Producers: Andrew Cohen, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyerman
Writers: Chin-Chin Yap, Tim Finch, Boris Cheshirkov.
Human Flow is a visual experience to be endured. A journey for the soul. A glimpse into the duty of care, and lack thereof, affecting our societies.
Forgotten places and forgotten faces reach out and I struggle to remain seated. To comprehend the magnitude of what film director Ai Wei Wei intended. The camera remains. Lost souls stare onto it, onto the abyss. Dignified, proud, hopeful. Despite everything.
Statistics and news headlines appear. Foreign voices makeshift the background. Subtitles demand the attention of the viewer. Everyone must seat and watch. There is no easy way out for us as there is no easy way out for the millions of refugees stranded across the globe.
Oceans of humanity flow, stretching as far as the next border, people like waves reaching for the coast, seeking relief after a long journey. Aerial views of makeshift camps. Tents set along trains never to halt. People resting on the side of the road. On the verge of tears. Vulnerable to disease, under the elements, moving ever forward with their loved ones. All borders shutting down.
The system collapses, numbers increase and countries build fences and walls with money that could be used in so many other ways. No questions are asked or aid provided. Left behind, human beings facing the most inhuman conditions in the history of our race.
Those who are victims of the circumstances, run for fear of persecution. Those who pushed them into exile remain immune. Those who watch, what are we? What am I, but a privileged voyeur? A far removed entity able to switch off my screen at any given time. Sheltered, fed, safe. Free. Ashamed of myself as I type these words. Dreading the moment I move onto the next thing, and forget.
Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer, Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill, Thad Luckinbill.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Rob Riggle, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataky.
12 Strong is a hero movie based on the true story of twelve soldiers, Green Berets known as ODA (Operational Detachment Alphas), volunteering to fight in Afghanistan after the twin towers attack on 9/11 (2001): the first soldiers to set foot on Afghani soil after the attack, a fact unknown at the time being an Army Special Forces team on a covert mission.
There’s some good action here, based on the 2009 bestseller written by Doug Stanton, Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan.
Unlike the majority of the patriotic, sickening over-dramatisation of Americans’ fighting in wars, 12 Strong focusses on the action in Afghanistan and the clash of cultures as Mark Nutsch, ODA-595 Special Forces Captain (re-named in the film as Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth)) leads a mission, Codenamed Task Force Dagger, to fight alongside the Northern Alliance: separate Afghani groups led by warlords who hate each other almost as much as they hate the Taliban.
For any hope of gaining ground against the Taliban and Al Qaeda and to stop more attacks on American soil, team leader Captain Mitch Nelson must convince General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban), a fierce warrior and warlord, to join forces; the only motivation to fight together being a common enemy.
Willing to assist the Americans from the ground, the Americans support from the sky with bombs dropped on targets from coordinates given by Captain Nelson.
Set in the extremes of the Afghanistan landscape, with dust and snow and steep rocky mountains, movement is restricted to horseback.
There’s something poetic about horses in battle; whether it reminds of wars in the past or the majesty of the animal, I could only wonder at the skill required to ride while under enemy fire from missile launchers and T-72 tanks and to shoot a machine gun with bullets whizzing by the horses ear; to control an animal usually frightened by loud noise and to stay the course without bolting.
But unbelievably, as General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) states, Afghani’ horses won’t scare: they know the bombs are American.
12 Strong is a fascinating story shot beautifully with Nicolai Fuglsig making his feature film debut as director, his past as a photojournalist showing his experience in capturing war on film. Up close and showing the ‘killer eyes’ of his cast, the action is taken higher with views from horse back galloping through explosions and fire.
It’s a film full of heroism with careful casting – Chris Hemsworth showing the humility and bravery of Captain Nelson. And yes, there’s always a bit of drama in these war-hero films, with Captain Nelson stating he refuses to write a death letter to his wife, left at home, ‘I made her a promise I was coming home. I’m not writing a letter to say I broke it.’
And I thought, Oh no, another cheesy, self-congratulatory, family-plucking-the-heart-strings, indulgence – however when the men got to Afghanistan, the film ramped up into an action-packed, suspenseful, yet thoughtful story. And Michael Peña as the Green Beret, Sam Diller, added some needed humour, keeping it real for those who don’t like too much drama.
