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Review: Argo, The Intouchables, Fresh Meat, It’s a Girl, Shadow Dancer and Mental

By Cinema and Reviews

Argo poster Near the end of 1979, the new hard­line rulers of Iran – incensed by the US government’s sup­port for the pre­vi­ous des­pot – stormed the embassy in Teheran and held the occu­pants host­age for over a year, long enough to wreck President Jimmy Carter’s attempt at re-election and to define American rela­tions with the Persian Gulf for anoth­er thirty years. That side of the story is rel­at­ively well-known. The secret story of the six embassy staff who escaped, hid in the Canadian ambassador’s house, and were then spir­ited out of the coun­try dis­guised as a Hollywood film crew? Not so much.

Thanks to the recent declas­si­fic­a­tion of the CIA and State Department files, the weird and won­der­ful story of Argo can be told, and – this being a Hollywood story about a Hollywood story – it gets a bit of a punch-up to make sure none of the enter­tain­ment poten­tial is wasted. So now, Argo is “inspired by a true story” rather than “based on a true story” and it is also the smartest and most enter­tain­ing Hollywood pic­ture for grown-ups this year.

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Review: Salt, Cairo Time, The Concert & Harry Brown

By Cinema and Reviews

Salt posterIf I had to use a four let­ter word start­ing in ‘S’ and end­ing in ‘T’ to describe the new Angelina Jolie thrill­er, Salt wouldn’t be the first word I would think of. The last time Ms Jolie played an action heroine she was a weaver/assassin receiv­ing her orders from a magic loom and her new film is only slightly less ridicu­lous. What we have here is an unima­gin­at­ive reboot of old Cold War ideas, as if the script was found in someone’s draw and all they’ve done is blow the dust off it.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA spook on the Russian desk. When we meet her she’s in her under­wear being tor­tured by the North Koreans. A spy-swap gets her out even though, accord­ing to the rules, she should’ve been left to her fate. Back in Washington, she’s mar­ried to the world’s expert on spiders (he stud­ies them in jars at the kit­chen table) but he’s German so obvi­ously not above suspicion.

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Review: Iron Maiden: Flight 666, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and a few more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Iron Maiden: Flight 666 posterOne of the first films I reviewed when I star­ted here was an charm­ing doc­u­ment­ary called Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey in which Canadian fans Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen trav­elled the world talk­ing to oth­er fans (and the stars they wor­ship) about what it is that makes met­al great. In that film they inter­viewed Iron Maiden’s vocal­ist Bruce Dickinson and they must have made a decent impres­sion as Maiden (and EMI) have giv­en them a decent budget and loads of access for them to doc­u­ment their Somewhere Back in Time tour (around the world last year).

And what a wheeze the tour turned out to be. Chartering a 757 from Dickinson’s oth­er employ­er, tak­ing half the seats out so the gear and set could fit, fly­ing the whole show between gigs with Dickinson pilot­ing the whole time – a bunch of pasty middle-aged English lads hav­ing the time of their lives across half the world. The only real drama comes when drum­mer Nicko McBrain gets hit on the wrist by a golf ball, but it doesn’t mat­ter because the joy of see­ing a band really mov­ing audi­ences (in places like Mumbai and Costa Rica) is the reas­on for this film to exist. And this film rises above above oth­er recent great rock movies like U2-3D and Shine a Light – because it’s about the fans as well as the band and it recog­nises the com­plex inter­de­pend­ence of the relationship.

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Review: The Painted Veil, Superhero Movie, Sydney White and Four Minutes

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest, Reviews and Wellington

The Painted Veil posterW. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 nov­el The Painted Veil has been giv­en a hand­some new adapt­a­tion by Australian dir­ect­or John Curran (We Don’t Live Here Anymore). Naomi Watts takes on the role of naïve young Kitty Fane (once por­trayed by legendary Greta Garbo) who mar­ries dour Scottish sci­ent­ist Walter (Edward Norton) and travels to China to escape her over­bear­ing par­ents. But she indulges in a fool­ish affair with hand­some Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) and Walter insists that she accom­pany him to the cholera-ridden interi­or as pun­ish­ment. While Walter tries to save the lives of the loc­als by clean­ing up their water sup­ply, Kitty dis­cov­ers her­self via the loc­al con­vent and an unlikely Diana Rigg. A fine film (with an award-winning score butchered by a faulty digit­al soundtrack at the screen­ing I saw), the images are rav­ish­ing, the per­form­ances are uni­formly excel­lent and you could do a lot worse on a wet weekend.

Superhero Movie posterAfter loath­ing last year’s Meet the Spartans and curs­ing it’s pre­de­cessor Epic Movie, it was with a heavy heart that I took my seat for Superhero Movie, anoth­er par­ody pot-pourri. One name in the cred­its lif­ted my spir­its a little (no, not Pamela Anderson): David Zucker, dir­ect­or of Top Secret!, Airplane and The Naked Gun. As it turns out the few funny moments in the film are gags that could have come straight from those earli­er films (“Fruit cake?” “No, I’ve just nev­er met the right woman”) but the rest is a repet­it­ive waste of time. Why both­er par­ody­ing films that are essen­tially only par­od­ies themselves?

Sydney White posterTalking of repet­it­ive, I got an odd sense of déjà vu dur­ing Superhero Movie before I real­ised that Dragonfly’s love interest Jill Johnson was being played by someone called Sara Paxton who had also been the vil­lain in Sydney White not two hours before. It’s an odd item, Sydney White: the Snow White fairy tale re-located to College and star­ring Amanda Bynes (She’s The Man) as a work­ing class tom­boy try­ing to get into a snooty sor­or­ity. Kicked out in dis­grace, she has to shack up with the sev­en dorks next door (each dork is a re-imagining one of Disney’s ori­gin­al dwarfs – can you name them all?) and then bring the school togeth­er under an Obama-like ban­ner of inclus­ive­ness, at the same time find­ing her own Prince Charming (who even man­ages to wake her with a kiss). Strangely watchable.

Four Minutes posterSadly, I could­n’t bring myself to believe in any of Four Minutes, from the unlikely teen­age piano-prodigy / murderess combo (Hannah Herzprung) or the bit­ter old les­bi­an pris­on piano teach­er (Monica Bleibtrau), or the opera lov­ing but bru­tish pris­on guard (Sven Pippig). I wish I could have watched it with the sub­titles turned off so that I could enjoy the music and art dir­ect­or Silke Buhr’s amaz­ing sense of tex­ture and archi­tec­tur­al envir­on­ment. Every loc­a­tion has an almost tact­ile qual­ity, from the decay­ing brick pris­on to the gilt Opera House at the cli­max. I was par­tic­u­larly taken with a con­crete neo-brutalist con­cert hall remin­is­cent of Wellington’s beloved Hannah Playhouse.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday April 30, 2008.

Nature of Conflict: Four Minutes is released in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who pay me to work for them on occasion.