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Review: My Life in Ruins, Stone of Destiny and Drag Me to Hell

By August 29, 2009September 9th, 2010No Comments

While the Film Festival con­tin­ues to deliv­er untold pleas­ures to Wellington cinephiles, the com­mer­cial dis­trib­ut­ors dump (shall we say) less-heralded product at our cur­rently very quiet mul­ti­plexes and arthouses.

My Life in Ruins posterMy Life in Ruins is a belated follow-up to the inter­na­tion­al smash hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That film was pro­duced by Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson as a favour to their friend Nia Vardalos and, to the sur­prise of every­one, it went on to make squil­lions at the box office and prom­ised to make comedi­enne Vardalos a romantic com­edy star. Things did­n’t quite work out like that and it’s taken sev­en years for a follow-up to hit the screens, also sup­por­ted by Hanks and Wilson.

Sadly, My Life in Ruins is likely to dis­ap­point those that remem­ber MBFGW fondly – the warmth and good humour of that film has been replaced by cheap laughs at the expense of inter­na­tion­al ste­reo­types and there’s a flat­ness to the exe­cu­tion that Vardalos’ mug­ging can­’t hide.

She plays a Greek-American pro­fess­or of ancient his­tory whose job at an Athens University falls through and she’s reduced to being a tour guide for a low rent pack­age hol­i­day com­pany. The usu­al mot­ley bunch of tour­ists start off by hat­ing her and then get to love her because she’s so, you know, lov­able. If you can man­age the in-between bits, the scenes with the great Richard Dreyfuss are watch­able – even phoning it in like this he’s in a dif­fer­ent class to every­one else in the film.

The most inter­est­ing thing about My Life in Ruins is that, for a film that pur­ports to be all about Greece, it was shot mostly in Spain with a Spanish crew. Ah, the vagar­ies of inter­na­tion­al film pro­duc­tion financing.

Stone of Destiny posterWhich might also explain why a film about Scottish nation­al­ism would be part-financed by tax breaks from the British Columbia Film Commission, of all places. Stone of Destiny is the true story of a group of oppressed indi­gen­ous people, protest­ing the colo­ni­al dom­in­a­tion of their cul­ture and polit­ics, demand­ing free­dom by indul­ging in what we might now con­sider ter­ror­ism. In a light-hearted sort of way.

Firebrand 1950s stu­dent Ian Hamilton (Charlie Cox from Stardust) risks his future to unite the fledgling Scottish inde­pend­ence move­ment by kid­nap­ping a stone. Not just any stone, though, he kid­naps the Stone of Destiny, the throne that Scottish kings and queens sat upon before the English invaded 600 years ago.

With the help of some oth­er stu­dents (includ­ing the way too old Billy Boyd from Lord of the Rings) he pulls off the heist and the film rolls along pleas­antly enough in a Disney-matinée kind of way. I do wish that a little more budget had been alloc­ated to digit­ally remov­ing some 21st cen­tury arte­facts from the back­grounds but that’s just me being a curmudgeon.

Drag Me to Hell posterTalking of digit­al arte­facts, the new Sam Raimi film Drag Me To Hell is a return to the (mostly) ana­logue hor­ror form of his early hits like Evil Dead. Ordinary bank work­er Allison Lohman is on the verge of get­ting engaged and get­ting a pro­mo­tion until (to fur­ther her bank­ing ambi­tions) she declines a mort­gage exten­sion to a gypsy woman with bad teeth. She gets a nasty case of the curses, with only two days to pass it on or give it away before being con­signed to Hades forever.

Raimi’s a bit of a one-trick-pony in the shocks depart­ment – it does get a bit repet­it­ive – but the film is well plot­ted and kicks on at a good pace and Lohman is per­fectly fine as the Kirsten Dunst you get when you can­’t get Kirsten Dunst.

Printed in Wellngton’s Capital Times on Wednesday 29 July, 2009.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: My Life in Ruins and Stone of Destiny were pub­lic screen­ings at the Lighthouse in Petone. Both were obvi­ously used prints show­ing some wear. Drag Me to Hell was a pub­lic screen­ing at Readings, Courtenay Central and looked and soun­ded fine.