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Review: The Road, Green Zone, The Bounty Hunter, This Way of Life & Admiral

The Road posterMost films go in one eye and out the other but some stick in your brain and won’t leave – for better or worse. John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Road” is one of those. Set in a depressing, grey, rainy, post-apocalyptic North American future (reminding me of nothing so much as this past Wellington summer) where nothing grows and the few remaining human beings forage for food – and most often find it in each other – dogged and decent Viggo Mortensen trudges through the wilderness with his young son, looking for something, anything, that might keep them alive.

The Road is about how we try and survive in the face of insurmountable odds, and how that physical survival might mean the loss of our own humanity. Mortensen’s wife (Charlize Theron) walks out into the lonely night, making what she thinks is a sacrifice but which he, clearly, thinks is little more than giving up. His son may well be the last repository of human kindness but that kindness might get them killed.

Mortensen is simply magnificent and the film itself is well worthy of the performance. The Road is never an easy watch but you will be rewarded with a thoughtful story illustrated with some hauntingly beautiful images.

Green Zone posterIt’s never (very) fair to compare a finished film to its trailer but Matt Damon’s new collaboration with Paul Greengrass, Green Zone, looked to me like a tired rehashing of those Bourne films (I called it The Bourne Yesterday in a tweet I just have to recycle). In fact, it’s terrific – an intelligent and proudly partisan thriller about the first days in Baghdad after Operation Iraqi Freedom and the fall of Saddam. Damon plays Roy Miller, leader of a team frustrated in the hunt for “weapons of mass destruction” by the flawed intelligence coming out of the Defence Department. Following a lead (and going “off-reservation”), he discovers a plot that suggests that the invasion was a fraud and that the US Government knew there were no WMDs to be found.

Full of juicy production design detail, and giving the audience credit for a little bit of intelligence, Green Zone is an excellent example of what today’s action movies should look like. And, if Greengrass’s trademark shaky cam style occasionally gives you a little motion sickness, that’s nothing to how nauseous you will feel sitting through the entirety of The Bounty Hunter.

The Bounty Hunter posterMy campaign to rid New Zealand screens of Gerard Butler (commenced last week after Law Abiding Citizen) is obviously going well as he’s already back again as the titular The Bounty Hunter, this time alongside Jennifer Aniston, in a romantic comedy that drains a naturally romantic person (such as myself) of one’s will to live.

Aniston is a high-flying New York journalist whose career scuppered her marriage to blue collar smirk-machine, real-man, New York cop Butler. He went off the rails (drink, gambling) and was fired from his job (although the only thing hurting in his characterisation is the audience) and he’s now a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter retrieving miscreants who have jumped bail. As luck (not ours) would have it, Aniston has missed a court appearance so she can track down a lead for a story and he is assigned to go and track her down. Meanwhile, that story threatens to finish them both. The whole thing is almost as contrived as that Sarah Jessica Parker/Hugh Grant thing a month or so ago with equally dislikeable (if less moronic) characters. Enraging.

This Way of Life posterThis Way of Life is a film that deserves to be seen by every New Zealander and probably won’t (unless television remembers why it was invented). Husband-wife documentarists Barbara Sumner Burstyn and Thomas Burstyn have discovered the beautiful and fascinating Ottley-Karena-family for us. Peter and Colleen have six kids (five under five) and are trying to bring them up in a way that most of us can only dream of – intimately connected to the outdoors and to each other, surrounded by horses and free to roam. Unfortunately, family politics continually intervene to threaten this idyllic lifestyle and the parents themselves wonder if they aren’t setting these beautiful children up for adult disappointment when they realise that the rest of the world isn’t the paradise they grew up in.

Magnificently photographed in and around Hawkes Bay (and up to the Ruahine ranges where Peter Karena keeps the wild horses he trains), This Way of Life is quite lovely and quietly powerful – much like Peter Karena himself.

201006211629.jpgFinally, Admiral is the biggest-budget Russian epic ever and a huge hit at the domestic box office and it’s not hard to see why – a shockingly reactionary piece of Russian imperial revisionism about the impossibly heroic Admiral Kolchak (Konstantin Khabenskiy – Night Watch) who, following the 1917 Revolution, led the White Army in the failed attempt to restore power to the despots and aristocrats who had just been overthrown.

A hagiography rather than a biography, if you take your eyes off the one-eyed history you get a swoony Mills & Boon romance featuring Kolchak and the beautiful wife of one of his officers (Elizaveta Boyarskaya). I didn’t like it.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 24 March, 2010.

While I’m getting up to date I’m going to restrict the amount of links in these pieces to the official sites only. I hope that doesn’t impede the value you get here in any way. Crikey, March was a hell of a long time ago, eh?

Dan

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