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Man of Steel poster

Review: Man of Steel, Everybody Has a Plan and White Lies

By Cinema, Reviews

Viggo Mortensen in Everybody Has a Plan

Man of Steel is a self-consciously epic re-imagining of the Superman story, first told in print in the 1930s and most recently rebooted on screen by Bryan Singer as Superman Returns just pri­or to the com­mence­ment of my review­ing career in 2006. It’s remark­able both for the scale of the pro­duc­tion, the stakes for pro­du­cers DC and Warner Bros, and for the degree to which I dis­liked it. Usually, I don’t get too riled up about block­buster com­ic book fantasy pic­tures – they are either more enter­tain­ing or less – but this one got under my skin so much I was actu­ally quite angry by the time the clos­ing cred­its finally rolled.

Man of Steel posterI don’t have room here (because there are actu­al good films I’d rather talk about) to tear the Man of Steel apart but I will float a few thoughts that have been both­er­ing me recently about block­buster movies gen­er­ally: It seems to me that the huge amounts of com­put­ing horsepower that dir­ect­ors have at their fin­ger­tips nowadays is being used, for the most part, to des­troy.

[pullquote]Man of Steel delights in destruc­tion, reel­ing off 9/11 trauma-triggering moments with reck­less abandon.[/pullquote]I’m get­ting very tired of watch­ing build­ings, streets and even entire cit­ies razed digit­ally to the ground without a second thought for the (admit­tedly still digit­al) people inhab­it­ing them. This is an arms race and some­how dir­ect­ors (like MoS’s Zack Snyder) have decided that every new tent­pole needs to use even more ima­gin­a­tion to des­troy even more stuff and kill even more people who will go unmourned by the her­oes sup­posedly there to pro­tect them.

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Review: Hit and Run, The Watch and Hysteria

By Cinema, Reviews

Readers of last week’s column will know that I am cur­rently over­seas on a quest, a mis­sion – a pur­suit if you prefer – hop­ing to dis­cov­er a new kind of cinema. After a week at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado I am now in New York and have got a clear­er idea of what that vis­ion should look like.

I think I’ll name this new cinema good cinema and it’s main char­ac­ter­ist­ic will be the absence of films like Hit and Run and The Watch, two of this week’s new releases. Is it pos­sible to redefine rub­bish like this out of existence?

The first is a Dax Shepard van­ity pro­ject about a man choos­ing to give up his place in a dull wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gramme so that his girl­friend (Kristen Bell) can get a job in the big city. In the space of a single day his pre­vi­ous iden­tity as a top get­away driver is revealed to her and his new iden­tity as a dreary small-town non-entity is revealed to the dim­wit­ted but single-minded hoods who he rat­ted out.

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Review: Holiday Cinema Summary

By Cinema, Reviews

Australia (Evidently, mod­ern Australia was built on racism, bigotry, cor­rup­tion and alco­hol). Not the débâcle that some media would have you believe, Straya is an old-fashioned epic that looks right at home on the big Embassy screen. If only Baz Luhrman the dir­ect­or had more con­fid­ence in Luhrman the writer, he might have avoided some of the more OTT moments by let­ting a good story tell itself. The film also suf­fers from a lack of Russell Crowe (not some­thing you can say all that often). A rough­er, nas­ti­er per­form­ance would have suited the char­ac­ter of the Drover bet­ter but might also pro­voked some­thing a little less sim­per­ing from Nicole Kidman. Hugh Jackman is a fine enough act­or (and is neces­sar­ily Australian), he’s just tra­gic­ally miscast.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt is born old and grows phys­ic­ally young­er all the while touch­ing the lives of the people around him). Other com­ment­at­ors have already made the obvi­ous com­par­is­ons between Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump, but the dis­ap­point­ment I felt on leav­ing the theatre was palp­able. Despite the evid­ent tech­nic­al mas­tery on dis­play and a win­ning per­form­ance by Brad Pitt, the film falls well short of its own expect­a­tions, in fact I would argue that Yes Man is actu­ally more profound.

Yes Man (Jim Carrey finds love and ful­fil­ment by not say­ing “no”). Proves that achiev­ing mod­est aims is often more sat­is­fy­ing than fall­ing short with more ambi­tious pro­jects. The pres­ence of Rhys Darby adds half a star and the won­der­ful Zooey Deschanel adds a whole extra one. Great indie soundtrack too.

