April, 3rd, 2017.
Find below film reviews written by Peter Malone.
- ALTAMIRA/ FINDING ALTAMIRA
UK/France/Spain, 2016, 97 minutes, Colour.
Antonio Banderas, Golshifteh Farahani, Clement Sibony, Rupert Everett, Nicholas Farrell, Irene Escalar, Allegra Allen.
Directed by Hugh Hudson.
This is the story of Spanish cave paintings which were discovered in northern Spain in the latter part of the 19th century, at Altamira.
The film is a French Spanish coproduction with Antonio Banderas in the lead for a Spanish audience. Spanish locations were used for the filming, the village of Altamira, the surrounding mountains and caves. However, the director is British, Hugh Hudson, best known for his Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire. There is an international supporting cast with the British Nicholas Farrell as well as Rupert Everett as a smug monsignor in the town.
While the film does describe the finding of the caves and the paintings, the initial set up is a contrast between the 19th century attitude of scientists, especially after Darwin, and the proclamation of the superiority of science contrasting with the stances of the church, the status of the Scriptures as regards creation and evolution. A pre-credit sequence shows the scientist standing at his lectern on one side of the screen, the monsignor in his pulpit on the other.
Antonio Banderas portrays Marcelino, the local grandee, benign patriarch of the family, especially with love of his daughter who is intelligent and shares her father’s enquiries and studies, even to the finding of the paintings as she stumbles around the newly-iscovered caves with a lantern.
The family expect that the scientific world will be amazed at the discovery and its contribution to Palaeolithic studies. Even the King visits the caves and is impressed. However, a local scientist is jealous, the local monsignor is aggressively antipathetic and what was meant to be a gala occasion at a congress in Lisbon turns into a condemnation of forgery, of disbelief, and of personal condemnation of Marcelino himself.
For dramatic satisfaction, Marcelino’s wife, rather tentative in her knowledge of science and support of her husband, goes to the monsignor to confession and roundly denounces him.
The film ends 20 years later, with the discovery of the caves and the paintings in the Dordogne in France, the scientist who had denounced Marcelino finally coming to Spain, witnessing the paintings and, belatedly, because Marcelino is long dead, writing an article and issuing an apology.
The film is of particular interest to a Spanish audience and their knowledge of the caves and the paintings – and the film can be seen in companionship with Werner Herzog’s 3-D documentary on the French cave paintings, Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
- AMERICAN PASTORAL
US, 2016, 108 minutes, Colour.
Ewan Mc Gregor, Jennifer Connolly, Dakota Fanning, Peter Reigert, Rupert Evans, Uzo Aduba, Molly Parker, Valorie Curry, Samantha Mathis, David Strathairn.
Directed by Ewan Mc Gregor.
American Pastoral is based on a novel by Philip Roth.
Over the decades, a number of Philip Roth’s novels have been filmed from Portnoy’s Complaint to The Human Stain and Indignation. This film is a work of devotion by Ewan Mc Gregor who has directed the film as well as taken on the central role.
American Pastoral is an ironic title. The narrative opens during World War II, the central character, Swede Lvov (Ewan Mc Gregor) is an all-American sportsman, and idol of his time. He enlists, but returns as the war ends, moving in to manage the glove factory in New Jersey founded by his dominating Jewish father, Peter Riegert. However, he wants to marry the local beauty queen, a Catholic, Dawn (Jennifer Connolly) who is willing to be interviewed by his father and stares him down despite his objections, winning him over.
The American Pastoral years are those immediately after the end of the war, Swede and Dawn marrying and having a little daughter, Meredith. Idolised by her parents, she nevertheless has a stammer and they take her to a therapist, Molly Parker, who indicates that this might be a control mechanism.
As the story moves to the end of the 50s and into the 1960s, Meredith sees images of a Buddhist monk on television, self-immolating, and is emotionally upset, thinking that people do not care.
The pastoral ends with the Vietnam war and Meredith, age 16 (Dakota Fanning) an embittered young woman, resenting her successful parents, meeting up with like-minded young people against the government, eventually throwing a bomb into a baker’s shop in New Jersey and having to go on the run.
For the rest of the film, Swede is obsessed with finding his daughter, cruelly tantalised by one of her friends who pretends to be researching the glove industry but is really trying to get money out of Swede. Dawn, on the other hand, is hurt by her daughter’s antagonism and opts to ignore her, deteriorating mentally with a strong scene and a diatribe against her husband and all that he stood for and how she should not have married him.
The framework of the film is a 1990s school reunion where a writer, David Strathairrn, encounters Swede’s brother and finds that Swede is dead and about to be buried.
The funeral scene has quite some pathos, the writer observing, Dawn present with ambiguous grief – and Meredith finally turning up to stand by her father’s coffin.
The acting is very good, Mc Gregor always reliable, Jennifer Connolly with some strong scenes and a surprising Dakota Fanning in the role of Meredith. An opportunity to reassess the transition in the United States from the 1950s into the 1960s and the violent years beyond.
UK, Czech Republic, 2016, 120 minutes, Colour.
Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones, Bill Milner, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerova.
Directed by Sean Ellis.
There have been a number of films about Hitler’s occupying of Czechoslovakia, the sending of his lieutenant Reinhold Heydrich to Prague and his ruthless control of the Czech population, leading to a plot to assassinate him, ultimately successful, but drawing down enormous reprisals, especially on the village of Lidice.
Even during World War II, there was already a film highlighting this, Hitler’s Madman.
In the 1970s, there was a reconstruction of the episode, a focus on the young men, Czechoslovakians, parachuted in from London who were to do the execution. This was shown in an effective film, Operation Daybreak, directed by Lewis Gilbert. Kenneth Branagh played Heydricj in Conspiracy.
It is interesting to ask why there has been this renewed interest in the events more than 70 years later in Operation Anthropoid.
Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan portray the two young men parachuted into Czechoslovakia by night, injuring themselves in the fall, picked up by a partisan who is willing to betray them to the Nazis, taking his truck, driving into Prague where they find that their contact has disappeared. Nevertheless, they are received by the local Resistance, especially by the veteran Uncle, Toby Jones, and find accommodation with a family and the support of two young women.
