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john curran

Review: The Painted Veil, Superhero Movie, Sydney White and Four Minutes

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest, Reviews and Wellington

The Painted Veil posterW. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 nov­el The Painted Veil has been giv­en a hand­some new adapt­a­tion by Australian dir­ect­or John Curran (We Don’t Live Here Anymore). Naomi Watts takes on the role of naïve young Kitty Fane (once por­trayed by legendary Greta Garbo) who mar­ries dour Scottish sci­ent­ist Walter (Edward Norton) and travels to China to escape her over­bear­ing par­ents. But she indulges in a fool­ish affair with hand­some Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) and Walter insists that she accom­pany him to the cholera-ridden interi­or as pun­ish­ment. While Walter tries to save the lives of the loc­als by clean­ing up their water sup­ply, Kitty dis­cov­ers her­self via the loc­al con­vent and an unlikely Diana Rigg. A fine film (with an award-winning score butchered by a faulty digit­al soundtrack at the screen­ing I saw), the images are rav­ish­ing, the per­form­ances are uni­formly excel­lent and you could do a lot worse on a wet weekend.

Superhero Movie posterAfter loath­ing last year’s Meet the Spartans and curs­ing it’s pre­de­cessor Epic Movie, it was with a heavy heart that I took my seat for Superhero Movie, anoth­er par­ody pot-pourri. One name in the cred­its lif­ted my spir­its a little (no, not Pamela Anderson): David Zucker, dir­ect­or of Top Secret!, Airplane and The Naked Gun. As it turns out the few funny moments in the film are gags that could have come straight from those earli­er films (“Fruit cake?” “No, I’ve just nev­er met the right woman”) but the rest is a repet­it­ive waste of time. Why both­er par­ody­ing films that are essen­tially only par­od­ies themselves?

Sydney White posterTalking of repet­it­ive, I got an odd sense of déjà vu dur­ing Superhero Movie before I real­ised that Dragonfly’s love interest Jill Johnson was being played by someone called Sara Paxton who had also been the vil­lain in Sydney White not two hours before. It’s an odd item, Sydney White: the Snow White fairy tale re-located to College and star­ring Amanda Bynes (She’s The Man) as a work­ing class tom­boy try­ing to get into a snooty sor­or­ity. Kicked out in dis­grace, she has to shack up with the sev­en dorks next door (each dork is a re-imagining one of Disney’s ori­gin­al dwarfs – can you name them all?) and then bring the school togeth­er under an Obama-like ban­ner of inclus­ive­ness, at the same time find­ing her own Prince Charming (who even man­ages to wake her with a kiss). Strangely watchable.

Four Minutes posterSadly, I could­n’t bring myself to believe in any of Four Minutes, from the unlikely teen­age piano-prodigy / murderess combo (Hannah Herzprung) or the bit­ter old les­bi­an pris­on piano teach­er (Monica Bleibtrau), or the opera lov­ing but bru­tish pris­on guard (Sven Pippig). I wish I could have watched it with the sub­titles turned off so that I could enjoy the music and art dir­ect­or Silke Buhr’s amaz­ing sense of tex­ture and archi­tec­tur­al envir­on­ment. Every loc­a­tion has an almost tact­ile qual­ity, from the decay­ing brick pris­on to the gilt Opera House at the cli­max. I was par­tic­u­larly taken with a con­crete neo-brutalist con­cert hall remin­is­cent of Wellington’s beloved Hannah Playhouse.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday April 30, 2008.

Nature of Conflict: Four Minutes is released in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who pay me to work for them on occasion.