Neither of this week's reissues needs any introduction - even though a shocking amount of time has passed since Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas and Danny Boyle's Trainspotting first hit our screens in 1990 and 1995 respectively. So, we shall catch up instead on a mournful fantasy with local connections that was released a couple of weeks ago.
The characters in JA Bayona's A Monster Calls were originally conceived by Siobhan Dowd, the Lady Margaret Hall Classics graduate who lived in West Oxford with Brookes librarian Geoff Morgan before her death from breast cancer in August 2007 at the age of 47. Fans of A Swift Pure Cry (2006), The London Eye Mystery (2007) and Bog Child (2008) are sure to want to see this adaptation of an award-winning project that was completed by writer Patrick Ness and illustrator Jim Kay. But, despite some engaging animated interludes by Adrián García, this never seems sure of its target age group. Consequently, it lacks the enchantment to seize the imagination of younger viewers and the thematic and emotional depth to satisfy the grown-ups.
The action opens dramatically, as 12 year-old Lewis MacDougall wakes at 12:07 am from a nightmare in which he clings to the hand of an unseen figure as a hilltop church collapses and sinks into its chasming cemetery. Looking in on sleeping mother Felicity Jones the next morning, MacDougall wanders off to school in his post-industrial northern town and endures his daily beating from bully James Melville and his sneering cohorts. However, Jones greets him with a surprise, as she has found late father's old movie projector and they snuggle on the sofa to watch Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper's classic 1933 version of King Kong.
MacDougall fails to understand why the great ape is so cruelly attacked atop the Empire State Building and his eyes glisten as it falls to its death. His gaze gets wider still around midnight, however, as he is disturbed while drawing a tree at his desk by the sound of objects rolling around his bedroom. Going to the window, he sees the yew in the graveyard glow and stretch, as an arboreal monster (voiced by Liam Neeson, who also photo-cameos as Jones's father) strides into the garden and snarlingly informs the boy that he has come to fetch him and teach him some valuable life lessons in three stories. In return, however, the Monster insists that MacDougall must tell him a tale that has to contain the true meaning of his nightmare.
Despite not being afraid of the creature, MacDougall crawls into his mother's bed for reassurance. The following morning, he goes to the gates of the churchyard, but opts against passing through the wrought iron gate. On arriving home, he is dismayed to discover Jones chatting to his formidable grandmother, Sigourney Weaver, who has brought her daughter a selection of wigs to try on and to break the news that she wants MacDougall to live with her while Jones undergoes the next stage of her treatment for an aggressive form of cancer.
Forced to sleep on the sofa, MacDougall is almost pleased to see the Monster, who proceeds to tell him a fable about a young prince, who is raised by his ambitious stepmother on the death of the king. The prince loses his heart to a farm girl and plans to marry her. But his sweetheart is murdered beneath a yew tree, which uproots itself to join with the outraged villagers in storming the castle in support of the prince, who accuses the witch queen of stabbing his beloved. However, the yew realises that the prince had tried to frame the queen in order to seize the throne and he spirits her away to a distant land to see out her final years in peace.
MacDougall is confused by the fact that the scheming prince went on to become a good king and the Monster points out that stories don't always have clear-cut heroes. But, while the creature cautions him against judging by appearances, MacDougall is disappointed that it has no solution to his ongoing problem with Weaver, which gets worse when she announces that he is going to stay with her during a visit from his estranged father, Toby Kebbell, who now has a daughter with his second wife in Los Angeles. He takes out his frustration on the contents of a wheelie bin before provoking Melville into another beating at school. But MacDougall perks up when Kebbell takes him to the fair and they have fun on the merry-go-round.
The mood sours in the café, however, when Kebbell dashes MacDougall's hopes of moving to California and he returns to Weaver's immaculately old-fashioned home to find the Monster waiting for him with the second story. This is set in Victorian times and centres on the rivalry between an apothecary who uses only natural ingredients in his potions and an earnest parson, who urges his congregation to put their faith in modern medicine. When his own daughters fall ill, however, the cleric pleads with the apothecary to save them and even offers to compromise his faith to ensure their recovery. But the old man chides the preacher for abandoning his beliefs and summons the yew tree from the churchyard to destroy the vicarage.
Once again, MacDougall is perplexed by the moral and the Monster has to explain that faith is essential for any cure to work and that, while the apothecary might have been avaricious, he would have ministered to the ailing girls if their father had not been so intolerant. Recognising that trust has to be earned, MacDougall finds himself in the Monster's magic hour realm and joins him in demolishing the ruins of the parsonage. He accepts the invitation to snap a piece of wood off the Monster's finger and sets about smashing the windows. But, when he comes to his senses, MacDougall discovers that he has vandalised his grandmother's living room.
Naturally, Weaver is distraught, especially when she sees the state of her beloved grandfather clock. But, rather than punishing MacDougall, she pulls a display cabinet off the wall and leaves him to stew in his remorse, as she knows that he has only behaved so badly because he has been traumatised by his situation. Kebbell also avoids admonishing MacDougall over breakfast the next morning and even jokes about the efficacy of his tantrum while they clear up. They find some old home movies and Kebbell reveals that Jones had wanted to go to art college before she got pregnant. But he laments that things didn't work out between them because people often get `messily ever after' rather than happy endings. On his next visit to the hospital, MacDougall learns that Jones is going to try an alternative therapy derived from yew trees. She is touched by his earnest faith in the cure and he so convinces himself that Jones is going to recover that he summons the Monster that night to implore it to heal his mother. But the creature questions whether MacDougall has understood the nature of his mission and urges him to make the most of his time with Jones because there will be no going back once he has heard the third and final tale.
