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happy-go-lucky

Review: Another Year, Sarah’s Key, Arthur, Heartbreakers, Mars Needs Moms and Queen of the Sun

By Cinema, Reviews

Genius film­maker Mike Leigh has been on a bit of an up and down streak in recent years. 2002’s All or Nothing was won­der­ful, Vera Drake (2004) I found frus­trat­ingly unwatch­able and, most recently, Happy-Go-Lucky seemed too thin – beneath his sig­ni­fic­ant tal­ents – and yet, des­pite not lik­ing it very much, I find myself think­ing about Happy-Go-Lucky quite often. And that’s Leigh’s skill – he gets under your skin even when you resist.

Another Year is his latest film and it’s ter­ribly good. It’s Secrets and Lies good, that good, des­pite hav­ing no plot to speak of. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen (Leigh reg­u­lars) play Tom and Gerri, a hap­pily mar­ried couple who seem to be sur­roun­ded by people who simply aren’t as good at cop­ing with life – Lesley Manville’s Mary, a highly strung, alco­hol­ic, work col­league of Sheen’s who turns up to embar­rass her­self in their kit­chen peri­od­ic­ally; Tom’s old uni­ver­sity buddy Ken played by Peter Wight (over­weight, depressed, lonely, also alco­hol­ic); Tom’s tacit­urn wid­ower broth­er Ronnie (David Bradley). They all drift into and out of Tom and Gerri’s wel­com­ing sub­urb­an kit­chen while tea is made and drunk and banal­it­ies are spoken.

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Review: Love Birds, Tamara Drewe, Wagner & Me, Conviction, The Last Exorcism and Curry Munchers

By Cinema, Reviews

Love Birds posterFollowing the sur­prise suc­cess of Second Hand Wedding in 2008, screen­writer Nick Ward and dir­ect­or Paul Murphy have been giv­en a vastly improved budget and access to two inter­na­tion­al stars and told to make light­ning strike twice.

The stars of Love Birds just hap­pen to be the two fussi­est act­ors in the world, Sally Hawkins (Golden Globe win­ner for Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky) and TV com­ic Rhys Darby, and when the two of them start fid­get­ing and stam­mer­ing it feels like you are in for a long night. Luckily, both have their still-er moments and at those times you can see that Darby has real poten­tial as a big screen romantic lead.

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Review: The American, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, Let Me In, Due Date and Machete

By Cinema, Reviews

I got some feed­back on this column the oth­er day. Apparently I “write well” but I “don’t like much”. Perhaps I am a little jaded after four and a half years in these pages but I am pleased to report that this week­end I saw five films on your behalf and enjoyed all of them. Yes, all of them.

In the first scene of The American, George Clooney does some­thing so un-Clooney-like that audi­ence mem­bers beside me aud­ibly gasped. He plays a hit-man who might be called Jack or Edward but is prob­ably neither.

After nar­rowly escap­ing an attempt on his own life he holes up in pic­tur­esque Castel del Monte in the moun­tains of cent­ral Italy. As a single-minded pro­fes­sion­al with no ties, Jack could be the broth­er of Clooney’s cor­por­ate assas­sin in Up in the Air and like that film it takes unex­pec­ted feel­ings for a beau­ti­ful woman to make him real­ise how empty his life is.

Directed by fam­ous pho­to­graph­er Anton Corbijn (The Joshua Tree etc), every frame of The American is lus­cious and per­fectly com­posed, Mr. Clooney makes this stuff look easy and if you’re in the mar­ket for a qual­ity Euro-art-house Bourne-type thrill­er then look no further.

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Review: Winter’s Bone, Red, Made in Dagenham, Paranormal Activity 2, Resident Evil- Afterlife and I’m Still Here

By Cinema, Reviews

Winter's Bone posterHalf way through Winter’s Bone I found myself think­ing, “So, this is what the Western has become?” The best Westerns are about find­ing or sus­tain­ing a mor­al path though a law­less fron­ti­er and the fron­ti­er in Winter’s Bone is the hid­den world of the rur­al poor and the path is a strange and ter­ri­fy­ing one.

In the rough and remote Ozark Mountains, teen­age Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is single-handedly bring­ing up her two young sib­lings while caring for her emo­tion­ally dam­aged moth­er. One cold morn­ing the Sheriff turns up with the news that her fath­er, Jessup, used their house as his bail bond and unless Ree can find him and per­suade him to turn up for Court, the fam­ily will lose everything.

Jessup is (or maybe was) what we would call a ‘P’ deal­er – the only eco­nomy in the area show­ing any kind of growth. But the com­pany he was keep­ing were the mean­est of the mean and to find her fath­er Ree must ven­ture into dan­ger­ous territory.

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Review: Grow Your Own, The Chronicles of Narnia- Prince Caspian and The Jammed

By Cinema, Reviews

Grow Your Own posterThe allot­ment is one of the United Kingdom’s greatest achieve­ments, unre­peated I believe any­where else. In exchange for mov­ing in to shoe­boxes stacked upon each oth­er the British poor were giv­en a back garden some­where else – a nearby shared field con­ver­ted into small plots where they could grow some food and still exper­i­ence some­thing of a life out­doors, con­nec­ted to the sea­sons. And who could have guessed that, at the same time, the allot­ment could also be such an effect­ive meta­phor for life in mod­ern England.

In Richard Laxton’s film Grow Your Own, the spare plots at a Liverpool allot­ment are being alloc­ated to refugees, to help them adjust to life in their new coun­try and give them some­thing to do dur­ing the oth­er­wise long days. The loc­als, led by ex-cop Big John (Philip Jackson) with the help of his down­trod­den son Little John (Eddie Marsan from Happy-Go-Lucky), don’t like the idea of their patch being invaded by “gypos” and turn a cold shoulder to their new neighbours.

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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, 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.