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Review: No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, 30 Days of Night, The 11th Hour and Talk to Me

By Cinema and Reviews

No Country for Old Men posterNo Country for Old Men is essen­tial cinema in two senses of the word. First and fore­most you must see it, prob­ably more than once. But it is also cinema reduced to its essence. Everything con­trib­utes: Cormac McCarthy’s respect­fully adap­ted ori­gin­al nov­el; beau­ti­fully com­posed images superbly pho­to­graphed by Roger Deakins (the only cre­at­ive on the pro­ject not named Coen); edit­ing that could be a film school in a box. The stand­ard music­al soundtrack is replaced by the music of the every­day: foot­steps, cof­fee pots, car engines, gun fire.

A hunter (Josh Brolin) stumbles across a wil­der­ness drug deal gone wrong: many corpses, a flat­bed full of drugs and briefcase full of money. He takes the money hop­ing to start a new life away from the West Texas trail­er park he inhab­its with Trainspotting’s Kelly MacDonald. But instead of a win­ning lot­tery tick­et he has unleashed the epi­tome of cinema badass-ery: Javier Bardem as an angel of ven­geance determ­ined to retrieve the cash by any means necessary.

All the per­form­ances are won­der­ful but the heart of the film is Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Ed Bell. Always (aggrav­at­ingly) a couple of steps behind he is a good man ill-at-ease with the sheer, inex­plic­able, evil he is con­fron­ted with. A masterpiece.

30 Days of Night posterJosh Hartnett plays anoth­er small town sher­iff, out-gunned and out-matched, in 30 Days of Night. He runs Barrow, the northern-most town in Alaska, so far north that one month of the year is spent in dark­ness. This is the per­fect setup for a smart vam­pire to take advant­age of: 30 days of feed­ing with no enforced hiberna­tion and a bunch of unsa­voury char­ac­ters (well-led by Danny Huston) cer­tainly go to town. Entertaining and styl­ish, 30 Days goes about its work (with­in its genre lim­it­a­tions) respect­ably enough.

Michael Clayton posterI’m begin­ning to think that George Clooney is so good that his pres­ence has actu­ally made some films seem much bet­ter than they actu­ally are: Syriana would be an example. This the­ory comes in to focus when dis­cuss­ing Michael Clayton, anoth­er Oscar con­tender from first-time dir­ect­or Tony Gilroy. Clooney plays the eponym­ous leg­al fix­er, a middle-aged man los­ing his bear­ings: his mor­al com­pass is as adrift as the mal­func­tion­ing sat­nav in his Merc. He is try­ing to fix a rap­idly unrav­el­ling case defend­ing a dodgy agri-chemical com­pany when he real­ises that he is prob­ably on the wrong side but his tenu­ous per­son­al situ­ation doesn’t give him the free­dom to do the right thing. He is con­flic­ted, in oth­er words, and Clooney plays that con­flict superbly. But, while George is act­ing his heart out, the rest of the film doesn’t quite meas­ure up. Performances mis­step and the plot weighs the themes down more heav­ily than it needs to. A good film but not a great one.

The 11th Hour posterLeonardo DiCaprio for the Nobel Peace Prize? Following in the foot­steps of Al Gore’s act­iv­ist phe­nomen­on An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, DiCaprio stakes his own claim with a doc­u­ment­ary about envir­on­ment­al destruc­tion and the urgent need for change: The 11th Hour. Sadly for the earn­est DiCaprio, there’s noth­ing here we haven’t seen or heard before and (des­pite his star power) he is an uncon­vin­cing presenter. Perhaps he should have stayed behind the cam­era and paid Morgan Freeman to front it – he is God after all.

Talk to Me posterTalk to Me is an enter­tain­ing and mov­ing little film, destined to be over­whelmed by the heavy­weight Oscar con­tenders open­ing all around it. Oblivion would­n’t be a fair out­come though and if you find your­self with the time and inclin­a­tion to give it a try you won’t be dis­ap­poin­ted. Always reli­able Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) plays real-life Washington DC radio star and act­iv­ist Ralph Waldo “Petey” Green and the excel­lent Chiwetel Ejiofer (Dirty Pretty Things and American Gangster) is his best friend and Programme Director Dewey Hughes. The racial powder­keg that is DC in the 60’s is well recre­ated on a lim­ited budget but it is the rela­tion­ship between these two very dif­fer­ent men that works best.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 6 February, 2008.

Special thanks to D at the Embassy for let­ting me go back to see No Country a second time before deadline.

