Of all the massively successful franchise conversions from best-selling-books-that-I-haven’t‑read, I’m pleased to say that I like this Hunger Games film the best. I’ve been justifiably scornful of the Harry Potter films in these pages and downright disdainful of Twilight but – while still not reaching out much to me personally – I can say that Hunger Games actually succeeds much more on its own cinematic terms.
Jennifer Lawrence basically repeats her Academy Award-nominated turn from Winter’s Bone as a plucky Appalachian teen forced to risk everything to protect her young sister while her traumatised mother remains basically useless. In this film, though, the enemy isn’t toothless meth dealers but the full force of a fascist state where the 99% is enslaved in various “districts” and forced to produce whatever the decadent 1% back in Capitol City require in order to keep them in their Klaus Nomi-inspired makeup and hair.
It’s clear that there are two kinds of people in the world. There are the people who get Harry Potter (not just get but devour, savour, relish) and then there’s, you know, me.
Over the last six years I have doggedly tried to review the HP franchise as if it was cinema, as if there might be viewers tempted along who hadn’t been exposed to the books and who might reasonably be expecting to watch a film that stands on its own two feet.
Well, to coin a phrase, “it all ends” now. I give up. With Harry Potter, you can’t divorce your response from your expectations. If you loved the books it would appear that you love the films and the less attention the filmmakers pay to unbelievers like me the better you like it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the seventh film in the series but only the third that I’ve had to review in thesepages. Sadly, my conclusions are almost always the same – and almost always irrelevant. These films are increasingly made for Potter fans only and there are so many of them that box office success is guaranteed regardless of churls like me.
And, of course, the Potter films are as important to the British film industry as The Hobbit is to ours – hence why the final book in the saga has been, in a breathtaking act of commercial cynicism, been split in to two blockbuster films. If you were expecting any kind of conclusion (satisfactory or not) then you’ll have to wait until June. Maybe.
The first thing you need to know about It’s Complicated is that it isn’t very complicated at all. The plot, the characters, the gags (dear God, especially the gags) are all perfectly comprehensible – even to those of us with only modest intellectual faculties. Rest assured, at no point will anyone be talking over your head in this one.
Nancy Meyer’s previous film was The Holiday, which easily remains in the bottom ten of the 1200+ films I have reviewed in these pages, so It’s Complicated earns a single point for not being that bad, but that’s where I run out of positives.
Meryl Streep plays Jane, successful baker and businesswoman, who has a drunken one-night-stand with her rogue-ish ex-husband, played by Alec Baldwin. He thinks that they should try again. She isn’t so sure – mainly because he is now married to the woman he left her for ten years earlier and she really doesn’t want to be the “other woman” to the “other woman”.
My normal, equable, approach to Hollywood blockbuster product has been upset this week by the news that, in a decision of quite breathtaking cynicism, Warner Bros. are going to split the final Harry Potter film (The Deathly Hallows due in 2010) in to two parts and thus, with a wave of a Potter-like wand, make $500m appear where no money was before. Normal service may well be resumed next week but for now I am grumpy and it may show.
Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) leaves his hit-making collaborators, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, behind for a while for his new comedy Run Fatboy Run. He plays loveable waster Dennis Doyle who could easily be a cousin of Shaun (or Tim in “Spaced”). Five years ago he ran out on his beautiful pregnant girlfriend, Thandie Newton, on their wedding day. Now, she has hooked up with handsome, rich, American marathon runner Hank Azaria (The Simpsons) and Dennis (with the help of very funny best friend Dylan Moran from “Black Books”) decides to win her back by proving he can finish a London Marathon. Competent and energetic but with the occasional bum note, Run Fatboy Run is like a pub band cover version of a greatBritish romantic comedy. One of the reasons why it doesn’t always work must be down to first-time feature director David Schwimmer (Ross from “Friends”) whose timing, sadly, isn’t always on.
They say you never come out of a film humming the structure, which in the case of plucky little thriller Vantage Point is a shame as the structure is really all it has going for it. An attempted assassination of US President Ashton (William Hurt) in Salamanca, Spain is told and retold from the differing perspectives of several protagonists and witnesses, including Dennis Quaid’s ageing Secret Serviceman and Forest Whitaker’s handicam-toting tourist. The plot is never fully unravelled, though, leaving too many questions unanswered not least of which why Spanish terrorists would collaborate with jihadists. There’s one great car chase, though, involving what looks like a Holden Barina. Everything else disappoints.
