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Review: Attack the Block, The Women on the 6th Floor, The Lorax, Mirror Mirror and Wrath of the Titans

By Cinema and Reviews

Attack the Block posterIt has taken ten months for Joe Cornish’s bril­liant Attack the Block to make its way to New Zealand and one of the first ques­tions will be, is there still an audi­ence left for it con­sid­er­ing the most rabid fans will have found – licit and illi­cit – ways to watch it months ago. I cer­tainly hope there is because Cornish has pro­duced a highly ori­gin­al take on a clas­sic genre – a low-budget ali­en inva­sion movie that is thrill­ing, funny and socially aware.

It’s Guy Fawke’s Night and the attemp­ted mug­ging of off-duty nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is inter­rup­ted by a the explos­ive arrival of a strange creature. The lead­er of the young hood­lums, Moses (a star-making per­form­ance by John Boyega), man­ages to kill the beast and they take the car­cass as a trophy, not real­ising that there are oth­ers fol­low­ing – and that they will want revenge.

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World Cinema Showcase 2012

By Cinema and Reviews

After a splen­did Wellington Film Festival last year, the New Zealand International Film Festival might be for­giv­en for put­ting their feet up and tak­ing it easy but instead they have gone out of their way to pro­duce anoth­er bas­ket of good­ies to fill the Easter week­end and bey­ond: the grandly titled World Cinema Showcase.

Arguably the only real dif­fer­ence between their two events now is the scale – and the lack of Embassy big screen – but there is qual­ity all over this year’s Showcase. Like they do at its older – wintri­er – sib­ling audi­ences are surely temp­ted to try the “will it come back” lot­tery but those odds are deteri­or­at­ing all the time. Indeed, at time of writ­ing one film (Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus) has already been with­drawn from the com­mer­cial release sched­ule and Showcase screen­ings are the only chance to exper­i­ence it on the big screen.

As is my wont, though, I asked the Showcase people to feed me pre­views of the little bat­tle­rs, the unher­al­ded, the films that are often over­looked by a media demand­ing big names, head­lines and page views. I was giv­en 10 to look at, a couple dropped off as I didn’t feel up to recom­mend­ing them, but I’ve added two more that I saw (or par­tially saw) at last year’s Festival. So, here’s ten to watch at Showcase 2012.

Beats, Rhymes & ife: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest posterMusic docos have always been a major com­pon­ent of both Festival and Showcase and sev­er­al hun­dred Wellington movie­go­ers were dis­ap­poin­ted when a power cut inter­rup­ted the July screen­ing of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. They (mean­ing I) get a chance to see the con­clu­sion of this fas­cin­at­ing por­trait of hip-hop pion­eers in an uncom­fort­able middle age. Also deal­ing with the fal­lout from suc­cess are the folk duo Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Oscar win­ners from the 2006 film Once. As The Swell Season, they toured and recor­ded, try­ing to ride the wave they were on and keep their rela­tion­ship intact at the same time. Hansard’s troubled fam­ily back­ground and Irglová’s youth con­spire against them how­ever and the film of their post-Oscar lives is more about a rela­tion­ship fizz­ling out than your usu­al rock doc­u­ment­ary. Which is good because there’s noth­ing start­ling about the music.

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Review- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Big Picture

By Cinema and Reviews

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 posterIt’s clear that there are two kinds of people in the world. There are the people who get Harry Potter (not just get but devour, savour, rel­ish) and then there’s, you know, me.

Over the last six years I have dog­gedly tried to review the HP fran­chise as if it was cinema, as if there might be view­ers temp­ted along who hadn’t been exposed to the books and who might reas­on­ably be expect­ing to watch a film that stands on its own two feet.

Well, to coin a phrase, “it all ends” now. I give up. With Harry Potter, you can’t divorce your response from your expect­a­tions. If you loved the books it would appear that you love the films and the less atten­tion the film­makers pay to unbe­liev­ers like me the bet­ter you like it.

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Review: The Hurt Locker, Clash of the Titans, Nowhere Boy & Valentine’s Day

By Cinema and Reviews

The Hurt Locker posterIt took well over 18 months for Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker to get a gen­er­al release in New Zealand – a year in which it stead­ily built audi­ences and crit­ic­al acclaim at world­wide fest­ivals and pub­lic screen­ings. In fact, until it was nom­in­ated for a Golden Globe late last year the film had no New Zealand release date sched­uled and many film buffs resor­ted to illi­cit online sources to try and see (what was being touted) as one of the films of the decade.

This is a wor­ry­ing trend. Increasingly, some of the best films are head­ing straight to DVD (some­times, if the tim­ing works, with a Film Festival screen­ing but not always) and, des­pite New Zealand hav­ing a fine track record for sup­port­ing art­house and thought­ful product, I find myself con­fron­ted every week by rub­bish like Law Abiding Citizen and Bounty Hunter. Somewhere along the line the dis­trib­ut­ors have lost their nerve: The Blind Side, which won an Academy Award for Sandra Bullock last month, has only just been giv­en a slot by Roadshow (Warner Brothers). A Serious Man was one of the most bril­liant and intel­li­gent films I’ve ever seen and only one print was placed in Wellington – and it was a Coen Brothers Film!

