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Review: The Karate Kid, Predators, My One and Only & Knight and Day

By Cinema and Reviews

The Karate Kid posterThe first thing to know about The Karate Kid is that there is no kar­ate in it. This remake of the eighties favour­ite sends twelve-year-old hero Jaden Smith to China where they hurt people with kung fu instead. It was ori­gin­ally going to be called The Kung Fu Kid until someone in mar­ket­ing real­ised cer­tain syn­er­gist­ic oppor­tun­it­ies might be missed by the less cred­u­lous tar­get mar­ket. So there we are.

I have mixed feel­ings about this film. I have no great love for the ori­gin­al (des­pite ador­ing my occa­sion­al nick­name “Daniel-san”) so am not much bothered about the updat­ing. Director Harald Zwart man­aged to get my pulse going a bit faster than nor­mal, which doesn’t hap­pen very often these days, and there are some nice scenes that take advant­age of some inter­est­ing Chinese loc­a­tions. But this is basic­ally a pre-teen Rocky with some pretty real­ist­ic smacks and I’m a little uncom­fort­able about that.

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Review: The Golden Compass, Enchanted, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Water Horse, National Treasure- Book of Secrets, I Am Legend, Sweet Land, The Kite Runner, Priceless and The Darjeeling Limited

By Cinema and Reviews

The Golden Compass posterKeen-eyed read­ers will remem­ber that a year ago I nom­in­ated The Golden Compass as my most-eagerly-awaited title of 2007. So, how did it pan out? I’m one of those who con­sider Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials books to be the most import­ant works of fic­tion pro­duced in the last 20 years and I was sur­prised at how closely the film fol­lowed Book One (“Northern Lights”), pos­sibly to it’s det­ri­ment. I was wor­ried that a film with much expos­i­tion and detailed scene-setting might prove unwatch­able but my com­pan­ion (unfa­mil­i­ar with the books) found it thrill­ing where­as I found it hard to let myself go and relax into it – maybe second time around.

Enchanted poster Disney’s Enchanted saw Amy Adams reprise her Oscar-nominated wide-eyed naïf from Junebug. Unfortunately, as Princess Giselle from the anim­ated king­dom of Andalasia, she couldn’t over­come the col­lect­ive bland­ness of James Marsden as fictional-world love interest or Patrick Dempsey as real-world love interest; diver­sions were provided by Timothy Spall and the first of sev­er­al anim­ated chip­munks to land this Christmas.

Alvin and the Chipmunks posterThe next fluffy rodents to arrive were the “singing” trio from Alvin and the Chipmunks, a recre­ation of someone’s favour­ite child­hood pop butchers. Jason Lee is a waste of space as the song­writer who dis­cov­ers them but the little crit­ters them­selves will keep your inner 8‑year-old amused for a while.

The Water Horse posterAlso for the kids was the well-meaning but slightly po-faced Loch Ness mon­ster fantasy The Water Horse, anoth­er high-class product of the family-friendly Walden Media/Weta/NZ con­fed­er­a­tion. A tre­mend­ous over­seas cast led by Ben Chaplin and Emily Watson are joined by famil­i­ar and reli­able loc­al faces like Joel Tobeck and Geraldine Brophy.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets posterNational Treasure: Book of Secrets saw Nicolas Cage arise from his coma and make a little more of an effort than he did earli­er this year in Next: it’s a noisy romp in which unlikely char­ac­ters and implaus­ible situ­ations com­bine to bam­boozle any seeker after logic. Helen Mirren, Harvey Keitel and Ed Harris add gravitas.

I Am Legend posterWill Smith returned in the oft-made man alone thrill­er I Am Legend, a per­fect example of a poor script made pal­at­able by classy dir­ec­tion and a superb lead­ing man at the top of his game. Smith plays Lt-Col Robert Neville: dec­or­ated war vet­er­an, ace micro-biologist and (judging by his address oppos­ite the Washington Square Arch) heir to the Rockefeller for­tune too. A genet­ic­ally mutated vir­us that was sup­posed to cure can­cer has gone rogue. 99% of the pop­u­la­tion has died, 1% have turned into bloodthirsty zom­bies and only one man is immune – hand­ily for our pur­poses the one man who might know how to cre­ate a vac­cine. Lots of frights, lots of great action and a mag­ni­fi­cently seam­less cre­ation of aban­doned New York make it cer­tainly worth a look. At least until the last 15 minutes when, sadly, it just gets stupid.

Sweet Land posterFinally, to the art­house: Sweet Land is an unher­al­ded gem set in beau­ti­ful rur­al Minnesota among the Northern European immig­rants who were mak­ing their lives on that land in the first quarter of the last cen­tury. Elizabeth Reaser plays German immig­rant Inge who travels from Germany to meet Lars, the man who is to be her hus­band. But she speaks no English, has no papers and the loc­als are sus­pi­cious of Germans – the mar­riage is for­bid­den. True love con­quers all but not before the bit­ter sweet tale ties three gen­er­a­tions and the fer­tile farm­land togeth­er. Recommended.

