Ladies in Black
The year is 1959, and in the high-class department store Goode’s the floor staff – the “ladies in black” after their black outfits – guide the women of Sydney in their fashion needs. For sixteen year-old Lisa (Angourie Rice), it’s a holiday shop between high school and (she hopes) university; for Fay (Rachael Taylor) it’s love that’s paramount (and the Aussie blokes aren’t measuring up); Patty (Alison McGirr) has a man but the spark isn’t there; and for New Australian Magda (Julia Ormond) who runs the stores fashion gown department, Lisa is someone she can take under her wing and show the world to – well, the European side of it at least. Based on a novel that was also turned into a successful musical, director Bruce Beresford goes all out recreating 50s Australia – or a polished version of it (those trams look in a lot better shape than they would have been in real life by 1959) – but while his film gestures towards a lot of the tensions that would boil over in the 60s it ends up going out of its way to avoid any real conflict or drama. It’s like a tourism video advertising the 50s; it’s a feel-good nostalgia trip that never scratches the era’s surface.
What happens to Christopher Robin after the end of A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner? According to Christopher Robin, he farewells the creatures of the Hundred Acre Woods, goes to boarding school, grows up into Ewan McGregor, serves in World War 2, marries Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), has a daughter named Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) and gets a high-pressure London job as an efficiency expert at a luggage company. Then on a weekend where he’s had to blow off a family trip to Sussex to try and find the big budget cuts his slimy boss (Mark Gatiss) demands, Pooh Bear (voiced by Jim Cummings) arrives on his doorstep. This combination of grim mid-life crisis and heartfelt stuffed animal adventure isn’t seamless, but McGregor’s always charming mix of grown-up stress and exasperated but loving acceptance of his childhood playmates is the glue holding both halves together. The pleasures scattered throughout this film are small but satisfying; the Hundred Acre woods are gorgeous, the CGI is first rate (the stuffed toys look convincingly worn), and Milne’s characters are as fun and charming as ever. The whole thing is shamefully manipulative and it’s easy to be cynical, but there’s just enough happening in the details to make this feel magical – if only for a moment here and there.
The House with a Clock in its Walls
Blame Harry Potter: Hollywood keeps going back to quirky tales of magical youth adventure, even though most of them never quite click. This one at least has a great cast: it’s 1953, and after the sudden deaths of his parents, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) travels to New Zebedee, Michigan to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). Jonathan is a flamboyant oddball; it also turns out he’s a not that great warlock, while his next door neighbour and card partner Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is in the same magical game but has been struggling since a recent bereavement. There’s a lot of strange things going on in the house, but perhaps the oddest is that there’s a weird ticking noise coming from behind the house’s walls at night; could this be connected to the sinister Isaac Izzard (Kyle MacLachlan), the now-deceased former owner of the house? This should be more fun than it is: the performances are great fun, the effects are decent and the story never drags. But it never really feels like there’s much at stake either; Lewis’ tragic backstory never comes to life and there’s little chemistry between him and his surrogate parents. The door is open for a sequel; it’s doubtful one will come through.
After his mission to rescue hostages taken by a Mexican drug cartel is interrupted by a crashing spacecraft, US Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) scavenges some Predator technology (a faceplate and wrist band) and mails it back to the US just before he’s captured. He also swallows the equipment’s remote control so he can crap it out at an important plot point later. Unfortunately he hasn’t paid for his post office box in years so the post office dumps his packages on his doorstep where his estranged family take them inside. Their house is later destroyed. Meanwhile, at least three other plots are taking place but none of them really matter because the back half of this movie is pretty much just a bunch of humans running around shooting at Predators – which admittedly sounds awesome, only even by dumb action movie standards this is really dumb, and not in a cool way. For example, there are Predator dogs here; one gets a nail gun to the brain which turns him into a giant puppy and he spends the rest of the movie playing fetch. The Predator’s dreadlocks? They now have a scientific explanation. Hopefully why this movie is such a sloppy mess will one day also get an explanation.
The Insult (At The Pivotonian)
When a relatively minor dispute between two grown men can’t be easily settled (one messes with the other’s drain pipe, the other’s apology was forced at best; it doesn’t take long for things to escalate to a fight), it rapidly becomes a symbol of wider fractures in Beirut society. Here just about everyone has an axe to grind or a grudge they’ve been nursing; how else to explain how a minor conflict over a broken drainpipe can rapidly build into drama on the street? Having one of the men belong to a Christian political party while the other is technically a Palestinian refugee goes some way towards explaining things; this is in part an examination of the way long-standing grievances can be used to justify all manner of modern-day actions. It’s an obviously political film, but with a firmly human dimension too; both sides may claim to have history backing them up, but the film treats them as all-too-flawed people as well.
Reviewed by Anthony Morris
Film Reviews #698
Ladies in Black