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diane kruger

Review: Kick-Ass 2, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Much Ado About Nothing & Frances Ha

By Cinema and Reviews

Alexis Denisoff and Amy Acker in Joss Whedon's adptation of Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

There has been much dis­cus­sion in the circles in which I move about the quant­ity of films released to loc­al cinemas. Not only are there too many films com­ing out every week – too many for each one to gen­er­ate much heat at any rate – but the ones that are com­ing out aren’t always the right ones. Smaller dis­trib­ut­ors are push­ing everything they have into the sys­tem regard­less of their poten­tial and some of the majors – with big­ger mar­ket­ing budgets and over­heads to worry about – are ditch­ing their art­house and mid-range titles and push­ing them straight to home video.

[pullquote]Who says Americans can­’t do Shakespeare? Nonsense.[/pullquote]At the same time, mul­ti­plex screens are full of big budget com­mer­cial gambles, with box office estim­ates based on loc­al his­tory and the hope that Twilight-like light­ning might strike twice. See which ones in the list below fit into which cat­egory. (Clue: if your film has no hi-res English lan­guage poster avail­able online  and your only offi­cial web­site is in Japanese, maybe you can­’t really sup­port it in NZ cinemas.)

Farewell, My Queen posterBenoît Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen goes behind the scenes of Louis XVI and – more spe­cific­ally – Marie Antoinette’s court dur­ing the dark days of the revolu­tion as the régime tottered and fell. We see these events from the point of view of Her Majesty’s book read­er, a young ser­vant played by Léa Seydoux. Initially besot­ted by the Queen (Diane Kruger), her faith is shaken by the rev­el­a­tions of cor­rup­tion, waste and – intriguingly – Antoinette’s rela­tion­ship with the duch­esse de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).

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Review: No, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Host and Hyde Park on Hudson

By Cinema and Reviews

No sounds like the kind of thing a tod­dler in the middle of a tan­trum might say, while stomp­ing around your lounge room at bed­time. At the cinema, though, the tan­trum belongs to the cor­rupt dic­tat­or­ship of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, forced through inter­na­tion­al pres­sure to let oth­ers play in his sand­pit. In 1988 he announced a ref­er­en­dum that would demon­strate – by fair means or foul – that the people loved him, weren’t inter­ested in demo­cracy and that those who thought dif­fer­ent were noth­ing but com­mun­ists and terrorists.

15 years after he and his mil­it­ary junta over­threw the legit­im­ate left-leaning gov­ern­ment of Salvador Allende, the ques­tion in the ref­er­en­dum would be a simple one: “Yes” to keep the dic­tat­or­ship and “No” for a return to free elec­tions. No, Pablo Larraín’s bril­liant movie, looks at the cam­paign from the per­spect­ive of an ad guy – a Mad Man – played by Gael García Bernal, who har­nessed the latest cor­por­ate sales tech­niques and the power of tele­vi­sion to change the dir­ec­tion of a nation.

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Review- In a Better World, Unknown, Sanctum 3D and Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

By Cinema and Reviews

I love it when a film raises the stakes. Done with wit, it can drag you back in to a film you might have been drift­ing away from. Done with smarts, like Susanne Bier’s Danish drama In a Better World, it can drag you to the edge of your seat.

About two-thirds in to the film there’s an event that forces a cent­ral char­ac­ter to con­front his own prin­ciples – val­ues he has been care­fully (and self­lessly) teach­ing his kids – and he has to ques­tion wheth­er those prin­ciples are really doing him any good in a world that refuses to hon­our them in return.

The char­ac­ter is Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a Swedish doc­tor work­ing in a sub-Saharan refugee camp where – in addi­tion to the usu­al lit­any of drought-related prob­lems – he’s patch­ing up preg­nant women bru­tal­ised by the loc­al war­lord. He’s troubled by the cir­cum­stances but smug about his role in the aid pro­cess. Perhaps he should be pay­ing more atten­tion to back home though, as his old­est son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is being bul­lied at school and taken under the wing of cold-eyed psy­cho­path Christian (bril­liant William Jøhnk Nielsen), griev­ing the can­cer death of his moth­er and tak­ing his quiet rage out on the world.

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Review: Anything for Her

By Cinema and Reviews

Anything for Her posterWith the big budget Hollywood remake already in pro­duc­tion (star­ring Rusty Crowe), Anything for Her looked like it might have had some enter­tain­ment poten­tial but I’m sad to report that it nev­er gets up to speed.

The bliss­ful lives of school teach­er Julien (Vincent Lindon) and Lisa (Diane Kruger) are, as they say, shattered when Lisa is wrongly con­victed of murder. With no pos­sib­il­ity of leg­al redress, and a rap­idly deteri­or­at­ing men­tal state, it looks like Diane won’t be able to stand 20 years in the big house and Julien has to act to save her and the fam­ily – the two of them plus cute little Oscar played by the won­der­fully named Lancelot Roch.

Somewhat implaus­ibly, Julien hatches a plan to boost his Mrs from jail and escape the coun­try to some­where with no extra­di­tion. Despite no pre­vi­ous crim­in­al exper­i­ence, Julien obsesses over all the details until his plan comes togeth­er. Advice from a loc­al crim­in­al turned author (“don’t impro­vise if you don’t have the crim­in­al mind­set”) has to be ignored when cir­cum­stances change suddenly.

I can see this work­ing with Crowe (and Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson). These sorts of tales told by Hollywood are always barely a step away from pure fantasy and it’s much easi­er to get car­ried along by the hok­um. The French ver­sion is so groun­ded in a recog­nis­able real­ity that the plot and char­ac­ters don’t make any sense at all. Lindon is a great act­or. He’s soul­ful, rug­gedly good look­ing, and deeply intense but, para­dox­ic­ally, the more real he tries to make the char­ac­ter the less you can believe what’s going on. Because it’s preposterous.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 April, 2010.

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).

After 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 its 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 Darín 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 its very twisty story – though some might say it has one twist too many.

Babel (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.

Lastly, 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.