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citizen kane

Review: The Great Gatsby, Bekas, Fast & Furious 6 and The Last Sentence

By Cinema and Reviews

The Great Gatsby still

For all the digit­al glit­ter and ana­chron­ist­ic hip-hoppery that sig­ni­fies our latest re-entry into Luhrman-land, The Great Gatsby itself takes fun­da­ment­al inspir­a­tion from a black and white clas­sic from 1941. Featuring a flash­back fram­ing device, a lonely and heart­sick tycoon star­ing out of the win­dow of a grot­esque castle, and even a breath­less deathbed “Daisy” uttered as if it summed up an entire life (like “Rosebud”), Gatsby is no less than Baz Luhrman’s Citizen Kane. Even his star, Leonardo DiCaprio is start­ing to resemble a Wellesian hero, at least in the jow­els if not the girth.

The Great Gatsby posterSo, no pres­sure, then, Baz – you’re only mer­ging the great American nov­el and the greatest movie of all time. Of course, he can’t pos­sibly suc­ceed on his own unima­gin­ably ambi­tious terms, but he falls a bit short on the basic “tell a story” level too – even if he man­ages to make some sequences sing.

Set in 1922 (and writ­ten by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925, well before the Jazz Age came crash­ing down into the Great Depression), Gatsby is the story of one man’s rein­ven­tion out of the trauma of World War One and into the longest, biggest (and most illeg­al) party the world had ever seen.

[pullquote]Fast & Furious is vast and curious[/pullquote]DiCaprio’s Gatsby has built a busi­ness empire out of the drug stores and speak­easies of Manhattan and a Xanadu on the shores of Long Island, all the while gaz­ing long­ingly across the water at the house where Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) lives. Daisy is the last piece of his puzzle, she will make him whole and she will help him gain accept­ance into the high soci­ety that scorns his dubiously-earned new money. He may also genu­inely be in love with her, of course.

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Review: The American, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, Let Me In, Due Date and Machete

By Cinema and Reviews

I got some feed­back on this column the oth­er day. Apparently I “write well” but I “don’t like much”. Perhaps I am a little jaded after four and a half years in these pages but I am pleased to report that this week­end I saw five films on your behalf and enjoyed all of them. Yes, all of them.

In the first scene of The American, George Clooney does some­thing so un-Clooney-like that audi­ence mem­bers beside me aud­ibly gasped. He plays a hit-man who might be called Jack or Edward but is prob­ably neither.

After nar­rowly escap­ing an attempt on his own life he holes up in pic­tur­esque Castel del Monte in the moun­tains of cent­ral Italy. As a single-minded pro­fes­sion­al with no ties, Jack could be the broth­er of Clooney’s cor­por­ate assas­sin in Up in the Air and like that film it takes unex­pec­ted feel­ings for a beau­ti­ful woman to make him real­ise how empty his life is.

Directed by fam­ous pho­to­graph­er Anton Corbijn (The Joshua Tree etc), every frame of The American is lus­cious and per­fectly com­posed, Mr. Clooney makes this stuff look easy and if you’re in the mar­ket for a qual­ity Euro-art-house Bourne-type thrill­er then look no further.

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Review: District 9, Sunshine Cleaning, The Man in the Hat, The Rocket Post and Case 39

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s going to be a massive few months for Wellywood – District 9 seems to have come out of nowhere to take the world by storm (Currently #35 in the IMDb All Time list, just below Citizen Kane. I kid you not) and The Lovely Bones trail­er is whet­ting everyone’s appet­ite at just the right time. This Friday, Wellington audi­ences are the first in the world to see a fif­teen minute sampler of the loc­ally shot Avatar (Readings from 11.45am, free of charge) and three more Film Commission fea­tures are due for release between now and Christmas: The Strength of Water, Under the Mountain and The Vintner’s Luck, all of which have a sig­ni­fic­ant Wellington com­pon­ent to them.

District 9 posterAnd if the Hollywood big cheeses were wor­ried about The Lord of the Rings shift­ing the tec­ton­ic plates of enter­tain­ment industry power they ought to be ter­ri­fied by District 9, a new world demon­stra­tion of the SANZAR spir­it (minus the Australians) that achieves in spades everything that this year’s big-budget tent-pole fea­tures like Transformers and Terminator failed to do. It works thrill­ingly as pure enter­tain­ment and yet at the same time it’s a little bit more.

Aliens have arrived on earth but unlike in the 70s and 80s they aren’t here to tell us how to con­nect with the uni­verse and expand our con­scious­ness. And it isn’t like the 90s when they arrived to car­a­mel­ize us with their death rays. These ali­ens have arrived for remark­ably 21st cen­tury reas­ons – their ship is crippled and with no way home they are destined to become refugees, out­casts, mis­un­der­stood second-class citizens.

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Review: The Hangover, Good, Elegy, Boy A, Land of the Lost and Forever Strong

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Hangover posterI can just ima­gine the Monday morn­ing when a devel­op­ment exec­ut­ive stumbled across the script of The Hangover. It wouldn’t have taken him long to real­ise that he’d dis­covered mod­ern Hollywood’s holy grail – a per­fectly real­ised men-behaving-badly movie, so well-written and clev­erly struc­tured that he wouldn’t need any big stars or a mar­quee dir­ect­or. By morn­ing tea he would have been gone for the day, safe in the know­ledge that his tar­gets for the year were going be met and (no doubt inspired by the script he’d just bought) he would be drop­ping a big bunch of cred­it card on hook­ers and blow. Probably.

