Spooky tale’s twists and turns
ution than writer-director Lliam Worthington’s version. Yet Worthingon achieves a very great deal on a tiny budget. The credits inform us that the interiors were shot in Katoomba’s venerable Carrington Hotel, while the exteriors we see of the Taj Mahal Hotel itself are either stock footage or newsreel coverage.
Worthington concentrates on a small handful of hotel guests: an Irish backpacker (Joseph Michael Taylor); an Australian couple (Nathan Kaye and Martelle Hammer); a Chinese man; an American evangelist; siblings and their guardian; and an elderly Indian (Sukhraj Deepak) and his young granddaughter, Atiya (Mihika Rao). When the shootings start below, the frightened guests lock themselves into two rooms on one of the hotel’s top floors.
Out of the most basic material, Worthingon builds considerable suspense as the 10 terrorists, members of Lashkar-e-Toiba, armed with AK-47s and grenades, prowl the hotel corridors in search of victims who have no idea of what’s happening or whether help is coming. The killers are being directed by “The Handler”, an ominous fanatic based in Pakistan and seen only in out-of-focus images, who gives orders by phone.
The members of the generally excellent ensemble cast were almost entirely fresh faces Ghost Stories, One Less God, for me, which adds to the authenticity of the drama. And we are given grim reminders of the sacrifices made by the hotel staff, many of whom died attempting to protect their guests.
The film has its flaws — an unnecessary prologue set during a festival, some awkward characterisation, a protracted running time — but overall it’s a considerable achievement, and deserves far wider exposure than it’s likely to get.
The problem with Book Week is that its protagonist, middle-aged schoolteacher Nick Cutler (Alan Dukes), is not a very likeable character. His pupils hate him and no wonder: he’s self-absorbed, bad-tempered, and unfaithful. Not, in fact, the ideal focus for a comedy, though this is not the fault of the actor.
Fortunately the supporting cast provides plenty of pleasures, not least Tiriel Mora as the school’s bombastic headmaster, Rose Byrne lookalike Airlie Dodds as a prac teacher with whom Nick spends a drunken night, and Rhys Muldoon as our hero’s literary agent.
These and some of the other peripheral characters are good company at times when Nick himself irritates, which is often.
Heath Davis directed and does a very competent job in every department, except for the fact that he obviously wants us to love the decidedly unlovable protagonist. Japanese composer, political activist and occasional actor Ryuichi Sakamoto is profiled in Coda, a most interesting documentary by Stephen Nomura Schible. Filmed over a number of years, while Sakamoto was being treated for cancer, the film reveals nothing whatsoever about his background or personal life but concentrates on his theories about music, his influences, and his many projects.
He talks about composing “intricate soundscapes” and is heavily influenced by the films of the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, whose masterly Solaris (1972) is a touchstone for him. (“I want to make music with the spirit of a Tarkovsky soundtrack,” he explains.)
Movie clips include Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983), in which Sakamoto played a Japanese soldier and for which he composed a memorable score, The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987), The Sheltering Sky (Bertolucci, 1990), and The Revenant (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2015).
While describing the stories behind the creation of the music scores for these films, and of his other work, Sakamoto is consistently charming and informative and Schible’s documentary — while not particularly well shot — is a very useful insight into the work of a major composer.