Skip to main content

Review: Invictus, Broken Embraces, Nine, I’m Not Harry Jensen & Noodle

By March 15, 2010August 10th, 2010No Comments

Invictus posterBefore Jerry Dammers and The Special AKA wrote that song about him in 1983, I didn’t know who Nelson Mandela was. When I bought the record and read the story on the back I was hor­ri­fied – 23 years as a polit­ic­al pris­on­er, much of it in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment. I knew the South African régime was unspeak­able, but now I had a focus for my anger. Who would have thought that only a dozen years later, Mandela would be in the middle of a second chapter of his life – President of South Africa and inter­na­tion­al states­man – and that his stew­ard­ship of the trans­ition from apartheid to major­ity rule would be a shin­ing beacon of tol­er­ance, for­give­ness and human­ity. It really could have gone ter­ribly wrong.

Mandela, then, is the great hero of my life, my polit­ic­al and per­son­al inspir­a­tion, so I can be for­giv­en for being quite moved by Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s por­tray­al of those cru­cial first years in gov­ern­ment, cul­min­at­ing in the Springbok’s vic­tory over New Zealand in the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final. Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman (too tall, accent some dis­tance off per­fect, but still some­how man­aging to nail the essence of the guy) and the oth­er name on the poster is Matt Damon as Springbok cap­tain Francois Pienaar. It’s anoth­er char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally gen­er­ous per­form­ance from Damon who is turn­ing into a char­ac­ter act­or with movie star looks.

As Mandela’s ANC gov­ern­ment takes con­trol of the coun­try in 1994 (and apartheid is dis­mantled), Springbok rugby is invited back onto the inter­na­tion­al stage but the years in the wil­der­ness have taken their toll and they are well off the pace. Nobody expects them to get any­where in the World Cup and, at the same time, many in the new gov­ern­ment want to strip them of their Springbok emblem, their his­tory, anthem and uni­form. Failure in the World Cup, under an imposed new ban­ner, would have been a bit­ter pill for whites to swal­low. Mandela, cor­rectly, gambles that by back­ing the rugby team he can prove that the “rain­bow nation”, and the recon­cili­ation pro­ject, is more than just empty words.

Eastwood dir­ects with a flu­id ease that is neither showy nor stat­ic. For a film that isn’t really about rugby, there’s an awful lot of rugby in it and, luck­ily, it isn’t too uncon­vin­cing. Eastwood’s last film, Changeling, was a dis­ap­point­ment but Invictus restores my faith in his storytelling.

Broken Embraces posterEastwood is 79 years old and has dir­ec­ted 31 fea­ture films. The great Pedro Almodóvar is 60 and has dir­ec­ted 18 fea­tures. Let’s hear it for the old geez­ers, eh? Actually, not so much this time around as the new Almodóvar, Broken Embraces, is the least enga­ging and enter­tain­ing of the master’s films, dare I say it, ever. I’m always dubi­ous when film­makers start mak­ing films about film­mak­ing – it indic­ates a pos­sible lack of ima­gin­a­tion and so it proves here. Lluís Homar plays a blind screen­writer who used to be a dir­ect­or. He used to be Mateo Blanco, too, and now he is Harry Caine – for mys­ter­i­ous reas­ons. The death of a prom­in­ent busi­ness­man and the sim­ul­tan­eous vis­it of a threat­en­ing fig­ure from his past pro­voke a series of flash­backs to the early 90s – when Mateo/Harry had eyes that worked and when he fell in love with the businessman’s mis­tress (Penélope Cruz).

It’s too muddled to be sat­is­fy­ing and, for some reas­on, we are sup­posed to believe that the film the dir­ect­or was mak­ing in those flash­backs was some kind of mas­ter­piece when it palp­ably wasn’t. Almodóvar has made a bor­ing film – I didn’t think it was possible.

Nine posterCruz also appears (in that way she seems to spe­cial­ise in, you know, drip­ping in run­ning mas­cara) in Nine, the bom­bast­ic music­al ver­sion of Fellini’s mas­ter­piece 8½. This film is annoy­ing in at least eight and a half dif­fer­ent ways: lack of plot or inter­est­ing char­ac­ters, reli­ance on big showy music­al num­bers that try and dis­guise the fact that the songs are abso­lute rub­bish, shoot­ing Daniel Day Lewis so you can nev­er see his eyes, etc. Day Lewis is a film dir­ect­or with women trouble: they used to be his inspir­a­tion and now they get in the way of his inspir­a­tion. There, I’ve just made it sound twice as inter­est­ing as it actu­ally is.

I'm Not Harry Jensen stillI’m Not Harry Jenson is a cap­able little NZ indie that should at least be a call­ing card for tal­en­ted dir­ect­or James Napier. I’m not sold on the script (or the premise) but Napier shoots and edits well, and his cast sup­port him, par­tic­u­larly lead Gareth Reeves. Reeves is a fam­ous true-crime author strug­gling with a dead­line and stress. His agent (played by Napier’s dad Marshall like no lit­er­ary agent I’ve ever encountered) sends him on a tramp to sort his mind out but once in the bush people around him start dying.

I couldn’t help won­der­ing dur­ing the final scene, how much Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes cost to license and wheth­er Bowie’s people deferred (or reduced) their fees like the act­ors and crew did. Somehow, I doubt it.

Noodle posterNoodle is a pre­pos­ter­ous little Israeli drama about a flight attend­ant forced to look after a little Chinese boy when his moth­er (her clean­er) is sud­denly depor­ted. Manipulative isn’t always a dirty word for me (I don’t mind being manip­u­lated to laugh, for example) but Noodle is shoddy and unbe­liev­able at every turn.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 February, 2010.