Hugo Weaving

Black 47

08/04/19

A taciturn soldier deserts the army, heads back to his homeland  and finds that, in his absence, his family has been decimated. Powered by a hunger for revenge, he sets off to exact bloody mayhem on the people who have wronged him.

It sounds like the plot of a typical Clint Eastwood western, but here the army in question is the English forces in Afghanistan, the soldier is Feeney (James Frecheville), his family is based in County Connemara and the year is 1847, when the potato famine is wreaking mayhem on the Irish nation. What’s more, the English landlords are turfing out all tenants who cannot afford their rent, or will not ‘take the soup’ – a free handout that is only given to those who will renounce their Catholic faith and become protestants.

Once Feeney is embarked on his violent mission, old comrade, and former Connaught Ranger, Hannah (Hugo Weaving), is recruited to track him down, working alongside young English officer, Pope (Freddie Fox). But it’s a long journey to bring their man to justice and, as they progress along their corpse-littered route, Hannah begins to realise that the real enemy here is not Feeny, but the oppressive English landlords, who seem to regard the native population as vermin to be eradicated.

Lance Daly’s film, Black 47, was never going to be a big hitter at the box office but, like so many other mid-list titles, has found a home on Netflix. It’s a bleak, hard-hitting movie, beautifully filmed in desaturated colour by Declan Quinn and, while it pulls no punches with its political message, it focuses more on the action scenes, of which there are plenty. There are some superb actors in small roles. Stephen Rea shines as local opportunist, Coneely, and Jim Broadbent, usually such a jovial presence, makes a plausible villain as the sneering, venal Lord Kilmichael. There’s even the presence of rising star, Barry Keoghan, playing (of all things) an English soldier.

Perhaps the film can be accused of a certain heavy-handedness (virtually every English character we meet is a contemptible villain) but this is nonetheless a decent action film that keeps us suitably gripped to the final scene.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Mortal Engines

14/12/18

A thousand years after a nuclear holocaust, the earth has been reduced to a vast wasteland in which gigantic ‘traction cities’ roam the earth in search of smaller moving towns to be devoured and converted into much-needed fuel. Most powerful amongst the travelling behemoths is ‘London,’ currently controlled by Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), who, we soon discover, is a thoroughly bad egg, hellbent on appropriating what’s left of the world’s meagre resources, no matter what it takes.

When London absorbs its latest conquest, (a Bavarian hamlet, since you ask) it takes on board a masked young woman with a grudge. She is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), who seeks revenge on Valentine for something that happened back in her childhood. But her assassination attempt is foiled by young Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), an employee at the London museum… yes, there still is a museum, plus a rough assemblage of some of the city’s salvaged tourist attractions, all arranged higgledy-piggledy across its skyline. (It’s at moments like this when I can’t help pondering how anybody could have managed to convert a city into a Mad Max-style vehicle of such enormous scale – I mean, where did they start?  But perhaps I’m missing the point.)

When Tom and Hester find themselves expelled into the wasteland, a relationship develops – but then they become involved with the Anti Traction League, based in what’s now simply known as ‘the East’ on the far side of what just might be the Great Wall of China. The league travel in fantastic airships and are masterminded by Anna Fang (Jihae). Meanwhile Hester is being hunted by an undead creature called Shrike (voiced by Stephen Lang), who is pledged to destroy her and…

If this is starting to sound somewhat complicated, let me assure you, that it is – and that’s rather a pity because – as you’d expect from something that’s been produced by Peter Jackson – the world-building here is frankly astonishing and I can only speculate about the millions of New Zealand dollars that must have been lovingly poured into this enterprise. But, as is so often the case in films of such immense scale, the human characters are somewhat dwarfed by the process, only periodically managing to poke their heads up from the general grandeur to try and capture attention. Christian Rivers handles the directorial reins but this has Jackson’s fingerprints all over it and, not for the first time, I find myself yearning for those early low budget horrors he used to make, back in the days when he was skint.

