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la vie en rose

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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Review: Separation City, G.I. Joe- The Rise of Cobra, Coco Avant Chanel, Flashbacks of a Fool and Earth Whisperers/Papatuanuku

By Cinema and Reviews

Separation City posterBecause priv­ileged white males haven’t had a fair suck of the sav in recent times when it comes to arts fund­ing it seems only fair that the Film Commission should try and redress that injustice with the new Tom Scott-scripted com­edy Separation City.

Aussie Joel Edgerton plays Simon, a nor­mal kiwi bloke who has a gor­geous intel­li­gent wife, a beau­ti­ful house on the beach in Eastbourne, a job steer­ing affairs of state for a cab­in­et min­is­ter and a mid-life crisis caused by noth­ing more dra­mat­ic than a lack of action in the bed­room. He falls for beau­ti­ful cel­list Katrien who may or may not be Dutch or German but has the cut glass English accent of London-born Rhona Mitra (last seen in skin-tight leath­er as a vam­pire in Underworld 3).

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Review: Unknown, Stephanie Daley, Rush Hour 3, La Vie En Rose and Deep Water

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Unknown posterAs recoun­ted by cel­eb­rated neur­o­lo­gist Oliver Sacks in a recent New Yorker, amne­sia is a fas­cin­at­ing con­di­tion. In the art­icle he tells the story of clas­sic­al musi­cian Clive Wearing who, due to enchaphal­it­is more than 20 years ago, can retain new memor­ies for no longer than a few seconds. The dev­ast­a­tion of his case is tran­scen­ded by two things: the love of his wife (which he is aware of even though he sees her as if for the first time every day) and his music­al abil­ity which remains complete.

In Hollywood, amne­sia (like oth­er dis­orders) is rarely por­trayed as a tra­gic con­di­tion with ser­i­ous and fas­cin­at­ing psy­cho­lo­gic­al impacts but instead is usu­ally just a plot device. New thrill­er Unknown, star­ring Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper, tries a little bit of both.

In a remote aban­doned chem­ic­al ware­house five men wake up with no memor­ies of who they are or how they got there. Two of the group have been kid­napped, the oth­ers are the gang. But who?

While all the evid­ence points to Caviezel being one of the kid­nap­pers (he was­n’t tied up at the begin­ning for a start) he does­n’t feel like one and, des­pite the shift­ing alle­gi­ances and Lord of the Flies power-plays, he attempts to bind the group togeth­er so they can all escape before the ringlead­er returns with the ransom. It’s an inter­est­ing exist­en­tial­ist pro­voca­tion although, in the end, fur­ther psy­cho­lo­gic­al insight is sac­ri­ficed in favour of yet anoth­er plot twist.

Stephanie Daley posterInsight is what forensic psy­cho­lo­gist Tilda Swinton is after in Stephanie Daley. Heavily preg­nant, and still mourn­ing the loss of a pre­vi­ous unborn child, she is asked to inter­view the eponym­ous school­girl (Amber Tamblyn) who is accused of con­ceal­ing her own preg­nancy and then mur­der­ing the new-born baby. Her exam­in­a­tion will decide the fate of the tim­id young Christian girl who may indeed be too inno­cent to real­ize what a drunk­en date-rape can lead to. Stephanie Daley is a well acted drama with a fine sense of place, loc­ated in snowy upstate New York, and a lot going on under the surface.

Rush Hour 3 posterBack at the mul­ti­plex, Rush Hour 3 is one of the poorest excuses for enter­tain­ment it is been my mis­for­tune to wit­ness. And to think that part-timer Chris Tucker was paid $25m to star in it (a fee which evid­ently did not require any time at the gym to pre­pare). Jackie Chan is show­ing his age too. Abject.

La Vie En Rose posterI spent most of the time watch­ing La Vie En Rose think­ing that I’d seen the film some­where before. A beau­ti­fully art dir­ec­ted recre­ation of the life of a troubled artist from the wrong side of the tracks, dev­ast­ated by drug addic­tion and guilt, it could have been Ray or Walk The Line except for the fact that little Edith Piaf did­n’t have time for the redemp­tion and tri­umph that the Hollywood biop­ics demand.

Piaf was an extraordin­ary char­ac­ter, a huge and vibrant voice in a frail and tiny frame. Writer-director Olivier Dahan makes con­sist­ently inter­est­ing choices (par­tic­u­larly a death-bed mont­age at the end which amaz­ingly con­tains noth­ing that we have seen before) and Marion Cotillard plays Piaf with all the fierce and demen­ted self-destructive energy she can sum­mon up. She’s a force of nature and it is one of the per­form­ances of the year.

Deep Water posterFinally, superb doc­u­ment­ary Deep Water finally gets the prom­ised com­mer­cial release and I urge you not to miss it. And, if you already saw it at the Festival check it out again as it’s quite a dif­fer­ent film second time around.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 October, 2007.

Full dis­clos­ure: Unknown is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who pay me money to do stuff for them from time to time.