Melbourne, May, 21st , 2018 (Peter Malone). Below, find the second part of film critics written by Peter Malone for the month of May.
- LAST FLAG FLYING
- JULIUS CAESAR: NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE
- ON BODY AND SOUL
- OTHER SIDE OF HOPE, The
- PAUL, THE APOSTLE OF CHRIST
- QUIET PLACE, The
- TRUTH OR DARE
- WALKING OUT
- WESTWIND: DJALU’S LEGACY
JULIUS CAESAR: NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE
UK, 2018, 120 minutes, Colour.
David Calder, Ben Whishaw, David Morrisey, Michelle Fairley, Adjoah Andoh.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner.
This is a film version of the production by the National Theatre, at the new Bridge Theatre, the play being staged in the round, the audience becoming participant in the play, especially for crowd scenes.
There is a prologue, a rock concert in the theatre, uniting the audience and their response. While this may have worked very well in reality, unless the audience is really tuned into rock ‘n’ roll, this 10 minutes is rather something of an ordeal – but redeemed by the fact that the players all move into the performance as significant characters.
The film has a very strong cast. It is set in the present day with contemporary dress. It also is rather multiracial in the selection of the cast, Asian background for Calpurnia, Octavius is black, as are some of the rock band and performers. There are several changes from male characters into female characters, most significantly Michelle Fairley as an excellent Cassius.
The principal men very strong. David Calder is an excellently arrogant Julius Caesar. Ben Whishaw, something of a whisp of a man, rises to strong stature as a scholarly Brutus. David Morrisey is a man of the people as Mark Anthony.
There is a very full use of the text and, with the cast, it is expertly spoken, clearly, the verse seeming natural rather than contrived, powerfully dramatic.
The theatre in the round is also used very effectively with the help of lighting, different parts of the stage, enabling wide sequences as well as movement. This is helped for the screen version by judicious use of close-ups and wider shots. This means that there is a powerful focus on the characters, their features, their body language as well as their speeches.
Swords are eliminated as weapons and there is a use of guns – with one verbal change from sword to bullet. There are quite substantial special effects, light and sound for the experience of war – and, if Shakespeare were watching today, he would possibly be very envious of these effects.
For those familiar with the play, they will be very satisfied with this performance. For those not familiar with the play, it serves as an excellent introduction.
The audience is immersed, despite the contemporary costumes, in the atmosphere of ancient Rome, the background of the power struggles, triumvirate, the role of Cicero, the role of Caesar and his foreign wars and conquests, his vanity, the offering of the crown by Mark Anthony and his seeming to refuse it. And, he is warned against the Ides of March. He is seen in triumph, warned by Calpurnia not to go to the Senate, his being persuaded by fellow senator to go. A red cloth is passed over the top of the audience indicating blood just before the assassination – by shooting. Caesar also has the opportunity to lie in state and appear as a ghost to Brutus before the battle of Philippi.
In the early part of the film are strong character is actually Cassius, hostile to Caesar and his ambitions, in earnest discussions with Brutus to persuade him to action. There is an introduction to the conspirators, especially Casca (an attention-grabbing performance by Adjoah Andoh). The audience is able to understand the ideology behind the coup against Caesar and his authoritarian ambitions.
Mark Anthony comes rather later into the play, friend of Caesar, popular, often with his accent becoming very much one with ordinary people. However, David Morrisey’s performance of the Friends, Romans, Countryman speech reminds audiences of how persuasive the speech is and its effect on the Roman people.
In some performances, the latter part of the play seems something of an anti-climax focused on Brutus and the sense of failure, his doubts, Cassius and self-assertion, the presence of Mark Anthony and Octavius and the imminent defeat of the conspirators. Ben Whishaw makes this part of the play quite vivid as does the appearance of Cassius, doubts, deaths, but Brutus is unable to kill himself but relying on the servant Lucius (who has provided some background as well as some comic touches earlier).
This version is a reminder of Shakespeare’s dramatic skills and the quality of Julius Caesar as a play.
US, 2016, 98 minutes, Colour.
Woody Harrelson, Michael Stahl-David, Richard Jenkins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey Donovan, Bill Pullman, John Burke, C.Thomas Howell, Brent Bailey.
Directed by Rob Reiner.