Cillian Murphy portrays the leader, a stern man, committed to his mission, allotted a young woman to help him with his cover, becoming emotionally attached to her and grieving at her death during the execution of the mission. Jamie Dornan, on the other hand, falls in love with his young woman and has moments of fear and doubt.
The film shows Prague and the ordinariness of its way of life, even the trams running on the streets, during the Nazi occupation. When Heydrich is to return suddenly to Berlin, the time of the attack is advanced, double checking with the authorities in London, some of the locals wondering why they are prepared to kill Heydrich and risk the reprisals which eventually take place. In many ways the attempt was botched, a gun jamming, explosives thrown, Heydrich not immediately dying, a pursuit of those responsible, betrayal by one of the locals who was also tortured, and escape to safety in a church and a siege which, in real life, lasted for six hours, before the attackers were all killed.
The massacre in Lidice is mentioned but not visually shown – rather, the suffering of particular individuals is highlighted and visualised, the siege in the church, and the taking of suicide pills.
World War II stories and films continue to be of great interest – and, as the decades go by, probably a necessary prodding to memory and sensibilities.
- BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
US, 2017, 128 minutes, Colour.
Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Hattie Morahan, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Mack, Gugu Mbatha Raw.
Directed by Bill Condon.
Lovers of fairytales and, especially, those who love the 1992 animated version of Beauty and the Beast, know the characters and the plot very well indeed. Soon after the release and success of the animated film, Disney included it as part of their live-action entertainment at Disneyland and Disneyworld and adapted it for the Broadway stage. With the success of live-action versions of fairytales, Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast is ideal for this kind of cinema treatment.
It looks as though the Disney executives were not wrong with the immediate box office success of this version.
Immediately we are introduced to the Prince (Dan Stevens), living the lavish life, with many courtiers, opera singer and piano accompanist, but arrogant and self-centred. An old woman comes begging hospitality and he sneeringly refuses it, the enchantress then transforming him into the Beast and freezes his castle, warning him that when the last petal falls from a rose, there will be no chance for change or redemption.
Transition to the town of Villeneuve, and the well-known song that welcomes Belle into the story, moving through the markets, the streets, the busy activity of all who are selling, buying, watching – a large ensemble chorus. This really gets us in the mood, especially if the song is familiar from the past. And Emma Watson proves herself charming and lovely.
Then we are introduced to Gaston (Luke Evans) and his assistant, Le Fouo (Josh Gad). At one moment, Gaston is glimpsed gazing at someone with words of love and affection – the audience then seeing it is his reflection in the mirror! Another tone is set. The contrast is with Belle’s father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), sitting at home mending things, going to the market, getting lost, discovering the Beast’s Castle and, rather upset (although they are very comic characters) by the talking candlestick, clock, teapot… He picks a rose to take to his daughter and is taken by the Beast and imprisoned.
When his horse returns home, riderless, Belle mounts it and goes in search of her father, confronting the Beast, putting herself in his prison, having him release her father.
The very nice part of the story is how Belle responds to the Beast, thinking to escape, responding to some courtesy, discovering his library and discussing Shakespeare, drinking her soup from the plate in sympathy with him, taking walks, talking, getting to know each other, building up to a ballroom sequence for two.
In the meantime, we are treated to all kinds of funny dialogue and antics with Cogsworth the clock, Lumière the candles, and Mrs Potts. And they all sing Be our Guest.
When Maurice tries to get the townspeople to go to save his daughter, they mock him with disbelief about his stories of the Beast, Gaston offering to save the day but, feeling thwarted, abandons Maurice to the wolves.
While the townspeople start a vicious siege of the castle, once they get in it is much more farcical as all the crockery and furniture become very involved in getting rid of the attackers. Gaston confronts the Beast – to his great disadvantage! But love overcomes everything, the enchantress reverses her spell, the crockery and furniture all become their real selves again – and the forms of Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha Raw.
What else to do but have a dance with Mrs Potts reprising the very popular theme song, a tale as old as time…?
- BEFORE I FALL
US, 2017, 99 minutes, Colour.
Zoe Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Kian Lawley, Jennifer Beals.
Directed by Ry Rosso-Young.
Before I Fall is based on a novel for young adult readers, principally female young readers.
The film opens with the repetition of sequences that remind audiences of Mean Girls, a group of teenagers who are very sure of themselves on the surface, relying on one another and a leader to validate their self-image, critical of others, catty amongst themselves, condemnatory of the girls that they do not approve of.
These opening sequences are a reminder that it is necessary to wait till the end of the film because the tone could well change – and with this one, it does.
Samantha, Zoe Deutch, is at the centre of this film, the I of the title, speaking in voice-over about herself and this special day in February, Cupid’s Day at school, where roses are distributed amongst favoured girls. What Samantha says is rather ominous because it sounds as if something terrible is going to happen to her.
However, we follow her during the day, rather haughty, not wanting to get up, critical of her little sister with her gift of an origami bird, rather neglectful her parents, meeting the girls in her clique, travelling to school, class, the roses, encountering a young man, Kent, in the school corridor, Samantha with a condom because of the plan to connect sexually with boyfriend, Rob, that evening. At the party where they all gather, an isolated girl, Juliet, whom they loathe appears and is ridiculed, running out of the room. Samantha then finds herself in the car and it crashes – only for her to wake up in bed and it is the same day.
And older audiences are remembering Groundhog Day.
Which means that Samantha has to live the day over and over again, the audience noticing the sameness, the differences, Samantha becoming a bit more appropriately self-conscious, seeing through Lindsey, the catty leader of the group, befriending the young man in the corridor – but, basically, the same things again.
And, eventually, this is where the moral of the story comes in. Samantha begins to take stock of herself, critical of her attitudes towards her sister and her mother, becoming nicer to both and to her father, speaking directly to Lindsey and the other girls, befriending Kent and having deep and meaningful discussions with him, learning more about the disliked Juliet and the reasons for the dislike, especially unjust attitudes from Lindsey.
The ending is not quite what we were imagining – but, Samantha has become a better person from her living the same day over and over again, a kind of purgatorial experience for her.
