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Review: Moneyball, The Ides of March, Shame, Weekend, This Means War, Romantics Anonymous and Big Miracle

By Cinema and Reviews

Moneyball posterThis week Philip Seymour Hoffman fea­tures in two new American sports movies, one about their most ven­er­able – if not impen­et­rable – pas­time of base­ball and the oth­er on the modern-day equi­val­ent of bear-baiting, the pres­id­en­tial primar­ies. In Moneyball, Hoffman plays Art, team man­ager of the Oakland Athletics, left behind when his boss – Brad Pitt – decides to throw away dec­ades of base­ball tra­di­tion and use soph­ist­ic­ated stat­ist­ic­al ana­lys­is and a schlubby Yale eco­nom­ics gradu­ate (Jonah Hill) to pick cheap but effect­ive players.

Hoffman steals every scene he is in but dis­ap­pears from the story too early. Having said that, Pitt and Hill do great work under­play­ing recog­nis­ably real people and all are well-supported by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s script which has scene after scene of great moments, even if some of them lead nowhere (like poor Art’s arc). Moneyball might start out a sports movie but it’s actu­ally a busi­ness text­book. If the place you work at clings to received wis­dom, exper­i­ence and intu­ition over “facts” then organ­ise an out­ing to Moneyball as fast as you can.

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Review: The Chronicles of Narnia- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Easy A, Megamind, Rare Exports and Skyline

By Cinema and Reviews

After the unusu­al occur­rence last week of actu­ally lik­ing everything, reg­u­lar read­ers will be reas­sured that nor­mal nit-picking ser­vice is resumed this week.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader posterFirstly, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third in the series of big budget adapt­a­tions of CS Lewis’ beloved alleg­or­ies (and the first to screen in 3D). Roughly three years after the last film ended two of our hero­ic child-royals are returned to Narnia via a magic oil paint­ing of a ship at sea.

Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Lucy (Georgie Henley) and their annoy­ing cous­in Eustace (played with gusto by young Will Poulter) arrive in Narnia to join the Dawn Treader on a search for the sev­en lords (and sev­en swords) who will finally unite all the war­ring coun­tries and bring peace, etc., etc. All is much as you would expect from the pre­vi­ous install­ments, apart from the fact that Caspian (Ben Barnes) has lost that annoy­ing vaguely Mediterranean accent and the talk­ing mouse Reepicheep now sounds like Simon Pegg instead of Eddie Izzard.

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Review: The Killer Inside Me, After the Waterfall, Jackass 3D and City Island

By Cinema and Reviews

The Killer Inside Me posterMichael Winterbottom some­how man­ages to make a film a year and, while the qual­ity can go up and down a bit, his work is nev­er less than interesting.

He’s most fam­ous for Tristram Shandy (with Steve Coogan) and the sexu­ally expli­cit 9 Songs, but my favour­ites are his Klondike ver­sion of The Mayor of Casterbridge (The Claim) and the people-trafficking pseudo-verité of In This World. Already this year we’ve seen his 2008 mis­fire Genova (Colin Firth, moody and bereaved) and right now we have The Killer Inside Me, a mis­an­throp­ic Texas noir based on a fam­ous pulp nov­el by Jim Thompson.

Babyfaced Casey Affleck (the cow­ardly assas­sin who killed Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) plays anoth­er Ford, Central City Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford, son of the town’s respec­ted GP and pil­lar of West Texas society.

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Review: Inglourious Basterds, The Age of Stupid and Departures

By Cinema and Reviews

Inglourious Basterds posterPlaying like the fever-dream of an obsess­ive teen­ager fallen asleep after read­ing a stack of Commando com­ics late at night, pos­sibly after too much cheese, Inglourious Basterds is anoth­er con­tender for most enter­tain­ing film of the year. In a 17 year career that includes only six actu­al fea­ture films (if you count Kill Bill as one), Quentin Jerome Tarantino has ded­ic­ated him­self to prov­ing that fol­low­ing the rules is a path made for fools and sis­sies. If only more film­makers were listening.

QT him­self has described Inglourious Basterds as a spa­ghetti west­ern med­it­a­tion on the war film and that’s as good a descrip­tion as any, I sup­pose. In Chapter One we meet wicked Nazi “Jew hunter” Hans Lander (Christoph Waltz – a rev­el­a­tion) as he forces a nervous French dairy farm­er to reveal the hid­ing place of a loc­al Jewish fam­ily. It’s a great set-piece open­ing, tense but leavened with moments of absurdity and it gets you in the mood for the thrill­ing non­sense that is to come.

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Review: Holiday Cinema Summary

By Cinema and Reviews

Australia posterAustralia (Evidently, mod­ern Australia was built on racism, bigotry, cor­rup­tion and alco­hol). Not the débâcle that some media would have you believe, Straya is an old-fashioned epic that looks right at home on the big Embassy screen. If only Baz Luhrman the dir­ect­or had more con­fid­ence in Luhrman the writer, he might have avoided some of the more OTT moments by let­ting a good story tell itself. The film also suf­fers from a lack of Russell Crowe (not some­thing you can say all that often). A rough­er, nas­ti­er per­form­ance would have suited the char­ac­ter of the Drover bet­ter but might also pro­voked some­thing a little less sim­per­ing from Nicole Kidman. Hugh Jackman is a fine enough act­or (and is neces­sar­ily Australian), he’s just tra­gic­ally miscast.