Annoyed that he has no control over things, MacDougall tries to tell Kebbell about the Monster as they walk along the pier by the sea. But his father tells him to stop dreaming and face up to reality and accept that the yew treatment is unlikely to work and that Jones is going to die. They hug as Kebbell bids farewell and MacDougall feels very alone until he sneaks downstairs in the night and sees Weaves watching a home movie of Jones teaching him to draw monsters when he was a small boy.
As the days pass, Jones begins to fade and MacDougall withdraws into himself. One lunchtime, Melville pours orange juice over his sketchbook and tells him that he is so insignificant that he is not going to waste his time bullying him any longer. Feeling guilty that Jones quit art school to have him and desperate to be reprimanded, MacDougall heeds the advice of the Monster (whose third tale is about a man who summoned a monster after growing tired of being ignored) and runs the length of the canteen to rain so many punches down on Melville that he has to go to hospital.
Yet, headmistress Geraldine Chaplin doesn't feel she can exclude MacDougall because she knows what he is going through and he starts to feel as though he is the invisible boy. Jones notices the state of his knuckles when he comes to visit, but she has more important matters to discuss, as the doctor has confirmed that the yew tree treatment has failed and that there is nothing more he can do to help. Crying bitter tears, MacDougall runs through the town and accuses the yew tree of letting him down. But the Monster insists that he came to life to heal MacDougall not Jones and he orders him to tell his own tale and confront the reason for his nightmare.
Turning round, MacDougall sees Jones standing before the crumbling church and rushes to save her when the cemetery opens up and she falls through a crevass. He clings to her hand in a futile bid to pull her to safety and the glowing red Monster compels him to acknowledge that he yearns for his ordeal to end because he can no longer bear to see his mother suffering. Moreover, he wants his own pain to stop so that he can start grieving and get on with his life. The Monster cradles the sobbing boy in his hand and MacDougall is still sleeping beneath the yew when Weaver finds him to speed him across town to say goodbye to his mother. She sees the Monster crouching behind her son and recognises him with a smile, as she squeezes Weaver's hand and cuddles MacDougall for the last time at 12:07 am.
Seven hours later, Weaver and MacDougall arrive home.. She gives him the key to his mother's old room and she hopes he comes to like living with her. Alone in the silence, MacDougall finds a sketchbook on the desk next to a model of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein. As he turns the pages, he recognises images from the Monster's stories and, when he sees a picture of a small girl sitting on the creature's shoulder, MacDougall finally realises that Jones had called upon the yew tree to protect her child.
Containing allusions to the Green Man, JB Priestley and Val Lewton, as well as Bayona's own first features, The Orphanage (2007) and The Impossible (2012), this will remind many of Brad Bird's 1999 adaptation of Ted Hughes's The Iron Giant and Steven Spielberg's 2016 take on Roald Dahl's The BFG. Yet, Bayona also pays homage to Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) and Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006) in the way he explores Lewis MacDougall's suppressed terrors. The young actors resemblance to David Bradley in Ken Loach's version of Barry Hines's Kes (1969) is also fortuitously apt, as this is another story about an alienated child seeking solace in an unlikely source.
But, while the visual side is exceptionally strong thanks to Eugenio Caballero's production design, Oscar Faura's photography and the slick visual effects, first-time screenwriter Patrick Ness struggles to integrate the Monster's stories, in spite of the excellent graphics designed by Adrián García after Jim Kay's illustrations. Some of the dialogue also feels better suited to the page than the screen, with the curiously cast Sigourney Weaver particularly struggling with its clipped formality. Wadham College alumna Felicity Jones is more persuasive as the fading mother, while Liam Neeson's digitally tweaked Ballymena brogue brings an aura of velvety menace to the Monster.
But the onus falls squarely on MacDougall, a 14 year-old Scot who appears to have had little difficulty in taking the giant step from a minor debut role in Joe Wright's Pan (2015) to carrying a psychologically complex saga that requires him to do much of his acting against a green screen. Clearly Bayona guided him through, but the Spaniard's strength seems to lie in sustaining atmosphere, especially when he is abetted by Oriol Tarragó's inspired splintery sound design and Fernando Velázquez's hauntingly poignant score. Consequently, such store is set by the manicured artifice that the real locations in Huddersfield, Blackpool and Greater Manchester almost seem out of place in a picture that forever seems to be haranguing the audience to keep up with the endless emotional and stylistic shifts that leave too little room for characterisation and reflection.
Returning after its festive break, CinemaItaliaUK ventures into science-fiction for the first time with Gabriele Mainetti's They Call Me Jeeg Robot, which is screening at the Genesis Cinema in London on 22 January. The winner of seven Donatello awards, this ambitious debut takes its title from Go Nagai and Tatsuya Yasuda's 1970s anime series, Jeeg Robot, and owes much to both Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz's cult Troma classic, The Toxic Avenger (1984), and Thomas Salvador's Vincent (2014), with which it shares an aquatic transformation concept. However, screenwriters Nicola Guaglianone and Roberto Marchionni (aka comic-book writer Menotti) also mix in a little social realism and some stylised poliziotteschi violence that occasionally comes uncomfortably close to being misogynist.
Fleeing through Rome from some cops, petty crook Enzo Ceccotti (Claudio Santamaria) slips into the River Tiber near the Ponte Sant'Angelo and only emerges from the murky water when the coast is clear. Retreating to his dishevelled flat on the Tor Bella Monaca outskirt estate, Enzo vomits black liquid into the toilet and sleeps for what seems several days, as the news broadcasts details of protests against austerity measures and a spate of violent attacks.
