Sunday 16 December 2018

Cinema: Brad's Status - Ben Stiller towers over the cast

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Ben Stiller and Jenna Fischer in comedy-drama Brad's Status
Ben Stiller and Jenna Fischer in comedy-drama Brad's Status
Zsombor Jéger as Aryan in Jupiter's Moon

No one does midlife-crisis anxiety quite like Ben Stiller. Once part of a comedic ratpack that included the Wilson Brothers, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell, Stiller has since charted more indie waters with career-refreshing turns in winningly bourgeois Noah Baumbach dramedies such as Greenberg and the superb While We're Young.

This second directorial outing for screenwriting titan Mike White (after 2007's Year Of The Dog) is a similar habitat for the slightly hipsterfied cringe of Baumbach as Stiller plays an attentive dad distracted by thoughts of his wealthier and more famous peers.

Brad's naval-gazing and what-if ponderings make him tedious company, not only for us but also son Troy (an authentically mumbly Austin Abrams), whom he chaperones while visiting prospective colleges for the talented youngster.

All the while, he is beset by thoughts of how well his old college pals ended up - Michael Sheen's politician, Luke Wilson's financial kingpin, a retired surfing playboy played by Flight of the Conchords's Jemaine Clement.

Brad is obsessed with what he doesn't have rather than what he does, and dresses his first-world problems up as symptoms of life's chance having passed him by. But as the journey with his son continues, the bright young man's company elicits solace.

Although White takes a scenic route to what is ostensibly a very obvious conclusion to the character arc, there is lots to mull over, from the counter-productive lies we tell ourselves to the rampant pressures of capitalist society. Stiller can do this kind of thing in his sleep but still manages to tower over the cast.

There's a great score by former Devo man Mark Mothersbaugh too. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Jupiter's Moon

Cert: 15A; Now showing in IFI

Zsombor Jéger as Aryan in Jupiter's Moon

Aryan (Zsombor Jeger), a Syrian refugee, gets separated from his father during a chase while trying to cross the Hungarian border. He is shot by Laszlo (Gyorgy Cserhalmi), a police detective, but rather than killing him, the incident reveals a superpower - Aryan can levitate.

He crosses paths with Dr Stern (Merab Ninidze) who has fallen on financial pressures due to a legal case. Corruptible to a fault, Stern is amazed by Aryan's ability and decides to use the young man's incredible powers to hustle money out of terminally ill patients who might be in the market for some faith healing. All the while, the pair are being hunted by the vicious officer Laszlo in a Hungary that seems on the brink of mayhem.

Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo returns following the arthouse success of White God (2014) with this indulgent thriller that overuses the visual spectacle of Aryan floating upwards while the camera frame oscillates dramatically.

Take that trick away and Jupiter's Moon is an insubstantial and incomplete sci-fi yarn that strives for the dystopian heat of, say, Children Of Men - but is too caught up in effects and a litany of inescapably mannered long takes that contribute nothing on the whole except to show off technical ability.

There's a grimy charm to Marcell Rev's cinematography and Mundruczo's tense camera angles, but the general absence of restraint and subtlety is too hard to ignore. ★★ Hilary A White

Walk With Me

Cert: Club; Now showing at IFI 

If it's a dose of mindfulness you're in need of, there's no shortage of purposeful movements and contemplative expressions to ease you into the new year in this serene documentary portrait of the revered Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh.

In Plum Village, the monastic settlement he established outside Bordeaux in 1982, filmmakers Marc Francis and Max Pugh get out of the way and shoot the day-to-day routine of those who live in the community and who hail from every walk of life.

We see members of the public coming for visits, either to do workshops with Nhat Hanh or stay for spells as part of a search for meaning or consolation in their lives. Between various chores and discussions that the monks and nuns busy themselves with, a bell is sounded on the intercom every 15 minutes that forces everyone to stop what they're doing and take a moment to be in the now.

When we are in the 91-year-old's company, Nhat Hanh himself makes for a beguiling presence, whether leading his flock on woodland strolls or applying a philosophical band aid to a little girl grieving the loss of her pet dog. Wisdom plucked from Fragrant Palm Leaves, one of Nhat Hanh's many published works following exile from Vietnam, is relayed via the crisp baritone of none other than Benedict Cumberbatch.

A sensual and surprisingly fascinating documentary film that slows you right down to its own meditative tempo. ★★★★ Hilary A White

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