Roseanna’s Grave


Ah yes. This was the movie that convinced me that Jean Reno (Empire of the Wolves, 2005)is one of Europe’s best actors. Equally as comfortable in high-octane action roles as he is in comedic roles such as this. Classed as an America film, it was directed by English man Paul Weiland (City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, 1994). This is not the most important movie of the 20th century and does not overly challenge us with deep insights into the human condition but it does entertain. You will laugh (deliberately), possibly cry but certainly enjoy this movie. This is another one of those “under the radar” movies which deserves to be remembered, watched and appreciated.

For Roseanna is a bitter-sweet comedy, set in a small Northern Italian town. Our Hero, Marcello, Loves his wife and will do anything for her, theirs is a happy marriage, which unfortunately has been touched by more than its fair share of sadness. After the loss of their only daughter some years earlier, they are now faced with the news that, Roseanna (Mercedes Ruehl, Doubt, 2013) is dying, her heart can give out at any time. Marcello who adores his wife, will do anything for her. The only problem is that he has to do anything. There is one very serious issue. More than anything Roseanna wants to be buried in the same graveyard as her daughter and there are only three graves left. The graveyard is full, there is no room for expansion.
There are a couple of options to solve this, firstly buy the land next to the cemetery and expand. This of course is the obvious solution, except for one issue. The owner of the land knows exactly how important the sale is to Marcello and point blankly refuses to sell the land; many years ago was in love with Roseanna, but she had only eyes for Marcello, decades later he still burns a torch for her and refuses to allow Marcello a final happiness, he still regards him as his love rival.
Added to this is Marcello’s one man mission to save everybody in the village. Not from any altruistic love for humanity but rather to ensure there is a grave left for his wife. This mission obviously causes some great comedic moments which also manage to add to the emotion of the total production.

So, faced with caring for his dying wife, ensuring the town-folk don’t die and trying to get the land for the cemetery, Marcello is under pressure. So much so that Roseanna decides he needs help and so enlists her sister Cecilia (Polly Walker, John Carter, 2012) to not only help around their bar, but also to “take care” of Marcello once she is gone. Marcello is having none of it.Marcello is running himself into the ground trying to make life as easy as possible for his wife, while saving the locals from their various dangers, often to the amusement of the villagers.
As Marcello struggles to find a solution for his ailing wife, there are multiple challenges thrown their way, with Marcello and Roseanna deftly overcoming them and never losing sight of the future. As with all good movies, there is a twist near the end, one which perfectly compliments the overall production and finishes the movie off nicely.
A good movie can be like a good meal, made of simple, but perfect ingredients, well produced with care, the end product is unassuming but excellent. That’s what this movie is like. Ask anybody to name a few Jean Reno movies and the usual selection will appear, but look to his credits and you’ll notice a number of films you may not recognise, the vast majority of them excellent, this first among them.

Kolya

From 1997, the film is set in the dying days of the old Soviet “empire” in what was then Czechoslovakia. It is about 15 years since I first saw this film and it still brings a smile. Directed by Jan Svĕrák (Dark Blue World, 2001) and staring his brother Zdenek SvĕráK. It was written by Zdenek and Pavel Taussig. Our hero is Louka (Jan SvĕráK, Empties 2007). Louka used to be a cellist with the Czechoslovak Symphony Orchestra but was removed for reasons falling somewhere between deliberate and mistake, this was in the days of bureaucratic decisions being made by the technocrats regardless of the effects. Light-hearted and warm it tackles the events of the time in a manner which might just bring your finger to your eye to wipe away something…nudge nudge. You will laugh.

Being unemployed, our confirmed bachelor, must have an income. He manages this by performing at weddings and funerals. He also supports himself by painting tombstones. In with all of this is his relationship with his on/off girlfriend. Between performances which to say the least, he has no interest in, he talks with his friend the gravedigger. It is here that he learns of a way to make some money fast; marry a Russian bride so she gets her visa out of Russia. Sounds like it could be done, so he agrees.

