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Review: Olympus Has Fallen, Evil Dead and Escape from Planet Earth

By Cinema and Reviews

Gerard Butler in Olympus Has Fallen While ori­gin­al Die Hard dir­ect­or John McTiernan lan­guishes in min­im­um secur­ity fed­er­al pris­on his heirs are keep­ing the action movie flame alive. Most recently, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen might as well be called Die Hard at the White House as one man attempts to res­cue the host­ages held cap­tive in the impreg­nable bunker beneath the most fam­ous Palladian man­sion in the world. North Korean ter­ror­ists have man­aged to take con­trol of the build­ing and the President (Aaron Eckhart), Secretary of Defence (Melissa Leo) – and some extras play­ing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs etc. – are all cable-tied to a rail­ing while acting-President Morgan Freeman and Chief of the Secret Service Angela Bassett are power­less at the Pentagon.

Olympus Has Fallen posterWhat the bad guys don’t know is that dis­graced former Secret Service (and Special Forces, natch) dude Gerard Butler heard the shoot­ing and crossed town from his low level secur­ity job at Treasury to sneak in to the build­ing before total lock­down. Now, he’s tak­ing out the trash one by one but can he res­cue the President’s son (Finley Jacobsen) and save the free world before every nuke in the American arsen­al goes “boom”.

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Review: The Dark Knight Rises, Cloudburst, Late Bloomers, Trail Notes, Sky Whisperers and King of Devil’s Island

By Cinema and Reviews

The Dark Knight Rises posterI made the mis­take of watch­ing The Dark Knight Rises twice last week. The first time was enter­tain­ing enough, I sup­pose. The open­ing set-piece – in which a CIA rendi­tions plane is hijacked in mid-air by it’s own cargo – is bril­liantly con­ceived but point­less, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a breath of fresh air and the end­ing (unspoiled here) works extremely hard to tie up the many loose ends and sat­is­fy even the mean­est critic.

But second time up, the prob­lems come into even clear­er focus. The con­fused ideo­logy (a fusion of zeit­geisty “Occupy Gotham” wealth redis­tri­bu­tion and pro-vigilante “mean streets will always need clean­ing” status quo pro­tec­tion­ism), end­less tire­some expos­i­tion of both plot and theme and the huge holes in its own intern­al logic, all serve to dis­sip­ate the impact of the impress­ive visuals.

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Review: The Dark Knight

By Cinema and Reviews

The Dark Knight posterBack in 1986 Frank Miller single-handedly rein­ven­ted the Batman fran­chise in book form with “The Dark Knight Returns”, a four-part mini-series which saw an age­ing Bruce Wayne come out of retire­ment one last time to fight the scourge of law­less­ness that beset his beloved Gotham City. Fans have waited in vain for that story (dark, cyn­ic­al, epic and power­ful) to arrive on the sil­ver screen but Christopher Nolan’s cur­rent ver­sion of the hero (intro­duced in Batman Begins in 2005) is still head­ing in the right dir­ec­tion, even to the extent of crib­bing Miller’s title for this second episode.

In The Dark Knight we join the action not long after the end of the pre­vi­ous film. The forces of Gotham City law enforce­ment (with the help of the masked vigil­ante and a few unfor­tu­nate copy cats in hockey pads) are squeez­ing the city’s organ­ised crime syn­dic­ates and clean­ing up the city. Only psy­cho­path­ic freakazoid The Joker (Heath Ledger) seems to be able to act with impun­ity and he offers the Mob a deal: he’ll dis­patch the fly­ing bat in exchange for half their business.

Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) still hankers after beau­ti­ful Asst DA Rachel Dawes (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal repla­cing Katie Holmes) who prom­ised they could be togeth­er if he could ever give up his double-life. The arrival on the scene of hand­some and prin­cipled District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) as legit­im­ate crime-fighter (a “white knight”) might just give him a way out, only Dent is also in love with Rachel. Meanwhile, The Joker’s plot to des­troy Batman strikes closer and closer to home.

Despite being more than 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, The Dark Knight is a suc­cess­ful attempt to bal­ance the thrills and spills of a mod­ern day block­buster with some­thing a little more psy­cho­lo­gic­ally demand­ing. Nolan has claimed that there is very little digit­al effects work in the film and that he tried to shoot as much of the action as real as pos­sible and it pays off – there must have been some digit­al in there but (apart from Dent’s aston­ish­ing and grot­esque trans­form­a­tion into Two-Face) I could­n’t pick any.

It is dis­ap­point­ing that Nolan’s vis­ion of Gotham City from the first film seems to have faded. Instead of the hyper-modern city in dis­repair we got last time, now it looks like plain old mod­ern day New York crossed with Chicago crossed with Toronto, and I guess that was one of the sac­ri­fices made in the decision to ditch digit­al but the city itself is well short on atmosphere.

Bale, as ever, leaves this review­er cold, but the sup­port­ing play­ers are all fine act­ors in great form (par­tic­u­larly Michael Caine as Alfred, the former Special Forces but­ler). Ledger is tre­mend­ous and provides hints of the kind of lib­er­at­ing work he might have been cap­able of had he lived, although talk of a posthum­ous Oscar seems excess­ive. After all, since Cesar Romero in the 60s The Joker has been a license to ham and this ver­sion spe­cific­ally is sup­posed to be all show and no depth.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 july, 2008. Sorry, I am so behind with post­ing. I’ll try and get this week’s edi­tion up before the end of the weekend.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: The Dark Knight screened at a sur­pris­ingly busy Monday morn­ing ses­sion at Readings. And when I say “sur­pris­ingly busy” I mean over 100 people. At 11.00am!

Review: The Italian, My Best Friend, No Reservations, Breach, The War Within and Black Snake Moan

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Italian posterReturning swiftly from the Festival is The Italian, a lovely and old-fashioned art-house win­ner about a six year-old Russian orphan played by the won­der­ful Kolya Spiridonov. He’s Vanya, a little urchin with soul­ful eyes who sees everything that goes on in his wretched Dickensian orphan­age includ­ing the cor­rup­tion, thiev­ery and abuse. The moth­er of his best friend makes a pathet­ic drunk­en appear­ance which gives him the idea that he, too, might have a moth­er. And, if he has a moth­er then there’s no reas­on why he can­’t find her so they can live togeth­er forever. Highly recommended.

My Best Friend posterMy Best Friend is one of those French films that sig­nals its gal­lic cre­den­tials with plenty of accor­di­on music (though falls short of gra­tu­it­ous Eiffel Tower shots like Orchestra Seats earli­er in the year). Ubiquitous Daniel Auteuill plays an antique deal­er who dis­cov­ers he has no friends but needs one to win a bet. He dis­cov­ers trivia buff taxi driver Dany Boon who seems to win friends effort­lessly and demands to know his secret.

And, like so many French films, the effete bour­geois gets life les­sons from the down-to-earth pro­let­ari­an (cf Conversations With My Gardener, still to return from the Festival) because the life of an intel­lec­tu­al is no life at all. If this was an American remake star­ring John Travolta and, say, Chris Rock we’d call it the rub­bish it is.

No Reservations posterTalking of rub­bish American remakes, No Reservations is a vir­tu­ally shot-for-shot recre­ation of the German hit Mostly Martha about an uptight female chef dis­armed by her 9 year-old niece and the vivid Italian chef she is forced to work beside. This is a vehicle for Catherine Zeta-Jones with sup­port from Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin and talk­ing chin Aaron Eckhart and I’m sure most will find it unex­cep­tion­al; I des­pised its lazy com­pet­ence includ­ing the cyn­ic­al abil­ity to com­mis­sion a rare Philip Glass score and then dis­card it whenev­er the need for a cheap pop cue appears.

Breach posterBreach is a ter­ribly good, low-key, post-Cold War thrill­er anchored by a Champions League per­form­ance from Chris Cooper as real-life FBI trait­or Robert Hanssen who was caught and con­victed in February 2001 after 22 years selling secrets to the Russians. Helping nail him is rook­ie Ryan Phillippe who, at first, is seduced by his pious Catholicism and computer-nerdery before dis­cov­er­ing the com­plex and unusu­al man inside. Of course, while the FBI was put­ting every spare man-hour on the case of the mole with­in, sev­er­al Saudi stu­dents were learn­ing to fly planes in Florida so it was­n’t exactly the Bureau’s finest hour.

The War Within posterIn The War Within, Grand Central Station in New York is the tar­get of fic­tion­al Al-Qaeda ter­ror­ist Hassan who, like Derek Luke’s char­ac­ter in Catch a Fire a few weeks ago, is an inno­cent man rad­ic­al­ised by the bru­tal­ity around him. Very well made and pho­to­graphed (HD’s digit­al abil­ity to pro­duce vivid, sat­ur­ated col­ours well to the fore) on a mod­est budget. The War Within is almost cal­cu­lated to be of lim­ited interest to main­stream audi­ences but will cer­tainly reward those who seek it out.

Black Snake Moan posterIn Black Snake Moan, psychologically-damaged abuse-victim Christina Ricci goes off the deep end when boy­friend Justin Timberlake leaves their small Tennessee town to join the National Guard. Grizzled Blues vet­er­an Samuel L. Jackson chains her to a radi­at­or to save her from her­self but he has issues of his own, of course. Black Snake Moan gets bet­ter the more it trusts its char­ac­ters and, if you can get past the pulp shock value, there’s a good film inside.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times, Wednesday 23 August, 2007.

Some screen­ing notes: The Italian screened at home sev­er­al weeks ago on a time-coded DVD from the Film Festival; My Best Friend viewed from the too close front row of a packed Penthouse Three (the big new one) on 11 August; No Reservations seen at a vir­tu­ally empty staff and media screen­ing in Readings 8 at 9.15 on a Monday morn­ing (6 August); Breach watched this Monday (20 August) at the Empire in Island Bay who shouted me a free cof­fee after I bitched about the bus driver mak­ing me throw my first one away; The War Within screened at home on Saturday night from a gently water­marked DVD from Arkles, the dis­trib­ut­or; Black Snake Moan screened at the Paramount on Monday afternoon.

Full dis­clos­ure: I have done paid work in the past for Arkles Entertainment (dis­trib­ut­or of The War Within) and am design­ing their new web site which will be live next week.