Colonia

Director: Florian Gallenberger (2016)

This handsome historical prison drama is shackled by weak dialogue, a pedestrian pace and an unconvincing central relationship.

Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl play Lena and Daniel, a fictional couple caught up in General Pinochet’s military coup of Chile in 1973.

The force of history rests heavy on Watson’s slender shoulders, weighing down a performance which is far from her strongest.

When political activist Daniel is arrested and sent to a remote charitable mission ran by a cult, flight attendant Lena infiltrates the camp ‘Colonia Dignidad’ to rescue him.

It’s the personal fiefdom of a messianic and abusive leader who uses physical and psychological torture to keep his followers in line.

Although staged on an impressive scale it, the finale descends into silliness as door slamming trolly dollies defy the mass ranks of the Chilean army.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

 

Woman In Gold

Director: Simon Curtis (2015)

A young lawyer and elderly woman team up to haggle over the ownership of a valuable piece of art in this dull plod of a true story.

Half courtroom drama, half Second World War thriller and all unremarkable, an uninformative script fails to inspire two mismatched leads.

Widowed US citizen Maria (Helen Mirren) is Austrian by birth and bossy, rude and talkative by nature. She spends a lot of screen-time staring into space and listening to music. She has come into documents suggesting a valuable painting of her aunt Adele may in fact belong to her.

Painted by famous artist Gustav Klimt and known as the ‘Woman In Gold’, it’s of such great importance it’s colloquially referred to Austria’s Mona Lisa, though it’s real name is ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I‘. As her aunt’s will specified it’s hanging on public display in the famous Viennese Belvedere Gallery.

Maria hires the inexperienced lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). The grandson of a famous Viennese composer, Randol takes the case to further his career but after visiting the Holocaust Memorial it becomes a personal mission to secure for Maria the painting.

Together they scuttle off to Vienna to demand the paintings return from the gallery. She tries to shame the authorities into gifting her a painting worth over a hundred million dollars. Even to my inexpert legal mind it’s not a strategy likely to succeed.

Eventually Randol discovers a legal loophole and takes Maria’s claim to the US Supreme Court for permission to sue the Austrian State for the painting’s return.

In one scene a Ferris wheel is featured prominently in the Viennese background, prompting the mind to drift to this famous moment from cinema.

Randol’s argument rests on the exploitation of a technicality not sympathetic to the intention or spirit of her aunt’s original will. Although Maria has an emotional claim to the painting of her aunt, the legal ends seem to have been resolved correctly if not by the right means.

Sepia-toned flashbacks to Maria’s privileged childhood in Vienna shows us a little of a somewhat cold relationship with her aunt Adele (Antje Traue). This undermines her argument her legal case is underpinned by her love for her family.

We see far more coverage of her life as a young married woman under Nazi house arrest for being a Jew, allowing for leather-slapping SS guards to inject some menace into the film. They steal the family silver as well as the Holbein from the wall, her father’s Stradivarius cello and of course, the painting at the heart of the story.

Young Maria abandons her parents to the war and as she flees to the airport, is chased on foot and fights off armed Nazis. What a gal. I didn’t believe for a moment this is how she left Austria.

There’s too much disconnect between eras and the desperate tone of the war years clash with the gentle banter between Mirren and Reynolds.

Scenes in the Supreme Court which are played for laughs. Legal arguments are easily defeated in an uninteresting way and long lapses of time of 9, 6 and 4 months interrupt what little dramatic tension there is in court.

Whenever anyone is offered opportunity to display generosity of spirit, self-interested petulance is chosen instead.

Both leads are miscast and lack chemistry. Reynolds is static wooden pole Mirren gamely gambols about him, flirting with a mannered Austrian accent.

it’s always pleasant to see Katie Holmes on the big screen but in an inconsistently written role she’s relegated to being Randol’s stay-at-home wife. Tatiana Maslany as young Maria makes a convincing young Helen Mirren.

Poor Daniel Bruhl plays journalist Bertus Czernin. He pops up to handily explain Austrian bureaucracy and their funny ways. Peculiarly for a journalist he takes no notes, writes no stories and takes no payment, Astonishingly he’s the one buying the drinks. Mostly he serves the function of providing Reynolds someone to talk to.

We lean nothing of Klimt, his life, art or why his art is so vital to Austrian culture, relegating him to the second most famous Austrian artist in this story.

Rush

Director: Ron Howard (2013)

Roaring into the cinema is this amazing racing tale fuelled by testosterone, booze and occasionally petrol.

It charts James Hunt and Nikki Lauda’s rivalry as they race from Formula 3 to challenging for the F1 world title in 1976.

Both men have similar backgrounds of wealth and privilege – Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a champagne-quaffing show-off who sees racing as an extension of his social life. While Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is a yoghurt-eating Austrian who is arrogant, risk-averse and highly focused. He races because it offers huge financial rewards.

Each describes the other as assholes but only Lauda seems sufficiently self-aware to realise the term applies to both men equally.

The film creates great tension by focusing on the friction between the two men which is then released by the starter’s flag. The thrilling races are expertly staged, especially as they show how close stewards and spectators were to these ‘bombs on wheels’.

Among the parties, insults and weddings, Lauda suffers a near fatal crash that leaves him scarred yet defiantly he continues to race to the film’s gripping climax.

In this macho mechanical world the ladies fare badly; being married is seen as being incompatible with success and single women are disposable sex toys.

Sadly Hemsworth’s acting is hamstrung by the demands of maintaining an English accent and is at his best behind the wheel. Brühl is more convincing and the supporting cast are all excellent.

The film offers an great insight into the world of 1970s Formula 1. Smoking is allowed in the pit-lanes, rain is a common enemy and the drivers have to battle mechanical failure, financial disaster, personal demons, media interference and the politics of the racing authorities.

It’s a well-crafted story of competitive courage that’s told with humour and energy.