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.
Spielberg’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?
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.
Best 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.
At 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.
This week’s Capital Times film review: Mr Bean’s Holiday (Steve Bendelack); Twice Upon A Time (Antoine De Caunes); Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro); The Illusionist (Neil Burger); Breaking and Entering (Anthony Minghella).
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.
We 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.
The 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.
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.