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Only God Forgives poster

Review: Pain & Gain, Only God Forgives, The Wolverine, The Way Way Back, The Conjuring & Byzantium

By Cinema and Reviews

Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives (2013).

Still Mine posterStill hovering around some local cinemas — and the longest-delayed of all my outstanding reviews — Still Mine is a surprisingly effective Canadian drama about an elderly man (James Cromwell, 73 but playing a fit 89) determined to build a new house for his wife (Geneviéve Bujold) before her memory deserts her completely. Cromwell gives his character a softness which belies the usual ornery old dude clichés, even if his stubborn refusal to submit to the building code is the device on which the story hinges. Contains lots of shots of Cromwell’s heroic profile staring off into the New Brunswick distance.

Ping Pong posterOlder people are, paradoxically, the only growing segment of the film audience in New Zealand so there’s often high quality fare around the tempt them. One of the best is the documentary Ping Pong, about competitors (genuine competitors at that) in the World Over 80s Table Tennis Championship in Inner Mongolia. Like any good documentary it assembles a great cast of characters and like all good sports movies it makes full use of the built-in drama of a knock-out tournament. Not just about the restorative power of exercise, it’s also about friendship and adventure. Inspiring, so help me.

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Review: Oblivion, Warm Bodies, Barbara, Performance, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and The Croods

By Cinema and Reviews

Oblivion_30_580 Last time we saw Tom Cruise he was known as Jack Reacher. Now, in Oblivion, his name is Jack Harper. What range! What diversity! You’d hardly recognise him. Harper is a maintenance guy, repairing the drones that protect giant machines that suck Earth’s oceans up to an enormous space station orbiting above us, a space station that is going to take the few remaining survivors of our pyrrhic victory over invading aliens on a final journey away from a devastated planet to a new life on Titan.

Oblivion posterAssisting Mr. Cruise with his mechanical defence duties is Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), life and work partner, keeping him in contact with the supervisors floating above them and keeping an eye on the straggling remnants of the aliens who tried to conquer us. Traditional gender roles are very much still intact in the future — even though the Moon isn’t — and Ms. Riseborough’s character seems content to never leave the spotless modern kitchen while Cruise gets his hands dirty on the surface. Neither of them seem too bothered by the fact that they had their memories wiped six years previously, although he has been having some strange dreams recently.

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Review: Killing Them Softly, The Angels’ Share, Safety Not Guaranteed, Frankenweenie, Paranormal Activity 4 and God Bless America

By Cinema and Reviews

Andrew Dominik was born in Wellington but shipped out at the age of two for Australia. We really need to claim him back as he’s one of the most intriguing directors currently working. Perhaps that should be “rarely working” as his latest, Killing Them Softly, is only his third feature credit in 12 years. Chopper turned heads in 2000 and got him to Hollywood. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was an elegiac adaptation of a great novel, the screen version echoing great late-period westerns like Heaven’s Gate and The Long Riders.

In Killing Them Softly, Dominik remains in genre territory but again he is transcending and subverting it. It’s a gangster flick featuring a bunch of familiar figures — James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom). You see those names on the cast list and you think you know what you’re going to get, but here they stretch out in suprising directions, revealing layers of humanity no less ugly than the clichéd bang-bang we are used to, but truer, sadder and ultimately more trenchant.

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Review: Like Crazy, Chronicle, A Few Best Men, J. Edgar and Julia’s Eyes

By Cinema and Reviews

Like Crazy posterThree films this week point the way towards possible futures for cinema — and if two of them are right then we should all find another hobby. Like Crazy is a mostly-improvised romance shot on one of those pro-am stills cameras that can also shoot hi-def video (the Canon 7D in this case). These devices are affordable and highly portable but the look that they have, while effective in music videos and short sequences, doesn’t keep your interest over the length of a full feature. And, just because your camera lets you shoot a lot of footage of people noodling around making stuff up, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still have an actual plan.

Actually, the photography is less of a problem in Like Crazy than the story: two young lovers not so much star-crossed as US Department of Immigration-crossed, have to decide how much they care for each other when their efforts to be together are thwarted by the pesky Atlantic ocean and their own shallowness. Felicity Jones (Chalet Girl ) is the Brit who overstays her student visa so she can be with Californian furniture designer Anton Yelchin (Fright Night), setting the wheels in motion that will actually keep them apart for years.

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Review: Drive, In Time, One Day, Fright Night and The Inbetweeners Movie

By Cinema and Reviews

In Time posterExpat Kiwi auteur Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) somehow always manages to tap in to the zeitgeist and with new sci-fi thriller In Time his own timing is almost spookily perfect. A parable about the modern political economy, In Time isn’t a particularly sophisticated analysis but while protestors occupy Wall Street, St Paul’s in London and the City to Sea Bridge here in Wellington, it seems almost perfectly calculated to provoke a big Fuck You! to the bankers, speculators and hoarders who are rapidly becoming the Hollywood villains we love to hate.

In Niccol’s world, several decades into the future, time is literally money: human beings have been genetically modified to stop (physically) ageing at 25. Which would be lovely apart from the fact that a clock on your writst then starts counting down the one year you have left to live and the time on your wrist becomes currency. You can earn more by working, transfer it to others by shaking hands, borrow more from banks and loan sharks or you can spend it on booze to blot out the horror of your pathetic little life.

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Review: The Trip, Pina and Paranormal Activity 3

By Cinema and Reviews

Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip is the best picture about middle-aged male angst since Sideways, and it’s possibly even better than that fine film. Two privileged English celebrities spend a week driving around the North of England from one fine restaurant to another, eating and drinking themselves silly on someone else’s dime. And yet, something darker is up.

Self-absorbed “Steve Coogan” (Steve Coogan) is separated from his girlfriend, distanced from his children, desperate for recognition as a serious actor but all too often welcomed by strangers with a warm-hearted but annoying repetition of his great TV catchphrase (Alan Partridge’s “Ah-ha”). On the surface, “Rob Brydon” (Rob Brydon) is a happily married man with a young child, a moderately successful TV and stand-up career but, as Coogan points out in a pathos-ridden trip the ruined Bolton Abbey, there’s something about Brydon’s neverending celebrity impressions and forced bonhomie that suggests he hasn’t quite got to grips with the real world.

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