JUDD Apatow’s most personal film to date is also his most shapeless, indulgent and frustrating.
This Is 40 (15)
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Starring: Paul Rudd, LeslIE Mann, Jason Segel, Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow
A spin-off from the magnificent Knocked Up, it picks up the story of Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters rather than those played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl and proceeds to offer baggy scenes from a marriage – one under pressure from mounting debt, crushed dreams, over-familiarity and unresolved daddy issues.
Apatow sets the somewhat shrill tone in the first scene by having Mann’s turning-40 Debbie transform a spot of vigorous shower sex with soon-to-be 40 husband Pete (Rudd) into a blazing row after Pete’s misguided boast that he’s popped some Viagra – just for her – reinforces her own insecurities about getting older and losing her sex appeal. Thenceforth we’re party to multiple, semi-improvised scenes of Debbie and Pete privately – and not-so-privately – confessing their mutual contempt to friends, colleagues and each other.
Pete’s efforts to conceal his financial woes as his niche record label goes down the tubes and Debbie’s attempts to hold her life together as unexpected news sends her hormones into overdrive, adds some dramatic momentum. Mostly, though, Apatow is intent on depicting marriage as a sort of Wages of Fear-esque journey in which the slightest bump in the road can ignite an explosion of petty resentment. Which is actually a pretty amusing and perceptive concept – or it would be if Apatow did something new with it. Instead, Debbie spends most of the movie nagging Pete, Pete responds by closing himself off emotionally (he frequently takes more notice of his iPad than Debbie’s body), and their kids in turn respond by screaming at each other just like mum and dad.
Here, Apatow has inevitably invited an additional layer of autobiographical scrutiny by casting his wife and kids in the main roles (as Pete and Debbie’s children, Iris and Maude Apatow – who also appeared in Knocked Up – are pretty fantastic). It adds authenticity in places, but when he also casts Megan Fox for no discernible reason other than to include a scene of the insecure Debbie copping a feel of her breasts, it’s hard not to view it as Apatow indulging all his middle-aged fantasies. There are some laughs to be had, mostly courtesy of Albert Brooks (as Pete’s irresponsible father) and Apatow’s growing repertory of supporting players (Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, Lena Dunham). But this isn’t funny enough or disciplined enough to really connect.
West of Memphis (15)
Directed by: Amy Berg
* * * * *
Documentaries don’t come much more gripping than West of Memphis, a meticulously researched investigation into a horrendous miscarriage of justice that led to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of three teenage heavy metal fans for the brutal slaying of three prepubescent boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. Though the case has already been well documented in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s astonishing Paradise Lost documentary trilogy, any doubts going in that this Peter Jackson-produced film would have little new to offer are immediately dispelled by director Amy Berg’s sobering, incisive approach.
Beginning with a comprehensive overview of the case that shows how the murder of three little boys resulted in the town getting caught up in a wave of panic about Satanism, Berg proceeds to systematically unpick the shaky police work and expose the corruptions that resulted in 18-year-old Damien Echols, 17-year-old Jessie Misskelly Jr and 16-year-old Jason Baldwin spending the next 18 years in prison (and on death row, in the case of supposed ringleader Echols).
New DNA evidence that discounts all three from the scene of the crime, as well as more comprehensive analyses of the hitherto misdiagnosed autopsy reports into the deaths of eight-year-olds Michael Moore, Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers, effectively destroy the original prosecution’s case. But Berg goes further, securing recanted testimonies and a wealth of new interviews with key witnesses who have never before talked about the case on camera.
All of which would be compelling in its own right, particularly given the authorities’ repeated refusals to re-open the case over the years, but a bizarre twist in the tale transforms it into a searing indictment of America’s broken legal system and its debilitating political dimensions. Throughout, the film provides a moving insight into the way the so called West Memphis Three – and Echols in particular – have evolved over the years, and Berg should also be credited for refocusing attention on the victims, whose killer still has not been caught.
Indeed on this last point, the film does what the police have resolutely failed to do by uncovering a credible suspect. It’s a queasy revelation, more so because of this person’s centrality to the story. As with everything else in the film, it’s handled with an admirable lack of sensationalism. That’s critical: the jaw-dropping nature of the story as a whole is so incredible, the best crime writers in the world would struggle to make it up.
Sammy’s Great Escape (U)
Directed by: Vincent Kesteloot, Ben Stassen
Voices: Wesley Johnny, Carlos McCullers II, Cinda Adams, Chris Andrew Ciulla
IF YOU’VE already taken your kids to see Wreck-it Ralph then take them to see it again: it’s more fun than this sequel to 2011’s preachy, po-faced A Turtle’s Tale. With the previous film charting five decades in the life of the titular Sammy as he circumnavigated the globe bearing witness to the polluting tendencies of humans, this one finds Sammy – now a grandfather and pointedly no longer voiced by John Hurt – scooped up alongside his best pal Ray and two of his grandkids and deposited in the giant display tank of an ostentatious underwater restaurant in what appears to be Dubai. Forced to watch gluttonous tourists chow down of shellfish, Sammy, Ray and a host of fearing-for-their-lives crustaceans plot their escape. Obligatory – and lazy – pop-culture nods to the Steve McQueen classic from which the film takes its name duly ensue, though mostly this is content to be a feeble rip-off of Finding Nemo, albeit without displaying any understanding of what makes that film great. Instead, this Belgian effort – from the same studio that made the woeful Fly Me to the Moon – thinks it’s enough to transplant random human personalities onto its characters. Your kids deserve better.