Review: Resident Evil- Extinction, Fracture, Away From Her, Perfect Creature, and Eastern Promises

By Cinema and Reviews

Resident Evil: Extinction posterBack in 1984, Russell Mulcahy made Razorback, the tale of a giant mutant pig ter­ror­ising a small out­back town, and his next film is going to be about a man turned into a koala by an ancient abori­gin­al curse, both of which make Resident Evil 3: Extinction look like Anna Karenina. You don’t need to have seen the pre­vi­ous two Resident Evil films or played the video game (I had­n’t) as the plot is pretty simple: zom­bies = bad; super­mod­els = good; genet­ic engin­eer­ing = very bad (unless you are genet­ic­ally engin­eer­ing super­mod­els which = very good). Stoic action-hero Milla Jovovich is pho­to­graphed using the Chanel fil­ter whenev­er she isn’t sli­cing up the un-dead and the film is enter­tain­ing when there’s action and tedi­ous when there isn’t.

Fracture posterIn Fracture, hot­shot young act­or Ryan Gosling plays a hot­shot young Deputy DA, about to make the leap to a big-time cor­por­ate gig but first he has to con­vict Anthony Hopkins who has just shot his wife in the head. Now, IANAL but Fracture seems pretty shonky from a pro­ced­ur­al and leg­al point of view. Can the LA County court sys­tem really send an attemp­ted mur­der­er to tri­al less than a fort­night after the offence? I doubt it, but that con­densed time-frame is vital for Goslings’ char­ac­ter motiv­a­tion and there­fore the rest of the plot, so best to turn a blind-eye to the detail and focus on two great screen act­ors enjoy­ing themselves.

Away From Her posterFilm of the week by some dis­tance is Away From Her by the sub­limely gif­ted Sarah Polley. In snowy Ontario Julie Christie is Fiona, a woman strug­gling with the onset of Alzheimers Disease. Husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) seems to be strug­gling even more, how­ever, and when she decides to go in to res­id­en­tial care he feels that, per­haps, he is being pun­ished by her for past transgressions.

Christie is sen­sa­tion­al but the rev­el­a­tion for me is Pinsent, a liv­ing legend in Canada but rarely seen else­where. His is an extraordin­ary per­form­ance, fully invest­ing his char­ac­ter with all of the pain­ful mash of love, loss and guilt that Polley’s elo­quently spare script requires. His raw and con­fused emo­tions are not just etched in his craggy face but into his ever-moistening eyes.

Perfect Creature posterGlenn Standring’s Perfect Creature is a respect­able genre effort, although devoid of much ori­gin­al­ity. In a steampunk-flavoured altern­at­ive real­ity New Zealand, genet­ic­ally engin­eered vam­pires known as Brothers con­trol soci­ety via reli­gion. When one of their order goes berko and starts eat­ing cit­izens, the sup­posedly del­ic­ate bal­ance between the species/races/whatever is threatened. Deputy Brother Silus (Dougray Scott) teams up with the cheekbones of Detective Lilly (Saffron Burrows) to bring the fiend to justice.

Eastern Promises posterOne of the most start­ling career re-inventions of recent times must belong to screen­writer Steven Knight who until 2002 was a TV hack best known for being Jasper Carrott’s chief gag-man and cre­at­or of Who Wants To be a Millionaire? The script for the excel­lent Dirty Pretty Things launched his fea­ture career and he now delves even deep­er in to the seedy under­belly of gang­land London with Eastern Promises, star­ring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. Watts plays a London hos­pit­al mid­wife and (help­fully) daugh­ter of a Russian. A young girl dies in child­birth on her watch but the diary she was car­ry­ing provides a clue to her iden­tity and leads Watts to the Russian mafia king­pin (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his nut­job son (Vincent Cassell) and the son’s driver (Viggo). Director Cronenberg steers us through the murk effect­ively enough and there’s one thrill­ing set-piece in a turk­ish bath which con­firms his tal­ent for cine­mat­ic viol­ence (if it was ever in doubt). Final irony: the three Russians are played by a German, a Frenchman and a Dane.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 October, 2007.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Away From Her was screened in Penthouse One and the shut­ter tim­ing is still out and get­ting worse. There are also signs of dam­age to the screen (from some­thing behind it?) on the right-hand side. It was also the most uncom­fort­able seat I have sat in this year. This is all a bit of a shame as Penthouse Three (the new one) is per­fectly fine but it looks like stand­ards aren’t being main­tained everywhere.