British Oldies Entertain
Finding Your Feet is a beauty!
By Roger Childs
Britain has a wonderful array of elderly actors. Helen Mirren, Judy Dench and Maggie Smith are just some of this highly capable group. However, none of these appear in Finding Your Feet. Among those who do feature are the equally talented Timothy Spall, Celia Imrie and Imelda Staunton.
The title of the film comes from the meeting of these older Londoners at a weekly dancing group. The movie is in the tradition of Calendar Girls and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with a mix of sharp dialogue, intrigue, humour and changing relationships. All the major players have hang-ups and problems, not all of which are resolved.
This is a highly entertaining film which I’m sure many of you have seen: 4 stars.
Sisters re-establishing contact
Bif (Celia Imrie) lives in a rather pokey high rise apartment and hasn’t seen her sister for years. The later, Sandra, played by Imelda Staunton, is very upper crust and her husband is loaded.
However, at a function at their posh residence in the country she discovers that hubby has been playing more than just tennis with his mixed doubles partner. Sandra stalks out and tracks down her working class sibling.
The scene is now set for connections to be made through the dancing group Bif belongs to. Sandra had been a competition dancer as a child, but her snootiness makes her reluctant to join the hoipoloi at their weekly session.
What follows is the story of the melting of Sandra as she gets to know the dancing group.
Plenty of issues and quality acting
Although the movie has an uncomplicated plot and the usual misunderstandings, it touches on many social and health issues such as adultery, jealousy, dementia, cancer and sudden death.
Humour is a key feature and there is one hilarious scene where the mischievous Bif takes an African American from the dancing group home, and starts to strip off. It’s all too much for the man and his last facial expression is the picture that appears on the front of the funeral sheet.
The Oldies are in top form and their timing is superb.
The story has many twists and turns and is not as predictable as some British comedies. Director Richard Loncraine has edited the film well and keeps the story moving along.
If you haven’t seen it, entertainment is guaranteed.
Worth Seeing The Billboards
Martin McDonagh’s latest laconic, multilayered wrong-footer pits McDormand’s storming mourner against two local cops, Woody Harrelson’s omnipotently beloved sheriff and Sam Rockwell’s richly monstrous officer in waiting. Sight and Sound
Tensions in the Mid-West
By Roger Childs
The three billboards are outside Ebbing, Missouri and they have been put up by Mildred Hayes. The messages are about the lack of action by local police into the rape and death of her daughter.
Mildred is part of a highly dysfunctional family: her husband has left her for a 19 year old; her teenage son has issues, and she has plenty of guilt about the night her daughter stormed out on foot.
Downtown at the police department there are also plenty of issues and Ebbing citizens are divided over Mildred’s actions.
This is a film with plenty of strong language and violence, and is not for the faint-hearted.
However, it grabs your attention from the start and doesn’t let go: 4.5 stars.
McDormand in top form
She hit the screens as the pregnant police chief in the Coen Brother brilliant movie in the snow: Fargo. Frances McDormand is a consummate actor and very much at home in small town America; don’t be surprised if she wins Best Female Actor at his year’s Oscars.
As Mildred Hayes, she plays a highly flawed character and is brilliant in portraying the full range of emotions from anger and criminal intent to love and empathy.
Everyone else in the large cast is utterly convincing, headed by Woody Harrelson as police chief Willoughby, who is dying of pancreatic cancer, and Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon, a typical small town bigot on a short fuse.
Rockwell is a revelation and his transformation from bully boy to sympathetic citizen is one of the movie’s many highlights.
There are plenty of other fascinating characters including a dwarf who becomes Mildred’s partner in crime, a very naive teenager who has moved in with her ex and Dixon’s elderly Mum who has a pet tortoise!
Plenty of atmosphere and action
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri starts with Mildred in her station wagon, spotting the dilapidated billboards with the fading remains of yesterday’s messages.
We return many times to these billboards as the story unfolds, and their messages constantly remind us of her campaign.
American films often get a bad name for foul language and there is plenty of profanity in Billboards. However, it is the familiar vernacular for small town police, working class families and teenagers, and is never gratuitous in Martin McDonagh’s compelling movie.
It also provides the basis for some of the funnier moments. In one heated exchange, Mildred’s son calls her an old c… and she replies I’m not old.
Definitely worth getting to
This film hits the spot in bringing out the prejudices, bigotry, tensions, community spirit and friendships in small town USA.
It is perhaps a little on the long side and could have done with more editing, but you never get bored!
The effectiveness of the ending is something viewers will disagree on, but this is definitely a film that will get you talking.
There is plenty of action, drama, tension, surprise, humour and emotion.
See it, if you haven’t already!
The Superb “I Daniel Blake”
Daniel Blake, am a citizen, and as such, I demand my rights.
Getting it right
By Roger Childs
This latest movie by Ken Loach is a beauty. It won the Palme D’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival this year and the selection panel definitely got it right.
I Daniel Blake has no sex, violence or scenery, and very little music, and yet it packs an enormous punch.
The main character lives in a flat in Newcastle upon Tyne, but his wife has passed on.
He is a decent, solid citizen who has worked for decades as a joiner, but suddenly a heart attack threatens to upset his comfortable existence and confidence in the future.
This film is a must see: five stars.
Daniel gets entangled in the bureaucracy of form filling, applications, qualifications and job seeking. He’s not computer literate so when told to do things online, he struggles. One government official tells him We’re digital by default.
However, he has an ally in Kate, who is a single mum with two children. They have escaped a one room place in a London hostel to get a bigger flat in a city 300 miles away.
Dan and Kate both have to battle “the system” to survive, and their interwoven stories makes compelling viewing. They come across a number of helpful people, but the key decision makers are the other kind.
A moving experience
The two leads: Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are brilliant, and all the supporting cast, from the two kids to the obsequious civil servants, play their parts superbly.
Ken Loach has never flinched from telling the tough stories, and this is another masterpiece of social realism set in modern Britain.
In typical Loach style there is tight editing and no frills, and Paul Laverty’s crisp, pointed dialogue is utterly convincing. Although much of what unfolds is grim and bleak, there are occasional delightful touches of Geordie humour.
This is a film which is not to be missed. In the words of The Guardian reviewer, Peter Bradshaw, I, Daniel Blake is a movie with a fierce, simple dignity of its own.
Lighthouse movie worth a look
Loneliness, opportunity and punishment
By Roger Childs
The lighthouse which is at the centre of The Light Between Oceans is on Janus Island off the coast of Western Australia.
The movie is set after World War One and the main character is Tom Sherbourne, who has returned from the Western Front.
Wanting isolation, to recover from the horrors of war, he gets the job of lighthouse keeper on Janus.
