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Review: The Reader, The Boat That Rocked, Dragonball Evolution and Race to Witch Mountain

By April 20, 2009December 31st, 2013No Comments

The Reader posterIf you are on the look out for an intel­li­gent, ser­i­ous and impress­ively well-made drama that will stim­u­late and move you (and of course you are, or you wouldn’t be read­ing this) then The Reader will fit your bill per­fectly. The last of the big Oscar con­tenders to hit our shores, this is a ver­sion of the best-selling nov­el which put the German struggle to come to terms with the crimes of the Nazis centre stage. The adapt­a­tion (by British play­wright and screen­writer David Hare) also does this but some­thing else as well – it becomes a med­it­a­tion on all kinds of guilt and shame as well as the com­plex inter­ac­tion between the two.

In 1958, school­boy Michael Berg falls ill and is helped by a stranger (the extraordin­ary Kate Winslet). After his recov­ery, three months later, he returns to thank her and they begin an affair that lasts the final sum­mer of his child­hood. Between bouts of love­mak­ing she demands he read to her, telling her the stor­ies and plays he is study­ing at school. Several months later she dis­ap­pears, break­ing poor Michael’s heart, only to return to his life eight years later in a Berlin courtroom, on tri­al for war crimes.

Flawlessly acted (by Winslet, Ralph Fiennes as the adult Berg and new­comer David Kross as the cal­low youth) and dir­ec­ted with care­ful pre­ci­sion by Stephen Daldry, The Reader car­ries with it an intel­lec­tu­al weight that acts like a kind of amp­li­fi­er for the mater­i­al, rather than simply adding lay­ers of emo­tion. Terribly good.

The Boat That Rocked posterRadio was always my first love and like all first loves it’s nev­er ever died. I’m a suck­er for films about radio, or set around radio sta­tions. Do the Right Thing, Pump Up the Volume, Good Morning, Vietnam and all 90 epis­odes of “WKRP in Cincinnati”, all pro­voked or pro­longed the desire to talk bol­locks into a micro­phone all day and play rock ‘n’ roll music all night. So The Boat That Rocked, Richard Curtis’s rowdy salute to the radio pir­ates of the 60s is like pure cat­nip to me.

It’s 1966 and British pop music rules the world. Meanwhile, state broad­caster, the BBC, refuses to acknow­ledge the exist­ence of The Beatles or The Stones except for one 45 minute pop show each day. In the North Sea, anchored out­side British waters, are a flo­tilla of old trawl­ers with radio masts play­ing Procol Harum, The Seekers, The Who and Smokey Robinson to a cap­tiv­ated nation. They were all phe­nom­en­ally pop­u­lar, of course, so the gov­ern­ment had to shut them down.

It’s the shut­ting down that provides the some­what thin plot of the film but, while there’s plenty here to annoy and frus­trate unbe­liev­ers, I found myself des­per­ately want­ing to start spin­ning those plat­ters that mat­ter once again, live from my bach­el­or bat cave in Newtown to an unsus­pect­ing world. So, in that sense then, job done. I loved it, des­pite it’s sloppy sen­ti­ment­al­ity and many flat patches.

Dragonball Evolution posterTen years too late to really ride the wave of it’s animé and manga pop­ular­ity and ten years too early to be retro, Dragonball Evolution attempts to give main­stream Western audi­ences a taste of the phe­nom­en­ally pop­u­lar Japanese juven­ile fran­chise by cast­ing an American (Justin Chatwin) as the spiky-haired hero Goku. He’s been giv­en one of sev­en magic glow­ing globes for his eight­eenth birth­day but before his wise old grand­fath­er (Randall Duk Kim) can explain why it is so import­ant the evil Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) kills him in an attempt to reunite the sev­en balls and enslave the Earth. Got it? It doesn’t mat­ter, it’s all balder­dash and a clas­sic 21st cen­tury 20th Century Fox attempt to cov­er their risk by appeal­ing to glob­al mar­kets des­pite a palp­ably ludicrous product. Someone should tell them that Evolution is some­thing that moves very, very slowly.

Race to Witch Mountain posterMuch bet­ter fam­ily fun can be had at Disney’s new ver­sion of Race to Witch Mountain. Like the ori­gin­al (Escape to Witch Mountain), this one fea­tures two mys­ter­i­ous ali­en kids who are try­ing to retrieve their crashed space­ship and return home. Unlike the ori­gin­al, in this one they are helped by the former Rock, Dwayne Johnson, who plays an ex-con try­ing to make it on the straight and nar­row driv­ing a taxi in Las Vegas. It rips along with good humour (and some sur­pris­ingly effect­ive schmaltz) and I enjoyed it a lot more than Transformers, even though it cost about 1/10th of that film’s budget.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 15 April, 2009.

Extra thoughts: It was an extra sad­ness to see the names of Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack roll past in The Reader cred­its for one last time. And Kenneth Branagh (once the enfant ter­rible of British theatre and cinema) appears to have turned into Captain Mainwaring from “Dad’s Army”. That is all.