Bolt (TV hero dog dis­cov­ers he does­n’t actu­ally have super powers). The most fun of the hol­i­days can be found by slip­ping on the Readings’ polar­ized 3D glasses and enjoy­ing the Disney car­toon romp Bolt. Unlike the lead-footed Desperaux, Bolt zips along with plenty of visu­al and verbal pan­ache. The 3D isn’t too gim­micky and does the job of bring­ing you into the film (or if you prefer, mak­ing every­one else in the theatre disappear).

The Tale of Despereaux (big-eared mouse res­cues Princess, saves king­dom). On Sunday the morn­ing, of those queued at the Empire in Island Bay 100% of the kids chose Bolt, 100% of the review­ers chose The Tale of Despereaux and the kids got the bet­ter part of the deal. Alone in the cinema I killed time by try­ing to work out which act­or’s voice I was listen­ing to: any­one know what William H. Macy sounds like?

Waltz with Bashir (war vet­er­an inter­views old bud­dies to try and remem­ber a sup­pressed past). The best film of the hol­i­days actu­ally opened before the break but after my last dead­line of the old year. An anim­ated explor­a­tion of one of the many Israeli wars against their neigh­bours and the tricks played by memory, WWB has many images that linger in the mind, ready to re-emerge whenev­er I see a news­pa­per head­line about the cur­rent situ­ation in Gaza.

The Spirit (rook­ie cop is brought back to life with an eye for the ladies). You won’t have seen a film quite like The Spirit before, not one that was any good at least. A cross between the stark, CGI-noir of Sin City with the corny humour of the 60s Batman, if you’ve ever wanted to see Samuel L. Jackson camp­ing it up in full Nazi regalia this is the film for you. For the rest of us, not so much.

Bedtime Stories (Hotel handy­man’s stor­ies for his neph­ew and niece come true the next day). The need for a PG rat­ing cramps Adam Sandler’s style some­what and the money the pro­du­cers obvi­ously saved on cine­ma­to­graphy went on some class Brit-actors includ­ing Richard Griffiths and Jonathan Pryce.

Twilight (Tale of a teen­age girl arriv­ing in a new town, befriended by, and then fall­ing in love with, the loc­al vam­pire). Evidently the Twilight young-adult nov­els are some kind of phe­nomen­on but I was more than mildly diver­ted by the cine­mat­ic ver­sion. I liked the sense of place (the cold and rainy Pacific North West) and the lack of urgency about the story-telling – tak­ing its own sweet time. The fact that the primary rela­tion­ship is between an adoles­cent girl and a 100-year-old man (no mat­ter how beau­ti­ful and young-looking) did man­age to creep me out though, more so than the ‘cradle-snatching’ in Benjamin Button.

Frost/Nixon (Famous inter­view saves Frost’s career and fin­ishes Nixon’s). A film of primary interest to 70s con­spir­acy the­ory buffs and act­ors look­ing for a mas­ter­class. Frank Langella does Richard M. Nixon per­fectly des­pite bear­ing little resemb­lance to the real per­son and Michael Sheen and Rebecca Hall add to their grow­ing repu­ta­tions. The Frost/Nixon inter­views had plenty of drama of their own but this film pads it all out with events and con­ver­sa­tions that did­n’t happen.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Gap year American girls find love in Catalonia). There was a time when the name Woody Allen was a guar­an­tee of high-brow qual­ity and it’s a sign of the times that the excel­lent Vicky Cristina Barcelona is being sold to the pub­lic with no men­tion of his name at all. As it turns out VCB is pretty damn fine – a witty and intel­li­gent script that plays out like a deftly dram­at­ised New Yorker short story.

The Dinner Guest (Simple couple turn posh to impress the new Boss). The French movies we get here seem to be more obsessed with class than any­thing from England and The Dinner Guest is no excep­tion. The twist in this case is that our her­oes are so uncul­tured they could be, I don’t know, English. Betrays its stage ori­gins so much so I might have been watch­ing it at Circa.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 January, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I am pleased to report that everything was well presen­ted (the print for Vicky Cristina Barcelona might have been a little too rough for the big Embassy screen). The digit­al 3D Bolt had some strange mask­ing issues which nobody at Readings could explain to me, and I only noticed dur­ing the clos­ing cred­its so no de-merit points apply.