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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 CGI anim­a­tion has got to the point where much of the hassle of work­ing with chil­dren and anim­als has been replaced by stand­ing alone on a set sur­roun­ded by pro­duc­tion assist­ants with ten­nis balls on sticks, the creatures’ human voices recor­ded long ago and far away, by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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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 …


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.‑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.


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.


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.

One Comment

  • Dan says:

    Testing wheth­er com­ments auto­mat­ic­ally get p tags.

    I’ll delete when I see how the mark up works.