Beaufort

Some war movies depend on epic vistas, massive armies and battle scenes that would test the best CGI people, while others are somewhat more down beat, tight and personal, Beaufort is one of them. From the opening acts we see people trying to make the best out of a bad situation. Joseph Cedar’s 2007 work does not come across as a war glorification or justification piece, it is a story about some young men and women in a war setting. Based on the novel by Ron Leshman, Cedar wrote the screen play. It is smartly done, after 18 years of ensuring Hezbollah did not blow up the fort, it is now their last act to be done. Before they can leave the fort and destroy it, they must first actually safely leave the fort. This is not as easy as it seems as they are in effect the rear-guard of the Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. There is also the added issue of the road-side explosives which will prevent them from leaving.

Young officer Commander (Lieutenant) Liraz (Oshri Cohen , Lebanon, 2009) is the person in charge. While his troops respect him there is still tension, not least of all from the visiting senior officers who do not seem to consider or understand their situation. 18 years previously Israeli forces took Mount Beaufort, as much out of bravado as anything else, faced with the crusader fort now in their hands they had to keep it, what we see are the last troops preparing to leave. To leave they must make the road safe and that is the responsibility of bomb disposal expert Ziv (Ohad Knoller, Yossi and Jagger, 2002). The tension between the bomb disposal officer and the troops mirrors the overall tension – they want to get out, but get out alive.

The setting contrasts the decrepit and often claustrophobic nature of the camp. Inside we see tunnels, corners, sparse but effective rooms and resources which contrast with the picturesque beauty of their mountain setting. In deed we hear that the ancient castle is a type of “No-man’s land” where an easy peace exists, as much out of a sense of reverence and history for the place as well as anything else. The Camp often takes on the air of a space-craft with the long angled tunnels or corridors it almost a cross between a 25th century space ship and a WWI trench.   It is an ensemble piece crafted to bring together a world of different people all trying to survive their common situation but each in their own way. It is a war movie but not one which requires constant bloody action to keep us engaged, as I mentioned this is more about the people, much like Das Boot (Wolfgang Peterson, 1981), indeed we see some of the same claustrophobia and witness some of the tension between the ordinary officers and the political or staff officers.

As the film moves to its logical conclusion we are kept from achieving that end until Cedar says so, it is a full story and if you are not familiar with the works of Joseph Cedar, this is a good place to start. To his credit the movie side-steps the mine field that is the real political situation which gives place to the movie. This is not a political movie in a small ‘p’ sense of the word, the Arab, Israeli situation is kept to a minimum, however we are shown some of the many ways the larger conflict has impacted the young soldiers. Death hangs over everybody on the mountain, we are left in no illusions about that, a fact that adds to the tension of what we see, at any stage any of the troops can die. Life is at the disposal of others, either those bombing them or their senior leadership.

I Origins

This film looks to the old idea of the eyes being the windows to the soul, something which pre-scores evolution. Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, Seven Psychopaths, 2012) is a post-doctorate researcher fascinated with the human eye. He is enthralled by eyes both from the perspective of the aesthetic ( he has a collection of hundreds of photographs he has taken of people’s faces and particularly their eyes) and their evolutionary importance; something which he is convinced science has over-looked. In to this mix comes a young woman who he meets at a party (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Juliette, Juliette, 2013) who he becomes smitten with. Not knowing who she is, he tries to find her, only to “discover her” from a series of numbers as he bought a lottery ticket at 11.11 on the 11th on a road where the number 11 bus passes etc. He follows the clues and eventually meets her.

In parallel to this he also acquires a new first year lab research student, who he initially dismisses as another air-head whose work he will pass if she just stays away from the lab, however it soon becomes apparent that she does actually know something about the work he is doing. From here on Ian’s life seems to move in Parallel, just as him home life is progressing so too are his professional efforts. The team are looking a genetic marker that will change the way we look at evolution, however it is a long-shot and likely to take years. Just as his career is looking to the long view, his relationship is proceeding quickly.

Then one fateful day, news comes through that they have found a candidate animal which has the gene but no eyes – exactly what is needed. Now they should be able to genetically build an eye in to this animal, a genetically perfect one. His joy here is quickly removed as Sophie is killed in an accident. Here is perhaps the weakest moment for in the midst of his grief he turns to his assistant and they begin a relationship which immediately jumps 7 years to where there are married and about to have their first child. There was perhaps just a little too much speed there.

Married and now with a young son, all is good until one day they get a call asking them to attend a clinic with their son as he might be showing indicators of autism. They bring the child to be tested only to realise that the test is not for autism but some kind of memory test. Memory of a past life. The researcher believes the child may have the memories of somebody who died previously. The trouble is, this is not a million miles from Ian’s own research. This gets him asking questions.

