Skip to main content
Tag

amy ryan

Review: Reel Brazil festival, Win Win, Shark Night 3D, The Help, The Holy Roller, Friends With Benefits & Upside Down- the Creation Records Story

By Cinema and Reviews

Reel Brazil 2011 posterTo really under­stand a coun­try you have to go and live there – embed your­self with the people, soak up the cul­ture. If you don’t have the time or inclin­a­tion for that then the next best thing to is to get stuck in to their com­mer­cial cinema. Not the stuff that makes it into major inter­na­tion­al film fest­ivals like Berlin and Venice, not the stuff that gets nom­in­ated for for­eign lan­guage Academy Awards, but the films that are made to excite and please a loc­al audi­ence. That’s what fest­ivals like Reel Brazil are all about – a week-long por­trait of a coun­try via its cinema.

In the late 60s Brazil had a kind of Brazilian Idol tele­vi­sion pop com­pet­i­tion where brave young artists per­formed their top song in front of a live audi­ence bay­ing for blood as if they were watch­ing Christians versus lions. But in A Night in 67 we see that year’s com­pet­i­tion rise above the boos and jeers to open a new chapter in Brazilian pop music – legendary names like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso com­pete to win over the tough crowd and in the pro­cess launch massive inter­na­tion­al careers.

Read More

Review: Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Tiger’s Tail, Kung Fu Panda and Speed Racer

By Cinema and Reviews

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead posterTwo films this week made by screen legends whose careers have settled in to some­thing a little less than their glor­i­ous past. Sidney Lumet was mak­ing tele­vi­sion drama when it was broad­cast live from the stu­dio in the 40s and 50s, and made the first (and best) ver­sion of courtroom drama 12 Angry Men in 1957. In the 70s he made some of the best of those gritty New York stor­ies that defined the dec­ade (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network) but his most recent work has passed under the New Zealand radar, his last two fea­tures not even get­ting a loc­al release. To be hon­est I thought he was dead and figured that I must have missed his name pass by in one of those Academy Award salutes to the fallen.

Which makes Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead a lovely sur­prise: a gritty, R‑rated, heist-gone-wrong pic­ture, set in those New York mean streets we seem to know so well (but also the verd­ant Westchester sub­urbs). Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play two down-on-their luck broth­ers, young men whose char­ac­ter flaws render them inad­equate to cope with the vari­ous pres­sures of mod­ern liv­ing. Hoffman’s Andy is an ambi­tious real estate account­ant (not a deal-maker but a wan­nabe play­er) with a drug habit and an embez­zle­ment prob­lem. Hawke’s Hank is divorced and strug­gling to pay the prep school fees and child sup­port to his tough bitch ex-wife (Amy Ryan from Gone Baby Gone).

When Andy sug­gests that the rob­bery of a small sub­urb­an shop­ping mall jew­ellery store would be the answer to all their prob­lems we are about to get one of the great set-ups for a thrill­er in mod­ern memory and they are about to get in to a whole heap of trouble. Effortlessly switch­ing per­spect­ives and time-frames, Lumet proves that he has­n’t lost that abil­ity to reveal human frailty by pil­ing on the pres­sure. Totally recommended.

The Tiger's Tail posterThe oth­er legend emer­ging from the shad­ows this week is English dir­ect­or John Boorman. He made Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific with Lee Marvin in the 60s, Deliverance and the batty Zardoz in the 70s, Excalibur and multi-Academy Award-nominated Hope & Glory in the 80s, but has been pretty quiet ever since. His new film The Tiger’s Tail is set in Dublin, where he now lives, and The Tiger of which he speaks is the “Celtic Tiger” of the eco­nom­ic boom.

Brendan Gleason Gleeson (stretch­ing his legs) plays self-made prop­erty developer Liam O’Leary who, under pres­sure from the banks and cor­rupt politi­cians, starts see­ing vis­ions of a man who looks like him­self, fol­low­ing him around. It turns out this fel­low is his dop­pel­gänger, bent on des­troy­ing the life Liam has built for him­self and tak­ing any­thing valu­able to be found in the rubble. The “evil twin” story is one of the old­est in lit­er­at­ure and it makes for a pretty lumpy meta­phor here. Despite all the suc­cess and riches brought by the Irish Miracle, as Father Andy who runs the home­less shel­ter (Ciarán Hinds) says, “for every suc­cess, someone else has to lose”. Boorman’s dir­ec­tion is work­man­like but he retains that annoy­ing habit of re-recording all the dia­logue later using ADR, mak­ing it some­times seem like you are watch­ing a poorly-dubbed for­eign film.

Kung Fu Panda posterKung Fu Panda is a bois­ter­ous and enter­tain­ing anim­ated flick that resembles an eight-year-old’s bed­room while they are throw­ing all their toys around. The story makes no attempt at ori­gin­al­ity, hop­ing that the voice geni­us of Jack Black and the thrill­ing broad-brush anim­a­tion will provide enough energy to carry you through (and for the most part it does). Black plays Po, a panda with dreams of kung fu glory. When Tai Lung (Ian McShane), the evil snow leo­pard, escapes from deten­tion bent on revenge the search goes out for a new Dragon Warrior, for only a Dragon Warrior can defend the val­ley from such a men­ace. And so on and so forth.