Which means that there is a moral for the young adult audience and a bit of saving grace for the older audience.
- THE BIRTH OF A NATION
US, 2016, 120 minutes, Colour.
Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Jr, Anjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, Roger Guenver Smith, Gabrielle Union.
Directed by Nate Parker.
It was in 1916 that pioneer film director, D. W. Griffith released his quite epic treatment of the American Civil War, The Birth of a Nation. Almost immediately, commentators raised difficulties because of the perceived stances of the and the director, some racist attitudes towards the African-Americans and a seeming glorifying of the Ku Klux Klan.
100 years later, African-American writer-director, Nate Parker, has made a film of the same name but taken very different stances.
The film is actually set in the pre-Civil War period, from 1809 into the 1820s and 30s. The settings are the usual plantation, the white family in the homestead, the black community living a rather impoverished existence, slaves, working in the cotton fields. This is well conveyed in the use of the locations.
The film also focuses on a young boy, seen as somewhat prophetic and special, celebrated in rituals – but, his father and other elders being persecuted pursued by slaves-dealers. As he grows up, he has a talent for reading, is a friend of the son of the plantation owner, the same age, invited into the household, nicely dressed, and taught to read by the plantation owner’s wife (Penelope Ann Miller). However, he is not invited to meals in the house and has to return home. When the owner dies, he is forced back to work in the fields.
Writer-director Nate Parker portrays Nate Turner as he grows up, talented in reading and leading the slaves, knowledgeable of the Bible, able to conduct religious services, yet still working in the fields. The new plantation owner is his boyhood friend, Sam, played by Armie Hammer. There is still the difference between black and white although Sam seems to be much more open than others.
At one stage, Nate accompanies Sam to the town and views the slave market, a young woman being savagely oppressed, Sam buying the slave, taking her home, her turning on Nate but then finding him sympathetic – and, ultimately, they marry.
In difficult financial times, some religious leaders have the idea that Nate should go round the black communities and preach, but highlight the emphasis on obeying masters as a key Biblical concept. He does, but finds it oppressive even as he carries out the orders. When his wife is molested by a white dinner guest, it is the last straw.
The latter part of the film is about the black uprising, Nate able to gather so many of the slaves around him, the attack on the white settlement, the intervention of the military – leading to a hanging.
Mark Boone Jr is the religious minister who encourages Nate’s preaching. Jackie Earle Haley is the embodiment of all that is evil, oppressive, molesting, about white slavers.
This sympathetic emphasis on the black uprising as one of the prologues to the Civil War is distinctive for 2016 but is stances and attitudes are the opposite of the classic pioneering film of 1916.
- THE BOSS BABY
US, 2017, 97 minutes, Colour stop
Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Miles Christopher Bakshi, James McGrath.
Directed by Tom McGrath.
For once, a trailer was quite misleading. It emphasised the baby wearing a suit and having a briefcase, ingratiating itself with its parents while spurning the older brother.
The scenes occur rather early in the film and, in fact, the two brothers work together and get on rather well together, more than might have been anticipated.
The film is based on the children’s book by an author and illustrator, Marla Frazee, The Boss Baby, published in 2010. Readers of the Book would know well what to expect. Those of us who have not read the book will be kept in suspense – well not exactly in suspense but in surprised anticipation.
This is a brightly animated film, fully rounded characters, bright colours, lively locations, with more than a touch of fantasy.
The story is told from the adult point of view of the Templeton baby and then seven-year-old, Tim (older Tim voiced by Tobey Maguire, younger Tim by Miles Christopher Bakshi). He is absolutely devoted to his absolutely devoted parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow), who read him stories, give him hugs, sing him his favourite song – while he has all kinds of imaginative adventures and is forever rescuing his parents.
One night at hugs, stories and song time, we notice that mother is pregnant and he doesn’t – and when asked whether he would like a little brother his offhand reply sounds like a definite no.
So, if all this is happening in Tim’s head and being recounted by his older self, then we can indulge his fantasy of where babies come from and how to deal with a brother – as did the film, Storks, in 2016. This time it is an assembly line at Babycorps, somewhere up above a, with the song playing is I’m in Heaven! Most of the babies come properly down the assembly line, all races represented, then successfully tickled and registered for allotment to family. But, sometimes, there is the odd baby out and this happens to the Boss Baby, his head in the opposite direction, not responding to the feather tickle and designated for Management. Off he goes, in a suit and tie, with his own briefcase, to an enormous office where all the management babies are sitting at their desks.
When he arrives at the Templeton house, he does all the goo-goo things, but is fairly self-centred, making his parents run ragged looking after him and alienating Tim. When Tim overhears him talking (with the boys of Alec Baldwin) on the phone to the office, and discovers his cohorts outside, it looks as if there is going to be huge conflict. Not at all.
The two babies suck on their dummies which enables Boss Baby to help Tim see the background of Babycorps, the portrait of the founder on the wall, the pie chart which indicates how much Love is available – for babies and for puppies. It looks as though the puppies are winning out so something has to be done! A bit difficult because both parents work for a pet business.
Between the jigs and the reels, the two babies decide that they must work together – even going to a Puppycorps show in Las Vegas where they discover some truths that are unexpected about the founder (Steve Buscemi), where they see that the pie chart is indicating more love for puppies than babies, where Boss Baby is in danger of becoming a real baby and has to be shaken back to his real self. Because Tim had imagined all kinds of adventures, it is not a far stretch for him and Boss Baby to confront the villain, aided by his associate Elvis impersonator, rescue the parents, revert the process for too much literal Puppy Love, and Boss Baby to receive the acclaim of everybody at Babycorps
And he has the chance to go on to the assembly line again and be tickled because Tim has found that Baby has a ticklish foot be assigned to family. So, all is well and Tim is well able to cope with the baby brother.
There is an amusing epilogue where Tim and Ed, the grown-up Boss Baby, talking with Tim’s daughter when there is a doorbell ring – and the little sister is arriving, another boss Boss Baby!
US, 2016, 110 minutes, Colour.
Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell.
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo.
Early in Colossal, Anne Hathaway’s character, Gloria, scratches the top of her head, stating that she has a persistent itch. Perhaps scratching the head is a suitable symbol for responding to Colossal. It can be quite puzzling.
