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Review: The Queen, Marie Antoinette, Night at the Museum, Déjà Vu, Copying Beethoven, The Aura, Happy Feet, Charlotte’s Web, The Valet, The Prestige, Babel, Four Last Songs, Saw III and Apocalypto

By Cinema and Reviews

What I did on my hol­i­days by Dan Slevin (aged 38 and a half).

The Queen posterAfter a few days off between Christmas and New Year I launched back in to the swing of cinema things with a “Disfunctional Royal Family” double-feature of The Queen (Stephen Frears) and Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola) at the Penthouse. Helen Mirren is won­der­ful in an end­lessly fas­cin­at­ing tale of an insti­tu­tion real­ising that it that may have out­stayed it’s wel­come, while Kirsten Dunst radi­ates beauty (des­pite those wonky teeth) as the last queen of France. The prob­lem with Marie Antoinette is that the prot­ag­on­ist does­n’t do any actu­al prot­ag­on­ising which means that we get a lot of beau­ti­ful tableaux but very little drama.

The fol­low­ing night was “Hollywood Blockbuster” double-feature at the Empire: Night at The Museum (Shawn Levy), a pre­dict­able CGI romp with Ben Stiller and pre­pos­ter­ous time-travel thrill­er Déjà Vu (Tony Scott) star­ring a relaxed Denzel Washington. Museum is set in the New York American Museum of Natural History and it does give one a new respect for the arts of taxi­dermy, the real­ist­ic walk­ing and talk­ing Mickey Rooney was very impress­ive. Déjà Vu turns out to be very enter­tain­ing and the twists and turns get quite absorb­ing – a pleas­ant surprise.

Ed Harris turns in a bravura per­form­ance as Ludwig Van Beethoven in Copying Beethoven (Agnieszka Holland) along with an almost impossibly beau­ti­ful Diane Kruger who plays the young com­pos­i­tion stu­dent help­ing him com­plete his final mas­ter­pieces. The music is sen­sa­tion­al. Late in 2006, the gif­ted Argentine dir­ect­or Fabián Bielinsky (Nine Queens) passed away leav­ing us The Aura as his vale­dic­tion. Starring the redoubt­able Ricardo Darin as an epi­leptic taxi­derm­ist, The Aura is moody and evoc­at­ive but was­n’t quite enough to keep this review­er awake on a wet Wednesday after­noon. If life was­n’t so short I’d give it anoth­er crack as I’m sure there was some­thing going on under­neath but it was soooo sloooow.

The five year old I took to Happy Feet (George Miller) was still singing songs from the film that night so very much mis­sion accom­plished on that front. It’s a hugely enter­tain­ing col­lec­tion of set-pieces which kind of fall apart when the neces­sit­ies of plot inter­vene and it turns uncom­fort­ably dark, very quickly. Miller has had an inter­est­ing career: start­ing out as a med­ic­al doc­tor he then made the Mad Max films, kick-started the CGI talk­ing anim­als trend with Babe and now tap-dancing pen­guins. Talking of talk­ing anim­als, Charlotte’s Web (Gary Winick) man­aged to squeeze an unwill­ing tear out of me des­pite the feel­ing of manip­u­la­tion throughout.

On a more grown-up level (though not by much) The Valet (Francis Veber) did­n’t pull up any trees and in fact ended so sud­denly I thought there was a reel miss­ing. The most appeal­ing char­ac­ter in the flick, Alice Taglioni as the super-model, gets no clos­ure to her story. She’s left alone in her apart­ment cry­ing. What’s that about? The Prestige (Christopher Nolan) was always going to appeal to me due it’s sub­ject mat­ter and the pres­ence of per­fect dis­trac­tion Scarlett Johansson and it delivered. The film is about stage magic and uses stage magic prin­ciples to tell it’s very twisty story – though some might say it has one twist too many.

Babel posterBabel (Alejandro González Iñárritu) is one of the best films of this or any year, a ser­i­ous, med­it­at­ive snap­shot of our world thor­ough a stranger­’s eyes. Four stor­ies are told in par­al­lel, three imme­di­ately linked and the con­nec­tions with the fourth gently revealed by the end. It has a kind of science-fiction feel about it as we see four very dif­fer­ent world cul­tures presen­ted as if they could be oth­er plan­ets, ali­en ter­rit­ory yet eer­ily famil­i­ar. If I had stumbled across Four Last Songs (Francesca Joseph) on tele­vi­sion where it belongs I would have changed chan­nels after about five minutes, so I did the cinema equi­val­ent instead and went look­ing for some sunshine.

Saw III posterLastly, I had the mixed pleas­ure of a “Sadistic Violence” double-feature at Readings: Saw III (Darren Lynn Bousman) and Apocalypto (Mel Gibson). Crikey. What pos­sesses a screen­writer or dir­ect­or to sit in front of a vir­gin white piece of paper and then use it to dream up ways of dis­mem­ber­ing people? Funnily enough, Saw III is the more respect­able piece of work as it does­n’t try and pre­tend to be any­thing more than it is, while Apocalypto is the usu­al Hollywood rub­bish dressed up in National Geographic cloth­ing. Gibson is a dan­ger­ous extrem­ist (not just in purely cine­mat­ic terms) and the foul polit­ics of Apocalypto are not made up for by the bois­ter­ous filmmaking.

Not seen before dead­line: Heart of The Game (Ward Serrill); Open Season (Roger Allers, Jill Culton, Anthony Stacchi).

Currently play­ing in iTunes: Funny How Time Slips Away from the album “VH1 Storytellers” by Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson

UPDATE: Evidently there is no Capital Times this week so it looks like this opus will remain online only. You lucky, lucky people… Six more films are released this week and the world con­tin­ues to turn relent­lessly onwards.

UPDATE: Printed in the Capital Times, Wellington, Wednesday January 24, 2007.