Lyndon Baines Johnson came to the American presidency as the result of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. In recent years, there have been a number of films where he has been a significant character, especially in the films about John F. Kennedy including The Killing of Kennedy (2013) and Jackie (2016). There was a significant film biography, All The Way, (2017) with Bryan Cranston excellent as LBJ and with Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson.
This film was directed by Rob Reiner, better known as a director of light comedies and dramas but also of such films as The Princess Bride and Misery. He was to go on to make Shock and Awe, set in 2003 with issues of American politics and wars in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The film is well worth seeing for Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Lyndon Johnson. He is not immediately recognisable, made up to resemble Johnson but, when he laughs, clearly Woody Harrelson. Jennifer Jason Leigh has a good role as Lady Bird Johnson. Jeffrey Donovan is JFK and Michael Stahl-David is a young, arrogant and abrasive Robert Kennedy. Bill Pullman is a progressive senator while Richard Jenkins is excellent, as usual, as the racist politician from the South, yearning for a way of life that is gradually disappearing.
At the centre of the film, with recurring images and development of this subplot, is the Kennedy visit to Dallas, the presence of Johnson and his wife, the motorcade, the shooting of the President, the reaction of the security guards in shielding Johnson, the death of the President and Walter Cronkite’s television announcement.
In a sense, Kennedy is also at the centre of the film. If the film is looked at in linear fashion, from the campaign for presidency in 1960 to 1968 with Johnson’s decision not to stand for re-election, Kennedy is most significant. He is the unlikely Catholic candidate for the Democratic party. He is presentable, charismatic, from a wealthy family. He is also shrewd in his political ideas as well as his deals (though the film does not treat of the Bay of Pigs nor the Missiles of October, 1962). But he is passionate about Civil Rights.
Which means that Johnson was somewhat in the shadows though he did accept nomination as Kennedy’s running mate. His belief was that he made every office that he accepted a powerful influence in politics. He is seen in discussions with progressive senators, advocating compromise and yielding to get results. He is also seen with conservative Southern senators, also proposing concessions and compromise.
In the film, Johnson seems genuinely shocked at becoming president, personally disturbed but trying to maintain government, especially with advice from Robert Kennedy who is continually hostile. He treats Jackie Kennedy well allowing her to stay in the White House. He takes the oath of office in Dallas and then returns to Washington.
There are a lot of footage of Civil Rights demonstrations and protests, along with some police brutality. Johnson had opposed Civil Rights’ legislation but decided to follow the Kennedy inspiration (though there is nothing of Martin Luther King in this film). He invites Kennedy speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, to write a speech for his inaugural address to the Congress. In this he continues the spirit of Kennedy, especially for Civil Rights, gaining a great deal of support from Democrats but the hostility of members from the South, especially Richard Russell who felt he was being betrayed.
The film ends with the stirring speech which Johnson delivered with some passion, deciding to go ahead with Kennedy’s vision.
There is further information about Johnson’s achievement in social issues, the questions of the involvement in Vietnam and his being less liked and deciding not to stand for the presidency in 1968 (with the consequent disasters of the Nixon era).
Russia, 2017, 127 minutes, Colour.
Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Marina Vasili.
Directed by Andrey Zyagintsev.
With a title like “Loveless”, audiences would not necessarily be expecting a cheerful entertainment. And, since the film comes from Russia, that might be another indication for very serious themes and treatment. And for those who know the films of the director, Andrey Zyagintsev (The Return, Banishment, Elena, Leviathan), they would appreciate that for 15 years he has been looking very seriously at a Russian society, the post-Soviet era and the transition from totalitarian socialism to the impact of capitalism and individualism in society and, especially in this case, in the family.
The film opens and closes with beautifully bleak fixed camera gazing at forests, lakes, snow – and then the glimpsing of high-rise buildings in the background. We are in a Russian provincial city, the usual location for Zyagintsev’s films. After this invitation to contemplation and reflection, the camera gazes at a building – then doors suddenly burst open, children running out from school, and a focus on one young 12-year-old, walking solitary, finding a long piece of material and tossing it up into a tree branch. This is Aleksey who is then seen at home, doing his homework, finding prospective buyers of the family apartment inspecting. His parents are divorcing. We can see that he is angry, even resentful.
This is compounded when we see his mother and father and the audience is made observers, unwilling participants, in their constant and loud, bitter bickering – with a boy outside the door, weeping.
