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Review: Young @ Heart, Max Payne, Rise of the Footsoldier, A Journey of Dmitri Shostakovich, Brideshead Revisited and Irina Palm

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Young at Heart posterThe most purely emo­tion­al exper­i­ence I have had in a cinema this year was watch­ing the delight­ful doc­u­ment­ary Young @ Heart dur­ing the Film Festival. It’s a life-affirming (and by its very nature death-affirming too) por­trait of a group of Massachusetts seni­or cit­izen chor­is­ters who tour the world with a pro­gramme of (often con­sciously iron­ic) rock and pop clas­sics and it starts out like the quirky British tv pro­gramme it was ori­gin­ally inten­ded to be. But then these remark­able, love­able, buoy­ant char­ac­ters take con­trol and by the time they get to Dylan’s Forever Young, I may as well have been a puddle on the floor of the cinema. Young at Heart is so suc­cess­ful I even fell in love with Coldplay for about five minutes. It’s that good.

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Review: The Incredible Hulk, In the Valley of Elah, The Happening, Outsourced and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Incredible Hulk posterI think we can safely call a halt to these semi-annual Hulk movies now – the new one is good enough that we can all move on (Ant-Man is evid­ently next). The Incredible Hulk is Marvel’s attempt to wrestle back the fran­chise that got away from them under Ang Lee in 2003 and even­tu­ally re-unify the Marvel uni­verse under the suave, unstop­pable box office force of Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man. To retrieve The Hulk, Marvel cast Hollywood’s weedi­est lead­ing man, Edward Norton (Fight Club), not real­ising that Norton also has a repu­ta­tion as a bit of a med­dler who then re-wrote the script and sat in on the editing.

The res­ult, as you might expect, is a bit of a noisy mess, but far from dis­astrous. After a splen­didly con­densed open­ing title sequence which takes us through the back-story of the ori­gin­al exper­i­ments that Gamma-ized poor Bruce Banner, we meet him on the run in Brazil, labour­ing in a bot­tling plant, tak­ing anger man­age­ment classes and col­lab­or­at­ing online with a mys­ter­i­ous sci­ent­ist who may hold the key to a cure. Unfortunately for him, the General (a suit­ably comic-book per­form­ance by William Hurt) arrives with a squad to take him home. This makes him angry, of course, and unleashes the green beast within.

If any­thing, it is more respect­ful of the TV series than the com­ic book, fea­tur­ing cameos from ori­gin­al Hulk Lou Ferrigno and a clunky posthum­ous cameo from TV Banner Bill Bixby. In fact, look­ing back on it the film spends more time hon­our­ing the past than it does driv­ing into the future, often fall­ing prey to cutesy touches like hav­ing Norton Anti-Virus fire up when Banner logs on to a com­puter. Chief Villain Tim Roth looks like Chelsea own­er Roman Abramovich, which makes his char­ac­ter name, The Abomination, per­fectly apt.

In the Valley of Elah posterPaul Haggis cre­ated the Oscar-winning Crash back in 2004 and, after help­ing rein­vent Bond in Casino Royale, has gone back to the polit­ic­al well with the heart­felt In the Valley of Elah, star­ring Tommy Lee Jones. Jones plays former Army invest­ig­at­or Hank Deerfield. His son has just returned from Iraq but imme­di­ately gone AWOL so Hank travels across Texas to find him. What he dis­cov­ers shakes his faith in his coun­try and the mil­it­ary and (I’m guess­ing) is sup­posed to have some meta­phor­ic weight about the state of the nation and the world and it prob­ably does. I was one of many who found Crash to be appalling, un-watchable, rub­bish but Elah (per­haps because it does­n’t try and do so much) is better.

While Haggis wears his heart on his sleeve, what he really needs is a copy edit­or on his shoulder. Someone needs to tell him that when you cast someone as soul­ful as Tommy Lee Jones you can just let him tell the audi­ence what is going on with his eyes – you don’t then have to then verb­al­ise it in the next shot. Probably an easy mis­take to make when you are a writer first and a dir­ect­or second…

The Happening posterIf Haggis needs a copy edit­or then M. Night Shyamalan needs a secur­ity guard on the door of his office, hold­ing the keys to his type­writer. The Happening is an eco-thriller about a mys­ter­i­ous “event” that causes people across the North East of America to lose their minds and then do away with them­selves. Among those caught up in the mess is high school sci­ence teach­er Mark Wahlberg who thinks the mys­ter­i­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of America’s bee pop­u­la­tion might have some­thing to do with it.

