SIGNIS Film reviews - May 2018 - Part 2
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 LOVELESS ON BODY AND SOUL OTHER SIDE OF HOPE, The PAUL, THE APOSTLE OF CHRIST QUIET PLACE, The RAMPAGE TRUTH OR DARE UNSANE 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. LBJ 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). LOVELESS/ NELYUBOV 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. RAMPAGE 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? UNSANE 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… WALKING OUT 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.
SIGNIS Film Reviews - May 2018 - part 1
Melbourne, May, 17th, 2018 (Peter Malone). Below, find the first part of film critics written by Peter Malone for the month of May. AURORE AVENGERS, The: INFINITY WAR BARRY JONES IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME – A STORY IN FILM BOOKSHOP, The BPM/ 120 BATTIMENTS PAR MINUTE/ 120 BEATS PER MINUTE BREATH EARLY MAN ENDLESS, The GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, The GURRUMUL I FEEL PRETTY ISLE OF DOGS AURORE France, 2017, 89 minutes, Colour. Agnes Jaoui, Thibault de Montelamebert, Pascale Arbillot, Sarah Suco, Lou Roy-Lecollinet. Directed by Blandine Lenoir. This is a drama, with some comic touches, that will resonate with a women’s audience. In fact, a men’s audience may well find itself more immediately observing rather than empathising which, it is hoped, they eventually will do. Aurore is played by Agnes Jaouoi, who has also written and directed films in the past. This time, however, the screenplay has been written by women and the director is a woman. Aurore has two friends as well as some close women friends. At the opening, Aurore is suffering from hot flushes, not quite understanding, realising that this is a period of menopause – with some visits to the doctor which enables the screenplay to explain aspects of the menopause, physiological, psychological, one Aurore and to the audience. Aurore is also divorced and has no job, but hurrying to an interview at a restaurant where she is old enough to be the other applicants’ mother and whom the owner of the restaurant whimsically wants to call Samantha – more attractive to customers, he thinks. She has two daughters, one being pregnant, which disturbs Aurore who advises her not to make mistakes as she did in her past, something which the daughter interprets as her being a mistake in her mother’s life. The other daughter lives at home and is studying but has a sometime live-in boyfriend. There is also Aurore’s close friend, Mano, full of exuberance, unmarried, prone to some cosmetic surgery, a real estate agent who invokes Aurore’s help in promoting apartments she is trying to sell. At one such meeting, Aurore meets the boyfriend of her past, Christophe, who has never married and, we realise, has been hurt by Aurore’s ignoring him when he was on his military service in Germany and has subsequently married his friend. The audience is not wrong in seeing where this might be going. They have some meetings, a meal in a restaurant where there are singing waiters who do some fine operatic excerpts. In the meantime, there are problems with her younger daughter wanting to go off to Barcelona with her boyfriend and give up studies, comforting her pregnant daughter, going to a school reunion and feeling rebuffed by Christophe. Will Aurore find a new life with an older friend? Will Christophe overcome his long-held hurt? Will the daughter stay in Barcelona? Will the other daughter give birth? In many ways, Aurore, her family and friends live ordinary lives in a contemporary city. And in some ways, their problems are very ordinary. However, the audience is drawn into the characters’ lives – in a story which promises happy endings. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR US, 2018, 149 minutes, Colour. Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Josh Brolin, Anthony Mackie, Sebastien Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Kurira, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Clementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Chris Pratt, Sean Gunn, William Hurt, Terry Notary, Stand Lee. Directed by Joe Russo, Anthony Russo. A Superfluity of Superheroes! A distraction during the early part of this almost over-epic adventure. It is from what is now called the Marvel Universe, the universe familiar to the millions of fans all around the world who will not take any notice of a film review because they want to watch this Avengers chapter just because it is there and they like it. And, in its first week it set a box office record everywhere. (Just as Black Panther was setting records, this one has gone beyond but, of course, T’ Challa is one of the Avengers.) With all the superheroes coming and going, and sometimes long delays before we saw some of them again, the opening phrase