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Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Horrible Bosses and Larry Crowne

By Cinema and Reviews

Rise of the Planet of the Apes posterBack in 1968 the world was amazed to see a simian-looking creature dis­play­ing rudi­ment­ary (and yet clearly) human qual­it­ies. But enough about my birth, I’m here to talk about Planet of the Apes, the night­mar­ish vis­ion of a world turned upside down: apes that speak, humans that are mute and enslaved, oran­gutans doing “sci­ence”. And of course, the big shock back then was that “it was Earth all along” – we’d caused this cata­strophe ourselves with our envir­on­ment­al pig-headedness and our nuc­le­ar arrog­ance. The suc­cess of that blis­ter­ingly effect­ive ori­gin­al promp­ted sev­er­al sequels to dimin­ished effect – although the sight (in Beneath the Planet of the Apes) of Charlton Heston push­ing the final atom­ic but­ton to des­troy the plan­et in dis­gust at the whole sorry mess was seared on to my child­hood brain forever.

In 2001 the series got the re-boot treat­ment cour­tesy of Tim Burton, a mis­cast Mark Wahlberg (when is he ever not?) and the final tri­umphant dis­play of latex ape mask tech­no­logy. Now the apes are back and there’s no sign of rub­ber any­where to be found – except in some of the human per­form­ances per­haps. Rise of the Planet of the Apes serves as a pre­quel to the Burton film rather than a total from scratch effort – although there’s no equi­val­ent in the ori­gin­al series – and the film does a ter­rif­ic job of set­ting up a story that many of us already know as well as fondly hon­our­ing many details from the ori­gin­al series.

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Review: Boy, The Boys Are Back, How to Train Your Dragon & The Men Who Stare at Goats

By Cinema and Reviews

Taika Waititi’s Boy may well be the sad­dest com­edy I’ve ever seen. Hmn, maybe I should put that anoth­er way: For a com­edy, Boy might be the sad­dest film I’ve ever seen.

Consistently hil­ari­ous through­out, Boy steers a very care­ful course once it becomes clear that there is a very real heartache behind the laughter. A less con­fid­ent film­maker wouldn’t have even tried to per­form that con­jur­ing trick but Waititi turns out to have the tal­ent to pull it off.

It’s 1984 and in the tiny East Cape vil­lage of Waihau Bay 11-year-old Boy (born as Alamein, after his fath­er) has been left in charge of the whanau while his Nana goes to Wellington for a tangi. His little broth­er Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) and his young cous­ins are look­ing to him for some par­ent­ing but the unex­pec­ted arrival of Alamein (Taika Waititi) sends all those plans packing.

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Review: Moon, The September Issue, Funny People and Aliens in the Attic

By Cinema and Reviews

Moon posterMoon looks like one of the coolest films of the year. Written and dir­ec­ted by David Bowie’s son Zowie (now known as Duncan Jones), star­ring the effort­lessly inter­est­ing Sam Rockwell and fea­tur­ing 2001-crossed-with-Alien pro­duc­tion design and a trippy plot that seems to require all your atten­tion, Moon was one of the hits of the Festival and is now back for a full cinema release.

Rockwell plays “Sam”, a solo miner super­vising oper­a­tions on the sur­face of the Moon. The com­pany he works for is dig­ging up a spe­cial min­er­al used to fuel the Earth’s fusion power sta­tions. He’s at the end of a three year gig and start­ing to go a bit stir crazy. His only com­pany is a Kevin Spacey-voiced ser­vice robot named GERTY – a cross between HAL 9000 and the cute drones from Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running. GERTY makes him tea, patches his wounds and pretty much does everything else around the place except go out­side and actu­ally fix machines.

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Review: Sex and the City: The Movie, Untraceable, Shine a Light, Leatherheads, Happy-Go-Lucky, Brick Lane, Adam’s Apples, 21 and Prom Night

By Cinema and Reviews

Sex and the City posterNever hav­ing seen an epis­ode of Sex and the City on tele­vi­sion, I’ll have to leave it to oth­ers to place it in con­text. From what I can gath­er, though, it appears to be about four women in Manhattan, not too bright, not too nice and not too deep, who are look­ing for love, suc­cess and shoes. The cent­ral fig­ure in the group is Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) whose on-again, off-again rela­tion­ship with Mr Big (Chris Noth) is about to become very much “on” with a huge soci­ety wed­ding and a pent­house 5th Avenue apart­ment with a closet big­ger than the apart­ment build­ing I live in. Amazingly, it is the closet that causes the most excite­ment, even when empty.

Meanwhile, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is bliss­fully happy with her hus­band and adop­ted daugh­ter Lily; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is some­what less than happy to find out that her hus­band (David Eigenberg) has cheated on her and sex kit­ten Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is find­ing life in the shad­ow of a hand­some day­time soap star to be less than fulfilling.

It all comes to a head at the wed­ding but not before (as well as dur­ing and after) we are forced to listen to many, many long con­ver­sa­tions mostly about events we have just seen.

