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Review: Shortbus and more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Here’s the review I sub­mit­ted to the Capital Times for this week. Who knows which one they’ll print as they have a couple up the spout and this was delivered very late. Time for bed – I’ll add some links dur­ing the day tomor­row if you care to return.

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Review: The Queen, Marie Antoinette, Night at the Museum, Déjà Vu, Copying Beethoven, The Aura, Happy Feet, Charlotte’s Web, The Valet, The Prestige, Babel, Four Last Songs, Saw III and Apocalypto

By Cinema and Reviews

What I did on my hol­i­days by Dan Slevin (aged 38 and a half).

The Queen posterAfter a few days off between Christmas and New Year I launched back in to the swing of cinema things with a “Disfunctional Royal Family” double-feature of The Queen (Stephen Frears) and Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola) at the Penthouse. Helen Mirren is won­der­ful in an end­lessly fas­cin­at­ing tale of an insti­tu­tion real­ising that it that may have out­stayed it’s wel­come, while Kirsten Dunst radi­ates beauty (des­pite those wonky teeth) as the last queen of France. The prob­lem with Marie Antoinette is that the prot­ag­on­ist does­n’t do any actu­al prot­ag­on­ising which means that we get a lot of beau­ti­ful tableaux but very little drama.

The fol­low­ing night was “Hollywood Blockbuster” double-feature at the Empire: Night at The Museum (Shawn Levy), a pre­dict­able CGI romp with Ben Stiller and pre­pos­ter­ous time-travel thrill­er Déjà Vu (Tony Scott) star­ring a relaxed Denzel Washington. Museum is set in the New York American Museum of Natural History and it does give one a new respect for the arts of taxi­dermy, the real­ist­ic walk­ing and talk­ing Mickey Rooney was very impress­ive. Déjà Vu turns out to be very enter­tain­ing and the twists and turns get quite absorb­ing – a pleas­ant surprise.

Ed Harris turns in a bravura per­form­ance as Ludwig Van Beethoven in Copying Beethoven (Agnieszka Holland) along with an almost impossibly beau­ti­ful Diane Kruger who plays the young com­pos­i­tion stu­dent help­ing him com­plete his final mas­ter­pieces. The music is sen­sa­tion­al. Late in 2006, the gif­ted Argentine dir­ect­or Fabián Bielinsky (Nine Queens) passed away leav­ing us The Aura as his vale­dic­tion. Starring the redoubt­able Ricardo Darin as an epi­leptic taxi­derm­ist, The Aura is moody and evoc­at­ive but was­n’t quite enough to keep this review­er awake on a wet Wednesday after­noon. If life was­n’t so short I’d give it anoth­er crack as I’m sure there was some­thing going on under­neath but it was soooo sloooow.

The five year old I took to Happy Feet (George Miller) was still singing songs from the film that night so very much mis­sion accom­plished on that front. It’s a hugely enter­tain­ing col­lec­tion of set-pieces which kind of fall apart when the neces­sit­ies of plot inter­vene and it turns uncom­fort­ably dark, very quickly. Miller has had an inter­est­ing career: start­ing out as a med­ic­al doc­tor he then made the Mad Max films, kick-started the CGI talk­ing anim­als trend with Babe and now tap-dancing pen­guins. Talking of talk­ing anim­als, Charlotte’s Web (Gary Winick) man­aged to squeeze an unwill­ing tear out of me des­pite the feel­ing of manip­u­la­tion throughout.

On a more grown-up level (though not by much) The Valet (Francis Veber) did­n’t pull up any trees and in fact ended so sud­denly I thought there was a reel miss­ing. The most appeal­ing char­ac­ter in the flick, Alice Taglioni as the super-model, gets no clos­ure to her story. She’s left alone in her apart­ment cry­ing. What’s that about? The Prestige (Christopher Nolan) was always going to appeal to me due it’s sub­ject mat­ter and the pres­ence of per­fect dis­trac­tion Scarlett Johansson and it delivered. The film is about stage magic and uses stage magic prin­ciples to tell it’s very twisty story – though some might say it has one twist too many.

Babel posterBabel (Alejandro González Iñárritu) is one of the best films of this or any year, a ser­i­ous, med­it­at­ive snap­shot of our world thor­ough a stranger­’s eyes. Four stor­ies are told in par­al­lel, three imme­di­ately linked and the con­nec­tions with the fourth gently revealed by the end. It has a kind of science-fiction feel about it as we see four very dif­fer­ent world cul­tures presen­ted as if they could be oth­er plan­ets, ali­en ter­rit­ory yet eer­ily famil­i­ar. If I had stumbled across Four Last Songs (Francesca Joseph) on tele­vi­sion where it belongs I would have changed chan­nels after about five minutes, so I did the cinema equi­val­ent instead and went look­ing for some sunshine.

Saw III posterLastly, I had the mixed pleas­ure of a “Sadistic Violence” double-feature at Readings: Saw III (Darren Lynn Bousman) and Apocalypto (Mel Gibson). Crikey. What pos­sesses a screen­writer or dir­ect­or to sit in front of a vir­gin white piece of paper and then use it to dream up ways of dis­mem­ber­ing people? Funnily enough, Saw III is the more respect­able piece of work as it does­n’t try and pre­tend to be any­thing more than it is, while Apocalypto is the usu­al Hollywood rub­bish dressed up in National Geographic cloth­ing. Gibson is a dan­ger­ous extrem­ist (not just in purely cine­mat­ic terms) and the foul polit­ics of Apocalypto are not made up for by the bois­ter­ous filmmaking.

