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Review: The A-Team and Micmacs

By Cinema and Reviews

The A-Team posterLast week your faith­ful cor­res­pond­ent reviewed a big budget Hollywood film, based on a beloved tele­vi­sion series, fea­tur­ing four friends who went to a for­eign land with no know­ledge or empathy for the inhab­it­ants and con­tin­ued to live their self-serving, smug, lives blind to the real­ity sur­round­ing them. This week, I’m going to do it all over again and the only dif­fer­ence is that I really hated Sex and the City 2 and actu­ally quite enjoyed The A‑Team.

Now this real­isa­tion is giv­ing me some pause. They are fun­da­ment­ally the same film. Why should I react so strongly against one and so… benignly to the oth­er? Is it just a mat­ter of gender? Am I hard-wired to enjoy the male-bonding, explo­sions and gags in the way that female view­ers are hard-wired to enjoy the shoes and frocks in SATC2? Christ, I hope not. I’d bet­ter find some good reas­ons for enjoy­ing The A‑Team before I out myself as a review­er who can’t rise above his gender or class and there’s enough of those around already.

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Review: Leaving, She’s Out of My League, Date Night, Kick-Ass and Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

By Cinema and Reviews

I watch a lot of movies in this job and this week I’d like to start with a couple of import­ant tips that will help keep your cinema-going exper­i­ence in top shape. Firstly, ice cream. Avoid tubs of ice cream if pos­sible because you have to look down every scoop to make sure you’re not scoop­ing ice cream into your lap and every time you look down you miss some­thing import­ant on the screen. This is par­tic­u­larly import­ant for sub­titled films.

Leaving posterSecondly, when your loc­al cinema sched­ules an art­house film that hasn’t been pre­vi­ously pro­grammed by the Film Festival, ask your­self why that might be before com­mit­ting to a tick­et. Case in point: Leaving (aka Partir) a mod­ern day updat­ing of the Lady Chatterley story star­ring Kristin Scott Thomas. She plays a well-off mar­ried woman named Suzanne who makes the tra­gic mis­take of fall­ing for the Spanish build­er who is work­ing on her house. In short order she real­ises that her mar­riage (though mater­i­ally suc­cess­ful) is love­less, leaves her snobby sur­geon hus­band (Yvan Attal) and the kids to shack up with her new lov­er (Sergi López) and tries to start a new life without all the bour­geois home comforts.

It seems to me that every French film that makes it to New Zealand is about the same thing: the clash of cul­tures between the well-off, cul­tur­ally soph­ist­ic­ated but some­how not quite real, middle-class and the salt-of-the-earth work­ing people, and the dangers of the two mix­ing. Sometimes those dangers play them­selves out comed­ic­ally (The Valet, Welcome to the Sticks), some­times dra­mat­ic­ally (Conversations with My Gardener) and some­times tra­gic­ally as we have here. And Leaving is tra­gic in more ways than one.

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Review: The Hurt Locker, Clash of the Titans, Nowhere Boy & Valentine’s Day

By Cinema and Reviews

The Hurt Locker posterIt took well over 18 months for Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker to get a gen­er­al release in New Zealand – a year in which it stead­ily built audi­ences and crit­ic­al acclaim at world­wide fest­ivals and pub­lic screen­ings. In fact, until it was nom­in­ated for a Golden Globe late last year the film had no New Zealand release date sched­uled and many film buffs resor­ted to illi­cit online sources to try and see (what was being touted) as one of the films of the decade.

This is a wor­ry­ing trend. Increasingly, some of the best films are head­ing straight to DVD (some­times, if the tim­ing works, with a Film Festival screen­ing but not always) and, des­pite New Zealand hav­ing a fine track record for sup­port­ing art­house and thought­ful product, I find myself con­fron­ted every week by rub­bish like Law Abiding Citizen and Bounty Hunter. Somewhere along the line the dis­trib­ut­ors have lost their nerve: The Blind Side, which won an Academy Award for Sandra Bullock last month, has only just been giv­en a slot by Roadshow (Warner Brothers). A Serious Man was one of the most bril­liant and intel­li­gent films I’ve ever seen and only one print was placed in Wellington – and it was a Coen Brothers Film!

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Review: Semi-Pro, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Horton Hears a Who!, The War on Democracy, Across the Universe, How She Move and Rambo

By Cinema and Reviews

200804161055.jpgWhen the cur­rent Writer-in-Residence at Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters sug­ges­ted I take anoth­er look at my neg­at­ive review of Blades of Glory, I made a prom­ise that (while I could­n’t bring myself to watch that tur­key again) I would approach the next Will Ferrell with a con­sciously open mind. Sadly, with Semi-Pro (a cross between Anchorman and Talladega Nights fea­tur­ing the strengths of neither and the rampant self-indulgence of both), I heard no laughter, only the sound of the bot­tom of the bar­rel being scraped. Recently New Line Cinema ended it’s life as an inde­pend­ent pro­du­cer and I’d like to think Semi-Pro was respons­ible. It’s no less than it deserves.

