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The Devil’s Double [Updated]

By Asides and Cinema

After the abject dis­aster that was the Nicolas Cage vehicle Next, I am sur­prised to report that Once Were Warriors dir­ect­or Lee Tamahori has made anoth­er film. And even more sur­prised to report that it looks quite interesting.

The Devil’s Double is based on the auto­bi­o­graph­ic­al nov­el by Latif Yahia who spent a great deal of the 80s and 90s as the offi­cial fiday or body double for Saddam Hussein’s psy­cho­path­ic son Uday.

The film stars Dominic Cooper and Ludovine Sagnier and launches at Sundance shortly.

UPDATE (25 Jan 2011): Filmbrain has seen the film as part of the preper­a­tion for the Berlin Film Festival and tweeted his ver­dict here:

Filmbrain (Andrew G) (@Filmbrain)
25/01/11 5:35 AM
Wait…some people at Sundance actu­ally liked THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE? #awful #wor­seth­anaw­ful

Review: The Golden Compass, Enchanted, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Water Horse, National Treasure- Book of Secrets, I Am Legend, Sweet Land, The Kite Runner, Priceless and The Darjeeling Limited

By Cinema and Reviews

The Golden Compass posterKeen-eyed read­ers will remem­ber that a year ago I nom­in­ated The Golden Compass as my most-eagerly-awaited title of 2007. So, how did it pan out? I’m one of those who con­sider Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials books to be the most import­ant works of fic­tion pro­duced in the last 20 years and I was sur­prised at how closely the film fol­lowed Book One (“Northern Lights”), pos­sibly to it’s det­ri­ment. I was wor­ried that a film with much expos­i­tion and detailed scene-setting might prove unwatch­able but my com­pan­ion (unfa­mil­i­ar with the books) found it thrill­ing where­as I found it hard to let myself go and relax into it – maybe second time around.

Enchanted poster Disney’s Enchanted saw Amy Adams reprise her Oscar-nominated wide-eyed naïf from Junebug. Unfortunately, as Princess Giselle from the anim­ated king­dom of Andalasia, she couldn’t over­come the col­lect­ive bland­ness of James Marsden as fictional-world love interest or Patrick Dempsey as real-world love interest; diver­sions were provided by Timothy Spall and the first of sev­er­al anim­ated chip­munks to land this Christmas.

Alvin and the Chipmunks posterThe next fluffy rodents to arrive were the “singing” trio from Alvin and the Chipmunks, a recre­ation of someone’s favour­ite child­hood pop butchers. Jason Lee is a waste of space as the song­writer who dis­cov­ers them but the little crit­ters them­selves will keep your inner 8‑year-old amused for a while.

The Water Horse posterAlso for the kids was the well-meaning but slightly po-faced Loch Ness mon­ster fantasy The Water Horse, anoth­er high-class product of the family-friendly Walden Media/Weta/NZ con­fed­er­a­tion. A tre­mend­ous over­seas cast led by Ben Chaplin and Emily Watson are joined by famil­i­ar and reli­able loc­al faces like Joel Tobeck and Geraldine Brophy.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets posterNational Treasure: Book of Secrets saw Nicolas Cage arise from his coma and make a little more of an effort than he did earli­er this year in Next: it’s a noisy romp in which unlikely char­ac­ters and implaus­ible situ­ations com­bine to bam­boozle any seeker after logic. Helen Mirren, Harvey Keitel and Ed Harris add gravitas.

I Am Legend posterWill Smith returned in the oft-made man alone thrill­er I Am Legend, a per­fect example of a poor script made pal­at­able by classy dir­ec­tion and a superb lead­ing man at the top of his game. Smith plays Lt-Col Robert Neville: dec­or­ated war vet­er­an, ace micro-biologist and (judging by his address oppos­ite the Washington Square Arch) heir to the Rockefeller for­tune too. A genet­ic­ally mutated vir­us that was sup­posed to cure can­cer has gone rogue. 99% of the pop­u­la­tion has died, 1% have turned into bloodthirsty zom­bies and only one man is immune – hand­ily for our pur­poses the one man who might know how to cre­ate a vac­cine. Lots of frights, lots of great action and a mag­ni­fi­cently seam­less cre­ation of aban­doned New York make it cer­tainly worth a look. At least until the last 15 minutes when, sadly, it just gets stupid.

Sweet Land posterFinally, to the art­house: Sweet Land is an unher­al­ded gem set in beau­ti­ful rur­al Minnesota among the Northern European immig­rants who were mak­ing their lives on that land in the first quarter of the last cen­tury. Elizabeth Reaser plays German immig­rant Inge who travels from Germany to meet Lars, the man who is to be her hus­band. But she speaks no English, has no papers and the loc­als are sus­pi­cious of Germans – the mar­riage is for­bid­den. True love con­quers all but not before the bit­ter sweet tale ties three gen­er­a­tions and the fer­tile farm­land togeth­er. Recommended.

The Kite Runner posterA monu­ment to the Digital Intermediate Colourist’s art, The Kite Runner is an adapt­a­tion of the beloved nov­el by Khaled Hosseini, dir­ec­ted by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, cur­rently shoot­ing the new Bond). Affecting but manip­u­lat­ive, The Kite Runner is a story of guilt and redemp­tion (usu­ally cat­nip to me) but in the end it relied too much on out­rageous coin­cid­ence to be truly sat­is­fy­ing. Great per­form­ances from Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada as Young Hassan and Homayoun Ershadi as Baba mean it is nev­er less than watchable.

