Melbourne, December, 11th, 2017 (Peter Malone). Below, find the first part of film critics written by Peter Malone for the month of December.

  1. ANNA KARENINA: VRONSKY’S STORY
  2. BAD GENIUS
  3. BETTER WATCH OUT
  4. BIG IN JAPAN
  5. BORG vs McENROE
  6. BUTTERFLY TREE, The
  7. DADDY’S HOME 2
  8. DETROIT
  9. DISASTER ARTIST, The
  10. IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD
  11. JIGSAW
  12. JUNGLE
  13. JUSTICE LEAGUE

 

ANNA KARENINA: VRONSKY’S STORY

Russia, 2017, 138 minutes, Colour.

Elizaveta Boyaskaya, Max Meetvev, Kiril Grabenshchikov, Viatliy Kishchenko.

Directed by Karen Shakhnazarov.

Devotees of Leo Tolstoy’s great novel, Anna Karenina, will probably have a high opinion of her, seeing her as a tragic figure. Her husband, Karenin, seems a gloomy and oppressive figure. And, readers will probably blame the career soldier, Vronsky, for all that happened to Anna.

There have been many films over the decades of Tolstoy’s novel. Those who have portrayed her include Greta Garbo in the 1930s, Vivien Leigh, especially, in the 1940s, Jacqueline Bissett in the 1980s, Sophie Marceau in the 1990s and, more latterly, Keira Knightley. This reviewer saw Vivien Leigh in 1948, probably too young to view the film but it made a lasting impression, no sequence more vivid in cinema than Vivien Leigh on the train line and the bearing down of the train at the end of that film.

So, Vronsky’s story?

The events in this film take place 30 years after Vronsky’s affair with Anna. He has continued as a soldier. He is now in Manchuria with the Russian troops advancing on China but being repelled by the Japanese. Vronsky is wounded while playing cards and is in the caravan with the nurses and doctors and the wounded. They have set up a post – and there is a wonderful long continuous unedited sequence as the doctor moves through all the aspects of the post, a cumulative effect as if the audience was walking round and surveying everything with him.

And the doctor is Sergei Karenin, Anna’s son. We are told something of his life, his hatred for his mother, brought up by his father, university studies, marriage, failed, and now a surgeon with the troops. In recognising Vronsky whom he had known as a little boy, he is curious about Vronsky’s perspective and memories.

So, while the film is quite spectacular in setting up the sequences in Manchuria, the detail of the medical post, the final attack of the Japanese on the fleeing Russian troops, it also has quite a number of flashbacks meaning that we see the well-known story once again. But, from the title, it is Vronsky’s perspective and he doesn’t seem such a bad man. It is Anna, manipulative yet subservient with her husband, but will fall, ambitious and, finally, obsessive and mentally disturbed. This is not a reinforcement of favourable attitudes towards Anna.

While we see a lot of the familiar sequences, Vronsky seem something of a ladies’ man but becomes infatuated with Anna, beginning the affair, her telling her husband, her dilemma of leaving her husband and her son, her being despised by St Petersburg society (her display of emotion when Vronsky falls in an elaborate steeplechase race as well as her standing defiant to society disapproval of the theatre).

The film has the couple go on a tour of Europe for a year, their return, and her desire to see her son, the encounters with her husband, but her growing edginess, suspicions of Vronsky, which have no foundation.

Interestingly, the suicide scene is left to our imagination or memories – although, earlier, Vronsky had gone to the railway station to identify Anna’s body.

On the one hand the film is quite spectacular, in the 1904 Manchurian sequences as well as the steeplechase, the theatre and a magnificent ball. On the other hand, there are a great many close-ups, intense close-ups of the characters.

This film adds to the repertoire of Anna Karenina films – and there will be undoubtedly more.

 

BAD GENIUS

Thailand, 2017, 130 minutes, Colour.

Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Eisaya Hosuwan.

Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya.

Not exactly an enticing title. On the other hand, there is the curiosity factor: who is the genius? And how bad?

The curiosity factor might even be raised higher when it is revealed at the beginning of the film that the genius is a girl in her early teens. We see her at the age of 12 and follow her throughout her school years.

The film is cheating, youngsters and exams. (And it is very depressing to realise that most of these students lack the moral fibre that would actually give them pause or notice any challenge to their consciences on cheating.)

The other curiosity item is that this is a film from Thailand – but, local interest, some of the sequences were filmed in Sydney.

