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Mister Johnson (1990)
A cinematic misunderstanding of a good novel
Mr Beresford has taken what I consider to be his usual film making approach to this poorly adapted screenplay from an excellent and workable novel. Mr Johnson is NOT a comedy, neither does it rely upon comedic aspects in its story line. Mr Johnson is a drama, sadly robbed of its drivers.
The great problem with this film is the miscasting of two leading men, and the inability of the director to accurately shape the story, and to direct the individual performances. the character of Mr Johnson, is lacking in complexity and dimension, and Mr Brosnan's work is rather like a mimicry of every British colonial character ever sent up by any music hall comic or TV sketch comedy ever produced.
The basic story is heartrendingly powerful, and the false world of Mr Johnson, fueled by his childlike desire to fulfill its requirements, should be the powerhouse of the whole undercurrent of the madhouse of British Imperialism, and the blind faith of those who attempted to live up to the impossible standards of its, so called, civilization.
The novel hits the gong, but this screenplay, the miscasting, the absence of storytelling and of basic theatrical direction, robs Mr Johnson of its magic.
There are usually very good reasons why films like this one do poorly at the box office.
usual reason is the fact that they are not funny, being funny, is a very important prerequisite for a comedy films. The story by Mr Sharp, is funny, very funny, and the characters, as conceived by him, are crafted in the great comedy tradition. So why was the film very unfunny and not successful as a comedy film? Mr Smith and Mr Rhys Jones are tried and proved comedians, who have been very funny in the past, and since. The problem is that like the great Morecambe and Wise before them, they were not comedic actors, they failed to understand that the character in a comedy story has his own reasons for doing what he does, his own motivation and his own personal set of human feelings and desires. the comedic actor, unlike the comedian, does not have to make the character funny, he/she must play them out with love and respect for their foibles, which lead them constantly into scenes of unintentionally comic behaviour.
With Wilt, in the case of Mr Rhys Jones's character, the audience is often left asking itself why, and Mr Smith played the policeman without ever giving credence to how on earth he might have got to such a rank in the first place.
18 Shades of Dust (2001)
gets lost in its own jungle
This is one of a number of films that genuinely upset me. The problem is almost foretold in the title: "18 Shades of Dust." Here is a film of much worth, the acting is very fine from Danny Aiello, and is of a high standard from others. The directing ranges from brilliant to very ordinary, but is mostly good.
The script is wonderful, with moments of true brilliance and generally good to exceptional dialogue. Only the story lets it down, after growing strongly and developing entertainingly, it reaches an early zenith, but with so many peaks and byways, it eventually stalls, and stumbles into a labyrinth of theatrical clichés.
Last Cab to Darwin (2015)
This is the first Australian film in a long time to be built upon a first rate script, beautiful dialogue, absolutely exemplary direction, wonderful cinematography, first class set dressing, and good costuming and casting.
Others have reviewed this film, some have praised it, some have called it good, some, alas have canned it as a failure. Too many have analysed the story as sad, even depressing, others have claimed that it is a drama with comedic moments etc.
Last Cab to Darwin is a drama, no drama can function well, without the essential comic relief, and this is no exception, but let me say that here is a film that takes no account of contrived entertainment, neither does it preach, or dictate moral terms; Last Cab to Darwin simply tells a story, and stories within that story, via fine direction, one of the best scripts, and some of the finest dialogue ever recorded in this country.
The direction is sensitive and well paced, and there is evidence of the actors actually having been directed and shepherded by a director with a real knowledge of the craft and process of acting.
Michael Caton is fine as Rex, and he deserves every accolade that has been thrown his way, but having watched his work for more than 35 years, I know that he can at times show a tendency to overplay, especially when the character is driven by deeply felt or complex intent; yet here he is restrained, almost underplaying at times, but always compelling and moving.
