Skip to main content

Review: Twilight- Breaking Dawn part 1, Project Nim, The Whistleblower and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

By November 24, 2011No Comments

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn posterThere are now four films in the Twilight “saga” which means I’ve spent 493 minutes in the Twilight uni­verse, at least 492 of them wish­ing I was some­where else. The latest epis­ode, Breaking Dawn Part 1 fol­lows the Harry Potter strategy of not sep­ar­at­ing uncom­plain­ing fools from their money once when you can do so twice, and thank­fully is the least rot­ten of the four films.

All of the “will they, won’t they” non­sense has been lead­ing to this so – at least nar­rat­ively speak­ing – they are finally get­ting on with it. After the longest wed­ding scene in cinema his­tory – of films that don’t have the word ‘wed­ding’ in the title – Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) head off to a remote Brazilian island to play chess on the beach and con­sumate their relationship.

After three films worth of moon­ing over wheth­er they could even be, ahem, phys­ic­al with each oth­er without Edward los­ing the plot and doing that vam­pire bitey thing, he man­ages to keep him­self mostly in check and turns in a cred­it­able bou­doir per­form­ance. The good news doesn’t last long, how­ever, and it turns out that his madly power­ful vam­pire seed has unex­pec­tedly made poor Bella preg­nant and she is now car­ry­ing some­thing that even know-it-all Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli) hasn’t seen before.

I shouldn’t be so glib I sup­pose. These films are made for fans of the books who have become fans of the films. An open­ing week­end of over $283 mil­lion US bucks is not to be sneezed at and all of these films have proved over and over again to be crit­ic and reviewer-proof. But what am I sup­posed to say? That it doesn’t mat­ter that the writ­ing is dreary, the act­ing is flat, the effects are cheesy and the mes­sage is dubious?

Breaking Dawn at least moves the story on a bit – while still being the shortest of the four films so far – and man­ages to incor­por­ate some know­ing gags into the largely po-faced mater­i­al so there is hope that next year’s final instal­ment might make the long tedi­ous jour­ney worthwhile.

One high point of the Breaking Dawn screen­ing was enjoy­ing the new Titan XC screen at Readings. The new faux-leather seats are very com­fort­able, the drapes and car­pets have all been replaced, there are extra speak­ers dot­ted all around and the tech­nic­al present­a­tion exceeds Readings usu­al high stand­ards. I don’t think Wellingtonians real­ise how lucky we are to have so many high qual­ity cinema exper­i­ences right on our doorstep.

Project Nim posterProject Nim is a doc­u­ment­ary about a fam­ous (or notori­ous) exper­i­ment to teach human sign lan­guage to a chim­pan­zee and see what happened next. What fol­lowed that brain­wave was a series of decisions (start­ing with the forced remov­al of baby Nim from his moth­er) that man­age to illu­min­ate cruel human beha­viour rather more than the interi­or life of the chimp.

The Columbia University study was well-documented – by the aca­dem­ics as well as a curi­ous media – so there’s a lot of fas­cin­at­ing mater­i­al for the film­makers to draw on. I’m not as con­vinced by the shad­owy recre­ations that are some­times used to fill in the gaps.

Your cor­res­pond­ent saw Project Nim not long after the excel­lent Rise of the Planet of the Apes which covered sim­il­ar, yet more fant­ast­ic­al, ter­rit­ory. They would make a good double feature.

The Whistleblower posterIn Larysa Kondracki’s true story The Whistleblower, Rachel Weisz plays a ded­ic­ated Nebraskan cop who takes on a train­ing and obser­va­tion role in war-torn Kosovo. There she dis­cov­ers that many of her col­leagues (includ­ing UN offi­cials, peace­keep­ers and private con­tract­ors) are com­pli­cit in people-trafficking and pros­ti­tu­tion and that they also have dip­lo­mat­ic immunity.

It’s a shock­ing story and the high-level polit­ic­al man­euv­er­ing and avoid­ance of respons­ib­il­ity seems all too genu­ine. The film itself, for all its sin­cer­ity, doesn’t all work though. Benedict Cumberbatch’s char­ac­ter – a rogueish American officer – threatens to be import­ant but doesn’t go any­where and the con­stantly mov­ing cam­era was more dis­tract­ing than helpful.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan poster Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was pro­duced by Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi and appar­ently he ordered Fox Searchlight (one of his News Corp com­pan­ies) to release it in the US. So what we appear to have here is a van­ity pro­ject for the wife of an old tyr­ant and the res­ult is almost exactly as ines­sen­tial as that implies.

Based on a nov­el by Lisa See and dir­ec­ted by once-interesting dir­ect­or Wayne Wang, Snow Flower tells the stor­ies of two pairs of female friends and attempts to find par­al­lels between their lives, cen­tur­ies apart. To help make the point the two couples are played by the same act­resses (Gianna Jun and Bingbing Li) and while the restric­tions and con­straints on 19th cen­tury Chinese women have the poten­tial for drama, the con­tem­por­ary ver­sions come across as whiny – their lack of con­fid­ence in the mostly English con­tem­por­ary dia­logue doesn’t help. The res­ult is tep­id at best and no amount of Hugh Jackman awk­wardly singing and dan­cing can warm it up.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 23 November, 2011.