Melbourne, June, 15th, 2017 (Peter Malone). Below, find the second part of film critics written by Peter Malone for the month of June.

  • HANDSOME DEVIL
  • I AM HEATH LEDGER
  • JOHN WICK, CHAPTER 2
  • KING ARTHUR, THE LEGEND
  • NORMAN/ THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER
  • PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAB: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
  • PROMISE, The
  • SCIENCE FICTION VOLUME 1: THE OSIRIS CHILD
  • SENSE OF AN ENDING, The
  • SNATCHED
  • WONDER WOMAN

 

HANDSOME DEVIL

Ireland, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.

Fionn O'Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott, Moe Dunford, Michael McEhlatton, Ruairi O'Connor, Mark Lavery, Jay Duffy, Ardal O'Hanlon, Hugh O'Conor.

Directed by John Butler.

There has been a long tradition of films about boys’ boarding schools, some comedies about difficulties, some dramas about misfits, rebels, some clashes between students and teachers, some physical violence, sexual abuse.

This one, set in Ireland and filmed in an actual Rugby school, starts out fairly conventionally. A young student, need (Fionn O’Shea) gives his voice-over version of his father after his mother’s death, marrying his young stepmother, their living in Dubai, his resentment at having to go to boarding school and his giving serious consideration to being expelled. As soon as he arrives, he is the subject of sneers and bullying. But, he has a room to himself where he can be quiet, play his favourite (older) music, take refuge from the other students.

He soon tells us that the preoccupation of staff and students is Rugby, past tradition of winning (though not lately) and the preoccupation with the sport, bolstered by the enthusiasm of the Rugby coach, Paschal (Moe Dunford). The principal shares the preoccupation and has quite an open attitude toward some of the teachers and students – though he wishes that they were devoted to Rugby.

Ned peace is disturbed when a troubled new student, expelled for fighting from his previous school, Connor (Nicholas Galitzine) is to share his room. He has a reputation as a Rugby champion – and has scenes of opportunity, training and play, to demonstrate this fully. Some of the team members are bullies and, insinuating that Ned is gay because of a film poster on his wall, purge Connor to be cautious. When Ned finds him doing push-ups, he puts up a barrier between the two beds, his own Berlin Wall, and keeps aloof.

In the meantime there is a new English teacher, Mr Sherry, a very interesting and provocative performance from Andrew Scott (Benedict Cumberbatch’s Moriarty). He wants students to think for themselves, exercises a discipline, is not particularly interested in Rugby, but encourages Ned and Connor who have found some bond in playing guitar and songs to prepare for participation in an interschool concert.

By this time, the audience may will be alert that there will be sexual identity themes, not quite as predicted, perhaps predicted with Mr Sherry, but making the relationship between Ned and Connor very awkward, so much so that Connor wants to opt out of the final match to win the championship.

Early in the piece, Ned tells us that there are moments in life that we will always truly regret – and there is certainly one here in his treatment of Connor. However, the experience of school, his not fitting in, his beginning to have a friend, enables him to defy his parents and try to persuade Connor to come back for the match.

This is a film about tolerance but, more, about understanding, especially about sexual identity and enabling people to be themselves, to be honest about their identity – which makes the team confrontation in the dressing room and the final expected Rugby triumph all the more joyous and exhilarating.

Handsome Devil (not really the most helpful title) obviously campaigns against homophobia – and has a sincere hope that there will always be understanding outcomes.

 

I AM HEATH LEDGER

Heath Ledger’s family, friends, professionals, actors.

Canada, 2017, 90 minutes, Colour.

Directed by Adrian Buitenhuis, Derik Murray.

Heath Ledger achieved a great deal in his film career, acting and moving into directing, in his short life of 28 years. He died in January 2008.

This is a Canadian documentary and might well have been called The American Life and Career of Heath Ledger. While there are scenes in Perth and Bondi Beach, there are no references to his Australian films, Two Hands or Candy and only the briefest references to Ned Kelly, an occasion for having a conversation with Naomi Watts – with some Australian bush scenery in the background, so different from American scenery.

However, the film makes a very good case for Heath Ledger and his career achievements.

The film also has the advantage of the director interviewing Heath Ledger’s parents and his four sisters, noting their admiration for him, his early ambitions to act, his rather prodigious skill at chess, his venturing out of Perth at age 17 to go to Sydney and appear in the television series Roar (but no mention of his being in 10 episodes of Home and Away). While he did make Paws and the crime thriller, Two Hands, he went very quickly to the United States, wanted the lead role in 10 Things I Hate About You and got it.

