Local cinemas this week

Yes, there is something else on other than that blonde white chick running about in a silly superman suit. Two very fine films indeed…

Multiplex pick: Hotel Mumbai

Aussie filmmaker Anthony Maras opens his gripping account of Mumbai’s notorious 2008 terrorist attack provocatively – at least for some Australians… He shows the members of Pakistan’s jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba arriving in Mumbai by boat! Whoo-whoo! Sound the alarms! Call Peter Dutton!! But at least they’re not disguised as refugees – they look like a bunch of young backpackers off on an adventure holiday, on their way to the nearest tourist bar to grab a beer and meet some girls… They waste no time revealing their true intent though, quickly spreading out and indiscriminately shooting up the city. One of the first in their sights is an Australian haggling about the price of his curry (nice touch – it was probably over a rupee – a true Aussie tourist). Then in an understandable security lapse, the concierge of the luxury Taj Mahal Palace Hotel opens their doors offering sanctuary to a bunch of terrified bystanders fleeing the carnage. It was a fatal mistake.

Both before and early in the siege of the hotel (which in reality lasted three days), we’re introduced to some of the guests and staff, some of whom we can pick straight away won’t make it. Not that arrogant Russian (Jason Issacs) who makes a sexist remark (doomed for sure). Or the impetuously brave Indian cops who don’t wait for back-up or a strategy, and head straight in. But the caring Aussie nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) caught on an upper floor looking after David (Armie Hammer) and his wife’s (Nazanin Boniadi) baby will be ok… As will David himself – surely the handsome, white, hunky big star will save the day, yes? 

Well this is no ordinary Hollywood disaster movie. Maras has meticulously drawn from real-life accounts of what actually happened, and though the characters are composites, the panic, terror and confusion driving their responses and sheer idiocy of some of their actions  feels unnervingly realistic. Full marks too, for assigning the actual heroism where it truely belonged, to the Indian staff (Dev Patel, Anupam Kher) who didn’t run, but stayed to help others in whatever way they could. The relentless carnage of the attack and subsequent fire is impeccably staged (in Adelaide, of all places) and the film stands as white-knuckle thrill fest of the first order, its full-pelt pace only pausing occasionally for some mildly “comic” relief. Like the the pair of terrorists squabbling over the pork in the delicacies they’ve been sampling – fair enough, even indiscriminate slaughter is hungry work.

Some of the beats feel a little predictable, but such is Maras and co-writer John Collee’s skill that the few emotional reunions and happy endings that do occur at the end of its 2 hour plus run-time feel thoroughly well-earned. Though it ends with a coda which feels out-of-place – a scene of the restored hotel triumphantly re-opening that feels a bit like contra for “accommodation services – India Unit.” Well, I won’t be staying there, not unless they’ve beefed up their security… MA15+ Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central, Broadway, Burwood, Rhodes, Auburn and Dendy Newtown ★★★★ View the trailer

Arthouse pick: Sometimes Always Never

Does anyone still play scrabble? Sometimes Always Never had its first outing at Palace’s Young At Heart Seniors Film Festival, and no doubt some of its audience there had fond memories of the now largely overlooked board game. Although I did see a young millennial playing it on her phone recently, so maybe it hasn’t been forgotten. Obviously in that version, single letter words as in “c”, “u” (later) as well as “lol” and “wtf” will be totally admissable. Actually, even ageing Alan (Bill Nighy), the eccentric, natty-dressed professional tailor and amateur word-wiz of Carl Hunter’s offbeat dramady is a fan of the online version of the game. He uses a board too of course, and in an early scene we see him expertly fleecing another elderly duffer he’s challenged. But the internet is where the gaming action is, and that’s where he thinks he identified his long lost adult son, another talented wordsmith who suddenly and painfully vanished from the family home decades ago (after a scrabble argument!). Could this wry and melancholic story be headed for a happy ending?

Sort of… but you’ll be missing its visual clues if you expect anything quite so straightforward. The beachfront backdrop to the opening looks like its been painted in pastels, in fact many scenes resemble those retro postcards you find in gift shops depicting scenes from yesteryear with ”ironic” smart-alecky captions – matching the film’s slightly insouciant tone. There’s a deliciously extended driving sequence with Alan and his other son Peter (Sam Riley) perched in little red car (a rare Triumph Herald convertible) looking like Noddy and Big Ears while fake trees whizz past. Hunter, who used to design artwork for his indie-pop band The Farm and his production designers clearly had a ball scouring Merseyside’s antique shops and museums for props too – everything looks ridiculously twee but at the same time, immensely arresting. Now where did they find that fantastically cute caravan Alan runs off to in one of the plot’s unexpected turns? And where can I get one?

The story, such as it is, centres on Alan and his remaining son’s fractured and strained relationship, with Peter’s wife (Alice Lowe) and son (Louise Healy) playing small but pivotal roles in patching things up – even helping Alan escape from his buttoned-up, skewiff view of the world – one preoccupied by guilt, regrets and magnificent one word scores. A strong narrative isn’t the point of this whimsical and slyly amusing piece, nor does it matter – not when the visuals are so tantalising and its heart is so clearly in the right place. It’s a “small” film, but refreshingly full of compassion and humour. And for Nighy’s legions of fans, it’s probably the best thing he’s ever done. It will never achieve the cult status Love Actually (the film nearly everyone mentioned in our “your favourite Nighy” competition) has bizarrely achieved. But it is a much more fun. PG Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central, and Dendy Newtown ★★★★ View the trailer

Also opening this week

Up against Captain Marvel, Hollywood’s offering for International Women’s Day? Nothing, no one else would dare…

Reviews – Russell Edwards