Back before the days of “Iron Chef”, “Masterchef” and “Hell’s Kitchen”, television’s top food expert was a very tall, slightly ungainly, woman who sounded a little drunk. She was Julia Child and in the 60s she taught America how to cook. In an era where tv dinners, pre-prepared sauces and easy cake mixes were top of a busy housewife’s shopping list, Child produced the almighty tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking which went on to sell millions of copies and make her a legend.
A little later on, 2002 in fact, New Yorker Julie Powell started an online project to reproduce every recipe in the famous cookbook (over 500 of them) in a single year. Nora Ephron’s new film Julie & Julia skilfully merges the two stories, freely noting the parallels between them, and managing to produce a warm and witty film that honours the remarkable Child.
This 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).
In 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).
One 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.”
Roald 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).
Most 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.
The 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.
Eagle vs Shark carries a great burden of expectation: Taika Waititi’s Oscar nomination, invitations to Sundance, international Miramax support, pointless comparisons with Napoleon Dynamite. A film with less heart than this one could easily collapse under all that weight but this Eagle soars.
Loren Horsley is Lily, a hopeless romantic with her heart set on Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) from the video game shop a few doors down. Unfortunately, Jarrod’s a dick but she sees something in him and, over the course of a lovely and sad little film, teases it out despite all good sense telling her to run a mile. EVS is full of great (mostly small) comic moments and observations and on the rare occasions when something doesn’t quite work it’s easy to ride with it. A wonderful, unusual, soundtrack from The Phoenix Foundation, too.
Also not-to-be-missed is Ten Canoes, the first genuinely indigenous film ever to come out of Australia. The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in Northern Territory collaborated with Rolf de Heer (The Tracker) to tell one of their own stories — and tell it their own way — and the result is beautiful and human and scatalogically funny. A reminder of what cinema can achieve when it is set free.
After a 12 year layoff Bruce Willis finally returns to the role that catapulted him to superstardom (and off the top of several exploding buildings) in Die Hard 4.0 (also known as Live Free or Die Hard in countries that still care about freedom). The technology-terrorism premise might as well be flower-arranging for all the sense it makes, but it gets us to the meat which is John McClane being an ass, taking a beating and blowing stuff up. It pushes most of the right Die Hard buttons, but in the end that’s all it manages to do — push buttons.
Michael Moore has been getting a hard time recently for all sorts of reasons (not making “proper” balanced documentaries, not fronting up to those who would turn his tactics back on him) but the criticism is misguided. Moore isn’t really a documentarian — he’s a polemicist. In his eyes he’s fighting a war for the ordinary citizen against an entrenched and corrupt capitalist super-state. Why should he ever have to fight fair? There is enormous wickedness and injustice in this world and if it takes Moore and a few low-blows to help turn that around then I’m all for it. As it turns out, Sicko is the best of his films to date with fewer of the cheap stunts that arm his critics and a finale in Cuba with some 9/11 rescue workers that I found quite moving.
Of course, there are no greater heroes in our modern age than New York fire-fighters which is why it was a smart move by Adam Sandler’s team to set their (ahem) sensitive plea for tolerance, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, among them. Larry (Kevin James) is a widower and the City bureaucracy won’t let him make his kids beneficiaries of his insurance. But if he goes to Canada and marries his best friend Chuck (Sandler) he can somehow sort it all out. This is, of course, fraud and when they are investigated the duo learn a lot about intolerance as well as the, er, gay lifestyle choice. My favourite moment in a movie sprinkled with a handful was the cameo appearance by closeted gay icon (and the first Jason Bourne) Richard Chamberlain as the judge at the hearing.
Finally, Te Radar is a micro-budget (and micro-scale) Michael Moore in Destiny in Motion, a thin documentary about the birth of the Destiny New Zealand political party and the connections (fairly obvious) with Bishop Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church. The irony of this exposé of pentecostal political manipulation playing at the Paramount (a venue that now turns into a happy-clappy Church every Sunday) was not lost on me.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 15 August, 2007.
Full disclosure: Like many people in Wellington, and the motion picture industry, I count Loren and Taika as mates; I used to co-own the Paramount; Ten Canoes is distributed by Richard Dalton at Palace/Fresh Films who is also a mate.
Why is this man smiling? “Er, Victoria, a pigeon’s just crapped on my shoulder.”
Presenting the first of my weekly (weakly?) lists of stuff I’ve stumbled across via the web over the last seven days.
Firstly, it is unlikely that I will be purchasing the new red England away top despite my being a prime candidate (I bought the 2002 reversable version and still wear the blue side). Even though it is un homage to the classic 1966 World Cup winning shirt it’s still too busy for me. What is it with the little white “thing” on the right shoulder and the Umbro logo is as wide and prominent as the three lions? And they have persevered with the tiny gold star which made the last shirt seem like it belonged to the People’s Republic of China. Anyway, on to the interesting stuff:
The Guardian talks to Underworld, Ray Davies, Pete Shelley, Richard X, Johnny Marr, Nick Hodgson, Rhymefest, Peter Hook, Tony Hicks, Gary Numan, Ron Mael and KT Tunstall about how some of their signature tunes came to be:
“The drum pattern was ripped off from a Donna Summer B‑side. We’d finished the drum pattern and we were really happy, then Steve accidentally kicked out the drum machine lead so we had to start from scratch and it was never as good.” (Peter Hook from New Order talking about “Blue Monday”)
“Not only is there a premature gear change after the second chorus, but towards the end of the song there are a further two in a row. They’re so ill-advised that you can hear the nervousness in his wavering voice as he tries to resist each time. All it achieves, though, is the effect of everything going horribly out of tune. I’m not absolutely certain that the word “cacophonic” exists, but that’s the most apt way to sum up this atrocity.”
WFMU’s “Beware of the Blog” uses Google Earth to locate ten favourite movie locations including the cliff Bud Cort drove his car off at the end of Harold and Maude, the waterfall pool that Michael York and Jenny Agutter dive into at the end of Logan’s Run and the bank and street from Dog Day Afternoon. I can’t run Google Earth on this ageing PowerBook but I look forward to soon joining the 21st Century. Maybe even next week.
255. Casting a black Desdemona alongside a black Othello is kind of missing the point a bit.
256. The Montague clan are not aliens. No, really, they’re not.
257. No matter how much homoerotic subtext has been built up over the course of the play, I will not end Richard II by having Henry pull Richard’s dead body out of a pool of water, having him proceed to lie on top of it, and then roll, the one over the other, all over the stage in complete silence until the curtain comes to hide them from the audience’s bleeding eyes.
Finally, not only has someone in a feature film got my name, he’s the title character – and this is a film with Bruce Willis and Ben Kingsley! Some people are used to sharing the same name as characters on screen (I know an Anderson and a Harper who must be sick of it) but will be a new experience for me.