The real interest of the film was the insight of this previously unknown story, by entering the Belly of the Beast to see the complicated history and terrible crimes already inflicted on the innocent of Afghanistan making 12 Strong not only an action film, but also an engaging story.
Producers – Nurhan Şekerci-Porst, Fatih Akin, Herman Weigel
Director of Photography – Rainer Klausmann (BVK)
Original Score – Joshua Homme
Starring: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Krisch, Samia Chancrin, Numan Acar, Ulrich Tukur, Rafael Santana, Hanna Hilsdorf, Ulrich Friedrich Brandhoff, Hartmut Loth, Ioannis Economides, Karin Neuhauser, Uwe Rohde Ali, Asim Demirel, Aysel Iscan.
Winner Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globes Winner Best Actress Cannes Film Festival
Director Fatih Akin collaborated with co-writer Hark Bohm to create, In The Fade after watching court proceedings against the National Socialist Underground (NSU): a far-right terror cell who allegedly murdered ten people and carried out two bombings in Germany between 2000 and 2007 for no other reason but for the victims having a non-German background. The NSU were also thought to have detonated a nail bomb, injuring 22 people in a Turkish neighbourhood in Cologne in June 2004. See article here: NSU Trial
Based on the truth of these racially motivated murders, In The Fade shows the crushing loss of Katja (Diane Kruger) when her husband, Nuri Şekerci (Numan Acar) and son Rocco (Rafael Santana) are blown to pieces in a bomb blast planted in a high density Turkish area in Germany.
Set in three parts: Family, Justice and The Sea, we follow Katja as she grieves her family including the court case against the accused, a neo-Nazi husband and wife, as the horrific detail of the nail bomb is explained as evidence, to Greece where Katja revisits the memory of her family when they visit the sea-side: a fitting place to seek justice in the stunning conclusion where the audience is left speechless.
This is a powerful film that begins quietly, the evocative soundtrack used sparingly with music from the radio to the sound of rain falling, to build as the film nears its end.
I felt every step of this film from the hand-held footage of Katja and Nuri getting married while he was in jail, to Katja’s relationship with her sister and mother and in-laws; all the relationships and intense grief shown with a powerful performance from Diane Kruger.
The audience is able to bare and feel Katja coping with the loss because the story is sincere and told through the reflection of rain running down windows reflected onto her face like tears; through the pain of a tattooist’ needle unable to register through the pain of reliving the death of a son while the killers sit in the same court room. But the real emotion comes from the happy moments, seeing Katja relive what has been lost. Watching the family laughing on a recording on her phone – those are the moments that get you.
This is the reason I review films: to be exposed to movies I wouldn’t otherwise watch because I know it’s going to be confronting. And, In The Fade is filled with rain and tears and loss but there’s also a powerfully gripping story here, beautifully told.
Produced by: Scott Z Burns, Graham Broadbent, Jacques Perrin, Nicolas Mauvernay
Cinematographer: Eric Gautier
Starring: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott, Jonathan Bailey.
Following his Academy Award® winning film, The Theory of Everything, James Marsh directs The Mercy, the true story of Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth) an ordinary amateur sailor, who one day decides to do something extraordinary with his life and compete in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race.
The premise of Crowhurst’s story played by Colin Firth and co-starring Rachel Weisz is compelling, packed to the rafters with the intrigue and plot twists of a fantastic and unforgettable story – “I am going because I would have no peace if I stayed.” — Donald Crowhurst.
The story of an amateur sailor in 1968, who one day – not unlike any other day, in his very normal life – decides to compete in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Yacht Race. Unlike any other yacht race, this is a yacht race to single handedly circumnavigate the entire globe without stopping, a race Crowhurst knows he is ill equipped to compete in, a race, he knows, he has no hope of finishing.
In order to save his family, their home and his dignity, he decides to cheat and lies to the world of his speedy and highly skilled progress.
However, my attention span and the downfall of Crowhurst’s quest, hopes and pursuit unravel from the onset.