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Review: The Reader, The Boat That Rocked, Dragonball Evolution and Race to Witch Mountain

By Cinema and Reviews

The Reader posterIf you are on the look out for an intel­li­gent, ser­i­ous and impress­ively well-made drama that will stim­u­late and move you (and of course you are, or you wouldn’t be read­ing this) then The Reader will fit your bill per­fectly. The last of the big Oscar con­tenders to hit our shores, this is a ver­sion of the best-selling nov­el which put the German struggle to come to terms with the crimes of the Nazis centre stage. The adapt­a­tion (by British play­wright and screen­writer David Hare) also does this but some­thing else as well – it becomes a med­it­a­tion on all kinds of guilt and shame as well as the com­plex inter­ac­tion between the two.

In 1958, school­boy Michael Berg falls ill and is helped by a stranger (the extraordin­ary Kate Winslet). After his recov­ery, three months later, he returns to thank her and they begin an affair that lasts the final sum­mer of his child­hood. Between bouts of love­mak­ing she demands he read to her, telling her the stor­ies and plays he is study­ing at school. Several months later she dis­ap­pears, break­ing poor Michael’s heart, only to return to his life eight years later in a Berlin courtroom, on tri­al for war crimes.

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Review: Burn After Reading, Body of Lies and The Duchess

By Cinema and Reviews

Burn After Reading posterOh, what kind of year is 2008 that has two Coen Brothers films with­in it? In February I was swoon­ing over No Country for Old Men and now, just a few short months later, I’ve been treated to Burn After Reading, a scath­ing and bit­ter com­edy about mod­ern American ignor­ance. It’s a vicious, sav­age, des­pair­ing and bril­liant farce: full of won­der­ful char­ac­ters who are at the same time really awful people.

John Malkovich is Osbourne Cox, a failed CIA ana­lyst who loses a disk con­tain­ing his mem­oirs. It’s found by Hardbodies gym staff Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt, who decide to black­mail him so that she can pay for some unne­ces­sary cos­met­ic pro­ced­ures. Meanwhile (and there’s a lot of mean­whiles), Malkovich’s wife (Tilda Swinton) is hav­ing an affair with sex addict George Clooney, who is cheat­ing on her, and his wife, with Internet one night stands (that include the lonely McDormand). The disk ends up at the Russian Embassy, Pitt ends up in the Chesapeake and the only truly nice per­son in the whole film ends up with a hatchet in his head.

It’s no acci­dent that this col­lec­tion of men­tal and spir­itu­al pyg­mies can be found pop­u­lat­ing Washington D.C. Over the last eight years it has become the world centre of incom­pet­ence, venal­ity, short-sightedness and polit­ic­al expedi­ence and the film plays as an enraged satire about the end of the American Empire. We can only hope.

Body of Lies posterThe self-indulgent part­ner­ship between Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe gets anoth­er trot out in Body of Lies, a laboured action-thriller about anti-terrorism in the Middle East. Half-decent Leonardo DiCaprio is the lead. He plays hon­our­able field agent Roger Ferris, hunt­ing the Osama-like Al Saleem from Iraq to Jordan via Amsterdam and Langley. Crowe spends most of the film coach­ing DiCaprio via cell­phone and a good olé boy Southern accent. The twist in this film is that he is a boor­ish, ignor­ant, arrog­ant oaf who fails to appre­ci­ate that win­ning hearts and minds is essen­tial to win the war on ter­ror: DiCaprio’s char­ac­ter, an arab­ic speak­er with an appre­ci­ation for the region and its people, is con­tinu­ally being hung out to dry by his bosses who simply don’t think the Middle East is worth any­thing more than the oil that lies beneath it.

Unfortunately for Body of Lies (a ter­rible, mean­ing­less title), the whole film is thick with cliché and while Scott’s eye for a set-piece remains keen his ear for dia­logue is still made of tin.

The Duchess posterAnother ter­rible noth­ing title (but for a bet­ter film) is The Duchess. A naïve young Spencer girl is plucked from Althorp to marry a power­ful older man. She soon finds that it is not a love match and that her emo­tion­ally closed off hus­band sees her as a baby fact­ory while he enjoys life with his mis­tress. Our heroine uses her celebrity to bring atten­tion to polit­ic­al causes and falls in love with a hand­some young man, but hap­pi­ness and free­dom is always too far away. Sounds famil­i­ar, I know, but this story isn’t set in the 1990’s but in the 18th cen­tury and this Spencer isn’t Diana, but her eer­ily sim­il­ar ancest­or Georgiana (Keira Knightley).

Knightley is fine as the spir­ited, but even­tu­ally broken, young woman; Ralph Fiennes has good moments as the bru­tish Duke of Devonshire and Charlotte Rampling deliv­ers anoth­er icy turn as Georgiana’s cal­cu­lat­ing moth­er. The Duchess is a fine his­tory les­son with some nice obser­va­tions: my favour­ite is the paparazzi at every social occa­sion, pen­cils sharpened to sketch the scan­dals as they unfold.

Sadly, I have been too busy in recent weeks to pre­view any of the titles in this year’s Italian Film Festival but the pro­gramme looks a good and inter­est­ing one as always. The films in the Italian Festival have always leaned towards the com­mer­cial and this year is no dif­fer­ent. Crowd pleas­ing com­ed­ies like The Littlest Thing rub shoulders with romances like Kiss Me Baby, dra­mas (The Unknown Woman) and thrillers: Secret Journey. My pick looks like it could be a com­bin­a­tion of all those genres, the romantic black com­edy Night Bus. Moving to the Embassy this year should do the event the power of good but it’s a pity about the poorly proofed pro­gramme though.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 15 October, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: All three films were screened at the Empire in Island Bay. Body of Lies and The Duchess were at pub­lic screen­ings and Burn After Reading was the Sunday night print check (for staff), so thanks to the Empire people for invit­ing me to that.