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Captain Phillips poster

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

By Cinema, 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: The Tattooist, Premonition, Waitress and A Crude Awakening,

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest, Reviews

The Tattooist posterLike a cross between a bloodthirsty B‑movie and some­thing off the National Geographic chan­nel, New Zealand fea­ture The Tattooist struggles to marry the chills and thrills of a styl­ish low-budget hor­ror film, with a sens­it­ive intro­duc­tion to Samoan cul­ture, but comes very close to pulling it off.

Jake Sawyer (Jason Behr) is a troubled American tat­too artist, trav­el­ling the world ripping-off tra­di­tion­al designs. He ends up in Auckland with a stolen tat­too­ing tool which has unleashed an evil spir­it. Is it pun­ish­ing Jake for his dis­hon­esty or is there some­thing else going on?

Not all of it works, of course – detailed plot expos­i­tion is very tricky to pull off dur­ing a fist-fight – but, for the most part, I enjoyed it.

Premonition posterTalking of B‑movies, Sandra Bullock’s new thrill­er Premonition deserves a place some­where fur­ther down the alpha­bet. Sandy plays a self-absorbed house­wife whose hus­band dies in a car acci­dent. She wakes up the fol­low­ing day to find that it isn’t the fol­low­ing day at all, but three days pri­or and hus­band Julian McMahon is still alive. Believing that she has just had a bad dream, she wakes up the fol­low­ing morn­ing to find that it is now the day of the funer­al and one of her daugh­ters has ter­rible recent scars on her face.

This could all be prom­ising mys­tery mater­i­al if it was­n’t for the clunky and obvi­ous way the clues are laid out which makes it seem like The Sixth Sense remade for Sesame Street. But even that would­n’t be too dis­astrous it was­n’t for an end­ing that is so breath­tak­ingly inane that this review­er found him­self hat­ing the film for that ele­ment alone. Premonition will end up get­ting a decent life on video but I can­’t help think­ing that it will dis­ap­point every­one who rents it.

Waitress posterIn Adrienne Shelly’s Waitress, a cast full of well-known tele­vi­sion faces is gathered togeth­er in a Southern fable about liv­ing life to the full, or some rub­bish like that. Keri Russell (“Felicity”) plays pie-witch Jenna Hunterson, trapped in a mar­riage to boor­ish Jeremy Sisto (“Six Feet Under”) and a dead-end job in Joe’s Pie Shack (owned by “Matlock” him­self, Andy Griffith). Her only escape is her tal­ent for pies and, pos­sibly, hand­some Dr Pomatter (Nathan Fillion from “Firefly”). As inof­fens­ive as vapour and about as substantial.

A Crude Awakening posterIf ever a doc­u­ment­ary needed the help of Michael Moore it is A Crude Awakening, a deeply depress­ing exam­in­a­tion of the world’s depend­ence on oil (total), the like­li­hood of it run­ning out this cen­tury (high) and what we can do about it (not much). It’s a hugely import­ant sub­ject but the present­a­tion is as dry as dust which will pre­vent the mes­sage from get­ting very far. Besides, the ines­cap­able con­clu­sion is that an oil-free soci­ety will require a reduc­tion in the world’s pop­u­la­tion by around 4.5 bil­lion people mean­ing unima­gin­able misery for those left behind, and who wants to hear that?

Fireworks Wednesday stillMeanwhile, the vital and enga­ging Date Palm Film Festival gets a fifth run out at the Paramount. One great example: Fireworks Wednesday is a first-rate drama about a young girl in Teheran, about to be mar­ried, who goes to work as a maid for a middle-class fam­ily and dis­cov­ers that the grown-up world of mar­riage has many sur­prises in store.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 5 September 2007.

Full dis­clos­ure: Screenwriters of The Tattooist, Jonathan King and Matthew Grainger, were both judges for the Wellington 48 Hour Film Competition this year; I have been an unpaid con­sult­ant on the Date Palm Film Festival since the begin­ning, though nev­er involved with programming.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: The Tattooist was an early Thursday morn­ing com­mer­cial screen­ing at Readings and I did miss the first ten minutes due to con­fu­sion on my part over start times; Premonition was at the same ven­ue about an hour and a half later; Waitress was at the Penthouse on Monday even­ing (staff screen­ing); A Crude Awakening was screened off a very high qual­ity time-coded DVD on Sunday night at home; Fireworks Wednesday was also a time-coded DVD pre­view screen­er viewed after get­ting home from Waitress on Monday night.