The puzzle begins immediately when a little Asian girl searching for a doll in the park suddenly experiences a giant monster (perhaps a cousin of Godzilla!). The film in indicates: 25 years later.
The title of Colossal also appears, ironically, in very small type.
Gloria is arriving home, her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) questioning her about where she has been. She lies. She has been drinking with friends, hangover, sleeping it off. And his response in concern for her wayward life year and her not being able to find a job is to oust her from the apartment, his having packed her bags. She goes back to her family home in the town of Mainhead. (Nothing about the monster so far.)
She goes to an empty family home and buys an inflatable mattress, encountering a school friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who invites her to his bar. She likes what he is done in renewing the bar but prefers the back area and its atmosphere which he has not been able to renew. In the bar are two of his friends, Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell). They talk, they drink, and Gloria wakes up on a park bench with a hangover – and concerned calls from her boyfriend.
Oscar keeps giving her furniture, a television set – on which she sees that a monster is on the loose in Seoul, Korea, trampling the inhabitants, everybody fleeing in fear.
And this is where even more intense scratching the itch on the head (on the part of the audience, that is) becomes more aggravating.
If you take the film at realism value, it seems pretty absurd. If you take the film at symbolic value, then it becomes something of a psychological case, a friend referring to it as “Monsters from the Id”. Then there is the question of whether the monsters (on the rampage in Korea) are projections from Gloria’s Id and from Oscars as well because, confronting the monster, is a giant monstrous robot. What we are dealing with is not rational logic but image and symbolic logic. Not rational logic but emotional logic. The monsters are what T.S.Elliott might have called “objective correlatives”.
What Gloria discovers is that actions she does on a playground in Mainhead, are mimicked by the monster in Seoul (which everyone watches on television) – and the same for Oscar and the robot.
Things go downhill for the friends, animosity arising, jealousy and resentment, physical confrontations and slaps, all reproduced by the fighting monsters in Seoul.
What is Gloria to do? Go home with her boyfriend? Or, rather, go to Seoul and resolve the situation – not quite in the way expected.
As may be seen from this review, this is a realist/surrealist fable, both comic and serious, which may become a cult film for Psychology Conferences – but not at the multiplexers.
Australia, 2015, 111 minutes, Colour.
Sarah Bishop, Les Hill, Roxane Wilson, Helmut Baitis, Aaron Glenane, Millie Spencer-Brown, Robert Preston, Jamie Irvine.
Directed by Megan Riakos.
Crushed is quite an ambiguous title for this film. The Vineyard settings, there is obviously a reference to the crushing of grapes. Then, a significant character is murdered, crushed against a wall. And then, the central character experiences a great deal of being crushed emotionally.
This is an Australian story, the story of Vineyards in north-western New South Wales in the Mudgee area. The film opens in Melbourne, focusing on Ellia, a young woman with business ambitions who has escaped from her family and the family business after a traumatising experience.
However, she receives the news that her father is dead and returns home for the funeral. What she discovers makes her involved in sorting out what actually happened, the alleged accidental death of her father turning into a murder. She is suspicious of her mother and of the foreman of the vineyard.
She is helped by her younger sister, trying to get over the memories of her dead brother. There is also a moody younger brother as well as a local policeman to whom she is attracted but who seems to be acting suspiciously and another worker at the vineyard. There is also a problem about chemicals being blown over neighbouring vineyards and one of the owners losing all his crops.
Enough ingredients to be intriguing – especially as audiences may not be anticipating who the murderer is.
The film keeps audience attention, well-written with its entry and interesting performances, including from Sarah Bishop as Ellia.
- A CURE FOR WELLNESS
US/Germany, 2017, 146 minutes, Colour.
Dane De Haan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie, Harry Groener.
Directed by Gore Verbinski.
An arrestingly ironic title. We do not know what to expect – and on hearing that the film runs for almost 2 ½ hours, there may be a great deal to expect. And, on hearing again, that the director is Gore Verbinski, whom we associate with the Pirates of the Caribbean, we have to be prepared for anything.
At the beginning, the film seems to be a drama about Wall Street and shady financial difficulties, a focus on the young executive, Lockhart (Dane De Haan), sitting on the train, phone and computer, urging a colleague to be ruthless. He is then invited upstairs to the board room of the company, praised, alerted that there are some shady aspects of his deals, needing signatures to avoid investigations by authorities, and commissioning him to go to Switzerland to find an executive who has gone to an institute for his health and to bring him back for document signing.
The audience does not get back to the United States, the rest of the film all taking place in Switzerland, Lockhart travelling from the station to an elaborate mansion which houses the health Institute, confident that he can get the executive very quickly and travel back to New York. Big mistake, of course. Lockhart is certainly interested in looking at all the patients or clients, all dressed in white, playing croquet or doing exercises on the lawn, all older, chatting with some of them, hearing some of the history of the building. He signs in at reception but is told he will have to wait – and the executive declaring that he does not want to leave.
Lockhart is injured in a car accident, a crash into a deer, and finds himself in bed in a ward, his broken leg in plaster, being reassured by the staff, especially the smiling doctor, Volmer, who is in charge of the Institute. But, Lockhart is ever curious and spends a great deal of the film wandering around the Institute, wondering about the young girl, Hannah, who stands on the parapet (eventually persuading her to take him down to the town on her bicycle after stealing some documents about the executive and trying to verify what was happening).
So, the film becomes more and more sinister, Lockhart wandering the corridors, going into the spas, having a water treatment that almost kills him, continually reassured by the doctor, talking with an English lady, Mrs Watkins (Celia Imrie) who fills him in about the background of the Institute 200 years earlier, the peasants burning the building, the Baron being killed, his incestuous relationship with his sister who may or may not have been pregnant or barren…
By this stage, with a mixture of sunlight on the lawns and the cheery patients and very dark sequences in the corridors, in the cells, in the underground pool, the film takes on something of Gothic horror.
Ultimately, all is revealed, and Jason Isaacs as the head of the Institute, seemingly pleasant, doing a variation on what might have been a role for Christopher Lee, has to confront Lockhart with the revelation about who Hannah really is.