Crowhurst sets off – on his impressive but unfinished trimaran yacht, the Teignmouth Electron. Behind him on the jetty he leaves his beautiful wife Clare (Rachel Weisz) their adoring children, and some – but not all – crucial boat supplies and navigational instruments at their feet. After all we need some hope that this mild-mannered amateur may pull off a heroic feat and sail around the world buoyed on by our mighty hopes and dreams encased in a bobbing vessel that probably will not make it.
The story’s premise is great, the stuff of epic battles, think David and Goliath, frail man pitted against the wraths of nature and the might of the gods, surging imploding, cinema worthy oceans and death defying odds. But nowhere in this disjointed, paint-drying-slow action line, where scenes do not foreshadow or tighten the tension available in the raw and compelling truth of such a story, does this movie rise to its potential.
I crossed and uncrossed my legs throughout The Mercy, searching for the transported comfort and magical details of a story well told.
Director James Marsh and Screenwriter Scott Z Burns had no shortage of detailed research facts available, well documented in Crowhurst’s own diary entries and log entries, but this movie lacked vital details that would have made the storyline more cohesive, final draft worthy and movie screen ready.
Early in my writing career my writing mentor told me ‘you know your story but it is not translating onto paper or more importantly to your audience and that is what I believe, unfortunately, The Mercy suffers here.
When Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame won a Best Supporting Actress award at the 1953 Oscars for an eight-minute appearance in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), it must have seemed her future as an A-list actress was assured. Instead she was usually cast as a slightly trashy or seductive femme fatale in B-movies, aside from her memorable role as the irrepressible Ado Annie in the film version of Oklahoma! (1962).
In later years she was reduced to appearing in a number of stage productions in America and England, which is where she met the young Liverpudlian actor Peter Turner, half her age, in a boarding house in London during the 1970s. Their unusual romance was later documented in his memoir, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, which describes their initial romance as well as their reunion a few years later when both were older and a bit wiser.
The movie’s basic focus on the couple’s time together in Liverpool, where Peter lives with his parents and brother, and Gloria moves into one of their bedrooms while recovering from an illness, is fairly straight forward in a narrative sense. The film is shot on location in drab, wet Liverpool streets, often at night or dusk, in a grittily realistic way that reflects the once glamorous actress’s fading looks. Peter’s home and family are ordinary but comfortable, which juxtaposes with Gloria’s Hollywood lifestyle.
What lifts this movie out of the ordinary is Annette Bening’s depiction of a once-glamorous and increasingly insecure movie star, facing an uncertain future and battling to retain her looks that are all she believes she has to offer. She is wonderful in a role demanding someone who, despite being in her late fifties, has the allure and mystery required to catch the attention of a much younger man.
Bening is incredibly brave in letting the camera see her at her haggard worst, with unflattering lighting and no makeup. The flashback scenes set a mere handful of years earlier in the late 1970s show how attractive she was, and help explain why Peter fell for her despite her diva mood swings.
There were challenges adapting the book, particularly how to convey the shifts between the “present” 1980s Liverpool and the late 1970s London, New York and California, but these are effectively achieved through a traditional if old fashioned movie device of opening a door onto another time and place – also done to great effect in John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) and even briefly in a scene from Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).
The scenes set in California and New York have a radiant or hazy glow usually associated with a romanticised memory and work effectively, although the limited budget dictated these scenes had to be created using rear projection. This just adds to the sensation of watching a movie that Grahame might have acted in, so rather than being jarring, they add to the sensation of experiencing a movie-star romance.
This film is not an action blockbuster or CGI-laden extravaganza, just a slowly paced, gently depicted May-December romance with lots of quiet, dialogue-free moments that allow the characters’ emotions to breathe and fill the frame, while the final scenes showing the real Gloria Grahame in her prime let the audience appreciate what a loss this actress was to Hollywood.
Starring: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Jason Clarke, Angus Sampson, Eamon Farren.
Inspired by true events at the most haunted house in history.
Based on the true story of widower, Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), Winchester explores the haunting of a many-roomed house, seven stories high, comprising 500 rooms and stairs that lead to no-where: built, torn-down, to be built again; all orchestrated by the designs of the widower.
