• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (15/5/2020)

(Reviews of Skeleton on Horseback; The Divine Order; Proximity; Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream; Captain Sabertooth and the Magic Diamond; and BFI Films For Under Fives)


Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation. SKELETON ON HORSEBACK. Those nice people at the Czech Centre have drawn our attention to a Czechoslovakian classic on YouTube. Showing with English subtitles under its original title, Bílá nemoc, Hugo Haas's Skeleton on Horseback (1937) is an adaptation of Karel Capek's play, The White Disease, which has many lessons for lockdown audiences about pandemics and the strained relationship between powerbrokers and medics. Capek, of course, had coined the word `robot' in his 1920 play, R.U.R. But his outspoken criticism of the Third Reich had led to him being branded `Public Enemy Number Two' by the Gestapo. In December 1938, he contracted pneumonia, shortly after refusing Anglo-French offers of sanctuary because he felt compelled to remain in a homeland whose security had been so tenuously safeguarded by the Munich Agreement. Thomas Mann suggested he had died of a broken heart. Seen 75 years after the end of the Second World War, when Czechoslovakia found itself subsumed into the Soviet bloc, this potent allegory has lost little of its political potency. However, it also provides a chilling insight into how governments deal with inconvenient truths in a time of crisis. As The Marshal (Zdenek Štepánek) speaks from a balcony to a cheering crowd about his nation's need for `Lebensraum' or `living space' for its growing population, he declares that he would be prepared to seize territory from his neighbours. In one bordering state, however, a form of leprosy has struck with a contagion rate that makes it impossible to contain. Professor Sigelius (Bedrich Karen) tours the wards and points out to a group of journalists (some of whom are covering their faces with handkerchieves) the macula marmorea that have given the outbreak its nickname of `the white disease'. Sigelius prefers to call it Morbus Chengi, however, as this was the name of the doctor who first identified the strain in a Peking hospital. He explains that victims are aged 45 or over and that the best doctors can do for them is to prescribe potash for the poor and Peruvian Balsam for the wealthy to prevent the open wounds from stinking. Once the symptoms become too bad, however, the only treatment is morphine. What Sigelius doesn't know, however, is that Dr Galen (Hugo Haas) has arrived from his provincial practice with news of a potential cure. Returning to the Lilienthal Institute after treating victims of an accidental gas leak that annoys Baron Olaf Krog (Václav Vydra), Galen tries to speak to Sigelius. But he has no time for his quack theories - especially as Galen hails from Pergamo in Greece and he has no intention of allowing foreigners into his clinic - and dismisses him in the same brusque way that Krog's accountant (František Smolík) brushes aside the concerns of his wife (Helena Friedlová), son (Vítezslav Bocek) and daughter (Eva Svobodová) over the white disease and the way the press is trying to stir up a crisis when none exists. But Galen persists and, when he reveals that he used to be Sigelius's father-in-law's favourite student, the professor not only agrees to let Galen treat the patients on Ward 13, but also to allow him to work in complete secrecy until he can confirm that his methods are effective. As Galen starts to achieve remarkable results, the Marshal comes on a tour of inspection and he presents Sigelius with a medal for the Lilienthal contribution. But Galen is annoyed by Sigelius fawning over the dictator and tells the assembled journalist that he alone has found the cure and that he will withhold it unless all the leaders of the world agree to renounce warfare. The reporters are sceptical that anyone in power would agree to his terms, but Galen insists that he would leave the clinic and devote himself solely to the treatment of the poor until his terms were met. When they protest that this would be unfair to the rich, he shrugs and says that funds have been wasted on weapons that could have been used to alleviate poverty and suffering. Hearing the commotion, Sigelius sweeps Galen into his office for a dressing down. He demands that he divulges the details of the cure and fires him when he refuses, as he would rather the entire world died of leprosy than it became infected with pacifism. Instead, he goes to treat the ailing mother of his assistant (Miroslav Svoboda) and opens a surgery to care for the destitute and he soon has a queue stretching along the corridor. The accountant is furious with Galen for holding the country hostage, but his fury dissipates when he discovers that his wife has a white spot on her neck. Baron Krog also shows Sigelius a growth on his chest and the professor advises him to self-isolate in order to stop him from infecting others. Sigelius has come up with a plan to consign the afflicted to remote camps and Krog orders one of his companies to specialise in producing barbed wire in order to prevent any escapes. However, he also informs the Marshal that the older population is starting to turn against him, as they would rather have a cure than a war. But he places his faith in youth to keep him in power and rally to the cause if hostilities do break out. Having just been promoted to the post of Krog's chief accountant, the bookkeeper is dismayed when Galen refused to see his wife unless he quits his job and renounces the munitions that the Baron produces. But Galen is persuaded to share his secret when Dr Martin (Jaroslav Prucha) arrives on his doorstep and they recall how they met in a trench during the Great War and Galen helped Martin treat a wounded soldier, even though they were on opposite sides. Martin convinces Galen that it would be madness to keep the cure to himself and risk succumbing without passing it on. He promises not to betray his trust and only treat the poor in his own country and Galen hopes that Martin's plucky state will be able to resist the intimidation of its bellicose neighbour. Afraid of the pain he will have to endure, Krog comes to see Galen in the guise of an unemployed metalworker. However, the doctor recognises him and orders him to leave. Krog offers him 10 million for a course of injections, but Galen would rather exploit his propaganda expertise by co-ordinating a pro-peace press campaign. He also demands that Krog ceases to manufacture weapons, but, like his accountant before him, the baron proves unable to give up everything he has worked for in order to help his compatriots. He is crushed when Galen empties the