Just when you think all is well and the situation resolved, Lockhart and Hannah are on their bike, going down the mountain and crash into a car containing the board members from New York who have come to sort everything out. What else to do but continue bicycling down the mountainside to…
- DANCE ACADEMY
Australia, 2017, 101 minutes, Colour.
Xenia Goodwin, Alicia Banit, Jordan Rodriguez, Dena Kaplan, Keiynan Lonsdale, Miranda Otto, Tara Morice, Thomas Lacey, Nick Westaway, Julia Blake, Matt Day, Lewis Fitzgerald.
Directed by Jeffrey Walker.
It is fair to give a warning for audiences contemplating seeing Dance Academy. It is definitely a film for those who have a passion about dancing and, especially, about ballet. Audiences who do not share this passion will probably not be absorbed by the film.
2010-2013 saw a very popular television series, Dance Academy, nominated for many awards and winning a number for children’s television prizes. A group of teenagers lived together at the Academy, at close quarters – with some expected consequences – and are put through a rigorous course and routines.
Most of them return for this feature film, written and produced by the creators, Samantha Strauss and Jennifer Werner, and one of the directors, Jeffrey Walker (young director also well-known for the Jack Irish telemovies).
What happened to the characters in the years after the Dance Academy?
The film focuses on Tara (Xenia Goodwin) who is seeing with a group preparing storylines about what might have happened. It emerges what happened to Tara was that she felt twice, breaking her back, twice going into rehabilitation and, finally, being able to dance again (though with continued apprehensions which are still realistically visualised at key points in her dancing) but working as a waitress. She has a lawsuit against the National Ballet, for $1 million, but her main desire is to become part of the ballet ensemble again.
She is in love with Christian (Jordan Rodriguez) who is now teaching young children in Sydney how to dance. When she meets an important member of the ballet board, Madeline Moncur, Miranda Otto, they have a conversation which leads her to believe that she should audition again and drop the suit. It is not as easy as all that, she is not chosen, while another member of the group, Abby (Dena Kaplan) has been successful. In the meantime, another member of the group, Kat (Alicia Bennett) is appearing in very popular television series, Belle, and is feted all around New York and the US, until she pulls a publicity stunt releasing suggestive photos which the studio heartily disapproves of.
Ben is dancing in the US but has developed leukaemia and is living in Texas with an Australian couple, the wife played by Tara Morice who was on instructress in the series. There is a new character, Ollie, a would-be singer who fails at auditions.
Disappointed, Tara goes to New York where most of the action of the film takes place. She auditions and auditions, finally becoming despondent and going to visit Ben in Texas. Together they conceive a dance routine which they want to take to the Festival in New York City – and do, but not with the expected results and Tara having to make a key decision for her life. But, the whole group is brought together in New York.
There are a number of cameos from veteran Australian actors including Julia Blake, Matt Day, Lewis Fitzgerald.
A lot of dancing, a lot of ballet, both auditions and performance, and quite a deal of young adult angst – but audiences will leave the cinema in a more buoyant frame of mind.
- THE DEATH AND LIFE OF OTTO BLOOM
Australia, 2017, 85 minutes, Colour.
Xavier Samuel, Rachel Ward, Matilda Brown, Rose Riley, Terry Camilleri, Amber Clayton, Jacek Koman, Tyler Coppin, Suzy Cato- Gashler, John Gaden.
Directed by Chris Jones.
Whew! And that’s an understatement.
It may or may not be helpful to be informed that this is a film which is dramatises physics and metaphysics: what it is to exist, to exist in time, what is identity, what is consciousness, what is memory. This may sound off-putting but, on the other hand, it could be seen as challenging.
The setting is Melbourne and film is set in the early 1980s through to the early 1990s.
In under 90 minutes, the screenplay invites its audience into a narrative about a young man, Otto Bloom (Xavier Samuel). He is found homeless by the police but is not a vagrant – but he has no idea who he is. The person who tries to discover his identity is a psychologist an enthusiastic young woman, Ada (Matilda Brown) who studies him, is attracted to him, forms a relationship with him.
What emerges is the extraordinary revelation that Otto is living in two directions at once. (It may be useful to recall the curious case Benjamin Button and the fact that his physical growth was from adult hood to infancy but Otto’s change is in his consciousness). Physically, Otto’s growth has been ordinary, from infancy to adulthood. His significant problem is that he is unable to remember the past. As he lives his life, he cannot remember anything. But, and here is the extraordinary aspect of the story, his memory moving from the future to the present, his memories are all of the future.
Watching the film, it is very difficult to get one’s mind around this double dynamic let alone imagine it.
The dramatic device for the audience understand more about Otto is the introduction of six characters of significance in Otto’s experience (though he does not remember them), presented as talking heads, interspersed throughout the film revealing more of Otto as a character. As we struggled to comprehend the consequences of Otto’s consciousness journey from the future, we need the commentaries from these observers. Fortunately, the selection of actors for these roles is very effective. Rachel Ward is the older Ada, engaging the audience in her exuberance in memories as well as the sadness and regrets. Other observers include philosophers, scientists, the policeman, an arts manager… Jacek Koman, John Gaden, Terry Camilleri… (For good effect Rachel Ward and Matilda Brown are actual mother and daughter.)
Quite an amount of the dialogue raises issues of time, relativity, Einstein, a nod to Stephen Hawking, the audience sometimes tempted to consider some of the dialogue as sententious. This is not to suggest that the film narrative has no plot development. In fact, it is divided into chapters, tracing what happens to Otto, celebrity, achievement (especially in art) but also the decline and fall of Otto Bloom, a media darling, then rejected, and mocked by the media, curious about his relationships, with Ada, with a singer and her being in the public eye becoming too much for her, taking up with an American manager.
The scope of the film is quite ambitious for writer-director Chris Jones – and, to be fair to him, to Otto Bloom and his admirers, the film should probably be seen again.
Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowdon, Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings, Harriet Walter, Mark Gattis, John Sessions.
Directed by Mick Jackson.
