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Review: Kung Fu Panda 2, The Company Men, Potiche and Bill Cunningham New York

By Cinema and Reviews

Kung Fu Panda 2 posterIt’s nice to be reminded every now and then that going to to the movies is sup­posed to be fun. The first Kung Fu Panda film was a bois­ter­ous and enter­tain­ing treat (“resembles an eight-year-old’s bed­room while they are throw­ing all their toys around” I said in 2008) and the latest ver­sion is an improve­ment on that, adding a lay­er of sen­ti­ment to the amus­ing hijinks. It also trucks along for a nothing-wasted 91 minutes and should keep adults and not-yet-adults well and truly amused.

Panda Po (Jack Black) became the unlikely Dragon Warrior in the first film and now has rock star status among the anthro­po­morph­ic cit­izenry. Along with allies “The Five”, he defends the inno­cent from tyranny in between (and often dur­ing) meals. A new tech­no­logy and a shad­owy fig­ure from Po’s past threaten the peace and force our hero to grapple with the strangely unanswered ques­tions about his child­hood and how a panda came to be adop­ted by a goose in the first place.

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Review: Summer Holiday Round-up (2010/11)

By Cinema and Reviews

T.J. MillerThis year the sum­mer hol­i­days seemed to have been owned by the unlikely fig­ure of T.J. Miller, dead­pan comedi­an, sup­port­ing act­or and eer­ily famil­i­ar back­ground fig­ure. In Yogi Bear he was the ambi­tious but dim deputy park ranger eas­ily duped by Andrew Daly’s smarmy Mayor into help­ing him sell out Jellystone to cor­por­ate log­ging interests, in Gulliver’s Travels he was the ambi­tious but as it turns out dim mail room super­visor who pro­vokes Jack Black into pla­gi­ar­ising his way into a fate­ful travel writ­ing gig and in Unstoppable he’s the slightly less dim (and cer­tainly less ambi­tious) mate of the doo­fus who leaves the hand­brake on and then watches his enorm­ous freight train full of tox­ic waste roll away.

So, a good sum­mer for T.J. Miller then, what about the rest of us?

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Review: G-Force, Shorts, The Secret of Moonacre, Ponyo, Year One, Fame, Every Little Step, Disgrace, North Face and Cheri

By Cinema and Reviews

So, it’s the school hol­i­days and the nip­pers are boun­cing off the walls. You’re not allowed to just leave them in the car while you play the pokies any­more so it’s time to get cre­at­ive. There are plenty of kid-friendly movie options around and the only draw­back is that you might have to sit and watch with them.

G-Force posterIn G‑Force 3D guinea pigs save the world from – actu­ally I can’t tell you as the twist is quite a good one. A top secret research pro­ject involving Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) and rodents with the voices of Nic Cage, Sam Rockwell and Penélope Cruz is pressed into ser­vice when an entire con­sumer brand (toast­ers, cof­fee makers, etc) goes ber­serk. The anim­a­tion is first class (and CGI rodents are always cute) but the film as a whole nev­er really gets going. It’s a Bruckheimer pro­duc­tion so was prob­ably con­sumer tested bey­ond endurance.

Shorts posterAnother fic­tion­al con­sumer brand gets a pum­mel­ling in this new era of anti-commercialism in Shorts , Robert Rodriguez’ spunky and invent­ive, low budget effort. Black Industries make a Black Box – an all-in-one port­able everything device that turns out not to be nearly as cool as the rain­bow magic wish­ing stone that causes hav­oc every­where it goes. Pitched slightly young­er than G‑Force, and without the pol­ish, it is still worth a look.

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Review: Show of Hands, Ghost Town, Be Kind Rewind, Mirrors, How to lose Friends & Alienate People, RocknRolla and And When Did You Last See Your Father?

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Show of Hands posterAccording to the ven­er­able IMDb.com, before Show of Hands the only fea­ture films to be shot in New Plymouth were The Last Samurai (sort of) and some­thing called Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice, so Anthony McCarten’s gentle little comedy-drama is already historic.

Showcasing the Taranaki land­scape as well as the people, Show of Hands has an ambi­tion as small as the town but, sadly, doesn’t bear up under too much scru­tiny. A strug­gling car yard own­er (Steven Stephen Lovatt) runs a hands-on-the-car pro­mo­tion as a last ditch attempt to save his busi­ness and a hand­ily rep­res­ent­at­ive cross-section of New Zealand soci­ety turns out to have a go.

