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4 months 3 weeks and 2 days

Review: Bridesmaids, Green Lantern, Russian Snark, Mammoth and The Conspirator

By Cinema and Reviews

Bridesmaids posterAfter years of auteur the­ory we have become con­di­tioned to describe films as products of their dir­ect­or and so in my first draft of this review I star­ted off talk­ing about Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids. But it isn’t really Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, it’s Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids. She co-wrote it (with Annie Mumolo), co-produced it and stars in it as Annie, a thirty-something single woman liv­ing in Milwaukee, hav­ing a hard time of things (but a com­edy hard time of things, this isn’t Down to the Bone or some­thing from Romania).

Still, she’s lost all her money in a failed bak­ing busi­ness (blamed on the eco­nomy not her mar­vel­lous cakes), she’s flat­ting with two awful English sib­lings who have no idea of bound­ar­ies and her best friend (Maya Rudolph from Away We Go) is get­ting mar­ried while she is in an entirely unsat­is­fact­ory ‘friends with bene­fits’ arrange­ment with douche Jon Hamm.

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2008 comes to an end

By Cinema

Compelled once again by Christmas dead­lines to sum up the year in cinema, I have been think­ing a lot about how some movies stay with you and some don’t, how some movies have got aver­age reviews from me this year but have grown in my affec­tions, and how there are some films you want to see again and some you’re not so bothered about – even when you admire them.

So I’m going to divide my year up in to the fol­low­ing cat­egor­ies: Keepers are films I want to own and live with. Films I can expect to watch once a year – or force upon guests when I dis­cov­er they haven’t already been seen. Repeats are films I would­n’t mind see­ing again – rent­ing or bor­row­ing or stum­bling across on tv. Enjoyed are films I enjoyed (obvi­ously) and respec­ted but am in no hurry to watch again.

No Country for Old Men posterThe “keep­ers” won’t come as any great sur­prise: The Coen’s No Country for Old Men and PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood were both stone-cold American mas­ter­pieces. NCFOM just about shades it as film of the year but only because I haven’t yet watched TWBB a second time. Vincent Ward’s Rain of the Children was the best New Zealand film for a very long time, an emo­tion­al epic. Apollo doco In the Shadow of the Moon moved and inspired me and I want to give it a chance to con­tin­ue to do so by keep­ing it in my house. Finally, two supremely sat­is­fy­ing music films: I could listen to Todd Haynes’ Dylan biop­ic I’m Not There. again and again, and watch­ing it was was much fun­ni­er than I expec­ted. Not mind­ing the music of U2, I did­n’t have a big hump to get over watch­ing their 3D con­cert movie, but what a blast it was! Immersive and involving, it was the first truly great digit­al 3D exper­i­ence. For the time being you can­’t recre­ate the 3D exper­i­ence at home so I hold out for a giant cinema screen of my own to watch it on.

Next lay­er down are the films I would­n’t mind watch­ing again, either because I sus­pect there are hid­den pleas­ures to be revealed or because a second view­ing will con­firm or deny sus­pec­ted great­ness. Gritty Romanian mas­ter­piece 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days has stayed with me since I saw it in March. Be Kind Rewind was rich enough (and good-hearted enough) to deserve anoth­er look. Martin McDonagh’s bizarre hit­man fantasy In Bruges rocked along at such a decent clip I need to see it again to make sure I did­n’t miss any of it’s eccent­ric pleas­ures. I liked and respec­ted the Coen’s oth­er 2008 entry Burn After Reading more than every oth­er crit­ic so a second view­ing would be use­ful, if only to con­firm that I appre­ci­ated it bet­ter than every­one else did… Or not.

Tropic Thunder posterIf I could just clip the Robert Downey Jr. bits from Tropic Thunder it would be a keep­er, instead I look for­ward to see­ing it again over Christmas. The same goes for the entire first act of WALL•E which I could watch over and over again. Sadly the film lost some of that magic when it got in to space (though it remains a stun­ning achieve­ment all the same).

Into the “Enjoy” cat­egory: Of the doc­u­ment­ar­ies released to cinemas this year, three stood out. The affec­tion­ate por­trait of Auckland theatre-maker Warwick Broadhead, Rubbings From a Live Man, was mov­ing and its strange­ness was per­fectly appro­pri­ate. Up the Yangtze showed us a China we could­n’t see via the Olympics jug­ger­naut and Young at Heart is still play­ing and should­n’t be missed.

The Edge of Heaven posterI made plenty of suc­cess­ful vis­its to the art­house this year. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was awe­some; The Edge of Heaven quietly enthralling; Irina Palm was sur­pris­ing. My review says I liked After the Wedding but I hardly remem­ber a thing about it. Also get­ting the art­house tick from me: The Counterfeiters, The Band’s Visit, the delight­ful hymn to tol­er­ance Grow Your Own and the glossy romance The Painted Veil.

Worthy indies that gave me faith in the future of US cinema included Ben Affleck’s Boston-thriller Gone Baby Gone; Ryan Gosling in love with a sex toy (Lars and the Real Girl); twee little Juno; nasty (in a good way) Choke; heart­warm­ing The Visitor and Frozen River (which was the best of the lot).

Space Chimps posterMainstream Hollywood was­n’t a com­plete waste of space this year (although the ghastly cyn­ic­al rom-coms 27 Dresses and Made of Honour would have you believe oth­er­wise). Ghost Town was the best romantic com­edy of the year; The Dark Knight and Iron Man were enter­tain­ing enough; I got car­ried away by Mamma Mia and the showstop­ping per­form­ance by Meryl Streep; Taken was ener­get­ic Euro-pulp; Horton Hears a Who! and Madagascar 2 held up the kid-friendly end of the deal (plus a shout-out for the under-appreciated Space Chimps) and, of course, Babylon A.D. (just kid­ding, but I did enjoy it’s campy insanity).

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 December, 2008.

Note that I delib­er­ately avoid choos­ing Festival-only films as dir­ect­ing people towards films they can­’t eas­ily see is just cruel.

Review: Frozen River, Pineapple Express and The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s the weird­est coin­cid­ence. In two out of the three films I saw this week someone was shot in the ear. Seriously, go fig­ure. Since I star­ted this gig I’ve seen more than 400 films and no one has ever been shot in the ear and then, just like that, two come along at once.

Frozen River posterThat’s the only thing that con­nects two very dif­fer­ent but very good films: Courtney Hunt’s debut thrill­er Frozen River and David Gordon Green’s very funny Pineapple Express. Frozen River is being sold as a thrill­er, and it does have some very tense edge-of-your-seat moments, but it’s actu­ally a gritty drama about America’s rur­al poor with plenty of under­stand­ing and for­give­ness run­ning through its heart.

We open on a hard-faced woman’s tears. Melissa Leo plays Ray, whose hus­band Troy has giv­en in to his gambling addic­tion and scarpered with the balloon-payment on their new trail­er and it’s two days before Christmas. She’s bring­ing up her two chil­dren in a tiny trail­er down a muddy drive­way in a small town on the snowy bor­der between New York state and Quebec, work­ing part time in the Yankee Dollar store and try­ing to make ends meet.

Searching for the dead­beat hus­band at the loc­al, Mohawk-run, bingo hall she meets Lila Littlewolf who is driv­ing Troy’s aban­doned car. Lila (Misty Upham) is a depressed young woman, liv­ing in her own lonely trail­er, who intends to use the car to bring a few illeg­al immig­rants in to the coun­try, cross­ing the frozen river at the Indian reser­va­tion where the State Troopers can’t go. Needing money (and hav­ing rights to the car), Ray agrees to help, gambling everything she has on mak­ing a couple of trips so she can get her fam­ily through Christmas.

Gambling is the thread run­ning through the film – the First Nation Mohawk people fund their pro­grammes and main­tain their inde­pend­ence through gambling and the work­ing poor like Ray gamble every day that the few choices they have won’t see them fall­ing through the cracks in the ice – meta­phor­ic­ally or in reality.

A bril­liant debut, though not tightly-plotted enough to really qual­i­fy as a thrill­er, Frozen River is up there with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days as an earn­est rep­res­ent­a­tion of people who would oth­er­wise be invis­ible to us.

Pineapple Express posterThe Apatow machine con­tin­ues to spew out fine com­edy. This year we have already had Drillbit Taylor, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Step Brothers and the latest is Pineapple Express, and if it’s not the Citizen Kane of stoner movies then it’s the Goodfellas. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (last year’s Superbad), this film is greatly enhanced by the pres­ence of a real film­maker behind the cam­era, George Washington’s David Gordon Green.

Rogen also stars as pot-head pro­cess serv­er Dale Denton, who wit­nesses a murder and, in his pan­ic, hides out with his deal­er Saul (James Franco). Unfortunately for both of them, this brings the wrath of the pot-mob down on both of them and they are chased across sub­urb­an Glendale by a mot­ley crew of ruf­fi­ans and hood­lums, all the while mak­ing good use of the herb that gives the film its title.

Rogen and Franco both came to pro­du­cer Judd Apatow’s atten­tion dur­ing the short-lived but well-loved tv show “Freaks & Geeks” (which also starred Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Jason Segal) and their easy rap­port is a strength that gets the film through some of its shaki­er moments.

The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D poster Stocktaking the new digit­al 3D realm, we have now had an anim­ated ori­gin­al (Beowulf), a couple of con­cert movies (includ­ing the bril­liant U2), a live-action dud (Journey to the Center of the Earth) and now we see the res­ults when Hollywood goes back to the vault and re-masters an older film for the new tech­no­logy. The Nightmare Before Christmas from 1993 is an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to the pro­cess (if you haven’t been temp­ted before). It was always a vivid and ori­gin­al pro­duc­tion (watched over by Tim Burton) and the 3D really makes it pop.

Jack Skellington is the king of Halloween but is jaded and bored. Discovering Christmas-town, he decides that he wants Christmas all to him­self and hi-jacks it (kid­nap­ping Santa Claus in the pro­cess). Animated (using sim­il­ar stop-motion tech­niques to the Aardman films) by Henry Selick, Nightmare is won­der­ful to look at and not too long for kids, although if you have little tol­er­ance for music­al thee-ater no amount of glor­i­ous 3D will coun­ter­act Danny Elfman’s soundtrack. Me, I loved it.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 29 October, 2008.

Due to exams I skipped a week writ­ing for the CT so there was no sched­uled entry for 5 November. You haven’t missed any­thing. Now, I have to start catch­ing up on movies before I’m swamped by the Christmas rush. This year has gone by so fast.

Review: WALL•E, Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D, The Hollow Men, Earth, Step Brothers, Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

By Cinema and Reviews

Back in the 70s, when I was about 8 years old, I watched a film on TV called Silent Running. In it Bruce Dern and three little robots ten­ded the remains of Earth’s plant life on a giant green­house space­ship float­ing some­where between Mars and Jupiter. I cried so much at the shock­ing end­ing (which had lonely robot Dewey, tend­ing the forest with a battered water­ing can while the last of Earth’s flora drif­ted toward the edge of the sol­ar sys­tem) that I don’t think I’ve ever been the same again. Last year, I ren­ted the DVD to see if it had the same effect more than 30 years later and, sure enough, I dis­solved on cue. Remarkable.

WALL•E posterPixar’s new anim­ated tri­umph WALL•E owes a great deal to Silent Running, not least it’s dystop­ic view of human-planet inter­ac­tion but also the faith in the heal­ing power of anthro­po­morph­ic cuboid robots. WALL•E is the last func­tion­ing main­ten­ance robot on an aban­doned Earth, tidy­ing up the enorm­ous moun­tains of garbage left behind 700 years pre­vi­ously by the cow­ardly human pop­u­la­tion who ran for the stars. Lonely, without really know­ing what lonely means, our hero meets EVE, a bril­liant (as in shiny) search robot look­ing for signs of organ­ic life. When she dis­cov­ers some, and leaves to report back, WALL•E hitches a ride and ulti­mately finds him­self sav­ing civilisation.

It was per­haps a little too long for the rest­less pre-schoolers I shared a screen­ing with, but for any­one and every­one else I whole-heartedly recom­mend it. And it won’t make you cry so much you throw up.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D posterRegular read­ers will know that I have been quite the cheer­lead­er for the new digit­al 3D tech­no­logy (the U2 con­cert was stun­ning). Sadly, the first “live action” film to be pro­duced using the pro­cess, Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D, is still more of a side-show stunt than a test of the artist­ic poten­tial of the tech­no­logy. Brendan Fraser plays a geo­lo­gist whose broth­er was lost on an explor­a­tion in some Icelandic caves and when he dis­cov­ers secret coded notes in his brother’s dog-eared copy of the Jules Verne book, he decides to recre­ate the exped­i­tion, tak­ing his neph­ew (plus last week’s CT cov­er girl Anita Briem) along for the ride.

The Hollow Men posterAlister Barry is one of Wellington’s liv­ing treas­ures. His metic­u­lously researched doc­u­ment­ar­ies (includ­ing Someone Else’s Country and In a Land of Plenty) have suc­cess­fully shone a light on the polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic changes in New Zealand since the ‘new right’ trans­form­a­tion of the mid-80s in a way that nobody in the main­stream media has even attemp­ted. His new film is based on Nicky Hager’s explos­ive exposé of shoddy National Party cam­paign­ing, The Hollow Men, and it’s inter­est­ing to me that the real-life foot­age of Don Brash presents a con­sid­er­ably less sym­path­et­ic por­trait of the man than Stephen Papps’ excel­lent per­form­ance in the stage ver­sion at BATS. The leaked emails from Hager’s book revealed so many shenanigans that it’s hard to keep the story straight but Barry does a good job of emphas­ising that it is essen­tially the same team run­ning National this time around.

Earth posterI was lucky enough to pre­view the gor­geous BBC nature doc­u­ment­ary, Earth, at the Embassy dur­ing the Festival and I’m pleased to see it return there for a short sea­son. Unlike the tedi­ous and repet­it­ive ice doco The White Planet, this film uses the whole plan­et as a can­vas for some mar­vel­lous images and, like WALL•E, the mes­sage is that we are stuff­ing it up at an alarm­ing rate. Only the cutest anim­als and most col­our­ful plants got through the audi­tions and Patrick Stewart plays the Morgan Freeman part as narrator.

Step Brothers posterAfter dis­mal exper­i­ences with Will Ferrell’s recent ice-skating and bas­ket­ball films I wasn’t look­ing for­ward to Step Brothers, a low brow reunite­ment (new word!) with Talladega Nights co-star John C. Reilly, but blow me down I really enjoyed it! Ferrell and Reilly play two 40-year-old men, liv­ing at home, whose solo par­ents meet and marry each oth­er, mak­ing them, you guessed it Step Brothers. It’s a 90 minute riff on one joke but you have to admire their total com­mit­ment to it.

Angus, Things & Perfect Snogging posterAngus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging was made for teen­age girls and I (des­pite my best efforts) am not one but, even though I lack the required cul­tur­al fil­ters, I can’t under­stand why teen­age girls would want to be por­trayed as such shal­low, tedi­ous, screech­ing harpies. Boys, make-up, boys, the right kind of under­wear, boys again. If these are our future lead­ers then I des­pair. Crikey, was Helen Clark like this when she was 14?

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days posterAll the girls in Angus, Thongs should be sat down and shown the extraordin­ary Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days so they can see what their single-minded obses­sion with boys and pop­ular­ity is likely to get them. I’m stoked that someone has decided to release this film (after screen­ings at the World Cinema Showcase in April) as it is undoubtedly a stone-cold mas­ter­piece, well-deserving the Palme D’Or it received at Cannes last year.

Profound, sens­it­ive, emo­tion­ally ardu­ous and per­fectly struc­tured, 4 Months fol­lows a day in the life of stu­dent Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) as she self­lessly tries to organ­ise an abor­tion for her light headed friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), while fend­ing off the atten­tions of fam­ily and boy­friend. As close to per­fect as makes no difference.

Printed (for the most part) in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 24 September, 2008. Except for Earth, Step Brothers, Angus, Thongs, etc. and 4 Months which were cut for space.