Not seen before dead­line: Heart of The Game (Ward Serrill); Open Season (Roger Allers, Jill Culton, Anthony Stacchi).

Currently play­ing in iTunes: Funny How Time Slips Away from the album “VH1 Storytellers” by Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson

UPDATE: Evidently there is no Capital Times this week so it looks like this opus will remain online only. You lucky, lucky people… Six more films are released this week and the world con­tin­ues to turn relent­lessly onwards.

UPDATE: Printed in the Capital Times, Wellington, Wednesday January 24, 2007.

Review: Eragon and more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Since I took this gig back in September I have seen every film com­mer­cially released in Wellington (except for a few Bollywood efforts) and there have been some clunkers, but this week is so bereft of qual­ity that I fear I may need to devel­op eyes of leath­er to get through next week.

Eragon posterWe kick-off with Eragon, a sort of boy-band ver­sion of Tolkien that’s not so much sub-Jacksonian as sub­ter­ranean. In the sup­posedly dis­tant past the verd­ant lands of Elbonia, sorry, Alagaesia were pro­tec­ted by Dragon Riders (these are men who ride dragons, bear with me). Before the film starts one of the Dragon Riders turns evil, kills all the oth­ers and declares him­self King. The people of Discombobula, sorry, Alagaesia are miser­able and sub­jug­ated, etc. and stor­ies of the Dragon Riders begin to fade in to memory. That is until a good-looking young farm boy finds an egg that hatches in to a dragon with the voice of Rachel Weisz. Bad King Galbatorix, in a per­form­ance phoned in by John Malkovich, has to kill the boy and the dragon or all his dreams of per­petu­al Alagaesia-domination may fade and die.

Weisz and Malkovich aren’t the only names slum­ming it in Eragon: Robert Carlyle’s Durza isn’t nearly as scary as his Begbie from Trainspotting, Devonshire soul diva Joss Stone does a very strange turn as a for­tune tell­er, but Jeremy Irons has enough gump­tion about him that might have made him a decent action hero if he had­n’t spe­cial­ised in play­ing effete European intel­lec­tu­als about 30 years ago.

I real­ise that, as a seeker of qual­ity, I’m a long way from being the tar­get mar­ket for Eragon but it really is an enorm­ous bunch of arse. My two favour­ite moments: learn­ing that the dir­ect­or is called Fangmeier (per­fect) and work­ing out that Alagaesia rhymes with cheesier.

Material Girls posterThe per­fectly named Duff sis­ters (Hilary and, you know, the oth­er one) get a show­case for their mea­gre tal­ents in Material Girls, a sub-teen mor­al­ity tale about two rich sis­ters who lose all their money when their fam­ily cos­met­ics empire col­lapses due to greedy, cheat­ing adults.

In the end Material Girls is an affable hour and a bit that failed to stop the young­sters at Queensgate from run­ning up and down the aisles and mak­ing a gen­er­al nuis­ance of themselves.

The Holiday poster Material Girls aims so low that it’s hard to hate – unlike Nancy Meyer’s The Holiday which I felt per­son­ally insul­ted by. In this “romantic” “com­edy”, Cameron Diaz plays a Los Angeles movie trail­er edit­or who swaps houses with depressed English journ­al­ist Kate Winslet for a Christmas hol­i­day mutu­ally dis­tant from the men who have broken their hearts. Diaz finds her­self in pic­ture post­card snowy Surrey and Winslet gets the run of Diaz’s Hollywood man­sion. Within 12 hours both women meet their per­fect man and faith in love and romance is, of course, restored.

In Winslet’s case that res­tor­a­tion is helped by a former screen­writer played with admir­able alive-ness by 91 year-old Eli Wallach, who gives her a list of clas­sic films of the past to watch. The Holiday thinks it is hon­our­ing these great examples of the art – at one point Winslet and Jack Black watch Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday – when frankly it isn’t fit to shine their shoes. Dreadful and lazy on almost every level possible.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 20 December, 2006.

Review: Jindabyne and more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

This week’s Capital Times film review, annot­ated and illus­trated: Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence); Crank (Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor); The Nativity Story (Catherine Hardwicke); Unaccompanied Minors (Paul Feig) and Deck The Halls (John Whitesell). Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions and oth­er impres­sions will arrive in a oth­er post. It’s late.

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Review: Children of Men and more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Children of Men posterI grew up under the high-heeled jack­boot of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, when post-apocalyptic vis­ions of futur­ist­ic fas­cist dic­tat­or­ships seemed to turn up as reg­u­larly as London buses. Back then we all felt that the world was at risk from the insane plans of a men­tally defi­cient, war-mongering, US pres­id­ent cap­tured by the military-industrial com­plex. Of course, now things are com­pletely dif­fer­ent (ahem) but Children of Men still seems like the product of a bygone era.

20 years into a grey British future: the pop­u­la­tion is sterile and extinc­tion of the human race is inev­it­able. Alcoholic pub­lic ser­vant Clive Owen is per­suaded by ex-girlfriend and freedom-fighter Julianne Moore to trans­port some pre­cious cargo to the coast but her plan (and her team) is soon shred­ded by the forces of reac­tion and Owen is forced to go it alone. There are sev­er­al abso­lutely jaw-dropping set-pieces and I won­der wheth­er the people of Bexhill real­ised what sort of mess was going to be made of their quiet little sea­side town. Never lend any­thing to a film crew!

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