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Review: The Company You Keep, Rebelle (War Witch), Haute Cuisine, Antiviral and Jurassic Park 3D

By Cinema and Reviews

_DSC1577.NEF It’s easy to laugh at age­ing movie stars. Crumbs, when they make films like The Expendables they act­ively encour­age us to make jokes about creak­ing joints and dicky hips. But let us pause for a moment and salute the longev­ity of one of the greatest movie stars there ever was, someone who was head­lining box office smash hits when Arnold was still just pump­ing iron and Bruce was still at High School.

The Company You Keep posterRobert Redford – the “Sundance Kid” – is 76 years old and in his new film, The Company You Keep, he does quite a bit of run­ning around even though you can see he has the slightly uncer­tain gait of someone whose bal­ance isn’t what it was. He rations out that mil­lion dol­lar smile pretty care­fully too, as this is anoth­er of his ser­i­ous politically-aware dra­mas – couched in the form of a thriller.

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Review: Brother Number One, We Need to Talk About Kevin, John Carter, My Week With Marilyn, Headhunters and Warrior

By Cinema and Reviews

Every week on Cinematica – the movie pod­cast I co-host with Simon Werry and Kailey Carruthers – we sign-off each film with a two-word review. It’s a gag, of course, but no more reduct­ive than “two thumbs up” or “two stars”, and it’s become a bit of a meme with listen­ers sup­ply­ing their own – often extremely good – contributions.

And see­ing as I missed a column through ill­ness last week, I have a feel­ing that my two-word reviews might come in handy help­ing us to catch up. So, for the found-footage High School party-gone-wrong movie Project X for example, my two-word review is “Toxic Waste”. The third sequel in the vam­pires vs lycans styl­ised action fran­chise, Underworld: Awakening gets “Strobe Headache”. And for the notori­ously low budget found-footage posession-horror The Devil Inside you’ll have to make do with “Didn’t Watch”.

Which brings us to the good stuff (and there’s plenty of it about at the moment). Brother Number One is a superb and affect­ing NZ doco about trans-atlantic row­er Rob Hamill’s attempts to find out the truth about his broth­er Kerry’s dis­ap­pear­ance at the hands of the Khmer Rouge régime in Cambodia. This is a film to remind you that the great tides of his­tory aren’t tides at all and if you look closely enough you see mil­lions of indi­vidu­al stor­ies – of heart­break, tragedy and redemption.

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Review: Another Year, Sarah’s Key, Arthur, Heartbreakers, Mars Needs Moms and Queen of the Sun

By Cinema and Reviews

Another Year posterGenius film­maker Mike Leigh has been on a bit of an up and down streak in recent years. 2002’s All or Nothing was won­der­ful, Vera Drake (2004) I found frus­trat­ingly unwatch­able and, most recently, Happy-Go-Lucky seemed too thin – beneath his sig­ni­fic­ant tal­ents – and yet, des­pite not lik­ing it very much, I find myself think­ing about Happy-Go-Lucky quite often. And that’s Leigh’s skill – he gets under your skin even when you resist.

Another Year is his latest film and it’s ter­ribly good. It’s Secrets and Lies good, that good, des­pite hav­ing no plot to speak of. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen (Leigh reg­u­lars) play Tom and Gerri, a hap­pily mar­ried couple who seem to be sur­roun­ded by people who simply aren’t as good at cop­ing with life – Lesley Manville’s Mary, a highly strung, alco­hol­ic, work col­league of Sheen’s who turns up to embar­rass her­self in their kit­chen peri­od­ic­ally; Tom’s old uni­ver­sity buddy Ken played by Peter Wight (over­weight, depressed, lonely, also alco­hol­ic); Tom’s tacit­urn wid­ower broth­er Ronnie (David Bradley). They all drift into and out of Tom and Gerri’s wel­com­ing sub­urb­an kit­chen while tea is made and drunk and banal­it­ies are spoken.

