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Gravity poster

Review: Gravity, Mr. Pip, Grown Ups 2, Battle of the Year 3D and 2 Guns

By Cinema and Reviews

Gravity movie still

Gravity posterIs Gravity the first really new film of the 21st Century? I haz­ard it may be. It is cer­tainly the first to har­ness the bleed­ing edge of the cur­rent tech­no­lo­gies (per­form­ance cap­ture, 3D, soph­ist­ic­ated robot­ic cam­era rigs) to serve a story that could only really exist in this form. Sure, once his ears had stopped bleed­ing Georges Meliés would totally recog­nise what dir­ect­or Alfonso Cuarón and his screen­writer part­ner (and son) Jonás are doing here, but he would be the first to put his hand up to say that he would­n’t have been able to do it. Same for Kubrick, I suspect.

During a routine shuttle mis­sion high above the Earth, astro­nauts Sandy Bullock and George Clooney are strug­gling to make some adjust­ments to the Hubble tele­scope when Houston (a nicely cast Ed Harris) warns them of some incom­ing debris. A Russian spy satel­lite has been des­troyed by its own­ers caus­ing a chain reac­tion as the little bug­gers kick-off all over the place. Tiny frag­ments of satel­lite travel at leth­al speeds on roughly the same orbit and our her­oes have to get to safety before they risk being vaporised.

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Review: State of Play, Synecdoche, New York, I Love You Man, Paul Blart- Mall Cop, Easy Virtue, Bottle Shock, The Escapist, In Search of Beethoven and Trouble Is My Business

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s a little known fact in the movie industry that most cinema releases serve no great­er pur­pose than to provide some advance pub­li­city for an inev­it­able DVD release. This week sev­en new films were released into the Wellington mar­ket and barely more than a couple of them jus­ti­fied tak­ing up space and time on a big movie screen.

I Love You, Man posterFirst up, I Love You, Man – anoth­er in the end­less parade of cash-ins on the for­mula lit­er­ally coined by Judd Apatow with 40-year-old Virgin and Knocked Up. In this ver­sion usu­al side-kick Paul Rudd takes centre-stage as mild-mannered real estate agent Peter Klaven, engaged to be mar­ried but with no Best Man. All his friends are women, you see, and hijinks ensue as he attempts to gen­er­ate some het­ero­sexu­al male friend­ships and get some bro-mance in his life.

The key thing to point out here is that I love You, Man isn’t very funny and is very slow, but it will trot out the door of the video shop when the time comes, thanks to people like me giv­ing it the oxy­gen of pub­li­city. Dash it, sucked in again.

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Review: The Golden Compass, Enchanted, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Water Horse, National Treasure- Book of Secrets, I Am Legend, Sweet Land, The Kite Runner, Priceless and The Darjeeling Limited

By Cinema and Reviews

The Golden Compass posterKeen-eyed read­ers will remem­ber that a year ago I nom­in­ated The Golden Compass as my most-eagerly-awaited title of 2007. So, how did it pan out? I’m one of those who con­sider Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials books to be the most import­ant works of fic­tion pro­duced in the last 20 years and I was sur­prised at how closely the film fol­lowed Book One (“Northern Lights”), pos­sibly to it’s det­ri­ment. I was wor­ried that a film with much expos­i­tion and detailed scene-setting might prove unwatch­able but my com­pan­ion (unfa­mil­i­ar with the books) found it thrill­ing where­as I found it hard to let myself go and relax into it – maybe second time around.

Enchanted poster Disney’s Enchanted saw Amy Adams reprise her Oscar-nominated wide-eyed naïf from Junebug. Unfortunately, as Princess Giselle from the anim­ated king­dom of Andalasia, she couldn’t over­come the col­lect­ive bland­ness of James Marsden as fictional-world love interest or Patrick Dempsey as real-world love interest; diver­sions were provided by Timothy Spall and the first of sev­er­al anim­ated chip­munks to land this Christmas.

Alvin and the Chipmunks posterThe next fluffy rodents to arrive were the “singing” trio from Alvin and the Chipmunks, a recre­ation of someone’s favour­ite child­hood pop butchers. Jason Lee is a waste of space as the song­writer who dis­cov­ers them but the little crit­ters them­selves will keep your inner 8‑year-old amused for a while.

