Melbourne, October, 6th, 2017 (Peter Malone). Below, find reviews done by Peter Malone on the films:

  1. AMERICAN ASSASSIN
  2. AUSTRALIA DAY
  3. BAD BLOOD
  4. BATTLE OF THE SEXES, The
  5. BEATRIZ AT DINNER
  6. BRIGSBY BEAR
  7. DANSEUSE, La/ THE DANCER
  8. EMOJI MOVIE, The
  9. FINAL PORTRAIT
  10. FLATLINERS
  11. GLASS CASTLE, The

AMERICAN ASSASSIN

US, 2017, 111 minutes, Colour.

Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Taylor Kitsch, David Suchet.

Directed by Michael Cuesta.

Vince Flynn is a popular writer, novels of espionage and undercover agents – even beyond Jack Reacher at times.

While this novel comes late in the series, it does provide a background story of the young agent, Mitch Rapp, and the reasons for his involvement with the CIA. This is very much a CIA story.

The film is not to be mistaken for the similarly titled American Made, with Tom Cruise as the rather happy-go-lucky rug-here. There is nothing happy-go-lucky about Mitch Rapp at all – at all.

There are some moments right at the beginning, a happy Mitch and his girlfriend at the beach, his proposal and her delighted response, his going to get a drink for them both and a sudden invasion of terrorists, machine-gunning, a massacre. It is no wonder that Mitch devotes all his energies to revenge.

While the book was written in 2010, the screenplay gives more attention to Islamist jihadists and the CIA infiltrating their cells, even to Libya.

CIA chief, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) has great faith in Mitch, wanting to capitalise on his single-mindedness, sending him to the expert trainer, Hurley (Michael Keaton in a very tough role). We get a glimpse of intense physical and psychological training, including virtual reality tests.

However, the main focus of this particular story is a rogue student of Hurley’s, Ronnie, nicknamed Ghost (Taylor Kitsch moving from hero roles to villain). Capitalising on all the tough skills that he learned from the expert, he becomes involved in smuggling and trading, especially plutonium from the former Soviet Union, with agents of such countries as Iran wanting the plutonium, wanting a bomb. It is up to Hurley and Mitch to thwart the bomb plans.

Actually, the action does move from country to country, making it enjoyable for people who have visited these places: Warsaw, Istanbul, Romania, Rome, Dubai. The Rome scenes are particularly vivid, an underground venue for assembling the bomb and shootouts, and a threat as well as exact timing for a detonation with a serious American target.

Dylan O’Brien could continue this franchise (after appearing in the Maze Runner series), ultra-serious, unrelenting and deadly (even in the tongue-in-cheek final moments of the film). And there is David Suchet turning up at times as a CIA consultant.

In 2017 this could be Kim Jung Un’s favourite film, nuclear weapons, attacks on the US and its interests – and the potential of how easy it is for a single individual to have a bomb and detonate it rather than lots of test flights!

 

AUSTRALIA DAY

Australia, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.

Bryan Brown, Shari Sebbens, Sean Keenan, Elias Anton, Kee Chan, Isabelle Cornish, Carolyn Dunphy, Daniel Webber, Miah Madden, Matthew Le Nevez, Simon Alrahi.

Directed by Kriv Stenders.

There is quite a lot going on in Australia Day. More than a lot. In fact, there are three stories in one – as well as the background of January 26 in Brisbane.

While Australia Today has been celebrated throughout the country for a long time, there have been hesitations and protests, especially about January 25 being the last day of freedom for indigenous people on this continent. With only 50 years of history of aboriginal rights since the referendum of 1967, there are still many issues that can surface quite powerfully about Australia Day. Then there is the reality of so many migrants, Chinese from long ago and more prevalent in recent times, the post-war European migrants, the Vietnamese in the 1970s and 1980s, and refugees and migrants from Middle Eastern countries… How do they participate in the ethos of Australia Day?

The screenplay for Australia Day takes up race and ethnic issues as well as offering a continuous background, especially from television coverage of celebrations, sunny and raucous, as well as family and picnics. There is a Chinese story. There is a middle eastern story. There is an indigenous Australian story. Throughout the film we begin to see some connections, tenuous in many ways, between the three stories – with a fine, small but significant, connection in the last few minutes of the film.