In the settlement closest to the island he meets and marries Isabel, the daughter of his employer, and they look to establish a family on their isolated, wind-swept outpost.
The unfolding story is engaging and includes some dramatic footage, especially on the island, but does stretch one’s credulity somewhat. A three star film.
Settings to suit the story
For the movie based on M L Stedman’s novel, the Cape Campbell light in Marlborough was picked out of 300 possibilities! And the settlement where the main characters reside much of the time, is actually picturesque Stanley on the north coast of Tasmania.
These settings are ideal, enabling the film crew to make a meal of the environments, especially on “Janus Island”.
Michael Fassbender is excellent as Tom and Alicia Vikander performs impressively as his wife.
The turning point in the story comes when a boat containing a baby is washed up on their remote island home.
A worthy, but flawed period piece
Alternating scenes between the island and the township, Director Derek Cianfrance keeps the story moving and the sets, costuming and atmosphere are convincingly post great war.
It is only when the action focuses primarily on Stanley and what the couple have done in their desire for a family, that the film loses its way. Whereas in many films, especially out of Hollywood, you often get too much information, The Light Between Oceans leaves out detail you feel you need to know.
There is no problem with giving the viewer points to ponder and discuss on the way home in the car, however Cianfrance omits essential information which makes the latter part of the film disjointed.
Nevertheless, this is still a watchable, well acted movie, and those curious to know all that the couple actually experienced in later life, can reach for Stedman’s novel.
“Sully” well worth a look
Heads down, stay down! Instructions from the hostesses to the passengers
Miracle in New York
By Roger Childs
US Airway Fight 1549, with 155 people on board, left La Guardia Airport on January 15 2009 headed for Charlotte, North Carolina.
Shortly after take-off it landed on the Hudson River. The plane had lost power in both engines as a result of a bird strike by Canadian geese.
No-one was injured and Captain Sullenberger was hailed a hero. Veteran actor and director Clint Eastwood, has made an impressive movie out of this amazing story. However, rather than the actual “crash landing”, the inquiry which followed is the focus for the film.
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), was convinced that the pilots could have landed safely back at La Guardia without risking the lives of the passengers in a river in the middle of winter.
This is a well made, very tense movie which maintains the viewer’s interest throughout: four stars.
Tom Hanks superb in the title role
An impressive achievement, a portrait of a good man whose heroism lay in having the right stuff and knowing how to use it during a small eternity of looming chaos and unprecedented peril. Wall Street Journal
As Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully), Tom Hanks gives an excellent performance. He brings out the humanity of a man who, in a long career, had delivered over a million passengers safely and was determined to keep his record.
From the start you are watching Sully, and not Tom Hanks; he is utterly convincing as the family man, pilot, trusted friend and jogger. His co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, is played equally well by Aaron Eckhart, and it is he who delivers the classic punch line at the end.
The women in the cast understandably have smaller roles, however Laura Linley plays Sully’s wife Lorraine with conviction, and the parts of the chief hostess and the female FAA investigator are also well portrayed.
Impressive story-telling and editing
This was not an easy film to craft. Obviously the actual experience of what happened, both from the pilots perspective and the passengers, needed to be told and Eastwood sensibly doesn’t do it all in one go. The re-enactment of the bird strike, pilot deliberation, river landing and evacuation are done superbly.
There is a lot of face-to-face interaction between the two pilots as they await the inquiry process to flow through and between Sully and his wife over the phone. These exchanges are realistic and convincing.
Some might consider that the film jumps around too much, however overall the editing is tight and the crucial inquiry scenes builds the tension to a satisfying climax.
Above all this is Tom Hanks’ film. Do I hear an Oscar calling?
As Christopher Orr from The Atlantic, puts it: If Tom Hanks did not exist, Eastwood would have had to invent hi
The Story of our song
… the story takes off and every detail is fascinating,moving and ultimately enchanting. Sarah Watt, film critic for the Sunday Star Times, August 7 2016
Poi E put Patea on the world map
By Roger Childs
Patea is the gateway to Taranaki from the south. Passing through during the day, it is a sleepy little town with plenty of old shops boarded up. However, it survived the loss of its main industry, the freezing works, in 1982, and a song entered by the local Maori Club in the Hasting Polynesian Festival in that same year, gave it a new lease of life.
The key figure behind the popularizing of the song was local son, Dalvanius Prime, and he would go on to become a household name. Poi E was only first equal in Hastings, but would later become top of the New Zealand pops, win numerous awards and feature at a Royal Variety Concert in England.
The film on the iconic song is a must see for all Kiwis. It charts the history of Dalvanius and Poi E, and is told with plenty of pride, passion and good humour.
An enthralling story
Dalvanius was a talented singer and song writer, and early on, performed with a women’s group called the Shevelles. Their travels included a number of engagements across the Tasman. For a long tine his family didn’t know where he was, and his mother was disappointed that Dalvanius seemed to have rejected his Maori heritage.
A life-changing moment came when someone in Australia said to him … stop trying to be black and go back and rediscover your Polynesian roots.
So Dalvanius Prime returned to Patea and got involved with the local Maori Club. He had a song in his head and with local linguist, Ngoi Pewhairangi, providing the words, Poi E was created. The rest is history, and the film recounts the story.
A fascinating documentary
Director Tearepa Kahi has crafted an excellent film on a song where everyone knows the opening two words, but few others! It is great to see the very meaningful lyrics displayed, in both languages, late in the movie.
Poi E: The Story of Our Song is a superb mix of music, archival footage, local history, and interviews.
There are fascinating and diverse recollections about Poi E and Dalvanius Prime, ranging from the Prime whanau, Maori Club performers and the local butcher, to music personalities and Pita Sharples. The tight editing and many musical interludes means that it never drags.
One intriguing element of the story was the battle to actually get a song with Te Reo words, over the airwaves and on television. Davanius’s contacts and his persistence, against the odds, saw it through and it beat off the foreign competition to top the New Zealand charts for four weeks. Then it was on to Britain and the world.
Laced with humour
There are plenty of laughs in the movie and many come from that distinctive self-effacing, but often screamingly funny, Maori humour Billy T James made famous. One of many examples which come to mind from the film is the irreverent reference to Kiri Te Kumera!
Another delightful feature is the identification of Patea family and friends, complete with the nicknames “dancing” in yellow on the screen. Sometimes other elements are “drawn” in, like wings and halos and horns for three Maori lasses known as “the angels”.
If you haven’t been along, this is a film you must see: you owe it to yourself as a New Zealander to watch Poi E: The Story of Our Song. It’s part of your heritage.
The Wonderful Maggie Smith!
