March 31, 2015

Southern death cult

Devil’s Knot (Atom Egoyan, 2013). It’s almost refreshing to see a take on the West Memphis Three case that isn’t all about the Satanic charisma of Death Row survivor and New Age philosopher Damien Echols. Instead, Egoyan and writers Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, adapting a book of the same name by true crime writer Mara Leveritt, return us to the moment of the murders and remind us of the real victims, telling the story through its impact on grieving mother Pamela Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon, at home) and, less successfully, investigator Ron Lax (a sleepy-looking Colin Firth). The specific context of hopelessly inept or simply corrupt Arkansas law enforcement, dubious “Satanic panic” experts and deeply entrenched Christian fundamentalism is laid out comprehensively and Egoyan juggles enough sub-plots to nod towards at least three other suspects, including the mysterious blood-covered man in the bathroom of the Bojangles restaurant. But Egoyan followers won’t be able to escape the feeling that he got into this tricky emotional territory – grieving communities, disappeared children – so much more effectively in Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter (does it help that two Exotica veterans, Elias Koteas and Bruce Greenwood, are here in support roles?). Those films felt like deep and lasting wounds; this is more surface-level. 

March 28, 2015

The only gays in the village

Pride (Matthew Warchus, 2014). A cheerful recreation of turbulent times: Matthew Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford tell the unbelievable but generally true story of a London gay rights group who came to the aid of Welsh miners during the big strike of 84/85. While the storytelling is a little loose and the mode is resolutely feelgood in the near-formulaic manner of triumphant post-Thatcher comedies from the 90s (Brassed Off, The Full Monty), there is some fine acting – Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy as Welsh locals, Ben Schnetzer as activist Mark Ashton – and such obvious good intentions within the Bronski/Bragg nostalgia. But aren’t there times when history would be better served by a well-made documentary? (“There were seventeen of us who came down in that first minibus … Eight of us died in the following years, of HIV/AIDs.” That detail hits harder than any moment in the picture.)

March 25, 2015

March 14, 2015

March 3, 2015

Between Bresson and In Bruges

Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, 2014). Pictured: not explaining the ending of Moby-Dick