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Review: Looper, Pitch Perfect, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

By Cinema and Reviews

Looper posterThe main prob­lem I have review­ing Rian Johnson’s Looper is that the most inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about the film can only be had with oth­ers who have seen it. The film diverges bril­liantly from its mar­ket­ing premise about half way through and the sur­prise is so pre­cious – and adds even more fas­cin­at­ing lay­ers – that to dis­cuss it here would be the abso­lute defin­i­tion of the word spoil­er. Suffice to say: if you like intel­li­gent sci­ence fic­tion you should make imme­di­ate plans to view Looper and allow time after­wards to digest with oth­er people. It changes, the more you talk about it.

The premise is enti­cing enough. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a Looper, a spe­cial­ised hit­man with the job of rub­bing out incon­veni­ences from the future who are sent back in time by the mob so they can be cleanly dis­posed of. Every now and then a Looper’s future self is sent back in order that anoth­er lay­er of evid­ence is removed. This is called “Closing the Loop” and the Looper then knows he has 30 years left to enjoy life before he’ll end up as his own victim.

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Review: Hit and Run, The Watch and Hysteria

By Cinema and Reviews

Readers of last week’s column will know that I am cur­rently over­seas on a quest, a mis­sion – a pur­suit if you prefer – hop­ing to dis­cov­er a new kind of cinema. After a week at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado I am now in New York and have got a clear­er idea of what that vis­ion should look like.

I think I’ll name this new cinema good cinema and it’s main char­ac­ter­ist­ic will be the absence of films like Hit and Run and The Watch, two of this week’s new releases. Is it pos­sible to redefine rub­bish like this out of existence?

Hit and Run movie posterThe first is a Dax Shepard van­ity pro­ject about a man choos­ing to give up his place in a dull wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gramme so that his girl­friend (Kristen Bell) can get a job in the big city. In the space of a single day his pre­vi­ous iden­tity as a top get­away driver is revealed to her and his new iden­tity as a dreary small-town non-entity is revealed to the dim­wit­ted but single-minded hoods who he rat­ted out.

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Review: Angels & Demons, Knowing, Night at the Museum, Lesbian Vampire Killers, A Film With Me In It and I’ve Loved You So Long

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Angels & Demons posterRon Howard’s Angels & Demons, sequel to the block­buster Da Vinci Code from 2006, is what you might call an equal oppor­tun­ity annoy­ance – hap­pily mis­rep­res­ent­ing theo­logy and science.

Tom Hanks returns as Harvard schol­ar Robert Langdon, this time summoned to Rome by mys­ter­i­ous Vatican secur­ity to invest­ig­ate the kid­nap­ping of four Cardinals on the eve of the elec­tion of a new Pope. A clue (help­fully read­ing “illu­minati”) leads him to believe that a the secret soci­ety of sci­ent­ists and truth-tellers have come to take revenge for their 17th cen­tury pur­ging. The Large Hadron Collider (actu­ally work­ing in this piece of fic­tion) cre­ates a macguffin that could change the shape of Rome as we know it – if not the world.

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Review: Eagle Eye, The Rocker, The House Bunny, Wild Child, Space Chimps and Mongol

By Cinema and Reviews

Eagle Eye posterThis week I’ve had my intel­li­gence insul­ted by the very best. Steven Spielberg is cred­ited as Executive Producer of Eagle Eye, but if he spent more than one meet­ing over­see­ing this crapitude I would be very sur­prised. Eagle Eye is designed to appeal to cro-magnons who still believe that com­puters are inher­ently malevol­ent self-perpetuating pseudo-organisms and that the US Dept of Defence would invent an all-powerful, sur­veil­lance super-computer that you can’t switch off at the wall. And fans of Shia LaBoeuf. Director D. J. Caruso (last year’s Disturbia) is con­firmed as a name to avoid and Michael Jackson lookalike Michelle Monaghan has done (and will do) bet­ter than this (Gone Baby Gone).

