The best way I can think of to sum up Jobs, the hastily-prepared not-quite adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s hastily-published biography of the Apple co-founder, is that its subject would have hated it. After all, Steve had taste and — famously — exercised it. He also didn’t release products until they were ready whereas Joshua Michael Stern’s film feels like the winner of a race to be first rather than best.
Ashton Kutcher impersonates Mr. Jobs effectively enough, to the extent of mimicking the man’s strange lope, but never gets further under his skin than a blog post or tabloid headline might. I suspect that is not a comment on Mr. Kutcher’s talent but on the episodic script by first-timer Matt Whiteley. Josh Gad’s Woz provides comic relief only and the amount of fake facial hair on offer suggests the film might better have been titled iBeard.
Operating on a much deeper level is Daniel Borgman’s The Weight of Elephants, a film that prioritises what goes on under the surface almost to the complete exclusion of plot. Gorgeous Demos Murphy plays 10-year-old Adrian, living with his depressed Uncle Rory (great Matthew Sunderland) and Gran (Catherine Wilkin) in suburban Invercargill. The strange disappearance of three local children has an upsetting effect on a boy who is struggling to fit in to the world around him anyway.
It has taken ten months for Joe Cornish’s brilliant Attack the Block to make its way to New Zealand and one of the first questions will be, is there still an audience left for it considering the most rabid fans will have found — licit and illicit — ways to watch it months ago. I certainly hope there is because Cornish has produced a highly original take on a classic genre — a low-budget alien invasion movie that is thrilling, funny and socially aware.
It’s Guy Fawke’s Night and the attempted mugging of off-duty nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is interrupted by a the explosive arrival of a strange creature. The leader of the young hoodlums, Moses (a star-making performance by John Boyega), manages to kill the beast and they take the carcass as a trophy, not realising that there are others following — and that they will want revenge.
It’s nice to be reminded every now and then that going to to the movies is supposed to be fun. The first Kung Fu Panda film was a boisterous and entertaining treat (“resembles an eight-year-old’s bedroom while they are throwing all their toys around” I said in 2008) and the latest version is an improvement on that, adding a layer of sentiment to the amusing hijinks. It also trucks along for a nothing-wasted 91 minutes and should keep adults and not-yet-adults well and truly amused.
Panda Po (Jack Black) became the unlikely Dragon Warrior in the first film and now has rock star status among the anthropomorphic citizenry. Along with allies “The Five”, he defends the innocent from tyranny in between (and often during) meals. A new technology and a shadowy figure from Po’s past threaten the peace and force our hero to grapple with the strangely unanswered questions about his childhood and how a panda came to be adopted by a goose in the first place.
You can forget all talk of an Oscar for Heath Ledger’s Joker. If anyone is going to win an Academy Award for wearing some dodgy make-up in a noisy blockbuster no one is getting in the way of Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder. Totally believable, every second, as Kirk Lazarus, the Australian method actor (and multi-Oscar winner himself) who undergoes a radical skin re-pigmentation in order to portray tough-as-nails African-American Sgt. Osiris in the eponymous Vietnam epic, Downey Jr’s performance is a thing of wonder: A masterpiece of technique, timing, self-belief and dare I say it, soul. I’m still chuckling days later.
Lazarus is one of a handful of pampered Hollywood stars on location to recreate the last great untold Vietnam story — the suicide-mission rescue of “Four Leaf” Tayback during the legendary “Wet” Offensive of ’69. Under pressure from the studio to get back on schedule (and from handless “Four “Leaf” himself, Nick Nolte, to toughen the pencil-kneck panty-waists up a bit) director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) goes verité. With the help of hidden cameras, special effects and some heavily armed South East Asian drug lords, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and Alpa Chino (relative newcomer Brandon T. Jackson) find themselves up to their eyeballs in reality. Comedy reality, which is the best kind. One of my favourite films of the year so far, and I haven’t even mentioned Tom Cruise’s dancing.
Compared to the ferocious energy of Tropic Thunder, Tina Fey’s Baby Mama seems like a comedy from a different era. Fey plays über-clucky Kate Holbrook — successful middle-manager in Steve Martin’s organic produce company. Desperate for progeny (yet strangely single), her T shaped tubes make her a poor bet for IVF and the waiting list for adoption is years long. Surrogacy is her only solution and she barely bats an eyelid at the $100k price tag (she must share John McCain’s accountant). Despite the amount of money changing hands it is the surrogate that interviews the, what’s the word, surrogatee and she successfully passes the aura test posed by white trash “host” Amy Poehler (Blades of Glory).
The lively Poehler kick-starts every scene she is in while better-known stars like Martin, Greg Kinnear and Sigourney Weaver phone in their performances. Meanwhile Fey (“30 Rock”) is likeable enough, although the character seems to be in a world of her own most of the time, and Romany Malco from The Love Guru plays the token black character — a servant. Baby Mama is funnier, the more pregnancy-specific it gets. When it goes generic (speech-impediments, Martin’s new age schtick) it misses even the biggest targets by miles.
Paris is both the subject and the object of Cédric Klapisch’s ensemble drama about a cross-section of modern Parisian society. Romain Duris and Juliette Binoche are siblings, single, on the cusp of 40 and alienated from their parents. Duris is told his heart condition may finish him off sooner rather than later and mopes around the apartment, feeling sorry for himself while Binoche (like women everywhere) puts her own life on hold to care for him and her three children. Meanwhile, hangdog academic Fabrice Luchini (Intimate Strangers) has a crush on his beautiful student Mélanie Laurent, his architect brother is about to become a father but can’t stop crying. At street level, the market stallholders are also looking for love in the big city but have a more direct way of going about finding it.
I’ve made it seem a lot more contrived than it actually plays out. The direction is subtle and the performances are involving. It does suffer from the usual French cinematic philosophy, that working class experience is somehow more real than the self-absorbed bourgeois middle classes, but actually argues its case pretty well.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 August, 2008.
Hilary Swank’s new twin-hanky romance P.S., I Love You is a remarkable achievement. In all my years of cinema-going I don’t think I have ever seen a film get more wrong. From the clunky premise to the ghastly costume design; through awkward reverses in tone plus no small amount of self-indulgence on the part of Swank; it is as if everyone involved (when faced with a choice between the right way and the wrong way) simply flipped a coin and it came up “wrong” every time.
Swank plays New York widow Holly Kennedy, whose Irish husband Gerry (300’s Gerard Butler) dies of a brain tumour following a scene demonstrating how powerful and tempestuous their romance is. Shortly after the wake, Holly starts receiving letters from Gerry, written before he died in order to coach her through the grief and help her start again. As if.
One of the letters includes tickets to Ireland for Holly and her best friends so she can revisit the scene of their first meeting (prompting an intolerably banal flashback scene). Meanwhile supporting cast Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow can enjoy the natives tooraloo-ing in that way that only the Hollywood Irish can.