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Review: The Master, Gangster Squad, Whole Lotta Sole, ParaNorman and To Rome With Love

By Cinema, Reviews

Between its her­al­ded US release in September last year and its arrival in a (very) lim­ited num­ber of New Zealand cinemas this week­end, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master seems to have been trans­formed from mas­ter­piece and annoin­ted Best Picture con­tender to also-ran, dis­ap­point­ing scores of loc­al PTA fans in the pro­cess, many of whom were crushed that we weren’t going to see the film in the director’s pre­ferred 70mm format. Turns out it was touch and go wheth­er we were going to see it on the big screen at all.

Anderson’s pre­vi­ous film, There Will Be Blood, was a close-run second to No Country For Old Men in my 2007 pick of the year, and his back cata­logue is as rich as any­one else of his gen­er­a­tion – Boogie Nights, Magnolia and even Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. Like Blood, The Master is painted on a big can­vas. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, an alco­hol­ic and self-hating WWII vet­er­an, stum­bling between mis­ad­ven­tures when he stows away on the San Francisco yacht com­manded by aca­dem­ic, author and mys­tic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd com­bines rudi­ment­ary psy­cho­ther­apy with hyp­nosis to per­suade gull­ible fol­low­ers that their past lives can be used to trans­form their dis­ap­point­ing present.

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Review: Rocky Balboa and more ...

By Cinema, Reviews

This week Wellington gets a chance to farewell one of the titans of world cinema, an inspir­a­tion to many, derided by a few; an icon who walked his own idio­syn­crat­ic path. I am, of course, talk­ing about Rocky Balboa, kind-hearted dim-bulb and pos­sessor of one of the great loves in cinema: his ador­a­tion of Adrian (Talia Shire) remains undi­min­ished even though her can­cer left him a wid­ower a few years between Rocky V and this new one.

Rocky Balboa posterThe Rocky of I and II was always a great char­ac­ter, led astray dur­ing the block­buster years, and Rocky Balboa gives him back to us. It’s well writ­ten and self-aware and, as a bonus, there’s hardly any box­ing in it.

A Prairie Home CompanionRobert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion is too nice a film to divide people the way that it does. Having said that, if you are one of those people who switches off National Radio whenev­er gen­i­al racon­teur Garrison Keiller Keillor intro­duces his legendary live radio show then you will find the film ver­sion an awful tri­al. Thrown togeth­er in typically-Altman, ram­shackle, style and shot, it appears, with no more than half an eye on the fin­ished product, APHC is a delight­ful, wist­ful, appre­ci­ation of com­munity, nos­tal­gia and the passing of time, the final­ity of things if you will. It’s only fit­ting that Altman’s final film, shot while he was riddled with the can­cer that would kill him, should be about let­ting go. I loved it, but then I was prob­ably always going to.

HollywoodlandIn Hollywoodland Ben Affleck is per­fect as wooden act­or George Reeves who found fame as tele­vi­sion’s first, portly, Superman in the 1950s but who ended up dead of appar­ently self-inflicted gun­shot wounds after a failed attempt at a comeback. The film brings life to the per­sist­ent rumours that Reeves’ death was the res­ult of foul play – cour­tesy of a jeal­ous hus­band with friends in Hollywood high places.

Adrien Brody plays a fic­tion­al gum­shoe on the trail of the mys­tery and the film tries hard to ride the coat-tails of clas­sics like Chinatown but is too darn slow to keep up, even though it looks the part.

Stranger than Fiction posterWill Ferrell plays a slightly less demen­ted ver­sion of his usu­al emotionally-retarded man-child in Stranger Than Fiction, a slender but like­able fantasy about a man who dis­cov­ers he is a char­ac­ter in a nov­el being writ­ten by Emma Thompson. It’s her voice in his head, nar­rat­ing his life, and no one else can hear it. This is annoy­ing and inex­plic­able at first, but gets ser­i­ous when he dis­cov­ers she wants to kill him off. Chicago looks great (and so does Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Squeegee Bandit posterRaucous kiwi doc­u­ment­ary Squeegee Bandit fol­lows Auckland street-corner win­dow wash­er “Starfish” around for a few months, get­ting to know him, his trans­it­ory life and his turf. There’s some inter­est­ing meat bur­ied inside this film but the MTV edit­ing, both­er­some soundtrack and gen­er­al noise levels make it harder than it should be to get at. It’s an inter­est­ing doc­u­ment­ary but dif­fi­cult to recom­mend as entertainment.

The Last King of Scotland posterThe Last King of Scotland is a fic­tion­al­ised por­trait of Idi Amin, dic­tat­or of Uganda from 1971 to 1979 and self-appointed “Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”. To fully appre­ci­ate Forest Whitaker’s superb per­form­ance check out the real Idi’s eyes in the archive foot­age at the end of the film and you can see the genu­ine bat-shit insane para­noia of the man.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 February, 2007.