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Review: Winter’s Bone, Red, Made in Dagenham, Paranormal Activity 2, Resident Evil- Afterlife and I’m Still Here

By November 5, 2010December 31st, 2013No Comments

Winter's Bone posterHalf way through Winter’s Bone I found myself think­ing, “So, this is what the Western has become?” The best Westerns are about find­ing or sus­tain­ing a mor­al path though a law­less fron­ti­er and the fron­ti­er in Winter’s Bone is the hid­den world of the rur­al poor and the path is a strange and ter­ri­fy­ing one.

In the rough and remote Ozark Mountains, teen­age Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is single-handedly bring­ing up her two young sib­lings while caring for her emo­tion­ally dam­aged moth­er. One cold morn­ing the Sheriff turns up with the news that her fath­er, Jessup, used their house as his bail bond and unless Ree can find him and per­suade him to turn up for Court, the fam­ily will lose everything.

Jessup is (or maybe was) what we would call a ‘P’ deal­er – the only eco­nomy in the area show­ing any kind of growth. But the com­pany he was keep­ing were the mean­est of the mean and to find her fath­er Ree must ven­ture into dan­ger­ous territory.

Ree’s ele­ment­al quest is the core of one of the great films of this year. The poster makes it look like a ghost story – it isn’t. It’s gritty, earthy, and uncom­prom­ising but it’s enorm­ously sat­is­fy­ing: how do you keep your­self (and your “self”) alive under seem­ingly intol­er­able pressures.

Red posterThis week’s big dis­ap­point­ment is the new Bruce Willis action com­edy Red, based on an obscure (at least to me) com­ic book. Willis plays a retired CIA cov­ert oper­at­ive, liv­ing a quiet life in the sub­urbs, flirt­ing with the call centre oper­at­or who sends him his pen­sion cheque every month (Mary-Louise Parker). When mys­ter­i­ous assas­sins des­troy his house he heads for Kansas City, kid­naps Parker (to save her from his enemies of course) and gath­ers a mot­ley crew of former spooks to help him get the bad guys.

Director Robert Schwentke has assembled a fant­ast­ic cast (includ­ing Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Ernest Borgnine, Brian Cox and Richard Dreyfuss) and then loses all his nerve, leav­ing them to dog-paddle their way through scenes that have no drive or, what’s the word, direction.

Despite the cal­ibre of cast, the best per­form­ances are from Parker (who should’ve been a movie star a long time ago) and Wellingtonian Karl Urban who has learnt from the likes of Bruce that we know a true action hero by how he takes a beat­ing, not by how he dishes one out.

Paranormal Activity 2 posterMy review of the ori­gin­al Paranormal Activity described it as “garbage, fit only for the cred­u­lous and the gull­ible” and see­ing as Paranormal Activity 2 has arrived less than a year after the first, and plays like a remake rather than a sequel, I’ll let that first opin­ion stand.

Resident Evil: Afterlife posterThe vil­lains of the Resident Evil fran­chise are a mys­ter­i­ous multi-national known as the Umbrella Corporation who, after some mis­guided genet­ic exper­i­ments, inflict a zom­bie apo­ca­lypse on the Earth then dis­ap­pear to huge under­ground facil­it­ies to work out how to best take advant­age of the situ­ation. As every super­sti­tious per­son knows, open­ing an umbrella indoors means sev­en years bad luck but feisty genetically-engineered super­wo­man Milla Jovovich takes that chance with the help of dozens of equally power­ful clones of her­self. And that’s only the open­ing scene of Resident Evil: Afterlife, now show­ing in 2D and (hast­ily remastered) 3D.

Unlike the pre­vi­ously dis­cussed Red, this Resident Evil cracks along at a decent pace, and unlike the pre­vi­ously dis­cussed Paranormal Activity, builds its ten­sion with plenty of skill and it’s cheap shots aren’t so cheap.

Made in Dagenham posterThe first key event in Made in Dagenham happened on the day that I was born – only 16 miles away. It’s not often I get to say that. The Ford plant in Dagenham, Essex, was the fourth biggest in the world employ­ing over 50,000 men on the pro­duc­tion line – and 157 women machin­ists sew­ing the trim and seat cov­ers. When Ford reduced the machinist’s status from semi-skilled to non-skilled they pro­voked a reac­tion that would end up trans­form­ing the entire indus­tri­al­ised world. Led by a typ­ic­ally annoy­ing Sally Hawkins (an inex­plic­able Golden Globe win­ner for a sim­il­arly fussy per­form­ance in Happy-Go-Lucky last year), the ladies mobil­ise, test­ing the resolve of gov­ern­ment, big busi­ness and their men.

Incidentally, of the 157 machin­ists (and all the male work­ers that we meet, too) all were white. I guess that was a dif­fer­ent battle, for anoth­er day.

I'm Still Here posterCasey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix’s I’m Still Here is an infin­itely more inter­est­ing film now it’s been con­firmed as fic­tion rather than doc­u­ment­ary. Certainly, Phoenix’s per­form­ance as a crisis-ridden act­or attempt­ing to rein­vent him­self in the music world (“a hip-hop Bohemian Rhapsody” is how he describes his stoned fantasy to an incred­u­lous yet unfail­ingly polite Sean “Puffy” Combs) is as stu­pendous an achieve­ment as any­thing else in his career.

I’m Still Here is brave and insight­ful and argu­ably com­pletely self-indulgent. I liked it a lot, des­pite all the cringing.

Fellini Satyricon posterIf a poet and his ex-boyfriend have just stolen an albino herm­aph­rod­ite oracle from his cave then you’re prob­ably watch­ing a Fellini film. Congratulations once again to the Embassy for pro­gram­ming anoth­er rarely seen clas­sic, the demen­ted Satyricon from 1969. It’s kind of sad to real­ise that in 40 years cinema has actu­ally got less adven­tur­ous and exper­i­ment­al rather than the oth­er way around.

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

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Winter’s Bone was a water­marked screen­er from the dis­trib­ut­or (would like to watch it again in more focused cir­cum­stances); Red was at the Empire in Island Bay on a Friday night where the audi­ence man­aged to talk through most of it like they were sit­ting at home; like­wise Made in Dagenham although at a dif­fer­ent time and place (Lighthouse in Petone); Paranormal Activity 2 was at Readings with a whole lot of people inex­plic­ably out on dates; Resident Evil: Afterlife looked accept­able at Readings 2nd digit­al screen (10) although the film itself looks like a hur­ried 3D con­ver­sion; I’m Not Here should have been digit­al but was actu­ally a 35mm print in the Brooks at the Paramount and Satyricon was a beaten up release print with a final five minutes that had dis­in­teg­rated entirely.