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Conflict of Interest

Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Closing the Ring, Smart People, Married Life, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and Journey From the Fall

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Forgetting Sarah Marshall posterForgetting Sarah Marshall is an ideal post-Festival pal­ate cleanser: a saucy com­edy fresh off the Judd Apatow pro­duc­tion line (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up). Here he gives the spot­light to one of his sup­port­ing play­ers: Jason Segal (Knocked Up) plays tv com­poser Peter who with­in two minutes of the start of the film is dumped by tv star Sarah M. (Kristen Bell from “Veronica Mars”). He goes to Hawaii to recov­er only to dis­cov­er that his ex is also there – with her new English rock star boy­friend. Very funny in parts, sur­pris­ingly mov­ing at times thanks to a heart­felt per­form­ance from big lump Segal, FSM gets an extra half a star for fea­tur­ing pro­fes­sion­al West Ham fan Russell Brand, play­ing a ver­sion of his sex-addicted stage persona.

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Review: The Incredible Hulk, In the Valley of Elah, The Happening, Outsourced and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Incredible Hulk posterI think we can safely call a halt to these semi-annual Hulk movies now – the new one is good enough that we can all move on (Ant-Man is evid­ently next). The Incredible Hulk is Marvel’s attempt to wrestle back the fran­chise that got away from them under Ang Lee in 2003 and even­tu­ally re-unify the Marvel uni­verse under the suave, unstop­pable box office force of Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man. To retrieve The Hulk, Marvel cast Hollywood’s weedi­est lead­ing man, Edward Norton (Fight Club), not real­ising that Norton also has a repu­ta­tion as a bit of a med­dler who then re-wrote the script and sat in on the editing.

The res­ult, as you might expect, is a bit of a noisy mess, but far from dis­astrous. After a splen­didly con­densed open­ing title sequence which takes us through the back-story of the ori­gin­al exper­i­ments that Gamma-ized poor Bruce Banner, we meet him on the run in Brazil, labour­ing in a bot­tling plant, tak­ing anger man­age­ment classes and col­lab­or­at­ing online with a mys­ter­i­ous sci­ent­ist who may hold the key to a cure. Unfortunately for him, the General (a suit­ably comic-book per­form­ance by William Hurt) arrives with a squad to take him home. This makes him angry, of course, and unleashes the green beast within.

If any­thing, it is more respect­ful of the TV series than the com­ic book, fea­tur­ing cameos from ori­gin­al Hulk Lou Ferrigno and a clunky posthum­ous cameo from TV Banner Bill Bixby. In fact, look­ing back on it the film spends more time hon­our­ing the past than it does driv­ing into the future, often fall­ing prey to cutesy touches like hav­ing Norton Anti-Virus fire up when Banner logs on to a com­puter. Chief Villain Tim Roth looks like Chelsea own­er Roman Abramovich, which makes his char­ac­ter name, The Abomination, per­fectly apt.

In the Valley of Elah posterPaul Haggis cre­ated the Oscar-winning Crash back in 2004 and, after help­ing rein­vent Bond in Casino Royale, has gone back to the polit­ic­al well with the heart­felt In the Valley of Elah, star­ring Tommy Lee Jones. Jones plays former Army invest­ig­at­or Hank Deerfield. His son has just returned from Iraq but imme­di­ately gone AWOL so Hank travels across Texas to find him. What he dis­cov­ers shakes his faith in his coun­try and the mil­it­ary and (I’m guess­ing) is sup­posed to have some meta­phor­ic weight about the state of the nation and the world and it prob­ably does. I was one of many who found Crash to be appalling, un-watchable, rub­bish but Elah (per­haps because it does­n’t try and do so much) is better.