Mel Gibson tutoring him for The Patriot, a dramatic scene from Monsters Ball, rehearsals for dancing and adjusting for A Knight’s Tale, surfing and skateboarding in California for Lords of Dogtown, Ang Lee commenting on him with scenes from Brokeback Mountain, for the Bob Dylan drama, I’Not There, but, most of all, a more detailed look at his thinking into his role of The Joker in The Dark Night, filming, striking sequences and, finally, his make up in costumes for his last film, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus (but no Brothers Grimm of Casanova).

But, what is interesting for those who know his films is his continual use of camera from his young days, learning how a camera works, lighting, styles of performance, with many excerpts here from these home movies. With his love of music, he actually moved into directing music videos, quite stylish and experimental in their way.

The film wants to celebrate his life and career and so does not dwell on his death. However there is enough information about his intensity and energy, his being wide-awake and not sleeping, this gradually taking its toll and his need for medication to sleep.

Heath Ledger was popular with women, a relationship with Naomi Watts, his relationship with Michelle Williams, starring in Brokeback Mountain, with whom he had a daughter, Matilda.

This is a documentary for those interested in the star himself, his life and career, but also for those who are interested in the film industry, production, stardom, publicity (which Heath Ledger disliked intensely) and the potential for creativity.

 

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2

US, 2017, 122 minutes, Colour.

Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Franco Nero, Lawrence Fishburne, Ricardo Scamarcio. Common, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick.

Directed by Chad Stahelski.

John Wick was an extraordinary success with audiences in 2014, fans of the violent genre and stories of hitmen, appreciating the toughness of the story and its treatment, Keanu Reeves as a tough, silent, even stoic martial arts expert confronting the criminal elements of the city. So much so that a sequel was strongly anticipated. And the fans have been pleased with this Chapter 2.

The genre fans have been very appreciative of how well this new chapter works, Reeves still his familiar self, but involved in a wider range of hits as well as being challenged in his life as to whether he can give up his violent ways and become a new person. Probably not likely!

This is the kind of film that those who are not fans of the genre, who find a lot of physical violence hard to take, who are repelled by an enormous body count, would be well advised to give it a miss – they might even think that the action, the hard attitudes as well as the myriad deaths border on the ridiculous.

The film opens with John Wick trying to get his wrecked car back from the dealers. And they are more than dealers, involved in drugs – talking of Wick and his reputation, sitting in apprehensive silence as they hear the mayhem going on in the garage below. And, not to be outdone, there are wild car chases.

The main thing is that an Italian mafioso type, played by Ricardo Scamarcio, gives Wick a marker because he has done him a favour in the past. Wick is now to go to Rome to kill the gangster’s sister so that he will have a seat on the board controlling crime. Wick is unwilling but submits to the advice of Winston, Ian McShane of the previous film, and goes to Rome where he finds a variation on La Dolce Vita, finds the sister in fashionable ruins where she slits her wrists and Wick shoots her.

At which stage, it would seem to be hundreds of criminal footsoldiers pursuing Wick through the ruins, most seeming willing to run instantly into the line of fire with deathly results. Another hitman, played by Common, is determined to destroy Wick but, after a fight, they land in the bar of another mafioso type – a cameo turned by Franco Nero.

Then it’s back to New York but word has gone out electronically that Wick is to be killed with a huge bounty on him. It seems as though everybody New York City is eyeing him and pursuing him, especially, with a deadly confrontation on the New York subway.

Then it gets even more exotic, a visit to a local gangster, a cameo by Laurence Fishburne, and then a confrontation with the mafioso boss, all taking place in an enormous art installation, with plenty of mirrors and reflections and dangers.

However, Wick breaks the code and kills his marker – which makes him excommunicado amongst the gangsters and hitmen and hit women, electronic messages going out in abundance as an even more enormous bounty on him as he walks the streets of New York – surely into Chapter 3.

 

KING ARTHUR AND THE LEGEND OF THE SWORD

UK/US, 2017, 126 minutes, Colour.

Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Eric Banner, Djimon Housou, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Tom Wu, Neil Maskell.

Directed by Guy Ritchie.

An example of the differing ways of film reviews. Within a few hours of its publication, two friends quoted the review of King Arthur and its mere one and a half stars. Obviously, not a film to go to see. However, the decision was based not on the contents of the review and its reasoning but, rather, on the prestige of the newspaper in which it appeared.

On reading the reasons for such dislike for the film, it seemed that these were the very reasons that this review would praise the film!