There is a lot of running in the film, a lot of chasing. A young aboriginal girl is running from the police. A young man from a middle eastern family is being pursued by white locals. A Chinese woman is escaping from sex slavery. This running and chasing motif extends throughout the whole film giving it a dramatic urgency.

Caught up in the Chinese story is Bryan Brown as a farmer whose land has been repossessed by the bank. He has suffered from drought, the effect on his cattle and their destruction. Often in the background – and then, outside the window of his flat in Brisbane, the Minister for Trade is promoting an agreement with China that is to be signed that afternoon. The Chinese woman hails him down in the street and gets into his car.

This kind of story has been prevalent in Australian films, in the important film The Jammed about sex slavery, but also a theme in the recent Goldstone as well as in the background of Top of the Lake, China Girl. The girls are truly slaves, prostituted by ruthless owners. Can an ordinary, decent enough Australian deal with this situation? Despite his being played by Bryan Brown, it seems that he can’t. But he is a man of conscience and must take a stand and make an effort.

The middle eastern story is about young drug dealer, his dominating mother, his upright father, and the younger brother being tangled with a local girl and being pursued by her brothers, one sadistic, the other with a conscience. This is a revenge story. It is also a possible peace and reconciliation story – not explicitly tied to Australia Day but important in terms of the longer inhabitants of the land since 1788 accepting newcomers who are racially, culturally and religiously different. Some interesting comparisons could be made with the Australian film, Down Under, set in the racial riots in Cronulla.

The indigenous story has its heart-rending aspects. Two young girls have been abandoned by their mother who is a drug addict in the Brisbane streets. The father is brutal and they react violently against him, killing him, taking a car, being pursued by the police – in fact, by an indigenous policewoman (Shari Sebbens) who knows them, their grandmother and the difficult family situation. She is asked to stand down from any enquiries in the search for the girl, April (Miah Madden) but she feels that she must, tracking down where the girl might have gone to find her mother, catching up with her at a desperate moment.

While we might have seen these issues in these stories before, they are worth telling again. There interestingly acted in the film is been directed by Kriv Stenders (the Red Dog films as well as the miniseries, Wake in Fright).

 

BAD BLOOD

Australia, 2016, 90 minutes, Colour.

Xavier Samuel, Morgan Griffin, Tess Fowler, Rob Macpherson, Elena Carapetis, Patrick Frost.

Directed by David Pulbrook.

Most of us enjoy a thriller now and then. Something a bit like the airport novels that keep us occupied and entertained.

One of the difficulties with this kind of film and for reviewers is that it is often too easy to give away serious aspects of the plot. And that would be fatal as regards Bad Blood. Best not to know anything about it before you see it.

But, it does begin with the murder, an accused murderer, his being acquitted, his coming from the United States to Adelaide, his publishing a book, his being in love – and this all within the first few minutes. But, by the 30 minute mark, there have been quite a number of clues, sinister indications, more than a touch of mystery.

One of things to say is that Adelaide photographs very nicely. The last part of the film takes place in the South Australian countryside, also photographing well.

Of course, one of the challenges of this kind of mystery is to formulate at least one theory, if not more, to be ready for the solution. This reviewer was perhaps being too smart with two possible theories, and opting for the one that was not correct!

The film is a starring vehicle for Xavier Samuel, becoming more well known for international films from the Twilight series to Anonymous to Love and Friendship, as well as being a substantial presence in homegrown films in Australia. The screenplay gives him quite a lot of scope for performance. Morgan Griffin is the veterinary expert with whom he is in love.

It can be said that there is quite a tradition of Australian films, with touches of horror, that take place in the bush, pleasant places being turned into sinister areas of fright in minutes. And the same here.

The title might be rather an obvious one but worth reflecting on. Whodunnit? Or did hedunnit it – so to speak?

 

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

US, 2017, 121 minutes, Colour.

Emma Stone, Steve Correll, Andrea Riseborouoghr, Natalie Morales, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elizabeth Shue, Eric Christian Olson, Jessica McNamee, Lewis Pullman, Austin Stowell.

Directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Farris.

