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Suicide Squad

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Like a pixie stick being used to prop up a wounded elephant, Suicide Squad is not fit for the task to which it has been set – namely, convincing movie audiences that the DC Expanded Universe is a place they want to invest their time and attention. What could – should – have been a weird, cynical little movie about villains being press-ganged into black ops by a ruthless government agent is instead a weird, non-viable hybrid of a movie that trades all its strengths for, well, not much, really.

Following the events of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, shadowy intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has a plan: rather than relying on the hoped-for benevolence of a free range hero, she wants to get her eggs from caged metahumans, namely career criminals, that she can coerce into acting as a last-resort strike force against extraordinary threats to the US. The team – lethal assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), crazy Joker gal pal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), scaly cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), craven bank robber Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic gang banger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and just-here-to-pad-out-the-numbers Slipknot (Adam Beach), plus army dude Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and sword-swinging 2IC Katana (Karen Fukuhara) – is barely assembled before they’re sent into action against one of their own – Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an archaeologist possessed by an ancient demon who wants to bring about the end of the world. And so we’re off to the races.

Or we would be, if Suicide Squad wasn’t the worst-structured and paced major movie in recent memory. On paper, the concept is great – it is, as has been frequently observed, The Dirty Dozen in the DC Universe – but it seems the good people of DC/Warner were clearly not happy with that remit. Suicide Squad feels like it’s been micro-managed to within an inch of its life, subjected to an endless barrage of notes, second-guesses and reshoots, all designed to glean some velocity from riffs that worked for others. Deadpool was funny? Make it more funny (most of the humour is DOA)! Guardians of the Galaxy had a classic rock soundtrack? To the music archives (you will never want to hear another needle drop in your life after this movie)! All this stuff seems to have been shoe-horned in willy-nilly, with no thought as to how each element would play next to the others. The result is a hodgepodge of style and tone that rushes when it should linger – as in the clunky first act character intros – and lurches when it should sprint – as in the second act, where the Squad spend way too much time woodenly wandering around a deserted city, fighting generic CGI mooks.

Still, in the mix there are elements that do work. The over-designed, hyper-stylised visual aesthetic is fun; Suicide Squad, despite its pretensions to grittiness and compromised anti-heroes, feels like a very comic-book world, like a dark mirror of the Schumacher Batman movies, where the look of the thing is way more important than the plausibility. And yes, you don’t get poor performances out of the likes of Smith, Leto and Davis without seriously going off the rails. Smith in particular is the glue that holds the narrative together; his Deadshot is a ruthless killer who wants to do right by his young daughter, giving him a fairly flattened but nonetheless fleshed-out arc that we can root for. Davis is all steely, ruthless pragmatism as Waller, and manages to be believably cold and calculating, even when the script has her doing ludicrously over the top stuff like personally executing a room full of potential witnesses to her black-bag skullduggery. And let it be known that Leto is a pretty great Joker. His take on the character is more “unhinged mob boss” than “unknowable agent of chaos and evil”, but that fits in with Ayer’s ghetto bling aesthetic. Indeed, Leto is such a watchable presence that you almost forget that he has no plot function whatsoever in the film (The Joker shows up because Waller has recruited Harley. The Enchantress is a world-destroying threat because Waller thought using an ancient spirit as an intelligence asset was a good idea. Every problem in this movie is self-created).

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The dark horse candidate for best character is Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo, a heavily tattooed LA gang boss with the power to control fire who has forsworn violence after killing his family in a rage. He’s clearly Ayer’s favourite and brings more pathos to the table than any other character.

The worst? Well, putting aside any of the really underwritten characters (Croc, Slipknot, Katana, Boomerang – although Courtney is great, there’s no justification for him being on the team), the obvious high profile misfire is Harley Quinn, here a hyper-sexualised, living, breathing example of male gaze that’s just a mess of inconsistent characterisation and increasingly short shorts. Which is not to say that she isn’t – ahem – aesthetically pleasing, but Quinn is a character who requires deft handling to avoid a whole boatload of unfortunate implications. The same kind of people who think Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers are relationship role models are gonna see the Joker and Harley as aspirational figures, god help them.