Younger audiences may not know who David Irving is, his writings, his denial of the Holocaust, the libel case against American author, Deborah Lipstadt. Perhaps Irving has now been relegated to the dustbin of history where he belongs. However, older audiences will remember his campaigns, his talks outbursts, his prejudices and his denial.
The film introduces us to Irving with a clip and his claim that there were more deaths in Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquicick and than during the Holocaust. We have been introduced to Deborah Lipstadt, conducting a class at a university in Atlanta, strong statements about the Holocaust, with Irving present and offering $1000 to anyone who could prove the Holocaust. Deborah Lipstadt refuses to debate with him.
The action of the film takes place from 1994 to 2000, opening with the class, Lipstadt clashing with Irving, then Penguin Books ringing her in Atlanta to tell her that Irving had instituted a libel case – and her discovering with a visit from Anthony Julius, the solicitor for Penguin Books, that English law requires the defendant to prove the case.
Over the coming years, Deborah Lipstadt visits London a number of times, is introduced to Anthony Julius’s team, young lawyers, research assistants (who have to spend years going through David Irving’s vast diaries). She also meets the barrister who will conduct the case for the defence in court, Richard Rampton.
The film has a very strong screenplay written by playwright, David Hare. It also has a very strong cast, British, although Rachel Weisz is playing a strong American woman with a Queen’s accent, vigorous in her personal stances. Tom Wilkinson gives one of his best performances as Richard Rampton. Andrew Scott plays Anthony Julius. However, the striking performance is from Timothy Spall as David Irving.
A key scene is a visit by Rampton, Deborah and the associates to meet a Polish professor at Auschwitz. It is Auschwitz in winter, bleak, the entrance, the events, the ruins of the gas chamber and the steps leading down to it. Rampton asks serious questions for the defence and Deborah is upset, thinking him insensitive and almost desecrating the memory of the survivors. After his personal interventions, she apologises to him.
The issue of the survivors is important with Deborah wanting them to take the stand and give testimony. Anthony Julius is against this as well as her testifying, reminding her that the case is against Irving and that there should be no opportunity for him to humiliate her or the survivors. A character played by Harriet Walter is a survivor requesting Deborah to let the survivors speak.
Alex Jennings plays the judge, the defence team having requested judement rather than a jury. The court proceedings are very interesting, Irving never feeling abashed but vigorously asserting himself and his theories, challenged by a history professor about his books and his defence of Hitler, the Polish professor giving testimony about the gas chambers, cyanide, the chimneys – with Irving asserting that there were no holes in the roof and the journalists reporting “no holes, no Holocaust”. In these scenes Tom Wilkinson is excellent in his handling of cross examinations.
There is an awkward moment when the judge asks Rampton whether Irving truly believed that there was no Holocaust and therefore he was in good faith in his denials. Ultimately, the judgment was against Irving, the defence team and Deborah overjoyed, the survivors satisfied – and an ironic sequence where BBC interviewer, Jeremy Paxman is himself, interviews Spall as Irving with Irving trying to twist the judgement that it was really in favour of him.
Appropriately, the final scene of the film, drawing the audience back into the key issue, is that of Auschwitz.
- THE EAGLE HUNTRESS
UK/ Mongolia, 2016, 87 minutes, Colour.
Narrated by Daisy Ridley.
Directed by Otto Bell.
This documentary is set in remote areas of Mongolia. It opens on the mountains, rugged, snow-swept. It then introduces us to a Mongolian hunter, eagle on his arm, riding a tough horse up the mountainside in order to sacrifice a lamb so that the eagle might eat and then, after seven years with the hunter, fly to freedom.
One of the main pleasures of watching this film is to see the range of Mongolian countryside, the mountains in various seasons, the vast plains, the tents for the nomadic people to carry around and live in. And this is contrasted with scenes of modernity, 21st-century Mongolia, the children going to school, the classrooms and buildings familiar from almost every culture, father picking up daughter on a motorbike, and the celebration of a festival for Eagle Hunters.
The title belongs to a Aisholpan, a young girl who turns 13, goes to school like all the others, boards at the school with her brother and sister five weekdays and then returns to the family settlement on weekends. She states that she would like to become a doctor. She does all the chores but has a desire to be an Eagle Huntress. Her father is very supportive, her mother willing that she do this. But, there is a collage of the Mongolian elders, all very solemn patriarchs, giving their views that it is inappropriate for a female to be a Huntress, saying very patriarchal things about the place of women, the fact that they should cook and prepare the house, and that they are weaker than men, which all excludes them from eagle hunting.
The father, however, encourages his daughter and takes her out into the mountains looking for eaglets and, when one is found, lowering her down the mountainside so that she can put a blanket over the eaglet, send it up to her father while he pulls her to the top. There are many scenes where she trains the eagle, her father coaching her, her growing assurance in handling the eagle.
It is not a surprise that when there is a festival and competition, it is she who wins it. The patriarchs will have to reconsider, some are unwilling to change, others becoming a little more open…
For the rest of the film, the audience accompanies father and daughter and their very rugged horses as they travel up the mountainside’s in search of foxes, whose pelts are used to make furs for the family and community for the bleak winters. It is impressive for the horses who tend to be overlooked, trying to balance themselves on ice, going flank deep into snow, yet persevering on the track.
The film doesn’t make it easy for Aishopen to let her Eagle do its work for the first time and capture the fox. There are several attempts but, ultimately, success.
The film shows the society in transition, the long traditions of the nomads, the patriarchs, the Eagle Hunters as well as modern schooling (it would seem that the children are also learning English), contemporary transport, the use of the radio and internationality despite the remoteness in the 21st-century.
US, 2016 139 minutes, Colour.
Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney.
Directed by Denzel Washington.
African- American playwright, August Wilson, who died in 2005, was an award-winning author who captured the life of African-Americans at the various stages of the 20th century. He adapted some of his plays for the screen – but did not live to see this version of his play, Fences, which won Tony awards on Broadway including for its stars, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
Wilson wanted an African-American to direct the screenplay and now Denzel Washington has brought the play to the screen, repeating his role and receiving an Oscar-nomination as well as winning Golden Globe, and Viola Davis receiving most of the major awards for Best Supporting Actress.