Enzo goes to see Sergio (Stefano Ambrogi) to fence a stolen watch and meets his teenage daughter, Alessia (Luca Marinelli), who has had psychological problems since the death of her mother and finds solace in old DVDs of the Jeeg Robot cartoon series. Sergio works for Fabio Cannizzaro (Luca Marinelli), an ambitious thug and failed talent show contestant nicknamed `The Gypsy', who loses his temper while planning a drug deal with sidekicks Biondo (Maurizio Tesei) and Sperma (Francesco Formichetti) and stabs an underling who brings him the wrong colour mobile phone. However, while trying to force to African mules into regurgitating their packages, Sergio is shot dead and Enzo is amazed to discover he is unharmed after he is also wounded and falls from the ninth storey of a building site.
While Enzo tests his new powers by trying to steal an ATM (and covering the banknotes with ink in the process), the fame-hungry Fabio sings at a birthday party being thrown for Neapolitan mob boss Nunzia (Antonia Truppo) and reassures her that he has the drug drop under control, even though he has no idea of Sergio's whereabouts. He threatens Alessia, who reveals in her panic that her father has been abusing her since she was small. But the seemingly indestructible Enzo bursts through the window to rescue her and survives losing a toe when Fabio throws a meat cleaver at his foot (even though it refuses to heal as quickly as the gunshot wound).
Alessia is convinced that Enzo is Hiroshi Shiba, the racing car driver who turns into Steel Jeeg to defeat the evil Queen Himika, and asks if he has come to avert the Day of Shadows. She also begs him to find her father and bring her a princess dress. But Enzo places her in a care home while he comes to terms with his changing situation. However, he also hijacks an armoured car raid Fabio has organised to give Nunzia the cash she requires from the botched drug deal and is about to settle down for a night of porn and yoghurt-eating when the cops return Alessia to his care after she escapes from the hostel.
She keeps yammering on about the need to make good use of his superpowers to rescue her father from the Cave of Fire. But, as they watch Steel Jeeg on his new widescreen television, Alessia slips into a panic after holding his hand and begs him not to force himself upon her. Enzo manages to calm her down, but he is disturbed by her fragility and takes her to an abandoned funfair to cheer her up. He uses his strength to spin the Ferris wheel and she enjoys the view before they go to the mall to buy her dress. She pulls him into the changing room to admire her and they kiss before he takes advantage of her, as she lapses into a tense, tearful silence. Alessia accuses Enzo of wasting his talents when he should be searching for Sergio and she runs away when he breaks the news that he is dead.
Meanwhile, Fabio has grown jealous of Enzo's social media celebrity and turned his Rottweilers on Biondo for challenging his authority. But, while he is having a backseat assignation with transsexual Marcellone (Juana Jimenez), Fabio is captured by Nunzia and her henchman Antonio (Gianluca Di Gennaro) and doused in petrol in punishment for failing to settle his debt. However, Marcellone starts a gun fight that ends in the wounded Nunzia speeding away in her car and Marcellone being shot by Fabio for worsening his already fraught situation.
Across the city, Enzo holds up a tram to persuade Alessia to trust him and teach him how to become a force for good. He takes her to the morgue to say goodbye to her father and they hide out in a hotel for the night. But Fabio is on the warpath after Nunzia has his dogs slaughtered and he shoots Enzo with a tranquilliser dart, wraps him in gaffer tape and threatens to harm Alessia unless he reveals how he acquired his superpowers. Enzo takes him to the Tiber and points out a netful of drums beneath a crane platform, one of which he presumes is leaking the conveniently unidentified toxic material that transformed him. But Fabio is sceptical and orders oppo Tazzina (Daniele Trombetti) to torture Alessia. However, she kicks out and he accidentally slashes his own throat, enabling her to escape just as Nunzia shows up with her goons.
In the ensuing melee, Fabio is set alight with a flamethrower and falls into the river, while Alessia is killed by a stray bullet. She warns Enzo that Fabio is the Lord of Fire he should fear, but he doesn't see the badly scarred miscreant scramble out of the water and it is only after he rescues a small child from a burning car that Enzo discovers that Fabio is alive and has massacred Nunzia and her crew in a slow-motion ballet of mayhem. He has also found her arms cache and heads for the Olympic Stadium to detonate a bomb during an AS Roma match.
Borrowing a scooter, Enzo speeds to the ground and fights with Fabio on the concourse and on the packed terraces before finding the bomb in the back of an ambulance. He tries to drive away from the stadium, but is halted by the police. Undaunted, he seizes the device and heads for the Tiber. But Fabio attempts to thwart him and they plunge into the river together, just as the bomb explodes. As the crowd look on from a bridge, Fabio's severed head lands on the walkway. Yet, while broadcasters presume Enzo also perished and mourn the passing of a hero, he dons the Steel Jeeg balaclava that Alessia knitted for him and leaps from a high building to resume his new life as a superhero.
It's impossible to assess this picture without addressing its problematic depiction of the relationship between Enzo and Alessia. Even though it pushes him along the road to redemption, there is something despicably rapacious about the changing-room sequence, as a young woman is consciously exploited by a man who knows all about her emotional vulnerability and her reluctance to resist those she thinks are otherwise protecting her. Claudio Santamaria and the debuting Ilenia Pastorelli (who came to prominence on Italy's version of Big Brother) commit to the scene, but it could have been handled with more discretion and even been omitted altogether.