Suicide Squad is a conceit and a set of characters that deserves a better airing, and it’d be interesting to see where they’d go with a sequel. You can see the skeleton of something strong under the piled-on flab of studio interference, and the notion of an unfettered David Ayer take on the material has plenty of merit. But really, so far every DC movie has been an attempt to desperately course-correct from the failings of the previous one. How much good will are they owed? A forgiving fan will find moments to enjoy here, but as a whole it’s a monumental misfire.


 

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Embrace

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Mothers: take your daughters to see this film. You won’t be sorry you did. Embrace is the little doco that could. It’s a social impact documentary, exploring the issue of body image with photographer, wife, and mother of three, Taryn Brumfitt. The inspiration for Embrace came about when Taryn posted an unconventional before-and-after image on the internet in 2013 that sparked a media frenzy. The image, which embraces body diversity, was seen by over 100 million people worldwide, and led to hundreds of interviews and articles. But she soon realised how restrictive 4-minute TV interviews, 800 word articles, and 140 characters on Twitter can be. And after receiving more than 7,000 emails and messages from people all over the world, Taryn realised that there was a global body-hating epidemic, and felt compelled to find answers. So the idea of creating the documentary was born.

Embrace is told from the point of view of Taryn as she traverses the globe talking to experts, women in the street, and well-known personalities about the alarming rates of body image issues that are seen in people of all body types. In her affable and effervescent style, Taryn bares all (literally) to explore the factors contributing to this problem, and seeks to find solutions. After 24 months of travelling, interviewing, production and post-production, Taryn and her team have created a film that is relevant, relatable, and highly-engaging – but above all, life changing.

Any woman today would recall the same old “body image” seminars and videos that you’re forced to watch, generally in high school – where the theatre troupe or video host tells you that “you’re beautiful, everyone is different, and isn’t it great!” without actually addressing just what we are all up against. And that’s what really makes Embrace a standout. It is just oozing with substance, and not only raises but seeks to answer so many questions around why we hate our bodies from both an academic and real life point of view. Importantly, the film is not just about weight! Hallelujah, right?! Embrace, cleverly, identifies body image as a hugely feminist issue not just from the perspective of weight, but disability, gender identity, ethnicity, and age. It is incredibly refreshing to see a film in this category that hasn’t restricted itself to the narrow boarders of “fat or thin.”

Though focusing more on the systems of judgement placed on modern women, men will get just as much out of this film, if not more. Embrace dives into how the body image of women affects their men, their marriages, their family life, and their sexuality directly from experiences of men and women of differing circumstances around the world.

The technical aspects of the film aren’t awe-inspiring – and nor do they need to be. While some of the execution is a little cheesy, it’s far more about the content than the package that it’s wrapped up in, which perhaps is yet another thematic device used to further bring home the message.

Embrace is groundbreaking, not just because it disrupts what media in all its forms tells us about how we should look, but because it actually cuts through the noise of the “we’re all great” rhetoric, and manages to strike a chord, intelligently and with meaning. Embrace will give you critical perspective and inspire you to stop hating on yourself so much, to stop being so self-obsessed, and to just live your damn life. It will also have you craving a double cheese burger really badly. Embrace is very important viewing for, literally, everyone.

 
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REVIEW: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

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Let’s be honest, there are really only two ways that you can write about this movie. Either, you can bathe in the warm glow of its great silliness and celebrate the fine comedy actors and the cameo-studded cast. Or, you can fess up and tell people that it is also very, er, thin. In fashion, thin is good. In script writing, not so much.

The TV series on which this is based was a huge cult success in the nineties, and deservedly so. The writing was sharp and the satire on the vapid know-nothings of the fashion and PR world was sharp and timely. More importantly, the characters were so well realised. Jennifer Saunders (who wrote this movie version, incidentally) was wonderful as the ditzy and completely un-grown up parent whose mawkish, ill-judged attempts to recover ground with her knowing daughter, Saffie (the perfectly-cast Julie Sawalha, who is back in the role here) were uncomfortably spot-on. Of course, Joanna Lumley stole the show as the frightful Patsy, a coke-powered cougar with a sneer the size of Harrods’ front window.

