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Review: Joshua, The Page Turner and Habana Blues

By December 5, 2007December 31st, 2013No Comments

Joshua posterSeveral times dur­ing the creepy psy­cho­lo­gic­al, pae­di­at­ric­al, thrill­er Joshua, stressed par­ents Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga are told to “just get a nanny”. If only they had, they may have got Scarlett Johansson and Joshua would have become a romantic com­edy with a bit of soft social com­ment­ary. Instead, they plough on par­ent­ing proudly, heed­less of the dam­age being done by troubled elder-son Joshua (Jacob Kogan), until it is too late.

Rockwell and Farmiga are a wealthy Manhattan couple. He invest­ment banks for bully Chester Fields (Michael McKean from Spinal Tap) while she unravels at home. When new baby Lily arrives 9 year old Joshua, a strangely self-possessed preppy child with that inab­il­ity to blink that in Hollywood usu­ally sig­nals sig­ni­fic­ant psy­cho­lo­gic­al dis­order or demon­ic pos­ses­sion, starts sys­tem­at­ic­ally des­troy­ing the fam­ily – includ­ing pets and grand­moth­ers – in order to pre­serve it.

Joshua is the first fea­ture for writer-director George Ratliff but he demon­strated an affin­ity for this sort of tor­ture with the award-winning doc­u­ment­ary Hell House a few years ago, about God-less chil­dren being scared back on the straight and nar­row by a bizarre evan­gel­ic­al role play­ing exer­cise. The neat thing about Joshua is the way it evokes clas­sic super­nat­ur­al, pos­sessed child films like The Omen or Rosemary’s Baby without ever con­firm­ing that Joshua him­self is any­thing oth­er than a nasty, con­trolling little boy.

The Page Turner posterAnother demen­ted piano-player bent on destruc­tion (Joshua has an affin­ity for Bartok and show-tunes) appears in French thrill­er The Page Turner. Déborah François (from l’Enfant) stars as Mélanie Prouvost, a young woman determ­ined to wreak her revenge on the con­cert pian­ist who, she believes, wrecked her career before it had even begun. At the age of elev­en Mélanie was audi­tion­ing for a pres­ti­gi­ous Paris music school when arrog­ant Ariane Fouchécourt (Catherine Frot) inter­rup­ted her per­form­ance to sign an auto­graph. She nev­er got her con­cen­tra­tion back, failed the audi­tion, and now its pay­back time. Ten years later she gets her­self a tem­por­ary job as a nanny to Ariane’s son Tristan at their coun­try pad. Once there she pro­ceeds to seduce and des­troy as many mem­bers of the house­hold as she can before walk­ing out of their lives again into the dawn sunlight.

The prob­lem with The Page Turner (and Joshua to a sim­il­ar extent) is the plot: there are no twists or reversals; the prot­ag­on­ist has a plan, executes it, makes every­one miser­able then skips away as the film ends. Too easy. And because her char­ac­ter is essen­tially blank (that ‘no blink­ing’ thing again) it’s harder to engage with than it could be.

Habana Blues posterFinally, the spir­ited Cuban pro­duc­tion Habana Blues returns from the World Cinema Showcase. I recom­men­ded it then, and I do again, if only to see a por­trait of Cuba that is destined for change one way or anoth­er. Ruy and Tito are in a band that can only hit the big time off­shore – they have an oppor­tun­ity to go to Spain – and once they’ve gone there is no going back. But Ruy’s wife Caridad wants to take their kids to Miami for a new life and he has to choose between fam­ily and fame, each choice rife with risk.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 5 December, 2007.