Chronology of story-telling: Fencer, Arrival, Rosalie and La La Land

Christmas 2016

It must be the holiday season. I’ve seen four films in the last couple of weeks. It seems the themes are the extensive use of flashbacks/chronology as a technique and the contrast of masculine and feminine energy and intent.

Rosalie Blum, Julien Rappeneau (2015)

I think I see French films because I keep needing things to remind me of or pull me towards France.  I love finding the familiar in French films. In Midnight in Paris, I smiled realising I’d eaten in the Polidor restaurant and in the Scarlet Pimpernel the vision of Mont Saint Michel sent a tentacle in the 1980s that only pulled me to visit 30 years later.

In Rosalie Blum, the setting seemed familiar and was confirmed by the tiny red and white balisage on the tree outside Rosalie’s house. I was dragged back to the landscape of my first Camino outing on the Vezelay Route. The bridges of Charite-sur-Loire and Nevers brought back those familiar French tourist feelings. Familiar also was the Nakshi Katha tapestry in the young woman’s bedroom – but this took me back to Bangladesh.

This film deals with family issues – mothers and absent fathers. They’re complicated, and they are a problem that doesn’t get solved.  I’m not going to say a thing about the plot, because it unfolds perfectly and if you know anything about it, the effect will be spoilt. What I can say is that like many films I’ve seen from this part of the world, there is a delightful interplay between generations and a cheeky, tricky little mystery that slowly gets explained. The wonderful charm of a French film, unravelling and revealling itself slowly, leaves ends that are not neatly tied.  This is life isn’t it! And the French get it.

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve (2016)

This clever film in the ilk of the Alien series, deals with the shock and terror of visitors from outer space and the global response to them.  Playing extensively with chronology in plot and setting, this film brought to focus the differing energies that can be brought to bear on common problems.  The ‘macho shoot-em up’ leading to crisis, while the patient and curious feminine communicating/reasoning towards understanding.  Ultimately it lays bare the only way forward for the human race: together.  Too much more explanation would give the film away. Great performances from Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. This one’s well worth seeing.

The Fencer, Klaus Härö (2015)

Fencing has always held some mystique for me.  This was expertly developed in Arturo Perez Reverte’s, The Fencing Master, and it has been beautifully showcased in The Fencer. In line with the chronology theme of these movies, the history of the main character unfolds in this film and along with it touches on the uneasiness of hiding and the need to find purpose in the limbo of hiding out. The realities are brutal in this small community where a teacher, finding everything being stacked against him, one item of sporting equipment at a time, uses his one enduring skill to engage with the young girls and boys of the school.  The dull but total threat of a totalitarian regime on a small communities that want the best for their children becomes clearer as the fencer gallantly provides the ultimate opportunity for his young but devoted pupils.  It is a beautiful, yet sparse film which despite the frosty setting, is imbued with great warmth and depth of character of the fencer, his students and their parents. Not lost on me was the juxtaposition of the nimble-footed chivalry of fencing with the lead-weighted power play of post WWII Europe.

La La Land, Damien Chazelle (2016)

A romantic, modern day equivalent of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie – casting Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to tell the age-old story of falling in love and following your passion.  Surprisingly, it was a musical, something I hadn’t realised before the first song, and as it often does with surprise musicals, I was a little taken aback. I should’ve known with the opening credits taking place with a massed highway (carpark) scene with hundreds of dancers.

With allusions to a Hollywood film of yester-year, with modest dress and good manners, it kept with the storyline of an actress struggling with resilience in the face of rejection and a traditionalist-jazz musician not wanting to let jazz die. Not surprisingly, it didn’t reach the Astaire/Rogers heights.

With a tinge of Sliding Doors, and once again messing with chronology, this musical film proved a spectacle which defies categorising. After John Legend appeared, I wondered if he’d written the score, but no.

It is a feel-good film (ie. take it or leave it) about the importance of never giving up on your dream, but also the reassuring support that your champions give you while you’re still aspiring.  It reminded me of the quote “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and will sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” C.S. Lewis

 

84 Charing Cross Road – Melbourne Rare Book Week approaches

84 Charing Cross Road, David Jones (1987)

Going back in time, this classic, multi-BAFTA award-winning film, based on a true story, reminds us that sending parcels half way around the globe was not invented by the age of online-shopping. It is about loving old books and the people who sell and collect them.

Being unable to find rare and collectible books in New York, a sassy Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft), writes letters all the way to Marks & Co bookshop in London where Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins) and his fellow staff work.  Their correspondence ranges widely about books but also progresses to gifts for the manager and his colleagues.  Not only are the great and rare gems of literature noted and discussed, but the story takes one through the realities of post-WW2 London where food such as eggs were rarer than old books. Judy Dench makes brief appearances as Frank’s wife, Nora. In a poignant twist, despite communicating from 1949 – 1976, the book lovers never met, Helene only visiting the closed shop in 1971. And what is a classic film without classical music?  Rach 2 and Handel’s Messiah provide a fitting background. This is the total package.

This is a fitting review to introduce Melbourne’s Rare Book Week. I went along to several sessions in 2016, and can highly recommend it. The week culminates in the ANZAAB Melbourne Rare Book Fair, now in its sixth year.  If you enjoy walking amongst limited edition prints, leather bound books and antiquities of the paper variety, you’ll be in book-nerd heaven here. And its ALL FREE!

Melbourne Rare Book Week 30th June – 9th July PROGRAM

45th ANZAAB Australian Antiquarian Book Fair (Melbourne Rare Book Fair) – 7th – 9th July at University of Melbourne’s Wilson Hall.

The. A. Margot. School. A.

February 4th, 2015 – I keep finding more of the reviews I’ve posted to Facebook – yes this is TWO YEARS OLD now.

OK, so next in the epic list of (good) films … the rag rug grows by the digital minute!

Thanks to everyone who mentioned Mads Mikkelsen. I don’t have a TV, so of course I’m completely oblivious to the presence of this man on screen as psychopath, however I took up people’s recommendations and this is what I’ve been watching. Mads is my new favourite actor – bad luck Johnny Depp!

The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg (2012).
I’m not so sure I could watch Mads in gruesome things, but his portrayal of this character was so moving and believable. As the rating sticker says this film certainly has ‘strong themes’. A school teacher fighting for custody of his son, is accused of the sexual abuse of a young girl. The film is about his struggle to prove his innocence. Top film, if ever so tragic.

A Royal Affair, Nikolaj Arcel (2012).
Shakespeare: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Hamlet (1601). When too much Mads is barely enough! He is so good in this, and this one really tickled my fancy for history of the period and challenges to the grip on power of the church. What an amazing history Denmark has had – Shakespeare was well ahead of his time – 150 odd years or history really does repeat! Beautiful period piece that reminded me of Dangerous Liaisons.

Margot at the Wedding, Noah Baumbach (2007).
I can’t remember why this was recommended, but it paired really well with Jack Black in School of Rock, which apparently I needed to watch because I play the, ‘well, cellooooo’! This film is icky in a proper Noah Baumbach way and was a Nicole Kidman film I didn’t mind (I normally can’t stand her acting – but this role she played extremely well). Margot (Nicole) is annoyingly smug and crazy when she turns up at her sister’s place. Betrothed Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Malcolm (Jack Black) get completely thrown by Margot’s presence and everything that was going to be slowly falls apart. A bit of a strange ending, but there you have it. Thanks again Noah!

School of Rock, Richard Linklater (2003).
What can one say? Hilarious in a pathetic kind of way. Classic Jack Black. From the crowd-surfing into nothing to the Principal chatting up the rock musicians at the end.  I’d seen my “well celloooooo” quote quite early on. The comment rivals “couldn’t you choose a smaller instrument to play” in my experience when introducing myself as a cellist. I wasn’t going to watch the rest, but hey, there was rag rug to finish, and I didn’t feel like watching a subtitled film (takes my eyes off the weaving).

Un homme et une femme: A Man and a Woman, Claude Lelouch (1966)
And a French film with subtitles to finish off. It is quite hard to believe that this film is one year off 50 years old.   What a classic French film. What amazingly well-adjusted boarding school children. What is it about train scenes in France? That’s all. There is not much to say – it’s a French film, I’m in heaven automatically. Apparently Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant re-united for A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later in 1986. Another one for the film list.

The beginning of a ‘Big Year’ at Bool Lagoon

After 25 years driving the picturesque Mount Gambier to Adelaide road, and seeing the familiar brown Bool Lagoon sign just shy of Naracoorte, today I decided to turn off the road and see what it was all about. It was reportedly flush with birds after the past overly-wet six months, so I was hopeful of some good bird watching. Maybe it will be the beginning of my very first Big Year (2011, David Frankel).

As soon as you turn off the main highway, you start to see them.  Smaller break-away flocks flying in formation to and from the lagoon.  I’d borrowed the car from my aunt and uncle – they have a pass for all National Parks in Australia – handy! The CD skipped over to Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending. Not so sure I’ll see so many of them though.

The reserve is set firmly within a farming and wine-growing community, however I was still surprised to see a herd of cattle all over the road, being shepherded by their owner on quad-bike, just as I was going to turn in.

The stone wall announced Bool Lagoon Game Reserve, because yes, birds are still hunted here (although the duck and quail hunts had been restricted by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources during the 2016 season). The announcement was made by Minister Hunter. Ironic.

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All manner of winged creatures greet you as you drive around at tortoise pace. It didn’t really feel right to even get close to the 40km speed limit, so I suspect I’m more a watcher than a twitcher or a chaser. Up close it’s dragonflies. Along the side of the small bitumen road, it is baby magpies, still finding their feet and wings.  Out in the lagoon, it is the black swans with their little broods trailing behind them and up in the air it is the large ibis and geese, writing their hieroglyph messages in formation to all who will watch.

I would like to have walked out across the lagoon on the board walk, but unfortunately it sits in disrepair. This is a bit of a tragedy, when it would be great to get out there amongst it – apparently it has been out of action for some time now.

Don’t forget to keep your eyes down too, as signs warn that the frogs and turtles also cross the roads.

Many of the birds that come to this lagoon are migratory, and boy do they flock together. Robert Lynd said, “In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.” Well,  I stopped at one point where the reeds made a grassed garden in the water and the large magpie geese honking to each other were less seen than heard.  They certainly make a racket. It was gorgeous in its isolation, if not silence. There were thousands of birds to see but I lost count after 10.

It was hardly like the film, I had virtually no competition for my front row seats in the bird hide at Hacks Lagoon, although another couple had arrived just after me, and proceeded to look around at their own pace. They didn’t resemble Owen Wilson or Jack Black one bit.

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I enjoyed my little visit, staying for about an hour, and then it was time for me to fly home to roost.  The day reminded me far more of that other beautiful bird film, Travelling Birds: An Adventure in Flight (2003, Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats). Oh to be able to fly with them like that. Being earth-bound though, I am content to just watch them, rather than count them, and appreciate their aerodynamics, strange habits and weird sounds.

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.” William Blake

Bool Lagoon, Naracoorte, South Australia.
Park fees apply – book online at National Parks South Australia.

The.

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December 8th, 2015

The Belier Family, Eric Lartigau (2015)

If you didn’t see this film at the French film festival, you’ll get another chance now – it’s your lucky day. Continuing my signing theme of this week it is a heartwarming film about a family just doing their thing, and grappling with giving their child both roots and wings. You’ll laugh and cry. It is a treat!

The. The. Dazed. Cider. Shaw shank. To.

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July Flicks

The Shipping News, Lasse Hallstrom (2001)
This film is such suitable viewing for a wannabe writer, “It’s finding the centre of your story, the beating heart of it, that’s what makes a reporter“. Among other things, this is a story of a man recovering his sense of esteem and voice. In the process of making a new life for himself and his young daughter in the place of his ancestors, he discovers several skeletons and a new love. A beautiful portrayal of ‘sensitive’ people – those who seem to be able to tap into a universal knowledge. Kevin Spacey and Julienne Moore are brilliant. Judi Dench – of course is wonderful, but the real winner is the wonderful book that the film is based on by Annie Proulx.