The fact that she has used your toilet may give her squatting rights. Social worker to Alan Bennett
The mysterious Miss Shepherd
By Roger Childs
This movie starts with Margaret/Mary Shepherd having an accident while driving a van and ends with a plaque being unveiled in suburban London to The Lady in the Van.
In between times “the lady” has spent her last 15 years living in playwright Alan Bennett’s driveway in Camden Town.
Sounds boring? No way! This is a fascinating story, loosely based on the truth, with Maggie Smith giving a superb performance in the lead role. Four stars.
Made for the part
Sometimes a character movie provides the ideal role for a particular actor. The part of the famous painter JWH Turner was just made for Timothy Spall and he relished the challenge. In The Lady in the Van, Maggie Smith is at her imperious, arrogant best playing the mysterious Miss Shepherd.
She is well backed up by co-star Alex Jennings playing Alan Bennett, and a cast of fellow residents who live in the street where Miss Sheppard parks her van.
She is an elderly, down and out, transient, and the treat for the viewer is finding out how she got into her poverty stricken state and sorting out fact from fiction.
Her experience has in fact involved a close relationship with the Catholic Church, a musical career and time in a nunnery. I’ll say no more on the plot!
Humour and pathos
The film could have lapsed into American-style schmaltz, but Smith’s superb performance and plenty of “laugh out loud” humour keeps it on track.
At the heart of The Lady in the Van is the unfolding relationship which develops between Alan Bennett and Miss Shepherd. Their exchanges range from the basic and hilarious to the sympathetic and poignant.
The role of the neighbours is also important in keeping the story moving, especially their changing attitudes to the stranger in their midst.
A quality film
Director Nicholas Hytner skilfully handles the challenges of maintaining the viewer’s interest in a limited range of settings. Consequently, tight editing is a feature and there are timely switches of location. Appropriately, Alan Bennett wrote the screenplay and this gives the story authenticity and credibility.
There are many hilarious lines and scenes, some of which involve exchanges with a social worker and others which relate to the most basic of human functions.
One element that is less than convincing, is Bennett talking to himself, scenes which features two figures: the writer and his alter ego.
However, overall this is a very enjoyable movie which is well worth a look.
A Delightful French Comedy
La Famille Bélier
By Roger Childs
They are a typical French farming family: Mum, Dad and two teenage kids, except they are all deaf, apart from the daughter. So 16 year old Paula, very well played by the award-winning Louane Emera, does the sign language communication for the others.
The Béliers run a dairy farm and regularly sell their produce at the nearby town market. However, the story largely centres on Paula who has a very good singing voice which impresses the school music teacher. The possibility that this talent might mean she will one day leave the family which is so dependent on her, is a key element of the storyline.
This is a movie which has plenty of laughs and but is also poignant in parts and occasionally sad. Four stars.
A popular movie for good reason
The film was a smash hit in France and has been sold to over 80 countries. It has a storyline with plenty of twists and turns, and the choir sequences provide a diverting, more serious element separate from the more humorous family and farm scenes.
Much of the humour comes from Paula passing on the messages to her folks. These situations range from explaining what customers for the Bélier cheese are saying, to outlining the doctor’s messages about her parents need to temporarily suspend their very active sex life.
However some of the scenes involving the school choir are also hilarious and the singing teacher gets away with comments that would never be allowed in an English or American film!
The acting is impressive and Paula’s parent’s: Gigi, played by the beautiful Karin Viard, and the laid back Rodolphe, portrayed by Francois Damiens, are great. Eric Elmosnino also does an excellent job as the music teacher with a chip on his shoulder.
Mme Belier loves dressing up for the camera and pulls in many customers at the market just by smiling sweetly.
She attracts people like the obsequious mayor who is seeking re-election, and the story takes an interesting turn when Rodolphe decides to throw his straw hat into the ring.
Putting down the deaf?
But for the deaf community the film is less feel-good than feel bad, mad, and misrepresented once again. Rebecca Atkinson, The Guardian
One can draw an analogy with the critics of Billy T James’s taking off Maori sterotypes and difficulty with English pronunciation.
Much of the La Famille Bélier humour is definitely based on the sign language in all manner of situations, however there are some poignant scenes where Paula’s translations are sensitive and heart-rending.
Viewers will obviously make up their own minds about whether the film, in Rebecca’s words is yet another cinematic insult to the deaf community.
La Famille Bélier moves along at a cracking pace and the unfolding drama keeps the audience guessing. It is well edited and the cinematography achieves the right balance.
Director Eric Lartigau is restrained in displaying the photogenic French countryside, and keeps the focus firmly on the farm, school and town settings, and the characters.
A nice touch, which some English-language directors could learn from, is not attempting to tie up all the loose ends. As the credits roll, photographs flick up to indicate some of the future outcomes for the Bélier family.
I highly recommend this film, which typifies the French industry’s ability to consistently make quality movies set in rural areas and small towns.
“Suffragette”: A Movie To Catch
We don’t want to be law breakers, we want to be law makers. Emmeline Pankhurst
An epic struggle
By Roger Childs
Despite the vigorous promotion of the cause by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and other groups, peaceful tactics were clearly not taking the movement anywhere. So the WSPU led by the Pankhurst sisters, launched a civil disobedience campaign in 1912.
This shift in tactics, which become increasingly bitter and violent, is the basis for Suffragette.
London in the pre-war era is faithfully reconstructed and the story builds to one of the most shattering climaxes in the history of film making. Four and a half stars.
A harrowing but gripping story
Their attitude was … but women have no need to vote as they are well represented by their fathers, brothers and husbands…
However, diehard members of the WSPU are in for the long haul, and they expand their recruiting as they shift to more extreme tactics like
- smashing shop windows
- blowing up letter boxes
- chaining themselves to railings
- going on hunger strikes.
The disobedient suffragettes of course run foul of the law and are frequently jailed for short periods. The authorities face a dilemma, as they haven’t the prison space for thousands of law breaking “feminists”. So they employ what was called the Cat and Mouse Act: let the women go, especially ones on hunger strike who have to be force fed, and then re-arrest them.
The Watts family
A fellow worker gets Maud on board with the suffragette cause and introduces her to local coordinator Dr Edith Ellyn (well played by Helena Bonham Carter).
The movie centres on the Watts family: Maud’s husband also works at the laundry and they have a five year old son. Not surprisingly family relations become increasingly strained as Maud is drawn deeper into the deeds not words approach increasing employed by the WSPU.
Carey Mulligan is superb as Maud and moves from being rather sceptical and timid about the cause to becoming a leader in the confrontational tactics.
A great setting
Writer Abi Morgan is also to be commended for her sensitivity and lack of polemic in providing realistic dialogue in the unfolding saga.
