Melbourne, June, 13th, 2018 (Peter Malone). Below, find the second part of film critics written by Peter Malone for the month of June.

  1. GATEWAY, The
  2. GRINGO
  3. LIFE OF THE PARTY
  4. LOST IN PARIS/ PARIS PIEDS NUS
  5. MY FRIEND DAHMER
  6. OCEAN’S EIGHT
  7. SOLO, A STAR WARS STORY
  8. SONG KEEPERS, The
  9. TEA WITH THE DAMES
  10. TULLY

 

THE GATEWAY

Australia, 2018, 90 minutes, Colour.
Jacqueline Mc Kenzie, Myles Pollard, Hayley McElhinney?, Shannon Berry, Ben Mortley, Ryan Panizza, Shirley Toohey, Troy Coward.
Directed by John V.Soto.

The Gateway was not anything like what was expected. There was talk of science fiction, horror, making it sound like one of those selections for the B-Budget? films at horror festival.

Not so.

Yes, it certainly is a science-fiction film but focused more on laboratory work, experiments with teleportation, discussions about multi-universes and parallel worlds, some science-fantasy. However, the film is also something of a domestic story, of tragedy in a family. It then moves towards more psychological drama, menace and threat in a marriage. And, all the time, exploring the possibilities of moving in and out of the parallel worlds.

The film was made in Western Australia on a small budget but generally looks very effectively and efficiently made. Perhaps the laboratories are somewhat simplified and might be said that security looks very lax! However, Jacqueline Mc Kenzie gives a strong performance as Jane Chandler, in charge of the teleporting experiments, assisted by a genially geeky Regg, Ben Mortley, and under threat from the powers that be with deadlines and budget cuts.

At home, Jane has a very nice husband-author, Matt (Myles pollard) and teenage son and daughter (not so very strong in acting for performance, undermining the family impact).

In the lab, the experiments concern the teleporting of an apple from one vehicle to another. But, when the apple disappears, Jane suspects it has gone somewhere else in the world and, trying to find out how and where, discovers that it has gone to one of those parallel universes. Contact is made. The locations in each world are the same, the persons are the same, real cases of alter egos.

All this moves briskly along but is jarred by Matt’s death in a road accident. So, when Jane gets to the lab in the other world, she meets the other Regg, and then meets the other Matt (with Myles Pollard doing quite a significantly different Matt while remaining the same).

Since this is a dramatic thriller, and Matt comes back to her own world with Jane, it will not be smooth sailing – although that is what it seems for some time, the family keeping the secret of his still being alive.

The climax moves to a combination of Jane being menaced, moving from one world to another, trying to deal with the different Matt, getting the help of the new Regg, even her getting to visit another parallel universe.

This works well enough as an interesting entertainment – although the final 30 seconds are somewhat disconcertingly unnecessary. Best to forget about them and just remember the dynamic of the film itself.

 

GRINGO

US, 2018, 111 minutes, Colour.

David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Sharlto Copley, Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried, Harry Treadaway, Yul Vazquez, Bashir Shallahuddin.

Directed by Nash Edgerton.

Back in the day, Gringo was one of those white Americans who ventured into Mexico or other Latin American countries, the term of identification but not necessarily complementary. This film breaks through that barrier. The central Gringo in this film is African-American with a family coming from Nigeria. To the Mexicans, he is a Gringo.

Much of this film is set in Mexico and, as often with action films, shows us the evil and violence of the drug cartels. The cartels, their chiefs and their thugs, the murders, the attacks on the police, might seem an exaggeration until we read the headlines of contemporary Mexico and the statistics about deaths, the statistics of murders in connection with the drug cartels.

So, with this as a basis, Gringo begins in California but soon moves to Mexico. The context is pharmaceutical companies in the US and their double dealings, and one of the executives, being victimised, and sent down to Mexico – the film opening sequence having him phoning the bosses in America, screaming that he has a gun at his head, and that his attackers want $5 million. Actually, this is rather unexpectedly enjoyable when we finally overcome the “two years earlier” flashbacks and come to the scene itself. Not as expected.

The star of the film, David Oyelowo has tended to have serious roles, Martin Luther King in Selma, the King of Botswana in A United Kingdom. His agent may have sent him this screenplay and encouraged his desire to do some comedy as well is something in an action show. He is Harold, working for the pharmaceutical company, with a Joel Edgerton as his boss as well as Charlize Theron as his cold, calculating partner. Harold does not realise his own marriage (with Thandie Newton) is on the rocks. He suspects there is something wrong with the company, is able to download some files, he is sent to Mexico on business but to be scapegoated. Which leads to the opening sequence not being as expected!

