Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Girl with all the Gifts (2016)

I came to this relatively low-budget British film without any great expectations but was pleasantly surprised by its unusual treatment of what has become a stereotyped genre. In simple terms, it's yet another zombie flick -- but quite unlike the usual run. For a start it doesn't follow the rules laid down by the recently departed George Romero -- these zombies are a breed apart. When we finally catch up with them well into the first half hour of the movie we discover that they are fast-moving, yet stand stock still until they get a whiff of fresh blood.

The film begins with our being introduced to a pack of wheelchair bound kiddies being trundled into their classroom for lessons with the fragrant Gemma Arterton (glammed down with little make-up). They seem harmless enough and we wonder why the attendant soldiers treat them so brutally. We soon learn that they are the second generation of the broadly infected 'hungries' and that they have literally eaten their way out of their pregnant mommies' tummies. Unlike the first infected generation they have the gift of speech, but are just as dangerous if let loose. Resident scientist Glenn Close is hoping to dissect them each in turn to develop an antidote.

One student stands out as being more 'human' and humane than her cohorts...little Melanie, played by newcomer Sennia Nanua. In Mike Carey's novel she's blond and blue-eyed and her teacher is black, but the races are reversed here. When their army base is overrun by the zombie hordes, the pair escape with Close and two soldiers. It is then a scramble to stay safe and nourished until they can be rescued. However it soon becomes clear that there is no longer a safe haven and that the infecting virus is on the verge of mutating into an airborne killer that will mark the end of mankind.

One hopes for a happy ending from Dr Close and the precocious child, but Melanie has different shocking ideas about the world's future. The adult actors including an initially hostile Paddy Considine are all fine but it is little Miss Nanua who steals the show and orchestrates the devastating finale.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Le Grand Chemin (1987)

It's been a while since I wrote about my friend Richard and the 13-seat cinema in his garden. Although he schedules at least two movies a month for his newsletter group, I have usually seen his selections -- and credit where credit is due he does try to schedule lesser known films, and most often I have my own copy. Therefore I was delighted to visit him last night to view the above French film which was completely unknown to me. The only copy with subtitles that he could obtain was a DVD of a VHS tape taken off a television showing some years ago, so it was not up to Blu-ray standards, but still well-worth the experience.

What surprises me is that the copy was taken off a Channel 4 showing which I normally would not have missed -- so perhaps I was away at the time. (That's no excuse, Pat!)

Anyhow, back to the business at hand. The film is an effective and affecting coming-of-age story based on director Jean-Loup Hubert's screenplay from his own autobiographical novel. Nine-year old Louis (charmingly played by the director-s own son in his film debut) is 'dumped' for the summer by his heavily-pregnant mother on her childhood friend Marcelle in a 1950's small Brittany town. Mom must cope with the later stages of her pregnancy and little Louis' father is keeping himself well out of the picture. At first the boy, Paris-raised, is traumatised by the rough country ways he encounters. His introduction to Marcelle is her bleeding a rabbit for dinner and skinning its 'pyjamas', leaving Louis with no appetite that night.

Marcelle's husband Pelo played by Richard Bohringer -- the only well-known name in the cast -- is a hard-drinking, rough-edged carpenter, and any marital love that may have existed between the pair evaporated after the death of their infant son. They live together like two bickering strangers. Marcelle takes the boy to church; Pelo's preference is to take him fishing. However neither adult has as strong an influence on the sheltered boy as the ten and a half year old tomboy Martine, who lives next door in another fatherless home with her mother and ripe teenaged sister. Martine, beautifully played by Vanessa Guedj, indoctrinates Louis into the ways of the world and helps him to overcome his fears and inhibitions. By the time the summer ends, Louis is on the way to becoming his own person, but he has also softened the animosity between Marcelle and Pelo. They begin to rekindle their long-dead passion.

I was not previously familiar with the actress playing Marcelle, Anemone-- like so many French players particularly in the 30s and 40s, she uses a single name (in her case taken from her first film role back in the 60s.) Both Bohringer and she won French Cesar awards for their roles in this film, but the natural and charming performances by the child players are what makes this movie memorable and moving.

Perhaps one reason that the film remains obscure (unrightfully so) is because it got a Hollywood remake as "Paradise" (1991) with Melanie Griffiths and her then-husband Don Johnson as the adults and youngsters Elijah Wood and Thora Birch as the children. I'd quite forgotten having viewed that movie. However, I am sure I shall long remember this film for its poignancy, beauty, and subtle evocation of a particular time and place.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Kon-Tiki (2012)

I'm sure that once upon a time I must have viewed the original documentary of Thor Heyerdahl's epic 1947 journey, which won an Oscar in 1951, but if I did, it has long faded from my memory. This film is the lightly fictionalised version of the same undertaking, which became Norway's most expensive movie to date. It too was Oscar-nominated, but it was not a winner.

It's a perfectly passable entertainment, lovingly photographed with a few thrilling moments with sharks, whales, and men overboard, but it's mostly concentrated on the tedium and frustrations of the endeavour. Then again when one has six men on a small balsa-wood raft for a total of 101 days, there is going to be a limit to the excitement versus the daily boredom and petty squabbles. Heyerdahl was living with his wife in Polynesia when he developed the fixed idea that the area had been settled by Peruvian Inca tribesmen who sailed the Pacific, using the prevailing currents, to reach land. This theory was at complete variance with the accepted version that Polynesia was settled by Asians.

Heyerdahl fruitlessly attempted to raise funding for his project of recreating the 5000-odd mile crossing from Peru using only materials available 1500 years ago and was laughed out of court by all of the experts. Eventually having gathered his crew -- two war heroes, an engineer who was currently selling refrigerators, an ethnographer who confided that documentaries can make money, and only one man with any actual seafaring experience -- the President of Peru finally twisted some arms and the fanciful project was underway. It is probably well worth noting that despite having lived in a tropical paradise for many years, Heyerdahl himself did not know how to swim.

The actor portraying Heyerdahl was tall and handsome and unswerving in his belief that he and his theory were infallible. Even when lives were in danger and the raft in perilous condition, he refused to use any modern materials to reinforce it. From his crew he demanded unquestioning obedience and faith. Four of the five were not well-differentiated, and since by the end of the movie they had all grown bushy blonde beards, they seemed pretty interchangeable. The exception was Herman the fridge salesman who was treated as a bit of a clown and something of a liability -- although I understand that this portrayal was grossly unfair to the actual historic person. It wasn't helped by my recognizing the actor as the one who played the chubby sex-addict Benedick in three series of the droll Norwegian serial "Dag".

After so many days living in cramped conditions and not knowing whether survival was a real option, the men were overjoyed to sight land in Indonesia. Heyerdahl had finally managed to prove that his hypothesis was possible 1500 ago, but of course he could never prove that this is in fact how Polynesia was settled. His account of the journey published in 70 languages and the prize-winning documentary (for which he takes sole credit despite the help of the more experienced ethnographer) brought him lasting fame, even if it was at the cost of his wife and family. It remains one of the great feats of modern times -- or a great folly from a determined hothead.

Finally I am grateful that I was able to view the film in Norwegian with English only used sparsely when appropriate, whereas the Weinstein Company insisted on releasing the movie Stateside in a dubbed English version. Dumb!