All the above is in place here, and, as noted, there are cameos by the champagne bucket load. Everyone pops up at one point, all having jolly good fun against the backdrop of London as a glamour capital. The plot is stretched like a botoxed facelift. Eddy thinks she is going to rescue her PR career by representing Kate Moss. When a terrible drunken mishap happens, Eddy and Pats have to go on the run. Of course, they go to the poshest part of the south of France. That’s about it, really.

The locations are absolutely splendid, and that is both part of the visual appeal as well as the entry point for more satire on the dodgy and partially-embalmed super rich. The film also deals with the fashion scene, and this is an excuse for some excruciating fashion disasters as well as well-placed cameos for various contemporary designers. There is fun to be had in all this. There are even a couple of really fine gags, but they are so strung out that it is a long time between drinks. Basically, they have trouble linking the set pieces in an engaging way, but that could also be said of most Hollywood comedies. Comedy is hard, perhaps the hardest of all. Still, that is the risk. Really there is enough good material here for a fine TV episode. In a way, there is almost a sense of loss or regret when the material doesn’t quite live up to its promise. After all, one would have loved to say that this is absolutely fabulous, darling.

 
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A Hologram For The King

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Adapted from David Eggers’ 2002 novel of the same name, A Hologram for the King sees Tom Hanks’ beleaguered America sales executive, Alan Clay, dispatched to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by an IT company to pitch for the communications contract at a new city being built in the middle of the desert. Alan has his own problems; he’s going through a nasty divorce and can’t afford to keep sending his daughter to college, he’s haunted by decisions he made which led to massive layoffs at his last job, and he has a weird growth on his back that might be cancerous. Still, he attacks his assignment with a typically American can-do attitude, only to be stymied by the highly ritualised customs of the Saudis.

Any film which starts with Tom Hanks on a roller coaster singing a Talking Heads song can’t be all bad, but A Hologram for the King is an odd beast. Watching it, you get the sense that a lot of what worked on the page simply doesn’t translate well to the screen; while the action of the plot is all there, the literary meat and metaphors that presumably filled in the gaps in Eggers’ novel are absent.

Of course, the opportunity to hang out with Tom Hanks for a couple of hours is never one to be balked at, and he brings his usual solid, amiable charm to the proceedings. Alan is a desperate guy who knows he’s pretty much on his last chance here, and he’s easy to sympathise with as he negotiates the unwritten rules of the country he’s found himself in. With his support time stuck in an extravagant but under-serviced tent (the lack of wifi alone threatens to sink their proposal), Alan struggles to get so much as a meeting with his assigned liaison, and nobody knows when the King, to whom Alan must make his presentation, will arrive. It’s all a bit Waiting for Godot, with our hero twiddling his thumbs in the desert for long stretches.

The film does drive home the incredible wealth of the Saudi government, though, along with the bizarre (at least to Western eyes) reverence with which the King and his retinue are treated. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia comes across as a culture where great importance is placed on appearance rather than actuality: huge cities are built as symbols of wealth and status, only to lie empty of tenants; the country is purportedly dry, but alcohol is consumed freely, disguised as olive oil. As a travelogue, the film is fascinating, despite the fact that it was not filmed in Saudi Arabia (Morocco and Egypt subbed in).

As an actual narrative, it’s not so great. The arc of Alan’s journey to self-actualisation is a shallow one, despite the presence of Tom Skerritt as his father-cum-guilty-conscience, and Sarita Choudhury as his love interest/beacon of hope, a female Saudi doctor who treats his abscess. When the credits finally roll, we don’t seem to be too far away from where we started. A Hologram for the King is a pleasant trip to an uninteresting destination, which is a damn shame – there’s a lot of talent in the mix, doing good work to little effect.

 
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Embrace Of The Serpent

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What a film! Inspired by the diaries of a German ethnographer, it follows the Amazonian journeys (decades apart) of two scientists, escorted by the same shaman. They’re both in search of a rare flower which allegedly has extraordinary healing properties. Their guide, Karamakate, is an understandably wary man, distressed to the very core of his being by the systematic destruction of his people, his culture, and his environment. Karamakate is played as a young man by Nilbio Torres, and as a much older one by Antonio Bolivar. Both actors are uncannily expressive, and both have incredible still-waters-run-deep presence. That’s just as well, because less formidable performers would be dwarfed by the sheer beauty of the movie’s setting or the bizarre exoticism of its set-pieces – a Dionysian scene involving a grotesque messiah cult being just one example.

