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Beyond the Edge poster

Review: Beyond the Edge, Thor- The Dark World, Inch’Allah, Valley of Saints, Thanks for Sharing and The Counselor

By Cinema and Reviews

Tim Robbins and Mark Ruffalo in Thanks for Sharing (2013)

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.

Beyond the Edge posterLeanne 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.

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Review: Sondheim’s Company, She Stoops to Conquer, A Dangerous Method, The Most Fun You Can have Dying and The Lucky One

By Cinema and Reviews

Sondheim's Company posterThe most pleasure I have had in a cinema so far this year wasn’t at a film. In 2011, the New York Philharmonic produced a brief concert revival of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece about emotional opportunity cost, Company. For three performances only, they assembled a star-studded cast of well-known television faces including Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, alongside Broadway veterans like Patti LuPone, and the show was filmed in high-definition for distribution to cinemas around the world. Several Wellington picture houses are playing this sort of alternative content these days — the Metropolitan Opera etc — so, eventually, this stunning production was likely to arrive here and, golly, I am so glad it did.

In Company, Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) plays Robert — a 35 year old confirmed New York bachelor surrounded by married and soon-to-be-married friends. Throughout the show they give him some good, bad and indifferent advice about the importance of relationships versus freedom and independence versus — well — company. This is a concert production so the orchestra is on the stage rather than tucked away in a pit, and director Lonny Price does marvels with the shallow area that remains. Transitions are inventive and smooth and the characters somehow manage to relate to each other despite being — as Sondheim would have it — side by side.

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Review: Moneyball, The Ides of March, Shame, Weekend, This Means War, Romantics Anonymous and Big Miracle

By Cinema and Reviews

Moneyball posterThis week Philip Seymour Hoffman features in two new American sports movies, one about their most venerable — if not impenetrable — pastime of baseball and the other on the modern-day equivalent of bear-baiting, the presidential primaries. In Moneyball, Hoffman plays Art, team manager of the Oakland Athletics, left behind when his boss — Brad Pitt — decides to throw away decades of baseball tradition and use sophisticated statistical analysis and a schlubby Yale economics graduate (Jonah Hill) to pick cheap but effective players.

Hoffman steals every scene he is in but disappears from the story too early. Having said that, Pitt and Hill do great work underplaying recognisably real people and all are well-supported by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s script which has scene after scene of great moments, even if some of them lead nowhere (like poor Art’s arc). Moneyball might start out a sports movie but it’s actually a business textbook. If the place you work at clings to received wisdom, experience and intuition over “facts” then organise an outing to Moneyball as fast as you can.

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Review: The Tree of Life, Fire in Babylon, The Bang Bang Club, Jane Eyre, Steam of Life, The Change-Up

By Cinema and Reviews

The Tree of Life posterIt’s the fifth anniversary of my first column for this paper — my, how time flies. Five years of searching — usually in vain — for some transcendence among the many flickering images in dozens of darkened rooms. And then, as if by magic, transcendence appears.

It has taken a few weeks — and a second viewing — to properly process Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Often baffling, frustrating, unhelpful, yet emotional and evocative in ways I couldn’t put my finger on, I wrestled with it throughout the two and a half hour running time — searching for answers and meaning among the beautiful images, floating, soaring camerwork and weird diversions into cosmology and vulcanology.

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Review: X-Men: First Class, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

By Cinema and Reviews

We’re at that time of year when the big studios role out blockbuster after blockbuster so that Americans looking to escape the stifling heat will choose to find comfort in cinema air-conditioning and we in New Zealand hope that the cinemas are warmer than our lounge rooms.

Apart from the Spielberg/Abrams collaboration Super 8 (next week, folks) all of the biggies this season are either sequels or comic book adaptations, demonstrating that despite all indications the bottom of the barrel hasn’t quite been scraped yet.

X-Men: Furst Class posterAfter three X‑Men films and a horrendous Wolverine spin-off Marvel/Fox have gone back to the beginning in the now traditional franchise re-boot strategy perfected by Batman and stuffed up completely by Bryan Singer with Superman Returns.

It’s 1962 and the Cold War is heating up. In Oxford a smarmy super-intelligent booze-hound (James McAvoy) is scoring with girls thanks to his ability to read minds. The CIA asks him for some help unravelling the mystery of some unexplained phenomena in Las Vegas and is perturbed to discover they get his freaky mind control powers as well as his analysis — and his “sister” Raven (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone) who has the ability to change shape at will.

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Review: Un prophète, I Am Love, Centurion and The Runaways

By Cinema and Reviews

In a week when film fans are mourning the passing of the French great Claude Chabrol (80 year old co-pioneer of the French New Wave) it’s pleasing to report that there’s still someone in France making watchable movies. In fact, Jacques Audiard’s last two films have been absolute crackers (Read My Lips, The Beat My Heart Skipped) and his latest is easily one of the best you will see this or any year.

In Un prophète (A Prophet), Audiard has managed to make an intimate epic, a film about grand themes while (for the most part) never leaving the confines of the French prison where our hero is incarcerated. He is Malik El Djabena (newcomer Tahar Rahim) and he’s a nineteen year old petty criminal inside for assaulting a cop. In exchange for the protection of the Corsican mob leader who runs the joint (Niels Arestrup) he murders an Arab informer, an incident that will literally haunt him throughout the film.

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