It’s one of those rare sunny Saturday afternoons in Wellington and I have work to do. But I’m not going to do that work because it doesn’t look like much fun and – for once – writing tiny film reviews seems like the better option.
Leanne Pooley made New Zealand’s most successful documentary ever in 2009 – The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls – and now turns her eye towards a mountain-sized Kiwi icon, Sir Ed Hillary and his ascent of Everest in 1953. Beyond the Edge is a limp title for the greatest adventure ever undertaken by a New Zealander and the film sometimes seems a bit bloodless too. The 3D recreations of Himalayan scenes – filling in the gaps in the archive of available still and moving picture elements – are thrilling though, especially if heights get your heart racing faster as they do I.
Indulge me for a minute – it’s Christmas. Back when I was a little nipper, me and some mates took a rare trip into the City (“Up London” we called it) to see what we thought was going to be the biggest movie event of our lives so far. At the Odeon Marble Arch (supposedly the biggest screen in Europe!) we sat ourselves in the middle of the front row and prepared to be blown away. By TRON.
It was the first film to contain computer generated effects and graphics and the first to make a direct appeal to the nascent home computer generation who would go on to define our future. The idea of being sucked inside a computer to play the games for real didn’t do much for me but the metaphoric idea of losing oneself in the Grid (or the Net as we came to call it)? That had a lot more appeal.
There’s something very odd about the opening scenes in Shutter Island and it takes the entire film for you to put your finger on it. Shots don’t match between cuts, there’s a stilted quality to the dialogue (too much exposition for a Martin Scorsese movie) and the pacing is off. For a while I found myself wondering whether Marty had lost the immense influence of his great editor Thelma Schoonmaker, but there she is, still in the credits, as she has been for Scorsese since Raging Bull.
Several years ago, Scorsese played a practical joke on me (personally, it felt like at the time) when an entire reel of The Aviator was treated to look like faded 1930s Technicolor – I went to the Embassy counter to complain and felt very sheepish to be told by Oscar, the projectionist, that the director meant it that way. So, this time around I decided to trust the maestro and roll with the strangeness and was rewarded with one of the best (and cleverest) psychological thrillers in many a year.
If, like David Fincher, you were growing up in Northern California during the early 70’s you, too, might have become fascinated and obsessed by the mysterious publicity-troll serial killer known as Zodiac. Now Fincher has turned that fascination in to a solidly constructed but overlong history of the failed efforts to identify Zodiac and bring him to justice called, with typical imagination, Zodiac.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of the first murders in 1969, whose obsession about the case led to a book identifying the most likely suspect (and a failed marriage).
One of the problems that law enforcement had in dealing with the Zodiac was his propensity for taking credit for murders that weren’t his and the fact that his real murders occurred in three different jurisdictions, meaning that there was little or no co-ordination and important evidence wasn’t shared. It took Graysmith’s decade long perseverance to at least shine a light on a case that officially still remains open.
There are good performances from many reliable faces including Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Brian Cox. Chloe Sevigny is criminally under-used (as she often seems to be) as Graysmith’s wife (but that’s a fault with the true-life story rather than the filmmakers). In fact, this is one of those true stories you wish had been jazzed up a bit rather than treated with so much respect. The problem here is that Zodiac doesn’t do a heck of a lot so there’s no way to ratchet the tension up except with spooky blind alleys.
If you were a Zodiac-obsessed kid like Fincher, you’ll get a big kick out of the detailed recreations of the era. If you are a normal citizen like myself, by the time the film goes in to Decade (and Hour) Three, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.
Altogether more successful serial-killer sleuths are on display in Woody Allen’s new UK-based production Scoop. Scarlet Johansson plays Sondra Pransky, journalism student on holiday in London. At a magic show (Allen himself is The Great Splendini) she is visited by the ghost of gruff old Fleet Street hack Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) who gives her a tip: Eligible rich boy Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) is the infamous Tarot Card Killer and she has to reveal the truth and get the scoop of the decade.
With Splendini’s help Pransky goes undercover but finds herself falling for Lyman/Jackman’s charms and dropping the scent. This is minor Allen (aren’t they all these days?) but not without charms and several jokes made me laugh out loud (one of which I am stealing for myself). It seems to have been thrown together a little haphazardly and a cast of English notables gets very little to do except stand around at garden parties – former Bond and Indiana Jones villain Julian Glover gets only one line as Lyman’s father.
The beautiful Romola Garai (I Capture The Castle) plays best-friend Vivian and she will be here in September to play Cordelia to Ian McKellen’s Lear at the St James. Looking forward to it.
Finally, in a quiet week, late night tv spin-off Reno 911!: Miami is about as funny as someone standing on your corn (an image drawn directly from life, ladies and gentlemen).
Printed in the Capital Times, Wednesday 23 May, 2007.