The film then spends quite an amount of time building up the characters of the mother and father, and the terrible flaws in those characters. There seems to be nothing redemptive about the mother, resenting her marriage, her unexpected pregnancy, her wanting to have an abortion, especially with her harsh mother’s advice, her husband persuading her against it, her feeling her life has been ruined, that she deserves some happiness and comfort – and is willing for her husband to take custody of the son whom she resents. The father, on the other hand, seems a milder character, says that he wants his son to stay with his mother because she is the better nurturing parent for him at that age. She disagrees, saying a father is better for the son.
The next step is to find that each of them is in a new relationship. This is a threat to the father because his company, with leaders who take more fundamentalist Christian approach to morals, does not tolerate divorce. He has also taken up with a young woman, a rather clingy woman who is long-term pregnant. On the other hand, the mother is in a relationship with an older man, wealthy, divorced, with adult children.
While the parents might have forgotten their son, the audience has not. Then the news comes that he has disappeared.
The bulk of the rest of the film is concerned with the details of the search for the boy – rather intense, perhaps a bit long for many audiences who might find this section somewhat drawn out. There are volunteers for the search, groups combing through the woods, calling out the boy’s name, searching a warehouse and basement, printing posters to be put around the city…
There is some suspense, of course, as to whether the boy will be found. And we are made privy to the reactions of mother and father, still some bickering between them, going to the boy’s grandmother who is a severe and condemnatory woman.
In fact, with the atmosphere of the film, it is a microcosm of Russian society, and, of course, a microcosm of world society showing its self-centredness. A pervading atmosphere of lovelessness.
Oscar nominee for 2017, a powerful portrait, depressing and challenging.
ON BODY AND SOUL/ EL TESTROL EL LELEKOL
Hungary, 2017, 117 minutes, Colour.
Mrocsanyi Geza, Alexandra Borbely.
Directed by Ildiko Enyedi.
On Body and Soul is quite a striking film, Hungarian in its storytelling and perspectives but with a powerful universal impact.
The film is set in an ordinary city, scenes of people’s apartments, restaurants, but most of the action taking place in an abattoir.
With the abattoir and the focus on the cattle, penned, prodded, close-ups of their eyes, their deaths, the carcasses and the blood, the hanging meat, the workers going about their tasks calmly, the abattoir as something of an image of life and human experience. While there is a lot of detail of the abattoir – and the final credits note that animals were harmed during the filming but not by the film crew because they simply photographed an abattoir at work – it is not confined to the slaughter but also to the range of members of the staff, Finance Director, Human Relations director, supervisor, as well as the various women in diverse domestic jobs.
At the film begins with another image of animals, beautiful shots of a stag and the doe in the snowy forest, their instincts, their meeting, moving towards each other and an animal affection. As it turns out, these are the animals in the dreams of the two central characters, therefore highly symbolic. Peter is the finance director at the abattoir, Maria is a supervisor and inspector. When he first sees her, standing aloof and alone as she usually does, he is fascinated, meets her in the dining room, begins a conversation – but she is very awkward in responding. As we can see almost immediately from her behaviour, she is both compulsive and obsessive in the detail of her work, in neatness, in remembering sequences and dates in exact order.
An event in the abattoir, the stealing of some pharmaceuticals, leads to a psychologist visiting and questioning all the workers, rather intrusive questions about sexual behaviour, the nature of dreams… Peter is very offhand whereas Maria is absolutely precise. It is here that the audience sees that the two have the same dreams, the psychologist thinking this is joke and Peter not disillusioning her. Interestingly, she actually does pinpoint from her examination who the culprit is.
Quite a deal of the film focuses on Maria, her attempts to begin some kind of communication with people, getting advice from the rather raunchy old lady who cleans on what to wear and how to walk, buying a mobile phone which she has never had, contacting Peter, having conversations which lead to a theoretical intimacy. She also goes to a music store, listening all day to records but finally buying that recommended by the woman at the counter.
Peter, meanwhile, dislikes one of the workers, warning him about having care for his work on the animals, suspecting him of the theft – and later apologising when the man is not the thief. Peter has an injured arm, lives alone quietly, a slapdash kind of life. Maria brings something out of him but, both of them being awkward, there are some misunderstandings – which will almost leads to tragedy.