While Haggis wears his heart on his sleeve, what he really needs is a copy edit­or on his shoulder. Someone needs to tell him that when you cast someone as soul­ful as Tommy Lee Jones you can just let him tell the audi­ence what is going on with his eyes – you don’t then have to then verb­al­ise it in the next shot. Probably an easy mis­take to make when you are a writer first and a dir­ect­or second…

The Happening posterIf Haggis needs a copy edit­or then M. Night Shyamalan needs a secur­ity guard on the door of his office, hold­ing the keys to his type­writer. The Happening is an eco-thriller about a mys­ter­i­ous “event” that causes people across the North East of America to lose their minds and then do away with them­selves. Among those caught up in the mess is high school sci­ence teach­er Mark Wahlberg who thinks the mys­ter­i­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of America’s bee pop­u­la­tion might have some­thing to do with it.

Shyamalan has obvi­ous tal­ent as a dir­ect­or: he has an eye for an arrest­ing image and has seen enough Hitchcock to con­struct effect­ive set-pieces but he can­’t write dia­logue that human beings can actu­ally say which con­tinu­ally drops the audi­ence out of the moment. Luckily, whenev­er I lost con­nec­tion to the story, there was Zooey Deschanel (as Wahlberg’s wife), whose elec­tric blue eyes should be cat­egor­ised as an altern­at­ive fuel source.

Outsourced posterOutsourced is return­ing to cinemas after a brief turn at the World Cinema Showcase. It’s a beguil­ing tale of a Seattle call centre man­ager (Josh Hamilton) who has to go to India to train his replace­ment when the nov­elty com­pany he works for relo­cates “ful­fil­ment” to Gwaripur. The usu­al cross-cultural mis­un­der­stand­ings occur but the char­ac­ters all grow on you, much like India grows on our hero.

You Don't Mess With The Zohan posterFinally, legendary social com­ment­at­or Adam Sandler takes on anoth­er press­ing polit­ic­al issue (after gay mar­riage in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry) and helps solve the con­flict in the Middle East with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, a hit and miss com­edy that is mostly hit for a change. Sandler is the Zohan, num­ber one Israeli counter-terrorist oper­at­ive, who is tired of the end­less con­flict and yearns to emu­late his hero (Paul Mitchell), cut hair in New York and make everything “silky smooth”. So he fakes his own death and smuggles his way in to America where the only job he can get is in a Palestinian salon. His unortho­dox meth­ods with the ladies soon make him very pop­u­lar indeed but the con­flict is nev­er far away.

There are plenty of jokes per minute and the relent­less teas­ing of Israelis for their love of fizzy drinks, hum­mus, disco and hacky-sack is pretty entertaining.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 18 June 2008.

Nature of con­flict: Outsourced is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I do a little work for now and then.

Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Forbidden Lies, The Last Magic Show and 4

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Indiana Jones posterThe two uni­verses of Steven Spielberg’s biggest films of the 70’s and 80’s col­lide in Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as Harrison Ford’s age­ing Indie and young pre­tend­er Shia LaBoeuf race Soviet ice Queen Cate Blanchett to the secret rest­ing place of lost extra ter­restri­als in the heart of the Amazon. There’s even a subtle “ET Phone Home” ref­er­ence which I found kind of cute. Entertaining and a little sloppy (in a good way), Indy has a middle-aged pace about it, a notice­able change from the cur­rent trend towards fren­et­ic, per­cuss­ive, music video action, allow­ing plenty of time to devel­op invent­ive ways to get Harrison Ford into, and out of, trouble. I was­n’t too upset with LaBoeuf (he cer­tainly isn’t JarJar Binks bad) but you can see he has a way to go before he can muster the sort of effort­less cha­risma his eld­ers offer.

Forbidden Lie$ posterFollowing the murder of her best friend by her own fam­ily in an “hon­our killing” in Jordan, Norma Khouri escapes to Greece and hast­ily begins writ­ing a pas­sion­ate book expos­ing the prac­tice. The book, Forbidden Love, is pub­lished in late 2001 to great acclaim and soon achieves best-seller status but some in Jordan (and in Australia where Norma settles) have ques­tions about the book. Further invest­ig­a­tion reveals that noth­ing in the first 32 words of this para­graph is true and that Norma her­self has a more inter­est­ing past than she is pre­pared to own up to. As Norma’s story unravels and the invest­ig­a­tion fol­lows her from Bridie Island in Queensland to Chicago and ulti­mately to Amman in Jordan, you find your­self on a very strange road indeed.

