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Review: Savages, Where Do We Go Now? and Kiwi Flyer

By September 25, 2012No Comments

Savages posterOliver Stone dir­ec­ted his first fea­ture film in 1974 (Seizure) so I’m going to be char­it­able and assume that the clunky con­struc­tion of the scenes in his new film, Savages, is delib­er­ate. I ima­gine that with all his exper­i­ence, it would be easi­er to make shots match than to be as sloppy as they appear here. Perhaps it’s a heavy-handed ref­er­ence to being stoned, see­ing as the film is about big time California can­nabis grow­ers being tar­geted for takeover by a Mexican car­tel. Or per­haps not.

Bright young things Aaron Johnson (John Lennon in Nowhere Boy) and Taylor Kitsch play the part­ners in a med­ic­al marijuana busi­ness that makes its real money by illeg­ally export­ing the high grade product across state lines. Johnson is the brains and Kitsch is Iraq and Afghanistan vet­er­an muscle. As an aside, Kitsch must be won­der­ing what he has to do to get a hit. Three big films this year and they have all been duds – John Carter, Battleship and this. It’s not his fault – he’s been decent in all of them, par­tic­u­larly so in this – but I’m sure he’s run­ning out of Friday Night Lights cred­it with the stu­di­os. Johnson, on the oth­er hand, once again fails to mine much depth from his character.

There’s a third wheel to their on screen part­ner­ship – Gossip Girl Blake Lively does­n’t man­age to build on her prom­ising per­form­ance in Ben Affleck’s The Town in 2010 and I sus­pect the fault prob­ably lies with Stone’s script and dir­ec­tion, top heavy with Lively – but not par­tic­u­larly lively – voi­ceover. Finally, John Travolta’s per­form­ances seem to be get­ting bet­ter as his appear­ance becomes more bizarre. It’s hard to ima­gine an actu­al real per­son with hair and skin like that but there he is, lar­ger than life.

Where Do We Go Now? posterWhere Do We Go Now? is also bookended by female nar­ra­tion and also has some baff­ling styl­ist­ic choices. Written and dir­ec­ted by – and star­ring – Nadine Labaki, at first it seems to be a charm­ing fable about an isol­ated Lebanese vil­lage where Christians and Muslims live togeth­er in per­fect har­mony but then the singing starts… It’s not a music­al as such but there are sev­er­al music­al scenes and I’m sorry to say they just did­n’t work for me while the rest of the film mostly did.

The women of the vil­lage expend quite extraordin­ary amounts of energy attempt­ing to keep the peace between the two fac­tions while the hot­headed young men seem to require almost no pro­voca­tion before they kick off in right­eous sec­tari­an indig­na­tion. Someone – we nev­er find out who – is also stir­ring the pot and just as the women smooth things over a new mys­ter­i­ous out­rage threatens to pro­duce a cata­stroph­ic boilover.

Flawed” is one of those redund­ant crit­ic words that I usu­ally try and avoid, but it seems appro­pri­ate here. A great premise and some bril­liant scenes are let down by the afore-mentioned singing inter­ludes and a lack of follow-through for some of the import­ant rela­tion­ship and plot points.

Kiwi Flyer posterThe fact that I may not be in the tar­get mar­ket for a movie does­n’t usu­ally pre­vent me from broad­cast­ing my opin­ion, so even though Kiwi Flyer is clearly aimed at chil­dren – and I haven’t been one for a while – here’s my ten cents worth.

Every year the young people of Nelson gath­er togeth­er for a fun event – the Collingwood Street Trolley Derby – in which home made unpowered carts com­pete in a series of races to the bot­tom of the steep course. Local writer-director Tony Simpson has taken that event and used it as inspir­a­tion for a whole­some tale of pluck, resource­ful­ness and derring-do as 12-year-old Ben (Edward Hall) defies the wishes of his moth­er (Tandi Wright) and enters the com­pet­i­tion even though it has brought the fam­ily tragedy in the past.

I did­n’t watch this with any kids – so I can­’t con­firm this hypo­thes­is – but I sus­pect that they would be just as bored by the slow pace, laboured jokes and clumsy action sequences as I was. You only have to watch a little bit of the Disney Channel to see how soph­ist­ic­ated young audi­ences are these days. The humour might still be broad but the cut­ting is fast and there are plenty of gags per minute.

Kiwi Flyer reminded me of those Children’s Film Foundation pic­tures from my long ago child­hood – worthy but dull – and I’m really dubi­ous about the choice to make the vil­lains pan­to­mime Australians. Do kids these days really think of our Aussie cous­ins as boor­ish underarm-bowling blow­hards or is that some­thing they even­tu­ally learn from their narrow-minded and paro­chi­al elders?

Oh, and the less said about palp­able non-actor Dai Henwood the better.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 26 September, 2012.