Sometimes this job can really suck all the enjoyment of the movies right out of you. After an extremely agreeable afternoon watching the new Bond film, Skyfall — and making plans to see it again quick-smart — I remembered that before the weekend was out I was going to have to pick holes in it for your entertainment.
And to be honest, I don’t really feel like it. Partly because it’s an extremely entertaining blockbuster popcorn movie, also because it walks the fine line between honouring and reinventing Bond’s 22 film mythology, but mainly because it often becomes a really good proper film with characters and drama and acting and that.
After an intense weekend running from picture theatre to picture theatre between — and sometimes during — rain showers, I have now caught up on everything in current local release. Except Tinker Bell and the Secret of the Wings but a Twitter correspondent assures me: “Just FYI my 5 year old great niece loved it so much she stood up at the end clapping & dancing…you should go you’ll love it ;)” and that review might just have to do for now.
A little harder to track down than Tinker Bell, Madagascar 3 or Hotel Transylvania — but well worth the effort — is Arrietty, a Studio Ghibli animated adaptation of The Borrowers, Mary Norton’s famous children’s book about tiny people living under a house who are discovered by a frail young boy who needs a friend. Beautifully animated — as always — and told with emotion and simplicity, Arrietty is a fine alternative to those over-hyped Hollywood confections. The version playing in Wellington is the English voiced one featuring Saoirse Ronan, Olivia Colman and Mark Strong — much easier on the ears than the American voices and much easier to follow for the littlies than the original Japanese.
It has taken ten months for Joe Cornish’s brilliant Attack the Block to make its way to New Zealand and one of the first questions will be, is there still an audience left for it considering the most rabid fans will have found — licit and illicit — ways to watch it months ago. I certainly hope there is because Cornish has produced a highly original take on a classic genre — a low-budget alien invasion movie that is thrilling, funny and socially aware.
It’s Guy Fawke’s Night and the attempted mugging of off-duty nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is interrupted by a the explosive arrival of a strange creature. The leader of the young hoodlums, Moses (a star-making performance by John Boyega), manages to kill the beast and they take the carcass as a trophy, not realising that there are others following — and that they will want revenge.
I love it when a film raises the stakes. Done with wit, it can drag you back in to a film you might have been drifting away from. Done with smarts, like Susanne Bier’s Danish drama In a Better World, it can drag you to the edge of your seat.
About two-thirds in to the film there’s an event that forces a central character to confront his own principles — values he has been carefully (and selflessly) teaching his kids — and he has to question whether those principles are really doing him any good in a world that refuses to honour them in return.
The character is Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a Swedish doctor working in a sub-Saharan refugee camp where — in addition to the usual litany of drought-related problems — he’s patching up pregnant women brutalised by the local warlord. He’s troubled by the circumstances but smug about his role in the aid process. Perhaps he should be paying more attention to back home though, as his oldest son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is being bullied at school and taken under the wing of cold-eyed psychopath Christian (brilliant William Jøhnk Nielsen), grieving the cancer death of his mother and taking his quiet rage out on the world.
Last week your faithful correspondent reviewed a big budget Hollywood film, based on a beloved television series, featuring four friends who went to a foreign land with no knowledge or empathy for the inhabitants and continued to live their self-serving, smug, lives blind to the reality surrounding them. This week, I’m going to do it all over again and the only difference is that I really hated Sex and the City 2 and actually quite enjoyed The A‑Team.
Now this realisation is giving me some pause. They are fundamentally the same film. Why should I react so strongly against one and so… benignly to the other? Is it just a matter of gender? Am I hard-wired to enjoy the male-bonding, explosions and gags in the way that female viewers are hard-wired to enjoy the shoes and frocks in SATC2? Christ, I hope not. I’d better find some good reasons for enjoying The A‑Team before I out myself as a reviewer who can’t rise above his gender or class and there’s enough of those around already.
With the big budget Hollywood remake already in production (starring Rusty Crowe), Anything for Her looked like it might have had some entertainment potential but I’m sad to report that it never gets up to speed.
The blissful lives of school teacher Julien (Vincent Lindon) and Lisa (Diane Kruger) are, as they say, shattered when Lisa is wrongly convicted of murder. With no possibility of legal redress, and a rapidly deteriorating mental state, it looks like Diane won’t be able to stand 20 years in the big house and Julien has to act to save her and the family – the two of them plus cute little Oscar played by the wonderfully named Lancelot Roch.
Somewhat implausibly, Julien hatches a plan to boost his Mrs from jail and escape the country to somewhere with no extradition. Despite no previous criminal experience, Julien obsesses over all the details until his plan comes together. Advice from a local criminal turned author (“don’t improvise if you don’t have the criminal mindset”) has to be ignored when circumstances change suddenly.
I can see this working with Crowe (and Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson). These sorts of tales told by Hollywood are always barely a step away from pure fantasy and it’s much easier to get carried along by the hokum. The French version is so grounded in a recognisable reality that the plot and characters don’t make any sense at all. Lindon is a great actor. He’s soulful, ruggedly good looking, and deeply intense but, paradoxically, the more real he tries to make the character the less you can believe what’s going on. Because it’s preposterous.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 April, 2010.