Reviewed this week are Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Good Lie, A Pigeon Sat on a branch Reflecting on existence , The Falling and The Emperor's New Clothes.
There's basically 11 main characters in this movie, which is quite frankly too much. I may die." Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon managed to survive the process of delivering Avengers' second combined outing and managed it well, delivering a worthy sequel to the well-received first film.
Whedon adopted the Godfather school of thought where it was preferable but not necessary to have seen either the first film, or in this case any of the films based around some of the individual characters, like the Iron Man trilogy or Thor. The film opens with the six superheroes, Ironman, Black Widow, Thor, Capt America, Hulk and Hawkeye (Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, and Jeremy Renner) in full battle mode against old foes. Their victory is hollow as two new ones, super-powered twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) soon emerge, in cahoots with Ultron (voice of James Spader) a peace-keeping experiment with an identity crisis. Ultron's activation is Tony Stark and Bruce Banner's fault so the heroes find themselves not only trying to save the world, but facing team issues too.
It's enormous. It's spectacular, lots of old characters reappear, it is often funny and despite the 141 min running time does not feel too long. Despite the number of characters, there is also more in the way of backstory. Not suitable for small kids because they simply won't get it, it will keep superhero fans of all other ages very happy.
The Good Lie
Reese Witherspoon's comely jawline adorning the poster for this transatlantic drama is a shameless way to get punters in the door by peddling The Good Lie as some kind of female self-discovery yarn akin to Witherspoon's recent Wild.
The reality is that Witherspoon is only a quarter of the pie in director Philippe Falardeau's film about Sudanese refugees trying to find their feet after landing jackpot visas to work and study in the US, and this is no bad thing.
It is also to be commended that the exercise here is not merely to chuckle at how out-of-water Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) are in the concrete savannah of Kansas City. That the latter two are real-life Sudan refugees turned Hollywood entertainers is a nice touch.
On the face of it, it may seem like a sentimental outing designed to showcase how clean-thinking and unsullied those of the sub-Saharan continent are next to us money-grabbing, food-wasting westerners, and it kind of is. But The Good Lie doesn't sanitise everything. It has a grisly opening trailing the flight of these "lost boys" from civil war across hundreds of hungry, danger-laden miles.
Witherspoon's job is to herd the three through social services and be the red-state lout whose cough gets softened by the foreign charmers. Some of this veers dangerously close to being cute and even slightly patronising, but The Good Lie's overall brand of feel-good keeps to the right side of taste.
A Pigeon Sat on a branch Reflecting on existence
The clue is in the title. And it is this exact scene, a stuffed pigeon sitting on a branch in a museum display case, that opens this remarkable, remarkably original, visual and annoying Swedish film. Delivering the final part in a slow trilogy, On Being Human (2002's Songs From the Second Floor and 2007's You, The Living, were the first two) director Roy Andersson once again provides great ideas and fantastic visuals. That just go on a bit long.
Andersson's view of humanity, as viewed through the eyes of a dead pigeon, is bleak. It is told in mini episodes with many, though not all, of the best ones at the beginning of the film. There is the man dying quietly while his wife bakes in the background, the 18th Swedish king on his way to what will be a terrible battle and stopping off in a 21st century bar on the way, a bar where prior to his arrival a woman sat crying while her boyfriend fervently snogged another woman.
Many of the rest feature Vladimir and Estragon-like characters Jonathan and Sam (Holger Andersson and Nils Westblom) two profoundly sad travelling salesmen who have little joy and no luck selling their novelty goods even with an aim as worthy as 'to help people have fun'. They live in a sterile boarding house and fall out and make up because it seems that neither has anyone else.
Andersson's style is unique. Most of the actors are, to quote Fargo, 'kinda funny looking', this look compounded with the use of vaguely zombiesque pale make-up and dyed dark hair for everyone. The scenes are all shot in deep focus, with as much, if not more important action going on in the background, whether through a door or window. The soundtrack is eclectic and effective.
Whilst I can't say I'll take away a deep message, there are visuals in the film that will remain with me for a long time, like the instrument of death, an extraordinary image delivering a powerful punch. There are moments of humour that come from the absurdities of life. There is awful despair. But overall there is a sense of quiet and only just contained desperation. Which is what I was feeling towards the end of the film. One hour forty minutes of bleak Swedish abstraction is at least forty minutes too long.