Lynn is a mathematical genius. When her father tries to enrol her in a better school, she does all the financial calculations in her head (and they are listed on the screen for our slower benefit!). She is offered a scholarship, a special grant for meals… She is a winner.

Over the years at school, she befriends a perennially smiling and agreeable friend, Grace. Grace is not too good at studies, does get help from Lynn but relies on her in an exam, cheating. Grace has a boyfriend at school, Pat, who fancies himself as a matinee idol, and comes from a very wealthy family. Because his parents think that Grace is a good influence, they suggest that they will finance her going to Boston where they want him to be educated. Pat has even less academic prowess than Grace.

In the Gospels, specifically in St Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the shrewd steward who is dismissed by his owners but before leaving employ, he contacts all the debtors and connives with them to alter their contracts and lessen their debt. Jesus remarks how amazing this is to observe. And that is what happens here. We watch amazed at the audacity. Lynn devises a way to communicate in the exam room with fellow students, who would become clients and pay substantial money, what the options are in a multiple-choice test. She has four melodies and taps these on her own desk as the others listen and fill in their answers.

She becomes even more ambitious with even more clients in a scheme for an international exam, held all around the world at the same hour in each country. The realisation is that with Sydney four hours ahead of Bangkok, if she and a friend who is forced to collaborate with her do the exam in Australia and find a way of communicating the results, the huge squad (many of them sitting on bikes waiting the answers before they take off for the exam centres) will all get top marks.

There is some tension in the Sydney sequences in how she and her friend deal with the exams, getting out during the breaks, getting their mobile phones, remembering the answers, getting them to Thailand where they are eagerly awaited. Things don’t go quite as well as planned which makes this part of the film even more interesting.

There is a moral dilemma presented at the end. Will she confess, will she take responsibility, is all this worth it?

 

BETTER WATCH OUT

Australia/US, 2016, 89 minutes, Colour.

Olivia De Jonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Alex Mikic, Dacre Montgomery, Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen.

Directed by Chris Peckover.

You'd better watch out
You'd better not cry
You'd better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.

Yes, this is a Christmas film but it is best to note only the first line of the lyrics because Santa Claus is definitely not coming to town here.

This is a film which will appeal almost solely to horror fans. Others can just merely note this review. And, for horror fans, a warning to give this film 10 minutes, at least, because it focuses on two 12 year olds having puberty -like conversations which may seem something of a turnoff. Then there is a twist. But, this also might sound like familiar material, an intruder in the house. But, give the film another 10 minutes and there is more than a twist!

The film was the work of an American director and an American writer. However, apart from some street scenes, an American Street with Christmas decorations and snow, the film was actually made in Sydney. And, apart from Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen who have cameos at the beginning and end of the film as the central character’s parents, the five key roles are played by Australians, honing their American accents.

At the centre is the rather shy, sometimes awkward, Luke. He is played very effectively by Levi Miller who was Peter in Pan and then made this film before he appeared in Red Dog, True Blue as well as Jasper Jones. His performance in this film will be a substantial contribution to his CV. His best friend, Garrett, is played by Ed Oxenbould who was central to the fine children’s film, Paper Planes, but knows how to do an American accent from his roles in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible Day, No Good, Very Bad Day and In M. Night Shyamalan’s eerie film, The Visit.

Co-starring in The Visit was Olivia De Jonge who plays Luke’s babysitter, Ashley. She has a boyfriend, Ricky, Alex Mikics, who turns up during the night while she is babysitting as well as Jeremy, Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things) who also comes to visit.

It is Christmas so there are lots of American Street decorations, many Santa Claus figures who appear momentarily menacing and Carol singers at the door with their repertoire.

It is what happens indoors (as well as a grim scene in the backyard) that is what will intrigue audiences. Unless the audience is skilled in pre-guessing outcomes, they will be rather surprised at all that happens inside, getting more gruesome as the film goes on, some uncontrolled psychopathic behaviour which becomes more and more unpredictable.

In fact, we see a portrait here of an ultra-psychopathic psychopath.

Probably best not to say anything more about the plot. It can be said that the performances of the young actors are better than one might expect. The plot is eerie and should make something of a hit with all but the most jaded horror fans.

 

BORG McENROE

Sweden, 2017, 107 minutes, Colour.

Sverrir Gudnason, Shia La Boeuf, Stellan Skarsgaard, Tuva Novotny, Leo Borg, Marcus Mossberg, Jackson Gann, Scott Arthur, Ian Blackman, Robert Emms.

