What I did on my holidays by Dan Slevin (aged 38 and a half).
After 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 (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.
Lastly, 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.
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.
We 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
I 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!