Film reviews: The Homesman | My Old Lady

My Old Lady. Picture: Contributed
My Old Lady. Picture: Contributed
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TOMMY LEE JONES stars in and directs this sombre western about a murderous madman (Jones) corralled into helping Hilary Swank’s bossy homesteader transport three married women back east after they go insane during a harsh winter.

The Homesman (15)

Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter

Star rating: **

Brutal husbands and a loss of children are the reasons proffered in flashbacks for the women’s collective madness, but this isn’t a story about the plight of women on the frontier; it’s another film in which their terrible fates are used to temporarily redeem a violent man for momentarily doing the right thing. Indeed, it’s hard to commend a film for its supposed feminist credentials when three-quarters of its principal female cast are practically mute and Swank’s character is so desperate for a husband she begs Jones to sleep with her. Jones further diminishes any interest in the film by shooting everything in a rigidly classical style and filling the final act with some egregious and distracting cameos (Meryl Streep most notably). Those seeking a more interesting female perspective on this period are advised to track down Kelly Reichardt’s superior western Meek’s Cutoff.

My Old Lady (15)

Directed by: Israel Horovitz

Starring: Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith

Star rating: **

The emotional pain inherited from one’s parents is the intriguing theme buried beneath a wealth of dreary drama and questionable plotting in My Old Lady. Adapted by veteran US playwright Israel Horovitz from his 2002 stage production of the same name, the film stars Kevin Kline as a broke American who arrives in Paris to take possession of a potentially valuable apartment left to him by his estranged and recently deceased father. The catch comes in the form of an archaic property agreement that precludes him from selling up until the current occupant, played by Maggie Smith (inset), dies. Odd couple shenanigans pointedly do not follow as the set-up is revealed to be a conduit for a portentous exploration of the misery families inflict upon one another from one generation to the next. That said, a very odd couple does emerge thanks to film’s apparent belief that potential incest shouldn’t be a barrier to future happiness.

What We Do in the Shadows (15)

Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Jonathan Brugh

Star rating: ****

Those already attuned to the sly humour of Flight of the Conchords won’t need much convincing to check out What We Do in the Shadows: the directorial debut of Conchords star Jemaine Clement is full of the kind of sardonic, deadpan observational jokes that made the comedy folk duo a cult sensation. In applying that sensibility to the vampire movie, though, Clement has come up with something surprisingly fresh – a film that playfully mocks the surge of interest in the genre while offering an interesting and entertainingly bloody spin on it. Set in Wellington, it stars Clement and his co-writer/co-director Taika Waititi as suburban vampires who – alongside their other blood-sucking house mates Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and the newly turned Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) – are being followed by a documentary crew in the run-up to The Unholy Masquerade, the biggest social event of the year for Wellington’s undead. Though slight of plot, this is a comedy rich in character and full of the kind of throwaway gags that become funnier with repeated viewing.