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Review: Summer Holiday 09-10 Summary

While hunting the site for some links to add to the just posted Winter’s Bone etc. review, I discovered that my Summer Holiday special hadn’t made it here. So, for completeness’ sake, here it is. Pretty sure, this is an early draft too but there’s no sign of an email submitting it.

What a lovely Summer we’ve been having – for watching movies. While the Avatar juggernaut rolls inexorably on there has plenty of other options for a dedicated seeker of shelter from the storm.

The Lovely Bones posterReleased at any other time of year, Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones would be getting a decent length evaluation (and the headline) here but with fifteen films discuss we’ll have to live with the bullet point evaluation: not un-moving. My companion and I spent a about an hour after watching TLB discussing it’s flaws and yet both ended up agreeing that we’d actually enjoyed the film a lot, despite the problems.

Personally, I think Jackson’s tendency towards occasional whimsical in-jokery typified the uncertainty of tone (I’m thinking of his unnecessary camera shop cameo as an example) but the fundamental message – that the people left behind after a tragedy are more important than the victims – was clearly and quite bravely articulated. And when I saw the film at a crowded Embassy session, during the pivotal scene where the sister discovers the evidence to catch the killer, I could only hear one person breathing around me – and it wasn’t me.

I haven’t tried to offer a plot summary here as I’m guessing most people have seen it by now, haven’t they?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo posterThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a nasty and cold-hearted piece of work that has somehow managed to persuade the world that it is reinventing the serial-killer thriller while still flirting with every singe cliché of the same: a crusading journalist on the skids is given a shot a redemption by a sad old man wanting answers to an old mystery. I’d yawn if I wasn’t scared of throwing up at the same time.

Creation posterIn Creation, Paul Bettany and wife Jennifer Connolly play Mr and Mrs Darwin and their struggles with his theory of evolution, a story told with more rigour by Arthur Meek in the Downstage play “Collapsing Creation” last year. Too much sentiment, not enough science.

Sherlock Holmes posterSurprise hit of the holidays was Guy Ritchie’s re-boot of Sherlock Holmes with the reliable Robert Downey Jr as the great detective. No major star takes a beating like Downey, he really is first rate, and his ability to do “stoned” is remarkable considering his own sobriety. Holmes is hugely entertaining and a great future is assured for the franchise. It turns out the way to get a great Guy Ritchie movie (his last few have been truly terrible) is to keep him away from the typewriter – he really can direct and really can’t write.

Whatever Works posterLast year Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona was a pleasant surprise but lightning doesn’t quite strike twice with his new film Whatever Works. Star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, Larry David, plays an intellectual misanthrope who discovers that life among the “cretins” and “midgets” might not be so bad after all. It’s an appealing, humanist philosophy being espoused by Allen here – I just with his filmmaking wasn’t so slapdash.

Fantastic Mr. Fox posterWes Anderson’s delightfully whimsical Fantastic Mr. Fox is already one of my films of the year. A witty script for the adults, cute furry animals for the kids and wonderful production design for the aesthetes make it a winner all round – I’m sure Roald Dahl would be be pretty happy too.

The Princess and the Frog posterThe kids ought to be pretty happy with The Princess and the Frog, too, Disney’s return to old-fashioned hand-drawn animation. To me it was as if the Pixar people (who run things at Disney animation nowadays) have run all the classic Disney cartoons (Lady and the Tramp, Beauty and the Beast and even Bambi are referenced here) through a machine that can spit out a perfect new version. The eight-year-old I went with immediately said she wanted the DVD and that’s not a bad recommendation in my book.

Paranormal Activity posterParanormal Activity is garbage, fit only for the credulous and the gullible – the kind of people who’ve made these over-hyped non-films successful for years. A bland yet annoying Californian couple think they might be haunted and so film their every move with an expensive handicam – supposedly this film is made from the tapes they left behind. Yuck.

Mid-August Lunch posterLean pickings in the arthouse this Summer: Mid-August Lunch is a subtly ingratiating Italian concoction about a middle-aged man living with his ageing Mamma. As Rome empties out for the Summer, his apartment fills with even more visiting old ladies who, at first, drive him mad. Mid-August Lunch gets extra points for being the shortest film of the holidays – 73 minutes. More like this please.

The First Day of the rest of Your Life posterThe First Day of the Rest of Your Life hails from France and follows an ordinary French family through those moments, big and small, that define a families relationships. Sadly, the fussy direction and banal insights meant for a disappointing experience.

Cold Souls posterCold Souls, on the other hand, is a neat idea that I think isn’t exploited quite as well as it might have been. Paul Giamatti (Sideways’ pinot snob) plays a New York actor called Paul Giamatti who is struggling with the character of Vanya in the Chekov paly he is rehearsing. His agent recommends a visit to David Strathairn’s Soul Storage facility where his troublesome soul can be removed, freeing him to play Vanya without the annoying bother of so much identification, conscience, emotion.

This is an interesting idea but is let down by a detour into Russian gangsterism and Cold Souls doesn’t reach the Being John Malkovich heights to which it so clearly aspires.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on (I think) Wednesday 13 January, 2010.

Dan

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