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Review: Letters from Iwo Jima and five more ...

By February 28, 2007December 30th, 2010One Comment

Letters from iwo Jima posterTwo sig­ni­fic­ant can­did­ates for a 2007 Top Ten have appeared this week and are both fine examples of what mod­ern, mature, dra­mat­ic film-making can be – either inde­pend­ently or via the stu­dio sys­tem. While the splen­did and fear­less Notes on a Scandal is essen­tially an indie product, dis­trib­uted by a major, Clint Eastwood’s majest­ic Letters from Iwo Jima simply would­n’t exist without tens of mil­lions of dol­lars of cor­por­ate invest­ment. Sometimes the sys­tem works.

Iwo Jima is a com­pan­ion piece to last year’s Flags of Our Fathers and the two films are so closely related that togeth­er they form a con­sid­er­ably great­er whole. By February 1945 the Allies had advanced suc­cess­fully across the Pacific and Iwo Jima was the first (tiny, vol­can­ic) ter­rit­ory of the Japanese home­land to be fought over. Tactically and emo­tion­ally sig­ni­fic­ant bey­ond its size, Iwo Jima was defen­ded by a hope­lessly out­gunned and out­numbered col­lec­tion of Japanese who tried to defend the island from caves and tun­nels as sup­plies and ammuni­tion quickly ran dry.

Moving and ele­gi­ac­al, Eastwood’s Iwo Jima duet is in the very top draw­er of anti-war films: essen­tial viewing.

Notes on a Scandal posterJudi Dench raises the bar for screen act­ing once again with her per­form­ance as the bit­ter, lonely, les­bi­an teach­er Barbara Covett in Notes on a Scandal. All involved (includ­ing lumin­ous Cate Blanchett and unim­peach­able Bill Nighy) are bril­liant in sup­port of a great script by Patrick Marber (Closer), adap­ted from the nov­el by Zoe Heller.

Blanchett plays art teach­er Sheba Hart, a middle-class fish out of water in an inner city com­pre­hens­ive school. Her fool­ish and impuls­ive affair with a 15 year old pupil puts her in the power of the manip­u­lat­ive older woman who dis­cov­ers her secret and uses it to advance her own infatu­ation. Philip Glass’s excel­lent music helps ratchet up the ten­sion nicely.

Running With Scissors posterRunning With Scissors is about cop­ing with men­tal health issues in the same way that Weekend At Bernie’s is about deal­ing with death. Based on Augusten Burrough’s Burroughs’ best-selling mem­oir of a child­hood sur­roun­ded by wacky eccent­rics after his moth­er had him adop­ted by her ther­ap­ist, it’s yet anoth­er por­trait of psy­cho­ther­apy as com­edy – and ther­ap­ists as char­lat­ans and frauds or buffoons.

Orchestra Seats posterIn the affable French drama Orchestra Seats, half a dozen suc­cess­ful but unhappy people have their lives gently improved by one unsuc­cess­ful but happy per­son – like a less meta­phys­ic­al Amélie – the mes­sage being, basic­ally, “get over yourselves” and we can­’t hear that enough, can we?

Norbit posterEddie Murphy proves his Oscar nom­in­a­tion was no fluke by play­ing three char­ac­ters in his latest film, an exten­ded fat and fart joke called Norbit. It’s as bad and as good as that descrip­tion makes it sound – if you are in the mar­ket for inane and insult­ing you’ll be well served by Norbit.

Hannibal Rising posterFinally, in Hannibal Rising the young Hannibal Lecter escapes from his post-war Lithuanian work camp/orphanage and trudges across Europe to learn the way of the Samurai from his Aunt in a French château. So far, so ludicrous. He uses these new found skillz to wreak revenge on the sad­ist­ic thugs who killed his par­ents and ate his sis­ter. Hannibal Rising is so wrong on so many levels and poor Gaspard Ulliel is hope­lessly mis­cast as the young Lecter, but you might get a laugh or two out of Thomas Harris’ mor­on­ic script.

Printed in the Capital Times, Wellington, Wednesday 28 February 2007.

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