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melissa leo

Review: Olympus Has Fallen, Evil Dead and Escape from Planet Earth

By Cinema and Reviews

While ori­gin­al Die Hard dir­ect­or John McTiernan lan­guishes in min­im­um secur­ity fed­er­al pris­on his heirs are keep­ing the action movie flame alive. Most recently, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen might as well be called Die Hard at the White House as one man attempts to res­cue the host­ages held cap­tive in the impreg­nable bunker beneath the most fam­ous Palladian man­sion in the world. North Korean ter­ror­ists have man­aged to take con­trol of the build­ing and the President (Aaron Eckhart), Secretary of Defence (Melissa Leo) – and some extras play­ing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs etc. – are all cable-tied to a rail­ing while acting-President Morgan Freeman and Chief of the Secret Service Angela Bassett are power­less at the Pentagon.

What the bad guys don’t know is that dis­graced former Secret Service (and Special Forces, natch) dude Gerard Butler heard the shoot­ing and crossed town from his low level secur­ity job at Treasury to sneak in to the build­ing before total lock­down. Now, he’s tak­ing out the trash one by one but can he res­cue the President’s son (Finley Jacobsen) and save the free world before every nuke in the American arsen­al goes “boom”.

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Review: Black Swan, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Desert Flower, Unstoppable, Burlesque, Little Fockers, Green Hornet and The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell

By Cinema and Reviews

Following up on the 2009 sur­prise hit The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky has offered us anoth­er film about people who des­troy them­selves for our enter­tain­ment – this time in the rar­efied world of bal­let. Tiny Natalie Portman is plucked from the chor­us of the fic­tion­al but pres­ti­gi­ous New York City Ballet for the dream role of the Swan in a hot new pro­duc­tion. It’s the chance of a life­time but her fra­gile psy­cho­logy shows through in her per­form­ance even though her dan­cing is tech­nic­ally per­fect. Maestro Vincent Cassel tries to recon­struct her – as you would a first year drama school stu­dent – while dom­in­eer­ing stage moth­er Barbara Hershey is push­ing back in the oth­er dir­ec­tion. Something has to break and it does.

Black Swan is excep­tion­ally well made, beau­ti­ful and chal­len­ging to watch – and Portman’s per­form­ance is noth­ing short of amaz­ing – but films that aspire to great­ness need to be about some­thing more than, you know, what they’re about and once I’d decoded was going on I couldn’t see enough under the sur­face to jus­ti­fy the hype.

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Review: Frozen River, Pineapple Express and The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s the weird­est coin­cid­ence. In two out of the three films I saw this week someone was shot in the ear. Seriously, go fig­ure. Since I star­ted this gig I’ve seen more than 400 films and no one has ever been shot in the ear and then, just like that, two come along at once.

Frozen River posterThat’s the only thing that con­nects two very dif­fer­ent but very good films: Courtney Hunt’s debut thrill­er Frozen River and David Gordon Green’s very funny Pineapple Express. Frozen River is being sold as a thrill­er, and it does have some very tense edge-of-your-seat moments, but it’s actu­ally a gritty drama about America’s rur­al poor with plenty of under­stand­ing and for­give­ness run­ning through its heart.

We open on a hard-faced woman’s tears. Melissa Leo plays Ray, whose hus­band Troy has giv­en in to his gambling addic­tion and scarpered with the balloon-payment on their new trail­er and it’s two days before Christmas. She’s bring­ing up her two chil­dren in a tiny trail­er down a muddy drive­way in a small town on the snowy bor­der between New York state and Quebec, work­ing part time in the Yankee Dollar store and try­ing to make ends meet.

Searching for the dead­beat hus­band at the loc­al, Mohawk-run, bingo hall she meets Lila Littlewolf who is driv­ing Troy’s aban­doned car. Lila (Misty Upham) is a depressed young woman, liv­ing in her own lonely trail­er, who intends to use the car to bring a few illeg­al immig­rants in to the coun­try, cross­ing the frozen river at the Indian reser­va­tion where the State Troopers can’t go. Needing money (and hav­ing rights to the car), Ray agrees to help, gambling everything she has on mak­ing a couple of trips so she can get her fam­ily through Christmas.

Gambling is the thread run­ning through the film – the First Nation Mohawk people fund their pro­grammes and main­tain their inde­pend­ence through gambling and the work­ing poor like Ray gamble every day that the few choices they have won’t see them fall­ing through the cracks in the ice – meta­phor­ic­ally or in reality.

A bril­liant debut, though not tightly-plotted enough to really qual­i­fy as a thrill­er, Frozen River is up there with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days as an earn­est rep­res­ent­a­tion of people who would oth­er­wise be invis­ible to us.

Pineapple Express posterThe Apatow machine con­tin­ues to spew out fine com­edy. This year we have already had Drillbit Taylor, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Step Brothers and the latest is Pineapple Express, and if it’s not the Citizen Kane of stoner movies then it’s the Goodfellas. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (last year’s Superbad), this film is greatly enhanced by the pres­ence of a real film­maker behind the cam­era, George Washington’s David Gordon Green.

Rogen also stars as pot-head pro­cess serv­er Dale Denton, who wit­nesses a murder and, in his pan­ic, hides out with his deal­er Saul (James Franco). Unfortunately for both of them, this brings the wrath of the pot-mob down on both of them and they are chased across sub­urb­an Glendale by a mot­ley crew of ruf­fi­ans and hood­lums, all the while mak­ing good use of the herb that gives the film its title.

Rogen and Franco both came to pro­du­cer Judd Apatow’s atten­tion dur­ing the short-lived but well-loved tv show “Freaks & Geeks” (which also starred Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Jason Segal) and their easy rap­port is a strength that gets the film through some of its shaki­er moments.

The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D poster Stocktaking the new digit­al 3D realm, we have now had an anim­ated ori­gin­al (Beowulf), a couple of con­cert movies (includ­ing the bril­liant U2), a live-action dud (Journey to the Center of the Earth) and now we see the res­ults when Hollywood goes back to the vault and re-masters an older film for the new tech­no­logy. The Nightmare Before Christmas from 1993 is an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to the pro­cess (if you haven’t been temp­ted before). It was always a vivid and ori­gin­al pro­duc­tion (watched over by Tim Burton) and the 3D really makes it pop.

Jack Skellington is the king of Halloween but is jaded and bored. Discovering Christmas-town, he decides that he wants Christmas all to him­self and hi-jacks it (kid­nap­ping Santa Claus in the pro­cess). Animated (using sim­il­ar stop-motion tech­niques to the Aardman films) by Henry Selick, Nightmare is won­der­ful to look at and not too long for kids, although if you have little tol­er­ance for music­al thee-ater no amount of glor­i­ous 3D will coun­ter­act Danny Elfman’s soundtrack. Me, I loved it.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 29 October, 2008.

Due to exams I skipped a week writ­ing for the CT so there was no sched­uled entry for 5 November. You haven’t missed any­thing. Now, I have to start catch­ing up on movies before I’m swamped by the Christmas rush. This year has gone by so fast.