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