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mathieu amalric

Review: Quantum of Solace, The Savages, Caramel, The Band’s Visit and My Best Friend’s Girl

By Cinema and Reviews

Quantum of Solcae posterAfter des­troy­ing much of Venice in the cli­max to Casino Royale, Daniel Craig as 007 James Bond kicks off Quantum of Solace by hav­ing a damn good crack at beau­ti­ful renais­sance Siena. Picking up almost imme­di­ately after he left off fol­low­ing the death of his beloved Vesper, Bond is char­ging around the world seek­ing answers and revenge (in no par­tic­u­lar order).

Prior view­ing of Casino Royale is pretty much man­dat­ory in order to fully appre­ci­ate Eon EON & Craig’s text­book rein­ven­tion of the enig­mat­ic, bru­tal­ised, middle-class orphan (with the pub­lic school schol­ar­ship edu­ca­tion) who found a fam­ily in the Special Forces and a pur­pose in life ‘on her majesty’s secret ser­vice’. Thankfully Craig has dis­covered a little sense of humour in the inter­im but this isn’t a film with time for much reflection.

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Review: Rain of the Children, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and several more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Rain of the Children posterArguably, the most import­ant film of the year so far opens this week: Rain of the Children restores Vincent Ward’s repu­ta­tion as a sin­gu­lar cinema artist, after the des­per­ate trav­ails of River Queen, and uses the essen­tial New Zealand story of Rua Kenana and the Tuhoe res­ist­ance as vivid back­ground to a uni­ver­sal story of par­ent­hood and loss.

In this film Ward returns to the sub­ject of his first doc­u­ment­ary, In Spring One Plants Alone, a film he made as a naïve 21 year old back in 1979. In that film we watched as 80 year old Puhi attemp­ted to care for her last child, the men­tally ill Niki. In Rain, Ward tells Puhi’s whole story – from her Urewera child­hood, mar­riage to the proph­et Rua’s son, and then the tra­gedies that bore down upon her until she (and the rest of her com­munity) con­sidered her­self cursed.

The full emo­tion­al impact took a while to register with me – long enough that the tears didn’t start until half way through the cred­its. I’d need to see it again before mak­ing the call about “mas­ter­piece” or not, but it cer­tainly felt like that, stand­ing numb in the Wellington rain after the Film Festival screening.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor posterI don’t know what I did to deserve the dubi­ous pleas­ure of two Brendan Fraser action flicks in two days, but I can’t say I’m all that grate­ful. Journey to the Centre of the Earth will get it’s review next week but as for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor the less said the bet­ter. The dis­cov­ery of an aban­doned tomb full of rel­ics in west­ern China brings Fraser and Maria Bello (sub­bing for Rachel Weisz) out of retire­ment just in time for the magic­al Eye of Shangri-La to bring evil Emperor Han (Jet Li) back to life. Li has nev­er been the most express­ive of act­ors and, luck­ily for him, he spends most of the film under a computer-generated mask of stone. It’s what we used to call a romp and is so stuffed with ‘stuff’ that it’s hard to argue that you don’t get your money’s worth, even if it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

Taken posterTaken is highly effect­ive, first-rate pulp star­ring Liam Neeson in the kind of role that Charles Bronson or Lee Marvin might have played back in the day. Neeson isn’t as cool as Marvin, but that’s ok as, by choos­ing to play his char­ac­ters faults as well as his strengths, he gives the audi­ence some­thing to con­nect with (amidst all the viol­ence and may­hem). He plays a retired spy, try­ing to recon­nect with his fam­ily who have star­ted over without him. A bit like De Niro in the Fockers films, he’s over-protective, cyn­ic­al and para­noid but when his daugh­ter is kid­napped by white slavers about an hour after arriv­ing in Paris all his fears come true and only he can do the required rescuing.

Son of Rambow posterSon of Rambow pushes plenty of my 80s English nostalgia-buttons (”Screen Test”, cinemas split into smoking and non-smoking sec­tions, Space Dust & Coke cock­tails) but, des­pite that, I nev­er quite man­aged to fall in love with it. 10 year old Plymouth Brethren-ite, Will (Bill Milner) dis­cov­ers Stallone’s First Blood via pir­ate video and is per­suaded by school ter­ror Lee Carter (Will Poulter) to be the stunt­man in his VHS-cam trib­ute. Too reli­ant on the fatherless-child cliché for its drama, and car­toon whimsy for its com­edy, Son of Rambow nev­er quite reaches the heights prom­ised by its cent­ral idea.

Un Secret posterThere’s plenty of excel­lent drama still to be mined from the Holocaust, as Un Secret (from France) and Austrian Oscar win­ner The Counterfeiters prove. In the first film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s Mathieu Amalric searches Paris for his fath­er, while in flash­back, he searches his fam­ily his­tory for some­thing to explain his own life. There are plenty of secrets to choose from, and one of the pleas­ures of the film is try­ing to work out which one is the secret of the title.

The Counterfeiters posterWhile Un Secret focuses on a family’s attempts to stay out of the camps, The Counterfeiters locks us inside with the inmates of Sachsenhausen and it’s a hell of a thing. Karl Markovics plays pro­fes­sion­al for­ger Sally Sorowitsch, enlis­ted by the Nazis to provide expert assist­ance for their attempts to flood the Allied eco­nomy with fake bank­notes. Sally sees it as his oppor­tun­ity to avoid the gas cham­bers but not every­one on the team shares his single-minded devo­tion to sur­viv­al and he is forced to engage with his own lack of idealism.

Markovics’ remark­able cheekbones provide excel­lent archi­tec­ture to inspire Benedict Neuenfels’ superb high con­trast cine­ma­to­graphy and The Counterfeiters is grip­ping, mov­ing and pro­voc­at­ive throughout.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 17 September, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: For once, little to com­plain about. Rain of the Children as intim­ated in the body copy, was at a packed Film Festival mat­inée at the Embassy; The Mummy was also at the Embassy, although more recently, Taken was at Readings 2, cour­tesy of a pass from Fox, Son of Rambow (which was the cause of some con­sterna­tion last week) was a tor­rent; Un Secret was screened from a pre­view DVD from Hoyts Distribution (due to the already alluded to Penthouse prob­lems) and The Counterfeiters was in the big room at the Paramount where it was a little too quiet (not the end of the world with sub­titles) and the print had def­in­itely been around the block a few times.