contents of a syringe on to the floor and the shock of this spurning prompts him to drop to his knees in the Marshal's office the next day and plead with him to abandon plans to invade his tiny neighbour. The Marshal had hoped that Krog's soldier nephew, Pavel (Ladislav Bohác), might marry his daughter, Aneta (Karla Olicová), as they had been allies since before the coup that had brought the dictator to power. But he cannot allow their friendship to thwart his military ambitions and he ignores the Baron's warning not to touch him by insisting on a farewell handshake. Such is the Marshal's affection for the Baron that he has Galen arrested and brought to his quarters. He orders him to cure Krog, but Galen refuses and asks to be arrested for insubordination. Frustrated by the doctor's integrity, Marshal reminds him that he has an ethical duty to care for anyone in medical need. As crosscut images show forces mobilising and massing on the border, Galen counters by averring that a head of state owes it to his subjects to avoid war at all costs and despairs when the Marshal proclaims that a nation's greatness lies in the bood of its fallen. Galen laments that he has more experience of casualties than his leader and wishes that he would recognise the futility of conflict. As they reach an impasse, the Marshal receives a phone call informing him that Krog has shot himself. Though bereft, the dictator orders the unprovoked midnight attack to commence and he addresses a cheering crowd beneath his balcony the following morning. He praises the speed and potency of his land and air forces and thumps his chest with pride. Despite the force of the blow, he feels nothing and retreats to his office, where Aneta finds a lesion under his uniform. Sigelius is summoned to the palace and he informs his ruler that he only has two or three months to live. Refusing to give in to Galen's demands, the Marshal rants that he would rather lead his troops into battle as a skeleton on a white horse and he sees himself bestriding his mount in his mind's eye. However, Pavel calls Galen and Aneta pleads with her father to agree to peace terms so that the doctor can treat him. As the invasion has gone badly because the target state has mounted unexpectedly fierce resistance, the Marshal is reluctant to accept humiliating terms. But Pavel warns him that only he can call off the campaign without the country descending into civil war and the dictator recognises that his achievements will be lost if he is unable to secure his legacy. Consequently, he takes the phone and promises Galen that he will sue for peace and tell his people that he has accepted God's new mission to denounce warfare. As he dictates the treaty to Pavel, Galen gets stuck in the crowd on the street and challenges a rabblerouser calling on the people to support the war. He is accused of being a traitor and, when he refuses to retract his call for peace, the doctor is kicked to death by the mob, who also smash the vials containing the serum that could cure their idol. On hearing the news, the Marshal remains true to his word and signs the document before broadcasting to the nation from a leper colony to advocate peace and brotherhood. Just over a year after he made this striking allegory, Hugo Haas fled to Paris following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. He reached America in 1940, but never saw his father and brother again, as they perished in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. In Hollywood, Haas found himself in demand for character parts, although he eventually got to direct around a dozen B movies during the following decade. He notably teamed with Beverly Michaels in The Girl on the Bridge (1951) and Cleo Moore in Bait (1954). But, while these blonde bombshell melodramas made money, they were spurned by the critics, who dubbed him `the Czech Ed Wood', and it's only in recent times that Haas has become something of a cult figure. Given the current situation, it's surprising that Skeleton on Horseback hasn't been seized upon by cineastes looking to show off their knowledge of obscure contagion movies. It's chilling to note how many points of overlap there are between Capek's epidemic and coronavirus - right down to it having a Chinese name, Cheng's Disease. Of course, there are echoes of any number of current populist leaders in the Marshal's bluster and exploitation of malleable public sentiment. But a latterday equivalent of Dr Galen has yet to emerge demanding peace and a reduction in carbon emissions before he talks to Big Pharma about a vaccine. Haas produces a commendable display of dogged humility in playing the idealistic hero, while Bedrich Karen and Václav Vydra capably convey the hectoring loyalty of an inner-circle lackey. Frantisek Smolik also impresses as the middle-manager whose pride in his hard-won status prevents him from making the sacrifice that would save his spouse. But Zdenek Štepánek steals the picture as the tyrant who discovers his humanity when it's too late to save himself or his country. One can only wonder when Dr Martin is going to make his knowledge known and what price he is going to extract. On the technical side, Stepán Kopecký's interiors are suitably contrasting, as the action shifts from the spotless Lilienthal Institute to Galen's backstreet clinic and the Marshal's cavernous sanctum. Cinematographer Otto Heller (who would spend the latter part of his career in Britain and shoot such visual masterpieces as Thorold Dickinson's The Queen of Spades, 1949) makes evocative use of Expressionist lighting within the main locations, while editor Antonín Zelenka achieves some unsettling dissolve transitions, the most notable of which relocates Galen and Martin from a narrow corridor to a Grear War trench to show how they became friends by ignoring partisan prejudice to help a wounded soldier. In adapting Capek's scenario (which bears a passing resemblance to Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, 1882), Haas leaves little room for nuance and his direction (in only his third feature) similarly ensures that the audience can't fail to get his messages about power, duty and the bond between the generations. Much of the action is photographed from a static camera, but the tracking shot recording Sigelius's tour of the ward intriguingly focuses on the name tags and medical records hanging over the beds rather than the pocked patients they contain. However, the very fact that this is so much a product of its times makes it an even more effective echo from the past trying, as it strives to remind us of what can happen when lessons go unheeded. THE DIVINE ORDER. For a country that is so protective of its reputation, Switzerland has a fair number of skeletons in its