The arrangements are made and before long, Louka is married to his Russian bride. At this stage we could say they lived happily ever after, but then there would be no film, in fact things go down-hill at an appreciable rate. His Russian bride has her heart elsewhere, namely with her boyfriend I West Germany. Before long she leaves Louka and heads to Germany leaving her son, Kolya behind. Kolya goes to live with his grand-mother for a while but she dies and the authorities decide the child must live with his step-father; Louka

After some resistance, from all side, Louka and Kolya begin to settle down together with room being made in his dingy garret flat. The fact that neither of them speaks the other’s language doesn’t help either. As they progress slowly coming to terms with each other, fate throws another spanner in to the works, Kolya contracts meningitis which requires specific medication for him. This all brings the situation for the two into focus with the authorities. Louka is threatened with prison.

As the world is about to come tumbling down around him, events in the outside world gather pace and the old regime is swept away by the Velvet Revolution. This together with the events in Germany, Kolya’s mother is able to be reunited with him. Things end well for Louka also, he and his girlfriend soon have a new family member to care for.

This is an easy going film, looking at life from the point of view of somebody who despite having things go against him, is determined to get on with things. There are some great moments of simple verbal and situational comedy scattered in here, which make it a cut above the rest. Dig it up, watch it and feel better about life.

Snowpiercer

A south Korean movie, directed by Bong Joon-ho (The Host 2006) based on the screen play by Kelly Masterson (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, 2007) and Bong Joon-ho. The world has been destroyed by attempts to stop global warming which have gone totally wrong. Faced with the growing threat of global warming, an experimental new approach was developed, which entailed seeding the upper atmosphere with a chemical (CW7) to overcome the effects of global warming.

One of the first things you notice about this film is the cast. I have to admit, it is probably not the cast I would have picked, but that said, I would have been wrong. The casting works well and I wouldn’t change any of them. Behind the scenes, there is some discussion about The Weinstein Company taking out about 20 minutes of the film to suit western viewers. The movie is based on a French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”.

The film opens in the train, but with a narration giving us the history of the efforts to stop global warming which ultimately resulted in the destruction of civilisation by virtue of the CW7 working too well and forcing the world in to an ice age. We quickly learn that those on the train have been on it for 17 years, entirely self-contained. Life is dystopian for many and carefully managed and controlled overall. The train itself is a huge affair purposefully built by an eccentric transport mogul who had no confidence in the CW7 solution so he built a special train which linked in to the world’s rail transport system and provided a place of refuge for the select few, constantly travelling around the world, never stopping.

Never stopping has a price. In order to keep the train moving the passengers are carefully ordered. First class, standard and economy. We learn about the workings of the train and its society from the huddled masses in economy. As bad as conditions are, we are told they are “the lucky ones” as they got on the train and are still alive. For seventeen years these people have been in the windowless back carriages at the tail of the train. Things are not good. People are huddled in to any corner they can find. The background is explained to us through the eyes of those trapped in the back. There have been up-risings in the past, all of which have failed. One of the key aspects of the uprisings is getting out to the armoured carriages in to the next carriages on the train. The people are fed a stable diet of protein pars to keep them alive. The protein bars are provided by the “Train” We also notice that although these third class passengers are in rags there is a fully uniformed security force and also train crew.

Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014) plays the part of Curtis, he is the leader of the would-be rebellion. He must decide when to act and how to. Key to their plan is rescuing Namgoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song, The Host, 2013) who is the security expert who designed the security systems for the train, keeping the carriages separate. The only problem is that he is a drug addled prisoner in the train’s prison carriage. Curtis together with his Lieutenants; Edgar, his second in command (Jamie Bell, Man on a Ledge, 2012)) sporting a strangely passible Irish accent who is the no-patience action man; and Gilliam, the older sage, respected by all and carrying the wounds of previous encounters. Discipline is savage, beatings are regular and extreme, often involving loss of limbs. Other rebellions have failed, they have looked at why and hopefully have a plan to overcome these issues.   In to the mix of this we see the “overlords” using these third-class passengers as nothing more than a resource to be taken from.

At one scene we see one person taken t the front of the train to provide musical entertainment for the upper classes. We later see him and others who have been taken, their minds’ washed to be compliant and subservient. Meanwhile children are being taken to the front and nobody knows why.