There has been a King Arthur the film for almost every decade for the last 100 years, the 30s and 40s with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the 50s and Knights of the Round Table, the 60s and Camelot and the Sword in the Stone, the 70s and Monty Python and the Holy Grail,, the 80s and what is considered a classic, Excalibur, First Knight in the 90s, King Arthur in 2005 and now telling for this decade.

This film has been criticised by some as being “laddish” with comment on previous British gangster films by the director, Guy Ritchie. If one were facetious, one might say that this King Arthur film is “Lock, Stock and one Smoking Sword”! Actually, the point is that the film ends with the coronation of Arthur King and his, literal, building of the Round Table. This is a story, rather, of the young Arthur, the fate of his father Uther, his exile in Londinium and his not knowing his ancestry, growing up in a brothel, on the wharves, the victim of his jealous uncle, Vortigern, who belatedly discovers that his nephew is still living and rounds up every young man of that age to try to draw Excalibur from the rock.

Already, the screenplay has hints of Macbeth (including three sea witches) with overtones of the kingly murders of Hamlet, with the young Arthur somewhat bewildered by his destiny and reluctant to follow it.

Author, Joseph Campbell, who explored the hero with 1000 faces, would probably be very interested in the screenplay, especially in the sequences where Arthur has to go into the dark woods, experience his own demons as well his monsters, in order to emerge as an authentic hero.

Audiences who are fond of Game of Thrones, the films of Tolkien’s novels and other realms of fantasy will enjoy many aspects of this King Arthur film.

As regards the “laddishness”, that is some of the point, the young man growing up in the slums, a collage of him learning how to box and fight, doing deals to build up his box of coins, alleging Viking sailors, pals with the young men on the wharves, an origin story of Arthur which then is transformed into his becoming king and ruling in Camelot.

The film has a big budget but is so spectacular in the first 10 minutes or so that it looks it as if it has already spent its budget. There are monsters in Camelot, massive destruction, scenes of battle, King Uther confronting Mordred, the exteriors and the interiors of the palaces and the kingdom. And, the special effects do not really let up and there are many, many battle sequences, leading to the ultimate confrontation between Arthur and his uncle.

Charlie Hunnam portrays Arthur, a short somewhat stocky lad, on the wharves of Londinium, struggling to find his regal identity and, ultimately succeeding. Jude Law enjoys himself as the villainous Vortigern. Astrid Berges Frisbey is the Mage who is delegated by Merlin to protect Arthur. Eric Bana is a heroic Uthor. The rest of the cast is generally made up of vintage British character actors.

Obviously, this interpretation of Arthur would not suit everyone, especially if there is a conception of Arthur as a king of great dignity and prowess. But, as in imagining of pre-Camelot Arthur, this interpretation has a great deal going for it.

 

NORMAN/THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER

US/Israel, 2016, 118 minutes, Colour.

Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi, Jonathan Avigdon, Yehuda Almagor, Hank Azariah, Harris Yulin, Josh Charles, Ann Dowd.

Directed by Joseph Cedar.

Who is Norman? He is Norman Oppenheimer, a street person of no fixed abode, always wearing an overcoat and cap, embodied perfectly by Richard Gere in one of his best performances.

We are first introduced to Norman chatting on a New York street with his nephew, Philip (Michael Sheen), talking about making contacts, financial enterprises, Norman jotting down names on a piece of paper, sketching in the links. A subtitle added to the film describes him: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.

Then he is seen pursuing a young man jogging, making all kinds of propositions, not even hearing the word “no” except that it seems to urge him on in his pursuit. Then he goes to a talk, a stage interview of an Israeli politician, and notes one of his assistants, Eshel (a good performance from Lior Ashkenazi). He follows him down the street, biding his time, helping him to window shop and take him into an expensive store and buys him shoes, the most expensive shoes. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship – as well as a tragic one.

Norman the fixer tries to link Eshel with a businessman but fails, going to visit his synagogue, comforted by the music, feeling at home there, though this is not his home.

The film is constructed in four Acts: A Foot in the Door, The Right Horse, Anonymous Doner, The Price of Peace. Three years after the initial events, Eshel is Prime Minister of Israel, visiting Washington, encounters Norman and embraces him, photographers flashing, his being introduced to celebrities, politicians, businesspeople.

Norman has the talent for ingratiating himself, but this is difficult with politicians, Eshel’s minders begin to refuse to take his calls. Norman has encountered Alex (Charlotte Gainsbourg) on the train from Washington to New York and finds that she is a top official in handling American criminals in Israel and Jewish criminals in New York. Ultimately, this seemingly friendly meeting, leads to the undoing of Norman and his plans.

