It's been another one of those fallow periods since I last wrote where I have seen the usual number of movies but haven't found one amongst them to tickle my fancy. (I know that statement could be made to sound rude.) So let's have a look at some of the 'offenders':
It's been what could be described as "Deficient Dad Week" on Sky Movies Premiere. For a change they have actually screened five films new to satellite rather than the scant four they've been getting away with, but by and large they were a sorry lot. What was meant to be the best of the bunch was award-winner "The Kids Will be Alright", where Mark Ruffalo was the deficient father, being the sperm donor trying to get to know his progeny after being contacted by the offspring of a happy lesbian couple, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Bening of course won an Oscar for her role, but Moore as the flakier of the pair and the one who succumbs to shagging Ruffalo was every bit as good. The two teenaged sprogs were also fine, but I always have a hard time warming to Ruffalo who may be a decent enough actor but whose scruffy looks always manage to turn me off. This drama from lesbian/feminist director Lisa Cholodenko was certainly worthy, but frankly not particularly involving or for that matter entertaining.
Then there were what I would label the 'kiddies' films: Do the powers that churn out the schedules for Sky truly believe that the peak-time premiere of the week should be something like "Marmaduke", an oversized great dane voiced by Owen Wilson? Here dad's job forces the family to relocate to a dogocentric petfood park, and I ask if we are meant to be entertained by a plethora of CGI-created talking pooches plus one token pussy? I suspect the answer to both questions is a resounding 'no'. I like doggy-pix as much as the next chap, but this was beyond feeble. Then there was "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (which has alreadly spawned a sequel, God help us) and "Ramona and Beezus" based on a popular children's book. Steve Zahn (enough said) was the wimpy kid's ineffectual dad and John Corbett, another actor who makes me grind my teeth, was the father in the latter -- not a hopeless dud-dad but rather worryingly out of work. My inner child often finds something to amuse in many movies intended primarily for kids, but both of these were not remotely aimed at an adult audience. Still I do know one little girl (stand up Lucy) who occasionally seems to watch the 'wimpy' movie on what seems a continuous loop.
Finally Sky 'treated' us to "The World's Greatest Dad" which has been reasonably well reviewed as a sparkling black comedy from director Bobcat Goldthwait (now there's a comic name!) It is probably labelled a comedy because it stars Robin Williams who will forever be thought of as a comic actor -- when he is not just being nauseatingly twee - but there was nothing remotely funny about this film. Williams, an uncharismatic high school teacher and would-be but unpublished author, is the single dad to bolshy and pretty obnoxious teenager Daryl Sabara. When his son accidentally dies during some autoerotic experimentation, Williams stages a false suicide scene and writes a heart-rendering suicide note to cover the situation. Lo and behold, suddenly Williams is the popular man of the hour and his awful son, whom nobody much liked, is the centre of a what-a-wonderful-misunderstood-genius-he-was cult. Of course it all falls apart when William eventually tells the truth. I suppose there is some latent satire here about society's false values, but there was little that was comic in the telling. Tragic more like.
Of course there is plenty of viewing outside Sky. This week's included a couple of oriental period pieces which were OK if not thrilling and a 2008 French flick called "Mark of an Angel" (or its UK title "Angel of Mine"). This one was fairly involving and starred Catherine Frot as a slightly neurotic woman undergoing a divorce from her husband of twelve years and contesting the custody of their son. Some seven years ago she lost her newborn daughter in a hospital fire and hasn't exactly been stable since. When collecting her son from a friend's party she spots a lovely seven-year old girl and decides there and then that she is her lost daughter. (How one is meant to recognise a child last seen as an infant is anyone's guess, but probably many mothers would think this feasible). So she begins to stalk the girl's family who are about to relocate to Montreal, turning up wherever they are and even pretending that she is interested in buying their house. The girl's mother is played by Sandrine Bonnaire, another fine actress -- even if she was looking terribly anorexic here. We are led to believe that Frot really is an obsessed nutter, until we gradually become aware that perhaps there is more to Bonnaire's protective behaviour than meets the eye. Supposedly 'based on a true story' this movie doesn't just stop dead in its tracks like so many French films, but actually proceeds further than necessary with its resolution, past the point that we need to know. As an acting masterclass the film was fine, but it's not one that is likely to become a classic.
Finally what should have been the highlight of the week was actually something of an anticlimax: a reconstructed 1922 silent "The Pharaoh's Wife" from the great Ernst Lubitsch before he left Germany for the States. The trouble is that much of the original nitrate print seems to have been lost forever and great chunks of the film were merely stills and title cards covering the story. What has been saved was lovingly restored and one can see the odd example of the famous "Lubitsch-touch" in the faces of some of the characters and the luscious and ornate Egyptian settings. The Pharaoh is hammingly overplayed by the great Emil Jannings, his maudit love of a Greek slave is actually attractive by modern standards, but her own love interest was unfortunately embodied in a kohl-eyed nerd. The Pharaoh is about to be betrothed to the hideous daughter of the Ethopian king (portrayed with his Court as a pack of fuzzy-wuzzies), and his rejection of her for a slave leads to war and ultimately tragedy all 'round. Although I am being at best lukewarm about this film, in truth I felt privileged to be able to view any cinema remnants from such a great director. I only wish they had been able to save rather more.