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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

My Default Mode

Having been away for a long weekend, I find myself in the most unusual position (unusual only for me, let me hasten to add) of not having watched any movies for four whole days. Can you believe it? The shame!!! So I must assume my default mode when there is nothing particularly special to blog about and examine the 'gems' that Sky Movies has bestowed upon its subscribers this week.

On one level it could have been a better week than the average since they actually premiered five films rather than the all-too-frequent four (on the specious grounds that one of them is so marvellous (!) that it deserves to occupy two of the five available scheduling slots). However, 'the BIG 8 p.m. film' this week, "Dark Shadows", I'd seen in the cinema and reviewed some months back, leaving four very minor films for my viewing pleasure -- and 'pleasure' is hardly the right word in retrospect. Let's look at the four culprits:

Lola Versus (2012): There's not a great deal that one can say about this American Indie movie starring the pet Indie heroine of the moment Greta Gerwig. I have frankly never understood her appeal, although she is an adequate enough actress and certainly managed to carry this extremely thin story. She plays a rising 30-year old New Yorker deeply dependent on her live-in boyfriend Joel Kinnaman and thrilled when he finally pops the question. Then in the middle of the wedding preparations, he gets cold feet and dumps her. Can she learn to stand on her own two feet and how can she replace him as a sexual partner (amongst other things). Frankly, who cares? She survives with the help of their mutual best friend, Hamish Linklater, and her BFF Zoe Lister Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Daryl Wein. Her hippie, but long-wed, parents Bill Pullman and Debra Winger also put in their two-cents worth. Guess what, she eventually finds her inner strength. Scottie-wottie-doo-dah-day as we said in my youth.

The Wedding Video (2012): Wedding preparations also loom large in this movie, the first of two Brit flicks in the mix. It is hard enough getting the finance to make British movies to say nothing about the problems of distribution, but this farrago somehow made the cut -- although like so many others, I doubt that it made any money. At first the film seemed little more than irritatingly annoying, but it morphed into something slightly more tolerable with even the occasional amusing moment. Rufus Hound, a very minor British television 'personality' makes his cinema debut as Raif, the wayward brother of Robert Webb (also a British TV stalwart from the Mitchell and Webb "Peep Show"). He returns from his extended overseas travelling to find that brother Tim is about to marry nouveau riche Saskia (Lucy Punch) and he decides to gift them his home-made video showing all of the wedding preparations. At this point of the film he comes across as an even more annoying Ricky Gervais-ish type and I came close to switching off. However the movie managed to provide the occasional mild grin from Harriet Walter's status-mad mother-of-the-bride trying to upstage all of her Cheshire neighbours and Miriam Margolyes as Saskia's plain-spoken grandma. Most amusing of all was Michelle Gomez as the gawky-legged, OTT wedding planner whose behaviour becomes more and more frantic and unpredictable as the big day approaches. Even Punch whose film roles have been on the scatty side manages to display some underlying warmth and comic chops. That she ends up with the Hound, who remembers her from her wild schooldays, rather than with her tolerant fiancé comes as no big surprise, more of a predictable disappointment I'm afraid.

Private Peaceful (2012): This second British film based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo probably received its green light on the success of "The War Horse", but if it ever had a cinema release, I must have missed the reviews. It's a 'heritage' movie in the sense that it tries to recreate the atmosphere of two brothers growing up poor in the class-ridden Devon of the early 20th century before moving to the battlefields of Flanders and the first World War. After their gamekeeper father's untimely death, devoted brothers Charlie and Tommo, their mother, and their backward older brother Big Joe, risk losing their tied cottage to local bigwig Richard Griffith (or 'the old fart' as he is known to the family). They must leave school, work on his land, and when patriotism calls enlist -- even if Tommo need lie about his age. They must also leave behind loving Molly, whom they have both worshipped, now pregnant with Charlie's child. They survive gassing, shelling, and all of the horrors of war, but the more thoughtful Tommo can not escape the venom of their sadistic sergeant played by John Lynch nor the mindless military justice when he is branded a coward. It might all have been reasonably well-done but ultimately this was as depressing as most war movies. Certainly not my cup of lukewarm tea.

This Must be the Place (2011): I suppose this was meant to be the second A-list pick of the week since it stars two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn, but I found it nearly unwatchable. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I could barely stay awake, or perhaps my near comatose state was the result of watching this disjointed piece of codswallop. Mind you, it could have been a winner as the first English-language film from the Italian director Paolo Sorrentino whose "Consequences of Love" (2004) I really liked and whose "Il Divo" (2008) I admired. Apparently when Penn was on the Cannes jury that year, he confided in the director that he would like to make a film with him and this is the sorry result. I can recall reading somewhat positive reviews when it was released and it certainly seems to have its supporters on IMDb, but I am not amongst them. Penn plays retired pop icon Cheyenne now living in Dublin, made-up and bewigged like an ugly fifty-year old hag. He returns to the States after the death of his long-estranged father and vows to unearth his dad's concentration camp tormentor, now living the hidden life of a war criminal somewhere in America. He embarks on a tortuous road trip under the bemused eye of his wife Frances McDormand and encounters various helpful or unhelpful personages in this pursuit including Nazi hunter Judd Hirsch and the always laidback Harry Dean Stanton. When he eventually finds the perp, it is another anti-climax in his strange and wasted life. The cinematography was masterful, but the odd visual moment could not make up for the somnolent effect this film had on me. Sorry about that.       
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