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angelina jolie

First Nine to Noon appearance of the year

By Audio, Cinema and Reviews

Nine to Noon podcast iconAfter what seems like weeks of hol­i­days, Summer Noelles and Matinée Idles, Radio New Zealand National is pretty much back to nor­mal which means the return of my fort­nightly movie reviews. Let this be a little place­hold­er now that Rancho Notorious has become a fort­nightly release.

This week: Still Alice, Force Majeure, American Sniper, Unbroken and a little snipe at Birdman.

As an added bonus, here’s Rancho Notorious co-host Kailey Carruthers talk­ing to Lynn Freeman on Sunday’s Standing Room Only arts show.

Plus, New Zealand International Film Festival dir­ect­or Bill Gosden and I talk­ing to Lynn earli­er this sum­mer about the future of New Zealand film under the new film com­mis­sion régime of David Gibson.

Review: Summer Holiday Round-up (2010/11)

By Cinema and Reviews

This year the sum­mer hol­i­days seemed to have been owned by the unlikely fig­ure of T.J. Miller, dead­pan comedi­an, sup­port­ing act­or and eer­ily famil­i­ar back­ground fig­ure. In Yogi Bear he was the ambi­tious but dim deputy park ranger eas­ily duped by Andrew Daly’s smarmy Mayor into help­ing him sell out Jellystone to cor­por­ate log­ging interests, in Gulliver’s Travels he was the ambi­tious but as it turns out dim mail room super­visor who pro­vokes Jack Black into pla­gi­ar­ising his way into a fate­ful travel writ­ing gig and in Unstoppable he’s the slightly less dim (and cer­tainly less ambi­tious) mate of the doo­fus who leaves the hand­brake on and then watches his enorm­ous freight train full of tox­ic waste roll away.

So, a good sum­mer for T.J. Miller then, what about the rest of us?

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Review: Salt, Cairo Time, The Concert & Harry Brown

By Cinema and Reviews

Salt posterIf I had to use a four let­ter word start­ing in ‘S’ and end­ing in ‘T’ to describe the new Angelina Jolie thrill­er, Salt wouldn’t be the first word I would think of. The last time Ms Jolie played an action heroine she was a weaver/assassin receiv­ing her orders from a magic loom and her new film is only slightly less ridicu­lous. What we have here is an unima­gin­at­ive reboot of old Cold War ideas, as if the script was found in someone’s draw and all they’ve done is blow the dust off it.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA spook on the Russian desk. When we meet her she’s in her under­wear being tor­tured by the North Koreans. A spy-swap gets her out even though, accord­ing to the rules, she should’ve been left to her fate. Back in Washington, she’s mar­ried to the world’s expert on spiders (he stud­ies them in jars at the kit­chen table) but he’s German so obvi­ously not above suspicion.

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Review: Milk, Valkyrie, Changeling, Let the Right One In, Hunger, Sparkle and Sex Drive

By Cinema and Reviews

Milk posterAfter Slumdog Millionaire last week, everything seems kind of old-fashioned. At any oth­er time a film like Milk would stand out from the crowd as an example of qual­ity, thought­ful, ser­i­ous story-telling. This week, though, it seemed ped­es­tri­an, pre­dict­able and, frankly, a little straight.

Harvey Milk was a gay act­iv­ist in San Francisco at a time when the gay community’s few human rights were under threat from the reac­tion­ary right. But Milk (played with his usu­al humil­ity by the great Sean Penn) was a pas­sion­ate advoc­ate for per­son­al free­dom and a cun­ning politi­cian who made clev­er and vital alli­ances across the polit­ic­al spec­trum. The one alli­ance he failed to make (because he had no way of fore­see­ing that Supervisor Dan White’s men­tal instabil­ity would take so tra­gic a form) ended up being the one that killed him and it’s iron­ic that Milk wasn’t assas­sin­ated because of his sexu­al­ity or his ideas – but because of petty polit­ic­al jealousy.

Valkyrie posterValkyrie is the latest release from Tom Cruise’s own United Artists com­pany and it fas­cin­ates me the choices he makes when he’s essen­tially pleas­ing him­self rather than meet­ing the expect­a­tions of the pub­lic. Cruise plays Von Stauffenberg, wounded German WWII hero with a con­science. He (along with what looks like a Pirates of the Caribbean reunion of great British act­ors) decide that to save Germany, and secure an early peace with the Allies, Hitler must be dis­posed of. Director Bryan Singer seems a lot more com­fort­able build­ing subtle ten­sion here than with the bom­bast of Superman Returns, and Cruise is pleas­ingly un-Cruise-like – no grand­stand­ing or cheesy grins here.

