Monday, 19 May, 2014

3 and a half stars
Healing scene

A man coming to the end of a prison sentence for a serious crime, begins to find previously lacking purpose after being made responsible for the care of an injured eagle, in the minimum security facility he has recently been transferred to, in Healing, trailer, the latest feature from Australian director Craig Monahan (“The Interview”, “Peaches”).

Prison officer Matt (Hugo Weaving), a consummate falconer himself, is also hopeful Viktor’s (Don Hany) new found interest in the wounded bird will, among other things, go on to result in a reconciliation with his estranged son, Yousef (Dimitri Baveas), a process essential for Viktor’s rehabilitation, after eighteen years of incarceration.

From its secluded setting in rural Victoria, “Healing” is a film that tells a touching story of hope and redemption, slowly and quietly. While pulling few surprises, its charm lies in the performances of Hany and Weaving, men with gruff exteriors, and both troubled in their own ways, who come to reveal gentler, more introspective, sides.

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Captain Amercia: The First Avenger

Monday, 1 August, 2011

3 and a half stars

The premise

Captain America: The First Avenger (trailer), a sci-fi drama, is the most recent feature of filmmaker Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park III”, “The Wolfman”), and is based on the Marvel Comics superhero originally created by US comic book writers Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1940, as a way of speaking out against the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is determined to enlist in the army and be part of the US war effort during World War II. Despite numerous attempts to join, often under false names, his slight build and poor health always result in his applications being rejected. An invitation to participate in an experimental project however gives him his long awaited chance.

The play

Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a US based expatriate German scientist, has been developing a serum that will create super soldiers. He needs a guinea pig to experiment on though, and while there are plenty of volunteers, he selects Steve. Dr Erskine feels that what Steve lacks in physical prowess he makes up for in character.

Steve emerges from Dr Erskine’s procedure a transformed man, tall, muscle-bound, and possessing of abilities well beyond those of other soldiers. Despite this though Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) feels that Steve is not really up to front line duty, and instead places him on the recruitment drive circuit where he is soon dubbed “Captain America”.

While on a morale boosting trip to see soldiers in Europe, Steve learns that an old friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), is being held by Johann Schmidt a.k.a. Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), an ambitious Nazi general who has been conducting his own super soldier experiments, while also developing a formidable range of weapons.

Schmidt isn’t just interested in helping Hitler win the war, he plans to usurp the Nazi dictator and then conquer the whole world, with the help of an army he has created himself. Aided by intelligence agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Steve slips behind enemy lines and attempts to rescue Bucky, while also working out the best way to take on Schmidt…

The wrap

This instalment of “Captain America” is the final in a number of recent precursor films that have featured other Marvel Comics characters including Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor, and have told their back stories ahead of the release of The Avengers next year, where they, along with others, will all appear together.

If there is anything else to be taken from “Captain America” the message is clearly one of believing in your hopes and dreams. And while being endowed with superhero powers might also be a nice bonus, that’s probably asking too much. Otherwise nothing here will really surprise fans of superhero, or action films, in this entertaining slice of escapism.

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Oranges and Sunshine

Friday, 10 June, 2011

4 stars

The premise

Oranges and Sunshine (trailer), a drama set in 1986, is the debut feature of British TV producer Jim Loach, and is based on the book Empty Cradles by British social worker Margaret Humphreys, which chronicles her efforts to expose the British government’s child migrants program of the 1950s and 60s, where over 130,000 children were forcibly sent overseas.

Many of these children – who came from struggling, or single-parent families, and were sent to Australia, and other former British colonies – were under the impression their parents were dead, and that a happier life awaited them elsewhere. The reality was usually far harsher, many were abused by their new carers, or became child labourers.

The play

Humphreys (Emily Watson) is a Nottingham social worker caring for orphaned children. She first becomes aware British children were sent overseas when a woman from Australia asks for help tracing her mother. During this investigation though Humphreys uncovers numerous instances of children being sent overseas.

After learning that Nicky (Lorraine Ashbourne), a woman in a support group she convenes, has a brother Jack (Hugo Weaving), who was sent overseas as a child, Humphreys travels to Australia where she soon meets many hundreds of others who were taken from their families, including Len (David Wenham), who is trying to find his mother.

It soon becomes apparent that it wasn’t just the children who were lied to, and as Humphreys continues to reunite now adult children with their families, she learns the parents, whose children were often forcibly removed from their custody, were also lied to, often being told they had been adopted locally, not sent overseas.

Humphreys’ work however is an uphill battle that takes a physical and emotional toll on her. The British and Australian governments are unhelpful, while the charity and church groups who took the children in are angered by the allegations of abuse levelled at them, resulting in threats against her from their supporters.

The wrap

“Oranges and Sunshine” is an intimate and personal portrayal of an historical episode that culminated with the 2009 apology by then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, to the British child migrants, or Forgotten Australians as they are also known, an action that was followed by his British counterpart, Gordon Brown, in 2010.

A compassionately made film that is neither sentimental or sensationalistic, “Oranges and Sunshine” is a moving, harrowing, and emotional drama that lifts the lid on a government policy that aimed simply to save money – care for children was cheaper in Australia than Britain – and one that had no regard at all for those it purported to be helping.

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