Movie reviews: Fathers & Daughters, The Lady in the Van, Tangerine, The Hallow
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Fathers & Daughters, The Lady in the Van, Tangerine, and The Hallow.
The premise of Fathers and Daughters (2*, 15A, 117mins) is so absurdly fruity it might have been concocted by the poet laureate of pulp himself, Nicholas Sparks. Amanda Seyfried is Katie Davis, a gifted young social worker whose private life is a bit of a mess. Terrified of intimacy for reasons we will shortly be hammered over the head with, Katie spends her free time going to bars and picking up men for vigorous but meaningless sex.
She's a bit of a slut, folks, and can't imagine falling in love till she meets Cameron (Aaron Paul), an earnest young writer with soulful eyes and a nice hairdo. And as they get to know each other, she recalls her complex and difficult childhood.
When Katie was small her mother died in a car crash, leaving her in the care of her writer father, Jake Davis (Russell Crowe). He's full of love but not very stable, and when he's hospitalised after a mental breakdown, Katie's witchy aunt (Diane Kruger) decides to file for custody.
The spine of this drama is Jake's relationship with his daughter, but even that seems a bit contrived and saccharine, and overall the film is mired in bathos and cliché. Big Russ is badly miscast as the soulful writer and, crouched over his tiny 80s typewriter, reminded me of a buffalo trying to work a smart-phone.
In the early 1970s, flush from his recent successes in television and the West End, Yorkshire writer Alan Bennett moved into a fine house in London's Camden Town. No sooner was he installed than his peace was disturbed by the arrival of an eccentric homeless woman. A devout Catholic with dark secrets in her past, Mary Shepherd ended up camping in Bennett's driveway for 15 years, and Nicholas Hytner's The Lady in the Van (3*, 12A, 104mins) tells their story.
Maggie Smith plays Shepherd, and gives us a delightfully nuanced portrayal of a lost but fiercely single-minded woman with a genius for getting things her own way. She never says thank you, even to Bennett, and a fine ensemble cast spend most of their time trying to make her do so.
Bennett's persona is so well known that Alex Jennings has little wriggle-room in playing him, and opts for a decent impersonation in a witty, pleasant film that meanders aimlessly once its premise has been established.
Made for $100,000 and shot on iPhones, Sean S. Baker's drama Tangerine (5*, No Cert, IFI, 88mins) shows how new technology might radically democratise cinema in the future, and feels like something radical, and fresh. Filmed along the borders of West Hollywood and Santa Monica, it stars Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as Alexandra and Sin-Dee, two black transsexual sex workers whose friendship is solely tested one eventful Christmas Eve.
Sin-Dee has just got out of prison and is horrified to discover that her pimp and boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her with an actual woman. And when she embarks on a trail of vengeance, she only makes things worse.
Sin-Dee and Alexandra's stories are intertwined hilariously with that of a lovestruck Armenian taxi driver, and Tangerine builds beautifully towards a messy and hilarious climax. Mr. Baker's film is full of wit, but also compassion, and its street-level momentum reminded me of early Truffaut. It's that good.
Not quite so good but almost as cheap I'll bet is The Hallow (2*, 16, 88mins), a horror film starring Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic as a young couple who for reasons best known to themselves move to a dodgy old house in the middle of an ancient Irish forest. He works with trees, apparently, but soon creepy locals (Michael McElhatton, Michael Smiley) emerge from the shadows to warn him to leave the forest alone.
Does he listen? Not at all, but this gloomy little film has neither the imagination nor the effects to carry off its story.