of this review led to some mind wandering verbal distractions: As Stupefaction of Stunts, a Glut of Galaxies/Guardians, an Effulgence of Effects, a Multiplicity of Moods, and, indeed, a Plethora of Plots. They are all there. One of the questions this film raises is what might be called the Hierarchy of Heroes/Heroines. And whom do we like best and whether they appear sufficiently in the film, and whom do we like least. This review puts in a vote for Thor, Chris Hemsworth always dignified, getting an eye-replacement, flying around the galaxies in a spacecraft driven by a talking raccoon whom he calls Rabbit. And he has a substantial role in the confrontation with the arch-evil villain, Thanos (Josh Brolin). A vote to for Robert Downey Jr as Tony stark, always nonchalant, always with a way with sardonic words. Poor old Mark Ruffalo excessively straining himself as Bruce Banner to try to get Hulk to emerge and go into action. Poor old Vision, Paul Bettany, seems to be on his last legs. While Scarlett Johansson does have some action, Elizabeth Olsen outdoes her in devotion to Vision and her firepower is. The Guardians of the Galaxy gang seems more enjoyable in this one than in their own films! And who is least on the list? This time Dr Strange. And then, we arrive at the final encounter with the whole heroic population going into battle. As has been noted, this Avengers adventure is critic-proof. BARRY JONES IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME – A LIFE IN FILM Australia, 2018, 124 minutes, Colour. Directed by Garry Sturgess. Writer-director, Garry Sturgess, was interested in labour politics and made some documentaries. He was attracted to the character and personality of Barry Jones. Barry Jones has spent decades in the Australian consciousness. A precocious boy, he appeared as a young adult on the very popular initial question on television, Bob Dyers Pickabox. He appeared on over 200 sessions, being stopped in the street at that time and afterwards because he was such a popular identity, answering all the questions – and even questioning the questions. During the 1960s, after abandoning studies in law, he headed up a committee against capital punishment. This organisation and Barry Jones himself were very prominent in their campaigns and in their arguments against the Premier of Victoria, Sir Henry Bolte, a fierce, often aggressive, supporter of such punishment. This came to a head with the last man hanged in Victoria, Ronald Ryan, in 1967, Bolte attacking Barry Jones and Jones resigning from the committee because, he said, he did not want to be paid by the same fund that paid Bolte. Pr Barry Jones became a Labour member of Parliament and was Minister for Science for most of the 1980s in the Hawke Government. Once again, he became well-known from his points of view, his media communications, his innovative approaches. All this might make for a cinema portrait-biography, but there is much more to this film which makes it all the more interesting – and most especially for film buffs. Barry Jones proves himself an avid film fan, listing his favourite films at the beginning of this film. However, he and Sturgess have chosen quite a large number of film clips, mainly from American films but from the UK, France and beyond. So the title, where an 84-year-old Barry Jones is being interviewed about his recollections of times past, with each comment accompanied by a clip in the background, sometimes in the foreground, illustrating his particular perspective. And quite a range it is, from Buster Keaton to Citizen Kane to Psycho and, with his love for the writings of Marcel Proust, Time Regained. There are a number of clips from the film, Quiz Show, an expose of cheating on American quiz shows which enables him to reflect on his own experiences. While there is a great deal about Barry Jones and his family, a Victorian, life in Melbourne, Caulfield, Geelong, there is practically nothing on his private life after he emerges as a public figure. Jones is a Renaissance man and there is quite some emphasis throughout the film on his love of music, visual art, literature (also well illustrated). Newspapers figure as well with quite a number of highlights of headlines and articles. And, at the end, he has reflections on the meaning of life, and admiration for Jesus and his being outgoing towards others, as well as a victim of capital punishment. Audiences will appreciate having a portrait of Barry Jones but many will relish the objective/subjective correlatives of the film clips, his film story. THE BOOKSHOP Spain, 2018, 113 minutes, Colour. Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Hunter Tremayne, Frances Barber, Reg Wilson, Michael Fitzgerald, Nigel O'Neill, Harvey Bennett. Directed by Isabel Coixet. A title like The Bookshop seems a box office risk. With the closing of so many bookshops, with the reliance on Internet, social media, online books, the title seems, despite so many readers’ regrets, something of an anachronism. However, Spanish writer-director, Isabel Coixet, is certainly an admirer of books. In 2007, she made a film with the evocative title, The Secret Life of Words. While the director is Spanish, she has made quite a number of films in English, in the United States, in England. This one is very much in England, though the location photography for the British coast was done in Ireland. The setting is 1959. Florence is a war widow, still grieving and unsettled but who now decides to fulfil an ambition to open a bookshop in a small town on the coast. She feels she is ready. She loves books. She has legal advice, she has financial advice. Could it go wrong? The answer lies in a character of a local grande dame, exercising power in the town, seeing herself as the leader of the town. She is the wife of a retired general, Mrs Gamart. She is played, all stops out, as very British by American actress, Patricia Clarkson. While Florence had taken possession of an empty residence, The Old House, Mrs Gamart had intended the house to be used as a local arts centre. The film shows Florence’s exhilaration in setting up the bookshop. She is helped in the store by a young local girl, Christine (Heather Kneafsey), quite outspoken, quite determined, but, as she says, not a reader, although she enjoys geography and maths. Another ally for Florence is the local recluse, Edmund Brundage, played effectively and quietly by Bill Nighy. Edmund makes contact with Florence and she supplies some books, getting him interested in the works of Ray Bradbury (especially Fahrenheit 451 and the story of bookburning) and asking his advice as to the literary quality of Lolita and whether she should stock it. The atmosphere of this film is very British, old-style. And audiences who appreciate going back into the lives of 20th century Britain will enjoy this. The performances are excellent, Emily Mortimer charming and determined as Florence, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Heather Kneafsey, all quite persuasive. There is a local cad played by James Lance. The film is told in voice-over, the voice being that of Julie Christie. And, at the end, it is revealed who her character is. As with so many British stories, there are bittersweet tones in the film which also make it engaging if sometimes saddening. BPM/ 120 BEATS PER MINUTE/ 120 BATTEMENTS PAR MINUTE France, 2017, 143 minutes, Colour. Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adele Haenel, Antoine Reinartz, Felix Maritaud, Ariel Borenstein. Directed by Robin Campillo. This is a film about AIDS. It is a French film, screening at several festivals, winning awards including several Cesar awards in France, for the film and for performances. The setting is the 1980s in France. It is the period when the public, especially in Western countries, was apprehensive about the rise of AIDS and its spread. It is a period when celebrities were revealed as both gay and as infected by AIDS, especially film star, Rock Hudson. There were demonstrations about AIDS and the role of government in responding to the health situation. There was a lot of study going on, research for cures for AIDS and some exploitation by pharmacy companies. This film opens with a focus on a French group of protesters, ACT UP. They are quite vehement at their meetings, allowing each member to speak but being controlled by the facilitator, agreement being expressed by vigorous snapping of fingers. The film audience is invited to listen to the points being made by the speakers, the passion with which they speak, the effect of the infection and the consequent illness, issues of sexual orientation and behaviour. The group also goes on various demonstrations, especially targeting politicians as well as invasion of the offices of the pharmaceutical companies, with containers with fake blood which they throw at parliamentarians or throw on the walls of the offices. Some of the protesters work on organisation for protest and some kind of control. Others are impulsive, especially the young, causing repercussions with the police, with the media and public opinion. At the initial meeting, the key central characters are introduced so that the audience sees them, hears them, is able to identify with them and/or to criticise them. One of the most vigorous protesters is Marco (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), a young man from Chile present in Paris with some care from his mother. He is befriended by a newcomer, Nathan, and the two fall in love, living together, working on the protests. The audience sees quite a number of the characters, especially in their dealings with Marco and Nathan. Eventually, Marco succumbs to the infection, becomes quite ill, hospitalised, then living at home with the care of Nathan and his