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Review: Balibo, From Paris with Love, Gone With the Woman and Silent Wedding

By Cinema and Reviews

Balibo posterIn October 1975, the obscure little Portuguese colony of East Timor was giv­en inde­pend­ence after 400 years of European rule. A mixed Melanesian/Polynesian pop­u­la­tion was sit­ting on rich min­er­al and fossil fuel poten­tial and sur­roun­ded on three sides by the region’s power­house, Indonesia (with Australia to the south). After only nine days of inde­pend­ence, Indonesia invaded in one of the most cyn­ic­al and bru­tal land grabs in mod­ern history.

The Indonesian armed forces, know­ing that an inva­sion was a gross breach of inter­na­tion­al law, wore plain clothes and did everything they could to extin­guish evid­ence and wit­nesses. The most cel­eb­rated vic­tims of the atro­city were the Balibo 5, young Australian tele­vi­sion journ­al­ists who were stran­ded in the bor­der town of Balibo as the inva­sion began. Without the bene­fit of modern-day com­mu­nic­a­tions, they simply dis­ap­peared and the Australian gov­ern­ment, who (along with the US) gave tacit approv­al to the entire hor­rible exercise.

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Review: Up, The Soloist, The Young Victoria, Paris 36, Casablanca, The Camera on the Shore and the Vanguard 30th Anniversary

By Cinema and Reviews

The Young Victoria posterThe theme for the week seems to be romance and some of the finest love stor­ies of recent (or in fact any) year have just made their way to our screens. Firstly, The Young Victoria where Emily Blunt (Sunshine Cleaning, The Devil Wears Prada) deservedly takes centre stage for the first time as the eponym­ous roy­al. Even review­ers are entitled to a little pre­ju­dice, and I wasn’t expect­ing much from this going in, but I left the cinema full of admir­a­tion for an intel­li­gent script, perfectly-pitched dir­ec­tion and con­sist­ently able per­form­ances from expec­ted and unex­pec­ted quarters.

Blunt’s Victoria is a head­strong teen­ager, frus­trated by the com­pet­ing polit­ic­al interests that push and pull her. Only Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (whose suit was instig­ated by yet more euro-intrigue) seems to see the real Victoria and offers the new Queen sup­port and inde­pend­ence. The rela­tion­ship between Blunt’s Victoria and Rupert Friend’s ini­tially nervous but ulti­mately self-assured Albert is charm­ing, nat­ur­al and mov­ing and the back­ground of polit­ic­al intrigue and mach­in­a­tions provide neces­sary (but not over­whelm­ing) con­text. The Young Victoria is a film that, and I hope this makes sense, is per­fectly balanced.

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Review: Gone Baby Gone, Shutter and Drillbit Taylor

By Cinema and Reviews

Gone Baby Gone posterIn 1997 two young hot­shots stunned the film world by win­ning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for their first pro­duced script. Since then, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have suffered cruel mut­ter­ings ever since: that they could­n’t pos­sibly have writ­ten such a good film by them­selves and that if they did why haven’t they writ­ten any­thing else? Added to the indig­nity is the con­stant rumour that Hollywood script guru William Goldman net­ted a mil­lion dol­lars for three weeks work punch­ing up Good Will Hunting on con­di­tion that he would forever deny it (which he denies).

In the 11 years since that win the career tra­ject­or­ies of Affleck and Damon have been pub­lic. Starring roles in block­buster suc­cesses, high-profile romantic liais­ons and (in the case of Affleck) a little bit of rehab. But there has been pre­cious little ori­gin­al cre­at­ive out­put from either party until the release of Gone Baby Gone, Affleck’s dir­ect­ori­al debut (also co-written), which reached Wellington this week.

Directing is a real test of a film­maker­’s chops. Unlike a fudged writ­ing cred­it you can­’t fake being on a set (although a great crew, DP and edit­or can often cov­er a mul­ti­tude of sins) but I’m thrilled to report that Affleck has pro­duced a work of genu­ine last­ing quality.

Based on a nov­el by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone is set in the same Boston mean streets that Will (from Good Will Hunting) grew up in. If you saw Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (also from a Lehane story) or Scorsese’s The Departed you’ll be famil­i­ar with the geo­graph­ic­al ter­rit­ory, but Affleck’s eye is even more highly tuned to the neigh­bor­hood than those masters.

Four year old Amanda has been snatched from her home while her young single moth­er (sen­sa­tion­al Amy Ryan) was get­ting stoned at a bar. The Police led by Morgan Freeman (him­self suf­fer­ing the loss of a child) are strug­gling to get trac­tion from a com­munity sus­pi­cious of uni­forms. Young private invest­ig­at­or Patrick (Casey Affleck) and his part­ner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) are enlis­ted by the fam­ily to try and tease out some clues that would be unavail­able to law enforcement.

And that’s when it gets really inter­est­ing – because Affleck chooses to down­play the thrill­er (or pro­ced­ur­al) aspects of the piece in favour of char­ac­ter study and the unveil­ing of a ter­rible mor­al dilemma. And its a dilemma that remains per­fectly bal­anced right to the end where, like Bogart’s Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, our hon­our­able private eye is vir­tu­ally alone, forced to live with the unend­ing pain of doing the right thing.

Shutter posterThe pro­duc­tion line of asian-horror-remakes is still chug­ging along. The Eye (remake of a Hong Kong thrill­er) will be reviewed next week while Shutter (based on a Thai film called Shutter) has already been around a week or so. I find these things to be dread­fully tire­some for the most part, for­mu­laic and pre­dict­able. In Shutter a new­ly­wed American couple in Japan (Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor) find strange shad­ows appear­ing in their hol­i­day snaps. It turns out there’s a spir­it fol­low­ing them around, sneak­ing into their frames, spoil­ing their com­pos­i­tions. Well, their pho­to­graphy is about to be the least of their wor­ries. Shutter is laugh­able for the first two-thirds but res­cued by a well-manufactured dénoue­ment so I ended up not hat­ing it totally.

Drillbit Taylor posterOwen Wilson has been in the news more for his men­tal health issues than his act­ing in recent months but it is worth­while to be reminded that he remains one of the most watch-able act­ors of mod­ern times and the pleas­ant enough com­edy Drillbit Taylor comes to life whenev­er he is on the screen. He plays the eponym­ous Taylor, a mil­it­ary desert­er and bum who takes on the job of pro­tect­ing three nerdy kids from high school bul­lies. The kids are pretty funny too – like the kids from Superbad, only a few years younger.

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

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: This is the first all-Readings edi­tion of the weekly review since it com­menced back in October 2006.