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Review: St. Vincent, Deepsea Challenge 3D, Interstellar, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and Nightcrawler

By Cinema and Reviews

In the last (non-Rancho) post I made a com­mit­ment to get back in to reg­u­lar review­ing and to end my year-long sab­bat­ic­al. (For the reas­ons behind the hiatus, it is recom­men­ded that you have a quick read. Go on, I’ll wait here.) It has come as a bit of a sur­prise to me that I’ve actu­ally seen as much as I have over the last few months. It didn’t feel like it but — thanks to Radio New Zealand, FishHead and Rancho Notorious — fully 18 of the films cur­rently screen­ing around Wellington are films I can actu­ally have an opin­ion on.

Anyway, here goes, and I might as well start with the old­est first. Which, as it turns out, is also a con­tender for the worst film in this post.

St. Vincent movie posterI’ve nev­er man­aged to hide my dis­dain for Little Miss Sunshine, a film which is beloved by many and held up as an example of qual­ity screen­writ­ing to which we all should aspire. It is, in fact, garbage. A col­lec­tion of tics mas­quer­ad­ing as char­ac­ters stuck in a contrived-cute situ­ation in which life les­sons will be learned too eas­ily and happy end­ings will be unearned. Theodore Melfi’s debut fea­ture St. Vincent also falls into all these traps only deep­er. It also relies so heav­ily on the great Bill Murray that it man­ages to even bring him into disrepute.

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RN 2/3: Calling Occupants

By Audio, Cinema, Rancho Notorious and Reviews

Kailey and Dan do their best to review Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar but oth­er, more inter­est­ing, films keep on get­ting in the way. Plus, James Cameron live via Skype at the Embassy Theatre Q&A for Deepsea Challenge 3D on Labour Monday.

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Review: The Dark Knight Rises, Cloudburst, Late Bloomers, Trail Notes, Sky Whisperers and King of Devil’s Island

By Cinema and Reviews

The Dark Knight Rises posterI made the mis­take of watch­ing The Dark Knight Rises twice last week. The first time was enter­tain­ing enough, I sup­pose. The open­ing set-piece – in which a CIA rendi­tions plane is hijacked in mid-air by it’s own cargo – is bril­liantly con­ceived but point­less, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a breath of fresh air and the end­ing (unspoiled here) works extremely hard to tie up the many loose ends and sat­is­fy even the mean­est critic.

But second time up, the prob­lems come into even clear­er focus. The con­fused ideo­logy (a fusion of zeit­geisty “Occupy Gotham” wealth redis­tri­bu­tion and pro-vigilante “mean streets will always need clean­ing” status quo pro­tec­tion­ism), end­less tire­some expos­i­tion of both plot and theme and the huge holes in its own intern­al logic, all serve to dis­sip­ate the impact of the impress­ive visuals.

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Review: Inception and The Girl Who Played with Fire

By Cinema and Reviews

Inception posterI was really enjoy­ing Inception until I woke up. Actually, that’s not true. Unlike my com­pan­ion, the Sandman didn’t come to res­cue me from Christopher Nolan’s bom­bast­ic block­buster and I had to sit through all two and a half hours of it, won­der­ing what all the fuss was about.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a cor­por­ate spy who spe­cial­ises in enter­ing people’s dreams and dis­cov­er­ing their secrets. This is evid­ently a com­plex tech­no­logy that requires one dream­er to design the loc­a­tion (it has to be fake because not know­ing wheth­er you are awake or dream­ing car­ries massive risks to one’s san­ity), one dream­er to lead the sub­ject, the sub­ject them­selves and (some­times) a for­ger who can take on the shapes and char­ac­ter­ist­ics of oth­er people.

There’s a lot of fight­ing in these dreams as the subject’s sub­con­scious sees the inva­sion and tries to fight it off like white blood cells. But, you know when in your own dreams you try and hit someone and they end up being really weak marsh­mal­low punches? That’s how the anti­bod­ies shoot so it takes quite a lot of bul­lets before one will actu­ally hit you. And when one hits you and you die, in the real world you wake up so it’s really like a video game with mul­tiple lives.

