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Review: I’m Not There., Iron Man, Made of Honor, Dan in Real Life and How About You

By Cinema, Reviews and Wellington

I'm Not There. posterMany years ago English comedi­an Ben Elton cracked a joke about Bob Dylan: “For all you young people in the audi­ence he was the one who could­n’t sing on the end of the We Are The World video.” Nowadays we have to explain to young people what We Are The World was and Dylan has trav­elled even fur­ther away from rel­ev­ance. So why is I’m Not There. (the full stop is part of the title) such essen­tial view­ing if Dylan seems so irrelevant?

Because unlike every oth­er 20th Century icon Dylan nev­er cared what you think – he just fol­lowed his instincts and his interests and the film is an end­lessly fas­cin­at­ing por­trait of that battle to avoid becom­ing what his audi­ence and his industry wanted him to become. Portrayed by six dif­fer­ent act­ors includ­ing Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger, Dylan’s many per­so­nas still keep you at arms length. I think the key to Dylan is that he is less com­plic­ated (and at the same time more com­plex) than the world would have you believe and he fully deserves a work of art as fine as this one in his name.

I should also point out that I was lucky enough to see I’m not There. in that most music­al of loc­a­tions, the Paramount and it soun­ded superb. A keeper.

Iron Man posterRobert Downey Jr. is one of those movie brats who seems to have been born in front of a cam­era (check out his almost per­fect per­form­ance as Chaplin for Richard Attenborough in 1992). He has­n’t been get­ting the lead roles he deserves (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was the last one) but Iron Man is surely going to change that. Downey Jr.‘s effort­less screen cha­risma is the found­a­tion of a highly enter­tain­ing action movie that is only let down by a not-quite-big-enough set-piece at the end. Billionaire and play­boy arms man­u­fac­turer Tony Stark has his eyes opened to the evils his products enable when he is kid­napped in Afghanistan. After escap­ing, he decides to use his tech­no­logy for good (while still hav­ing as much fun as pos­sible). A good sup­port­ing cast (includ­ing Jeff Bridges look­ing like Daddy Warbucks) keeps things moving.

Made of Honor posterThe fun­ni­est thing about Patrick Dempsey rom-com Made of Honour is that it was made by a com­pany called Original Film. As if! Dempsey plays Tom, super-rich invent­or of the cof­fee col­lar and serial-bedder of beau­ti­ful women. Too late he real­ises that he is actu­ally in love with his best friend Hannah (Michelle Monaghan, this year’s Sandra Bullock) just as she is about to get mar­ried to Trainspotting’s Kevin McKidd in a Scottish castle. Pretty much all the char­ac­ters are deeply shal­low and pretty unlike­able which I’m sure was­n’t the inten­tion and, most annoy­ing of all, dir­ect­or Paul Weiland gives him­self the auteur cred­it of “A Film By”. In your dreams, pal.

Dan in Real LifeMuch more suc­cess­ful, and not coin­cid­ent­ally pop­u­lated with much nicer people, is Dan in Real Life star­ring Steve Carell as author of a pop­u­lar news­pa­per par­ent­ing tips column who has much more dif­fi­culty par­ent­ing his actu­al chil­dren (alone, due to that all-too-common con­ceit of a widow-hood). So far, so un-promising, but Dan in Real Life really wins you over with smart writ­ing and lovely, under­stated per­form­ances from a ter­rif­ic ensemble. Lonely Dan is tak­ing his brood of daugh­ters to a multi-generational fam­ily get togeth­er in rugged Rhode Island. He meets beau­ti­ful and allur­ing Juliette Binoche and they fall in love, just before find­ing out that she is his brother­’s new girl­friend. Testing times around the din­ner table ensue, mostly com­ic but nev­er far away from deeply heart­felt. Frankly, more films should be like this.

How About You stillHow About You is one of those films where, I con­fess, my taste and the taste of main­stream New Zealanders diverges some­what. Ellie, played by Hayley Atwell (star of the unne­ces­sar­ily forth­com­ing new ver­sion of Brideshead Revisited), is forced by cir­cum­stance to help her sis­ter care for a group of unruly cli­ents (a dream cast includ­ing Vanessa Redgrave, Brenda Fricker and Joss Ackland) in an Irish eld­erly res­id­en­tial home so beau­ti­ful it makes Malvina Major look like Alcatraz. Left alone with them at Christmas, she man­ages to trans­form all of them into saintly par­agons of matur­ity via alco­hol and non-prescribed drugs. I barely tol­er­ated this but if you are over 70 you might get a kick out of it – the people behind me who talked all the way through cer­tainly did.

Human Rights Film Festival posterThe Human Rights Film Festival kicks off it’s 2008 sea­son at the Paramount on Thursday even­ing. While most of these films don’t really qual­i­fy as cinema per se, this is still an import­ant oppor­tun­ity to see the world as it is abso­lutely not por­trayed through the com­mer­cial media. Highlights for me include Occupation 101, a crystal-clear exam­in­a­tion of the real­ity of life in occu­pied Palestine, and Now The People Have Awoken, anoth­er per­spect­ive on Chavez’s Venezuela which will be of par­tic­u­lar interest if you have seen Pilger’s War on Democracy. There are sev­en short­er items on the pro­gramme too: I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing Bowling for Zimbabwe about a young boy who needs a crick­et­ing schol­ar­ship in order to escape the man-made atro­city of Mugabe’s grind­ing poverty.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 7 May, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I already men­tioned how good I’m Not There. soun­ded at the Paramount dur­ing the Showcase. I don’t know wheth­er it is the shape of the room or the PA speak­ers behind the screen but music cinema has always soun­ded sen­sa­tion­al in there. Iron Man was, like Transformers last year, at a busy pub­lic screen­ing at the Embassy which looked and soun­ded great. Standing ova­tion from a few fan­boys, too. Made of Honour looked per­fectly accept­able at the Empire. I am not allowed to tell you where I saw Dan in Real Life as they made me sign an NDA before they would let me in there. No shit! But it was amaz­ing. The print had seen bet­ter days but had been giv­en a spruce up by our hosts. How About You was ruined by it being a not very good film but the incess­ant talk­ing by the old bid­dies behind me and the annoy­ing hair in the gate fin­ished me off. Penthouse.

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.