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If 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.

Radio 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.

Ten 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.

Much 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.