Notwithstanding this contentious incident, first-timer Gabriele Mainetti proves himself to be a proficient director who bookends the story with drone shots of the Eternal City and makes effective use of its iconic locations. Production designer Massimiliano Sturiale's interiors are also atmospheric, thanks to Michele D'Attanasio's brooding lighting. But editor Andrea Maguolo shreds many of the action and effects sequences so that it's incredibly difficult to see what's going on. However, Michele Braga and Gabriele Mainetti's score provides some impetus, as the laudably pantomimic Luca Marinelli becomes increasingly maniacal. The leading trio won Donatellos for their efforts, as did Antonia Truppo and the less deserving Maguolo (along with his assistant Federico Conforti). But, while this sizeable and eminently sequelable domestic hit is sometimes darkly amusing, it doesn't impart sufficient subversive spin upon the tiresomely predictable comic-book format and struggles to overcome its major lapse in taste.
The focus shifts to a real crime in Marcus Vetter and Karin Steinberger's The Promise, which recalls the brutal 1985 murder of a Virginia couple and the subsequent battle to prove his innocence that has been waged by their daughter's German boyfriend in the face of a mismanaged police investigation, possible judicial prejudice and some barefaced lies. As this was among the first criminal trials to be televised in the United States, the co-directors have been able to leaven their mix of talking heads and reconstructions with plenty of dramatic footage. Thus, while this may not perhaps of the calibre of such miscarriage studies as Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line (1988) or Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), it does bear comparison with Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's Oscar-winning Murder on a Sunday Morning (2001) and Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst's Amanda Knox (2016), and represents another notable entry in the BBC Storyville canon and another fine find by the London-based Dochouse team.
Opening with a soulful rendition of the old Screamin' Jay Hawkins hit, `I Put a Spell on You', the action opens on 6 October 1987, as Elizabeth Haysom admits in court that she could be considered something of a Lady Macbeth. She is on trial for the murder of her parents, Derek and Nancy, in their home in Lynchburg, Virginia on 30 March 1985. However, Vetter and Steinberger fast forward to 21 June 1990 to show Elizabeth's ex-boyfriend, Jens Söring, being found guilty of being her partner in crime. But the German co-directors are not convinced of their compatriot's culpability and join his attorney since 1994, Gail Ball, in reassessing the evidence with private eye Dave Watson before lodging another plea to have Jens paroled or returned to Europe.
As well as being granted permission to interview Jens in the Buckingham Correctional Facility in Dillwyn (just 35 miles from where Elizabeth is incarcerated in Troy), Vetter and Steinberger also track down Bedford County sheriff's office investigators Chuck Reid and Ricky Gardner, who have very different views of the case. Reid meets Suzanne and John Peniche, the current owners of the house previously known as `Loose Chippings', and shows them where the butchered bodies were found. Graphic photographs flash on the screen, as Reid recalls collaborating with FBI profiler Ed Sulzbach on a report on Jens. But this has now gone missing from the archive and Gardner has no recollection of it ever being written.
Vetter and Steinberger also track down Carlos Santos, the editor of the Fluvanna Review, who has occasionally commissioned Elizabeth to write for his newspaper from her cell in the nearby penitentiary. She writes well, as befitting a Zimbabwean-born Canadian citizen who was educated at Wycombe Abbey in Buckinghamshire and the University of Virginia, and who fell for Jens against her better judgement, as she thought he was nerdy and arrogant. However, his impassioned devotion won her over and his ardour is readily evident in the passage from a love letter she reads in court, in which he wishes he could free her from her parents. It's hinted that Nancy took inappropriate nude snapshots of her daughter praying beside her bed and that she also abused her. But, on the witness stand, Elizabeth has no doubt that Jens stabbed her mother and father and returned to Washington (where they were staying in a hotel for the weekend) with a bloodied sheet over his clothes and, having picked her up from a screening of Jim Sharman's The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), drove her home to show her his handiwork. Despite the intensity of their correspondence, Jens and Elizabeth had only been an item for three months and Reid recalls Sulzbach telling him that Nancy was too prim to have received a comparative stranger in a nightdress and dressing-gown. He drew the conclusion, therefore, that she knew her killer well, although it's suggested that Elizabeth and Jens might not have been suspected at all had Nancy's best friend, Annie Massie, not seen the former comparing her shoe with the sock prints in the blood while she was cleaning up the premises with her brothers, Howard and Richard.
On 6 October 1985, Jens conducted a taped interview with Reid and Gardner, who reassured him that they were trying to get the facts straight rather than accusing him of anything. However, Richard Zorn, a close friend of Jens's diplomat father Klaus and a former Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Virginia, opines that Jens felt so devastated by the disgrace he had brought upon his family that he decided to abscond with Elizabeth to London via Thailand, where they passed bad cheques under the names Christopher Platt Noe and Tara Lucy Noe before they were caught in Marks and Spencer on 30 April 1986.
The pair were interviewed at Richmond Police Station in early June before detective Terry Wright found a reference to Gardner in a letter written by Jens and had Elizabeth returned to Virginia. Convinced of her guilt and that she would be given the death penalty, Jens sought to reassure Elizabeth that he would take the blame and use Klaus's diplomatic immunity to ensure a degree of clemency. However, she terminated their relationship and, believing he had betrayed her, she cut a deal with prosecutor Jim Updike to testify against Jens in return for a more lenient sentence. By May 1987, the Haysom case was making headlines nationwide, with Larry King hosting a discussion on the psychology of the killer(s). Notwithstanding the fact that Jens had erroneously claimed that Nancy was wearing jeans when he stabbed her, Elizabeth took to the stand and not only claimed that Jens killed her parents because he was jealous of her love for them, but also asserted that her previously impotent boyfriend had been masterfully masculine on the night of their funeral. Yet, her own siblings denounced her as a serial fantasist and, as a result, on 8 October 1987, she was given consecutive 45-year sentences by Judge William Sweeney.
