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Review: 127 Hours, Gnomeo & Juliet, No Strings Attached and Fair Game

By Cinema and Reviews

127 Hours posterDanny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire was my film of the year for 2009 – a potent and punchy roller-coaster ride of a film that made everything for months after­wards seem quaintly old-fashioned. His new film, 127 Hours, doesn’t break the mould to quite the same degree but does fea­ture sim­il­ar styl­ist­ic effects: mess­ing with time and struc­ture, split-screens, dom­in­eer­ing soundtrack, etc.

The new film is also an adapt­a­tion of pre­vi­ously exist­ing mater­i­al, Aron Ralston’s mem­oir “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, and once again Boyle has col­lab­or­ated with screen­writer Simon Beaufoy (notori­ous in New Zealand for The Full Monty). Ralston (played by James Franco) was an engin­eer by trade but an out­doors­man by inclin­a­tion and he loved to roam the Utah canyons on bike and on foot. In 2003 he fall into a nar­row rav­ine and his right arm was trapped by a boulder. He was there for five days before real­ising that the only way he was going to walk out was if he left the arm behind.

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Review: WALL•E, Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D, The Hollow Men, Earth, Step Brothers, Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

By Cinema and Reviews

Back in the 70s, when I was about 8 years old, I watched a film on TV called Silent Running. In it Bruce Dern and three little robots ten­ded the remains of Earth’s plant life on a giant green­house space­ship float­ing some­where between Mars and Jupiter. I cried so much at the shock­ing end­ing (which had lonely robot Dewey, tend­ing the forest with a battered water­ing can while the last of Earth’s flora drif­ted toward the edge of the sol­ar sys­tem) that I don’t think I’ve ever been the same again. Last year, I ren­ted the DVD to see if it had the same effect more than 30 years later and, sure enough, I dis­solved on cue. Remarkable.

WALL•E posterPixar’s new anim­ated tri­umph WALL•E owes a great deal to Silent Running, not least it’s dystop­ic view of human-planet inter­ac­tion but also the faith in the heal­ing power of anthro­po­morph­ic cuboid robots. WALL•E is the last func­tion­ing main­ten­ance robot on an aban­doned Earth, tidy­ing up the enorm­ous moun­tains of garbage left behind 700 years pre­vi­ously by the cow­ardly human pop­u­la­tion who ran for the stars. Lonely, without really know­ing what lonely means, our hero meets EVE, a bril­liant (as in shiny) search robot look­ing for signs of organ­ic life. When she dis­cov­ers some, and leaves to report back, WALL•E hitches a ride and ulti­mately finds him­self sav­ing civilisation.

It was per­haps a little too long for the rest­less pre-schoolers I shared a screen­ing with, but for any­one and every­one else I whole-heartedly recom­mend it. And it won’t make you cry so much you throw up.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D posterRegular read­ers will know that I have been quite the cheer­lead­er for the new digit­al 3D tech­no­logy (the U2 con­cert was stun­ning). Sadly, the first “live action” film to be pro­duced using the pro­cess, Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D, is still more of a side-show stunt than a test of the artist­ic poten­tial of the tech­no­logy. Brendan Fraser plays a geo­lo­gist whose broth­er was lost on an explor­a­tion in some Icelandic caves and when he dis­cov­ers secret coded notes in his brother’s dog-eared copy of the Jules Verne book, he decides to recre­ate the exped­i­tion, tak­ing his neph­ew (plus last week’s CT cov­er girl Anita Briem) along for the ride.

The Hollow Men posterAlister Barry is one of Wellington’s liv­ing treas­ures. His metic­u­lously researched doc­u­ment­ar­ies (includ­ing Someone Else’s Country and In a Land of Plenty) have suc­cess­fully shone a light on the polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic changes in New Zealand since the ‘new right’ trans­form­a­tion of the mid-80s in a way that nobody in the main­stream media has even attemp­ted. His new film is based on Nicky Hager’s explos­ive exposé of shoddy National Party cam­paign­ing, The Hollow Men, and it’s inter­est­ing to me that the real-life foot­age of Don Brash presents a con­sid­er­ably less sym­path­et­ic por­trait of the man than Stephen Papps’ excel­lent per­form­ance in the stage ver­sion at BATS. The leaked emails from Hager’s book revealed so many shenanigans that it’s hard to keep the story straight but Barry does a good job of emphas­ising that it is essen­tially the same team run­ning National this time around.

Earth posterI was lucky enough to pre­view the gor­geous BBC nature doc­u­ment­ary, Earth, at the Embassy dur­ing the Festival and I’m pleased to see it return there for a short sea­son. Unlike the tedi­ous and repet­it­ive ice doco The White Planet, this film uses the whole plan­et as a can­vas for some mar­vel­lous images and, like WALL•E, the mes­sage is that we are stuff­ing it up at an alarm­ing rate. Only the cutest anim­als and most col­our­ful plants got through the audi­tions and Patrick Stewart plays the Morgan Freeman part as narrator.

Step Brothers posterAfter dis­mal exper­i­ences with Will Ferrell’s recent ice-skating and bas­ket­ball films I wasn’t look­ing for­ward to Step Brothers, a low brow reunite­ment (new word!) with Talladega Nights co-star John C. Reilly, but blow me down I really enjoyed it! Ferrell and Reilly play two 40-year-old men, liv­ing at home, whose solo par­ents meet and marry each oth­er, mak­ing them, you guessed it Step Brothers. It’s a 90 minute riff on one joke but you have to admire their total com­mit­ment to it.

