Now, Blue Jasmine, in which Mr. Allen uses the notorious Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi crimes as inspiration for a story about the fraud’s victims as well as the collateral damage inflicted on a woman oblivious of her own complicity. As the eponymous Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the wife of Alec Baldwin’s shonky NY businessman, their relationship told in flashback while she tries to rebuild her life in her adopted half-sister’s (or something — the relationship seems unnecessarily complicated for something that has no material impact on the story) apartment in an unfashionable area of San Francisco.
[pullquote]As they used to say on television about kittens, “a child isn’t just for Christmas, a child is forever.”[/pullquote]Blanchett unravels beautifully and almost maintains our sympathy despite the repeated evidence that she doesn’t really deserve it. In support, Sally Hawkins as the sister is more watchable than usual and others — notably Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg and Louis C.K. — get moments to shine even though some of those moments can seem a bit repetitive. Mr. Allen’s ear for dialogue seems to have entirely deserted him — these people talk like they’re being quoted in New Yorker articles rather than conversing like living, breathing humans — but the structure is satisfying and Blanchett takes the entire project by the scruff of the neck and makes it her own.
It may be playing in cinemas but I’m not entirely convinced that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — and, by extension, the forthcoming Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again — is actually cinema. At least not cinema the way that this particular old geezer remembers it. First, let us put aside the technological innovation for a few paragraphs and focus on the story. These films have been been created to deliver an experience to existing fans of the Lord of the Rings films and is arguably even more tailored to their needs than, say, the Twilight franchise is to their fans. It certainly makes as few concessions to the neutral.
Fans from Bratislava to Beirut want to spend as much time as possible in Middle Earth and writer-director Peter Jackson delivers — to the extent that several familiar characters make inelegant cameo appearances and the audience gets to spend considerable time acclimatising. It really doesn’t matter that I think the whole thing faffs around for far too long and already feels hyper-extended. Criticising The Hobbit for length is falling in to the trap of reviewing the film you wish you were watching instead of the one in front of you.
Despite my positive review for TT3D last week, I’m not a huge motorsport fan. In 1996 I worked on the last Nissan Mobil 500 race around the waterfront and couldn’t see the appeal of watching cars go belting around the same corner over and over again. In that race you couldn’t even tell who was winning, it was all such a blur. In fact, the only time I’ve ever watched Formula 1 was when I channel surfed on to some late night coverage one Sunday night in 1994 just before going to bed. Two corners (about 30 seconds) later, Ayrton Senna was dead. It was pretty freaky, let me tell you.
So, I knew (as all audiences must) that Asif Kapadia’s brilliant documentary Senna was going to end in tragedy. What I didn’t know was how riveting it was going to be from beginning to end. Senna works because it is first and foremost a portrait of a compelling character — a charismatic, confident but humble young man who understood the risks he took and fought to balance those risks with his innate desire to race and race hard — but when the politics of Formula 1 took the control of those risks out of his hands there you could see there was only going to be one result.
This new Robin Hood is a prequel (or an origin story in the comic book parlance). On his way back from the Crusades with Richard the Lionheart, Robin Longstocking (sorry, Longstride) heads to Nottingham to return a sword. In Richard’s absence, England has fallen in to financial and political ruin and the French are plotting to fill the void with an army massing off the coast and spies in the court.
The two universes of Steven Spielberg’s biggest films of the 70’s and 80’s collide in Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as Harrison Ford’s ageing Indie and young pretender Shia LaBoeuf race Soviet ice Queen Cate Blanchett to the secret resting place of lost extra terrestrials in the heart of the Amazon. There’s even a subtle “ET Phone Home” reference which I found kind of cute. Entertaining and a little sloppy (in a good way), Indy has a middle-aged pace about it, a noticeable change from the current trend towards frenetic, percussive, music video action, allowing plenty of time to develop inventive ways to get Harrison Ford into, and out of, trouble. I wasn’t too upset with LaBoeuf (he certainly isn’t JarJar Binks bad) but you can see he has a way to go before he can muster the sort of effortless charisma his elders offer.
Following the murder of her best friend by her own family in an “honour killing” in Jordan, Norma Khouri escapes to Greece and hastily begins writing a passionate book exposing the practice. The book, Forbidden Love, is published in late 2001 to great acclaim and soon achieves best-seller status but some in Jordan (and in Australia where Norma settles) have questions about the book. Further investigation reveals that nothing in the first 32 words of this paragraph is true and that Norma herself has a more interesting past than she is prepared to own up to. As Norma’s story unravels and the investigation follows her from Bridie Island in Queensland to Chicago and ultimately to Amman in Jordan, you find yourself on a very strange road indeed.
Another non-fiction film, of a completely different order, is the classical music documentary 4. Attempting to rescue Vivaldi’s Four Seasons from TVC cliché, director Tim Slade uses the four movements as a structure to build a portrait of four players, four places and the four seasons themselves. At least that’s what I think the idea is. The problem with the film is that there’s not enough music for it to be a great music movie, there’s not enough insight into the players for the portrait part to work and, while the visuals are often quite beautiful, the film seems to miss the point that four seasons are influential on the human psyche because we see those seasons change from our own perspective and location. Still, 4 is a pleasant enough hour and a half.
