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Review: The Edge of Love, The Orphanage, Babylon A.D., Sharkwater and Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

By Cinema and Reviews

The Edge of Love UK posterKeira Knightley may only be 23 but (along with Daniel Craig and Simon Pegg) she’s been giv­en the unen­vi­able job of sav­ing the British film industry, a chal­len­ging task for someone with tal­ent but a hard road for a young woman still learn­ing a craft for which she often seems ill-suited. Next week we will review the mid-budget cos­tume drama The Duchess but right now she is head­lining anoth­er WWII romance (c.f. Atonement), John Maybury’s The Edge of Love.

Knightley plays Vera Phillips, a young Welsh girl carving out a liv­ing enter­tain­ing the troops in the under­ground bomb shel­ters of burnt out London. In an awfully clunky screen­writ­ing moment she sees a famil­i­ar face across a crowded pub and calls out “Dylan? Dylan Thomas?” and is reunited with her child­hood sweet­heart. After plenty of flirt­ing, the soon-to-be great poet Thomas (Matthew Rhys) intro­duces her to his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and a firm friend­ship begins, a friend­ship that veers in the dir­ec­tion of a (hin­ted at) mén­age à trois and ends (with the help of Phillips’ shell-shocked hus­band Cillian Murphy) in a hail of mis­dir­ec­ted bul­lets on a pic­tur­esque Welsh cliff top.

Miller’s notori­ous tabloid exist­ence has a tend­ency to over­shad­ow her day job, which is a shame as she is very good here and she car­ries almost all the emo­tion­al weight of a film that, frankly, needs all the help it can get. Rhys is fine (and reads the Thomas poetry like he’s chan­nel­ling Richard Burton) but Knightley struggles, although she has her moments.

The Orphanage posterIn The Orphanage, a woman (Belén Rueda) and her hus­band (Fernando Cayo) decide to buy the decay­ing old goth­ic orphan­age where she grew up so they can live there with their adop­ted, HIV-positive, young son (Roger Princep) plus his ima­gin­ary friends. Asking for trouble? You bet. The boy soon dis­ap­pears, per­haps into a cave beneath the house, and the dis­traught moth­er has to solve the mys­tery of the cursed house before she can find him again.

I would have been con­sid­er­ably more effected by this film if the first half hadn’t been out of focus (and if the pro­jec­tion­ist hadn’t for­got­ten about the reel change or needed to be told to focus the second half) but once we’d got all that sor­ted out the moody atmo­spher­ics (greatly aided by an effect­ive sur­round sound design and the excel­lent Paramount sound sys­tem) push all the right but­tons. Produced by Guilermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), The Orphanage is styl­ish hor­ror with a heart. I much prefer this sort of thing to the Japanese pro­duc­tion line ver­sions we see so often.

Babylon A.D. posterIt’s really say­ing some­thing when a dir­ect­or dis­owns a Vin Diesel film for not liv­ing up to his vis­ion but this is what Mathieu Kassovitz has done with Babylon A.D. Apparently studio-dictated cuts have turned his subtle and sens­it­ive polit­ic­al and mor­al allegory into a bloodthirsty shoot ’em up. As they say­ing goes, yeah right. Freely rip­ping off dozens of hit films (from Escape from New York to Blade Runner, The Matrix and Resident Evil), the cuts have rendered what might have been a campy clas­sic into inco­her­ence but it’s not un-entertaining.

Sharkwater posterMy favour­ite cine­mat­ic shark is Bruce from Finding Nemo (played by Barry Humphries), a mis­un­der­stood killing machine with aban­don­ment issues. If he’d seen Rob Stewart’s ener­vat­ing doc­u­ment­ary Sharkwater he would know that he’s not a killer at all – more people die each year as a res­ult of Coke machine mis­ad­ven­ture – and that he is in far great­er per­il from us than the oth­er way around.

In fact the whole film owes a lot to Pixar’s Nemo, often recre­at­ing fam­ous images from that film and, if it wasn’t likely to trau­mat­ise them, I’d recom­mend every child who ever saw Nemo be forced to sit and watch it so they might turn into pas­sion­ate eco-terrorists when they grow up.

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? posterAs agit-prop doco makers go I think I prefer Morgan Spurlock to Michael Moore. Spurlock (who sprang to fame with the McDonalds’ exposé Super Size Me in 2004) inter­views people without set­ting them up to look stu­pid or venal and his every­man open-ness gives the impres­sion that he is genu­inely curi­ous rather than embittered and cer­tain. In Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? Spurlock is spurred by the his long- suf­fer­ing girl­friend Alex’s preg­nancy to go the middle east and find out why they want to kill us all. And if he finds Osama Bin Laden in the pro­cess, all well and good. I could have done with less of the cheesy video game ana­lys­is of com­plex glob­al polit­ics but when Spurlock goes out of his way to meet ordin­ary people on the streets of Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, Pakistan and Afghanistan you can’t help but feel a little bit enlightened and a little bit heartened.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 8 October, 2008.

Nothing of note to report regard­ing screen­ing con­di­tions except the prob­lems with The Orphanage that have already been repor­ted above.

UPDATE: A friend wrote to me after read­ing the Sharkwater review in the CT:

I don’t think much of your Sharkwater review. It really does­n’t tell any­one what the film is about and why people should see it, and secondly you totally belittle the issue by com­par­ing it to a kids car­toon! It’s the most dis­turb­ing film I’ve seen all year, and as you know I’ve seen quite a lot. Even now I feel utterly guilty eat­ing fish, though it is the only anim­al flesh I can­’t seem to give up. At least the Lumiere review­er urged people to boy­cott the many Wellington res­taur­ants that serve shark fin soup. The dir­ect­or is slightly irrit­at­ing I admit, but the con­tent is cru­cial… you can­’t joke about films like this, unless it’s garbage (like Where in the World is OBL for example…).

