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Boston, “some years ago”. Two ambi­tious young men enter the police academy. They’re both from the South Side, Irish and work­ing class and they both have secrets they don’t want spilled. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is a mole planted by vil­lain Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) wants to be a real cop but gets recruited by Martin Sheen to go under­cov­er in Costello’s crew.

So we start with two moles (or rats if you prefer) both look­ing for the oth­er – an all-time great thrill­er set-up. As it was when Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak first told the story in the Hong Kong sen­sa­tion Infernal Affairs in 2002. Unfortunately (and com­par­is­ons are odi­ous but inev­it­able) Martin Scorsese’s heavy­weight ver­sion dis­ap­points when set against the lean Asian original.

Where Infernal Affairs was “tight­er than a nun­’s nasty”, as my old English teach­er used to say, The Departed is flabby. Too much expos­i­tion, too much back-story, and the addi­tion of a love tri­angle with the beau­ti­ful shrink (Vera Farmiga) is an unne­ces­sary twist-too-far.

It’s almost as if each of the stars has to carry a whole lot of extra weight that their star­dom demands but the pic­ture does­n’t. Nicholson is bril­liant and enter­tain­ing but how much of his work drives the story along? Not so much.

Despite all these qualms, The Departed is still one of the best films of the year, but do your­self a favour and seek out Infernal Affairs to see a film that feels like it’s re-inventing the medi­um – like Scorsese’s films used to.

When Kevin Spacey made Beyond The Sea in 2004 he was already eight years older than Bobby Darin was when he died at 36. Luckily for us, Spacey has a sense of humour about it in this easy-going homage to one of the unsung singing her­oes of the easy-listening era.

Darin was a poorly child who grew in to a sickly young man. His weak heart drove him to achieve as much as he could in the time allowed and the film paints him as someone who cared more for his career than for the music that gave it to him (which in the case of “Splish-Splash” was prob­ably fair enough).

The bland Kate Bosworth plays the bland Sandra Dee (Mrs Darin for a while) per­fectly, if un-memorably. Spacey is very fine, how­ever, and in the excel­lent music­al num­bers he really does hit it.

Robin Williams once called The Walt Disney Company Mouse-schwitz. I intro­duce that fact only because it is funny, and not because it has any­thing to do with The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, the sad, cyn­ic­al little film from The Walt Disney Company that is my first expos­ure to the franchise.

Tim Allen returns as Scott Calvin, ordin­ary bloke thrust into the role of Santa by a magic red coat. He’s got a new Mrs Clause (see The Santa Clause 2 or rather don’t see The Santa Clause 2 if you can avoid it) which means the in-laws (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margaret) are com­ing to vis­it. Meanwhile Jack Frost (played with verve by Martin Short) has his eye on the fat guy’s job. Apart from Short, the whole exer­cise is tired and sloppy and I did­n’t even man­age to crack a smile until the inev­it­able out-takes at the end.

Printed in the Capital Times, Wellington, on Wednesday 22 November, 2006.

Reason for Conflict: Last year I advised Arkles Entertainment to pick up Beyond The Sea after they lent me a pre­view DVD. I’m glad they did as I think it will do good busi­ness for them. Beyond The Sea is also play­ing at the Academy Cinema in Auckland, for whom I designed and main­tain a web site.

Screening Conditions: The Departed was screened on Saturday after­noon in Empire 1 and very sat­is­fact­ory it all was. The cof­fee was un-drinkable unfor­tu­nately but they made up for it with a delight­ful berry and almond fri­and (no cream?) and then a very nice decaff trim lat­té on Sunday night when I went back to see Kenny again. I seem to have turned into my own idea of an annoy­ing cus­tom­er – how iron­ic! Beyond The Sea was viewed on a DVD loaned by Arkles. I would have loved to have seen it on the big screen some­where but time was not on my side this week­end. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause was played for me early last Thursday even­ing in Reading 5 – incid­ent­ally Reading’s media policy pre­vents me from watch­ing films there on Friday, Saturday or Sunday which I’m sure suits us both down to the ground.