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Review: Sex and the City: The Movie, Untraceable, Shine a Light, Leatherheads, Happy-Go-Lucky, Brick Lane, Adam’s Apples, 21 and Prom Night

By Cinema and Reviews

Sex and the City posterNever hav­ing seen an epis­ode of Sex and the City on tele­vi­sion, I’ll have to leave it to oth­ers to place it in con­text. From what I can gath­er, though, it appears to be about four women in Manhattan, not too bright, not too nice and not too deep, who are look­ing for love, suc­cess and shoes. The cent­ral fig­ure in the group is Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) whose on-again, off-again rela­tion­ship with Mr Big (Chris Noth) is about to become very much “on” with a huge soci­ety wed­ding and a pent­house 5th Avenue apart­ment with a closet big­ger than the apart­ment build­ing I live in. Amazingly, it is the closet that causes the most excite­ment, even when empty.

Meanwhile, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is bliss­fully happy with her hus­band and adop­ted daugh­ter Lily; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is some­what less than happy to find out that her hus­band (David Eigenberg) has cheated on her and sex kit­ten Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is find­ing life in the shad­ow of a hand­some day­time soap star to be less than fulfilling.

It all comes to a head at the wed­ding but not before (as well as dur­ing and after) we are forced to listen to many, many long con­ver­sa­tions mostly about events we have just seen.

Untraceable posterUntraceable is a per­fectly ser­vice­able thrill­er set in rainy Portland. Diane Lane is a wid­ow work­ing the FBI cyber-crime night-shift who dis­cov­ers a crazed loon string­ing up vic­tims in front of a web­cam. The more eye­balls he receives the faster his vic­tim dies mak­ing every­one com­pli­cit in the even­tu­al murder. Director Gregory Hoblit has an unparalelled tv back­ground (“Hill Street Blues”, any­one?) and also dir­ec­ted the tight mind-games thrill­er Fracture last year and Untraceable is bet­ter than it sounds, effect­ive and not nearly as exploit­at­ive as the trail­er led one to believe.

Shine a Light posterJust like the U2 con­cert movie earli­er this year, most of the people at the front of the Rolling Stones 2006 Beacon Theatre show (recor­ded for pos­ter­ity by Martin Scorsese as Shine a Light) watched it via the screens on their cell­phones. Heavens, people! Stop try­ing to record the life going on in front of you and just get in there and live it! (Written from the back row of a darkened cinema on a sunny day). Shine a Light shows the Stones off superbly – the sound is mag­ni­fi­cent and the per­form­ance (from Jagger in par­tic­u­lar) is stun­ning. Not enough Charlie Watts for my lik­ing but that’s a minor quibble.

Leatherheads posterIt does­n’t take long to estab­lish why the latest George Clooney romantic-comedy has been bur­ied either at ses­sions no one can get to or cinemas no one wants to vis­it. Leatherheads is an indul­gent romp, feed­ing off Clooney’s nos­tal­gia for old-time foot­ball and clas­sic movies – a lim­ited mar­ket. Set in 1925 at the birth of pro­fes­sion­al foot­ball, Clooney plays “Dodge” Connelly, an age­ing play­er try­ing to keep his ath­let­ic dreams alive via the unpre­pos­sess­ing Duluth Bulldogs. As a last gasp attempt to get crowds to pro games he signs col­lege star and war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to an exor­bit­ant game by game con­tract and inad­vert­ently changes the sport forever. He also gets hard-boiled newspaper-woman Lexie Littleton (a much less annoy­ing than usu­al Renée Zellweger) who is try­ing to uncov­er the truth about Rutherford’s war record. Vaguely remin­is­cent of fast-paced verbal com­ed­ies like His Girl Friday and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (and even The Sting), the best thing about Leatherheads is Randy Newman’s won­der­ful score.

Happy-Go-Lucky posterEvery great artist has major works and minor works. For Prince, for example, Sign O’ The Times is a major work and Alphabet Street Lovesexy isn’t. Mike Leigh’s major works include Naked, Secrets and Lies and All or Nothing and his minor list fea­tures Topsy-Turvy and now Happy-Go-Lucky, about primary school teach­er Poppy (Sally Hawkins) and her fam­ily and friends. There’s not much story and not much devel­op­ment, but I think the reas­on why Happy-Go-Lucky fails is the lack of empathy for the char­ac­ters (pos­sibly caused by Leigh not hav­ing act­ors like Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall to make the emo­tion­al con­nec­tions for him).

Brick Lane posterThe second half of my con­tem­por­ary work­ing class London double-feature was Brick Lane, based on a nov­el I’ve actu­ally read. On the death of her moth­er, Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is mar­ried off to prig­gish Karim (Christopher Simpson) in London where a life of grimy coun­cil flats and racist neigh­bours awaits. Clumsily con­densed and fussily dir­ec­ted, Brick Lane nev­er quite over­comes it’s own clichés.

Adam's Apples posterTotally cliché-free and like noth­ing you have ever seen, Adam’s Apples is a very odd black com­ic fable about a white suprem­acist, Adam, sent to a remote coun­try church to see out his parole peri­od. There he meets a gaggle of eccent­ric, dam­aged or just plain bark­ing char­ac­ters, not least Ivan the priest (Mads Mikkelsen) who turns the oth­er cheek so often it might as well be inside out. Full of surprises.