collective closet. Valentina Pedicini's Where the Shadows Fall (2017) exposed the hideous Kinder der Landstrasse policy that was pursued by successive governments between the 1920s and 1980s in a bid to eradicate the travelling Yenish population. Then, in The Divine Order, Petra Volpe highlighted the fact that Swiss women were denied the vote until 1971. Following the example of Sarah Gavron's Suffragette (2015), Volpe elects to recall an historical turning point through the eyes of a fictional character. But she also seeks to couch the serious issues under discussion in gently comic terms that lay bare the religio-political conservatism that played as significant a role as patriarchal chauvinism in the withholding of electoral equality. While the rest of the world was recoiling from the counterculture that bubbled to the surface in the 1960s, the small Swiss village where Marie Leuenberger lives with husband Maximilian Simonischek and their two sons still looks like the setting for a Heimatfilm. She cycles along undulating roads to see sister Rachel Braunschweig, who is married to cantankerous farmer Nicholas Ofczarek and their rebellious teenage daughter, Ella Rumpf, who wants to be allowed to date her older boyfriend, who is studying at the art school in Zurich. Leuenberger reminds her niece that lost reputations are not easily regained and insists that there is honour in being a housewife. To prove her point, she goes home and washes socks, hoovers and makes the beds. She finds a porn mag under the pillow of her cantankerous father-in-law Peter Freiburghaus and flicks through the pages with the same look of wonder with which she gazes at the illuminated globe belonging to her boys, Noe Krejcí and Finn Sutter. This curiosity with the world prompts her to ask Simonischek if she can return to work at the travel agency where she trained. But he refuses to give permission for her to apply and jokes that she wouldn't be so bored with the housework if she got pregnant again. He has just been promoted by factory boss Therese Affolter, who is a prominent member of the Anti-Politicisation of Women Action Committee that is campaigning to defeat a plebiscite calling for female suffrage. But, when Leuenberger goes into town (and allows Rumpf to go for a motorbike ride with her hippie beau), she is canvassed by the Herisau Womens' Association and stays up all night reading the pamphlets they give her when Simonischek reminds her (before going on a two-week military exercise) that Swiss marriage law gives him the last word in all domestic matters. Moreover, when Ofczarek arranges for Affolter to place Rumpf in juvenile detention for defying his will, Leuenberger refuses to donate when Affolter comes to her social club soliciting donations for the APWAC. Affolter notes sniffily that Leuenberger's support for female enfranchisement is an irrelevance, as men alone can vote in the referendum. But seventysomething neighbour Sibylle Brunner is impressed by Leuenberger's defiance and reveals that she had campaigned for a change in the law in 1959. She hopes Leuenberger will join the cause and they book a room at the town hall to hold a meeting. Brunner's daughter, Bettina Stucky, wishes she would behave herself and is dismayed when she blunders into the café that she had lost because of her husband's wasteful ways. New owner Marta Zoffoli is an Italian divorcée and she takes an immediate liking to Leuenberger and the cigar-smoking Brunner and suggests they get new hairstyles together. Leuenberger also buys a new yellow top and a pair of tight jeans. Freiburghaus is appalled and Krejci and Sutter are taken aback when she informs them that she will no longer be at their beck and call. Moreover, when she needs money for posters to advertise her meeting, she threatens to tell her husband about Freiburghaus's nudie mag unless he makes a donation. But, while Brunner delights in provoking the other villagers, Ofczarek is embarrassed by his sister-in-law and loses his temper when she persuades Braunschweig to visit Rumpf after she is transferred to a women's prison from running away from her detention centre. Upset by her daughter declaring her dead to her, Braunschweig throws in her lot with Leuenberger, who vows to fight on even though Krejci and Sutter are being teased at school because their mother's face is on posters across the village. Leuenberger, Braunschweig and Brunner go to a women's lib march in Zurich and end up carrying a banner. They also attend a seminar on sexual awareness given by Swede Sofia Helin, who coaxes the trio into examining themselves with mirrors to determine their vaginal personality. Brunner smiles at realising she is a silver fox, while the 45 year-old Braunschweig is pleased to discover she's a butterfly. Leuenberger learns she is a tiger and goes dancing at a disco with thoughts in her head about orgasms and taking control of every aspect of her existence. With Simonischek still away on manoeuvres, Leuenberger prepares to address the meeting. Many opposed to the cause have come for the free refreshments and Leuenberger is horrified to see her husband coming home early just as she is about to speak. She refuses to leave the stage and presses on through the boorish heckling. But, when Affolter interrupts to state that most women don't want the vote and are happy with the way Switzerland works under male control, Leuenberger calls for a show of hands and is mortified when she sees her husband voting with the herd. She feels more betrayed when he storms out when she is hit in the face with a paper ball and the tears burn in her eyes, as she watches the braying menfolk deriding her. When she gets home, Simonischek demands to know why she has changed so much and refuses to apologise for voting against her when he has always been in favour of female suffrage. She goes to the café to find lots of other women have gathered to discuss the evening's events. Zoffoli suggests they go on housework strike until the men come to their senses and turn the pizzeria into a battle headquarters. They have a party and Leuenberger has fun playing bar football before chatting with Braunschweig during a sleepover. She confesses that Ofczarek hits her and regrets taking over the family farm when they had planned to emigrate to Canada. Meanwhile, Simonischek tries to cook for his father and sons, who soon get tired of eating fried eggs. He also gets baited at work for allowing his wife to become a libber and gets into a fight with one of his mouthier colleagues. But he tries to bake an apple pie and stands up to the misogynist Urs Bosshardt when he leads a deputation to the house to order him to put Leuenberger back in her place. However, she is thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie of the sit-in, which has now been joined by Stucky, who admits to abandoning her legal studies when she married her doctor husband. As they eat a communal meal, however, a rock is thrown through the window and Leuenberger picks it up with a look of steely determination not to be intimidated. She even refuses to be cowed by Simonischek when he comes to plead with her to call off the strike and come home. That night, however, Bosshardt leads a raid on the café and several women are dragged home by their spouses. As Brunner tries to protest, she suffers a fatal heart attack and tears are shed during a candlelit vigil. But the women go home the next morning, with Leuenberger returning to piles of dirty socks and a cold shoulder in the bedroom. However, she is invited to an interview at the travel agency and gets the job. Yet, when she breaks the news to Simonischek just after he presents her with holiday tickets, he suggests that they get a divorce if she is so unhappy in his home. Packing a bag, she seeks sanctuary with Zoffoli and is surprised to find that her husband has followed her from Italy. Shrugging that she doesn't want to get old alone, Zoffoli joins the congregation at Brunner's funeral. The pastor speaks about her being a loyal woman who liked to serve her community. But Leuenberger rises to her feet to denounce the law that prevented her from keeping the bar after her worthless spouse died and Simonischek reaches a hand of support along the pew and she accepts it with a half-smile. On the day of the ballot, the womenfolk make the men walk through them outside the polling station. But they celebrate together at the pizzeria when the result goes in their favour and Leuenberger narrates a closing coda that shows Braunscheweig tentatively patching things up with Rumpf, Ofczarek selling the farm, Zoffoli dumping her husband again and Leuenberger voting and orgasming for the first time, after she introduces Simonischek to the tiger between her legs. Captions accompanied by newsreel footage and Aretha Franklin's `Respect' inform us that the principle of gender equality was enshrined in the Swiss constitution in 1981, although a further nine years elapsed before Appenzell Innerrhoden became the last canton to give women the vote. It's hard not to be pleased that Leuenberger manages to get it all at the end of this satisfying saga. But, while Volpe tells her tale with calm assurance, she also allows a little cosiness to seep into the final reel, as the tears mourning Brunner become the smiles of crusading success and the sighs of personal fulfilment. Nevertheless, Volpe takes Swiss society to task for its failure to move with the times and she is ably served by the consistently quizzical Leuenberger and a solid ensemble. Brunner and Zoffoli could have done with sturdier backstories, while Rumpf's plight is allowed to slide into the margins before the trenchant resolution that sees her emerge from prison to hug Braunschweig and ride off with her boyfriend. An afterword about Affolter's reaction to the onrush of feminism might also have been appropriate, as she had been defying the odds in a man's world for several years by running her own company. Production designer Timm Brueckner and costumier Linda Harper take the technical honours through their deft recreation of period styles, although cinematographer Judith Kaufmann also slips astutely between classical glides and handheld bustles to suggest the changing pace and tone of Leuenberger's existence. Editor Hansjörg Weissbrich similarly keeps things moving to make the quieter exchanges more poignant. Most importantly, however, Volpe resists preaching or mostly avoids judging yesterday's attitudes by today's expectations. PROXIMITY. Alien abduction movies were comparatively rare until the last decade witnessed a mini-glut. Those that did exist fell neatly into two categories. In the cult corner, there were such offbeat, low-budget curious as W. Lee Wilder's Killers From Space (1954), Nicholas Webster's Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), the British trio of Gerry Levy's The Body Stealers (1969), Norman J. Warren's Outer Touch (1979) and Harry Bromley Davenport's Xtro (1982), and the Hanna-Barbera tele-animation, Yogi and the Invasion of the Space Bears (1988), which was directed by Don Lusk and Ray Patterson. Quirkiness became uncool after the release of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), which spawned such other `serious' studies of extra-terrestrial shanghaiing as Tobe Hooper's Dan O'Bannon-scripted Lifeforce (1985). Philippe Mora's Communion (1989) and Brian Ynzna's Progency (1999). In making his directorial debut with Proximity, Eric Demeusy comes closer to Scott Stewart's Dark Skies (2013) than Simon Wells's Mars Needs Moms (2011). But, despite visuals worthy of a special effects whizz who worked on Jason Kosinski's Tron: Legacy (2010) and Game of Thrones before winning an Emmy for Stranger Things, the scripting and acting are markedly less impressive and leave this looking a little fanboyish. Following a flashback to a flying saucer abduction near Wrangell, Alaska in 1979, we land in the present day at NASA headquarters in Pasadena, as Isaac Cypress (Ryan Masson) arrives to greet workmates Beck (Max Cutler) and Greera (Kylie Contreary). Isaac and Beck are Big Bang Theory-style geeks, who revel in dropping movie references and finding curiosities among the data being processed by the office computer. One day, while out in the desert recording the video diary he has been urged to keep by his therapist, Isaac sees a meteor plunge to Earth. However, he also spots a disc-like spaceship and blacks out after coming face to face with a Roswell Grey alien in the woods. Three days later, Isaac is deposited in roughly the same place and returns home to discover that he now has the power to make things disappear. He shows Beck his party piece, but he is far from impressed and it's only when Isaac posts the footage he caught on his camcorder that people begin taking seriously his claim to have been snatched by an alien being. For everyone who accepts his story, however, there are a dozen doubters and he finds himself at the centre of a media storm, with commentators and crackpots all having their say about whether he is authentic or an attention seeker. Humiliated after a live TV interview with the sceptical Christine (Sarah Navratil), Isaac looks up other survivors online and agrees to meet Sara (Highdee Kuan). As he waits in a diner, he feels cutlery levitating around him and is still feeling twitchy when Sara arrives. She is reluctant to discuss her own experience, but is convinced by Isaac's footage and the information he gives her about records of alien sightings dating back to the