The film is very well acted, the dialogue always interesting, the situation is identifiable with, the exploration of human nature, human bodily illness, the reality of the soul. This all makes On Body and Soul a film of high quality.
The film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin are they, 2017, as well as the prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the jury of the International Film Critics.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE
Finland, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Aki Kaurismaki.
The Other Side of Hope is a humane film looking at the refugee situation in Europe during the years of the civil war in Syria. There were national crises in various countries of Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, with borders being blocked. On the other hand, refugees were welcomed in Germany as well as the more northern countries, especially in Scandinavia.
It is been directed by one of Finland’s pre-eminent directors, Aki Kaurismaki, who has had to long career, sometimes with comedies and music, sometimes with filmss about relationships, and often with a social conscience.
It is clear where the director’s stance on refugees is as we look at the title.
The opens dramatically at a wharf in Helsinki, the camera focusing on a cargo of coal and a man emerging from the coal, covered in soft, but making is way out of the ship, walking the streets, finding a place to shower, and then handing himself into the police asking for asylum status. In fact, the police seem sympathetic and help him with his situation. Soon there are sequences where he is being examined by immigration officials and we hear his story, a mechanic in Damascus, returning home to find his house flattened and his parents dead, getting help from his boss, the father of his dead fiancé, to pay people smugglers to get himself and his sister out of Syria, into Turkey and across to Greece.
At the closed border of Hungary, he is separated from his sister and has spent a great deal of time and effort travelling around the Balkans and into Eastern Europe to find her. He is helped onto a ship and finds himself in Finland.
The central character, Khalid, is a very sympathetic young man and the audience is on his side hoping that he will be given refugee status – but one of the hard aspects of the film is hearing the presiding official in the court declaring, despite the audience seeing the bombings and terrible suffering in Damascus on the television, that it is safe for him to return to Syria. He effects an escape and disappears.
The film has also introduced us to a businessman, a salesman packing and leaving his wife who is alcoholic. He sells his stock of shirts and decides to buy a restaurant, and in the under-the-counter kind of deal, the previous owner takes the money and literally runs to the airport, not paying his staff. But, since the central characters of this film are quite genial, a situation arises where the owner takes out the rubbish and finds Khalid huddling in the street. It is not hard to guess where this is going to lead, with Khalid getting a job in the restaurant, getting a forged passport rather easily, dealing with the eccentric members of the staff who provide touches of comedy in their performances. There is also some comedy as the restaurant owner tries out different ways of generating business including turning the restaurant into a sushi centre with Japanese tourists and then a curry centre…
With the story being gentle on the whole, it should mean that there is a sympathetic audience, ready to appreciate the refugee situation. And this is added to by the picture of various groups of neo-Nazis, bashings and the ugly face of bigotry.
This is a film of its time touching on the sensibilities and sensitivities, especially of Europeans, but of all people facing the mass migrations of the early 21st century and those intent on closing borders.
PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST
US, 2018, 107 minutes, Colour.
James Faulkner, Jim Caviezel, Olivier Martinez, John Lynch, Joanne Whalley.
Directed by Andrew Hyatt.
This biblical film was released in the same month as Garth Davis’ Mary Magdalene with Rooney Mara as Mary and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus.
Mary Magdalene was produced by a production company that was not overtly religious. Paul, Apostle of Christ, by contrast was produced by a company for faith-based films, Affirm. The screenplay, which has strong elements of realism in its presentation of Rome, is also quite devout in its presentation of its central characters in the early Christian community, their way of speaking, their faith, their outreach to the persecuted, their mutual support. Many audiences may find this too devout for their taste
This story of Paul has been made for specifically Christian audiences, the whole range of denominations. Its appeal to non-Christian audiences will be in its depiction of ancient Rome in the mid-60s, the aftermath of the fire, the rule of Nero, his persecution of Christians, their being burned as human torches in the Roman streets, their being sent into the arena to be killed by wild beasts. In this, the film is successful, providing a rather vivid picture of the times, Roman rule and oppression, the small Christian community, persecutions.
The Christian audience will also be interested in this depiction of Paul (played by James Faulkner) in his later years, a prisoner in the Mammertine prison, oppressed in his cell and flogged, given some reprieve at the end, though finally, with great dignity and decorum, beheaded. The other central character of the film is Luke (Jim Caviezel), having written his gospel, visiting Rome to see his friend, Paul, and to continue writing of Paul’s mission, ultimately, The Acts of the Apostles.