In case you did­n’t get it the first time read this: http://www.panda.org/index.cfm?uNewsID=146062
Glad I got that off my chest…”

Review: Then She Found Me, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Mrs. Ratcliffe’s Revolution, The Ten Commandments, [REC] and The Third Richard

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s babies every­where in the cinemas at the moment. Last week I reviewed the Tina Fey com­edy Baby Mama about a middle-aged woman des­per­ate for a child and this week we have a Helen Hunt drama about a middle-aged woman des­per­ate for a baby and even Hellboy is going to be a daddy.

Then She Found Me posterThen She Found Me, Helen Hunt’s debut as writer-director, is a sens­it­ive and well-acted piece of work (and often much fun­ni­er than the Fey ver­sion). She plays a New York primary school teach­er whose adopt­ive moth­er dies two days after her hus­band (Matthew Broderick) leaves her. Like many adop­ted chil­dren, the desire for a blood-relative is what pro­motes the desire for a child, but that desire is soon swamped by the arrival of the birth moth­er she nev­er knew (Bette Midler) and a ready-made fam­ily led by Colin Firth. Witty and humane, Then She Found Me is set in a New York people actu­ally live in, pop­u­lated with people who actu­ally live and breathe. I was quite moved by this film, but then maybe I’m just a big sook.

Mrs. Ratcliffe's Revolution posterBack in the 1980s, toil­ing under the yoke of Thatcherite crypto-fascist intol­er­ance, we used to dream of the German Democratic Republic where accord­ing to apo­lo­gists like Billy Bragg, “you can­’t get gui­tar strings but every­one has a job and decent health care.” Now, of course, thanks to films like The Lives of Others, we know that the rulers of East Germany were just fas­cists with anoth­er uni­form and that social justice may be import­ant but isn’t the only kind of justice we need in our lives. Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution is a low-budget British com­edy about a naïve fam­ily of Yorkshire com­mun­ists in 1968 who fol­low their dreams of a work­ers’ para­dise and emig­rate to East Germany only to find the truth very much not to their liking.

There might have been an inter­est­ing story here bur­ied under the broad com­edy – some­times it seems like Carry on Communism – but the tone is all wrong and it feels as if it has gone intel­lec­tu­ally off the rails. There’s some nice archi­tec­ture although the film­makers had to go to Hungary to find it.

Hellboy II posterSometimes, when you go to the movies, you get the per­fect match of film to mood. Not often, but some­times. Last Friday night, after a week where the ambi­ent stress level at work had amped up yet again, I needed to see some­thing that did­n’t require any­thing of me except my pres­ence and I got it with Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Featuring lots of bright shiny things to keep my atten­tion, lots of loud noises to keep me awake and not much in the way of story to worry about, I enjoyed myself a lot but don’t remem­ber very much. Except not­ing that, unlike The Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan, dir­ect­or Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth and the forth­com­ing Hobbit duo-logy) shoots fight scenes so you can fol­low what’s going on.

The Ten Commandments posterThe Paramount’s eclect­ic (if not schizo­phren­ic) pro­gram­ming policy throws up some odd com­bin­a­tions. The pres­ence of the hideous, anim­ated, Bible-story The Ten Commandments is simply inex­plic­able while Spanish shock­er [REC] is per­fect Paramount fod­der. And at the same time, Danny Mulheron’s lov­ing home-made doc­u­ment­ary about his grand­fath­er, The Third Richard, is get­ting a well-deserved brief sea­son. The Ten Commandments barely belongs in the $5 DVD bargain-bin (or as a free gift when you sign up with your loc­al evan­gel­ic­als). It’s a sign of how our cul­ture has changed that in the 50s we got Charlton Heston bring­ing the tab­lets down from the moun­tain, and now we get Christian Slater. And what to make of the subtle re-writing of the com­mand­ments them­selves: Thou Shalt Not Murder gives you a little more wiggle-room in the killing depart­ment than the old-fashioned Thou Shalt Not Kill. Reprehensible.

[REC] posterOne is either in to zom­bie movies or one isn’t, and if one is one will be very happy with [REC]. Set in a Barcelona apart­ment build­ing where a fly-on-the-wall tv crew are fol­low­ing fire-fighters on an emer­gency call, [REC] at one point man­aged to make me jump three times in less than a second – that’s not easy.

The Third Richard posterThe story of Richard Fuchs, archi­tect and com­poser, emigré and grand­fath­er, is very well told by Danny Mulheron and Sara Stretton. Based around a “rehab­il­it­a­tion” con­cert in Karlsruhe, last year, where Fuchs’ music was played in pub­lic for the first time since his escape to New Zealand in 1939, the film has some styl­ist­ic choices that I might not have made but the heart and intel­li­gence of the filmm­makers shine through. It’s a Wellington story, too, and you should see it if you can.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 September, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution was inter­rup­ted twice by the house lights (a Sunday morn­ing screen­ing in Penthouse 2, still suf­fer­ing from the annoy­ing screen flick­er caused by incor­rect shut­ter tim­ing and the hot spot in the centre of the screen). And I had to go down and close the door at the start of the film. At [REC] quite a few of us were sat in the Brooks (Paramount) amidst the bottles, empty glasses and gen­er­al rub­bish from a whole day’s screen­ings. <Sigh>