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elizabeth banks Archives - Funerals & Snakes

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 Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, Monsters vs. Aliens, The Uninvited, 12 Rounds, Pink Panther 2 and Ip Man

By Cinema and Reviews

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls movie posterI’m not normally one to make box office predictions but I have a gut feeling that The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls is going to be massive. It’s an inspiring New Zealand story, well told with plenty of humour and music, and the literally irrepressible Topps’ lust for life shines like a beacon throughout. Using plenty of archival footage and photos, Leanne Pooley’s documentary follows the Twins from idyllic rural Calf Club Days, through the rough and tumble protests of the 80s, to their current status as living legends.

I recommend you take your kids so they can see how much of what’s good about New Zealand (that we take for granted) was fought for by these strong and principled women, who also just happen to be beloved family entertainers.

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Review: Dean Spanley, Big Stan, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Welcome to the Sticks

By Cinema and Reviews

My favourite post-Oscars quote came from David Thomson in The Guardian: “When the Slumdog mob – Europeans and Indians, adults and kids – took the stage to claim the best picture Oscar, a landmark was being established which directly reflects America’s reduced place in the world.” And as if to illustrate that very point, this week Hollywood have offered us a piteous prison comedy called Big Stan and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. It’s like they aren’t even trying anymore.

Big Stan posterBig Stan is the debut feature by comic actor Rob Schneider, best-known for a pair of ghastly adult comedies featuring his hapless male prostitute alter-ego Deuce Bigelow. Schneider amazingly maintains a solid career (largely via the patronage of his great friend Adam Sandler) but there’s no satisfactory explanation for how he was let loose with a camera except that Hollywood is genuinely out of ideas.

Schneider plays a real estate con man who is convicted and sentenced to jail. Terrified at the prospect of imminent anal rape he enlists a martial arts master (David Carradine) to make him, er, impregnable. Like being punched in the swingers by an angry dwarf for 90 minutes.

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Review: Lars and the Real Girl, The Eye, Never Back Down, Change of Address, Bonneville, ¿La Verdad? (The Truth?) and Definitely, Maybe

By Cinema and Reviews

Lars and the Real Girl posterIn past columns this reviewer has pretty much unilaterally labelled 27 year old Ryan Gosling as the new Marlon Brando (thanks to extraordinary performances in Half Nelson and The Believer) but it is unlikely that even Brando would have been brave enough to choose Lars and the Real Girl as one of his projects. Lars is a slightly damaged young man, living in the garage of his family home in a snowy northern American town. Under pressure from the family and the community to be a bit more normal, Lars finds himself a girlfriend on the Internet – an anatomically correct doll named Bianca.

A lovely, sweet film about acceptance, love and judgement (lack of), Lars is another winner in a summer of them. Gosling’s performance is a thing of wonder but it wouldn’t be half as successful without great work from Paul Schneider, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson to play off. Kudos to them all. Not to be missed.

The Eye posterThe Eye screened in Cinema 6 at Readings and was the most handsome on-screen presentation I have seen since I started this gig: pin sharp focus, consistent light levels across the entire screen, no print damage and a perfectly steady flicker-free image. It’s a shame that the film was such garbage but you take your pleasure where you can find it. (Flicker is the unacknowledged curse of poor projection. Watching a film without it is like walking down Courtenay Place without the wind punching you in the arm the whole way. You don’t realise how annoying it is until it’s gone.)

Jessica Alba plays a blind concert violinist who gets a pair of haunted corneas in a transplant but instead of the real world she begins to see visions of death all around her. Yet another tired remake of an asian horror (this one came from Hong Kong originally) The Eye struggles and fails to justify its own existence.

Never Back Down posterNever Back Down is the ugly and offensive story of a high school kid (Sean Faris), angry and bitter after the death of his father in a drunk-driving accident he could have prevented, who gets involved in the local fight club and take on the bullies using mixed-martial-arts and the training of a wise guru (Djimon Hounsou).

An artefact from a decrepit and derelict culture, I hated this film so much I left the theatre and immediately tried to locate my Al-Qaeda application forms. Irredeemable.

200804101111.jpgBut at least I stuck it out to the end which is more than I can say for the dreary French rom-com Change of Address. I don’t often leave films early but after yet another scene featuring several double-entendres about the main characters horn (he plays and teaches French Horn) I wasn’t sure whether I was watching an art movie or “Are You Being Served?”

Bonneville posterThere must be an audience for Bonneville, a pleasant road movie featuring the great Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen, though the attendance on Monday night would indicate otherwise. It’s a shame there was nobody else there as there was some pleasure to be got from watching great screen actresses working together in a story that was . Our trio play three mormon women (of varying degrees of devotion) who are carrying the ashes of Lange’s husband to his estranged daughter in California. Traversing the backroads of Idaho, Utah and Nevada in the convertible that gives the film its name, they meet some interesting people, have some adventures and learn a bit about each other. Nothing startling but perfectly pleasant.

La Verdad stillOpening Thursday for a limited engagement is Helen Smyth’s remarkable local documentary about Cuba, ¿La Verdad? (The Truth?). On an extended holiday in Cuba in 2000 Smyth met a delightful old gentleman named Nestor and spent several weeks interviewing him about his life before and after the revolution. He identified himself as an independent journalist and said he was too old to get any attention from the security police so he could write what he liked and support the counter-revolutionary organisations in Miami. Well, the truth was infinitely more interesting than even that.

The film is a lively testament to a good journalist’s instinct for a story as she finds herself unravelling layers of intrigue and learning about more than a century of U.S. involvement in Latin America — all thanks to a chance meeting on a bus. Special mention must also be made of the photography, particularly Geoff Marsland’s Super 8 footage of modern Cuba which adds so much to the flavour of the piece.

Definitely, Maybe posterFinally, a surprising winner called Definitely, Maybe: another romantic comedy from the Working Title stable (Love Actually , etc). Ryan Reynolds (Smokin’ Aces) plays Will, about to divorce his wife. Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) is his 9 year old daughter and, understandably upset about this turn of events, she demands to know how this could happen. Were they never in love? Will tells her the story of his romantic life (changing the names) so she can see how complicated grown-up relationships are. Which of the three significant others over the period 1992 to 1998 (Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz and Isla Fisher) becomes Mom? It’s actually a lot more elegant than I’ve made it sound, and well-observed, too, about lots of things (not least Presidential politics). I’d watch it again, and I don’t think that very often.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 9 April, 2008 (although for cover photo reasons Aaron made The Eye the lead).

Notes on screening conditions: Lars and the Real Girl screened at a public preview in Penthouse 3; The Eye was almost perfect in Readings 6 (coincidentally that is the Readings digital cinema so maybe the 35mm got a tweak recently); Never Back Down was a public matinée screening at Readings; Change of Address was in the Bergman at the Paramount and the print was looking its age; Bonneville was in the Vogue Lounge at the Penthouse which has no digital sound and the sound was very poor – blown-speaker poor; ¿La Verdad? (The Truth?) was screened at home from a preview DVD and Definitely, Maybe was another public Readings matinée. I have to say for all their faults in terms of atmosphere the technical conditions at Readings are generally excellent.