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melanie lynskey

Review: Trance, Eternity, The Whale and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Cinema and Reviews

trance-1

Danny Boyle is one of my favour­ite dir­ect­ors. From Shallow Grave in 1994 to 127 Hours in 2010, his work has stim­u­lated and inspired me. I re-watched Trainspotting the oth­er day and it still made everything else I saw that week seem old-fashioned. Everything, that is, except Trance which just hap­pens to be Boyle’s new film, a return to cinemas after dir­ect­ing the biggest theatre show of all time – the Olympic Games open­ing cere­mony which was seen by an audi­ence of – ooh – about 900 mil­lion people.

Trance posterTrance returns Boyle to his $20m budget com­fort zone and his new light­weight digit­al film­mak­ing style. It also reunites him with screen­writer John Hodge (Trainspotting) so it should be all sys­tems go, yes?

Not quite. In Trance, James McAvoy plays an art expert with a prob­lem. Instead of help­ing a gang of thugs steal a very expens­ive paint­ing from his auc­tion house he actu­ally tries to steal it him­self, get­ting a whack on the head for his trouble. Now he can’t remem­ber where he left the paint­ing and the gang are try­ing everything from fingernail-pulling to hyp­no­ther­apy to help him remem­ber where it is.

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Review: Hit and Run, The Watch and Hysteria

By Cinema and Reviews

Readers of last week’s column will know that I am cur­rently over­seas on a quest, a mis­sion – a pur­suit if you prefer – hop­ing to dis­cov­er a new kind of cinema. After a week at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado I am now in New York and have got a clear­er idea of what that vis­ion should look like.

I think I’ll name this new cinema good cinema and it’s main char­ac­ter­ist­ic will be the absence of films like Hit and Run and The Watch, two of this week’s new releases. Is it pos­sible to redefine rub­bish like this out of existence?

Hit and Run movie posterThe first is a Dax Shepard van­ity pro­ject about a man choos­ing to give up his place in a dull wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gramme so that his girl­friend (Kristen Bell) can get a job in the big city. In the space of a single day his pre­vi­ous iden­tity as a top get­away driver is revealed to her and his new iden­tity as a dreary small-town non-entity is revealed to the dim­wit­ted but single-minded hoods who he rat­ted out.

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Review: Reel Brazil festival, Win Win, Shark Night 3D, The Help, The Holy Roller, Friends With Benefits & Upside Down- the Creation Records Story

By Cinema and Reviews

Reel Brazil 2011 posterTo really under­stand a coun­try you have to go and live there – embed your­self with the people, soak up the cul­ture. If you don’t have the time or inclin­a­tion for that then the next best thing to is to get stuck in to their com­mer­cial cinema. Not the stuff that makes it into major inter­na­tion­al film fest­ivals like Berlin and Venice, not the stuff that gets nom­in­ated for for­eign lan­guage Academy Awards, but the films that are made to excite and please a loc­al audi­ence. That’s what fest­ivals like Reel Brazil are all about – a week-long por­trait of a coun­try via its cinema.

In the late 60s Brazil had a kind of Brazilian Idol tele­vi­sion pop com­pet­i­tion where brave young artists per­formed their top song in front of a live audi­ence bay­ing for blood as if they were watch­ing Christians versus lions. But in A Night in 67 we see that year’s com­pet­i­tion rise above the boos and jeers to open a new chapter in Brazilian pop music – legendary names like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso com­pete to win over the tough crowd and in the pro­cess launch massive inter­na­tion­al careers.

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Review: Where the Wild Things Are, The Informant!, The Time Traveller’s Wife, Zombieland and The Cake Eaters

By Cinema and Reviews

Is it too early to sug­gest that we might be liv­ing in a golden age of cinema? Think of the film­makers work­ing in the com­mer­cial realm these days who have dis­tinct­ive voices, thrill­ing visu­al sens­ib­il­it­ies, sol­id intel­lec­tu­al (and often mor­al) found­a­tions, a pas­sion for com­bin­ing enter­tain­ment with some­thing more – along with an abid­ing love of cinema in all its strange and won­der­ful forms.