At first, Norman is somewhat alienating for the audience, not believing for one minute his various stories and put off by the way that he follows people, makes the links, offers favours. He is definitely a conman, fixer, but, ultimately, with a heart of gold, the favours he seeks generally for the betterment of the people he wants to help.

There is also a complication with his nephew, Jewish, but wanting to marry a Korean and in need of some kind of religious preparation, which leads to the rabbi of Norman’s synagogue whose building is being acquired and her needs $14 million, Norman offering to assist, to purchase the building.

The film shows there are risks in do-goodiing, especially when one of the beneficiaries is the Prime Minister of Israel, wanting a piece program, being attacked by politicians (actually filmed in the Knesset) and her needs to survive, even to get a lucky bonanza.

Which means that Norman becomes a sacrifice, a self-sacrifice, for the love and the friendship of others.

The film was written and directed by Israeli, Joseph Cedar, his previous films, Beaufort and The Footnote are worth seeking out.

 

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

US, 2017, 129 minutes, Colour.

Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaits, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin R. McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Bruce Spence, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley.

Directed by Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg.

What more is there to say about the Pirates of the Caribbean? After all, this is the fifth episode. Probably the main thing is “more of the same”.

One of the things to remember about the series is that it is based on a theme park from Disneyland so that the films are the visual, moving pictures version of the popular ride. It is interesting to note that many of the critics feel exasperated that the series does not aspire to greater art, forgetting that the intention of the films is “a bit of fun”. And that’s what it provides, not particularly demanding, but reintroducing us to Captain Jack Sparrow, Captain Borbossa, and the Pirates’ life.

What is new about this particular episode is that the central character is Henry, the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. At first, we see him as a young boy, venturing out in a boat, going down on the anchor to find his father doomed to spend his afterlife on The Flying Dutchman. Actually, this gives us an opportunity to see Orlando Bloom after all these years as Will. However, Will is reluctant and Henry returns to his way of life, becoming a sailor on a British ship in the West Indies. He is played by Brenton’s Thwaites (from Cairns). He goes in search of Jack Sparrow who has a compass which could lead them to the place of Neptune’s Trident, which has the power to break all spells.

During a ceremony of inaugurating a new bank on the island San Martin, presided over by the Mayor (Bruce Spence), Jack Sparrow is discovered asleep in the vault – and his men organise the stealing of the vault, except that they cannot get it through the back door of the building, and so there begins a mad pursuit around the town with the horses dragging not only the vault but the whole bank with them, a whole deal of slapstick comedy, as a lot of the town is destroyed.

There is also a young lady, Carina (Kaya Scodelario) who is being condemned as a witch because of her scientific knowledge – between the jigs and the reels, she and Jack are about to be hanged until Henry does a bit of derring-do and they escape from the vindictive police officer (David Wenham).

And, so, to sea, Johnny Depp doing his usual, even more delirious, madcap Jack Sparrow, meeting up with Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Borbossa and also meeting up with a phantom ship, a dead crew, and their Spanish Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). Lots of swash and buckle here, boarding of ships, canons and muskets, swords and knives…

Carina can read the stars and so they can arrive at the island where the Trident is to be found – and, with a reminder of Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea, down they go into a watery chasm, dangers and all, breaking of spells, and some heroics on the part of everyone, especially a revelation about self-sacrificing Captain Borbossa.

Probably many were hankering after a glimpse of Keira Knightley when Orlando Bloom earlier returned to the film – and, without spoiling anything, she does appear again (and Orlando Bloom and Keira also appear in a short sequence for those who remain after the credits).

Just a rollicking bit fun.

 

THE PROMISE

Spain/US, 2017, 134 minutes, Colour.

Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Marwan Kenzari, Angela Sarafyan, Tom Hollander, Tamer Hassan, Jean Reno, James Cromwell.

Directed by Terry George.

The title sounds somewhat generic, any possible promise. However, this is a far more serious and interesting film than the title might indicate.

The main question an audience might ask itself while watching the film and, especially, afterwards, is how much they know about the 1915 genocide of the Armenians at the hand of the Turks of the dying Ottoman Empire. There have not been so many feature films about this significant theme of early 20th century history, the Turks themselves never having admitted that the elimination of over 1 million Armenians was a genocide, a kind of ethnic and religious cleansing. Canadian director of Armenian ancestry, Atom Egoyan, did make a film about the genocide and its impact, Ararat. In 2007, the Italian Taviani Brothers made a dramatic film about the events, The Larks’ Farm. Because of the few films about the genocide, The Promise becomes more important.

