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RN 2/11: Wild in the country

By Audio, Cinema, Rancho Notorious, Reviews

Online com­ment­at­or, review­er and racon­teur Steve Gray joins Kailey and Dan on the line from Hamilton, New Zealand, to help review Reese Witherspoon in Wild, Julianne Moore in Still Alice and Johnny Depp in Mortdecai. Steve also has top TV watch­ing tips for 2015 includ­ing Adam Curtis’ Bitter Lake.

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First Nine to Noon appearance of the year

By Audio, Cinema, Reviews

Nine to Noon podcast iconAfter what seems like weeks of hol­i­days, Summer Noelles and Matinée Idles, Radio New Zealand National is pretty much back to nor­mal which means the return of my fort­nightly movie reviews. Let this be a little place­hold­er now that Rancho Notorious has become a fort­nightly release.

This week: Still Alice, Force Majeure, American Sniper, Unbroken and a little snipe at Birdman.

As an added bonus, here’s Rancho Notorious co-host Kailey Carruthers talk­ing to Lynn Freeman on Sunday’s Standing Room Only arts show.

Plus, New Zealand International Film Festival dir­ect­or Bill Gosden and I talk­ing to Lynn earli­er this sum­mer about the future of New Zealand film under the new film com­mis­sion régime of David Gibson.

RN 2/10: Straight to video

By Audio, Cinema, Rancho Notorious, Reviews

Dan and Kailey are joined by Steve Austin on the line from Auckland to talk about “Straight to Video”, his blog review­ing the increas­ing num­ber of films that don’t get a the­at­ric­al release in New Zealand (includ­ing James Gray’s The Immigrant). He sticks around to help the team review Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper which stars Bradley Cooper as an all-American hero trau­mat­ised by the Iraq war.

Plus, Kailey inter­views Tess and Jamie from the Circa Theatre pro­duc­tion of Seed.

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St. Vincent movie poster

Review: St. Vincent, Deepsea Challenge 3D, Interstellar, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and Nightcrawler

By Cinema, Reviews

In the last (non-Rancho) post I made a com­mit­ment to get back in to reg­u­lar review­ing and to end my year-long sab­bat­ic­al. (For the reas­ons behind the hiatus, it is recom­men­ded that you have a quick read. Go on, I’ll wait here.) It has come as a bit of a sur­prise to me that I’ve actu­ally seen as much as I have over the last few months. It didn’t feel like it but — thanks to Radio New Zealand, FishHead and Rancho Notorious — fully 18 of the films cur­rently screen­ing around Wellington are films I can actu­ally have an opin­ion on.

Anyway, here goes, and I might as well start with the old­est first. Which, as it turns out, is also a con­tender for the worst film in this post.

St. Vincent movie posterI’ve nev­er man­aged to hide my dis­dain for Little Miss Sunshine, a film which is beloved by many and held up as an example of qual­ity screen­writ­ing to which we all should aspire. It is, in fact, garbage. A col­lec­tion of tics mas­quer­ad­ing as char­ac­ters stuck in a contrived-cute situ­ation in which life les­sons will be learned too eas­ily and happy end­ings will be unearned. Theodore Melfi’s debut fea­ture St. Vincent also falls into all these traps only deep­er. It also relies so heav­ily on the great Bill Murray that it man­ages to even bring him into disrepute.

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Review: The Water Diviner

By Cinema, Reviews

Strathmore’s finest son, Russell ‘Rusty’ Crowe, has been around film sets and worked along­side good, aver­age and bad dir­ect­ors now for nearly 25 years, so it comes as no sur­prise to find that good, aver­age and bad habits have rubbed off on him when it comes to his turn in the director’s chair.

water_diviner_xlgAs an act­or, he has been most suc­cess­ful when sub­tlety is eschewed and grand ges­tures and emo­tions are called for — the angry skin­head in Romper Stomper, Oscar-winning Maximus in Gladiator, con­jur­ing up a good per­form­ance des­pite an aver­age singing voice in Les Misérables and sav­ing the world with the voice of God in his head in Noah earli­er this year. Even my favour­ite Crowe per­form­ance, the gay son in the poignant 1994 Australian drama The Sum of Us, had a heart as big as, they say, a whale.

This big-heartedness is the great strength of Crowe’s dir­ect­ori­al debut, The Water Diviner, the story of a griev­ing fath­er search­ing for what remains of his sons, who he allowed to enlist and then be all but oblit­er­ated on the unfor­giv­ing coast of the Dardanelles. This is an Anzac story, and it couldn’t be bet­ter timed with our atten­tion turned once again to those who fought and died for us a hun­dred years ago.

Another strength of Crowe’s film — and the ori­gin­al script by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios — is that it nev­er lets us for­get that two sides were sac­ri­fi­cing their young men on those cliffs. The Turks, who dur­ing the story are help­ing the British and Anzacs loc­ate the remains of the dead on the hill­side at the same time as pre­par­ing to defend their home­land once again from the Greeks on anoth­er front, lost as many as the Allies, and their story is usu­ally a sideshow in these things. The per­form­ances by Yilmaz Erdogan and Cem Yilmaz — as Turkish officers with mixed motiv­a­tions in aid­ing the bereaved Victorian farm­er — help restore that bal­ance somewhat.

The Water Diviner is not without evid­ence of those bad habits, though. An ill-advised romantic sub-plot with a Turkish wid­ow (played by Russian beauty Olga Kurylenko) detracts from the solidly anti-war, yet cour­ageously meta­phys­ic­al, main story. The Water Diviner, on a rel­at­ively low budget, also man­ages to help me for­get the wobbly rub­ber bay­on­ets of the sole New Zealand fea­ture on this sub­ject, Dale Bradley’s deeply flawed 1992 adapt­a­tion of Maurice Shadbolt’s Once on Chunuk Bair.

(Originally prin­ted in the Dec/Jan issue Wellington’s FishHead magazine.)