mother. Marco’s death and funeral bring the characters together, some kind of reconciliation, still some kind of antagonism between the various members of the protest. While the film recreates its period, the audience is watching it with the knowledge of the history of AIDS in the succeeding decades, the toll that it took in terms of death and illness, the advances made in medical help, the overcoming of prejudice against AIDS and fear of any blood contact, the commitment of support groups and human rights. BREATH Australia, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour. Samson Coulter, Simon Baker, Elizabeth Debicki, Ben Spence, Richard Roxburgh, Rachael Blake, Jacek Koman, Megan Smart. Directed by Simon Baker. The immediate interest in Breath is that it is based on a novel by celebrated author, Tim Winton. It is also a celebration of Western Australia, Tim Winton’s home state. This is a beautifully crafted film, especially with its theme of surfing and the spectacle of the waves in the Indian Ocean on the south of Western Australia’s coastline. The surfing is a reality of the lives of the central characters but it also serves as a metaphor, challenge, achievement, excitement and exhilaration, a contribution to personal development and, in the case of adolescents, their journey towards manhood. The director is Simon Baker (himself a competitor in surfing in his younger days). Having directed some television episodes in the US, he makes an auspicious film debut as a director at home. He also contributed to the screenplay along with veteran writer, Gerard Lee (sometimes a collaborator with Jane Campion) and Tim Winton himself – who also supplies the voice-over narration for the film. This is the 1970s. On the one hand, life in Western Australia seems fairly conventional, a traditional home, pleasing mother and father with their son – which does contrast with a dysfunctional home, an alcoholic father who is abusive to his teenage son. The boys go to school, rather formal in its way, everyone in school uniforms, and looking forward to a rather proper social, and teenage dancing. The son has a quiet relationship with his father, a sympathetically gentle performance from Richard Roxburgh – and some sadness that, ultimately, he does not or cannot confide in his father or his mother, Rachael Blake, quietly in the background. Yet, with a focus on the central character, a 13-year-old boy, Bruce Pike, nicknamed Pikelet, this is a story of growing up, friendship, sexual education, disappointments, physical and psychological challenges, self-knowledge, possibilities for failing and success. His friend is Loonie (Ben Spence). This is Samson Coulter's first film. He is completely convincing as is Ben Spence as Loonie. Simon Baker is Sando, a surfer, a man of seemingly independent means whose life and exhilaration is riding the waves. Sando is a sympathetic character, meeting the two boys who have taken to the surf and enjoying it, offering them his shed where they can leave their boards as they go home. He becomes a mentor to them, bonding, affirming, challenging. At home, in house which Loonie describes as hippy, there is Sando’s wife, an American, Eva, played by Elizabeth Debicki. A skier, she has been hurt in an accident and has moved as far away from snow in Utah as possible. Initially she seems an enigmatic character, somewhat distant, even to her husband. At the core of the story is the relationship between Eva and Pikelet. He is intrigued by this woman, beginning with an adolescent crush, moving to infatuation. There is a seduction sequence, an affair, enthusiasm moving beyond puppy love – and the inevitability of the relationship coming to an end. Watching these sequences, while knowing that they take place in the 1970s, audiences can bring a contemporary sensibility, an adult exploiting an underage adolescent, seeing this kind of behaviour now as criminal. In some ways, the screenplay seems to indicate that this is possibly normal behaviour. It raises the question of seduction, who seduces whom, who exploits whom, and the question of the younger participant’s willingness to be exploited. In fact, further questions could be asked from 21st-century hindsight about Sando when he takes Loonie on a long trip to surf in Indonesia, unaccompanied. And the title? The film opens with holding one’s breath underwater, understanding that breath is life, the sound of gentle snoring by Pikelet’ father as he sleeps, the control of breath in surfing, being toppled by waves and emerging to the surface, and a sequence of sexual hyperventilation with plastic bag and belt, the risk of suffocation and loss of breath. Complex, a significant contribution to Australian cinema. EARLY MAN UK, 2018, 89 minutes, Colour. Voices of: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Mark Williams, Miriam Margolyes, Rob Brydon, Nick Park, Johnny Vegas. Directed