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Review: Man of Steel, Everybody Has a Plan and White Lies

By Cinema and Reviews

Viggo Mortensen in Everybody Has a Plan

Man of Steel is a self-consciously epic re-imagining of the Superman story, first told in print in the 1930s and most recently rebooted on screen by Bryan Singer as Superman Returns just pri­or to the com­mence­ment of my review­ing career in 2006. It’s remark­able both for the scale of the pro­duc­tion, the stakes for pro­du­cers DC and Warner Bros, and for the degree to which I dis­liked it. Usually, I don’t get too riled up about block­buster com­ic book fantasy pic­tures – they are either more enter­tain­ing or less – but this one got under my skin so much I was actu­ally quite angry by the time the clos­ing cred­its finally rolled.

Man of Steel posterI don’t have room here (because there are actu­al good films I’d rather talk about) to tear the Man of Steel apart but I will float a few thoughts that have been both­er­ing me recently about block­buster movies gen­er­ally: It seems to me that the huge amounts of com­put­ing horsepower that dir­ect­ors have at their fin­ger­tips nowadays is being used, for the most part, to des­troy.

[pullquote]Man of Steel delights in destruc­tion, reel­ing off 9/11 trauma-triggering moments with reck­less abandon.[/pullquote]I’m get­ting very tired of watch­ing build­ings, streets and even entire cit­ies razed digit­ally to the ground without a second thought for the (admit­tedly still digit­al) people inhab­it­ing them. This is an arms race and some­how dir­ect­ors (like MoS’s Zack Snyder) have decided that every new tent­pole needs to use even more ima­gin­a­tion to des­troy even more stuff and kill even more people who will go unmourned by the her­oes sup­posedly there to pro­tect them.

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Review: Rust and Bone, A Lady in Paris and Jack the Giant Slayer

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s no dis­grace to come second at Cannes to Michael Haneke’s Amour, espe­cially so when your film is Rust and Bone. Writer-director Jacques Audiard has a track record of unset­tling and con­front­ing dra­mas, start­ing (for New Zealand audi­ences) with Read My Lips in 2001 and – most recently – pris­on drama A Prophet in 2009. Rust and Bone is equally rugged but with some beauty to bal­ance the viol­ence and despair.

Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard is the big name on the mar­quee but the film really belongs to Matthias Schoenaerts who lays down a por­trait of wounded mas­culin­ity as riv­et­ing as any of De Niro’s clas­sic per­form­ances. He’s Alain, a drift­er and waster who lands in pic­tur­esque Antibes with his young son. He’s use­ful in a scrap but use­less as a par­ent and some of the most dif­fi­cult scenes in the film are of him fail­ing to look after the boy.

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Review: X-Men: First Class, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

By Cinema and Reviews

We’re at that time of year when the big stu­di­os role out block­buster after block­buster so that Americans look­ing to escape the stifling heat will choose to find com­fort in cinema air-conditioning and we in New Zealand hope that the cinemas are warm­er than our lounge rooms.

Apart from the Spielberg/Abrams col­lab­or­a­tion Super 8 (next week, folks) all of the big­gies this sea­son are either sequels or com­ic book adapt­a­tions, demon­strat­ing that des­pite all indic­a­tions the bot­tom of the bar­rel hasn’t quite been scraped yet.

X-Men: Furst Class posterAfter three X‑Men films and a hor­rendous Wolverine spin-off Marvel/Fox have gone back to the begin­ning in the now tra­di­tion­al fran­chise re-boot strategy per­fec­ted by Batman and stuffed up com­pletely by Bryan Singer with Superman Returns.

It’s 1962 and the Cold War is heat­ing up. In Oxford a smarmy super-intelligent booze-hound (James McAvoy) is scor­ing with girls thanks to his abil­ity to read minds. The CIA asks him for some help unrav­el­ling the mys­tery of some unex­plained phe­nom­ena in Las Vegas and is per­turbed to dis­cov­er they get his freaky mind con­trol powers as well as his ana­lys­is – and his “sis­ter” Raven (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone) who has the abil­ity to change shape at will.

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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!