Under the microscope this week are Paddington, Stations of the Cross, Horrible Bosses and Concerning the
(Comedy. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas and featuring the voices of Ben Wishaw, Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton. Directed by Paul King. Cert General)
To the best of my knowledge I’ve never used the phrase “political correctness gone mad” in print, but that was the only possible reaction last week to the news that the British Board of Film Classification had slapped a parental guidance (PG) rating on the long-awaited Paddington rather than the come one, come all U certificate expected. In fairness, when interviewed by the BBC’s Film 2014 this week the chap from the BBFC did at least have the good grace to look extremely sheepish as he defended the decision based on “mild sexual innuendo”, the risk of imitation and some mild peril in the form of an occasionally scary villain. Really?
I’m as puzzled as the film’s producers and director about how anyone could possibly find anything remotely suggestive in this fine family entertainment. The “don’t try this at home” element is, as always, for parents to deal with while the concept of a slightly menacing baddie is simply baffling. What about Cruella de Vil, the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Wicked Witch of the West, Shere Khan, the shadowy figures chasing ET and any number of evil stepmothers from the Disney catalogue? And don’t get me started on the death of Bambi’s mother.
Still, at least over here the film has been cleared for general viewing and I’d expect extremely healthy numbers at cinemas over the coming weeks. Michael Bond’s beloved series of books about the bear from “darkest Peru” who arrives in London with a love for marmalade sandwiches have entertained generations, and while there have been various adaptations in the past (including one bizarre US animation that pictured Paddington as some type of surfer dude), Paul King’s version has pretty much nailed the character’s decades-old appeal.
Through a nice blend of CGI and live action the story moves along at a fair clip and, crucially, has its heart in the right place. Opening with a delightful Pathe-style newsreel in which a British explorer discovers a new species of bear in South America, introduces them to marmalade and teaches them to speak English, it then cuts to Paddington (voiced by Ben Wishaw) living with his aunt and uncle when an earthquake devastates their habitat and obliges him to travel to London.
On arrival he’s somewhat reluctantly taken in by the Brown family (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins playing the parents), causes various domestic mishaps and we discover that he’s prized for various reasons by a vindictive taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) who works for a natural history museum.
The CGI people have done a great job in giving Paddington a definable character while the actors deliver a great deal of verve, clearly aware they’re part of a project that has meant so much to so many people down the years. A delightful experience all round.
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2
(Comedy. Starring Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey. Directed by Sean Anders. Cert 16)
Given that 2011’s Horrible Bosses took in more than $200m (€160m) at the box office worldwide, this sequel was as inevitable as another Band Aid single, but it reeks of a cynical contempt for the viewing public. The original was tolerable, mainly because Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell clearly had a ball playing the titular group of evil employers who drove Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) to despair. But this time out the latter trio have set up their own company and are trying be nice to their workers, which renders the title redundant and is typical of the “what the hell, the public will swallow anything” attitude this project exudes.
The chief problem with this vile exercise is that we’re meant to find the blokey banter between the three leads hilarious and infectious, whereas most of the time it’s simply irritating and reeks of self-indulgent improvisation. Added to that is a level of crudity and vulgarity that defies belief, not least with Jennifer Aniston reprising her role as a sex-obsessed, potty-mouthed dentist. The ‘story’ involves the trio having a business idea ripped off by a foreign-born tycoon (Christoph Waltz), whereupon they decide to kidnap his waster of a son (Chris Pine, utterly stranded without anything remotely resembling a script), leading to scenes that play out predictably and without a single trace of a laugh.
The only thing Horrible Bosses 2 has going for it is that you get to hear The Clash playing Police On My Back over the opening titles, but after that it’s downhill at a rate of knots, making this easily one of the most depressing experiences I’ve had in a cinema this year.
STATIONS OF THE CROSS
(Drama. Starring Lea van Acken, Franziska Weisz, Florian Stetter, Lucie Aron, Moritz Knapp, Michael Kamp, Linus Fluhr. Directed by Dietrich Brueggemann. Cert 15A)
An austere examination of the dangers of religious extremism, this German movie is certainly unusual in that it’s divided into 14 sections (each, as the title indicates, representing one of the Stations of the Cross), with most of the chapters consisting of a single take with a largely static camera. We open with a priest (Florian Stetter) lecturing a group of students who are about to make their confirmation on the nature and value of sacrifice to the Catholic Church.
Quickly and extremely skilfully the story expands to show us Maria (newcomer Lea van Acken), who’s from a family that belong to a traditional, hardline sect and whose mother (Franziska Weisz) is so strict that she won’t even allow her daughter to undertake gymnastics classes at school given that she deems “Satanic” music is playing in the background. Against this backdrop we see Maria gradually become dissociated from her schoolfriends and discover she’s in the process of starving herself to death so that her younger brother (Linus Fluhr), who has learning difficulties, will some day speak.
As you’ll gather, this is hardly a cheery watch, and there are times when the director can be rather heavy-handed when making his points, but that’s not to deny the quiet power of the film, not least in the performance of Lea van Acken who imbues Maria with an air of determination and serenity that is admirable and exasperating in equal measure.
(Documentary. Directed by Goran Hugo Olsson. Cert Club)
This odd exercise from Swedish director Goran Hugo Olsson feels more like it should be shown in a classroom or lecture theatre rather than a cinema. Opening with a speech by an American academic about the Martinique-born writer Frantz Fanon’s 1961 work The Wretched of the Earth, which effectively blamed Europe for practically every ill ever suffered by the African continent, it unfolds in several short chapters and makes great use of Swedish documentary footage shot in Mozambique, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso between 1966 and 1984 to illustrate its points about colonialism.
Former Fugees singer Lauren Hill narrates several complementary excerpts from Fanon’s book, and while there’s no denying that European powers did do truly awful things in Africa, you’d wonder what Fanon would have made of the conduct of the likes of Robert Mugabe and Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic.