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chris cooper

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2, The Company Men, Potiche and Bill Cunningham New York

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s nice to be reminded every now and then that going to to the movies is sup­posed to be fun. The first Kung Fu Panda film was a bois­ter­ous and enter­tain­ing treat (“resembles an eight-year-old’s bed­room while they are throw­ing all their toys around” I said in 2008) and the latest ver­sion is an improve­ment on that, adding a lay­er of sen­ti­ment to the amus­ing hijinks. It also trucks along for a nothing-wasted 91 minutes and should keep adults and not-yet-adults well and truly amused.

Panda Po (Jack Black) became the unlikely Dragon Warrior in the first film and now has rock star status among the anthro­po­morph­ic cit­izenry. Along with allies “The Five”, he defends the inno­cent from tyranny in between (and often dur­ing) meals. A new tech­no­logy and a shad­owy fig­ure from Po’s past threaten the peace and force our hero to grapple with the strangely unanswered ques­tions about his child­hood and how a panda came to be adop­ted by a goose in the first place.

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Review: Super 8, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Soul Surfer, Biutiful, The Tempest and Brighton Rock

By Cinema and Reviews

I’ve been busy over the last few weeks work­ing on New Zealand’s biggest par­ti­cip­at­ory film event, the V 48 Hours which reaches its loc­al cli­max tonight at the Embassy Theatre. It’s a won­der­ful cel­eb­ra­tion of Wellington film tal­ent and there may be door sales so check with the venue.

Super 8 posterOne of the inspir­a­tions for 48 Hours is the true story of a group of Mississippi kids who spent six years of week­ends and hol­i­days in the 1980s remak­ing Raiders of the Lost Ark – shot for shot – on home video. The pro­ject went from notori­ous to legendary in 2003 when the kids (now adults) were invited to meet Lucas and Spielberg and their story was even optioned by Paramount. I can’t see that pic­ture get­ting made now as Spielberg (and J.J. “Star Trek” Abrams) have come up with some­thing that, though par­tially inspired by the boys’ VHS efforts, goes in a dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tion entirely, hon­our­ing not just their homemade Raiders but Spielberg’s own E.T. and Close Encounters .

In a small Ohio town in 1979 a bunch of kids are mak­ing a zom­bie flick so they can enter the loc­al Super 8 film com­pet­i­tion. During an unau­thor­ised night shoot at the rail­way sta­tion they wit­ness a dev­ast­at­ing train crash which unleashes mys­ter­i­ous forces that the Government is des­per­ate to cov­er up. As the freaked-out cit­izenry are evac­u­ated so the Air Force can hunt down the whatever-it-is that’s escaped, our hero­ic kids head back in to the danger zone armed only with curi­os­ity and that child-like sense of right and wrong that Mr. Spielberg used to spe­cial­ise in.

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Review: Law Abiding Citizen, Remember Me and Max Manus

By Cinema and Reviews

Stars are import­ant. Despite their sup­posedly wan­ing influ­ence on box office (Avatar man­aged per­fectly well without a mar­quee name and Bruce Willis hasn’t car­ried a hit film in years) the cha­risma of a lead­ing man is still a key factor in how we much we enjoy our escapism.

Law Abiding Citizen posterExhibit A is the inex­plic­able suc­cess of Gerard Butler. Despite an unpleas­ant on- screen per­sona that mostly oozes bru­tish­ness and con­des­cen­sion he con­tin­ues to rate well with cer­tain tar­get mar­kets and, as a res­ult I still have to watch his films. The latest is a repel­lent revenge fantasy called Law Abiding Citizen in which Butler gets to smirk his way through sev­er­al remote-control murders while sup­posedly locked away in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment. How does he do it, we are sup­posed to ask.

Butler is Clyde Shelton, an invent­or and fam­ily man whose fam­ily is ran­domly tar­geted by two low-life home invaders. They kill his wife and child (but inex­plic­ably leave him alive as a wit­ness) but hot shot Assistant DA (Jamie Foxx) is wor­ried about his win-loss ratio and cuts a deal that saves one of the perps from Death Row. Shelton is upset about the sup­posed lack of justice and hatches an eight year plot to teach every­one involved (includ­ing the entire Philadelphia city admin­is­tra­tion and the Pennsylvania justice sys­tem) a lesson.

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Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Closing the Ring, Smart People, Married Life, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and Journey From the Fall

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Forgetting Sarah Marshall posterForgetting Sarah Marshall is an ideal post-Festival pal­ate cleanser: a saucy com­edy fresh off the Judd Apatow pro­duc­tion line (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up). Here he gives the spot­light to one of his sup­port­ing play­ers: Jason Segal (Knocked Up) plays tv com­poser Peter who with­in two minutes of the start of the film is dumped by tv star Sarah M. (Kristen Bell from “Veronica Mars”). He goes to Hawaii to recov­er only to dis­cov­er that his ex is also there – with her new English rock star boy­friend. Very funny in parts, sur­pris­ingly mov­ing at times thanks to a heart­felt per­form­ance from big lump Segal, FSM gets an extra half a star for fea­tur­ing pro­fes­sion­al West Ham fan Russell Brand, play­ing a ver­sion of his sex-addicted stage persona.