21 posterFinally, a couple of dis­pos­able (though prob­ably not bio­de­grad­able) enter­tain­ments for the yoof: 21 is based on a true story about MIT stu­dents who use their phe­nom­en­al abil­it­ies at, er, count­ing to cheat the black­jack tables in Vegas. MIT is in Massachusetts and cent­ral char­ac­ter Ben (Across The Universe’s Jim Sturgess) is a fath­er­less schol­ar­ship boy so the film could have been called Good Will Counting. If it had any heart or soul or wit. 21 also fea­tures Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey in their third film togeth­er in less than four years.

Prom Night posterAnd Prom Night is a run-of-the-mill slash­er film fea­tur­ing a high school sci­ence teach­er with an infatu­ation for Brittany Snow (Hairspray). He kills all her fam­ily and then, three years later, escapes from deten­tion to wreck her Prom party. Totally forgettable.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 11 June, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: All unre­mark­able screen­ings at cinemas not­able for their atten­tion to screen­ing qual­ity except for Adam’s Apples which is pretty scratchy and has a dam­aged soundtrack (Paramount) and Shine a Light whichlooked and soun­ded simply superb at the Embassy.

Review: Resident Evil- Extinction, Fracture, Away From Her, Perfect Creature, and Eastern Promises

By Cinema and Reviews

Resident Evil: Extinction posterBack in 1984, Russell Mulcahy made Razorback, the tale of a giant mutant pig ter­ror­ising a small out­back town, and his next film is going to be about a man turned into a koala by an ancient abori­gin­al curse, both of which make Resident Evil 3: Extinction look like Anna Karenina. You don’t need to have seen the pre­vi­ous two Resident Evil films or played the video game (I had­n’t) as the plot is pretty simple: zom­bies = bad; super­mod­els = good; genet­ic engin­eer­ing = very bad (unless you are genet­ic­ally engin­eer­ing super­mod­els which = very good). Stoic action-hero Milla Jovovich is pho­to­graphed using the Chanel fil­ter whenev­er she isn’t sli­cing up the un-dead and the film is enter­tain­ing when there’s action and tedi­ous when there isn’t.

Fracture posterIn Fracture, hot­shot young act­or Ryan Gosling plays a hot­shot young Deputy DA, about to make the leap to a big-time cor­por­ate gig but first he has to con­vict Anthony Hopkins who has just shot his wife in the head. Now, IANAL but Fracture seems pretty shonky from a pro­ced­ur­al and leg­al point of view. Can the LA County court sys­tem really send an attemp­ted mur­der­er to tri­al less than a fort­night after the offence? I doubt it, but that con­densed time-frame is vital for Goslings’ char­ac­ter motiv­a­tion and there­fore the rest of the plot, so best to turn a blind-eye to the detail and focus on two great screen act­ors enjoy­ing themselves.

Away From Her posterFilm of the week by some dis­tance is Away From Her by the sub­limely gif­ted Sarah Polley. In snowy Ontario Julie Christie is Fiona, a woman strug­gling with the onset of Alzheimers Disease. Husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) seems to be strug­gling even more, how­ever, and when she decides to go in to res­id­en­tial care he feels that, per­haps, he is being pun­ished by her for past transgressions.

Christie is sen­sa­tion­al but the rev­el­a­tion for me is Pinsent, a liv­ing legend in Canada but rarely seen else­where. His is an extraordin­ary per­form­ance, fully invest­ing his char­ac­ter with all of the pain­ful mash of love, loss and guilt that Polley’s elo­quently spare script requires. His raw and con­fused emo­tions are not just etched in his craggy face but into his ever-moistening eyes.

Perfect Creature posterGlenn Standring’s Perfect Creature is a respect­able genre effort, although devoid of much ori­gin­al­ity. In a steampunk-flavoured altern­at­ive real­ity New Zealand, genet­ic­ally engin­eered vam­pires known as Brothers con­trol soci­ety via reli­gion. When one of their order goes berko and starts eat­ing cit­izens, the sup­posedly del­ic­ate bal­ance between the species/races/whatever is threatened. Deputy Brother Silus (Dougray Scott) teams up with the cheekbones of Detective Lilly (Saffron Burrows) to bring the fiend to justice.

Eastern Promises posterOne of the most start­ling career re-inventions of recent times must belong to screen­writer Steven Knight who until 2002 was a TV hack best known for being Jasper Carrott’s chief gag-man and cre­at­or of Who Wants To be a Millionaire? The script for the excel­lent Dirty Pretty Things launched his fea­ture career and he now delves even deep­er in to the seedy under­belly of gang­land London with Eastern Promises, star­ring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. Watts plays a London hos­pit­al mid­wife and (help­fully) daugh­ter of a Russian. A young girl dies in child­birth on her watch but the diary she was car­ry­ing provides a clue to her iden­tity and leads Watts to the Russian mafia king­pin (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his nut­job son (Vincent Cassell) and the son’s driver (Viggo). Director Cronenberg steers us through the murk effect­ively enough and there’s one thrill­ing set-piece in a turk­ish bath which con­firms his tal­ent for cine­mat­ic viol­ence (if it was ever in doubt). Final irony: the three Russians are played by a German, a Frenchman and a Dane.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 October, 2007.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Away From Her was screened in Penthouse One and the shut­ter tim­ing is still out and get­ting worse. There are also signs of dam­age to the screen (from some­thing behind it?) on the right-hand side. It was also the most uncom­fort­able seat I have sat in this year. This is all a bit of a shame as Penthouse Three (the new one) is per­fectly fine but it looks like stand­ards aren’t being main­tained everywhere.