Directed by Janus Metz.

An interesting film for tennis fans as well of those who like psychological portraits – especially when there is some rivalry.

Some reflections on the topic before the review of the film. The public tend to take for granted that sports champions are celebrities. Professional journalists and paparazzi supply sometimes avid readers and viewers with behaviour that can be exemplary as well as behaviour that elicits some reactions of shock-horror. But, how much attention is given to the life of the celebrity, the constancy of practice in exercising their expertise, the toll that this takes on body and soul, on the human spirit, on emotions, and on human relationships.

And the question arises, how much is the media to blame for the pressures on the celebrities? And how much is the public to blame for the pressures on the media to supply continuous coverage? Bjorn Borg was called an iceberg in his time, showing little, if any, public emotion. By contrast, McEnroe was highly emotional in public, often objectionably so, even eliciting boos from the Wimbledon audience in 1980, his first attempt at winning the championship.

And, can people change? What about John McEnroe? And, speculatively, in 10 years will we be seeing a feature film about Nick Kyrgios?

As regards the film itself… It is a Scandinavian production, with more emphasis, naturally, on Borg than on McEnroe. Personnel, finance, post-production facilities all came from contributions from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. The director, Janus Metz, was born in Denmark and moved to work in South Africa, a documentary filmmaker, now with is first feature film.

Bjorn Borg was Swedish and Swedish actor, Sverrir Gunadson, quite a remarkable lookalike, portrays the intensity of Scandinavian introversion, a methodical life, even obsessively detailed and repetitious. There are scenes showing him as an eager youngster hitting the tennis ball against garage doors at home. There are scenes showing him as a rather temperamental teenager, rather McEnroe-like at times, catching the eager eye of former tennis champion, Lennart Bergelin (a fine Stellan Skarsgaard this time speaking in Swedish) , who takes him in hand, is pressurised to let him play in the Davis Cup at the age of 15, confronts him about his tantrums and instils in him the resolution not to show any external feelings and to play one point at a time. Borg certainly fulfils this as he wins so many grandslam championships in the 1970s. By 1980, he had won Wimbledon four times in succession.

If you remember the result of that match, you will enjoy seeing how it is played out. If you don’t remember the result of that match, there will be a lot of dramatic tension in the progress of the sets and at one stage, of the record set points played.

As with the recent Battle of the Sexes, matches between Bobby Riggs and Margaret Court and, especially, Billie Jean King, the play is meticulously reconstructed and dramatically edited.

But the film does give attention to John McEnroe, something of a child whiz at arithmetic in his head when he was young, a chess player – but a telling scene where is mother is cutting his hair and comments on the 96 that he gained four and exam: “what about the other for?”. And there is quite some pressure at all times from his father. Which doesn’t necessarily explain his emotions, his extraversion, his tantrums and the bad impression that he made at press conferences (which did sometimes tend to ask you more about his behaviour than his tennis).

He is well portrayed by Shia La Beouf, an actor who has, in real life (or, according to the media and paparazzi) exhibited behaviour like that of an angry sports brat. Some might say it is not a stretch for this performance but he does do it particularly well. And this is the case during that fateful 1980 match on Wimbledon centre court. He did control himself that day and eventually won, and deserved, the applause of those watching.

The film mentions at the end that Borg and McEnroe became friends, Borg becoming godfather to one of McEnroe’s children.

You might not expect to enjoy a feature film on tennis – but this one is worth seeking out.

 

THE BUTTERFLY TREE

Australia, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.

Melissa George, Ewen Leslie, Ed Oxenbould, Sophie Lowe.

Directed by Priscilla Cameron.

This is a drama set in a Queensland town, some filming at Mount Tambourine. While it is a Queensland story, it could be universal. The focus is on three central characters.

And the title? Finn, the teenager of the film, is a serious collector of butterflies and other insects, cataloguing them, mounting them, photographing them. There is a tree on the grounds of the house owned by his father which also has a tree, full of butterflies. He is played by Ed Oxenbould.

Visually, the film wants to communicate to the audience that Evelyn, a middle-aged woman who has come to settle in the town, is, symbolically, a butterfly. During the opening credits, we see her dancing, her costume elaborate, wings like a giant butterfly. In fact, she is a burlesque performer, with a partial striptease, and dancing on rollerskates. There will be later allusions to her as a butterfly throughout the film. She is played by Melissa George.