The script is per­fect in its eleg­ant and stream­lined con­struc­tion (screenwriter-porn, no less): Four friends head to Vegas for a bach­el­or party. We leave them at the first Jägermeister shot, only to rejoin them at dawn as they emerge squint­ing into the light. They’ve gained a baby and tiger and lost a tooth – and a buddy. The film is all about put­ting the pieces of the night back togeth­er and it’s clev­er, filthy, loose and charm­ing. The Hangover is indeed the Citizen Kane of all getting-fucked-up-in-Vegas movies – so supremely pre-eminent that (let us hope) we nev­er have to watch anoth­er of its kind ever again. Of course, The Hangover 2 is already in pre-production.

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Review: Frozen River, Pineapple Express and The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s the weird­est coin­cid­ence. In two out of the three films I saw this week someone was shot in the ear. Seriously, go fig­ure. Since I star­ted this gig I’ve seen more than 400 films and no one has ever been shot in the ear and then, just like that, two come along at once.

Frozen River posterThat’s the only thing that con­nects two very dif­fer­ent but very good films: Courtney Hunt’s debut thrill­er Frozen River and David Gordon Green’s very funny Pineapple Express. Frozen River is being sold as a thrill­er, and it does have some very tense edge-of-your-seat moments, but it’s actu­ally a gritty drama about America’s rur­al poor with plenty of under­stand­ing and for­give­ness run­ning through its heart.

We open on a hard-faced woman’s tears. Melissa Leo plays Ray, whose hus­band Troy has giv­en in to his gambling addic­tion and scarpered with the balloon-payment on their new trail­er and it’s two days before Christmas. She’s bring­ing up her two chil­dren in a tiny trail­er down a muddy drive­way in a small town on the snowy bor­der between New York state and Quebec, work­ing part time in the Yankee Dollar store and try­ing to make ends meet.

Searching for the dead­beat hus­band at the loc­al, Mohawk-run, bingo hall she meets Lila Littlewolf who is driv­ing Troy’s aban­doned car. Lila (Misty Upham) is a depressed young woman, liv­ing in her own lonely trail­er, who intends to use the car to bring a few illeg­al immig­rants in to the coun­try, cross­ing the frozen river at the Indian reser­va­tion where the State Troopers can’t go. Needing money (and hav­ing rights to the car), Ray agrees to help, gambling everything she has on mak­ing a couple of trips so she can get her fam­ily through Christmas.

Gambling is the thread run­ning through the film – the First Nation Mohawk people fund their pro­grammes and main­tain their inde­pend­ence through gambling and the work­ing poor like Ray gamble every day that the few choices they have won’t see them fall­ing through the cracks in the ice – meta­phor­ic­ally or in reality.

A bril­liant debut, though not tightly-plotted enough to really qual­i­fy as a thrill­er, Frozen River is up there with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days as an earn­est rep­res­ent­a­tion of people who would oth­er­wise be invis­ible to us.

Pineapple Express posterThe Apatow machine con­tin­ues to spew out fine com­edy. This year we have already had Drillbit Taylor, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Step Brothers and the latest is Pineapple Express, and if it’s not the Citizen Kane of stoner movies then it’s the Goodfellas. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (last year’s Superbad), this film is greatly enhanced by the pres­ence of a real film­maker behind the cam­era, George Washington’s David Gordon Green.

Rogen also stars as pot-head pro­cess serv­er Dale Denton, who wit­nesses a murder and, in his pan­ic, hides out with his deal­er Saul (James Franco). Unfortunately for both of them, this brings the wrath of the pot-mob down on both of them and they are chased across sub­urb­an Glendale by a mot­ley crew of ruf­fi­ans and hood­lums, all the while mak­ing good use of the herb that gives the film its title.

Rogen and Franco both came to pro­du­cer Judd Apatow’s atten­tion dur­ing the short-lived but well-loved tv show “Freaks & Geeks” (which also starred Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Jason Segal) and their easy rap­port is a strength that gets the film through some of its shaki­er moments.

The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D poster Stocktaking the new digit­al 3D realm, we have now had an anim­ated ori­gin­al (Beowulf), a couple of con­cert movies (includ­ing the bril­liant U2), a live-action dud (Journey to the Center of the Earth) and now we see the res­ults when Hollywood goes back to the vault and re-masters an older film for the new tech­no­logy. The Nightmare Before Christmas from 1993 is an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to the pro­cess (if you haven’t been temp­ted before). It was always a vivid and ori­gin­al pro­duc­tion (watched over by Tim Burton) and the 3D really makes it pop.

Jack Skellington is the king of Halloween but is jaded and bored. Discovering Christmas-town, he decides that he wants Christmas all to him­self and hi-jacks it (kid­nap­ping Santa Claus in the pro­cess). Animated (using sim­il­ar stop-motion tech­niques to the Aardman films) by Henry Selick, Nightmare is won­der­ful to look at and not too long for kids, although if you have little tol­er­ance for music­al thee-ater no amount of glor­i­ous 3D will coun­ter­act Danny Elfman’s soundtrack. Me, I loved it.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 29 October, 2008.

Due to exams I skipped a week writ­ing for the CT so there was no sched­uled entry for 5 November. You haven’t missed any­thing. Now, I have to start catch­ing up on movies before I’m swamped by the Christmas rush. This year has gone by so fast.