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Friday, 27 November 2015

Pick of the Flicks

It's been a relatively quiet week -- only 16 movies seen (!) and none of them are clamouring for my or your attention. There was one 'classic' (only because it is now 100 years old) silent "Regeneration" (1915) from Raoul Walsh, the director with one of Hollywood's longest careers, and a couple of minor watchable horrors "AfterShock" (2012) and "I Spit on Your Grave 2" (2013). The balance fell into one of three categories: 'worthy' foreign films, a selection of recent releases, and at this time of the year Christmas movies. Generally I now try to avoid these, as too often overly-sickly, unless there is some good reason to watch them. Choosing one movie from each of these categories, here's a taste of what I've been up to:

"Lore" (2012): This movie is something of an oddity insofar as it has an Australian director (Cate Shortland) and an Australian production company, yet it is in German with an all-German cast. It's actually a hard and occasionally disturbing watch, since it follows the fortunes of l5-year old Hannelore in post World War II Germany, a powerful performance by the then 19-year old Saskia Rosendahl. Her hard-line Nazi parents have deserted the family to escape the occupying troops, and Lore is left to marshal her younger sister, even younger twin brothers, and baby Peter to her Grandmother's house in Hamburg in the North of the country. They set off across barren terrain, but soon abandon most of what they have carried with them. Also they soon exhaust their small supply of money and valuables. They are filthy, starving, and traumatised by the dead bodies on the path.

Everyone they encounter is mourning their dear Fuhrer and when villagers are forced to look at photographs of 'dead Jews' in exchange for stale bread, the consensus is that these are staged by the victors using posed actors. Everyone, including Lore, seems to be in a state of denial and she tries to keep her siblings' spirits up by singing the patriotic ditties she learned in Hitler Youth. Their temporary saviour comes in the shape of Thomas (Kai Malina), who has identity papers in which a yellow star is folded; he passes himself off as the elder brother of the family and manages to beg or steal sufficient food to keep them alive. Yet Lore can't help but think of him as 'a filthy Jew', despite feeling some sexual attraction. When he loses his papers (in fact they have been pinched by one of the youngsters to prevent his leaving them), he does in fact leave them to continue the gruelling journey on their own. Only when Lore studies his papers does she realise that the photo is not of Thomas and that he must have stolen them from a dead Jew. Whether he was actually Jewish or only a survivor of the camps is left open.

When the family -- minus one sibling, shot en route -- reach Grandma's they are back in the repressive Nazi environment in which they were raised. Lore's coming of age is now complete. She cracks under the strain of all she has witnessed and all the lies that she is no longer able to accept. The very epitome of a 'worthy' film.

Among this week's recent releases we can quickly dismiss the risible and not particularly erotic "50 Shades of Grey" and "The Opposite Sex", an unfunny battle of the sexes starring the no-longer young and ripe Mena Suvari. The surprise winner was "The Wedding Ringer" (2015) (a pun on Adam Sandler's early success "The Wedding Singer"). While derivative of so many other films with not so subtle nods in the script, this movie was surprisingly jolly. Josh Gad, a recognizable face from over the years, plays a nice, good-guy nerd who is chuffed as monkeys to be engaged to 'hot' Kaley Coco (nor me!). However as she and her parents make grandiose plans for the big day, Gad is being pestered to name his best man and to furnish seven groomsmen. He is forced to contact a professional fixer, played by Kevin Hart, fortunately toned down from the annoying motor-mouth he played in last year's "Ride Along". Hart agrees to pretend to be Gad's long-standing best friend, despite Gad having told his fiancée that Bic Mitchum (a name invented from the contents of his medicine cabinet) is a priest in the army chaplaincy service. Hart also finds seven assorted misfits to portray the groomsmen, including Jorge Garcia (the fat fellow from "Lost" who is still as fat and homely). These unlikely friends are briefed to portray an unlikely assortment of A-list professional types and professors, who must charm the prospective bride and her family, including mother Mimi Rogers and OTT Grandma Cloris Leachman.

Gad 's character, who has never really had a circle of friends, suddenly discovers the joys of male bonding and cutting free, and surprisingly, Hart too has been too busy to have much of a life outside his business hustling. One just knows that Gad will never be happy with the materialistic Coco, that the would-be marriage is doomed from the start, and that more fulfilling days await both male leads. Apparently the script was originally intended for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson cashing in our their 2005 hit "Wedding Crashers", but Gad and Hart prove inspired choices for this generally feel-good film.

It seems that the season for Christmas-themed movies (generally TVMs) starts earlier each year, and I try to only watch those with something special to commend them. I chose "Snowed in at Rosemont" (2015) (aka "Rosemont") for its senior cast of Grace Zabriskie (on my radar since "Twin Peaks" back in 1990, but a screen presence from the late 70s) and Brad Dourif -- for once not playing a creepy weirdo. They have something of a love-hate relationship as Josephine, the owner, and faithful handyman Abe of a now-closed mountain resort, once renowned as the haunt of presidents and gourmets. Zabriskie has retreated into misanthropy after her daughter and grand-daughter were killed in an air crash many years ago and her husband subsequently committed suicide. Into their lives come an 8-month pregnant young woman and the young man from whom she begged a lift at the last service-station. Their car has come off the road in the severe snowstorm and they trudge their way to Rosemont, where Josephine reluctantly takes them in, egged on by Abe. However she can't bear to look at the girl who is the spitting image of her dead daughter. 

When the baby arrives early -- the lodge is still snowed in -- the cantankerous pair deliver the boy, and Josephine's cold heart begins to melt. There is even talk of re-opening the resort on the profits from the vintage wine-cellar. She becomes increasingly convinced that the girl is her long-lost grand-daughter and refuses the local doctor's offer of a blood-test; she wants no scientific evidence for what she knows in her heart to be true. Ayla Kell and Brendan Michael Coughlin, who play the young pair (who of course fall in love) were unknown to me, but they do a reasonable job. However the strength of the film relies on its older players, not just Zabriskie and Dourif, but also the ever-visible Lochlyn Munro playing the baddie who impregnated the girl and who wants to sell the child, and TV-regular Michael Gross playing the kindly doctor. Since it all comes to a climax under the ginormous Christmas tree in the now cleaned-up lounge, the Christmas credentials of this likeable movie are established.     

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