Shyamalan has obvi­ous tal­ent as a dir­ect­or: he has an eye for an arrest­ing image and has seen enough Hitchcock to con­struct effect­ive set-pieces but he can­’t write dia­logue that human beings can actu­ally say which con­tinu­ally drops the audi­ence out of the moment. Luckily, whenev­er I lost con­nec­tion to the story, there was Zooey Deschanel (as Wahlberg’s wife), whose elec­tric blue eyes should be cat­egor­ised as an altern­at­ive fuel source.

Outsourced posterOutsourced is return­ing to cinemas after a brief turn at the World Cinema Showcase. It’s a beguil­ing tale of a Seattle call centre man­ager (Josh Hamilton) who has to go to India to train his replace­ment when the nov­elty com­pany he works for relo­cates “ful­fil­ment” to Gwaripur. The usu­al cross-cultural mis­un­der­stand­ings occur but the char­ac­ters all grow on you, much like India grows on our hero.

You Don't Mess With The Zohan posterFinally, legendary social com­ment­at­or Adam Sandler takes on anoth­er press­ing polit­ic­al issue (after gay mar­riage in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry) and helps solve the con­flict in the Middle East with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, a hit and miss com­edy that is mostly hit for a change. Sandler is the Zohan, num­ber one Israeli counter-terrorist oper­at­ive, who is tired of the end­less con­flict and yearns to emu­late his hero (Paul Mitchell), cut hair in New York and make everything “silky smooth”. So he fakes his own death and smuggles his way in to America where the only job he can get is in a Palestinian salon. His unortho­dox meth­ods with the ladies soon make him very pop­u­lar indeed but the con­flict is nev­er far away.

There are plenty of jokes per minute and the relent­less teas­ing of Israelis for their love of fizzy drinks, hum­mus, disco and hacky-sack is pretty entertaining.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 18 June 2008.

Nature of con­flict: Outsourced is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I do a little work for now and then.

Review: The Bucket List, Jumper, Rescue Dawn, Goodbye Bafana, We Own the Night and Delirious

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Bucket List posterThe trail­er for The Bucket List has been play­ing for weeks now, indu­cing groans at every appear­ance. By col­lect­ing a series of Jack Nicholson’s now trade­mark Jack-isms plus Morgan Freeman’s reg­u­lar, twinkly, wise old man schtick and then sprinkled with plenty of schmaltz, the trail­er made me act­ively want to avoid a film that looked like a lame set of sac­char­ine clichés and tired ham act­ing – cyn­ic­al Hollywood at its worst.

I am pleased to report, how­ever, that The Bucket List is a much more enjoy­able film than I was expect­ing. There is some excel­lent work from Nicholson and Freeman who are well coached by dir­ect­or Rob Reiner, with the help of a script by Justin Zackham that has sev­er­al decent moments. Nicholson plays mis­an­throp­ic health tycoon Edward Cole who is dia­gnosed with brain can­cer and forced, due to his own tight-fisted policies, to share a room with car mech­an­ic and lung can­cer patient Freeman. When he dis­cov­ers Freeman has a wish-list of things to do before he dies, he takes it upon him­self to make them come true using the bil­lions he has accu­mu­lated in the cor­rupt American health care sys­tem.

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Review: Children of Men and more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Children of Men posterI grew up under the high-heeled jack­boot of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, when post-apocalyptic vis­ions of futur­ist­ic fas­cist dic­tat­or­ships seemed to turn up as reg­u­larly as London buses. Back then we all felt that the world was at risk from the insane plans of a men­tally defi­cient, war-mongering, US pres­id­ent cap­tured by the military-industrial com­plex. Of course, now things are com­pletely dif­fer­ent (ahem) but Children of Men still seems like the product of a bygone era.

20 years into a grey British future: the pop­u­la­tion is sterile and extinc­tion of the human race is inev­it­able. Alcoholic pub­lic ser­vant Clive Owen is per­suaded by ex-girlfriend and freedom-fighter Julianne Moore to trans­port some pre­cious cargo to the coast but her plan (and her team) is soon shred­ded by the forces of reac­tion and Owen is forced to go it alone. There are sev­er­al abso­lutely jaw-dropping set-pieces and I won­der wheth­er the people of Bexhill real­ised what sort of mess was going to be made of their quiet little sea­side town. Never lend any­thing to a film crew!

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