The setting is Pittsburgh in the mid-1950s. Denzel Washington plays Troy, working with his friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) on a garbage truck and its rounds – and one of his ambitions being to drive the truck. He lives at home with his wife, Rose, married for 18 years – with a son from a previous marriage and a teenager son of this marriage.
While the screenplay has opened the stage drama out somewhat, although most of the action takes place in the yard of the house, and its interiors, where Troy builds a fence (symbolically keeping people in as well as keeping people out). There are a few scenes outside the house, collecting the garbage, visiting an office… Which means that the film relies very much on dialogue, spoken words and gestures, some silences, a focus on reactions. And, at two hours 20 minutes running time, this can be somewhat demanding.
Denzel Washington is very good as Troy though, as many have remarked after seeing the film, if only he had shut up various times! Viola Davis, on the other hand, initially is a person of reactions and smiles, her powerful dramatic scenes coming later in the film.
Troy is a complex man, born in 1904, a difficult upbringing, especially from his severe father, leaving home young, involved in theft, time in prison (where he met Bono), a son who visits and is something of a musician. In many ways, Rose has been his redemption, especially when his potential baseball career, at which he excelled, does not come to the fulfilment he expected, whether because of age, because of race issues, or both. This has hard repercussions on his son, Corey, who wants to be a footballer but his father treats him very severely, not wanting him to give himself to sport, but to having a good job – which leads to some powerful scenes between father and son.
Also in the mix is Troy’s brother, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson) who suffered injuries during the war and lives in his own world, sometimes in an institution, often visiting family, genial and friendly.
The final act is rather quieter, the family gathering for Troy’s funeral.
This all means that the film immerses its audience, especially the African-American audience, in the hardships of life, a great deal of servitude, African-Americans on the margin of American cities, but the changes which were beginning at this time leading to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Despite Denzel Washington’s incessant talking, this is a film of great value, of insights and empathy, a testimony to the hardships experienced as well as the breaking through to greater freedom.
- A FEW LESS MEN
Australia, 2017, 92 minutes, Colour.
Xavier Samuel, Kris Marshall, Kevin Bishop, Ryan Corr, Sasha Horler, Deborah Mailman, Shane Jacobson, Lynette Curran, Jeremy Sims.
Directed by Mark Lamprell.
Words and phrases go through the mind, like fools, dills, dopes, some four-letter variations – but, the word chosen to describe the central characters of this film: idiotic.
Not that the writer, Dean Craig, whose principal credits include the American and the British versions of Death at a Funeral as well as this film’s predecessor, A Few Best Men, didn’t write them as idiotic intentionally and created a multitude of idiotic situations for them to display their idiocy. If an audience is in the vein, they may feel that this is the way to go for a laugh. If they are not in the vein, and the initial sequence, in animation form during the credits and then in actuality, with a fourth member of a bridal party of groom and best men falls over a cliff, grabbing the bottle of wine, saved from a number of death dangers and surviving – until crushed by a falling rock! And his body being laid out, complete with an erection which his three friends do their utmost to get rid of… If that does not get some laughs, and with some audiences it definitely won’t, then this film might be a lost cause.
Which in some ways is a pity because there are quite a number of key Australian performers in cameo roles who give their lines more than they probably deserve, including Jeremy Sims as an ill-fated pilot, Sasha Horler as an games park guide, Deborah Mailman with a few moments as a local policewoman, Shane Jacobson as a lonely outback man whose inspiration for hospitality comes from Norman, his mother and the Bates Motel, Lynette Curran perhaps trying to re-live her randy role forty + years earlier in Alvin Purple…
But the focus of attention is on the groom, Xavier Samuel who has to be the common sensed anchor in the group even when he loses his cool (and, with his two friends, he has every reason to). It is the two British actors who appeared in the earlier film, Kris Marshall and Kevin Bishop, who have to represent all that is really stupid in human nature – as embodied in British men in their 30s. At one stage, the groom refers to Kris Marshall’s Tom as a horny 15-year-old, which is something of a compliment. But, the most stupid is Kevin Bishop’s Graham, absolutely obtuse, absolutely unself-aware, putting his foot in his mouth all the time, actually inciting an audience to wish that he would be bumped off the screen (and the audience being willing to facilitate if only they could). Early in the piece, sitting in the cockpit of the plane, he touches an emergency button after being told not to and causes the plane crash…
The point of the plot is that they have to get their deceased friend back to London for his funeral, threatened by his cousin, London gangster (Ryan Corr blustering and shouting) – and their travels through Western Australia, carrying the coffin, through the desert, to a wild festival, to a roadside diner, to a country house, to Perth and to a mortuary. It might be a spoiler to say that they actually do get there despite all the odds but there is final mayhem, at the eulogy for the dead man.
And, just in case the audience did not get the point, there is over three minutes’ recapitulation and series of outtakes after the final credits!
- FIFTY SHADES DARKER
US, 2017, 118 minutes, Colour.
Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Bruce Altman, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden.
Directed by James Foley.
In 2016, for St Valentine’s Day, the world was bequeathed the first film version of an E. L. James novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. Two words were important for that release: curiosity and notoriety. While the story was billed as a love story, it had overtones of sadomasochism which excited a certain prurience. Dakota Johnson portrayed Anastasia steel and Jamie Dornan the millionaire Christian Gray. Marcia Gay Harden appeared as Christian’s mother.
In comparison, the sequel is rather quieter on all fronts.
At the end of the first film, Anastasia was alienated by Christian and his dominance and her experience of submission (seen in an extraordinarily detailed and obsessive contract), her walking out on him, he and his pleading with the possibility of his becoming more humane and loving. At the beginning of this film, she is still feeling alienated though he is sending huge bouquets of flowers to encourage her in her new job at a publishing firm in Seattle.
It is not long before they do meet, the audience realising as she does that she is still attracted to Christian, even in love with him. Despite his stern manner and stubbled look, he declares his love for her.
In fact, it is really all the film is about, the different encounters between Anastasia and Christian, the lovemaking, the suggestions of the sadomasochism (which do increase, rather more slightly than expected, throughout the film, especially with his SM mechanisms and his special room and equipment). The two spend a lot of time together, they go to a very lavish masked ball and charity auction, he flies his private plane and crashes, though the suspense is short lived and he returns rather more quickly than expected as his family are in the middle of watching television reports, he has a birthday, a party and a proposal.
