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Review: Skyfall, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Compliance

By Cinema and Reviews

Skyfall posterSometimes this job can really suck all the enjoy­ment of the movies right out of you. After an extremely agree­able after­noon watch­ing the new Bond film, Skyfall – and mak­ing plans to see it again quick-smart – I remembered that before the week­end was out I was going to have to pick holes in it for your entertainment.

And to be hon­est, I don’t really feel like it. Partly because it’s an extremely enter­tain­ing block­buster pop­corn movie, also because it walks the fine line between hon­our­ing and rein­vent­ing Bond’s 22 film myth­o­logy, but mainly because it often becomes a really good prop­er film with char­ac­ters and drama and act­ing and that.

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Telluride Diary part three: The journey (part two)

By Cinema and Travel

As I write the Telluride Film Festival pro­gramme has been released so I had bet­ter fin­ish my notes about the jour­ney before I get left behind.

When we left our hero he was sit­ting in a Motel6 in Denver about to depart for the sev­en and a half hour drive to Telluride. But first, errands to be run.

I always planned to get a US sim card for my phone so I could con­tin­ue tweet­ing etc from the road (and also use the phone for nav­ig­a­tion) and got con­flict­ing advice from vari­ous people and web­sites about the belt­way to do it. There’s an entire post to be writ­ten on how I even­tu­ally (sort of) man­aged it, suf­fice to say for now it took vis­its to four dif­fer­ent retail­ers and much driv­ing to finally sort it out. And it does­n’t work in the Telluride town so there’s a con­stant search for wifi while I’m here.

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Tone’s “50 blu-rays you must own” - UPDATED

By Cinema and Home Theatre

Tone Magazine - September coverOf Tone Magazine’s 50 “must own” blu-rays 13 are not actu­ally avail­able in New Zealand leg­ally, or won’t play on NZ pur­chased play­ers due to region cod­ing. Which is a bit of a waste of time, don’t you think? They also man­age to spell Criterion incor­rectly right the way through art­icle which adds insult to injury.

After the jump, the list (the art­icle itself is not online):

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Review: Quantum of Solace, The Savages, Caramel, The Band’s Visit and My Best Friend’s Girl

By Cinema and Reviews

Quantum of Solcae posterAfter des­troy­ing much of Venice in the cli­max to Casino Royale, Daniel Craig as 007 James Bond kicks off Quantum of Solace by hav­ing a damn good crack at beau­ti­ful renais­sance Siena. Picking up almost imme­di­ately after he left off fol­low­ing the death of his beloved Vesper, Bond is char­ging around the world seek­ing answers and revenge (in no par­tic­u­lar order).

Prior view­ing of Casino Royale is pretty much man­dat­ory in order to fully appre­ci­ate Eon EON & Craig’s text­book rein­ven­tion of the enig­mat­ic, bru­tal­ised, middle-class orphan (with the pub­lic school schol­ar­ship edu­ca­tion) who found a fam­ily in the Special Forces and a pur­pose in life ‘on her majesty’s secret ser­vice’. Thankfully Craig has dis­covered a little sense of humour in the inter­im but this isn’t a film with time for much reflection.

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Review: The Incredible Hulk, In the Valley of Elah, The Happening, Outsourced and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Incredible Hulk posterI think we can safely call a halt to these semi-annual Hulk movies now – the new one is good enough that we can all move on (Ant-Man is evid­ently next). The Incredible Hulk is Marvel’s attempt to wrestle back the fran­chise that got away from them under Ang Lee in 2003 and even­tu­ally re-unify the Marvel uni­verse under the suave, unstop­pable box office force of Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man. To retrieve The Hulk, Marvel cast Hollywood’s weedi­est lead­ing man, Edward Norton (Fight Club), not real­ising that Norton also has a repu­ta­tion as a bit of a med­dler who then re-wrote the script and sat in on the editing.

The res­ult, as you might expect, is a bit of a noisy mess, but far from dis­astrous. After a splen­didly con­densed open­ing title sequence which takes us through the back-story of the ori­gin­al exper­i­ments that Gamma-ized poor Bruce Banner, we meet him on the run in Brazil, labour­ing in a bot­tling plant, tak­ing anger man­age­ment classes and col­lab­or­at­ing online with a mys­ter­i­ous sci­ent­ist who may hold the key to a cure. Unfortunately for him, the General (a suit­ably comic-book per­form­ance by William Hurt) arrives with a squad to take him home. This makes him angry, of course, and unleashes the green beast within.

If any­thing, it is more respect­ful of the TV series than the com­ic book, fea­tur­ing cameos from ori­gin­al Hulk Lou Ferrigno and a clunky posthum­ous cameo from TV Banner Bill Bixby. In fact, look­ing back on it the film spends more time hon­our­ing the past than it does driv­ing into the future, often fall­ing prey to cutesy touches like hav­ing Norton Anti-Virus fire up when Banner logs on to a com­puter. Chief Villain Tim Roth looks like Chelsea own­er Roman Abramovich, which makes his char­ac­ter name, The Abomination, per­fectly apt.

