Movie Review : Love and Friendship

Midway through watching this movie, I came to two realisations (and then some more). The first was had the purists been present they would have glared me down to stop me from laughing. For Jane Austen isn’t universally acknowledged as the provider of a wholesome laugh. While I do acknowledge there are many sophisticated, clever and witty conversations in her other books, she unleashes her inner cynic in “Love and Friendship“, based on her  early novella Lady Susan.

The second was the familiarity of the main character, Lady Susan Vernon. Played with the right blend of known selfishness and feigned selflessness by Kate Beckinsale, she is a brilliant case of rampant narcissism. Even a small sampling of her words (of which there are many) and actions (disguised and self-justified) would have psychologists running for their notebooks and chairs. Widowed too early and with a daughter, as she constantly reminds us, she lives intermittently with her nearest relatives until she quickly dilutes their welcome. And then moves onto the next, with as little notice as possible to evade her increasing followers, debtors and lovers alike.

She is a grifter (probably not a word associated with Jane Austen), seducing and manipulating men and women respectively, with the aim of gaining a husband for herself and one for her daughter. She despises true love, as according to her, the only part of a man that makes a husband is his income, although even those words are not reflected by her actions at the conclusion of the movie!

Her plans are encouraged and abetted, by her best friend, Mrs Johnson played by Chloe Sevigny, one of the few characters in this  movie that is developed to any depth, though similar in nature to Lady Susan. Which brings me to my third realisation…

That Love and Friendship is filmed in vignettes. And each set of characters was introduced beforehand. Even so, in truth, I wished I had a libretto or the novel itself so I could keep track. Consequently, I realised that midway through the movie, perhaps with less characters, those remaining could be more deeply drawn rather than being a sequence of walk on extra special guest star roles!

As for the plot, it demands to be followed carefully! For as Lady Susan is the driver of the story, one quickly learns that her versions of events aren’t always strictly true.  Even when cornered and caught in untruth, Lady Susan dissembles brilliantly, that is, until people and events are further examined and the lie is exposed. Then suddenly, she moves elsewhere to avoid the consequences and responsibility of her actions. Much like the classic narcissist!

Beautifully filmed, but not in the overly worshipful way that plagues other Jane Austen films, Love and Friendship does through its scenery, of course, provide an ongoing insight into the successful upkeep of Great Britain’s stately homes.

But what most appealed to me was the wit of the script. It was replete with lines so wicked and cynical that the small crowd (from different walks of life by the way), all laughed uproariously!

Finally, while this film may be set in nineteenth century England, Love and Friendship could easily be transplanted into modern times. A self indulgent heroine greedily grabbing and grasping at every opportunity to make money and further her cause? Never, say the purists! All she would need is her own reality TV show!

Hunt for The Wilder People : Movie Review

It’s 6 o’clock Saturday 11th June 2016. I’ve exited the Event Cinemas in George Street Sydney. I’m sitting on a step scribbling furiously as people pass me by, lights and shadows draping me briefly.  I’m too immersed in what I’m doing to notice much else.

I’ve just seen Hunt For The Wilder People, the New Zealand smash-hit, apparently seen by one-in-nine Kiwis, though not yet as many people living on the West Island (Australia, in case you’re wondering).

It’s the story of an incorrigible orphaned boy Ricky (played by Julian Dennison). As a last resort, he is sent to the final foster parents in the middle of nowhere by Child Services. Totally unimpressed, Ricky tries to return to Child Services but once settled at home promptly runs away. After being found again (and again),  he  slowly acclimatises to his new environment, and starts to bond with his foster mother Bella (played by Rima Te Wiata). However, he develops a tenuous and stand-offish relationship with her cantankerous partner Hec (Sam Neill) who really would rather be left alone.

Sadly, tragically, Bella collapses and dies. With only Hec left, Child Services informs them that they will now take Ricky back. That’s enough for Ricky to go bush for good. Once Hec realises the situation, he searches for and finds Ricky but is injured in the pursuit.

Unfortunately, Paula from Child Services (No Child Left Behind, No Child Left Behind is her mantra), arrives on the now deserted farm. With no Ricky or Hec, she calls in the real police and starts a manhunt.

Directed by Taika Watiti, (director of Boy) who has an amusing and disturbing cameo as a pastor, this film showcases the scenery of New Zealand (the opening is like a travelogue) but lets the story unfold itself at its own pace. Through crisis, contemplation and humour,  we see the relationship between Ricky and Hec develop even if they are complete opposites. In their continuing adventures, Ricky learns bushcraft, bravery and brashly defies Paula from Child Services when she nearly catches him again. As the manhunt becomes national news, they’re left to the encroaching winter, the not-so-stealthy efforts of the pursuing Special Forces and the police. Although I did experience deja vu having watched Sam Neill in much the same situation in Sleeping Dogs!

