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Still hovering around some local cinemas — and the longest-delayed of all my outstanding reviews — Still Mine is a surprisingly effective Canadian drama about an elderly man (James Cromwell, 73 but playing a fit 89) determined to build a new house for his wife (Geneviéve Bujold) before her memory deserts her completely. Cromwell gives his character a softness which belies the usual ornery old dude clichés, even if his stubborn refusal to submit to the building code is the device on which the story hinges. Contains lots of shots of Cromwell’s heroic profile staring off into the New Brunswick distance.
Older people are, paradoxically, the only growing segment of the film audience in New Zealand so there’s often high quality fare around the tempt them. One of the best is the documentary Ping Pong, about competitors (genuine competitors at that) in the World Over 80s Table Tennis Championship in Inner Mongolia. Like any good documentary it assembles a great cast of characters and like all good sports movies it makes full use of the built-in drama of a knock-out tournament. Not just about the restorative power of exercise, it’s also about friendship and adventure. Inspiring, so help me.
Kiwi crowd-pleasers don’t come much more crowd-pleasing than Tearepa Kahi’s Mt. Zion, featuring TV talent quester Stan Walker in a star-making performance as a working class kid with a dream. Slogging his unwilling guts out picking potatoes in the market gardens of 1979 Pukekohe, nervously making the first steps in a music career that seems impossible and fantasising about meeting the great Bob Marley, Walker’s Turei is out of step with his hard working father (Temuera Morrison) and the back-breaking work.
When a local promoter announces a competition to be the support act for the reggae legend’s forthcoming concert at Western Springs, Turei tests the boundaries of family and friendship to get a shot at the big time. The bones of the story are familiar, of course, but there’s meat on the bones too — a slice of New Zealand social history with economic changes making life harder for a people who don’t own the land that they work. Production design (by Savage) and authentic-looking 16mm photography all help give Mt. Zion a look of its own and the music — though not normally to my taste — is agreeable enough.
There are now four films in the Twilight “saga” which means I’ve spent 493 minutes in the Twilight universe, at least 492 of them wishing I was somewhere else. The latest episode, Breaking Dawn Part 1 follows the Harry Potter strategy of not separating uncomplaining fools from their money once when you can do so twice, and thankfully is the least rotten of the four films.
All of the “will they, won’t they” nonsense has been leading to this so — at least narratively speaking — they are finally getting on with it. After the longest wedding scene in cinema history — of films that don’t have the word ‘wedding’ in the title — Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) head off to a remote Brazilian island to play chess on the beach and consumate their relationship.
While thousands of protestors gather in Manhattan to “Occupy Wall St”, the European economy teeters on the brink of collapse, unemployment across the developed world grows and several Pacific island nations report shortages of drinking water due to climate change, here in New Zealand we continue to party like it’s 1987 and at the pictures for the school holidays we have the most blatant and desperate examples of corporatist “entertainment” I’ve ever seen lined up together. Is this the cinema equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns?
In The Smurfs the mega-sized Sony corporation makes sure that its name and products are never very far from the centre of the screen, rendering the lumpy end product utterly charmless. In Real Steel the product placement is more like product bombardment. Nothing goes without a logo — from Hugh Jackman’s sunglasses to HP (or are they still known as Hewlett-Packard?) spending thousands of dollars to promote products they don’t even make anymore. Meanwhile, the spies in Spy Kids 4 all use Apple products — although for the most part they are pretending to be something other than computers and iPads.
Johnny English Reborn even goes so far as to make a joke out of its dependency on the rapidly declining corporate dollar — English’s beloved MI7 has changed it’s name to Toshiba MI7 while he was on an enforced sabbatical. Whether the presence of a sensuously photographed (and glowingly described) Rolls Royce will prompt the average audience member to trade in their fifteen-year-old Mazdas is neither here nor there. The fact remains that if you send your kids to the pictures this holidays they will be indoctrinated more than any generation before them.
But are the films any good? Actually, yes, a couple of them are OK. I’m a big fan of Robert Rodriguez and his ability to alternately churn out grown-up pulp like Machete and family-friendly fare like Shorts. His Troublemaker Studios in Austin knows how to make things look good (enough) on modest budgets and Rodriguez’ relentlessly inventive imagination keeps everything lively and fun. I thought Spy Kids 4 was endearing and it managed to deliver a good message along with the thrills and spills.
One of the first films I reviewed when I started here was an charming documentary called Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey in which Canadian fans Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen travelled the world talking to other fans (and the stars they worship) about what it is that makes metal great. In that film they interviewed Iron Maiden’s vocalist Bruce Dickinson and they must have made a decent impression as Maiden (and EMI) have given them a decent budget and loads of access for them to document their Somewhere Back in Time tour (around the world last year).
And what a wheeze the tour turned out to be. Chartering a 757 from Dickinson’s other employer, taking half the seats out so the gear and set could fit, flying the whole show between gigs with Dickinson piloting the whole time — a bunch of pasty middle-aged English lads having the time of their lives across half the world. The only real drama comes when drummer Nicko McBrain gets hit on the wrist by a golf ball, but it doesn’t matter because the joy of seeing a band really moving audiences (in places like Mumbai and Costa Rica) is the reason for this film to exist. And this film rises above above other recent great rock movies like U2-3D and Shine a Light — because it’s about the fans as well as the band and it recognises the complex interdependence of the relationship.