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Review: Love Birds, Tamara Drewe, Wagner & Me, Conviction, The Last Exorcism and Curry Munchers

By March 2, 2011December 31st, 20132 Comments

Love Birds posterFollowing the sur­prise suc­cess of Second Hand Wedding in 2008, screen­writer Nick Ward and dir­ect­or Paul Murphy have been giv­en a vastly improved budget and access to two inter­na­tion­al stars and told to make light­ning strike twice.

The stars of Love Birds just hap­pen to be the two fussi­est act­ors in the world, Sally Hawkins (Golden Globe win­ner for Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky) and TV com­ic Rhys Darby, and when the two of them start fid­get­ing and stam­mer­ing it feels like you are in for a long night. Luckily, both have their still-er moments and at those times you can see that Darby has real poten­tial as a big screen romantic lead.

He plays ‘ordin­ary kiwi joker’ Doug who finds an injured duck on his roof and even­tu­ally bonds with the bird thanks to vet (and bal­loon­ist) Bryan Brown and Auckland Zoo exot­ic bird keep­er Hawkins. As rom-coms go, the romance mostly works but the com­edy doesn’t. Ward has writ­ten too many laboured semi-jokes and not enough zingers and Murphy doesn’t have the com­edy chops to res­cue the situation.

Tamara Drewe posterRecommended this week is Tamara Drewe, dir­ec­ted by Stephen Frears and based on a Guardian com­ic strip by Posy Simmonds, which itself was inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Drewe (Gemma Arterton) is a suc­cess­ful news­pa­per colum­nist return­ing to her home vil­lage in the Wessex coun­tryside, site of child­hood humi­li­ations and the begin­ning of her rein­ven­tion as a media queen and sexpot.

Also, in the vil­lage are a mixed bag of char­ac­ters, gently sat­ir­ising the English com­fort­able classes: Roger Allam plays a woman­ising crime nov­el­ist; Tamsin Greig (“Black Books”) his long-suffering wife who hosts writers’ retreats at their not-quite-self-sufficient farm; little-known but excel­lent Bill Camp plays an American aca­dem­ic whose feel­ings for Greig unblock his long and tor­tured Hardy bio­graphy; Dominic Cooper (The History Boys) is an oafish rock star whose pres­ence in the vil­lage cata­lyses all sorts of prob­lems not least for two swoon­ing school­girls (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie) who see him as a chance to escape the vil­lage – unfor­tu­nately beau­ti­ful Tamara stands in their way.

Wagner & Me posterIn Wagner & Me, the great tele­visu­al com­mu­nic­at­or of our age, Stephen Fry, travels Europe to try and explain to us why Richard Wagner is import­ant and asks the ques­tion, why should a Jew (or any of us really) still care about the great com­poser when his work and philo­sophy was so com­pre­hens­ively hijacked by the Nazis?

I don’t know if I was totally per­suaded by the art (although I am resolved to try at least one full length Wagner in the next Met Opera HD sea­son up at the Penthouse) but Fry’s obvi­ous pas­sion for the music and his con­flic­ted feel­ings (sit­ting on the steps at the site of the Nuremberg Rallies for example) are presen­ted effect­ively enough.

Conviction posterWhen Hilary Swank won her Oscar for Million Dollar Baby in 2004 she appears to have resolved to use her new found power to get films made for good: not just to be good (i.e. act well in them) but to make her­self look good by play­ing good people. Since then she has been a ded­ic­ated high school teach­er help­ing inner city kids read by teach­ing them about the Holocaust; a wid­ow being helped though her grief by the ghost of Gerard Butler and the lit­er­ally self-sacrificing pion­eer air-heroine Amelia Earhart.

This week in Conviction she takes it up a notch by play­ing Betty Anne Waters, a woman so con­vinced of her brother’s inno­cence that she puts her­self though law school in order to prove it. The broth­er (Sam Rockwell) is a man­ic depress­ive with asshole tend­en­cies who has been set up by the loc­al fuzz to take the fall for an unsolved bru­tal murder. It takes 18 years to get him out, and Waters’ ded­ic­a­tion to the cause is remark­able and deserving of recog­ni­tion, but the film insists on telling you exactly what to think through­out. Disappointing.

The Last Exorcism posterAnd also in the also-rans depart­ment for this week, The Last Exorcism is a hor­ror film from the same stable that brought us the objec­tion­able Hostel films. It turns out to be a little more inter­est­ing than I expec­ted as the cent­ral char­ac­ter is a small town preach­er (ably played by Patrick Fabian) who is hav­ing a crisis of faith but has to con­tin­ue per­form­ing these exor­cisms for fin­an­cial reas­ons – it’s a living.

His con­science finally gets the bet­ter of him and he invites a film crew to fol­low along on one last job so he can expose the tricks of the exor­cism trade – how he and oth­ers like him hood­wink the gull­ible rubes of the Bible Belt using cheap con­jur­ing tricks and pop psy­cho­logy. Of course there might actu­ally be some­thing going on this time… Not really my taste it must be said, but not a tra­gic waste of time.

Curry munchers posterUnlike Curry Munchers, an Auckland-made romantic com­edy about a hand­some young Indian immig­rant (Aunanda Naaido) who gets a part-time job in a flounder­ing res­taur­ant and dis­cov­ers a tal­ent for cook­ing that might just win them a prize and him the love of wait­ress (and Shortland Street-er) Alison Titulaer. Indo-Kiwi com­ics Rajeev Varma and Tarun Mohanbai (Those Indian Guys) are sporad­ic­ally funny as kit­chen fools but they seem to have stepped out of a dif­fer­ent film – one that isn’t as drastic­ally inept as Curry Munchers.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 2 March, 2011.

Second thoughts on Wagner & Me: If you are at all inter­ested in theatre and the­at­ric­al sta­ging you should­n’t miss it for the sequences in St Petersburg and Bayreuth – huge pro­duc­tions fea­tur­ing dozens of stage hands. We’re just piss­ing about here in NZ, aren’t we?


  • Nick Ward says:

    Dan I’m an avid read­er of your posts and almost always find myself in utter agree­ment. None more so than this time. Love Birds was a script that I was extremely proud of and had spent years lov­ingly craft­ing. Needless to say that while my name is on the fin­ished product what ended up on screen is light years away from my work. The faults you point out with the writ­ing are noth­ing to do with me. I know this sounds like the writer call­ing foul but believe me when I say those piti­ful one-liners and dread­ful gags are noth­ing to do with me. The first time I got to see the film was at the première and while I think Rhys per­form­ance was great the film had me hold­ing my hand over my mouth in hor­ror. As the cred­its proudly pro­claim this is a “A Paul Murphy Film” .

    • Dan says:

      Nick, thanks for tak­ing the time to stop by and give us your per­spect­ive. I heard budget fig­ures being ban­died around on Simon Morris’ radio show the oth­er day and my heart sank a little. Hope you got your share at least.