So, there are cartel bosses, ruthless thugs, go-betweens from the company to the cartel, torture, killings, the whole Mexican cartel thing…

Meanwhile, a young Englishman is caught up in local drug deals and is sent to Mexico to recover some samples – from a prison, but originating from that pharmaceutical company. He works in a music shop and decides to invite the salesgirl to Mexico with him. They are played by Harry Treadaway and Amanda Seyfried. And their connection with Harold? They happened to be staying in the same hotel where he is hiding out… and then some!

The comic and the serious are blended together with Harold trying to escape, the cartel capo thinking that he is actually the boss of the company and therefore trying to abduct him, Harold using his wits and sometimes a gun and a car crash to elude capture. In the meantime, his boss’s brother, thuggish but involved in Christian charitable works, is hired to bring Harold back to the US. The brother, again serious and comic, as well as having a long discussion with Harold about Jesus and the relative betrayals by Judas and Peter, is played by Sharlto Copley.

More accidents, more tangles, the young woman helping Harold, her boyfriend in trouble going to the prison, and exposes and double-dealing in the office in the US – with Charlize Theron, both icy and seductive, almost auditioning to be Lady Macbeth, while Joel Edgerton does his usual reliable performance.

Entertaining in its roughhouse way, as well as its comic way, as long as you don’t take it too seriously while, in fact, the underlying issues in real life are very serious.

The film was directed by Nash Edgerton (Joel’s brother), a long-time expert in stunt work in films which serves him quite well here.

 

LIFE OF THE PARTY

US, 2018, 105 minutes, Colour.

Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan, Adria Arjona, Julie Bowen, Stephen Root, Luke Benward, Molly Gordon, Jacki Weaver, Falcone, Christina  Aguilera.

Directed by Ben Falcone.

Probably, it all depends on how an audience takes to the comedy of Melissa McCarthy. She achieved some success on television but then moved to the movies with even greater success. She is a somewhat larger-than-life personality, even louder than life! She has combined with a number of actors, like Sandra Bullock in Heat, often providing a kind of Laurel and Hardy partnership with comic touches.

She sometimes acts with her husband, Ben Falcone, who has cowritten the screenplay with his wife, directs and has a nice cameo as a sympathetic Uber driver.

In a way, in Life of the Party, as Deanna, she is on her own. She does have Maya Rudolph as Christine, a bluntly-spoken best friend, Molly Gordon has her daughter at college, and is supported by a range of her daughter’s friends. Stephen Root turns up as her father in several sequences and, yes, that is Jacki Weaver as her mother.

This is a film of changing moods. It is also a women’s film in the sense that yes, there are some men in the cast, one particularly obnoxious (Deanna’s husband), one agreeable and charming (in love with or, infatuated, with Deanna) and a couple of husbands more or less in the background. The invitation is for women of all ages to identify with these characters, the comedy, and sadness and its consequences, the precipitation of a midlife crisis so unexpectedly.

While seeing her daughter off for the year at college, full of exuberant joy, she is bluntly told her husband that he wants to divorce her. Cataclysm in an instant. Her parents are sympathetic but her mother keeps insisting that she should make her a sandwich! She vents her feelings with hard played racquetball with her friend Christin. And then she decides to enrol in college to complete the degree in archaeology that she abandoned, on the advice of her husband, over 20 years earlier.

Then the film turns into one of those frat party comedies, raucous parties, obnoxious young girls who feel superior to everyone else, the strange group of her daughter’s friends and her getting on so well with them. Her daughter comes to terms with her mother being at college, the same college, but changes her make up, her hairstyle, her clothes. And then Deanna goes extrovert off the page, drinking, dancing, a one night stand with the nice young man, then trying to break it to him that they should break off but, in the library, not succeeding.

But there are some bitter moments, comic for the audience but not for the participants when they go before an official to discuss questions of division of property – with the rule that they must address the arbitrator rather than their opposites at the table, and the poor woman officiating experiencing all the barbs and angers.

It doesn’t seem to be in character at one stage when Deanna gets up to make her presentation for her course and becomes awkward, tongue-tied, sweaty, desperately in need of a glass of water, collapsing on the floor. She seemed to be too extrovertedly hardy for this to happen to her!