Benjamin Button posterThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt is born old and grows phys­ic­ally young­er all the while touch­ing the lives of the people around him). Other com­ment­at­ors have already made the obvi­ous com­par­is­ons between Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump, but the dis­ap­point­ment I felt on leav­ing the theatre was palp­able. Despite the evid­ent tech­nic­al mas­tery on dis­play and a win­ning per­form­ance by Brad Pitt, the film falls well short of its own expect­a­tions, in fact I would argue that Yes Man is actu­ally more profound.

Yes Man posterYes Man (Jim Carrey finds love and ful­fil­ment by not say­ing “no”). Proves that achiev­ing mod­est aims is often more sat­is­fy­ing than fall­ing short with more ambi­tious pro­jects. The pres­ence of Rhys Darby adds half a star and the won­der­ful Zooey Deschanel adds a whole extra one. Great indie soundtrack too.

Bolt posterBolt (TV hero dog dis­cov­ers he does­n’t actu­ally have super powers). The most fun of the hol­i­days can be found by slip­ping on the Readings’ polar­ized 3D glasses and enjoy­ing the Disney car­toon romp Bolt. Unlike the lead-footed Desperaux, Bolt zips along with plenty of visu­al and verbal pan­ache. The 3D isn’t too gim­micky and does the job of bring­ing you into the film (or if you prefer, mak­ing every­one else in the theatre disappear).

The Tale of Desperaux posterThe Tale of Desperaux (big-eared mouse res­cues Princess, saves king­dom). On Sunday the morn­ing, of those queued at the Empire in Island Bay 100% of the kids chose Bolt, 100% of the review­ers chose The Tale of Desperaux and the kids got the bet­ter part of the deal. Alone in the cinema I killed time by try­ing to work out which act­or’s voice I was listen­ing to: any­one know what William H. Macy sounds like?

Waltz with Bashir posterWaltz with Bashir (war vet­er­an inter­views old bud­dies to try and remem­ber a sup­pressed past). The best film of the hol­i­days actu­ally opened before the break but after my last dead­line of the old year. An anim­ated explor­a­tion of one of the many Israeli wars against their neigh­bours and the tricks played by memory, WWB has many images that linger in the mind, ready to re-emerge whenev­er I see a news­pa­per head­line about the cur­rent situ­ation in Gaza.

The Spirit posterThe Spirit (rook­ie cop is brought back to life with an eye for the ladies). You won’t have seen a film quite like The Spirit before, not one that was any good at least. A cross between the stark, CGI-noir of Sin City with the corny humour of the 60s Batman, if you’ve ever wanted to see Samuel L. Jackson camp­ing it up in full Nazi regalia this is the film for you. For the rest of us, not so much.

Bedtime Stories posterBedtime Stories (Hotel handy­man’s stor­ies for his neph­ew and niece come true the next day). The need for a PG rat­ing cramps Adam Sandler’s style some­what and the money the pro­du­cers obvi­ously saved on cine­ma­to­graphy went on some class Brit-actors includ­ing Richard Griffiths and Jonathan Pryce.

Twilight posterTwilight (Tale of a teen­age girl arriv­ing in a new town, befriended by, and then fall­ing in love with, the loc­al vam­pire). Evidently the Twilight young-adult nov­els are some kind of phe­nomen­on but I was more than mildly diver­ted by the cine­mat­ic ver­sion. I liked the sense of place (the cold and rainy Pacific North West) and the lack of urgency about the story-telling – tak­ing its own sweet time. The fact that the primary rela­tion­ship is between an adoles­cent girl and a 100-year-old man (no mat­ter how beau­ti­ful and young-looking) did man­age to creep me out though, more so than the ‘cradle-snatching’ in Benjamin Button.

Frost/Nixon posterFrost/Nixon (Famous inter­view saves Frost’s career and fin­ishes Nixon’s). A film of primary interest to 70s con­spir­acy the­ory buffs and act­ors look­ing for a mas­ter­class. Frank Langella does Richard M. Nixon per­fectly des­pite bear­ing little resemb­lance to the real per­son and Michael Sheen and Rebecca Hall add to their grow­ing repu­ta­tions. The Frost/Nixon inter­views had plenty of drama of their own but this film pads it all out with events and con­ver­sa­tions that did­n’t happen.

Vicky Christina Barcelona posterVicky Cristina Barcelona (Gap year American girls find love in Catalonia). There was a time when the name Woody Allen was a guar­an­tee of high-brow qual­ity and it’s a sign of the times that the excel­lent Vicky Cristina Barcelona is being sold to the pub­lic with no men­tion of his name at all. As it turns out VCB is pretty damn fine – a witty and intel­li­gent script that plays out like a deftly dram­at­ised New Yorker short story.

The Dinner Guest posterThe Dinner Guest (Simple couple turn posh to impress the new Boss). The French movies we get here seem to be more obsessed with class than any­thing from England and The Dinner Guest is no excep­tion. The twist in this case is that our her­oes are so uncul­tured they could be, I don’t know, English. Betrays its stage ori­gins so much so I might have been watch­ing it at Circa.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 January, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I am pleased to report that everything was well presen­ted (the print for Vicky Cristina Barcelona might have been a little too rough for the big Embassy screen). The digit­al 3D Bolt had some strange mask­ing issues which nobody at Readings could explain to me, and I only noticed dur­ing the clos­ing cred­its so no de-merit points apply.

Review: Four Holidays, Quarantine, High School Musical- Senior Year and Suddenly

By Cinema and Reviews

Four Holidays posterDollar for dol­lar (if not lb for lb) Vince Vaughan is the biggest star in Hollywood. For every dol­lar inves­ted in a Vaughan film he returns four­teen mak­ing him a bet­ter bet than Cruise, Pitt, Clooney or Roberts. It’s easy to see why he’s so pop­u­lar – his easy-going every­man qual­ity annoys few­er people than Carrey and choices like Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers are pretty safe. Even last year’s Fred Claus was a rare watch­able Christmas film and this year he repeats the dose with Four Holidays (aka Four Christmases).

Vaughan, and co-star Reese Witherspoon, are DINKs (double-income-no-kids) who main­tain their cool life­style by avoid­ing their respect­ive fam­il­ies like the plague. When an unex­pec­ted air­port clos­ure reveals their plans to party in Fiji instead of feed­ing the third world, they are obliged to make four dif­fer­ent vis­its on Christmas Day, for­cing them to con­front the weirdos, sad­sacks and ding­bats that make up their respect­ive families.

I think I’m out of step with most oth­er crit­ics (not unusu­al and not a bad thing) but I enjoyed myself watch­ing Four Holidays – Vaughan and Witherspoon actu­ally make a believ­able couple and the sup­port­ing cast (includ­ing fine act­ors like Robert Duvall and Kristin Chenoweth along with coun­try stars Dwight Yoakam and Tim McGraw) has plenty of energy.

Quarantine posterTen years ago, before he became the darling of the Hollywood Hedge Fund set, Vaughan’s career nearly stalled when he played Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s ill-advised frame-for-frame remake of Psycho. After the see­ing the trail­er for Quarantine, I was half expect­ing it to give a sim­il­ar treat­ment to the Spanish shock­er [REC] (which promp­ted messy evac­u­ations earli­er in the year) but hap­pily it diverges enough to mer­it its own review.

A tv crew is fol­low­ing an LA fire depart­ment for the night when they are sent to an apart­ment build­ing where mys­ter­i­ous screams are eman­at­ing from one of the flats. Soon after they arrive, the author­it­ies shut the build­ing down to pre­vent the rabies-like infec­tion from spread­ing, leav­ing the res­id­ents, fire-fighters and the media to their own devices.

Stronger in char­ac­ter devel­op­ment but slightly weak­er in shock value, Quarantine will be worth a look if you found you couldn’t read the sub­titles in [REC] because you had your hands over your eyes.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year posterHigh School Musical 3: Senior Year is the first of the legendary Disney fran­chise to make it to the big screen but the for­mula hasn’t changed one bit. Well scrubbed High School kids in Albuquerque put on a show which might send one of them to Julliard. The music runs the full gamut of cur­rent pop music styles from Britney to the Backstreet Boys (without the spark of either) and the kids dis­play a full range of emo­tions from A to B. HSM is betrayed by a lack of ambi­tion mar­ried to relent­less, obsess­ive, com­mit­ment to com­pet­ence but, at almost two hours, I sus­pect it will be too long for most tween blad­ders to hold out.

Suddenly posterDepression is a chal­len­ging top­ic for film (the symp­toms are un-cinematic and recov­ery often takes the form of baby steps which are dif­fi­cult to dram­at­ise) but Swedish drama Suddenly makes a decent fist of it. Nine months after the car he was driv­ing crashed, tak­ing the lives of his wife and young­est son, eye doc­tor Lasse (Michael Nyqvist) is fall­ing apart. After what looks like a failed sui­cide attempt, his par­ents advise him to take his remain­ing son (sens­it­ive 15 year old Jonas played by Anastasios Soulis) to his hol­i­day house for the Summer to see if he can take one last chance to heal him­self and the family.

Lasse throws him­self into repair­ing the beaten up old row­boat while Jonas falls for the (entirely Swedish look­ing blonde) loc­al black sheep Helena (Moa Gammel). Despite the appar­ent energy of the title, Suddenly takes its time get­ting any­where but rewards perseverance.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 10 December, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I’m stoked to report that Suddenly was the first film I’d seen in the Vogue Lounge at the Penthouse since my dis­ap­point­ing exper­i­ence with Smart People back in August and, des­pite some print wear, the present­a­tion was per­fect. Well done Penthouse.