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Review: Super 8, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Soul Surfer, Biutiful, The Tempest and Brighton Rock

By June 28, 2011No Comments

I’ve been busy over the last few weeks work­ing on New Zealand’s biggest par­ti­cip­at­ory film event, the V 48 Hours which reaches its loc­al cli­max tonight at the Embassy Theatre. It’s a won­der­ful cel­eb­ra­tion of Wellington film tal­ent and there may be door sales so check with the venue.

Super 8 posterOne of the inspir­a­tions for 48 Hours is the true story of a group of Mississippi kids who spent six years of week­ends and hol­i­days in the 1980s remak­ing Raiders of the Lost Ark – shot for shot – on home video. The pro­ject went from notori­ous to legendary in 2003 when the kids (now adults) were invited to meet Lucas and Spielberg and their story was even optioned by Paramount. I can’t see that pic­ture get­ting made now as Spielberg (and J.J. “Star Trek” Abrams) have come up with some­thing that, though par­tially inspired by the boys’ VHS efforts, goes in a dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tion entirely, hon­our­ing not just their homemade Raiders but Spielberg’s own E.T. and Close Encounters .

In a small Ohio town in 1979 a bunch of kids are mak­ing a zom­bie flick so they can enter the loc­al Super 8 film com­pet­i­tion. During an unau­thor­ised night shoot at the rail­way sta­tion they wit­ness a dev­ast­at­ing train crash which unleashes mys­ter­i­ous forces that the Government is des­per­ate to cov­er up. As the freaked-out cit­izenry are evac­u­ated so the Air Force can hunt down the whatever-it-is that’s escaped, our hero­ic kids head back in to the danger zone armed only with curi­os­ity and that child-like sense of right and wrong that Mr. Spielberg used to spe­cial­ise in.

Most review­ers have men­tioned the par­al­lels with E.T. or The Goonies (for story reas­ons mostly) but I think the film that Super 8 most resembles is Close Encounters – that late 70s mix­ture of naïveté and anti-government para­noia as well as a wide screen/lens flare aes­thet­ic that is per­fectly cap­tured by cine­ma­to­graph­er Larry Fong.

Super 8 is great enter­tain­ment. It’s a rel­at­ively tight two hours with plenty of thrills and plenty of heart and it shows that big pop­corn movies don’t have to have a numer­al at the end of the title. What, eh? Oh.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules posterAlso of note at the pic­tures this week: I quite enjoyed the ori­gin­al Diary of a Wimpy Kid and I quite enjoyed the sequel (Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules) because it’s basic­ally the same film. If your kids are too young for some of the frights in Super 8, they might enjoy the gross-out-but-family-friendly com­edy on offer there. The Great Steve Zahn is in it too.

Soul Surfer posterIn 2003, prom­ising Hawaiian surfer Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a shark while train­ing and lost her left arm at the shoulder. Many people would have been grate­ful enough to be alive and left it at that but Hamilton battled her way back to the peak of her sport and now there’s a film of her story: Soul Surfer. Hamilton’s faith was obvi­ously very import­ant to her recov­ery so I can for­give the occa­sion­al preachi­ness. In fact, films about our bet­ter nature always seem to go down well with me (See Secretariat from earli­er this year), per­haps because they seem to be so rare.

Biutiful posterIn a dark­er vein, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new drama Biutiful plumbs the depths of des­pair while finally allow­ing a little light in at the end. A small-time Barcelona crook (the great Javier Bardem), attempts to put his life in order when he is told his can­cer gives him only a short time to live. Like Iñárritu’s pre­vi­ous work (21 Grams and Babel) it grapples with huge emo­tions and grand themes but his tend­ency to stack the deck against his char­ac­ters makes the films hard to warm to.

The Tempest posterFinally, two films star­ring Helen Mirren: Brighton Rock (based on a Graham Greene nov­el) and The Tempest (based on a play by William Shakespeare). In the lat­ter, Ms. Mirren plays Prospera (nor­mally Prospero and played by a man), usurped from the throne of Milan by a schem­ing broth­er (Chris Cooper) and marooned on a deser­ted vol­can­ic island with only a daugh­ter (and some spir­its) for com­pany. Using magic she con­jures up a storm to bring her enemies to the island so she can right the wrongs and teach a few lessons.

Mirren is per­fectly fine and she is sup­por­ted by an eclect­ic cast includ­ing Russell Brand who it would appear was asked to turn up in his day clothes and play that pub­lic ver­sion of him­self that most of us are already famil­i­ar with.

Brighton Rock posterBrighton Rock has had its time reset from imme­di­ately post-WWII to the early 60s, pre­sum­ably because dir­ect­or Rowan Joffe (son of The Killing Fields’ Roland Joffé) can use the Mod-Rocker riots of the time to add an extra lay­er of social ten­sion but also because that peri­od might have been a bit easi­er to re-create. Andrea Riseborough is Rose, a mousy wait­ress who unwit­tingly wit­nesses (the pre­amble to) a murder. Killer Pinky (Sam Riley) befriends her – and even mar­ries her – to ensure her silence but his rap­idly mani­fest­ing psy­cho­pathy puts paid to that plan. It’s a tasty thrill­er, much bet­ter for you than the sug­ary con­fec­tion­ary that gives it its name.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 15 June, 2011.