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Captain Phillips poster

Review: Diana, Runner Runner, Camille Claudel 1915, Prisoners, Austenland, About Time and Captain Phillips

By Cinema and Reviews

Apart from the ines­cap­able need to carve out a mea­gre liv­ing from an uncar­ing world, one of the reas­ons why these weekly updates have been some­thing less than, well, weekly recently has been that most of the fare on offer at the pic­tures has been so uninspiring.

Diana posterTake Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana for example. It’s not a bad movie, per se. It’s cer­tainly not the train­wreck that the British media would have you believe. It’s just so … ines­sen­tial. Hirschbiegel’s desire to be respect­ful to Diana’s chil­dren, and to oth­er play­ers in the story who are still liv­ing, simply sucks all of the drama out of the thing, leav­ing you with a frus­trat­ing non-love story between two frus­trat­ingly inar­tic­u­late people. There are occa­sion­al hints of the com­plex char­ac­ter she may have been but the fin­ished product is a kind of noth­ing. It really is too soon for this film to tell this story.

Runner Runner posterThen there’s the Justin Timberlake vehicle Runner Runner, in which the pop star turned act­or attempts to carry a film all by him­self and proves that he either is unable to do so, or can­’t pick a pro­ject that’s worth the attempt. He plays a former Wall St hot­shot with a tal­ent for cal­cu­lat­ing risk who trades Princeton for the high life of run­ning an online gambling busi­ness in sunny (and shady) Costa Rica. Not one word of this dis­mal little film betrays a breath of authen­ti­city, either in its storytelling or char­ac­ter. Screenwriters Koppelman and Levien once wrote Ocean’s 13 (and The Girlfriend Experience) for Steven Soderbergh. At least they were meant to be fantasy.

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Review: Blue Valentine, Never Let Me Go, Certified Copy and Rango

By Cinema and Reviews

For years I’ve been com­plain­ing about films that give audi­ences everything on a plate – they tell what you should be think­ing and feel­ing, leav­ing no room for us. This week I have noth­ing to com­plain about as three out of our four make you work for your rewards (although three tough emo­tioanl and intel­lec­tu­al workouts in one week­end turns out to be pretty draining).

Blue Valentine posterDerek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is a ter­rif­ic indie achieve­ment, brave and uncom­prom­ising, emo­tion­ally raw but intel­li­gent at the same time. A rela­tion­ship is born and a rela­tion­ship dies. Bookends of the same nar­rat­ive are clev­erly inter­cut to amp­li­fy the tragedy (and tragedy is a fair word to use – there’s a beau­ti­ful child get­ting hurt in the middle of all of this).

Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) meet and fall in love. He’s a dro­pout start­ing again in New York. She’s a med stu­dent with an unhappy home life and a douchebag boy­friend. Five or six years later she’s a nurse try­ing not to think about unful­filled poten­tial and he’s a house paint­er who drinks too much.

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Review: The Invention of Lying, Jennifer’s Body, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Looking for Eric, Summer Hours, Valentino- The Last Emperor and Mary & Max

By Cinema, paramount and Reviews

This past week may have been the most con­sist­ently sat­is­fy­ing week of cinema-going since I star­ted this jour­ney with you back in 2006: sev­en very dif­fer­ent films, all with some­thing to offer. And no tur­keys this week, so I’ll have to put the acid away until next week.

The Invention of Lying posterIn com­pletely arbit­rary order (of view­ing in fact), let’s take a look at them. In The Invention of Lying British com­ic Ricky Gervais dir­ects his first big screen film (work­ing without the cre­at­ive sup­port of usu­al part­ner Stephen Merchant) and it turns out to be a little bit more ambi­tious than most Hollywood rom-coms. In a world where no one has any con­cep­tion of “untruth”, where the entire pop­u­la­tion makes each oth­er miser­able by say­ing exactly how they feel all the time and where there is no storytelling or fic­tion to give people an escape, Gervais’ char­ac­ter dis­cov­ers he has the abil­ity to say things that aren’t true and is treated as a Messiah-figure as a res­ult. Everything he says, no mat­ter how out­land­ish, is believed but he still can’t win the love of the beau­ti­ful Jennifer Garner.

Gervais is solidly funny through­out, and demon­strates even more of the depth as an act­or that he hin­ted at in Ghost Town last year, but the dir­ec­tion is uneven – per­haps because both Gervais and co-writer-director Matthew Robinson are first-timers.

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Review: Tropic Thunder, Baby Mama and Paris

By Cinema and Reviews

Tropic Thunder posterYou can for­get all talk of an Oscar for Heath Ledger’s Joker. If any­one is going to win an Academy Award for wear­ing some dodgy make-up in a noisy block­buster no one is get­ting in the way of Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder. Totally believ­able, every second, as Kirk Lazarus, the Australian meth­od act­or (and multi-Oscar win­ner him­self) who under­goes a rad­ic­al skin re-pigmentation in order to por­tray tough-as-nails African-American Sgt. Osiris in the eponym­ous Vietnam epic, Downey Jr’s per­form­ance is a thing of won­der: A mas­ter­piece of tech­nique, tim­ing, self-belief and dare I say it, soul. I’m still chuck­ling days later.