As a biblical film for a faith audience, there is much to commend in its depiction of the times – and it does incorporate into the screenplay a number of gospel texts and, especially, quotations from Paul and his epistles - with the interlude in the prison writing and listening to Paul’s memoirs and dictation.
The film presupposes a great deal about the life of Jesus, his gospel message, as well as the mission of the early apostles and disciples – though there are some scenes of Paul as Saul, persecuting the Christians, especially a re-enactment of Stephen’s martyrdom, with Paul’s subsequent conversion, his retiring to Arabia for several years to absorb the gospel message.
The film also presupposes some knowledge of Paul and his mission, his journeys, the various communities which received his letters, their message and their tone.
A classification caution – very early in the film there are scenes of the Christians being mounted on poles in the Roman streets and being set alight and burning. Later, more by suggestion than actual scenes, the martyrdoms in the amphitheatres have gruesome overtones. Which means that the film, which might have been helpful for children and learning more about Paul and Christian history, has a more serious adult rating.
In older decades, a lot of religious instruction was done through catechisms and, especially for some Catholic schools, Bible History stories as well as those of the early church, text and drawings for the students to imagine and memorise their Bible History. In some ways, this version of Paul, Luke, the early Christians and Rome is a cinema equivalent of this kind of Bible History instruction.
(There have been some television films featuring Paul, especially the 1980 Peter and Paul with Anthony Hopkins as Paul and Robert Foxworth as Peter.)
A QUIET PLACE
US, 2018, 90 minutes, Colour.
Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe.
Directed by John Krasinski.
It is difficult to find the right words to recommend A Quiet Place to an audience that does not usually like horror films. Recommending it to an audience which does like horror films, the best thing is to do is to highlight the monstrous creatures and the special effects, their attack on the humans.
John Krasinski is best known as a television actor, especially for the American version of The Office. In films, he has a good range, from romantic comedies to war films. In real life he is married to Emily Blunt. They worked together for this film, Krasinski developing the story, cowriting the screenplay, taking the central role as the father of the family, and showing skill in directing. Emily Blunt, always a strong screen presence, plays the mother.
This is a post-apocalyptic story. However, there is practically no explanation of the situations, the background of the disaster. We see newspaper headlines highlighting news that people are fleeing New York. The film opens in an abandoned countryside, looking attractive, but in no way populated. The family go into a deserted supermarket, stocking up on supplies.
But, there is eerie silence.
There is a jump-out-of-your seat-moment concerning the youngest child in the family who has picked up a toy and started to make a sound. The father takes the battery out of the plane and then leads the whole family, single file, further out into the woods. When the little boy puts the battery in again, the father is anxious, runs to save his boy but…
The situation is that there are monsters around. They are attracted by noise and attack the humans. Which means then that not only is the countryside eerily deserted but it is eerily quiet. No one can speak. They have to tread softly. And to communicate they have to use sign language. In fact, the oldest daughter is deaf and mute – played by Millicent Simmonds who in real life is also hearing-impaired. The younger brother is played by Noah Dupe who was the little boy’s friend in the film, Wonder.
Eventually, the family settle in a country house with a big barn, the father setting up protection, a string of lights, a warning system when they turn red, and continuing to experiment with implants for his daughter’s hearing.
Though without sounds and talk, life continues in a somewhat ordinary vein, the mother teaching her son maths, the father working, his taking his son fishing and going to a waterfall where, in fact, they can talk and even shout, the daughter, however, feeling alienated. She feels she is not loved, has moments of resentment, goes out to the memorial place for her little brother.
As they have lived some time and in the countryside, we see that the wife is pregnant.
This means that the film has set up the situation well for some kind of final confrontation. It is heightened when the creatures invade the house, the little girl seems lost, father and son are returning from the waterfall, the mother’s waters break and birth is imminent.
Horror fans will appreciate seeing the vicious monsters, their sweeping, stalking, threatening brother and sister in a corn silo. Other audiences who are experiencing the film as a terror film, identifying with the family, may prefer that the monsters were suggested atmospherically rather than their being so ugly and visible.
The film has received very good reviews from the critics and, within 10 days had made $50 million at the US box office. Not bad for a 90 minute film, a terror drama with touches of horror, the story of a family in peril.
