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Apart from the ines­cap­able need to carve out a mea­gre liv­ing from an uncar­ing world, one of the reas­ons why these weekly updates have been some­thing less than, well, weekly recently has been that most of the fare on offer at the pic­tures has been so uninspiring.

Diana posterTake Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana for example. It’s not a bad movie, per se. It’s cer­tainly not the train­wreck that the British media would have you believe. It’s just so … ines­sen­tial. Hirschbiegel’s desire to be respect­ful to Diana’s chil­dren, and to oth­er play­ers in the story who are still liv­ing, simply sucks all of the drama out of the thing, leav­ing you with a frus­trat­ing non-love story between two frus­trat­ingly inar­tic­u­late people. There are occa­sion­al hints of the com­plex char­ac­ter she may have been but the fin­ished product is a kind of noth­ing. It really is too soon for this film to tell this story.

Runner Runner posterThen there’s the Justin Timberlake vehicle Runner Runner, in which the pop star turned act­or attempts to carry a film all by him­self and proves that he either is unable to do so, or can­’t pick a pro­ject that’s worth the attempt. He plays a former Wall St hot­shot with a tal­ent for cal­cu­lat­ing risk who trades Princeton for the high life of run­ning an online gambling busi­ness in sunny (and shady) Costa Rica. Not one word of this dis­mal little film betrays a breath of authen­ti­city, either in its storytelling or char­ac­ter. Screenwriters Koppelman and Levien once wrote Ocean’s 13 (and The Girlfriend Experience) for Steven Soderbergh. At least they were meant to be fantasy.

Camille Claudel 1915 posterBruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915 sent me to sleep for a fair por­tion of its 95 minute run­ning time so it may have turned into an all-singing, all-dancing gag-fest in that middle sec­tion but I sus­pect not. Austere to a fault, the film por­trays a few days in the later life of French sculptor Claudel (Juliette Binoche), imprisoned in an insane asylum by her par­ents after an Auguste Rodin-pro­voked break­down. There she bides her time in frus­trat­ing (and occa­sion­ally hys­ter­ic­al) emo­tion­al solitude wait­ing for a vis­it from her broth­er and the release she hopes will come. Binoche does ster­ling work but Dumont’s decision to sur­round her with real patients of vary­ing degrees of dis­ab­il­ity only serves to dis­tract and often feels exploit­at­ive rather than embracing.

Prisoners posterAlso too close to exploit­at­ive on whatever scale one meas­ures these things, Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve) shrouds a bog-standard ugly seri­al killer man­hunt in the liv­ery of a qual­ity ser­i­ous drama. He obvi­ously knows how to dir­ect, this fel­low – ten­sion is built extremely well, it looks won­der­ful, his act­ors give him everything – but it’s all in the ser­vice of a hor­rible, nasty little manip­u­lat­ive pot­boil­er that chooses to go in the dir­ec­tion of a Se7en (or The Silence of the Lambs) and then out the oth­er side, trash­ing the invest­ment the audi­ence has made in the char­ac­ters. This review­er thought that Villeneuve’s big indie hit Incendies was a manip­u­lat­ive fraud and he left Prisoners feel­ing much the same.

AustenlWhat to say about Austenland? A female-friendly com­edy (which is a not­ably rare thing these days) about a Jane Austen-obsessed single American woman who blows her sav­ings on an English coun­try house hol­i­day in which act­ors pre­tend to be Regency char­ac­ters in order to enter­tain the Darcy-loving guests. I think this stuff is called LARP’ing. Anyhoo, Austenland is not­able for being the debut of Jerusha Hess, sis­ter of Napoleon Dynamite auteur Jared and the often-geeky Bret McKenzie fea­tur­ing as romantic interest. The tone is vari­able through­out – some­times the jokes work, mostly they fall flat – but the high­lights are JJ Feild (who once bril­liantly played a young Michael Caine in Last Orders) and the return to the big screen of the always watch­able Keri Russell. Somebody cast her in some­thing big­ger than this, please (Update: Somebody has – IMDb says she has a role in the next Planet of the Apes movie).

About Time posterEven though he only wrote it and did­n’t actu­ally dir­ect, Four Weddings and a Funeral turned Richard Curtis into a one-man genre – the Richard Curtis film. Since then we have had Notting Hill, Love Actually and – now – About Time: pleas­antly inof­fens­ive romantic com­ed­ies about implaus­ibly well-off English people. This new one takes wealth and priv­ilege as much for gran­ted as the oth­er three – all this sanc­ti­mo­ni­ous talk of “want­ing to live an ordin­ary life” when you are a law­yer who grew up in a bloody castle on the beach in Cornwall – but is worth a look for a quite delight­ful rela­tion­ship between time trav­el­ling fath­er and son Bill Nighy and Domnhall Gleeson (although I did won­der what the film might have been like had Gleeson’s actu­al fath­er Brendan taken the Nighy role). In fact, it’s not really a romantic com­edy at all des­pite all the advert­ising to that effect, a fact which Rachel “thank­less role” McAdams might feel a little dis­ap­poin­ted about.

Captain Phillips posterFinally, some­thing worth shelling out some read­ies for. In Captain Phillips Tom Hanks gives his finest per­form­ance since Road to Perdition but is run close all the way through by new­comer Barkhad Abdi as the Somali pir­ate who takes Hanks’ con­tain­er ship (and Hanks) host­age only to get well and truly in too deep. Paul Greengrass’s adapt­a­tion of the real Richard Phillips’ mem­oir is pitch per­fect through­out, bal­an­cing the con­trast­ing lives of two men whose day jobs are destined to bring them into con­flict. Sometimes a good per­form­ance – and a film – is tipped over into great­ness by a single scene and that is very much the case here. Hanks has a scene near the end that amp­li­fies and illu­min­ates everything that we’ve seen before and it may be the only genu­inely heart-stopping moment I’ve had at the cinema this year.

On a per­son­al note, I want to apo­lo­gise for how far behind these updates have become. I’m pretty sure that none of the films I’ve described above are even still play­ing in Wellington and my util­ity to you has become some­what ques­tion­able.  If you need up-to-date Dan opin­ions I sug­gest you listen to the Cinematica pod­cast every week or my movie slot on Nine to Noon every fort­night. I’ll try and make sure that those bits are avail­able here at Funerals & Snakes even though the writ­ten stuff is prov­ing hard to extract.

I’d love to tell the story of what’s been going on but the situ­ation is still very shaky and pub­lic dis­clos­ure here prob­ably won’t help. But when I decide it does, believe me, all will become clear. Suffice to say that at the moment I’m not able to do the day job I have lis­ted on the oth­er side of this page and I’ve had to take fairly des­per­ate meas­ures to pre­serve the roof over my head and keep­ing Mondays free to write this is prov­ing to be almost impossible.