Review: Charlie’s Country

A review of David Gulpilil and Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country, for The Big Issue.

Jack The Giant Slayer (Bryan Singer, 2013)

This review originally appeared in The Big Issue, Edition #429, March 29 2013

A new spin on the old beanstalk yarn for the blockbuster age, with extra giants—an army, in fact—for action, and added princess, for romance.

Jack, the latest from the under-appreciated Bryan Singer, of the original X-Men films, is well-crafted, but uninspired. Singer has a firmer grasp on visual grammar and narrative structure than most Hollywood journeymen, but he lacks a certain imaginative spark. This is especially clear when he lets the brisk, up-the-beanstalk adventure of the first two acts give way to the kind of rote, medieval siege scenario that now seems expected from our post-Lord of the Rings fantasy films.

About a Boy‘s Nicholas Hoult, all grown up, makes an affably heroic lead. Eleanor Tomlinson is likeable enough as the spirited princess, but doesn’t have much to do, other than be rescued.

A familiar band of character actors, including Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci, show up to lend professionalism and charm, but the film fails to soar as high as its beanstalks.

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

This review originally appeared in a slightly edited form in The Big Issue, Edition #426, February 22 2013

Amour, the latest from Austrian auteur MIchael Haneke, is an unsparing depiction of mortality. Long-married couple Anne and Georges are enjoying breakfast in their Parisian apartment, when Anne goes blank; slack jawed and glassy eyed. Georges has enough time to putter to the bedroom for his coat before she is back, unaware, and gently mocking him for his concern. But ageing is running its course, and after a failed operation to unblock her carotid artery, Anne is partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, with worse to come.

She extracts from Georges a promise that he will never return her to hospital, and their home  becomes the hospice of their final days together. Georges tends to his wife with devoted patience, as the difficult choices that follow the decline of a loved one become apparent.

Haneke, a two time winner of the Palme d’Or—for this, and 2009’s The White Ribbon—is famous for the immaculate formal control he exerts over his films. He is almost Hitchcockian in his ability to influence his audience. With his unsparing depictions of violence in earlier movies, like Funny Games, this has sometimes manifested as a kind of cruelty. But in Amour this ruthlessness takes the form of brutal honesty. He shows us every step of Anne’s physical and mental deterioration, until it is too much to bear, and in the process makes the reality of mortality—often treated so casually in cinema—alive to us again.

He is aided by the performances of Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, two long-time stars of French cinema. As performed by Riva, Anne’s descent into mute suffering is all the more affecting for the sharpness she exhibits her early scenes. And Trintignant is remarkable in his ability to keep Georges composed and dignified even as his frustration roils under the surface.

Haneke has a tendency to wrap his films up in a puzzle, sending the audience out on a note of uncertainty. I’m thinking of the studied ambiguity of the endings of Caché and The White Ribbon. His reluctance to unpack his narratives has, in the past, sometimes felt like that of a magician unwilling to reveal his tricks, or admit they are tricks. True to form, he resolves Amour in a dream-like ellipsis. But the emotional effects he has produced are no illusion, and his core subject is presented with such clarity that it cannot be overwhelmed.

This is Forty (Judd Apatow, 2012)

This review originally appeared in The Big Issue, Edition #423, January 11 2012


Having made his name with adolescent, man-boy comedies like Knocked Up, Judd Apatow has now turned to the struggles of adulthood. A paean to the pains of middle-age, This is Forty shows married couple Pete and Debbie hitting forty amidst a series of crises, grappling with squabbling kids, struggling businesses, and their own fractious relationship.

Apatow may be top dog among Hollywood comedy writers these days, but as a director his work is mostly directionless. He can land a joke on a crude verbal riff, but he can’t make it visually interesting. He does have a gift for casting, though.

Forty is anchored by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, and a crew of experienced comedic bit- players, including Albert Brooks. Rudd unleashes his tremendous natural charm, and Mann (Apatow’s real-life wife) has an appealingly thorny edge, but they struggle to make Pete and Debbie’s bickering compelling. Maturity may be his great theme, but Apatow doesn’t possess enough of it himself to make this story feel honest.