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reese witherspoon

RN 2/11: Wild in the country

By Audio, Cinema, Rancho Notorious and Reviews

Online com­ment­at­or, review­er and racon­teur Steve Gray joins Kailey and Dan on the line from Hamilton, New Zealand, to help review Reese Witherspoon in Wild, Julianne Moore in Still Alice and Johnny Depp in Mortdecai. Steve also has top TV watch­ing tips for 2015 includ­ing Adam Curtis’ Bitter Lake.

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Review: Moneyball, The Ides of March, Shame, Weekend, This Means War, Romantics Anonymous and Big Miracle

By Cinema and Reviews

This week Philip Seymour Hoffman fea­tures in two new American sports movies, one about their most ven­er­able – if not impen­et­rable – pas­time of base­ball and the oth­er on the modern-day equi­val­ent of bear-baiting, the pres­id­en­tial primar­ies. In Moneyball, Hoffman plays Art, team man­ager of the Oakland Athletics, left behind when his boss – Brad Pitt – decides to throw away dec­ades of base­ball tra­di­tion and use soph­ist­ic­ated stat­ist­ic­al ana­lys­is and a schlubby Yale eco­nom­ics gradu­ate (Jonah Hill) to pick cheap but effect­ive players.

Hoffman steals every scene he is in but dis­ap­pears from the story too early. Having said that, Pitt and Hill do great work under­play­ing recog­nis­ably real people and all are well-supported by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s script which has scene after scene of great moments, even if some of them lead nowhere (like poor Art’s arc). Moneyball might start out a sports movie but it’s actu­ally a busi­ness text­book. If the place you work at clings to received wis­dom, exper­i­ence and intu­ition over “facts” then organ­ise an out­ing to Moneyball as fast as you can.

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Review: Water for Elephants, From Time to Time, Burke & Hare, Catfish, Reflections of the Past, Hoodwinked Too and 3D Sex and Zen

By Cinema and Reviews

Water for Elephants posterSomeone described melo­drama to me the oth­er day as “unearned emo­tion” and that’s a help­ful way to look at a few of this week’s offer­ings. Firstly the glossy adapt­a­tion of Sara Gruen’s best­selling nov­el of romance and tragedy at the cir­cus, Water for Elephants. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson plays veter­in­ary stu­dent Jacob who, after the death of his par­ents, runs away to join Christoph Waltz’s strug­gling Depression-era cir­cus. There he falls in love with Waltz’s down­trod­den but beau­ti­ful wife Reese Witherspoon (and also Rosie the down­trod­den but beau­ti­ful new elephant).

Director Francis Lawrence makes a token attempt to show us the gritty and des­per­ate side of Depression life but in the end the high fructose corn syr­up of tra­di­tion­al Hollywood romance smoth­ers everything. Pattinson remains dead behind the eyes as always, Witherspoon fails to con­vince as an acrobat and Waltz repeats his Oscar-winning psy­cho­path­ic Nazi from Inglourious Basterds only without the great Tarantino dialogue.

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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: Four Holidays, Quarantine, High School Musical- Senior Year and Suddenly

By Cinema and Reviews

Dollar for dol­lar (if not lb for lb) Vince Vaughan is the biggest star in Hollywood. For every dol­lar inves­ted in a Vaughan film he returns four­teen mak­ing him a bet­ter bet than Cruise, Pitt, Clooney or Roberts. It’s easy to see why he’s so pop­u­lar – his easy-going every­man qual­ity annoys few­er people than Carrey and choices like Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers are pretty safe. Even last year’s Fred Claus was a rare watch­able Christmas film and this year he repeats the dose with Four Holidays (aka Four Christmases).

Vaughan, and co-star Reese Witherspoon, are DINKs (double-income-no-kids) who main­tain their cool life­style by avoid­ing their respect­ive fam­il­ies like the plague. When an unex­pec­ted air­port clos­ure reveals their plans to party in Fiji instead of feed­ing the third world, they are obliged to make four dif­fer­ent vis­its on Christmas Day, for­cing them to con­front the weirdos, sad­sacks and ding­bats that make up their respect­ive families.

I think I’m out of step with most oth­er crit­ics (not unusu­al and not a bad thing) but I enjoyed myself watch­ing Four Holidays – Vaughan and Witherspoon actu­ally make a believ­able couple and the sup­port­ing cast (includ­ing fine act­ors like Robert Duvall and Kristin Chenoweth along with coun­try stars Dwight Yoakam and Tim McGraw) has plenty of energy.

Ten years ago, before he became the darling of the Hollywood Hedge Fund set, Vaughan’s career nearly stalled when he played Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s ill-advised frame-for-frame remake of Psycho. After the see­ing the trail­er for Quarantine, I was half expect­ing it to give a sim­il­ar treat­ment to the Spanish shock­er [REC] (which promp­ted messy evac­u­ations earli­er in the year) but hap­pily it diverges enough to mer­it its own review.

A tv crew is fol­low­ing an LA fire depart­ment for the night when they are sent to an apart­ment build­ing where mys­ter­i­ous screams are eman­at­ing from one of the flats. Soon after they arrive, the author­it­ies shut the build­ing down to pre­vent the rabies-like infec­tion from spread­ing, leav­ing the res­id­ents, fire-fighters and the media to their own devices.

Stronger in char­ac­ter devel­op­ment but slightly weak­er in shock value, Quarantine will be worth a look if you found you couldn’t read the sub­titles in [REC] because you had your hands over your eyes.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is the first of the legendary Disney fran­chise to make it to the big screen but the for­mula hasn’t changed one bit. Well scrubbed High School kids in Albuquerque put on a show which might send one of them to Julliard. The music runs the full gamut of cur­rent pop music styles from Britney to the Backstreet Boys (without the spark of either) and the kids dis­play a full range of emo­tions from A to B. HSM is betrayed by a lack of ambi­tion mar­ried to relent­less, obsess­ive, com­mit­ment to com­pet­ence but, at almost two hours, I sus­pect it will be too long for most tween blad­ders to hold out.

Depression is a chal­len­ging top­ic for film (the symp­toms are un-cinematic and recov­ery often takes the form of baby steps which are dif­fi­cult to dram­at­ise) but Swedish drama Suddenly makes a decent fist of it. Nine months after the car he was driv­ing crashed, tak­ing the lives of his wife and young­est son, eye doc­tor Lasse (Michael Nyqvist) is fall­ing apart. After what looks like a failed sui­cide attempt, his par­ents advise him to take his remain­ing son (sens­it­ive 15 year old Jonas played by Anastasios Soulis) to his hol­i­day house for the Summer to see if he can take one last chance to heal him­self and the family.

Lasse throws him­self into repair­ing the beaten up old row­boat while Jonas falls for the (entirely Swedish look­ing blonde) loc­al black sheep Helena (Moa Gammel). Despite the appar­ent energy of the title, Suddenly takes its time get­ting any­where but rewards perseverance.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 10 December, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I’m stoked to report that Suddenly was the first film I’d seen in the Vogue Lounge at the Penthouse since my dis­ap­point­ing exper­i­ence with Smart People back in August and, des­pite some print wear, the present­a­tion was per­fect. Well done Penthouse.