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Review: Reel Brazil festival, Win Win, Shark Night 3D, The Help, The Holy Roller, Friends With Benefits & Upside Down- the Creation Records Story

By Cinema and Reviews

Reel Brazil 2011 posterTo really under­stand a coun­try you have to go and live there – embed your­self with the people, soak up the cul­ture. If you don’t have the time or inclin­a­tion for that then the next best thing to is to get stuck in to their com­mer­cial cinema. Not the stuff that makes it into major inter­na­tion­al film fest­ivals like Berlin and Venice, not the stuff that gets nom­in­ated for for­eign lan­guage Academy Awards, but the films that are made to excite and please a loc­al audi­ence. That’s what fest­ivals like Reel Brazil are all about – a week-long por­trait of a coun­try via its cinema.

In the late 60s Brazil had a kind of Brazilian Idol tele­vi­sion pop com­pet­i­tion where brave young artists per­formed their top song in front of a live audi­ence bay­ing for blood as if they were watch­ing Christians versus lions. But in A Night in 67 we see that year’s com­pet­i­tion rise above the boos and jeers to open a new chapter in Brazilian pop music – legendary names like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso com­pete to win over the tough crowd and in the pro­cess launch massive inter­na­tion­al careers.

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Review: Eat Pray Love, Buried and The Town

By Cinema and Reviews

Eat Pray Love posterEat Pray Love is what they used to call, in the old days, a “women’s pic­ture” and the advert­isers who have paid good money to annoy audi­ences before the film make sure you know it: fem­in­ine hygiene products. A chro­mo­somal anom­aly on my part means that I’m not in the tar­get mar­ket for this film (or the best­selling book that inspired it) but I’ll give it a go. Manfully.

Julia Roberts plays Liz, a phe­nom­en­ally bad play­wright and (sup­posedly) suc­cess­ful author who has a crisis and ends her (sup­posedly) unsat­is­fact­ory mar­riage to bewildered and hurt Billy Crudup. Never hav­ing lived without a man in her life she goes straight into a rela­tion­ship with hand­some and spir­itu­al young act­or James Franco.

Still unhappy, and a source of enorm­ous frus­tra­tion to her eth­nic­ally diverse best friend Viola Davis (Doubt), she uses her share of the Crudup divorce to take a year off and find her­self – Italy for the food, India for the guru and Bali for Javier Bardem.

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Review: Seven Pounds, Doubt and My Brother is an Only Child

By Cinema and Reviews

Seven Pounds posterThis week, three films which trade on a twist or rev­el­a­tion (to vary­ing degrees of suc­cess). First, Seven Pounds reunites the cre­at­ive team behind 2006’s excel­lent The Pursuit of Happyness and is this year’s annoy­ing entry in the “Will Smith Serious Movie Contest”. Smith plays the mys­ter­i­ous bene­fact­or Ben Thomas who appears to be look­ing for deserving strug­glers who need a help­ing hand (like a research­er for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”) but as the cir­cum­stances are slowly unrav­elled a dark­er pic­ture emerges.

Put togeth­er with con­sid­er­able tal­ent and pas­sion by all con­cerned (sup­port­ing per­form­ances from Barry Pepper and Woody Harrelson are worth men­tion­ing), Seven Pounds suf­fers from a mad­den­ing script and, frankly, a totally mis­guided con­cep­tion which someone should have put a stop to much soon­er. Yet, it con­tin­ues to look beau­ti­ful, and the per­form­ances remain first rate, right up until the most lun­at­ic of loose ends are tied up and you are released once again, bewildered, in to the Wellington sunshine.

Seven Pounds is remin­is­cent of Iñárritu’s mas­ter­piece 21 Grams and is sim­il­arly about atone­ment – but the only atone­ment required here should come from screen­writer Grant Nieporte (whose most high-profile pre­vi­ous cred­it is an epis­ode of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”).

Doubt posterThere’s an example of real writ­ing on dis­play in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, an adapt­a­tion of his own stage play which was pro­duced at Circa last year. In the Bronx in 1964, a pro­gress­ive young Catholic priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is accused by har­rid­an head­mis­tress Meryl Streep of abus­ing 12-year-old pupil Donald Miller. In a series of lengthy scenes between Hoffman, Streep, wit­ness Sister James (Amy Adams) and the boy’s moth­er (little-known Viola Davis more than hold­ing her own in this heavy­weight com­pany) the invest­ig­a­tion is played out.

Only it isn’t really an invest­ig­a­tion – just a hunch fol­lowed by polit­ic­al and emo­tion­al man­oeuv­ring to pro­voke the down­fall of a pos­sibly inno­cent man. There are many com­plex­it­ies to take account of: Miller is the only black child in a school full of Irish and Italian kids, he’s a sens­it­ive soul look­ing for a fath­er fig­ure, Hoffman insists he is simply inno­cently tend­ing his flock. None of this is enough for the sour old Principal who believes her know­ledge of human nature trumps all.

When Doubt was play­ing on Broadway many crit­ics drew par­al­lels with the Bush II rush to war in Iraq, based on faith rather than facts (which Shanley hasn’t denied), but with a little dis­tance the broad­er implic­a­tions of faith versus doubt are allowed some air.

Shanley hasn’t dir­ec­ted a film since the under-appreciated Joe Versus the Volcano back in 1990 and he proves cap­able enough here, although the film nev­er really escapes the stage. But it’s an intel­li­gent, well-acted, thought-provoking little drama and we should be grate­ful for it.

My Brother is an Only Child posterThe most suc­cess­ful twist of the week comes in the unas­sum­ing Italian drama My Brother is an Only Child, a gen­i­al fam­ily drama, 60s com­ing of age story and polit­ic­al his­tory les­son. In the small indus­tri­al town of Latina, foun­ded by the fas­cists in the 30s and remain­ing sym­path­et­ic to Mussolini’s rule, two broth­ers com­pete polit­ic­ally and romantic­ally. Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio) is the older Benassi broth­er, a fiery left­ist with a rov­ing eye. Younger broth­er Assio (Elio Germano) tries the sem­in­ary and fas­cism before wising up. Between the two boys is the beau­ti­ful Francesca (Diane Fleri), dis­tract­ing them both from the import­ant polit­ic­al mat­ters at hand.

When it comes, the twist is like a kid­ney punch, suck­ing all the air out of you. You’ve grown to like all these char­ac­ters with their pas­sion­ate, express­ive, emo­tion­al Italian-ness and by the end you find you really care – some­thing that the clever-clever Seven Pounds was nev­er likely to achieve.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 21 January, 2009.

I want to apo­lo­gise to reg­u­lar read­ers for the poor qual­ity of the prose in this week’s review. I knew it was pretty crappy when I sub­mit­ted it but the com­bin­a­tion of only one day in Wellington before dead­line meant I had to write it and send it before return­ing to work on Tuesday. It could def­in­itely have used an extra polish.