by Nick Park. Audiences may not know the name, Aardman Studios. But they recognise the animated characters in their films, especially Wallace and Gromit. Over the decades, director, Nick Park, has provided humorous entertainment for audiences worldwide. Early Man is the latest film from Aardman. It is amusing – but rather slight in scope than a number of the previous films. And, there is the question of the title and exclusive language, Early Man. And that is what it seems like for the first part of the film. A mother does appear amongst all the cavemen – but soon, there are movements towards gender equality as a young girl, skilled in sport, comes to join the community. And, in the final confrontation in an arena, the ruler is exposed as something of a booby and avaricious while his queen takes command. Early Man and Early Woman. Actually, the film opens in the Neo-Pleistocene age, rugged to rains, cavemen fighting each other, prehistoric animals fighting each other. But, down from the clouds comes a meteor destroying the landscapes – but leaving a fiery box which burns the cavemen’s fingers and feet as they touch it, causing them to pass it, kick it around. Perhaps it is an open question but it may be that the origins of football/soccer are prehistoric. This theory is reinforced by the caption that the action in this very ancient world takes place “near Manchester” and “around lunchtime”. These original football players bequeath their memories to cave art. Then moving forward a couple of millennia and Ages, the film takes us to the Stone Age. The terrain this time is rather lush. The Stone Age characters are what we might imagine (perhaps thanks to the Flintstones), they are certainly Aardman characters with their protruding teeth and voices from top British actors, with Timothy Spall as the Chief, Eddie Redmayne as the hero, Dug, and the young girl, Goona, who proves herself an ace at soccer, Maisie Williams. Part of the activities in the Stone Age is hunting – but, as in the previous Aardman film, there is a rabbit, not a Were-Rabbit but are wary rabbit who is able to outwit the hunters (and who actually has the last laugh of the film). But, armoured warriors from the Bronze Age invade the cavemen, rounding them up, threatening them with work in the mines. However, these Bronze Age invaders sound as if they come from the continent (even though the Lord is voiced by Tom Hiddleston and his queen, rather like Edith Evans in The Importance of Being Earnest, is voiced by Miriam Margolyes). And these continental fops, exceedingly vain, are champion footballer’s. The plan is made that they should play the cavemen, with cavemen to lose and being sentenced to all work in the mines. The Lord is persuaded that this match would be worthwhile because he sees all the coins coming in as revenue. Dug is enthusiastic, tries to train his fellows – leading to a lot of bumbling comedy. But, Goona comes to the rescue. Just when the depressed Dug is about to forfeit the match, the team all arrives on a huge flying duck/goose. The continental Bronzes are a bit shocked when the visitors score. While the match is enjoyable to watch, the parallels with contemporary football matches in England are very amusing, not only a score board, but an hourglass for the timekeeping, a replay courtesy of puppet figures and two commentators in a box, one English, one Scot, both voiced amusingly with jokes and puns by Rob Brydon. We can guess the result of the match, the final tensions, the victory, the expose of the Lord, the taking command by the Queen and a happy ending prior to the advance of the next prehistoric Age. (Nick Park voices, a character called Hobnog, a pig who thinks he is a dog and wants to play football! And Park also reminds audiences that the screenplay was in preparation long before Brexit nationalism and voting!) THE ENDLESS US, 2017, 111 minutes, Colour. Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Tate Ellington, Callie Hernandez. Directed by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead. The Endless is a small-budget horror/terror film. It has received favourable reviews – a horror film that is different. The film is the work of two friends, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead who have worked together on other films, starring in this film as well as cowriting and co-directing. At first, the narrative seems to be fairly straightforward. We are introduced to Justin and Aaron (using their actual names) who play brothers. The older brother, Justin, is protective of his younger brother. They work together. But, it emerges that they spent some years in a commune, described as a cult, 10 years. But Justin has left, spoken to the media, denouncing the cult. However, Karen who is younger and enjoyed his life at the cult tries to persuade his brother to return, at least for a day, to see the place again, to