Embrace Of The Serpent is profound, moving, ironic, visually exquisite, both subtle and powerful, wonderfully acted, and breathtakingly imaginative. The music is haunting, the dialogue is memorable, and the crisp black-and-white cinematography is sumptuous. On one level, it’s a great adventure story, but it’s also a character-driven saga of clashing cultures. It pulls off the amazing balancing trick of evoking mystical transcendence whilst maintaining intelligence and wit, eschewing “New-Agey” pretension and being an exercise in damning social and religious commentary.

And it does all this without ever seeming heavy-handed or unduly didactic. Though it conjures memories of earlier cinematic gems such as Fitzcarraldo and Dead Man, it’s fundamentally original. In short, as you may have gathered by now, it’s a flawless masterpiece and essential viewing – preferably on the big screen.

 
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Weiner

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Two years after he was forced to resign from Congress following a sexting scandal, politician Anthony Weiner attempted to revive his career by throwing his hat into the New York City mayoral race. Weiner made the bold choice of inviting a film crew to document what he hopes will be his redemption, and it all seemed to be going swimmingly until… oops, he did it again.

A young woman, Sydney Leathers, revealed to the media that she’d had a long-running online sexual relationship with Weiner long after he said his transgressions had stopped. With his campaign up against it and his personal life under incredible scrutiny, Weiner made the decision to let filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg continue to shoot. The result is never less that fascinating.

Weiner plays out like a Greek tragedy – a story of a hero (in the Classical sense of the word) brought down by a fatal, inescapable internal flaw. Make no mistake, Anthony Weiner is an incredible politician, and it’s easy to see his career arc taking him to the White House, if you excise all the horrible things he’s done. He’s passionate, driven, intelligent, articulate, charismatic… and he has no apprehension of the kind of damage he’s doing to the people around him, not just by philandering, but by insisting on continuing to work in the public eye after he’s caught out.

Which brings us to Huma Abedin, Weiner’s wife. A confidante of Hillary Clinton, Abedin is a political animal just like her husband, standing by him when he admits his wrongdoing (just like her mentor did, in point of fact – the parallels to the Clintons are inescapable, and in fact Bill officiated at the Weiner-Abedin wedding). However, as the film progresses and Weiner’s campaign implodes, the camera frequently seeks out Abedin standing in the background while Weiner keeps the wheels spinning on centre stage. More than any full-blown argument or confrontation we see between the two – and there are plenty – her beaten expression when she thinks she’s not being observed is heartbreaking. It also adds complexity to the proceedings; it’s one thing to derive schadenfreude from seeing a crusader with feet of clay get hoist on his own petard, but it’s quite another to see his family get caught in the splash zone. Interestingly, Weiner and Abedin are still married.

We’re also forced to ask ourselves whether all this media muckraking was really in the public interest at all. The film  never lets Weiner himself off the hook, but it does make us consider the sheer debilitating weight of the media scrutiny he and his family were under, and examine our assumed role as moral arbiters in the broader culture. Is there a line between the personal and the professional, the private and the public anymore? Weiner courts the media as a politician, and even invites it into his inner circle in the form of the documentary film crew, but does he then still get to demarcate certain parts of his life as off limits, or is everything up for grabs? What sins are forgivable in the the media panopticon, and what must be atoned for forever?

There are, of course, not pat answers. Weiner is a great film, taking a complex and balanced look at a scenario that could have been depicted as one long, rolling punchline. As a portrait of a flawed individual and an unblinking look at the intersection between the media and the political machine, it’s a triumph.

 
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REVIEW: Jason Bourne

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It’s been nearly ten years since Matt Damon punched, kicked, stabbed, and shot his way through a Bourne movie, and in the latest installment, Jason Bourne (which sounds almost like a statement of intent), he certainly makes up for lost time, opening the film by knocking a guy out cold, and then never letting up from there. With Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Captain Phillips, United 91) once again at the helm, Jason Bourne locks instantly into its predecessors’ shaky-cam-induced sense of urgency, while boasting a wholly contemporary subtext, with references to Edward Snowden, personal privacy, and the insidious possibilities of the internet as frequent as the car chases and gun play. With brutish forcefulness, Greengrass and Damon seem to be stating in no uncertain terms that they’re back because the time is right for a Jason Bourne movie, and not because the pay cheque was too irresistible.

