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For the last three weeks I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to sit in for Simon Morris on RNZ National’s At the Movies. It’s a lot of work – at least a lot more work than writing for the website — which means I haven’t had a chance until now to post the highlights.

Dolittle (Gaghan, 2020)

First things first, there are very few actual animals in this movie. CGI animation has got to the point where much of the hassle of working with children and animals has been replaced by standing alone on a set surrounded by production assistants with tennis balls on sticks, the creatures’ human voices recorded long ago and far away, by celebrities alone in a recording studio. It might make for convenience, but it doesn’t encourage anything other than self-indulgence from Mr Downey who appears to be channelling the spirit of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow rather than any kind of interiority of his own.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/atthemovies/audio/2018730816/dolittle

Bombshell (Roach, 2019)

A second — and slightly more polished — go around on this one.

There’s another interesting aspect to Bombshell which has less to do with gender and more to do with power and where it lies. When Malcolm McDowell turns up as Rupert Murdoch near the end of the picture, everyone including Ailes is forced to recognise that no matter how much power you throw around in your day-to-day life, sooner or later everyone has to reckon with a boss. Unless you are actually Rupert Murdoch, I suppose. Maybe that doesn’t ever affect him?

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/atthemovies/audio/2018730817/bombshell

The Third Wife (Mayfair, 2018)

The Third Wife is meditative, poetic and often sensual. Like Terrence Malick, Mayfair has an eye for how nature provides important context for our human strangeness. There are some beautiful sequences of the family going about their lives in the magnificent lush landscape of tropical Vietnam.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/atthemovies/audio/2018730818/the-third-wife

If you want to experience the grand flow of programme you can listen to the whole of the 22 January edition here:


Underwater (Eubank, 2020)

I was very taken with how – in a film that doesn’t have very much dialogue – the physical objects the actors work with carry the story. At one point, Smith removes the oxygen filtering canister from his backpack and we can see – as can all the characters – that instead of being clear liquid, it is a rusty, reddy, brown silty, fluid sloshing around and we get that his situation is pretty dire. A prop maker did that. We take them for granted sometimes but all of those practical crafts deserve some credit here.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/atthemovies/audio/2018731828/movie-review-underwater

Seberg (Andrews, 2019)

Kristen Stewart is – frankly – too good for this material and she keeps bumping up against its limitations. I’m sorry to say that both Stewart and Jean Seberg herself deserve better.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/atthemovies/audio/2018731829/movie-review-seberg

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Heller, 2019)

Heller hasn’t let me down yet and I’ll just observe that my two favourite films this year (so far) have been directed by women …

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/atthemovies/audio/2018731831/movie-review-a-beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood

I’ve been pretty pleased with how these shows have worked out and — to be honest — they work best when you listen to the whole thing. Here’s the 29 January edition:


A Hidden Life (Malick, 2019)

But Malick’s desire to tell this story hasn’t quite been matched by his method. The long, semi-improvisational takes – sometimes he’ll shoot the same scene in several different locations and then cut between them – mean that conversations are repetitive or unfocused. His trademark use of voiceover seems like a way to get away from a scene that isn’t quite working rather than a conscious choice.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/atthemovies/audio/2018732879/a‑hidden-life

Midway (Emmerich, 2019)

Part of the problem is the direction from “the master of disaster” Roland Emmerich. Nobody destroys things with more style than he does – he practically invented the genre with Independence Day back in 1996 – but he’s not very interested in his actors. The older ones – Dennis Quaid as Admiral Halsey and Woody Harrelson as Chester Nimitz – know how to look after themselves and fare better but the younger ones like Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson and Darren Criss are literally all at sea.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/atthemovies/audio/2018732880/midway

Uncut Gems (Safdie Brothers, 2019)

I’m not sure whether the finished film is meaningful enough to justify the undoubted craft that has gone into it. But I will say that it is a film I’ve been thinking about a lot since I saw it and I expect to watch it again before too long and I’m not normally much of a re-watcher. One and done, me, usually.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/atthemovies/audio/2018732881/uncut-gems

And here’s the whole programme from 5 February:


I’m back to the website and, unless something unexpected happens, my next turn on At the Movies won’t be until the Easter/Anzac Day holidays.