The third central character is Al, the widower who is Finn’s father. He teaches at a local campus and is involved with one of the students, Sophie Lowe, to the disapproval of the authorities. He is played by Ewen Leslie.

Evelyn, the attractive butterfly, encounters Al by chance, his wanting to buy a display case that she has in a garage sale so that he can give it to Finn. The two are attracted, his coming back to get his wallet which he lost at her shop and greenhouse, promising to return. In the meantime, Finn encounters her, buying some flowers to commemorate his dead mother, and her offering him a job. He experiences an intense adolescent infatuation.

All does not go smoothly because Al wants to break off with the student, experiencing something a breakdown when she confronts him and he weeps. There is tension between himself and his son, his son holding the memory of his mother sacred and resenting his father’s affairs.

And, as we expect, there will be tension between father and son because of Evelyn.

There is a further complication with Evelyn, the reason she has come to the town, why she is not dancing, a problem with health.

But, the butterflies prevail and the audience will leave the cinema more cheered than depressed.

 

DADDY’S HOME 2

 

US, 2017, 100 minutes, Colour.

Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, Owen Vaccaro, Didi Costine.

Directed by Sean Anders.

 

DADDY’S HOME TWO

US, 2017, 100 minutes, Colour.

Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, Owen Vaccaro, Didi Costine.

Directed by Sean Anders.

The lesson that reviewers need to learn is that they should not always sit at a preview with other reviewers, often solemnly po-faced during comedies. It might be better to sit in with a crowd of younger people who love the slapstick, are not afraid to laugh out loud, who offer a rollicking response to a film. Certainly the case with Daddy’s Home Two.

Hollywood has the habit of making several films on similar themes at the same time, so

At the end of 2016, equal time for family films… Bad Moms and Daddy’s Home.

Popular with audiences and commercial success. So

At the end of 2017, equal time for family films… Bad Moms 2 and Daddy’s Home Two’

But, both sequels have a lot in common. Both of them have a Christmas setting and announce at various times how many days it is before Christmas. And, thankfully, both have an acknowledgement that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, midnight mass and carols with the Moms, a crib tableau with the dads, though some mayhem ensues…

But the great brainwave for the success of Bad Moms 2 was to introduce the grandmothers, some Bad Grandmoms. For Daddy’s Home Two we are introduced to the grandfathers. Since we already know the father’s, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, we might guess that one is going to be roly-poly sweet and the other is not, definitely not. And they are played by John Lithgow enjoying himself immensely as a sweetness and light kind grandfather and by Mel Gibson who obviously relishes Kurt by name and curt by nature.

The situation in the first film was that the two fathers, completely unlike, Will Ferrell a kindly and gawky Brad, while Mark Wahlberg is rough and tough, Dusty. The film’s film was based on the premise of divorced families and the custody of the children, the two families in question, some of the children shared. The idea is that the families should actually work together, some co-parenting, all celebrating Christmas together. This sequel takes this for granted and that Brad and Dusty are firmly committed to it.

Don, John Lithgow, endorses his son more than 100%, lots of affectionate talk and embraces and kisses, lots of patter of the warm and cuddly type. Kurt has not been around for years, was an ineffectual parent, an astronaut, away from home, a womaniser, and severe and mocking with Mel Gibson’s glowering look.

What happens is to be expected – though there is lots of slapstick comedy, lots of pratfalls, ridiculous situations which led to a lot of laughter from the audience.

How are they all going to manage? Brad’s wife is loving? His stepchildren love him too? Dusty has a rather serious, glamorous wife, who is continually noting down details in her book for her writing. She has a rather sullen daughter. How are they going to manage?

Kurt not only has a bright idea, going away for Christmas, but instantly books an AirB&B on his phone. It takes five hours to get there by car and Kurt learns something of purgatory as he listens to Don and Brad going on and on and on so cheerfully.

Settling in, setting up the decorations – a sure sign for all kinds of things to go wrong. And, of course, they do. There is also a rivalry which results in Brad not only cutting down a Christmas tree but the tree which contains cell-phone connections. There is the fore-mentioned crib and quite a lot of snowballs.

There is a touch of pathos because Don has come by himself, saying that his wife has been held back by family illness. Rusty tweaks what has happened and when Don volunteers to entertain at an improv cafe, with Brad urging him on, Don has an emotional collapse.