With Elizabeth behind bars after pleading guilty to two counts of being an accessory to murder before the fact, Updike moved to have Jens extradited to stand trial. The European Court of Human Rights refused to surrender him until it had a guarantee that he would not be liable for Death Row. But Klaus made a tactical error in selecting Detroit attorney Richard Neaton to defend his son, as he was unfamiliar with the niceties of Virginian court etiquette and Updike was consistently able to sway Judge Sweeney (who was a close friend of Nancy's brother) when Jens entered the witness box on 6 June 1990.
Avoiding Updike's attempts to trip him up, Jens calmly relates how he and Elizabeth had gone to Washington for the weekend. However, as she had to do a drug deal with her university friend Jim Farmer, she asked Jens to buy two tickets for the screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show so she had an alibi. Latching on to this lead - which Gardner continues to dismiss as insignificant, as Jens only mentioned it when his neck was on the line - Watson tries to find Farmer, only to discover that he had recently passed away.
Back on the stand, Jens notes that he returned from the theatre showing Peter Weir's Witness (1986) to cash a cheque at the hotel before going back to the pictures to watch Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and the midnight matinee of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. On returning to the hotel, he met up with Elizabeth, who admitted killing her parents while under the influence of drugs. Fearing for her safety, therefore, he followed the example of Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities by laying down his own life for his girlfriend.
Playing up to the jury and the audience watching on television, Updike tutted that Jens had changed his plea and that such miscreancy was anything but honourable. But Zorn worries that Jens so bright that he can often seem smug to those who don't know him. Thus, he has enlisted the help of some respectable sympathisers to try a new approach in the hope of getting Jens paroled while Klaus is still alive. Among them are chaplain Tom B. Elliott, who became friendly with Jens after his grandmother urged him to commit suicide, and Gail Marshall, a former Deputy Attorney General of Virginia who believes the evidence points to Jens being Elizabeth's patsy.
As the trial continues, Updike proves unable to link Jens to fingerprints and hair samples found at `Loose Chippings', which Jens claims never to have visited (hence his mistake in situating the bodies at the scene in his evidence to the police). Yet, even though Elizabeth's prints are found on a vodka bottle, the jury accepts the claim by Updike and a tyre track specialist that a sock print found on the floor fitted Jens `like a glove'. Marshall insists that such unqualified `expert' testimony should never have been accepted.
Meanwhile, footage of Jean Bass stating that she saw several cars on the Haysoms' drive on the night of the murder prompts Reid to reopen his inquiry into the rental car that he believes Elizabeth drove to Lynchburg while Jens watched movies in the capital. He also avers that Farmer accompanied her to Loose Chippings and reckons that the fact he was the son of a judge persuaded the sheriff from testing his alibi. It's clear from the Buckingham interview that Jens curses the day he fell for Elizabeth, as it was his undying devotion that landed him in the predicament that has ruined his fast-ebbing life. He betrays little emotion on Day 11 of his trial, however, as he sees Elizabeth for the first time since London when she takes the stand to testify against him. She admits to conspiring with roommate Christine Kim (an academic who threatens Watson with the police if he tries to contact her) in compiling a timeline to ensure everyone had their facts straight. However, as Elizabeth reads it in court, she mistakenly calls the Jarmusch film Stranger in Paradise. But the discrepancy is not commented upon at the time or by the film-makers.
Judge Sweeney surveys the television record with his wife Nada, who chatters on about what a good looking girl Elizabeth was. She also speculates upon the nature of her relationship with both Nancy and Annie Massie, who refuses to respond to the suggestion that she had fondled Elizabeth or known about Nancy's incestuous advances. Also watching the archive footage, Santos declares that any form of abuse should be considered a mitigating circumstance for Elizabeth's actions. But, he also empathises with Jens, as does Steven B. Rosenfield, the attorney who devised Elizabeth's death penalty plea bargain and who, 27 years later, is now assisting Jens with his appeal for a transfer to Germany.
Returning to the courtroom, Elizabeth is describing how she returned from the Washington cinema to vomit after being told that Jens had murdered the Haysoms. She admits to giving false evidence in the past, but insists she is now telling the truth, as she recalls Jens sending her to clean the interior of the rental car with Coca-Cola to remove all traces of blood. However, an employee of the car company testifies that the vehicle was spotless when it was returned and Reid notes that he couldn't find any specks of blood when he conducted a test with Luminol. This reinforces his conviction that Elizabeth had swapped cars before visiting her parents and he is jubilant when Tony Buchanan comes forward to swear that he cleaned a blood-stained car for Elizabeth and a man he identifies from a photograph as Ned B., a close friend of Farmer who denies any connection with the case and urges Ball and Watson to leave him alone after the latter pays him a call at the hotel where he now works. As Updike and Neaton deliver their closing speeches, Zorn enlists the aid of German Consular General Knut Abraham to conclude his presentation to the single female judge who will decide Jens's immediate fate. Marshall declares that his nationality has been a problem throughout the case, as the parochial jury members appear to have believed the girl next door rather than the outsider who led her astray.
But Jens seems to have been dogged by ill-fortune throughout his ordeal. In 2010, DNA analysis confirmed that blood samples found at Loose Clippings belonged to a third person and Governor Timothy M. Kaine moved that Jens be deported as soon as possible. During the process, however, Kaine (who would go on to become Hillary Clinton's running mate) lost an election to Republican Robert F. McDonnell, who immediately cancelled the order after Elizabeth (who declined to be interviewed for the film, but stated in September 2016 that her mother had abused her for eight years) ended a 21-year silence by writing a letter to the Associated Press stating that Jens was as guilty as she was. Furthermore, the regime informed Marshall that it would seek the death penalty in any retrial if she tried to press for a pardon.