I’m think­ing of the Coens, obvi­ously, but also Peter Jackson (and protégé Neill Blomkamp), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz and the forth­com­ing Scott Pilgrim), Jason Reitman (Juno and January’s Up in the Air), Guillermo Del Toro (work­ing hard on The Hobbit in Miramar), and even Tarantino is still pro­du­cing the goods. This week we are lucky enough to get new work from two oth­ers who should be in that list: Spike Jonze and Steven Soderbergh.

Where the Wild Things Are posterJonze made his name with oddball stor­ies like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and the first thing you notice about his inter­pret­a­tion of the beloved Maurice Sendak children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, is that it simply doesn’t resemble any­thing else you’ve ever seen. With the help of writer Dave Eggers (the nov­el “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”, Away We Go) he has used the book as a start­ing point for a beau­ti­ful and sens­it­ive med­it­a­tion on what it is like to be a child (a boy child specifically).

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Review: 2012, The Vintner’s Luck, Away We Go and [REC]2

By Cinema and Reviews

After nearly three and a half years of pro­du­cing this cinem­a­goers’ con­sumer guide, per­haps its time for a state­ment of intent. A mani­festo, if you will. Something to place these mus­ings in per­spect­ive as you skim through them over Morning Tea.

I try and find some­thing good and inter­est­ing in everything I see, and I see pretty much everything. Most films have an audi­ence of some descrip­tion wait­ing for them some­where, and that audi­ence may be you, so I try and out­line what might appeal (along with what might not) so that you can make an informed choice.

Plus, I have some sym­pathy for the little bat­tler and will often try and draw your atten­tion in that dir­ec­tion (Don’t for­get Two Lovers, folks) and I try and watch films not meant for me (kids flicks, etc) with half an eye on how the rest of the audi­ence is reacting.

It is extremely rare, as reg­u­lar read­ers will know, for me to warn you off a film entirely, or indeed (in the case of our first film this week) sug­gest that its cre­at­ors should be harshly pun­ished for its per­pet­ra­tion. The films that are really sand under my fore­skin are those that only exist to pad a resumé and a bank bal­ance, cyn­ic­al attempts to sep­ar­ate us from our money, mar­ket­ing cam­paigns crudely dis­guised as art.

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Review: Show of Hands, Ghost Town, Be Kind Rewind, Mirrors, How to lose Friends & Alienate People, RocknRolla and And When Did You Last See Your Father?

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Show of Hands posterAccording to the ven­er­able IMDb.com, before Show of Hands the only fea­ture films to be shot in New Plymouth were The Last Samurai (sort of) and some­thing called Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice, so Anthony McCarten’s gentle little comedy-drama is already historic.

Showcasing the Taranaki land­scape as well as the people, Show of Hands has an ambi­tion as small as the town but, sadly, doesn’t bear up under too much scru­tiny. A strug­gling car yard own­er (Steven Stephen Lovatt) runs a hands-on-the-car pro­mo­tion as a last ditch attempt to save his busi­ness and a hand­ily rep­res­ent­at­ive cross-section of New Zealand soci­ety turns out to have a go.

The three main con­tenders are Melanie Lynskey’s single-mum (who needs the car to ferry her wheelchair-bound daugh­ter about); Matt Whelan’s young trusta­far­i­an and Craig Hall’s cold-fish busi­ness­man who may or may not need the dough to solve his busi­ness prob­lems or may or may not just be an ultra-competitive egot­ist­ic­al jerk. The whole film suf­fers from a sim­il­ar lack of clar­ity which makes sus­pend­ing dis­be­lief a struggle. The act­ing is fine how­ever and Whelan in par­tic­u­lar is excel­lent – one for the future there.

Ghost Town posterCursed with a not-very-promising title, and a high concept premise (obnox­ious dent­ist dies for sev­en minutes on an oper­at­ing table and wakes up with the abil­ity to see the ghosts of Manhattan), David Koepp’s Ghost Town turns out to be one of the main­stream pleas­ures of the year. I’m going to assume that every Hollywood rom-com with an English lead was writ­ten for Hugh Grant, but we can be grate­ful that he has all-but retired as it gives Ricky Gervais a meaty role which he grabs with both hands. Gervais may not have much range as an act­or, but he does have depth and I found myself being unac­count­ably moved by a film that always deliv­ers a little more than it says on the tin.

