Skip to main content

Two hit­men (Gleeson and the excel­lent Colin Farrell) have been sent to the sleepy Belgian town of Bruges to lie low after a job has gone wrong. Once there, they are sup­posed to enjoy the many his­tor­ic and cul­tur­al treats of the beau­ti­fully pre­served walled medi­ev­al city while wait­ing for fur­ther instruc­tions. This suits Gleeson (older, wiser, worldly) but Farrell, frac­tious after the ter­rible stuff-up, wants booze, birds, drugs and trouble. And even in Bruges he finds some of all of it.

Martin McDonagh has a great sense of tim­ing – most obvi­ously dis­played via Jon Stevens edit­ing – and his dia­logue is rich, funny and emin­ently speak-able. In Bruges is thor­oughly enter­tain­ing and has unveiled McDonagh as a great tal­ent for the future and the last time I thought that about a con­ver­ted play­wright was after watch­ing David Mamet’s House of Games in 1987.

Meanwhile, scattered across the rest of Wellington’s screens we have a mixed bag. Paul W.S. Anderson’s Death Race is nasty, bru­tish and short but has some assets: reli­able B‑movie hero Jason Statham and some lovely pho­to­graphy by Scott Kevan.

The Richard Gere-Diane Lane roman­cer Nights in Rodanthe saves it’s lim­ited best for last, but by that time you may well have drif­ted off into a world of your own as I did. Based on a best selling nov­el that really belongs in the fantasy sec­tion of the book­shop, Rodanthe thrusts two lonely divor­cees togeth­er into an empty North Carolina B&B as a hur­ricane approaches. Gere smoulders and Lane sim­pers and it’s all very blah until he goes off the Ecuador to find his estranged son.

Proving that the War on Terror has been a sim­ul­tan­eous war on qual­ity films, Traitor (star­ring Don Cheadle) is a pass­ably decent thrill­er about a devout Sudanese-American muslim (at the same time ex-élite Special Forces) who goes deep under­cov­er to get to the head of a jihadi ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion. Unfortunately for Cheadle’s char­ac­ter Samir, he is so deep that only one per­son knows which side he is really on and the relent­less FBI dude Guy Pearce is hot on on his tail.

Worth much more than a look if you get a chance, The Children of the Silk Road is a mov­ing and well-made true story about English journ­al­ist George Hogg who found him­self trapped between the com­mun­ists, the nation­al­ists and the Japanese army dur­ing the bru­tal war for China in 1937. To keep him,out of trouble, revolu­tion­ary Chow Yun-Fat hides Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers mak­ing full use of his remark­able flared nos­trils) in a remote orphan­age but once he’s there he dis­cov­ers that these poor kids need his help to get their lives back togeth­er. As the Japanese approach, Hogg decides to pack the chil­dren up and walk them across the moun­tains to safety – a jour­ney that is now enshrined in mod­ern Chinese folklore.

I’m going to recom­mend Florian Habicht’s enga­ging Rubbings from a Live Man, even though today is its last day in cinemas, as I’m sure it will have a life on DVD and (if we’re really lucky) it might even show up on tv one day. A sin­gu­lar doc­u­ment­ary about a sin­gu­lar pres­ence, the theatre-maker Warwick Broadhead, the film allows Broadhead to tell his own story in his own words and extraordin­ary the­at­ric­al images, often using alter-egos to illu­min­ate chapters of his life that are too pain­ful to explore per­son­ally. Broadhead is a nation­al treas­ure and someone who hasn’t just made a life from the theatre, he has made his life into theatre.

Finally, Clark Gregg’s adapt­a­tion of Chuck Palahniuk’s nov­el Choke is dirty, funny, scab­rous and yet ulti­mately won­der­fully mor­al and vir­tu­ous – a delight­ful com­bin­a­tion. Sam Rockwell is Victor, a med school drop-out, now work­ing as a his­tor­ic­al re-enactor at a colo­ni­al vil­lage and fak­ing chok­ing attacks in res­taur­ants to scam money out of soft-headed samar­it­ans. He’s also a sex addict, although it’s unclear wheth­er he’s a genu­ine addict or just goes to the meet­ings to pick up chicks.

Not as pre­co­cious as the first Palahniuk to reach the screen, David Fincher’s Fight Club, this low-budget indie has a great cast (Anjelica Huston, Gregg him­self, Kelly MacDonald and even Cabaret’s Joel Grey) and lots of filthy laughs and could have been made by someone like Hal Ashby in the 70s. That’s high praise by the way.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 12 November, 2008.

Nature of con­flict: Rubbings From a Live Man is dis­trib­uted the­at­ric­ally in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment, who I work for every now and then.

Notes on Screening Conditions: Readings have opened them­selves up to me again (which is nice) and Choke, Traitor and Death Race were all pub­lic screen­ings. Nights in Rodanthe and The Children of The Silk Road were pub­lic screen­ings at the Empire in Island Bay (Blair from the Empire very kindly warned me about a deep plat­ter scratch in the Children print which was nice – very hard to com­plain when you know the cinema is aware of a prob­lem in advance). Rubbings was in the Brooks at the Paramount (my favour­ite of the two new screens) and In Bruges was at the Embassy dur­ing the Film Festival earli­er this year.