What I found most inter­est­ing about Valkyrie is the por­trait of the Nazi bur­eau­cracy – a paper-shuffling, form-filling night­mare; a per­fect envir­on­ment for an ambi­tious para­noi­ac to thrive and bey­ond even a ded­ic­ated team of trait­ors to overturn.

Changeling posterClint Eastwood’s Changeling also shares the sub­text of dehu­man­ising bur­eau­cracy, but his storytelling com­pass is way off this time. Angelina Jolie plays an hon­est single-mom in 1920’s Los Angeles. Her young son dis­ap­pears and the cor­rupt and venal LAPD decide the first stray kid they find is hers and then demon­ise and vic­tim­ise her when she com­plains. What starts out as a thrill­ingly unbe­liev­able story loses its way early on and by the time we get to the court room the nar­rat­ive drive has all but fizzled out – and that’s only the end of the second act.

The richly detailed evoc­a­tion of the peri­od is an undeni­able pleas­ure which means there is always some­thing to look at (for some of you that might even be the skelet­al Angelina), even while you are wish­ing the film would just hurry up and finish.

Let the Right One In posterDuring last year’s Film Festival I unfor­tu­nately fell asleep dur­ing Tomas Alfredson’s atmo­spher­ic Swedish vam­pire story Let the Right One In but I sub­sequently heard many great things about it so I thought I’d give it anoth­er go this week­end. Guess what? It did it again – out like a light. There must be some­thing hyp­not­ic that hap­pens about 20 minutes in as I lost con­scious­ness at exactly the same point as before. Even after wak­ing up, I found I couldn’t get enthu­si­ast­ic about a film that seems to take forever to get any­where and, unfor­giv­ably, feels much longer than it is.

Hunger posterAlso from the Festival, but keep­ing one very much awake, was Steve McQueen’s Hunger (win­ner of the Camera D’or at Cannes last year for best first film). McQueen is (lit­er­ally) a visu­al artist and now a heavy­weight film­maker. In pure art-house style it ellipt­ic­ally tells the story of the IRA hun­ger strikers of the early 80s who fought to be recog­nised as polit­ic­al pris­on­ers while Thatcher’s gov­ern­ment refused to acknow­ledge their legit­im­acy. It’s heavy (about as heavy as you get these days) but brilliant.

Sparkle posterSparkle is an ines­sen­tial com­edy drama about a naïve young scouser mak­ing his way through London, meet­ing inter­est­ing char­ac­ters and find­ing love. It’s made by Tom Hunsinger & Neil Hunter who six years ago made the well-liked Lawless Heart . Unfortunately, this is a back­ward step with none of that film’s nar­rat­ive clev­erness and char­ac­ters that are sketched rather than painted.

Sex Drive posterEven that’s bet­ter than the half-arsed Sex Drive which is Exhibit A in my cur­rent case against the cul­ture. Decent young Ian (Josh Zuckerman) can’t get laid so bor­rows his brother’s pristine red GTO to drive across coun­try to vis­it a ‘sure thing’ he met on the Internet. Even the soppy ‘friends forever’ end­ing is cyn­ic­al. These sorts of films (Role Models is anoth­er example) used to be made by indies for drive-ins and the exploit­a­tion came from the gut (if not the heart). Now they’re part of a stu­dio port­fo­lio and are made by hacks rather than mavericks.

Printed (for the most part) in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 11 February, 2009.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Milk was a pub­lic screen­ing at the Lighthouse in Petone where I wit­nessed a new low in audi­ence talking-through-the-movie beha­viour. Gah! Valkyrie was at the Empire in Island Bay where (unusu­ally for them) I had to go out and ask them focus it. The aud­it­or­i­um had­n’t been cleaned either. Must have been a busy day. Let the Right One In was at the Paramount and the snowy vis­tas betray the com­plete dif­fer­ence in light qual­ity between pro­ject­or one and two (no plat­ters at the Paz). Hunger was in the same ven­ue dur­ing the Festival, six months ago. Sparkle was a skip­ping DVD lent by the Paramount – it was their backup so I hope they nev­er have to use it. Sex Drive was a pub­lic screen­ing at Readings where I wit­nessed a new low in audi­ence putting-your-bare-feet-on-the-seat-in-front beha­viour. Yuk!