In the Valley of Elah posterPaul Haggis cre­ated the Oscar-winning Crash back in 2004 and, after help­ing rein­vent Bond in Casino Royale, has gone back to the polit­ic­al well with the heart­felt In the Valley of Elah, star­ring Tommy Lee Jones. Jones plays former Army invest­ig­at­or Hank Deerfield. His son has just returned from Iraq but imme­di­ately gone AWOL so Hank travels across Texas to find him. What he dis­cov­ers shakes his faith in his coun­try and the mil­it­ary and (I’m guess­ing) is sup­posed to have some meta­phor­ic weight about the state of the nation and the world and it prob­ably does. I was one of many who found Crash to be appalling, un-watchable, rub­bish but Elah (per­haps because it does­n’t try and do so much) is better.

While Haggis wears his heart on his sleeve, what he really needs is a copy edit­or on his shoulder. Someone needs to tell him that when you cast someone as soul­ful as Tommy Lee Jones you can just let him tell the audi­ence what is going on with his eyes – you don’t then have to then verb­al­ise it in the next shot. Probably an easy mis­take to make when you are a writer first and a dir­ect­or second…

The Happening posterIf Haggis needs a copy edit­or then M. Night Shyamalan needs a secur­ity guard on the door of his office, hold­ing the keys to his type­writer. The Happening is an eco-thriller about a mys­ter­i­ous “event” that causes people across the North East of America to lose their minds and then do away with them­selves. Among those caught up in the mess is high school sci­ence teach­er Mark Wahlberg who thinks the mys­ter­i­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of America’s bee pop­u­la­tion might have some­thing to do with it.

Shyamalan has obvi­ous tal­ent as a dir­ect­or: he has an eye for an arrest­ing image and has seen enough Hitchcock to con­struct effect­ive set-pieces but he can­’t write dia­logue that human beings can actu­ally say which con­tinu­ally drops the audi­ence out of the moment. Luckily, whenev­er I lost con­nec­tion to the story, there was Zooey Deschanel (as Wahlberg’s wife), whose elec­tric blue eyes should be cat­egor­ised as an altern­at­ive fuel source.

Outsourced posterOutsourced is return­ing to cinemas after a brief turn at the World Cinema Showcase. It’s a beguil­ing tale of a Seattle call centre man­ager (Josh Hamilton) who has to go to India to train his replace­ment when the nov­elty com­pany he works for relo­cates “ful­fil­ment” to Gwaripur. The usu­al cross-cultural mis­un­der­stand­ings occur but the char­ac­ters all grow on you, much like India grows on our hero.

You Don't Mess With The Zohan posterFinally, legendary social com­ment­at­or Adam Sandler takes on anoth­er press­ing polit­ic­al issue (after gay mar­riage in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry) and helps solve the con­flict in the Middle East with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, a hit and miss com­edy that is mostly hit for a change. Sandler is the Zohan, num­ber one Israeli counter-terrorist oper­at­ive, who is tired of the end­less con­flict and yearns to emu­late his hero (Paul Mitchell), cut hair in New York and make everything “silky smooth”. So he fakes his own death and smuggles his way in to America where the only job he can get is in a Palestinian salon. His unortho­dox meth­ods with the ladies soon make him very pop­u­lar indeed but the con­flict is nev­er far away.

There are plenty of jokes per minute and the relent­less teas­ing of Israelis for their love of fizzy drinks, hum­mus, disco and hacky-sack is pretty entertaining.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 18 June 2008.

Nature of con­flict: Outsourced is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I do a little work for now and then.

Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, American Gangster, After the Wedding, Clubland, Death at a Funeral, Alien vs. Predator- Requiem, Elsa & Fred and Lust, Caution

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Sweeney Todd poster2008 is shap­ing up to be a year of great films about people being beastly to each oth­er and the first cab off the rank is Tim Burton’s majest­ic adapt­a­tion of Sondheim’s broad­way opera Sweeney Todd. Based on the true-ish story of the Victorian barber who murders his cus­tom­ers to provide fresh meat for his girlfriend’s pies, Sweeney Todd is pos­it­ively Shakespearian in scale – meaty, sav­age, sin­is­ter and poignant.
Johnny Depp plays the tal­en­ted scissor-man who returns to London 15 years after he was trans­por­ted to the colon­ies by crooked Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) who had desires on his pretty wife. Consumed with a pas­sion for revenge Todd goes back to work above the shop selling London’s worst pies, made by the redoubt­able Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). There, more by acci­dent than design, they dis­cov­er that his skills with a razor might be prof­it­able in more ways than one.

