Spling reviews The Man Who Knew Infinity, Irrational Man and Sinister 2 as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.
Regardt van der Bergh has made a name for himself directing faith-based coming-of-age dramas that involve some form of healing. Uitvlucht is no different as we follow a woman burdened with guilt as she tries to start afresh after a difficult divorce. It's a story-within-a-story as the film's main plot unfolds as narrated by a wise old man to an apprentice struggling in his marriage.
The narrative device gives some leniency in its retelling as we're getting this from a man's fixed and possibly biased perspective. However, the genre mix seems unbalanced as it moves from light Afrikaans romance and tips into heartrending social drama, juxtaposing our lead's love life renaissance with the issues affecting the children of a very broken farm community.
The balancing act is entertaining in itself as the story shifts its weight from one foot to the other, unfortunately while the intense dysfunction creates awareness and draws attention to abuse, it seems out-of-place against the light-hearted, tender and romantic tones.
Uitvlucht moves from being sweet and touching like a companion to van den Bergh's Klein Karoo, to the more hostile territory of education-interrupted in Mr. Pip. The constant see-sawing and tonal shifts make it uneven, despite the best of intentions and sincere, likable performances from Clara Joubert and Stian Bam.
Joubert carries much empathy into her character, smoothing over a chequered past with a kind and resolute performance. Bam demonstrates his range, counterbalancing his role in Modder en Bloed with a naive, tender and gentle giant of a man. The supporting cast keep the story in check and the naturalistic performances from the locals and kids everything grounded.
"I'm like a bird..."
The cinematography gives the film a great sense of space, moving from beautiful landscapes to the almost-claustrophobic confines of a rural classroom. Regardt van den Bergh uses symbols to convey nuggets of meaning in the story and while some are more obvious than others, the effect creates more depth. This coming-of-age drama will land in different places for people depending on your emotional frame of reference or religious standpoint. It doesn't ever become preachy, although isn't afraid to talk about Biblical elements.
Uitvlucht has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, the genre balancing act makes it feel like two movies jammed together and while it moves with the best of intentions, it feels discordant and creates some uneasy interchanges. The book-ends for the story-within-a-story give the film another layer of interest, but almost seem like they were added as a clever way to salvage the film or extend the running time. Most audiences will appreciate the emotional currency and there's a good chance you'll enjoy it if you liked Tornado and the Kalahari Horse Whisperer.
X-Men: Apocalypse is the latest installation from director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg. X-Men: First Class introduced us to the next generation of X-Men, enabling the filmmakers to go back in time and extrapolate the complex story between Professor X and Magneto, and the rise of the X-Men. Singer returned to the franchise, after something of a hiatus, with X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The superhero balancing act turned out to be one of the year's best films, with Singer essentially splicing the old with the new in a seamless hybrid using Wolverine to stitch both worlds together. Time travel films are problematic on a good day and X-Men: Days of Future Past garnered critical acclaim and solid box office figures despite the pressure.
X-Men: Apocalypse tried to eclipse or match the success of X-Men: Days of Future Past, but as most sequels go, turns out overambitious and overblown. We pick up the story in the '80s as Apocalypse is resurrected after being enshrined by a collapsed pyramid in Egypt. Bent on cleansing the world of humans, the world's first and most powerful mutant sets about recruiting a team of jilted mutants to carry out his extinction level plan as the X-Men scramble to thwart him.
The superhero sequel suffers from some similar issues to the reboot of Fantastic Four. While both films start off with much promise, on the back of great source material and previous adaptations with a stellar cast and some strong production values, they ultimately undo themselves with a fairly joyless atmosphere, shaky plotting, over-reliance on CGI and scattershot ambition.
James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult reprise their roles as series regulars, while Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan add more clout. As Professor X, James McAvoy has a key role in X-Men: Apocalypse, almost assuming a lead and delivering the most empathetic and relatable performance. Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence are relegated to supporting performances, which doesn't seem to sit well with either of them as established award season regulars, making their contribution seem more business-orientated than wholehearted.
"Take me to this Donald Trump."
The new villain on the block is Oscar Isaac as the titular Apocalypse, who steals most of the scenes with a brooding character and foreboding presence. As the world's first mutant, Apocalypse seems to hold all the cards and while he recruits and powers up his "four horsemen", you get the impression they are just keepsakes for the all-powerful, former Egyptian god. It's almost as though the story has been loosely modelled on the rise and fall of an 80s heavy metal band, complete with photo shoot opportunities and mountainside music videos.
The movie trailer had an inherent evil, which while masked slightly by Egyptian mythology, translates into a much darker spiritual tone for the X-Men. There's always an undercurrent of peril, however with such an evil and invincible villain, who is able to "persuade" many over to the dark side, you start to miss the moments of comic relief that broke the relentless action. As the prime evil and unstoppable force, Apocalypse makes an incredible and intimidating adversary, as if they were over-correcting where Fantastic Four went wrong with Dr Doom.
