Skip to main content

Why is he mowing your dirty patch?

St. Vincent
(2014)

(SPOILERS) Apart from the accent, which he finds a wee bit tricky, Bill Murray could phone in this kind of role during his sleep. The grumpy but likeable curmudgeon. He even attempts to atone for passing on Bad Santa by making friends with a loveable little squirt. The familiarity dripping from every pore of St. Vincent isn’t really its biggest problem, it’s that it’s so shameless in scraping together something heart-warming and life-affirming from the signatures of other better movies that it leaves little room for feeling anything genuine at all.


See also: As Good As it Gets, About a Boy. Murray’s going for – I assume – a Brooklyn accent. I tend to be fairly lazy about calling out dodgy accents. Ones that bug the hell out of people get a free pass, but even I could hear he was having problems. I suspect it interfered with his naturally laidback cadence, as familiar tones kept seeping back in. He’s the title character, for whom sainthood is a key and saccharine component of the final act. Vincent’s a ‘Nam vet so Murray’s back in familiar Stripes territory, only less anarchically so.


Theodore Melfi’s feature debut follows the kind of indie-lite trajectory found in many a recent picture featuring young/old casts and cockle-warming sentimentality. Most of these also star Steve Carrell, because there’s nothing like a bit of indie slumming (see Little Miss Sunshine and The Way Way Back) to add prestige value to a Hollywood thespian. Particularly one known for comedy who wants to convince others of his chops. Which there’s nothing at all wrong with this per se, this type of movie has become a very definite type by this point. Edge-free, with a sprinkling of rites of passage and a bridging of the generation gap. That might be why St. Vincent wasn’t quite the slam-dunk The Weinsteins no doubt hoped it would be (as in, it didn’t turn into the next Little Master Sunshine).


Also on-board the celebrity credibility train is Naomi Watts as pregnant lady of the night shag-buddy Daka. Watts doesn’t need to confirm her credibility. Well, she didn’t’ before this and Diana. She’s off the scale for alarmingly accented Eastern Europeans, and at least helps Murray by distracting from his variable vocal performance.


It doesn’t stop there. Everyone seemed to think this was dramedy gold dust, including Chris O’Dowd as Brother Geraghty. O’Dowd has already far exceeded any remaining goodwill he garnered early in his career through his determined efforts to whore himself about into any movie anywhere that will take him. Terrence Howard has little more than a cameo as loan shark Zucko. Ann Dowd who really is cameoing, which is a shame.


Most of all, there’s Melissa McCarthy as Vincent’s new neighbour Maggie. She’s the mother of Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher, putting in a decent showing and wisely not trying an accent, he’s saddled with the most unlikely precocious dialogue conceivable), who is stuck being babysat by Vincent (for 12 dollars an hour) while she works shifts as a CAT scanner (yes, that will prove to be a vital plot point). McCarthy’s fine but it’s not a great part. I don’t think she farts or belches though, so it’s progress of a sort.


Just like Thurman Merman in Bad Santa, Oliver is being bullied at school, and just like in Bad Santa the aging mentor initiates payback. Less directly, so it isn’t nearly as much fun or as reprehensible. In fact, Melfi makes a point of having Vincent punch Ocinski (Dario Barosso) in a soundtracked moment of triumph and jubilation and then backtracks when Daka Finds out (“Violence is for assholes”). Too late: it’s clearly commendable to teach kids to solve their problems through aggression. What’s more, it’s doubly all right because they’ll make friends with the guy who bullied them. So much so, Ocinski will even be sitting at the dinner table with the makeshift family come the last scene.


Vincent is mired in bad neighbourness, but not irredeemably so, ways, of course. He’s a drunk, a gambler (the picture opts not to picks resolve how he steals Oliver’s winnings/savings, presumably because that would be too much of a downer) and inveterate grouch. But he also has a wife with Alzheimer’s whom he keeps quiet about, he supports Daka through her pregnancy, and he saved buddies lying face down in the mud in ‘Nam. Even got a medal for it.


The picture is much better when it is reticent. Unfortunately it has to go and open the floodgates. Vincent’s wife dies, he has a stroke (again, best not to dwell on this; Bill acting like he can’t speak properly gets in the way of what he does best, speaking properly) and, in the ultimate contrived conflation, Oliver’s class are asked by Brother Geraghty to deliver presentations on who they think qualifies as “Saints Among Us”.


Melfi directs casually and unobtrusively, so he should fit in comfortably with bigger budget middling romps. Next up is Going in Style, an aging heist movie with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin. You’d want to see it just for the stars, unless you’ve already seen Stand Up Guys and Last Vegas. And, since Zach Braff is co-directing, one really shouldn’t expect much.


St. Vincent isn’t wholly objectionable or anything, and Murray could read the phone book and be watchable, but it’s relentlessly and offputtingly manipulative. It comes equipped with incessant uplifting montage music, even when there aren’t any montages. Wiki put it best in the synopsis; “the film ends with all of them at the dinner table happily eating together”. I might have lost my lunch at that point, if the sainthood presentation hadn’t already compelled me to stick my fist in my face.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best
Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.