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across the universe

Review: Drive, In Time, One Day, Fright Night and The Inbetweeners Movie

By Cinema and Reviews

Expat Kiwi auteur Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) some­how always man­ages to tap in to the zeit­geist and with new sci-fi thrill­er In Time his own tim­ing is almost spook­ily per­fect. A par­able about the mod­ern polit­ic­al eco­nomy, In Time isn’t a par­tic­u­larly soph­ist­ic­ated ana­lys­is but while protest­ors occupy Wall Street, St Paul’s in London and the City to Sea Bridge here in Wellington, it seems almost per­fectly cal­cu­lated to pro­voke a big Fuck You! to the bankers, spec­u­lat­ors and hoarders who are rap­idly becom­ing the Hollywood vil­lains we love to hate.

In Niccol’s world, sev­er­al dec­ades into the future, time is lit­er­ally money: human beings have been genet­ic­ally mod­i­fied to stop (phys­ic­ally) age­ing at 25. Which would be lovely apart from the fact that a clock on your writst then starts count­ing down the one year you have left to live and the time on your wrist becomes cur­rency. You can earn more by work­ing, trans­fer it to oth­ers by shak­ing hands, bor­row more from banks and loan sharks or you can spend it on booze to blot out the hor­ror of your pathet­ic little life.

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Review: Semi-Pro, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Horton Hears a Who!, The War on Democracy, Across the Universe, How She Move and Rambo

By Cinema and Reviews

When the cur­rent Writer-in-Residence at Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters sug­ges­ted I take anoth­er look at my neg­at­ive review of Blades of Glory, I made a prom­ise that (while I could­n’t bring myself to watch that tur­key again) I would approach the next Will Ferrell with a con­sciously open mind. Sadly, with Semi-Pro (a cross between Anchorman and Talladega Nights fea­tur­ing the strengths of neither and the rampant self-indulgence of both), I heard no laughter, only the sound of the bot­tom of the bar­rel being scraped. Recently New Line Cinema ended it’s life as an inde­pend­ent pro­du­cer and I’d like to think Semi-Pro was respons­ible. It’s no less than it deserves.

And, at risk of sound­ing like a total film-wanker I’m going to alloc­ate what strengths The Spiderwick Chronicles has to the pres­ence of the great John Sayles as co-writer. Sayles’ inde­pend­ent work includes clas­sics like The Brother From Another Planet and Passion Fish but makes a liv­ing doing (mostly uncred­ited) punch-up jobs on big budget screen­plays. I was grow­ing increas­ingly frus­trated with the plod­ding story-telling, and the over-reliance on the well-designed digi-creatures, before a great moment at the cli­max restored my faith that a prop­er screen­writer was on board after all.

Three chil­dren have to leave New York when their par­ents split up and live in the big, old, aban­doned house in the coun­try that their crazy Aunt lived in. Freddie Highmore, so ubi­quit­ous in these sorts of films that he even does double-duty in this one, plays bad-boy Jared who dis­cov­ers an old book in the attic, reads the note warn­ing him not to open it, ignores it, and unleashes a world of gob­lins, fair­ies and ogres that are invis­ible to nor­mal people. Nothing new to report there, then, but every gen­er­a­tion seems to need a new ver­sion just for them.

I’ve been a John Pilger-sceptic for a while, not helped by his bom­bast­ic and unpleas­ant beha­viour to loc­al inter­view­ers, but his first inde­pend­ent doc­u­ment­ary for cinema, The War on Democracy, even­tu­ally won me over. It makes an excel­lent com­pan­ion to Helen Smyth’s Cuba-doc ¿La Verdad? as it provides the kind of encyc­lo­paed­ic back­ground to the United States’ nefar­i­ous engage­ment with Latin America that she could only hint at. Starting in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Pilger uses the failed coup in 2002 as a spring­board to show how, for more than 50 years, the US has installed or deposed gov­ern­ments across the con­tin­ent in order to fur­ther its own polit­ic­al and fin­an­cial aims. It’s not great cinema – that’s not Pilger’s bag – but it is essen­tial viewing.

Horton Hears a Who! may well fea­ture the most pro­found moment in cinema this year. As the tiny cit­izens of Who-ville (a bust­ling and happy com­munity liv­ing on a tiny speck, itself sit­ting on a dan­deli­on being blown around by fate) real­ise that in order to be saved they first must be heard, they bang drums, blow trum­pets and chant “We are here!” Like the for­got­ten poor in Pilger’s Caracas bar­rio or the dis­placed in Darfur, the power to pro­claim our exist­ence in the face of ignor­ant or malevol­ent author­ity isn’t just a right, it’s an oblig­a­tion, and I’m cer­tain that the good Dr. Seuss would­n’t have missed the connection.

Big-hearted ele­phant Horton (Jim Carrey) res­cues the speck when his enorm­ous ears pick up the tiny voice of the Who-ville Mayor (Steve Carell) and he real­ises that he has a mis­sion. In the face of com­munity stand­ards ruth­lessly enforced by Carol Burnett’s Kangaroo, Horton is houn­ded out of the jungle but he nev­er gives up. So, not only does Horton not suck like all recent Seuss adapt­a­tions, it bristles with energy, humour and pan­ache. Choice!

Like the forth­com­ing Dylan por­trait I’m Not There, Across the Universe feels like the Baby Boomers’ last attempt to claim the 60s as, you know, import­ant, mean­ing­ful, unique. The music of The Beatles tells the story of star-crossed lov­ers Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess) as they try and keep a rela­tion­ship alive across that tumul­tu­ous dec­ade. I emo­tion­ally dis­en­gaged the moment I real­ised that Sturgess soun­ded like Robbie Williams instead of John Lennon but was nev­er less than enter­tained. A trip, man.

How She Move is a Canadian ver­sion of films like Step Up 2 The Streets, Stomp The Yard and count­less oth­ers. Featuring all the usu­al ele­ments of the genre: under­ground urb­an dance crews; a kid has to get out of the ghetto via a schol­ar­ship; she needs the prize money; par­ents just don’t under­stand, etc. It’s as if the pro­du­cers could­n’t decide which banal clichés to leave out and gave up, stuff­ing the fin­ished film to break­ing point. I’ve grown to really dis­like the dan­cing in these films, too.

Finally, a late word on behalf of Rambo (which missed the cut dur­ing the last few weeks). By mak­ing his vil­lains Burmese human-rights viol­at­ors and his vic­tims inno­cent aid work­ers, dir­ect­or Sylvester Stallone stacks the deck effect­ively and, des­pite look­ing com­pletely bizarre, he infuses his tacit­urn killing-machine with the occa­sion­al moist-eyed moment of human­ity amid the fly­ing limbs. A respect­able end to what had become a car­toon franchise.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 16 April, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Semi-Pro was at a sparsely atten­ded pub­lic mat­inée at Readings. The Spiderwick Chronicles was at the Empire in Island Bay and the review was in no way influ­enced by the lovely free cof­fee they made me just as the trail­ers were play­ing. The War on Democracy was a DVD screen­er provided by Hopscotch (via GT) and the film is cur­rently only play­ing at the Lighthouse in Petone. Horton Hears a Who! was also screened at the Empire where I was the only unat­ten­ded adult present. Across the Universe was screened at the Paramount’s World Cinema Showcase. How She Move was an exceed­ingly sparsely atten­ded mat­inée at Readings and Rambo was anoth­er Readings week day mat­inée, a couple of weeks ago.