Overall, director Sarah Gavron keeps the action moving as it inexorably builds to the extraordinary and shattering climax. This will stay in your memory for a long time.
Suffragette faithfully retells the story of this crucial time in the history of Britain and the world: a must see for men and women.
“Everest” Magnificently Filmed
Getting to the top means nothing if you don’t get back. Josh Clark
Tragedy on the big mountain
By Roger Childs
Hall charged big money: c $100,000, however he was never short of clients because of his reputation for being meticulous, reliable and level-headed.
The rather grandiosely named Everest is about the last expedition he led.
The cinematography is spectacular and although you know it will end badly, the movie keeps the viewer riveted to the finish. Three and a half to four stars.
Eye-catching filming and a solid story line
Not surprisingly, there is stunning cinematography and the cameras zero in from all angles: aerial, underneath, stills, panning and close-ups. There are magnificent shots of the mountain in all its moods from sunlight on the slopes and clear still days to avalanches and blizzards.
Climbing Everest, even with guides, is a huge undertaking and early in the film the careful preparation and acclimatization required for the rich to be assisted to the top, is well covered. Overall the story is well paced and the tension increases markedly as the light-hearted banter at the various camps, turns into elation, frustration and fear as the final ascent and descent unfolds.
Some of the verbal interchanges are a little stilted and there is the inevitable I’m doing it because it’s there. Phones also feature a lot and it is interesting to be reminded that twenty years ago someone in New Zealand could talk to a relative high on a Himalayan mountain side.
It is well known that guiding up Mt Everest has got out of hand with the inevitable overcrowding, queuing, dumping of rubbish and, sadly, fatalities. The morality of exploiting the world’s highest mountain for tourist purposes could have perhaps warranted some comment.
Some good acting acting but too many characters
Jason Clarke makes a good fist in the lead role of Rob Hall with the right mix of reliability, assurance and confidence. As his pregnant wife waiting anxiously at home, Keira Knighley also does well without overdoing the anxiety and sentimentality.
However, probably the pick of the actors is Emily Watson who runs the base camp headquarters. She is convincing in portraying a range of emotions as the tragedy unfolds.
Josh Brolin is a bit over the top as the American journalist and some of the other characters are not well developed. In fact there are probably too many people to focus on and the viewer is sometimes wondering which group is he or she with, and how far up or down are they?
Some discontinuity is inevitable in the final descent sequences, but the film at this climactic stage never loses its tension and drama.
The film is well worth a look, even though you know it’s not going to have a happy ending.
Set against the photogenic Himalayan landscapes and changeable weather, the story of Rob Hall’s tragic last expedition is told with an appropriate balance of tension, emotion and drama.
Extraordinary Photography In “Salt Of The Earth”
I try with my pictures to raise a question, to provoke a debate, so that we can discuss problems together and come up with solutions. Sebastiao Salgado
Capturing a world of disaster and beauty
By Roger Childs
Brazilian Sebastiao Salgado is one of the world’s great photojournalists. He started out as an economist, but at the age of 26 decided to take up photography as a profession and travel the world. His journeys took him to places where there was immense human suffering, such as the Sahel, Rwanda, Sudan and Yugoslavia.
After concentrating on the world’s trouble-spots and man’s inhumanity to man for many years, he shifted the focus to the diverse and amazing beauty of the planet. Salgado had pictured the horrors of war, famine, oppression, pollution and cruelty in black and white, but made the transition to colour to show nature at its best.
The Salt of the Earth is directed by German film and literary legend Wim Wenders and carries the warning “content may disturb”. Everyone needs to see this film and be disturbed: four and a half stars.
The horror of inhumanity: looking into the heart of darkness
We are animals, born from the land with the other species. Since we’ve been living in cities, we’ve become more and more stupid, not smarter.
The film starts with extraordinary 1970s black and white shots at the massive Sierra Pelada gold mine. Salgado described the setting as 50,000 men in a large hole and his stark close ups show the despair and desperation of men covered in mud, carrying heavy sacks of debris out of the hole, hoping they may have contain a fortune. (See alongside.)
Over the next 20 years, Salgado documented the dark side of the human race such as
~ the tribal slaughters in Rwanda
~ the plight of refugees in Yugoslavia and the Sudan
~ wanton destruction in Kuwait and Iraq.
He does not hesitate to show the horror of what people have done to each other and, although the photographs are unsparing and horrific, they are never gratuitous.
What I want is the world to remember the problems and the people I photograph. What I want is to create a discussion about what is happening around the world and to provoke some debate with these pictures.
From degradation to restoration
In later years Salgado photographed the natural world in all its beauty, wonder and magic. After so many years of being the recorder and observer of how the planet had been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of its people oppressed and slaughtered, Salgado also decided to become an environmental activist.
What better place to start, than his family’s eroded and drought stricken farm in Northeast Brazil.
He began planting trees and termed his project Instituto Terra. Not only is the farm now productive, but there is also a new rainforest on the land with over two million trees!
What made us survive all these hundreds of thousands of years is our spirituality; the link to our land.
His example of bring the earth back to life has now spread to other parts of Brazil and the world.
Documenting the best and the worst
The Salt of the Earth is amazing cinematography because of Salgado’s superb visual record of over 40 years of travel to the ends of the earth.
Wim Wenders narration is sparing as he lets the graphic and often shocking photos speak for themselves, and Sebastiao Salgado and his son provide much of the commentary.
It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words and Wenders documentary shows hundreds of the photojournalist’s masterpieces.
One thing is certain, no viewer will be unmoved by this superb portrayal of one of the great visual recorders of the best and the worst on the planet.
“A Walk In The Woods” OK
“A Walk in the Woods” is unabashedly sentimental and sometimes as slow-moving as its two curmudgeonly leads, but it has an undeniable and redemptive charm. Geoffrey MacNab, The Independent
Filming a classic is not easy
By Roger Childs
He has covered a wide range of topics from Shakespeare and the origins of language to travelogues and tramping.
One of his funniest and most informative books is A Walk in the Woods.
Aging film star, Robert Redford, has long wanted to play Bryson in a film of his expedition along the very challenging Appalachian Trail.
The result is an amiable, but unremarkable movie: three stars.
Easy on the eye
The film tells the story of Bryson (played by Redford) meeting up with an old mate Katz (Nick Nolte), to undertake the hike. His wife, played very well in a small cameo by Emma Thompson, is highly sceptical about whether her 55 year old husband is up to it.
She also has doubts about whether the unfit, over-weight Katz will cope. However, the boys get underway and their “walk in the woods” makes for some great cinematography from the well known John Bailey.
