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Review: New Year’s Eve, The First Grader, Red State and Courageous

By Cinema and Reviews

For years now I’ve been fight­ing a single-handed defence of the later career of Robert De Niro (no defence, of course, being neces­sary for the early career which fea­tured Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter). This defence has sev­er­al argu­ments. Firstly, his decline hasn’t been nearly as pro­nounced – or as strange – as Al Pacino’s. Secondly, he was mak­ing some unusu­al decisions even dur­ing the eighties and, frankly, one Harry Tuttle – the reneg­ade cent­ral heat­ing engin­eer in Brazil – or foul-mouthed bail bonds­man Jack Walsh (Midnight Run) will get you a free pass for an awful lot of We’re No Angels.

In the nineties, too, he would make choices that fans of Raging Bull and King of Comedy would think were beneath him – Mad Dog and Glory, Frankenstein – but also pull out Wag the Dog and Jackie Brown. It’s been clear for a while now that De Niro is some­thing of a work­ahol­ic – and an act­or who waits for pro­jects as good as Goodfellas is an act­or who doesn’t work all that often.

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Review: Another Year, Sarah’s Key, Arthur, Heartbreakers, Mars Needs Moms and Queen of the Sun

By Cinema and Reviews

Another Year posterGenius film­maker Mike Leigh has been on a bit of an up and down streak in recent years. 2002’s All or Nothing was won­der­ful, Vera Drake (2004) I found frus­trat­ingly unwatch­able and, most recently, Happy-Go-Lucky seemed too thin – beneath his sig­ni­fic­ant tal­ents – and yet, des­pite not lik­ing it very much, I find myself think­ing about Happy-Go-Lucky quite often. And that’s Leigh’s skill – he gets under your skin even when you resist.

Another Year is his latest film and it’s ter­ribly good. It’s Secrets and Lies good, that good, des­pite hav­ing no plot to speak of. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen (Leigh reg­u­lars) play Tom and Gerri, a hap­pily mar­ried couple who seem to be sur­roun­ded by people who simply aren’t as good at cop­ing with life – Lesley Manville’s Mary, a highly strung, alco­hol­ic, work col­league of Sheen’s who turns up to embar­rass her­self in their kit­chen peri­od­ic­ally; Tom’s old uni­ver­sity buddy Ken played by Peter Wight (over­weight, depressed, lonely, also alco­hol­ic); Tom’s tacit­urn wid­ower broth­er Ronnie (David Bradley). They all drift into and out of Tom and Gerri’s wel­com­ing sub­urb­an kit­chen while tea is made and drunk and banal­it­ies are spoken.

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Review: Summer Holiday Round-up (2010/11)

By Cinema and Reviews

T.J. MillerThis year the sum­mer hol­i­days seemed to have been owned by the unlikely fig­ure of T.J. Miller, dead­pan comedi­an, sup­port­ing act­or and eer­ily famil­i­ar back­ground fig­ure. In Yogi Bear he was the ambi­tious but dim deputy park ranger eas­ily duped by Andrew Daly’s smarmy Mayor into help­ing him sell out Jellystone to cor­por­ate log­ging interests, in Gulliver’s Travels he was the ambi­tious but as it turns out dim mail room super­visor who pro­vokes Jack Black into pla­gi­ar­ising his way into a fate­ful travel writ­ing gig and in Unstoppable he’s the slightly less dim (and cer­tainly less ambi­tious) mate of the doo­fus who leaves the hand­brake on and then watches his enorm­ous freight train full of tox­ic waste roll away.

So, a good sum­mer for T.J. Miller then, what about the rest of us?

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Review: Soul Kitchen, Step Up 3, Killers and a couple more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Soul Kitchen posterTurkish-German dir­ect­or Fatih Akin has long been an art­house favour­ite around these parts. Head-On (2004) and The Edge of Heaven (2007) were Festival suc­cesses so it was odd to see his new film Soul Kitchen skip this year’s event and go straight to gen­er­al release. On view­ing it’s easy to see why. Akin has gone com­mer­cial and Soul Kitchen is as broad a com­edy as you’ll find out­side the big chains – sadly I have to report that Akin’s film doesn’t sit com­fort­ably in that territory.

Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) runs a greasy spoon café called the Soul Kitchen in a run­down part of old Hamburg. He’s not much of a cook or a busi­ness­man but his loy­al cus­tom­ers seem to like it. Thrown into a tizzy by a com­bin­a­tion of his girlfriend’s move to China, a very bad back, the tax depart­ment, his dead­beat broth­er (Moritz Bleibtreu) on day release from pris­on and an old school friend with an eye on his real estate, Zinos tries to nav­ig­ate his way through a rap­idly deteri­or­at­ing situ­ation with only a geni­us new chef and some loy­al but eas­ily dis­trac­ted staff.

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Four Lions poster

Review: Four Lions, Life as We Know It and Farewell

By Cinema and Reviews

Four Lions posterSomebody once said that com­edy is just tragedy plus time and Four Lions, a wicked, bit­ter and hil­ari­ous new com­edy by Chris Morris, tests that max­im to break­ing point (and for some of you, bey­ond it).

Back in the 90s, Morris was respons­ible for “Brass Eye”, a mock cur­rent affairs series that conned gull­ible celebrit­ies and politi­cians into (for example) appear­ing in advert­ise­ments warn­ing the nation against the new super drug ‘Cake’. Fearless and right­eous in equal meas­ure, he has made his first fea­ture film and it dares to try and make us laugh at the first world’s cur­rent bogey­man, Islamo-terrorism, spe­cific­ally the homegrown kind which led to the 2005 London bus and tube bombings.

In Sheffield, South Yorkshire, a group of wildly enthu­si­ast­ic but incom­pet­ent jihadists (played superbly by Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Arsher Ali, Adeel Akhtar and Nigel Lindsay) would be mak­ing a stand if only they could stop bick­er­ing. A trip to a Pakistani train­ing camp, bomb mak­ing classes, farewell videos and a trip to the London Marathon are all dis­asters but Four Lions is only 98% farce – there’s some heart in there too.

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Review: The Strength of Water, Séraphine, The Cove, Taking Woodstock, Orphan and The Ugly Truth

By Cinema and Reviews

Festival titles are return­ing to cinemas at such a rate that it seems like pre-Festival cinem­a­goer cyn­icism was well-placed. 50% of this week’s new releases were screen­ing loc­ally only a month ago but as they are eas­ily the best half of the arrange­ment I’m inclined to be forgiving.

The Strength of Water posterArmagan Ballantyne’s debut NZ fea­ture The Strength of Water is a strik­ingly mature piece of work and one of the most affect­ing films I’ve seen this year. In a remote Hokianga vil­lage a pair of twins (excel­lent first-timers Melanie Mayall-Nahi and Hato Paparoa) share a spe­cial bond that tragedy can’t eas­ily break. A mys­ter­i­ous young stranger (Isaac Barber) arrives on the scene, escap­ing from troubles of his own and… and then I really can’t say any more.

Full of sur­prises from the very first frame The Strength of Water shows that qual­ity devel­op­ment time (includ­ing the sup­port of the Sundance Institute) really can make a good script great. Ballantyne and writer Briar Grace-Smith offer us lay­ers of fas­cin­a­tion along with deep psy­cho­lo­gic­al truth and gritty Loach-ian real­ism. The mix is com­pel­ling and the end product is tremendous.

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