The Railway Man, Jonathan Teplitzky (2013)
Can’t go past Colin Firth … ever. In this film he shows his flexibility and accomplishment as a seriously fantastic actor. Jeremy Irvine was great also as the young Eric Lomax. I don’t even mind Nicole Kidman – that’s saying something. Based on a true story, this is a testament to the capacity of the human being to transcend huge trauma and suffering through forgiveness. Having gone through my own version of the Spanish Inquisition in the past few months, this film impressed on me that although you may tell the truth, your inquisitors may not be interested in it, or be able to see it with their own colouring of the situation. When this happens, you can only practice forbearance. It also holds a powerful lesson for the way we are the ones that continue our own suffering, continuing to engage with paper tigers. “Sometime the hating has to stop“. Brilliant film.

Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater  (1993)
Quite a stupid film, but I think that is the idea. Unbelievably violent, yet blaze about it. Parker Posey, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich all looking a whole lot younger!

Night at the Museum, Shawn Levy (2006) 
Another story of a father finding his place in the world, although Ben Stiller isn’t so convincing to me as a father. It had the fantasy elements of the father/son relationship in Big Fish, but also the importance of a father to the imagination of a child as in Life is Beautiful. Reminder of the late, great, Robin Williams with the ever drawling Owen Wilson going head to head with Steve Coogan – a winning combo? Entertaining Sunday night film.

Cider House Rules, Lasse Hallstrom  (1999) 
A simple man working out what his business is. Films always speak to me. This one challenged me to work out what my business is. Maybe this is what I’ll work out in the next 10 weeks (see Via Tolosana posts). I loved Michael Caine in this film, his honour yet brokenness and Toby Maguire for his simpleness and principles. Interesting that both this and the Shipping News (the two were packaged together in a twin case) are of course by the same director and both deal with themes of unwanted children, incest and complicated family relationships. Strongly directed – I’ll put Lasse on my list. Once again also a testament to a great writer, John Irving.

Films about men, but aren’t they all? Fathers, men working out what their business is or as some would put it, with ‘failure to grow up scripts’. I can’t be too critical, after all, I think I have one of those too. Incest – not the most cheery topic, but it makes for very real and raw film material. Water nightmares – an unexpected common theme!

Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont (1994)
I had no idea what this film was about, having heard the name for all of the years since it was released, but expecting more of a Bourne Identity-type action thriller. This film couldn’t have been more different but at the same time, so exceed my expectations. The story of this film is so very powerful, yet hopeful. As with Cider House Rules, racism figures strongly amongst the themes of this movie, as does the play between innocence and guilt – and are these just relative concepts anyway? What is the price of freedom? Morgan Freeman has always been a favourite of mine, and once again doesn’t disappoint and as you’d expect, neither does Tim Robbins.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert Mulligan (1962)
Despite this film being now over 50 years old, it speaks to a universal truth and will never date. Wrongfully accused of raping a white woman, black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) is defended by a lawyer who at all times stands against the bigotry and racism of his town. Meanwhile his children see literally first-hand how justice and the law are two very different things, and in turn are challenged to bring new understanding to the other ‘mockingbirds’ in their midst. I first read this book, and saw this film in Year 8 of high school, however the only thing I remember is Scout swinging on the tyre swing in the first scene. It is strange how such an image of innocence stays with me when in fact it is the central theme of this film. I had the pleasure of seeing this last night with my friend Natalie at the Marrickville Library, as they were celebrating the release of Harper Lee’s prior written, but never before released book, Go Set a Watchman. A local film buff spoke about the film, and mentioned the deep impact that making this film had on it’s actors, saying that Gregory Peck and Brock Peters remained friends until Peck died. It is worth going back in film history to see how far we have come, and yet how much further we still have to go in terms of seeing justice for all people.

