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Review: Up, The Soloist, The Young Victoria, Paris 36, Casablanca, The Camera on the Shore and the Vanguard 30th Anniversary

By October 4, 2009December 31st, 2013No Comments

The Young Victoria posterThe theme for the week seems to be romance and some of the finest love stor­ies of recent (or in fact any) year have just made their way to our screens. Firstly, The Young Victoria where Emily Blunt (Sunshine Cleaning, The Devil Wears Prada) deservedly takes centre stage for the first time as the eponym­ous roy­al. Even review­ers are entitled to a little pre­ju­dice, and I wasn’t expect­ing much from this going in, but I left the cinema full of admir­a­tion for an intel­li­gent script, perfectly-pitched dir­ec­tion and con­sist­ently able per­form­ances from expec­ted and unex­pec­ted quarters.

Blunt’s Victoria is a head­strong teen­ager, frus­trated by the com­pet­ing polit­ic­al interests that push and pull her. Only Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (whose suit was instig­ated by yet more euro-intrigue) seems to see the real Victoria and offers the new Queen sup­port and inde­pend­ence. The rela­tion­ship between Blunt’s Victoria and Rupert Friend’s ini­tially nervous but ulti­mately self-assured Albert is charm­ing, nat­ur­al and mov­ing and the back­ground of polit­ic­al intrigue and mach­in­a­tions provide neces­sary (but not over­whelm­ing) con­text. The Young Victoria is a film that, and I hope this makes sense, is per­fectly balanced.

Up posterThe open­ing ten minutes of Up are the most beau­ti­ful, pro­found and mov­ing ten minutes I have ever exper­i­enced in a pic­ture theatre – a ruth­lessly effi­cient and dev­il­ishly clev­er mont­age of a life­time of dreams dreamt and then thwarted, love inex­plic­ably found and then all too explic­ably lost. It’s a sequence that can draw tears effort­lessly from any adult but serves to set up the film’s plot quickly enough for the kid­lets. Devilishly hard to do and superbly achieved.

In the film prop­er, eld­erly grump Carl Fredrikson (the voice of Ed Asner) has one last chance at adven­ture before the old folks home, so he hoists a few bal­loons to the roof of his house and heads for South America. Only he has a stowaway: Russell the “Wilderness Explorer” look­ing for his final mer­it badge (new­comer Jordan Nagai). The adven­ture they go on is thrill­ing, action-packed and hil­ari­ous and the atten­tion to detail in every respect is awe-inspiring. Like WALL•E last year, I’m not entirely con­vinced that the third act lives up to the huge expect­a­tion cre­ated by the first two but Up is still straight into my top two films of the year so far. It’s extraordin­ary film­mak­ing and, like Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and WALL•E before it, it proves that truly great films can be made by com­mit­tees after all.

The Soloist posterThe Soloist is reli­able Oscar-bait star­ring Jamie Foxx as a mentally-ill musi­cian liv­ing on the streets of LA. His cause is taken up LA Times colum­nist Robert Downey Jr. who soon learns what is and isn’t pos­sible. Foxx’s Nathaniel Ayers inhab­its that hid­den part of most soci­et­ies, among the un-medicated, the over-medicated and the self-medicated and it is dur­ing the scenes in the LAMP home­less shel­ter that The Soloist is at its best. All too often, though, it over­plays its hand dramatically-speaking but remains fun­da­ment­ally respect­able and the mes­sage is sound.

Paris 36 posterYour enjoy­ment of Paris 36 will prob­ably depend on your tol­er­ance for that par­tic­u­larly French brand of accordion-based chan­son­ner­ie (pos­sibly not a real word). Your cor­res­pond­ent hereby con­fesses a love for that stuff and so found this romantic old-fashioned melo­drama fairly divert­ing. It’s set back­stage in a strug­gling palace of vari­et­ies dur­ing the lead up to WWII as fas­cism and gang­ster­ism battle the forces of good for influ­ence over the lives of ordin­ary people (ordin­ary people in this case being sing­ers, stage-hands, comedi­ans, impres­sion­ists and hand­some com­mun­ist follow-spot operators).

Casablanca posterIn Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman share a love that is threatened by both Nazis and Resistance. Bogart is cyn­ic­al saloon keep­er Rick, keep­ing his head down in sup­posedly free-French ter­rit­ory. It’s 1941 and the war has reached them and, instead of flee­cing refugees of their last sous (and sim­ul­tan­eously let­ting suave Chief of Police Claude Rains win) at the roul­ette table, ser­i­ous choices have to be made. The future of the world is at stake. A crack­ling script (Julius G., and Philip J., Epstein) and Owen Marks’ invis­ible edit­ing sup­port Michael Curtiz’ assured dir­ec­tion. Great entertainment.

Vanguard 30th AnniversaryIn 1941 the fas­cist threat was real and was only ever going to be defeated by indi­vidu­al sac­ri­fice and col­lect­ive action, unfash­ion­able as that may seem nowadays. That point was driv­en home to me after watch­ing the first three nights of the Vanguard Films anniversary screen­ings at the Film Archive. The Vanguard col­lect­ive have spent 30 years mak­ing inde­pend­ent docos to bal­ance the cor­por­ate media that con­tin­ues to dom­in­ate the dia­lectic. From early his­tor­ies of trade uni­on struggles (includ­ing the fas­cin­at­ing Wildcat and Kinleith ’80) through an exam­in­a­tion of the long­stand­ing (in)security rela­tion­ship with the United States that (des­pite the anti-nuclear policy) con­tin­ues to this day, and more recently the unrav­el­ling of the ties that bind big busi­ness and the new right eco­nom­ic agenda, Vanguard have been there telling the stor­ies and mak­ing the con­nec­tions that the estab­lish­ment don’t want made. They are a nation­al treas­ure and their birth­day cel­eb­ra­tions con­tin­ue until Saturday.

The Camera on the Shore posterGraeme Tuckett’s emo­tion­ally and intel­lec­tu­ally reward­ing bio­graphy of Barry Barclay gets a deserved return sea­son at the Paramount from tomor­row, for one week only. Like Vanguard, Barry told uncom­fort­able truths in his films and, like Vanguard, he was forced to struggle more than he deserved to have his voice heard. The Camera on the Shore is a fit­ting memori­al and a fas­cin­at­ing his­tory les­son of a time when there was no film industry in this coun­try just some blokes (and Gaylene) who made films.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 9 September, 2009.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Up was glor­i­ous in 3D at Readings – eas­ily worth the both­er of the glasses in my opin­ion; Paris 36 and Young Victoria were pub­lic ses­sions at the Lighthouse in Petone and I con­fess that I was forced to watch both through my sunglasses as I’d left my specs at home that morn­ing; The Soloist was a packed Saturday even­ing screen­ing at the Empire; The Camera on the Shore was first seen on a pre­view DVD provided by the film­maker and then at the Wellington Film Festival; Casablanca was a beaten up 35mm print and black and white sadly demon­strates the dif­fer­ent light qual­it­ies of the two par­al­lel Paramount pro­ject­ors and the Vanguard films were screened off vari­ous formats at the Film Archive by gun pro­jec­tion­ist Phil Greig.