The Appalachian Trail is one of the world’s great tramping challenges and runs for 3500km through 13 states in the eastern USA from Georgia to Maine.
Bailey makes a meal of the landscapes they pass through with the highlight being the extraordinary rock shelf known as McAfee Knob, which has a panoramic view across the Catawba Valley in Virginia and beyond.
Played for laughs
Katz and Bryson make for an interesting combination: the urbane, popular non-fiction writer and the hairy, wild man who has had his ups and downs. They joke and chat along the way and the bonding ultimately succeeds.
A number of incidents contribute to the comedy:
~ Katz getting friendly with a very large lady at a laundrette and consequently arousing the ire of her equally large husband
~ the expected collapsed bed at a hostel
~ Bryson having to wade through mud to get to the other side of a highway.
Readers of the book will recall Bryson’s terror of meeting bears and early in the film he looks over some reports of everything that can go wrong along the trail.
Sure enough, in one of the most hilarious scenes, a couple of very impressive, scary bears arrive one night and the boys have to use their ingenuity to scare them off.
Some aspects don’t gel
The film is uneven in quality. It starts with a rather stilted television interview about the book which on reflection was not necessary. Throughout the trail experience Katz often says It will be good for the book and Bryson responds There is no book.
Redford, although well preserved, is now 79 and too old to play Bryson who was 55 when he attempted the trail. He does pretty well in the part, but the sections where he explains some of the geology, history and geography to Katz are a little forced.
Nick Nolte, is convincing as the uncouth Katz and plays the humour better than Redford. Emma Thompson is impressive as always and could have had more than a few minor scenes.
Watchable but not great
A Walk In The Woods won’t be nominated for any awards, but is still worth a look. Although great for the cinematographer, this was always going to be a difficult book to capture in a feature film.
Trying to blend the story, with the humour and the book’s explanations of this amazing trail was a challenge for Director, Ken Kwapis, which doesn’t quite come off.
It might have helped if Bryson himself had done the screenplay.
Mr Holmes: Cinematic Delight
Highly intelligent children are often the product of unremarkable parents. Sherlock Holmes
The mature Holmes is a great success
By Roger Childs
A train steams rapidly across the landscape of southern England carrying the elderly Sherlock Holmes. He is heading for his country home above the white cliffs of Dover, a place where he lives with his housekeeper Mrs Munro and her inquiring son Roger. In his dotage with a fading memory Holmes’ main interest is a set of bee hives.
Mr Holmes is a delightful and gentle film which will not disappoint. It’s a welcome relief from the fury, fighting and fantasy of the Robert Downey Jr movies. However, the observational analysis and challenging cases are consistent with the legend. In the starring role the incomparable Ian McKellen is superb and the back-up cast is excellent. Four and a half stars.
A wonderful setting for a Holmes story
The year is 1947 and Holmes is well into his eighties. He walks with a stick and has trouble remembering things. So much so, his doctor recommends that he puts a dot in a diary each time he can’t recall something.
Mrs Munro is often exasperated by the idiosyncrasies of the old man, and talks of moving to Portsmouth to be with her sister. However, the 10 year old Roger delights in the company of “Mr Holmes” and loves helping with the bees, dressed in his smaller version of protective clothing. Bees and wasps are a key element of the film.
Holmes is frustrated by his memory lapses and seeks a magic potion for improving his concentration. He tries Royal Jelly without success and then hears about the wonderful properties of Prickly Ash. This necessitates a trip to post-war Japan and this setting is superbly recreated, complete with the American occupation and the post-bomb devastation of Hiroshima.
As with all Sherlock Holmes films, and there have been countless over the decades, the intersecting stories provide challenges for the audience. In Mr Holmes there are many ingredients:
~ the case of the Japanese son wondering what happened to his diplomat father
~ the despair of the frustrated housekeeper
~ the mystery of the diminishing bees
~ the warm relationship between the elderly man and the inquisitive boy.
The hallmark of quality
Flashback is used appropriately, especially as Sherlock’s memory starts to recall details from the past. Cinematographer, Tobias Schliessler, displays the Kent coastal setting beautifully and brings alive the horrific landscape of mid 1940s Hiroshima.
The acting is outstanding. Master performer, Ian McKellen, is wonderful as the aging Holmes and combines the detective’s characteristic observational skills with the foibles of old age and the onset of amnesia. He also interacts delightfully with ever inquiring Roger who is superbly played with conviction by Milo Parker. As the long-suffering housekeeper, Laura Linney is great and look for a delightful shot of her in uncharacteristic garb at the end of the film!
This is the last in a long tradition of screen portrayals of the world’s most famous fictional sleuth. Mr Holmes is a fascinating and absorbing experience which will keep you guessing in the cinema and provide plenty of discussion on the way home.
Mr Turner: Cinematic Masterpiece
Mike Leigh’s biopic of the great Romantic painter is a wickedly gruff late-life tragicomedy and class critique. Isabel Stevens “Sight and Sound”
A master director tackles a master painter
By Roger Childs
J M W Turner is arguably the greatest painter England has ever produced. He was a revolutionary who took the medium in new directions and was probably about 40 years ahead of his time. Like so many cultural icons through history, Turner was self-centred, eccentric and highly intelligent.
Mike Leigh’s film focuses on the last couple of decades of Turner’s long life and is a feast for the eyes from its amazingly graphic swirling paint credits backdrop to the great man’s agonizing death. However, the crucial element in this excellent movie is the brilliant performance in the title role by Londoner Timothy Spall.
A wonderful subject for the screen
A tribute from one master of his art form to another. The Times
In selecting Turner for his latest movie, 71 year old director Mike Leigh was taking on a big challenge. Not a lot is known about the artist’s private life, so Leigh needed to work with what he knew and be creative.
~ the close links with his father who was a barber
~ an early liaison which resulted in two daughters
~ the devotion of his faithful servant
~ a relationship with twice widowed Sophie Booth late in life.
All these elements are well worked as background for the extraordinary art Turner produced in his last few decades.
In earlier times the young Turner had cut his artistic teeth on the old masters, copying the style of others. His landscapes and historical scenes were often done with a formal, traditional approach. However, the older Turner was not happy with following the artistic conventions of the day, but did enjoy visiting the Royal Academy to see what others were up to. Thousands of artists have been able to paint accurate, representational portraits and landscapes, but this was not for J M W.
He has been described a Romantic painter, however in different ways he showed the way for the Impressionists, Expressionists, Fauvists and Abstract painters who would emerge in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Spall the magnificent
Many readers will remember Timothy Spall late last century, as the rather boring Cockney, Barry Taylor in Auf Wiedersehn Pet. He also had a small part in the controversial 2001 movie Intimacy which starred New Zealander Kerry Fox.