meet the people again. On the way, they pass the place where their mother was killed in a car accident and they were rescued. Audiences may react immediately to the idea of a cult, condemn in-group attitudes to a community which isolates itself from society, has a group-think attitude towards life, with a leader who exercises too much power and influence. When the audience accompanies the two brothers to the cult, it does not seem quite as bad as the isolationist religious cults that proliferate in the United States. The members seem more normal than other cult members although there is a leader, who explains that he is not really a leader, Hal. There are some members that the brothers have known in the past, especially a woman who looks younger than she actually is – as does Hal. While the group wants isolation, drinking is permitted, they meet in a bar and play cards, but there is little sexual activity it would seem. While visiting again, Justin goes jogging and encounters some unusual characters as he runs. There is also a mysterious woman who doesn’t join the group so much but is seen weeping. With this kind of alerting, the screenplay moves into the more mysterious, seeming repetitions of events, people being in two places at once (one living but also seen hanging). Justin wants to escape back to ordinary life, Aaron is reluctant but eventually agrees. For audiences who do not know much about the plot, a reviewer should stop here and simply indicate that there is quite a meaning in the title, endless indicating that people might be trapped – although it might have been more realistic to have cycle or cycles in the title. But, obviously, there is much more to it than that… GURRUMUL Australia, 2017, 97 minutes, Colour. Directed by Paul Damien Williams. In July 2017, the death, at age 46, was announced of Northern Territory musician and singer, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingo. There were tributes from all around Australia as well as from overseas. He had developed an enormous reputation worldwide. This documentary is a tribute to Gurrumul. It is also something of a portrait, a slight biography of a very private person, an invitation to share his music, his playing, the pleasing sound of his singing voice. Directors and photographers had filmed extensively from 2008 to the time of his death, scenes from his home island in Arnhem Land, his performances in travel, and his friendship with Michael Hohman, a close ally, a genial man, Gurrumul’s representative, a manager of a promotion company, musician himself, speaking Gurrumul’s local language, able to present him to his audiences. And, this is most important as we remember that Gurrumul was born blind. At times the screen goes dark, inviting to share Gurrumul’s experience of not seeing but hearing, and the uncertainties of what he is hearing, the vastness of the space outside himself in which he has to move. This is where Michael Hohman is most helpful, physically guiding Gurrumul in the spaces, on stage, an acknowledgement of audiences. And, Gurrumul himself is very private, shy, rather prone to non-speaking. The film sketches aboriginal life on the island, comments by his sister, showing the pride of his father, the love and care of his mother and his grief at her death. There are plenty of scenes of adult aborigines and their life, children playing, many especially during the final credits until we come again to Gurrumul’s profile. He was gifted as a child, a love for music, playing the guitar upside down because he was left-handed. He played a number of instruments. And he appeared in bands Yothu Yindi. But it was his songs and his singing, traditional songs with acknowledgement of the Rainbow Serpent myth, families and their relationship to the land and to nature. His songs were in native languages, flecked with animal sounds and cries. He also sang sometimes in English – with a scene in the film duetting with Sting. When he went solo, he began a career but was not particularly interested in fame, money. His records were popular, going to the top of charts, even in the US, receiving Aria awards in Australia, walking the red carpet, but neglecting to go on a pre-planned tour of the United States. The film builds up his musical repertoire, scenes of orchestras including Michael Hohman playing. And the culmination is his orchestral suite, his beautiful singing, all performed in the Sydney Opera House. A most significant indigenous man. A most significant Australian. THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY UK, 2018, 124 minutes, Colour. Lily James, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Michiel Huisman, Katherine Parkinson, Tom Courtenay, Glen Powell, Penelope Wilton, Bronagh Gallagher. Directed by Mike Newell. With several Churchill films, with Dunkirk, with Their Finest, and with popular films for seniors like the Exotic