Luckily, the Hunt for the Wilder People has a more humourous and happy outcome even if Ricky and Hec do end up confronting the New Zealand Army on its home turf.  And Julian Dennison steals the film.

This is a wonderfully told story, with many laughs and some sadness too. And a cast whose enjoyment in making this movie shines through! Go see it and enjoy.

The Man Who Knew Infinity

I should have known about Srinivasa_Ramanujan, the subject of the Man Who Knew Infinity. It is the story of an unknown genius who turned mathematics inside out. But even my mere degree (a statistics major) is not required to appreciate this film.

It is Ramanujan’s story that is utterly compelling. An unlearned man, he teaches himself mathematics and then exceeds his peers. For him, mathematics is an elegance, something which I encountered but once. It was when my secondary school teacher described step-by-step how integration and derivation worked. And at that time I realised that I was not witnessing science but something more than that.

And this is the conflict of the film : art versus science. Ramanujan is an artist, a pure creative and his brilliance takes him to an alien environment, the closeted world of academia. For his peers encourage him to write to Cambridge, and after considering him to be a possible hoax, the mathematician G.H. Hardy invites him to stay and study.

Ramanjuan leaves wife and family and journeys to England to continue his dream.  And there begins a fractious relationship between a man who demands all theories be proven (Hardy) and another who has theories bequeathed to him (Ramanujan). Played against the backdrop of the events that led to World War 1 and the war, itself, their collaboration seems unnecessary and irrelevant. Yet despite their conflicts, they do end up working together and actually unearth theories which are only now being fully applied.

Jeremy Irons as Hardy plays the true rationalist who is totally confronted by Ramanujan’s talent. For Hardy, this relationship changed his life and perspective and challenged his rational and atheistic beliefs. Dev Patel, plays a very shy, introspective, spiritual man that truly believes that knowledge is revealed to those who open themselves to it.

For me, that was what I took from this film: artists (even mathematicians) are a conduit to creativity.

The Daughter – Movie Review

The Australian movie The Daughter is like a wedding present, something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Based on Henrik Ibsen’s play, The Wild Duck, it tells a story both familiar and unfamiliar through a cast of well known actors including Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush,  Miranda Otto and Anna Torv followed by  Paul Schneider and Odessa Young as Hedvig : the daughter.
We first glimpse the setting. An almost pristine alpine country town facing an existential crisis : the loss of its main industry. We drawn to the isolation of the location and through that the growing uncertainty of its characters. Similar to the film Somersault, scenes show nature’s expanse and then focus upon the tenuous and fearful mini worlds created and inhabited by the daughter in the film.
The film centres upon a man who returns to his family. After many years he is a stranger to his father and the now dying town. However, he reconnects and rekindles an old friendship. In the midst of that renewal, he discovers a secret  which could imperil that friendship, his relationship with his father and his father’s impending marriage. Unfortunately, that discovery occurs in the middle of his own personal tragedy. In the midst of that tragedy, the man chooses to reveal the secret. For me, it evoked the following choice : if destruction is visited upon you, should you continue it in others even in the name of truth?
But once that secret is known, there is a desperate race to hide that secret. But it is revealed with tragic consequences. Once the crisis is met, the raw emotion of acting is spell binding. But the ending left no one in the audience’s satisfied. Setting aside that, this is a beautiful, evocative and emotional film.

The Best of Enemies : Movie Review

It’s 1968 and America is in turmoil. Martin Luther King has been shot, riots have broken out across the country, the Vietnam War is faltering, Robert Kennedy has been assassinated and Richard Nixon is campaigning for President.

The American Broadcasting Corporation also has its troubles. As the third (or fourth) network of three, it is struggling. As one pundit says, “If the ABC fought the Vietnam War, it would be cancelled in 13 weeks.”

To improve their ratings during the two political presidential conventions, they come up with an idea that will change TV forever. That idea is to put together William F Buckley, arch-conservative interviewer and writer with Gore Vidal,  the Oscar Wilde like enfant terrible of the political and literary scene as convention commentators.

There’s one small problem. Both men loath and detest each other.  Yet despite their earlier clashes, they agree to work with each other for the ten days covering both conventions.

This is the basis for the documentary, Best of Enemies

which covers the debates between Vidal and Buckley. Both men had clashed before but this was the first time they would be withing arm’s length of each other. And what results is electrifying and ultimately disappointing.