Renaissance. So, she tells him about Carl Meisner (Don Scribner), the logger whisked away from Alaska and we see him huddled in a small room wearing headphones as he listens in on radio signals bouncing around the cosmos. Becoming more frazzled by being dubbed a liar, Isaac places his trust in a blogger, who turns out to be an agent for the International Space Research Program. He conducts a polygraph test that results in Isaac being zapped by two Men in Black and dragged into a white interrogation room by two android operatives who resemble Woody Allen's robot butler in Sleeper (1973). Struggling in his chair, Isaac sees Sara being taken past the door and he is only slightly reassured when Agent Graves (Shaw Jones) informs him via a TV monitor that he believes his story and needs to conduct some tests. In fact, Graves is simply interested in finding Carl in British Columbia and Isaac becomes suspicious when he accidentally leaves his microphone channel open. Busting out of the facility with Sara, Isaac discovers they are in Costa Rica and they are sheltered in his treehouse by Zed (Christian Prentice), a hippie-type who also happens to be a computer wizard. Sara tells Isaac how she came to be abducted, while Zed hacks into the NASA network so that Isaac access a communication that he had intercepted shortly before he was abducted. After convincing Carl to trust him during a Skype chat, Isaac sends him the link and he uses a translation device to discover that the aliens are due to return to Earth in five days. Calling in a few favours, Zed gets Isaac and Sara on to a flying boat, which takes them to Canada. However, Graves has tagged them and is following close behind. Luckily, Zed just happens to have some masks that confuse the white-uniformed motorcycling androids who catch up with the steam train chugging them through the countryside and they are able to dispose of them after a struggle. Just as fortunately, they are able to find a ride to Carl's doorstep and he is able to deactivate the alien tracking devices in Isaac and Sara's arms. Carl shows them around his wooden cabin and Zed is amazed that a simple lumberjack could have become such an accomplished tekkie. Sara is more enchanted by his vinyl collection and, refreshed by a classical piano piece, she and Isaac go for a stroll in the forest, where they seek a meaning for everything that has been happening to them. They agree that chance does funny things, but admit to being pleased that it has connected them so that they can face whatever fate has in store together. On the day of `the arrival', Isaac feels a vibration and rushes into the woods to meet the alien. It returns to the cabin and uses Carl's translation tool to ask about Jesus and his connection to the origins of the universe. Satisfied with the awed answer, the alien removes the tracking devices from Sara and Isaac's arms. But Gaynes has still managed to find them and he orders Carl to surrender or face the consequences. He demands to know what happened to his father on the day that Carl was taken in 1979 and has him shot by his ISRP henchmen when the old man pleads ignorance. Sara is also gunned down when she rushes to Carl's aid. But the alien gives Isaac the power to rescue Zed and carry the corpses to safety before resurrecting them and spiriting them away aboard his spaceship. Six months later, Isaac makes a video message revealing that he and Sara are now a couple and appear to be working in a café close to Zed's Costa Rican hideaway. He is working on a new tracking system with Carl and everyone seems happy with their lot. As he posts the vodcast, Isaac admits that he doesn't really care if anyone believes him, as he is content with his own truth and the way his destiny has unfolded. Despite its silly moments - and there are far too many in the closing stretch - this is a laudably ambitious and mostly diverting first time feature that seems to have been expanded from a 2015 short entitled Video. It clearly represents a sizeable step up after such minor outings as Bear of Bad News (2005), Emily Higgens (2006), 3113 (2012) and Scorpion (2014) and Demeusy doesn't always appear to be in total control of the tonal shifts. He also overdoes the homages to Spielberg, The X Files and George Lucas's THX 1138 (1971) and Star Wars (1977), while the decision to show Christ's Ascension as some sort of alien meme throws the action for a loop from which it is still spinning as the climactic showdown commences. This miscalculation is more damaging than the hilarity induced by the corridor shootout at the MiB hub and the images of the motorcycling Tron-like androids. Evidently, Demeusy and co-scenarist Jason Mitcheltree are better at their day jobs as SFX specialist and cinematographer, as the visuals belie what can only have been a modest budget. But the different phases of Isaac's odyssey barely hang together, as elements so crucial to the first third are jettisoned as the story takes to the road and never looks back. Moreover, there's little empathy for the thinly sketched protagonist and Ryan Masson deserves credit for conveying something of Isaac's post-traumatic suffering, even though we never learn what had been troubling him prior to that. Sold much shorter by the screenplay, the willing Highdee Kuan is reduced to being a winsome sidekick, who has none of the nerdy charisma of Christian Prentice and Don Scribner's beardies. At least they show some restraint, which can't always be said for Shaw Jones's government-sponsored villain. Indeed, much of the support playing betrays the project's indie origins, as do the lurching contrivances of a scenario that lacks diegetic consistency, as agents that are fiendishly clever one moment are staggeringly inept the next, while Isaac seems to forget that he has developed superpowers right up until the second they become useful. Such shortcomings are irksome, but excusable and one suspects that Demeusy (who also edits slickly with Simon Carmody and Ivan Ortega) could produce something spectacular if someone gave him enough cash and he let someone else write the script. PARK AVENUE: MONEY, POWER AND THE AMERICAN DREAM. The Dochouse crew is managing to keep the actuality flag flying during lockdown and its latest offering takes us back to the early days of docusuperstar, Alex Gibney. Based on Michael Gross's book, 740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building, and made for PBS's Independent Lens strand, Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream (2012) is an hour-long treatise on wealth disparity in New York that basis its case around the people who reside in the 31 units within 740 Park Avenue in Manhattan. As Gibney doesn't make it past the threshold of the address boasting the highest