The Water Horse posterAlso for the kids was the well-meaning but slightly po-faced Loch Ness mon­ster fantasy The Water Horse, anoth­er high-class product of the family-friendly Walden Media/Weta/NZ con­fed­er­a­tion. A tre­mend­ous over­seas cast led by Ben Chaplin and Emily Watson are joined by famil­i­ar and reli­able loc­al faces like Joel Tobeck and Geraldine Brophy.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets posterNational Treasure: Book of Secrets saw Nicolas Cage arise from his coma and make a little more of an effort than he did earli­er this year in Next: it’s a noisy romp in which unlikely char­ac­ters and implaus­ible situ­ations com­bine to bam­boozle any seeker after logic. Helen Mirren, Harvey Keitel and Ed Harris add gravitas.

I Am Legend posterWill Smith returned in the oft-made man alone thrill­er I Am Legend, a per­fect example of a poor script made pal­at­able by classy dir­ec­tion and a superb lead­ing man at the top of his game. Smith plays Lt-Col Robert Neville: dec­or­ated war vet­er­an, ace micro-biologist and (judging by his address oppos­ite the Washington Square Arch) heir to the Rockefeller for­tune too. A genet­ic­ally mutated vir­us that was sup­posed to cure can­cer has gone rogue. 99% of the pop­u­la­tion has died, 1% have turned into bloodthirsty zom­bies and only one man is immune – hand­ily for our pur­poses the one man who might know how to cre­ate a vac­cine. Lots of frights, lots of great action and a mag­ni­fi­cently seam­less cre­ation of aban­doned New York make it cer­tainly worth a look. At least until the last 15 minutes when, sadly, it just gets stupid.

Sweet Land posterFinally, to the art­house: Sweet Land is an unher­al­ded gem set in beau­ti­ful rur­al Minnesota among the Northern European immig­rants who were mak­ing their lives on that land in the first quarter of the last cen­tury. Elizabeth Reaser plays German immig­rant Inge who travels from Germany to meet Lars, the man who is to be her hus­band. But she speaks no English, has no papers and the loc­als are sus­pi­cious of Germans – the mar­riage is for­bid­den. True love con­quers all but not before the bit­ter sweet tale ties three gen­er­a­tions and the fer­tile farm­land togeth­er. Recommended.

The Kite Runner posterA monu­ment to the Digital Intermediate Colourist’s art, The Kite Runner is an adapt­a­tion of the beloved nov­el by Khaled Hosseini, dir­ec­ted by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, cur­rently shoot­ing the new Bond). Affecting but manip­u­lat­ive, The Kite Runner is a story of guilt and redemp­tion (usu­ally cat­nip to me) but in the end it relied too much on out­rageous coin­cid­ence to be truly sat­is­fy­ing. Great per­form­ances from Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada as Young Hassan and Homayoun Ershadi as Baba mean it is nev­er less than watchable.

Priceless posterPriceless is yet anoth­er French film about mis­taken iden­tity and class restric­tions: they seem to be more obsessed about class and status than the poms. Gad Elmaleh (The Valet) and Amelie’s Audrey Tautou play two ambi­tious indi­vidu­als from the serving class: he walks dogs and tends bar at a flash hotel and she is a gold dig­ger try­ing to snare a rich old hus­band. The fact that both act­ors are of North African des­cent (and there­fore are excluded from the ranks of the real French who sit at the top table) is either a subtle stroke of geni­us or dodgy racism depend­ing on the degree of Christmas spir­it you want to demonstrate.

The Darjeeling Limited posterFinally, The Darjeeling Limited is a win­ning tale of lost young men, search­ing for a fath­er fig­ure, from the mod­ern day poet of fath­er fig­ure searches, Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic). There’s no great them­at­ic or styl­ist­ic leap made by Anderson here but he is hon­ing this stuff to a fine art. Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are three broth­ers on a spir­itu­al jour­ney across India but it is the recently deceased fath­er who casts the longest shad­ow. Well made and often very funny, The Darjeeling Limited is very easy to enjoy and Anderson’s taste is exquisite.

To be prin­ted in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 16 Jan, 2008. I am tak­ing a week­end off, away from the Internet and cinema so will catch up with the week’s new releases next week.

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).

The Queen posterAfter 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 it’s 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 Darin 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 it’s very twisty story – though some might say it has one twist too many.

Babel posterBabel (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.

Saw III posterLastly, 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.