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Review: State of Play, Synecdoche, New York, I Love You Man, Paul Blart- Mall Cop, Easy Virtue, Bottle Shock, The Escapist, In Search of Beethoven and Trouble Is My Business

It’s a little known fact in the movie industry that most cinema releases serve no greater purpose than to provide some advance publicity for an inevitable DVD release. This week seven new films were released into the Wellington market and barely more than a couple of them justified taking up space and time on a big movie screen.

I Love You, Man posterFirst up, I Love You, Man – another in the endless parade of cash-ins on the formula literally coined by Judd Apatow with 40-year-old Virgin and Knocked Up. In this version usual side-kick Paul Rudd takes centre-stage as mild-mannered real estate agent Peter Klaven, engaged to be married but with no Best Man. All his friends are women, you see, and hijinks ensue as he attempts to generate some heterosexual male friendships and get some bro-mance in his life.

The key thing to point out here is that I love You, Man isn’t very funny and is very slow, but it will trot out the door of the video shop when the time comes, thanks to people like me giving it the oxygen of publicity. Dash it, sucked in again.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop posterSimilarly un-ambitious, but with more charm, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is an Adam Sandler produced vehicle for big guy Kevin James (TV’s “The King of Queens”). Blart is a lonely loser, medically unfit to be a New Jersey State Trooper and reduced to Segway-ing around the local mall pining for pretty wig saleswoman Amy (Jayma Mays). It’s only when the bank robbers arrive and the film turns in to Die Hard at the Mall that it gets a little bit inventive and a little bit entertaining.

Easy Virtue posterFor those people that thought Brideshead Revisited had too much Catholicism and too much drama, Easy Virtue will be just the ticket. Handsome playboy Jim Whittaker (Ben Barnes – Caspian in the last Narnia film) returns home to his family’s decaying post-WWI English country house with his glamorous American racing driver bride (Jessica Biel). She rubs everyone up the wrong way and cultures clash until one side cracks. The strengths are all from Noël Coward’s original play and the weaknesses are mostly introduced by writer-director Stephan Elliott (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert).

Bottle Shock posterBottle Shock goes to show that even the thinnest of premises can be turned into a diverting hour and a half – although there’s nothing about it that justifies a presence on the big screen. Based on the true story of the (we are led to believe) epic first victory of Californian wines over the French in a blind tasting, Bottle Shock looks pretty and features a lugubrious Alan Rickman, the new Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Australian Rachael Taylor who sole purpose appears to be to wander around with no bra (it’s the 70s you see).

State of Play posterKevin Macdonald’s State of Play is a terribly outdated but competently executed thriller – from its naïve belief in the primacy of newspapers and newspaper reporters, to the equally naïve use of the word “corporate” as a synonym for baddie. If the last 12 months has taught us anything it’s surely that big business has trouble organising the most basic piss-ups in breweries let alone complex murderous international conspiracies.

The Escapist posterAt select arthouses you’ll find an effective little British prison escape thriller called The Escapist, starring a bunch of high quality character actors including Joseph Fiennes and Brian Cox. The final twist is a little metaphysical for my liking but the atmosphere throughout is suitably gritty and the plot unfolds with a respectable intelligence.

Synechdoche, New York posterIf you really want your head messed with then look no further than Charlie Kaufman’s wondrously bendy Synecdoche, New York featuring a superb performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman plays hypochondriac theatre director Caden Cotard whose life appears to be literally unravelling until he receives a surprise Macarthur Genius Grant. The millions allow him to create a personal work of art on a grand scale (and you will be amazed at the vision) but his self-obsession continues to prevent him from making any valid human connections. I thought it was stunning while I was watching it but perhaps less profound with hindsight. Doesn’t matter.

In Search of Beethoven posterFinding a home on a cinema screen despite being best-suited for television, In Search of Beethoven tells the story of the man and his music with plenty of performances and rather too many grey-haired talking heads. As all I really knew about Beethoven was from that recent Ed Harris movie where he tormented the beautiful woman who may or may not have written his final works, I was enlightened by this film and you may be too.

Trouble is My Business posterFinally, for those who sensibly jump straight to the end, the best film of the entire month of May (and easily best documentary and New Zealand film of the year so far): Trouble Is My Business. Following Aorere College Deputy Head Gary Peach as he heroically tries to keep all his kids in class and on track, this film moved and inspired me more than anything I’ve seen in ages. If we had a half decent television service this would be playing in prime time. Instead you have to seek it out at your local fleapit, but it’s worth it: if you don’t see Trouble Is My Business there’ll be something missing from your life. As Peachy says all the way through the film: Trust me.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 June, 2009.

Nature of Conflict: Trouble Is My Business is distributed in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I do a little work for now and then; it’s also co-produced by Vicky Pope who is a former judge for 48 Hours.

Dan

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