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Review: Then She Found Me, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Mrs. Ratcliffe’s Revolution, The Ten Commandments, [REC] and The Third Richard

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s babies every­where in the cinemas at the moment. Last week I reviewed the Tina Fey com­edy Baby Mama about a middle-aged woman des­per­ate for a child and this week we have a Helen Hunt drama about a middle-aged woman des­per­ate for a baby and even Hellboy is going to be a daddy.

Then She Found Me posterThen She Found Me, Helen Hunt’s debut as writer-director, is a sens­it­ive and well-acted piece of work (and often much fun­ni­er than the Fey ver­sion). She plays a New York primary school teach­er whose adopt­ive moth­er dies two days after her hus­band (Matthew Broderick) leaves her. Like many adop­ted chil­dren, the desire for a blood-relative is what pro­motes the desire for a child, but that desire is soon swamped by the arrival of the birth moth­er she nev­er knew (Bette Midler) and a ready-made fam­ily led by Colin Firth. Witty and humane, Then She Found Me is set in a New York people actu­ally live in, pop­u­lated with people who actu­ally live and breathe. I was quite moved by this film, but then maybe I’m just a big sook.

Mrs. Ratcliffe's Revolution posterBack in the 1980s, toil­ing under the yoke of Thatcherite crypto-fascist intol­er­ance, we used to dream of the German Democratic Republic where accord­ing to apo­lo­gists like Billy Bragg, “you can­’t get gui­tar strings but every­one has a job and decent health care.” Now, of course, thanks to films like The Lives of Others, we know that the rulers of East Germany were just fas­cists with anoth­er uni­form and that social justice may be import­ant but isn’t the only kind of justice we need in our lives. Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution is a low-budget British com­edy about a naïve fam­ily of Yorkshire com­mun­ists in 1968 who fol­low their dreams of a work­ers’ para­dise and emig­rate to East Germany only to find the truth very much not to their liking.

There might have been an inter­est­ing story here bur­ied under the broad com­edy – some­times it seems like Carry on Communism – but the tone is all wrong and it feels as if it has gone intel­lec­tu­ally off the rails. There’s some nice archi­tec­ture although the film­makers had to go to Hungary to find it.

Hellboy II posterSometimes, when you go to the movies, you get the per­fect match of film to mood. Not often, but some­times. Last Friday night, after a week where the ambi­ent stress level at work had amped up yet again, I needed to see some­thing that did­n’t require any­thing of me except my pres­ence and I got it with Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Featuring lots of bright shiny things to keep my atten­tion, lots of loud noises to keep me awake and not much in the way of story to worry about, I enjoyed myself a lot but don’t remem­ber very much. Except not­ing that, unlike The Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan, dir­ect­or Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth and the forth­com­ing Hobbit duo-logy) shoots fight scenes so you can fol­low what’s going on.

The Ten Commandments posterThe Paramount’s eclect­ic (if not schizo­phren­ic) pro­gram­ming policy throws up some odd com­bin­a­tions. The pres­ence of the hideous, anim­ated, Bible-story The Ten Commandments is simply inex­plic­able while Spanish shock­er [REC] is per­fect Paramount fod­der. And at the same time, Danny Mulheron’s lov­ing home-made doc­u­ment­ary about his grand­fath­er, The Third Richard, is get­ting a well-deserved brief sea­son. The Ten Commandments barely belongs in the $5 DVD bargain-bin (or as a free gift when you sign up with your loc­al evan­gel­ic­als). It’s a sign of how our cul­ture has changed that in the 50s we got Charlton Heston bring­ing the tab­lets down from the moun­tain, and now we get Christian Slater. And what to make of the subtle re-writing of the com­mand­ments them­selves: Thou Shalt Not Murder gives you a little more wiggle-room in the killing depart­ment than the old-fashioned Thou Shalt Not Kill. Reprehensible.

[REC] posterOne is either in to zom­bie movies or one isn’t, and if one is one will be very happy with [REC]. Set in a Barcelona apart­ment build­ing where a fly-on-the-wall tv crew are fol­low­ing fire-fighters on an emer­gency call, [REC] at one point man­aged to make me jump three times in less than a second – that’s not easy.