So, with things turning out badly, on Christmas Day they set out for home only to be caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic by an avalanche. Fortunately, there is cinema complex nearby and all the motorists go there is something to eat and drink and a movie. The film that family actually goes into see is an action thriller with Liam Neeson, called Missile Tow, Neeson being heard but not seen.

Actually, that could be quite a good title for a thriller at Christmas!  Missile Tow.

We all know it’s going to end well – but, with Kurt being as he is, it is rather restrained (except for his giving his son a big long kiss!).

And so, in 2018, where will the Bad Moms go? Where can Daddy’s Home Three go?

 

DETROIT

US, 2017, 143 minutes, Colour.

John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Jack Reynor, Kaitlyn Dever, Ben O'Toole, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Blunt title. Very blunt and direct filmmaking.

For many decades, Kathryn Bigelow has made films which have been very tough, and early vampire film, police dramas. However, she came to prominence as the first female director to win an Oscar as director for The Hurt Locker (2008). Her subsequent film was the search for Osama bin Laden,

Journalist Mark Boal wrote the screenplays for the latter films and has written this screenplay.

This is quite a long film. It is set in 1967, in the aftermath of the strength of the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King and Selma as well as his Washington speech. It is also the year in which Robert Kennedy was assassinated as well as Martin Luther King. The opening sets the tone, the police raid (both black and white) on a Detroit speakeasy, moving the guests out, lining them up, but the locals resenting and reacting, setting off days of riots and looting, the local police in action as well as state troopers and, ultimately, the National Guard. There is an appeal by the Governor of Michigan, George McGovern, who is to be the Democratic candidate, defeated by Richard Nixon, in 1968.

The central part of the film is most effective. The audience has been introduced to a young group of black singers, about to go on stage when the theatre has to be evacuated because of the riots. Ultimately, they were to become the Motown group, The Dramatics. The main singer, Larry (Algee Smith) and his teenage friend, Fred (Jacob Latimore), escape through the barricades but decide not to go home. They go to a local motel, The Algiers. The film focuses for a long time on what happens at The Algiers.

Those in the motel are fairly young, mainly black, two young white girls from Ohio who are prostitutes, a veteran from the Vietnam war (Anthony Mackie). The police, troops, Guard all set up in the street, aware that there might be snipers. In the meantime, a very earnest and upright young black man (John Boyega) is a security guard but offers the National Guard cups of coffee. Which means, when the crisis occurs, he goes into The Algiers along with the troops to observe and to search the premises.

Small things can lead to huge crises. This is the case here, one of the young men firing a starting pistol out into the street where it is assumed a sniper is firing. The consequences of this act are dire, resulting in three deaths, and the rest of the residents being lined up for hours, bashed, treated brutally and humiliatingly, the two girls blamed for being with black men, the Vietnam veteran assumed to be a pimp. The police use the bluff of taking individuals into a room with the others presuming that they are being tortured and shot. In one case, the young policeman takes it all very literally, not a bluff, and shoots a victim.

The film presents the local police, especially three of them, as young, arrogant, racist, bigoted. The audience has already seen the leader, Krauss, (Will Poulter) shooting a fleeing looter in the back and being interviewed by his superior officer. Krauss does not hold back but, when one victim is shot, he has to alter the scenario.

The final part of the film is the court proceedings in 1969. After the physically disturbing sequence in The Algiers, the court proceedings are to some extent low key – except for the audience indignation at how the defence counsel (John Krasinski) interrogates the black witnesses, asking about their criminal records, implying that they are to blame. And the indignation continues with the jury’s verdict of not guilty – with the John Boyega character having been arrested, interrogated, implicated in the violence even though he was innocent.

John Boyega and Will Poulter are British and Jack Reynor grew up in Ireland.

Detroit is released on the 50th anniversary of the riots. With so many deaths in recent years, police killing black men, Detroit, to that extent, is in no way dated.

 

GOODBYE, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

UK, 2017, 107 minutes, Colour.

Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther, Stephen Campbell Moore, Richard McCabe, Geraldine Somerville.

Directed by Simon Curtis.

Enjoyment of this film does not depend on whether the audience has a familiarity with the Winnie the Pooh stories or has even read them. It is said that Winnie the Pooh is the most beloved of bears (well, Paddington might be a little envious).

