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Review: Oz the Great and Powerful, Samsara, Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away, Great Expectations and The Sweeney

By Cinema, Reviews, Wellington

It’s a ques­tion that has been burn­ing away inside all of us for nearly 75 years – how did the Wizard (who wasn’t really a wiz­ard at all but a car­ni­val show­man with a knack for gad­gets) get to Oz in the first place? You neither, huh? Ah well, this least essen­tial ques­tion has now been answered by Spider-Man (and Evil Dead) dir­ect­or Sam Raimi and his team of pixel-wielding min­ions. As a pre­quel to the beloved 1939 film star­ring Judy Garland and a dog called Toto, Oz the Great and Powerful is not without risk. Other attempts to recre­ate L. Frank Baum’s magic­al world have been either com­mer­cial or artist­ic fail­ures – The Wiz, for example, or Return to Oz.

Casting the human smirk, James Franco, as the car­ni­val magi­cian trans­por­ted to the land of the yel­low brick road by a hot air bal­loon (via tor­nado) is also a risk but it even­tu­ally pays off, even though Franco’s boy­ish fea­tures are start­ing to look a bit ragged. Escaping vari­ous romantic and fin­an­cial pres­sures back home in black and white Kansas, Franco’s Oz finds him­self blown off course to a technicolor(ish) fant­ast­ic­al land where a proph­ecy sug­gests he will pro­tect the peace-loving cit­izens from wicked witches but also gain con­trol of the palace for­tune. Guess which one appeals more.

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Review: Operation 8, Hook, Line & Sinker, Tracker, Source Code, Your Highness and Babies

By Cinema, Reviews

I was expect­ing to come out of Operation 8 fired up but instead I emerged depressed and dis­pir­ited. I knew that New Zealand’s default polit­ic­al set­ting was benign com­pla­cency but I hadn’t real­ised that the full force of a – frankly – barely com­pet­ent police state was being brought to bear on the few of us who were actu­ally agit­at­ing and protest­ing for a more pro­gress­ive society.

Operation 8 is Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones’ unashamedly par­tis­an telling of the 2007 “Urewera 18 17” scan­dal in which dis­par­ate protest groups across New Zealand (with the focus on Tuhoe’s inde­pend­ence move­ment) were viol­ently raided, imprisoned and – now about to be – giv­en a tri­al without a jury. It’s a shock­ing lit­any of state arrog­ance and ineptitude, all the more depress­ing for com­men­cing under a Labour Government.

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Review: Fool’s Gold, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Air Guitar Nation

By Cinema, Reviews

Fool's Gold posterIn 2003 the paper-thin romantic com­edy How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days paired Matthew McConaughey with Kate Hudson and made over 100 mil­lion dol­lars. The rules of Hollywood eco­nom­ics, plus the over­whelm­ing dic­tates of focus groups and research­ers, meant they would have to be reunited. So, as soon as Hudson’s baby-body was fit to be seen in a tiny bikini, they were off to the Bahamas to make Fool’s Gold, a bur­ied treas­ure adven­ture set among the rich and beautiful.

McConaughey plays “Finn” Finnegan, a treas­ure hunter, and Hudson his soon-to-be ex-wife. She’s divor­cing him because she’s a tight-ass and wants to fin­ish her PhD. He is hope­lessly in debt to hip-hop super­star Bigg Bunny who has been fund­ing his search for lost Spanish gold. When he dis­cov­ers a din­ner plate sized clue he suck­ers Hudson and super yacht own­er Donald Sutherland into join­ing the search, des­pite the viol­ent atten­tions of Mr Bunny and com­pet­i­tion from dodgy accen­ted Ray Winstone.

Matthew McConaughey isn’t the lazi­est of our male Hollywood stars (Nic Cage takes that prize) but he has coas­ted for an enorm­ous amount of time on what some might see as charm alone. Fool’s Gold doesn’t change that approach and your enjoy­ment will depend entirely on how much you appre­ci­ate McConaughey’s cha­risma as there isn’t much else to enjoy. Despite the Caribbean set­ting all the black char­ac­ters are either vil­lains or buf­foons or both, Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart) alone man­ages to sup­ply two objec­tion­able ste­reo­types at once. I hope that isn’t the res­ult of a Hollywood focus group.

Walk Hard posterWalk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story tells a heart-rending, and repair­ing, story of tragedy and redemp­tion in the music busi­ness. Inspired by classy bio-pics like Walk the Line and Ray (and even La Vie En Rose, prob­ably), Walk Hard stars per­en­ni­al sidekick John C. Reilly as the eponym­ous Dewey, dumber than a sack of ham­mers but with a heart of lead, as he over­comes the tra­gic death of his broth­er in a machete acci­dent (“the wrong kid died”, says his stone-faced fath­er at every oppor­tun­ity), the loss of his sense of smell and addic­tion to every sub­stance on the plan­et short of cinnamon.

Films like Walk Hard are always hit and miss affairs and this one runs about 50–50. The tar­gets are pretty soft, how­ever, and I’d hoped that a writ­ing team that includes Judd (Knocked Up) Apatow might have aimed a little high­er. The best things in the film are the songs, well sung by the tal­en­ted Reilly: my favour­ite is the 60s pro-midget protest song “Let Me Hold You, Little Man”.

Air Guitar Nation posterIt’s very hard to focus on a film when you spend most of it shak­ing your head in dis­be­lief. Air Guitar Nation is a doc­u­ment­ary fol­low­ing the first two American con­tenders in the well-established World Air Guitar Championship in Finland. The Yanks may have inven­ted Rock but they have come second to the Air Guitar party, strug­gling with the more high-level con­cepts (“You can­’t hold a gun, if you’ve got an air gui­tar in your hand”) and the ser­i­ous intent of the Northern Europeans. But they do have old-fashioned show­man­ship on their side. Diverting.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 13 February, 2008.