The Third Richard posterThe story of Richard Fuchs, archi­tect and com­poser, emigré and grand­fath­er, is very well told by Danny Mulheron and Sara Stretton. Based around a “rehab­il­it­a­tion” con­cert in Karlsruhe, last year, where Fuchs’ music was played in pub­lic for the first time since his escape to New Zealand in 1939, the film has some styl­ist­ic choices that I might not have made but the heart and intel­li­gence of the filmm­makers shine through. It’s a Wellington story, too, and you should see it if you can.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 September, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution was inter­rup­ted twice by the house lights (a Sunday morn­ing screen­ing in Penthouse 2, still suf­fer­ing from the annoy­ing screen flick­er caused by incor­rect shut­ter tim­ing and the hot spot in the centre of the screen). And I had to go down and close the door at the start of the film. At [REC] quite a few of us were sat in the Brooks (Paramount) amidst the bottles, empty glasses and gen­er­al rub­bish from a whole day’s screen­ings. <Sigh>

Review: The Dark Knight

By Cinema and Reviews

The Dark Knight posterBack in 1986 Frank Miller single-handedly rein­ven­ted the Batman fran­chise in book form with “The Dark Knight Returns”, a four-part mini-series which saw an age­ing Bruce Wayne come out of retire­ment one last time to fight the scourge of law­less­ness that beset his beloved Gotham City. Fans have waited in vain for that story (dark, cyn­ic­al, epic and power­ful) to arrive on the sil­ver screen but Christopher Nolan’s cur­rent ver­sion of the hero (intro­duced in Batman Begins in 2005) is still head­ing in the right dir­ec­tion, even to the extent of crib­bing Miller’s title for this second episode.

In The Dark Knight we join the action not long after the end of the pre­vi­ous film. The forces of Gotham City law enforce­ment (with the help of the masked vigil­ante and a few unfor­tu­nate copy cats in hockey pads) are squeez­ing the city’s organ­ised crime syn­dic­ates and clean­ing up the city. Only psy­cho­path­ic freakazoid The Joker (Heath Ledger) seems to be able to act with impun­ity and he offers the Mob a deal: he’ll dis­patch the fly­ing bat in exchange for half their business.

Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) still hankers after beau­ti­ful Asst DA Rachel Dawes (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal repla­cing Katie Holmes) who prom­ised they could be togeth­er if he could ever give up his double-life. The arrival on the scene of hand­some and prin­cipled District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) as legit­im­ate crime-fighter (a “white knight”) might just give him a way out, only Dent is also in love with Rachel. Meanwhile, The Joker’s plot to des­troy Batman strikes closer and closer to home.

Despite being more than 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, The Dark Knight is a suc­cess­ful attempt to bal­ance the thrills and spills of a mod­ern day block­buster with some­thing a little more psy­cho­lo­gic­ally demand­ing. Nolan has claimed that there is very little digit­al effects work in the film and that he tried to shoot as much of the action as real as pos­sible and it pays off – there must have been some digit­al in there but (apart from Dent’s aston­ish­ing and grot­esque trans­form­a­tion into Two-Face) I could­n’t pick any.

It is dis­ap­point­ing that Nolan’s vis­ion of Gotham City from the first film seems to have faded. Instead of the hyper-modern city in dis­repair we got last time, now it looks like plain old mod­ern day New York crossed with Chicago crossed with Toronto, and I guess that was one of the sac­ri­fices made in the decision to ditch digit­al but the city itself is well short on atmosphere.

Bale, as ever, leaves this review­er cold, but the sup­port­ing play­ers are all fine act­ors in great form (par­tic­u­larly Michael Caine as Alfred, the former Special Forces but­ler). Ledger is tre­mend­ous and provides hints of the kind of lib­er­at­ing work he might have been cap­able of had he lived, although talk of a posthum­ous Oscar seems excess­ive. After all, since Cesar Romero in the 60s The Joker has been a license to ham and this ver­sion spe­cific­ally is sup­posed to be all show and no depth.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 july, 2008. Sorry, I am so behind with post­ing. I’ll try and get this week’s edi­tion up before the end of the weekend.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: The Dark Knight screened at a sur­pris­ingly busy Monday morn­ing ses­sion at Readings. And when I say “sur­pris­ingly busy” I mean over 100 people. At 11.00am!