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Review: Summer Holiday Roundup (2012/13)

By Cinema and Reviews

As I sit here typ­ing, I can hear the sounds of a Wellington sum­mer all around me – the rain pour­ing on to the deck out­side and the wind howl­ing through the trees. Is this why loc­al film dis­trib­ut­ors release so much product over the Christmas/New Year peri­od? Perhaps it’s just cli­mate and noth­ing to do with the Oscars at all? Anyhow, here’s a quick sum­mary of what’s been dished out at loc­al cinemas in des­cend­ing order of greatness.

First up, Ang Lee’s glow­ing 3D adapt­a­tion of Yann Martell’s Life of Pi, storm­ing the loc­al box offices and deservedly so. Ravishing to look at – and mak­ing pro­found rather than nov­elty use of the extra depth avail­able – Lee’s film man­ages to dis­til the essence of the book’s mes­sage even if the ambigu­ous end­ing proves less sat­is­fy­ing cine­mat­ic­ally than lit­er­ar­ily. Dreamy. I was par­tic­u­larly taken by the con­scious recre­ation of the book’s ori­gin­al cov­er in one scene, even to the extent of chan­ging the film’s aspect ratio for that single shot.

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Cinema: Best of 2007

By Cinema

And so, after 191 films viewed and reviewed here I get to sum up the 2007 cinema year. As I said back in September it’s been a great year for good films but a poor year for truly great ones. Even my (obvi­ously unim­peach­able) Top Ten list con­tains only a few that I think will be regarded as clas­sics in 20 years but these are all films that I’d hap­pily see again or even own on DVD if the chance arises.

Into the Wild posterBest of the year turns out to be the most recent: Sean Penn’s Into the Wild is the real deal. As beau­ti­ful to look at and listen to as the finest art film, but remain­ing down to earth, it fea­tures a star-making per­form­ance from Emile Hirsch lead­ing an ensemble of fine screen act­ors and it ulti­mately deliv­ers a mes­sage that is com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the one you expect: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait posterThe next two selec­tions are also not­able for being the lowest-grossing films of the year: the mes­mer­ising Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait fol­lowed one man around a foot­ball pitch for an entire match and the won­drous and glow­ing abori­gin­al film Ten Canoes reminded us that great story-telling can be found any­where, from the camp fire to the mul­ti­plex. The finest per­form­ances of the year from grown-ups were found in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie were a couple reel­ing from the impact of Alzheimer’s: the pres­sure of the dis­ease slowly unrav­el­ling a rela­tion­ship that on the sur­face seemed so pure. Best per­form­ance of the year from any­one was little Kolya Spiridonov as “orphan” Vanya in The Italian, determ­ined to find his Mother wherever she may be rather than go to the west with new parents.

Deep Water posterBest doc­u­ment­ary turned out to be the unprom­ising Deep Water: a film about a yacht race that ended up being about the deep­est, darkest secrets kept by a fra­gile human soul – it was even bet­ter second time around. Atonement was a sweep­ing and romantic drama show­cas­ing the many skills of the latest gen­er­a­tion of British movie craftspeople, not least dir­ect­or Joe Wright who, annoy­ingly, is only 36 years old. Best loc­al film in an uneven year (and jus­ti­fi­ably in this Top Ten) is Taika Waititi’s Eagle vs. Shark: funny and sweet and sad and the product of a sin­gu­lar vis­ion rather than the com­mit­tee that seems to pro­duce so many New Zealand films.

Knocked Up posterMy favour­ite com­mer­cial film of the year was the sweet-natured and very funny Knocked Up about a slack­er and a career-girl get­ting to grips with respons­ib­il­ity, rela­tion­ships and par­ent­hood: He tangata, he tangata, he tangata once again. Finally, I’ve spent all year try­ing to jus­ti­fy leav­ing Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver out of this Top Ten with no luck what­so­ever: the com­plete lack of flaws of any kind mean it gets in des­pite the fact that I didn’t love it like I did some others.

It’s a tough time for loc­al paper film review­ers around the world. Cinema crit­ics from pub­lic­a­tions like the Village Voice have been giv­en the flick by penny-pinching pub­lish­ers and even the Sunday Star-Times in Auckland has star­ted run­ning film reviews from sis­ter papers in Australia rather than pay someone loc­ally to rep­res­ent you. So, I feel incred­ibly for­tu­nate to be able to watch all these films on your behalf and want to thank the Capital Times for indul­ging my desire to cov­er everything rather than a select few releases. Thanks, also, to all the Wellington cinemas who have gra­ciously hos­ted me des­pite my fairly con­stant bitch­ing about stand­ards. But, above all, thank you for read­ing. See you next year.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday January 2, 2008.