One of the main features of the film is its affluence, money is no object or difficulty for the Grey family, Christian has everything he wants and can afford everything he wants – it may be a real world for those who live it but it is a fantasy land for most of the audience.
One of the main difficulties for Christian is his character, the background of his mother’s death, his sadomasochism, and Elena explaining that without her he would either be dead or in jail.
There are two main sources of tension apart from the growing relationship between the two. First of all there is Elena who had initiated the young Christian into sexuality, remains a friend of his mother, but is still infatuated with him and sees Anastasia as a threat. She threatens in return, leading to an ultimate confrontation and a clear indication of who is going to be one of the villains in the forthcoming Fifty Shades Freed (Valentine’s Day 2018). She is played by Kim Basinger.
The other source of tension is Anastasia’s work, which she enjoys, is good at, is promoted – especially after a groping attack from her boss, Jack (Eric Johnson). And, of course, it is signalled at the end that he will be around for the sequel, not smiling but scowling.
Anastasia has family and friends, Christian has family, so there is a touch more humanity in this one than there was in the first film. Nevertheless, this is the world of the bestseller, of bestseller affluence and bestseller sexuality with the touches of darkness.
- GHOST IN THE SHELL
US, 2017, 100 minutes, Colour.
Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando, Anamaria Marinca.
Directed by Rupert Sanders.
Ghost in the Shell is based on a Manga comic, with an animation film version in the 1990s. This time it is an international production, an American remake but much of the finance coming from China.
For the ordinary audience, this will serve as the futuristic action adventure – though the shootouts, American movie style, are a bit much for this film and there is, surprisingly, a Transformer tank confrontation at the end. Manga fans have been a bit more ambiguous.
Otherwise, this is science-fiction exploring what are now familiar themes of humans and robots, the future of robotics, the substitution of robots for humans.
The future city, looking somewhat like Hong Kong, has excellent production design, harking back to the Los Angeles of Ridley Scott’s The Blade Runner, the darkness, the bright city lights, the skyscrapers, travel, and huge holograms on the walls of the buildings. And The Blade Runner theme of replicants is given a new twist – some months before the release of the new Blade Runner film. These are also the themes of such films as the two Total Recall films.
There is some cautionary information given at the opening, some lines about robotics, humans, and what this could mean for the future. Then there is a transition to a laboratory, surgery, a brain being transferred to a robotic body. In fact, this is a successful operation after 98 failures where the new creature is physically robot, interiorly human, the ghost in the shell or, as a scientist refers to it, the soul in the shell is human. This creation is called Major.
And Major is in the form of Scarlett Johansson, no hesitation in showing the form frequently, her going into action often with a skin-toned body-stocking. It is interesting that Scarlett Johansson has taken on this role. In recent years she has been seen in three variations on these themes, Under the Skin, Her, Lucy, as well is appearing in the Avengers films, one of the few female superheroes. (Probably someone is at a university at this minute submitting a topic for a thesis on Scarlett Johansson and these roles.)
Major is destined to be a weapon, used by the state, under the control of Amaraki (an interesting role for veteran director Takeshi Kitano, who speaks only Japanese in this film, with subtitles, finally getting the opportunity to rise from his office chair and indulge in action for which his own films are famous). He is responsible to the Prime Minister but the control of Major is very much in the hands of Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) the head of the robotics company.
Major does not always obey commands and intervenes at a business dinner when thugs open fire and Major attacks they robotic geisha, which opens up investigations into robots similar to herself while she has been told she is the first. This links to her further disobeying orders and trying to track down the sinister presence she discovered, Kuse (Michael Pitt).
She is backed up by a friendly giant, Batou (Pilou Asbaek), good with a gun, with banter, able to be continually repaired – and even get a new set of penetrating eyes.
Perhaps a surprise presence in the film is that of Juliette Binoche as Dr Oulet, the scientist in charge of these transformations, not telling the truth to Major, not allowing her to have her own memories, although she has glimpses. Dr Oulet is the humane presence in the film, a scientist, but motherly.
Of course, this is building up into a confrontation with Major discovering something of her past, including a mother, and so has to come to terms with Kuze as a failed experiment, her own identity, and whether she is to continue in her weapon role.
Fairly continued action, an exciting imagination of the future, philosophical questions about humanity and identity – and the screenplay finally coming down on the side of humanity.
US, 2016, 100 minutes, Colour.
Daniel Radcliffe, Tony Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell, Nestor Carbonell, Chris Sullivan, Burn Gorman.
Directed by Daniel Ragussis.
It is a surprise to find this title used for the contemporary story of white supremacist movements in the United States. There is a reference to the Roman Empire and its Imperium and the ambitions of the supremacists.
This is an interesting FBI thriller, a story of undercover work and infiltration of the supremacists by an FBI agent. The agent is played by Daniel Radcliffe – and his Nate is not all that far from Harry Potter in the sense that he is once again a small man, quiet and introverted, intelligent – and determined.
The film opens with the FBI solving a case with arrests and the ensuing interrogations where Nate shows his ability to empathise in many ways with the criminals and their motivations. He catches the eye of an important agent, Angela (a very effective Tony Collette) who is a thorn in the side of her fellow officers. She sees him as an ideal type who could convincingly infiltrate the supremacist organisations. He is reluctant, a more gentle soul interested in reading and music, but with a hard family background which he is trying to overcome by excelling at his work as an agent. She puts him through various paces persuading him how to be empathetic and convincing in his undercover role.
The bulk of the film sees him very persuasively ingratiating himself with a range of groups. He is able to mix with some thugs, the leader liking him and trusting him a lot while one of the underlings is most suspicious. Nate is able to continue his credibility by pointing out their sloppy approach to surveillance, communications, anger on the spot.
He has the opportunity to ingratiate himself with the leader (Tracy Letts) of the neo-Nazi group from Ohio who are wanting to spread their influence to Virginia. During a parade, the leader is attacked and is rescued by Nate, who is then given the opportunity to visit the sites, comment on the weapon