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ken loach

Review: Crossfire Hurricane, Robot & Frank, Wuthering Heights, Elena & I, Anna

By Cinema and Reviews

Crossfire Hurricane posterHas any rock group inspired – and paid for – as much cinema as the Rolling Stones? From Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil to Scorsese’s gil­ded con­cert foot­age for Shine a Light in 2009, the Stones have woven them­selves into film his­tory at the same time as they became rock legends. The Maysles Brothers’ Gimme Shelter is even in the Criterion Collection and foot­age from it informs a cent­ral chapter in Brett Morgen’s doc­u­ment­ary (auto)biography of the band, Crossfire Hurricane.

As the 1969 Altamont free con­cert deteri­or­ates into mur­der­ous anarchy, the still-living Stones provide their own 40-year-on per­spect­ive in croaky voi­ceover and it’s these audio-only remin­is­cences that provide the main nov­elty of a film that – at only two hours – struggles to con­tain the full majesty of “the greatest rock and roll band in the world”. There’s plenty of unseen (by me at any rate) new back­stage and behind-the-scenes foot­age too, in an intric­ately edited por­trait which is as hon­est as any band-authorised and Jagger-produced doc­u­ment­ary is likely to be.

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Review: Killing Them Softly, The Angels’ Share, Safety Not Guaranteed, Frankenweenie, Paranormal Activity 4 and God Bless America

By Cinema and Reviews

Andrew Dominik was born in Wellington but shipped out at the age of two for Australia. We really need to claim him back as he’s one of the most intriguing dir­ect­ors cur­rently work­ing. Perhaps that should be “rarely work­ing” as his latest, Killing Them Softly, is only his third fea­ture cred­it in 12 years. Chopper turned heads in 2000 and got him to Hollywood. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was an ele­gi­ac adapt­a­tion of a great nov­el, the screen ver­sion echo­ing great late-period west­erns like Heaven’s Gate and The Long Riders.

In Killing Them Softly, Dominik remains in genre ter­rit­ory but again he is tran­scend­ing and sub­vert­ing it. It’s a gang­ster flick fea­tur­ing a bunch of famil­i­ar fig­ures – James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom). You see those names on the cast list and you think you know what you’re going to get, but here they stretch out in supris­ing dir­ec­tions, reveal­ing lay­ers of human­ity no less ugly than the clichéd bang-bang we are used to, but truer, sad­der and ulti­mately more trenchant.

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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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(500) Days of Summer poster

Review: (500) Days of Summer, Samson and Delilah and In the Loop

By Cinema and Reviews

The romantic com­edy is moribund. The first traces of its demise can be dated to the turn of the mil­leni­um, when Hugh Grant decided that he didn’t really want to be the floppy-haired object of middle-class women’s affec­tions. Since then, the genre has been a reli­able pro­du­cer of tired and cyn­ic­al “battles of the sexes” or grown-up fables in which a self-centred man-child dis­cov­ers unlikely love via a woman who is palp­ably too good for him. Earlier this year The Ugly Truth scraped the bot­tom of that bar­rel by try­ing to merge both forms and has yet to be sur­passed as worst film of the year.

(500) Days of Summer posterSo, if ever there was a genre ripe for reboot (like Star Trek earli­er this year) it is the romantic com­edy and, because nature abhors a vacu­um, we now get one. It’s called (500) Days of Summer and it may well be one of the best films of the year.

The time is present day Los Angeles (a street-level Los Angeles not a mil­lion miles away from the charm­ing In Search of a Midnight Kiss earli­er this year) and our hero (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young vis­ion­ary who no longer believes in him­self: an archi­tect stuck in a dead-end job writ­ing greet­ing cards. He meets his boss’s beau­ti­ful new assist­ant Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and they bond over The Smiths. He is besot­ted. She, not so much, but they start an affair.

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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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