FILM

Reviewed by
Tricia Youlden

My Old Lady ★★★ M

New Yorker Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) is divorced, jobless and impecunious. So when his late father leaves him a large apartment in Paris he travels to Paris intending to sell it so that he can pay off all his debts and live comfortably.

To his dismay he discovers that the apartment is inhabited by elderly Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) and her daughter, Chloe (Kirsten Scott Thomas). The apartment is a viager, which means that not only will Mathias be unable to take possession until Mathilde dies, but he actually has to pay her 2400 euros per month.

Initially furious, Mathias presents as an arrogant, abrasive American. He mellows as he comes to understand why his father bequeathed him what is actually a debt. However, whether it is due to the writing, the direction or Kline’s characterisation, it is hard to warm to Mathias, even after this transition. None of the characters are particularly endearing, but Chloe and Mathilde seem to have more depth.

The main attraction of the film is Paris. Writer-director Israel Horowitz has taken the film beyond the interior of the apartment to which he confined his original play, and enabled cinematographer Michel Amathieu to reveal interesting aspects of Paris. Trailer

Maps to the Stars ★★★★ MA

Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars.

The first 30-odd minutes of director David Cronenberg’s latest film, Maps to the Stars, mercilessly satirises the excesses of the dysfunctional inhabitants of Tinseltown. We meet self-absorbed, aging starlet Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) who aspires to recreate the role that made her mother a cult figure after the latter’s untimely death in a house fire when Havana was a child.

Havana is a client of self-help guru Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), whose son Benjie (Evan Weiss) is an obnoxious child star turned teenage heart-throb. Cristina Weiss (Olivia Williams) has devoted her life to managing their son’s career. Benjie’s comment that “they made me an offer my mother couldn’t refuse” sums up their relationship.

The arrogant adolescent has recently been discharged from rehab but is far from reformed. Like his precocious, world-weary contemporaries, he regards anyone over 20 as ancient and subscribes to the definition of hell as being a world without narcotics. “Shit happens much earlier than it used to.”

With the return to Los Angeles of Benjie’s literally and metaphorically scarred sister, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), dark family secrets are revealed. Hired as Havana’s assistant and befriended by chauffeur/actor/writer Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson), Agatha proves to be the catalyst for the ghosts of their past to re-emerge and haunt all the main characters with a vengeance. Satire morphs into gothic horror as the denouement approaches. To quote Dr Stafford Weiss, “Secrets kill”.

Inspired by writer Bruce Wagner’s own experiences as a 1990s chauffeur in LA, Maps to the Stars is actually quite a disturbing film, yet the script is so wickedly funny and all the performances so perceptively drawn that this leavens the horror. Carrie Fisher makes a guest appearance. Trailer

The Mule ★★★ MA

Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson and in The Mule.

Based on true events, The Mule is a rather sordid tale of drug-smuggling co-written, co-produced, co-directed and starring Angus Sampson. Ray (Sampson), literally an innocent abroad, is coerced into swallowing a swag of heroin-filled condoms in Bangkok before returning to Melbourne after his footy team’s end of season trip.

He naively hopes to thus earn sufficient money to help out his doting, over-protective mother, Judy (Noni Hazlehurst) and step-father, John (Geoff Morrell).

The bulk of the film is about Ray’s determination not to surrender the contents of his bowel to police officers who detain him at the airport.

Not even Judy can convince her son to cooperate with the Feds (Hugo Weaving and Ewen Leslie). Little does she know that he is valiantly trying to protect her from evil footy club president Pat Shepherd (John Noble, clearly relishing every nuance of this slimy, menacing character), to whom her husband is majorly in debt.

Aiding and abetting Ray in his desperate act of defiance is aspiring young lawyer Jasmine Griffiths (Georgina Haig). This latter character jars despite Haig’s competent acting skills. Her overly impeccable grooming and wardrobe strike a false note in Paddy Reardon’s otherwise realistic design, which symbolically features lots of grotty brown.

Set against the America’s Cup yachting challenge that was dominating television at the time, The Mule is rather too graphically scatological to be described as enjoyable despite solid performances all around. Perhaps some judicious editing would make it more palatable. Trailer

Love, Rosie ★★★★1/2 M

What a delightful film Love, Rosie is! The screenplay was adapted by Juliette Towhidi from Cecelia Ahern’s novel Where rainbows end. Under Christian Ditter’s deft direction, the talented young cast presents us with characters about whom we can really care.

Despite having been best friends since childhood and truly devoted to one another, Rosie (Lily Collins) and Alex (Sam Claflin) seem destined never to end up together as adults. Misunderstandings and unfortunate decisions abound.

Indeed, Rosie’s life takes so many unforeseen twists that her girlfriend Ruby (Jaime Winstone) declares, “Whenever something goes wrong in my life, I just look at yours and it cheers me up.”

So while Alex goes off to Harvard to study medicine, fickle fate dictates that Rosie must forego the scholarship in hotel management that would have allowed them to travel to America together after leaving school.

Although they keep in touch, Rosie and Alex never seem to both be unattached at the same time. The film’s opening scene is the prime example of this as Rosie is called to propose a toast to newlyweds Alex and Bethany (Suki Waterhouse). While that particular scene made me remember Four Weddings and a Funeral, other scenes briefly evoke fleeting memories of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle.

Lily Collins, however, brings a unique sweetness to Love, Rosie that sets this film apart.

Shot mainly in Dublin, Love, Rosie looks as lovely as its star due to Christian Rein’s cinematography, Matthew Davies’ production design and Tony Cranstoun’s neat editing. Trailer

Win film passes for Serena

Hollywood’s dream team Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper reunite in Serena, opening in cinemas on November 27. Set in the 1920s, it is the story of newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton who build a timber empire in the North Carolina mountains. Serena proves herself to be the equal of any man. The Pembertons don’t let anyone stand in the way of their ambitions but Serena discovers George’s hidden past and their passionate marriage begins to unravel, and their empire starts to crack.

To win one of 15 double passes from StudioCanal for Serena, write in with your name, Federation membership number, workplace name and phone number, mailing address and home phone number. Please send the entries to journal@nswtf.org.au with “Serena film passes competition” in the subject line, or mail to “Serena Film Passes Competition”, Education, NSW Teachers Federation, Locked Bag 3010 Darlinghurst 1300. Entries close on November 25.

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby Girls High School.