4 posterAnother non-fiction film, of a com­pletely dif­fer­ent order, is the clas­sic­al music doc­u­ment­ary 4. Attempting to res­cue Vivaldi’s Four Seasons from TVC cliché, dir­ect­or Tim Slade uses the four move­ments as a struc­ture to build a por­trait of four play­ers, four places and the four sea­sons them­selves. At least that’s what I think the idea is. The prob­lem with the film is that there’s not enough music for it to be a great music movie, there’s not enough insight into the play­ers for the por­trait part to work and, while the visu­als are often quite beau­ti­ful, the film seems to miss the point that four sea­sons are influ­en­tial on the human psyche because we see those sea­sons change from our own per­spect­ive and loc­a­tion. Still, 4 is a pleas­ant enough hour and a half.

The Last Magic Show posterA new entry in the digi-indie-home-made kiwi bat­tler cat­egory (pre­vi­ous entries include Wairarapa’s When Night Falls last year) is Andy Conlan’s The Last Magic Show. Conlan him­self (who also wrote the script) plays Ronnie Roman, an delu­sion­al illu­sion­ist who may or may not have real mys­tic­al powers. His agent, scenery-chewing Michael Hurst, has set him up for a big come-back show but in the inter­im he is reduced to volun­teer­ing at the loc­al hos­pice and, pos­sibly, fall­ing in love with Nurse March (Georgie Hill). Conlan has a bit of the young Johnny Depp about him in the looks depart­ment but, ulti­mately, his blank per­form­ance cre­ates frus­tra­tion rather than mys­tery. Good-looking, odd, strangely paced, The Last Magic Show is an intriguing art movie. Perhaps next time, Conlan should­n’t try and do all the big cre­at­ive jobs him­self – a bet­ter dir­ect­or might have chal­lenged him to come up with a few more layers.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 May, 2008.

I hereby apo­lo­gise to reg­u­lar read­ers for the paucity of updates but a fierce com­bin­a­tion of the flu and man­aging this year’s 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking com­pet­i­tion have wiped me out and I’m only just com­ing up for air. And, I’m well behind on my feature-watching: Mama’s Boy has already been and gone from loc­al screens.

Nature of con­flict: Forbidden Lie$ is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Richard Dalton at Palace Films who is a mate and The Last Magic Show and 4 are dis­trib­uted by Arkles Entertainment who are mates and who I do occa­sion­al work for.

Review: The Painted Veil, Superhero Movie, Sydney White and Four Minutes

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest, Reviews and Wellington

The Painted Veil posterW. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 nov­el The Painted Veil has been giv­en a hand­some new adapt­a­tion by Australian dir­ect­or John Curran (We Don’t Live Here Anymore). Naomi Watts takes on the role of naïve young Kitty Fane (once por­trayed by legendary Greta Garbo) who mar­ries dour Scottish sci­ent­ist Walter (Edward Norton) and travels to China to escape her over­bear­ing par­ents. But she indulges in a fool­ish affair with hand­some Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) and Walter insists that she accom­pany him to the cholera-ridden interi­or as pun­ish­ment. While Walter tries to save the lives of the loc­als by clean­ing up their water sup­ply, Kitty dis­cov­ers her­self via the loc­al con­vent and an unlikely Diana Rigg. A fine film (with an award-winning score butchered by a faulty digit­al soundtrack at the screen­ing I saw), the images are rav­ish­ing, the per­form­ances are uni­formly excel­lent and you could do a lot worse on a wet weekend.

Superhero Movie posterAfter loath­ing last year’s Meet the Spartans and curs­ing it’s pre­de­cessor Epic Movie, it was with a heavy heart that I took my seat for Superhero Movie, anoth­er par­ody pot-pourri. One name in the cred­its lif­ted my spir­its a little (no, not Pamela Anderson): David Zucker, dir­ect­or of Top Secret!, Airplane and The Naked Gun. As it turns out the few funny moments in the film are gags that could have come straight from those earli­er films (“Fruit cake?” “No, I’ve just nev­er met the right woman”) but the rest is a repet­it­ive waste of time. Why both­er par­ody­ing films that are essen­tially only par­od­ies themselves?

Sydney White posterTalking of repet­it­ive, I got an odd sense of déjà vu dur­ing Superhero Movie before I real­ised that Dragonfly’s love interest Jill Johnson was being played by someone called Sara Paxton who had also been the vil­lain in Sydney White not two hours before. It’s an odd item, Sydney White: the Snow White fairy tale re-located to College and star­ring Amanda Bynes (She’s The Man) as a work­ing class tom­boy try­ing to get into a snooty sor­or­ity. Kicked out in dis­grace, she has to shack up with the sev­en dorks next door (each dork is a re-imagining one of Disney’s ori­gin­al dwarfs – can you name them all?) and then bring the school togeth­er under an Obama-like ban­ner of inclus­ive­ness, at the same time find­ing her own Prince Charming (who even man­ages to wake her with a kiss). Strangely watchable.

Four Minutes posterSadly, I could­n’t bring myself to believe in any of Four Minutes, from the unlikely teen­age piano-prodigy / murderess combo (Hannah Herzprung) or the bit­ter old les­bi­an pris­on piano teach­er (Monica Bleibtrau), or the opera lov­ing but bru­tish pris­on guard (Sven Pippig). I wish I could have watched it with the sub­titles turned off so that I could enjoy the music and art dir­ect­or Silke Buhr’s amaz­ing sense of tex­ture and archi­tec­tur­al envir­on­ment. Every loc­a­tion has an almost tact­ile qual­ity, from the decay­ing brick pris­on to the gilt Opera House at the cli­max. I was par­tic­u­larly taken with a con­crete neo-brutalist con­cert hall remin­is­cent of Wellington’s beloved Hannah Playhouse.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday April 30, 2008.

Nature of Conflict: Four Minutes is released in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who pay me to work for them on occasion.

Review: U2 3D, Nim’s Island, Street Kings, St. Trinian’s, College Road Trip, Hunting & Gathering, Blindsight, I Have Never Forgotten You and The Real Dirt on Farmer John

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

U2 3D posterEarlier this year I arbit­rar­ily decided that the Hannah Montana 3D con­cert movie was not cinema and chose not to review it. Now, a few short weeks later, I exer­cise my right to indulge in rank hypo­crisy by stat­ing that the U2 3D con­cert movie is cinema and, thus, belongs in this column. Pieced togeth­er from con­certs in soc­cer sta­dia across Latin America (plus one without an audi­ence for close-ups), U2 3D is an amaz­ing exper­i­ence and truly must be seen to be believed.

I hadn’t expec­ted the new digit­al 3D medi­um to be used so expertly so soon but cre­at­ors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington have man­aged to make the entire sta­di­um space mani­fest with float­ing cam­er­as and intel­li­gently layered digit­al cross-fading, giv­ing you a con­cert (and cinema) exper­i­ence that can not be ima­gined any oth­er way. Even if you are not a U2 fan this film deserves to be seen as an example of the poten­tial of 3D to trans­form the medium.

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Review: Run Fatboy Run, Vantage Point, The Other Boleyn Girl, Interview, Step Up 2 the Streets and 10,000 BC

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

My nor­mal, equable, approach to Hollywood block­buster product has been upset this week by the news that, in a decision of quite breath­tak­ing cyn­icism, Warner Bros. are going to split the final Harry Potter film (The Deathly Hallows due in 2010) in to two parts and thus, with a wave of a Potter-like wand, make $500m appear where no money was before. Normal ser­vice may well be resumed next week but for now I am grumpy and it may show.

Run Fatboy Run posterSimon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) leaves his hit-making col­lab­or­at­ors, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, behind for a while for his new com­edy Run Fatboy Run. He plays love­able waster Dennis Doyle who could eas­ily be a cous­in of Shaun (or Tim in “Spaced”). Five years ago he ran out on his beau­ti­ful preg­nant girl­friend, Thandie Newton, on their wed­ding day. Now, she has hooked up with hand­some, rich, American mara­thon run­ner Hank Azaria (The Simpsons) and Dennis (with the help of very funny best friend Dylan Moran from “Black Books”) decides to win her back by prov­ing he can fin­ish a London Marathon. Competent and ener­get­ic but with the occa­sion­al bum note, Run Fatboy Run is like a pub band cov­er ver­sion of a great British romantic com­edy. One of the reas­ons why it does­n’t always work must be down to first-time fea­ture dir­ect­or David Schwimmer (Ross from “Friends”) whose tim­ing, sadly, isn’t always on.

Vantage Point posterThey say you nev­er come out of a film hum­ming the struc­ture, which in the case of plucky little thrill­er Vantage Point is a shame as the struc­ture is really all it has going for it. An attemp­ted assas­sin­a­tion of US President Ashton (William Hurt) in Salamanca, Spain is told and retold from the dif­fer­ing per­spect­ives of sev­er­al prot­ag­on­ists and wit­nesses, includ­ing Dennis Quaid’s age­ing Secret Serviceman and Forest Whitaker’s handicam-toting tour­ist. The plot is nev­er fully unrav­elled, though, leav­ing too many ques­tions unanswered not least of which why Spanish ter­ror­ists would col­lab­or­ate with jihadists. There’s one great car chase, though, involving what looks like a Holden Barina. Everything else disappoints.

The Other Boleyn Girl posterWith The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen scribe Peter Morgan turns his atten­tion to anoth­er chapter in Britain’s roy­al his­tory: the bed-hopping, neck-chopping, Tudor soap opera star­ring Henry VIII and his search for an heir; a pre­quel, if you will, to Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman play the Boleyn sis­ters, com­pet­ing for the atten­tion of Eric Bana’s hand­some but unstable Henry (if they only knew he was going to turn into Charles Laughton they might not have tried so hard). The ori­gin­al nov­el was bodice-ripping romantic fic­tion dressed as lit­er­at­ure and the film serves the same pur­pose. Entertaining.

Interview official siteSteve Buscemi takes the dir­ect­or’s chair (and stars in) Interview, a low-key two-hander also fea­tur­ing Sienna Miller. Buscemi plays cyn­ic­al polit­ic­al journ­al­ist Pierre who is forced to inter­view a fam­ous soap star. Based on, and far too respect­ful of, a film by murdered Dutch film­maker Theo Van Gogh, Interview feels like a stage play – and not in a good way.

Step Up 2 The Streets posterEver since West Side Story (and pos­sibly earli­er) dance has been used as a meta­phor for urb­an viol­ence but in recent years the trend has got some com­mer­cial legs as film­makers real­ise they can present hip-hop music and urb­an situ­ations in a PG envir­on­ment. In Step Up a white urb­an free­style dan­cer (Channing Tatum) tried to make it at bal­let school. In the sequel (Step Up 2 The Streets), a white free­style urb­an dan­cer (Briana Evigan) tries to make it at the same bal­let school. But she’s from The Streets, you see, and she’s an orphan so she gath­ers the oth­er out­casts and eth­nics from the school so they can com­pete with the gang-bangers in an “illeg­al” dance com­pet­i­tion. I’m fas­cin­ated, obvi­ously, by these films not least the pro­mo­tion of dance as com­pet­i­tion over dance as expres­sion. But I’m over-thinking as usual.

10,000 BC posterFinally, 10,000 BC is fit­fully enter­tain­ing twaddle. Historically and anthro­po­lo­gic­ally inac­cur­ate not to men­tion eth­no­lo­gic­ally offens­ive, my recom­mend­a­tion is to wait for the video, get stoned with your mates and then talk all the way through it.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 March, 2008 although space con­straints saw the last few items cut. So, Interview, Step Up 2 The Streets and 10,000 BC are like web-only bonus items.

Nature of Conflict: Interview is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I some­times do a little work for.