The film opens in an Armenian village in southern Turkey, the central character, Mikael (Oscar Isaac) the local apothecary whose ambitions it is to be a doctor. He becomes betrothed to a local girl with the support of his parents, her father giving him 400 gold coins which will enable him to travel to Constantinople and study medicine. His promise is that he will return, marry, grow to love his wife.

This is 1914. Constantinople is an impressive city but the Ottoman Empire is in decline. German officers are present in the city, making allies of the Turks for participation in World War One. Mikael enjoys the city life, at home with his uncle and cousins, comfortably off with their shop, studying at the University where he meets Emre, a wealthy playboy who is studying medicine to avoid military service, and his friend Chris Myers (Christian Bale), an American journalist with Associated Press. He has already met Chris’s partner, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who tutors his young cousins.

All seems well until war breaks out, jingoistic Turks rise up against the Armenians, smashing shop windows and destroying stock, literal dancing in the streets. When Mikael and Emre are called up, Emre gets an exemption because he is a medical student, using his father’s name to get an exemption for Mikael. His father, an imperious Imperial man is not pleased and Emre goes into the military and Mikael is arrested and sentenced to hard labour in the Turkish mountains, the building of a rail track.

The soldiers are brutal, the work hard, injured men shot. There is a cameo by Tom Hollander as a prisoner who used to be a clown, who entertains with a little performance but who is willing to carry explosives, an explosion which enables Mikael to escape.

One of the complexities is Mikael’s falling in love with Ana, his disappearance, his being able to return to his village and being persuaded by his mother to survive by marrying his betrothed.

And all the time, in the film, there is the background of the rounding up of the Armenians, many sequences reminding audiences of the uprisings against the Jews before World War II as well is the genocide. There is a powerful sequence where Chris Myers drives into the desert, discovers a long line of Armenians walking into their exile or to deaths, a woman collapsing and a soldier brutally shooting her. He sends reports of these events to the newspapers, gaining a controversial reputation but somewhat safe was America has not entered into the war. The Turkish authorities deny all his stories but there are some harrowing scenes of prison and an intervention by Emre.

And while the war continues and the persecution of the Armenians, there is a complication of the love triangle and Mikael and his promise.

Circumstances bring the three characters together again, a Protestant minister working to protect Armenian children and get them to the coast to safety.

There is a particularly chilling sequence where Mikael discovers the people of his village shot to death by the river, piles of prone victims on the riverbank. As the Turks pursue the refugees, there is a buildup to the confrontation in the mountains by the coast, a French steamer coming in to attempt a rescue, and some tragic deaths.

There is an aftermath when Mikael, who has survived, decades later is in the United States celebrating the marriage of a young cousin, remembering the past, but also the statement that the best revenge is in surviving.

Some commentators have mentioned Dr Zhivago as a kind of parallel story, occurring at much the same time. The value of these dramatisations, along with the romance included, means that and audience will be caught up in the stories, the personalities – and appreciate the devastating realities.

 

SCIENCE FICTION VOLUME 1: THE OSIRIS CHILD

Australia, 2016, 95 minutes, Colour.

Kellan Lutz, Daniel MacPherson, Isabel Lucas, Luke Ford, Rachel Griffiths, Temuera Morrison, Brendan Foster, Teagan Croft.

Directed by Shane Abbess.

The title sounds rather portentous, the focusing on Science Fiction as well as the referene ti Volume 1. It will be interesting to see whether writer-director, Shane Abbess, continues his narrative into sequels.

This is an Australian film from the writer-director of the rather apocalyptic thriller about angels and devils, Gabriel, and another space exploration film, Infini. While the production is Australian, most of the characters speak with mid-Pacific accents, making it accessible to the broader American market.

The screenplay is divided into chapters with headings, the device also helping the action to move along more quickly.

The film opens with a father, Kane, involved with work on the space station on a distant planet spending some time with his daughter, bonding with her after devoting himself to his work and separating from his wife and child. He promises to be closer to his daughter. He is played by Daniel MacPherson and she is a lively young girl played by Teagan Croft.

Meanwhile, back on the space station, there is an impending crisis, an apocalyptic crisis, being managed by the General, played by Rachel Griffiths. She has a scenario to wreak wide destruction by allowing the city of the planet to be destroyed, with great loss of life. She is rather cold and calculating.

Kane then decides to take a plane, lands on the ground and makes his way to the city to ensure the safety of his daughter. Life on the ground is also rather precarious, especially because of experiments going on whereby prisoners in the high security jail are being transformed into monstrous creatures. The prison is presided over by another cold and calculating character played by Temuera Morrison.