This is how a famous tennis match was billed in 1973. It was the initiative of veteran tennis champion, Bobby Riggs, at that stage aged 55, challenging a female player, fully expecting to win – after all, he had issued a challenge to Margaret Court, who had accepted, but lost to Riggs. He had previously challenged US champion, Billie Jean King, who had declined but, after the defeat of Margaret Court, accepted. And the rest, as they always say, is history!

This is a tennis film for enthusiasts of the sport, with some highlights of the Riggs-Court match, and a substantial, well-choreographed presentation of the important features of the King-Riggs match, enabling the audience to see skills and tactics, King wearing out Riggs, making him run all over the court. And she won.

Steve Carrell has something of a luminous presence on screen, is able to do the very serious, but also has a capacity to excel at clowning when required. And this is certainly required in portraying Bobby Riggs, antics on the court, playing with two dogs on a leash, dressing up as Little Bo Peep along with some sheep…  He was an inveterate gambler, trying the patience of his wife, Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue), winning a Rolls-Royce as prize for a game and selling it to get the prize money for the tournament, relying on the support of his son (played by Lewis Pullman, Bill Pullman’s son). Carrell certainly brings Riggs to life.

The title, however, says much more. This is a film about equality and about equity. In terms of equity, the film opens with Billie Jean King, played with zest and enthusiasm, although with a kind of luminous quality, by Emma Stone, accompanying her manager, Gladys, Sarah Silverman, to the bosses of the American Lawn Tennis Association and defying them about payment to women players. The proposal by the Association was to pay men eight times more than women – alleging that men were far more interesting and athletic to watch.

The women created their own women’s tennis tournament, sponsored in the manner of the times by a cigarette brand, Virginia Slims. They were successful, succeeding in drawing Margaret Court (Australian actress Jessica McNamee) to play with them. Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) head of the Association, with a rather smug superior attitude towards women, was to do the commentary on CBS for the Battle of the Sexes but Billie Jean King refused.

However, the title has a touch of the ambiguous because it is also a battle about the sexes, about relationships, about same-sex relationships. The narrative here has Billie Jean King attracted to Marilyn, the tournament hairdresser, Andrea Riseborough, and discovering her orientation. With this theme, the film is very topical in the light of worldwide discussions about same-sex marriage and issues of legislation. (In the background is a gay couple who designed the dresses for the women, characters, including Alan Cumming, able to make comment about the situation in the context of the 1970s.)

And, as we see often in films based on actual characters, information about their continuing lives and photos of the real persons.

 

BEATRIZ AT DINNER

US, 2017, 82 minutes, Colour.

Salma Hayak, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, Chloe Sevigny, David Warshofsky, John Early.

Directed by Miguel Arteta.

Beatriz at Dinner is an enigma of the film. It is definitely not an entertainment for those who like QED or its equivalent as they walk out of the cinema.

It opens with a rowing boat on a river, a woman in the boat. She passes a white goat on the bank. And then Beatriz wakes up, a black goat in a cage in her room and a pet dog barking at it. It looks as though this film is going to be a combination of magical realism and practical realism. And it is.

Salma Hayak is Beatriz, who lives alone, has a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe as well is a Buddha statue in front of which she contemplates in her house. She goes to work in a Cancer Centre, relating wonderfully to those there for treatment, an expert in all kinds of alternate medicines. Clearly, Beatriz belongs to a New Age World, especially as the setting is California.

Beatriz also does house calls and is welcomed by Kathy (Connie Britton), less so by her husband Grant (David Warshofsky). She has cared for their daughter, a teenager with cancer. Beatriz has trouble with her car and it won’t start as she goes to leave. Her friend cannot get to the house, a mansion, for a couple of hours.

Kathy, always grateful, invite Beatriz to stay for dinner. She has on a kind of uniform but is helped out from Kathy’s wardrobe. Then the guests begin to arrive, two couples, involved in the business world, in property development in the US and in Mexico, the women more interested in Beatriz who seems to be just hanging about and is mistaken for the maid by Doug (John Lithgow).

We get some background of the deals and the development – which leads into Beatriz’s conversations at dinner. She is not exactly shy and retiring. She certainly offers opinions – feeling that she has known Doug before, something confirmed when, after the meal, she demonstrates her massage skills and feels a link with him.

These are the kinds of screenplay clues that we are meant to be alert to, this one being more obvious than others.

