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Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Forbidden Lies, The Last Magic Show and 4

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The two uni­verses of Steven Spielberg’s biggest films of the 70’s and 80’s col­lide in Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as Harrison Ford’s age­ing Indie and young pre­tend­er Shia LaBoeuf race Soviet ice Queen Cate Blanchett to the secret rest­ing place of lost extra ter­restri­als in the heart of the Amazon. There’s even a subtle “ET Phone Home” ref­er­ence which I found kind of cute. Entertaining and a little sloppy (in a good way), Indy has a middle-aged pace about it, a notice­able change from the cur­rent trend towards fren­et­ic, per­cuss­ive, music video action, allow­ing plenty of time to devel­op invent­ive ways to get Harrison Ford into, and out of, trouble. I was­n’t too upset with LaBoeuf (he cer­tainly isn’t JarJar Binks bad) but you can see he has a way to go before he can muster the sort of effort­less cha­risma his eld­ers offer.

Following the murder of her best friend by her own fam­ily in an “hon­our killing” in Jordan, Norma Khouri escapes to Greece and hast­ily begins writ­ing a pas­sion­ate book expos­ing the prac­tice. The book, Forbidden Love, is pub­lished in late 2001 to great acclaim and soon achieves best-seller status but some in Jordan (and in Australia where Norma settles) have ques­tions about the book. Further invest­ig­a­tion reveals that noth­ing in the first 32 words of this para­graph is true and that Norma her­self has a more inter­est­ing past than she is pre­pared to own up to. As Norma’s story unravels and the invest­ig­a­tion fol­lows her from Bridie Island in Queensland to Chicago and ulti­mately to Amman in Jordan, you find your­self on a very strange road indeed.

Another non-fiction film, of a com­pletely dif­fer­ent order, is the clas­sic­al music doc­u­ment­ary 4. Attempting to res­cue Vivaldi’s Four Seasons from TVC cliché, dir­ect­or Tim Slade uses the four move­ments as a struc­ture to build a por­trait of four play­ers, four places and the four sea­sons them­selves. At least that’s what I think the idea is. The prob­lem with the film is that there’s not enough music for it to be a great music movie, there’s not enough insight into the play­ers for the por­trait part to work and, while the visu­als are often quite beau­ti­ful, the film seems to miss the point that four sea­sons are influ­en­tial on the human psyche because we see those sea­sons change from our own per­spect­ive and loc­a­tion. Still, 4 is a pleas­ant enough hour and a half.

A new entry in the digi-indie-home-made kiwi bat­tler cat­egory (pre­vi­ous entries include Wairarapa’s When Night Falls last year) is Andy Conlan’s The Last Magic Show. Conlan him­self (who also wrote the script) plays Ronnie Roman, an delu­sion­al illu­sion­ist who may or may not have real mys­tic­al powers. His agent, scenery-chewing Michael Hurst, has set him up for a big come-back show but in the inter­im he is reduced to volun­teer­ing at the loc­al hos­pice and, pos­sibly, fall­ing in love with Nurse March (Georgie Hill). Conlan has a bit of the young Johnny Depp about him in the looks depart­ment but, ulti­mately, his blank per­form­ance cre­ates frus­tra­tion rather than mys­tery. Good-looking, odd, strangely paced, The Last Magic Show is an intriguing art movie. Perhaps next time, Conlan should­n’t try and do all the big cre­at­ive jobs him­self – a bet­ter dir­ect­or might have chal­lenged him to come up with a few more layers.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 May, 2008.

I hereby apo­lo­gise to reg­u­lar read­ers for the paucity of updates but a fierce com­bin­a­tion of the flu and man­aging this year’s 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking com­pet­i­tion have wiped me out and I’m only just com­ing up for air. And, I’m well behind on my feature-watching: Mama’s Boy has already been and gone from loc­al screens.

Nature of con­flict: Forbidden Lie$ is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Richard Dalton at Palace Films who is a mate and The Last Magic Show and 4 are dis­trib­uted by Arkles Entertainment who are mates and who I do occa­sion­al work for.

