Reminiscent at times of the 1983 Film Gorky Park , Child 44 is another thriller set in Russia. This one is set in the oppressive Stalinist era that existed after World War II. Tom Hardy stars as a man who was raised to be loyal to the militaristic and oppressive regime of Joseph Stalin. From the beginning, his loyalty is tested. First, with the notion that “there is no such thing as murder in Paradise.” This is the ironic motto under which the police and military must operate. Later, when Hardy’s character, Leo, is asked to betray his wife, he must choose where his loyalty truly lies.
Like The Handmaids Tale, the characters operate in a dystopian atmosphere, therefore everyone behaves within the framework of an Orwellian state of being. Murder and torture are committed routinely by the ruling authorities in order to keep the citizens in line. In this environment, Leo is determined to unravel the identity of a man who is killing children. The total number of deaths is 44, hence the title: Child 44. But keeping with the mindset that there are no murders allowed to exist in Stalin’s Russia, the notion of finding a child murderer is a heavy lift. Based on the novel of the same name, the overall pace of the film feels dark, and the tone is suitably oppressive
There are some plot points to quibble over. The James Bond method of doing away with the protagonist makes one ask, “Why not simply shoot him?” But the plot does manage to wrap the ends up at a slow but steady pace. Perhaps a slightly shorter running time (it runs 2 hours 17 minutes) might have increased the pace.
Noomi Rapace, seen with Hardy in last year’s excellent film, , pairs again with him as his wife, Raisa. She is an effective foil for Leo’s determined and steadfast character who is fixated on learning the truth. Gary Oldman seems slightly under-utilized as General Nesterov, Leo’s skeptical and eventually supportive superior officer. All in all, the film features a good cast and an uneven screenplay, which makes for an interesting, but not overly exciting thriller.
Last month, 6 Degrees recommended a few select sites to visit on the web to look for information on film. This month, we continue with more film sites.
IMDB: This site (or app to download on your tablet or phone), is a good comprehensive place to go for information on upcoming films. There’s not a lot of elaborate background, but basic information to give you a good idea of what a film is about. Lots of films are released under the radar, and this site has extensive overall information concerning release dates and upcoming movie titles.
Rotten Tomatoes: Another comprehensive site that includes reviews for films. My complaint: there’s too much going on. The site is so “busy” that it’s hard to focus on what you’re looking for.
Netflix: If you are a Netflix member, this is a good place to find filmographies of your favorite actor or director. There are lots of titles, but it’s also laden with way too much information for those simply looking for basic background on a select film. There’s also a section (harder to find now than it was five years ago!), that includes the top 100 films on Netflix, plus Critics Choice and Foreign films.
Turner Classic Movies: features monthly listings of films dating back to the beginning era of silent film all the way to the modern era. They group films by genre or by star, depending on the theme of the day. They also feature unique tributes to stars who have died recently, and those who have made unique contributions to cinema. All these things make Turner Classic a necessary tool for any serious film buff. The best thing to do is to look at the monthly schedule and mark the films that catch your eye. There’s a treasure trove of old movies in their vaults. Recently, they completed a deal with Disney to feature some of their old TV movies from the fifties. Some of the early Disney films are little gems of Americana. Baby boomers will remember Walt himself opening the TV show each week as he introduced the films.Some great character actors who never receive enough recognition are brought into focus in their opening vignettes. The hosts Charles Osborn and Ben Mankiewicz often offer up juicy tidbits and fascinating facts about the behind the scenes drama that often occurs on the sets of famous films.
American Film Institute: This film site works best when it focuses on the honorees and special events. There are some good lists of film classics, and it’s a great place for movie buffs to check out and look for hidden gems or forgotten masterpieces.
Upcoming Films and trends:
Browsing through the list of upcoming films on IMDb (stands for Internet Movie Database), you’ll find some interesting trends emerging in the latest releases.