With The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen scribe Peter Morgan turns his attention to another chapter in Britain’s royal history: the bed-hopping, neck-chopping, Tudor soap opera starring Henry VIII and his search for an heir; a prequel, if you will, to Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman play the Boleyn sisters, competing for the attention of Eric Bana’s handsome but unstable Henry (if they only knew he was going to turn into Charles Laughton they might not have tried so hard). The original novel was bodice-ripping romantic fiction dressed as literature and the film serves the same purpose. Entertaining.
Steve Buscemi takes the director’s chair (and stars in) Interview, a low-key two-hander also featuring Sienna Miller. Buscemi plays cynical political journalist Pierre who is forced to interview a famous soap star. Based on, and far too respectful of, a film by murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, Interview feels like a stage play – and not in a good way.
Ever since West Side Story (and possibly earlier) dance has been used as a metaphor for urban violence but in recent years the trend has got some commercial legs as filmmakers realise they can present hip-hop music and urban situations in a PG environment. In Step Up a white urban freestyle dancer (Channing Tatum) tried to make it at ballet school. In the sequel (Step Up 2 The Streets), a white freestyle urban dancer (Briana Evigan) tries to make it at the same ballet school. But she’s from The Streets, you see, and she’s an orphan so she gathers the other outcasts and ethnics from the school so they can compete with the gang-bangers in an “illegal” dance competition. I’m fascinated, obviously, by these films not least the promotion of dance as competition over dance as expression. But I’m over-thinking as usual.
Finally, 10,000 BC is fitfully entertaining twaddle. Historically and anthropologically inaccurate not to mention ethnologically offensive, my recommendation is to wait for the video, get stoned with your mates and then talk all the way through it.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 March, 2008 although space constraints saw the last few items cut. So, Interview, Step Up 2 The Streets and 10,000 BC are like web-only bonus items.
Nature of Conflict: Interview is distributed in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I sometimes do a little work for.
The world of Harry Potter takes on an Orwellian tone in The Order of the Phoenix, episode 5 in the Hogwarts soap, which sees the magic bureaucracy in London desperate to keep a lid on the news of Voldemort’s return.
If that last sentence didn’t mean very much to you then you will have a hard time enjoying the latest Harry Potter as very few efforts have been made to appeal to the tiny minority of us who haven’t read the books or seen the films. I shouldn’t really complain too much – the Star Trek universe is one that has always appealed to me and therefore I get pleasure immersing myself in it. It’s no different here, except this time I am not in the club.
For an outsider, though, this Harry Potter is not a hugely enjoyable experience. The young actors, despite lots of practice by now, haven’t got any better (poor Rupert Grint as Harry gets found out every time they point the camera at him). Daniel Radcliffe as Harry doesn’t seem to be able to carry the weight of the emotion or the action and Harry himself still seems like a bit of a wimp to be honest.
Which brings us to the story-telling, supposedly the series’ strength. Generally, screenwriters will tell you that introducing a new character half way through a film purely to solve a problem for the hero two scenes later is pretty poor form. Maybe it’s a weakness from the books, or a general difficulty with episodic fiction, either way its terribly unsatisfying for a neutral.
The picturesque seaside suburb of Maroubra in Sydney’s inner city is the setting for the compelling documentary Bra Boys, narrated by Russell Crowe.
Nestled between the sewage farm and Australia’s biggest prison, Maroubra was settled as state housing in the early 20th century, replacing the local tent slums. Despite the idyllic beachfront setting Maroubra is more South Central LA than Oriental Bay and, like any kids in the ‘Hood, the only way out is usually via a casket, a prison van or sport. Two of the four central characters, the Abberton brothers, made it as pro surfers (eldest Sunny is the writer and director) and some of the lunatic surfing footage is pretty exciting.
But Bra Boys is more than a surf movie: in its 90 minutes it veers from social history to family drama and then finally to political commentary, and the Boys’ story justifies every twist and turn. It gave me a lot to think about.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times, Wednesday 18 July, 2007. The Bra Boys review was cut for space reasons which is a shame as I think its worth seeing.