Review: We’re Here To Help, Control, The Last Trapper, 1408, Lions for Lambs and Death Proof

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

In 1993 Christchurch prop­erty developer Dave Henderson tried to get a GST refund on a pro­ject he was work­ing on in Lower Hutt. When the IRD officer sexu­ally har­assed his part­ner, Dave threatened to kick him “half way down Cashel Street”, it turned out the IRD were the wrong people to threaten and the hell unleashed is entirely in the oth­er dir­ec­tion. After years of audits, pro­sec­u­tions and bank­ruptcies it took inter­ven­tion from the hero­ic Rodney Hide to finally put a stop to the abuse.

We’re Here to Help will look right at home on tele­vi­sion when it even­tu­ally appears (the IRD recep­tion area looks like the old Shortland Street set) but if you go now you’ll have plenty to talk about at your sum­mer barbecues.

There’s a lot to like about We’re Here to Help, par­tic­u­larly see­ing exper­i­enced New Zealand act­ors like John Leigh and Stephen Papps giv­en some free­dom to play (and lead Erik Thomson is an effort­less every­man) but the film gets ter­ribly strange when Michael Hurst turns up dressed in a a fat suit to play Hide. He’s totally mis­cast and it becomes a com­pletely dif­fer­ent film (some­thing by Jim Henson per­haps) when he is onscreen.

Have the IRD changed their ways? It has been argued that the unpleas­ant­ness served up to Henderson had its roots in an insu­lar Christchurch busi­ness com­munity but I know that sev­er­al people con­nec­ted to the pro­duc­tion were very wary of poten­tial IRD retali­ation over the film and the fact that Producer John Barnett is cur­rently being audited may not be an inno­cent coincidence.

Ian Curtis, Macclesfield’s match­less pur­vey­or of un-listenable dirges, gets the big screen biop­ic treat­ment in Control. It’s a hand­some pro­duc­tion with some fine per­form­ances (not least from new­comer Sam Riley as Curtis); the act­ors play­ing Joy Division recre­ate the music with dis­tress­ing accur­acy and dir­ect­or Anton Corbijn employs the most effect­ive use of black and white pho­to­graphy since Raging Bull.

Dog-sledding seems like a des­per­ately uncer­tain meth­od of trans­port­a­tion in The Last Trapper. Canadian hunter and wil­der­ness vet­er­an Norman Winther seems to spend most of his time tip­ping over, fall­ing into frozen lakes, down rav­ines and tangling him­self up with the dogs. Winther plays him­self but it isn’t a doc­u­ment­ary (although I’m sure there are grains of truth in each recre­ation). My recom­mend­a­tion would be to stick your fin­gers in your ears to ignore the clunky dia­logue and poor dub­bing and con­cen­trate on the beau­ti­ful Yukonic visuals.

Back in 1983 Stephen King gave us a haunted car in Christine. Now, 24 years later he has come up with a haunted hotel room in 1408. Rumours that his next pro­ject will be about a haunted shop­ping trol­ley are pure spec­u­la­tion on my part. As for 1408, there are few sur­prises on offer and, apart from the always watch­able John Cusack, it really did noth­ing for me.

Here in New Zealand Robert Redford’s pat­ron­ising polit­ic­al sci­ence exer­cise Lions for Lambs seems so much like preach­ing to the choir but it would inter­est­ing to see it with a dif­fer­ent audi­ence, one for whom the simplist­ic his­tory and eth­ics les­sons on offer are fresh and inspir­ing. On second thoughts I don’t think that audi­ence exists. Tom Cruise plays ambi­tious Republican sen­at­or Jasper Irving, try­ing to manip­u­late cred­u­lous report­er Meryl Streep into pro­mot­ing the latest ran­dom mil­it­ary surge in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan the surge itself has star­ted badly and in California Pol-Sci pro­fess­or Redford is try­ing to con­vince one last stu­dent to devote him­self to self­less pub­lic ser­vice instead of easy money and a quiet life.

Finally, Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof is pure cine­mat­ic enter­tain­ment – an expertly con­struc­ted throwaway trib­ute to the cheap thrills of the 70s. Awesome Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a nasty piece of work who use his souped up “death proof” Chevy Nova to wreak hav­oc on two groups of young women. Luckily for the second bunch, they have kiwi stun­t­wo­man Zoe Bell (Kill Bill) in the team and the abil­ity to fight back. I came out of Death Proof grin­ning from ear to ear.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 November, 2007.

Nature of Conflict: John Leigh, Stephen Papps and sev­er­al oth­er mem­bers of the cast of We’re Here To Help are great mates of long stand­ing. And Erik Thomson is a cousin.