Speed Racer posterFinally, in the annals of point­less­ness a new chapter must be writ­ten and that chapter will be titled Speed Racer. I fell asleep dur­ing The Matrix at the Embassy in 1999 so The Wachowski Brothers have nev­er man­aged to work their magic on me but even so, I have rarely felt so detached from a big screen movie as I did watch­ing this adapt­a­tion of a (sup­posed) cult Japanese kids car­toon. In fact, I found myself pon­der­ing the total car­bon foot­print of the exper­i­ence if you add the appalling cost of the film to my sit­ting in an empty, climate-controlled, theatre on a Monday morn­ing to watch it.

Here’s a free idea to any­one inter­ested – if you want to adapt a Saturday morn­ing car­toon about motor racing, pick “Wacky Races” star­ring the great Dick Dastardly and sidekick Muttley. That is some­thing I might pay to see.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 2 July, 2008. Sorry for the delay in post­ing but some­how I man­aged to get pretty busy this week.

No review to post this week (only Hancock released and Will Smith will do nicely without any help or hindrance from me) and next week I’ll be put­ting up my mam­moth Wellington Film Festival pre­view (cross-posted to Wellingtonista).

Review: Gone Baby Gone, Shutter and Drillbit Taylor

By Cinema and Reviews

Gone Baby Gone posterIn 1997 two young hot­shots stunned the film world by win­ning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for their first pro­duced script. Since then, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have suffered cruel mut­ter­ings ever since: that they could­n’t pos­sibly have writ­ten such a good film by them­selves and that if they did why haven’t they writ­ten any­thing else? Added to the indig­nity is the con­stant rumour that Hollywood script guru William Goldman net­ted a mil­lion dol­lars for three weeks work punch­ing up Good Will Hunting on con­di­tion that he would forever deny it (which he denies).

In the 11 years since that win the career tra­ject­or­ies of Affleck and Damon have been pub­lic. Starring roles in block­buster suc­cesses, high-profile romantic liais­ons and (in the case of Affleck) a little bit of rehab. But there has been pre­cious little ori­gin­al cre­at­ive out­put from either party until the release of Gone Baby Gone, Affleck’s dir­ect­ori­al debut (also co-written), which reached Wellington this week.

Directing is a real test of a film­maker­’s chops. Unlike a fudged writ­ing cred­it you can­’t fake being on a set (although a great crew, DP and edit­or can often cov­er a mul­ti­tude of sins) but I’m thrilled to report that Affleck has pro­duced a work of genu­ine last­ing quality.

Based on a nov­el by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone is set in the same Boston mean streets that Will (from Good Will Hunting) grew up in. If you saw Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (also from a Lehane story) or Scorsese’s The Departed you’ll be famil­i­ar with the geo­graph­ic­al ter­rit­ory, but Affleck’s eye is even more highly tuned to the neigh­bor­hood than those masters.

Four year old Amanda has been snatched from her home while her young single moth­er (sen­sa­tion­al Amy Ryan) was get­ting stoned at a bar. The Police led by Morgan Freeman (him­self suf­fer­ing the loss of a child) are strug­gling to get trac­tion from a com­munity sus­pi­cious of uni­forms. Young private invest­ig­at­or Patrick (Casey Affleck) and his part­ner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) are enlis­ted by the fam­ily to try and tease out some clues that would be unavail­able to law enforcement.

And that’s when it gets really inter­est­ing – because Affleck chooses to down­play the thrill­er (or pro­ced­ur­al) aspects of the piece in favour of char­ac­ter study and the unveil­ing of a ter­rible mor­al dilemma. And its a dilemma that remains per­fectly bal­anced right to the end where, like Bogart’s Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, our hon­our­able private eye is vir­tu­ally alone, forced to live with the unend­ing pain of doing the right thing.

Shutter posterThe pro­duc­tion line of asian-horror-remakes is still chug­ging along. The Eye (remake of a Hong Kong thrill­er) will be reviewed next week while Shutter (based on a Thai film called Shutter) has already been around a week or so. I find these things to be dread­fully tire­some for the most part, for­mu­laic and pre­dict­able. In Shutter a new­ly­wed American couple in Japan (Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor) find strange shad­ows appear­ing in their hol­i­day snaps. It turns out there’s a spir­it fol­low­ing them around, sneak­ing into their frames, spoil­ing their com­pos­i­tions. Well, their pho­to­graphy is about to be the least of their wor­ries. Shutter is laugh­able for the first two-thirds but res­cued by a well-manufactured dénoue­ment so I ended up not hat­ing it totally.

Drillbit Taylor posterOwen Wilson has been in the news more for his men­tal health issues than his act­ing in recent months but it is worth­while to be reminded that he remains one of the most watch-able act­ors of mod­ern times and the pleas­ant enough com­edy Drillbit Taylor comes to life whenev­er he is on the screen. He plays the eponym­ous Taylor, a mil­it­ary desert­er and bum who takes on the job of pro­tect­ing three nerdy kids from high school bul­lies. The kids are pretty funny too – like the kids from Superbad, only a few years younger.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 2 April, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: This is the first all-Readings edi­tion of the weekly review since it com­menced back in October 2006.