Deliver Us from Evil
dir. Amy Berg
We've become inured, via reality TV and various Christopher Guest wannabes, to the conventions of the documentary format. (Montage of yearbook photos, check. Deadpan first-person recountings that end with a nervous glance off camera, gotcha.) So it can be a real shock when something emerges from the glut to pin our ears back. Deliver Us from Evil, director Amy Berg's blistering exposé about pedophilia in the Catholic Church, certainly doesn't want for sensationalistic subject matter, but the real impact comes from the methodical, steady compilation of evidence. Berg, a former CNN producer, clearly knows her subject well, and her immersion into this most distasteful of topics makes for a devastating, utterly damning feature debut.
Working in a clean, cinematic style, Berg shifts with ease between tearful interviews with the victims and a remarkably clear-eyed exploration of the larger epidemic, uncovering a wealth of compelling evidence on how the hierarchical system creates (and often encourages) deviant behavior. (The videotaped depositions of various church elders nervously lying their cassocks off under oath delivers some much needed, blackly comic relief.) What lingers longest, however, and what ultimately makes this film a queasy must-see, are the interviews with Oliver O'Grady, a former California pastor deported to Ireland after amassing a victim list estimated to be in the hundreds. In front of the camera, O'Grady comes across as soft spoken, personable, even charming. But then comes an inappropriate wink, or a fleeting smile, and the enormity—the reality—of his crimes comes blasting back in. All the made-up bogeymen and closet monsters in the world can't compare. ANDREW WRIGHT
For an interview with director Amy Berg, see "A Really Awkward Cold Call."
A Good Year
dir. Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott departs his native terrain of manly action-adventure epics and plunges into the viticultural riches of Provence, dragging home the most shamelessly silly movie about grapes ever made. But shamelessness is just exuberance seen through cynical eyes. Who cares if the coltish child recruited to play the younger version of Marion Cotillard has deep brown eyes, while ludicrous turquoise orbs are lodged above Cotillard's cheekbones? (I do, actually, since said child actor is a robotic flirt, with no trace of Cotillard's haughty sass.) Details don't stand a chance in a movie about losing yourself in bliss.
Russell Crowe plays an obnoxious London stockbroker, prone to addressing his team as "lab rats" and caressing those female employees who dare to display their comely thighs. Then he gets into ethical trouble and, serendipitously, a long-lost uncle dies, leaving behind a tempting French estate full of memories, casks of noxious wine, and plentiful joie de vivre. Also, a hot local girl (Cotillard, trés hot). Also, a hot Californian girl (Abbie Cornish, California hot), who claims to be a cousin and may be the rightful heir to the estate. His plans to sell the property quickly fall by the wayside.
You know how the movie ends before it rightly begins, but despite my best efforts, I didn't hate it. I blame the excellent cast: Tom Hollander (as a dry little Londoner who would be a cad too, if only he could), Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (my favorite ubiquitous French actress, underused here as a lawyer), and in boisterous flashbacks, Albert Finney (the dearly departed uncle) and Freddie Highmore (a child actor with massive and wholly unearned quantities of charisma). Plus, there's a great scene in which Crowe is forced to dog paddle through a manure-tainted pool, and a number of frankly admiring shots of cute butts in miniskirts. Hey, it's France—you're allowed to stare. ANNIE WAGNER
dir. Agnieszka Holland
Every time I watch an inspirational dramedy about the waning years of a fiery yet vulnerable classical composer, I have the same thought: not enough chamber pots. Not enough of Ludwig van Beethoven squatting. Not enough of Beethoven's copyist's pert little nose wrinkling in bemused distaste as she pours Beethoven's urine out of a window. Not enough urine being poured out of windows, period. Praise be to Copying Beethoven, then, a film that seems to conflate gritty realism with the presence of an open kettle of urine by the bed. It's, like, literally a time machine to 19th-century Vienna!
So aaanyway, the movie is about dewy, nubile Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger), an ambitious composition student hired to help the bewigged, bellowing beast (Ed Harris) transcribe his genius. The two understand each other, then misunderstand each other, then almost consummate their sexual tension, then don't because, you know, it's deeper than that (plus, he's hella old).
Along the way, Beethoven is beleaguered by a ne'er-do-well nephew in a tall hat (Joe Anderson), physically smashes the dreams of the uninspired, and performs much physical comedy with his old-timey ear horn. The film tuts tacitly and blandly over naughty historical sexism (a woman composer is like "a dog walking on its hind legs," proclaims Harris with wacko aplomb), but does womankind no favors with the casting of blindingly dull Kruger (uninteresting actress, overrated beauty). Anna Holtz exhibits no emotion or passion or pulse, except in one scene—I'll call it "washing the maestro"—in which she appears genuinely disgusted by Harris's fuzzy physicality (I think it was supposed to be erotic).
The problem with making a piece of art about a piece of art is that, inevitably, one of the two suffers by contrast (hint: it's not the music). As such, Copying Beethoven can accept no credit for its most captivating sequence: a completely deaf maestro conducting the premiere of his ninth symphony. The music is thunderous and supernatural and magnificent, but you don't need eyeballs (or Harris's urine) to enjoy it. LINDY WEST