Ironically, McDonnell was later jailed for corruption, although the conviction was quashed on appeal and he walked free. But Jens remains behind bars. Moreover, he has been forbidden to see Elliott after the authorities decided that their letters had become too personal and, as a result, Jens has lost his faith. More misfortune struck in April 2016 when Sulzbach died before he could locate the profile in the FBI archive. Four months later, a fresh appeal was lodged on the basis of an unattributed fingerprint and the DNA evidence, but Jens Söring's ordeal shows no sign of ending any time soon.
Cogently compiled by Steinberger (who had interviewed Jens for Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2006 during her 10-year investigation) and Vetter (who also edited with Michele Gentile and Patrick Wilfert), this raises enough doubt to convince even the most sceptical observer that Jens's conviction is unsafe. He admits to having made lots of mistakes and, as Reid notes, the majority of American inmates are condemned by what they say rather than by any hard facts. Jens certainly seems to have paid a high price for his misplaced adoration and gallantry, as not only is there plenty of evidence to suggest his innocence, but there is also a lack of tangible proof against him. Yet the fact that Reid and Gardner can draw such different conclusions from pursuing the same case leaves room for the slender shadow of a doubt that has thus far persuaded the current Democratic governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, to deny Jens his freedom (despite Angela Merkel's request for Barack Obama to intervene). On the technical side, Georg Zengerling's camerawork is as proficieny as Michele Gentile and Sven Kaiser's score, which is used throughout to generate atmosphere and suspense, as Vetter and Steinberger follow the latterday sleuthing of Reid and Watson. They might have asked the 50 year-old Jens about his jail time (which now numbers over 10,000 days) and what he does to occupy his mind and it seems odd that the claims against Christine Kim and Ned B. are now followed up, given the importance attached to them by Ball and Marshall. But so much seems to be whirring behind the scenes in this extraordinary case that it would come as no surprise if it yielded further revelations to add to its litany of omissions and inconsistencies before it's finally marked as closed.
Born in the Soviet Union, film-maker Vitaly Mansky felt no qualms at taking Russian citizenship when he left his home city of Lviv in Ukraine to study in Moscow. Since the collapse of Communism, however, national identity has become a more significant issue and Vladimir Putin's annexation of the Crimea prompted Mansky to explore what descent and patriotism meant to the members of his extended family in Close Relations. Screening in London as part of the Dochouse initiative, this makes few concessions to those not au fait with the ethno-political complexities of the region. It's also less technically ambitious than Sergei Loznitsa's Maidan (2014) or Evgeny Afineevsky's Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom (2015). But Mansky is a perceptive film-maker (as he demonstrated with his North Korean study, Under the Sun, 2015) and this deeply personal odyssey reveals the effect that international tensions can have on ordinary citizens powerless to influence them.
Following the Maidan uprising that sent Viktor Yanukovych into exile, Mansky returns to Lviv to visit his elderly mother. She claims to be Ukraininan, even though her side of the family are Lithuanian Poles. But, while she recognises the importance of the 2014 presidential election, she decides not to vote when she discovers that she has been registered at a polling station several miles from her flat. Mansky is quizzically amused by her attitude to both her nationality and her civic duty, but he makes no comment and decamps to Odessa in the Crimea to see his sister, Alyona, who has two sons with her husband, Igor.
Once a successful businessman with lots of government contracts, he has been forced to abandon work on a new apartment since Maidan, although he still goes sailing on the yacht he bought during the good times. They are afraid their eldest son Valera (who has two youngsters of his own) will be conscripted into the army and worry about the situation in the eastern Donbas region. Over a shot of a bride and groom skipping down the steps used by Sergei Eisenstein in Battleship Potemkin (1925), Mansky reveals that Igor's sister, Valentina, has fled to Odessa from Donetsk, as she is convinced the pro-Russian enclave will secede. By contrast, Igor is confident that the stand-off will only last a couple of months. But, just 19 hours later, 298 passengers are killed when a Dutch airliner is shot down over the Donbas. As the autumn comes, Mansky returns to Lviv to see his Aunt Lyuda, who spent her life working for the state before retiring with her rescue dog. She feels cheated of her past because she always thought that Moscow had a benevolent influence on the Ukraine. But she now resents the fact her favourite films peddled propaganda and has torn down her poster of Nikita Mikhalkov, as she now despises his political views. Vova, her taxi driver brother, married Galya, a country girl Galya who works for the theatre troupe that employs their daughter, Yulya, as a dancer. They are vehemently pro-Ukrainian and spend weekends at the small rural plot where they grow vegetables to feed them during the week in the city. The house has the most basic amenities, but Galya is proud to own her little piece of land and speaks nostalgically about covering the wooden floor with hay to keep in the heat over Christmas.
Cutting from a rehearsal to a belly-dancing class in a rundown part of town, Mansky calls on his Aunt Tamara, who was a lifelong Party activist and trade unionist. The daughter of a Russian army officer, she lives in a Polish house, but is Ukrainian according to her passport. Mansky notes wryly that official documents pay no heed to ethnicity, as he explains that Tamara and her husband Tolik share their flat with his 80 year-old mother, their manicurist daughter Anya, her unemployed spouse and their conscription age son, Zhenya. His grandmother laments that he is solely interested in his computer and has never read a book and, therefore, knows nothing about past heroes like Stepan Bandera, a hardline nationalist who was assassinated by the KGB in 1959. She wishes to be left along to enjoy the country's hard-won independence, but worries the Ukraine is now too cosmopolitan to retain its old identity. Anya feels much the same way and would rather lose the Crimea and Donbas than fight over them.
