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Review: Zookeeper, What’s Your Number?, Abduction, Chalet Girl and The Round Up

The Rugby World Cup was supposed to be a boon for the whole economy, the thousands of excited guests soaking up our food, wine, culture and hospitality. Ask any cinema (or theatre) owner what’s really happening and you’ll get the inconvenient truth – the Rugby World Cup itself is soaking up all the attention and most of the dollars. For at least one cinema owner numbers are down 30-40% on this time last year. This shouldn’t be news – even in my day running the Paramount we knew that a Saturday night All Black game meant it was hardly worth opening – a 7.30 kick-off killed your two best two sessions.

Night rugby has been a disaster for everybody except Sky TV and the bars that show it. At least in the days of afternoon games people could watch their team and go out for dinner and a movie afterwards – the interests of whole families could be accommodated. Those days appear to be long gone.

This week we see that New Zealand’s film distributors have thrown in the towel and dumped the year’s worst product in a week no one was going to the pictures anyway. For my sins I sat (mostly) alone in picture theatres all over the city to help you decide how best to (cinematically) escape Dan Carter’s groin.

Zookeeper posterTo be fair to Zookeeper, I was far from alone at the Saturday matinée screening – it seems portly comedian Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) is a popular figure here in New Zealand. In The Dilemma he showed that there’s some nascent dramatic talent lurking beneath the lazy choices he’s been making but there’s no sign of it here. James plays a lonely but caring Boston zookeeper who thinks that his smelly occupation is holding him back, romantically-speaking.

When he threatens to leave to pursue the girl of his dreams the zoo animals decide to start giving him some advice – verbally. Hilarious hijinks ensue (NB “hijinks” may not actually be “hilarious”). Despite James’ name on the script and as a producer, make no mistake, Zookeeper is an Adam Sandler film. He voices one of the animals, his wife has a bit part and his company, Happy Madison, is banking the rewards.

What's Your Number? posterLazy as it is, Zookeeper isn’t as depressing as the Anna Faris vehicle What’s Your Number? which is the ugliest film I’ve seen all year. Faris mugs relentlessly as Ally Darling, a Boston (again) 30-something single woman who makes the mistake of believing something she reads in a woman’s magazine. Evidently, women who have had more than 20 sexual partners before marriage don’t get married – something like that. She counts back, realises that she’s on the verge of eternal spinsterhood and begins a search for her previous encounters in the vain hope that one of them will now prove marriage material. Faris, like James, is an executive producer of her own film and she’s obviously inordinately proud of her ass because we get to see an awful lot of it.

Abduction posterImagine for a moment that you are the star of one one of the most successful movie franchises in history, but when you signed on it was paid at modest Danish industry rates rather than the “never-work-again” money you probably deserve. Well, if you are Michael Nyqvist from the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films, if you bide your time long enough you get to sleepwalk through the dumb and derivative Abduction for real Hollywood wages.

Nyqvist, playing Russian villain Koslow, isn’t the only decent actor slumming it for an easy pay cheque in a film that’s sole purpose is to give the eyebrows of Taylor (Twilight) Lautner a film of their own and separate a few gullible teenage girls from their pocket money. Sigourney Weaver phones her performance in but at least Alfred Molina and Jason Isaacs have to maintain an accent.

Chalet Girl posterPlenty of other decent British thesps can be found slumming it in Chalet Girl, an unambitious rom-com set on the Austrian slopes. Oh dear God, I promised I’d never use the word “thesps” in a review but it’s too late now… Bill Nighy and Bill Bailey are agreeable enough presences, I suppose, but the film itself never comes close to justifying why it should take up space on a New Zealand cinema screen.

The Round Up posterFor more than 50 years the French failed to come to terms with their contribution to the Holocaust but it seems like in the last year (cinematically at least) they’ve done nothing else. Earlier this year in Sarah’s Key, Kristin Scott Thomas played a journalist discovering the truth about the shameful purge of more than 10,000 French jews from Paris in 1941. That film viewed those events through a modern lens but Rose Bosch’s new film The Round Up supposedly tells us the story as straight historic recreation.

It starts with the famous newsreel footage of Hitler in front of the Eiffel Tower and soon goes on to explain how the French authorities, with varying degrees of enthusiasm but no shortage of disinterest, complied in the Nazi drive to rid Western Europe of it’s Jewish population. Bosch tells the Jewish side of the story mostly through the eyes of the children, with Protestant nurse Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) as the only decent French witness to the vile events.

It’s hardly conceivable that those awful experiences could be laid on too thick and yet somehow The Round Up manages to do just that, piling on the pathos and lingering too long on every heartbreaking little face. It’s a tough watch – as it should be – but in the end it tried so hard to move me that it couldn’t help but fail.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 5 October, 2011.

Dan

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