Twickenham in 1961 might well have been the most boring place on Earth. The 60s haven’t started yet (according to Philip Larkin the decade wouldn’t start until 1963 “between the end of the Chatterley Ban/and The Beatles first LP”) but the train was already on the tracks and could be heard approaching from a distance if you listened closely enough. Middle-class teenager Jenny is studying hard for Oxford but longing for something else – freedom and French cigarettes, love and liberation.
In Lone Scherfig’s An Education (from a script by Nick Hornby; adapted from Lynn Barber’s memoir), Jenny is luminously portrayed by newcomer Carey Mulligan (so adorable that if she’s ever in a film with Juno’s Ellen Page we’ll have to recalibrate the cuteness scale to accommodate them both) and she gets a hint of a way out of suburban English drudgery when she meets cool businessman David (Peter Sarsgaard) and he whisks her off her feet, to the West End and to Paris.
One of the first films I reviewed when I started here was an charming documentary called Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey in which Canadian fans Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen travelled the world talking to other fans (and the stars they worship) about what it is that makes metal great. In that film they interviewed Iron Maiden’s vocalist Bruce Dickinson and they must have made a decent impression as Maiden (and EMI) have given them a decent budget and loads of access for them to document their Somewhere Back in Time tour (around the world last year).
And what a wheeze the tour turned out to be. Chartering a 757 from Dickinson’s other employer, taking half the seats out so the gear and set could fit, flying the whole show between gigs with Dickinson piloting the whole time — a bunch of pasty middle-aged English lads having the time of their lives across half the world. The only real drama comes when drummer Nicko McBrain gets hit on the wrist by a golf ball, but it doesn’t matter because the joy of seeing a band really moving audiences (in places like Mumbai and Costa Rica) is the reason for this film to exist. And this film rises above above other recent great rock movies like U2-3D and Shine a Light — because it’s about the fans as well as the band and it recognises the complex interdependence of the relationship.
The most purely emotional experience I have had in a cinema this year was watching the delightful documentary Young @ Heart during the Film Festival. It’s a life-affirming (and by its very nature death-affirming too) portrait of a group of Massachusetts senior citizen choristers who tour the world with a programme of (often consciously ironic) rock and pop classics and it starts out like the quirky British tv programme it was originally intended to be. But then these remarkable, loveable, buoyant characters take control and by the time they get to Dylan’s Forever Young, I may as well have been a puddle on the floor of the cinema. Young at Heart is so successful I even fell in love with Coldplay for about five minutes. It’s that good.
This week Wellington gets a chance to farewell one of the titans of world cinema, an inspiration to many, derided by a few; an icon who walked his own idiosyncratic path. I am, of course, talking about Rocky Balboa, kind-hearted dim-bulb and possessor of one of the great loves in cinema: his adoration of Adrian (Talia Shire) remains undiminished even though her cancer left him a widower a few years between Rocky V and this new one.
The Rocky of I and II was always a great character, led astray during the blockbuster years, and Rocky Balboa gives him back to us. It’s well written and self-aware and, as a bonus, there’s hardly any boxing in it.
Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion is too nice a film to divide people the way that it does. Having said that, if you are one of those people who switches off National Radio whenever genial raconteur Garrison Keiller Keillor introduces his legendary live radio show then you will find the film version an awful trial. Thrown together in typically-Altman, ramshackle, style and shot, it appears, with no more than half an eye on the finished product, APHC is a delightful, wistful, appreciation of community, nostalgia and the passing of time, the finality of things if you will. It’s only fitting that Altman’s final film, shot while he was riddled with the cancer that would kill him, should be about letting go. I loved it, but then I was probably always going to.
In HollywoodlandBen Affleck is perfect as wooden actor George Reeves who found fame as television’s first, portly, Superman in the 1950s but who ended up dead of apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds after a failed attempt at a comeback. The film brings life to the persistent rumours that Reeves’ death was the result of foul play — courtesy of a jealous husband with friends in Hollywood high places.
Adrien Brody plays a fictional gumshoe on the trail of the mystery and the film tries hard to ride the coat-tails of classics like Chinatown but is too darn slow to keep up, even though it looks the part.
Will Ferrell plays a slightly less demented version of his usual emotionally-retarded man-child in Stranger Than Fiction, a slender but likeable fantasy about a man who discovers he is a character in a novel being written by Emma Thompson. It’s her voice in his head, narrating his life, and no one else can hear it. This is annoying and inexplicable at first, but gets serious when he discovers she wants to kill him off. Chicago looks great (and so does Maggie Gyllenhaal).
Raucous kiwi documentary Squeegee Bandit follows Auckland street-corner window washer “Starfish” around for a few months, getting to know him, his transitory life and his turf. There’s some interesting meat buried inside this film but the MTV editing, bothersome soundtrack and general noise levels make it harder than it should be to get at. It’s an interesting documentary but difficult to recommend as entertainment.
The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalised portrait of Idi Amin, dictator of Uganda from 1971 to 1979 and self-appointed “Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”. To fully appreciate Forest Whitaker’s superb performance check out the real Idi’s eyes in the archive footage at the end of the film and you can see the genuine bat-shit insane paranoia of the man.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 February, 2007.