Untraceable posterUntraceable is a per­fectly ser­vice­able thrill­er set in rainy Portland. Diane Lane is a wid­ow work­ing the FBI cyber-crime night-shift who dis­cov­ers a crazed loon string­ing up vic­tims in front of a web­cam. The more eye­balls he receives the faster his vic­tim dies mak­ing every­one com­pli­cit in the even­tu­al murder. Director Gregory Hoblit has an unparalelled tv back­ground (“Hill Street Blues”, any­one?) and also dir­ec­ted the tight mind-games thrill­er Fracture last year and Untraceable is bet­ter than it sounds, effect­ive and not nearly as exploit­at­ive as the trail­er led one to believe.

Shine a Light posterJust like the U2 con­cert movie earli­er this year, most of the people at the front of the Rolling Stones 2006 Beacon Theatre show (recor­ded for pos­ter­ity by Martin Scorsese as Shine a Light) watched it via the screens on their cell­phones. Heavens, people! Stop try­ing to record the life going on in front of you and just get in there and live it! (Written from the back row of a darkened cinema on a sunny day). Shine a Light shows the Stones off superbly – the sound is mag­ni­fi­cent and the per­form­ance (from Jagger in par­tic­u­lar) is stun­ning. Not enough Charlie Watts for my lik­ing but that’s a minor quibble.

Leatherheads posterIt does­n’t take long to estab­lish why the latest George Clooney romantic-comedy has been bur­ied either at ses­sions no one can get to or cinemas no one wants to vis­it. Leatherheads is an indul­gent romp, feed­ing off Clooney’s nos­tal­gia for old-time foot­ball and clas­sic movies – a lim­ited mar­ket. Set in 1925 at the birth of pro­fes­sion­al foot­ball, Clooney plays “Dodge” Connelly, an age­ing play­er try­ing to keep his ath­let­ic dreams alive via the unpre­pos­sess­ing Duluth Bulldogs. As a last gasp attempt to get crowds to pro games he signs col­lege star and war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to an exor­bit­ant game by game con­tract and inad­vert­ently changes the sport forever. He also gets hard-boiled newspaper-woman Lexie Littleton (a much less annoy­ing than usu­al Renée Zellweger) who is try­ing to uncov­er the truth about Rutherford’s war record. Vaguely remin­is­cent of fast-paced verbal com­ed­ies like His Girl Friday and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (and even The Sting), the best thing about Leatherheads is Randy Newman’s won­der­ful score.

Happy-Go-Lucky posterEvery great artist has major works and minor works. For Prince, for example, Sign O’ The Times is a major work and Alphabet Street Lovesexy isn’t. Mike Leigh’s major works include Naked, Secrets and Lies and All or Nothing and his minor list fea­tures Topsy-Turvy and now Happy-Go-Lucky, about primary school teach­er Poppy (Sally Hawkins) and her fam­ily and friends. There’s not much story and not much devel­op­ment, but I think the reas­on why Happy-Go-Lucky fails is the lack of empathy for the char­ac­ters (pos­sibly caused by Leigh not hav­ing act­ors like Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall to make the emo­tion­al con­nec­tions for him).

Brick Lane posterThe second half of my con­tem­por­ary work­ing class London double-feature was Brick Lane, based on a nov­el I’ve actu­ally read. On the death of her moth­er, Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is mar­ried off to prig­gish Karim (Christopher Simpson) in London where a life of grimy coun­cil flats and racist neigh­bours awaits. Clumsily con­densed and fussily dir­ec­ted, Brick Lane nev­er quite over­comes it’s own clichés.

Adam's Apples posterTotally cliché-free and like noth­ing you have ever seen, Adam’s Apples is a very odd black com­ic fable about a white suprem­acist, Adam, sent to a remote coun­try church to see out his parole peri­od. There he meets a gaggle of eccent­ric, dam­aged or just plain bark­ing char­ac­ters, not least Ivan the priest (Mads Mikkelsen) who turns the oth­er cheek so often it might as well be inside out. Full of surprises.

21 posterFinally, a couple of dis­pos­able (though prob­ably not bio­de­grad­able) enter­tain­ments for the yoof: 21 is based on a true story about MIT stu­dents who use their phe­nom­en­al abil­it­ies at, er, count­ing to cheat the black­jack tables in Vegas. MIT is in Massachusetts and cent­ral char­ac­ter Ben (Across The Universe’s Jim Sturgess) is a fath­er­less schol­ar­ship boy so the film could have been called Good Will Counting. If it had any heart or soul or wit. 21 also fea­tures Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey in their third film togeth­er in less than four years.

Prom Night posterAnd Prom Night is a run-of-the-mill slash­er film fea­tur­ing a high school sci­ence teach­er with an infatu­ation for Brittany Snow (Hairspray). He kills all her fam­ily and then, three years later, escapes from deten­tion to wreck her Prom party. Totally forgettable.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 11 June, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: All unre­mark­able screen­ings at cinemas not­able for their atten­tion to screen­ing qual­ity except for Adam’s Apples which is pretty scratchy and has a dam­aged soundtrack (Paramount) and Shine a Light whichlooked and soun­ded simply superb at the Embassy.

Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Fred Claus, The Golden Door and Mr. Brooks

By Cinema and Reviews

Elizabeth The Golden age posterAbout a third of the way through Elizabeth The Golden Age, hand­some pir­ate Walter Raleigh arrives at Court bring­ing his Queen gifts from the New World: pota­toes in a box of soil and tobacco (bring­ing to mind that won­der­ful Bob Newhart routine: “Then what do you do, Walt? ha! ha! ha!… You set fire to it!”) But what Raleigh (played by Clive Owen with an old-fashioned movie star cool that he has­n’t mustered before) is really offer­ing Elizabeth is the future; a future of gun­powder, inter­na­tion­al trade, sci­ence and empire. And for anoth­er 400 years Britannia will rule the waves.

Unlike some, I can­’t com­ment too much on the his­tor­ic­al accur­acy of the film – it seemed pretty close to how I remem­ber study­ing it as an eight year old – but abso­lute accur­acy does­n’t seem to be the point. The por­trait of a woman who has to become an icon (super-human and at the same time less than human) in order to pre­serve her people is ripe for a melo­dra­mat­ic Hollywood telling and dir­ect­or Shekhar Kapur and star Cate Blanchett don’t let us down.

This film is a sequel, of course, to the remark­ably suc­cess­ful Elizabeth that launched Blanchett nearly ten years ago. That suc­cess means a big­ger budget this time around – hun­dreds more extras, flash­er sets and a rip-roaring mari­time set-piece – but it is the supremely con­trolled Blanchett that dom­in­ates. As we rejoin the story her pos­i­tion is still insec­ure: chal­lenged from the North by half-sister Mary Queen of Scots and from the South by Philip of Spain, the tussle is between Catholic super­sti­tion (and medi­ev­al bru­tal­ity) and the enlightened reli­gious tol­er­ance that would allow an Empire to flour­ish. No won­der some Catholics aren’t happy with this ver­sion of history…

Fred Claus posterFingers crossed that this year we’ll only get one fat, jolly, red-faced Santa movie after last year’s woe­ful bunch: but if we have to have one I’m pleased to report that Fred Claus isn’t too embar­rass­ing. A fine cast, includ­ing Kevin Spacey and Miranda Richardson, have been gathered to tell the story of Santa’s big broth­er (Vince Vaughan) who left home in a sulk many years ago and is now a cyn­ic­al repo man in Chicago.

Meanwhile Santa (Paul Giamatti) is stressed out as more and more kids are ask­ing for more and more presents (not like the old days when one present per kid was enough). When Fred needs to be bailed out of chokey, Santa sees a chance to bring the fam­ily back togeth­er and get some extra help at the North Pole. The tone of the film is pretty ran­dom and the humour is hit and miss but Giamatti’s per­form­ance as Santa is so fine that, if he rolled it out in any oth­er film, we’d be talk­ing about award nom­in­a­tions. Seriously.

Golden Door posterDiaspora and mass dis­lo­ca­tion is the great story of the mod­ern age – from the Irish flee­ing the potato fam­ine to the mil­lions in Africa dis­placed by war or gen­o­cide. It’s no pic­nic abandon­ing your home and everything you know for the hint of a bet­ter life – ask your taxi driver – and Emanuele Crialese’s Golden Door plays as a worthy trib­ute to all those who have ever taken that risk. His film fol­lows a turn of the (last) cen­tury Sicilian fam­ily escap­ing the grind­ing poverty of their island in the hope of get­ting to Walter Raleigh’s New World where money grows on trees and there are rivers of milk. Once there, they exchange one island for anoth­er (Ellis) where they are prod­ded and tested before being found worthy of America. Crialese’s eye for an arrest­ing image and a lovely per­form­ance from lead Vincenzo Amato make Golden Door one of the unsung art-house films of the year.

Mr Brooks posterMr. Brooks is an odd fish – the film and the char­ac­ter. Kevin Costner plays suc­cess­ful self-made busi­ness­man Earl Brooks; he’s Portland’s Man of the Year but he has a secret. Not only is he a demen­ted serial-killer but he has an ima­gin­ary friend (William Hurt) who sits in the back seat of his car get­ting him in to trouble so its a bit like a grown-up ver­sion of Drop Dead Fred. Costner’s tend­ency to under­play everything means we nev­er get a real sense of the tor­ment under the button-down façade but at least he is con­sist­ently inter­est­ing, unlike the sub-plot involving the cop chas­ing him (Demi Moore) and her divorce.

For space reas­ons, only the Elizabeth seg­ment of this review was prin­ted in the Capital Times, Wednesday 21 November, 2007. For some reas­on they then prin­ted a ver­sion of it again in the Films of the Week sec­tion at the back of the book, instead of some more of my gor­geous prose. I love them like fam­ily, and am intensely grate­ful for the oppor­tun­ity to do this in front of an audi­ence, but would like to point out that I don’t have any­thing to do with the strangely edited  “Films of the Week” apart from provid­ing the raw material.