This is very British story and is directed by Simon Curtis, a television director whose films include the Marilyn Monroe’s story, My Week with Marilyn and the German art story, Woman in Gold.. It opens in 1916, playwright and author, A.A.Milne experiencing war in the trenches, the bombardment, the many deaths and his suffering from shellshock. On his return, he is against war, but finds it very hard to settle back to ordinary life, writing for the theatre, his relationship with his wife, Daphne. Milne is played by Irish actor Dominique all Gleeson and Daphne by Australian actor, Margot Robbie.

One of the solutions that Milne needs to recover from the war is to move to the country, Daphne rather unwilling, with their young son, Christopher Robin whom they nickname Billy. Most of the action of the film takes place when Billy is eight years old.

Billy is very cautious about disturbing his father and his writing. His father and his mother have instilled this in him. He goes for walks in the woods, has a lot of animal toys, has a strong imagination. This has been fostered by his alternate mother-figure, his Scots and nanny, Nue (Kelly Macdonald in a very sympathetic performance). At one time, they visit the zoo in London where there is a huge grizzly bear called Winnipeg, which is where nickname Winnie comes from.

At one stage, while his mother is in London, Billy goes for a walk with his father, sharing three very happy days, bonding between father and son, delight in the woods, delight in his toys, delight in animals. Billy would like his father to write a story for him. His father does. Winnie the Pooh.

The impact is immediate, books literally flying off-the-shelf. The public as well as the media can’t get enough of Christopher Robin and so the eight-year-old is subjected to innumerable interviews, autograph signings, being in the public eye, international celebrity in the United States. His father is not against it. Daphne is at pains to promote and exploit the success of the stories.

Billy is rather excited when, to get out of the limelight, his sent to boarding school. However, he is mocked there. He is bullied.

The film has started with a prologue in a melancholy tone, 1941, the telegram coming to his parents – the audience not knowing the content until the end of the film.

When Billy returns from the war, he wants to live very quietly, marries, has a family, owns a bookstore in the south-west of England, never taking any money from the royalties from Winnie the Pooh books.

This might be described as a British heritage film, re-creating the period, highlighting a writer, telling the story of a little boy, reminding audiences of the power of imagination and story.

 

IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD

Japan, 2016, 130 minutes, Colour.

Directed by Sunao Katabuchi.

World audiences have become used to animated Japanese films from the Ghibli Studios, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, Arietty…. The audiences have appreciated their animation style, the creation of characters and their simplicity, the backgrounds, the local stories, many serious and reflecting on Japanese history, especially of war.

The film has all these qualities but comes from a different studio. However, it is an invitation for world audiences as well as Japanese audiences to go back into the past, to appreciate different times, different difficulties and how characters coped.

The film opens in the 1930s, focusing on the little girl, Suzu. We see her family, her siblings, the life and style in rural Japanese villages around Hiroshima in the decade before the war. Suzu is quite imaginative, a great capacity for drawing and bringing stories to life.

The screenplay offers many dates which makes the film something of a diary, something of a chronicle. Some years are skipped over quite rapidly, Suzu growing up during the late 1930s, then into the 1940s and her reaching the age of 19.

Audiences will be expecting explicit references to the war and Japanese involvement but this does not immediately happen. So much of Japanese life and international events do not impinge very strongly on people in local villages.  What is important for Suzu as a young woman is that she marry. We see an arranged marriage, negotiations, finding a husband, the wife meeting the husband and the grandmother urging her with the symbol of the umbrella and the bride saying that she was willing to open her umbrella for her husband… Human feelings and love come later.

Suzu’s mother-in-law is quite hard on her. While Suzu is a loving wife, she also become something of a servant on the household, being relied on to clean, to mend and sew, to find ways of making meals where food was so scarce. She has a variety of recipes, gathers herbs from the countryside. The family survives. However, her husband goes to war.

The people in the village and the audience become much more conscious of the war, looking at the naval base of the ships in Hiroshima Bay. Then the planes begin to fly over, exploding in a variety of colours over the screen. Then there are the bombardments, the family seeking safety in dugout shelters.

We know that the atomic bomb is coming. Suzu wants to go back to her home in Hiroshima from her husband’s village but has lost her hand in a bomb blast, the hand with which she drew. The bombardment also kills her companion, a little girl. Which means that she is not in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. And the audience does not see it. Rather, there are vibrations, the vast cloud, and the repercussions for the people of the city as well as of the neighbours.

Then the war is over, the Emperor surrenders, the Americans arrive, offering chocolate, and the Japanese have to adapt to defeat, the prospects of a different life and the rest of the 20th century. That, of course, is something that the audience for this film supplies in retrospect.

