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Cinema: Best of 2007

By Cinema

And so, after 191 films viewed and reviewed here I get to sum up the 2007 cinema year. As I said back in September it’s been a great year for good films but a poor year for truly great ones. Even my (obvi­ously unim­peach­able) Top Ten list con­tains only a few that I think will be regarded as clas­sics in 20 years but these are all films that I’d hap­pily see again or even own on DVD if the chance arises.

Into the Wild posterBest of the year turns out to be the most recent: Sean Penn’s Into the Wild is the real deal. As beau­ti­ful to look at and listen to as the finest art film, but remain­ing down to earth, it fea­tures a star-making per­form­ance from Emile Hirsch lead­ing an ensemble of fine screen act­ors and it ulti­mately deliv­ers a mes­sage that is com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the one you expect: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait posterThe next two selec­tions are also not­able for being the lowest-grossing films of the year: the mes­mer­ising Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait fol­lowed one man around a foot­ball pitch for an entire match and the won­drous and glow­ing abori­gin­al film Ten Canoes reminded us that great story-telling can be found any­where, from the camp fire to the mul­ti­plex. The finest per­form­ances of the year from grown-ups were found in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie were a couple reel­ing from the impact of Alzheimer’s: the pres­sure of the dis­ease slowly unrav­el­ling a rela­tion­ship that on the sur­face seemed so pure. Best per­form­ance of the year from any­one was little Kolya Spiridonov as “orphan” Vanya in The Italian, determ­ined to find his Mother wherever she may be rather than go to the west with new parents.

Deep Water posterBest doc­u­ment­ary turned out to be the unprom­ising Deep Water: a film about a yacht race that ended up being about the deep­est, darkest secrets kept by a fra­gile human soul – it was even bet­ter second time around. Atonement was a sweep­ing and romantic drama show­cas­ing the many skills of the latest gen­er­a­tion of British movie craftspeople, not least dir­ect­or Joe Wright who, annoy­ingly, is only 36 years old. Best loc­al film in an uneven year (and jus­ti­fi­ably in this Top Ten) is Taika Waititi’s Eagle vs. Shark: funny and sweet and sad and the product of a sin­gu­lar vis­ion rather than the com­mit­tee that seems to pro­duce so many New Zealand films.

Knocked Up posterMy favour­ite com­mer­cial film of the year was the sweet-natured and very funny Knocked Up about a slack­er and a career-girl get­ting to grips with respons­ib­il­ity, rela­tion­ships and par­ent­hood: He tangata, he tangata, he tangata once again. Finally, I’ve spent all year try­ing to jus­ti­fy leav­ing Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver out of this Top Ten with no luck what­so­ever: the com­plete lack of flaws of any kind mean it gets in des­pite the fact that I didn’t love it like I did some others.

It’s a tough time for loc­al paper film review­ers around the world. Cinema crit­ics from pub­lic­a­tions like the Village Voice have been giv­en the flick by penny-pinching pub­lish­ers and even the Sunday Star-Times in Auckland has star­ted run­ning film reviews from sis­ter papers in Australia rather than pay someone loc­ally to rep­res­ent you. So, I feel incred­ibly for­tu­nate to be able to watch all these films on your behalf and want to thank the Capital Times for indul­ging my desire to cov­er everything rather than a select few releases. Thanks, also, to all the Wellington cinemas who have gra­ciously hos­ted me des­pite my fairly con­stant bitch­ing about stand­ards. But, above all, thank you for read­ing. See you next year.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday January 2, 2008.

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.