The Rocker posterIn inter­views, Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute in the American “Office”) has admit­ted that he is behind Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson whenev­er the choicest scripts are handed out, so what that says about The Rocker (his first lead­ing role) I’m not sure. Wilson plays a Pete Best-like drum­mer, fired from the band he named (Vesuvius!) just before they shot to star­dom in 1988. Twenty years and twenty dead-end jobs later, he gets a shot at redemp­tion play­ing with his nephew’s high school band. Wilson really doesn’t have enough pres­ence to carry the film but he’s like­able enough and there’s some nice sup­port­ing work from Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and the lovely Christina Applegate (who really deserves to be a much big­ger star than she is).

The House Bunny posterOne week on from the depress­ing Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, there’s even more mis­placed girl power on dis­play in The House Bunny. Scary Movie star Anna Faris gets to exec­ut­ive pro­duce a vehicle for her­self (writ­ten by Laurie Craig and Karen McCullah Lutz, the female screen­writ­ing duo respons­ible for the pos­sibly Nobel Prize-winning Legally Blonde) and with that power comes great respons­ib­il­ity, respons­ib­il­ity that she puts to good use set­ting back the cause of fem­in­ism nearly 40 years.

Almost-Playmate Shelley (Faris), kicked out of Hef’s man­sion for being too old becomes sor­or­ity house moth­er to a bunch of “ugly” mis­fits (includ­ing Emma Stone from The Rocker and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s eld­est daugh­ter Rumer). It’s the lack of ambi­tion that I find so dis­heart­en­ing, although it did con­tain my favour­ite line of the week: “Concentrate on the eyes girls, remem­ber – the eyes are the nipples of the face.”

Wild Child posterRoald Dahl’s daugh­ter Lucy is anoth­er female screen­writer stuck in cliché hell. Her script for Wild Child could have res­ul­ted in pass­able enter­tain­ment, but is let down by poor dir­ec­tion and some odd post-production decisions. Last year’s Nancy Drew, Emma Roberts, plays the fish out of water, Malibu rich-chick, sent away to an English board­ing school run by firm-but-fair Natasha Richardson. There she makes friends and enemies and falls in love with hand­some Roddy, played by the worst act­or I’ve ever seen get his name on a major film: Alex Pettyfer (remem­ber the name, folks).

Space Chimps posterMost fun of the week can be found in Space Chimps, a bois­ter­ous CGI-animated com­edy for kids (and those that might find WALL•E a little too emo­tion­ally demand­ing). Ripping a long at a great pace, it has plenty of gags per minute and bene­fits from hav­ing great voice-actors like Patrick Warburton and Kristin Chenoweth involved rather than big name stars slum­ming it. Recommended.

Mongol posterThe Russo-Sino-Co-pro Mongol really deserves to be seen on a giant screen, as befit­ting the giant land­scape and giant story. The first of a pro­posed tri­logy telling the life story of Genghis Khan, this instal­ment fol­lows the 12th cen­tury war­lord from his own birth to the birth of an empire span­ning half the known world. Uniting the tribes of Mongolia was a bru­tal busi­ness and there’s plenty of CGI blood splash­ing around as young Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) dis­cov­ers his destiny.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 1 October 2008.

Review: Beowulf, The Heartbreak Kid, The Dead Girl, The Secret Life of Words, Bella and Nina’s Journey

By Cinema and Reviews

The Heartbreak Kid posterLet’s get the unpleas­ant­ness out of the way first: watch­ing The Farrelly Brothers’ ugly remake of Neil Simon’s The Heartbreak Kid was a tri­al bey­ond all human endur­ance. After about 20 minutes I was beg­ging for release (which came shortly after­wards as bliss­ful uncon­scious­ness over­took me). Sadly, no stu­dio exec­ut­ive will ever get fired for green-lighting a racy Ben Stiller romantic com­edy so no mat­ter how bad this one is it won’t be the last one we are forced to endure.

