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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: Summer Holiday Roundup (2011/12)

By Cinema and Reviews

Time to clear the sum­mer hol­i­day back­log so that the next time it rains you’ll have an idea of what you should go and see. There’s plenty to choose from – for all ages – and there’s a bunch more to come too.

Hugo posterBest thing on at the moment is Martin Scorsese’s first “kids” film, Hugo, but it took a second view­ing for con­firm­a­tion. It is a gor­geous love let­ter to cinema, a plea for decent archives, a cham­pi­on of the latest tech­no­logy – all Marty’s cur­rent pas­sions – but it’s also about some­thing more, some­thing universal.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a little orphan ragamuffin hid­ing in the walls of a great Paris rail­way sta­tion, wind­ing the clocks and try­ing to repair a broken auto­maton that he believes con­tains a mes­sage from his dead fath­er (Jude Law). While steal­ing parts from the sta­tion toy shop – and its sad and grumpy old own­er – Hugo meets the old man’s god-daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) and between them they try and unravel the mys­tery of the auto­maton and why Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) is so unhappy. Hugo is a mov­ing story about repair – the kind of redemp­tion that comes when you don’t write off and dis­card broken machines – or broken people.

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Review: Two Lovers, My Sister’s Keeper, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus and A Christmas Carol

By Cinema and Reviews

Two Lovers posterAt what point in a man’s life does he decide to become a dry clean­er? For Joaquin Phoenix’s char­ac­ter, Leonard Kraditor, in Two Lovers that day is nev­er and yet he still finds him­self to be one. He’s a sens­it­ive soul whose men­tal health issues have res­ul­ted in sev­er­al sui­cide attempts, a per­man­ent rela­tion­ship with med­ic­a­tion and a need to start again with his lov­ing par­ents in their small apart­ment in Brooklyn.

His fath­er intro­duces him to the daugh­ter of a busi­ness asso­ci­ate (Vinessa Shaw) in the hopes that a pos­it­ive rela­tion­ship might heal his son and also be a prof­it­able devel­op­ment for the dry clean­ing busi­ness. At the same time, Leonard meets and falls for the beau­ti­ful and mys­ter­i­ous upstairs neigh­bour, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, whose own rela­tion­ship with a wealthy mar­ried man is doing her no good.

Two Lovers is writ­ten and dir­ec­ted by James Gray, the icon­o­clast­ic and uncom­prom­ising inde­pend­ent film­maker respons­ible for the gritty New York dra­mas Little Odessa and last year’s We Own the Night , which also starred Phoenix. It’s a care­ful and sens­it­ive pic­ture about how so often love is about want­ing to heal and pro­tect someone – Shaw wants to heal Phoenix and he wants to heal Paltrow and none of them real­ise the extent to which they have to heal them­selves first.

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Review: Eragon and more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Since I took this gig back in September I have seen every film com­mer­cially released in Wellington (except for a few Bollywood efforts) and there have been some clunkers, but this week is so bereft of qual­ity that I fear I may need to devel­op eyes of leath­er to get through next week.

Eragon posterWe kick-off with Eragon, a sort of boy-band ver­sion of Tolkien that’s not so much sub-Jacksonian as sub­ter­ranean. In the sup­posedly dis­tant past the verd­ant lands of Elbonia, sorry, Alagaesia were pro­tec­ted by Dragon Riders (these are men who ride dragons, bear with me). Before the film starts one of the Dragon Riders turns evil, kills all the oth­ers and declares him­self King. The people of Discombobula, sorry, Alagaesia are miser­able and sub­jug­ated, etc. and stor­ies of the Dragon Riders begin to fade in to memory. That is until a good-looking young farm boy finds an egg that hatches in to a dragon with the voice of Rachel Weisz. Bad King Galbatorix, in a per­form­ance phoned in by John Malkovich, has to kill the boy and the dragon or all his dreams of per­petu­al Alagaesia-domination may fade and die.

Weisz and Malkovich aren’t the only names slum­ming it in Eragon: Robert Carlyle’s Durza isn’t nearly as scary as his Begbie from Trainspotting, Devonshire soul diva Joss Stone does a very strange turn as a for­tune tell­er, but Jeremy Irons has enough gump­tion about him that might have made him a decent action hero if he had­n’t spe­cial­ised in play­ing effete European intel­lec­tu­als about 30 years ago.

I real­ise that, as a seeker of qual­ity, I’m a long way from being the tar­get mar­ket for Eragon but it really is an enorm­ous bunch of arse. My two favour­ite moments: learn­ing that the dir­ect­or is called Fangmeier (per­fect) and work­ing out that Alagaesia rhymes with cheesier.

Material Girls posterThe per­fectly named Duff sis­ters (Hilary and, you know, the oth­er one) get a show­case for their mea­gre tal­ents in Material Girls, a sub-teen mor­al­ity tale about two rich sis­ters who lose all their money when their fam­ily cos­met­ics empire col­lapses due to greedy, cheat­ing adults.

In the end Material Girls is an affable hour and a bit that failed to stop the young­sters at Queensgate from run­ning up and down the aisles and mak­ing a gen­er­al nuis­ance of themselves.

The Holiday poster Material Girls aims so low that it’s hard to hate – unlike Nancy Meyer’s The Holiday which I felt per­son­ally insul­ted by. In this “romantic” “com­edy”, Cameron Diaz plays a Los Angeles movie trail­er edit­or who swaps houses with depressed English journ­al­ist Kate Winslet for a Christmas hol­i­day mutu­ally dis­tant from the men who have broken their hearts. Diaz finds her­self in pic­ture post­card snowy Surrey and Winslet gets the run of Diaz’s Hollywood man­sion. Within 12 hours both women meet their per­fect man and faith in love and romance is, of course, restored.

In Winslet’s case that res­tor­a­tion is helped by a former screen­writer played with admir­able alive-ness by 91 year-old Eli Wallach, who gives her a list of clas­sic films of the past to watch. The Holiday thinks it is hon­our­ing these great examples of the art – at one point Winslet and Jack Black watch Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday – when frankly it isn’t fit to shine their shoes. Dreadful and lazy on almost every level possible.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 20 December, 2006.