Beatriz is invited to give something of her background, with Kathy supplying, sympathetically, a lot of the detail. She is from Mexico, her parents dead, her being brought up by relatives, having to leave when developers came into the town, took over the land, built a resort which did not flourish, leaving the residents impoverished or having to leave.

Doug is one of those superficially genial businessman, who can turn on the charm, but is ruthless in his dealings, supported by his wife who is more friendly to Beatriz than Doug is. Jay Duplass and Chloe Sevigny are the other couple, she again giving more attention to Beatriz than her husband.

So, the dinner could be seen as a verbal allegory of contemporary US, the exploiters, the exploited, the wealthy preoccupied with wealth, the immigrants and their place in that society. Amongst Doug’s opinions are questions of whether Beatriz was an illegal immigrant or not – though he praises her for getting a job and being employed. He also makes remarks about the environment, rather apocalyptic with some of his utterances, wondering whether the environment or even human beings will be around for much longer – an eat, drink and be merry approach to moneymaking and life.

The car is fixed and Beatrice suddenly rushes from the car – and a sequence that will surprise, even alarm. Then another emotional jolt, and then something quite unexpected…

And then, the film continues, Beatriz rowing on the river. No QED, leaving the audience to ponder on what they have seen and heard and how it relates to contemporary American life.

 

BRIGSBY BEAR

US, 2017, 97 minutes, Colour.

Kyle Mooney, Greg Kinnear, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Adam Samberg.

Directed by Dave McCary.

A film reviewer should never be lost for words. But while – and after – watching Brigsby Bear, what is one to say?Yes, it is best seen without preparation and reading reviews afterwards.

The first thought is to alert audiences looking for a cuddly film for the children and the family, a kind of cuddly Paddington, this is not it. The second thought is that this film is likely to become a favourite cult movie, screened at special timeslots, drawing in an audience who may want to see it again – and again (and they may not be all that dissimilar from hero James and his friends).

In a sense, watching Brigsby Bear is something of an emotional and intellectual journey. At the opening, we’re watching a television program on a small screen, a very elementary animated series, very limited effects, a couple of human images, but generally Brigsby himself, going on a quest and confronting the Sun who turns out to be a villain. The episode we’re watching – as is James, about whom in a minute – is from volume 35 on VHS, shelving around James’s room piled with VHSs. Who is he? What is he watching? And why is he enjoying it so much, absolutely identifying with characters and situations?

James is a young adult, living with his parents, underground, isolated, with an enclosed observation tower – but when the father goes to work, he has to wear a gas mask. Are we in a post—apocalyptic situation? Well, for James, it is.

It quickly emerges, when the police turn up, James was abducted as a child and shielded by the eccentric abductors, who created the series of Brigsby Bear for him and the two are experts, as is James, on all the esoteric, names, characters, instruments, situations to be seen on screen.

Most of the film, in fact, is the story of an innocent abroad. James goes back to his birth parents who underestimate the sheltered, extraordinarily sheltered, life he has led. He himself is rather ingenuous, rather eager to discover new things but hanging on to the reality that Brigsby’s story is the key part of his life.

He does make some friends, discovers some contemporary mores amongst young people, parties, drugs, sexual behaviour, but in some ways is able to transcend them. And, believe it or not, in his telling the tale of Brigsby, the young people become fans. What is James to do but to make his own film about Brigsby. Thank goodness for Google where he is able to find all the necessary information about filmmaking, editing, and even tracking down the young woman who had appeared in the television series.

This is a cheerful and optimistic film despite James having his difficulties, his making friends with the acting-aspiring detective, Greg Kinnear, and the serious therapy sessions with Claire Danes.

The creator of the story is Kyle Mooney (a Saturday Night Live alumnus, so ready wit offbeat humour) who collaborated with the screenplay and takes the part of James. He makes this character extraordinarily credible, playing it straightforwardly, no mugging or winking to the camera. This makes the film more affecting.

Mark Hamill and Jane Adams play the abductors. Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins his parents, Ryan Simpkins his sister, Jorge Lendeborg Jr his sympathetic friend and collaborator. And, one of those things one might notice, Kyle Mooney, Matt Walsh and Greg Kinnear are all left-handed!