Marigold hotel films, there seems to be a deep cinematic nostalgia in Britain. Which asks the question about Brexit and the U.K.’s focus on itself. This film belongs to that group. It is certainly a mouthful of a title. But it tells us that we are in the island of Guernsey, that there is a literary society, that has something to do with potatoes and potato peels. The setting is the island during World War II and the occupation by the Germans. There are also many sequences about the post-war life on the island, especially 1946. The opening sets the tone. One night on the island during the occupation, a group of rowdy men and women come bumbling through the woods and are bailed up by German sentries. They have been enjoying an illicit dinner, consuming a pig that had been fostered in secret. A bit tipsy, they explain to the sentries that they are part of the society which gathers for reading. They are asked to register the next morning and realise that they had better keep up the pretence and make it a reality. For almost 4 years, they meet regularly, escaping from the occupation into the land of the imagination and literature. After the war, a successful author, Juliet, played by Lily James, managed by Sydney, Matthew Goode, receives a request from Guernsey for a copy of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare as well as a box of memorabilia from the island. As she goes through the material, she becomes more interested in the literary society and decides to go to investigate personally and use this as a basis for an article commissioned by The Times. It doesn’t quite work out that way. Juliet experiences the hardships after the war, makes friends with the farmer who had the pig and the little girl that he looks after like a father, makes friends with the post office head and his grandson, enjoys the company of an island woman who makes complex gins. But she is received in quite a hostile way by an older woman who does not want the society to be written about, especially for the papers. A group of British character actors portrays this group, Michiel Hausman is the farmer, Tom Courtenay in the post office, Katherine Parkinson with her distillery, and Penelope Wilton is the hostile Eliza. As she gets to know more about the members of the society, especially another woman, Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay) who has disappeared from the island, the other members begin to fill in the background, the question of a relationship with a German soldier, with a child, with arrests and internment in concentration camps… Juliet has accepted a proposal by an American soldier (Glen Powell) but, it is clear to us before it is clear to her, that she will be attracted by the farmer. The American is instrumental in finding out the fate of the woman who disappeared, a sad and generous fate, and comes to the island and immediately senses what has happened. This is British nostalgia at its most attractive, dignifying of the past, wartime heroism, disappointments and oppression, and romance. It would be surprising if this film is not a great hit with its target, older, audience. I FEEL PRETTY US, 2018, 110 minutes, Colour. Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Tom Hopper, Rory Scovel, Adrian Martinez, Emily Ratajkowski, Busy Phillips, Lauren Hutton, Naomi Campbell. Directed by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein. The title is a commonly used phrase but, it gets a bit of prominence by its presence as a lyric in West Side Story. In this film, comedian Amy Schumer (she would probably agree that she is not “pretty”) gets a chance to feel pretty well not appearing as pretty! One of the morals of the story is that being pretty is merely an external quality. The more important thing is “beauty” which, even if it is not on the outside, is very much on the inside. This rather sounds like a bit of moralising at the beginning of a review. However, the screenplay does become more and more didactic as it goes on with Amy Schumer as Renée practically giving a homily on this theme at the end of the film. Renee works in a narrow little room as a contact for a huge cosmetics company which has a skyscraper block of officers in Uptown New York City. She yearns to be pretty, going to a gym for exercising in bike riding (being embarrassed by the receptionist questioning her about the size of her shoes), peddling like mad, surrounded by ultra sleek pretty models, and then crashing off her bike. When she does this a second time, it affects her head and her mind. As she looks in the mirror, we seeing her as she still really is, she believes she is ultra-pretty and proceeds to follow this delusion. So, the point is being made, with comedy touches, verbal and visual, that many women pay too much attention to prettiness, believing marketing and advertising, setting up an unreal ideal for themselves and disappointed