concentration of billionaires in the United States, he is forced to speculate from the doorstep with the aid of a Monopoly board. He makes a show of comparing this exclusive slice of real estate between Grand Central Terminal and 96th Street with a similarly named strip in the South Bronx, which is just 10 minutes away across the Harlem River. But he contents himself with a flying visit to the wrong side of the tracks, where unemployment has hit 19% and over half of the families are dependent upon food stamps. Moreover, as social worker Ann Rueth and food bank pastor Colin Dunkley reveal, their children are 20 times more likely to meet a violent death. Instead, Gibney opts to take up station on the Upper East sidewalk and hurl predictable, but incontrovertibly persuasive accusations at the `1% of the 1%'. Drawing on the last 75 pages of Gross's non-fiction, this typically trenchant piece of film-making focuses on three occupants: Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the private equity group, Blackstone, who occupies the 37-room suite that was formerly owned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; John Thain, the last chairman and chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch before its merger with Bank of America; and oil magnate David H. Koch, the co-owner (with his brother Charles) of the second-largest privately held company in the US, and, according to an unnamed former doorman, the meanest tipper in the building. The Kochs have donated colossal sums to members in both Houses of Congress and, with the aid of Tim Phillips from Americans For Prosperity, they have also sponsored the Tea Party, whose policies are rooted in the ideas of the once-discredited novelist, Ayn Rand. Clips are shown from Paul Johansson's 2011 tele-adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, which presented a dystopian view of a socialist America and went on to spawn two sequels. Gibney also joins the dots from Rand to Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, who was heavily backed by the Kochs and became Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 presidential election. His Path to Prosperity proposals (which included a $10 trillion tax cut) come in for a serious kicking, from economist Jeffrey Sachs and Bruce Bartlett, who was an economic policy adviser to both Ronald Reagan and George Bush. In identifying that corporate tax breaks are decimating the welfare system, Gibney questions how the country's rich can call themselves philanthropists. The members of the 740 club have the ear of presidents and senators and plough millions into their campaign funds in return for lower taxes whose direct knock-on effect in recessional times has been a drastic cut in public spending that has brought social mobility to a grinding halt and tipped thousands below the poverty line. Yet, by unfurling populist banners, they have managed to convince the masses that their self-interest serves the nation. They're not exclusively supporters of the Grand Old Party, either, as Gibney shows how Charles E. Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, used his Wall Street connections to raise record election donations in return for burying legislation designed to close the Carried Interest loophole in US tax law. Exposing the egregious flaws in a system that proclaims itself the champion of equality, this is a stark denunciation of privilege that is every bit as relevant to Britain as it is America. Indeed, the points it raises are even more pertinent eight years on, as demagogues Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are in power on either side of the Atlantic. Yet, while Gibney is quick to blame and condemn the likes of union-bashing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, he offers little by way of resolution, in spite of the cogent and insightful contributions of social psychologist Paul Piff, journalist Tim Noah, Washington Post correspondent Bob Kaiser, New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, political scientist Jacob Hacker, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan, trade unionist Mahlon Mitchell, teachers Liz and Jeff Wingert and Tim Smeeding from the Institute for Research on Poverty. Gross might opine, `Just because you're rich doesn't make you smart. Just because you're rich doesn't make you cultured. Just because you're rich doesn't make you refined. Being rich means you're rich.' But a genuinely searing and impactful indictment has to offer more than slick graphics and loquacious name calling (`some rich people are just dicks'). CAPTAIN SABERTOOTH AND THE MAGIC DIAMOND. Captain Sabertooth is big business in Norway. Created in 1990 by entertainer Terje Formoe, Kaptein Sabeltann first appeared in musical stage shows at the Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park. He made the transition to video four years later, with Formoe writing, directing and starring in such spin-offs as The Dream of Captain Sabertooth's Kingdom (1996). Books, TV series and cartoons followed, with Stig Bergqvist and Rasmus A. Sivertsen co-directing the 2003 animated feature, Captain Sabertooth. Much more spectacular, however, was John Andreas Andersen and Lisa Marie Gamlem's Captain Sabertooth and the Treasure of Lama Rama (2014), which saw Kyrre Haugen Sydness take over the title role of what remains the most expensive children's film ever produced in Norway. By then, Captain Sabertooth had his own theme park and he has now made the transition to CGI in Captain Sabertooth and the Magic Diamond, which has been co-directed by Rasmus A Sivertsen and the debuting Marit Moum Aune. Kyrre Haugen Sydness returns for vocal duties with an English-speaking cast for an adventure that combines elements of Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Disney's Johnny Depp franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-17), which also began life as an amusement park attraction back in 1967. A narrator explains how the magic diamond grants wishes to anyone who holds it under a full moon. However, he also points out that it has a habit of disappearing, which is very inconvenient for Maga Kahn (Luke Griffin), a blonde-tressed vampire who lives in a gloomy citadel on a Caribbean island with his consort, Sirima (Mary Murray). He wants to find the diamond so that he can go out in the sun without getting singed and is overjoyed when his factotum, Balthazar (Garry Mountaine), presents him with the gigantic gemstone on his birthday. No sooner has he clapped eyes on it, however, than it is stolen by Marco (Phonse Wardell), a young boy who has been summoned to the palace to wish Maga Kahn's many happy returns, but who resents the fact that his overlord won't share any of the tasty goodies that are