As Jason Bourne opens, Matt Damon’s once amnesiac former government operative is still on the run, and now making his living as a bareknuckle fighter. But when he is contacted by his friend and former colleague, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) – who is now working for a WikiLeaks-style group of hacker activists – with more details about his foggy past, Bourne is once again drawn into the world of the CIA and its various sub-agencies, and on the run for his life. This time, his chief adversaries are Tommy Lee Jones’ CIA director, Robert Dewey; Vincent Cassel’s unnamed assassin; and Alicia Vikander’s CIA tech agent, Heather Lee; all of whom are tied in with a pioneering software entrepreneur played by Riz Ahmed. As with all of the previous Bourne films, the stakes are high, the action is full-tilt, and Matt Damon grounds it all with his renowned soulfulness and likeability.

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So yes, Jason Bourne is, well, very much a Jason Bourne movie. It connects with the previous films (though little is made of the events of the excellent Jeremy Renner-starring spin-off, The Bourne Legacy) while still striking out in new directions, and is peppered with highlights. Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), is teriffic as a very millennial brand of CIA agent, her icy exterior occasionally cracking to reveal the nervy rookie underneath; Tommy Lee Jones puts a different spin on his famed cantankerous schtick; and the film’s constant nods to today’s hi-tech world and its inherent dangers are intelligently and seamlessly woven into the narrative.

But despite the thrilling action sequences, Jason Bourne lacks a little punch. The absence of ship-jumping screenwriter, Tony Gilroy (who worked on the scripts for all of the other films, and directed The Bourne Legacy), is keenly felt, and the sharp pithiness that he injected into his dialogue (as well as his keen facility for narrative immediacy) isn’t replicated by Greengrass and the series’ regular editor, Christopher Rouse, who makes his screenwriting debut here. Vincent Cassel, meanwhile, isn’t given nearly enough to do with his bad guy role, and wasting an actor of his enviable gifts is borderline criminal. But as a continuation of a truly superior action franchise, Jason Bourne is a rock-solid success: it might not soar, but it certainly flies.

 
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REVIEW: The Killing Joke

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The Killing Joke is a 1988 one-shot graphic novel written by beardy wordsmith, Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta) and impeccably drawn by Brian Bolland (2000AD, Judge Dredd). Despite the fact that it’s almost three decades old, The Killing Joke remains one of the most iconic, memorable, and controversial comics ever printed by DC. The story focuses on Batman’s attempt to try and connect with The Joker, to make him stop his escalating madness before either or both of them are dead. The Joker, meanwhile, has something very different in mind: to prove to Batman that everyone is just “one bad day” away from chaos and insanity.

It’s a dense, dark read, featuring Moore’s signature heavy, layered dialogue, and containing truly disturbing sequences, including implied sexual violence and the crippling of a major Batman character. It’s also very static, with a lot of talk and not much action, so when the animated movie was announced, it seemed a baffling choice for adaptation.

The good news is that the end result is a quality animated movie. A large part of the credit needs to go to Mark Hamill, whose turn as The Joker from Batman: The Animated Series and the Arkham Asylum games is followed up here with his best performance to date. Hamill positively relishes Moore’s dark, pun-heavy monologues, and digs into them with gusto. He’s so good, in fact, that Kevin Conroy’s Batman can’t help but feel a little bland by comparison. The rest of the voice cast comprises Ray Wise as Commissioner Gordon and Tara Strong as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, and they both provide solid performances.

The Killing Joke is at its best when it’s a straight adaptation. Unfortunately, because the graphic novel is quite short, an additional 15-minute Batgirl-heavy prologue is added, and while it’s nice to see Batgirl in action, it smacks a little of filler. The prologue also features an attempt to recontextualise the relationship between Batman and Batgirl that will no doubt prove polarising, to say the least. That said, Batgirl offers a brief ray of sunshine in a story that takes place over a very dark night.

