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Review: Salt, Cairo Time, The Concert & Harry Brown

By Cinema and Reviews

If I had to use a four let­ter word start­ing in ‘S’ and end­ing in ‘T’ to describe the new Angelina Jolie thrill­er, Salt wouldn’t be the first word I would think of. The last time Ms Jolie played an action heroine she was a weaver/assassin receiv­ing her orders from a magic loom and her new film is only slightly less ridicu­lous. What we have here is an unima­gin­at­ive reboot of old Cold War ideas, as if the script was found in someone’s draw and all they’ve done is blow the dust off it.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA spook on the Russian desk. When we meet her she’s in her under­wear being tor­tured by the North Koreans. A spy-swap gets her out even though, accord­ing to the rules, she should’ve been left to her fate. Back in Washington, she’s mar­ried to the world’s expert on spiders (he stud­ies them in jars at the kit­chen table) but he’s German so obvi­ously not above suspicion.

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Review: 2012, The Vintner’s Luck, Away We Go and [REC]2

By Cinema and Reviews

After nearly three and a half years of pro­du­cing this cinem­a­goers’ con­sumer guide, per­haps its time for a state­ment of intent. A mani­festo, if you will. Something to place these mus­ings in per­spect­ive as you skim through them over Morning Tea.

I try and find some­thing good and inter­est­ing in everything I see, and I see pretty much everything. Most films have an audi­ence of some descrip­tion wait­ing for them some­where, and that audi­ence may be you, so I try and out­line what might appeal (along with what might not) so that you can make an informed choice.

Plus, I have some sym­pathy for the little bat­tler and will often try and draw your atten­tion in that dir­ec­tion (Don’t for­get Two Lovers, folks) and I try and watch films not meant for me (kids flicks, etc) with half an eye on how the rest of the audi­ence is reacting.

It is extremely rare, as reg­u­lar read­ers will know, for me to warn you off a film entirely, or indeed (in the case of our first film this week) sug­gest that its cre­at­ors should be harshly pun­ished for its per­pet­ra­tion. The films that are really sand under my fore­skin are those that only exist to pad a resumé and a bank bal­ance, cyn­ic­al attempts to sep­ar­ate us from our money, mar­ket­ing cam­paigns crudely dis­guised as art.

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Review: No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, 30 Days of Night, The 11th Hour and Talk to Me

By Cinema and Reviews

No Country for Old Men posterNo Country for Old Men is essen­tial cinema in two senses of the word. First and fore­most you must see it, prob­ably more than once. But it is also cinema reduced to its essence. Everything con­trib­utes: Cormac McCarthy’s respect­fully adap­ted ori­gin­al nov­el; beau­ti­fully com­posed images superbly pho­to­graphed by Roger Deakins (the only cre­at­ive on the pro­ject not named Coen); edit­ing that could be a film school in a box. The stand­ard music­al soundtrack is replaced by the music of the every­day: foot­steps, cof­fee pots, car engines, gun fire.

A hunter (Josh Brolin) stumbles across a wil­der­ness drug deal gone wrong: many corpses, a flat­bed full of drugs and briefcase full of money. He takes the money hop­ing to start a new life away from the West Texas trail­er park he inhab­its with Trainspotting’s Kelly MacDonald. But instead of a win­ning lot­tery tick­et he has unleashed the epi­tome of cinema badass-ery: Javier Bardem as an angel of ven­geance determ­ined to retrieve the cash by any means necessary.

All the per­form­ances are won­der­ful but the heart of the film is Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Ed Bell. Always (aggrav­at­ingly) a couple of steps behind he is a good man ill-at-ease with the sheer, inex­plic­able, evil he is con­fron­ted with. A masterpiece.

30 Days of Night posterJosh Hartnett plays anoth­er small town sher­iff, out-gunned and out-matched, in 30 Days of Night. He runs Barrow, the northern-most town in Alaska, so far north that one month of the year is spent in dark­ness. This is the per­fect setup for a smart vam­pire to take advant­age of: 30 days of feed­ing with no enforced hiberna­tion and a bunch of unsa­voury char­ac­ters (well-led by Danny Huston) cer­tainly go to town. Entertaining and styl­ish, 30 Days goes about its work (with­in its genre lim­it­a­tions) respect­ably enough.

Michael Clayton posterI’m begin­ning to think that George Clooney is so good that his pres­ence has actu­ally made some films seem much bet­ter than they actu­ally are: Syriana would be an example. This the­ory comes in to focus when dis­cuss­ing Michael Clayton, anoth­er Oscar con­tender from first-time dir­ect­or Tony Gilroy. Clooney plays the eponym­ous leg­al fix­er, a middle-aged man los­ing his bear­ings: his mor­al com­pass is as adrift as the mal­func­tion­ing sat­nav in his Merc. He is try­ing to fix a rap­idly unrav­el­ling case defend­ing a dodgy agri-chemical com­pany when he real­ises that he is prob­ably on the wrong side but his tenu­ous per­son­al situ­ation doesn’t give him the free­dom to do the right thing. He is con­flic­ted, in oth­er words, and Clooney plays that con­flict superbly. But, while George is act­ing his heart out, the rest of the film doesn’t quite meas­ure up. Performances mis­step and the plot weighs the themes down more heav­ily than it needs to. A good film but not a great one.

The 11th Hour posterLeonardo DiCaprio for the Nobel Peace Prize? Following in the foot­steps of Al Gore’s act­iv­ist phe­nomen­on An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, DiCaprio stakes his own claim with a doc­u­ment­ary about envir­on­ment­al destruc­tion and the urgent need for change: The 11th Hour. Sadly for the earn­est DiCaprio, there’s noth­ing here we haven’t seen or heard before and (des­pite his star power) he is an uncon­vin­cing presenter. Perhaps he should have stayed behind the cam­era and paid Morgan Freeman to front it – he is God after all.

Talk to Me posterTalk to Me is an enter­tain­ing and mov­ing little film, destined to be over­whelmed by the heavy­weight Oscar con­tenders open­ing all around it. Oblivion would­n’t be a fair out­come though and if you find your­self with the time and inclin­a­tion to give it a try you won’t be dis­ap­poin­ted. Always reli­able Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) plays real-life Washington DC radio star and act­iv­ist Ralph Waldo “Petey” Green and the excel­lent Chiwetel Ejiofer (Dirty Pretty Things and American Gangster) is his best friend and Programme Director Dewey Hughes. The racial powder­keg that is DC in the 60’s is well recre­ated on a lim­ited budget but it is the rela­tion­ship between these two very dif­fer­ent men that works best.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 6 February, 2008.

Special thanks to D at the Embassy for let­ting me go back to see No Country a second time before deadline.