The film is bright in colour, gentle in its storytelling, a different perspective on Japan in the 1930s and 1940s.

 

JIGSAW

US, 2017, 92 minutes, Colour.

Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, Hannah Emily Anderson, Cle Bennett, Laura Vandervoort, Paul Braunstein, Mandela Van Peebles, Brittany Allen, Josiah Black.

Directed by Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig.

This is jigsaw/John Kramer resuscitated – as well as a sequel to the very popular series during the two thousands.

Credit where credit is due. The Saw series was the brainchild of Australians, Lee Whannell as writer and James Wan as director. They collaborated in various capacities in the films that followed and are now involved as Executive Producers. And, as directors, brothers working together are, Michael and Peter Spierig who made the strong vampire film, Daybreakers, the excellent science fiction time mystery, Predestination, and the forthcoming chiller, Winchester, with Helen Mirren. Australian-based.

Can they do it all again? Answer: yes. Is it any different from the former films? And some: yes and no. Is it better than the former films? Answer: probably depends on your hunger for gory sequences.

These questions are relevant only to the fans of horror films, merely points of review reference for others who wouldn’t be seen dead - or alive - watching a Saw film.

In fact, the makers of this Saw contribution, while definitely repeating the formula of the previous films: Jigsaw choosing his victims, their all being guilty of crime and having gone unpunished, transported into a torture chamber which leads to other torture chambers and their survival depending on their capacity for confessing. (Given a theological frame of mind, it did occur during the screening of Jigsaw that there was a great emphasis on sin, responsibility, sense of guilt, self-excuses, the call to repentance, the torture chambers as being 21st-century version of Purgatorio and Inferno.)

The torture sequences are very similar to those in the previous films – which led commentators over a decade ago to designate films like this as torture-porn. There is certainly a point there.

But what makes this film more sittable through is that there are a lot of sequences outside the torture rooms, even some more humane elements. There are references to war service in Iraq. There are nice family glimpses. There are police shown in some detail pursuing their investigations. There are autopsy sequences (and they are definitely very grim and grisly), a mysterious and rather imperious doctor assistant and a very genial medical examiner for the autopsies.

Another factor is that the screenplay has the victims of torture lying about their responsibilities, with some flashbacks, but with some final revelations, that indicate characters more guilty than we would have expected, diminishing our sympathy for what they have undergone.

There is a visit to a bondage centre which resembles Jigsaw’s torture chamber. There are records again with his voice and his blood under the fingernails of some victims. But he has been dead and buried for 10 years. How can this be?

There is certainly a twist at the end, possibly a twist too far, audiences trying to find some credibility as regards time sequences and the ability of the torturer to do all his work within a 24 hours day. On the plus side, Tobin Bell repeats his presence as Jigsaw/John Kramer and, while he continues to torture, he is given some very moralising lines, even some momentary human touches.

However, human touches are not the staple of this series.

 

JUNGLE

Australia, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour.

Daniel Radcliffe, Thomas Kretschmann, Alex Russell, Joel Jackson, Lily Sullivan, John Bluthal, Jacek Koman, Angie Milliken.

Directed by Greg McLean.

Jungle is definitely not a misleading title. Most of the action takes place in the Bolivian jungle – though filmed in Colombia and around Mount Tambourine, Queensland.

This is the story of Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli man who left his home and family in Israel to find himself, working in Alaska, in New York, in Bolivia and invited to join an expedition into the jungle, to experience nature, to find tribes, perhaps gold in the rivers, and to find himself. In so many ways, he does. But it is a matter of survival in the jungle. And the final credits indicate that after these experiences, he moved back to Bolivia, into the jungle to contribute to ecology and prosperity, where he still is.

Interesting that Daniel Radcliffe plays Yossi Ghinsberg. In the years after Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe has chosen quite a wide range of roles, recently an undercover FBI agent in Imperium, Igor in Victor Frankenstein, the corpse in Swiss Army Man. Compared with the other main characters in this film, his companions in the trek into the jungle, Thomas Kretschmann as Karl, the ambiguous adventurer who leads them, Alex Russell as Kevin, the American photographer, Joel Jackson as Marcus, the Swiss teacher, he is definitely pint -sized. (Alex Russell and Joel Jackson Australian actors.) However, as ever, he has a strength of presence the persuades the audience of his character’s credibility.