Presentation-wise, the animation is fine, but the art style never really captures Bolland’s intricate, mesmerising lines. The story is well executed, but like a lot of Moore’s work, it reads better on the page. In terms of the much-touted “R rating” (which translates as MA in Australia), the film is quite disturbing and violent, but nothing terribly envelope pushing. Ultimately, The Killing Joke is a solid, if unspectacular, adaptation of the source material. It’s worth watching for Mark Hamill’s performance alone, and a new way to experience one of comic history’s most enduring and infamous stories.

The Killing Joke will screen on July 24 only at cinemas around Australia. Check online to find a theatre near you.

 
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Hitchcock/Truffaut

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Hitchcock/Truffaut sounds like one of those quaint film titles where two people meet – as in Frost/Nixon, for example – and the odd juxtaposition provides the rationale of the film. In a superficial sense, this film has some of that dynamic. This one, however, is a feature length documentary about two iconic filmmakers. Francois Truffaut was part of the “New Wave” in French cinema in the 1960s. Via publications like Cahiers Du Cinema, he and fellow travellers such as Jean Luc Godard set out their manifesto and their canon of greats to follow. They resurrected a certain interpretation of the Hollywood western (Howard Hawks and John Ford mainly) and, of course, they worshipped Alfred Hitchcock.

When Truffaut was only in his mid-twenties, he wrote a scholarly book about Hitchcock’s films. By the time that Truffaut had made a couple of promising films himself (including his important calling card, The 400 Blows), he invited Hitch into the long filmed interview that is the substance of this film. The occasion was filmed in black and white with the two men sitting around a big table. Most of it is conducted in English. It is clear that Truffaut is somewhat in the position of the acolyte, but Hitch takes his questions seriously, and you can also tell that he is enjoying sparring with such an intelligent interlocutor.

Quite appropriately, this documentary is directed by a film critic too. Kent Jones is a well-known writer about film. He has also gained access to a number of contemporary filmmakers, who each bring their own thoughts to the question of Hitchcock’s style and how it influenced cinema and their work. Jones has been careful to balance French and American views as befits the topic. It is a pretty impressive list of contemporary directors, with Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader from the American side, and Arnaud Desplechin and Olivier Assayas from France. Each one of these directors could be the subject an interesting documentary themselves.

That said, Hitchcock/Truffaut may not have the widest appeal, although Jones clearly loves his topic, and is in a perfect position to understand it. The film has played successfully on the festival circuit. In the end, it is really talking heads. In regard to the famous interview, there is not much that you can do with the way it is filmed. There is no chance, for example, to have each of them apart reflecting on what the meeting was like. Still, for students of cinema and storytelling technique, there are nice dissections of famous sets ups and sequences from Hitch’s classics. It is not a put down to say that this is delightful viewing, but mostly for those of us who are invested in the cineaste world.

 
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Love And Friendship

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Based on Jane Austen’s novella, Lady Susan, this is a moderately successful adaptation, but one which somehow combines a breathless pace with intermittent flatness and staginess. We’re introduced immediately to a ridiculously large number of characters, replete with information overload via explanatory captions…albeit witty ones: one girl’s optimistic suitor is summed up as “her unintended.”

This story is all about social ambition, connivance, and trickery. At the centre of the Machiavellian maelstrom is the widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a particularly grasping and acquisitive character, whom we are apparently invited to find amusing and more or less likeable. Lady Susan is especially insensitive and spiteful to her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), and has sent her away – hopefully permanently – while she herself leaves London and descends on wealthy rural in-laws with a view to negotiating a new marriage and a fortune. “Unfortunately”, Frederica turns up, and is pursued by the lively but amiable buffoon, Sir James Martin (a funny Tom Bennett). Lady Susan herself has designs on handsome young Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel). And so it goes on.

Love And Friendship does improve a bit, and certainly passes muster at the level of chocolate-boxy escapism. But most of the pleasure here is verbal rather than visual, inevitably so when dialogue is lifted pretty faithfully from the great Jane Austen. A husband is dismissed as “too old to be governable, too young to die”, while Lady Susan reacts to the news that a friend will be leaving England for Connecticut with the words, “You could be scalped!” Mildly diverting.