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Someone described melo­drama to me the oth­er day as “unearned emo­tion” and that’s a help­ful way to look at a few of this week’s offer­ings. Firstly the glossy adapt­a­tion of Sara Gruen’s best­selling nov­el of romance and tragedy at the cir­cus, Water for Elephants. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson plays veter­in­ary stu­dent Jacob who, after the death of his par­ents, runs away to join Christoph Waltz’s strug­gling Depression-era cir­cus. There he falls in love with Waltz’s down­trod­den but beau­ti­ful wife Reese Witherspoon (and also Rosie the down­trod­den but beau­ti­ful new elephant).

Director Francis Lawrence makes a token attempt to show us the gritty and des­per­ate side of Depression life but in the end the high fructose corn syr­up of tra­di­tion­al Hollywood romance smoth­ers everything. Pattinson remains dead behind the eyes as always, Witherspoon fails to con­vince as an acrobat and Waltz repeats his Oscar-winning psy­cho­path­ic Nazi from Inglourious Basterds only without the great Tarantino dialogue.

Julian Fellowes won an Oscar for writ­ing Gosford Park back in 2001 and his new tv series “Downton Abbey” seems to be scream­ing at us from every bus shel­ter at the moment so someone has can­nily decided to cash-in by bring­ing out From Time to Time, an earli­er film of his that is also set in the Fellowes-ian milieu of early 20th cen­tury English coun­try houses.

It’s a ghost story I think inten­ded for older chil­dren, like a Sunday after­noon TV seri­al con­densed to fea­ture length. 13 year old Tolly (Alex Etel) is sent to his grandmother’s house in the coun­try to see out the final months of WWII – his fath­er is miss­ing in action and his moth­er is con­veni­ently not up to look­ing after him. There he dis­cov­ers a fam­ily mys­tery dat­ing back to the very early 19th cen­tury and a few dead fam­ily mem­bers to help him solve it.

From Time to Time is a pro­duc­tion of the newly revived Ealing Studios, a long-cherished brand giv­en new life with the help of British lot­tery fund­ing. Burke & Hare (also released this week) is anoth­er and I enjoyed it a lot. Hollywood legend John Landis (Animal House, An American Werewolf in London) returns from tele­vi­sion obscur­ity to dir­ect with a light touch but the real strength is the screen­play (by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft) which while steer­ing clear of a great many incon­veni­ent “facts” gets the vibe of 1820s Edinburgh and the Scottish enthu­si­asm for sci­entif­ic pro­gress dead right.

Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis play the two likely lads who make a grue­some liv­ing selling corpses they find (and then, er, man­u­fac­ture) to Tom Wilkinson’s Medical College. There are plenty of amus­ing cameos from well-known film and tv faces, most not­ably the best work Ronnie Corbett has done in decades.

While we’ve known for years that “on the Internet no one knows you are a dog”, doc­u­ment­ary Catfish man­ages to take that tru­ism and make it inter­est­ing and mov­ing. Nev Shulman is a young New York pho­to­graph­er who strikes up a Facebook rela­tion­ship with a remark­able Mid-Western fam­ily when eight year old Abby turns one of his pho­to­graphs into a paint­ing. It would appear that she is a gif­ted child but her beau­ti­ful but troubled half-sister Megan soon becomes the focus of Nev’s vir­tu­al atten­tions and things get quite intense.

When some of the fam­ily details don’t quite add up Nev is encour­aged by his film­maker broth­er Rel to pay the fam­ily a vis­it and what they dis­cov­er is both less and more than they were expect­ing. Much more sens­it­ive and humane than I was expect­ing from it’s (online) repu­ta­tion, Catfish is absorb­ing and clev­erly constructed.

Reflections of the Past is a doc­u­ment­ary about the fam­ous Parker-Hulme murders in 1950s Christchurch, already immor­tal­ised in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, at least two stage plays and sev­er­al books. Writer-Director Alexander Roman makes some strange choices in terms of inter­views – lots of informed and semi-informed spec­u­la­tion but not much actu­al first-hand know­ledge – and some of the styl­ist­ic devices become wear­i­some even before they are over-used.

Looking no bet­ter than an anim­a­tion school gradu­ation pro­ject, Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil is the first 3D movie that I’ve actu­ally fallen asleep in front of. A cast of fairy tale char­ac­ters wise­cracks nois­ily through a tale of a miss­ing magic truffle recipe. While there is some tal­ent in the voice depart­ment (Glenn Close!) it just looks ter­ribly out of date com­pared with films like Rango and even the awful Mars Needs Moms.

But noth­ing in dec­ades has been any worse than 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, the stu­pid­est, nas­ti­est, ugli­est piece of trash I’ve seen since I star­ted this gig in 2006. I won’t even dig­ni­fy it with a plot sum­mary as the film itself isn’t much inter­ested in dig­nity. Promoted here as hav­ing the biggest box office receipts in Asia since Avatar, I’d say that lots of people have been ripped off: there isn’t much zen and the sex is as far from erot­ic as you might think pos­sible. Ghastly.

A slightly trun­cated ver­sion was prin­ted in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 18 May, 2011.

One Comment

  • Progger says:

    Twilight’s Robert Pattinson plays veter­in­ary stu­dent Jacob

    Ha! that must have been confusing 🙂