There is a lot to enjoy about Brigsby Bear with all its eccentricity and, especially, James’s final cinematic success, and, quite a lot to think about, human nature, the effect of upbringing and emotional abuse, parenting and enabling young people to be themselves and to grow.

 

LA DANSEUSE/ THE DANCER

France, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.

Soko (Stephanie Sokoilinski), Gaspard Ulliel, Melanie Thierry, Lily-Rose Depp, François Damiens, Louis-Do de Lenquesaing, Amanda Plummer, Dennis Menochet.

Directed by Stephanie Di Giusto.

The Danseuse/ Dancer of the title is Mary Louise Fuller who came from the American West, out there with her French prospector father, roping the cattle at a rodeo yet with an interest in dance. When her father is killed by men who think he has found gold, as he has boasted, there is nothing left for her to do but return to mother (Amanda Plummer), a staunch member now of the Temperance League, in Brooklyn. It is 1892.

However, this is really a Parisien story. The young Mary Louise does do auditions for dance in New York – although at first she finishes up at a photo studio of suggestive pictures – but has a talent for sketching and designing elaborate dance movements. She auditions, dances. A rather decadent French count befriends her – but she takes his money, leaving a note, and sailing to Paris.

Soko (stage name for dancer, Stephanie Sokolinski) is a very good choice for Mary Louise who changes her name to Loie. She is physically strong, continually exercising, enabling her to perform dance movements which take a toll on her body. Undeterred, she makes an impression at the Folies Bergere and is hired for performance.

Part of the attractiveness of the film is seeing her perform, metres and metres of diaphanous material, her ability to swirl them, athletically moving but aesthetically beautiful, audiences and reviewers likening her performance to flowers.

There are complications in her personal life. She collapses at the Folies Bergere but recovers. Gabrielle (Melanie Thierry) becomes her assistant, friend and confidante, supportive in management. And the count, Gaspard Ulliard, divorces his American wife and returns to Paris, devoted to Loie and she, in complicated ways, devoted to and dependent on him.

But her ambition is to do her dancing at the Paris Opera and, despite the initially snobbish reactions of the director, she is given permission to perform. More and more material, more and more mirrors, more and more lighting, more and more costs.

A further complication in the plot arrives in the form of the young Lily-Rose Depp as Isadora Duncan (whom many audiences may remember far more than Loie especially through documentaries and the feature film which starred Vanessa Redgrave in 1968). Instead of seeing Isadora as a rival, which in her scheming way and ingratiating manner, she is, Loie allows herself to be seduced by Isadora.

There is a physical and emotional toll on Loie , her having to wear dark glasses to protect her eyes, a brace to protect her shoulders, a collapse of. Nerves.

Will Loie triumph at the Paris Opera?

2016 saw another very interesting film about theatre in Paris at this time, Monsieur Chocolat, the comedy in mime of a black comedian with a white comedian and the surfacing of racial issues of time.

 

THE EMOJI MOVIE

US, 2017, 85 minutes, Colour.

Voices of: T.J.Miller, James Corden, Anna Farris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Patrick Stewart, Christina Aguilera, Sophia Vergara, Sean Hayes.

Directed by Tony Leondis.

A 2017 Cyberspace Odyssey.

The first emoji was patented in Japan in 1999 so that in 2001, this kind of Cyberspace Odyssey would not have been possible. But, here it is, the subject of an animated movie for young audiences and the family. Who would’ve thought? Well, probably, those in the IT industry, always on the alert for developments.

A word of advice for intending audiences. This is a film for youngsters who are completely at home with their smart phones, with all their potential for communication and all the apps. It could be a relaxation for older IT experts, looking at the fun side of their professional work. But, a word of warning, when grandparents take their grandchildren to see these films, it is certainly best if the grandparents are technology alert, otherwise what on earth are they to make of it all…?

There are some human characters in the film, especially at school, where, of course, they are dependent on their phones. One boy is attracted to one of the girls but very shy, both using their phones but he having some doubts and intending to delete all his apps. (Actually, sequences where monstrous black devouring emojis appear and begin their demolishing could be a 21st-century version of animated horror!)