Two intellectual giants trade brilliant put downs and swap clever put downs. But at no time is there any meeting of minds. In fact the debate created an unbroken animosity between the two men.

Best of Enemies, showing at the Cinema Nova, Melbourne is fascinating : a super sugar hit for a political junkie with an unfortunate climb down. Scarily, the commentary offered on the politics of the day still is relevant now, despite the change in word and phrase as well as manners over the years.  Sadly, too, the dynamic of pitting two protagonists, neither of whom will listen to the other, is now the basis of present media political commentary.  Finally, this dynamic has resulted in a fragmentation of media coverage (both mainstream and new).  As  Nick Davies has pointed out, the media no longer provides multiple points of view for multiple audiences, it now provides what people want to hear. Which began with Vidal versus Buckley.

Best of Enemies is an enjoyable, extremely well put together but ultimately dis quietening documentary.




Far From Men : Movie Review

Set in the early days of the Algerian War of Independence, Far From Men stars the masterful Viggo Mortensen in a movie that is more than a buddy film, more than a war film and more than a chase film.  Based on a short story by Albert Camus, the movie begins with Daru (Mortensen) a school teacher whose deliberated and quiet life is at odds with the continuing breakdown of Algeria.

After a first warning from friends of the dangers he faces, Daru has a brief encounter with raiders.  After that he is mysteriously entrusted with consigning a stranger to the nearest town to face trial. The reasons for him being tasked with this dangerous assignment to provide safe passage to a known criminal are not made clear at first. It isn’t until much later that those reasons are revealed  being based on his past. It is then we start to understand the conflict he now faces.

With great reluctance and resignation, he shuts down his little school. He takes his prisoner Mohammed played by Reda Kateb  on foot by road. As they begin, they quickly realise they have little chance of survival due to marauding raiders. Daru then chooses a route over the breathtaking yet desolate Algerian mountains.

During that journey, as they face rising violence both human and natural, both men reveal their past. Firstly,  Daru whose racial background places him at odds with everyone involved in the conflict. Secondly, Mohammed who has concocted an unexpected plan of escape with the intent of indirectly saving his family.

With a journey punctuated by a rising violence that forebodes full-scale civil war, both men must pick a path to safety whilst not picking sides. Unfortunately, as they witness first-hand atrocities committed by both sides, this creates an ongoing unresolved conflict for both characters.

This is a film that cannot be watched superficially. It must be experienced through the eyes and hearts of the characters. It left me deeply affected by the story of a war that I knew little about. That then motivated me to find out more about a conflict which still continues to affect France and Africa.

The scenery was simply mesmerising. Panoramic shots of sunsets and sunrises, snow and rain, denuded mountains and stony deserts : so beautiful that I felt I was watching a travelogue. But not for long.  I found myself led back to the characters and plot as the film leads to an unexpected and uncertain conclusion.

Thoroughly recommended. Thoroughly  unforgettable.



I am Big Bird : Movie Review

As a child, it didn’t even occur to me that Sesame Street’s Big Bird was anything more than a large puppet.  I simply accepted him as part of the other characters on Sesame Street. And as I grew up and gave up such childish notions, I thought little of the person that inhabited Big Bird. That was until I received a free ticket to the documentary,  I am Big Bird.

Bid Bird

I am Big Bird

So it was with some anticipation and curiousity, I sidled into Cinema Nova. Directed by Chad N Walker and Dave LaMattina, I am Big Bird is the story of Caroll Spinney, who is the voice and person inside Big Bird.

And not to give too much away, Spinney was a child who developed an interest in puppets. He was encouraged in that hobby and it led through the United States Air Force to Sesame Street and the Muppets. He joined Sesame Street and worked alongside such talents as Frank Oz and Jim Henson. After some trepidation resolved by the encouragement of his peers, he found his muse in Big Bird (and Oscar the Grouch).

This is a beautifully told story. Spinney emerges as a man who has suffered much but has given much. There are interviews with his children, his wife and his workmates all of whom describe a man who has made Big Bird part of him and vice versa. The documentary is filmed in a very intimate way frequently using home movie footage shot by Spinney and others.

I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary. I learnt much about resilience and hope. I found out more about the closeness of acting to story telling brought together with unconditional love.

And the final word is best left to the cinema audience. All sat perfectly still completely entranced by what they saw and heard. All remained perfectly still when the lights came on and the credits started rolling. Never have I seen a cinema audience all dabbing their eyes while sitting perfectly still. As I did.

Locke : The Movie : A Review

The movie Locke (written and directed by Stephen Knight) at first seems like a combination of a one-man one-act play married to a road movie.

