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don cheadle

Review: Iron Man 3, First Position and Identity Thief

By Cinema and Reviews

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Whatever they are pay­ing Robert Downey Jr. to play Iron Man, it is is worth every penny. Iron Man 3, the third instal­ment in his own branch of the Marvel Universe series that also fea­tures Captain America, The Mighty Thor and The Hulk is hurt­ling towards a bil­lion dol­lars of box office rev­en­ues and might just have broken even on the $200m pro­duc­tion costs by the time you read this.

Iron man 3 posterI’m not sure that there is a bet­ter tech­ni­cian in com­mer­cial cinema than Downey. Even when he is poorly – or not even – dir­ec­ted in films like the last Sherlock Holmes or the last Iron Man, he is nev­er less than watch­able, but when he is chal­lenged by a dir­ect­or and the mater­i­al he is up there with the best ever. The name Cary Grant just popped in to my head and I think the com­par­is­on is reasonable.

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Review: Mt. Zion, Hitchcock, Movie 43, Step Up to the Plate, You Will Be My Son, On Air and Flight

By Cinema and Reviews

Kiwi crowd-pleasers don’t come much more crowd-pleasing than Tearepa Kahi’s Mt. Zion, fea­tur­ing TV tal­ent quester Stan Walker in a star-making per­form­ance as a work­ing class kid with a dream. Slogging his unwill­ing guts out pick­ing pota­toes in the mar­ket gar­dens of 1979 Pukekohe, nervously mak­ing the first steps in a music career that seems impossible and fan­tas­ising about meet­ing the great Bob Marley, Walker’s Turei is out of step with his hard work­ing fath­er (Temuera Morrison) and the back-breaking work.

When a loc­al pro­moter announces a com­pet­i­tion to be the sup­port act for the reg­gae legend’s forth­com­ing con­cert at Western Springs, Turei tests the bound­ar­ies of fam­ily and friend­ship to get a shot at the big time. The bones of the story are famil­i­ar, of course, but there’s meat on the bones too – a slice of New Zealand social his­tory with eco­nom­ic changes mak­ing life harder for a people who don’t own the land that they work. Production design (by Savage) and authentic-looking 16mm pho­to­graphy all help give Mt. Zion a look of its own and the music – though not nor­mally to my taste – is agree­able enough.

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Review: Love Story, The Guard, Crazy Stupid Love, Cedar Rapids, TT3D - Closer to the Edge and Priest 3D

By Cinema and Reviews

Firstly I want to apo­lo­gise that there is no review of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life in this week’s column. I saw it dur­ing the Festival and like most audi­ences was per­turbed, baffled, chal­lenged and ulti­mately awed but I needed a second screen­ing to make sense of it. Arguably less sense rather than more sense was what I would be aim­ing for.

The film opened com­mer­cially this week­end at a couple of loc­a­tions but neither of them offered the sort of grandeur (i.e. screen size) and qual­ity (i.e. DCP 2k digit­al trans­fer of the kind I am start­ing to love) so I thought I would hold off until it reaches a few more screens. I know – I sound like a pom­pous ass but that’s as genu­ine a response to The Tree of Life as I can muster. A more con­sidered response next week.

Love Story posterBut that omis­sion gives me more room for the rest of this week’s releases. Florian Habicht’s Love Story charmed (most) of the Film Festival, includ­ing your cor­res­pond­ent. Habicht’s indefatig­able curi­os­ity and demon­strable love of people powers this strange romantic com­edy made while he was liv­ing in Manhattan on an Arts Foundation residency.

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Traitor: Second Thoughts

By Cinema

Eugene Levy, Queen Latifah and Steve Martin in Bringing Down the House

Steve Martin (right) uses the 90 per cent of his brain that isn’t required for act­ing in Bringing Down the House to write Don Cheadle’s Traitor.

Actually, not so much second thoughts as some­thing inter­est­ing dis­covered after the the review went to print.

In the blog roll to the right you will find a link to the Creative Screenwriting pod­cast, which is nev­er less than inter­est­ing des­pite host Jeff Goldsmith’s some­times annoy­ing abil­ity to miss the inter­est­ing follow-up question.

Anyway, I make a point of not listen­ing to a pod­cast until after I’ve seen and reviewed a par­tic­u­lar film – I try and watch everything unme­di­ated by any­thing more than the trail­er – but that some­times means I miss a gem of con­text that might illu­min­ate (or add value in some oth­er way).

Last week I was listen­ing to writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff talk about the Don Cheadle war-on-terror thrill­er Traitor and he out­lined how the film got its start: an idea from comedi­an Steve Martin that he had while work­ing on the Queen Latifah “com­edy” Bringing Down the House. Evidently, he had the idea, wrote a treat­ment, sold it to Disney and then got the heck out of the way.

It obvi­ously went through a few changes since then (as these things always do) but that whole “ter­ror­ists want to blow up 50 buses, tricked into all get­ting on the same bus” thing? All Steve.

Review: In Bruges, Death Race, Nights in Rodanthe, Traitor, The Children of the Silk Road, Rubbings from a Live Man and Choke

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Two hit­men (Gleeson and the excel­lent Colin Farrell) have been sent to the sleepy Belgian town of Bruges to lie low after a job has gone wrong. Once there, they are sup­posed to enjoy the many his­tor­ic and cul­tur­al treats of the beau­ti­fully pre­served walled medi­ev­al city while wait­ing for fur­ther instruc­tions. This suits Gleeson (older, wiser, worldly) but Farrell, frac­tious after the ter­rible stuff-up, wants booze, birds, drugs and trouble. And even in Bruges he finds some of all of it.

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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.