Lazarus is one of a hand­ful of pampered Hollywood stars on loc­a­tion to recre­ate the last great untold Vietnam story – the suicide-mission res­cue of “Four Leaf” Tayback dur­ing the legendary “Wet” Offensive of ’69. Under pres­sure from the stu­dio to get back on sched­ule (and from hand­less “Four “Leaf” him­self, Nick Nolte, to toughen the pencil-kneck panty-waists up a bit) dir­ect­or Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) goes ver­ité. With the help of hid­den cam­er­as, spe­cial effects and some heav­ily armed South East Asian drug lords, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and Alpa Chino (rel­at­ive new­comer Brandon T. Jackson) find them­selves up to their eye­balls in real­ity. Comedy real­ity, which is the best kind. One of my favour­ite films of the year so far, and I haven’t even men­tioned Tom Cruise’s dancing.

Baby Mama posterCompared to the fero­cious energy of Tropic Thunder, Tina Fey’s Baby Mama seems like a com­edy from a dif­fer­ent era. Fey plays über-clucky Kate Holbrook – suc­cess­ful middle-manager in Steve Martin’s organ­ic pro­duce com­pany. Desperate for pro­geny (yet strangely single), her T shaped tubes make her a poor bet for IVF and the wait­ing list for adop­tion is years long. Surrogacy is her only solu­tion and she barely bats an eye­lid at the $100k price tag (she must share John McCain’s account­ant). Despite the amount of money chan­ging hands it is the sur­rog­ate that inter­views the, what’s the word, sur­rog­atee and she suc­cess­fully passes the aura test posed by white trash “host” Amy Poehler (Blades of Glory).

The lively Poehler kick-starts every scene she is in while better-known stars like Martin, Greg Kinnear and Sigourney Weaver phone in their per­form­ances. Meanwhile Fey (“30 Rock”) is like­able enough, although the char­ac­ter seems to be in a world of her own most of the time, and Romany Malco from The Love Guru plays the token black char­ac­ter – a ser­vant. Baby Mama is fun­ni­er, the more pregnancy-specific it gets. When it goes gen­er­ic (speech-impediments, Martin’s new age schtick) it misses even the biggest tar­gets by miles.

Paris movie posterParis is both the sub­ject and the object of Cédric Klapisch’s ensemble drama about a cross-section of mod­ern Parisian soci­ety. Romain Duris and Juliette Binoche are sib­lings, single, on the cusp of 40 and ali­en­ated from their par­ents. Duris is told his heart con­di­tion may fin­ish him off soon­er rather than later and mopes around the apart­ment, feel­ing sorry for him­self while Binoche (like women every­where) puts her own life on hold to care for him and her three chil­dren. Meanwhile, hang­dog aca­dem­ic Fabrice Luchini (Intimate Strangers) has a crush on his beau­ti­ful stu­dent Mélanie Laurent, his archi­tect broth­er is about to become a fath­er but can­’t stop cry­ing. At street level, the mar­ket stall­hold­ers are also look­ing for love in the big city but have a more dir­ect way of going about find­ing it.

I’ve made it seem a lot more con­trived than it actu­ally plays out. The dir­ec­tion is subtle and the per­form­ances are involving. It does suf­fer from the usu­al French cine­mat­ic philo­sophy, that work­ing class exper­i­ence is some­how more real than the self-absorbed bour­geois middle classes, but actu­ally argues its case pretty well.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 August, 2008.

Review: I’m Not There., Iron Man, Made of Honor, Dan in Real Life and How About You

By Cinema, Reviews and Wellington

I'm Not There. posterMany years ago English comedi­an Ben Elton cracked a joke about Bob Dylan: “For all you young people in the audi­ence he was the one who could­n’t sing on the end of the We Are The World video.” Nowadays we have to explain to young people what We Are The World was and Dylan has trav­elled even fur­ther away from rel­ev­ance. So why is I’m Not There. (the full stop is part of the title) such essen­tial view­ing if Dylan seems so irrelevant?

Because unlike every oth­er 20th Century icon Dylan nev­er cared what you think – he just fol­lowed his instincts and his interests and the film is an end­lessly fas­cin­at­ing por­trait of that battle to avoid becom­ing what his audi­ence and his industry wanted him to become. Portrayed by six dif­fer­ent act­ors includ­ing Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger, Dylan’s many per­so­nas still keep you at arms length. I think the key to Dylan is that he is less com­plic­ated (and at the same time more com­plex) than the world would have you believe and he fully deserves a work of art as fine as this one in his name.

I should also point out that I was lucky enough to see I’m not There. in that most music­al of loc­a­tions, the Paramount and it soun­ded superb. A keeper.

