The Screen Critic: A fitting farewell from Michael Caine, a ripper #metoo thriller, a stuffed-toy horror film and two excellent Oscar movies

Mar 15, 2024
Source: Michael Caine in The Great Escaper (Warner Bros); Chauncey the Bear in Imaginary (Lionsgate); Jeffrey Wright in American Fiction (Prime).

You’ve got to hand it to Michael Caine: he sure knows how to go out on a high. He chose The Great Escaper as his final film before retiring from acting and it easily ranks as one of his finest performances.

Set in 2014 and based on a true story, Caine plays Bernie Jordan, a World War 2 veteran living with his wife Rene (Glenda Jackson) in an aged care facility, who scoots off across the Channel to join the 70th commemoration of the D-Day landings.

While the film has lots of humour, Bernie’s journey back to the beaches of Normandy is haunted by the human cost of war, in particular the lives lost during that history-changing operation.

On the ferry, he befriends Arthur (John Standing), a lonely RAF veteran who embraces Bernie’s companionship as he seeks closure on a long-held secret that has plagued his life.

Delicately directed by Oliver Parker, the film is a touching and worthy tribute to Jackson, who sadly passed away several weeks after being shown the movie.

Those with cherished childhood memories of a beloved stuffed toy will likely rethink their affections after seeing Imaginary, a high-quality horror jaunt in which a stepmother suspects the strong attachment her stepdaughter has for Chauncey the teddy bear might involve beings from The Great Below. (Hell, that is.) A very well-mounted fright-fest.

Anyone in the mood for an edgy, off-beat thriller will enjoy Love Lies Bleeding, a femme-driven #metoo caper involving domestic violence, betrayal, and brutal revenge.

A sweaty relationship sparks up when gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) meets body-building drifter Jackie (Katy O’Brien), but things go sideways when one decides to do something about the abuse a friend suffers at the hands of her redneck husband.

Taking matters into her own hands initially sounds like a good move – that is until Lou’s scary dad (Ed Harris, bald on top with long hair) weighs in.

It’s a punchy, pulpy, tightly wound little number, written and directed by Rose Glass who pulls off a clever, unexpected ending.

And now a quick warning. Australian film has had a very hard time getting a foothold into the comedy genre, and anyone who chooses – of their own free will – to endure The Nut Farm will see why.

Starring American comedian Arj Barker as a crypto guru who has to manage the Australian macadamia nut farm left to him by his uncle, the film is about as funny as dropping a marble countertop on your big toe.

Filled with cheap puns about nuts and a story that makes absolutely no sense, mark this mess down as one to avoid.

One to definitely catch is American Fiction, a very cutting satire about an LA academic (Jeffrey Wright) who, frustrated that he can’t get published, sarcastically writes a novel that plays into the black stereotypes the literary world loves, but which he hates.

Intended as a joke for his agent, the book becomes a hit and he consequently has to pretend to be the angry black man of the streets who wrote it.

A finely honed attack on diversity policy and identity politics, the film won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for director Cord Jefferson, who balances the razor-sharp satire with a moving tale about aged care. It’s top stuff. See it on Prime.

And now for something truly chilling. Nominated for Best International Feature Film, Society of the Snow retells the incredible true story of the 1972 Uruguayan plane crash in the Andes that left a rugby team stranded and alone after a long search.

That the survivors resorted to eating their dead has long been the most sensational aspect of the tale, though here it is sensibly seen as part of the larger story that saw them hit by lethal avalanches, psychological distress and debates about whether they should try to reach civilisation on foot.

A good companion piece to the fine 1993 American film Alive, which depicted the same event, Society of the Snow (on Netflix)incorporates some stunning location photography that gives the gruelling drama a powerful sense of place, the emphasis being on the indifference and cruelty of nature.

The role faith played in their survival is a strong story element, though director J.A Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) stresses how fortitude and luck also shaped this extraordinary, challenging tale of endurance against all odds.

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