One thing apparent is Hollywood’s need to focus on diversity. Women are the focal point in several upcoming films. The Age of Adaline features up and comer Blake Lively as a woman who has lived for over a century without aging. Academy award winner Helen Hunt returns to the screen with a comedy about a mother who decides to drop out along with her surfer son.
Hot Pursuit stars Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara in a comedy with Witherspoon as a bumbling police woman and Vergara is the woman she is tasked to guard. Spy stars Melissa McCarthy in another comedy. McCarthy plays a CIA agent working a desk job who is sent on a dangerous field mission.
The message out of Hollywood is: Keep it light, keep it funny, and keep it all women, all the time!
Other films with women stars slated for release in the coming months include Welcome to me with Kristen Wiig and I’ll See you in my Dreams, starring Blythe Danner. Danner is proof that even older women are going to get on the girl-power train! Kate Winslet rounds out the field with a period piece set in France entitled, A Little Chaos.
6 Degrees focuses on the premise that almost all films are reworked or re-hashed material. There are only so many stories you can basically retell. One sure winner in movies is anything with children or animals. Dog lovers such as myself are always interested in seeing a film with a lovable mutt. Max is an upcoming film about a dog returning from serving in Afghanistan. Even dog lovers are getting in on the diversity wagon.
Of course, several remakes are in the works This season, Far from the MaddingCrowd, a great film for Julie Christie and Alan Bates directed by John Schlesinger, was made in 1967. The remake stars Carey Mulligan. Mad Max is also being revamped with Tom Hardy (one of my favorite actors working now), and Charlize Theron. It’s set to debut at Cannes Film Festival, which should lend it some measure of gravitas. Survivor looks like a remake of Robert Redford’s ThreeDays of the Condor, only this time a woman, Milla Jovovich, has the lead.
Hollywood is continuing to look at the politics of war with Good Kill. The film, with Ethan Hawke, focuses on the moral and ethical struggles of a soldier who is assigned as a drone pilot. And there’s even a few Westerns out there for those of us who love the genre. Slow West stars Michael Fassbender.
The phrase Cinematic Universes has come into play in recent months. It appears there are several remakes in the works for Ghostbusters. Star Wars has spawned its own universe, as well as the Lord of the Rings and the world of HarryPotter. In the world of Hollywood, there doesn’t seem to be anything inherently wrong with spawning a Cinematic Universe (Especially if you can make money!)
But some of the purists do wince when they talk of the all- female cast of Ghostbusters, or a black lead for James Bond. The world is changing, and Hollywood is adapting slowly but surely.
There are some good things about Kenneth Branagh’s newest incarnation of Cinderella. The costuming is beautiful. There are two actresses from Downton Abbey appearing in the film (Rose plays Cinderella and Daisy is one of the stepsisters). Other highlights include the evil stepmother played by Cate Blanchett. And perhaps the most memorable feature is the CGI, the Computer Graphic Images that enable the fairy-tale to be updated for the 21st Century.
This would have been a chick flick, in another era. But post-modern feminists would deplore the banal message sent to young women. Cinderella’s enduring theme has been that your life begins when your prince arrives. Although in the post-modern era, there could be a socio-economic message about income inequality hidden within the plot. That may be stretching it.
And though the plot is thin, the visuals are beautiful and the message is the same. As films go, there’s not much here. The message is pretty banal. Cinderella is told by her dying mother to stay strong and be kind. It is the same message found within fortune cookies and Girl Scout troops. But young children will love the rich and colorful scenery, and the movie is family-friendly and innocuous enough to be viewed by old and young alike.
There’s a strong thread of banality that runs through many of the plots these days. Cinderella has a weak message but a strong foundation. The mythological quality of the story and the timeless elements weave through the thin narrative. This is not to be recommended for lovers of Shakespearean theatre. For that crowd, you should rent Brannagh’s Henry Vth or As you Like it. If you have young children or simply want to become immersed in a fairy tale for a few hours, then this is the movie for you.