Priceless posterPriceless is yet anoth­er French film about mis­taken iden­tity and class restric­tions: they seem to be more obsessed about class and status than the poms. Gad Elmaleh (The Valet) and Amelie’s Audrey Tautou play two ambi­tious indi­vidu­als from the serving class: he walks dogs and tends bar at a flash hotel and she is a gold dig­ger try­ing to snare a rich old hus­band. The fact that both act­ors are of North African des­cent (and there­fore are excluded from the ranks of the real French who sit at the top table) is either a subtle stroke of geni­us or dodgy racism depend­ing on the degree of Christmas spir­it you want to demonstrate.

The Darjeeling Limited posterFinally, The Darjeeling Limited is a win­ning tale of lost young men, search­ing for a fath­er fig­ure, from the mod­ern day poet of fath­er fig­ure searches, Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic). There’s no great them­at­ic or styl­ist­ic leap made by Anderson here but he is hon­ing this stuff to a fine art. Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are three broth­ers on a spir­itu­al jour­ney across India but it is the recently deceased fath­er who casts the longest shad­ow. Well made and often very funny, The Darjeeling Limited is very easy to enjoy and Anderson’s taste is exquisite.

To be prin­ted in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 16 Jan, 2008. I am tak­ing a week­end off, away from the Internet and cinema so will catch up with the week’s new releases next week.

Review: Hairspray, Ratatouille, Invasion, Next and Romulus, My Father

By Cinema and Reviews

Hairspray posterBaltimore in the 60s must have been quite a place as it has inspired films like Barry Levinson’s Diner and Tin Men as well as the entire John Waters can­on, from Mondo Trasho and Pink Flamingos to Hairspray and Cry-Baby in the 90s. Now Waters’ trans­gress­ive vis­ion of outsider-dom has been absorbed in to the main­stream with the san­it­ised, PG, ver­sion of Hairspray, now trans­formed in to a Broadway music­al and back on the screen. Full of stars hav­ing a gay old time, includ­ing the rarely seen Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray The Musical is a lot of fun and if the kids who enjoy it look up John Waters on the inter­net that would be a good thing too.

Ratatouille posterIn Ratatouille, there’s a lovely moment when Remy, a French rat with a nose for fine food, dis­cov­ers the beau­ti­ful pos­sib­il­it­ies of mix­ing fla­vours and a pas­sion for fine cook­ing begins. The anim­a­tion is bey­ond any­thing yet seen and the eye for the detail and respect for the kit­chen is extraordin­ary – the chefs have scars on their hands and burns on their wrists – but the story does­n’t quite meas­ure up to the tech­nic­al achieve­ment. Pretty enter­tain­ing, all the same.

The Invasion posterTwo films released this week go to prove that, even with mil­lions of dol­lars of stu­dio back­ing, mak­ing a film is very dif­fi­cult indeed if you don’t really know why you’re doing it. The Invasion is a remake of two clas­sic para­noid science-fiction films, both called The Invasion of The Body Snatchers, and stars Nicole Kidman as a psy­chi­at­rist try­ing to save her son who may be immune to the ali­en vir­us that is tak­ing over the plan­et. While The Invasion may con­firm everything you have always sus­pec­ted about hotel cater­ing, that may be all it is good for. A com­plete fail­ure on almost every level.

Next posterIncredibly, The Invasion was­n’t even the worst film I saw that day. Lee Tamahori’s Next was even more list­less than The Invasion and nobody involved looked even slightly engaged. A rogue nuke is miss­ing some­where in the con­tin­ent­al United States and rogue FBI agent Julianne Moore man­ages to divert the entire invest­ig­a­tion into find­ing Las Vegas magi­cian Nicolas Cage because he has the abil­ity to see two minutes into the future.

Meanwhile, the Russians and the French who have the nuke are also after Cage for no reas­on at all that I could work out. At one point an FBI agent watch­ing Cage on a sur­veil­lance mon­it­or exclaimed “Can you believe this shit?” and someone in the audi­ence yelled “No!”. Actually, on reflec­tion, that might have been me. Sorry.

Romulus, My Father posterBased on a best-selling mem­oir by suc­cess­ful aca­dem­ic and philo­soph­er Raimond Gaita, Romulus, My Father is the story of a dif­fi­cult child­hood in 1960s rur­al Victoria. Both Gaita’s par­ents were Romanian immig­rants, and due to the isol­a­tion, or per­haps some inher­ently Balkan mood­i­ness, they both struggled with severe depres­sion. Gaita’s moth­er (Run, Lola, Run’s Franka Potente) was­n’t really into being a moth­er until it was too late and his fath­er (Eric Bana) nev­er gets over the heart­break of her abandonment.

The film is dir­ec­ted by act­or Richard Roxburgh and his respect for his cast means we often linger a little longer on them than is neces­sary and the Victorian State by-law that says every film shot in the hin­ter­land has to look like an oil paint­ing is in full effect.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 12 September, 2007.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Hairspray viewed at a Sunday after­noon MoreFM radio pre­view at Readings (free hair­care products – woo­hoo); Ratatouille screened com­mer­cially at a strangely not full ses­sion at the Empire in Island Bay on Friday night; The Invasion and Next were viewed at the earli­est pos­sible com­mer­cial screen­ings at Readings last Thursday beside Dom-Post review­er Graeme Tuckett and Romulus, My Father was at the Penthouse on Monday after­noon and the print was in the poorest con­di­tion of any release print I have seen – looked like a gang of lumin­ous green wasps in the middle of the screen.