Film reviews: Beware of Mr Baker | Epic | The Hangover III

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Alistair Harkness reviews the rest of this week’s film releases

Beware of Mr Baker (15)

Directed by: jay bulger

Star rating: * * * *

PERHAPS it takes an obnoxious filmmaker interviewing an obnoxious musician to truly get past the usual print-the-legend platitudes that make so many rock docs non-events. Beware of Mr Baker certainly has both.

Kicking off with the irascible Ginger Baker smashing American documentary-maker Jay Bulger in the face with his cane, what follows is a fascinating and knuckle-gnawing look at the life of arguably rock’s greatest drummer.

As Bulger prods, pokes and goads the former Cream drummer – sometimes with thoroughly inane questions – Baker berates Bulger but also gives him brilliant footage by refusing to moderate himself or look at his past through rose-tinted shades. He calls Mick Jagger a c***, is dismissive of most of his peers and frequently bemoans the fact that Cream’s bassist and lyricist Jack Bruce took the lion’s share of the royalties even though Baker’s thunderous African and jazz-inspired drumming had as much to do with the lasting impact of songs such as Sunshine of Your Love as the lyrical content. To the violent displeasure of his subject, Bulger also assembles a good collection of interviewees (Bruce and Eric Clapton among them) to discuss his life, which for better and worse has been lived with very few concessions to societal norms.

Epic (U)

Directed by: chris wedge

Starring: Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz, Beyoncé Knowles

Star rating: * *

A FAIRLY dull amalgam of The Borrowers and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, this latest CG animation from the team behind Ice Age and Robots has the visual treats one might expect, but none of the heartfelt storytelling nor raucous humour required to make such things stand out.

Instead we’re once again faced with a rote family adventure in which parent/child bonds are repaired against the backdrop of an elaborate world-saving quest, moderate peril and anthropomorphic sidekicks. Amanda Seyfried provides the voice for MK, an awkward teen sent to live with her even more awkward father after her mother dies. Not long after her arrival, she’s shrunk – via some enchanted forest hokum – to the size of a large insect and finds herself hanging out with a tribe of tiny warriors known as the Leafmen whose world is under threat from a race of Avatar-like creatures called the Boggans. As the leader of the latter, Christoph Waltz’s distinctive voice at least adds a little menace, but as the Leafmen leader Ronin, Colin Farrell’s Irish brogue makes for a fairly bland hero, leaving Chris O’Dowd and Parks and Recreation star Asiz Ansari to add what few jokes there are as a pair of slugs competing for MK’s attention. It’s little more than a time-passing exercise.

The Eye of the Storm (15)

Directed by: Fred Schepisi

Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Alexandra Schepisi
Star rating: * *

Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis are fighting a losing battle to inject some life into this adaptation of Australian Nobel Laureate Patrick White’s acclaimed 1973 novel about a dying matriarch and the malicious grip she exerts on her spoiled, grown-up children.

Though all three get a chance to exhibit some delightfully abhorrent behaviour, veteran director Fred Schepisi, who made similarly soporific work of Graham Swift’s Booker-winning Last Orders, can’t seem to get out of the way of White’s magnificent characters, suffocating them with a surfeit of subplots, when the film really screams out for a more focused, chamber-piece style approach.

Rampling’s barbarous performance as an about-to-expire guardian of great family wealth certainly has the potential for plenty of emotional and psychological vindictiveness as she drifts in and out of a Lear-like fog of confusion. But too often interest in her motives dissipates, even as she’s riling her actor son (Rush) and embittered daughter (Davis) by palming off the family heirlooms to her staff (some of whom aren’t as trustworthy as she thinks). For their parts, Rush and Davis make a good show of playing unlikable people still bearing the scars of a monstrous mother, but the film itself would have benefited from being nastier and less reverential.

Village at the End of the World (12A)

Directed by: Sarah Gavron

Star rating: * * *

THERE’S a wry scene towards the end of this documentary portrait of the remote village of Niaqornat in northwestern Greenland. It occurs when the community gets wind that a boatload of tourists from a cruise ship are going to be making a stop.

Going all out to put on a show, they dress up in traditional Inuit gear, prepare demonstrations of seal skinning, and grin politely as the mostly Danish tourists ask ignorant questions (“Do you want to go hunting when you see a whale?”) or condescendingly pontificate about what they think is charming about the community (“They have not changed their way of living according to modern times,” marvels one guy, ignoring a little girl behind him who is happily surfing the internet with her laptop).

It’s an amusing moment, very Local Hero in tone, but also a sign of how embedded filmmaker Sarah Gavron has become in the village over the course of a pretty tough-seeming year: not once does the film share this exotic tourists’ eye-view. Instead, it quietly observes the very modern struggles of the community as they try to improve their prospects by setting up a co-operative fish factory, sending their kids to college and, yes, exploiting gullible tourists.

alistair harkness

The Hangover III (15)

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis

Star rating: * *

In the circumstances, two stars might be considered a minor triumph. The patchy original, released in 2009, made so much money that sequels were inevitable; the real shocker was the $586m the Bangkok-set Part II took, despite being as quantifiably lousy as anything else released in 2011. We’ve now come so far from whatever distinguished the original that, until a post-credits sting, nobody here gets remotely tipsy. Instead, director Todd Phillips ups Part II’s stuntwork while turning his fabled Wolf Pack into a schlubbier Ocean’s 11, pursued through the Vegas underworld by aggrieved heavy Marshall (John Goodman).

It isn’t a radical overhaul, but it permits greater clarity and respite: fewer ladyboys, for one, and more space for Ken Jeong’s amusingly unhinged Mr. Chow. The usual sticking points remain: variably charmless leads and a near-total absence of anything for women to do. Yet toning down the laddishness casts the once-flimsy central relationships in a newly affectionate light. With one anti-Semitic joke at which everyone onscreen blanches, a franchise premised on going too far finally arrives at some understanding of moderation: it’s not necessarily any funnier, but proves somehow more bearable for it.

Mike McCahill