Firstly I want to apologise that there is no review of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life in this week’s column. I saw it during the Festival and like most audiences was perturbed, baffled, challenged and ultimately awed but I needed a second screening to make sense of it. Arguably less sense rather than more sense was what I would be aiming for.
The film opened commercially this weekend at a couple of locations but neither of them offered the sort of grandeur (i.e. screen size) and quality (i.e. DCP 2k digital transfer of the kind I am starting to love) so I thought I would hold off until it reaches a few more screens. I know — I sound like a pompous ass but that’s as genuine a response to The Tree of Life as I can muster. A more considered response next week.
But that omission gives me more room for the rest of this week’s releases. Florian Habicht’s Love Story charmed (most) of the Film Festival, including your correspondent. Habicht’s indefatigable curiosity and demonstrable love of people powers this strange romantic comedy made while he was living in Manhattan on an Arts Foundation residency.
Essentially Habicht is making his film up as he goes along (seeking inspiration from random New Yorkers who give him advice about love, romance and where his story should go next) but his appealing characters — who may or may not be playing versions of themselves — and Habicht’s own goofy charisma carry you along on a strange and delightful journey. Love Story feels like the kind of film that Godard might be making if he still had a sense of humour (and was a cosmopolitan German-Kiwi hipster in his early 30s).
The Guard contains at least one joke that is so old (as old as the Volkswagen Beetle ladies and gentlemen) that it could only have made it into the film as a joke on us. The humour isn’t all that clunky, though it is hit and miss, in this Irish comedy-thriller about a cynical rural policeman (Brendan Gleeson in dandy form) embroiled in attempts to stop a drug smuggling operation. He partners with the FBI’s top man Don Cheadle to thwart the drug runners, save Galway from international bad guys and teach the Yank a bit about policework. Life-enhancing but not life-changing.
(By the way I found “dandy” as a synonym for “terrific” in the Thesaurus — it works I think)
It’s hard to know quite what to make of Crazy, Stupid, Love — a new comedy featuring a dandy cast including Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone and the quite extraordinary Ryan Gosling. There’s so much to enjoy and yet the underlying message is so regressive, so conservative, so impossible to get behind. Carell’s everyman is being divorced by Moore, his high school sweetheart and soulmate. On the rebound, he gets coached by Gosling, the young player, on how to successfully work the singles scene. Meanwhile, everyone else in the family appears to be suffering from some kind of unrequited passion.
You can work out a film’s moral compass simply by looking at who gets punished and who gets rewarded and in Crazy, Stupid, Love every free expression of female sexuality is punished — and almost instantly. Troubling, but at the same time very, very funny. Gosling and Stone do wonders in parts so under-written that they may not have appeared on the page at all.
Paramount Manager Kate sold Cedar Rapids to me as an “arthouse version of The Hangover” and, despite my misgivings she was absolutely right. It even stars that film’s Ed Helms playing a strikingly similar role — a straitlaced small town naif who discovers his dark side thanks to some illicit substances and some major enablers (John C. Reilly and Anne Heche in this case).
Of course, The Hangover was almost perfect and Cedar Rapids is not so much and the cheap shots at the expense of flyover America and its values often seem like Hollywood mean-spiritedness. Best bit is for fans “of the HBO series The Wire” in which Isiah Whitlock Jr. (who played Clay Davis in that show) does a beautifully judged and awful impersonation of Omar.
Biggest surprise of the week is the thrilling and dramatic TT3D: Closer to the Edge, a documentary about the 2010 Isle of Man TT motorcycle races focusing on affable maverick Guy Martin and his attempt to win a TT — which he believes is his destiny. The course is legendary for its danger but the riders are, to a man (and woman) philosophical about the risks — with some justification as almost half of the riders followed by the documentary will come a cropper during the event.
I actually found myself getting angry at how much TT3D was stressing me out. It is a genuine example of a white-knuckle experience — tense and emotional. Even if you don’t have an interest in motor sport you’ll be moved by this film — and if you do, you’ll be blown away.
I can safely say that no one will be blown away by Priest 3D, another comic book adaptation, this one starring Paul Bettany as an elite vampire hunter coming out of retirement. If the audience I was with is anything to go by Priest barely rates as a diversion — most of them didn’t even bother to put their 3D glasses on and just carried on talking.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 August, 2011.