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Review: Hope Springs, Total Recall and How Far Is Heaven

By August 29, 20122 Comments

Hope Springs posterIn Hope Springs, Meryl Streep proves once again that not only can she play any woman, she can also play every­wo­man. She’s Kay, an unful­filled Nebraska house­wife, mar­ried for 31 years to account­ant Tommy Lee Jones and resigned to sleep­ing in sep­ar­ate bed­rooms and cook­ing him his eggs every morn­ing while he reads the paper. Except, she’s not resigned, she’s become determ­ined. Determined to prove that mar­riage doesn’t just fizzle out after the kids leave home, that the past doesn’t have to equal the future.

So, she signs them both up for “intens­ive couples coun­selling” with friendly ther­ap­ist Steve Carell, in pic­tur­esque sea­side Maine. Jones is gruffly res­ist­ant, of course, and it’s his dead­pan sar­casm that prompts nost of the early com­edy (their fum­bling attempts to spice up their life provides the rest). As a com­edy, Hope Springs is extremely gentle – much more gentle than the trail­er would have you believe – but that gen­tle­ness suits the del­ic­ate sub­ject and the script (by Vanessa Taylor) actu­ally bur­rows in pretty deeply to a sub­ject that, I’m sure, is pretty close to home for lots of viewers.

Chief pleas­ure is watch­ing Jones and Streep show why they are the best in the busi­ness. If you go to see Hope Springs – and you can do a lot worse – then make a point of watch­ing the act­or who isn’t speak­ing. Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) has the good sense to shoot much of the encoun­ters with Carell in two-shots – Jones and Streep on either side of a wide couch – and the reac­tions they have to the stor­ies the oth­er is telling are price­less and heart­break­ing to the extent I found myself won­der­ing what Bergman would have done with these act­ors. Hope Springs isn’t Scenes From a Marriage – it nev­er pre­tends to be – but it is a decent and often amus­ing take on a sub­ject Hollywood usu­ally ignores.

Total Recall posterTo any­one who has ever seen the Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger Total Recall (1990) then Len Wiseman’s remake will be utterly point­less. But it’s not meant for them, is it? It’s for the young­er gen­er­a­tion who wouldn’t be seen dead in the $2 sec­tion of the video store, and who don’t even care that it’s been done before. As every gen­er­a­tion needs its own Jane Eyre, appar­ently every gen­er­a­tion will now get its own Total Recall (and soon, Dredd and Robocop).

Regardless of how much regard you hold the ori­gin­al – and my regard for it is mar­gin­al at best – this ver­sion helped me to dis­cov­er pre­vi­ously untapped levels of dis­en­gage­ment but it did prompt some stray thoughts while Colin Farrell was try­ing to dis­cov­er wheth­er he really is a futur­ist­ic super­spy or not. Like, Bryan Cranston really needs to pick bet­ter pro­jects for his Breaking Bad hiatuses. And Wiseman really is a hack using this film mainly as a way to fur­ther invest­ig­ate the cine­mat­ic prop­er­ties of Kate Beckinsale’s ass (cf Underworld, et al).

How Far Is Heaven posterFinally, a genu­ine tri­umph – NZ doc­u­ment­ary How Far Is Heaven, about a year in the life of the people of Jerusalem on the banks of the Whanganui river. Directors Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith deftly com­pare the lives of the Sisters of Compassion (only three res­id­ent at the time of shoot­ing, down to two now) who have been liv­ing among the tangata when­ua since the order was foun­ded by Suzanne Aubert in 1892, and the spir­ited youth that they teach and counsel.

Two deeply held belief sys­tems co-exist in Jerusalem, and the beau­ti­fully pho­to­graphed film presents us with mul­tiple dicho­tom­ies – maori and pakeha, young and old, urb­an and rur­al – without tak­ing any sides itself. Destined to be one of the greats.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 29 August, 2012. Written in the depar­ture lounge of Auckland International Airport, just before fly­ing out to Telluride.