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Review: The Painted Veil, Superhero Movie, Sydney White and Four Minutes

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest, Reviews and Wellington

The Painted Veil posterW. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 nov­el The Painted Veil has been giv­en a hand­some new adapt­a­tion by Australian dir­ect­or John Curran (We Don’t Live Here Anymore). Naomi Watts takes on the role of naïve young Kitty Fane (once por­trayed by legendary Greta Garbo) who mar­ries dour Scottish sci­ent­ist Walter (Edward Norton) and travels to China to escape her over­bear­ing par­ents. But she indulges in a fool­ish affair with hand­some Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) and Walter insists that she accom­pany him to the cholera-ridden interi­or as pun­ish­ment. While Walter tries to save the lives of the loc­als by clean­ing up their water sup­ply, Kitty dis­cov­ers her­self via the loc­al con­vent and an unlikely Diana Rigg. A fine film (with an award-winning score butchered by a faulty digit­al soundtrack at the screen­ing I saw), the images are rav­ish­ing, the per­form­ances are uni­formly excel­lent and you could do a lot worse on a wet weekend.

Superhero Movie posterAfter loath­ing last year’s Meet the Spartans and curs­ing it’s pre­de­cessor Epic Movie, it was with a heavy heart that I took my seat for Superhero Movie, anoth­er par­ody pot-pourri. One name in the cred­its lif­ted my spir­its a little (no, not Pamela Anderson): David Zucker, dir­ect­or of Top Secret!, Airplane and The Naked Gun. As it turns out the few funny moments in the film are gags that could have come straight from those earli­er films (“Fruit cake?” “No, I’ve just nev­er met the right woman”) but the rest is a repet­it­ive waste of time. Why both­er par­ody­ing films that are essen­tially only par­od­ies themselves?

Sydney White posterTalking of repet­it­ive, I got an odd sense of déjà vu dur­ing Superhero Movie before I real­ised that Dragonfly’s love interest Jill Johnson was being played by someone called Sara Paxton who had also been the vil­lain in Sydney White not two hours before. It’s an odd item, Sydney White: the Snow White fairy tale re-located to College and star­ring Amanda Bynes (She’s The Man) as a work­ing class tom­boy try­ing to get into a snooty sor­or­ity. Kicked out in dis­grace, she has to shack up with the sev­en dorks next door (each dork is a re-imagining one of Disney’s ori­gin­al dwarfs – can you name them all?) and then bring the school togeth­er under an Obama-like ban­ner of inclus­ive­ness, at the same time find­ing her own Prince Charming (who even man­ages to wake her with a kiss). Strangely watchable.

Four Minutes posterSadly, I could­n’t bring myself to believe in any of Four Minutes, from the unlikely teen­age piano-prodigy / murderess combo (Hannah Herzprung) or the bit­ter old les­bi­an pris­on piano teach­er (Monica Bleibtrau), or the opera lov­ing but bru­tish pris­on guard (Sven Pippig). I wish I could have watched it with the sub­titles turned off so that I could enjoy the music and art dir­ect­or Silke Buhr’s amaz­ing sense of tex­ture and archi­tec­tur­al envir­on­ment. Every loc­a­tion has an almost tact­ile qual­ity, from the decay­ing brick pris­on to the gilt Opera House at the cli­max. I was par­tic­u­larly taken with a con­crete neo-brutalist con­cert hall remin­is­cent of Wellington’s beloved Hannah Playhouse.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday April 30, 2008.

Nature of Conflict: Four Minutes is released in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who pay me to work for them on occasion.

Review: Resident Evil- Extinction, Fracture, Away From Her, Perfect Creature, and Eastern Promises

By Cinema and Reviews

Resident Evil: Extinction posterBack in 1984, Russell Mulcahy made Razorback, the tale of a giant mutant pig ter­ror­ising a small out­back town, and his next film is going to be about a man turned into a koala by an ancient abori­gin­al curse, both of which make Resident Evil 3: Extinction look like Anna Karenina. You don’t need to have seen the pre­vi­ous two Resident Evil films or played the video game (I had­n’t) as the plot is pretty simple: zom­bies = bad; super­mod­els = good; genet­ic engin­eer­ing = very bad (unless you are genet­ic­ally engin­eer­ing super­mod­els which = very good). Stoic action-hero Milla Jovovich is pho­to­graphed using the Chanel fil­ter whenev­er she isn’t sli­cing up the un-dead and the film is enter­tain­ing when there’s action and tedi­ous when there isn’t.