US, 2018, 107 minutes, Colour.
Dwayne Johnson, Naomi Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacey, Joe Manganiello, Marley Shelton.
Directed by Brad Peyton.
Rampage lives up to its name. However, the advertising tagline is somewhat misleading, “Big meets Bigger”. It really should be “Big meets Biggest” or even “Big meets the Biggest Biggest”. Even the title could be Rampagest.
In the old days, this kind of matinee material would have been enjoyed as what was then called “a hoot”. It is action-packed, does not really let up until the final credits.
In fact, in the opening five minutes, there are some rather spectacular space vistas, a spacecraft laboratory, experiments gone wrong, explosions, phials hurtling to earth, an explanation about “Genetic Editing”, its failure to cure humans, one being banned by the American government in 2016, then a mini-safari in the San Diego Wild Sanctuary, an encounter with an albino gorilla, whose name is George, and some sign language dialogue between George and the local primatologist, Davis, played by Dwayne Johnson. A fairly full introduction!
In the meantime, there are two very nasty villains, brother and sister. They run the company behind the spacecraft experiments, wanting to develop samples that would affect animals and be able to use them as weapons. She is ruthlessly intelligent, no redeeming features, Claire, played by Malin Akerman. Her brother, Brett, Jake Lacey, is a bit of a nincompoop.
As you might expect, George is infected, grows larger and larger, more and more violent, has to be caged, but then breaks out. Actually, a wolf in Wyoming is also infected as is an alligator in the bayous of Florida.
The primatologist is bewildered but a scientist who has been involved in the experiments, Kate Caldwell, played by Naomie Harris, hears the news and hurries to the sanctuary. She is not believed – and when a special agent, with a more than emphasised Southern drawl, Russell, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, turns up, both Kate and Davis are under suspicion, bound and put on a plane along with George. Because George has been so personal with Davis and their mutual signing, with some humour, it means that the audience identifies with George all the way through. Obviously, the military overestimate their capacities and mayhem is let loose on the plane, but the three central characters, Russell being rescued on Davis’ back, escape and are parachuted to earth.
What aggravates the situation and leads to destruction upon destruction is that Claire is determined to have the animals come to the Chicago office, setting up a sonar on the top of the Sears building, uniting the gorilla and the wolf in their quest, no holds barred. The military is disturbed, trying to curtail the progress, delaying in evacuating Chicago, dismayed as the rampage continues and George goes beyond King Kong, climbing and destroying buildings in Chicago, with the wolf able to fly and swoop. And city destruction by Godzilla also comes to mind.
Naturally, there is a deadline which leads to split second timing for the solution to all the problems. This involves Davis and Kate going to the Sears building, confronting Claire who is completely unlikable and, when she dies spectacularly, the audience is tempted to cheer loudly.
The action is non-stop, the special effects very exciting, a lot of deadpan dialogue with Dwayne Johnson as usual self-deprecating and some dialogue like “don’t die on me” or “off to save the world…”.
Rampage is critic proof. However, it does what it set out to do, action entertainment for 10-year-old boys (of any age) and this time, with female scientist and female arch-villain, for 10-year-old girls (of any age).
The film to see if you are after an entertaining hoot.
TRUTH OR DARE
US, 2018, 100 minutes, Colour.
Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Landon Liboiron, Nolan Gerard Funk, Sam Lerner, Hayden Szeto.
Directed by Jeff Wardlow.
How to review this film? Probably the best way is to respond to the challenge of the title, truth or dare. In this scenario, those who tell the truth generally benefit. Those who dare are asked to do something impossible and/or immoral and suffer the consequences.
So. One of the truths is that this film is geared towards a young adult audience. The main characters are all in their final year at college, going on their Spring Break. It is the 20 plus or minus age group that is the target for the marketing of Truth or Dare. Perhaps those a little older may think it reminds them too much of their past and they would be happy to forget aspects of it. For those even older, the film may seem even younger!.
This is one of those horror films that emerge in rather great numbers every year. There is usually a group of young men and young women, a mysterious character, and they are asked to be involved in something that they normally would avoid – in this case to play a game of Truth or Dare while visiting the ruins of a mission in Mexico. Not a good sign.
