There was a time when a new improv comedy from Christopher Guest and his regular cast of inspired comics would be eagerly awaited but as time goes by the returns are proving meager. For Your Consideration could have been the cream of the crop – after all Hollywood, the subject matter, is closest to the creators real lives and the targets are big and soft. Maybe that’s the problem.
Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer and Parker Posey play actors shooting the perfectly awful Home For Purim when an internet gossip starts a rumour that their work might be Oscar material. The sad thing is that that Catherine O’Hara’s performance as tragic Marilyn Hack might actually have been worthy of Oscar consideration if it had been in a better film.
Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie star in The Good Shepherd, a worthy American counterpoint to the classic Le Carré spy stories of the 70’s and 80’s – “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, etc. – where the spies of both sides have more in common with each other than they do with their friends or their families. Despite the formation of the CIA as background, and a couple of telling illustrations of their revolution-toppling, despot-installing methods, it isn’t a particularly political film, but a portrait of a damaged but brilliant young man turning into an even more damaged middle-aged one.
An excellent cast notably Joe Pesci, Michael Gambon and William Hurt are well-served by Robert De Niro’s experienced, actor-friendly direction. He really does know what he’s doing behind the camera as well as in front.
I can recommend The Cave of the Yellow Dog as a restful and benign counterpoint to the angry, noisy, nonsense depicted in so many films these days. In Mongolia, the six ‑year-old daughter of a herder finds a stray dog and wants to keep it but father worries that it will bring bring wolves. It’s a classic story told in a relaxed documentary style; it probably should have been called “Lhassi”.
Science-fiction; fantasy; romance; oil painting: The Fountain is like no film I’ve ever seen before and seems to have been made for those people who thought that the “Star Child” sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey was the best bit. I am not one of those people. Hugh Jackman plays Dr Tom Creo whose wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz) is dying of a brain tumour. Tom will do anything to keep her alive including experimental treatments from the bark of a mysterious South American tree. The Fountain is a film to watch more than listen to – quite beautiful and quite barmy.
The continued existence of the motion picture economy is dependent on the appearance of a Hugh Grant romantic comedy once a year whether he feels like it or not, and in Music and Lyrics he seems to be enjoying himself a little more than usual. Perhaps the sloppiness of Marc Lawrence’s direction meant that he wasn’t required to exert himself beyond a couple of takes. He plays Alex Fletcher, has-been star of 80s band Pop! who gets the chance to renew his lease on fame by writing a song for new sensation Cora. The only problem is he doesn’t write lyrics. Luckily, his plant waterer (Drew Barrymore) wrote turgid poetry at college and the rest is thoroughly predictable. Not a complete waste of time, the faux-80s music is right on the money.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on 21 February, 2007.
This week Wellington gets a chance to farewell one of the titans of world cinema, an inspiration to many, derided by a few; an icon who walked his own idiosyncratic path. I am, of course, talking about Rocky Balboa, kind-hearted dim-bulb and possessor of one of the great loves in cinema: his adoration of Adrian (Talia Shire) remains undiminished even though her cancer left him a widower a few years between Rocky V and this new one.
The Rocky of I and II was always a great character, led astray during the blockbuster years, and Rocky Balboa gives him back to us. It’s well written and self-aware and, as a bonus, there’s hardly any boxing in it.
Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion is too nice a film to divide people the way that it does. Having said that, if you are one of those people who switches off National Radio whenever genial raconteur Garrison Keiller Keillor introduces his legendary live radio show then you will find the film version an awful trial. Thrown together in typically-Altman, ramshackle, style and shot, it appears, with no more than half an eye on the finished product, APHC is a delightful, wistful, appreciation of community, nostalgia and the passing of time, the finality of things if you will. It’s only fitting that Altman’s final film, shot while he was riddled with the cancer that would kill him, should be about letting go. I loved it, but then I was probably always going to.
In Hollywoodland Ben Affleck is perfect as wooden actor George Reeves who found fame as television’s first, portly, Superman in the 1950s but who ended up dead of apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds after a failed attempt at a comeback. The film brings life to the persistent rumours that Reeves’ death was the result of foul play – courtesy of a jealous husband with friends in Hollywood high places.
Adrien Brody plays a fictional gumshoe on the trail of the mystery and the film tries hard to ride the coat-tails of classics like Chinatown but is too darn slow to keep up, even though it looks the part.
Will Ferrell plays a slightly less demented version of his usual emotionally-retarded man-child in Stranger Than Fiction, a slender but likeable fantasy about a man who discovers he is a character in a novel being written by Emma Thompson. It’s her voice in his head, narrating his life, and no one else can hear it. This is annoying and inexplicable at first, but gets serious when he discovers she wants to kill him off. Chicago looks great (and so does Maggie Gyllenhaal).
Raucous kiwi documentary Squeegee Bandit follows Auckland street-corner window washer “Starfish” around for a few months, getting to know him, his transitory life and his turf. There’s some interesting meat buried inside this film but the MTV editing, bothersome soundtrack and general noise levels make it harder than it should be to get at. It’s an interesting documentary but difficult to recommend as entertainment.
The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalised portrait of Idi Amin, dictator of Uganda from 1971 to 1979 and self-appointed “Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”. To fully appreciate Forest Whitaker’s superb performance check out the real Idi’s eyes in the archive footage at the end of the film and you can see the genuine bat-shit insane paranoia of the man.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 February, 2007.
… can be found here. Warning: Music from The Phoenix Foundation plays on this page and there doesn’t seem to be a way of turning it off. Grrr.
Also, the first reviews from Sundance have started to appear.
On a related matter, the trailer for Black Sheep was playing ahead of Rocky Balboa on Thursday and I thought it was a bit dark. Not ‘dark’ as in depressing but ‘dark’ as in ‘absence of light’. Printed that way deliberately?
And, while researching this aside I see that a trailer for The Devil Dared Me To is online here. With any luck we’ll see it in cinemas soon, there may be some overseas sales, and the participants might get paid what they are worth.
The always watchable Will Smith returns to our screens this week in a more than decent drama called The Pursuit of Happyness. Smith plays solo dad Chris Gardner who struggles to find a way out of the poverty trap (through an unpaid internship at stockbroker Dean Witter) while bad luck, and life itself, conspire against him. Happyness is a well-made reminder that it can be flippin’ expensive being poor and it successfully wrung several salty tears from these calloused eyes.
Incidentally, Smith’s son Christopher is played by Smith’s real-life son Jaden, proving that the apple really doesn’t fall very far from the tree.
The programme for 2007 has been announced and listed on the Society website. I’ll do a proper preview in a few days (for Capital Times and for here) but you can go ahead and investigate now.
Featured directors this year are FranÃ§ois Truffaut and Sam Fuller and there are seasons of films from Brazil and France.
Like last year, I have entered all the screenings into Google Calendar and you can have a look or subscribe to the feed by clicking the button below:
Funerals & Snakes heartily recommends membership of the Film Society, and if you use that membership to get all the available discounts around town it’ll hardly cost you a bean.