Films are rated out of 5: • (abysmal) to ••••• (amazing).
SONG FOR MARION
Hanky alert. Combine the current wave of titles targeting the grey dollar (Quartet, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Amour, etc) with community warbling (Young at Heart, As It Is in Heaven) and you get Song for Marion, a wee Brit story pretty much guaranteed to set off the waterworks. At least the manipulativeness is cushioned with restraint.
The restraint comes as a surprise from Williams, a director of mostly poorly rated, under-the-radar thrillers playing variations on crime, mystery and horror. Worry not, there’s none of that here, though a spot or two of tension would have helped the pacing. There is of course death and dying, but it’s all very dignified. And it seems to have been a good career move – he’s working now on a biopic about ace war photographer Robert Capa.
There’s no doubt the A-list cast here would have helped with that. Vanessa Redgrave plays Marion, the wheelchair-bound wife of dour, emotionally repressed Arthur (Terence Stamp). She has cancer, but refuses to give up singing with the OAP’z, the local community choir. Arthur whinges, worried about what it’s doing to her, especially when the choir’s bright young conductor (Gemma Arterton) enters them in a competition and ramps up the rehearsals. Marion does succumb, and Arthur becomes a recluse, even shutting out his own son (Christopher Eccleston). How he pulls out of that is the stuff of the film’s second half. And, yes, it involves the choir.
Williams’s plot is episodic, predictable and lacking in complication. It periodically loses momentum. It starts out as a love story and ends as Arthur’s story. But it’s saved by Redgrave, Stamp and Eccleston, who inject thin material with emotional substance by applying their talent for underplaying and subtext. Cancer, curmudgeon and choirs – a recipe for sentiment, pulled back from the brink of mawkishness by keeping moments intimate and real.
It’s not by any stretch as deep and powerful as Amour, but it does have universal resonance. And when first Redgrave, then Stamp, step forward to do their solos, that’s when you’ll need the hanky. Believe me, things get pretty damp.
Opens May 9
JURASSIC PARK 3D
It’s back – for the 20th anniversary and the de rigueur conversion to 3D. A decent enough interval for us to have forgotten bits, and for a new generation to see it in a format that’s not entirely old-school.
Although you might want to tell them that back then, the animatics and CGI were pretty damn groundbreaking (show them the 1933 version of King Kong as proof of that, as well as of how much this was inspired by that classic).
So – prepare to reacquaint yourself with Robert Muldoon (googly-eyed Bob Peck), accents that frequently go AWOL (Sam Neill and Richard Attenborough, you know who you are), and objects in the mirror that are definitely larger than they appear. See Samuel L Jackson as a chain-smoking system administrator, cackle at Jeff Goldblum’s bare-chested camp while admiring his ease in performance, and helloooo … Newman (Wayne Knight, putting his clammy Seinfeld persona to hissable effect). Laugh occasionally, and get important messages about genetic meddling.
The dinosaurs still have that Spielberg combination of scary and cute, and sequences still hiccup back and forth while expertly delivering thrills. The 3D? Modest, but it sure adds some wonder to the size difference between us and them.
Opens May 2
First in a series of great art on screen. It’s filmed at the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition of Manet’s portraits. The clear, insightful commentary, background anecdotes and generous time spent just looking at the paintings make this both informative and pleasurable.
Yet another competition doco, with ballet boys and girls. There’s a real spark to this one though, because you just can’t help falling in love with these kids. Damn, they’re talented.
Catherine Frot shines as a provincial chef summoned to Paris to cook for the President. Somehow both Antarctica and New Zealand manage to feature too. Caution: food porn.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
Yes, Virginia, there were terrorists in the 1960s, and they were American. Robert Redford’s fictional look at the Weathermen and the cost of idealism has a Hollywood sheen, but it kicks along courtesy of a knockout cast.