Kane meets Sy (American Kellan Lutz) in the desert and they make an agreement to help each other. As the narrative goes on, the audience learns more and more about Sy, his work as a nurse, an accident involving his wife, her death, his killing the young man responsible for the accident and his being sentenced to the prison, as well as his escape.

While the film is reminiscent of many space adventures, it shows an influence of the Mad Max films when the two men encounter a bar, pretty raucous, and Bill and Gyp (Leon Ford and Isobel Lucas), who have a truck but take a long time to be persuaded (as well as the money), to drive the two men to the city. They also encounter two isolated men who sell them weapons – but, the monsters are on the prowl and soon go into action.

The film moves apace with the rescue of the daughter, driving into the desert, in search of a tunnel with a coded entrance where they can escape the apocalyptic destruction.

In many ways, familiar themes, but presented with some verve – and the added horror of the monstrous beasts, especially in the climax of the film, rather unexpected.

 

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING

UK, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.

Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, James Willby, Edward Holdcroft, Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, Joe Alwyn, Peter Wight.

Directed by Ritesh Batra.

The Sense of an Ending is a very British drama, one of those intelligently satisfying entertainments with articulate and inarticulate characters, with said situations which are gradually revealed, memory, forgetting, and sometimes the dire consequences of actions. It is based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Julian Barnes.

This film has a very significant cast as well as being well directed by Indian director, Ritesh Batra, famous for his moving film The Lunchbox. And it has an excellent cast portraying the older present generation and the younger generation in flashbacks.

Jim Broadbent has been a sterling figure in British and world cinema for many decades, winning an Oscar in 2001 for his role in Iris. Here he is Tony Webster, who is heard reminiscing about the nature of memory, life, forgetting. He is an older man by this, living alone after the divorce from his wife, Margaret (an excellent Harriet Walter), with a 36-year-old pregnant single mother daughter (Michelle Dockery), with a shop selling cameras, his hobby and expertise, and to all intents and purposes rather a curmudgeon.

Where could a story about Tony Webster go? And the answer is: back into the past. There are many significant flashbacks in this film, the reliability and unreliability of memory. Tony (Billy Howle) is in his final year at high school, with a number of friends, rather quiet in manner, walking out of a party and encountering a young woman, Veronica (Freya Mavor), shyly becoming infatuated with her, awkward in sexual encounters, but being invited to visit her family and stay with them, and an encounter with her mother, Sarah (Emily Mortimer) who warns him against her daughter.

A new friend (Joe Alwyn), Adrian, comes to the school and seems to be also infatuated with Veronica. However, there is tragic news which bewilders Tony. There are further flashbacks about Tony’s reaction to Adrian, a card not sent, a vitriolic letter…

In the present, Tony receives a message that he has been bequeathed something by Veronica’s mother, Sarah, who has just died. He discovers that it is Adrian’s diary. With some help from his old friends, and gradually explaining the situation to Margaret, he is able to make an appointment with Veronica (Charlotte Rampling), which does not end well. Tony is intrigued, latent memories coming to the surface, his following Veronica, making discoveries that shock him and challenge him to reassess his past behaviour.

There is a sense of an ending as all this develops, Tony discovering more about himself and acknowledging it, mellowing, rapport with his ex-wife, his assisting at the birth of his grandchild, a message to Veronica, some happiness – and even offering a cup of coffee to the postman whom he has regularly ignored.

A thoughtful film for a thoughtful audience.

 

SNATCHED

US, 2017, 90 minutes, Colour.

Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz, Tom Bateman, Christopher Meloni, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack.

Directed by Jonathan Levine.

Sometimes amusing and funny time-filler depending on your response to the two stars.

Amy Schumer, mainly seen on television (the series, Inside Amy Schumer) but also in the film, Trainwreck, and her comic style, is something of an acquired taste. She portrays the awkward American woman, not classical beauty with jokes about that, eager to please but also energetically eager to displease. Her often wry comedy has a certain appeal.

In the past, Goldie Hawn was also an acquired taste, but an exceedingly popular acquired taste, from her early films in the 1960s, including an Oscar-winning performance in Cactus Flower (1969) as well as her often calculatedly ditzy presence in Laugh-in. During the 1970s and into the 1980s, she was an extremely popular screen presence. It seems very strange but she has not been on the cinema screen since 2001 in The Banger Sisters. Seeing her again, just the same as she always was except that she is now into her 70s, reminds us that we have missed her absence.

