Thursday, 12 July 2018

David at the Movies:A girl called Tom


A plot summary of this movie would put most filmgoers off. A traum-atised US veteran and his daughter are living ‘off the grid’ in a forest in Oregon. Social services catch up with them and house them in a suburban com-munity. The girl begins to enjoy a more ‘normal’ life but her dad insists on returning to the wilderness until an accident forces them to stay in a trailer park and come to a decision about their future.

This slight story is given huge substance by the intense performances of Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie. There’s a lot the viewer has to guess at. We can see Dad is deeply disturbed but we’re only given brief nightmare glimpses of military chaos in whatever godforsaken war zone he served in. We learn that Mom’s favourite colour was yellow but we’re not told how or why she left them. Why is the daughter called Tom – surely not because the actress is called Thomasin?

Thomasin McKenzie: a girl called Tom
McKenzie’s Tom is heart-wrenchingly believable; you care deeply about where this girl’s life is headed. The role and the story carry strong echoes of Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘break-through’ picture Winter’s Bone (2010) from the same writer/
director team, Anne Rosellini and Debra Granik. Where other films have masses of action and crude dialogue, Leave No Trace has slow moments and silent faces which convey hope and heartbreak. This is a movie that sets out to touch your soul and, boy, how it does.


Oh dear. I wanted to like this – a heist movie for the #MeToo sisterhood. It's barely more than so-so, not as entertaining as the George Clooney remake of Ocean’s 11, but – mercifully – not as dire as Ocean’s 12 (I can’t recall 13 – was it good or awful? So-so?).

Danny Ocean is dead and buried (in one of those multistorey catacombs): his sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) visits his grave at the beginning of the movie. Debbie has just come out of a five-year jail sentence for an insurance scam. She comes up with a plan to steal a zillion-dollar diamond necklace at a charity gala at the New York Met and recruits some other girls to help her, including best friend Cate Blanchett, loopy fashion designer Helena Bonham Carter (conspicuously ‘channelling’ Vivienne Westwood) and (wow) Rihanna.

Although written and directed by a man (Gary Ross), this is very much a ladies-only excursion. Girls rule the caper; men are there to be turned into mincemeat. The actual heist scene is stylishly (and expensively) staged, but getting there takes a bit too long. As in the Clooney trilogy, there’s an implausible (and not very original) twist in the tale. The cast seem to be having fun, but the audience was not. The script needed a lot more Sex and the City-style zingy one-liners.

Is this the launch of trilogy? Oceans 9 and 10? And then we’ll find out Danny isn’t really dead: Ocean’s 14. Oh dear.


Hereditary is a ghost story from the school of Insidious. An affluent family in a forested town in Utah experience spooky goings-on when a grisly accent kills their young daughter only weeks after they buried their beloved grandmother. The high-school-age son (Alex Woolff) goes rapidly to pieces, as does his mother, played by Toni Collette who makes her the most formidable character in horror movies since Kathy Bates in Misery. Dad (Gabriel Byrne) tries vainly to hold the family together.

The key character in the story is a neighbour, Joan, also bereaved, who dabbles in Ouija-board-style spiritualism. Joan is played by Ann Dowd, whom we know (and fear) as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale. Like Aunt Lydia, Joan seems to mean well but we are obviously supposed to wonder about her true intent.

The casting of Dowd and Collette lifts this movie above the routine. Writer/director Ari Aster tries to give it the kind of epic ‘grandeur’ Stanley Kubrick brought to The Shining (a much over-rated film, in my opinion: it did not do justice to one of Stephen King’s finest novels). Hereditary also has echoes of Rosemary’s Baby and that hoary old Hammer horror, The Devil Rides Out. The ending is totally daft, and really there is very little that’s new here, but you get a few nice jumpy moments along the way, and Toni Collette and Ann Dowd work very hard to elevate this story into the Gothic ‘pantheon’.

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