piled high on a table in the courtyard. Escaping through a forest full of flesh-eating plants, Marco is hidden from Maga Kahn's monkey army by a wise old lady (Mary Murray), leaving the pursuing Balthazar to drift out to sea in a doolally daze after being bopped on the head by a falling coconut. He drifts to the beach abutting the inn where Veronica (Robyn Dempsey) lives with Aunt Bessie (Rose Henderson), who has extended her hospitality to a youth named Pinky (Tighe Wardell). He bears a resemblance to Marco and the befuddled Balthazar becomes convinced he has the diamond. His accusation is mimicked by Maggie the Parrot (Rose Henderson), who just happens to land on Captain Sabertooth's ship, prompting it to change course for Aunt Bessie's jetty. Determined to rescue her abducted friend, Veronica disguises herself as a cabin boy named Ronnie and becomes Captain Sabertooth's favourite, much to the initial annoyance of crew members, Longfinger, Benjamin, Wimp (all Brendan McDonald), Wally and Tully (both Paul Tylak). The latter is the French chef who specialises in vermin-based dishes and the dubious croutons in his rat soup remind Balthazar of the map of the Marmalade islands. This persuades Sabertooth to set sail Maga Kahn's domain and he dresses Pinky and Ronnie as monkeys in order to prepare his singularly inept crew for an encounter with the simian guards. They forgive Veronica for being a girl when her headscarf slips off (females on pirate ships are bad luck, apparently) because she serves them a slap-up supper. But they are already facing a race against time to track down the diamond, as Sirima has spotted it twinkling in the depths of the forest through her telescope and Maga Kahn has dispatched his apes to retrieve it. The vampire is distracted by news of Sabertooth's approach and he flies out to hurl fireballs at the cannon trying to blast him out of the night sky. Following an inconclusive skirmish, Maga Kahn returns to his bastion just as Pinky lands on the island and everyone notices how much he looks like Marco. The boys join forces, only for Sabertooth to intercept them and demand the diamond. Much to his annoyance, the pirates waste their wishes on ephemeral trivialities before Sirima grabs it and high tails back to Maga Kahn. He rounds up the buccaneers and forces them watch him making his wish. But clouds keep rolling across the moon and his frustration grows when Veronica frees Sabertooth and his crew before seeking a hiding place with Pinky and Marco, who now have the stone. Veronica and Pinky are dismayed when Marco announces that he intends asking for all the money in the world. But, having seen how desperate Sabertooth and Maga Kahn are to get their paws on it, he wishes for the diamond to lose its power and he returns to live with Aunt Bessie, along with the small monkey who has become his pet. The vampire is left in his lair, while Sabertooth adds the stone to his trophy cabinet and sets sail in search of further adventure. Incompetent pirates will always bring to mind the hapless Redbeard and his cohorts from René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's Asterix the Gaul books. But Captain Sabertooth's band of brigands prove every bit as gormless in this lively, if suspenseless odyssey. The character design is splendid, with both Sabertooth and Maga Kahn being particularly striking, with their respective Louis XIV curls and blonde mane. Sirima's botoxed lips and bulging bosom and bottom are markedly less enlightened, however, and go some way to undoing the positive message presented by Veronica being more than a match for the boys. The songs are also fairly forgettable, while the running gags involving Tully's outrageous French accent and culinary shortcomings are stretched a little thin. But, while this can't compete with the likes of Peter Lord's The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists (2012), the backdrops are atmospheric and the lessons about quick fixes and money being the solution to all problems are worth learning (for grown-ups, as well as children). Given the shortage of new movies for youngsters during lockdown, this should raise smiles and spirits across the country. Just don't expect the rather anodyne Captain Sabertooth to become as big in Belfast, Barry, Bo'ness and Birmingham as he is in Bergen. BFI FILMS FOR UNDER FIVES. With its excellent online seasons devoted to women on film and a century of Japanese cinema already in full swing, the BFI has curated another programme of free goodies for its BFI Player. Parents looking for something to keep their smaller offspring occupied might be relieved to discover Films For Fives and Under. However, the selection comes with a rider: `These films have been tested on real children - but not your children! We believe all the films are strictly U certificate, but what delights one child might confuse or upset another, so we recommend that an adult looks at the films first just in case.' So, you have been warned! Drawing once again on the treasures held in the National Archive, the slate introduces youngsters to films that differ greatly from the ones they will be used to watching. But the BFI is keen to entertain, amuse and intrigue children, while sparking the imagination by increasing their appreciation of what the moving image can be and do. Don't worry if this sounds a bit dry and worthy. There are dozens of silent and sound items on offer, lasting from a few seconds to around 15 minutes. And if something doesn't appeal, just click on to the next in line. There are few more enjoyable ways to go back two centuries than through cinema and George Albert Smith gets things off to a knockabout start with The Miller and the Sweep, which features an amusing showdown in front of a working wooden windmill. The contrast between black and white is also wittily exploited as Tom Green and Laura Bayley play a courting courting couple whose skeletons don't quite hit it off in X Rays (both 1897). Even Bayley's parasol gets into the act, although it's a feather duster that causes all the trouble in Robert William Paul's Children in the Nursery (1898), which beats Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite (1933) feather-blizzarding pillow fight gag by three decades. Following a jolly record of a spring ritual in Maypole Dance (1898), we meet a popular variety star acting the giddy goat in Herbert Campbell As Little Bobby (1899), an early example of using a close-up for comic effect, as this character from the Drury Lane pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk wolfs down his food and washes it down with a pint. Records show this was Take 32 (just kidding). But, while Campbell was prepared to do his own stunts, the actors in Walter Booth's Upside Down; Or, The Human Flies (1899) get a little help from clever art direction and an inverted camera. Cecil M. Hepworth's How It Feels to Be Run Over (1900) is one of those subjects that may not be suitable for the smallest viewers, as an oncoming vehicle ploughs into the camera. However this one-minute silent has a place in cinema history, as it appears to have been the first film to contain intertitles or on-screen text. Much more suitable are the acrobatics on view in Vaulting Horse Display (1900) and RW Paul's The Deonzo Brothers (1901), which frustratingly finishes before the big barrel-jumping finale. Animal lovers will also enjoy James Williamson's The Magic Extinguisher (1901), which sees comedian Sam Dalton playing a conjurer with some very cute fury and feathered friends. By 1901, film-makers felt confident enough to present audiences with canny conceits like `a film within a film', as RW Paul demonstrates with a surviving fragment from The Countryman and the Cinematograph that draws heavily on the 1895 Lumière short, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. The trickery is more cunning in James Williamson's The Big Swallow, which makes cuts from an extreme close-up to suggest that a man who didn't want to be filmed has solved the problem by eating the camera and its operator. Robert Paul and Walter Booth team up for some stop-motion hi-jinks in Undressing Extraordinary; Or, The Troubles of a Tired Traveller, which confirms that cinema's pioneers were shameless magpies, as this was a knock-off of Georges Méliès's Déshabillage Extraordinaire (1900). So that's where the idea for Mr Benn came from! Méliès himself would pilfer from Booth's The Magic Sword A Mediaeval Mystery, which employs a panoply of innovative gimmicks to show how a fairy helps a prince rescue a princess who has been abducted by a witch and an ogre. In addition to boasting three different backdrops, this condensed pantomime also includes superimpositions, distorted perspectives, stop-motion transitions and flying effects. In short, it's pretty brilliant. But it pales beside the ambition and invention on show in Méliès's science-fiction landmark, A Trip to the Moon (1902), which includes the famous shot of the Explorers' rocket landing in the Man in the Moon's eye. How quaint this dazzlingly daring 11-minute masterpiece renders Percy Honri's ukulele-playing turn in Mister Moon (1901), although the crusty lunar make-up is undeniably similar to that used by the Magician of Montreuil. We float back down to Earth with the 1902 home movie, Children Blowing Bubbles, before joining Robert Paul in admiring the young dancers doing The Kiddies' Cakewalk. But these are merely sideshows to Percy Stow and Cecil Hepworth's Alice in Wonderland (both 1903), which has the distinction of being the first screen adaptation of Lewis Carroll's beloved novel. Taking its visual cues from Sir John Tenniel's drawings, this was the longest and most ambitious picture produced in Britain to that time. Trick shots were used to make Alice (May Clark) shrink, grow and disappear, as well as place the Cheshire Cat in a tree and transform the Duchess's baby into a pig. Almost a decade after the Lumières made L'Arroseur arrosé, a spurting pipe could still raise a giggle, as is demonstrated by Drat That Boy! (1904), as a bored scamp uses a pair of bellows to surprise his grandmother while she cleans the stove chimney. He might have had a bit less energy if he had joined in with the PE class in Audley Range School, Blackburn (c.1905). But even dozing off can land a person into all sorts of difficulties, as the young ballerina discovers in JH Martin's The Dancer's Dream (1905), which makes atmospheric use of green and red tints for the scenes in the sea and in Hell that bookend a trip to a snowy wilderness. The hot-footed finale leads us in nicely to Lewin Fitzhamon's Tilly and the Fire Engines (1911), a half-lost slapstick short from the 20-strong `Tilly the Tomboy' series that stars Alma Taylor and Chrissie White as mischievous sisters Tilly and Sally, who borrow a horse-drawn fire engine for a lark and turn its hose on their pursuers. Taylor and White were big stars in Britain a century ago, with the former being largely associated with Cecil Hepworth and the latter with her actor-director husband, Henry Edwards. Another journey gets out of hand in Walter Booth's The Automatic Motorist (1911), which sees a robot chauffeur take a couple of newlyweds on a jaunt that is truly out of this world. The action on Saturn owes much to Méliès, but he didn't think to include a rascally dog with his teeth embedded firmly in the seat of a policeman's pants. Booth's stop-motion techniques were much emulated, but Charles Armstrong drew on the ancient art of shadow puppetry for The Clown and His Donkey (1910), a charming piece of alley-ooping whimsy that was unusual in that it used white figures on a black background. We have dwelt at length with the earliest titles, as they are more historically significant than many of the other selections. Not that there isn't much enjoyment to be had from the inclusions we've not mentioned here. But we should draw your attention to such live-action gems as Mary Field's Nursery Island (1936) and William C. Hammond's Juno Helps Out (1953), as well as such charming animations as Edwin Shorter's Molar Mischief (1946), Frederick Thompson and George Moreno's Bunty the Bouncing Bassoon (1963), Peter J. Thompson's Pear-Shaped Hill (1970), Glynn Williams's Echo: Some Reflections (1972), and Sheila Graber's imaginative take on the Rudyard Kipling Just So trio of How the Whale Got His Throat, How the Camel Got His Hump (both 1981) and The Crab That Played With the Sea (1983). Special mention has to go to some personal favourites, however. New Zealand animator painted directly on to the celluloid to bring a little avant-garde exuberance to his 1936 GPO Film Unit commission, A Colour Box, while Joy Batchelor makes affecting use of the cut-out figures designed by Swedish illustrator Sunniva Kellquist for Little Tom Thumb (1967), which they reworked from Charles Perrault's fairytale, Le Petit Poucet. Speaking of things that were small and perfectly formed, we head to a small blue planet somewhere out in space for the `Vote for Froglet' episode from Oliver Postgate's timelessly wondrous series, The Clangers (1969-74). And we close with two pairs of child safety commercials that will have those of a certain age purring with delight. Bernard Cribbins narrated the Tufty twosome of Shopping and Safe Place to Cross, while Richard Taylor's Charley the Cat duo, Mummy Should Know and Falling in the Water, boasted inimitable voice work by Kenny Everett. Oh, to be back in 1973.

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