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Review: Anonymous, The Debt, Beautiful Lies, The Thing, Conan the Barbarian and I Don’t Know How She Does It

By November 8, 2011November 9th, 2011One Comment

Economically speak­ing, theatres are a com­plete waste of space. I mean, take a look at the St James or the Embassy and try and ima­gine how many cubicles and desks you could fit in to those huge pieces of prime real estate. Or even bet­ter, how many cars could you park inside them? (Car parks require lower ceil­ings there­fore more floors for the same build­ing height) What kind of fool thinks of con­struct­ing a big empty build­ing simply to shine a light through the middle of it?

Anonymous posterThis kind of non­sense has been going on for cen­tur­ies though as Anonymous, Roland Emmerich’s new piece of spec­u­lat­ive fic­tion, demon­strates. Stretching credu­lity almost as far as Star Trek requir­ing us to believe in faster-than-light speed, Anonymous asks its audi­ence to assume that barely-literate act­or Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) was not the author of all those plays and son­nets but instead they were penned by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) and used as a tool to rile the popu­lace and pro­voke polit­ic­al unrest.

Setting aside the more insult­ing aspects of that assump­tion (that only an edu­cated and well-bred man could pos­sibly have writ­ten such glor­i­ous allus­ive poetry) I quite admired the film’s premise that art gen­er­ally – and theatre spe­cific­ally – can actu­ally change minds, lives and the fates of nations. As an old school luv­vie from way back, I like the sound of that and I liked Anonymous so help me. It’s a deli­cious, moustache-twirling, romp and not a his­tory les­son, des­pite Sony Pictures’ egre­gious attempts to make it so.

Beautiful Lies posterAnd it kept me awake at 10.30 in the morn­ing which Pierre Salvadori’s Beautiful Lies didn’t man­age to do. From what I can gath­er this soft-headed Audrey Tautou vehicle is about a hairdress­er who for­wards an anonym­ous love let­ter she receives to her moth­er (Nathalie Baye) think­ing she needs it more.

So a fairly ter­rible piece of fam­ily dis­hon­esty kick-starts a romantic com­edy in which Mom dis­cov­ers the iden­tity of the author – Sami Bouajila play­ing a Harvard-educated multi-lingual handy­man with a thing for his boss Ms Tautou. I can’t tell you how it gets resolved as I woke up as the cred­its were rolling. I can say Ms Tautou’s charms have nev­er been less evident.

The Debt posterJohn Madden made his name with a film about Shakespeare (Shakespeare in Love, 1998) but with The Debt he appears to be audi­tion­ing for the next-but-one Bond film. He man­ages sev­er­al tense set-pieces pretty well but the film itself is too twisty and too tor­tu­ous to be truly sat­is­fy­ing. Three Israeli ex-Mossad agents (Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds) have been cel­eb­rated as her­oes for elim­in­at­ing Nazi war crim­in­al (excel­lent Jesper Christensen from the more recent Bond films) in an oper­a­tion in East Berlin in 1966. But the truth of what went on is hazy and through flash­backs and flash­for­wards what was once rav­elled becomes un-ravelled.

Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life) and fruity former-Wellingtonian Marton Csokas acquit them­selves well as young­er ver­sions of Mirren and Wilkinson respect­ively but Sam Worthington (once described unchar­it­ably in this column as an “Aussie boof­head”) proves that he doesn’t have the chops for this line of work.

Rounding out the week I find myself writ­ing reviews that could be from the 1980s. In The Thing a frozen shape-shifting ali­en is thawed out by unwit­ting Antarctic sci­ent­ists and all heck breaks loose. In Conan, a fake-tanned, muscle-bound, oaf speaks in three word sen­tences and avenges the death of his fath­er with a very big sword. And in I Don’t Know How She Does It, a priv­ileged white woman angsts over com­bin­ing her high-powered busi­ness career and her children.

The Thing posterTwo of those are remakes and the third might as well be. The Thing has some moments that work and some that unwit­tingly make you laugh out loud. Some of the effects are genu­inely creepy and some are just ridicu­lous and nobody involved seems to know the dif­fer­ence. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) will have bet­ter oppor­tun­it­ies than this to show what she can do. At least you’d hope so.

Conan the Barbarian posterConan the Barbarian is just rub­bish, hor­ribly dated and wit­less. The effects look cheap, the 3D looks fake, the lead (Jason Momoa) can only dream of Schwarzenegger-like soph­ist­ic­a­tion and the sexy bits ain’t sexy.

I Don't Know How She Does It posterFinally, Sarah Jessica Parker drops down-market a tiny bit from Sex and the City but still nar­rates the crap out of I Don’t Know How She Does It. She’s a Boston invest­ment banker with two kids, strug­gling to live up to the expect­a­tions of soci­ety, fam­ily but primar­ily Hollywood. Frankly, her biggest han­di­cap is being mar­ried to Greg Kinnear but that’s neither here nor there.

Insulting to every woman who feels torn between career and fam­ily, grossly dis­respect­ful to every per­son strug­gling to keep body and soul togeth­er without a self­less exec­ut­ive assist­ant, full-time nanny, six-figure salary or gen­er­ous second income from archi­tect hus­band, I Don’t Know… so com­pletely mis­reads the zeit­geist that it could eas­ily have been a Sex and the City sequel.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 9 November, 2011.

One Comment

  • The TV Rocks says:

    This film, cursed with a poor script fails at even just an enter­tain­ment level. Sure, there is lots of action and fight­ing, but there is no emo­tion behind it. I was actu­ally bored half way through of the fight­ing and wanted some damn char­ac­ter scenes, of which there are none of note. And that is anoth­er prob­lem, after the first act (young Conan) nobody has any char­ac­ter. They walk around, kill or die and that is all. Their motiv­a­tions are giv­en to us in a single line and that is all.