Regular and attentive readers to this column will know that I heartily endorse membership of the Film Society as the best value cinema-going in town. For example, a few weeks ago this year members (and prospective members) were treated to a sneak preview of a lovely little film not yet released to the general public.
Get Low is the kind of film that gets made all too rarely these days: a thoughtful, detailed, slow paced meditation on character and personal history. It’s a drama, but with plenty of amusing moments, and it’s a showcase for two great screen actors — two actors who spend far to much of their time these days repeating old performances but here they prove that they’ve still got it when it counts.
Screen legend Robert Duvall (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) plays Felix Bush, a lonely hermit living in Tennessee in the 1930s. Unkempt and irascible, the locals steer well clear because of his dangerous reputation and that’s just the way he seems to like it. But something is eating away at him and he decides to throw a party — a funeral party for himself so that people can tell their stories about him to his face and, maybe, he can tell one or two of his own. He enlists the help of local undertaker Bill Murray and, with the help of his assistant (Lucas Black), the old man gets a chance to set some records straight.
Get Low is highly recommended by this reviewer. Duvall is extraordinary — carrying a film on nearly 80 year old shoulders — and Murray’s performance is an absolute pleasure.
There’s another kiwi rom-com in town: My Wedding and Other Secrets follows on the heels of recent misfire Love Birds and I’m pleased to report that this one hits more than it misses. Based on her 2005 documentary Banana in a Nutshell (and thus her own life), Roseanne Liang’s well observed feature actually manages to avoid most of the clichés that the trailer threatened us with and is all the better for it.
Film nerd Emily Chu (Michelle Ang) falls for James (Matt Whelan) at the University Fencing Club. It turns out that he’s a different kind of nerd (Dungeons & Dragons!) and it’s a match made in heaven — except she’s worried about the impossibility of getting her conservative parents’ approval. The main strength here is the relationship between the two leads — Whelan in particular is perfectly pitched — and there are several scenes that are really quite affecting.
In Limitless, The Hangover ’s Bradley Cooper plays a failed author who is given a shot at the big time with the help of some little silver pills. The pills put him in touch with the roughly 80% of his brain that he/we never make use of or get access to. His memory becomes astounding and his ability to process data makes him a staggeringly effective business analyst. This being America he doesn’t even think of putting these powers towards the greater good of humanity. He uses them to make money but before he can clinch the deal of the century he starts running out of tablets and the withdrawal is punishing.
And that’s where it starts to get quite interesting. Lots of disreputable people are after these little shiny things and want to do Mr Cooper harm to get at them. But he doesn’t have any and can no longer think fast enough to stay one step ahead of the game. Limitless is a rarity these days — a film where you have genuine difficulty picking what’s going to happen next.
Battle: Los Angeles is a long, noisy love letter to the US military, a big wet sloppy kiss to the Marine Corps, giving them a chance to show their bravery and determination by defending California against a invasion of aliens intent on stealing all our water. After ten years of fighting shady and hidden opponents in foreign countries for ambiguous and morally dubious reasons I’m sure the boys in khaki appreciate the chance to shoot at something we can all agree with is a bad thing.
As filmmaking, Battle: Los Angeles leaves a lot to be desired. Every cliché in the book is wheeled out (and then yelled at you) and the camera won’t sit still for a single frame so, chances are, you’ll come out with a headache as I did.
Force of Nature is an odd fish to see in a Wellington theatre, particularly when so many great films don’t get a local release. It’s a documentary about the Canadian environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki made to celebrate his 75th birthday. Now, I’m sure in Canadian terms Mr Suzuki is quite a celebrity and his life hasn’t been uninteresting. But he has very little of note to say this time around and I can’t quite see the point of asking us to watch it right here, right now.
Which is a question we could also ask ourselves about Red Riding Hood, the new film about werewolves made by the director of Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke). It’s a pretty unambiguous re-telling of the old fairy tale about a Granny-eating wolf and a young girl (Amanda Seyfried) trying to save the village. Studio-bound, and featuring some very dubious casting, Red Riding Hood is about as sophisticated as a high school play, an impression reinforced by the performances.
With dozens of missed opportunities to really dig in to potential subtext (cf The Company of Wolves, 1984), Red Riding Hood has the admirable quality of not being about aliens attacking Los Angeles but that’s about all it has going for it.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 30 March, 2011.