Although always seeing himself as a rational scientist, his objective belief system starts to take a beating. Using his knowledge of the human eyes together with his database access, they quickly see a pattern emerging. Something that should not have happened. Different people around the world, such as his dead former girl-friend, Sofi share certain characteristics, but none of these people are ever alive at the same time.

In many ways this film is like “Upstream Color” (Shane Carruth, 2013) both movies are for us to work at. We are brought along but not given too much help. In ?Upstream Color we are given almost no help, here there is enough to keep us from having to struggle too much, while at the same time have us wanting more.

This is a smartly directly movie, which does not strain itself beyond its capabilities, it is very watchable and a lot less taxing than Upstream Color.

Housebound

Ah, yes, you can always trust the New Zealanders to do the right thing. Housebound is one of those rare events; a comedy horror movie which actually delivers on all fronts. We start off at a bank, where our star Kylie and her boyfriend are failing miserably to rob an ATM. The court later sentences her to 8 months home detention. And so she arrives home to her Mother’s house far out from her city life. As it happens the security guard, Amos, (Glen-Paul Waruto) monitor her is a local, something that proves useful.   As she begins to settle in, or not settle in she also has to talk with Denis, her court appointed counsellor , yet another annoyance.   One of her biggest annoyances is her mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata, Sons and Daughters, 1982) Miriam runs an ordered house along with her second husband, Graeme (Ross Harper, The devil Dared me to, 2007) and both “lazy” daughter and “uptight “ mother are having to come to terms with each other.

In to this mix is her mother’s belief that the house is haunted, she accepts this as a fact and is not too bothered by it, by standards. Kylie is having none of this nonsense, or at least nothing until she notices some strange sounds and happenings. Through the usual disasters Amos is brought in and together they eventually go ghost hunting.

What they find is a mystery which might involve a young girl who died many years ago when the house was a care-home, maybe she is the disturbance, or is it the strange boy/man who used to live next door, the same boy nobody has seen for over 10 years.

Kylie is now convinced there is something in the house, there is, and on one particular night when Denis and her doctor are present, there is an attack, Denis is injured and taken away to hospital.

Kylie and Amos try to find out what happened, as they do the mystery deepens – but here is the important part, never overly darkens.

This is not a big movie with a huge story line, loads of sets and special effects, no it is a simple ghost story type movie told well and with a sense of humour. The sense of humour is important, it is excellently carried through without changing the essential nature of the movie or taking away from the suspense.

I’m deliberately not giving too much away. The cast is typically understated and calm as is with many of the ANZAC offerings, the suspense works and the story never gives too much away before it needs to. You will sit down and enjoy this film. It is good old-fashioned fun, with perhaps a subtle message about appreciating what we have and not rushing to judgement.

7/10 purely because it kept me entertained without having to get too bloody or too silly.

The Congress

This movie starts off on a fairly standard note, there is little in the first part of the movie to suggest how Ari Folman’s (Waltz with Bashir, 2008) direction would go. The movie is based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem using Folman’s screenplay.

The movie starts in the family home of a gracefully aging movie star being lectured to by her agent, Al, (Harvey Keitel, The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014). She has been essentially side-lined by the industry because of how hard she is to work with, however the studio have an offer for her. Against this background we learn she has two children, both mid to late teens and one of them, her son Aaron is suffering from an ailment which will eventually cause him to be both deaf and blind but in the meantime he is fascinated by flying and his kites.

After much persuasion from Al she eventually agrees to meet with the studio boss, Jeff Green (Danny Huston, Masters of sex, 2014) who informs her that there is a fundamental way in which the studios are working and that essentially actors and actresses are no longer needed. He makes her an offer she cannot refuse, but true to form she does and needs to be convinced of it. She eventually agrees but puts in some conditions, not least of all, that the “life” time-span of the contract would be 20 years, if they wanted it again it would need to be renewed. The studio will take a digital image of her and use that for making movies, she just needs to retire and not act – anywhere in the world.

We then see Robin in her early 60’s arriving at the gates of Miramount Studio’s animated City. We are not told what this is until we get there. At this stage the film turns to animation of a style reminiscent of Waltz with Bashir and more than subtle homage to the Japanese. It seems everybody is now taking a drug which allows them to essentially be who they imagine themselves to be. She arrives at a convention as a guest of the studio, only to discover she is the 6th Robin Wright to book-in. The hotel is a frenzied mix of studio executive types and other strung out and visibly the worse for wear. Nobody is who they seem, the drug takes care of that. The entire hotel and convention scene is one of bacchanalian and hedonistic partying, perhaps reminiscent of the scenes from an imagined world’s ending. It turns out it might be.

