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katherine heigl Archives - Funerals & Snakes

Review: New Year’s Eve, The First Grader, Red State and Courageous

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For years now I’ve been fighting a single-handed defence of the later career of Robert De Niro (no defence, of course, being necessary for the early career which featured Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter). This defence has several arguments. Firstly, his decline hasn’t been nearly as pronounced – or as strange – as Al Pacino’s. Secondly, he was making some unusual decisions even during the eighties and, frankly, one Harry Tuttle – the renegade central heating engineer in Brazil – or foul-mouthed bail bondsman Jack Walsh (Midnight Run) will get you a free pass for an awful lot of We’re No Angels.

In the nineties, too, he would make choices that fans of Raging Bull and King of Comedy would think were beneath him – Mad Dog and Glory, Frankenstein – but also pull out Wag the Dog and Jackie Brown. It’s been clear for a while now that De Niro is something of a workaholic – and an actor who waits for projects as good as Goodfellas is an actor who doesn’t work all that often.

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Review: Another Year, Sarah’s Key, Arthur, Heartbreakers, Mars Needs Moms and Queen of the Sun

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Another Year posterGenius filmmaker Mike Leigh has been on a bit of an up and down streak in recent years. 2002’s All or Nothing was wonderful, Vera Drake (2004) I found frustratingly unwatchable and, most recently, Happy-Go-Lucky seemed too thin – beneath his significant talents – and yet, despite not liking it very much, I find myself thinking about Happy-Go-Lucky quite often. And that’s Leigh’s skill – he gets under your skin even when you resist.

Another Year is his latest film and it’s terribly good. It’s Secrets and Lies good, that good, despite having no plot to speak of. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen (Leigh regulars) play Tom and Gerri, a happily married couple who seem to be surrounded by people who simply aren’t as good at coping with life – Lesley Manville’s Mary, a highly strung, alcoholic, work colleague of Sheen’s who turns up to embarrass herself in their kitchen periodically; Tom’s old university buddy Ken played by Peter Wight (overweight, depressed, lonely, also alcoholic); Tom’s taciturn widower brother Ronnie (David Bradley). They all drift into and out of Tom and Gerri’s welcoming suburban kitchen while tea is made and drunk and banalities are spoken.

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Review: Summer Holiday Round-up (2010/11)

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T.J. MillerThis year the summer holidays seemed to have been owned by the unlikely figure of T.J. Miller, deadpan comedian, supporting actor and eerily familiar background figure. In Yogi Bear he was the ambitious but dim deputy park ranger easily duped by Andrew Daly’s smarmy Mayor into helping him sell out Jellystone to corporate logging interests, in Gulliver’s Travels he was the ambitious but as it turns out dim mail room supervisor who provokes Jack Black into plagiarising his way into a fateful travel writing gig and in Unstoppable he’s the slightly less dim (and certainly less ambitious) mate of the doofus who leaves the handbrake on and then watches his enormous freight train full of toxic waste roll away.

So, a good summer for T.J. Miller then, what about the rest of us?

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Review: Soul Kitchen, Step Up 3, Killers and a couple more …

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Soul Kitchen posterTurkish-German director Fatih Akin has long been an arthouse favourite around these parts. Head-On (2004) and The Edge of Heaven (2007) were Festival successes so it was odd to see his new film Soul Kitchen skip this year’s event and go straight to general release. On viewing it’s easy to see why. Akin has gone commercial and Soul Kitchen is as broad a comedy as you’ll find outside the big chains – sadly I have to report that Akin’s film doesn’t sit comfortably in that territory.

Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) runs a greasy spoon café called the Soul Kitchen in a rundown part of old Hamburg. He’s not much of a cook or a businessman but his loyal customers seem to like it. Thrown into a tizzy by a combination of his girlfriend’s move to China, a very bad back, the tax department, his deadbeat brother (Moritz Bleibtreu) on day release from prison and an old school friend with an eye on his real estate, Zinos tries to navigate his way through a rapidly deteriorating situation with only a genius new chef and some loyal but easily distracted staff.

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Review: Four Lions, Life as We Know It and Farewell

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Four Lions posterSomebody once said that comedy is just tragedy plus time and Four Lions, a wicked, bitter and hilarious new comedy by Chris Morris, tests that maxim to breaking point (and for some of you, beyond it).

Back in the 90s, Morris was responsible for “Brass Eye”, a mock current affairs series that conned gullible celebrities and politicians into (for example) appearing in advertisements warning the nation against the new super drug ‘Cake’. Fearless and righteous in equal measure, he has made his first feature film and it dares to try and make us laugh at the first world’s current bogeyman, Islamo-terrorism, specifically the homegrown kind which led to the 2005 London bus and tube bombings.

In Sheffield, South Yorkshire, a group of wildly enthusiastic but incompetent jihadists (played superbly by Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Arsher Ali, Adeel Akhtar and Nigel Lindsay) would be making a stand if only they could stop bickering. A trip to a Pakistani training camp, bomb making classes, farewell videos and a trip to the London Marathon are all disasters but Four Lions is only 98% farce – there’s some heart in there too.

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Review: The Strength of Water, Séraphine, The Cove, Taking Woodstock, Orphan and The Ugly Truth

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Festival titles are returning to cinemas at such a rate that it seems like pre-Festival cinemagoer cynicism was well-placed. 50% of this week’s new releases were screening locally only a month ago but as they are easily the best half of the arrangement I’m inclined to be forgiving.

The Strength of Water posterArmagan Ballantyne’s debut NZ feature The Strength of Water is a strikingly mature piece of work and one of the most affecting films I’ve seen this year. In a remote Hokianga village a pair of twins (excellent first-timers Melanie Mayall-Nahi and Hato Paparoa) share a special bond that tragedy can’t easily break. A mysterious young stranger (Isaac Barber) arrives on the scene, escaping from troubles of his own and… and then I really can’t say any more.

Full of surprises from the very first frame The Strength of Water shows that quality development time (including the support of the Sundance Institute) really can make a good script great. Ballantyne and writer Briar Grace-Smith offer us layers of fascination along with deep psychological truth and gritty Loach-ian realism. The mix is compelling and the end product is tremendous.

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