Fracture posterIn Fracture, hot­shot young act­or Ryan Gosling plays a hot­shot young Deputy DA, about to make the leap to a big-time cor­por­ate gig but first he has to con­vict Anthony Hopkins who has just shot his wife in the head. Now, IANAL but Fracture seems pretty shonky from a pro­ced­ur­al and leg­al point of view. Can the LA County court sys­tem really send an attemp­ted mur­der­er to tri­al less than a fort­night after the offence? I doubt it, but that con­densed time-frame is vital for Goslings’ char­ac­ter motiv­a­tion and there­fore the rest of the plot, so best to turn a blind-eye to the detail and focus on two great screen act­ors enjoy­ing themselves.

Away From Her posterFilm of the week by some dis­tance is Away From Her by the sub­limely gif­ted Sarah Polley. In snowy Ontario Julie Christie is Fiona, a woman strug­gling with the onset of Alzheimers Disease. Husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) seems to be strug­gling even more, how­ever, and when she decides to go in to res­id­en­tial care he feels that, per­haps, he is being pun­ished by her for past transgressions.

Christie is sen­sa­tion­al but the rev­el­a­tion for me is Pinsent, a liv­ing legend in Canada but rarely seen else­where. His is an extraordin­ary per­form­ance, fully invest­ing his char­ac­ter with all of the pain­ful mash of love, loss and guilt that Polley’s elo­quently spare script requires. His raw and con­fused emo­tions are not just etched in his craggy face but into his ever-moistening eyes.

Perfect Creature posterGlenn Standring’s Perfect Creature is a respect­able genre effort, although devoid of much ori­gin­al­ity. In a steampunk-flavoured altern­at­ive real­ity New Zealand, genet­ic­ally engin­eered vam­pires known as Brothers con­trol soci­ety via reli­gion. When one of their order goes berko and starts eat­ing cit­izens, the sup­posedly del­ic­ate bal­ance between the species/races/whatever is threatened. Deputy Brother Silus (Dougray Scott) teams up with the cheekbones of Detective Lilly (Saffron Burrows) to bring the fiend to justice.

Eastern Promises posterOne of the most start­ling career re-inventions of recent times must belong to screen­writer Steven Knight who until 2002 was a TV hack best known for being Jasper Carrott’s chief gag-man and cre­at­or of Who Wants To be a Millionaire? The script for the excel­lent Dirty Pretty Things launched his fea­ture career and he now delves even deep­er in to the seedy under­belly of gang­land London with Eastern Promises, star­ring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. Watts plays a London hos­pit­al mid­wife and (help­fully) daugh­ter of a Russian. A young girl dies in child­birth on her watch but the diary she was car­ry­ing provides a clue to her iden­tity and leads Watts to the Russian mafia king­pin (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his nut­job son (Vincent Cassell) and the son’s driver (Viggo). Director Cronenberg steers us through the murk effect­ively enough and there’s one thrill­ing set-piece in a turk­ish bath which con­firms his tal­ent for cine­mat­ic viol­ence (if it was ever in doubt). Final irony: the three Russians are played by a German, a Frenchman and a Dane.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 October, 2007.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Away From Her was screened in Penthouse One and the shut­ter tim­ing is still out and get­ting worse. There are also signs of dam­age to the screen (from some­thing behind it?) on the right-hand side. It was also the most uncom­fort­able seat I have sat in this year. This is all a bit of a shame as Penthouse Three (the new one) is per­fectly fine but it looks like stand­ards aren’t being main­tained everywhere.

Preview: 2007

By Cinema

This week’s Capital Times column. No reviews due to the Christmas break, instead a pre­view of a few titles to expect in 2007.

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