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Review: Twilight- Breaking Dawn Part 2, Monsieur Lazhar, Delicacy, Diana Vreeland- The Eye Has to Travel and Electrick Children

By December 1, 2012December 31st, 2013No Comments

Twilight: Breaking Dawn part II posterMy friend Simon calls Twilight “Twiglet” but that’s pretty much the max­im­um amount of amuse­ment that I’ve man­aged to derive from a fran­chise that I have nev­er man­aged to appre­ci­ate. Actually, that’s not quite true. During the latest – and final – epis­ode, Breaking Dawn Part 2, I did laugh long and hard at the arrival of the fiddle-dee-dee Irish vam­pires with their red hair and their tweed waist­coats, part of a mot­ley band of multi-ethnic spark­lers assembled to fight off the threat from the Vettori (or whatever they’re called).

The Vulturi, led by sim­per­ing Michael Sheen, want to des­troy (or absorb) the dan­ger­ous hybrid child Renesmee, a ter­ri­fy­ingly unreal­ist­ic CGI baby sup­posedly born just before Kristen Stewart’s Bella was finally con­ver­ted at the end of the pre­vi­ous film. Despite being able to travel at the speed of light they take their time get­ting to snowy Washington state, allow­ing the Cullen’s – and their were­wolf neigh­bours – to for­mu­late a plan.

Nothing I can say will change any­thing. I refuse to accept that these Twilight films are even “cinema” as I under­stand it but more box office suc­cess is inev­it­able. What did sur­prise me this time around is that even on its own terms, Breaking Dawn 2 looks really crappy. Cheap. You’d think that a film destined to make a bil­lion dol­lars might have found anoth­er 20 mil­lion to spend elev­at­ing the iMovie effects to some­thing approach­ing 21st cen­tury stand­ard. Anyway, I’m just glad that’s over.

Monsieur Lazhar posterWhen you con­sider that at the moment this coun­try can’t even get its shit togeth­er to pay its teach­ers on time, it’s great to see a film that cel­eb­rates the classroom and that magic­al rela­tion­ship between edu­cat­ors and chil­dren. Monsieur Lazhar is about a lonely Algerian in Montréal who steps in to fill a classroom after the untimely death of the ori­gin­al teach­er. There’s trauma on both sides and over a nicely illus­trated school year, both come close to being healed by each other’s presence.

Writer-director Philippe Falardeau uses plenty of subtle but telling details to bring the world and the char­ac­ters to life and the per­form­ances by all – not­ably by fine act­or and real-life refugee from Algerian viol­ence Mohamed Fellag – are unim­peach­able. Monsieur Lazhar was an Academy Award nom­in­ee earli­er this year for Best Foreign Language film and it took the bril­liance of A Separation to thwart it.

Delicacy posterIs there any­one alive by now who doesn’t know what Audrey Tautou does? After the stun­ning suc­cess of Amélie in 2001 made her a star we have seen con­stant vari­ations on the same theme. She has two modes: mouth turned down for sad­ness and mouth turned up for quirky charm. In Delicacy she gets to show off both as a griev­ing wid­ow restored to life by the love of an clumsy Swedish co-worker (François Damiens). Delicacy is a life­less first fea­ture by David Foenkinos, based on his own nov­el, and even die-hard Tautou fans might find this a disappointment.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel posterIf you enjoyed the 2009 doc­u­ment­ary The September Issue, about Vogue edit­or Anna Wintour, you will get a kick out of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, a new doc­u­ment­ary made by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the wife of Vreeland’s grand­son. Vreeland was the pion­eer­ing fash­ion edit­or of Harper’s Bazaar from 1937 to 1962 (dis­cov­er­ing Lauren Bacall among oth­er not­able achieve­ments) who then went on to edit Vogue until some­how man­aging to get fired in 1971 – prob­ably due to the extraordin­ary extra­vag­ance of the photo shoots she oversaw.

Vreeland died in 1989 at the age of 86 and the film uses the clunky device of act­ors read­ing tran­scripts of the inter­views done by the ghost-writer of her auto­bi­o­graphy (George Plimpton) to fill in the gaps, but there are also con­tri­bu­tions from not­ables like Lauren Hutton, Anjelica Huston, Hubert de Givenchy, Manolo Blahnik and a rare inter­view with Ali McGraw. Unlike the Wintour film, in which the sub­ject seems like a cari­ca­ture of a magazine edit­or, the high­lights of this film are the glimpses of the work itself – thirty years of magazine cov­ers and spreads that are as bril­liantly innov­at­ive as any­thing else in pop­u­lar cul­ture over the same period.

While it’s lovely to have some inter­est­ing films about women in the fash­ion busi­ness might we now have some equally well-made doc­u­ment­ar­ies about suc­cess­ful women in more power­ful walks of life, please? Mary Robinson – former President of Ireland and human rights act­iv­ist – for example. Or Hilary Clinton? Or Helen Clark?

Electrick Children posterWe have one more film to dis­cuss: the odd little exper­i­ment Electrick Children, in which a fifteen-year-old Mormon girl (Julia Garner) is made preg­nant by a soft-rock cov­er ver­sion of a Blondie song on a cas­sette tape and goes to Las Vegas to find the sing­er whom she sup­poses is the fath­er of her child. It’s a strange premise, but the exe­cu­tion doesn’t go far enough. It needs to go right out there but instead clings too closely to a nar­rat­ive that that can’t sus­tain it.

The beau­ti­ful float­ing cam­era work (Mattias Troelstrup) and the whis­pery voi­ceover seem inspired by Terrence Malick’s recent mys­tic­al excur­sions but writer-director Rebecca Thomas doesn’t give her­self the free­dom to let go the way that he does, there­fore Electrick Children goes down as a noble fail­ure that feels worse than it is. There are some names to watch out for here, though.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 21 November, 2012.