There is still one more let-go mayhem scene, smashing chaos let loose at her ex-husband’s wedding reception, to go before the end. No, not quite, the girls decide to raise money for Deanna’s course completion, which her parents are prepared to pay for, but the idea is to have a party to end all parties. Bad luck, that is the night when Christina Aguilera is performing with everybody going to the concert. Brainwave, advertise that Christina will turn up to the party. Will she? Won’t she? We all know that she will – but there is an amusing reason why she does come.

Graduations, happy together, power to the women!

 

LOST IN PARIS/ PARIS PIEDS NUS

Belgium, 2016, 84 minutes, Colour.

Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Emmanuelle Riva, Pierre Richard.

Directed by Abel and Gordon.

Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon are something of a cinema treasure and, like much treasure, has not been open to the public. A great pity. They made some short films but their features, Rumba and The Fairy, would go on many audiences lists after they see Lost in Paris – the French title more evocative, Barefoot in Paris.

The two have been married since the 1980s, meeting through their love of the Circus. Belgium is their base. However, Fiona Gordon is actually Canadian but was born in Australia. She is obviously proudly Canadian because Canada and her character as a Canadian feature strongly in Lost in Paris.

The film is a droll comedy. However, audiences searching for raucous comedies should not look here. These films are much more subtle even when a lot of the action is slapstick. It is as if they were paying homage to the silent comedies and the type of comic performances from the time of Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The acting is quite stylised, quite a lot of mime, comic postures, exaggerated situations (early in the piece, a door is opened to an office during a blizzard and everybody performs in mime being blown at precarious angles on their chairs by the blizzard, covered in snow, resuming normal positions when the door is finally able to be shut).

There are words in the film and there is a reliance on music, from Shostakovich to Erik Satie and more contemporary songs. However, the delight is in the stylised performances, not only of the central characters, of so many of the others during the action. They include a Canadian Mountie in Paris whom Fiona keeps encountering, her aunt’s exasperated neighbour at the laundromat looking for his socks, and a nurse caring for the elderly, a group of diners in fashionable restaurant (who keep bouncing in their seats as the sound system booms).

Fiona comes from Canada to seek her aunt in Paris, goes through an extraordinary number of adventures including falling into the River Seine, twice. Her aunt is played by veteran actress Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Leon Morin Priest and, Oscar-nominated in her 80s for Amour). She enters vigorously into the character of the ageing lady, not quite with it. At one stage she meets Norman, played by veteran French comic actor, Pierre Richard. There is a delightful interlude when they are sitting on a park bench, the music starts, and the focus is on the pair of feet tapping in time to the music and an entertaining choreography.

Speaking of choreography, there is also a delightful dance sequence in the fashionable restaurant showing that while Dominique and Fiona can do very awkward comedy, their dancing and movement has great finesse.

Dom lives on the street, in the tent, scrounging garbage bins, coming across some of Fiona’s goods and backpack, surfacing on the Seine, and, by chance, encounters her at the restaurant. They are attracted but not willing to acknowledge it. They have a number of adventures, especially getting to the aunt’s funeral – only to find that it is not the aunt. So, the destination of the film, though they are lost in Paris in some ways, is to find the aunt and a happy, if comic ending.

One of the best things about the screenplay is that small details at various times become very important in the later development of the plot.

Most of the action seems to take place on the Right Bank of the Seine – but, Fiona gives more meaning to the word gauche in her character.

 

MY FRIEND DAHMER

US, 2017, 107 minutes, Colour.

Ross Lynch, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Alex Wolff, Vincent Kartheiser.

Directed by Michael Mayer.

Many of the audience will have some awareness of Jeffrey Dahmer, a notorious American serial killer who, in 1991, as the end of the film indicates, confessed to the murder of 17 men. There have been documentaries and some feature films about Dahmer himself and his serial killing. The danger always is the possibility of prurient curiosity from the audience being met by some sensationalism. While there is curiosity for the audience for this film, it is not sensationalist but, of course, given the foundation in fact, it is very disturbing.

The screenplay is based on a book by one of Jeffrey Dahmer school friends, Derf Backderf.

The setting is a town in Ohio, in Middle America, 1978. Dahmer is in high school, a loner. The opening sequence immediately sets a tone, Dahmer sitting by himself in the school bus, kids in the background playing 20 questions, suggesting issues of mysterious identity. Dahmer also looks out the window at a doctor who is jogging along the street, going to the back of the bus to watch him, the driver demanding that he sit down. Plenty of suggestions for audience reflection already.