Many critics have commented that the Londoner was born for the lead in Mr Turner. Mike Leigh was keen to have him in the starring role as he had the right build, mannerisms, accent, crinkled face and low grunt.
But he would have to learn to paint, so a couple of years of tuition were needed. The result is that as Turner, Spall paints with confidence in the movie, which is essential to its credibility.
It is a spellbinding performance in a part which required great versatility: to be
- charming and rude
- energetic and exhausted
- supportive and abusive
- arrogant and humble
- lionised and humiliated
- loud and reticent
- humorous and sad.
Timothy Spall is all class and bound to win awards for this magisterial and utterly convincing portrayal of a great master.
A time of great social and economic change
Turner’s life from 1775 to 1851 spans the industrial revolution and runs into Victoria’s early years. There is a delightful cameo late in the movie, where the young Queen Victoria with Prince Albert visit the Royal Academy and is scornful of Turner’s unorthodox painting.
It was a time when railways began, the camera was invented and Britain expanded its empire and control of world trade. There are great scenes of Stephenson’s Rocket in full cry, and Turner and Mrs Booth sitting for a formal photographic portrait.
The reconstruction of London street scenes, the Margate wharves and coastal shipping are faithfully rendered and there is superb cinematography featuring the landscapes of the time.
As a backdrop to Turner’s busy life perambulating the countryside and coastal locations, sketching scenes in a little notebook, meeting social obligation in town and country and working in his studio, the viewer gets a great feel for the rapidly changing wider world.
Cinematography to reflect the times
I studied Turner’s color palette quite a lot at the Tate Britain, which is a fantastic resource for everything Turner – even the paints he used. We took that, and in a way the film is colored in very much in the palette of what Turner was using at the time. Dick Pope
Along with Leigh and Spall, Dick Pope is the third element in making Mr Turner a great film. The camera work of the set piece scenes in Turner’s house, at Margate, in the London streets and at the Royal Academy is excellent. Then you add in the magnificent wide-angle landscapes and long distance shots of Turner walking the countryside and have cinematography of the highest order. Of the many outdoor shots one example will suffice; Turner strides along a ridge in the fading light then heads down a track towards the coast. Then from the other side, a group of horses come over the top and silently follow the artist.
A five star movie
Mr Turner has an excellent cast in great form and the film is generally tightly edited. If I have a quibble it is that Turner took a long time to die! It was almost as if Mike Leigh was uncertain about how to end the film.
However this does not detract from what is a superb movie which deserves all the awards it will undoubtedly get. The combination of Leigh, Spall and Pope is a winner.
Uncovering Photographic Treasure
One of America’s more insightful street photographers. New York Times
One of the best
By Roger Childs
Vivian Maier is one of the great photographers to portray American society in the late 20th century. Vivian who? If you had looked up that name on Google in early 2007, as filmmaker John Maloof did, you would have drawn a blank. Try it now!
Plenty of people knew that Miss Maier, as she liked to be called, took pictures with her Rolleiflex camera, but nobody knew how good she was. Maloof bought an unmarked box of undeveloped negatives at an auction back in 2007, unaware that he had struck photographic gold. Finding Vivian Maier is his story about unravelling her story.
The camera clicking Nanny
Maloof acquired more boxes of Vivian Maier material and there was plenty of it! As well as over 100,000 photo negatives, there were boxes of unprinted film and other material.
She was an inveterate collector of
- tickets and passes
- bills and letters
- clothes and shoes.
With her trusty camera around her neck and the kids she was looking after in tow, she would snap away at anything that caught her eye. Over more than 30 years, she captured an enormous range of street scenes and especially candid shots of people.
She was self-taught, with an amazing ability to show life in New York and Chicago, as it happened. One expert has the theory that people being pictured didn’t have time to object, because Vivian Maier was looking down through the viewfinder of her camera and not holding it up to her eye.
Vivian would further indulge in her passionate devotion to documenting the world around her through homemade films, recordings and collections, assembling one of the most fascinating windows into American life in the second half of the twentieth century. John Maloof
Progressively, Maloof and other interested people carried out the very lengthy task of developing and printing the massive number of negatives and films. They recognized that Vivian Maier had been a photographer of great skill, but no-one knew how good she was in her lifetime, because she didn’t share her work.
She died unknown and unheralded in 2009.
Detectives on the trail
Maloof linked up with producer Charlie Siskel to uncover the story of the secretive street photographer. The film is fascinating, because they gradually find the people who employed Vivian Maier and the kids she nannied. Their recollections are highly interesting and insightful, as they reveal the many sides, good and bad, about the mysterious lady.
To say more would be to spoil your experience if you haven’t seen the movie. It is a riveting documentary which clips along as the pieces fall into place. As the mystery unfolds, copious examples of her work flick over on the screen.
Vivian Maier is now generally recognised as a great social photographer with an amazing skill for portraying the realism of life on the American street.
Some of the art establishment has not accepted her huge contribution to reflecting American urban society in the late 20th century, however exhibitions of her work have featured across the United States and around the world to sell-out crowds.
One of the best?
The film throws up many imponderables, such as why didn’t she want to share her talent?
Another question you may be asking, when you emerge into the light, is: would Vivien have wanted the kudos she has received since her death?
Now where are my lesbians? Miner’s widow’s question on getting off the bus at a London Gay Rights Parade
A film to be proud of
By Roger Childs
What do Welsh miners and Gays have in common? On the surface not a lot, but during the 1984 Miners Strike, they got together. Both groups knew what it was like to be criticised, ostracized, humiliated and targeted by the police. The film is based on a true story and Pride, recounting the development and outcome of the unlikely alliance of London homosexuals and a Welsh mining village, really hits the spot. Definitely five stars.
In March 1984 Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government announced its intention to close 20 mines across the United Kingdom. It was widely accepted that this move was likely to be the beginning of the end for the coal mining industry.
The response came in the form of walkouts, strikes and pickets coordinated by the National Union of Mineworkers, and tensions rose throughout the country as people and the media took sides. For mining communities across the nation, life was very tough as money dried up and families struggled to put food on the table.
It was during this industrial impasse that some London gays decided to set up LGSM. This this is where the movie begins.
Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners
~ the leader who has AIDS
~ just the one lesbian at the start
~ an older gay who is fabulous dancer
~ a 20 year old from a middle class home who accidently gets caught up in a Gay Pride march.
The group grows and they meet up with the Welsh villagers and get a very mixed reception. Not surprisingly, there are many lows and highs in the evolving relationship between the London gays and the mining community of Onllwyn.
