I was expecting to come out of Operation 8 fired up but instead I emerged depressed and dispirited. I knew that New Zealand’s default political setting was benign complacency but I hadn’t realised that the full force of a — frankly — barely competent police state was being brought to bear on the few of us who were actually agitating and protesting for a more progressive society.
Operation 8 is Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones’ unashamedly partisan telling of the 2007 “Urewera 18 17” scandal in which disparate protest groups across New Zealand (with the focus on Tuhoe’s independence movement) were violently raided, imprisoned and — now about to be — given a trial without a jury. It’s a shocking litany of state arrogance and ineptitude, all the more depressing for commencing under a Labour Government.
That these travesties occurred without public outcry is thanks to our old friend, the late and unlamented Osama Bin Laden — one outcome of his butchery is the increasing reach of the police state in places like ours that should be protecting freedom rather than attacking it. See Operation 8 and take as many people as possible with you.
It’s a good week for independent, virtually home-made, kiwi features: playing alongside Operation 8 at the Paramount (and at select other locations) is Hook, Line & Sinker by Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader. Rangimoana Taylor is truck driver PJ. When his eyes start going he sees his livelihood, his sense of self-worth and possibly his sanity going along with them. His partner Ronnie (Carmel McGlone) might be able to step in to the financial breach with her growing wedding gown business but that just makes things worse for proud PJ.
Hook, Line & Sinker is a tremendous showcase for some great Wellington actors. McGlone and Taylor are joined by the veterans Geraldine Brophy (Second Hand Wedding) and Kate Harcourt along with youngsters Elizabeth McMenamin and Eli Kent. My only qualm about the film on the big screen is the reliance on wobbly hand-held camerawork — I should point out that this is a stylistic decision not a lack of craft — that threatened to give me a headache at times. When the camera was still the actors really got a chance to shine.
There are three New Zealand features this week and the third cost something like ten times the amount of the first two put together for no better outcome. Tracker is a handsome looking historical drama about a Boer farmer (and former “terrorist” himself) who travels to New Zealand in 1903 to start a new life after defeat by the British. Played by the legendary Ray Winstone, Van Dieman is a tortured soul whose tracking skills are enlisted by Major Carlyle (Gareth Reeves) in order to bring to justice a wrongly-accused Maori harpoonist Temuera Morrison.
Traipsing all over the scenic Queenstown lakes area, Tracker plays fast and loose with geography as well as history. It’s biggest crime though is lack of pace — with more energy in the chases the lovely quieter scenes where Morrison and Winstone teach each other about their respective cultures might have had more weight.
Source Code is Duncan Jones’ high concept follow-up to his sci-fi hit Moon from 2009 and until about five minutes from the end it delivers on all that promise. Jake Gyllenhaal is a military helicopter pilot unwillingly enlisted in a secret technology project: the boffins can recreate the last eight minutes before a terrorist (that word again) event in software, inject him into it and ask him to find out who did it. And they can do it over and over again until he finds out what they need to know.
It’s a clever set up and Jones (who will one day direct a Bond film, I feel it in my bones) works it extremely well. I just have this feeling that the ending we get is a cop out and not the one that would be truer to the rest of the film.
I found myself watching Your Highness alongside another reviewer and both of us had to prove the strength of our critical backbone by sticking it out to the end — no matter what the long term psychological harm might be. It’s probably the least deserving vanity project ever — a vehicle for perpetual third banana Danny McBride (Land of the Lost, Tropic Thunder) — and it takes great delight in its unfunny vulgarity.
Somehow McBride and director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) have coaxed some decent actors into appearing in this bilge including Natalie Portman (continuing to undo all the critical kudos she received from Black Swan) and Zooey Deschanel. McBride is younger and more cowardly brother to Prince Fabious (James Franco). The two go on a quest to rescue Deschanel from the clutches of the evil wizard Justin Theroux. I feel I too went on a quest — to the summit of Mt Dismal. Where’s my prize?
Finally, Babies is a wildlife documentary about tiny humans and like all wildlife docos the characters are heavily anthropomorphised — the even give the little tackers names, bless — and the emphasis is on almost terminal cuteness. It follows the first year or so of four different babies from different cultures (Mongolia, Namibia, Japan, USA) and relies way too much on easy stereotyping: the African kid eats a lot of dirt; the Japanese kid is learning arithmetic; the American kid goes to Baby Yoga. Not particularly insightful.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 11 May, 2011.