Review: The Devil Dared Me To, Atonement, A Mighty Heart, The Brave One and Conversations With My Gardener

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

I fully inten­ded to bring some intel­lec­tu­al acu­ity back to film com­ment­ary this week; maybe toss around terms like Mise-en-scène and cog­nit­ive dis­son­ance; maybe name drop Bresson and his them­at­ic aus­ter­ity and form­al rigour. Then I saw little Kiwi bat­tler, The Devil Dared Me To, a hand-made low-brow enter­tain­ment from the vodka and Becks-fuelled ima­gin­a­tions of Back of the Y’s Chris Stapp and Matt Heath, and I real­ised that high-falutin’ cinema the­ory was destined for the back burn­er for anoth­er week.

Stapp plays wan­nabe stunt hero Randy Campbell and Heath is his malevol­ent ment­or Dick Johansonson. The Timaru Hellriders are about to col­lapse under the weight of invi­di­ous OSH atten­tion and Dick’s lost nerve. Oily pro­moter Sheldon Snake (Dominic Bowden) bails them out so they can take on the North Island and get Campbell closer to his dream of being the first man to jump Cook Strait in a rock­et car. Wildly uneven but often very, very, funny The Devil Dared Me To con­tains pos­sibly the worst act­ing (and worst spelling) of any recent New Zealand film.

It’s entirely appro­pri­ate that The Devil has come out while we are cel­eb­rat­ing the 30th anniversary of Roger Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs; anoth­er back yard, oily rag fea­ture with a sim­il­ar lar­rikin approach towards the pro­duc­tion process.

2007 has been a great year for good films but a poor year for great films; very little of what I’ve seen in 2007 belongs in the very top ech­el­on. The most ser­i­ous con­tender so far is Atonement, adap­ted from Ian McEwan’s nov­el about a lie told in inno­cence that has far reach­ing and ter­rible consequences.

In a bliss­fully beau­ti­ful British coun­try house in the sum­mer of 1935, pre­co­cious 13-year-old Briony Tallis (lumin­ous Saoirse Ronan) is jeal­ous of the atten­tion her older sis­ter Cecilia (Keira Knightley) is get­ting from hand­some Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) and impuls­ively accuses him of a ter­rible crime. The accus­a­tion tears the young lov­ers apart and leaves Briony con­sumed by a griev­ous guilt that she takes a life­time to come to terms with. Virtually faultless.

A Mighty Heart is an arms-length ver­sion of the true story of the Karachi kid­nap­ping and murder of American journ­al­ist Daniel Pearl in the after­math of 9/11. Actually, arms-length isn’t a ter­ribly fair descrip­tion: it starts that way but slowly reels you in thanks to assured dir­ec­tion from Michael Winterbottom and good per­form­ances from an ensemble cast led by Angelina Jolie.

I really wanted to give The Brave One the bene­fit of the doubt until its absurdity and con­sist­ently poor nar­rat­ive choices over­came my res­ist­ance and I simply had to hate it. Jodie Foster plays mild-mannered Erica Bain, a radio pro­du­cer in New York, engaged to hand­some doc­tor Naveen Andrews from Lost. Walking the dog late one night the couple are bru­tally attacked by thugs leav­ing her badly beaten and the boy­friend dead. Overcome by fear and grief she buys a gun for pro­tec­tion but finds her­self tak­ing on a much more malevol­ent role. Terrence Howard is the good cop on her trail.

There’s noth­ing so objec­tion­able on offer in Conversations With My Gardener, a French charm­er star­ring the ubi­quit­ous Daniel Auteuil as an artist return­ing to his fam­ily home in the coun­try while his divorce goes through. He employs wily loc­al Jean-Pierre Darroussin to knock him up a veget­able garden and, over the sum­mer, the two embark on a friend­ship that involves (as is the way of things in French films) the simple loc­al giv­ing life les­sons to the soph­ist­ic­ated townie.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 17 October, 2007.

Full dis­clos­ure: I have known Ant Timpson (pro­du­cer of The Devil Dared Me To) since 1994 when I did pub­li­city for the first Incredibly Strange Film Festival and I look after the Wellington leg of the 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking Challenge which Ant has run since 2003. The 1st AD on Devil was Jeremy Anderson, who has been a very close friend and Black Caps fan for nearly 18 years. He is a top man and I’m stoked to see his work on the big screen. If you need a 1st, give him a call.