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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.

The American posterIn 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: We’re Here To Help, Control, The Last Trapper, 1408, Lions for Lambs and Death Proof

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

We're Here to Help stillIn 1993 Christchurch prop­erty developer Dave Henderson tried to get a GST refund on a pro­ject he was work­ing on in Lower Hutt. When the IRD officer sexu­ally har­assed his part­ner, Dave threatened to kick him “half way down Cashel Street”. It turned out the IRD were the wrong people to threaten and the hell unleashed is entirely in the oth­er dir­ec­tion. After years of audits, pro­sec­u­tions and bank­ruptcies it took inter­ven­tion from the hero­ic Rodney Hide to finally put a stop to the abuse.

We’re Here to Help will look right at home on tele­vi­sion when it even­tu­ally appears (the IRD recep­tion area looks like the old Shortland Street set) but if you go now you’ll have plenty to talk about at your sum­mer barbecues.

There’s a lot to like about We’re Here to Help, par­tic­u­larly see­ing exper­i­enced New Zealand act­ors like John Leigh and Stephen Papps giv­en some free­dom to play (and lead Erik Thomson is an effort­less every­man) but the film gets ter­ribly strange when Michael Hurst turns up dressed in a a fat suit to play Hide. He’s totally mis­cast and it becomes a com­pletely dif­fer­ent film (some­thing by Jim Henson per­haps) when he is onscreen.

Have the IRD changed their ways? It has been argued that the unpleas­ant­ness served up to Henderson had its roots in an insu­lar Christchurch busi­ness com­munity but I know that sev­er­al people con­nec­ted to the pro­duc­tion were very wary of poten­tial IRD retali­ation over the film and the fact that Producer John Barnett is cur­rently being audited may not be an inno­cent coincidence.

Control posterIan Curtis, Macclesfield’s match­less pur­vey­or of un-listenable dirges, gets the big screen biop­ic treat­ment in Control. It’s a hand­some pro­duc­tion with some fine per­form­ances (not least from new­comer Sam Riley as Curtis); the act­ors play­ing Joy Division recre­ate the music with dis­tress­ing accur­acy and dir­ect­or Anton Corbijn employs the most effect­ive use of black and white pho­to­graphy since Raging Bull.

The Last Trapper posterDog-sledding seems like a des­per­ately uncer­tain meth­od of trans­port­a­tion in The Last Trapper. Canadian hunter and wil­der­ness vet­er­an Norman Winther seems to spend most of his time tip­ping over, fall­ing into frozen lakes, down rav­ines and tangling him­self up with the dogs. Winther plays him­self but it isn’t a doc­u­ment­ary (although I’m sure there are grains of truth in each recre­ation). My recom­mend­a­tion would be to stick your fin­gers in your ears to ignore the clunky dia­logue and poor dub­bing and con­cen­trate on the beau­ti­ful Yukonic visuals.

1408 posterBack in 1983 Stephen King gave us a haunted car in Christine. Now, 24 years later he has come up with a haunted hotel room in 1408. Rumours that his next pro­ject will be about a haunted shop­ping trol­ley are pure spec­u­la­tion on my part. As for 1408, there are few sur­prises on offer and, apart from the always watch­able John Cusack, it really did noth­ing for me.

Lions for Lambs posterHere in New Zealand Robert Redford’s pat­ron­ising polit­ic­al sci­ence exer­cise Lions for Lambs seems so much like preach­ing to the choir but it would inter­est­ing to see it with a dif­fer­ent audi­ence, one for whom the simplist­ic his­tory and eth­ics les­sons on offer are fresh and inspir­ing. On second thoufghts I don’t think that audi­ence exists. Tom Cruise plays ambi­tious Republican sen­at­or Jasper Irving, try­ing to manip­u­late cred­u­lous report­er Meryl Streep into pro­mot­ing the latest ran­dom mil­it­ary surge in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan the surge itself has star­ted badly and in California Pol-Sci pro­fess­or Redford is try­ing to con­vince one last stu­dent to devote him­self to self­less pub­lic ser­vice instead of easy money and a quiet life.

Death Proof posterFinally, Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof is pure cine­mat­ic enter­tain­ment – an expertly con­struc­ted throwaway trib­ute to the cheap thrills of the 70s. Awesome Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a nasty piece of work who use his souped up “death proof” Chevy Nova to wreak hav­oc on two groups of young women. Luckily for the second bunch, they have kiwi stun­t­wo­man Zoe Bell (Kill Bill) in the team and the abil­ity to fight back. I came out of Death Proof grin­ning from ear to ear.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 November, 2007.

Nature of Conflict: John Leigh, Stephen Papps and sev­er­al oth­er mem­bers of the cast of We’re Here To Help are great mates of long stand­ing. And Erik Thomson is a cousin.