In fact, the writers of the screenplay have enjoyed themselves with a whole lot of hocus-pocus. It claims that diabolical entities which can be called up – in this case, Mexican evil entities – can possess not only people but objects and ideas. This time the evil spirit is possessing the game of Truth or Dare.
And, there is a religious dimension to the hocus-pocus. The setting is a Catholic mission set up in the 19th century. There has been something of a massacre in the mid-1960s – where a group of young women had become novices in a religious order and were under the guidance of the local priest (seen only in a photograph and then his face fading from the photograph) who was something of a sexual predator. The spirit was called up so that people might be freed but, in fact, the spirit possesses the game and, from game to game, a player is possessed and continues to find friends who might be able to liberate them – all for them to be in turn possessed and destroyed.
Which means that the group on spring break, having a somewhat wild time drinking, dancing, flirting, are persuaded by their very serious friend, Olivia (Lucy Hale) to respond to the invitation of a mysterious young man to play the game.
Some rather blunt truth is told, and the game follows them home or, perhaps, more realistically, has taken possession of them. What happens is that those who tend to tell the Truth continue to survive whereas those who try the Dare initiative die, gruesomely.
This raises even more tensions amongst the group, their trying to work together, overcome some disastrous truths which are revealed, contact a woman who had been part of the game and whom the audience has seen setting fire to a woman in a supermarket at the beginning of the film. They talk with the police. They also track down one of the original novices from the Mexican mission – who had called up the spirit, cut out her tongue in order to eliminate the presence of the spirit, has a formula for incantation by which the spirit can return from whence it came.
Needless to say, it doesn’t quite work out that way which is part of the entertainment value of this kind of horror exercise. Who will survive? Will anyone survive? Is the spirit still possessing the game somewhere or other in California?
US, 2018, 98 minutes, Colour.
Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Juno Temple, Jay Pharaoh, Amy Irving, Matt Damon.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Do we actually use the word “unsane”? Is it something of a mixture of sane and insane? Can it imply that somebody can be sane and insane at the same time?
Director Steven Soderbergh, with a strong career in films, Cannes award for Sex, Lies and Videotape, and an Oscar for Traffic, decided that he would stop making films and turn his attention to television. His decision for a new direction in work did not last long and in 2017 he released Logan Lucky and in 2018, Unsane.
The star of the film is British Claire Foy, who made such an impression as the Queen in The Crown and appeared also in Breathe. We first see her in her office at a bank, in a Pennsylvania city, treating a phone client with some severity. The worker in the next desk comments on her harsh approach. However, Seymour (she explains her name, that she was called after her maternal grandfather) is a success at work, praised by the boss, suggesting she travel with him to a conference in New Orleans – though she seems to have a quizzical response, suggestive that he is being suggestive.
Then, she goes to a bar, meeting up with a man whom she had contacted through an app, seemingly permissive but then suddenly stopping. So far, perhaps so ordinary.
However, she has been troubled by a stalker for two years, moving away from her mother (Amy Irving) and from Boston. She decides to go to a therapist and explains her fears and answers questions about contemplating suicide. Suddenly, she is interned in an institution for 24 hours, the staff suspicious of her responses, rather Cuckoo’s Nest in their application of rules and regulations. She finds herself in a dormitory, tormented by the young woman in the next bed, Allison (Juno Temple).
An explanation is given that institutions like this are dependent on insurance income and can keep intended patients as inmates for as long as companies are prepared to pay the insurance. (To be a particular interest for Soderbergh who explored the exploitation of medication and institutions in his film, Side Effects, 2013.)
As the film develops, and Seymour finds herself confined, she denounces one of the workers as her stalker. The authorities say that he has been definitely checked and, in fact, he is in charge of the distribution of the medication each night.
At one stage, we might have been suspicious that all this was going on in Seymour’s head, that she had imagined the stalker. Yet, here it is (Joshua Leonard) and sometimes in charge of Seymour.
She does make friends with another inmate, Nate (Jay Pharaoh) who tells her about the insurance scams and lends her his mobile phone so that she can make contact with her mother who hurriedly drops everything at home and hurries to her daughter, making demands, taking strong stances.
The plot does get quite complicated as it goes on, Seymour and her dealings with the alleged stalker, his behaviour, his interactions with Nate, his plans for a happy life with Seymour.
