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Review: The Hurt Locker, Clash of the Titans, Nowhere Boy & Valentine’s Day

By July 20, 2010August 6th, 2010No Comments

The Hurt Locker posterIt took well over 18 months for Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker to get a gen­er­al release in New Zealand – a year in which it stead­ily built audi­ences and crit­ic­al acclaim at world­wide fest­ivals and pub­lic screen­ings. In fact, until it was nom­in­ated for a Golden Globe late last year the film had no New Zealand release date sched­uled and many film buffs resor­ted to illi­cit online sources to try and see (what was being touted) as one of the films of the decade.

This is a wor­ry­ing trend. Increasingly, some of the best films are head­ing straight to DVD (some­times, if the tim­ing works, with a Film Festival screen­ing but not always) and, des­pite New Zealand hav­ing a fine track record for sup­port­ing art­house and thought­ful product, I find myself con­fron­ted every week by rub­bish like Law Abiding Citizen and Bounty Hunter. Somewhere along the line the dis­trib­ut­ors have lost their nerve: The Blind Side, which won an Academy Award for Sandra Bullock last month, has only just been giv­en a slot by Roadshow (Warner Brothers). A Serious Man was one of the most bril­liant and intel­li­gent films I’ve ever seen and only one print was placed in Wellington – and it was a Coen Brothers Film!

So, finally, The Hurt Locker arrives in Wellington in the shape of some battered second-hand prints from over­seas. How does it shape up? It is (of course) tense and dra­mat­ic – per­fectly paced, edge of your seat stuff. There’s a simple premise: we fol­low a team of US Army bomb dis­pos­al experts as they get used to their new lead­er, a reck­less red­neck played with verve by Jeremy Renner (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). It turns out he is a gif­ted explos­ives de-commissioner with a pride in his work that goes bey­ond fears for his own safety. Or is he addicted to the adren­aline (as the open­ing quote from war cor­res­pond­ent Chris Hedges sug­gests, “war is a drug”)?

Not quite as pro­found as I expec­ted, The Hurt Locker is an expertly craf­ted film that tells you not much more than you already know (war is hell and it messes people up, even the sur­viv­ors, etc.). Bomb dis­pos­al is such a nat­ur­ally tense activ­ity that even a less gif­ted dir­ect­or than Bigelow might find it hard to screw up and the rela­tion­ship between Renner and his Sergeant (Anthony Mackie) is lif­ted straight from Lethal Weapon – which means it, too, just works.

Incidentally, there’s an exten­ded scene in The Hurt Locker where our team meet a bunch of British under­cov­er SAS guys (led by Ralph Fiennes) who have cap­tured Taha Al-Rawi, Republican Guard Chief of Staff. He’s a real per­son and in Green Zone (a couple of weeks ago) he was a mis­un­der­stood good guy, in The Hurt Locker he gets away dur­ing a fire fight and in real life he is still at large with a mil­lion dol­lar bounty on his head.

Clash of the Titans posterRalph Fiennes is one of the heavy­weight act­ors who have gummed on a dodgy false beard for a heavy­weight paycheque in Clash of the Titans. He plays nasty old Hades, boss of the Underworld and a God not to be trus­ted, while Liam Neeson as Zeus gets to utter “Release the Kraken” in his Ulster accent. Actually, all the cast get to keep their accents, which makes a nice change, even Aussie boof­head Sam Worthington (Avatar) who plays the bas­tard son of Zeus, Perseus.

When the humans of Argos decide they’ve had enough of wor­ship­ping Gods, the Gods them­selves try and win their devo­tion back through fear –fear of the mon­strous Kraken who will devour them all unless a sac­ri­fice is made before the next eclipse. Perseus is pressed into action as the only man (actu­ally demi-God) who can defeat the mon­ster and save the world. He needs the head of Medusa and, with the eclipse only ten days away, he knows that if he’s going to defeat the Kraken he’d bet­ter get crackin’.

The ori­gin­al Clash of the Titans in 1981 was a campy show­case for the great stop-motion anim­a­tion of Ray Harryhausen, but the most mem­or­able spe­cial effect in that film (to a thir­teen year-old like me) was the fleet­ing sight of Judi Bowker’s naked butt as she was being offered to the plasti­cene Kraken. No such pleas­ures are on offer in this new digit­al version.

Nowhere Boy poster Nowhere Boy tells the story of the early life of the rock legend John Lennon and is pleas­ant enough, if a little pre­dict­able. Artist Sam Taylor Wood is a cap­able enough dir­ect­or, and Aaron Johnson as Lennon occa­sion­ally bears an astound­ing resemb­lance to the man, but the film wouldn’t be out of place on Sunday night television.

Valentine's Day posterFinally, this review­er finally got to see Valentine’s Day the oth­er night – at a cinema that sup­posedly is New Zealand’s old­est, still oper­ated by the ori­gin­al fam­ily. The Ohakune Cinema is a throw-back to how a night at the flicks might have been fifty years ago: it’s a rect­an­gu­lar hall with wooden seats screwed to a flat wooden floor and a small upstairs gal­lery in front of the pro­jec­tion box. The mask­ing didn’t meet the pro­jec­ted image, there was a little tear in the screen, obvi­ously no digit­al sound, etc but unlike the Paramount at the World Cinema Showcase open­ing last Thursday they did man­age to keep the film in focus the whole way through.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times way back on Wednesday 7 April, 2010.