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Review: Tropic Thunder, Baby Mama and Paris

By Cinema and Reviews

Tropic Thunder posterYou can for­get all talk of an Oscar for Heath Ledger’s Joker. If any­one is going to win an Academy Award for wear­ing some dodgy make-up in a noisy block­buster no one is get­ting in the way of Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder. Totally believ­able, every second, as Kirk Lazarus, the Australian meth­od act­or (and multi-Oscar win­ner him­self) who under­goes a rad­ic­al skin re-pigmentation in order to por­tray tough-as-nails African-American Sgt. Osiris in the eponym­ous Vietnam epic, Downey Jr’s per­form­ance is a thing of won­der: A mas­ter­piece of tech­nique, tim­ing, self-belief and dare I say it, soul. I’m still chuck­ling days later.

Lazarus is one of a hand­ful of pampered Hollywood stars on loc­a­tion to recre­ate the last great untold Vietnam story – the suicide-mission res­cue of “Four Leaf” Tayback dur­ing the legendary “Wet” Offensive of ’69. Under pres­sure from the stu­dio to get back on sched­ule (and from hand­less “Four “Leaf” him­self, Nick Nolte, to toughen the pencil-kneck panty-waists up a bit) dir­ect­or Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) goes ver­ité. With the help of hid­den cam­er­as, spe­cial effects and some heav­ily armed South East Asian drug lords, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and Alpa Chino (rel­at­ive new­comer Brandon T. Jackson) find them­selves up to their eye­balls in real­ity. Comedy real­ity, which is the best kind. One of my favour­ite films of the year so far, and I haven’t even men­tioned Tom Cruise’s dancing.

Baby Mama posterCompared to the fero­cious energy of Tropic Thunder, Tina Fey’s Baby Mama seems like a com­edy from a dif­fer­ent era. Fey plays über-clucky Kate Holbrook – suc­cess­ful middle-manager in Steve Martin’s organ­ic pro­duce com­pany. Desperate for pro­geny (yet strangely single), her T shaped tubes make her a poor bet for IVF and the wait­ing list for adop­tion is years long. Surrogacy is her only solu­tion and she barely bats an eye­lid at the $100k price tag (she must share John McCain’s account­ant). Despite the amount of money chan­ging hands it is the sur­rog­ate that inter­views the, what’s the word, sur­rog­atee and she suc­cess­fully passes the aura test posed by white trash “host” Amy Poehler (Blades of Glory).

The lively Poehler kick-starts every scene she is in while better-known stars like Martin, Greg Kinnear and Sigourney Weaver phone in their per­form­ances. Meanwhile Fey (“30 Rock”) is like­able enough, although the char­ac­ter seems to be in a world of her own most of the time, and Romany Malco from The Love Guru plays the token black char­ac­ter – a ser­vant. Baby Mama is fun­ni­er, the more pregnancy-specific it gets. When it goes gen­er­ic (speech-impediments, Martin’s new age schtick) it misses even the biggest tar­gets by miles.

Paris movie posterParis is both the sub­ject and the object of Cédric Klapisch’s ensemble drama about a cross-section of mod­ern Parisian soci­ety. Romain Duris and Juliette Binoche are sib­lings, single, on the cusp of 40 and ali­en­ated from their par­ents. Duris is told his heart con­di­tion may fin­ish him off soon­er rather than later and mopes around the apart­ment, feel­ing sorry for him­self while Binoche (like women every­where) puts her own life on hold to care for him and her three chil­dren. Meanwhile, hang­dog aca­dem­ic Fabrice Luchini (Intimate Strangers) has a crush on his beau­ti­ful stu­dent Mélanie Laurent, his archi­tect broth­er is about to become a fath­er but can­’t stop cry­ing. At street level, the mar­ket stall­hold­ers are also look­ing for love in the big city but have a more dir­ect way of going about find­ing it.

I’ve made it seem a lot more con­trived than it actu­ally plays out. The dir­ec­tion is subtle and the per­form­ances are involving. It does suf­fer from the usu­al French cine­mat­ic philo­sophy, that work­ing class exper­i­ence is some­how more real than the self-absorbed bour­geois middle classes, but actu­ally argues its case pretty well.

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