The support cast is largely divine, some critics have accused Mark Coles Smith of overplaying, this is absolute nonsense from critics who know nothing of good acting or screen work, Mr Coles Smith is wonderful, a kind of indigenous James Dean, whose character of Tilly is at various times frightening, amusing, endearing, wise, foolish, enigmatic, and utterly charming.
Ningali Lawford is quite breathtaking, as she drives her character Polly, moving so smoothly from harsh and angry via practical, warm, funny and heartbreaking, to tender, vulnerable and deeply loving.
Emma Hamilton keeps a firm controlling hand on her wonderful characterisation of Julie, the UK backpacker and nurse, who takes charge of Rex in his final phase. With only a couple of exceptions, the lesser supporting roles are fine, and for once, directorial attention has been given to even the smallest of roles (I mention this because it is all too often that Australian directors lavish time and screen time only on the leads, and leave the rest of the cast to their own devices) Last Cab to Darwin is a fine film, better than that, it is a masterpiece of theatrical screen production.
Sparkling cuvée, attempting to imitate champagne
many superlatives have been thrown at this film, many sycophantic accolades. In my opinion, it is an attempt to cut through, a bold, and even adventurous exercise in film story telling. the sad reality is that it is a failure in honest theatrical terms.
Like a sparkling cuvée, it is imbued with effervescent enthusiasm, but its pedigree lacks the finesse of the champagne it attempts to imitate, and, not surprisingly, it conveys very little taste.
The direction is stilted and obvious, even clunky at times; the acting, with one, and occasionally two notable exceptions, rates from bold to over the top, and the dialogue suffers from poor scripting and unrefined delivery. Like many (alas too many) Australian films, it is a work based upon a script devoid of a good story, which is competently shot (although in this case containing some technical errors of judgement) but rather over enthusiastically played out. PQD is like the outpourings of an amateur theatre troupe, hell bent upon having fun, strutting their individual stuff, and playing for laughs.
Emmeline Pankhurst was a courageous and principled woman, who suffered unimaginable indignity and scorn, at the hands of many; great and small, male and female.
She fought tirelessly for "universal suffrage" and the rights of women to be treated as equals in society, and under the law. Mrs Pankhurst understood, in the way that only a true warrior does, when to take up the sword and when to lay it down; the very men for whom she fought bravely, and alas some of the women, treated her appallingly, even to the point of stoning her in the street.
Unfortunately, the film Suffragette, has wasted its opportunity to tribute this magnificent woman from the past, and all who strove to assist with, and eventually realise many of her dreams, and those of the WSPU.
For some reason best known to her, the director has taken a clichéd view of the struggle, through modern "feminist" eyes wearing rose tinted lenses. The period setting and the overall view of society in the time is captured reasonably well, but the heart beat and the soul of the magnificent yet ordinary women of the WSPU has been missed almost entirely.
The movement, and its central players, have been lampooned, degraded and exaggerated for years; Emmeline Pankhurst's wonderful auto biography In My Own Words, was both banned and ridiculed.
Suffragette should have been an opportunity to create a clean and truthful view of Mrs Pankhurst, her husband Richard, her daughters, and all the courageous women who stood by her, marched, fought for, and even died for, the great cause. Sadly, it misses the mark, for the want of a beating heart and a soul, so essential to the historical tapestry.
A curate's egg
The film opens beautifully, but after a promising overture, there follows immediate discordance and a slow tempo that retards into a staggering and halting one. The direction is to blame for most of what ails the film. Hazy focus, sloppy framing, and lame theatricality are all in evidence. A sad tale, cannot generally sustain itself with low key and sad faces throughout, Maggie is no exception.
The tempo did lift as the thin story progressed, but rarely kept its promise of drama, which eventually sank into puppet like manipulation, just before a lovely conclusion too late to redeem the film entirely.
Much has been said already about the work of Arnold Schwarzenegger in this film, his touching and beautifully sustained performance throughout is, I suspect down to his long experience in the business (you can't give the kind of service he has given and not learn a thing or two about acting/directing) rather than anything that may have come from the director.