My. New. The. Then.

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June 24th, 2015

Latest movie marathon

My Afternoons with Margueritte, Jean Becker (2010). I like simple French films. I don’t need some fancy plot, a mind-bending mystery or drop-dead gorgeous stars. This is a film about the love of words, and the actions of love. It has its pleasant surprises, but deals with the harsh reality of growing up truthfully as well. It certainly doesn’t glamorise its character’s lives. Thoughtful, entertaining and real! Pregnancy.

New Year’s Eve, Garry Marshall (2011). Love Actually meets … well, nothing actually. It is just Love Actually in a different guise. There are so many big name actors in this film that it kind of reads like Who’s Who. It was entertaining and the variety of stories centering around New Year’s Eve was interesting. It is romantic. It is slightly funny – I think that serves the definition of RomCom. Two babies.

The Sweetest Thing, Roger Kumble (2002). More ‘sexual’ than ‘comedy’, this is an unsurprising next chapter to ‘He’s just not that into you‘. Pretty mindless. No stars from Margaret or David I’d guess!

Then she found me, Helen Hunt (2008). Colin Firth. Now there’s two words that work for me in a romantic story! Biological clock. There’s another two words for me that seemed to sum up my movie watching this week, and also make me convinced that we see what we want to see, or are currently trying to wrestle with in our lives. I suppose film and theatre have always been that for me. I liked that this film put lots of different, difficult life events into one 100 minute film. It is nothing to write home about, but the themes of motherhood, partnerhood, grief and loss and providence are worth pondering and more than a little familiar!

Being. Certified. After. The. Edge

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May 23rd, 2015 Part 2

So, the films for the week:

Being There, Hal Ashby (1979). If you’ve seen Harold and Maude, this will come as no surprise. The premise is similar to a cross between Forest Gump and The Truman Show and leaves you questioning what is real anyway. Just because you’re ‘there’, it doesn’t mean you have the same take on reality. A really clever and funny exploration of the ruse of capitalism and the trappings of wealth laid bare by a simple gardener. It was strange seeing Peter Sellers in a serious role (one he asked for and got) and it was great seeing Shirley McLaine. Whilst the film looks a little dated now, the portrayal of wealth in it and After the Wedding (below) look strangely similar.

Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostmi, (2009). This film once again plays with the viewer’s sense of reality. This time some features of long-term relationships such as expectations are explored. I could watch Juliette Binoche forever although it all felt a little too scripted about the art theme of ‘originality’, yet refreshingly original and ambiguous in the true relationship of the two main characters. Maybe there was something lost in the translation between French, Italian and English. William Shimmel was a new one to me, but strangely familiar. He is a highly experienced and accomplished opera singer, however looks to have moved into films – the latest one I’ve seen being Amour.

After the Wedding, Susanne Bier (2007). The best ‘wedding’ genre film I’ve seen, with a close second going to Monsoon Wedding. What a powerful and real film. Set between India and Denmark (with the as-recommended amazing Mads Mikkelsen). The themes of the previous two films come together here – the trappings of wealth and the features of relationships all unfolding with a good pace to reveal the truth of a complex situation.

The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach (2005). Laura Linney is fast becoming my favourite female US actress, not least because I just learnt she gave birth at 49! She seems to pick the most quirky and philosophical films, and does an amazing job with all of them. Her English accent in Driving Lessons was fantastic. So this film, in the long line of her great films breaks my heart for it’s bittersweet content and humour. For me it captured perfectly how we tell the truths that justify our position, the way we repeat the same mistakes over and over, and don’t understand that we are causing the pain in our lives, and most powerfully how parents indoctrinate their children. A really uncomfortable yet valuable film. Jeff Daniels and William Baldwin were hilariously type-cast, and the latter’s tennis-playing ‘brother’ smacked of Wes Anderson … who surprise, surprise was producer. Go Wes!

