Sunday, 28 July 2013

Lovely, still

When the lead actors in a film are Oscar winners Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, you know this is going to be a film worth engaging with. The question is, what return will you get on your investment?

I guess there are two ways to watch this film. A way that gets it and a way that doesn't. If you watch this film and don't get it then you will be left feeling robbed and cheated and that you have just wasted 88 minutes watching a schmaltzy tale of two older folk going on a first date. If you do get it, you will applaud Director Nicholas Fackler (only 23 when he made this!) for his creativity, genius and gentle and affecting way in which he handles the subject. You'll want to watch it a second time to be able to read the story with the benefit of the hindsight that the ending brings.


For most of the story (first 75 minutes) it appears to be a soppy and sentimental tale of two folk in older life finding love for the first time. The fact that the story is set just before Christmas and each shot is filled with twinkling lights and seasonal songs, adds to the schmaltziness and ramps up the investment of emotional capital that watching this film requires of the viewer.

Landau plays Robert Malone, an older man with a set daily routine who lives on his own and 'works' in the local supermarket. He is plagued, or even haunted by dreams depicted as ghostly dendrons and synapses attempting to link and create memories of an earlier, happier time. In the store all we see him doing is drawing on a notepad at a table and then offering the store manager Mike (Adam Scott) advice on various aspects of the retail trade. Robert seems as bemused as the Manager by the process. Sometimes Robert appears more lucid than others.

Having gone off to work and left his front door wide open, he returns to find Mary (Burstyn) in the house. She has just moved in opposite to live with her daughter Alex (Elizabeth Banks) and seeing his car impaling the garage door, claims she was just checking that he was okay. He reacts angrily and asks her to leave but he clams down and she asks him to take her out on a date. After hesitating Robert agrees and over the intervening 24 hours suffers the highs and lows of angst that any inexperienced teen anticipating a date experiences. This time it is Robert who seeks advice from Mike.

The date happens and is a success and over the course the next few days the couple spend more time together and grow closer together. As Robert crosses off the days on his calendar we often cut to Mary anxiously clutching a bottle of pills and counting them out - presumably to see if she has enough to get through the holiday season. Then one evening she accidentally drops them into a sink with a running tap and they disappear down the drain. She tries to get a replacement prescription but can't without a Doctor's authorisation - and the holidays have started. So begins a deterioration in Robert's behaviour, confidence and level of lucidity.

The pills were Robert's - he is battling Alzheimer's. Mary is his wife, Mike and Alex his children and Robert was the founder and original manager of the store which his son now runs and where he goes to spend each day as it is a familiar and safe place. Mary had moved in with Alex because it was getting too difficult to manage and the family didn't want to place Robert in a 'home'. With the medication and a renewed relationship, all had hoped that Robert might be winning the battle. Sadly Alzheimer's is a pernicious and obdurate adversary.

I've left some of the ending untold so there are still one or two twists for you to experience. This is a very clever film that deals with a difficult subject very creatively and with great warmth. Landau and Burstyn turn in incredible performances that will tug at your heart-strings. I guess that with an increasingly ageing population, this is yet another film amongst a growing number that portray what is the reality of older life for many.

Creative and brave cinema. Do please watch this film - probably twice. I'll give it 8.5/10. For me the return on my investment gave an expected and large bonus!

Friday, 26 July 2013


This film is a brave attempt to explore the depths of dysfunction that grief, denial and a preoccupation with the trappings of success forced upon the unsuspecting bring. It is a cross between Ordinary People and American Beauty (yes I know it's set in Vancouver).

The central character in the film is never seen - except in out-of-focus flashback. He was killed in a car crash and the as the story unfolds the people and the families caught up in the accident - victims and perpetrators, collide. Within the narrative arc are a number of sub-plots which bring interest and explore some of the themes the film presents in greater depth. Tygh Runyan's performance as the autistic Dennis steals the show by a long way.

The film is not uplifting. For much of it the bereaved mother, Catherine (Carrie-Anne Moss), pouts her way through the depression and denial she appears to embody. Others seek to rebuild their shattered lives and find love in inappropriate ways through desperate encounters that flatter to deceive.

Much of the camera work is hand-held and the editing is at times brutal which left me feeling a little sea-sick! The locations portray the affluent water-side of Vancouver in a way that reinforces the illusion of success that those who live there must surely enjoy. In a nutshell that's what the film is all about - trying to work out what is real and what is illusory. The ending was not what I was expecting and for that I commend Director Carl Bessai, but it came far too quickly and at a pace that was out of kilter with the rest of the film.

To be honest, you are much better off watching the two films mentioned above. They do this kind of thing much much better. It is good to see Carrie-Anne Moss playing a role that allows her to demonstrate her considerable skills, but there is little else to commend this film. I'll give it 5/10.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

New resources

I've added the text of a couple of papers I delivered recently. They are accessible from the 'pages' tab below and to the right.

The first was part of a spirituality day I was asked to lead using film as a medium for exploring our relationship with God. It seemed to me that metaphor is a powerful thing and that this is a tool that is frequently used by film makers to visualise things that are hard to explain, difficult to portray or are by their nature invitational - i.e. "if there is a God, how might we encounter Him/Her?".

The second paper explores how themes of 'apocalypse' are portrayed in film. It only scratches the surface, but I only had just over an hour to deliver this! I began with the opening sequence from the film Apocalypse Now which seemed to set the tone.

Monday, 8 July 2013

How To Train your Dragon

Here we have a DreamWorks animation which is a wonderful advertisement for the high state that CGI has achieved. The rendering and colours, shading, shadows, highlights and movement are all excellent. The story is a very familiar one which you will have read and seen a thousand times before. All the best stories are like that. What makes this one rather good is the original setting and visualisation that DreamWorks bring to the screen, On IMDb it scores 8.2/10 and on RottenTomatoes it score 7.9/10 - they are two impressive scores.

The story is set in a Viking village on a remote northern island. So remote that the lead character Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) describes it like this:

"This is Berk. It's twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It's located solidly on the Meridian of Misery. My village. In a word? Sturdy. It's been here for seven generations, but every single building is new. We have fishing, hunting, and a charming view of the sunsets. The only problems are the pests. You see, most places have mice or mosquitoes... We have..."

All the vikings have weird names - except the beautiful Astrid (America Ferrera) who provides the love interest for Hiccup. However, most have Scots accents and some have a American accents - truly weird as Vikings were neither, although they did reach and colonise both countries - but the accents do reflect the cast. Apparently the author of the story on which it is loosely based, Cressida Cowell, set the story in the Inner Hebrides, so perhaps it is artistic licence.

The story is the archetypal misfit who cannot live up to his father's expectations finding a different way to win popularity, a different way to enable his people to live with the dragons and a different way to get his girl. It's a story about integrity in the midst of those coming-of-age years. You know Hiccup is going to triumph, bring peace and prosperity to the village and get Astrid, but the 94 minute journey to deliver is thoughtful, well-paced and a visual treat.

This a wonderful Father's day present from my youngest and I enjoyed watching it with her. I'll give 7.5/10 as I found the accents annoying! Well worth the watch. Enjoy.