The three main con­tenders are Melanie Lynskey’s single-mum (who needs the car to ferry her wheelchair-bound daugh­ter about); Matt Whelan’s young trusta­far­i­an and Craig Hall’s cold-fish busi­ness­man who may or may not need the dough to solve his busi­ness prob­lems or may or may not just be an ultra-competitive egot­ist­ic­al jerk. The whole film suf­fers from a sim­il­ar lack of clar­ity which makes sus­pend­ing dis­be­lief a struggle. The act­ing is fine how­ever and Whelan in par­tic­u­lar is excel­lent – one for the future there.

Ghost Town posterCursed with a not-very-promising title, and a high concept premise (obnox­ious dent­ist dies for sev­en minutes on an oper­at­ing table and wakes up with the abil­ity to see the ghosts of Manhattan), David Koepp’s Ghost Town turns out to be one of the main­stream pleas­ures of the year. I’m going to assume that every Hollywood rom-com with an English lead was writ­ten for Hugh Grant, but we can be grate­ful that he has all-but retired as it gives Ricky Gervais a meaty role which he grabs with both hands. Gervais may not have much range as an act­or, but he does have depth and I found myself being unac­count­ably moved by a film that always deliv­ers a little more than it says on the tin.

Be Kind Rewind posterIf the remark­able suc­cess of the 48 Hour Film Competition has proved any­thing in recent years it is that mak­ing films is now as much of a com­munity exper­i­ence as watch­ing them and it’s that same hand-made, JFDI, aes­thet­ic that Michel Gondry cel­eb­rates in the very spe­cial Be Kind Rewind.

While mind­ing dod­dery Danny Glover’s ram­shackle New Jersey video (and thrift) store, Mos Def dis­cov­ers that all the pre­cious VHS tapes have been erased by mag­net­ic doo­fuss Jack Black. To save the busi­ness our her­oes re-make the con­tents of the store using only a handycam and their ingenu­ity, even­tu­ally enlist­ing the whole town. I loved Be Kind Rewind and you’ll be hon­our­ing the spir­it of the film if you see it at a theatre with a bunch of strangers.

Mirrors is yet anoth­er re-make of an Asian hor­ror flick and there ain’t much water left in that par­tic­u­lar well. Kiefer Sutherland plays a troubled NY ex-cop who takes a secur­ity guard job at an aban­doned depart­ment store (Romanian and Hungarian stu­di­os plus a tiny bit of stock foot­age stand in for Manhattan). On his first night on the job the mir­rors start to freak him out and two hours of excru­ci­at­ing expos­i­tion follow.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People posterAlso shot on a European sound stage, though a second unit did make it through JFK to shoot some scenery, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is an ami­able little romp star­ring Simon Pegg as a try-hard English journ­al­ist try­ing to make it as a celebrity writer on a top New York magazine. Pompous yet insec­ure, Pegg’s Sidney Young (loosely based on author Toby Young whose book was itself loosely based on his own short Manhattan career) cuts a slap­stick swathe through high soci­ety. Pegg is ok (but he’s no Ricky Gervais, see above) but Megan Fox as movie star Sophie has the worst skin I’ve ever seen on a Hollywood lead­ing actress.

RocknRolla posterWriter-Director Guy Ritchie’s dread­ful faux-cockney purple prose has been drooled all over the inter­min­able RocknRolla, a boysie bit of rough and tumble that’s the cine­mat­ic equi­val­ent of someone grabbing you around the neck and rub­bing their knuckles into your skull. The sloppy plot involves a Russian oligarch’s lucky paint­ing, an old school East End gang­ster on the way out, a rock star fak­ing his own death and a big black tick­et tout with a taste for Jane Austen.

Ritchie does have an eye for young tal­ent (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels made Jason Statham a star): look out for Toby Kebbell (the junkie rock star Johnny Quid) and Tom Hardy (Handsome Bob), just don’t look out for them in this.

And When Did You Last See Your Father? posterFinally, there’s not many films that wouldn’t be improved with the addi­tion of the won­der­ful Jim Broadbent, and he really shines in And When Did You Last See Your Father?, a worthy brit-lit adapt­a­tion that also stars Colin Firth. Broadbent plays the fath­er in ques­tion, a jovi­al egot­ist who doesn’t real­ise that his over-abundant joie-de-vivre is crush­ing the spir­its of those around him. Firth is poet Blake Morrison, com­ing to terms with his father’s ter­min­al ill­ness with the help of plenty of flash­backs to his 60s child­hood. Director Anand Tucker builds his case care­fully until a splen­didly mov­ing finale draws a line under a very sat­is­fy­ing film.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 November, 2008.