There is plenty of melodrama here, especially in a final confrontation, police investigations, media investigations into the ethics of the institution…
And, with Seymour returning to work, and some of her behaviour, we begin to wonder what has really happened…
US, 2017, 95 minutes, Colour.
Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins, Bill Pullman, Alex Neustadedter, Lily Gladstone.
Directed by Alex Smith, Andrew J.Smith.
The title is to be taken very literally – not a walking out on someone or some difficult situation but rather a frontier story, people trapped in the wilds of nature, and having to walk out for survival.
The setting for this frontier film is the state of Montana, the Rockies and its mountains, the snow and ice, and the billboard at the local airport proclaiming that this is ‘Big Sky’ country.
A 14-year-old boy is on a small plane, with his phone playing computer games, of course, coming up from Texas where he lives with his mother to have an annual holiday with his father who works as a hunter in the region. Josh Wiggins gives a convincing performance as the boy, David.
His father, Cal, is played by Matt Bomer (who doesn’t look and seem quite ruggedly grizzled enough to have grown-up in the area and to be hunter in such terrain).
Clearly, this is going to be a film about father-son-son bonding, the 14-year-old rather unwilling (and having to give up his computer game playing), the father loving but demanding. David is to shoot his first moose. The boy is not such a good shot and, even practising shooting birds, misses more than hits.
This is even more than a father-son relationship film because there are continuous flashbacks throughout the film to Cal and his father, Clyde (Bill Pullman). Cal remembers being a little boy with his father but also as a 14-year-old and, eventually, revealing his own experience in shooting at a moose.
It has to be said that the scenic photography is beautiful, even when it is threatening.
Cal is very careful, noting tracks, instructing his son, confrontation with an elk, coming across a grizzly bear, later finding some wounded cubs. There are talks – and there is a moose (as well as carefree and callous tourists who just shoot for the sake of shooting and leave carcasses around, a contrast with Cal and his believing that hunting is for meat and supply).
Since the title indicates walking out, we know that there will be some difficulties encountered and, at times, these are graphic. In fact, the walking out aspect of the film is very visual, endurance for father and son which makes some endurance demands on the attention of the audience.
The experience is the making of the boy, not as we might have expected at the beginning, but the boy helping his father, appreciating his father more, which means that in future father-son relationships, David will have much to hand on to his son.
The directors of the film, Alex and Andrew J. Smith, are originally from England but clearly have made their home in Montana.
WESTWIND: DJALU’S LEGACY
Australia, 2017, 86 minutes, Colour.
Djalu Gurruwiwi, Larry Gurruwiwi....
Directed by Ben Strunin.
At the same time as there was the documentary, Gurrumul, the life of the famed Arnhem land musician and singer, Geoffrey Gurrumul Unupingu.there was this documentary, also from Arnhem Land, about another musician, Djalu Gurruwiwi and his son, Larry.
One of the main breakthroughs for the indigenous people of Australia is in the field of music, song and dance. This film also has a focus on the indigenous musical instrument, the didgeridoo.
It comes as something of a surprise to find that Djalu has been on several international tours over the years and is seen in this film playing in Florence, in Paris, at the British library in London.
Djalu is an elder, taught by his father, attempting to hand over the traditions to his son. However, the son, who at times was a significant footballer, was not so much interested in what his father had to offer but, rather, started his own band, leading it as a popular singer. In later years, there is much more rapport between father and son.
The screenplay offers a lot of information about the tradition of song lines, aboriginal myths – dramatised by a very colourful animation of the rainbow serpent moving through the countryside. Djalu’s wife, sister and other relations provide the talking heads and the comments about the importance of song lines and the holding on to language and traditions.
Djalu is also the maker of didgeridoos. There is a lot of information and visual presentation of the finding of the trees, the chopping down of the trees, the hollowing of the trees, the planing of the surfaces, the range of instruments and the quality of the sounds of the didgeridoo.
The contemporary singers and musicians, Larry and Gottye, visit Arnhem land and they share the musical experiences, the playing of the didgeridoo, the lyrics of songs, their combining in singing the songs. It is a humane meeting of minds and hearts, between Blacks and Whites, through music. And this culminates with the group performing to an enthusiastic audience at the Adelaide music Festival, Womade.
This is a film for the indigenous people to be proud of, Djalu and his talent and achievement. This is a film for the latecomers to the land to see and to appreciate the mythical and music traditions that were here before them.