The script, though good, is lacking in dialogue and in story; characters appear on cue as if they were lined up and waiting in the wings, and the cops are cops, the doctor is a doctor, the neighbour is a neighbour. Characters in a story need to be connected and need to have lives outside the obvious, but the direction here was concentrated upon genre and sadness above all else. The actors were working their socks off to give good performances, which they all did. Abigail Breslin was very fine, too bad she was so devoted to what she was doing, or she might have told the director that her character had cut a finger off in a much earlier scene than the rather long one in which she was clearly seen to have all five.
I enjoyed the film, but my ability to suspend disbelief was seriously challenged by the very person who should have helped me to do it.
All got lost in the sand storm
I can't believe that it wasn't obvious at the first reading that the script was letting it down. Basic idiosyncratic transitions and poor dialogue abounds. Hugo Weaving (something of a fixture in Australian films) manages to make the best of his scenes, and gives a good credible performance throughout. Nicol Kidman works wonders to give the other credible performance. Mr Fiennes is miscast and struggles from his first frame to his last, to even convince us that he belongs there at all.
The rest of the great problem with this film is down to the appalling direction. Basic character relationships are ignored, logic is ignored, some the smaller roles seem to have been left to tag along by themselves, dramatic tension is frequently killed in its infancy by casual happenstance, and there are too many red rock dessert shots, that look for all the world, like stock footage.
It no doubt made great headway as it stood the test of the template during the funding process, as it was labeled a feminist story (it even failed at that) it was to be directed by a woman, it was to be set within a sand storm in country Australiana, and it even featured a smattering of indigenous characters and folk law.
It's a shame that the piece could not have been saved by skillful work shopping during the early stages of production, and good film making throughout.
Refreshing, uplifting, and very funny.
The series is compact, the story lines and the comedy are free free flowing, and the characterisation is sharply focused and consistent.
Those who have found the individual performances poor, in particular one "Cranky Carrot," will be unable to enjoy the total production, which is a great shame, because the performances are actually very even and extremely well controlled by excellent direction and supported by first class script work.
Perhaps it helps to have lived and worked in NZ, but I had no problem associating with the character types and found great delight in the profoundly human elements of the story lines.
Here is a beautifully constructed piece of theatre, where comedy, drama and the truth about social politics meld, to create a satirical and sociological comment that all people should be able to grasp and appreciate, as it lampoons social politics; both the so called incorrect, and the so called correct.
Early Days (1981)
A rare opportunity to experience great theatre on screen
The great Ralph Richardson in the very final phase of his magnificent career.
Early Days is not a movie, it is not strictly a play, but it is a piece of theatre that manages, via fine acting and magical writing (David Storey) talented setting and sensitive direction, to transfer the magic of the theatre onto the screen via video tape.
In Early Days, you have the rarest of treats, waiting for you to fill the role of audience and complete the magic circle of staged Drama.
Ralph Richardson plays Sir Richard Kitchen, a retired politician who was once leader of his party and would surely have been Prime Minister. At the opening, Kitchen is living out the last moments of his life, at the home of his daughter and son in law, where the absence of personal authority and power, the loneliness of seclusion and old age, and his family's inability to accept either his right to self determination or his version of the truth, forces him to reflect upon his early childhood and his lifetime of numerous regrets.
The theatre piece consists of a chain of scenes involving his daughter, his son in law (who he heartily detests) and his granddaughter, with whom he has the most successful and yet the harshest relationship, and Bristol, a seriously flawed and troubled man, who works for his son in law, but who has been engaged temporarily as be the old man's companion.
Kitchen's only respite seems to be with his newly appointed doctor, and his granddaughter's boyfriend, a very pleasant poet and intellectual.
All performances are fine, but Ralph Richardson, at the very end of his actual life and career, and clearly coping with the ravages of old age, plays the dying Kitchen with great, and at times frighteningly powerful forces.