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Review: Beowulf, The Heartbreak Kid, The Dead Girl, The Secret Life of Words, Bella and Nina’s Journey

By November 28, 2007December 31st, 2013One Comment

The Heartbreak Kid posterLet’s get the unpleas­ant­ness out of the way first: watch­ing The Farrelly Brothers’ ugly remake of Neil Simon’s The Heartbreak Kid was a tri­al bey­ond all human endur­ance. After about 20 minutes I was beg­ging for release (which came shortly after­wards as bliss­ful uncon­scious­ness over­took me). Sadly, no stu­dio exec­ut­ive will ever get fired for green-lighting a racy Ben Stiller romantic com­edy so no mat­ter how bad this one is it won’t be the last one we are forced to endure.

Beowulf poster Another point­er to the future of main­stream Hollywood (and con­sid­er­ably less depress­ing) is the bom­bast­ic 3D epic Beowulf, in which real act­ors like Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich are used as a base for com­puter anim­ated per­form­ances which at times are eer­ily life­like and at oth­er times, well, not so much. Last year saw an enter­tain­ing low brow and low budget re-telling of the Beowulf legend and this ver­sion is sim­il­arly earthy but suf­fers from some clunky dia­logue between the big set-pieces. But none of that is a reas­on for going: see­ing the future of cinema is.

For the first time in Wellington a fea­ture film is being screened in the new hi-resolution digit­al format: flick­er, scratch and vibra­tion free. I’m sure even­tu­ally some pimply nerd of a pro­jec­tion­ist will work out how to play it out of focus but for the time being it is the state of the art and I am thrilled it’s here. In terms of 3D, I was a scep­tic but now I am sold. With James Cameron shoot­ing Avatar in 3D in Wellington at the moment and the Jackson/Spielberg Tintin due for 3D release in 2009 it seems like the tech­no­logy and the art are com­ing togeth­er nicely. Ultimately Beowulf isn’t much of a film but then neither was The Jazz Singer and look what happened then.

The Dead Girl posterAs con­trast to the excep­tion­al digit­al present­a­tion for Beowulf, The Dead Girl (screened from what looks like a DVD) is con­sid­er­ably sub-optimal. I’m not averse to DVD as a the­at­ric­al format, as I know some­times 35mm prints are not avail­able, but this screen­ing (at The Empire) was very poor, mak­ing the won­der­ful Marcia Gay Harden at times look like Michael Jackson. The Dead Girl is a heavy­weight drama about the vari­ous char­ac­ters who are effected by a murder and the per­form­ances (from Toni Collette and Rose Byrne espe­cially) are excel­lent but the relent­less­ness is debilitating.

The Secret Life of Words posterThree sens­it­ive films about trauma and recov­ery are screen­ing in Wellington sim­ul­tan­eously at the moment. The Secret Life of Words is the best of them: it’s always a pleas­ure to dis­cov­er that you’ve been watch­ing some­thing quite dif­fer­ent to the film you thought you’d sat down to. This is a test­a­ment to Isabel Coixet’s subtly layered script and her patient dir­ec­tion, as well as Sarah Polley’s mod­est per­form­ance as Hannah, nurs­ing Tim Robbins’ injured oil-rig work­er after a tra­gic acci­dent. It sounds more con­trived than it actu­ally is.

Bella posterA little less sub­stan­tial, but sim­il­arly affect­ing, is Bella about a young woman in New York (Nina, played by Tammy Blanchard) who makes the unwel­come dis­cov­ery that she is preg­nant. When her boss, Manny, fires her from her res­taur­ant job Manny’s broth­er José the chef comes to her aid. For reas­ons that are more to do with his own guilt and pain he tries to help in the only we he can; by mak­ing a con­nec­tion. And that is what both of these films are about, ulti­mately: the neces­sity of human con­nec­tion in order for us to heal our lives.

Nina's Journey posterIt seems churl­ish to be too crit­ic­al of a well-intentioned Holocaust mem­oir like Nina’s Journey. The tale of a young woman from Poland sur­viv­ing the Warsaw Ghetto and even­tu­ally escap­ing to Sweden is obvi­ously a labour of over for writer-director Lena Einhorn (who I’m guess­ing shares more than just a sur­name with prot­ag­on­ist and nar­rat­or Nina Einhorn) but a little more dis­tance might have helped and the anaem­ic re-creations have the look of some­thing you might see on the Discovery Channel.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 November, 2007.

One Comment

  • Llew says:

    I’m sure even­tu­ally some pimply nerd of a pro­jec­tion­ist will work out how to play it out of focus”

    The Regent centre will refuse to screen it surely, if they have to have it in focus.