In January 2015, Mansky goes to Sevastapol to see how the Russian appropriation of the peninsula has impacted on the lives of its citizens. The vast majority voted in a referendum to leave Ukraine, including Tamara's sister Natasha, whose father was Russian and whose mother had Polish, German and Ukrainian blood. She is estranged from her son Maxim, who served in the Ukrainian navy, while her phone call to Tamara and Lyuda is excruciating because of their political differences. Mansky fixes his camera on an old family photo as Natasha and Lyuda bicker with each other and Tamara remains resolutely silent. He feels it is a tragedy that family ties can become so strained because of geopolitical manoeuvring.
On New Year's Eve, Natasha goes to the square to watch Putin speak on a giant screen. Maxim toasts the occasion from home and does so again an hour later when Ukraine has its own celebration and he sings a second national anthem with his wife. He regrets the fact that the local football team has been excluded from the Ukrainian league and been denied entry to the equivalent Russian competition by UEFA (because the Crimea is deemed an `occupied' territory), as everyone has put so much effort into developing the club.
Back in Lviv in February, Yulya and her friend discuss the situation in a café as a funeral procession goes past with a band and lots of banners and wreaths. They wish an easy transition could be agreed to prevent middle-aged men from being conscripted to fight a conflict with onetime compatriots. But Yulya also hopes Ukraine will join the European Union and benefit from greater security. Igor also hopes a corner can be turned, as he goes on a guided tour of the luxury mansion that Yanukovych left behind. Mansky's mother also seeks to build bridges by inviting Tamara and Natasha to a birthday lunch. They have their differences, but make the effort to get along.
As the situation deteriorates, Mansky travels to Donetsk to gauge the strength of pro-Kremlin opinion. His relative beg him not to come, but he films a medal ceremony for the regional army before meeting up with Igor's grandfather, Misha. He came to the Donbas in the early 1950s as part of a postwar reconstruction programme and claims that men from republics across the USSR worked in harmony with no sense of parochialism. But his daughter suggests that they never forgot their roots and always considered themselves Russians rather than Ukrainians.
Filming in the streets, Mansky see tanks and armed militia and watches Misha's daughters longing for the hardware on Red Square on May Day to come south. He compares the modern Ukrainian troops with the Bandera zealots who fought against Moscow during the Great Patriotic War and mocks their arrogant claims to reunite the country. Back in Lviv, Zhenya gets called up and Mansky sees him off at the railway station before returning to Moscow. He surveys the scene outside the Kremlin the day after a parade and reveals that he no longer feels he can live in Russia after what he has experienced during the making of his film. As a consequence, he is moving back to Ukraine and considers this the latest phase in his own `personal tragedy'.
Linked by a timeline informing viewers of where and when each segment occurs, this is a street-level account of the seismic shift that realigned Ukrainian history. Editors Peteris Kimelis and Gunta Ikere keep the emphasis firmly on Mansky's kinfolk, as they express opinions and prejudices that are largely self-explanatory. Yet, for all their willingness to talk and the occasional flash of gallows humour, nobody has anything particularly trenchant to say and one is often left longing for Mansky to state his own views and emotions, as he witnesses his homeland and his family threatening to come apart at the seams.
The people behind Channel Four's True Stories and the BBC's Storyville strands have decent track records when it comes to selecting documentaries. But, while they can spot a sober political treatise, a provocative eco or techno exposé or a heartfelt arts profile, they sometimes lack the common touch and let items like Taryn Brumfitt's Embrace slip through their fingers. This may be the Adelaide photographer's first stab at directing and her globe-trotting meet-and-greet approach may be a little conventional, But she says so many sensible things about the depiction of the female form in the media and about the need for women to reclaim ownership of their bodies that this should be compulsory viewing for everyone from editors to advertisers, as well as boys and girls of all ages.
Apparently, 90% of women are `highly dissatisfied' with their bodies. Taryn Brumfitt certainly felt unhappy at the `jelly belly mess' she saw after giving birth to her three children, Mikaela, Oliver and Cruz. But, while husband Mathew was more than happy with her womanly physique, Taryn consulted a personal trainer and managed to buff up so spectacularly that she qualified for a prestigious body-building competition. She took pride in her achievement, but realised that the punishing regime was not making her happy and she decided to let Nature take its course, with a little help from some healthy eating and some structured exercise.
Delighted with her new curves, Taryn posted photographs on her Facebook page that subverted the usual `before and after' shots used to promote diets. The response was phenomenal. Some of the 7000 emails came from body shamers out to wound and humiliate. But the majority came from women applauding her actions and asking for advice. Appalled by what appeared to be a global body-hating epidemic, Taryn set up the Body Image Movement and determined to spend nine weeks on the road meeting some of the women who had contacted her in order to share their views on contemporary notions of feminine beauty.
Alighting in Sydney, Taryn hooks up with Mia Freedman, the editor of the Australian edition of Cosmopolitan, who describes the battles she had with designers, photographers and stylists in attempting to present an alternative to the prevailing supermodel look. Size 12 model Stefania Ferrario also recalls the struggle she had getting accepted by the fashion industry and proudly shows off her curves while parading through the city centre in a bikini. But Taryn isn't just interested in denouncing catwalk chic, she also seeks to warn of the dangers of eating disorders and enlists the help of anorexic Tina and Flinders University psychologist Marika Tiggemann to lambaste starvation websites and reveal how the Internet caused a dramatic change in Fijian notions of the body beautiful. Tiggemann urges parents to compliment their daughters on their achievements rather than their looks, as young girls need to learn as early as possible in life that beauty comes from within.