Authority on the train is in the person of Minister Monroe (Thilda Swinton, Adaptation, 2002) who is the voice of authority, endlessly engaging in a passive aggressive dominance over those in third class.   Eventually when they notice that the guards on the carriage actually have no ammunition in their weapons, the passengers rise-up. Using weapons and tools they made, they make their attack, first to the jail carriage where they rescue the security expert and his girlfriend. Using their skills they move forward first past the prison carriage, then they take the food and water carriages, revealing some of the nasty truths involved in life on the train. After a series of often bloody battles, against firstly the guards, then axe yielding black clad figures to then more armed guard and some very nasty people along the way. Eventually they make their way forward, glimpsing along the way how the rest of the upper-class passengers live. Ultimately they arrive at the Front, and meet Mr Wilford (Ed Harris, the Way Back 2010). Here talking with Wilford they rebels get an idea of just how perverted life has become on the train.

We are told as the film progresses that the key to survival is balance. There is plenty of food (for the privileged) the key is balancing the demands with supply at the right times and seasons. This even stretches to the punishment of the third class passengers, it is calculated that 74% must die. We have become used to video games producing tie-in movies, however this is a movie which almost feels like a video game despite not having one at its origin. Each Carriage is essentially a new level with new associated challenges for the rebels to overcome.

This movie could have been too busy, with so much cramped in to so tight a space, both physically and emotionally, but the characterisation works, Evans’ Curtis is very underplayed, what we know of him comes from revealing moments as the movie progresses, to ultimately a character we have confidence in as a leader. Swinton’s Monroe is a nasty piece of work showing nothing but disdain for the passengers through her passive aggressive control. We see just how lose control is later on as she is used to lead the rebels through the train. Those upper class people they pass are largely disgusted by what they see, interrupting their on-going lives. The food shortages present further back are not seen here.

The only obvious weakness that presents itself, is a slight continuity issue; where having established that the guards are out of ammunition we later see a full use of ammunition as the rebellion gathers pace, perhaps it is rationed to certain areas. The other slight weakness is the issue of blockages on the line, is it only now that these are causing problems, are they normal with the rebellion deflecting away from essential management of them?

When we eventually meet Wilford, having already gotten a background on him we see a person who is immediately comparable to “Christof” the show’s producer and “God-like” character. We see the same calm omnipotence here. There Characters are perhaps a little too similar, given the respective plots. Very smartly we are shown not just his power but also how fragile it all is, perhaps his character is more comparable to The Wizard from The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan). His power is based on what people think of him. Minister Monroe’s character shows us how the train’s front has almost taken on a mystical, even religious aspect, with Wilford being almost worshipped.

That said, this is an excellent movie with an excellent cast, Evans, gives one of his best roles, Swinton is almost unrecognisable, Bell and Hurt support magnificently. It should be pointed out that even additional supporting cast duties are taken up by well-known character-actors more than capable of supplying what is needed.

In the last scenes we see a polar bear; does this signify freedom, danger or the sub-text that the bear looks fed and, if it is fed, there is life of some sort, where there is life; there is hope. As viewers, Bong, quite deliberately allowed us to get to know those people surviving at the back of the train and what they have to endure, are we allowed to hope for their future.