The production values are typically strong, progressing from the '70s to the '80s, as we are immersed into the style and culture of the time. Moving from America to Europe and Africa, the film covers an expanse of land and a multitude of characters. Trying to keep the intercontinental show on the road, while paying dues to the chronological trajectory of characters and tying up loose ends is a massive undertaking.
Unfortunately, the slack is taken up by CGI, which is so entrenched that it would come as little surprise to find a minute of footage without a frame of computer-generated imagery. Much like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Fantastic Four, the film whips itself into a frenzy as we move from a sense of reality to complete unreality, where we may as well be on Mars. Days of Future Past moved between this spheres with one foot on the ground, whereas X-Men: Apocalypse trips into another paradigm.
There are some amazing action set pieces and incredibly surreal sequences, which show great imagination and a fascinating exploration of power, psyche and ability. While these stick out like nails, there are very welcome and raise the bar for X-Men: Apocalypse as it continues to juggle subplots. For the most part, you're able to coast on the franchise's solid foundations, which are mostly responsible for making this overblown sequel seem disappointing and underwhelming by contrast. It's the kind of film that will probably develop a cult following in its earnest yet cataclysmic attempt to go one step further than X-Men: Days of Future Past.
It's not nearly as abysmal as the misfire that is Fantastic Four and lands somewhere in the region of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in terms of overall entertainment and enjoyment value. It's an entertaining popcorn superhero blockbuster with some great ideas, despite staggering in at two and a half hours that is best enjoyed if you place your tongue firmly in your cheek and allow the spectacle and pageantry to wash over you.
(*A proverb which T.C.O.B. explains by reviewing a classic film.)
The drama in Chinatown, Polanski’s classic 1974 mystery drama with Nicholson and Dunaway in the lead roles, is set in motion by a woman who comes to the office of a private investigator. She wants to find out whether her husband is having an affair. The setting is Los Angeles – 1930’s if the fashions and the framed photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the sideboard are anything to judge by. The private investigator, Jake Gittes (two syllables in the surname), follows the husband and eventually observes him in the company of a young woman. He photographs them and duly delivers the incriminating evidence to the wife.
But it turns out that the woman who hired Gittes was not the cheater’s wife. One even wonders whether the man, a very serious, thoughtful type, who happens to be the director of the Los Angeles water utility, is really having an affair. At any rate, he turns up dead soon after. Gittes, who practices a somewhat sordid but otherwise mundane métier, suddenly finds himself immersed in a vast and sinister conspiracy.
One thing leads to another: this is the key mechanism of the drama. It is mirrored by a succession of pictures that provide the background to Gittes’ movements: Palos Verdes, Echo Park, Oak Pass, the hall of records, orange groves in the North West Valley, Canyon Drive, East Kensington, San Pedro… a beautiful documentary of the geography, architecture and character of Los Angeles. And Chinatown? The peculiar thing is that only one scene, the very last, is set there. A few times in the film, the name is mentioned in passing. Two characters – minor ones – are Chinese. Is Chinatown important to the drama at all?
At the very least, Chinatown is an example of a device that characterises Polanski’s art, that of recurrence. His films abound with déjà-vu – and déjà-entendu, that is, acoustic recurrence. Echo Park, the setting of an early scene in Chinatown, is probably an inside tip to keep one’s ears pricked. As for Chinatown itself, Gittes reveals later on that he was once posted there while he was on the police force. It was also where he had some bad luck. “You can’t always tell what’s going on,” he says. “I tried to help someone and ended up making sure they were hurt.” One thing leads to another and the drama ends, as mentioned already, in Chinatown. Moreover, it ends badly.
Spotting such artistic devices, taking conscience of the details that make great films almost indistinguishable from life itself, is immensely satisfying. But it doesn’t necessarily help one to understand, at least not in Chinatown’s case. For example, it’s not clear why Gittes doesn’t try to extricate himself from the conspiracy he unwittingly fell into but rather dives deeper into it even at the risk of losing his life. Perhaps it makes some sense if one takes what he says to the enigmatic wife of the late director of the water utility at face value: “I had no reason for asking, Mrs Mulwray. I’m a snoop.” However, his look of despair when yet again someone he tried to help comes to a bad end in Chinatown suggests that there’s more to it than that. Just what exactly is impossible to tell because that’s where the film ends.
T.C.O.B. sincerely apologises to those who were hoping to get closure on a film so enigmatic that it is hard to distinguish it from reality. As consolation it offers this explanation of the proverb Everyone’s got their Chinatown. It means that, like Gittes, everyone has something they’re fatally drawn to. It needn’t necessarily be a place. It could be a social convention, a political system, a belief, a woman. One persists in wanting to learn more about it, draw nearer to it – for good or ill. But the understanding of it, the closure always eludes one. And then one repeats, each in one’s own peculiar way, the last words in Polanski’s 1974 classic mystery drama, “It’s Chinatown.”
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