Angus, Things & Perfect Snogging posterAngus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging was made for teen­age girls and I (des­pite my best efforts) am not one but, even though I lack the required cul­tur­al fil­ters, I can’t under­stand why teen­age girls would want to be por­trayed as such shal­low, tedi­ous, screech­ing harpies. Boys, make-up, boys, the right kind of under­wear, boys again. If these are our future lead­ers then I des­pair. Crikey, was Helen Clark like this when she was 14?

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days posterAll the girls in Angus, Thongs should be sat down and shown the extraordin­ary Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days so they can see what their single-minded obses­sion with boys and pop­ular­ity is likely to get them. I’m stoked that someone has decided to release this film (after screen­ings at the World Cinema Showcase in April) as it is undoubtedly a stone-cold mas­ter­piece, well-deserving the Palme D’Or it received at Cannes last year.

Profound, sens­it­ive, emo­tion­ally ardu­ous and per­fectly struc­tured, 4 Months fol­lows a day in the life of stu­dent Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) as she self­lessly tries to organ­ise an abor­tion for her light headed friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), while fend­ing off the atten­tions of fam­ily and boy­friend. As close to per­fect as makes no difference.

Printed (for the most part) in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 24 September, 2008. Except for Earth, Step Brothers, Angus, Thongs, etc. and 4 Months which were cut for space.

Review: 300, The Namesake, Stomp the Yard, Vitus, TMNT and Meet the Robinsons

By Cinema and Reviews

300 posterOne of the bene­fits of a marginally-classical edu­ca­tion is that when someone makes a film about King Leonidas and The Battle of Thermopylae I have a vague idea what they’re on about before I go in but noth­ing could pre­pare me for the sheer vis­cer­al “total” film-making on dis­play in Zack Snyder’s extraordin­ary 300. Involving and repel­lent by turns, it’s a thrill­ing test­a­ment to full-on mas­cu­line male man­li­ness; unspeak­ably viol­ent of course but extreme in almost every oth­er way ima­gin­able too.

Based on Frank Miller’s $80-a-copy graph­ic nov­el (recre­ated frame for beau­ti­ful frame in many cases), 300 fol­lows Leonidas and his hand-picked Spartan army as they try to defend a dis­in­ter­ested Greece from a mil­lion Persians, their slaves, ele­phants and transexuals.

Leonidas is played with con­sid­er­able star-making cha­risma by Gerard Butler (Dear Frankie); Aussie David Wenham nar­rates as if he got punch in the throat as well los­ing an eye in the battle and the beau­ti­ful Lena Headey as Queen proves that Spartan women were made of the same per­fectly formed but psy­cho­lo­gic­ally incom­plete mater­i­al as the men.

The Namesake posterFresh from the Showcase, The Namesake is a lov­ingly rendered (if over­long) adapt­a­tion of the nov­el of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri fea­tur­ing Kal Penn (giv­en name: Kalpen Modi), vet­er­an star of juven­ile rub­bish like Epic Movie and Van Wilder. Penn proves he really can act as Gogol Ganguly, New York-born Indian search­ing for an iden­tity that does­n’t involve his embar­rass­ing first name.

Stomp The Yard posterIn the ini­tially bewil­der­ing Stomp The Yard, Columbus Short plays DJ, a young hood­lum and gif­ted dan­cer who is giv­en one more chance after the death of his young­er broth­er in a dance-related brawl. That chance involves enrolling in Truth University, the legendary African-American centre of learn­ing and cul­ture where the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Michael Jordan set the highest alumni standards.

At Truth he finds his dan­cing skills are tested in the National Steppin’ Contest (a kind of team dan­cing unique to Black America) and his romantic skills are giv­en a tweak by the beau­ti­ful April (Meagan Good). I’m about as far away from the tar­get mar­ket for this film as can be ima­gined but, once I’d worked out that this dan­cing stuff was actu­ally ser­i­ous, I quite enjoyed it.

Vitus posterMeanwhile, Vitus is a little sweetie from Switzerland about a gif­ted child who des­per­ately wants to be nor­mal. A lovely per­form­ance from twinkly Bruno Ganz is worth the price of admis­sion and Teo Georghiu as 12-year-old Vitus really has the chops to make that old joanna sing. Remarkable.

TMNT posterFinally a couple of dis­pos­able items for the school hol­i­days: TMNT is actu­ally the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it boasts video-game qual­ity anim­a­tion and a slum­ming Patrick Stewart on villain-voice-duty. I found the turtles really annoy­ing but, then again, they are teen­agers. It’s sort of the point.

Meet the Robinsons posterMuch more enter­tain­ing is Disney’s Meet the Robinsons, an anarch­ic affair that unlike oth­er anim­ated films has a kind of impro­vised qual­ity, boun­cing along chuck­ing jokes in ran­dom dir­ec­tions and a few of them stick. 12 year old orphan Lewis is a gif­ted invent­or des­per­ate for a fam­ily. When his latest inven­tion is stolen by mys­ter­i­ous Bowler Hat Guy, young hot-head Wilbur Robinson arrives from the future to help set things straight (and help Lewis find his mother).

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on 11 April, 2007.