The Imitation Game


In the interests of full disclosure, Alan Turing has been a hero of mine ever since college. This movie focuses primarily on the events surrounding Project Ultra and the breaking of the Enigma machine code. This film can be watched in isolation without knowing much about the great man, but knowing anything about him greatly adds to the movie. Alan Turing was not an easy man to work with due to his character, but by all accounts a person who could be worked with, once you got to know him.
The subject of this film was a state secret until the 1970’s and it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that his work here was fully appreciated. The title of the movie is taken from one of his pre-war papers on machine intelligence. I should at this stage point out that Alan Turing is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Computing, bio-mathematics and is credited with building the first machine that we today would consider a computer. His untimely death at the age of 41 has left the world wondering what more could he have achieved.
The cast is first-class and lead by Benedict Cumberbatch (August Osage County, 2013), who plays a powerful Turing, even down to the cheekbones. Cumberbatch through his Sherlock has proven to be an actor capable of pulling off the most complex characterisations. The difficulty with Turing is that he is a real person, with mannerisms remembered by people so no room for movement. This is also seen in how the movie treats history itself.
Credit must be given to the Director Morten Tyldum (Head Hunters 2012) and writers Andrew Hodges (the book) and Graham Moore (screenplay) for managing even if only by reference to place other factors in to the movie. We see the work of the Polish Scientist of the 1920s in breaking an earlier version being used as inspiration. Even to the end we can see posters and sketches on his wall at home which relate to the pioneering work he did on the mathematical theory of embryology.
Keira Knightly (London Boulevard, 2010) give a bravura performance of the hard put-upon Joan Clarke, the only woman in the group – who had to be kept secret and apart from the rest of the all-male group. Indeed the movie also handles well the undercurrent of prejudices and morals which prevailed at that time. She manages to play perfectly against his character, the two of them working well together. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, 2011-2015 plays the part of Commander Denniston, the officer in charge of Bletchley Park and the person who has to fight against Turing. The humour of the situation is seen in one of the run-ins Turing and Denniston have; asked who was the Commander’s commanding officer, Denniston replies “Churchill”, Turing promptly contacts him to argue his case.
Matthew Goode plays Hugh Alexander, the man who was originally to lead the decryption efforts, but was replaced by Turing, here we see the personalities at work and how they can come together. The use of Mark Strong (Robin Hood, 2010) as the MI6 officer overseeing the activities is an interesting dramatic trick as it allows us to place the Ultra efforts within the overall theatre of war. There are emotional scenes when the team realise they cannot warn potential victims of what they found, because it would give away their secret, this has been an interesting ethics question for many years and nicely and succinctly done here.
We know the story, so there is no need to go through the plot. The story of Turing’s personal life is largely told through flashbacks and flash-forwards to when he is being investigated. If I have a tiny criticism it is how they try to make out that the arrest originated from the police wondering what he had to hide, given his blank (deliberately emptied) war record, was he another of those Communist spies? This movie showed the scientific and technical brilliance of Turing, giving the audience just enough of the technical knowledge necessary (judging by the age profile of the cinema audience where I saw it, I suspect most of the audience was already very familiar with the technicalities).

Overall an affecting movie which despite what might be considered by some (not me) to be a rather boring subject matter, you will be swept up in the progress of the film, you will get to know the characters and you will wait to see the machine working.
The campaign to pardon Turing and have him take his place in history has been active for many years, this hopefully will go some way to giving the great man the recognition he deserves.

A good, fast-flowing movie that cleverly gives the audience a look at these historic events and people without flooding us with technicality. This shows the top-secret work of a small group of people, perhaps never really expected to succeed, and certainly not achieve what they did. Excellent movie. 8/10

The Drop

Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, Enough Said, 2013), runs a neighbourhood bar, which he used to own until about 10 years previous, when the Chechen mob took it from him. He is aided in running the bar with his cousin Bob ( Tom Hardy, Locke, 2014) who is calm quiet individual, who might be taken for being slow of the mark, but may not be a quiet as he seems. The bar is a mob “drop” bar where once selected for a given night, is the drop point for mob bookies through the city. One particular night, with no special drops, the bar is raided and about $5K stolen. As a result of a head injury to one of the staff, an ambulance is called and so the police. Bob let’s slip that one of the robbers had a broken watch, this turns out to be a vital clue. The detective, Torres (John Ortiz, Fast and Furious, 2006) who is assigned the case turns out to be a regular mass goer in the same church as Bob. Being a detective, he has noticed Bob never takes Communion, he asks Bob about this, but gets no answer, is there something deep and dark in Bob’s past?

As he is dealing with the fall-out from the robbery, he comes across an abandoned and injured puppy in a woman’s rubbish bin, through rescuing the puppy, he gets to know the woman in question, with a delicate fledgling relationship begins. Before it can develop, things take a negative turn. It turns out the puppy was owned by a local thug, Eric Deeds, (Blood Ties, 2013) who also happens to be the ex-boyfriend of the woman in question, Nadia (Noomi Rapace, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, 2009). Deeds has been recently released from prison/psychiatric hospital and is widely believed to have cold-bloodily killed a former gang leader and general all-round nasty thug some years ago, this belief has given Deeds a reputation he is happy to live up to.