It’s enough to question her sanity.
Sarah communes with the dead to make their spirits grow stronger in the rooms she builds, under their instruction; through her visions; through her remorse – to then release them.
Many have died from the firing of a Winchester – the instrument of death the source of her fortune. And the source of her guilt.
Being the majority holder of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, (and a multi-millionaire) the company employs a psychiatrist to assess Sarah’s mental capacity in the view of taking control of her share in the company.
A request agreed upon by Sarah’s niece Marion (Sarah Snook) but only if the psychiatrist conducting the assessment is Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke).
After Marion’s husband dies suddenly, she moves in with her aunt with her 8-year-old son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey) – an indication in Sarah’s mind that a curse is spreading through the family.
Dr. Price is also a grieving widow, addicted to Laudanum, amongst other substances; anything to numb the pain – and out of desperation and financial difficulty takes the job. Only to question his own mind when he witnesses the spirits inhabiting this strange house.
All the elements of an interesting story but I didn’t find the film to be a poignant one.
The suspense was weak, left to fall flat off cliff hangers that felt more like an accidental step.
And the over-editing of characters such as builder, John Hansen (Angus Sampson), to the extent of what sounded like dubbing over what was once comic, to be diluted to suit the tone of the film added to the quiet and dry dead like the musty smell in old houses.
All old houses have a presence, particularly those inhabited by the grieving.
When Dr. Price enters the house it just adds another unstable element, throwing doubt on the truth of the story as Dr. Price is also a grieving man, self-medicating and taken from the depths of a sabbatical dedicated to a life of hedonism and clearly desiring anything but clarity: is it any wonder he sees ghosts too?
The flash of spectres was well spliced into the dark recesses of shadows and reflections of mirrors. But the build of suspense and meat of the story lacked substance so rather than inspiring belief in the supernatural, the film became more a story of a 19th century larrikin sobering up to insanity.
Directed by: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Written by: Mark Perez
Produced by: John Davis, Jason Bateman, John Fox and James Garavente
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Chelsea Peretti, with Michael C. Hall and Kyle Chandler.
What makes Jason Bateman such a good comedian is not what he does but the ridiculous that happens to him and how he takes it on the chin because what else is he supposed to do? He’s relatable and a crack-up with no exception here as Max teamed up with his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams): it’s all about winning the game for this couple.
Except when it comes to playing against their neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemons): they were friends with his recently divorced wife, not creepy Gary.
Obsessed, the team/couple host a weekly game night with friends each with their unique relationship issues (bar Gary: not that he doesn’t have issues but because he’s not invited), each unaware that when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) decides to host a Murder Mystery party, it’s not a game but a real kidnapping.
Brooks isn’t just the competitive and ‘most likely to succeed’ brother, he’s also a bad boy.
There’s always a feeling of a formula at play with these heart-felt, comedy, throw-a-bit-of-action-in-the-mix, movies. Here, we have sibling rivalry, couple issues, the bond of friendship; conflicts overcome by the common goal of winning the game and saving the brother.
Directors John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein have teamed up before, Game Night being their second film as co-directors, following the comedy, Vacation (2015). And like Vacation, there are some genuinely funny moments.
Gary-the-creepy-neighbour is a highlight and point of difference with his death stare and continued patting of his white fluffy dog reminiscent of the villain, Dr Claw petting his white fluffy cat in Inspector Gadget.
It’s the extra effort and detail that tickles.
And Max being the normal guy in such silly situations grounds the story while also making the film funnier.
Rachel McAdams can be hit and miss for me. She plays such a wide variety of roles, from Spotlight to Dr Strange to True Detective 2 – an impressive performance of a dark and tortured cop – to her role here, as the innocent, game-obsessed suburban wife; her character not the funniest but adding the cutesy aspect, provoking the required, Aww, response.
So, there’s attention to detail from a clever script with lines like, ‘You got the knife right in the bullet hole’ (ha, ha, cracks me up), a techno 80s-style synthesiser soundtrack to combine that action/comic flavour with a bit of added romance.