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joe wright

Review: Lincoln, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, Anna Karenina, The Impossible and Celeste & Jesse Forever

By Cinema and Reviews

Local audi­ences can pre­tend they are Academy voters for the next few weeks because almost all the big nom­in­ees are being released at the same time. It’s the NZ way – try and max­im­ise atten­tion for your films while they are still con­tenders but before they become losers. It makes for a crush at loc­al screens – you may not find the film you want at the time you want – but it also means the odds of see­ing some­thing really good are much bet­ter than usual.

Lincoln posterSpielberg’s Lincoln is classy old school film­mak­ing, as you might expect from such a vet­er­an. He’s assembled an A‑team of writers, per­formers and tech­nic­al crew to tell one of the most import­ant – and res­on­ant – stor­ies of the last 150 years. Abe Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has been re-elected to his second term as President and the pain­ful and bloody Civil War is almost won. Why would he risk his con­sid­er­able polit­ic­al cap­it­al to try and pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the con­sti­tu­tion – pro­hib­it­ing slavery – when the slave-owning south is almost defeated and many on his own side don’t feel it is necessary?

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Review: Senna, Hanna, Footrot Flats - The Dog’s Tale, Final Destination 5 and The Double Hour

By Cinema and Reviews

Senna posterDespite my pos­it­ive review for TT3D last week, I’m not a huge motor­s­port fan. In 1996 I worked on the last Nissan Mobil 500 race around the water­front and couldn’t see the appeal of watch­ing cars go belt­ing around the same corner over and over again. In that race you couldn’t even tell who was win­ning, it was all such a blur. In fact, the only time I’ve ever watched Formula 1 was when I chan­nel surfed on to some late night cov­er­age one Sunday night in 1994 just before going to bed. Two corners (about 30 seconds) later, Ayrton Senna was dead. It was pretty freaky, let me tell you.

So, I knew (as all audi­ences must) that Asif Kapadia’s bril­liant doc­u­ment­ary Senna was going to end in tragedy. What I didn’t know was how riv­et­ing it was going to be from begin­ning to end. Senna works because it is first and fore­most a por­trait of a com­pel­ling char­ac­ter – a cha­ris­mat­ic, con­fid­ent but humble young man who under­stood the risks he took and fought to bal­ance those risks with his innate desire to race and race hard – but when the polit­ics of Formula 1 took the con­trol of those risks out of his hands there you could see there was only going to be one result.

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Cinema: Best of 2007

By Cinema

And so, after 191 films viewed and reviewed here I get to sum up the 2007 cinema year. As I said back in September it’s been a great year for good films but a poor year for truly great ones. Even my (obvi­ously unim­peach­able) Top Ten list con­tains only a few that I think will be regarded as clas­sics in 20 years but these are all films that I’d hap­pily see again or even own on DVD if the chance arises.

Into the Wild posterBest of the year turns out to be the most recent: Sean Penn’s Into the Wild is the real deal. As beau­ti­ful to look at and listen to as the finest art film, but remain­ing down to earth, it fea­tures a star-making per­form­ance from Emile Hirsch lead­ing an ensemble of fine screen act­ors and it ulti­mately deliv­ers a mes­sage that is com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the one you expect: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait posterThe next two selec­tions are also not­able for being the lowest-grossing films of the year: the mes­mer­ising Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait fol­lowed one man around a foot­ball pitch for an entire match and the won­drous and glow­ing abori­gin­al film Ten Canoes reminded us that great story-telling can be found any­where, from the camp fire to the mul­ti­plex. The finest per­form­ances of the year from grown-ups were found in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie were a couple reel­ing from the impact of Alzheimer’s: the pres­sure of the dis­ease slowly unrav­el­ling a rela­tion­ship that on the sur­face seemed so pure. Best per­form­ance of the year from any­one was little Kolya Spiridonov as “orphan” Vanya in The Italian, determ­ined to find his Mother wherever she may be rather than go to the west with new parents.

Deep Water posterBest doc­u­ment­ary turned out to be the unprom­ising Deep Water: a film about a yacht race that ended up being about the deep­est, darkest secrets kept by a fra­gile human soul – it was even bet­ter second time around. Atonement was a sweep­ing and romantic drama show­cas­ing the many skills of the latest gen­er­a­tion of British movie craftspeople, not least dir­ect­or Joe Wright who, annoy­ingly, is only 36 years old. Best loc­al film in an uneven year (and jus­ti­fi­ably in this Top Ten) is Taika Waititi’s Eagle vs. Shark: funny and sweet and sad and the product of a sin­gu­lar vis­ion rather than the com­mit­tee that seems to pro­duce so many New Zealand films.

Knocked Up posterMy favour­ite com­mer­cial film of the year was the sweet-natured and very funny Knocked Up about a slack­er and a career-girl get­ting to grips with respons­ib­il­ity, rela­tion­ships and par­ent­hood: He tangata, he tangata, he tangata once again. Finally, I’ve spent all year try­ing to jus­ti­fy leav­ing Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver out of this Top Ten with no luck what­so­ever: the com­plete lack of flaws of any kind mean it gets in des­pite the fact that I didn’t love it like I did some others.

It’s a tough time for loc­al paper film review­ers around the world. Cinema crit­ics from pub­lic­a­tions like the Village Voice have been giv­en the flick by penny-pinching pub­lish­ers and even the Sunday Star-Times in Auckland has star­ted run­ning film reviews from sis­ter papers in Australia rather than pay someone loc­ally to rep­res­ent you. So, I feel incred­ibly for­tu­nate to be able to watch all these films on your behalf and want to thank the Capital Times for indul­ging my desire to cov­er everything rather than a select few releases. Thanks, also, to all the Wellington cinemas who have gra­ciously hos­ted me des­pite my fairly con­stant bitch­ing about stand­ards. But, above all, thank you for read­ing. See you next year.

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