The new contract is needed because it turns out that the technology of 20years ago is no old hat and the new contracted is needed, now Robin Wright will be a sensation – a sensual sensation rather than just an image. She agree and goes to the launch where she rails against the studio machine and is promptly removed, but as this happens there is a revolution of sorts at the hotel. In the middle of this revolution the studio police come after her and the execution scene is straight from Paths to Glory, (Stanley Kubrick, 1957). After this we see how she is in fact suffering from a type of drug induced poisoning which dooms her to life in this alternative reality. She is put in to a sleep with the hope of waking her up once a cure is found. She is woken and advised to stay in this world but goes back to the old world where she quickly sees reality. It is not a good place. The world she left behind has changed, freedoms are removed, society has fallen victim to the drug, there are now two types of people – the “management” who are not on the drug and everybody else whose lives are controlled by it.

Part live action part animation this movie looks at a number of issues and how they affect not just Hollywood. Do we recognise when we have it good, how much of what is around us is illusion and what is reality. How do we know the difference and how do we make it happen?

This is a slightly challenging film to watch, mainly because it does actually challenge you to listen, watch and experience the movie.

6.5/10 this a better than average film, not perfect, but given the experimental nature of this work it stands up well and provides a very entertaining piece of work that does leave you asking questions.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The last of the Hobbit trilogy and the ending of the Lord of The Rings epic cinema journey that started half a generation ago. I will dispense with the usual description of a back-story just to say that this film takes up where the last finished, exactly. One of the more painful initiatives of Hollywood studios in the last few years is the introduction of a two-part film offering. Not only have we had to work through various trilogies, but we are now having “Concluding Film Part 1” , part 2, etc. With these movies I think we got a compromise. The Hobbit is a much shorter book, with in many ways a far less complex story-line.

I enjoyed, but was not a fanatical follower of the original trilogy and also to an extent these current Hobbit movies. Indeed I felt there was something lacking in the original cinema releases which needed the Director’s cuts to improve. When I bought the DVD’s for the first three films I made no bones about using the fast-forward button at certain times to move past what seemed like story filler. Indeed you got a sense of Epic when watching the first three movies. With This Hobbit series, the lack of additional storyline showed with a much tighter production.

And so I come to “The Battle of the Five Armies”. Some purists consider this movie as essentially “filer” with all of the key elements of the story having been covered in the previous offerings. Such is cinema, that often a “footnote” in a book can turn in to the major element of a movie, and so it was with the five Armies.

The movie, opens quickly with Smaug having been woken and stirred from the mountain, now attacking Lake Town with the Master (Stephen Fry, Ros na Rún, 2011) firmly focused on ensuring the town’s gold escapes under his care while Bard (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, 2014) struggles to escape from jail. He does and eventually manages to Kill Smaug. I have to say the Smaug slaying scene reminded me of the writing of Sir Terry Pratchett, in one of his earlier books the men of the night Watch have to shoot down a dragon but must first ensure it is a “million-to-one” shot as they are the only ones that work.

Once Smaug is dead, the scene is quickly set for what is to come. It is made clear to all that now that Smaug is no longer protecting the mountain. There will be a number of people laying claim to the mountain and its contents. Faced with the growing popularity of the mountain and the associated military build-up outside Thorin Oakenshield begins to suffer the same fate as Smaug, falling completely under the spell of the gold, in a manner that closely resembles the power of the original Gold Rings.

From here on the film works to serve the main title. As we see the armies build up. I did find myself counting the armies to who were all five. One thing that is noteworthy is that the epic nature of the earlier movies is not there to the same extent. An example of this is the army brought to the mountain by Thorin’c cousin, Dain (Billy Connolly, Brave 2012), not only does he bring some much appreciated dwarfish humour but his army is clearly limited, we can see from one flank to the other, likewise with the elves, there is an obvious limit to resources. Gone is the vast scale of the previous battle scenes.

This difference actually works. When I heard that the climax to the film/series was a 45 minute battle scene my heart sank, however, it was, as ever, nicely done and nowhere as intense as in the first trilogy.

Overall this and its companion two movies are, or at least feel, shorter than the previous offerings, not in terms of actual screen time but in how they feel. The editing is so sharp the movie almost feels episodic in parts, I could nearly predict a scene ending so that we could jump to elsewhere in the story.

Overall I preferred these films to the earlier set. The cast is well mixed from the series stalwarts such as Legolas (Olrando Bloom, Romeo & Juliet , 2014) to Kili (Aidan Turner, Being Human, 2009). As sequels go they work far better than Star Wars Ep’s IV-VI (granted, I thought they were not as bad as other said they were). Here they did not need to create a new legend and back-story, we already knew it. However it could be argued that certain elements were need to fall into place to position the original LofTR’s films, this is perhaps best seen when Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, 2013), Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving, Cloud Atlas, 2012) and Saruman (Christopher Lee, Dark Shadows, 2012) fight the Wraith Kings to save Gandalf (Ian McKellen), we see after the fight a glint in Saruman’s eyes as to what the future holds, but that is the only clue, one look into his eyes.