Confronting the issues
There’s no significant sex or violence in Pride to justify strong ratings. The American classification board seems to automatically view any film with even the mildest gay content as unfit for people under 17. Peter Tatchell, LGBT activist
The film does not shy away from the realities of gay life and the struggle for equality in British society. There are examples of
- gay bashing
- bricks thrown through windows
- gay and lesbian bars
- public prejudice and abuse
- concerns about AIDS
- family pressure against coming out
- a homosexual magazine, in one of the funniest scenes. (See below)
Sadly this candour earned the film a ridiculous R rating in America so that people under 17 couldn’t see it unaccompanied. In New Zealand there is a sensible M certificate.
The frank portrayal of the gay existence, is in fact secondary to the unfolding of a close relationship between a small group of London “perverts” and the Welsh miners, neatly summed up in the slogan PITS AND PERVERTS. The friendship was also symbolised by one of the old mining banners which showed shaking hands.
A classy movie
Matthew Warchus’s film is in the tradition of Brassed Off and Billy Elliot and has the feel good and inspirational elements of those movies. It covers the full range of emotions from anger and despair to warmth and camaraderie.
The acting is impeccable across the board and the tight editing by Melanie Oliver ensures that the story clips along to its historic conclusion. Tat Radcliffe’s cinematography is superb and he makes a meal of the magnificent Severn River Bridge and the austere Welsh countryside.
Humour is also a key element and probably the funniest scene takes place in a gay couple’s flat in London. The lads give up their bedroom to a group of older Welsh women who have come to the city. The women discover a dildo (What’s this for?) and an explicit homosexual magazine under the bed and collapse in laughter.
A “must see” film
Pride was only released in September and has already won two film festival awards. It has been nominated for several BAFTA Awards which it deserves to win. If you haven’t seen it, this is definitely one on the best movies of the year.
The overall appeal of the film is neatly encapsulated by Ralph McAllister: Single camera, little dialogue, wonderful silences and revelations so delicately placed it kind of summed up,for me, the rich humanity of the film.
Impassioned and lovable is how Peter Bradshaw described it in The Guardian.
There is plenty of delightful dialogue, such as when an elderly Welsh woman asks one of the London visitors: There is something I want to know about lesbians: are you really vegetarian?
A Deadly Inheritance
Thank you for letting us into your lives. A Shoreline moviegoer to the directors of “The Inheritance”
Raising awareness about an incurable disease
By Roger Childs
Bridget knows that she will probably die from progressive neurodegeneration. Tragically, she has the Huntington’s Disease gene which she inherited through her mother Judy, who herself is close to death. Although dedicated and extensive research is going on around the world, there is currently no known cure for this cruel and deadly condition.
However Bridget and her two brothers are not just waiting for the inevitable; they remain positive, stay in contact with the experts and keep exercising. Furthermore, Bridget and partner Jeff, have made a film to tell the world about, what for centuries, has been a misunderstood affliction, which often resulted in sufferers being put into mental asylums. It is a great film and although harrowing in places, is overall an uplifting experience. Five stars.
Combining the best features of top documentaries
The Inheritance is a very professional movie. It is essentially an odyssey of Bridget’s mother’s brave battle through the increasingly debilitating stages of Huntington’s Disease. However it is also an informative, awareness-raising film which combines the story of how the deadly gene has come through the family with
- the origins of the disease and the work done by Dr Huntington, an American who wrote the first professional paper on the subject
- reconstructions of historical events
- the science of how the disease develops from brain malfunctions
- the on-going research being carried out around the world
- comments from scientists and doctors from Sweden to Australia.
The 70 minute film is tightly edited and mixes historical family footage with Judy’s continuing struggle. Clips from the experts on research, treatment and support are interspersed with family interactions and familiar footage of the Paremata home setting.
While there is inevitably sadness and despair in the story, there is also plenty of hope, camaraderie and good humour. Bridget’s commentary throughout is excellent: sensitive, realistic and amazingly positive.
A Film Festival success
The documentary was well received at the recent New Zealand Film Festival and will shortly be screened in Tasmania and elsewhere in Australia.
Here is how the Film Festival programme summed it up
The Inheritance addressed in this illuminating, personal, and courageous film could hardly be more daunting. Huntington’s Disease is a hereditary neurodegenerative condition that typically manifests in mid-adult life. DNA testing has revealed that Wellington film editor Bridget Lyon is not one of the lucky few who can expect to escape. She and director, husband Jeff McDonald confront the horrors of the disease’s progress most squarely in the deterioration of her mother, who had been a staunch promoter of Huntington’s awareness – in marked contrast to previous generations who shrouded its cruel heritage in shame. Historians have traced the passage of the gene back through generations, as Lyon has been able to do in her own family.
Opportunities to see this worthy film
The Inheritance is a very watchable and uplifting documentary, which provides insights into a little known disease and the story of an incredibly courageous family confronting its impact.
There are more opportunities to see it locally.
Sunday November 2nd 6:30 at Shoreline: phone bookings – 04 902 8070.
Monday November 3rd 6.30 at Light House Cinema Pauatahanui: bookings – 04 234 6770.
Ticket price $20 – a fundraiser to raise money for Huntington’s Disease Outreach Screenings
“Gone Girl”: A Mixed Bag
Is “Gone Girl” a feminist masterpiece or supremely damaging to all women everywhere? Emine Sander, Mail & Guardian
A typical American movie
By Roger Childs
There will be different views on the success of Gone Girl as it is thought-provoking, provocative but, at times, rather contrived. In many ways it is a typical Hollywood thriller, with the expected mix of drama, schmaltz, violence, bad language and sex, however on another level it can be seen as a satire on modern American life. It is based on the book by Gillian Flynn who also wrote the screenplay. That being the case, the film probably reflects the story line of the novel pretty well. Three stars.
A complicated story going backwards and forwards
The main character is Amy Elliot-Dunne played very convincingly by Rosamund Pike. She is a highly educated writer who is painted as a modern Pollyanna: the subject of a series of best-selling “Amazing Amy” books and worshiped by the nation, when she suddenly goes missing.
Director David Fincher, takes too long to establish the background on Amy, however, once she is married off to Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck plays the role well), and then goes AWOL on their fifth wedding anniversary, the pace picks up.
The main part of the story centres on the search for “Amazing Amy” and it is here that all the stereotypes kick in:
~ the heroine: long blonde hair, perfect teeth, svelte figure and loved by the nation
~ the American obsession with celebrity culture and “making it”
~ the staunch parents who front up on the media and at press conferences
~ the media scrum with the obligatory female show host, anxious to get the latest news and happy to speculate wildly on what’s going on
~ the beautifully dressed, over paid, super-confident black lawyer
~ the quaint American customs like the vigil with lighted candles.
