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natalie portman Archives - Funerals & Snakes

Review: Reel Brazil festival, Win Win, Shark Night 3D, The Help, The Holy Roller, Friends With Benefits & Upside Down- the Creation Records Story

By Cinema and Reviews

Reel Brazil 2011 posterTo really understand a country you have to go and live there — embed yourself with the people, soak up the culture. If you don’t have the time or inclination for that then the next best thing to is to get stuck in to their commercial cinema. Not the stuff that makes it into major international film festivals like Berlin and Venice, not the stuff that gets nominated for foreign language Academy Awards, but the films that are made to excite and please a local audience. That’s what festivals like Reel Brazil are all about — a week-long portrait of a country via its cinema.

In the late 60s Brazil had a kind of Brazilian Idol television pop competition where brave young artists performed their top song in front of a live audience baying for blood as if they were watching Christians versus lions. But in A Night in 67 we see that year’s competition rise above the boos and jeers to open a new chapter in Brazilian pop music — legendary names like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso compete to win over the tough crowd and in the process launch massive international careers.

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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: Operation 8, Hook, Line & Sinker, Tracker, Source Code, Your Highness and Babies

By Cinema and Reviews

Operation 8 posterI was expecting to come out of Operation 8 fired up but instead I emerged depressed and dispirited. I knew that New Zealand’s default political setting was benign complacency but I hadn’t realised that the full force of a — frankly — barely competent police state was being brought to bear on the few of us who were actually agitating and protesting for a more progressive society.

Operation 8 is Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones’ unashamedly partisan telling of the 2007 “Urewera 18 17” scandal in which disparate protest groups across New Zealand (with the focus on Tuhoe’s independence movement) were violently raided, imprisoned and — now about to be — given a trial without a jury. It’s a shocking litany of state arrogance and ineptitude, all the more depressing for commencing under a Labour Government.

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Review: Thor, Fast 5, The City of Your Final Destination and Mozart’s Sister

By Cinema and Reviews

Thor posterThere are two mainstream comic book publishing houses, DC and Marvel, and choosing between them as a kid was a bit like choosing between The Beatles and the Stones. They had different styles and sensibilities (and philosophies) and after a little bit of experimentation you could find a fit with one or the other.

DC had Superman and Batman — big, bold and (dare I say it) one-dimensional characters with limited or opaque inner lives. When Stan Lee created Spider-Man, a teenage photographer with powers he neither asked for nor appreciated, he created a soap opera — a soap opera with aspirations to high art. As you might be able to tell, I was a Marvel kid.

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Review: 127 Hours, Gnomeo & Juliet, No Strings Attached and Fair Game

By Cinema and Reviews

127 Hours posterDanny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire was my film of the year for 2009 — a potent and punchy roller-coaster ride of a film that made everything for months afterwards seem quaintly old-fashioned. His new film, 127 Hours, doesn’t break the mould to quite the same degree but does feature similar stylistic effects: messing with time and structure, split-screens, domineering soundtrack, etc.

The new film is also an adaptation of previously existing material, Aron Ralston’s memoir “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, and once again Boyle has collaborated with screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (notorious in New Zealand for The Full Monty). Ralston (played by James Franco) was an engineer by trade but an outdoorsman by inclination and he loved to roam the Utah canyons on bike and on foot. In 2003 he fall into a narrow ravine and his right arm was trapped by a boulder. He was there for five days before realising that the only way he was going to walk out was if he left the arm behind.

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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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