Nature of con­flict: I pro­duced a couple of plays for Anthony McCarten back in the early 90s – “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and the reviv­al of “Yellow Canary Mazurka”.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Ghost TownHow to lose Friends…RocknRolla and Mirrors were all at Readings pub­lic ses­sions (all fine except How to Lose Friends… was slightly out of frame mean­ing some of the titles spilled on to the mask­ing); Be Kind, Rewind was at the Paramount and the first half was 20% out of focus and the whole film was about 20% too quiet; Show of Hands was a late night water­marked DVD from Rialto Entertainment and And When Did You Last See Your Father? was at the Embassy dur­ing the Film Festival back in July.

Review: Eagle Eye, The Rocker, The House Bunny, Wild Child, Space Chimps and Mongol

By Cinema and Reviews

Eagle Eye posterThis week I’ve had my intel­li­gence insul­ted by the very best. Steven Spielberg is cred­ited as Executive Producer of Eagle Eye, but if he spent more than one meet­ing over­see­ing this crapitude I would be very sur­prised. Eagle Eye is designed to appeal to cro-magnons who still believe that com­puters are inher­ently malevol­ent self-perpetuating pseudo-organisms and that the US Dept of Defence would invent an all-powerful, sur­veil­lance super-computer that you can’t switch off at the wall. And fans of Shia LaBoeuf. Director D. J. Caruso (last year’s Disturbia) is con­firmed as a name to avoid and Michael Jackson lookalike Michelle Monaghan has done (and will do) bet­ter than this (Gone Baby Gone).

The Rocker posterIn inter­views, Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute in the American “Office”) has admit­ted that he is behind Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson whenev­er the choicest scripts are handed out, so what that says about The Rocker (his first lead­ing role) I’m not sure. Wilson plays a Pete Best-like drum­mer, fired from the band he named (Vesuvius!) just before they shot to star­dom in 1988. Twenty years and twenty dead-end jobs later, he gets a shot at redemp­tion play­ing with his nephew’s high school band. Wilson really doesn’t have enough pres­ence to carry the film but he’s like­able enough and there’s some nice sup­port­ing work from Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and the lovely Christina Applegate (who really deserves to be a much big­ger star than she is).

The House Bunny posterOne week on from the depress­ing Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, there’s even more mis­placed girl power on dis­play in The House Bunny. Scary Movie star Anna Faris gets to exec­ut­ive pro­duce a vehicle for her­self (writ­ten by Laurie Craig and Karen McCullah Lutz, the female screen­writ­ing duo respons­ible for the pos­sibly Nobel Prize-winning Legally Blonde) and with that power comes great respons­ib­il­ity, respons­ib­il­ity that she puts to good use set­ting back the cause of fem­in­ism nearly 40 years.

Almost-Playmate Shelley (Faris), kicked out of Hef’s man­sion for being too old becomes sor­or­ity house moth­er to a bunch of “ugly” mis­fits (includ­ing Emma Stone from The Rocker and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s eld­est daugh­ter Rumer). It’s the lack of ambi­tion that I find so dis­heart­en­ing, although it did con­tain my favour­ite line of the week: “Concentrate on the eyes girls, remem­ber – the eyes are the nipples of the face.”

Wild Child posterRoald Dahl’s daugh­ter Lucy is anoth­er female screen­writer stuck in cliché hell. Her script for Wild Child could have res­ul­ted in pass­able enter­tain­ment, but is let down by poor dir­ec­tion and some odd post-production decisions. Last year’s Nancy Drew, Emma Roberts, plays the fish out of water, Malibu rich-chick, sent away to an English board­ing school run by firm-but-fair Natasha Richardson. There she makes friends and enemies and falls in love with hand­some Roddy, played by the worst act­or I’ve ever seen get his name on a major film: Alex Pettyfer (remem­ber the name, folks).

Space Chimps posterMost fun of the week can be found in Space Chimps, a bois­ter­ous CGI-animated com­edy for kids (and those that might find WALL•E a little too emo­tion­ally demand­ing). Ripping a long at a great pace, it has plenty of gags per minute and bene­fits from hav­ing great voice-actors like Patrick Warburton and Kristin Chenoweth involved rather than big name stars slum­ming it. Recommended.

Mongol posterThe Russo-Sino-Co-pro Mongol really deserves to be seen on a giant screen, as befit­ting the giant land­scape and giant story. The first of a pro­posed tri­logy telling the life story of Genghis Khan, this instal­ment fol­lows the 12th cen­tury war­lord from his own birth to the birth of an empire span­ning half the known world. Uniting the tribes of Mongolia was a bru­tal busi­ness and there’s plenty of CGI blood splash­ing around as young Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) dis­cov­ers his destiny.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 1 October 2008.