This is one of those broad comedies that seem to be being made up as it goes along, all kinds of sequences that don’t necessarily follow the previous ones, sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious, but then on to the next sequence…

Amy Schumer is Emily, bossy in a clothes shop until we realise she is the salesperson not the customer, and then she is fired. At lunch with her boyfriend (and she does enjoy eating), he suddenly informs her that they are breaking up. Goldie Hawn is her mother, Linda, forever phoning her, with more than a touch of claustrophobia with so many locks on the door, rarey going out, but worried about Emily while her son, Jeffrey, (a Game of Thrones, Harry Potter etc ultra-nerd, Ike Barinholtz) lives at home, giving piano lessons.

The trouble is that Emily has bought two tickets, non-refundable, for two to Ecuador and nobody wants to go with her. She tries to persuade her reluctant mother – to put back the “fun” in “non-refundable”. Suddenly they are in Ecuador.

There are the usual jokes about American tourists living in luxury, mingling with the locals, getting all kinds of thrills they would not have at home, especially when British James teams up with Emily and takes her and her mother on an excursion. With the title, Snatched, we are not wrong in guessing that they will soon be abducted.

A lot of the film is about mother-daughter shenanigans in escaping from the abductors, using quite some nous at times, Emily exercising some martial arts skills in knocking out the abductor’s cousin, later rather loose-handed with a spear, getting rid of the abductor’s son. No wonder he keeps pursuing them. They are on their way to Bogota, contacting the embassy and an exasperated official at the other end, especially when they contact Jeffrey and he continually hounds the official who hounds him back. Then there are Ruth and Barb, on holidays, Barb being an ex-special Ops expert (Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack) who do their best but are not as effective as we might have expected. Then there is Roger (Christopher Meloni) an ex-chef with terminal cancer who offers to guide them through the jungle.

Obviously, it all comes together, mother and daughter confronting the abductor, the local troops and American agents all arriving for an arrest (with Jeffrey intimating that he had organised it all).

There are some pleasing scenes where Emily actually stops to help local women in the jungle with their water carrying. She is redeemable – and, in Kuala Lumpur, a year later, there is Linda, just like Goldie Hawn of the past, exuberantly living it up.

Some amusing scenes and lines, for Amy Schumer fans – and the pleasure of seeing Goldie Hawn again.

 

WHITNEY: “CAN I BE ME”

US, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.

Footage of Whitney Houston, relatives, friends, musicians, bodyguard.

Directed by Nick Broomfield, Rudy Dolezal.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Whitney Houston was one of the most celebrated singers in the world. By 2012 she had experienced lack of success, criticism, marriage and divorce, the birth of her daughter, and the ruining of her voice. She committed suicide – although, a friend at the beginning of this documentary states that she died of a broken heart.

Nick Broomfield, British director, has been making documentaries for over 40 years, many award-winning documentaries. He has ventured into all kinds of fields including American music with his documentary about Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, Biggie and Tupac, as well as a documentary Kurt and Courtney, about Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.

Fortunately for a comprehensive look at Whitney Houston, her life and career, a lot of film and television footage was available and is used to present Whitney Huston as a character in her own life, a focus on her mother and father, especially her gospel singing mother, Cissy Houston, interviews with her brothers, a close friend Robin, with a variety of the musicians who backed her up, various entrepreneurs who guided her career, her husband Bobby Brown, with glimpses of her daughter as a child on stage with her mother, and some telling comments by her sometime British bodyguard. All this material is judiciously edited to provide a narrative, Whitney Houston’s life from birth to death as well as frequent dipping into her performances in her career.

Born in 1963 in New Jersey, Whitney Houston had a religious upbringing, singing with her mother in church, a precocious talent which her mother encouraged. However, given the times and the careers of her brothers, she was introduced to drugs at an early age, using a range of drugs until she became dependent on them and, in fact, an addict. This is a theme throughout the film, with many commentators, some wondering whether there could have been an intervention, the revelation that she went into rehabilitation but lapsed.

One of the difficulties for Whitney Huston was her success with white American audiences. In the 90s, she was booed by the black audience condemning her for being “too white”. At first, this did not worry her; she had hit records, many awards, interviews and performances on television. The television interviews with significant television hosts including Johnny Carson, Katie Couric, Barbara Walters, continued through her career.

There was also talk about her sexual orientation and behaviour, her close relationship with Robin, her main friend for many years, encouraging her. Questions were raised about a lesbian relationship – and, in fact, at the end of the film, there is information about Robin living with her lesbian partner and their raising twins. An encounter with Bobby Brown, hyperactive extroverted entertainer, led to a relationship, despite his infidelities on the road, and their eventual marriage, the birth of their daughter Bobbi Christina – but, ultimately, a divorce (and the very sad information that at age 22, Bobbi Christina had drug problems and took her own life in 2015.)

For most audiences, awareness of Whitney Houston focused on the film The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner and this film provides some background to the making of the film, her singing, the success and Oscar nominations – quite a contrast to 8 years later when she was fired from singing at the Oscars because of erratic rehearsals.

Whitney Houston seem to be a very sympathetic personality and so this story of her rise and fall is very emotional and tragic. The film is another addition to the exploration of celebrity life, ambitions, dedication, the pressure of family and friends, difficulties in dealing with celebrity, erratic behaviour in relationships, drug addiction. Whitney Huston achieved a great deal – but at what cost?

 

WONDER WOMAN

US, 2017, 141 minutes, Colour.

Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, James Cosmo.

Directed by Patty Jenkins.

Her many fans are enthusiastic about Wonder Woman and the comics of the past. She did make an appearance on screen, on the television screen, in the latter part of the 1970s, 60 episodes in the series with Lynda Carter as her embodiment.

That’s 40 years ago. Quite a delay in getting her onto the big screen – although she did make an appearance in 2016 in Batman versus Superman, a significant contribution to the plot and offering an alert that she was about to get a superhero movie of her own.

And here it is – with a great deal going for it.

One of the advantages of the screenplay is that it is a blend of fantasy and realism. And, as with the more recent Batman films, it goes back into Wonder Woman’s origins. The first part of the film is set on a Greek island, quite exotic, the home of the famous Amazons, those warrior women ready for any invasion, especially from the gods, and, more especially, from the hostile God of War, Ares.

We are introduced to the daughter of the Queen of the other Amazons, her name is Diana. She is a vigorous young girl, eager to train like the older women, but protected by her mother (Connie Nielsen). But she does get a lot of attention from the General, Antiope (Robin Wright with a strange accent). Over the years she grows up into the form of Israeli actress, Gal Gadot (who was the incarnation in Batman versus Superman). She has combat talent but has to learn the hard way, being knocked down, getting up, using her wits. And that would seem to be her life even though her

And, on a bright sunny day, who should land on shore but Steve Trevor (a genial Chris Pine) who has come through a time barrier from World War I. (This may surprise the fans of the television series which was set in World War II, fighting the Nazis.) Actually, German troops aboard a frigate are in pursuit of Steve and what follows is a battle between the Germans and the Amazons. Diana wants to leave her to help Steve who defended them against the Germans – and her mother reluctant to let her go, revealing to her that she has divine power entrusted to her by Zeus. She has the power to be a God-killer.

Ares had better look out!

The film makes a quick transition to the London of World War I, Diana bemused by what she says is an ugly city, trying out all kinds of new outfits to blend in (though having to get rid of the sword and shield which Steve’s secretary, bubbly and engaging suffragette Etta (Lucy Davis) confirms does not go with her outfit)! There is a nice scene where Diana eats ice cream for the first time and cannot believe how wonderful it tastes.

It is 1918 and the Armistice is almost a done deal. Meanwhile, in Germany, a diabolical general (Danny Houston) is in league with a super-scientist, Dr Poison (Elena Anaya), specialist in nerve gases. He is dead set against the Armistice, confident in ultimate German victory. In the meantime, in England, Sir Patrick Morgan, a leading politician, quietly endorses Steve and Diana (and an extraordinarily ragtag band of followers) to track down Dr Poison.

This means travelling to Belgium, becoming involved in trench warfare, the hardy Diana moved by the plight of the bereft widow leading the British troops across no man’s land defying the German guns.

Needless to say, there are a lot of spectacular scenes, explosions, a confrontation with the German general, with Dr Poison, a crisis when a plane load of lethal gases threatens the world – and an unexpected twist for those not in the know where an aggressive and confrontational Ares appears, quite a supernatural conflict between him and Diana.

One of the advantages of this screenplay is that it is quite intelligent, has some substance in its portrayal of the Amazons, their philosophy of peace, the intrusions of war, Diana’s hope that in her destroying Ares all humans then will want to be peaceful and her having to discover that there is something in human nature that is forever cruel and warmongering. Actually, there is also quite an amount of deadpan dialogue which is also amusing.

Gal Gadot fits Wonder Woman perfectly, able to speak hundreds of languages but not particularly well-informed about marriage. She is tall, beautiful, strong, articulate, and, for once, the female superhero.

She is going to appear in 2017 in the film of the Justice League. But, no problems if she gets another exclusive film of her own!