Film reviews: The Watch | The Imposter | The Forgiveness of Blood | The Three Stooges | Silent Souls

THE Scotsman’s film critic Alistair Harkness gives us a brief rundown on the latest cinematic offerings.

THE Scotsman’s film critic Alistair Harkness gives us a brief rundown on the latest cinematic offerings.

The Watch (15)

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Directed by: Akiva Schaffer

Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade

Rating: *

THE sterility issues plaguing Ben Stiller’s officious suburban husband in this alleged comedy are a pretty good metaphor for the film’s fruitless attempts to mine humour from a woeful mash-up of past-their-prime frat-pack buddy movie shenanigans and naff alien invasion action.

Focussing far too much attention on the middle-aged tribulations of Stiller’s wholesale supermarket manager, the film can’t even be bothered to come up with a basic plot justification for the presence of killer aliens in his sleepy neighbourhood. Instead, their destructive presence is used as an excuse to have Stiller recruit Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade to participate in a neighbourhood watch group – ostensibly to investigate the mysterious murder of one of Stiller’s employees, but really so he can mask the feelings of sexual inadequacy he feels by not being able to get his wife (an under-used Rosemarie DeWitt) pregnant.

The result of all this is an extraordinarily lame sci-fi caper – the type of film one might imagine being dreamt up by someone charged with updating Ghostbusters having only seen Ghostbusters II. That the script is actually by the normally reliable Seth Rogen and his Superbad writing partner Evan Goldberg just makes this even more depressing.

The Imposter (15)

Directed by: Bart Layton

Rating: * * * *

THIS documentary about an American family who welcomed a complete stranger into their lives because he claimed to be their missing child has such an incredible hook it feels at first as if it might be another mystique-courting Catfish-style documentary that calls into question its own veracity. As bizarre as the story is, however, it’s all true and easily verifiable online should you be of a sceptical disposition.

Beginning in 1994 with the disappearance of Nicholas Barker, a troubled 13-year-old from San Antonio, Texas, the film picks up the story three years later when a boy roughly matching his description turns up in Spain claiming to be him. From here, Brit director Bart Layton wastes no time in establishing that the boy was really 23-year-old Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin.

Layton structures the film in such a way as to draw you into the fascinating story of how Bourdin was able to hoodwink the authorities into believing him, and why Nicholas’s family were willing to accept him into their lives.

Mixing a series of dramatic reconstructions with talking head interviews, the film attempts to get to the truth of what happened with the tenacious narrative drive of a fine piece of detective fiction.

The Forgiveness of Blood (15)

Directed by: Joshua Marston

Starring: Tristan Halila, Sindi Lacej, Refet Abazi, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Cun Lajci

Rating: * * *

AMERICAN director Joshua Marston belatedly follows up his 2004 breakout film Maria Full of Grace with a leftfield turn into the world of Albanian blood feuds.

Set in the present day, The Forgiveness of Blood revolves around the world of hurt that family patriarch Mark (Refet Abazi) inflicts on his kids by killing a neighbour who refuses him access to his land. Fleeing the scene, he leaves his family to face the music, a cowardly act given that tradition dictates that they then have to suffer for his crimes.

Effectively placed under house arrest, the fate of Mark’s wife, his teenage son, his young daughter and their even younger brother become an indictment of a patriarchal society ruled by pig-headed, testosterone-fuelled men who treat women and children as second-class citizens.

Much like his Colombian drug mule drama, Marston’s film is quietly angry without being preachy, although the emotional pay-off isn’t quite as strong as it was in Maria Full of Grace. Nevertheless, his use of non-professional Albanian actors and his loose, documentary style gives the film an air of authenticity that helps it remain engaging.

The Three Stooges (PG)

Directed by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly

Starring: Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Jane Lynch, Chris Diamantopoulos, Larry David

Rating: * *

THOUGH hardly sacred cows, the Three Stooges surely deserve a more impassioned update than this if their brand of eye-poking slapstick is to find a new audience. In the hands of avowed fans Peter and Bobby Farrelly, however, whatever made them funny in their heyday doesn’t really hold true now, even as the Dumb and Dumber directors shrewdly place the characters in a world in which the dominance of reality shows actually makes them seem relatively smart.

Mimicking the one-reel feel of the original shorts, the film is split into three chapters that roughly tell the origins of Larry, Curly and Moe from their childhood as naïvely mischievous orphans, to their hapless attempts as adults to save their former orphanage from closure.

Sean Hayes, Will Sasson and Chris Diamantopoulos acquit themselves well enough as the titular goofballs, and there are some smiles to be had from Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David (as a nun) and Modern Family’s Sophie Vergara (as a vengeful trophy wife). But the gut-busting laughs the Farrelly brothers used to routinely serve up with the gloriously silly likes of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary are sadly absent.

Silent Souls (15)

Directed by: Aleksei Fedorchenko

Starring: Igor Sergeyev, Viktor Sukhorukov, Yuliya Aug, Yuri Tsurilo

Rating: * * *

RUSSIAN filmmaker Aleksei Fedorchenko has created a strange little film with Silent Souls. Set among descendants of the ancient Meryan people of Russia, the folksy tale that transpires is built around a simple story of a husband burying his young, recently deceased wife, which Fedorchenko uses to create a poetic, richly imagined world by homing in on the many rituals associated with this process.

These rituals involve factory boss Miron (Yuri Tsurilo) and his best friend Aist (Igor Sergeyev) adorning the body of his wife Tanya (Yuliya Aug) in a manner similar to that of her wedding day, before driving her to the coast so she can be cremated and her ashes committed to the sea. Along the way they observe other traditions, such as engaging in “smoke” – a sexually frank discussion by the bereaved about the recently departed that is supposed to aid with grief.

It all goes to build to a languid meditation on life and death and the importance of tradition – however hokey seeming – in coping with the latter.

Shot in crisp, chilly style, with obligatory nods to Andrei Tarkovsky, Silent Souls is a low-key oddity that – at 78 minutes – is just brief enough to remain compelling without feeling indulgent.