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Review: Get Him to the Greek, The Last Station and Amreeka

By December 14, 2010No Comments

Get Him to the Greek posterForgetting Sarah Marshall was one of the sur­prise pleas­ures of 2008. An Apatow com­edy that was rel­at­ively mod­est about it’s ambi­tions it fea­tured a break-out per­form­ance from English comedi­an Russell Brand, play­ing a ver­sion of his own louche stage persona.

As it so often goes with sur­prise hits, a spinoff was rushed into pro­duc­tion and we now get to see wheth­er Mr Brand’s brand of humour can carry an entire film. Get Him to the Greek sees Brand’s English rock star Aldous Snow on the comeback trail after a failed sev­en year attempt at sobri­ety. Unlikely LA A&R man Jonah Hill (Knocked Up, Funny People) sells his record label boss, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, on a 10th anniversary con­cert fea­tur­ing Snow and his band Infant Sorrow at the Greek Theatre of the title.

As a reward, Hill is giv­en the task of get­ting the wild rock­er from his home in England to The Today Show in New York, his Dad in Vegas (Colm Meaney) and on to LA – a jour­ney that Snow is some­what ambi­val­ent about to say the least. This should be a recipe for plenty of laughs, and there are a hand­ful, but the exe­cu­tion is patchy and the big set-pieces that are sup­posed drive the film only serve to drag it down.

I can’t quite work out how Greek can acknow­ledge the pre­vi­ous film (there’s a cameo by Kristen Bell, the act­ress who played Sarah Marshall) and yet, weirdly, Jonah Hill is play­ing a com­pletely dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter to the star-struck bell­boy he por­trayed in the ori­gin­al. It’s a sign of the untidi­ness that, sadly, runs through the entire product.

The Last Station posterIf you are after some­thing a little more sed­ate and cereb­ral, you can’t beat The Last Station which fol­lows the great nov­el­ist Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) through his final months dur­ing 1910. I learnt a lot from this film, not least that Tolstoy was a polit­ic­al and philo­soph­ic­al lead­er as well as one of the greatest writers the world has ever seen. His dis­avow­al of private prop­erty, his rejec­tion of organ­ised reli­gion and his devo­tion to love of people above all else, were ahead of their time.

In the film a great battle is raging over Tolstoy’s leg­acy. Chertkov, Paul Giamatti, wants all Tolstoy’s copy­rights giv­en to the people so every­one can freely read his won­der­ful, lib­er­at­ing ideas. Madame Tolstoya, a riv­et­ing Helen Mirren, wants those copy­rights to pro­tect the fam­ily. There’s noth­ing start­ling about the cast­ing here. No one bats any high­er than they would nor­mally do (Giamatti is a slimeball, James McAvoy is the every­man observ­er, Plummer is batty, bearded old man) but every­one is sen­sa­tion­ally good at what they do.

Sadly, Tolstoy’s philo­sophy was soon over­take by events and the Russian Revolution rendered much of what he pro­posed as moot, but I’m glad I got a chance to see this little epis­ode played out with such care and sensitivity.

Amreeka posterAmreeka is a fish out of water film about Muna, a Palestinian single moth­er (Nisreen Faour) who wins the Green Card lot­tery and escapes, with her six­teen year old son (Melkar Muellem), the intol­er­able con­di­tions in the occu­pied West Bank. Her sis­ter lives in Illinois, so they go there only to find that the USA at the time of the Iraq War is not as wel­com­ing of Arab vis­it­ors as they were expecting.

It’s a story that isn’t unique to America, of course. Once upon a time here in New Zealand we had parades to wel­come our new immig­rants but those days are long gone. Muna’s char­ac­ter is unap­peal­ing – her inab­il­ity to ask for help might be cul­tur­ally accur­ate but it makes her a frus­trat­ing per­son to fol­low. Happily, she even­tu­ally man­ages to bond with a few of the oth­er com­munity out­siders but the sac­ri­fices made by immig­rants and refugees are giv­en good voice by writer-director Cherien Dabis.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on 23 June, 2010.