Sondheim’s music and lyr­ics are as good as any oth­er writ­ing for the stage in the last cen­tury and the film ver­sion hon­ours that tal­ent uncon­di­tion­ally. When young Toby (Ed Sanders) sings “Not While I’m Around” (prob­ably the most beau­ti­ful song ever writ­ten) to Mrs Lovett you can see the look in her eyes that shows he has just sealed his own fate, the tem­per­at­ure in the theatre seemed to drop a few degrees. Not just any­one can pull that off.

American Gangster poster

The best of the rest at the moment is Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, a pacy and obser­v­ant look at the life of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), Harlem’s most notori­ous and suc­cess­ful drug deal­er of the 1970s. Russell Crowe plays Richie Roberts, the only hon­est cop in New York. It’s an inter­est­ing story well told by three cha­ris­mat­ic film personalities.

After the Wedding poster

After the Wedding is a lovely, layered drama from Denmark star­ring the watch­able Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) as an aid work­er at an Indian orphan­age who is summoned back to Copenhagen by a mys­ter­i­ous bil­lion­aire (Rolf Lassgård). Lassgård wants to donate enough money to save the pro­gramme – mil­lions of dol­lars – but there are strings attached. Those strings turn out to be less nefar­i­ous than they seem at first but the choice that Mikkelsen’s Jacob has to make is still a heart-breaking one. Totally recommended.

Clubland poster

Totally un-recommended is the Australian comedy-drama Clubland about an unusu­al show­biz fam­ily led by dom­in­eer­ing moth­er Brenda Blethyn. Asinine in con­cep­tion and hor­rible in exe­cu­tion, it struggles to get one good per­form­ance out the entire cast put together.

Death at a Funeral posterDeath at a Funeral isn’t much bet­ter, although a couple of per­form­ances (Peter Dinklage and a doughy Matthew McFadyen) rise above the cheap and nasty script. The funer­al is for McFadyen’s fath­er and vari­ous friends and fam­ily mem­bers have assembled to form a quor­um of English ste­reo­types. Standard farce ele­ments like mis­taken iden­tity and acci­dent­al drug-taking are shoe-horned togeth­er with the help of some poo jokes.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem poster

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem man­aged to dis­ap­pear from my memory about as soon as I left the theatre with my ears still ringing from the noise. An Alien pod being trans­por­ted across the galaxy crash lands in Colorado and starts lay­ing eggs – cause that’s just how they roll. A creature from the Predator home-world tries to clean up the mess and a whole bunch of ran­dom cit­izens get caught in the middle. All the sig­na­ture moments from the ori­gin­al Alien (the chest-bursting, the almost-kissing a whim­per­ing young woman) are repeated often, to dimin­ish­ing effect and, I know I some­times see cine­mat­ic racism every­where, is it really neces­sary for both malevol­ent extra-terrestrial races to look like big black men with dreadlocks?

Elsa & Fred poster

There’s a fact­ory in China, I’m sure, stamp­ing out films like Elsa & Fred on a weekly basis, mak­ing subtle cul­tur­al and gen­er­a­tion­al changes where neces­sary but pre­serving the for­mula like it’s Coca Cola. And fair enough as these films will always sell: un-challenging, easy to decipher, vaguely life-affirming. Elsa (China Zorrilla) is a batty old woman in a Madrid apart­ment block. Fred (Manuel Alexandre) is the quiet wid­ower who moves in oppos­ite. She decides to point him back the dir­ec­tion of life and he tries to make her dreams come true before it is too late.

Lust, Caution poster

Finally, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is an extremely well-made but over­long erot­ic thrill­er set in Japanese-occupied China dur­ing WWII. Stunning new­comer Wei Tang plays Wong Chia Chi, per­suaded in a moment of youth­ful, pat­ri­ot­ic weak­ness to join a stu­dent res­ist­ance group. She is sent under­cov­er to try and woo the mys­ter­i­ous Mr Yee (Tony Leung) who is a seni­or offi­cial col­lab­or­at­ing with the Japanese occu­pa­tion forces. Unfortunately, for them both he is inter­ested but a chal­len­ging mark and it is sev­er­al years before she can get close enough to him (and believe me she gets very close) for the res­ist­ance to strike. Ang Lee is the poet of the stolen glance and he is in very good form – I just wish it hadn’t taken quite so long to get going.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 23 January, 2008.

Nature of Conflict: After the Wedding is dis­trib­uted in NZ and Australia by Arkles Entertainment who I do some work for; Clubland is dis­trib­uted in Australia and NZ by Palace whose NZ activ­it­ies are looked after by the excel­lent Richard Dalton, who is a good mate.

At present Reading Cinemas are not offer­ing press passes to the Capital Times. This means that their exclus­ive releases (such as Cloverfield) will go un-reviewed unless I can work some­thing out with them or the dis­trib­ut­or. Maybe I’ll just down­load them …