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Review: The Bank Job, The Edge of Heaven, Charlie Bartlett, Apron Strings and Prague

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

One of the pit­falls you try and avoid in this gig is review­ing the film you wish you were watch­ing instead of the one that is actu­ally in front of you. It’s import­ant to judge a work on it’s own terms, as well as it’s own mer­its, and avoid impos­ing your expect­a­tions but, with the best will in the world, there are times when you sit there wish­ing that the film you were watch­ing was, y’know, better.

The Bank Job posterExhibit A is The Bank Job, a leth­ar­gic caper-movie star­ring the reli­able B‑movie action hero Jason Statham. It has all the attrib­utes of an enter­tain­ing night out – chirpy knees-up cock­ney ruf­fi­ans à la Lock Stock; painstak­ing bank heist pre­par­a­tions like Ocean’s 1x; an escape that goes ter­ribly wrong like The Italian Job. The prob­lem is all in the exe­cu­tion: mainly the edit­ing which provides no impetus to the drama until the final third which by then is too late. It’s worth watch­ing for the impec­cable early-70s, East End art dir­ec­tion though. The fla­vour of the times are per­fectly created.

The Edge of Heaven posterOnce I’d got over the fact that The Edge of Heaven was­n’t the long-awaited Wham! biop­ic I was expect­ing and instead an art­house drama set in Turkey and Germany, I settled in to enjoy myself enorm­ously. Writer-Director Fatih Akin spe­cial­ises in stor­ies about the inter­sec­tion between Turkish immig­rants liv­ing hard lives in the new Europe but he has sur­passed him­self this time. Less socio-political than his pre­vi­ous work (but with those threads still woven through­out), The Edge of Heaven tells two par­al­lel stor­ies (that inter­sect and occa­sion­ally frus­trat­ingly don’t) about the pain and heart­break of being a par­ent and child. A richly detailed screen­play sup­ports the clev­er struc­ture and the film ends on a per­fectly sat­is­fy­ing note. Recommended.

Charlie Bartlett posterCharlie Bartlett is a smug, pseudo-indie, com­edy about a gif­ted rich kid (Anton Yelchin) whose money mak­ing schemes get him kicked out of private school and into the main­stream where his attaché case and blazer mark him out for unwanted atten­tion. Charlie’s access to the fam­ily shrinks (and their pre­scrib­ing power) allows him to become unof­fi­cial school ther­ap­ist, hand­ing out Ritalin like candy, provid­ing these kids with the sens­it­ive ear that they can­’t find any­where else and him with a role that tran­scends get­ting beaten up everyday.

Sadly, only the great Robert Downey Jr. (as the alco­hol­ic prin­cip­al) makes the lines sound, not only, like he’d actu­ally thought of them him­self but that they had occurred to him right then and there. Everyone else holds their char­ac­ters at arms length and the whole film wears it’s irony rather too con­sciously on its sleeve.

Apron Strings posterA recent art­icle in The Australian tries to define what ails cur­rent news­pa­per cinema review­ing and one of the examples is “boost­ing unworthy loc­al mater­i­al”. No danger of that with Apron Strings, the first fea­ture by Toi Whakaari gradu­ate and award-winning short film maker Sima Urale. A kitchen-sink drama set in the multi-cultural bad­lands of South Auckland that uses cook­ing as a meta­phor as well as a plot mech­an­ism. In a Curry House on a sub­urb­an street corner, Leela Patel makes her kormas and her sweets while long-lost sis­ter Laila Rouass has become a top tv chef using those same recipes. Meanwhile, Jennifer Ludlam’s big­oted cake dec­or­at­or a few doors down has to deal with her own dis­ap­point­ing chil­dren and a chan­ging world she isn’t very keen on. (Perhaps too) lov­ingly and (too) care­fully dir­ec­ted Apron Strings’ flaws are on the page rather than on the screen. Screenwriters Shuchi Kothari and Dianne Taylor squeeze so much in that the film col­lapses under the weight of all that coin­cid­ence and so many ‘points’. They also prove that it is very dif­fi­cult to write a decent, three-dimensional, white racist char­ac­ter these days without fall­ing back on cliché.

Prague posterAnother example of film review­er irrel­ev­ance from The Australian is the concept of quote-whoring – writ­ing spe­cific­ally to get quoted in an ad. Well, here’s my one for this week: “I was woken by the sound of my own snor­ing”. Probably not the fault of Prague, the new Danish drama star­ring ubi­quit­ous Mads Mikkelsen, as I did man­age to stir before the half way point and quite enjoyed myself after that, but it takes a long time to get going. I’m sure there is a lot in there to reward a patient and attent­ive view­er but, apart from watch­ing one of the great mod­ern screen act­ors at work, I could­n’t find it.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 13 August, 2008.

Nature of con­flict: Well, that gag about fall­ing asleep ended up giv­ing me plenty of grief after I repeated it on Nine to Noon. Prague is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment, who I do some work for every now and then, and Managing Director (and all round par­agon des­pite some dubi­ous polit­ic­al alle­gi­ances) John Davies was not well-pleased. The threat to fire me faded some­what when the 4 star Herald review appeared. Which just goes to show that, des­pite any appear­ances of a con­flict of interest, the opin­ions offered here are always inde­pend­ent and free of influence.

Review: “Two Little Boys” by Duncan Sarkies

By Audio, Literature, Music and Wellington

Two Little Boys cover This morn­ing I hustled across town to Radio NZ House on The Terrace to review Duncan Sarkies’ new nov­el “Two Little Boys” for Nine to Noon. You can click here (for a week at least) to listen to what Kathryn and I had to say. As is often the case when I’m doing some­thing for the first time (or for the first time in a long time) it was not a 100% sat­is­fact­ory per­form­ance but I’ll let you be the judge. It is a good book, though, and I recom­mend it to you.

And when you’ve listened to the review (only 6 minutes and 23 seconds, although it felt a lot less…) you can listen here to the song that inspired the title of the book. This ver­sion fea­tures not only the legendary Rolf Harris (who made it fam­ous) but also Liam O’Maonlai from Hothouse Flowers. This ver­sion is from a 1993 ‘Stop the Killing in Northern Ireland’ charity/protest album called Peace Together:
[audio:https://funeralsandsnakes.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/12-when-we-were-two-little-boys.mp3|titles=Rolf Harris & Liam O’Maonlai – Two Little Boys (mp3)]