So, this is a portrait of Dahmer over several months, culminating in his graduation from high school.

Once the audience sees the family, it is not difficult to realise that there could be quite some psychological problems which need attention. The mother (Anne Heche, not immediately recognisable) has mental problems, erratic behaviour, hectic and screaming one minute, loving the next. The father is much more quiet, reclusive in his laboratory, trying to cope and finding it more and more difficult, and an eventual divorce. There is a younger brother, David, presented ordinarily enough.

Dahmer has slightly stooped shoulders, walks in a kind of shuffle, mainly avoids people although he plays tennis and plays an instrument in the band. He avoids the school bullies. However, in some strange behaviour in the library, feigning and mercilessly mocking palsy and epileptic seizures, he is taken up by a group of the boys who think this is very funny and clever, continually urge him to repeat the performances, in the school corridors and, as a culmination to their fun, to behave in a berserk palsy fashion in the local Mall.

This does give some affirmation to Jeffrey, coming out of himself a little more, his father urging him to lift weights to improve his physique and helping to make friends. But Jeffrey is seen to have his own laboratory, a hut in the woods where he experiments with roadkill, saying that he is interested in bones and structure. His father, however, smashes his equipment and dismantles the hut.

The prom is coming up and Jeffrey invites, awkwardly and hesitantly, a young girl to go with him, though, at the dance, he is even more awkward and goes home.

He graduates, his mother and David going off to the grandparents because his father will be at the ceremony – and is present and gives him the gift of a car.

The film ends with sinister suggestions. Backderf, the author of the memoir, gives Jeffrey a lift in his car, noticing blood on his hands (the audience having seen Jeffrey with a knife and a dog). Jeffrey is menacing to his friend but resist the impulse. Finally, he offers lift to a shirtless hitchhiker on the road after deliberating as to what he should do – fade to black and information that the hitchhiker was never seen again and the further information about Dahmer’s confession.

The screenplay offers suggestions, cues, possibilities for the explanation of Dahmer’s psyche, impulses, killings.

 

OCEAN’S EIGHT

US, 2018, 110 minutes, Colour.

Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchet, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Rhianna, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Richard Armitage, James Corden, Dakota Fanning, Elliot Gould, Griffin Dunne, Elizabeth Ashley, Mary Louise Wilson, Marlo Thomas, Dana Ivey, Matt Damon, Carl Reiner, Anna Wintour, John McEnroe, Katie Holmes, Kim Kardashian West.

Directed by Gary Ross.

Many people might have missed the news that Danny Ocean had died in 2018. (That Danny Ocean, played by Frank Sinatra in the 1960s, by George Clooney in later times.) We actually see his grave and his sister, Debbie, released from prison after five years or more actually sits there, at first taunting him, later toasting him! Apparently, heists were in the family blood.

So, that means no Oceans 14. We now go back to Oceans Eight, in this age of remakes with women taking previous men’s roles. Strangely enough, the film was cowritten and directed by a man, Gary Ross. However, the cast has quite some exhibitions of women’s power.

We meet Debbie, Sandra Bullock, tearfully reassuring the parole officer that she will be very good when she gets out of prison. Not a chance. Almost immediately we see her pulling a con in a fashionable New York store, pulling another one pretending to be a tourist stranded and having to take back the room she and her husband were staying in, which she comfortably occupies. It seems she has been planning a huge heist for all the time she was in prison, refining the details month by month till it all seemed the perfect heist. Spoiler alert – of course, it will be.

She meets up with her old friend Lou, chef and bikie, Cate Blanchette, and confides the plan to her. Lou is persuaded of the plausibility and they go about auditioning five other women with expertise ranging from knowledge of diamonds, IT interventions, catering management, pickpocketing and costume designing. It also offers a multi--ethnic cast, Mindy Kaling from India, Awkwafina with an Asian background, Rhianna with African-American contribution. Sarah Paulson is from the US tradition while Helena Bonham Carter, Irish accent included, is from Northern Ireland.

Part of the entertainment is watching all the women in action and their expertise, the planning of the detail of a robbery of a necklace from the neck of Anne Hathaway during the traditional First Monday in May party and exhibition at the Metropolitan, New York. (With the guest list of celebrities in the cast, from Anna Wintour to Kim Kardashian West, it may well have been filmed on location at the 2017 May Monday.)

