Forgetting Sarah Marshall is an ideal post-Festival palate cleanser: a saucy comedy fresh off the Judd Apatow production line (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up). Here he gives the spotlight to one of his supporting players: Jason Segal (Knocked Up) plays tv composer Peter who within two minutes of the start of the film is dumped by tv star Sarah M. (Kristen Bell from “Veronica Mars”). He goes to Hawaii to recover only to discover that his ex is also there – with her new English rock star boyfriend. Very funny in parts, surprisingly moving at times thanks to a heartfelt performance from big lump Segal, FSM gets an extra half a star for featuring professional West Ham fan Russell Brand, playing a version of his sex-addicted stage persona.
Six years after their last appearance together, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson put on their Mulder and Scully faces for The X Files: I Want to Believe. This outing is just as preposterous (or should that be post-posterous considering how many times they have already been around this block) as you would expect. FBI Agent Amanda Peet asks Dr Scully to find Mulder, who has been on the run since the end of the last season. She has some missing persons she needs to find and her only lead is a convicted paedophile (Billy Connolly) with visions of body parts buried in the snow. Silly, but should keep the fans (and Gillian Anderson’s agent) happy.
I could think of a 100 reasons why I shouldn’t like Richard Attenborough’s Closing the Ring (a tear-jerking romance spanning WWII and the Irish Troubles) but in the end I decided not to. In 1991 Belfast, a lad looking for wreckage of a crashed WWII B‑12 bomber finds a wedding ring and an inscription that leads him to the small mid-western town of Branagan and some terribly sad family secrets. The younger actors can’t match the grunt of the legends on screen (including Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer) but it’s a film with a good heart and it serves very nicely for a wet Sunday afternoon.
Considering the calibre of the cast (Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church) Smart People is a major disappointment. From the first sight of the pillow stuffed up Quaid’s jumper indicating indolent middle-age it’s clear that this a slapdash effort not helped by presentation in the Penthouse Vogue Lounge that was sub-optimal to say the least. Sound problems throughout meant that the annoying indie-by-numbers soundtrack sounded like a radio tuned off the station and there’s no excuse these days for an aperture plate not lining up properly. Quaid plays a misanthropic lecturer, grieving the loss of his wife (and isn’t that a lazy shortcut these days?) who is brought back to life by the unlikely love of an ER doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker).
Sadly, the Penthouse experience did not improve much by moving to Cinema 2, where the shutter timing has been out (and deteriorating) in the two years I have been reviewing, now joined by a noticeable hot spot in the centre of the screen. Married Life is a 40s-style melodrama starring Chris Cooper as the buttoned-down businessman who believes that killing his wife (Patricia Clarkson) will save her from the inevitable pain he would inflict by leaving her for his mistress (Rachel McAdams). Pierce Brosnan is the suave best friend and I do feel that the film would have been infinitely more interesting if the casting of Cooper and Brosnan had been reversed.
In the Penthouse’s favour, the new Cinema 3 is a lovely, comfortable room and (apart from a slightly battered second-hand print) the presentation of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was first rate. Like Married Life, Miss Pettigrew seems inspired by the films of the past without the filmmaking chops to really pull it off. Set in London on the verge of WWII, Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is a naïve servant, down on her uppers, who stumbles in to the life of ingénue and kept woman Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) and in one day manages to rescue her (and everyone around her) from a life of ignominy and loss. A witty script needs more pacy direction and snappier cutting to really come to life and, of the cast, only McDormand really shows the precision to pull it off.
Finally, Journey from the Fall is a moving and enlightening epic story of post-war Vietnam. As the Americans leave Saigon in a hurry in 1975 freedom-fighter/collaborator Long is captured by the Viet Cong and sent to a re-education camp. His wife, mother and son attempt to escape the terror by joining the thousands of boat people who risked their lives among the communists, sharks and pirates in the South China Sea. Understandably light on laughs but heavy on everything else, Journey from the Fall is easily the most moving and emotional film of the week.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 6 August, 2008.
Notes on screening conditions: I don’t have much to add to the remarks above except that I’m getting sick of the Penthouse making expensive improvements to their foyer and bar while the screening conditions deteriorate.
Nature of Conflict: Journey from the Fall is distributed in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I do a little work for now and then.