The Spiderwick Chronicles posterAnd, at risk of sound­ing like a total film-wanker I’m going to alloc­ate what strengths The Spiderwick Chronicles has to the pres­ence of the great John Sayles as co-writer. Sayles’ inde­pend­ent work includes clas­sics like The Brother From Another Planet and Passion Fish but makes a liv­ing doing (mostly uncred­ited) punch-up jobs on big budget screen­plays. I was grow­ing increas­ingly frus­trated with the plod­ding story-telling, and the over-reliance on the well-designed digi-creatures, before a great moment at the cli­max restored my faith that a prop­er screen­writer was on board after all.

Three chil­dren have to leave New York when their par­ents split up and live in the big, old, aban­doned house in the coun­try that their crazy Aunt lived in. Freddie Highmore, so ubi­quit­ous in these sorts of films that he even does double-duty in this one, plays bad-boy Jared who dis­cov­ers an old book in the attic, reads the note warn­ing him not to open it, ignores it, and unleashes a world of gob­lins, fair­ies and ogres that are invis­ible to nor­mal people. Nothing new to report there, then, but every gen­er­a­tion seems to need a new ver­sion just for them.

The War on Democracy posterI’ve been a John Pilger-sceptic for a while, not helped by his bom­bast­ic and unpleas­ant beha­viour to loc­al inter­view­ers, but his first inde­pend­ent doc­u­ment­ary for cinema, The War on Democracy, even­tu­ally won me over. It makes an excel­lent com­pan­ion to Helen Smyth’s Cuba-doc ¿La Verdad? as it provides the kind of encyc­lo­paed­ic back­ground to the United States’ nefar­i­ous engage­ment with Latin America that she could only hint at. Starting in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Pilger uses the failed coup in 2002 as a spring­board to show how, for more than 50 years, the US has installed or deposed gov­ern­ments across the con­tin­ent in order to fur­ther its own polit­ic­al and fin­an­cial aims. It’s not great cinema – that’s not Pilger’s bag – but it is essen­tial viewing.

Horton Hears a Who! posterHorton Hears a Who! may well fea­ture the most pro­found moment in cinema this year. As the tiny cit­izens of Who-ville (a bust­ling and happy com­munity liv­ing on a tiny speck, itself sit­ting on a dan­deli­on being blown around by fate) real­ise that in order to be saved they first must be heard, they bang drums, blow trum­pets and chant “We are here!” Like the for­got­ten poor in Pilger’s Caracas bar­rio or the dis­placed in Darfur, the power to pro­claim our exist­ence in the face of ignor­ant or malevol­ent author­ity isn’t just a right, it’s an oblig­a­tion, and I’m cer­tain that the good Dr. Seuss would­n’t have missed the connection.

Big-hearted ele­phant Horton (Jim Carrey) res­cues the speck when his enorm­ous ears pick up the tiny voice of the Who-ville Mayor (Steve Carell) and he real­ises that he has a mis­sion. In the face of com­munity stand­ards ruth­lessly enforced by Carol Burnett’s Kangaroo, Horton is houn­ded out of the jungle but he nev­er gives up. So, not only does Horton not suck like all recent Seuss adapt­a­tions, it bristles with energy, humour and pan­ache. Choice!

Across the Universe posterLike the forth­com­ing Dylan por­trait I’m Not There, Across the Universe feels like the Baby Boomers’ last attempt to claim the 60s as, you know, import­ant, mean­ing­ful, unique. The music of The Beatles tells the story of star-crossed lov­ers Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess) as they try and keep a rela­tion­ship alive across that tumul­tu­ous dec­ade. I emo­tion­ally dis­en­gaged the moment I real­ised that Sturgess soun­ded like Robbie Williams instead of John Lennon but was nev­er less than enter­tained. A trip, man.

How She Move posterHow She Move is a Canadian ver­sion of films like Step Up 2 The Streets, Stomp The Yard and count­less oth­ers. Featuring all the usu­al ele­ments of the genre: under­ground urb­an dance crews; a kid has to get out of the ghetto via a schol­ar­ship; she needs the prize money; par­ents just don’t under­stand, etc. It’s as if the pro­du­cers could­n’t decide which banal clichés to leave out and gave up, stuff­ing the fin­ished film to break­ing point. I’ve grown to really dis­like the dan­cing in these films, too.

Rambo posterFinally, a late word on behalf of Rambo (which missed the cut dur­ing the last few weeks). By mak­ing his vil­lains Burmese human-rights viol­at­ors and his vic­tims inno­cent aid work­ers, dir­ect­or Sylvester Stallone stacks the deck effect­ively and, des­pite look­ing com­pletely bizarre, he infuses his tacit­urn killing-machine with the occa­sion­al moist-eyed moment of human­ity amid the fly­ing limbs. A respect­able end to what had become a car­toon franchise.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 16 April, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Semi-Pro was at a sparsely atten­ded pub­lic mat­inée at Readings. The Spiderwick Chronicles was at the Empire in Island Bay and the review was in no way influ­enced by the lovely free cof­fee they made me just as the trail­ers were play­ing. The War on Democracy was a DVD screen­er provided by Hopscotch (via GT) and the film is cur­rently only play­ing at the Lighthouse in Petone. Horton Hears a Who! was also screened at the Empire where I was the only unat­ten­ded adult present. Across the Universe was screened at the Paramount’s World Cinema Showcase. How She Move was an exceed­ingly sparsely atten­ded mat­inée at Readings and Rambo was anoth­er Readings week day mat­inée, a couple of weeks ago.