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Disgrace

Whenever John Malkovich’s name is mentioned it creates a mixed reaction.  There are those fascinated by his intense performances and others finding him off-putting.  What can’t be disputed is the passion and energy he infuses into anything he does, resulting in some memorable roles.  By utilising these unique qualities, Disgrace’s exploration of a man confronting his actions benefits from his typically brooding, but always interesting, presence.
Based in Cape Town South Africa, university professor David Lurie (John Malkovich) is an empty shell of a man.  Drifting through his existence with pious authority, his insular life has gained few friends.  After seducing one of his students, the consequent uproar finds him failing to defend his actions.   Escaping to his daughter’s, Lucy (Jessica Haines) farm, he hopes to find some time for contemplation.  Unfortunately his solace is shattered by a violent home invasion forcing him to face his prejudices against the backdrop of a changing landscape.
Disgrace’s central figure is difficult to like.  Played with Malkovich’s usual steely resolve, his remote demeanour hides someone ashamed of his actions and eager to grab any morsel of self-respect.  That’s perhaps one of the most valuable commodities one can have, with the ‘disgrace’ of the title referring to someone seemingly unwilling to accept personal change.  Interestingly David’s salvation occurs due to an event where a personal violation mirrors that of his seduction of his student.  This punishment to a former aggressor unexpectedly drags him out of his stupor slowly enabling him to connect with his daughter and those around him. 
More than an individual parable, the story also reflects on the decades long tenure of South African apartheid.  Steve Jacobs’ direction attempts to show how the spectre of past deeds has created a generation indoctrinated to violence and using this as motive for a spate of revenge attacks.  This change in the country’s character imitates David’s private adjustment, as both entities attempt to discard their capacity for physical and emotional violence.  These elements are very well conveyed by a fine cast with fantastic cinematography capturing a raw harshness in the landscape matching those of the actors.
Disgrace may sound hard going, but those willing to last the distance will be rewarded with a fine account of redemption.  It certainly makes a change from the almost romanticised view of African life in films from over thirty years ago, with current cinema eager to examine the dubious legacy left behind from a government’s extreme practices.
Rating out of 10:  8

Year One

When a reviewer sees a film, they do so in the hope that an enjoyable and enlightening time will be had.  If such an event fails to materialise, the gloomy descent of disappointment becomes palatable.  This is exactly what occurred after seeing Year One.  Devoid of wit, intelligence, style and anything remotely amusing, this mindless claptrap made one wonder if its neanderthal characters also directed this lame duck mirth fest.
At the beginning of time, two tribesmen, Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera), continue creating chaos.  After devouring an apple from the sacred tree of knowledge both are banished from their tribe and forced to fend for themselves. Determined to prove their worth, they set on a journey to explore their world in the hope of finding their life purpose.  Encountering biblical icons and amorous maidens, their travels carve an odd footnote in the history books.
Bad comedy may be easy to muster, but good ones are harder to create.  This is a lesson that director Harold Ramis should have learnt having crafted such classics as Caddyshack and Groundhog Day.  Regrettably his ignorance of past triumphs helps destroy any semblance of humour in this pretty terrible film.  There is simply no excuse for him to have relied on lewd gross out gags for laughs that are structured around the limpest of plots.  Each episodic sequence is lumped together without any form of reason with historical accuracy a no-show in this strange hybrid of religious imagery.
You have to feel sorry for the actors, who are clearly doing this for the cash.  One would assume they didn’t do it for the script, with their desperation in raising the film’s energy levels painful to watch.  Jack Black and Michael Cera’s performances are nothing new though, and they only have themselves to blame for their poor choices and failure in taking risks than lazily portraying their usual personas.  The downbeat filming does proceedings no favours whilst the use of rap music on the soundtrack adds to the enterprise’s bizarre unevenness.
Whilst some of its scenes may offend, Year One’s main offence is its shortage of hilarity.  Movies featuring cave dwellers rarely work and this is no exception with its clumsy handling of thin material an eternal endurance test.  If this is how humankind spent its first year on earth, one could only marvel at how it survived such alarmingly infantile beginnings.
Rating out of 10:  0