The plot is as simple as ever – Good guys on a mission, need to face their own issues as well as the world ganging up on them, while the world around them is getting ready for an Armageddon scale battle, just to complicate things. However faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, they still manage to overcome everything and as usual the series ends with the necessary Hobbit quota returning to the Shire. One final word to Martin Freeman (Sherlock, 2010) who gives us a fantastic Bilbo Baggins who manages to keep us with him the entire way along (I could have quite happily edited out a number of Hobbit (the people not the movie) related scenes out of the original LofTR, but that’s just me.

Sharp and well assembled this film works on its own as well as part of the famous series. Certainly work some free time over the vacation period.

Run Lola Run

Sometimes life has a habit of catching up with us and throwing a curve-ball we could have done without. This is what happened Lola (Franka Potente, Blow, 2001) one morning. A life hangs in the balance. Directed by Tom Tykwer (Cloud Atlas, 2012). The film is broken into a number of parts, there is the first “Act” which sets the story and then three “runs” which are the same scenario played back but slightly differently each time. Each run looks at the impact of actions on individuals giving us a number of flash-forwards.

The problem is Lola’s boyfriend, Manni, (Moritz Bleibtreu, Das Experiment, 2001) who can best be described as a petty criminal, has 100,000 DM which he has to get to his”boss” following a series of car transactions, cross border smuggling and diamonds. Sounds easy enough, he would use Lola’s scooted to deliver the money. , or at least it was. We learn from the opening call that Manni was waiting for Lola but she never turned-up, her scooter was stolen, as a result he had to use the metro to get the money delivered. The problem is, he lost the money on the train while he was heading to drop-off it off after he panicked and left it behind him after he saw two security guards. A tramp on the train finds the money. He must have the money or else he is a dead man.

Desperate for help he rings Lola, he has about 20 minutes before his boss, Ronnie turns-up looking for his money and most likely kills Manni for not having the money. He blames Lola’s failure with the scooter as the cause and essentially loses the plot repeatedly blaming her until she tells him to stop and that she has a plan to get the money to him within 20minutes. He has a plan also, rob a convenient supermarket. Lola disagrees and asks him to wait, she has a she is going to ask her father who is a bank manager.

This is where the film starts to earn its stripes. The first run scenario kicks-off with a carton sequence of Lola running to get to the bank. As she passes various people such as the lady with the child in the pram, we discover that these people also have stories, stories which are sometimes influenced by events during the day. The woman later steals a baby after losing her own. Then there is the man who offers to sell his bicycle, we later see him being robbed off his bike, but all ends well for him as he marries a nurse who took care of him. As this is going on we see her father (Herbert Knaup, The lives of Others, 2006) in his office having a heated discussion with another woman. When Lola gets there , after literally bumping into one bank clerke and showing us her future history, she asks her father for the money, he says no. To add to her troubles he announces to her that he is leaving her mother to marry another woman and also that he is actually not her father. Leaving him she runs to the supermarket, Manni is about to raid the place, she joins him but in the trouble that follows is shot. Shouting “Stop” the run ends.

The second run starts with the original phone call. Repeating the run, she passes the woman with the pram, this time round she wins the Lottery,, while the cyclist is a drug addicted bum. Getting to the bang, her father is arguing with the woman saying he cannot leave, she tells Lola not to interfere, the argument expands and Lola leaves running in to a security guard. She takes his gun and holds up her father, forcing him to get cash out of the bank. After a number of delays the bank is surrounded, but it turns out the police think the bank is being robbed by somebody else. She gets to Manni, but this time he is knocked down by an ambulance as he goes to rob the store. They talk about what she would do if he died, but he is not dead yet.

The third run starts as with the others. This time she avoids the woman, who in this reality goes on to have a religious experience. The guy with the bicycle this time stops at a sausage stand, and who is there only the original bum from the train who offers to buy him a drink, telling him how strange things can happen. As Lola runs to the bank she hits into a car owned by a colleague of her father’s. This time her father and the other woman are discussing the possibility of children. As Lola gets there she see her father drive off with his colleague, desperate she goes into a casino and actually wins the money she needs. Meanwhile Manni actually sees the tramp cycle past him, he chases the tramp and manages to get the money from him by pointing a gun to his face, the tramp gives him the money and asks for the gun, which Manni gives him.   Lola eventually arrives, worried that Manni is not there she looks around, seeing him getting out of the car with his boss, all happy. Walking away Manni asks here is everything was okay…

This movie not only asks “What if?” but also tries to answer it. A first class film which stands the test of time