Film reviews: St Vincent | Paddington | Black Sea

OVER the years, Bill Murray has become Hollywood’s go-to man for disappointed, disaffected irony.

Bill Murray in the movie "St. Vincent," directed by Theodore Melfi. Picture: Contributed

St Vincent (12A)

Director: Theodore Melfi

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Running time: 102 minutes

Star rating: ***

Occasionally, he rouses himself to deliver a jolt to his fanbase by playing it straight in roles such as President Franklin D Roosevelt in Hyde Park On Hudson, a choice on a par with Ricky Gervais essaying Neville Chamberlain, but Murray’s comfort zone lies with whiskey-and-wry characters, who live heavy-lidded, sardonic lives.

You can sketch out his character in St Vincent very early on when he describes prostitution as “one of the more honest ways to make a living”. He’s a cranky old coot, living alone in a battered homestead with a Persian cat, and his daily routine involves padding from his home to the bookies and then on to a bar, or perhaps making a visit to a pregnant Russian stripper (Naomi Watts) who gives clients a line of credit on her services and has a hefty Slavic accent that could turn a bowl of borscht white.

A lack of funds and a loan shark (Terrence Howard) wanting to collect his debts threatens this life of steady dissipation, until a new neighbour (Melissa McCarthy) moves in next door. She’s divorced, harassed and in need of a babysitter for her neat, polite 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) until she gets home from work. For $11 an hour, Vincent takes the job. Of course he does: Oliver is one of those precocious, awkward kids with a terrible haircut that Murray has met before, most notably in Rushmore.

Vincent folds Oliver into his racetrack and barfly routine, and serves him dinners of sardines on crackers and calls it “sushi”. Gradually he starts dispensing life lessons to the child as well, showing him how to play the horses, sit up at a bar, and tutoring him in self defence so he can stand up to the school bully. Learning how to punch is an awfully familiar part of male bonding stories, and if you’re Gandhi, you might wonder: is violence really the best way to resolve conflict? If you’re me, then you wonder: what if the other kid is two years older or two stone heavier?

Colourful support comes from Chris O’Dowd as a sardonic Catholic priest at Oliver’s school, who I suspect wrote most of his own lines because there’s nothing else in the movie quite as pithy as his pronouncement that Catholicism is the world’s best religion because it has the most rules and the best clothes.

The rest of St Vincent feels like writer-director Theodore Melfi has shown us a gun in the first act, then keeps waving it under our noses every ten minutes. Why does Vincent like to visit a nursing home to check up on a nice, refined lady (Donna Mitchell) who seems to be suffering from dementia? Who could she possibly be? When is the due date for the pregnant hooker? When will Oliver’s mother decide to check up on Oliver and Vincent and find out what they do together?

The freshest thing about St Vincent is that McCarthy doesn’t get to noodle through her repertoire of self-deprecating fat jokes. As a movie it’s too neat and diagrammatic, but Murray is watchable right through to the end.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

• On general release from Friday


Paddington (PG)

Star rating: ****

“PLEASE look after this bear,” reads the label around the neck of Michael Bond’s ursine orphan, and fans of Paddington may have echoed that sentiment when this movie was first mooted. Literary favourites have sometimes undergone undignified movie makeovers, and the idea of Paddington in a hoodie instead of his duffle coat, or munching a marmalade panini is, well, unbearable.

As adapted and directed by Paul King (The Mighty Boosh), Paddington arrives this Christmas with his most beloved traits mercifully intact, including a hat that doubles as a sandwich storage facility, an Aunt Lucy ensconced in a Home for Retired Bears in Darkest Peru, a discomfiting stare, and the knack of creating chaos in any home.

However, London is not a welcoming place. “Hardly anyone wears a hat or says hello,” notes the bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) and the Brown family reluctantly offer him only temporary accommodation in their substantial pad at 32 Windsor Gardens. Themes of immigration and acceptance are lightly applied in this bright, warm family film.

Nicole Kidman playing a Cruella de Vil-style baddie may feel a bit familiar, but as a taxidermist itching to get her hands on Paddington’s pelt she is amusing and hiss-worthy. Paddington is a little panto in places, with Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville) crossdressing as a cleaning woman, but the slapstick feel is right for its young audience, and adults should enjoy its bouncy spirit and Bonneville’s comic timing. Two claws up.

On general release

Black Sea (15)

Star rating: ***

Jude Law leads a misfit submarine crew of Russians and Scots in search of a U-boat packed with gold. Director Kevin Macdonald creates some great scenes of subaquatic tension, but Law’s Aberdonian accent makes Groundskeeper Willie sound authentic.

On general release from Friday

Life Itself (15)

Star rating: ***

Roger Ebert was America’s most famous film critic, and one of its bravest: few of us would deliver a thumbs down review with the film’s star (Chevy Chase) sitting in the next seat. A wide-ranging portrait of a movie champion who was latterly robbed of his voice but not his love of cinema, or life.

Belmont Picturehouse, Aberdeen, tomorrow until Thursday; GFT, 16-18 December; Edinburgh Filmhouse 17-18 December

The Grandmaster (15)

Star rating: ***

Wong Kar Wai’s lavish epic about martial arts legend Ip Man (Tony Leung) is often poetic, but lacks dramatic punch.

On selected release from Friday

Get Santa (U)

Star rating: ***

Rafe Spall has to help Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent) break out of jail and save Christmas. Two levels of hohohos at work here: Spall’s likeable scepticism (for adults) and reindeer flatulence (kids).

On general release from Friday

Kajaki (15)

Star rating: ***

Dramatisation of the true story of a group of squaddies who stumble into a minefield. Authentically harrowing.

On selected release

Men, Women & Children (15)

Star rating: **

Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner and Emma Thompson star in a suburban satire blaming the internet for infidelity and bullying. A new film, but the themes are old and tired.

On general release from Friday

Penguins Of Madagascar (3D) (U)

Star rating: ***

The penguins from three previous Madagascar adventures get their spin-off movie as bumbling international agents. Barely bothering to make sense, this is fast and furious but also flightless.

On general release from Friday