The movie is tightly edited and, to his credit, director David Fincher, handles the flashbacks and time frames well. The audience is aided by the One day after, Twenty five days later etc.. flashed up on screen.
Light on character development but strong on gratuitous elements
The personalities of the happy/unhappy couple are very well drawn and the audience is in no doubt about the strengths, weaknesses, abilities and foibles of Nick and Amy. However, you get to know little about other key characters such as
- Detective Rhonda Boney, played earnestly by Kim Dickens
- Margo Dunne (Carrie Coon) Nick’s twin sister.
The detective doesn’t seem to have a private life (doesn’t she have a drink when she gets home?) and Margot, who runs The Bar (only the Americans would call a tavern by that name), has no apparent friends apart from her brother.
~ regular variations of the f word and c word
~ gratuitous violence
~ explicit sexual encounters.
However, the pace is fast and furious once Amy disappears, and the toing and froing between what lying/cheating Nick is doing, which most people know, and what scheming/manipulating Amy is up to, which virtually nobody knows, is effectively managed.
Worth a look?
If you like American movies which have plenty of action, sex and violence, and stereotyped characters, Gone Girl will appeal. It can also be viewed as a satire on the shallowness of “the American Way” and hero worship, but somehow I don’t think this is the director’s or screen writer’s intention.
Emine Sander, who is quoted at the top, takes it far too seriously and the film should really just be seen for what it is: an entertaining, action-packed story of the see-sawing fortunes of a modern American marriage. There are no deep messages.
Food, Fun And Fire
It’s exactly one hundred feet from our door to their’s. Mansur
The Hundred Foot Journey: an entertaining, feel-good movie
By Roger Childs
Any film with Helen Mirren in it is worth a look. She is a highly talented and versatile actress who has played many queens in her career. This time she is Madame Mallory, the matriarch of an up-market French restaurant on the outskirts of a provincial town. Imagine her dismay when an immigrant Indian family, fleeing from persecution, buy up the derelict building opposite with a view to setting up their own ethnic eating place.
A clash of cultures and cuisines
The rivalry that ensues sets the scene for a first rate food film complete with plenty of
- mixing, frying and steaming
- frantic slicing, dicing and spicing
- innovative cooking
- and immaculately presented dishes.
The Bombay exiles – father (Om Puri), two sons, a daughter in law and two grandchildren – rapidly transform the wreck they have bought and establish Maison Mumbai. However, Madam Mallory is up to the challenge and the food wars begin.
The audience might have expected a first night disaster for the new restaurant. However after a slow start they gradually entice plenty of locals through their doors and introduce them to the tantalising tastes of Indian cooking with its wonderful array of herbs and spices. In fact the aromas practically waft off the screen: mouth watering stuff!
Crossing the lines
The two sides watch each other like hawks, but the inevitable softening occurs after a dramatic incident. The growing entente is also helped by the romantic interest that develops between French sou-chef Marguerite, winsomely played by Charlotte le Bon, and the younger Indian son Hassan (Manish Dayal), who is a talented cook with ambition.
To tell more of the story would spoil the experience for those who haven’t seen The Hundred Foot Journey. Suffice to say, there is a degree of predictability about much of the unfolding plot, but there are a few surprises.
A nicely rounded movie
There is a satisfying mix of drama, humour, passion and expectation in this well presented film. Director Lasse Hallstrom, is no stranger to food movies and readers may remember his mouth watering Chocolat.
The acting is very good from all the cast and Helen Mirren and Om Puri as the respective restaurant owners, are great foils for each other. Manish Dayal as the aspiring chef plays his role with a convincing mix of humility, diligence and confidence.
Tight editing keeps the story moving and the cinematography makes a meal of the landscapes and town scenes, and the dishes of course!
All the food looks amazing – shot in swishy slo-mo by cinematographer Linus Sandgren, it is swept on to tables with full orchestral accompaniment. Tom Shone, Guardian film critic
The Hundred Foot Journey is an entertaining, if rather predictable, feel good movie which has the audience leaving the theatre well satisfied, but probably looking for a meal.
Powerful anti-war Drama
Nobody wins in war Jan. We all lost. Arthur, World War One survivor
“Bill Massey’s Tourists” demonstrates the realities of war
By Roger Childs
Jan Bolwell’s dramatisation of her grandfather’s World War One experiences, is a moving and entertaining experience. The Paekakariki performance last Sunday was the first live show in which Jan takes all the parts. She plays herself as an Oamaru school girl in Miss McKinnon’s history class, assigned to ask the old question: What did you in the war, Grandad? Accompanied with suitable props, music of the time and vivid video images, this is a very perceptive and poignant show. It covers the full gamut of wartime experience from the range of motives for going to the war, to the horrors of life and death on the western front.
With the 100 year anniversary of the start of the war to end war looming, this is an appropriate reminder of why New Zealand should never again get involved in other people’s wars.
If you missed it, there are four more chances to catch the show in Wellington. (See details below).
The multi-talented Jan BolwellJan is a well known personality on the arts scene in Wellington and her versatility has been demonstrated in her dancing, choreography, playwriting, solo performances and promotion of other shows, such as pianist Jan Preston’s recent performance in Paekakariki. (See https://kapitiindependentnews.net.nz/jan-preston-a-class-act/)
~ been the director of the Crows Feet Dance Collective since its inception in 1999
~ recently directed and choreographed The Armed Man; another World War One show composed and written by Karl Jenkins. (Recently performed in Otaki, this will return in 2015.)
~ performed solo in her own works: Standing on my Hands, and Here’s Hilda! about her grandmother. (Bill Massey’s Tourists completes the trilogy.)
~written a highly successful play based on Frances Hodgkins, called Double Portrait.
Jan will also feature in the cancer survivors exhibition: Brave Art. See https://kapitiindependentnews.net.nz/cancer-survivors-brave-art/
A captivated audience
Bill Massey’s Tourists is a skilful examination of the New Zealand experience of the so called Great War. Jan plays all the parts with passion and authenticity, and the exchanges between herself as a school girl and her grandfather Arthur, are a particular highlight.
The chronological scenes from Arthur’s adolescence to old age are punctuated with familiar music and poetry from the time and some parodies, ranging from the humorous Land of heat and sweaty socks and Mademoiselle from Armentieres to the poignant For the Fallen and The Last Post.
The attentive audience enjoyed the humour and satire, and appreciated the strong messages about the futility and waste of war. The coverage of the all the implications of what the disastrous First World War meant for families across the nation is very suitable for people of all ages.
The appropriateness of performing the show at this time was summed up by its creator in the programme:
It is timely to examine ideas and mythologies about patriotism and nationhood and to reflect on our place in global conflicts both past and present.