It soon becomes clear that there was something more behind the robbery, Bob tries to steer a straight line, surviving by keeping his head down, minding his own business and doing nothing to annoy the Chechens.

At first glance we see parallels to the character Hardy played in Lawless (2012) in both cases we see a man getting on with life, quiet and thoughtful, a thinker.   Hardy is to be acknowledged as playing two similar roles but managing to give completely different characters; Forrest was confident and sure is what he was doing, he did not speak because he did not need to. Bob on the other hand comes across as a man not so sure of himself, even taking on the “Responsibility” of the puppy is a matter of concern for him.

AS the plot develops and pressure starts to mount, we learn there is to be an added complication; the bar is to be the drop bar for the mob on Super-bowl night, the biggest money night of the year. Will it be robbed again? One of the original thieves was found and executed with the money returned. However our friend Deeds is involved somehow. As the situation develops, Bob takes precautions to first and foremost protect himself. The night of the big match arrives, and things get complicated, caught up between Deeds, Nadia who is forced there by the more and more deranged Deeds needs to be protected and against all of this is the underlying threat to his dog, which he is not taking lightly. The night unfolds with nothing going to plan. Secrets are revealed, and justice meted out, but to whom.

Hardy is the star of the show, once again transforming himself to the role, Gandolfini plays to his type (excellently, as was his way).

It is a firm 3 star show, nothing overly wrong with it, a lot right with it, but just missing that little extra to make it stand out. Also the role of Detective Torres role comes across as under played. Yes the detective put “two and two “ together to realise the secret of an old mystery and yes he develops a relationship with Hardy but it seems almost like an add-on, maybe suffering a little in editing. There is a certain something missing for some of the film, but noting serious.

Atmospheric and well set, it will keep you entertained. Written by David Lehane (Mystic River, 2003) we can see how Lehane again is able to use the edginess of the situation to move along the story and give a sense of menace to the background which does not need to be overly stated.

The Grand Seduction

This is one of those movies that allows you to just sit back and enjoy it. The plot is straight forward a small fishing harbour in Newfoundland is dying, there are only about 120 people left in the harbour (it is not a village!) and they need to do something about it. That something hinges on there being a doctor in the harbour community.

In the middle of all this is Murray French, (Brendan Gleeson) one of the locals who lives his life in the harbour, like all the other men of the village, he is on the social welfare. The routine of welfare payments and cheque cashing punctuates the life of the town. As it happens a petrochemical reprocessing plant is looking to open, but has not selected a site yet. The towns-folk need to act fast. The latest person to leave is the mayor. In the absence of the mayor, Murray steps in and becomes town mayor, assisted by Simon (Gordon Pinsent, Beachcombers 1975-1978) a neighbour who fully understands what needs to be done and Henry Tilley, (Mark Critch, Republic of Doyle, 2010-2014) who is the local bank manager/clerk, who is very conscious of being only one step away of being replaced by an ATM. The big stumbling blocks are the need to have a resident doctor in the Harbour and the $100K “personal assurances” that the head of the petrochemical company wants. It to the mix is Murray’s view of ethics, he’s very much a “end-justifies

What follows is the discovery of a doctor, who might be persuaded to stay for a month and then possibly longer. Sound familiar? I could be cruel and say this movie is largely unoriginal simply throwing a fresh twist on a plot that has been done excellently a number of times previously. Not least of all, the Gold standard for any such comedy: Whisky Galore, (1949, Alexander Mackendrick) where we see the village come together to plunder a ship full of whisky which has come ashore. The more immediate comparison would be with Doc Hollywood (1991, Michael Caton-Jones) where our hero is sentenced to work in the town as a doctor for a short while following a minor car accident. As with This movie, our hero (Michael J Fox, Back to the Future, 1985). There is also one particular sequence where they are trying to “inflate” the harbour’s population, that reminded me of Ward Bond’s call in The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1952) for his parishioners to shout like good Protestants, as the Anglican Bishop was passing through (to save the Anglican Minister’s parish by having the Bishop think it is somewhat larger than it is).

