FILM

Tricia Youlden

Alice Through the Looking Glass
PG
★★★

The opening sequence of Alice Through the Looking Glass, in which Alice captains her ship through shallow waters to evade pirates and rocks, is breathtaking. Our attention is held by the subsequent scenes involving Alice (Mia Wasikowska), her mother (Lindsay Duncan), and the treacherous Ascot family.

Alice’s subsequent return to Wonderland, where she must attempt to turn back time to rescue Hatter’s family, is a cute conceit by writer Linda Woolverton to introduce familiar Lewis Carroll characters, voiced by such luminary actors as Barbara Windsor (Dormouse), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), and the late Alan Rickman (Blue Caterpillar). Matt Lucas as Tweedledee and Tweedledum is particularly endearing. Helen Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway give fine performances as the Red Queen and White Queen respectively. Johnny Depp’s lisping Hatter is appropriately mad, while Sacha Baron Cohen’s portrayal of Time is inspired.

Unfortunately, the film is overly padded with computer-generated images as Alice navigates a “chronosphere” through time in her quest to restore order to the universe. Not only do these seemingly interminable scenes have a soporific effect on the audience, they make the already complicated and fanciful narrative seem even more so.

Director James Bobin and his cast do a sterling job of bringing beloved characters to the screen but it is unclear which age group this film targets as its audience.

Curiouser and curiouser ...

A Month of Sundays
PG
★★★★

A Month of Sundays, written and directed by Matthew Saville, takes more than the odd swipe at the real estate industry. Yet, so deftly drawn are the characters that we empathise with them despite bemoaning certain aspects of their profession.

From the opening scene of a pre-auction house inspection, it is obvious that Frank Mollard (Anthony LaPaglia) is not the happiest real estate agent in town. Later, when unsuccessful bidder Ben (Jake Thornley) angrily confronts him, Frank’s boss Phillip Lang (John Clarke) smoothly deflects Ben’s frustrated tirade. Despite appearing to personify the glib realtor, Phillip actually seems to care about Frank’s wellbeing. (One suspects that Clarke might have had more than a little input into his character’s humanity and wry humour.)

A panicky phone call from his ex-wife, television star Wendy McKinnon (Justine Clarke), summons Frank to the hospital. Their son, Frank Jnr (Indiana Crowther), has broken his arm during a rehearsal for his school play, a musical version of King Lear. Frank’s relationship with his son seems to be even more awkward than his relationship with Wendy.

That evening, Frank receives a phone call from his mother, which, considering that she died several months previously, is somewhat perplexing. Although it transpires to have been a mis-dial, it leads to Frank forming a tentative friendship with the caller, Sarah (Julia Blake), a no-nonsense retired librarian.

Sarah helps Frank to deal with grief and express his emotions, enabling him to re-connect with Wendy, Frank Junior and people in general. She helps release Phillip Lang’s elderly, demented father (a poignant performance by Wayne Anthoney) from the trauma of his past life as a prisoner-of-war. In turn, they help Sarah when she needs assistance.

While this film is partly a serious contemplation on life and relationships it is also very amusing. “King Lear — The Musical”, an unpredictable lawn sprinkler, Lang’s receptionist-with-attitude (Mikaela Davies), scenes on the set of Wendy’s popular TV show, “Major Surgery”, with Gary Sweet in operating gear and rubber thongs, a “jazz fusion” jam session in a suburban living room — such scenes keep the chuckles bubbling.

Shot in Adelaide by Mark Wareham, A Month of Sundays has uniformly excellent production values. It could still be screening somewhere close to you. If not, do source it on DVD when it becomes available.

The Man Who Knew Infinity
★★★★
PG

The very talented Dev Patel as Srinivasa Ramanujan

This enthralling film, written and directed by Matthew Brown, tells how a young Indian clerk is accepted into Trinity College, Cambridge in 1914 and is eventually made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1918. Brown’s screenplay is based upon the book by Robert Kanigel about mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and his mentor, GH Hardy.

