an ironic ending. A film from Slovakia taking us back to the Communist era in the then Czechoslovakia. This is the 1980s. The Communist Party is very strong in the local village and the new teacher is the president of the local party. 23 comes to the school, meets the children, meets the parents – all much as we might expect. The only trouble is, she has quite different expectations, not only of the children but, even especially, of the parents. Zuzana Maurery is a strong presence as the teacher, able to turn on extraordinary front and charm, able to turn on extraordinary bullying in the classroom, able to turn on some seductive persuasiveness with the male parents. While she might publicly subscribe to Communist principles, they certainly do not influence her personal life. She is as materialistic as you could imagine, not satisfied with the ordinary things that a Communist should be satisfied with. At first, what she asks of different parents might seem reasonable enough, something of the equivalent of an apple for the teacher. The trouble is, she has no limits. She wants everything. And she wants everything done for her. And, she has that knack of a controversial public figure of being able to divide people’s opinions. There is a growing number of parents who are against her, especially as they realise how she is treating their children, favouring some, harsh on others, manipulating the child so that the parents will do all the favours for her. There is something of a rebellion as parents meet to discuss the teacher but, again, she is able to divide opinion, exerting charm and sometimes a little sexual seductiveness. Meanwhile there are plots behind her back. Which means then that the themes of the film are fairly serious, the portrait of the teacher in herself, in her role as president of the Communist party, as a manipulator… Then the Berlin Wall comes down, the Soviet empire collapses and, without revealing too much of the ending, it is fair to say that the teacher is able to find her feet again, adapting to the new ideological situations. The film received an award from SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communication) at the 2017 Hong Kong International Film Festival.   THIS BEAUTIFUL FANTASTIC UK, 2016, 100 minutes, Colour. Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Tom Wilkinson, Jeremy Irvine, Anna Chancellor, Eileen Davies. Directed by Simon Aboud. This is the kind of film that could be described as “nice”. It is also rather twee and very sweet. It is also very British, rather low-key in its presentation of its characters and even their crises. This is the story of Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay). Telling the story is Alfie, played by Tom Wilkinson. We see Bella’s origins, her being abandoned as a baby, an eccentric biker finding her beside the water with ducks, her going to an orphanage with the nuns, but eventually her growing up, renting a house, wanting to be a writer, working in the local library, rather reserved. She clearly irritates her neighbour, Alfie. He has told her story so far -  she is not a friend. In fact, he is very critical of the way that she has left the rather large garden of her home in some rack and ruin. Alfie has a cook, an Irishman named Vernon (Andrew Scott) who has two young daughters. But Alfie is dismissive of Vernon who goes next door to stay with Bella. He also supports her when the landlord arrives, giving her a one-month deadline to clear up the garden or she is out. Bella is not a gardener. She does try to do some work, even with Vernon who suffers from hay fever trying to help. As might be expected, Alfie begins to relent, even reaching a deal with Bella that he will help working in the garden as long as Vernon still provides him with some meals – which Vernon does through a servery slide which he can slam shut at will. Not all of Bella’s time is spent in the garden. She works at the local library which is administrated by rather bookish and prim librarian, Anna Chancellor. And there is a young man, Billy (Jeremy Irvine) who turns up for research, is noisy when he shouldn’t be, eats in the library when he shouldn’t, but there is a mutual attraction. Alfie also has a book about gardening – which was written by his late wife. Bella reads it and that helps the bond between the two. So, beautifying the garden within the month offers only limited dramatics for the film. Bella is supposed to go out with Billy but she sees him in town with another woman and retreats to her room in an emotional tantrum. In fact, there is an easy, over-easy solution about her seeing Billy and there is a nice reconciliation. A touch of sadness, Bella finishing her book and reading it to Vernon’s girls, and, as has been said, nice, twee and sweet.   THOR: RAGNAROK US, 2017, 130 minutes, Colour. Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taiki Waitit, Clancy Brown, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Luke Hemsworth, Sam Neill, Matt Damon. Directed by Taiki Waititi. Chris Hemsworth made quite an impact as the original Thor. This is the second sequel and Thor has appeared in two Avengers movies and is about to appear on the third. Quite a lasting impression. Hemsworth has never taken himself too seriously nor does Thor. There is always a place for irony and for a joke. And now, with New Zealand director Taiki Waitit, who charmed audiences with Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople and joked with them in What We Do in the Night, there is plenty more irony and there are plenty more jokes. Gone is the Viking Asgard but there are still memories of Loki and his betrayals at and the downfall of Odin. Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Anthony Hopkins made such an impression as Odin that they are back again, Loki having his moments of heroism but always the trickster lurking. There is a great deal of action and it takes place among the various planets and strange communities, especially one presided over by Jeff Goldblum in a very campy manner. Crowds pack into a huge amphitheatre for gladiatorial combats where his main warrior is actually Hulk, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) imprisoned in the form of the Hulk for two years, finally coming up against Thor, with Banner re-emerging, Thor victorious. Also present is an alcoholic young Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) a mercenary who has captured for but who might be persuaded to join forces to retake Asgard. And Ragnarok indicates an apocalypse for Asgard. We have had a glimpse of Odin living in exile and then disappearing from his two sons (though Anthony Hopkins getting a chance for more footage to inspire Thor in his battles). And the battles? The main villain of the piece is the hitherto unknown daughter of Odin, Hela. She wears black. Has black hair, black eye make-up, a black headpiece of horns – which indicate that her heart is deeply black as well. And, she is played by Cate Blanchett. So, plenty of plot. Plenty of battles. Plenty of intriguing characters. Plenty of superhero activity – though Thor receives plenty of body blows as well as losing an eye, in the tradition of his father. On the heroic side there is Karl Urban as a warrior who becomes the instrument of Hela’s malice but, we guess, will have a change of heart. There is also Idris Elba, the Asgard warrior leading the remnant of scarred to safety. And, for the fun of it, there is an early re-enactment of the betrayal of Loki which has Sam Neill acting the part of Odin, Luke Hemsworth, Chris Hemsworth’s older brother, as Thor and, uncredited and pretty unrecognisable, Matt Damon as Loki. Perhaps overseas audiences might not get the joke but Australian audiences and New Zealand audiences will delight in the character of Korg, a giant creature made of rocks, not quite the full quarry, but with very funny dialogue, a very strong Niew Ziland accent and delivery, very amusing, and played by the director himself, Taika Waititi. Actually this version of Thor is fairly Antipodean with both Thor and Hela originally coming from Melbourne, with a touch of Sam Neill, another Hemsworth, and Karl Urban and the director coming from New Zealand. And the film was made on the Gold Coast. Perhaps some of the purists may think this is a bit too flippant, but most fans will enjoy it – and, creator Stan Lee, having a cameo in all his films, signals his imprimatur with a very amusing one here.   THREE SUMMERS Australia, 2017, 104 minutes, Colour. Robert Sheehan, Rebecca Breeds, John Waters, Michael Caton, Magda Szubanski, Deborah Mailman, Jacqueline McKenzie, Kelton Pell, Peter Rowsthorn, Amay Jain. Directed by Ben Elton. Why Three Summers? They refer to a country town Festival in Western Australia, a Westival, celebrated annually with a good crowd coming to enjoy a range of music, performances, workshops, camping and the sheer pleasure of an Australian outing. The film was written and directed by British playwright and screenwriter, Ben Elton – who has been an Australian citizen for many years. He is based in Western Australia and obviously has an affection for the state. But he has also absorbed a great deal of the Australian spirit, Australian history and, especially, Australian social concerns. He can be both comical and critical. The film creates the atmosphere of the town, the stream of cars arriving, the various locations for parking, camping, the buildings and halls for performance, the pub – and even the hall for sessions for Alcoholics Anonymous. And, we get to meet the characters one year, share their experiences and then find them all arriving again for the second year, variations on their experiences, and then find them all arriving again for the third year. Three summers. The audience is introduced to the Westival by the radio host, Queenie, Magda Szubanski at her enthusiastic best, folksy comments, spirit-rousing, introducing guests and acts, a pleasing chorus to all the events. Amongst the arrivals are a father and daughter (John Waters and Rebecca Breeds) who are part of a band called the Warrikans (WA larrikins, as you might expect). John Waters gets the opportunity to sing and play the guitar. Rebecca Breeds, as Keevy, is a lively screen presence, singing, dancing, and meeting up with an unusual Irishman, Roland (Robert Sheehan) whose professionis dog-washing but who plays the theremin. While they might play romantic leads, their interactions are not nearly as romantic as one might like, quite some conflict, especially concerning Roland’s enthusiasm for Keevy and her talent to have an audition at the Concervatoire and the consequent misunderstandings. Deborah Mailman is there as Pam, who runs the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Kelton Pell is Jack, leader of an aboriginal troupe of dancers, with one of the young men in tow having an ankle bracelet and being a sullen and silent refugee from youth detention. The group have an opportunity to do an emu dance, Jack having the opportunity to make jokes about Terra Nullius and the invasion as well as serious points about the aboriginal community and traditions. There is also an Afghan band allowed to come to the Westival out of detention, their presence organised by a quiet young refugee who is being fostered by a local family. There are also two couples who come every year, go through a parking ritual with cones, sit in the same place, say the same things, have the same meals, drink the same wine and congratulate themselves on a great break. This review has kept Michael Caton as Harry till last though he is one of the most important characters. He was a child migrant from the UK, had a harsh upbringing, but has absorbed many of the local prejudices, intolerant of aborigines, harsh on refugees, proud to be an Australian… He criticises the aborigines for strutting around like emus covered in paint while he and his troupe are British Morris Dancers with very quaint costumes and straw hats covered in flowers! One of his final sequences is the most seriously telling scenes on the whole film, relying on Michael Caton’s impact on Australian audiences from The Castle and Last Cab from Darwin, voicing Ben Elton’s challenge to contemporary Australia and any bigotry against multiculturalism and the forming, continually, of the Australian story. Ben Elton knows how to write comedy, some parody, some satire – and has a very good cast to communicate it. Both enjoyment and challenge.   TOM OF FINLAND Finland, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour. Pekka Strang, Lauri Tilkanen, Seumas F. Sargent, Jakob Oftebro, Jessica Grabowsky, Taiso Oksanen. Directed by Dome Karukoski. And who is Tom of Finland? Probably best to ask this question and to do a bit of homework before deciding to see this portrait of an artist. It is also the Finish nomination for Oscar consideration. There are three approaches to viewing this film. First, it is the portrait of a significant Finish artist, Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991). We first see him in action during World War II, the Finnish army supporting the Russians. After the war, he has a job as a commercial artist in an advertising company. He begins to do more personal sketches and, later sends them to the United States where they are accepted and he becomes famous and something of a celebrity. Secondly, the film can be seen as a social study of homosexuality during the 20th century. Tom of Finland was a gay man, in the closet in a very strict Finland, living part of his life in a gay underground, finally finding some freedom of movement and expression in the United States. Thirdly, the film can be seen as the controversial work of a gay artist, his drawings, their content, style, popularity in the gay community, there becoming icons. The film also raises the issue of the art, its expressions and influence and the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s. Touko Laaksonen played by Pekka Strang, first seen as a soldier in his 20s, then moving through the decades and, with effective make up, the same actor portraying the artist in his 50s and 60s. He is not a man who is easy to warm to, personally. He has suffered trauma during the war, even to the killing of a Russian parachutist which had quite an effect on him and is shown in the film. He has bad experiences from the police during a visit to Berlin. He also experiences police raids on homosexuals in parks and in bars and in private homes. There is a certain coldness and detachment about his personality. He lives with his sister, also a commercial artist, and when she takes in a 21, he is infatuated but keeps undercover, not wanting to live separately with the boarder who is a professional dancer. As regards the criminalisation of homosexuality and homosexual behaviour, the film shows much of social homophobia, expressions of hate, the sometimes vicious police raids and interrogations. It can be seen how the decriminalisation of homosexuality had a more positive effect in society and for individuals. (There is an amusing sequence when Tom of Finland goes to California and is present in the gay community when the police suddenly rush in – not to arrest the men as he presumes but searching for a thief who robbed a bank down the street!) Many of us may have seen Tom of Finland sketches as illustrations but not recognised them as the work of a single artist what their original intent was. While he could not publish them in Finland, American magazines on Physical Culture put them on the cover and then they were adopted by the gay community. He sketched over 3000 drawings. They are of men, caricature sketches in the sense that they are huge chested, thin waisted, large buttocked, with prominent sexual organs and sexual behaviour. Tom had a penchant for uniforms, military (even the Nazi uniforms, but not Nazism), police, leather and bikie. They were widely circulated from the 1970s and used in all kinds of illustration, in advertising. The question is raised for Tom when AIDS emerges and his sketches are criticised, singled out as promoting sexual permissiveness which leads to AIDS. He acknowledged this but then turned his attention to the sketches campaigning against behaviour which led to AIDS. The film offers quite a deal to think about, the portrait of the artist, the social context in which lived, his work and the issues of pornography, but it does provide a look at transitions in the 20th century, which have had social consequences for greater freedoms in the 21st century.
Ecumenical award at Mannheim Festival 2017

Ecumenical award at Mannheim Festival 2017

Mannheim, November, 20th, 2017 (SIGNIS). At the 66th International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg, the Ecumenical Jury, appointed by SIGNIS and INTERFILM, awarded its prize, endowed with €1,500 by the Catholic FilmWork in Germany and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), to the film: Une vie ailleurs (Life Beyond Me) directed by Olivier Peyon (France, Uruguay, 2017) To whom belongs a child? Life Beyond Me focuses on this problem in an impressive emotional way.  The film tells the painful process of respecting this basic question and stresses the importance of telling the truth. The ethical challenge is more than just a juridical case. The eyes of the protagonists are finally open for the perspective and dignity of the child with all consequences for their own life. In addition, the Jury awarded a Commendation to Oralman (Returnee), directed by Sabit Kurmanbekov (Kazakhstan, 2017) Returnee is a small and paradigmatic story on the importance of men's roots and the quest for the fatherland in times of worldwide migration.   The members of the Jury were Christoph Strack (Germany – President), Linda Dombrovsky (Hungary), Johannes Feisthauer (Germany) , Franz-Günther Weyrich (Germany)  and Michel Zucker (France).