It’s American election year and those mealy-mouthed Hollywood liberals have fired the first shot in their attempt to influence the result. In The Campaign, Will Ferrell plays Will Ferrell playing a four-term US congressman from a district so safe district no one will run against him. The mysterious Moch brothers – John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd – are billionaire industrialists (loosely and lazily based on the nefarious real-life Koch Brothers) who decide to bankroll another candidate, one who will be more easily influenced by their money and power. It’s hard to imagine anyone more easily bought than Ferrell’s Cam Brady but evidently it’s time for a change and they place their bets on lovable local tourism boss Zach Galifianakis, playing another of his trademarked limp-wristed-but-heterosexual naifs.
So, after trawling through the many thousands of words written about cinema in these pages this year, I suppose you want me to come to some conclusions? Do some “summing up”? Help guide you through the great video store of life? Well, alright then. Here goes.
We don’t do Top Ten lists here at the Capital Times – they are reductive, facile and, frankly, you have to leave too many titles out. I have taken to dividing my year’s viewing up into categories: keepers are films I want to have in my home and watch whenever the mood takes me; renters are the films that I could happily watch again; then there are the films that I enjoyed but am in no hurry to repeat, the films I might have misjudged first time around, the films I can’t get out of my head (for better or worse), the films I am supposed to love but you know, meh, and most important of all – the films you should avoid as if your very life depends upon it.
First, the keepers: a surprise for some will be Fantastic Mr. Fox which was released after my 2009 Year in Review was submitted and the only film in the list that I already own. Animal Kingdom was the film I most recommended this year – a stunning, tense piece of work that gripped me totally.
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.
My big beef with most eco-documentaries is the lack of hope. Whether it’s Rob Stewart (Sharkwater), Franny Armstrong (The Age of Stupid) or even Leonardo DiCaprio (The 11th Hour) most of these films go to a lot of trouble to tell you what’s wrong with the planet but leave us feeling helpless and depressed.
That’s why I like Kathleen Gallagher’s work so much. Her film last year, Earth Whisperers/Papatunauku told ten stories of people who were making a difference, inspiring change and showing us that there are solutions as well as problems. This year she has repeated the tonic, focusing on our waterways and our relationship with the sea: Water Whisperers/Tangaroa.
I can just imagine the Monday morning when a development executive stumbled across the script of The Hangover. It wouldn’t have taken him long to realise that he’d discovered modern Hollywood’s holy grail – a perfectly realised men-behaving-badly movie, so well-written and cleverly structured that he wouldn’t need any big stars or a marquee director. By morning tea he would have been gone for the day, safe in the knowledge that his targets for the year were going be met and (no doubt inspired by the script he’d just bought) he would be dropping a big bunch of credit card on hookers and blow. Probably.
The script is perfect in its elegant and streamlined construction (screenwriter-porn, no less): Four friends head to Vegas for a bachelor party. We leave them at the first Jägermeister shot, only to rejoin them at dawn as they emerge squinting into the light. They’ve gained a baby and tiger and lost a tooth – and a buddy. The film is all about putting the pieces of the night back together and it’s clever, filthy, loose and charming. The Hangover is indeed the Citizen Kane of all getting-fucked-up-in-Vegas movies – so supremely pre-eminent that (let us hope) we never have to watch another of its kind ever again. Of course, The Hangover 2 is already in pre-production.
Best known to New Zealand audiences as the deceased patriarch of the Fisher family in television’s “Six Feet Under”, Richard Jenkins has had a steady career in movies over the last 25 years, often in unsung supporting roles, but this year he has really left a mark.
Speaking to the Capital Times from his home in Rhode Island, Jenkins gave thanks to Thomas McCarthy, creator of 2004’s sleeper hit The Station Agent, for having faith in him despite his lack of marquee presence. “He asked me to read the script and I hadn’t read anything I liked more. But I told him, nobody’s going to give you the money with me in it!” But McCarthy persevered, even when one executive producer suggested just weeks before shooting that Morgan Freeman might be a more commercial choice.
2008 has been a great year for Jenkins. In the sophomoric buddy comedy Step Brothers he got to improvise scenes about dinosaurs with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly; he was reunited with The Coen Brothers for Burn After Reading (in a part that was written for him); and in the sensitive indie he shines as a widowed academic brought back from a boundless depression by a chance New York connection with two illegal immigrants.
But carrying a film on his shoulders was a new experience. “I always wondered what it would be like, you know? Could I do it? But most of all, I didn’t want to let Tom down.” He needn’t have worried, as his performance anchors a typically humane McCarthy film about strangers thrown together and learning to appreciate and then love each other.
Jenkins continues to live in tiny Rhode Island where he moved after successfully auditioning for the Trinity Rep theatre company in Providence in 1970. He happily performed and directed there for 14 years, even spending four years as acting Artistic Director just as his film career was taking off.
The movie work has been so regular he hasn’t been on a stage since 1985 but he never anticipated a film career. ”I’d always loved film but frankly, it was easier to go the the moon,” he laughs. “A career is something you look back on rather than something you plan”.
Now he says he enjoys watching theatre more than he ever did (when he was acting in it) and tries to catch whatever he can, wherever he may be filming.
At the rate that Jenkins makes films (there are another four in the can for release next year), the law of averages suggests he will be shooting in Wellington before too long and he knows the talent we have to offer, describing working with Niki (Whale Rider) Caro on North Country as his best movie-making experience ever.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 December, 2008.