After an intense weekend running from picture theatre to picture theatre between – and sometimes during – rain showers, I have now caught up on everything in current local release. Except Tinker Bell and the Secret of the Wings but a Twitter correspondent assures me: “Just FYI my 5 year old great niece loved it so much she stood up at the end clapping & dancing…you should go you’ll love it ;)” and that review might just have to do for now.
A little harder to track down than Tinker Bell, Madagascar 3 or Hotel Transylvania – but well worth the effort – is Arrietty, a Studio Ghibli animated adaptation of The Borrowers, Mary Norton’s famous children’s book about tiny people living under a house who are discovered by a frail young boy who needs a friend. Beautifully animated – as always – and told with emotion and simplicity, Arrietty is a fine alternative to those over-hyped Hollywood confections. The version playing in Wellington is the English voiced one featuring Saoirse Ronan, Olivia Colman and Mark Strong – much easier on the ears than the American voices and much easier to follow for the littlies than the original Japanese.
Since I took this gig back in September I have seen every film commercially released in Wellington (except for a few Bollywood efforts) and there have been some clunkers, but this week is so bereft of quality that I fear I may need to develop eyes of leather to get through next week.
We kick-off with Eragon, a sort of boy-band version of Tolkien that’s not so much sub-Jacksonian as subterranean. In the supposedly distant past the verdant lands of Elbonia, sorry, Alagaesia were protected by Dragon Riders (these are men who ride dragons, bear with me). Before the film starts one of the Dragon Riders turns evil, kills all the others and declares himself King. The people of Discombobula, sorry, Alagaesia are miserable and subjugated, etc. and stories of the Dragon Riders begin to fade in to memory. That is until a good-looking young farm boy finds an egg that hatches in to a dragon with the voice of Rachel Weisz. Bad King Galbatorix, in a performance phoned in by John Malkovich, has to kill the boy and the dragon or all his dreams of perpetual Alagaesia-domination may fade and die.
Weisz and Malkovich aren’t the only names slumming it in Eragon: Robert Carlyle’s Durza isn’t nearly as scary as his Begbie from Trainspotting, Devonshire soul diva Joss Stone does a very strange turn as a fortune teller, but Jeremy Irons has enough gumption about him that might have made him a decent action hero if he hadn’t specialised in playing effete European intellectuals about 30 years ago.
I realise that, as a seeker of quality, I’m a long way from being the target market for Eragon but it really is an enormous bunch of arse. My two favourite moments: learning that the director is called Fangmeier (perfect) and working out that Alagaesia rhymes with cheesier.
The perfectly named Duff sisters (Hilary and, you know, the other one) get a showcase for their meagre talents in Material Girls, a sub-teen morality tale about two rich sisters who lose all their money when their family cosmetics empire collapses due to greedy, cheating adults.
In the end Material Girls is an affable hour and a bit that failed to stop the youngsters at Queensgate from running up and down the aisles and making a general nuisance of themselves.
Material Girls aims so low that it’s hard to hate – unlike Nancy Meyer’s The Holiday which I felt personally insulted by. In this “romantic” “comedy”, Cameron Diaz plays a Los Angeles movie trailer editor who swaps houses with depressed English journalist Kate Winslet for a Christmas holiday mutually distant from the men who have broken their hearts. Diaz finds herself in picture postcard snowy Surrey and Winslet gets the run of Diaz’s Hollywood mansion. Within 12 hours both women meet their perfect man and faith in love and romance is, of course, restored.
In Winslet’s case that restoration is helped by a former screenwriter played with admirable alive-ness by 91 year-old Eli Wallach, who gives her a list of classic films of the past to watch. The Holiday thinks it is honouring these great examples of the art – at one point Winslet and Jack Black watch Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday – when frankly it isn’t fit to shine their shoes. Dreadful and lazy on almost every level possible.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 20 December, 2006.