Iron Man posterRobert Downey Jr. is one of those movie brats who seems to have been born in front of a cam­era (check out his almost per­fect per­form­ance as Chaplin for Richard Attenborough in 1992). He has­n’t been get­ting the lead roles he deserves (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was the last one) but Iron Man is surely going to change that. Downey Jr.‘s effort­less screen cha­risma is the found­a­tion of a highly enter­tain­ing action movie that is only let down by a not-quite-big-enough set-piece at the end. Billionaire and play­boy arms man­u­fac­turer Tony Stark has his eyes opened to the evils his products enable when he is kid­napped in Afghanistan. After escap­ing, he decides to use his tech­no­logy for good (while still hav­ing as much fun as pos­sible). A good sup­port­ing cast (includ­ing Jeff Bridges look­ing like Daddy Warbucks) keeps things moving.

Made of Honor posterThe fun­ni­est thing about Patrick Dempsey rom-com Made of Honour is that it was made by a com­pany called Original Film. As if! Dempsey plays Tom, super-rich invent­or of the cof­fee col­lar and serial-bedder of beau­ti­ful women. Too late he real­ises that he is actu­ally in love with his best friend Hannah (Michelle Monaghan, this year’s Sandra Bullock) just as she is about to get mar­ried to Trainspotting’s Kevin McKidd in a Scottish castle. Pretty much all the char­ac­ters are deeply shal­low and pretty unlike­able which I’m sure was­n’t the inten­tion and, most annoy­ing of all, dir­ect­or Paul Weiland gives him­self the auteur cred­it of “A Film By”. In your dreams, pal.

Dan in Real LifeMuch more suc­cess­ful, and not coin­cid­ent­ally pop­u­lated with much nicer people, is Dan in Real Life star­ring Steve Carell as author of a pop­u­lar news­pa­per par­ent­ing tips column who has much more dif­fi­culty par­ent­ing his actu­al chil­dren (alone, due to that all-too-common con­ceit of a widow-hood). So far, so un-promising, but Dan in Real Life really wins you over with smart writ­ing and lovely, under­stated per­form­ances from a ter­rif­ic ensemble. Lonely Dan is tak­ing his brood of daugh­ters to a multi-generational fam­ily get togeth­er in rugged Rhode Island. He meets beau­ti­ful and allur­ing Juliette Binoche and they fall in love, just before find­ing out that she is his brother­’s new girl­friend. Testing times around the din­ner table ensue, mostly com­ic but nev­er far away from deeply heart­felt. Frankly, more films should be like this.

How About You stillHow About You is one of those films where, I con­fess, my taste and the taste of main­stream New Zealanders diverges some­what. Ellie, played by Hayley Atwell (star of the unne­ces­sar­ily forth­com­ing new ver­sion of Brideshead Revisited), is forced by cir­cum­stance to help her sis­ter care for a group of unruly cli­ents (a dream cast includ­ing Vanessa Redgrave, Brenda Fricker and Joss Ackland) in an Irish eld­erly res­id­en­tial home so beau­ti­ful it makes Malvina Major look like Alcatraz. Left alone with them at Christmas, she man­ages to trans­form all of them into saintly par­agons of matur­ity via alco­hol and non-prescribed drugs. I barely tol­er­ated this but if you are over 70 you might get a kick out of it – the people behind me who talked all the way through cer­tainly did.

Human Rights Film Festival posterThe Human Rights Film Festival kicks off it’s 2008 sea­son at the Paramount on Thursday even­ing. While most of these films don’t really qual­i­fy as cinema per se, this is still an import­ant oppor­tun­ity to see the world as it is abso­lutely not por­trayed through the com­mer­cial media. Highlights for me include Occupation 101, a crystal-clear exam­in­a­tion of the real­ity of life in occu­pied Palestine, and Now The People Have Awoken, anoth­er per­spect­ive on Chavez’s Venezuela which will be of par­tic­u­lar interest if you have seen Pilger’s War on Democracy. There are sev­en short­er items on the pro­gramme too: I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing Bowling for Zimbabwe about a young boy who needs a crick­et­ing schol­ar­ship in order to escape the man-made atro­city of Mugabe’s grind­ing poverty.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 7 May, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I already men­tioned how good I’m Not There. soun­ded at the Paramount dur­ing the Showcase. I don’t know wheth­er it is the shape of the room or the PA speak­ers behind the screen but music cinema has always soun­ded sen­sa­tion­al in there. Iron Man was, like Transformers last year, at a busy pub­lic screen­ing at the Embassy which looked and soun­ded great. Standing ova­tion from a few fan­boys, too. Made of Honour looked per­fectly accept­able at the Empire. I am not allowed to tell you where I saw Dan in Real Life as they made me sign an NDA before they would let me in there. No shit! But it was amaz­ing. The print had seen bet­ter days but had been giv­en a spruce up by our hosts. How About You was ruined by it being a not very good film but the incess­ant talk­ing by the old bid­dies behind me and the annoy­ing hair in the gate fin­ished me off. Penthouse.