if it is not achieved. But, for the moment, it does give Renee some confidence as she applies for the receptionist job in the main office, glamour rising herself, treating all visitors (although ultimately committing the sin of ignoring those were not pretty) with charm and supplying them with their favourite drinks. She also encounters the granddaughter of the founder, Avery (Michelle Williams in a comic role and sporting a very squeaky voice and low self-image). She is in charge of a new line, Diffusion, which is aimed at the “ordinary woman” who shop at places like Target. Lauren Hutton, a top model for the last 50 years, plays the grandmother founder of the company. Renee has good friends who are what are commonly called “plain”, one of them a bit heavier than she might want to be. Since they see her as normal, they can’t understand what is transforming her and a are very hurt. She also encounters a man at the dry cleaners and completely misinterprets the conversation, her thinking that she sees her as very glamorous which leads to dates and an initial good company but final disappointment. Perhaps there is something to be said of people falling on their head, because it happens to Renee again and, as she looks in the mirror, she is aghast at seeing she is back to normal. As has been noted, there is a moralising homily at the end of the film and an affirmation of being beautiful even when you are not pretty! ISLE OF DOGS US, 2018, 101 minutes, Colour. Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Courtney B.Vance, Konichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, Yoko Ono. Directed by Wes Anderson. An animated allegory written and directed by Wes Anderson, whose 20 year career has provided an enormous range of genre films, serious undertones, humorous overtones, all kinds of comedy and parody. He also ventured into animation with The Fantastic Mr Fox. Audiences will have their different favourite Wes Anderson films This reviewer remembering happily the Royal Tennenbaums and, especially, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The animation in this film looks a bit rough and ready, all to the film’s advantage. There is no smooth drawing for characters most of whom are dogs. The movements of the characters are not smooth either, but humorously jerky and angular. There is a great deal of attention given to the backgrounds, especially the wastelands of the actual island where the dogs are exiled. This is not a pretty-pretty location film. Which means that just visually, there is a great deal of edge. And the voice cast! It is led by Bryan Cranston and Koyu Rankin. Many of the cast have appeared in other Wes Anderson films and are welcome back, some having much more to say than others – and, some silent! The film has a Japanese setting – which some would-be purists object to, Americans capitalising on Japanese characters and themes. But, this seems to be too much objection. One of the writers, who voices the Mayor in the film, is Japanese. And the central character, a young lad of 12, is reminiscent of and probably a tribute to the many animated films from Studio Ghibli and other studios. The dialogue is certainly worth listening to, full of humour, full of spoof, full of parody – but, with quite an underlying seriousness. The film goes back into earlier centuries with history of the status of dogs in Japanese households. It leads to a revolution where the population turn against their dogs, preferring cats, and the powers that be of a leading family decree the exiling of all dogs to an island off the coast. The population seeming to agree complacently and all the dogs are rather brutally rounded up and even brutally deposited on the island where they have to survive, make do, scrounge, break friendships, fight amongst each other. The life of the dogs on the island is often very amusing, often very challenging. The key event is the arrival of the adopted son of the Mayor taking a plane and crash landing on the island to find his pet dog. So, the film becomes something of a quest, the outlaw dog, voiced by Bryan Cranston, becoming a friend and an ally. There is also a show dog, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who has an interesting history and contributes to the quest. Most of the reviewers spent their time talking about the animation, the cast, the humour, Wes Anderson’s perspective. But, when one comes to think about it, the film serves as a contemporary social allegory, getting rid of the dogs seems to be an allegory of any ethnic cleansing. Those who are ethnically cleansed have to move into exile as do the dogs on their island. The critique is also of the wealthy, their corrupt use of wealth and power, manipulation of the public. This means that Isle of one works on two levels, that of popular entertainment – but, very seriously, an allegory of contemporary social injustices.