The Edge of Heaven, Fatih Akin, (2007). WOW. There isn’t an issue of ‘the day’ that this film does not cover. It is such a poignant portrayal of human beings, their foibles, passions and freedoms. In some ways it mirrors the coincidences and seeming serendipitous of After the Wedding and Certified Copy, asking the question, are we connected after all? But despite the search, no-one is truly successful in completing the picture. The characters lives are intertwined, yet they are oblivious to this. It is such a clever story and acted beautifully. Thank you Fatih Akin.

The. Up. Waiting. A. Message

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May 23rd, 2015

This week, I’m down one film because Arthur my video man, bless his cotton socks, put ‘The Line of Fire‘ in the ‘Message in the Bottle‘ DVD case, and I didn’t feel like an action film. So …

The Notebook, Nick Cassavettes (2004). A friend has this thing about Ryan Gosling, which she was hoping I would get, mostly if I saw this film. And I must say, yes I now get ‘it’. Is it just me, or is this every woman’s idea of cool? This guy that just comes up to you out of the blue, is absolutely in love with you, and would do anything for you and will be with you for the rest of your life, in sickness and in health. I’m just a crazy, single lady aren’t I. But I now get it. Just so we’re clear, just because his name is Gosling, he, that is, Ryan, didn’t arrange the geese ‘on golden pond’ in the middle of the film. That was just his character – just so you know. Gena Rowlands and James Garner are also lovely. Gena has been in another few of my favourites, Night on Earth, Broken English and Paris Je t’aime (of course!!) and she’s the director’s mother from what I can see. Nice film to watch in hopeful singledom especially given the Bridget Jones-type decision the heroine needs to make.

Up in the Air, Jason Reitman, (2009). George Clooney as a bachelor. Nostalgia. He is now married. That’s all. I’ve seen it before, and it wasn’t that impressive that time either. Being quite a keen flyer and observer of the earth from the air, I did enjoy looking down on all the cities that this frequent flyer frequented. Nice touch.

Waiting for Guffman, Christopher Guest, (1997). To call Christopher Guest the director seems a little misleading, as it is quite clear that the assembled cast (similar to a Wes Anderson line up and crossing over with Best in Show, Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind) are the consummate professionals when it comes to their stylised/improvised mockumentaries. Whilst not the laugh a minute that Spinal Tap or Best in Show are, I was nevertheless both amused and impressed by the stools and martian landings of Blaine. It really is ridiculous, but oh so funny! Guest is brilliant, so too are Parker Posey and the hilarious Eugene Levy, and what really gets me when you see Guest’s whole oeuvre back to back, is the amazing acting skills they bring to bear. Really different characters brought to life by wonderful actors. I can imagine filming tends to resemble theatre sports. Really funny.

A Mighty Wind, Christopher Guest, (2003). Back together for the first time, again” It got me thinking that this little clutch of films is really Andersonian, minus the prop and set detail. It is striking what a group of actors who work together over a period can achieve. The films are quite formulaic, but they really tickle my funny bone, because their observation of the chosen ‘genre’ is just so spot on. Sandals and sock wearing hippies, Lars, Sven and Pippi Olfen and the ex-band members that go off to start sex shops, just as with Spinal Tap, you’d have to read the script to really get all of the ‘in-jokes’. So very simple, so very clever and entirely worth the $2 I paid to hire the DVD. Thanks for recommending these ones (musician friends – you know who you are!!).

with the correct disc in the cover …

Message in a Bottle, Luis Mandoki (1999). Maybe being descended from boat builders makes me a sucker for boat films. Maybe I liked The Police a little too much. Maybe I like Paul Newman, Kevin Costner and Robin Wright (Princess Bride got me early – that’s where I’ve seen her before) (and the connection with all the other films this week – Christopher Guest of course!!!!). Maybe I’m just a great big romantic. Maybe this is just a lovely, sentimental film that provides a really good excuse to cry my eyes out. Or all of the above. I enjoyed it, and I particularly liked that Therese’s boss secretly liked her all along, and that he was always telling her instead of being a researcher, that she should write. I had always thought I’d make a good researcher, and now I’m getting around to thinking I should write. Maybe that’s why I liked this film.