Be Kind Rewind posterIf the remark­able suc­cess of the 48 Hour Film Competition has proved any­thing in recent years it is that mak­ing films is now as much of a com­munity exper­i­ence as watch­ing them and it’s that same hand-made, JFDI, aes­thet­ic that Michel Gondry cel­eb­rates in the very spe­cial Be Kind Rewind.

While mind­ing dod­dery Danny Glover’s ram­shackle New Jersey video (and thrift) store, Mos Def dis­cov­ers that all the pre­cious VHS tapes have been erased by mag­net­ic doo­fuss Jack Black. To save the busi­ness our her­oes re-make the con­tents of the store using only a handycam and their ingenu­ity, even­tu­ally enlist­ing the whole town. I loved Be Kind Rewind and you’ll be hon­our­ing the spir­it of the film if you see it at a theatre with a bunch of strangers.

Mirrors is yet anoth­er re-make of an Asian hor­ror flick and there ain’t much water left in that par­tic­u­lar well. Kiefer Sutherland plays a troubled NY ex-cop who takes a secur­ity guard job at an aban­doned depart­ment store (Romanian and Hungarian stu­di­os plus a tiny bit of stock foot­age stand in for Manhattan). On his first night on the job the mir­rors start to freak him out and two hours of excru­ci­at­ing expos­i­tion follow.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People posterAlso shot on a European sound stage, though a second unit did make it through JFK to shoot some scenery, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is an ami­able little romp star­ring Simon Pegg as a try-hard English journ­al­ist try­ing to make it as a celebrity writer on a top New York magazine. Pompous yet insec­ure, Pegg’s Sidney Young (loosely based on author Toby Young whose book was itself loosely based on his own short Manhattan career) cuts a slap­stick swathe through high soci­ety. Pegg is ok (but he’s no Ricky Gervais, see above) but Megan Fox as movie star Sophie has the worst skin I’ve ever seen on a Hollywood lead­ing actress.

RocknRolla posterWriter-Director Guy Ritchie’s dread­ful faux-cockney purple prose has been drooled all over the inter­min­able RocknRolla, a boysie bit of rough and tumble that’s the cine­mat­ic equi­val­ent of someone grabbing you around the neck and rub­bing their knuckles into your skull. The sloppy plot involves a Russian oligarch’s lucky paint­ing, an old school East End gang­ster on the way out, a rock star fak­ing his own death and a big black tick­et tout with a taste for Jane Austen.

Ritchie does have an eye for young tal­ent (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels made Jason Statham a star): look out for Toby Kebbell (the junkie rock star Johnny Quid) and Tom Hardy (Handsome Bob), just don’t look out for them in this.

And When Did You Last See Your Father? posterFinally, there’s not many films that wouldn’t be improved with the addi­tion of the won­der­ful Jim Broadbent, and he really shines in And When Did You Last See Your Father?, a worthy brit-lit adapt­a­tion that also stars Colin Firth. Broadbent plays the fath­er in ques­tion, a jovi­al egot­ist who doesn’t real­ise that his over-abundant joie-de-vivre is crush­ing the spir­its of those around him. Firth is poet Blake Morrison, com­ing to terms with his father’s ter­min­al ill­ness with the help of plenty of flash­backs to his 60s child­hood. Director Anand Tucker builds his case care­fully until a splen­didly mov­ing finale draws a line under a very sat­is­fy­ing film.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 November, 2008.

Nature of con­flict: I pro­duced a couple of plays for Anthony McCarten back in the early 90s – “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and the reviv­al of “Yellow Canary Mazurka”.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Ghost TownHow to lose Friends…RocknRolla and Mirrors were all at Readings pub­lic ses­sions (all fine except How to Lose Friends… was slightly out of frame mean­ing some of the titles spilled on to the mask­ing); Be Kind, Rewind was at the Paramount and the first half was 20% out of focus and the whole film was about 20% too quiet; Show of Hands was a late night water­marked DVD from Rialto Entertainment and And When Did You Last See Your Father? was at the Embassy dur­ing the Film Festival back in July.