After the unusual occurrence last week of actually liking everything, regular readers will be reassured that normal nit-picking service is resumed this week.
Firstly, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third in the series of big budget adaptations of CS Lewis’ beloved allegories (and the first to screen in 3D). Roughly three years after the last film ended two of our heroic child-royals are returned to Narnia via a magic oil painting of a ship at sea.
Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Lucy (Georgie Henley) and their annoying cousin Eustace (played with gusto by young Will Poulter) arrive in Narnia to join the Dawn Treader on a search for the seven lords (and seven swords) who will finally unite all the warring countries and bring peace, etc., etc. All is much as you would expect from the previous installments, apart from the fact that Caspian (Ben Barnes) has lost that annoying vaguely Mediterranean accent and the talking mouse Reepicheep now sounds like Simon Pegg instead of Eddie Izzard.
What follows is a stirring tale told mostly on the high seas as all the characters (but mostly the human children) discover that their secret insecurities are what they should most be afraid of, not the mysterious green mist of evil they think they are fighting. These are good lessons and this reviewer found the third Narnia film to be much more satisfying than the seventh Potter film, and much more respectable. The kids are better actors, too.
Talking of morally respectable, young starlet and gifted comedienne Emma Stone (Zombieland) gets her first leading role in Easy A, a teen comedy that surprises simply by being much more interesting than it has a right to be. Stone is mostly anonymous high schooler Olive who lies to her friend that she lost her virginity to a college student when in fact she spent the weekend grooming her dog.
They say that a lie will be half way around the world before the truth has even got its pants on, and at high school it’s even quicker. Stone soon finds she has a new (and not unwelcome) notoriety but keeping up her reputation without actually living up to it soon backfires. Smart, witty and sincere, Easy A is easily recommended.
Megamind (in 3D) tries very hard to be entertaining and sometimes succeeds but you can see Dreamworks’ strain of competing with Pixar’s effortless storytelling skills is starting to show. Super-villain Megamind (mis-named, misunderstood and voiced by Will Ferrell) finally gets rid of the lantern-jawed flying hero Metro Man (Brad Pitt) and takes over the city. He soon finds out that a villain without an arch enemy isn’t much fun so he constructs a nemesis (Titan, voiced by Jonah Hill from Get Him to the Greek) hoping that he will get his mojo back. Megamind has its moments but there are some big gaps between them.
“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,” the poem goes, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Except in the bizarre new film Rare Exports where at a mountain in remote Northern Finland a secret project aims to uncover the burial site of the real Santa Claus, dig him up and – um, not sure actually, the plans are vague, but apparently they think he’ll be worth something.
What these big business sharks don’t realise, in fact only local kid Pieteri (Onni Tommila) does, is that the real Santa wasn’t the friendly, jolly Coca Cola Santa we all love but a demon whose punishment of the naughty went a lot farther than the withholding of presents. Rare Exports: A Christmas Story is a very strange beast indeed, played with beautiful Scandinavian deadpan by the entire cast and it’s destined to find a cult following.
The relentless need for Hollywood to find new and more explosive ways to have civilisation destroyed by aliens reaches a new low with The Strause Brothers’ Skyline in which some (supposedly) good looking non-entities watch the invasion of Earth from a Los Angeles beachfront penthouse. Arguing amongst themselves, these narcissistic wretches are powerless against the aliens and the filmmakers are powerless to resist the urge to use even more digital toys rather than construct a compelling narrative.
Everything about Skyline is deplorable except first-timer Michael Watson’s cinematography – the stunning aerial footage of Los Angeles at dawn and dusk is memorable, even if it eventually gets ruined by the Strause’s digital tomfoolery.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 8 December 2010.