As the movie begins, it appears Ivan Locke has finished an ordinary work day and is travelling home but won’t get there straight away. And despite its prosaic and inauspicious start, Locke doesn’t turn out to be all about the drive and the scenery. Besides the car and the journey taken symbolise his isolation and the difficulties he must face in one night.
Ivan Locke begins a journey which will certainly remove him from everything he holds dear to an end which almost certainly will be uncertain and unresolved.
As he drives, Locke receives and makes a series of phone calls. Through these calls, we slowly realise that his life is unravelling. The first impression is that he is driving to attend to a sick relative or friend and won’t be home to watch  a big soccer match on TV with his wife and children.  But that’s merely a backstory and the reality is far far worse. He is driving to attend a birth of a child, his child whose mother is barely known to him.
Locke in this situation chooses a path that most people wouldn’t take. In fact as he reveals his actions he is counselled to not follow that path at all. Most people would consider his choices as costing too high a price. That is the essence of this movie.
Yet as he chooses this path everything in his life dissolves. In rapid succession career and relationships and more disappear. Yet in all of this Locke is clear about his actions, and the path he follows if not yet prepared for the consequences. And as the consequences do become clearer, he is not immune to the hurt that he is causing and in fact is at times quite overcome. He does not throw away these things lightly. He is fully aware of the hurt and trouble he causes and feels it keenly.
His reasons for his choices only become clearer later in the movie. He is in a desperate race to reveal and resolve his past and utterly determined to dedicate himself to an uncertain future.
And in the title role Tom Hardy excels as good a performance I have ever seen balancing his emotions with the resilience needed in all the situations faced and the pure vulnerability of his ultimate motive to resolve the situation.
What was most challenging and confronting about this movie was that true courage often comes at a price.
And even as the movie ends, much like the real life situation it mirrors, we don’t find out what how it ends at all.

A Most Wanted Man : Review

Unlike the re telling of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Le Carres A Most Wanted Man pares the book back to its essentials holding the audience taut right up until the unexpected ending. Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles is mesmerising as the washed up Gunter Bachmann who runs a small counter terrorism unit in Hamburg  whilst managing internal agency rivalry, the CIA and the German constitution!
Bachmann’s interest is piqued by the arrival in Hamburg of a Chechen Russian seeking asylum. Unfortunately Issa Karpov underplayed masterfully by Grigoriy Dobrygin  is on the run having been imprisoned and tortured by the Russians. Karpov comes to the attention of the authorities after being taken in by a Turkish German Muslim family. Once his background is revealed the proper authorities want him snuffed out to prevent another 9/11 noting Mohammed Atta planned the attacks from Hamburg.
Rather than arresting Karpov outright Bachmann wishes to use him as a pawn to snare and turn a successful businessman and philanthropist with Islamic ties. Due to internal rivalries the best he can do is play for time and act as quickly as he can. Which he does with scant regard for the rules.
Using less than ethical tactics he enrols Karpov’s human rights lawyer played by Rachel McAdams into the cause. She acts as the go-between for Bachmann and Karpov and has her idealism manipulated to the point she signs on for the happy ending. Much of the movie is in fact seen through her eyes and reactions.
But spying especially in this day and age doesn’t have a happy ending. And neither does A Most Wanted Man.


Before Midnight

If you’re expecting a fairy tale ending to the story of Jesse and Celine, you may be disappointed. But the final instalment in the Before Sunrise and Before Sunset does have a real world ending and all in all a satisfying one. But to reveal it would give away too much.

Beautifully filmed in Greece, we begin the story realising that Jesse stayed with Celine in France. His marriage has dissolved and now he is separated from his son. Celine and Jesse have now twin daughters who are peripheral to the story.

So now we enter the lives of a middle aged couple on holiday with friends facing all the doubts of career, children and blended families. And yet   the couple still that same spark of conversation shown in the previous two films. But underlying the dialogue is a harder edge than Before Sunrise  and Before Sunset had.

What’s different about this film, is that other characters move in and out of the story. Both Jesse and Celine chat with others but even in these conversations there’s a sense of unresolve. At times the dialogue is genuinely laugh out loud funny but teases out all the questions one wants to ask in conversation but rarely does so. But as to answering those questions, well that would end the conversation I’m afraid, which is the charm and joy of these films.

But it’s the last part of the film which is no holds barred where accusation and counter accusation escalate. Though awkward and at times harrowing, the audience is made to feel as if they have wandered into a play punctuated by off stage dramas. Both Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are mesmerising in this last stanza. And its not until the last lines of the movie that the unexpected ending is revealed.