‘Paris Memories’, a compelling exploration of trauma; More multiplex mulch with ‘The Marvels’; Misfired Oz art film with ‘Damage’; ‘The Big Dog’ an Oz social satire that goes off the rails

Confronting trauma: Virginie Efira in ‘Paris Memories’.

PARIS MEMORIES ***1/2 (103 minutes; subtitled) M
The trauma of surviving a mass shooting in a Parisian café blights the memory of Mia (Virginie Efira) who cannot recall anything after the first shot. Her attempts to reconstruct the event and come to some form of closure puts her in contact with other survivors while putting strain on her supportive partner. Survivor guilt and false memory syndrome are but two of the themes writer/director Alice Winocour laces through the film, her sedate exploration of the after effects violence inflicts on its victims evoking some touching moments of healing and human connection. Efira anchors the film with her subdued performance.

She’s back: Brie Larson in ‘The Marvels’.

THE MARVELS **1/2 (105 minutes) M
The latest dollop of multiplex fodder to drop off the end of the Marvel Studios assembly line is truly wonderful and what makes it truly wonderful is that it clocks in at a lean, mean 94 minutes. (That’s before the credit scroll, of course, with its mandatory teaser clip.)

Apart from being blessedly brief, the other wonderful thing about The Marvels is that it has a really funny sequence involving super-powered cats set to the strains of Barbra Streisand singing Memory, from the musical Cats. It’s the best bit of comedy yet from a Marvel film, and is easily funnier than both Deadpool films.

Aside from that The Marvels, a sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel and a carry on from the Disney+ Ms Marvel TV show, is a standard serving of Marvel mulch featuring the scrambled storytelling and same-same visual effects we have come to expect from the most over-cooked movie franchise in film history.

Marvel has bravely forged forth with the miscasting of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, who here is accompanied by Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau and Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, a teenager who idolizes Captain Marvel.

They’re fighting a villainess called Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) who is keen to get hold of the matching bangle Kamala owns so she can become super powerful and continue with her hobby of choice, which is tearing geometrically neat holes in the fabric of space.

Sloppily directed and co-written by Nia DaCosta (who did a pretty good job with the 2021 remake of Candyman, the performances are universally bland, with Vellani’s caffeinated turn proving especially annoying.

The first 40 minutes or so are largely incomprehensible as the three superheroes discover that because their powers are intertwined they can switch places at any time, even during fights.

For the sake of levity Kamala’s befuddled parents (Mohan Kapur & Zenobia Shroff) and older brother (Saagar Shaikh) are thrown into the mix next to Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson). They add very little.

Visually, the film lacks any real style and is largely indistinguishable from the vast bulk of superhero movies thus far. Somebody somewhere has to issue a memo that no amount of rapid editing can bring an otherwise lacklustre action sequence to life.

Still, the film benefits from having all the usual Marvel mediocrity compressed into such a viewer-friendly running time. As one of the briefest superhero films yet, The Marvels might be just another disposable flash-bang post-content spectacle, but at least it doesn’t drain too much of your life. You’re in, you’re out, no harm done.

Well, not much anyway.

Footnote: The Marvels is the 33rd chapter in the much-vaunted Marvel Cinematic Universe and much has been made of its diversity credentials, with the all-female leads and the director being a person of colour.

Such woke fist pumps have become largely meaningless and arguably counter-productive to any progressive dreams about diversity, representation and so forth, because you can then blame any failure squarely on that.

Diversity has exacted a huge cost on the Disney ethos this year, with the revamping of Snow White being the most prominent example. Here’s praying for a better 2024.

DAMAGE *1/2 (81 minutes) M
Two lost souls drive around in a cab at night in this largely uninteresting Australian art movie supposedly about cultural dislocation, search for identity and human connection.

Ali (Ali Al Jenabi) is a poorly skilled cabbie with a rather abrasive manner, Esther (Imelda Bourke) is his elderly passenger who can’t quite remember where she is meant to be going.

Props to writer/director Madeleine Blackwell for swinging at the fences but the flat performances and edge-free dialogue make the ride through nocturnal Adelaide a long one.

Cuts to CCTV cameras, drone aerials and Iraq combat footage suggest some wider political messaging but the story, which starts well, soon runs out of puff. Ali’s griping about the Iraq war sound perfunctory, as do most of the verbal exchanges.

While we are prone to applaud the use of non-professional actors in low-budget independent films, which can sometimes be a boon, regrettably that’s not the case here.

THE BIG DOG ** (80 minutes) MA
Here’s a prime example of a great idea that loses its way.

Richard (Julian Garner) is a successful Sydney stockbroker who finds his bank account has been drained and spent by Paige (Asha Boswarva), his online dominatrix.

It’s a deep, dark, dirty secret, of course, which Richard tries keeping from his lovely wife Kelly (Felicity Price), who is preparing a graduation party for their sad sack son Sam (Michael Monk).

Sounds like fun as Richard attempts to hold it together and Paige tries locating him, but the yarn descends into confusion and outright incoherence.

What could have been a piercing black comedy unspools as a misfired social satire that doesn’t do justice to the committed performances from Garner and Price.

The piece, written and directed by Dane McCusker, is riddled with too many implausibilities, not the least of which is why Richard conducts his dirty business on his work laptop in his home office.

There’s also the issue of Paige whose ill-defined character doesn’t quite make sense. Why does she wait so long to Google her client? As for the money she steals from Richard the “rules” about their relationship remain vague and contradictory.

Chalk The Big Dog up as yet another Australian film that looks and sounds like it needed several more read throughs before hitting the cameras.