The Kite Runner posterA monu­ment to the Digital Intermediate Colourist’s art, The Kite Runner is an adapt­a­tion of the beloved nov­el by Khaled Hosseini, dir­ec­ted by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, cur­rently shoot­ing the new Bond). Affecting but manip­u­lat­ive, The Kite Runner is a story of guilt and redemp­tion (usu­ally cat­nip to me) but in the end it relied too much on out­rageous coin­cid­ence to be truly sat­is­fy­ing. Great per­form­ances from Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada as Young Hassan and Homayoun Ershadi as Baba mean it is nev­er less than watchable.

Priceless posterPriceless is yet anoth­er French film about mis­taken iden­tity and class restric­tions: they seem to be more obsessed about class and status than the poms. Gad Elmaleh (The Valet) and Amelie’s Audrey Tautou play two ambi­tious indi­vidu­als from the serving class: he walks dogs and tends bar at a flash hotel and she is a gold dig­ger try­ing to snare a rich old hus­band. The fact that both act­ors are of North African des­cent (and there­fore are excluded from the ranks of the real French who sit at the top table) is either a subtle stroke of geni­us or dodgy racism depend­ing on the degree of Christmas spir­it you want to demonstrate.

The Darjeeling Limited posterFinally, The Darjeeling Limited is a win­ning tale of lost young men, search­ing for a fath­er fig­ure, from the mod­ern day poet of fath­er fig­ure searches, Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic). There’s no great them­at­ic or styl­ist­ic leap made by Anderson here but he is hon­ing this stuff to a fine art. Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are three broth­ers on a spir­itu­al jour­ney across India but it is the recently deceased fath­er who casts the longest shad­ow. Well made and often very funny, The Darjeeling Limited is very easy to enjoy and Anderson’s taste is exquisite.

To be prin­ted in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 16 Jan, 2008. I am tak­ing a week­end off, away from the Internet and cinema so will catch up with the week’s new releases next week.

Review: Rocky Balboa and more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

This week Wellington gets a chance to farewell one of the titans of world cinema, an inspir­a­tion to many, derided by a few; an icon who walked his own idio­syn­crat­ic path. I am, of course, talk­ing about Rocky Balboa, kind-hearted dim-bulb and pos­sessor of one of the great loves in cinema: his ador­a­tion of Adrian (Talia Shire) remains undi­min­ished even though her can­cer left him a wid­ower a few years between Rocky V and this new one.

Rocky Balboa posterThe Rocky of I and II was always a great char­ac­ter, led astray dur­ing the block­buster years, and Rocky Balboa gives him back to us. It’s well writ­ten and self-aware and, as a bonus, there’s hardly any box­ing in it.

A Prairie Home CompanionRobert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion is too nice a film to divide people the way that it does. Having said that, if you are one of those people who switches off National Radio whenev­er gen­i­al racon­teur Garrison Keiller Keillor intro­duces his legendary live radio show then you will find the film ver­sion an awful tri­al. Thrown togeth­er in typically-Altman, ram­shackle, style and shot, it appears, with no more than half an eye on the fin­ished product, APHC is a delight­ful, wist­ful, appre­ci­ation of com­munity, nos­tal­gia and the passing of time, the final­ity of things if you will. It’s only fit­ting that Altman’s final film, shot while he was riddled with the can­cer that would kill him, should be about let­ting go. I loved it, but then I was prob­ably always going to.

HollywoodlandIn Hollywoodland Ben Affleck is per­fect as wooden act­or George Reeves who found fame as tele­vi­sion’s first, portly, Superman in the 1950s but who ended up dead of appar­ently self-inflicted gun­shot wounds after a failed attempt at a comeback. The film brings life to the per­sist­ent rumours that Reeves’ death was the res­ult of foul play – cour­tesy of a jeal­ous hus­band with friends in Hollywood high places.

Adrien Brody plays a fic­tion­al gum­shoe on the trail of the mys­tery and the film tries hard to ride the coat-tails of clas­sics like Chinatown but is too darn slow to keep up, even though it looks the part.

Stranger than Fiction posterWill Ferrell plays a slightly less demen­ted ver­sion of his usu­al emotionally-retarded man-child in Stranger Than Fiction, a slender but like­able fantasy about a man who dis­cov­ers he is a char­ac­ter in a nov­el being writ­ten by Emma Thompson. It’s her voice in his head, nar­rat­ing his life, and no one else can hear it. This is annoy­ing and inex­plic­able at first, but gets ser­i­ous when he dis­cov­ers she wants to kill him off. Chicago looks great (and so does Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Squeegee Bandit posterRaucous kiwi doc­u­ment­ary Squeegee Bandit fol­lows Auckland street-corner win­dow wash­er “Starfish” around for a few months, get­ting to know him, his trans­it­ory life and his turf. There’s some inter­est­ing meat bur­ied inside this film but the MTV edit­ing, both­er­some soundtrack and gen­er­al noise levels make it harder than it should be to get at. It’s an inter­est­ing doc­u­ment­ary but dif­fi­cult to recom­mend as entertainment.

The Last King of Scotland posterThe Last King of Scotland is a fic­tion­al­ised por­trait of Idi Amin, dic­tat­or of Uganda from 1971 to 1979 and self-appointed “Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”. To fully appre­ci­ate Forest Whitaker’s superb per­form­ance check out the real Idi’s eyes in the archive foot­age at the end of the film and you can see the genu­ine bat-shit insane para­noia of the man.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 February, 2007.