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Review: The Hangover, Good, Elegy, Boy A, Land of the Lost and Forever Strong

By July 22, 2009December 31st, 20132 Comments

The Hangover posterI can just ima­gine the Monday morn­ing when a devel­op­ment exec­ut­ive stumbled across the script of The Hangover. It wouldn’t have taken him long to real­ise that he’d dis­covered mod­ern Hollywood’s holy grail – a per­fectly real­ised men-behaving-badly movie, so well-written and clev­erly struc­tured that he wouldn’t need any big stars or a mar­quee dir­ect­or. By morn­ing tea he would have been gone for the day, safe in the know­ledge that his tar­gets for the year were going be met and (no doubt inspired by the script he’d just bought) he would be drop­ping a big bunch of cred­it card on hook­ers and blow. Probably.

The script is per­fect in its eleg­ant and stream­lined con­struc­tion (screenwriter-porn, no less): Four friends head to Vegas for a bach­el­or party. We leave them at the first Jägermeister shot, only to rejoin them at dawn as they emerge squint­ing into the light. They’ve gained a baby and tiger and lost a tooth – and a buddy. The film is all about put­ting the pieces of the night back togeth­er and it’s clev­er, filthy, loose and charm­ing. The Hangover is indeed the Citizen Kane of all getting-fucked-up-in-Vegas movies – so supremely pre-eminent that (let us hope) we nev­er have to watch anoth­er of its kind ever again. Of course, The Hangover 2 is already in pre-production.

Good posterViggo Mortensen ditches the stubble and takes on the chal­len­ging role of a dif­fid­ent aca­dem­ic in Good, based on a ten year old stage play by CP Taylor. Mortensen is John Halder, a lit­er­at­ure pro­fess­or and nov­el­ist strug­gling with his career and fam­ily in pre-WWII Germany. The Nazis are burn­ing books and bul­ly­ing jews, and Halder’s dis­cus­sions of mercy killing in an obscure nov­el brings him to their atten­tion. Flattered, he is slowly absorbed into the Nazi machine, all the while think­ing that he is mod­er­at­ing their excesses from with­in. The film is con­sidered and thought­ful but that also means it is slow and uninvolving.

Elegy posterWatching so many films each week, one is often sur­prised to see the unex­pec­ted con­nec­tions between them. In Good, Viggo Mortensen’s char­ac­ter has an affair with one of his stu­dents (Venus’ Jodie Whittaker). On Sunday this was fol­lowed by Ben Kingsley’s char­ac­ter in Elegy hav­ing an affair with one of his stu­dents – the sup­posedly delect­able Penélope Cruz. Based on Philip Roth’s nov­el “The Dying Animal” (a title which gives rather more of the game away than screen­writer Nicholas Meyer’s ver­sion), the film ten­derly dis­sects what hap­pens when a scru­pu­lously inde­pend­ent man finds him­self fall­ing in love for real – in the pro­cess real­ising that he has been avoid­ing genu­ine con­nec­tions out of fear rather than prin­ciple. Is he too late?

In The Secret Life of Words and My Life Without Me, dir­ect­or Isabel Croixet has been mak­ing films about people pre­par­ing (con­sciously and sub-consciously) for death. Elegy mines sim­il­ar ter­rit­ory but is more about cap­tur­ing life before the inev­it­able and it suc­ceeds beau­ti­fully. Recommended.

Boy A posterElegy also fea­tures a mov­ing dys­func­tion­al father-son rela­tion­ship and, fol­low­ing that on Sunday, in Boy A there was anoth­er one. The great Peter Mullan (My Name is Joe, The Claim) plays a social work­er pre­par­ing a young man for the out­side world. “Jack Burridge” has been in deten­tion since he par­ti­cip­ated in the bru­tal murder of a young girl when he was a child. Given a new iden­tity in a new town, and coached by Mullan, he ven­tures out to see if redemp­tion is pos­sible – redemp­tion tak­ing the form of a nor­mal life with jobs, pubs and girl­friends. Beautifully acted by Mullan, Andrew Garfield (as Jack) and Katie Lyons as the woman who falls for him, Boy A is the best film in a very good week and it makes you won­der how the British film industry can put so much time, effort and lot­tery money into garbage like Sex Lives of the Potato Men when there’s tal­ent like this about.

Land of the Lost posterWill Ferrell can make pretty much whatever he likes nowadays – if Land of the Lost is any­thing to go by. A remake of a (sup­posedly) beloved 70s kids tv show, the adult tone makes it an unwise choice for any­one under 10 and the lack of good jokes make it a poor choice for any­one older than that.

Forever Strong posterMost of the time I’m a fairly easy-going review­er – there aren’t many films that shouldn’t find some kind of audi­ence some­where – but every so often you come across some­thing that simply must be des­troyed and this week it is Forever Strong, an asin­ine sport­ing redemp­tion story about high school rugby in the USA. No clichéd genre is left unturned – sport­ing, pris­on, juven­ile delin­quent, reli­gious tract. The relent­less haka-ing and kia kaha-ing with no men­tion of New Zealand (the eth­nic play­er who leads the hakas appears to be Hawaiian) is just wrong. I wouldn’t even show this in Sunday School.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 17 June, 2009. Which seems like an awfully long time ago.

Nature of con­flict: Forever Strong is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I do a little work for now and then.