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Review: “Two Little Boys” by Duncan Sarkies

By Audio, Literature, Music and Wellington

Two Little Boys cover This morning I hustled across town to Radio NZ House on The Terrace to review Duncan Sarkies’ new novel “Two Little Boys” for Nine to Noon. You can click here (for a week at least) to listen to what Kathryn and I had to say. As is often the case when I’m doing something for the first time (or for the first time in a long time) it was not a 100% satisfactory performance but I’ll let you be the judge. It is a good book, though, and I recommend it to you.

And when you’ve listened to the review (only 6 minutes and 23 seconds, although it felt a lot less…) you can listen here to the song that inspired the title of the book. This version features not only the legendary Rolf Harris (who made it famous) but also Liam O’Maonlai from Hothouse Flowers. This version is from a 1993 ‘Stop the Killing in Northern Ireland’ charity/protest album called Peace Together:
[audio:https://funeralsandsnakes.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/12-when-we-were-two-little-boys.mp3|titles=Rolf Harris & Liam O’Maonlai — Two Little Boys (mp3)]

Review: Second Hand Wedding and What Happens in Vegas...

By Cinema, Reviews and Wellington

Second Hand Wedding posterAh, the perils of reviewing New Zealand cinema in New Zealand – or even tougher – Wellington cinema in Wellington. How does one approach a film that was executive produced by a former mentor, stars former workmates and drinking buddies, was written by a pal, and features familiar faces in almost every scene (and that this reviewer in a moment of flu-addled weakness even auditioned for)?

Luckily for me, Paul Murphy’s Second Hand Wedding makes it easy to avoid trespassing across the sensibilities of chums and colleagues by being an adorable confection, easy to praise and a pleasure to recommend. The moment you see a little yellow mini screaming around the Kapiti coast (director Paul Murphy’s father Geoff was responsible for Goodbye Pork Pie with Exec Kerry Robins back in 1981) you know you are in good hands and so it proves.

Geraldine Brophy plays Jill Rose, Kapiti’s top garage sale expert. Every Saturday morning you’ll find her (and best mate Muffy broadly played by Tina Regtien) trawling the nick-nacks looking for bargains. Long-suffering hubby Brian (a lovely and understated performance by Patrick Wilson) puts up with all the new paraphernalia because he has his own collection to maintain: all the pieces of a Model T Ford that will one day become a complete car again.

Local mechanic Stew (a performance by Ryan O’Kane that is, perhaps, lacking in detail) has proposed to the Rose’s daughter Cheryl (Holly Shanahan) but, afraid of the bargain basement wedding she fears her mother will provide, she keeps it a secret. When the news breaks, poor Jill is devastated but another tragedy forces the family (and the community) to pull together once again. There’s lots to love about Second Hand Wedding: music by Plan 9 and some songs I wouldn’t mind owning; classy editing particularly in the montages; perfect, witty production design by Brad Mill; but the heart and soul of the film is Brophy’s beautiful and measured performance. If she’s not at the front of the queue when the acting awards are handed out for this year I will be very surprised. Indeed, in this reviewer’s opinion it may be one the five best New Zealand screen performances ever.

What Happens in Vegas... posterIt’s slightly depressing to report that a no-budget kiwi comedy contains more subtlety and subtext in any given scene than a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster wrangles in its entirety but it’s true. In What Happens in Vegas… Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz play a couple who meet in Las Vegas on their own individual rebound tours, get hopelessly drunk and hopelessly married on the same night, win $3m on the slots and then try and (with the help of scheming best friends Rob Corddry and Lake Bell) cheat the other out of the booty. Forced by grim Judge Whopper (Dennis Miller) to co-habit for 6 months to prove their marriage is real before he will grant them a divorce, our couple do everything in their power to make each other miserable and much (potential but for the most part unrealised) hilarity ensues.

The problem isn’t with the fitfully amusing leads (though Kutcher in particular appears incapable of playing the deeper notes that father Treat Williams’ paternal disapproval offers him), the film suffers hugely because the script insists on treating us like retards and loudly declaiming everything that it has to say. At one point Kutcher spikes Diaz’s smoothy with ecstacy to the sound of “I Want a New Drug”. Oh, please. Everything is just so flippin’ obvious. Characters say exactly what is in their heads, or exactly what they need to say to move the plot forward, usually both at the same time.

And finally, What Happens in Vegas… should be cursed for indulging in yet another example of Hollywood racism: the only character of colour in the film is a terrible, tight-ass Asian stereotype who is ridiculed relentlessly and mean-ly.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 May, 2008.

Update: I have added a link to The Cattlestops web site. They were responsible for the songs I wouldn’t mind owning.

Woosh-be-gone!

By The Net and Wellington

Now that this year’s ‘V’ 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking Challenge is under way and 160 Wellington teams are out enjoying the sunshine, I have had a chance to resolve a few domestic issues that have been bugging me.

Firstly, broadband. I have been a Woosh Wireless customer since I started Miracle Pictures in 2005. I wanted a Telecom free home/office (and, in all fairness, I think Telecom also wanted a Dan-free network) and there was no such thing as naked dsl in those days. Woosh were the only game in town and I happily signed up for broadband and a phone. Apart from one speed-bump due to improved firmware back in late 2006, the service from Woosh has steadily deteriorated as it’s customer numbers have risen, to the extent that since Christmas I have been getting poorer than dial-up bandwidth at all times (other than the very middle of the night).

The first-level support email that I received from Woosh told me to point my aerial towards Unitec, which was challenging as Unitec is in Auckland and I am in Wellington. Then they told me that my problem would be escalated to second-level support and I got to wait for a couple more weeks. Last Monday I finally got a call from them (plus marks for not dropping me off their list entirely) and we went through the re-booting, moving the aerial, re-booting again, dance and we discovered the following: Despite the fact that I have no south facing windows and the aerial points north, I am connecting to the Wakefield Hospital cell-site which is due south. I can’t reach the Government House cell-site as Wellington Hospital and Mt Victoria are in the way. In fact, I am getting the Wakefield Hospital signal reflected off the Wellington Hospital and hillside.

And the Wakefield Hospital cell site is the busiest and most congested in the city.

So, we reached an agreement that we would part company. I didn’t quite have the heart to tell the young man that I’d already booked an impressive-seeming naked DSL with IP phone service with Xnet (a company that doesn’t appear to need to advertise). They have a sane approach to volume charging whereby you don’t have to commit to a plan, so I only pay for what I use and the per MB rate is about what I have been paying at Woosh (but not always using).

This afternoon, I noticed that the DSL light on the new Linksys DSL modem was flashing, indicating that the line was live. A quick call to Xnet support got me the details they had inexplicably failed to email me and I was up and running. And boy was I running: My unscientific approach to measurement is basically keeping an eye on the throughput using iStatMenus. Before the change I was limping along with 1KB/s to 5KB/s download speed (sub dial-up) and after the change I was getting — get this — upwards of 350 to 700 and even over 1MB/s on a couple of occasions. That’s like a (thinks) 1000% increase in speed!

Now, after shifting the Airport I can really get some work done.

Review: I’m Not There., Iron Man, Made of Honor, Dan in Real Life and How About You

By Cinema, Reviews and Wellington

I'm Not There. posterMany years ago English comedian Ben Elton cracked a joke about Bob Dylan: “For all you young people in the audience he was the one who couldn’t sing on the end of the We Are The World video.” Nowadays we have to explain to young people what We Are The World was and Dylan has travelled even further away from relevance. So why is I’m Not There. (the full stop is part of the title) such essential viewing if Dylan seems so irrelevant?

Because unlike every other 20th Century icon Dylan never cared what you think — he just followed his instincts and his interests and the film is an endlessly fascinating portrait of that battle to avoid becoming what his audience and his industry wanted him to become. Portrayed by six different actors including Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger, Dylan’s many personas still keep you at arms length. I think the key to Dylan is that he is less complicated (and at the same time more complex) than the world would have you believe and he fully deserves a work of art as fine as this one in his name.

I should also point out that I was lucky enough to see I’m not There. in that most musical of locations, the Paramount and it sounded superb. A keeper.

Iron Man posterRobert Downey Jr. is one of those movie brats who seems to have been born in front of a camera (check out his almost perfect performance as Chaplin for Richard Attenborough in 1992). He hasn’t been getting the lead roles he deserves (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was the last one) but Iron Man is surely going to change that. Downey Jr.‘s effortless screen charisma is the foundation of a highly entertaining action movie that is only let down by a not-quite-big-enough set-piece at the end. Billionaire and playboy arms manufacturer Tony Stark has his eyes opened to the evils his products enable when he is kidnapped in Afghanistan. After escaping, he decides to use his technology for good (while still having as much fun as possible). A good supporting cast (including Jeff Bridges looking like Daddy Warbucks) keeps things moving.

Made of Honor posterThe funniest thing about Patrick Dempsey rom-com Made of Honour is that it was made by a company called Original Film. As if! Dempsey plays Tom, super-rich inventor of the coffee collar and serial-bedder of beautiful women. Too late he realises that he is actually in love with his best friend Hannah (Michelle Monaghan, this year’s Sandra Bullock) just as she is about to get married to Trainspotting’s Kevin McKidd in a Scottish castle. Pretty much all the characters are deeply shallow and pretty unlikeable which I’m sure wasn’t the intention and, most annoying of all, director Paul Weiland gives himself the auteur credit of “A Film By”. In your dreams, pal.

Dan in Real LifeMuch more successful, and not coincidentally populated with much nicer people, is Dan in Real Life starring Steve Carell as author of a popular newspaper parenting tips column who has much more difficulty parenting his actual children (alone, due to that all-too-common conceit of a widow-hood). So far, so un-promising, but Dan in Real Life really wins you over with smart writing and lovely, understated performances from a terrific ensemble. Lonely Dan is taking his brood of daughters to a multi-generational family get together in rugged Rhode Island. He meets beautiful and alluring Juliette Binoche and they fall in love, just before finding out that she is his brother’s new girlfriend. Testing times around the dinner table ensue, mostly comic but never far away from deeply heartfelt. Frankly, more films should be like this.

How About You stillHow About You is one of those films where, I confess, my taste and the taste of mainstream New Zealanders diverges somewhat. Ellie, played by Hayley Atwell (star of the unnecessarily forthcoming new version of Brideshead Revisited), is forced by circumstance to help her sister care for a group of unruly clients (a dream cast including Vanessa Redgrave, Brenda Fricker and Joss Ackland) in an Irish elderly residential home so beautiful it makes Malvina Major look like Alcatraz. Left alone with them at Christmas, she manages to transform all of them into saintly paragons of maturity via alcohol and non-prescribed drugs. I barely tolerated this but if you are over 70 you might get a kick out of it — the people behind me who talked all the way through certainly did.

Human Rights Film Festival posterThe Human Rights Film Festival kicks off it’s 2008 season at the Paramount on Thursday evening. While most of these films don’t really qualify as cinema per se, this is still an important opportunity to see the world as it is absolutely not portrayed through the commercial media. Highlights for me include Occupation 101, a crystal-clear examination of the reality of life in occupied Palestine, and Now The People Have Awoken, another perspective on Chavez’s Venezuela which will be of particular interest if you have seen Pilger’s War on Democracy. There are seven shorter items on the programme too: I’m looking forward to seeing Bowling for Zimbabwe about a young boy who needs a cricketing scholarship in order to escape the man-made atrocity of Mugabe’s grinding poverty.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 7 May, 2008.

Notes on screening conditions: I already mentioned how good I’m Not There. sounded at the Paramount during the Showcase. I don’t know whether it is the shape of the room or the PA speakers behind the screen but music cinema has always sounded sensational in there. Iron Man was, like Transformers last year, at a busy public screening at the Embassy which looked and sounded great. Standing ovation from a few fanboys, too. Made of Honour looked perfectly acceptable at the Empire. I am not allowed to tell you where I saw Dan in Real Life as they made me sign an NDA before they would let me in there. No shit! But it was amazing. The print had seen better days but had been given a spruce up by our hosts. How About You was ruined by it being a not very good film but the incessant talking by the old biddies behind me and the annoying hair in the gate finished me off. Penthouse.

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.