So, into the phone, into the cyberworld. Again who would’ve thought (well young audiences probably do think this) that there would be such a variety of apps and emojis? In fact, the outline of the story is a romance within the phone, a kind of frog Prince, Gene, a Meh emoji, who seems to be stuck in a two-dimensional unemotional life. As well there is the princess in disguise. They meet and come alive in a dance competition – and Gene is helped by a five-finger emoji, Hi 5. And, presiding over all the emojis with malicious intent is Smiler, an equivalent of a wicked witch, all gushing sinister smiles.

And, of course, the voices help. T.J.Miller is Gene, is the princess, James Cordon (British, of course, but very popular as a host on American television) is Hi 5, Anna Farris is the escaping princess (and her name is Jailbreak) and Maya Rudolph is the witch lady. And, a credit to be noticed and for Trivial Pursuit, Sir Patrick Stewart as Poop!

One of the goals of the journey in this film is to arrive in The Cloud and there are all kinds of difficulties with delete, trying to find correct passwords, breaking through the firewall after Access Denied…

Colourful, relying on a basic fairytale outline but absolutely full of emojis of every kind and the implication that no one should be using an emoji that indicates indifference like Meh. Communication ought to be bright and sprightly!

 

FINAL PORTRAIT

US, 2017, 90 minutes, Colour.
Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clemence Poesy, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud.
Directed by Stanley Tucci.

Final Portrait is a brief film about artist and sculptor, Alberto Giacometti, living and working in Paris in the middle of the 1960s. Much of the film is confined to his studio, his workspace, living quarters, upstairs storage and the workshop for his associate, Diego.

The film was directed by noted American actor, Stanley Tucci, his previous films in direction included The Big Night, Imposters, Joe Gould’s Secret. Tucci does not appear in this film but his friend and collaborator, Tony Shalhoub, portrays Giacometti’s assistant.

The screenplay is based on a memoir by an American, Jim Lord, who encountered Giacometti in Paris and was persuaded to remain there to pose for a portrait, taking a far longer time than Lord anticipated, but Lord agreeing to remain, fascinated by the work of the artist as well as his continually scrapping the work he had done, beginning afresh, seemingly dissatisfied, but finally
This makes much of the film a two-hander, conversations between Lord and the artist, the sequences where Lord poses, is momentarily distracted, arouses Giacometti’s ire…

Geoffrey Rush is obviously enjoying his interpretation of Giacometti, Moody, artistic in every way, a perfectionist always dissatisfied, working on his sketches, on his paintings, his sculptures – with the audience having the opportunity to view many of these as the camera roams around his studio.

Armie Hammer is Jim Lord, a well-to-do American, interested in the artist’s work – and later writing about him.

There are some complications in Giacometti’s personal life, his relationship with his wife, played by Sylvie Testud, loving her husband but also tempted to other relationships. Giacometti is not only tempted but is in a long-term relationship with a local prostitute, Clemence Poesy, who operates from a local club, is unembarrassed in her relationship with the artist, easily cavorting and canoodling with him at the club, letting him buy her an expensive car…

So, the film itself is also a portrait, a kind of final portrait not only of Jim Lord but of Giacometti himself and his artistic achievements.
 

FLATLINERS

US, 2017, 110 minutes, Colour.

Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Kiefer Sutherland.

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev.

Flatliners is doing two things. In the first part, it is something of a horror film. In the second part it is a moralising story, something of a cautionary tale. It is also a remake of the popular film of 1990 which featured amongst others, Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon. (A link is Kiefer Sutherland here turning up for a cameo as a disciplinarian supervising doctor, with white hair and a walking stick!)

This time the story is set in Toronto. The focus is on a group of doctors in training – and, judging by their behaviour, there is something of a risk to our future health unless they really improve their attitudes and standards. Being responsible isn’t high on their personal agendas.

The first person we are introduced to it is Courtney, played by Ellen Page, driving with her sister, distracted by her mobile phone, and crashing into a truck with the consequent death of her sister drowning in the river. Nine years later, she is part of the group of trainee doctors, more skilled than the rest of the group.

The most responsible of the rest of the group is Ray, Diego Luna, who knows his medicine but is drawn into the plan that Courtney develops, with her studies about afterlife, with her theory that were someone to have their heart stopped for a minute, to flatline, then brain activity could be checked and photographed. She makes demands on Jamie, played by James Norton far away from Grantchester and his rather edifying presence there, this time a too happy-go-lucky medical student. She also persuades her friend, Sophia, Kiersey Clemons, who is finding studies very difficult.

