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Review: Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, He’s Just Not That Into You, Marley & Me and Son of a Lion

By Cinema and Reviews

Friday the 13th poster Strange as it may seem but review­ers are people too and, like the rest of you ordin­ary folk, we have blind spots and mine is hor­ror. Back when I was a civil­ian, I man­aged to avoid most of the icon­ic hor­ror movies of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s for reas­ons (I’m sorry to say) of pure squeam­ish­ness. Imagine my, er, sur­prise then when I dis­covered that this week had two, pos­sibly even four, hor­ror films in it. Eek.

My only pre­vi­ous expos­ure to the Friday the 13th cata­logue was a grainy pir­ate video in 1981 (with sound about ten seconds out of synch) so, with few pre­con­cep­tions, I am pleased to report that the Michael Bay-pro­duced remake is quite enter­tain­ing. Silly, of course, but entertaining.

The scene is present day Crystal Lake (scene of the hockey-masked ghoul named Jason’s camp counsellor-offing ram­page in the ori­gin­al) and a group of gorm­less rich col­lege kids are look­ing for laffs on Jason’s turf. You sus­pect it won’t end well for any of them and you are right. Director Marcus Nispel made the video for Cher’s “Walking in Memphis” so you can see how he could eas­ily turn his hand to this sort of thing.

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Review: The Devil Dared Me To, Atonement, A Mighty Heart, The Brave One and Conversations With My Gardener

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

I fully inten­ded to bring some intel­lec­tu­al acu­ity back to film com­ment­ary this week; maybe toss around terms like Mise-en-scène and cog­nit­ive dis­son­ance; maybe name drop Bresson and his them­at­ic aus­ter­ity and form­al rigour. Then I saw little Kiwi bat­tler, The Devil Dared Me To, a hand-made low-brow enter­tain­ment from the vodka and Becks-fuelled ima­gin­a­tions of Back of the Y’s Chris Stapp and Matt Heath, and I real­ised that high-falutin’ cinema the­ory was destined for the back burn­er for anoth­er week.

Stapp plays wan­nabe stunt hero Randy Campbell and Heath is his malevol­ent ment­or Dick Johansonson. The Timaru Hellriders are about to col­lapse under the weight of invi­di­ous OSH atten­tion and Dick’s lost nerve. Oily pro­moter Sheldon Snake (Dominic Bowden) bails them out so they can take on the North Island and get Campbell closer to his dream of being the first man to jump Cook Strait in a rock­et car. Wildly uneven but often very, very, funny The Devil Dared Me To con­tains pos­sibly the worst act­ing (and worst spelling) of any recent New Zealand film.

It’s entirely appro­pri­ate that The Devil has come out while we are cel­eb­rat­ing the 30th anniversary of Roger Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs; anoth­er back yard, oily rag fea­ture with a sim­il­ar lar­rikin approach towards the pro­duc­tion process.

2007 has been a great year for good films but a poor year for great films; very little of what I’ve seen in 2007 belongs in the very top ech­el­on. The most ser­i­ous con­tender so far is Atonement, adap­ted from Ian McEwan’s nov­el about a lie told in inno­cence that has far reach­ing and ter­rible consequences.

In a bliss­fully beau­ti­ful British coun­try house in the sum­mer of 1935, pre­co­cious 13-year-old Briony Tallis (lumin­ous Saoirse Ronan) is jeal­ous of the atten­tion her older sis­ter Cecilia (Keira Knightley) is get­ting from hand­some Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) and impuls­ively accuses him of a ter­rible crime. The accus­a­tion tears the young lov­ers apart and leaves Briony con­sumed by a griev­ous guilt that she takes a life­time to come to terms with. Virtually faultless.

A Mighty Heart is an arms-length ver­sion of the true story of the Karachi kid­nap­ping and murder of American journ­al­ist Daniel Pearl in the after­math of 9/11. Actually, arms-length isn’t a ter­ribly fair descrip­tion: it starts that way but slowly reels you in thanks to assured dir­ec­tion from Michael Winterbottom and good per­form­ances from an ensemble cast led by Angelina Jolie.

I really wanted to give The Brave One the bene­fit of the doubt until its absurdity and con­sist­ently poor nar­rat­ive choices over­came my res­ist­ance and I simply had to hate it. Jodie Foster plays mild-mannered Erica Bain, a radio pro­du­cer in New York, engaged to hand­some doc­tor Naveen Andrews from Lost. Walking the dog late one night the couple are bru­tally attacked by thugs leav­ing her badly beaten and the boy­friend dead. Overcome by fear and grief she buys a gun for pro­tec­tion but finds her­self tak­ing on a much more malevol­ent role. Terrence Howard is the good cop on her trail.

There’s noth­ing so objec­tion­able on offer in Conversations With My Gardener, a French charm­er star­ring the ubi­quit­ous Daniel Auteuil as an artist return­ing to his fam­ily home in the coun­try while his divorce goes through. He employs wily loc­al Jean-Pierre Darroussin to knock him up a veget­able garden and, over the sum­mer, the two embark on a friend­ship that involves (as is the way of things in French films) the simple loc­al giv­ing life les­sons to the soph­ist­ic­ated townie.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 17 October, 2007.

Full dis­clos­ure: I have known Ant Timpson (pro­du­cer of The Devil Dared Me To) since 1994 when I did pub­li­city for the first Incredibly Strange Film Festival and I look after the Wellington leg of the 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking Challenge which Ant has run since 2003. The 1st AD on Devil was Jeremy Anderson, who has been a very close friend and Black Caps fan for nearly 18 years. He is a top man and I’m stoked to see his work on the big screen. If you need a 1st, give him a call.