A new entry in the digi-indie-home-made kiwi battler category (previous entries include Wairarapa’s When Night Falls last year) is Andy Conlan’s The Last Magic Show. Conlan himself (who also wrote the script) plays Ronnie Roman, an delusional illusionist who may or may not have real mystical powers. His agent, scenery-chewing Michael Hurst, has set him up for a big come-back show but in the interim he is reduced to volunteering at the local hospice and, possibly, falling in love with Nurse March (Georgie Hill). Conlan has a bit of the young Johnny Depp about him in the looks department but, ultimately, his blank performance creates frustration rather than mystery. Good-looking, odd, strangely paced, The Last Magic Show is an intriguing art movie. Perhaps next time, Conlan shouldn’t try and do all the big creative jobs himself — a better director might have challenged him to come up with a few more layers.
I hereby apologise to regular readers for the paucity of updates but a fierce combination of the flu and managing this year’s 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking competition have wiped me out and I’m only just coming up for air. And, I’m well behind on my feature-watching: Mama’s Boy has already been and gone from local screens.
Nature of conflict: Forbidden Lie$ is distributed in New Zealand by Richard Dalton at Palace Films who is a mate and The Last Magic Show and 4 are distributed by Arkles Entertainment who are mates and who I do occasional work for.
My normal, equable, approach to Hollywood blockbuster product has been upset this week by the news that, in a decision of quite breathtaking cynicism, Warner Bros. are going to split the final Harry Potter film (The Deathly Hallows due in 2010) in to two parts and thus, with a wave of a Potter-like wand, make $500m appear where no money was before. Normal service may well be resumed next week but for now I am grumpy and it may show.
Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) leaves his hit-making collaborators, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, behind for a while for his new comedy Run Fatboy Run. He plays loveable waster Dennis Doyle who could easily be a cousin of Shaun (or Tim in “Spaced”). Five years ago he ran out on his beautiful pregnant girlfriend, Thandie Newton, on their wedding day. Now, she has hooked up with handsome, rich, American marathon runner Hank Azaria (The Simpsons) and Dennis (with the help of very funny best friend Dylan Moran from “Black Books”) decides to win her back by proving he can finish a London Marathon. Competent and energetic but with the occasional bum note, Run Fatboy Run is like a pub band cover version of a greatBritish romantic comedy. One of the reasons why it doesn’t always work must be down to first-time feature director David Schwimmer (Ross from “Friends”) whose timing, sadly, isn’t always on.
They say you never come out of a film humming the structure, which in the case of plucky little thriller Vantage Point is a shame as the structure is really all it has going for it. An attempted assassination of US President Ashton (William Hurt) in Salamanca, Spain is told and retold from the differing perspectives of several protagonists and witnesses, including Dennis Quaid’s ageing Secret Serviceman and Forest Whitaker’s handicam-toting tourist. The plot is never fully unravelled, though, leaving too many questions unanswered not least of which why Spanish terrorists would collaborate with jihadists. There’s one great car chase, though, involving what looks like a Holden Barina. Everything else disappoints.
With The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen scribe Peter Morgan turns his attention to another chapter in Britain’s royal history: the bed-hopping, neck-chopping, Tudor soap opera starring Henry VIII and his search for an heir; a prequel, if you will, to Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman play the Boleyn sisters, competing for the attention of Eric Bana’s handsome but unstable Henry (if they only knew he was going to turn into Charles Laughton they might not have tried so hard). The original novel was bodice-ripping romantic fiction dressed as literature and the film serves the same purpose. Entertaining.
Steve Buscemi takes the director’s chair (and stars in) Interview, a low-key two-hander also featuring Sienna Miller. Buscemi plays cynical political journalist Pierre who is forced to interview a famous soap star. Based on, and far too respectful of, a film by murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, Interview feels like a stage play — and not in a good way.
Ever since West Side Story (and possibly earlier) dance has been used as a metaphor for urban violence but in recent years the trend has got some commercial legs as filmmakers realise they can present hip-hop music and urban situations in a PG environment. In Step Up a white urban freestyle dancer (Channing Tatum) tried to make it at ballet school. In the sequel (Step Up 2 The Streets), a white freestyle urban dancer (Briana Evigan) tries to make it at the same ballet school. But she’s from The Streets, you see, and she’s an orphan so she gathers the other outcasts and ethnics from the school so they can compete with the gang-bangers in an “illegal” dance competition. I’m fascinated, obviously, by these films not least the promotion of dance as competition over dance as expression. But I’m over-thinking as usual.
Finally, 10,000 BC is fitfully entertaining twaddle. Historically and anthropologically inaccurate not to mention ethnologically offensive, my recommendation is to wait for the video, get stoned with your mates and then talk all the way through it.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 March, 2008 although space constraints saw the last few items cut. So, Interview, Step Up 2 The Streets and 10,000 BC are like web-only bonus items.
Nature of Conflict: Interview is distributed in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I sometimes do a little work for.