They do the experiment and we share Courtney’s after death or near death experience, walking in cosmic lights, rapt. It is easy to see where the plot development will take us, the other two, then their friend Marlo (Nina Dobrev) not only wanting to undergo the same experience but extending the time when the heart is stopped.

Clearly, there will be consequences – and, in fact, a sharpening and alertness of memories, knowledge, self-assertion.

But, some of the experiences are nightmarish. And, each of the subjects has something very worrying in their past, ghosts and hauntings surfacing, strange and unwanted experiences.

Which means then that the group has to face each individual conscience challenge, going back into the past, acknowledging the truth. And the question is: at the point of death is there some kind of what we might call “judgement”? And, in a secular perspective, without any benefit God, how can conscience be healed? Is forgiveness possible? Does each person who acknowledges their guilt have to forgive themselves?

So, these are some of the questions that the audience is left with as they leave the cinema and wonder whether flatlining is possible, wonder about the moral responsibilities of the medical profession, and wonder about personal responsibilities, forgiveness and reconciliation.

 

THE GLASS CASTLE

US, 2017, 127 minutes, Colour.

Woody Harrelson, BrIe Larson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Chandler Head, Max Greenfield, Josh Caras, Iain Armitage, Sarah Snook, Brigette Lundy-Painen, Robin Bartlett.

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

Once again the story of a dysfunctional family. But this family did not live in a big American city, pressures of urban life, personality clashes and abuse. Rather, this is the story of a family with a West Virginia, hillbilly background, moving from place to place, a great deal of love in the family but the parents having dreams rather than being anchored in reality - and the consequences for their children.

It is based on a true story, the 2005 memoir of writer, Jeanette Walls. After the harrowing experience of watching her story, her childhood and that of her sisters and brother, and of her adult experiences, there are photos of the actual characters before the final credits as well as some video excerpts of the parents in 1989.

If you want to see admirable performances, then The Glass Castle should be high on your list. The film is not exactly an entertainment. But it is a challenging look at its characters, their behaviours, their mindsets, and the effect that each has on the other.

Rex Walls comes from tough family living in the hills. Several times he takes his wife and children to visit his family, especially his dominatingly stern mother (with the touch of the sinister which gradually emerges). Rex is played by Woody Harrelson, one of his best performances, award-worthy, and building on several decades of his quality acting. Rex is a dreamer, knowledgeable, former air force. Strong skills in engineering, imagining building a house, and always drawing plans, which is environmentally friendly, made of glass. But, the fact is, he is a dreamer rather than an achiever.

While he has four children, the most significant in his life is Jeanette. The film introduces us to her as an adult, remarkably poised, well-dressed, going to an important business dinner with her fiance, the audience learning that she is a columnist, has written stories and gossip columns.

The structure of the film means that the adult Jeanette and her story is the framework for the narrative but the most dramatic part of the action is in the flashbacks. The audience knows some of this and the results of the childhood experiences. Interest is not where it is going but rather how it is going to get to this adult destination. What has Jeanette experienced, her relationship with her father, with her mother, with her siblings?

As regards the acting, Oscar-winner Brie Larson is very strong as the older Jeanette. The two young actresses who portray her as a child, especially Ella Anderson, are worth noting. While her mother, Rose Mary, an artist, is often taken for granted, sometimes in the background, she is nevertheless a very interesting character and unglamorously played by Naomi Watts.

While Rex is a dreamer, moving his family from place to place, a gambler, a drinker, unreliable, he still has great love for his children and there is intensity in his relationship with his wife. His life is an “if only…”. Particularly powerful is the episode where he goes off drink and suffers cold turkey anguish.

In fact, the children fare particularly well given all the disadvantages. But they do have a devotion to their parents, do have a sense of reliability, especially the young Jeanette, and they develop ways in which they can survive and do.

Audiences will not find this an exhilarating experience but, as they live with the characters, discover secrets. They will be encouraged by human resilience. They will realise that this kind of story, if it is to have any meaning, has to be a healing of memories.