Following a blizzard of statistics about the incidence of cosmetic surgery, Taryn flies to Los Angeles for a consultation with Dr Fardad Farouzanpour. Poking ungallantly at her breasts, he informs Taryn that her nipples are in the wrong place before offering to use buttock fat to address an imbalance in her upper lip. Sexual health consultant Jane Langton shares Taryn's distaste for such fault-finding and recommends that women learn more about yonic diversity, as so many are convinced that they are ugly when they are merely unique.
Learning to love yourself is also the advice proffered by TV presenter Ricki Lake, who found fame playing Tracy Turnblad in the 1988 John Waters comedy, Hairspray. As an abuse survivor, Lake had used food as a way of protecting herself against unwanted advances. But, on becoming a star, she discovered she enjoyed the attention and slimmed down in order to become the kind of cover girl magazine editors wanted. She admits her weight still yo-yos and jokes that she should shed a few pounds while she is still young enough to look good. However, fellow presenter Amanda de Cadenet seems less concerned with how other people see her. Having hit puberty almost overnight, De Cadenet became a familiar face as a teenage interviewer on The Tube and found herself being subjected to unwelcome seduction attempts and tabloid tittle-tattle. But, on becoming pregnant at 18 with Duran Duran guitarist John Taylor, she vowed to enjoy her shape and not let anyone else impose their expectations upon her. Consequently, she is now very comfortable in her own skin and makes the most of the time others waste obsessing about their looks. A series of graphics shows how notions of beauty have changed since the Jazz Age. But Taryn, who considers the body to be a vehicle rather than an ornament, is aware that the fad diets that accompanied the many image shifts have little long-term benefit. She also realises the bad influence they have on adolescent girls and joins Melinda Tankard Reist, the co-founder of Collective Shout, in condemning the sexualisation of children by advertisers and trend setters. Furious that the vested interests of multinational corporations count for more than the physical and psychological well-being of women, Reist particularly criticises the video game Grand Theft Auto 5, which encourages players to pick up prostitutes and shoot them in cold blood to avoid paying for sex.
In concurring, Canadian mother Nikiah fights back the tears as she thinks about how often she has to reassure the daughter whose sense of self-worth has been dented by expectations foisted upon kids by the irresponsibly grasping media. When Abercrombie & Fitch executive Mike Jeffries made some crass remarks about the kind of people he wished to dress, blogger Jes Baker bit back by parodying the supposedly cool catalogue style and her scathing views on diets are echoed by Dr Linda Bacon, who explains how the body forever rebels against restrictive eating regimes.
Staying in Canada, Taryn drops in to see fellow photographer Jade Beall in Victoria. She has also produced a series of post-natal nudes that helped her perk up after feeling negative about her body. As a teenager, she had longed for a magazine to put an acne sufferer on the cover and she now specialises in images that help women of all shapes and sizes feel good about themselves. Model Renee Airya proves even more inspirational, however, as she shows Taryn some of the videos she posted online after a brain tumour damaged her facial nerves and she had to relearn how to use the right side of her face. Her courage in teaching people how to accept her while learning how to come to terms with herself is matched by that of Turia Pitt, a mining engineer who suffered 65% burns after being trapped in a bush fire after competing in an ultramarathon in Western Australia. Joking that handsome boyfriend Michael Hoskins stood by her because she is an awesome person, she encourages viewers to own any perceived flaws because most people are too wrapped up in themselves to care about anyone else.
It took the thought of suicide to persuade 25 year-old Londoner Harnaam Kaur to share this standpoint. But, having been bullied since she was a teenager for the thick facial hair caused by having polycystic ovaries, she decided to re-route her negative energy and now not only celebrates her beauty, but also revel in the fact that she is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the youngest woman with a full beard. German actress Nora Tschirner is also something of a body positivity activist and Til Schweiger's co-star in the hit 2007 comedy, Rabbit Without Ears, and its 2009 sequel invites Taryn to Vienna to experience the faux glamour and paparazzi chaos of the red carpet, as she collects a gong at the Romy TV Awards.
Flashbulbs also pop in New York, as Taryn attends a diversity photo shoot organised by B. Jeffrey Madoff. He confides that the world's leading models are insecure about their looks and has little difficulty putting the disabled Mia, the transgender Lea and the voluptuous Tenisha at their ease. Fresh from this chance to help others feel good about themselves, Taryn accepts an invitation from Nigel Marsh to participate in the Sydney Skinny swim designed to aid clear thinking while naked in the famous harbour. Exhilarated by the experience, she is touched by the excitement felt by mother of two Kirsty at meeting another woman who only has one breast and she makes light of her situation with an unaffected good humour that convinces Taryn her travels have been worthwhile, as she joins her family in an airport hug.
Brumfitt may not be a natural in front of the camera and the opening section feels like something from a YouTube reality show. However, she comes into her own on the road, where her warmth and empathy enable her guests to relive their experiences with honesty and fortitude. De Cadenet is a little strident and Beall a touch effusive, while Lake sends a few mixed messages. But Tiggemann, Freedman and Reist make their points with trenchant clarity, while Airya, Pitt and Kaur prove as intrepid as Brumfitt herself in discussing their situations with inspirational integrity.
Technically, this is as proficient as Damien Gameau's That Sugar Film (2014). But Brumfitt is much more self-effacing and genuinely intent on helping other women overcome their body issues. The word `beautiful' is bandied round a bit too glibly in encouraging positivity, but if this sensitive and sincere picture makes one person feel better about themselves, then it will have achieved its goal.