Review: Unknown, Stephanie Daley, Rush Hour 3, La Vie En Rose and Deep Water

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Unknown posterAs recoun­ted by cel­eb­rated neur­o­lo­gist Oliver Sacks in a recent New Yorker, amne­sia is a fas­cin­at­ing con­di­tion. In the art­icle he tells the story of clas­sic­al musi­cian Clive Wearing who, due to enchaphal­it­is more than 20 years ago, can retain new memor­ies for no longer than a few seconds. The dev­ast­a­tion of his case is tran­scen­ded by two things: the love of his wife (which he is aware of even though he sees her as if for the first time every day) and his music­al abil­ity which remains complete.

In Hollywood, amne­sia (like oth­er dis­orders) is rarely por­trayed as a tra­gic con­di­tion with ser­i­ous and fas­cin­at­ing psy­cho­lo­gic­al impacts but instead is usu­ally just a plot device. New thrill­er Unknown, star­ring Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper, tries a little bit of both.

In a remote aban­doned chem­ic­al ware­house five men wake up with no memor­ies of who they are or how they got there. Two of the group have been kid­napped, the oth­ers are the gang. But who?

While all the evid­ence points to Caviezel being one of the kid­nap­pers (he was­n’t tied up at the begin­ning for a start) he does­n’t feel like one and, des­pite the shift­ing alle­gi­ances and Lord of the Flies power-plays, he attempts to bind the group togeth­er so they can all escape before the ringlead­er returns with the ransom. It’s an inter­est­ing exist­en­tial­ist pro­voca­tion although, in the end, fur­ther psy­cho­lo­gic­al insight is sac­ri­ficed in favour of yet anoth­er plot twist.

Stephanie Daley posterInsight is what forensic psy­cho­lo­gist Tilda Swinton is after in Stephanie Daley. Heavily preg­nant, and still mourn­ing the loss of a pre­vi­ous unborn child, she is asked to inter­view the eponym­ous school­girl (Amber Tamblyn) who is accused of con­ceal­ing her own preg­nancy and then mur­der­ing the new-born baby. Her exam­in­a­tion will decide the fate of the tim­id young Christian girl who may indeed be too inno­cent to real­ize what a drunk­en date-rape can lead to. Stephanie Daley is a well acted drama with a fine sense of place, loc­ated in snowy upstate New York, and a lot going on under the surface.

Rush Hour 3 posterBack at the mul­ti­plex, Rush Hour 3 is one of the poorest excuses for enter­tain­ment it is been my mis­for­tune to wit­ness. And to think that part-timer Chris Tucker was paid $25m to star in it (a fee which evid­ently did not require any time at the gym to pre­pare). Jackie Chan is show­ing his age too. Abject.

La Vie En Rose posterI spent most of the time watch­ing La Vie En Rose think­ing that I’d seen the film some­where before. A beau­ti­fully art dir­ec­ted recre­ation of the life of a troubled artist from the wrong side of the tracks, dev­ast­ated by drug addic­tion and guilt, it could have been Ray or Walk The Line except for the fact that little Edith Piaf did­n’t have time for the redemp­tion and tri­umph that the Hollywood biop­ics demand.

Piaf was an extraordin­ary char­ac­ter, a huge and vibrant voice in a frail and tiny frame. Writer-director Olivier Dahan makes con­sist­ently inter­est­ing choices (par­tic­u­larly a death-bed mont­age at the end which amaz­ingly con­tains noth­ing that we have seen before) and Marion Cotillard plays Piaf with all the fierce and demen­ted self-destructive energy she can sum­mon up. She’s a force of nature and it is one of the per­form­ances of the year.

Deep Water posterFinally, superb doc­u­ment­ary Deep Water finally gets the prom­ised com­mer­cial release and I urge you not to miss it. And, if you already saw it at the Festival check it out again as it’s quite a dif­fer­ent film second time around.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 October, 2007.

Full dis­clos­ure: Unknown is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who pay me money to do stuff for them from time to time.

Review: The Bourne Ultimatum, Day Watch, Joy Division and The Singer

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Bourne Ultimatum posterIt’s Bourne-time again and rogue-agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still try­ing to find out who he is, who erased his memory and why. A Guardian journ­al­ist (Paddy Considine) seems to know some­thing so he takes the Eurostar to London and with­in 15 minutes of arriv­ing the bod­ies are pil­ing up.

In a cun­ning (not to men­tion poten­tially con­fus­ing) screen­writ­ing coup the first two-thirds of Ultimatum actu­ally takes place ‘before’ the final 15 minutes of Supremacy (the pre­vi­ous sequel) and the two time-lines meet briefly before Ultimatum picks us up and takes us to the final, fas­cin­at­ing, reveal: of a plot (as the say­ing goes) ripped from the head­lines – and from post‑9/11 para­noid, punch-drunk, American for­eign policy.

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