As with the other Oceans films, there is an enormous amount of detail in the planning of the heist and the preparations as well as the split-second timing. That is one of the most interesting aspects of the film, seeing the plan go into complex action and go without a hitch. Or, rather, the hitches are part of the plan!

Just as we might have thought the film would come to an end, an insurance investigator from London, James Corden, turns up to interview everyone involved. So, after the heist, there are some other complications – and, finally, quite a complication that nobody might have anticipated and once again the split second timing for the exercise of this particular heist.

As with this kind of film, it is a glorification of crime – but always with tongue in cheek. And, the cast of the women is quite impressive.

 

SOLO, A STAR WARS STORY

US, 2018, 135 minutes, Colour.

Alden Ehrenreich, Amelia Clark, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bethany, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, voices of: Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt.

Directed by Ron Howard.

A solo Solo story. So low in early box office returns, a major financial disappointment. Moving away from the wordplay, expectations of any Star Wars film, in the series or spin-off, are very high. But audiences didn’t flock to Solo as hoped for. Some suggested that it was released too soon after the previous episode in the series. Some suggested, and this has a point, that the lack of a strong adventurous female presence meant that it lacked an overall appeal.

But, the focus has to be on Han. And, for those who wondered about his name, Solo, and for those who didn’t, there is a scene where he is leaving his dark planet to enlist in the Empire’s air force and is questioned about his name. He has only the name, Han. And, he is alone – and so the official designates him Han Solo.

Alden Ehrenreich shows some courage in taking on the role. We all know that he has to grow into Harrison Ford, not an easy task for anyone. However, he gives it his best, young, rather cheeky, adventurous, eager for risks.

As regards the plot, long ago in the faraway galaxy, a lot of things are comparatively modern. While young Han is involved in some shady activities and is really attracted to Qi’ra (Emilia Clark), he is quickly involved in a car chase that looks like any other thriller chase only a bit more spectacular and crash-worthy. He is separated from Qi’ra, does his training in the air force, joins in battles – after all this is Star Wars.

However, he is caught up in some confusion and comes to the attention of Tobias Beckett, a space adventure and smuggler, along with his associate, Val (Woody Harrelson always welcome, Thandie Newton unfortunately killed off rather quickly). He joins them in an enterprise which provides the most spectacular part of the film, a raid on the super train, travelling through snowy and icy mountains, often on the edge of the cliffs, turning from horizontal to vertical towards its destination. The group is to steal some chemicals and, with great risks and special effects, they do so but not as intended.

They have been commissioned by Dryden Vos (a sinister Paul Bettany) and who should be in his entourage but Qi’ra. The adventurers offer to do another robbery and Qi’ra is sent to share the adventures with them. Plenty of expected Star Wars stuff here. But, there is something of a difference because Han, at one stage, is thrown down into a muddy pit and forced to fight a seeming monster – who, when washed, turns out to be none other than Chewbacca. A welcome return.

There are some twists in the plot, some goodies are really baddies and some expected baddies who turn out to be goodies – one of them are female warrior but coming in fairly late to the film.

There have to be some betrayals, there have to be some confrontations, the villain has to be thwarted – and, somehow or other those in control of the Empire have to have their say.

Partly a happy ending but, of course, an ending that the film is about Han will not be Solo but we might expect a Duo companion piece.

 

THE SONG KEEPERS

Australia, 2017, 87 minutes, Colour.

Directed by Naina Sen.

Most Australians would have heard of the Lutheran mission established in the 19th century at Hermannsburg, 1877, south-east of Alice Springs. One of the earliest Christian groups to work with aborigines and, while Christianising them, respecting their rights and fostering local languages, protecting their rights, especially at the time of the Stolen Generation. Albert Namatjira came from Hermannsburg. One of the features of Lutheran worship was the tradition of German hymns.

Over the years, especially in the middle of the 20th century, women’s choirs were established at Hermannsburg and in various settlements, Arrarnta and Pitjantjatjara. And the hymns were translated into the local languages. The choirs had sometimes long lives, sometimes short.

The screenplay of this documentary fills out some of this historical background – enhanced by the use of a number of photos from the period as well as clips from home movies.

