Ah, the school holidays. The time when the big cinemas are more excited about the arrival of their jumbo popcorn containers than any of the films they are showing. Your correspondent spent the weekend surrounded by chomping, rustling and slurping fellow citizens so he could bring you this report from the frontline. It was brutal.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid purports to be about middle school and how to survive it but in fact it’s a rather charmless morality tale about being yourself. Little Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) thinks that to be popular he has to be cool but everything he tries turns to disaster while his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) effortlessly transcends his own dorkiness to win over the school. Enough kids have already got a kick out of Diary’s astute mix of life-lessons and gross-out humour that a sequel has already been announced.
Up to now I’ve made a little rule for myself that if there are two versions of a film on release (2D or 3D) I’ll review the 3D version. In most cases that’s the way that the creator would prefer but it’s not always the best choice: Clash of the Titans sucked in 3D and Toy Story 3 glowed when played flat. With Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, I’m sure cinematographer Steven Poster would be thrilled to note that ratio problems on the 3D transfer I saw meant that his (no doubt) carefully constructed framing was botched, cutting the tops of heads off – as well as lopping off his own credit at the bottom of the screen.
That’s par for the course, sadly, for a film that redefines lackluster. My biggest beef with the original Cats & Dogs wasn’t the filmmaking as much as the philosophy – blatant pro-dog and anti-cat propaganda – but the sequel simply doesn’t work in any dimension.
Back in April last year I made a joke about the name of 17 Again director Burr Steers so I can’t do that this time. He’s back in cinemas (again with heartthrob Zac Efron) with a maudlin tear-jerker called Charlie St. Cloud. Zac is Charlie, handsome and popular. He’s about to go to Stanford on a sailing scholarship when his young brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) is killed in an accident and Charlie, consumed by guilt, gives up his dreams in order to tend the graveyard where Sam is buried – and continue their games of catch because after the accident Charlie now sees dead people.
Efron’s inability to portray any kind of inner life whatsoever hampers our engagement somewhat so Steers winds the emotion-o-meter up to 11 to compensate, leaving the audience (and himself) nowhere to go.
Steers could take a lesson from M. Night Shyamalan in terms of “seeing dead people” movies and most directors of 3D could take a lesson from him in how to use the technology and not give audiences a headache. It seems odd, proposing Shyamalan as some kind of expert, after a string of disasters like The Happening but with The Last Airbender he has got some things right.
The 3D is smooth and easy on the eye, the world of the story is coherent and well-realised, the action easy to follow. I’m a little concerned about some of the ethnicity choices but, for the most part Airbender works in its own terms as a big action adventure for kids.
In a land before time, there are four nations: Earth, Air, Fire and Water and, until the fire crowd got uppity, all were in perfect harmony. Somebody called an Avatar had the ability to manipulate all the elements, keeping the balance of power between the nations, but when the latest incarnation disappeared 100 years ago the Fire people (all south asian, middle-eastern and, er, Maori) took their chance to try and rule the world.
Now, the Avatar (Noah Ringer) has been found and his power must be harnessed to save the world from ambitious Cliff Curtis and his henchmen. I didn’t hate The Last Airbender at all and I was expecting to. Take of that what you will.
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) will prove to be Oliver Stone’s greatest creation and with the new sequel to Wall Street (Money Never Sleeps) he proves himself to be just a little too much in love with his alter ego. Shia LaBeouf plays a young hotshot analyst with a jones for alternative energy. He’s going out with Gekko’s daughter (Carey Mulligan) who has refused to see her father since he went to jail. Gekko’s now out and, apparently, a changed man, preaching against the new financial orthodoxy and warning of the doom to come.
When LaBeouf seeks out Gekko for permission to marry his daughter (how old fashioned!) he gets taken under the old man’s wing and a plot is hatched that might save Shia’s alternative fusion energy project, Gekko’s relationship with his daughter and his reputation as the King of Wall Street.
If you are interested in the financial machinations of the big players and how their greed brought us all to our knees, there’s really not enough in Money Never Sleeps (you’ll find more in the average edition of Vanity Fair) but if that doesn’t interest you then there’s simply too much of it. Like my companion, you’ll be bored for most of the unnecessary two and a quarter hour running time.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 29 September, 2010.