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For this writer, the 9/11 ter­ror­ist attacks were the defin­ing glob­al event of my life­time. It was the day when any­thing became pos­sible – even the utterly unthink­able. It was the day when sheer ran­dom­ness and extreme force col­lided to prove that we have only the thin­nest ven­eer of pro­tec­tion from the world des­pite all the prom­ises that have been made to us since childhood.

Since that day, I have nev­er con­sciously sought out 9/11 foot­age to watch. That first 20 minutes of tele­vi­sion news (switched on after being woken by Hewitt Humphrey’s ter­ri­fy­ingly calm announce­ment on Morning Report) was all I could man­age that day. I have no need to re-traumatise myself thank you very much.

So what to make of 9/11 cinema? For ten years it has been an almost impossible top­ic to suc­cess­fully turn into art. The lit­er­al retell­ings of the day’s events (United 93 and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center) were the least awful, emphas­ising hero­ism in the face of impossible odds and not attempt­ing any­thing meta­phor­ic or allus­ive. In the clumsy Remember Me – in which Robert Pattinson goes to vis­it his estranged fath­er (Pierce Brosnan) in the WTC North Tower that fate­ful morn­ing – 9/11 was used as a cheap gotcha, a way of pro­vok­ing a reac­tion that the story couldn’t man­age on its own.

Now we have the cinema adapt­a­tion of Jonathan Safran Foer’s acclaimed nov­el Extemely Loud & Incredibly Close – a book that emphas­ises the inex­plic­able nature of the event by por­tray­ing it through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy. And not just any nine-year-old. Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is an extremely intel­li­gent child but some­where on the aut­ism spec­trum mean­ing that his emo­tion­al sens­it­iv­ity – and abil­ity to deal with con­tra­dic­tion – are some­what compromised.

On what Oskar calls “the worst day”, his fath­er (Tom Hanks) was vis­it­ing the WTC and his body was nev­er recovered – Oskar’s first great out­rage is that the fam­ily bur­ies an empty coffin – but he left tele­phone mes­sages and, Oskar thinks, a puzzle to be solved in the form of a mys­ter­i­ous key. The child – with the help of his grandmother’s silent lodger or “renter” (Max von Sydow) – embarks on a quest to dis­cov­er the lock for the key and, some­how, stay con­nec­ted to his lost father.

This is of course a film about 9/11 – and it very del­ic­ately handles its rela­tion­ship to the images of the day – but it is also about trauma more gen­er­ally and how we do or don’t recov­er from it. In that way, it is closely related to Steve McQueen’s Shame (reviewed last week) which was also a New York trauma story but where recov­ery seems a long way off. Von Sydow’s old man can­not speak because of his own fear and guilt about fath­er­hood (let alone his memor­ies of sur­viv­ing the Dresden bomb­ing) and many of the people Oskar vis­its on his jour­ney are deal­ing with their own sad­ness and loss – and every one is different.

I’ve giv­en this film a lot more space than I nor­mally would, even though I don’t think it totally works. What it is is brave, thought­ful and caring. Screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and dir­ect­or Stephen Daldry (The Hours) tip-toe around the chal­len­ging mater­i­al, try­ing to main­tain a poet­ic vis­ion while not milk­ing the emo­tion too blatantly and – until the too-tidy con­clu­sion – they mostly get the bal­ance right. I give Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close an A for “ambi­tion” and a B for “exe­cu­tion”.

The least-awaited film of 2012 has finally showed up. Adam Sandler’s com­ed­ies have been get­ting slop­pi­er and slop­pi­er over the years and Jack and Jill does not buck the trend. Sandler’s Happy Madison pro­duc­tion com­pany makes sure that only the barest essen­tial parts of the budget make it on to the screen and that as much of that as pos­sible is paid for by out­rageous cor­por­ate product placement.

Sandler offers his usu­al com­ic per­sona as an ad cre­at­ive who mis­takes being a suc­cess­ful bread­win­ner for being a genu­ine fam­ily man, and also trots out the drag to play the annoy­ing twin sis­ter who throws everything into chaos when Al Pacino (yes, that Al Pacino) decides she is his new muse.

There’s so much to dis­like about this film – and yet I actu­ally didn’t. I know I’m going to ‘film review­er hell’ for this but I actu­ally quite enjoyed it. It is slap­dash and lazy but there are quite a few laughs (the more thrown away the bet­ter) as well some amus­ing celebrity cameos and the legendary Pacino – who has long been in the shad­ow of his former great­ness – sends him­self up with furi­ous dead­pan com­mit­ment. He’s demen­ted but often brilliant.

Neither of which you could say about the Mark Wahlberg thrill­er Contraband which trots out every tired cliché in the book: he’s try­ing to get out but they drag him back in; they’re going to kill his fam­ily so he has to do one last job; his former-alcoholic best friend is prob­ably going to betray him and start drink­ing again; he doesn’t want to end up like his fath­er in jail; best of all he saves the day by call­ing his wife and then hear­ing the sound of her cell­phone ringing from under the cement being poured on top of her. That’s a spoil­er, sorry, but the film is all one big spoil­er – totally pre­dict­able from begin­ning to end.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times news­pa­per on Wednesday 29 February, 2012.


