Special guests Darren Bevan, Dominic Corry, Graeme Tuckett and Chris Hormann on the just-launched NZIFF programme, 11-year-old Sebastian Macaulay on Disney’s Million Dollar Arm (starring Jon Hamm and written by Thomas McCarthy) and with Kailey’s help Dan reviews The Two Faces of January which features Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac.
After years of auteur theory we have become conditioned to describe films as products of their director and so in my first draft of this review I started off talking about Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids. But it isn’t really Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, it’s Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids. She co-wrote it (with Annie Mumolo), co-produced it and stars in it as Annie, a thirty-something single woman living in Milwaukee, having a hard time of things (but a comedy hard time of things, this isn’t Down to the Bone or something from Romania).
Still, she’s lost all her money in a failed baking business (blamed on the economy not her marvellous cakes), she’s flatting with two awful English siblings who have no idea of boundaries and her best friend (Maya Rudolph from Away We Go) is getting married while she is in an entirely unsatisfactory ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement with douche Jon Hamm.
Eat Pray Love is what they used to call, in the old days, a “women’s picture” and the advertisers who have paid good money to annoy audiences before the film make sure you know it: feminine hygiene products. A chromosomal anomaly on my part means that I’m not in the target market for this film (or the bestselling book that inspired it) but I’ll give it a go. Manfully.
Julia Roberts plays Liz, a phenomenally bad playwright and (supposedly) successful author who has a crisis and ends her (supposedly) unsatisfactory marriage to bewildered and hurt Billy Crudup. Never having lived without a man in her life she goes straight into a relationship with handsome and spiritual young actor James Franco.
Still unhappy, and a source of enormous frustration to her ethnically diverse best friend Viola Davis (Doubt), she uses her share of the Crudup divorce to take a year off and find herself – Italy for the food, India for the guru and Bali for Javier Bardem.
And there’s this hideous thing they make you do when you go up for a television show: they make you sign a contract before you walk into the final audition. The last thing they want is for you to have everyone fall in love with you, and then you not have a deal in place. So you sign this thing – and I had no money; I was broke. You’re staring at the five-figure pay cheque you’ll get… if… If! A crazy amount of money for someone who has none. So I was thinking: I’ll pay my loans off and do this and that and maybe get my car fixed… and by that time they’re calling you in, you’re like: ‘Shit! I have to do the scene! What the fuck are the lines?’ I would get hung up on that stuff and be an utter failure in the room.”
Hamm displays an admirable amount of self-awareness in this interview, promoting his new feature film The Town (directed by Ben Affleck). Part of Hamm’s success as Don Draper is the tiny amount of “I can’t quite believe this is happening to me” he manages to project.
Hat-tip to The Story Department.
Finally, we have a week with only one new film in it: a chance for me to stretch my legs, extemporise, riff a little, get my hands dirty. Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this, to prove I can be a real film critic and write erudite and cultured prose; place a film in its wider social, political and cultural context; discuss mise-en-scène and diegetic register, all the while providing a riveting (and undeniably “correct”) perspective on the film’s merits and qualities. Cool.
Unfortunately, the film that stands alone this week is the Keanu Reeves remake of the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still and frankly its hardly worth the bother. The original film was a pulp parable playing on the nuclear paranoia of “duck and cover” America: an alien lands in Central Park to tell us that he’s going to destroy the human race because we don’t deserve to live (we are warlike, brutal and selfish creatures you see, and the earth is too precious to be left in our care). But, the stern humanoid alien Klaatu softens on contact with a human child and realises that our capacity for change makes us worth persevering with. Naïve but satisfying.
The new version keeps the guts of the story intact (ecological doom and homeland security make up the new paranoia) while overblowing everything else to giant size. Reeves deadpans his way through as Klaatu (sensibly staying well within the limits of his range) and he’s joined by the mid-market star power of Jennifer Connelly, “Mad Men“ ‘s ‘Don Draper’ himself (the unfortunately named Jon Hamm), Kathy Bates and a miscast John Cleese. Kid duty is done by Will Smith’s little boy Jaden who made such an impression in last year’s The Pursuit of Happyness.
I had high hopes for this, based on some evocative trailers, but the reality is a disappointment. The plotting is messy and inconclusive and the effects look murky and rushed. The whole thing looks like someone lost confidence half way through shooting, then decided to cut the budget in half and hope for the best.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 17 December, 2008.