The film has been directed by Greg McLean, still best known for the two Wolf Creek films as well as the television series, for his crocodile film, Rogue, and the intense intra--offices gladiatorial survival film, The Belko Experiment. He knows how to draw intensity from his characters, from desperate situations which, in this case, are particularly visceral, a kind of intense physicality in threatening and survival situations which are reminiscent of films like Deliverance.

As the group trek into the jungle, the audience is drawn into sharing the journey with them, a strong identification of curiosity, of fear, challenge, of discovery. There is exhilaration in the beauty of the photography, mountains and jungle, close-ups as the group machetes its way, as well as beautiful aerial vistas.

The second half of the film takes place after Karl and Marcus trek through the jungle instead of continuing downriver on a raft which is what Kevin and Yossi do. If the audience ever wanted to know what it was like to raft through rapids, this may be as close as it will ever get! But, after the raft disaster, Yossi has to make his way through the jungle, surviving, becoming emaciated, having hallucinations, consoled by flashbacks, yet determined to continue, almost for three weeks before being found.

There is a religious dimension, Yossi’s Jewish background and the gift of a text from his uncle which reminds him of the divine as he survives.

In many ways, this film is not for the fainthearted who quail at the presentation of physical pain and suffering. The audience has to be prepared to share this demanding journey through the jungle.

 

JUSTICE LEAGUE

US, 2017, 121 minutes, Colour.

Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Robin Wright, Connie Neilson, Amy Adams, Amber Heard, Diane Lane, Kiersey Clemons, Billy Crudup, JK Simmons, Ciaran Hinds, Jeremy irons, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Mc Elhatton, Joe Morton.

Directed by Zack Snyder, Joss Wheedon.

Not exactly from time immemorial, but for some considerable time, there has been some rivalry between DC Comics and the Marvel Comics. In an ideal world, this ought not be so competitive, the fans able to appreciate both and the range of films made with their particular Superheroes and the linking of their Superheroes as Avengers or as the Justice League.

The main difficulty in writing a review of Justice League is that the reviewer is on the side of the Marvel Universe. From the 70s into the 90s, the Superman and Batman films were very well done, as was Christopher Nolan’s Batman series. The 2017 Wonder Woman was also very good. But, with Man of Steel, Suicide Squad… And their being outshone by, for example, Thor, the choice is for Marvel.

In checking on the bloggers for Justice League, one finds that there is extraordinarily passionate support! The fans consider it wonderful entertainment from start to finish.

What follows is just one reviewer’s opinion. There is a brief opening sequence, caught on phone camera, where children are interviewing Superman. Unfortunately, after Batman versus Superman, Superman is no longer with us, he is dead and buried. (Which is not necessarily going to stop screenwriters for DC Comics!).

Then there is a scene with Batman confronting a monster alien. Then there is Wonder Woman, from her base in London, using her gold lassoo and an ability to avoid bullets to thwart sabotage on four city blocks. Bruce Wayne does a trek to the remote north to have a challenging conversation with Arthur Curry, Aquaman. Then there is Barry Allen, visiting his father in prison, being urged to get a real job. And, in a secret laboratory, there is Victor Stone, victim of his father’s experiment.

Which means then that we have the introductions to the Justice League: Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Jason Memorial as Aquaman, Ezra Fisher as The Flash/Barry Allen and Ray Fisher as Cyborg/Victor Stone. And the reason for Bruce Wayne getting them together is that there are three mysterious boxes of energy, referred to in the documents of Lex Luthor, and the arrival of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds) who intends to destroy the world. (The audience is given something of a preview of what might happen in a sequence with an enormous squad of Amazon women converging on Steppenwolf.)

The rest of the film seems mainly fights and explosions. There is an important interlude, this review not wanting to spoil the plot but most fans will know this anyway, where Lois Lane and Martha Kent (Amy Adams and Diane Lane again) are mourning the death of Superman. However, Bruce Wayne, always aided by the surveillance and offbeat remarks of his butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons) has the idea that the energy can resuscitate Superman. And, even with a photo of Kevin Costner as Clark Kent’s foster father, the energy does its job, although there is a certain innate hostility in Superman until it is mellowed by meeting Lois again. And, of course, it is Henry Cavill as the resuscitated Superman.

And so, more fights and explosions, victory through the variety of skills of the Superheroes and audiences being advised to sit through the very long credits to see where the series might be leading. Actually, with the revelation of a sinister character returning to the series, the reviewer left the cinema more hopefully.