Mortal Engines is based on a quartet of books by British fantasy author Philip Reeve. The first volume was published in 2001 and this project has been stuck in development hell for a very long time. I’d love to be able to report that it’s a great success, but something seems to have been lost in translation from book to film. While a story this complicated can work brilliantly on the printed page, it doesn’t always come through on the screen. I don’t mean to say that this isn’t worth a viewing. There’s stuff in here that will have fantasy fans enthralled. There are exciting chases, wonderful touches of invention throughout and, as I said before, it all looks good enough to eat – but sadly, that’s not enough to make this project fly as convincingly as it should.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Hacksaw Ridge

15/01/17

Former megastar Mel Gibson has been persona non grata around Hollywood for quite some time, but Hacksaw Ridge looks like the film that will restore his reputation. Rightfully so, I think, because no matter what he’s done in his private life, he remains a gifted film maker. This assured war movie tells the true story of Private David Doss, a God-fearing young man from the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, who after nearly killing his brother in a youthful fight takes an oath never to pick up a weapon ever again. Which is all fine and dandy until the days following Pearl Harbour, when his brother and most of the other young men around the town, join the army, and Doss decides that he really can’t stay at home and let them take all the punishment; so after much consideration, he too enlists – which, as you might imagine causes all manner of problems. His intention to be a medic but of course, things don’t go quite as smoothly as planned…

Having just given us a saintly Jesuit in Martin Scorcese’s Silence, Andrew Garfield offers us another take on the idea, this time as that rarest of creatures, the weaponless war hero. The conflict he is sent to is the American invasion of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest conflicts. We’re often told that war is hell and Gibson’s re-enactment of the events certainly look the part – indeed this must qualify as one of the most visceral movie battles ever. Much of the footage here makes Saving Private Ryan look like a pleasant day at the seaside and those who cannot relish bloodshed would be well advised to give this one a miss. Heads, limbs and brains are propelled around the screen with gusto and, if there’s a criticism of the film, it’s simply that there may be just a little too much of it. I’m not advocating more tasteful bloodshed, you understand, but the sheer volume of the slaughter eventually begins to inure you to the film’s message – that war is a terrible thing and we need to stop sending people off to fight them.

Garfield is terrific though and there’s a pleasing turn from Teresa Palmer as the young nurse he woos in earlier, gentler scenes. Hugo Weaving plays Doss’s alcoholic father, turned bitter by the loss of his best friends in the First World War and watch out for Vince Vaughan, taking a break from his usual slapstick comedy schizzle to give us  a nicely restrained variation on the ‘tough Sergeant with a heart of gold’ – a cinematic line that goes all the way back to John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima and which Gibson himself made a decent fist of in We Were Soldiers.

Towards the end, we start to suspect that Gibson is over-egging Doss’s sanctity a little too much; but a post credits interview with the (late) great man himself seems to confirm that he really was the quiet, unassuming hero that the film makes him out to be.

Harrowing stuff, not for the faint-hearted.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Dressmaker

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21/11/15

Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage is back in Dungatar, Australia. It’s a dreary, small-minded nothing of a place,  but there are demons to confront and scores to settle, and Tilly won’t rest until she’s righted those old wrongs. There’s magic (and marijuana) in her fancy-fabric bag, and – armed with her trusty Singer – she stitches up the spiteful mob.

The Dressmaker starts off wonderfully, with languid, hazy landscapes stretching out across the screen. Tilly (the ever-fabulous Kate Winslet), is as incongruous as they come, bringing glamour and a swagger to a tired, washed-out town. It’s a cartoonish, fairy-tale-ish film, with the characters writ large – and, at least to begin with – this is part of its charm. There are echoes of Edward Scissorhands here, both in the storytelling style, and in the bold, broad-strokes design. Tilly ‘rescues’ the town’s women with preposterous costumes; before long, they’re all tiptoeing along the dusty streets in high heels and cocktail frocks, corseted and primped for the daily drudge. They feel sexy and powerful, but they’re just pawns in Tilly’s game; it’s no coincidence that her own wardrobe becomes more muted as she reels them in.

The cinematography is beautiful; the acting sublime (with excellent support from Judy Davis, Kerry Fox and Hugo Weaving, all on finest form). The first two-thirds of this film are a delight. How disappointing then, to find the story arc fatally disrupted, and a final third that feels ridiculous, hysterical and hideously prolonged. There is a clear ending to this tale, and it occurs at about the eighty-minute mark; thereafter it’s an incoherent mess – and it can’t recover from this flaw.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield