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Gravity poster

Review: Gravity, Mr. Pip, Grown Ups 2, Battle of the Year 3D and 2 Guns

By Cinema and Reviews

Gravity movie still

Gravity posterIs Gravity the first really new film of the 21st Century? I hazard it may be. It is certainly the first to harness the bleeding edge of the current technologies (performance capture, 3D, sophisticated robotic camera rigs) to serve a story that could only really exist in this form. Sure, once his ears had stopped bleeding Georges Meliés would totally recognise what director Alfonso Cuarón and his screenwriter partner (and son) Jonás are doing here, but he would be the first to put his hand up to say that he wouldn’t have been able to do it. Same for Kubrick, I suspect.

During a routine shuttle mission high above the Earth, astronauts Sandy Bullock and George Clooney are struggling to make some adjustments to the Hubble telescope when Houston (a nicely cast Ed Harris) warns them of some incoming debris. A Russian spy satellite has been destroyed by its owners causing a chain reaction as the little buggers kick-off all over the place. Tiny fragments of satellite travel at lethal speeds on roughly the same orbit and our heroes have to get to safety before they risk being vaporised.

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Review: The Master, Gangster Squad, Whole Lotta Sole, ParaNorman and To Rome With Love

By Cinema and Reviews

Between its heralded US release in September last year and its arrival in a (very) limited number of New Zealand cinemas this weekend, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master seems to have been transformed from masterpiece and annointed Best Picture contender to also-ran, disappointing scores of local PTA fans in the process, many of whom were crushed that we weren’t going to see the film in the director’s preferred 70mm format. Turns out it was touch and go whether we were going to see it on the big screen at all.

Anderson’s previous film, There Will Be Blood, was a close-run second to No Country For Old Men in my 2007 pick of the year, and his back catalogue is as rich as anyone else of his generation — Boogie Nights, Magnolia and even Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. Like Blood, The Master is painted on a big canvas. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, an alcoholic and self-hating WWII veteran, stumbling between misadventures when he stows away on the San Francisco yacht commanded by academic, author and mystic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd combines rudimentary psychotherapy with hypnosis to persuade gullible followers that their past lives can be used to transform their disappointing present.

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Review: The Sapphires, Dredd 3D, Hotel Transylvania, Diary of a Wimpy Kid- Dog Days, Ruby Sparks and Resident Evil- Retribution

By Cinema and Reviews

The Sapphires posterCan I have a quick word with you about forgiveness? Not for me, you understand — I’ve nothing to apologise for — but the forgiveness we show to films we love, forgiveness for cinematic transgressions that would kill our enjoyment for lesser works. Let’s take as an example Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires. The storytelling is occasionally clunky — important plot points are delivered by telephone or messenger like a helpful deus ex machina — and some of the supporting cast don’t appear to know what movie they are in. Its ambitions push hard at the seams of the budget constraints and occasionally burst them revealing the thin lining inside. But the film has such a big heart and so much love for its characters that those flaws are easy to overlook and getting swept along on seems like the easiest and best option.

It’s 1968 and war is raging in Southeast Asia while the American civil rights battle is tearing America apart. Meanwhile in sleepy Cummeragunga NSW, the aboriginal McRae sisters sing country and western standards to unappreciative white pub audiences and dream of fame and fortune in the big city. Discovered by failed cruise ship entertainments officer Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), they set their sights on entertaining the troops in Vietnam but to do that they have to embrace some soul roots and get over some long-suppressed family issues.

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Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jack & Jill and Contraband

By Cinema and Reviews

Extremely Lous and Incredibly Close posterFor this writer, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were the defining global event of my lifetime. It was the day when anything became possible — even the utterly unthinkable. It was the day when sheer randomness and extreme force collided to prove that we have only the thinnest veneer of protection from the world despite all the promises that have been made to us since childhood.

Since that day, I have never consciously sought out 9/11 footage to watch. That first 20 minutes of television news (switched on after being woken by Hewitt Humphrey’s terrifyingly calm announcement on Morning Report) was all I could manage that day. I have no need to re-traumatise myself thank you very much.

So what to make of 9/11 cinema? For ten years it has been an almost impossible topic to successfully turn into art. The literal retellings of the day’s events (United 93 and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center) were the least awful, emphasising heroism in the face of impossible odds and not attempting anything metaphoric or allusive. In the clumsy Remember Me — in which Robert Pattinson goes to visit his estranged father (Pierce Brosnan) in the WTC North Tower that fateful morning — 9/11 was used as a cheap gotcha, a way of provoking a reaction that the story couldn’t manage on its own.

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2011 Wellington Cinema Year in Review

By Cinema

I’ve been watching reactions to other people’s “Best of 2011” with interest. It’s fascinating to see online commentors insist that films they have seen are so much better than films that they haven’t. Even though I do, in fact, watch everything I’m not going to pretend that this list is definitive — except to say that it gets a lot closer than most…

I also don’t believe in the arbitrariness of “Top Tens”. I have my own entirely arbitrary scale: Keepers, Renters and Respecters.

Secretariat posterKeepers are the films that I loved so much I want to own them — films that make me feel better just having them in the house. The first film I adored this year was slushy Disney horse racing story Secretariat. It should have been everything I hate — manipulative, worthy, a faith-based subtext — and yet I cried like a baby — expert button-pushing from director Randall Wallace. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was my favourite blockbuster. Superb direction by Rupert Wyatt overcame the flaws (ahem, James Franco, ahem) and it carefully walked the tightrope of both respect for its predecessors and kicking off something new.

The Tree of Life posterTerrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is my favourite film of the year by a long stretch. A second viewing allowed me to stop thinking about it and just feel it, meaning that I got closer than ever before to the soul of a film artist. Profound in the way that only the greatest works of art are. Tusi Tamasese announced himself with one of the most mature and considered debuts I’ve ever seen — The Orator placed us deeply inside a culture in a way that was both respectful and challenging of it. That film’s journey hasn’t finished yet.

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Review: Zookeeper, What’s Your Number?, Abduction, Chalet Girl and The Round Up

By Cinema and Reviews

The Rugby World Cup was supposed to be a boon for the whole economy, the thousands of excited guests soaking up our food, wine, culture and hospitality. Ask any cinema (or theatre) owner what’s really happening and you’ll get the inconvenient truth — the Rugby World Cup itself is soaking up all the attention and most of the dollars. For at least one cinema owner numbers are down 30–40% on this time last year. This shouldn’t be news — even in my day running the Paramount we knew that a Saturday night All Black game meant it was hardly worth opening — a 7.30 kick-off killed your two best two sessions.

Night rugby has been a disaster for everybody except Sky TV and the bars that show it. At least in the days of afternoon games people could watch their team and go out for dinner and a movie afterwards — the interests of whole families could be accommodated. Those days appear to be long gone.

This week we see that New Zealand’s film distributors have thrown in the towel and dumped the year’s worst product in a week no one was going to the pictures anyway. For my sins I sat (mostly) alone in picture theatres all over the city to help you decide how best to (cinematically) escape Dan Carter’s groin.

Zookeeper posterTo be fair to Zookeeper, I was far from alone at the Saturday matinée screening — it seems portly comedian Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) is a popular figure here in New Zealand. In The Dilemma he showed that there’s some nascent dramatic talent lurking beneath the lazy choices he’s been making but there’s no sign of it here. James plays a lonely but caring Boston zookeeper who thinks that his smelly occupation is holding him back, romantically-speaking.

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