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Review: Amazing Grace, Knocked Up and Year of the Dog

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Amazing Grace posterWhile the Film Festival takes up a jus­ti­fi­ably huge chunk of time and mind­space dur­ing these two weeks the world of com­mer­cial cinema has hit back hard with two of the best films of the year.

Amazing Grace is a hand­some peri­od piece about the cam­paign­ing life of William Wilberforce, tire­less toil­er for social justice and what we now call human rights in the 19th cen­tury. The film focusses on his lead­er­ship of the move­ment to ban the transat­lantic slave trade in the teeth of entrenched com­mer­cial and polit­ic­al oppos­i­tion. 11 mil­lion African men, women and chil­dren were dragged from their homes, clapped in chains and forced to work in the plant­a­tions and refiner­ies that fuelled the British Empire.

Wilberforce is played by Mr Fantastic (or Captain Hornblower, if you prefer) Ioan Gruffudd and, des­pite his lack of heavy­weight cre­den­tials, he holds up nicely in com­pet­i­tion with some of British cinema’s finest. The Great Gambon (most recently Dumbledore in Harry Potter), Rufus Sewell (The Illusionist), Toby Jones (Infamous), Stephen Campbell Moore (The History Boys) and the mar­vel­lous Albert Finney all get moments to rise above the occa­sion­ally clunky, exposition-heavy, script.

Finney, in par­tic­u­lar, as the former slave-ship cap­tain John Newton who actu­ally wrote the hymn Amazing Grace (and the line “who saved a wretch like me” comes from deep inside a tor­tured con­science) is splendid.

Knocked Up posterEven bet­ter is Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s bril­liant follow-up to The 40 Year Old Virgin. Supporting act­or in the earli­er film, Seth Rogen, gets pro­moted to the lead as Ben Stone, a fun-loving lay­about who gets his one night stand preg­nant and then learns the hard way about respons­ib­il­ity, adult­hood and love. Or you could say it’s about Katherine Heigl’s char­ac­ter Alison Scott, an ambi­tious report­er for the E! Channel who gets preg­nant to a one night stand and then learns the hard way about fam­ily, sac­ri­fice and pain.

Either way you choose it, Knocked Up is a won­der­ful film that shows a deep-seated love for life in all it’s gooey glory. The sup­port­ing cast are per­fect, includ­ing (the some­times patchy) Paul Rudd and Mrs Apatow, Leslie Mann, as the scary mar­ried couple our her­oes use to altern­ately inspire or repel each other.

Year of the Dog posterJudd Apatow made his name in tele­vi­sion, writ­ing and pro­du­cing shows like “The Ben Stiller Show” and the great “Freaks and Geeks”. Another “Freaks and Geeks” alumni, Mike White, also has a fea­ture out this week: Year of the Dog star­ring Molly Shannon. Shannon plays dowdy sec­ret­ary Peggy whose beloved dog Pencil dies in some­what mys­ter­i­ous cir­cum­stances leav­ing her alone to face the world.

In her attempts to replace Pencil with some­thing (anoth­er dog, a man) she learns a little bit about the world and an awful lot about her­self. Like Knocked Up there’s a contrast-couple, there to show our her­oes what life might be like if only they gave up being them­selves, in this case played by Laura Dern and Thomas McCarthy; and like Knocked Up there’s a lot of epis­od­ic com­edy moments though with a much dark­er edge.

Year of the Dog is White’s first fea­ture as dir­ect­or (after writ­ing films like Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl and The School of Rock) and it seems as if he has­n’t dir­ec­ted this film so much as writ­ten and pho­to­graphed it. That’s not to say that it isn’t enjoy­able – it is. It’s just not ter­ribly cinematic.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 25 July, 2007.

Nature of con­flict: Year of the Dog opens at the Academy Cinema in Auckland on Weds 1 Aug. I do con­tract work for them design­ing and main­tain­ing their website.