That Luc Roeg, the son of genius auteur Nicholas, is a co-producer of this decidedly peculiar supernatural drama, has a harmonious ring to it somehow. His father's finest outings, such as Don't Look Now and Walkabout (which starred a young Luc), had a kaleidoscopic, shape-shifting ambience about them, and traces of that are present here in Carol Morley's film.
Whether this is coincidence or not is for another time, because Morley's film is worthy of enough discussion in its own right. Setting itself in a girls' school in the 1960s, it finds the teenage pupils succumbing to a bemusing fainting epidemic that sweeps through the school and even takes lives. Like a more giddy version of 2014 horror highlight It Follows, this is, of course, some kind of metaphor for teen pregnancy, fear of impending adulthood and even STDs, such is the hormonal flavour of the entire outing.
Girl of the moment Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) is Lydia and Florence Pugh is her bestie Abbie. While Abbie's sexual life is under way, Lydia is more hesitant about things and is still trying to understand her relationship with Abbie, her brother and brooding mother.
When the schoolgirls start to hit the ground with increasing frequency, the teachers (including a wonderfully prim Greta Scacchi) put it down to disruptiveness. Lydia knows better, of course, but no one will listen to her pleas to take the matter more seriously.
As you may have gathered, The Falling is not for everyone. Some of its tempos are wilfully abstruse and this wedded to shots of teenage actresses collapsing dramatically creates a whiff of arty pretension. That said, Williams, Pugh and co all make fine accounts of themselves, while Morley and French cinematographer Agnes Godard coalesce enigmatically throughout.
In selected cinemas
The Emperor's New Clothes
Any point is best made with clear examples, and in their political manifesto The Emperor's New Clothes, Russell Brand and Michael Winterbottom use some very effective ones. For instance, Oxfam has said that the richest 80 people in the world own as much as the poorest 3.5 billion. And most of those 80 inherited their wealth, they didn't make it. But even where people are making it, the gap between rich and poor has grown exponentially. So, where a CEO of a major British company used to earn 10 times the average wage of his workers, now they earn 200 times. The average cleaner on minimum wage would have to work for three hundred years to make the same salary senior bank executives make in one year.
These facts back up the principle behind The Emperor's New Clothes, namely that we are living in a grossly unfair society where, despite and because of the banking collapse in 2008, for which no-one has been punished, it is increasingly difficult for anyone but the very well off to make ends meet. Brand, love him or hate him, is a clever man and he makes his argument well. His technique of goading doormen charged with not letting him into banks is a bit useless, his man of the people, manner feels a bit studied and the call to action is a bit vague. But what he says, essentially that we are facing a return to feudalism, needs to be said.
Gente de Bien
Gente de Bien means 'wealthy people' in Spanish, with an implication that their wealth is also a kind of moral goodness, and is the perfect title for Franco Lolli's debut feature. This study of the wealth gap in his native Colombia is gently paced and not overly perky, but it leaves a lingering feeling after it has ended.
Eric (Brayan Santamaria) is a 10-year-old whose mother can no longer afford to keep him so she sends him to live with his father, Gabriel (Carlos Fernando Perez). Cooped up in a Bogota boarding house with their dog, Lupe, Gabriel is aware that he cannot provide what his son needs. He starts to bring Eric to work, a regular handyman job he has in the home of well-meaning university lecturer Maria Isabel (Alejandra Borrero).
Maria Isabel offers for them to spend Christmas with her family in their country home. Gabriel reluctantly agrees and while things get off to a good start for Eric, old ways soon appear, even in 10-year-olds.
While the film demonstrates the enormous wealth gap in Colombia, it also demonstrates how ingrained class roles are. It is not as simple as giving, or receiving or knowing how to give or to receive. Social class there runs very much deeper than what we have here. As well as looking at the struggle between classes, it looks at the conflict between father and son, and does that well too.
Naturalistic and atmospheric, the performances are all excellent but the young Brayan Santamaria is especially great, managing to convey all kinds of layered emotions, and confusion. Getting that from a character so young really brings home the point about how ingrained social class is. The ending is a bit mawkish and, I felt, over-egged the cake, but otherwise this is a really interesting piece of social cinema that at just an hour and a half makes its point neatly.
Now showing at the IFI
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