Then, enter a larger than life character, Morris Stuart. As the audience is wondering about where he came from, not easily identified at once as indigenous to Australia, he is revealed as coming from Latin America, from Guiana and slave families there. He is a big man with something of James Earl Jones voice and resonance. He is also a man of music. Throughout the film he speaks to camera explaining that he moved to England, met an Australian tourist, Barbara, married her and they came to Australia, moving to the Northern Territory.

He is extroverted, affable, made contact with the women at Hermannsburg and the other towns. He wanted to revive the choirs and, for 20 years or more, has not only achieved that, but has affirmed the women and their love of their stories and land, their songs, as well as their Christian devotion in the Lutheran tradition. But he was more ambitious for the women and their singing.

There is quite a lot of music throughout the film, a number of the hymns. There are there are practice sessions, rehearsals for concerts, performance. Most of the women had been in choirs earlier but responded to Morris and, despite their age and the difficulties of living in the far-flung settlements, they bond together to make the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir. There are some men, the local activist as well as a young man whose grandfather was in choirs.

And there are a lot of interviews and storytelling spread throughout the film, many of the women having a chance to talk to camera about themselves, their lives, their music. These interviews offer pleasing opportunities for appreciating the women, their lives and their culture.

But at the core of the film is a tour to Germany by the choir. Maurice, assisted by Barbara, gathers the women together for rehearsals, planning a program of songs, contacting Lutheran churches in Germany and, an adventure for the women, the plane trip to Melbourne, Melbourne to Frankfurt and then travelling around Germany. We see the countryside, a touch of the travelogue, through the eyes of the women who have not lived in any towns or country like this.

The Lutheran communities throughout Germany come to the churches, appreciate the singing, respond very well to Morris who conducts with some vigour. The congregations prove genial hosts to the women for this memorable tour.

This is another documentary, like Gurrumul, like Westwind, which offer tributes to indigenous music makers but offers a wider audience both in Australia and overseas, find opportunities to get to know these traditions better.

 

TEA WITH THE DAMES

UK, 2018, 84 minutes, Colour.

Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Joan Plowright.

Directed by Roger Michel.

If you ever wanted to sit in on a conversation, chat between the four famous Dames, this is definitely the opportunity. Actually, there are very little tea seen, if any, but rather water and champagne! The original title, seen on the clapper boards is the quote from South Pacific, Nothing Like a Dame.

The four senior actresses, in their 80s, agreed to go to Joan Plowright’s home in the countryside and to sit down and talk. There are some conversation with the filming crew, some of the new technicians at their work, and some questions from director, Roger Michel (best known for such films as Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, My Cousin Rachel).

The conversation begins outside in the garden, a sunny afternoon – but rain soon started to fall and everybody having to adjourn inside. And the conversation is very entertaining, the four ladies laughing with great gusto at some of the stories – and the audience somehow rather empathising so strongly that they also laugh at times with great gusto.

The film is based on anecdotes. And it is supported by quite a number of photos, some home movies, some sequences from televised plays, some film clips. In the short amount of time, there are quite a number of clips but are many in the audience would be hoping for even more.

Each of the actresses has quite a distinctive personality. Joan Plowright is the matriarch. She is legally blind, with hearing aids, still bears herself with great dignity, being assisted by a walking stick as well as her daughter guiding her. Questions are asked about her marriage to Laurence Olivier, her status as Lady Olivier, her meeting with the actor, her appearance in The Entertainer, subsequent appearances as well as the story of their children, the travels, his work in the National Theatre. And there are glimpses of Joan Plowright’s appearances on stage and on television. In some ways she is rather proper but she also has a sense of fun and is enjoying the conversation and the memories.

Eileen Atkins is less well-known than the other three women but has had a distinguished career on stage, on television, in cinema. She speaks about her childhood, dancing, moving to acting, appearing in some kind of burlesque. She comments on her stage experience and the actors she has performed with, including her first husband, actor Julian Glover. She has something of a sardonic tone, especially about her appearance, not pretty, but having a talent for acting and enjoying her career. Interestingly, when asked what she would change from her past, she says she would be less angry and less confrontational – something which doesn’t quite appear so strongly during the conversation.

