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Review: The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, Monsters vs. Aliens, The Uninvited, 12 Rounds, Pink Panther 2 and Ip Man

By Cinema and Reviews

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls movie posterI’m not nor­mally one to make box office pre­dic­tions but I have a gut feel­ing that The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls is going to be massive. It’s an inspir­ing New Zealand story, well told with plenty of humour and music, and the lit­er­ally irre­press­ible Topps’ lust for life shines like a beacon through­out. Using plenty of archiv­al foot­age and pho­tos, Leanne Pooley’s doc­u­ment­ary fol­lows the Twins from idyll­ic rur­al Calf Club Days, through the rough and tumble protests of the 80s, to their cur­rent status as liv­ing legends.

I recom­mend you take your kids so they can see how much of what’s good about New Zealand (that we take for gran­ted) was fought for by these strong and prin­cipled women, who also just hap­pen to be beloved fam­ily entertainers.

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Review: The Edge of Love, The Orphanage, Babylon A.D., Sharkwater and Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

By Cinema and Reviews

The Edge of Love UK posterKeira Knightley may only be 23 but (along with Daniel Craig and Simon Pegg) she’s been giv­en the unen­vi­able job of sav­ing the British film industry, a chal­len­ging task for someone with tal­ent but a hard road for a young woman still learn­ing a craft for which she often seems ill-suited. Next week we will review the mid-budget cos­tume drama The Duchess but right now she is head­lining anoth­er WWII romance (c.f. Atonement), John Maybury’s The Edge of Love.

Knightley plays Vera Phillips, a young Welsh girl carving out a liv­ing enter­tain­ing the troops in the under­ground bomb shel­ters of burnt out London. In an awfully clunky screen­writ­ing moment she sees a famil­i­ar face across a crowded pub and calls out “Dylan? Dylan Thomas?” and is reunited with her child­hood sweet­heart. After plenty of flirt­ing, the soon-to-be great poet Thomas (Matthew Rhys) intro­duces her to his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and a firm friend­ship begins, a friend­ship that veers in the dir­ec­tion of a (hin­ted at) mén­age à trois and ends (with the help of Phillips’ shell-shocked hus­band Cillian Murphy) in a hail of mis­dir­ec­ted bul­lets on a pic­tur­esque Welsh cliff top.

Miller’s notori­ous tabloid exist­ence has a tend­ency to over­shad­ow her day job, which is a shame as she is very good here and she car­ries almost all the emo­tion­al weight of a film that, frankly, needs all the help it can get. Rhys is fine (and reads the Thomas poetry like he’s chan­nel­ling Richard Burton) but Knightley struggles, although she has her moments.

The Orphanage posterIn The Orphanage, a woman (Belén Rueda) and her hus­band (Fernando Cayo) decide to buy the decay­ing old goth­ic orphan­age where she grew up so they can live there with their adop­ted, HIV-positive, young son (Roger Princep) plus his ima­gin­ary friends. Asking for trouble? You bet. The boy soon dis­ap­pears, per­haps into a cave beneath the house, and the dis­traught moth­er has to solve the mys­tery of the cursed house before she can find him again.

I would have been con­sid­er­ably more effected by this film if the first half hadn’t been out of focus (and if the pro­jec­tion­ist hadn’t for­got­ten about the reel change or needed to be told to focus the second half) but once we’d got all that sor­ted out the moody atmo­spher­ics (greatly aided by an effect­ive sur­round sound design and the excel­lent Paramount sound sys­tem) push all the right but­tons. Produced by Guilermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), The Orphanage is styl­ish hor­ror with a heart. I much prefer this sort of thing to the Japanese pro­duc­tion line ver­sions we see so often.

Babylon A.D. posterIt’s really say­ing some­thing when a dir­ect­or dis­owns a Vin Diesel film for not liv­ing up to his vis­ion but this is what Mathieu Kassovitz has done with Babylon A.D. Apparently studio-dictated cuts have turned his subtle and sens­it­ive polit­ic­al and mor­al allegory into a bloodthirsty shoot ’em up. As they say­ing goes, yeah right. Freely rip­ping off dozens of hit films (from Escape from New York to Blade Runner, The Matrix and Resident Evil), the cuts have rendered what might have been a campy clas­sic into inco­her­ence but it’s not un-entertaining.

Sharkwater posterMy favour­ite cine­mat­ic shark is Bruce from Finding Nemo (played by Barry Humphries), a mis­un­der­stood killing machine with aban­don­ment issues. If he’d seen Rob Stewart’s ener­vat­ing doc­u­ment­ary Sharkwater he would know that he’s not a killer at all – more people die each year as a res­ult of Coke machine mis­ad­ven­ture – and that he is in far great­er per­il from us than the oth­er way around.

In fact the whole film owes a lot to Pixar’s Nemo, often recre­at­ing fam­ous images from that film and, if it wasn’t likely to trau­mat­ise them, I’d recom­mend every child who ever saw Nemo be forced to sit and watch it so they might turn into pas­sion­ate eco-terrorists when they grow up.

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? posterAs agit-prop doco makers go I think I prefer Morgan Spurlock to Michael Moore. Spurlock (who sprang to fame with the McDonalds’ exposé Super Size Me in 2004) inter­views people without set­ting them up to look stu­pid or venal and his every­man open-ness gives the impres­sion that he is genu­inely curi­ous rather than embittered and cer­tain. In Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? Spurlock is spurred by the his long- suf­fer­ing girl­friend Alex’s preg­nancy to go the middle east and find out why they want to kill us all. And if he finds Osama Bin Laden in the pro­cess, all well and good. I could have done with less of the cheesy video game ana­lys­is of com­plex glob­al polit­ics but when Spurlock goes out of his way to meet ordin­ary people on the streets of Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, Pakistan and Afghanistan you can’t help but feel a little bit enlightened and a little bit heartened.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 8 October, 2008.

Nothing of note to report regard­ing screen­ing con­di­tions except the prob­lems with The Orphanage that have already been repor­ted above.

UPDATE: A friend wrote to me after read­ing the Sharkwater review in the CT:

I don’t think much of your Sharkwater review. It really does­n’t tell any­one what the film is about and why people should see it, and secondly you totally belittle the issue by com­par­ing it to a kids car­toon! It’s the most dis­turb­ing film I’ve seen all year, and as you know I’ve seen quite a lot. Even now I feel utterly guilty eat­ing fish, though it is the only anim­al flesh I can­’t seem to give up. At least the Lumiere review­er urged people to boy­cott the many Wellington res­taur­ants that serve shark fin soup. The dir­ect­or is slightly irrit­at­ing I admit, but the con­tent is cru­cial… you can­’t joke about films like this, unless it’s garbage (like Where in the World is OBL for example…).

In case you did­n’t get it the first time read this: http://www.panda.org/index.cfm?uNewsID=146062
Glad I got that off my chest…”

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.

Preview: 2007

By Cinema

This week’s Capital Times column. No reviews due to the Christmas break, instead a pre­view of a few titles to expect in 2007.

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