Film reviews: To the Wonder | Song for Marion | Lore | Fire in the Blood | Mama

Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck) in the insufferable To The Wonder

Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck) in the insufferable To The Wonder

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Alistair Harkness gives his verdict on the rest of this week’s film releases

To the Wonder (12A)

Directed by: Terrence Malick

Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams

Star rating: *

A NEW Terence Malick film a mere 18 months after Tree of Life? Be still my beating heart. Actually, a raised pulse is the last thing To The Wonder elicits. Having upped his work-rate to the point of being prolific, the enigmatic director’s latest feels slapdash and soporific.

Revolving around a couple in the throes of an emotional and spiritual crisis in modern-day America, it casts Ben Affleck as a geologist who finds his head-over-heels feelings for a French single mother (Olga Kurylenko) rapidly waning when she and her daughter relocate from vibrant Paris to the characterless, strip mall-dominated environs of his native Oklahoma.

Deploying whispered interior monologues, elliptical editing and lyrical shots of nature, Malick falls back on his tics and tricks to distract attention from the vapidity of the material. Worst of all, his ridiculously idealised conception of women as fragile creatures given to pirouetting in billowing skirts through fields of grass while expressing their inner thoughts in the manner of bad teen poetry – at one point, Kurylenko says “How could my tender heart turn so hard?” – has reached the point of self-parody. Insufferable in almost every way.

Song for Marion (PG)

Directed by: Paul Andrew Williams

Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston

Star rating: *

YET another pandering slice of grey pound-courting cinema, Song for Marion casts Terence Stamp as Arthur, a grumpy husband whose softer side comes to the fore when his terminally ill wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) coerces him into participating in the local community choir. Named the OAPZ by their relentlessly upbeat conductor (Gemma Arterton), and boasting a groaningly predictable repertoire of incongruous song choices (Motörhead’s Ace of Spades, Salt-N-Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex), their determination to perform at the choir-of-the-year awards provides the film with an easy-to-plot “let’s-put- on-a-show” structure on which to hang all the usual familial and redemptive tropes beloved of British movies like The Full Monty.

Unfortunately, all these clichés look more tired than the veteran cast thanks to the way in which writer-director Paul Andrew Williams (now a very long way from his stunning debut London to Brighton) opts for the broadest tone possible to reel in that mythical mainstream audience that everyone working in the British film industry continues to believe exists.

The end result is a flat, depressingly one-note experience, made worse by wasting good actors (particularly Christopher Eccleston as Arthur’s semi-estranged son) in the service of a movie that celebrates wilful amateurism over anything good.

Lore (15)

Directed by: Cate Shortland

Starring: Ursina Lardi, Hans-Jochen Wagner, Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina

Star rating: * * * *

ADAPTED from one of three interlinked stories in British novelist Rachel Seiffert’s Man Booker nominated The Dark Room, Australian director Cate Shortland’s first film since her debut Somersault offers a rare take on the Holocaust by examining it through the eyes the 14-year-old daughter of a German SS officer during the dying days of the Second World War.

This is Lore (assuredly played by newcomer Saskia Rosendahl). Charged by her parents with transporting her younger siblings to the safety of their grandmother’s house in Hamburg, she has to traverse her scarred homeland, scrabbling for food and gradually being confronted – mostly in the form of photographs of the death camps – with what’s really being going on outwith the confines of her privileged Nazi enclave.

Here Shortland, who made the film in German, doesn’t try to engender sympathy for Lore by making her a victim of her parent’s beliefs.

Her childhood innocence has been warped, but this is a more complex portrait of a young girl with repellent beliefs gradually coming of age and to an understanding of what it means to be human in the face of some heinous experiences.

Fire in the Blood (PG)

Directed by: Dylan 
Mohan Gray

Star rating; * * * *

THE AIDS-ravaged third world is the focus for this insightful and quietly angry documentary about the way “Big Pharma” profiteering has been responsible for the preventable deaths of millions of impoverished people. Homing in on the way patent laws have continually been enforced and exploited by drug companies to keep the price of treatment artificially high since the early 1980s – even though the real cost of the life-saving retrovirus cocktail has been lowered to less than a dollar a day – the film presents a staggering array of facts to illustrate the ways in which multinationals have not only sought to prevent the manufacture of cheap generic drugs and their distribution to poorer countries, but also have tended to piggyback government-funded research and development in order to devote their own vast profits to marketing their products and paying out dividends to shareholders.

Among the interviewees are Bill Clinton and South African HIV-positive campaigner Zachie Achmat (who put his life on the line by refusing treatment to make a point about access), but it’s Yusuf Hamied – the chairman of the altruistic Indian pharmaceutical company that challenged US hegemony by manufacturing affordable drugs – who exposes the shame of the West’s attitude to the problem.

Mama (15)

Directed by: Andres Muschietti

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse

Star rating: * * *

THE latest child-centric ghost movie released under the “Guillermo del Toro presents” imprimatur offers few surprises for those already well versed in Del Toro’s world of highly emotional horror.

Revolving around a pair of sisters raised in the woods by an evil maternal spirit after their homicidal stockbroker dad takes the financial crash out on his nearest and dearest, the majority of the film picks up the action five years later after the girls are found and placed in the care of their artist uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his bass-playing Goth girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain).

Thenceforth, creepy things begin to happen as younger sibling Lilly struggles to adjust to her new environment while older sister Victoria’s increasing fondness for Annabel makes the vengeful, mosntrous Mama – a shape-shifting demon who has moved into their closet – crazy jealous.

First time co-writer/director Andy Muschietti deploys a couple of niftily handled reveals early on, suggesting the film is going to proceed with similar levels of imagination. Instead, it gradually falls apart the more Muschietti feels the need to explain Mama’s backstory.

ALISTAIR HARKNESS

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