So, you may be tempted to say we’ve seen it all before. That would be a mistake. What we have here is first class situational comedy. Taylor Kitsch (John Carter 2012) plays Dr Lewis, the up and coming young plastic surgeon whose career has hit a pump by being found with cocaine – as it happens by the former mayor, now working as a customs official, he has an idea!

With that, the town begins to tidy itself up so as to make it look like a place he would want to stay. What follows is a series of rolling jokes like the cliff-top cricket match, the phone monitoring and a dozen other standing jokes. Which all combine to make this a very entertaining movie with gags for all of the family.

What makes this movie work is a concentration on the senses, Director Don McKellar (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 2010) uses Douglas Koch’s cinematography to its fullest capturing the rugged beauty of the location and of the Harbour, the richness of colour adds to the positive nature of this movie. As well as the visuals, the script itself is razor sharp, much to the credit of Michael Dowse and Ken Scott. Whether or not this is a good thing, the sound track supporting the movie also got itself noticed and favourably.

Sit back and enjoy a light-hearted situational comedy which will leave you feeling as if the world is not all that bad. I’m not going to go through the movie gag-by-gag, but suffice it to say this is a tightly directed ensemble production which works well on every level. Before I finish, in case you think I forgot it, yes there are parallels with the Bill Forsyth’s 1983 classic “Local Hero”, in both cases the movie sets out simply to entertain, and it both cases they did perfectly.

I was tempted to give this a perfect score, I have not laughed with a movie as I did with The Grand seduction in a long time. Nothing is perfect so 9/10.

Upstream Color

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is more of a visual art-work than an entertainment movie. It was written and directed by Shane Carruth (Primer 2004) who also stars in the co-lead role of Jeff. Treating it as a movie I would classify it as a sci-fi romance, but only barely just. We are given glimpses of information that may or may not add to the plot. The first thing to say, is that you cannot watch this movie like an ordinary cinema offering hoping to do nothing more than entertain. Upstream is a story, visually as well as through words, It might take more than one watching to fully appreciate the movie. Throughout the movie there are a number of visual clues and prompts placed in to the scenes, if noticed/seen they add to the understanding plot and the movie.

This movie is about the unseen powers directing us, including the power of attraction. Does the power of attraction take over a couple and their perception of the world outside? Do their experiences together begin to merge into one shared history? Once of the key characters is a young lady called Kris (Amy Seimetz, The Sacrament, 2013). She is kidnapped and forced to consume mid-altering/controlling bugs (more maggots), these may be associated with a particular plant, though the scenes with the plant may be out of time sequence. She is held in her apartment where her kidnapped sets her to do a number of tedious meaningless tasks over and over, once he is happy she is truly under his control, he manipulates here into going to the bank and essentially giving him everything, done to her house. This and the various other acts, ruin her life, these are actions she has no memory of, but must live with the consequences.

As if life had not already thrown enough curb-balls at her, she now finds herself linked to a man called Jeff (Carruth), their paths cross a number of times and they begin a relationship, there is something wrong, deep down both know this but cannot identify what. There is a link, for some reason they can share the same childhood stories, she is able to correct a detail in a story of his childhood he is telling, after a number of events such as this, they bring the issue to a head. Kris confronts Jeff wanting to know why he is confusing his memories with hers, or is he?

To further complicate things, we come across a man who is playing strange sound clips (taken from everyday life) into the ground. He has what looks like an isolated pig farm, he also grows maggots, the same maggots Kris has inside her. Through the sounds Kris eventually ends up at the farm where he transfers the maggots from Kris to one of his pigs. Again here we begin to see attraction between two of the pigs. We also see a connection to a plant, does it have a toxin, what is the importance of the colour blue?

You will probably have to watch, emphasis on “Watch” this movie a couple of times to get all of the visual clues from it. I would like to tell you the plot, but I would have to know what it was first. This is a close to unique movie, it is not for the lazy viewer. Give it the attention it deserves and you will enjoy it. If you are the type to enjoy a mug of cocoa or some pop-corn with your movies, make sure you have them before you sit down, because this is not the movie you can simply watch in the background. To write any more would just be added guesswork, this movie is visually appealing, tightly scripted and is either:

0/10 – if you get worked up by the complexity, or

9/10 – if you don’t get all worked up by the complexity.