Skip to main content

Review: There Once Was an Island, Bad Teacher, Cars 2, The Reluctant Infidel and My Afternoons with Margueritte

By July 19, 2011No Comments

There Once Was an Island posterWhen I first vis­ited this coun­try back in 1982 we flew across the Pacific Ocean in day­light and from my win­dow seat I got a birds eye view of … not very much. Lots of flat blue unin­ter­rup­ted sea, not even so much a rusty tramp steam­er to break the mono­tony. No won­der they usu­ally do this leg in the dark, I thought.

Once I got here I under­stood that there was a lot going on down there on many tiny speckled islands and atolls – and the rich­ness of the Pacific and its rela­tion­ship to New Zealand was just one of the reas­ons why I’m still here all these years later – but now the creep­ing specter of glob­al warm­ing is trans­form­ing the Pacific into the pristine envir­on­ment I thought I saw all those years ago – unsul­lied by cor­al, sand, taro or people.

This pro­cess is already well under way as Briar March’s astound­ing doc­u­ment­ary There Once was an Island illus­trates. In 2006 Ms. March and a tiny crew spent sev­er­al months on Takuu, a remote atoll over­seen by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), ser­viced and sup­por­ted by a rare and irreg­u­lar ship­ping ser­vice and short wave radio. Even then the waves were lap­ping at the edge of peoples’ homes and the ABG offer of a haven among the main­land sug­ar plant­a­tions effect­ively meant ask­ing 4000 people to say good­bye to their entire way of life.

March and her crew returned two years later with some sci­ent­ists who could explain the per­il (and per­haps offer some pro­tec­tion strategies) but by then it was already too late. High tides were des­troy­ing build­ings and there wasn’t any high­er ground to move to.

There Once was an Island is a vital doc­u­ment­ary about a clear and present danger to us all. Seek it out before it dis­ap­pears from cinema screens like, er, Takuu is dis­ap­pear­ing from the planet.

Bad Teacher posterAnd while we are on the lookout for signs of the com­ing apo­ca­lypse, Exhibit B is surely the new Cameron Diaz film Bad Teacher. I was deeply offen­ded by this film. Not by the offence it was intend­ing to cause (juven­ile “jokes” about inap­pro­pri­ate beha­viour in a middle school) but by the con­tempt that it showed for its audi­ence and for human­ity gen­er­ally. And it’s a con­tempt that isn’t even jus­ti­fied by its own superi­or­ity. The film is sloppy and self-satisfied, coast­ing on an audience’s memor­ies of the great Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa and without an ori­gin­al idea of its own. The only con­ceiv­able way Bad Teacher could be worse would be if Gerard Butler was in it.

Cars 2 posterYou can count on Pixar to provide some bal­ance to the des­per­ately depress­ing fare usu­ally on offer but some­thing isn’t quite right with Cars 2. I mean it’s per­fect, obvi­ously, but some­thing is miss­ing this time around.

NASCAR champ Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is temp­ted away from his off-season break in radi­at­or Springs by the offer of spe­cial “best of the best” Grand Prix series pro­mot­ing an altern­at­ive bio­fuel. He takes lov­able rube “Tow” Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) along on the trip but his small town ways prove embar­rass­ing and the pair fall out.

Meanwhile, top British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) are on the trail of a gang of inter­na­tion­al crim­in­als intent on dis­rupt­ing the big event and when they mis­take the gorm­less tow truck for their American con­tact Mr. Mater dis­cov­ers a hero within.

There’s a lot of plot in Cars 2 and the detail has to be seen to be believed – car puns are lit­er­ally every­where – but it seems a little too con­struc­ted rather than born if that makes any sense. This is the first Pixar film since Ratatouille that hasn’t made me cry and the first since WALL•E that I haven’t imme­di­ately wanted to own. It’s still bet­ter than 99% of films that will come out this year though and don’t be late as there is a very funny Toy Story short at the beginning.

The Reluctant Infidel posterCapturing some­thing of the spir­it of (the geni­us) Four Lions without any of the bril­liant exe­cu­tion, The Reluctant Infidel tells the poten­tially amus­ing story of Mahmud (stand-up com­ic Omid Djalili), a slightly lapsed London Muslim who dis­cov­ers he is actu­ally adop­ted and that his birth par­ents were jews named Shimshimowitz. The tim­ing couldn’t be worse for this rev­el­a­tion as Mahmud’s son Rashid (Amit Nasir) is about to become engaged to the step-daughter of a big time anti-Western mul­lah and Mahmud’s islam­ic bona fides need to be 100% pukka.

As I say, it’s a prom­ising premise and there are some good scenes but the final res­ol­u­tion falls ter­ribly flat when we should be slid­ing off our seats with laughter. An oppor­tun­ity missed, I fear.

My Afternoons with MargueritteIn My Afternoons with Margueritte the enorm­ous Gérard Depardieu plays against type as a mod­est little char­ac­ter, sup­pressed and depressed by a dom­in­eer­ing and abus­ive moth­er and mates who scorn his lack of edu­ca­tion. These are the per­ils of grow­ing up and stay­ing in a small town where your course is set from child­hood. But a chance meet­ing with little old Margueritte, count­ing pigeons on a park bench, opens up a chink of lit­er­ary light for M. Depardieu and he is able to shrug off the expect­a­tions of oth­ers for a deep and mean­ing­ful friendship.

Dripping with sen­ti­ment­al­ity, My Afternoons with Margueritte will prove sat­is­fy­ing to undemand­ing audi­ences, largely due to a light touch in the dir­ect­ing depart­ment from Jean Becker (Conversations With My Gardener) and an effi­cient 82 minute run­ning time.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 29 June, 2011.

Sorry these are being pos­ted so late. A quick check of the Wellington sched­ules shows that There Once Was an Island, Bad Teacher and The Reluctant Infidel have already depar­ted our screens. One of those did­n’t deserve to fail.