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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: The Descendants, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Young Adult

By Cinema and Reviews

The Descendants posterI really enjoyed Alexander Payne’s The Descendants – at least while I was watch­ing it. Some films will do that to you, though. They push all sorts of groovy but­tons while you are in the room but they dimin­ish as you re-examine them. Connections that you thought were there turn out to be illus­ory, a series of sat­is­fy­ing emo­tion­al moments don’t cohere into some­thing com­plete and you real­ise that you were enjoy­ing it so much you wished it into some­thing profound.

I blame Clooney. He’s such a watch­able pres­ence, always com­bin­ing that Cary Grant movie star-ness with an under­ly­ing emo­tion­al frailty. His char­ac­ters carry that square-jawed aspir­a­tion­al male solid­ity but rarely do they actu­ally know what is going on or what to do. He spe­cial­ises in people who are mak­ing it up as they go along and that has tre­mend­ous appeal – if George Clooney doesn’t know what he’s doing then none of us do.

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Review: Summer Holiday Round-up (2010/11)

By Cinema and Reviews

T.J. MillerThis year the sum­mer hol­i­days seemed to have been owned by the unlikely fig­ure of T.J. Miller, dead­pan comedi­an, sup­port­ing act­or and eer­ily famil­i­ar back­ground fig­ure. In Yogi Bear he was the ambi­tious but dim deputy park ranger eas­ily duped by Andrew Daly’s smarmy Mayor into help­ing him sell out Jellystone to cor­por­ate log­ging interests, in Gulliver’s Travels he was the ambi­tious but as it turns out dim mail room super­visor who pro­vokes Jack Black into pla­gi­ar­ising his way into a fate­ful travel writ­ing gig and in Unstoppable he’s the slightly less dim (and cer­tainly less ambi­tious) mate of the doo­fus who leaves the hand­brake on and then watches his enorm­ous freight train full of tox­ic waste roll away.

So, a good sum­mer for T.J. Miller then, what about the rest of us?

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Review: Second Hand Wedding and What Happens in Vegas...

By Cinema, Reviews and Wellington

Second Hand Wedding posterAh, the per­ils of review­ing New Zealand cinema in New Zealand – or even tough­er – Wellington cinema in Wellington. How does one approach a film that was exec­ut­ive pro­duced by a former ment­or, stars former work­mates and drink­ing bud­dies, was writ­ten by a pal, and fea­tures famil­i­ar faces in almost every scene (and that this review­er in a moment of flu-addled weak­ness even audi­tioned for)?

Luckily for me, Paul Murphy’s Second Hand Wedding makes it easy to avoid tres­passing across the sens­ib­il­it­ies of chums and col­leagues by being an ador­able con­fec­tion, easy to praise and a pleas­ure to recom­mend. The moment you see a little yel­low mini scream­ing around the Kapiti coast (dir­ect­or Paul Murphy’s fath­er Geoff was respons­ible for Goodbye Pork Pie with Exec Kerry Robins back in 1981) you know you are in good hands and so it proves.

Geraldine Brophy plays Jill Rose, Kapiti’s top gar­age sale expert. Every Saturday morn­ing you’ll find her (and best mate Muffy broadly played by Tina Regtien) trawl­ing the nick-nacks look­ing for bar­gains. Long-suffering hubby Brian (a lovely and under­stated per­form­ance by Patrick Wilson) puts up with all the new paraphernalia because he has his own col­lec­tion to main­tain: all the pieces of a Model T Ford that will one day become a com­plete car again.

Local mech­an­ic Stew (a per­form­ance by Ryan O’Kane that is, per­haps, lack­ing in detail) has pro­posed to the Rose’s daugh­ter Cheryl (Holly Shanahan) but, afraid of the bar­gain base­ment wed­ding she fears her moth­er will provide, she keeps it a secret. When the news breaks, poor Jill is dev­ast­ated but anoth­er tragedy forces the fam­ily (and the com­munity) to pull togeth­er once again. There’s lots to love about Second Hand Wedding: music by Plan 9 and some songs I would­n’t mind own­ing; classy edit­ing par­tic­u­larly in the mont­ages; per­fect, witty pro­duc­tion design by Brad Mill; but the heart and soul of the film is Brophy’s beau­ti­ful and meas­ured per­form­ance. If she’s not at the front of the queue when the act­ing awards are handed out for this year I will be very sur­prised. Indeed, in this review­er­’s opin­ion it may be one the five best New Zealand screen per­form­ances ever.

What Happens in Vegas... posterIt’s slightly depress­ing to report that a no-budget kiwi com­edy con­tains more sub­tlety and sub­text in any giv­en scene than a multi-million dol­lar Hollywood block­buster wrangles in its entirety but it’s true. In What Happens in Vegas… Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz play a couple who meet in Las Vegas on their own indi­vidu­al rebound tours, get hope­lessly drunk and hope­lessly mar­ried on the same night, win $3m on the slots and then try and (with the help of schem­ing best friends Rob Corddry and Lake Bell) cheat the oth­er out of the booty. Forced by grim Judge Whopper (Dennis Miller) to co-habit for 6 months to prove their mar­riage is real before he will grant them a divorce, our couple do everything in their power to make each oth­er miser­able and much (poten­tial but for the most part unreal­ised) hil­ar­ity ensues.

The prob­lem isn’t with the fit­fully amus­ing leads (though Kutcher in par­tic­u­lar appears incap­able of play­ing the deep­er notes that fath­er Treat Williams’ paternal dis­ap­prov­al offers him), the film suf­fers hugely because the script insists on treat­ing us like retards and loudly declaim­ing everything that it has to say. At one point Kutcher spikes Diaz’s smoothy with ecstacy to the sound of “I Want a New Drug”. Oh, please. Everything is just so flip­pin’ obvi­ous. Characters say exactly what is in their heads, or exactly what they need to say to move the plot for­ward, usu­ally both at the same time.

And finally, What Happens in Vegas… should be cursed for indul­ging in yet anoth­er example of Hollywood racism: the only char­ac­ter of col­our in the film is a ter­rible, tight-ass Asian ste­reo­type who is ridiculed relent­lessly and mean-ly.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 May, 2008.

Update: I have added a link to The Cattlestops web site. They were respons­ible for the songs I would­n’t mind owning.