Filmed in India and in Cambridge, The Man Who Knew Infinity is exquisitely designed by Luciana Arrighi. Her sets and Ann Maskrey’s costumes are further enhanced by cinematographer Larry Smith’s inspired lighting, which ensures that every frame of the film is breathtaking.

We are introduced to Ramanujan (Dev Patel) when he is working as a clerk in the Port Trust Office of Madras for Sir Francis Spring (Stephen Fry), whose patronising attitude sets the tone for the treatment Ramanujan will later encounter in England from most Englishmen other than his sponsor, the eccentric GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons), and his friends Littlewood (Toby Jones) and Bertrand Russell (Jeremy Northam), who are fiercely protective of the gentle young autodidact, whom they consider to be a genius.

World War I compounds the hardship for Ramanujan. It is not easy for the devoutly religious Tamil Brahmin to adjust to the traditional ways of Trinity College, let alone its food, as he must adhere to a strictly vegetarian diet. Lack of nourishment and the cold climate take a toll on his health.

Furthermore, he has left behind his young wife, Janaki (Devika Bhise). He is depressed by her failure to reply to his letters. Little does he know that his mother has been intercepting and hiding their letters to one another in the misguided belief that Ramanujan needs no diversion from his mathematical studies.

Their love story is fascinating but it is the all-consuming passion for mathematics shared by Ramanujan, Hardy and Littlewood that powers the narrative. While Ramanujan regards mathematics as God’s work, describing it as “painting, but with colours you cannot see”, atheistic Hardy insists that Ramanujan must provide proofs for his theories.

Throughout the film, the dialogue is sprinkled with wry humour. Little did the soldiers who beat up the “free-loading little blackie” realise that his mathematical calculations would pave the way to formulating the theory behind explaining black holes.

A remarkable film.

The Meddler
★★★
M

When Lorene Scafaria’s father died, he left a huge void in the lives of his daughter and his wife. Inspired by her mother’s determinedly positive attitude to getting on with life without him, Lorene wrote and directed The Meddler.

Recently widowed Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) has moved from New York out to Los Angeles to be near her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), a successful screenwriter who has recently split up with her actor boyfriend, Jacob (Jason Ritter).

Feeling overwhelmed by Marnie’s maternal solicitude and incessant telephonic communications, Lori jumps at the opportunity to go to New York to shoot a TV pilot show.

Alone in LA and determined not to feel lonely, Marnie befriends a variety of people, and various acts of kindness brighten up other people’s lives and give her own life meaning.

What goes around comes around, and Marnie is befriended by moustachioed Zipper (JK Simpson), who takes her riding on his beloved Harley Davidson and introduces her to his hens, who are Dolly Parton fans.

Marnie’s return to New York to meet her husband’s family provides a delightful insight to her previous life in a lively, close-knit Italian family. After visiting Lori on set, Marnie causes consternation at the airport by proudly announcing that her daughter has just shot a pilot!

Back together again in LA, mother and daughter are finally able to shed those pent-up tears and openly acknowledge their grief … and their love for one another.

Far from being a “chick flick”, The Meddler is actually an endearing film about resilience.

Florence Foster Jenkins
★★
M

Although it looks great, this film about the final years of Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Written by Nicholas Martin and directed by Stephen Frears, Florence Foster Jenkins seems to ridicule the woman rather than celebrate her love of music and philanthropy. Having contracted syphilis from her first husband, Florence has chosen not to consummate her relationship with her beloved St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), an English actor who is also her manager.

Bayfield comes across as a bit of a cad. Each night, having tucked his “Bunny” into bed, he travels across town to spend the night with Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson), the only character who seems vaguely sympathetic. Everyone else, including Toscanini, appears happy to accept Florence’s money in exchange for pretending to appreciate her vocal ability. Yet, if you google “St Clair Bayfield”, you will see that he was a much more interesting person than presented in this film.

Both Grant and Streep do what they can with a disappointingly simplistic screenplay. Accolades must go to Alan Macdonald and his production design team for the truly gorgeous sets and costumes.

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby GHS