Maggie Smith probably has the widest reputation, beginning in films in the 1950s, having good roles internationally, in the UK and in the US. She won an Oscar in 1969 for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, winning another in the 1970s as Best Supporting Actress in California Suite. And, all the time, she was appearing on stage. She has quite a lot of comment, partly teasing Joan Plowright, of how severe Laurence Olivier was with her, with some clips from various performances including the stage and film version of Othello (where, in close-up, he seems rather a ham). With a stage career of more than 50 years, Maggie Smith is particularly well-known. But this film does not include many striking performances including those for playwright, Alan Bennett. She is asked about her relationship with her first husband, Robert Stephens, and there are some scenes of them acting together in a novel card would play. While he had many difficulties, including alcoholism, she says she prefers to remember the happy times. (She knows that she has not had time to look at all of Downton Abbey even though they gave her a box set!)

For the last 20 years, Judi Dench has been quite a significant stage and screen presence. She had performed on stage for many decades, part of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s. There are also photos and sequences of her performance in Miracle Plays in the early 1950s. With the flashbacks and the clips from plays, she has had quite a range of performances from Cabaret to Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra. There are scenes from Mrs Brown which brought her to the attention of the world of cinema, winning an Oscar the following year for her portrait of Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love. There are clips from Tea with Mussolini (Joan, Maggie and Judi), from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Judi and Maggie). She has quite a sense of humour, laughing vigorously at so many of the stories – and a surprising angry swearing at an insensitive carer! There are also pictures of her with her husband, Michael Williams, in their televisions series A Fine Romance and on stage.

The conversation ranges widely. It is not a portrait or study in depth. Rather, the audience sees the actresses in themselves, in their performances, in the changes over the decades. They do have quite a lot of commentary about performing, being apprehensive and fearful, techniques, the effect of experiences. There is also a sequence for each of them when they were made Dames, presented by the Queen or by Prince Charles.

This is a pleasure of a film – but, something of a pleasurable treasure for those who admire the actresses.

 

TULLY

US, 2018, 97 minutes, Colour.

Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Elaine Tan.

Directed by Jason Reitman.

A film with which female audiences will identify, especially mothers, and, even more especially, mothers coping with young children. Tully is also a film with which a male audience might not immediately identify (a bit like some of the husbands in this film) – but Tully is definitely a film they ought to watch.

Diablo Cody, and to play with her name, has a devilish kind of ability to combine the serious and the comic (Juno, Young Adult), she has written a screenplay that is close to the bone in its seriousness but also provokes the audience to smile, even laugh, despite themselves. The film is directed by Jason Reitman who also directed Charlize Theron in Young Adult.

And, despite the title, which refers to the engaging of a night nanny who is hired for the family night shift, and her name is Tully, played quite exuberantly and charmingly by Mackenzie Davis. The centre of the film is Marlo. And Charlize Theron, who can definitely be glamorous in films and has been over the last 20 years, also excels at roles which are not glamorous at all. She won an Oscar in 2003 for her portrayal of the serial killer, definitely not glamorous, Aileen Wournos, Monster.

At the opening of the film, she is very pregnant, hassled by all the care of the house, by her two young children, a daughter aged nine and a younger boy who is described throughout the film as “quirky”, overstimulated by external sources, sometimes an exasperating and burdensome child whom, each night, Marlo gently brushes. This is being recommended by a therapist to calm her son down. Her husband, Drew, Ron Livingston amiable but a man who could be far more attentive than he realises, is supportive, but…

Rather exasperating for Marlo in her condition is her affluent brother, Craig (Mark Duplass) and his wife who is prone to making blandly wearing comments that do nothing for Marlo’s patience. However, Craig does give the gift of money to hire a night nanny.

There is an exhausting collage (for the audience, let alone Marlo) of the three weeks after the birth of the daughter, Mia. There is the demanding routine of crying in the night, waking up, going to the baby, breastfeeding, putting the baby down, going back to bed, and the possibility of the routine happening all over again. Eventually, Marlo gives the night nanny a ring.

Tully, the nanny, is all that a nanny might be. Despite Marlo’s hesitations, Tully is wonderful with the baby, watches happily as Marlo breastfeeds, tidies up the house, becomes more of a friend and a confidante with some wise advice.

Sometimes there is a mixture of reality and fantasy, Marlo’s dreams with her son banging the back of the driver’s seat in the car, scenes of a mermaid and an underwater rescue from a waterlogged car, the fact that Marlo’s maiden name was Tully, sexual encouragement for Drew.

Perhaps Tully is too good to be true. But her message, the hopeful message of the film, is that a strong inner self should emerge to confront the difficulties of day by day, and that husbands become much more aware of the reality of their wives’ experiences and support and for them. No quarrel with that.