Film reviews: The Wee Man | The Sessions | Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan

The Wee Man
The Wee Man
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Alistair Harkness rounds up the latest cinema releases

The Wee Man (15)

Directed by: Ray Burdis

Starring: Martin Compston, John Hannah, Patrick BergIn, Denis Lawson, Stephen McCole


THIS tedious biopic of ex-Glaswegian gangster Paul Ferris has all the hallmarks of a straight-to-DVD piece of hagiography that’s accidentally found its way into cinemas. Not that there isn’t ever justification for exploring real life criminality of this nature on the big screen (Bronson, for instance was a remarkable piece of work). But The Wee Man’s determination to frame Ferris’s many misdeeds as the story of a relentlessly bullied kid forced into a life of crime by the violence and hopelessness of his surroundings never really washes. That’s too bad because as Ferris, Martin Compston does try to bring some depth to the character. Following his rise through the ranks of Glasgow’s underworld, the film attempts to mine most of its drama out of Ferris’s status as a loyal footsoldier to local crime lord Arthur “The Godfather” Thompson (Patrick Bergin), particularly as his proficiency in his organisation inspires Thompson’s jealous, coke-addled son (Stephen McCole) to set him up. Alas writer/director Ray Burdis – whose last film was the dreadful mockney gangster flick Love, Honour and Obey – blows any intrigue by piling on one gangster movie cliché after another. Like the film’s early conception of Ferris, Compston never really stands a chance.

The Sessions (15)

Directed by: Ben Lewin

Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H Macy, Rhea Perlman

* * *

BASED on the real life story of the late, polio-crippled American poet Mark O’Brian and his journalistically documented efforts to lose his virginity, The Sessions proves unusually candid in its matter-of-fact attitude to both sex and nudity. True, that observation is largely predicated on its status as a quirky and upbeat American indie movie rather than as, say, a European film. Nevertheless, by dealing with potentially awkward material in a way that’s neither prurient nor sentimental, director Ben Lewin helps steer the film towards being more of an engaging human drama than a self-congratulatory issue movie. That wasn’t a given considering it focuses on O’Brian (paralysed from the neck down since the age of six) as he cultivates a relationship with a hands-on sexual surrogate whose job it is to help him experience genuine intimacy in a safe, controlled environment. Respectively played by John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, both actors commit to the physical demands of their roles without turning such things into a big deal. It’s too bad, then, that the film has a habit of using Hunt’s character’s status as an under-appreciated housewife to supply some frustratingly on-the-nose psychological shorthand. That said, the inevitable emotional complications that arise between her and Mark are, for the most part, handled with admirable subtlety.

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (PG)

Directed by: Gilles Penso

* * *

THIS affectionate fan tribute to the legendary stop-motion special effects artist is distinguished by the fact that the fans paying tribute are among the most successful directors in the world. James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, are among many famous directors assembled here to wax lyrical about the impact Ray Harryhausen has had. The 90-year-old Harryhausen, in turn, seems very appreciative of the compliments, even as he gently disparages the emergence of Cameron and co’s favourite toy: CGI. The film – which errs a little too much on the side of sycophancy – doesn’t explore that tension. Instead it guides us through his life with puppy dog zeal. It’s still fascinating stuff, though. As a one-man industry determined to inject artistry into films that were content to be disposable B-movies, he is, as John Landis puts it, “the only technician who is an auteur”. There are some nice little film geek facts too: Jason and the Argonauts, for instance, was supposed to feature a big fight between the heroes and some rotting corpses, but censorship issues forced Harryhausen to come up with something less gruesome. He decided on a skeleton fight – and in the process created one of the most famous sequences in movie history.

V/H/S (15)

Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West

Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Winguard, Melissa Boatright, Bryce Burk

* * *

THIS energetic and intermittently entertaining anthology of “found footage” films is hampered by a failure to deliver on the retro-analogue promise of the title. Linked together by a home-invasion story in which a group of guys are searching for blackmail-worthy material in a basement containing lots of VHS tapes, we end up seeing what they see – except what they see are not the sort of things one would find on a moribund format like VHS. Rather, they’re documentary style riffs on The Twilight Zone, shot – for the most part – on digital cameras, mobile phones and even with Skype. Conceptual pedantry aside, there are things to enjoy here. The Jason Voorhees-style mass murderer stalking teenagers in Glen McQuaid’s Tuesday the 17th is a clever update of that type of character for the found-footage generation, and House of the Devil director Ti West’s road movie Second Honeymoon also has a couple of well-executed, rug-pulling shocks. Filmmaking collective Radio Silence, though, appear to have been the only ones interested in sticking to the titular brief; their contribution, 10/31/98, is a devil worship saga that makes effective use of degraded VHS equipment to ratchet up some nifty effects work.