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Review: The Italian, My Best Friend, No Reservations, Breach, The War Within and Black Snake Moan

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Italian posterReturning swiftly from the Festival is The Italian, a lovely and old-fashioned art-house win­ner about a six year-old Russian orphan played by the won­der­ful Kolya Spiridonov. He’s Vanya, a little urchin with soul­ful eyes who sees everything that goes on in his wretched Dickensian orphan­age includ­ing the cor­rup­tion, thiev­ery and abuse. The moth­er of his best friend makes a pathet­ic drunk­en appear­ance which gives him the idea that he, too, might have a moth­er. And, if he has a moth­er then there’s no reas­on why he can­’t find her so they can live togeth­er forever. Highly recommended.

My Best Friend posterMy Best Friend is one of those French films that sig­nals its gal­lic cre­den­tials with plenty of accor­di­on music (though falls short of gra­tu­it­ous Eiffel Tower shots like Orchestra Seats earli­er in the year). Ubiquitous Daniel Auteuill plays an antique deal­er who dis­cov­ers he has no friends but needs one to win a bet. He dis­cov­ers trivia buff taxi driver Dany Boon who seems to win friends effort­lessly and demands to know his secret.

And, like so many French films, the effete bour­geois gets life les­sons from the down-to-earth pro­let­ari­an (cf Conversations With My Gardener, still to return from the Festival) because the life of an intel­lec­tu­al is no life at all. If this was an American remake star­ring John Travolta and, say, Chris Rock we’d call it the rub­bish it is.

No Reservations posterTalking of rub­bish American remakes, No Reservations is a vir­tu­ally shot-for-shot recre­ation of the German hit Mostly Martha about an uptight female chef dis­armed by her 9 year-old niece and the vivid Italian chef she is forced to work beside. This is a vehicle for Catherine Zeta-Jones with sup­port from Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin and talk­ing chin Aaron Eckhart and I’m sure most will find it unex­cep­tion­al; I des­pised its lazy com­pet­ence includ­ing the cyn­ic­al abil­ity to com­mis­sion a rare Philip Glass score and then dis­card it whenev­er the need for a cheap pop cue appears.

Breach posterBreach is a ter­ribly good, low-key, post-Cold War thrill­er anchored by a Champions League per­form­ance from Chris Cooper as real-life FBI trait­or Robert Hanssen who was caught and con­victed in February 2001 after 22 years selling secrets to the Russians. Helping nail him is rook­ie Ryan Phillippe who, at first, is seduced by his pious Catholicism and computer-nerdery before dis­cov­er­ing the com­plex and unusu­al man inside. Of course, while the FBI was put­ting every spare man-hour on the case of the mole with­in, sev­er­al Saudi stu­dents were learn­ing to fly planes in Florida so it was­n’t exactly the Bureau’s finest hour.

The War Within posterIn The War Within, Grand Central Station in New York is the tar­get of fic­tion­al Al-Qaeda ter­ror­ist Hassan who, like Derek Luke’s char­ac­ter in Catch a Fire a few weeks ago, is an inno­cent man rad­ic­al­ised by the bru­tal­ity around him. Very well made and pho­to­graphed (HD’s digit­al abil­ity to pro­duce vivid, sat­ur­ated col­ours well to the fore) on a mod­est budget. The War Within is almost cal­cu­lated to be of lim­ited interest to main­stream audi­ences but will cer­tainly reward those who seek it out.

Black Snake Moan posterIn Black Snake Moan, psychologically-damaged abuse-victim Christina Ricci goes off the deep end when boy­friend Justin Timberlake leaves their small Tennessee town to join the National Guard. Grizzled Blues vet­er­an Samuel L. Jackson chains her to a radi­at­or to save her from her­self but he has issues of his own, of course. Black Snake Moan gets bet­ter the more it trusts its char­ac­ters and, if you can get past the pulp shock value, there’s a good film inside.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times, Wednesday 23 August, 2007.

Some screen­ing notes: The Italian screened at home sev­er­al weeks ago on a time-coded DVD from the Film Festival; My Best Friend viewed from the too close front row of a packed Penthouse Three (the big new one) on 11 August; No Reservations seen at a vir­tu­ally empty staff and media screen­ing in Readings 8 at 9.15 on a Monday morn­ing (6 August); Breach watched this Monday (20 August) at the Empire in Island Bay who shouted me a free cof­fee after I bitched about the bus driver mak­ing me throw my first one away; The War Within screened at home on Saturday night from a gently water­marked DVD from Arkles, the dis­trib­ut­or; Black Snake Moan screened at the Paramount on Monday afternoon.

Full dis­clos­ure: I have done paid work in the past for Arkles Entertainment (dis­trib­ut­or of The War Within) and am design­ing their new web site which will be live next week.