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Review: Arrietty, Taken 2, On the Road, Life in Movement, Searching for Sugar Man, The Last Dogs of Winter and The Words

By October 16, 2012December 18th, 20123 Comments

After an intense week­end run­ning from pic­ture theatre to pic­ture theatre between – and some­times dur­ing – rain showers, I have now caught up on everything in cur­rent loc­al release. Except Tinker Bell and the Secret of the Wings but a Twitter cor­res­pond­ent assures me: “Just FYI my 5 year old great niece loved it so much she stood up at the end clap­ping & dancing…you should go you’ll love it ;)” and that review might just have to do for now.

Arrietty posterA little harder to track down than Tinker Bell, Madagascar 3 or Hotel Transylvania – but well worth the effort – is Arrietty, a Studio Ghibli anim­ated adapt­a­tion of The Borrowers, Mary Norton’s fam­ous children’s book about tiny people liv­ing under a house who are dis­covered by a frail young boy who needs a friend. Beautifully anim­ated – as always – and told with emo­tion and sim­pli­city, Arrietty is a fine altern­at­ive to those over-hyped Hollywood con­fec­tions. The ver­sion play­ing in Wellington is the English voiced one fea­tur­ing Saoirse Ronan, Olivia Colman and Mark Strong – much easi­er on the ears than the American voices and much easi­er to fol­low for the lit­tlies than the ori­gin­al Japanese.

Taken 2 posterEverything else this week is aimed at grown-ups. This review­er was sur­prised at how quickly bore­dom set in dur­ing Taken 2, the non-surprise sequel to the sur­prise inter­na­tion­al smash hit that starred Liam Neeson as a secur­ity expert with a few per­son­al trust issues. In this film the exot­ic loc­ale is Istanbul where Mr Neeson’s char­ac­ter has just fin­ished look­ing after a middle east­ern dig­nit­ary before show­ing his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daugh­ter (Maggie Grace) the sites. Meanwhile, the Albanian’s behind the people smug­gling plot in the first film are a bit miffed and want revenge. Seeing the famil­i­ar face of Rade Serbedzija as the Albanian king­pin sug­ges­ted to me that this film might have been bet­ter named Typecast 2.

On the Road posterI’m giv­en to believe that nar­rat­ive isn’t the main reas­on for watch­ing Walter Salles’ adapt­a­tion of the clas­sic beat gen­er­a­tion nov­el On the Road, which is a good thing because – due to the timetable crush – I missed the first five minutes and had to leave fif­teen minutes before the end. In the mean­time, there was some beau­ti­ful imagery – of the road as you might expect, but also of Twilight’s Kristen Stewart – and some reck­less beha­viour of the kind that occurs when boys without fath­ers have easy access to con­scious­ness alter­ing sub­stances and the film also makes clear that the women of that world were treated with shabby con­tempt by their “gif­ted” men.

Life in Movement posterIn 2007, just before tak­ing up her sur­prise appoint­ment as the new dir­ect­or of the Sydney Dance Company, Tanja Liedtke was hit by an early morn­ing garbage truck and died in hos­pit­al. She was only 29. Life in Movement – a bril­liant doc­u­ment­ary by Sophie Hyde and Bryan Mason – fol­lows her col­leagues over the next couple of years as they take her work on one final tour around the world and at the same time try and make sense of their loss. Well chosen extracts from Liedtke’s two main cho­reo­graph­ic works show an artist try­ing under­stand her­self through her work and it’s fas­cin­at­ing to see how that work is still inter­rog­at­ing – and explain­ing – her today.

Searching for Sugar Man posterLife in Movement didn’t make it into the Film Festival earli­er this year but Searching for Sugar Man and The Last Dogs of Winter both did – and you can catch both now if you missed them first time around. Sugar Man is a fine example of how cun­ning doc­u­ment­ary storytelling can make some­thing seem pro­found even when it isn’t. Framed as an invest­ig­a­tion of a mys­tery that prob­ably wasn’t much of one, the film won­ders what happened to former Detroit folkie Sixto Rodriguez. His career sank without trace in the US – where acous­tic troubadours like him were ten a penny in the early 70s – but flew in South Africa where their rel­at­ive isol­a­tion meant his music – and his legend – could flour­ish. Absorbing but ulti­mately less than meets the eye.

The Last Dogs of Winter posterCosta BotesThe Last Dogs of Winter plays no such games with the audi­ence – it’s a por­trait of a com­munity in remote Alaska Manitoba, Canada, and one man’s cru­sade to save the rare Alaskan Canadian Eskimo sled dog spe­cies breed from extinc­tion. It will teach you some­thing about a part of the world that we rarely hear about and the story is told with respect for the people and for the animals.

The Words posterFinally, The Words is a most per­plex­ing arti­fact, a pre­ten­tious sub-literary non­sense in which Bradley Cooper – for the second time in three years – plays a failed writer who cheats his way to a best seller. In this film he dis­cov­ers a manu­script hid­den in an old briefcase, real­ises that it’s bet­ter than any­thing he could ever write so sub­mits it to his agent. When it makes him the toast of the town, a mys­ter­i­ous old man (Jeremy Irons offer­ing the full range of accents without ever set­tling on one) reveals that he knows the secret.

I don’t think I fell asleep at any point dur­ing The Words but I sup­pose I must have because it didn’t make a lick of sense, espe­cially the long fram­ing scenes of Dennis Quaid’s fam­ous author read­ing his ver­sion of the story at his own lit­er­ary event and flirt­ing with Olivia Wilde’s ambi­tious gradu­ate stu­dent dur­ing the breaks. It’s not often that you see some­thing with – I’m assum­ing – good inten­tions but that gets everything so totally wrong.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 17 October, 2012.


  • Costa Botes says:

    Thanks for the nice review … but just a small but fairly vital cor­rec­tion: The Last Dogs of Winter has noth­ing to do with Alaska. It is set thou­sands of miles to the east – in Churchill, Manitoba. On a map of Canada, you can find Churchill on the west­ern shore of Hudson Bay. 

    The sled dogs com­monly used in Alaska are rather dif­fer­ent – pre­dom­in­antly mixed breeds, Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. My film is about Canadian Eskimo Dogs, aka Qimmiq, or Inuit Sled Dogs. Some enthu­si­asts in Alaska have CEDs, includ­ing dogs sourced from Brian Ladoon, the prot­ag­on­ist of my film, but they are few and far between.



    • Dan says:

      Damn and blast. That means it will be wrong in tomor­row’s paper too. Sorry, Costa.

      Canadian Kailey at Cinematica will kill me too…

  • Another cor­rec­tion, for both Dan and Costa. In the film Brian Ladoon talks about the Eskimo Dogs being the last of their spe­cies, but they’re not a spe­cies; or they’re the same spe­cies as all oth­er dogs (they can inter­breed with them after all). It’s a bit nit­picky, but sav­ing rare breeds is quite a dif­fer­ent thing from sav­ing endangered spe­cies (espe­cially when a rare breed and an endangered species—polar bears—coexist, as they do so mov­ingly in this lovely documentary)