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Review: Operation 8, Hook, Line & Sinker, Tracker, Source Code, Your Highness and Babies

By Cinema and Reviews

Operation 8 posterI was expect­ing to come out of Operation 8 fired up but instead I emerged depressed and dis­pir­ited. I knew that New Zealand’s default polit­ic­al set­ting was benign com­pla­cency but I hadn’t real­ised that the full force of a – frankly – barely com­pet­ent police state was being brought to bear on the few of us who were actu­ally agit­at­ing and protest­ing for a more pro­gress­ive society.

Operation 8 is Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones’ unashamedly par­tis­an telling of the 2007 “Urewera 18 17” scan­dal in which dis­par­ate protest groups across New Zealand (with the focus on Tuhoe’s inde­pend­ence move­ment) were viol­ently raided, imprisoned and – now about to be – giv­en a tri­al without a jury. It’s a shock­ing lit­any of state arrog­ance and ineptitude, all the more depress­ing for com­men­cing under a Labour Government.

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Review: Second Hand Wedding and What Happens in Vegas...

By Cinema, Reviews and Wellington

Second Hand Wedding posterAh, the per­ils of review­ing New Zealand cinema in New Zealand – or even tough­er – Wellington cinema in Wellington. How does one approach a film that was exec­ut­ive pro­duced by a former ment­or, stars former work­mates and drink­ing bud­dies, was writ­ten by a pal, and fea­tures famil­i­ar faces in almost every scene (and that this review­er in a moment of flu-addled weak­ness even audi­tioned for)?

Luckily for me, Paul Murphy’s Second Hand Wedding makes it easy to avoid tres­passing across the sens­ib­il­it­ies of chums and col­leagues by being an ador­able con­fec­tion, easy to praise and a pleas­ure to recom­mend. The moment you see a little yel­low mini scream­ing around the Kapiti coast (dir­ect­or Paul Murphy’s fath­er Geoff was respons­ible for Goodbye Pork Pie with Exec Kerry Robins back in 1981) you know you are in good hands and so it proves.

Geraldine Brophy plays Jill Rose, Kapiti’s top gar­age sale expert. Every Saturday morn­ing you’ll find her (and best mate Muffy broadly played by Tina Regtien) trawl­ing the nick-nacks look­ing for bar­gains. Long-suffering hubby Brian (a lovely and under­stated per­form­ance by Patrick Wilson) puts up with all the new paraphernalia because he has his own col­lec­tion to main­tain: all the pieces of a Model T Ford that will one day become a com­plete car again.

Local mech­an­ic Stew (a per­form­ance by Ryan O’Kane that is, per­haps, lack­ing in detail) has pro­posed to the Rose’s daugh­ter Cheryl (Holly Shanahan) but, afraid of the bar­gain base­ment wed­ding she fears her moth­er will provide, she keeps it a secret. When the news breaks, poor Jill is dev­ast­ated but anoth­er tragedy forces the fam­ily (and the com­munity) to pull togeth­er once again. There’s lots to love about Second Hand Wedding: music by Plan 9 and some songs I would­n’t mind own­ing; classy edit­ing par­tic­u­larly in the mont­ages; per­fect, witty pro­duc­tion design by Brad Mill; but the heart and soul of the film is Brophy’s beau­ti­ful and meas­ured per­form­ance. If she’s not at the front of the queue when the act­ing awards are handed out for this year I will be very sur­prised. Indeed, in this review­er­’s opin­ion it may be one the five best New Zealand screen per­form­ances ever.

What Happens in Vegas... posterIt’s slightly depress­ing to report that a no-budget kiwi com­edy con­tains more sub­tlety and sub­text in any giv­en scene than a multi-million dol­lar Hollywood block­buster wrangles in its entirety but it’s true. In What Happens in Vegas… Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz play a couple who meet in Las Vegas on their own indi­vidu­al rebound tours, get hope­lessly drunk and hope­lessly mar­ried on the same night, win $3m on the slots and then try and (with the help of schem­ing best friends Rob Corddry and Lake Bell) cheat the oth­er out of the booty. Forced by grim Judge Whopper (Dennis Miller) to co-habit for 6 months to prove their mar­riage is real before he will grant them a divorce, our couple do everything in their power to make each oth­er miser­able and much (poten­tial but for the most part unreal­ised) hil­ar­ity ensues.

The prob­lem isn’t with the fit­fully amus­ing leads (though Kutcher in par­tic­u­lar appears incap­able of play­ing the deep­er notes that fath­er Treat Williams’ paternal dis­ap­prov­al offers him), the film suf­fers hugely because the script insists on treat­ing us like retards and loudly declaim­ing everything that it has to say. At one point Kutcher spikes Diaz’s smoothy with ecstacy to the sound of “I Want a New Drug”. Oh, please. Everything is just so flip­pin’ obvi­ous. Characters say exactly what is in their heads, or exactly what they need to say to move the plot for­ward, usu­ally both at the same time.

And finally, What Happens in Vegas… should be cursed for indul­ging in yet anoth­er example of Hollywood racism: the only char­ac­ter of col­our in the film is a ter­rible, tight-ass Asian ste­reo­type who is ridiculed relent­lessly and mean-ly.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 May, 2008.

Update: I have added a link to The Cattlestops web site. They were respons­ible for the songs I would­n’t mind owning.

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.