  • mark says:

    i have noticed that since you began your pod­cast that your reviews have become increas­ingly vap­id, by-the-numbers and inof­fens­ively bland. Before Cinematica, you had a per­son­al taste (which i did not always agree with) but your style has changed now to be so innoc­u­ously tep­id that it may as well be op-eds for your spon­sor (since its uncredit­ted, i assume its a dis­trib­ut­or, or a cinema chain). You have noth­ing insight­ful or ori­gin­al to give the reader/listener, you pad your reviews out with plot descrip­tions and fact­oids that are to be found in oth­er ‘reviews’ across the blo­go­sphere. Your dis­hon­est “it-is-what-it-is” tone, (evid­ent in your REST FOR THE WICKED review) con­tin­ues unabated, reserved for any by-the-numbers slice of the old fart genre that appeals to the Penthouse cinema’s demo­graph­ic. Very lazy. whats worse is your new Two Word review b.s. PROJECT X is “tox­ic waste”. Really? thats it? thats all you got? You havent even got the energy to cut’n’­paste all the oth­er old fart guff for the film? But you think your audi­ence will simply trust your two word ‘opin­ion’. Why both­er? ser­i­ously? Sad to see how you sold out your­self for a few bucks so fast.…

    • Dan says:

      Wow, what a delight­fully offens­ive com­ment to wake up to. You don’t get one for ages and then this… Still, I was once told that com­plaints are simply mis­dir­ec­ted energy so allow me to try and cor­rect a few of your misapprehensions.

      There may well be a dif­fer­ence between my opin­ions recently, I’m not really the best per­son to com­ment. I think I’m pretty con­sist­ent and have been for the six years I’ve been pro­du­cing these reviews. But the arrival of Cinematica is not the cause of, or response to, any of these changes. If I appear to be softer on films now than when I used to be, it may be because the films are bet­ter (the first quarter of 2012 has been a rip­per so far) and that I am a gen­er­ally hap­pi­er per­son. I’m cer­tainly enjoy­ing my trips to the pic­tures more than I have done for ages.

      Which leads us to oth­er changes. I have been get­ting more and more non-film related work over the last six months which means that the con­stant struggle to pay bills has eased a bit. Business is good. But time is short. I have been pro­du­cing these art­icles for the Capital Times for six years and haven’t been paid a cent for them. Even watch­ing all the films every week has become a huge chal­lenge. Writing the art­icles now gets done in the 6am to 8am gap before work on a Monday morning.

      And I don’t write for the “blo­go­sphere” so don’t pay much atten­tion to what oth­ers online are say­ing or what people already know. I write for the 20,000+ weekly Capital Times read­ers who look to the paper and to me for a guide to what’s on, what it’s about and wheth­er they should spend their time and money on some­thing. I don’t read oth­er people’s reviews (except by acci­dent) and haven’t since I star­ted. Capital Times read­ers want to know wheth­er a film will appeal to them, not just wheth­er I liked it or not. If I can do both things, great, but there’s an audi­ence for REST FOR THE WICKED just maybe not in cinemas. I really object to being called dis­hon­est – com­pletely inac­cur­ate, unfair and hurtful.

      Cinematica is a paid gig but I think, after all this time, I’m entitled to get some reward for the hours I have put in and the pleas­ure I hope I’ve giv­en people. It’s also a fun pro­ject where I get to work with great people on build­ing some­thing cool. We’re learn­ing all the time, and con­struct­ive feed­back is super-useful for our devel­op­ment. This, though, isn’t it.

      It’s neither here nor there who pays for the show. If it’s a spon­sor­ship it’s a spec­tac­u­larly unsuc­cess­ful one as we nev­er men­tion their name! You can­’t even tell what branch of the busi­ness they are in. All I can say is they are gen­er­ous, far-sighted, enthu­si­ast­ic sup­port­ers of movies. They are movie fans and the Cinematica pro­ject is by fans for fans. I think our respect­ive industry back­grounds also helps provide con­text for our reviews – and the many inter­views we do. It’s a lot of work pro­du­cing nearly an hour of radio every week and I don’t apo­lo­gise for not doing it for noth­ing. I still do plenty for free and don’t get much in the way of thanks for it either.

      The two-word review of PROJECT X was a joke. All the two-word reviews are. We had Sakura_59 on the show review­ing the film at length the week before so we did­n’t ignore it. The two-word reviews are whimsy, like Ebert’s “Two Thumbs Up” or a point­less star rat­ing. They are our sig­na­ture and listen­ers enjoy tak­ing part.

      So, unless you are pre­pared to step up and be my pat­ron – as opposed to read­ing and listen­ing to my work for free – I’ll con­tin­ue to try and find part­ners who do want to work with me, pay me for my time and respect what I do.

      Thanks for the feed­back and I’m sorry you aren’t happy with the way things are going.

  • thomas says:

    hey @Mark
    I hear the Carter Holt Harveys Kinleith Paper Mill are inter­ested in buy­ing that huge chip on your shoulder

  • Leg Break says:


    Just curi­ous; was that your debut com­ment on this blog?

  • Rebekah says:

    @Mark. Dan Slevin goes to every movie because he does not feel it is fair that some miss out. That is a big reflec­tion of the type of per­son he is. Space restric­tions at Capital Times mean he often has a lot of films to review in very few words. Also, he does it all out of the good of his own heart. Just so you know.