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This past week may have been the most con­sist­ently sat­is­fy­ing week of cinema-going since I star­ted this jour­ney with you back in 2006: sev­en very dif­fer­ent films, all with some­thing to offer. And no tur­keys this week, so I’ll have to put the acid away until next week.

In com­pletely arbit­rary order (of view­ing in fact), let’s take a look at them. In The Invention of Lying British com­ic Ricky Gervais dir­ects his first big screen film (work­ing without the cre­at­ive sup­port of usu­al part­ner Stephen Merchant) and it turns out to be a little bit more ambi­tious than most Hollywood rom-coms. In a world where no one has any con­cep­tion of “untruth”, where the entire pop­u­la­tion makes each oth­er miser­able by say­ing exactly how they feel all the time and where there is no storytelling or fic­tion to give people an escape, Gervais’ char­ac­ter dis­cov­ers he has the abil­ity to say things that aren’t true and is treated as a Messiah-figure as a res­ult. Everything he says, no mat­ter how out­land­ish, is believed but he still can’t win the love of the beau­ti­ful Jennifer Garner.

Gervais is solidly funny through­out, and demon­strates even more of the depth as an act­or that he hin­ted at in Ghost Town last year, but the dir­ec­tion is uneven – per­haps because both Gervais and co-writer-director Matthew Robinson are first-timers.

Your enjoy­ment of teen hor­ror flick Jennifer’s Body will be dic­tated by sev­er­al factors: your tol­er­ance for the self-consciously whim­sic­al dia­logue from screen­writer Diablo Cody (Juno), your tol­er­ance for Transformers star Megan Fox and the way she wears (or doesn’t wear) her clothes and your tol­er­ance for humour at the expense of whiny indie rock bands. I can handle all three so had a per­fectly good time.

The les­son here is that if you are born in a town with the word “Devil’s” in the name, get out as soon as you can.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is an invent­ive and amus­ing anim­ated fam­ily adven­ture that did a good job of keep­ing me enter­tained along with all the young­sters on Saturday morn­ing. Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is a young invent­or in a small, depressed town. Despite being the butt of everyone’s anti-nerd jokes, he per­sists until his water-into-food machine looks like it will save the town from ruin. Of course, like every inven­tion that seems too good to be true this one goes hay­wire, and Flint, along with met­eor­o­lo­gist love interest Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) and town mas­cot “Baby” Brent (Andy Samberg) has to save the day.

One of the strengths of Meatballs is the voice cast­ing, par­tic­u­larly Mr T as the cop with a heart of gold and Hollywood legend James Caan as Flint’s dad, Tim. His tor­tu­ous fish­ing meta­phors are very amus­ing but when it comes to sardines and trawl­er imagery no one tops the great Eric Cantona (“When the seagulls fol­low the trawl­er, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”) who gets his own star­ring role in Ken Loach’s new film Looking for Eric. Now, I’ve always been more of a Di Canio kind of bloke than a Cantona fan but his pres­ence in this film is very appeal­ing, even though he isn’t the Eric that the film is look­ing for.

The actu­al Eric is a depressed Manchester postie played by TV vet­er­an but cinema new­comer Steve Evets. Unable to con­nect with his stepchil­dren, his ex-wife and his mates at the post office, Eric con­jures up an ima­gin­ary friend in the shape of the talis­man­ic United mid­field­er who pro­ceeds to give him opaque and ellipt­ic­al life coach­ing, often in French.

I finally got to see Olivier Assayas’ thought­ful fam­ily drama Summer Hours on Sunday morn­ing (a week after it opened) and I’m very glad I did. On the passing of the fam­ily mat­ri­arch (Edith Scob), three sib­lings (and) have to decide what to do with the beau­ti­ful ram­bling coun­try house and all its con­tents. The old­est, Frédéric (Charles Berling) has the hap­pi­est memor­ies of the place and wants to keep it intact while the oth­ers (Juliette Binoche and Jérémie Renier) would rather it was sold so they can invest in their own lives.

That’s pretty much the extent of the drama and it is deftly under­played by Assayas and his cast and some delight­fully iron­ic moments are allowed to just hang there in the breeze. Highly recommended.

Another film about gen­er­a­tion­al trans­ition and a chan­ging world came along just after lunch: Valentino – The Last Emperor, in which the last of the great icon­ic cou­tur­i­ers is forced to con­tem­plate the end of a glam­or­ous époque when con­fron­ted by glob­al mega-business, hedge funds and “Chief Design Directors” rather than “Maestros”.

The rela­tion­ship between Valentino and his long-time part­ner, lov­er and busi­ness asso­ci­ate Giancarlo Giammetti is very mov­ing and his focus on his work, his mis­sion, reminded me of a few oth­er doc­u­ment­ar­ies this year in which pub­lic cari­ca­tures are revealed to be ser­i­ous, real people: This is It and The September Issue spe­cific­ally. It’s a shame that it wasn’t shot on film or hi-def as the qual­ity of the dress­mak­ing crafts-person-ship is only rarely allowed to shine.

Finally, I might have enjoyed the odd Mary and Max a bit more without the sound prob­lems and rest­less audi­ence mem­bers kick­ing me in the back. Even then I found the imma­tur­ity of the writ­ing (lots of toi­let humour) was only just com­pensated for by some, I think, genu­ine heart and love for the char­ac­ters. An Australian stop-motion anim­ated film, Mary and Max is about an unlikely pen-pal rela­tion­ship between 8‑year-old Mary from Melbourne (Toni Colette when she grows up) and a 44-year-old Aspie in New York named Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Their rela­tion­ship deep­ens and grows (and frac­tures) over the years and the end­ing is genu­inely mov­ing but I couldn’t quite get to grips with the sud­den changes of tone.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 2 December, 2009.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I alluded to sound prob­lems in Mary and Max: major digit­al soundtrack drop-outs through all but the final reel (Paramount Bergman). Summer Hours played like the used Festival print that it was (Lighthouse). Looking for Eric was a pass­able digit­al present­a­tion at the Lighthouse. Jennifer’s Body looked good in the Brooks (the smal­lest) cinema at the Paramount) and The Invention of Lying was washed out (the source mater­i­al) at Readings.