Readers of last week’s column will know that I am currently overseas on a quest, a mission – a pursuit if you prefer – hoping to discover a new kind of cinema. After a week at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado I am now in New York and have got a clearer idea of what that vision should look like.
I think I’ll name this new cinema goodcinema and it’s main characteristic will be the absence of films like Hit and Run and The Watch, two of this week’s new releases. Is it possible to redefine rubbish like this out of existence?
The first is a Dax Shepard vanity project about a man choosing to give up his place in a dull witness protection programme so that his girlfriend (Kristen Bell) can get a job in the big city. In the space of a single day his previous identity as a top getaway driver is revealed to her and his new identity as a dreary small-town non-entity is revealed to the dimwitted but single-minded hoods who he ratted out.
This is the column I submitted to the Capital Times last week. After a little discussion, Editor Aaron and I decided that it would serve no good purpose in running it in the paper, but it might be of interest here.
First up, I’d like to thank everyone who voted for this column in the Readers’ Poll – very gratifying. It was very nice to confirm that one is read and appreciated.
But I’m not actually reviewing films this week, for a couple of reasons which will give you an idea about how this thing gets put together. For the (almost) two years that I have been dropping this column on you I have attempted, space permitting, to cover every film that gets released in as timely a fashion as we can manage. Not because I desperately need to see the new Nancy Drew film or Curse of the Golden Flower or Meet Dave, but so that you, dear reader, when deciding what to do this weekend, will at least know that a film exists, what it might be about, and that “that clown Slevin hated it” so it’s probably worth a look. It’s a service and nobody else provides it.
This means watching upwards of half a dozen films a week on top of a full-time job and part-time study, making each weekend a military exercise in efficient time management; checking schedules for every cinema along with bus timetables, work rosters, family birthdays, you name it.
This year, the Capital Times wasn’t offered a media pass for Reading Cinemas which meant screening options were reduced somewhat. If a Readings film is playing anywhere else in town, I’ll happily watch it at that location (except Hoyts as Capital Times doesn’t have a pass for there, either) but on the rare occasion they have an exclusive I rely on radio station previews, the occasional distributor pass or the generosity of the Dom-Post’s Graeme Tuckett (as his date). With creativity, we get by.
This week, of the four films opening that haven’t already been covered, three are Readings/Hoyts exclusives which, as you can guess, is an almighty pain in the a$$.
On Saturday I discovered that I am no longer on the Penthouse Cinema’s accredited reviewers list, I’m guessing due to something I wrote in this column a few weeks ago criticising the technical presentation in two of their four cinemas. It was nothing that I hadn’t mentioned to staff at the time (who responded with a shrug) and in the very same column I praised the new cinema 3 which is a lovely room, beautifully proportioned, very comfortable and technically excellent.
I’ve always believed that, because of the intensely local nature of the Capital Times, I should review the experience as well as the individual film and if the cinema is cold (Rialto), the aspect ratio is wrong (Rialto again), the purple soundtrack is clearly visible on the side of the screen (yes, Rialto again – an easy target as they don’t exist anymore): if it effects the experience I’ll mention it. Or not. For example, I didn’t mention that at my last (final?) visit to the Penthouse I tripped over an empty wine bottle left behind from the evening before, had to close the door to the cinema myself once the film had started and, half way through the screening find an attendant and tell them that the house lights had come on.
Of course, the Penthouse is under no obligation to give free tickets to anyone, particularly if they feel they’ve been maligned, but I could have done with finding this out before I schlepped my way up the Brooklyn Hill in the rain and wasted my Saturday afternoon. Son of Rambow is the fourth film of the week, and having been turned away from it, frankly, I’m in no mood to bust my balls trying to see the the others.
I really don’t want to sound all “poor me” about this business, as I say it’s neither here nor there whether I see rubbish like Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution or not, but it’s Capital Times readers that miss out and that bothers me. Normal service will be resumed next week, minus any Penthouse exclusive product until further notice, but I’d be interested to know what readers think. Do you care about standards, or just the films?
Earlier this year I arbitrarily decided that the Hannah Montana 3D concert movie was not cinema and chose not to review it. Now, a few short weeks later, I exercise my right to indulge in rank hypocrisy by stating that the U2 3D concert movie is cinema and, thus, belongs in this column. Pieced together from concerts in soccer stadia across Latin America (plus one without an audience for close-ups), U2 3D is an amazing experience and truly must be seen to be believed.
I hadn’t expected the new digital 3D medium to be used so expertly so soon but creators Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington have managed to make the entire stadium space manifest with floating cameras and intelligently layered digital cross-fading, giving you a concert (and cinema) experience that can not be imagined any other way. Even if you are not a U2 fan this film deserves to be seen as an example of the potential of 3D to transform the medium.
Dedicated to Anderson’s hero, Robert Altman, Blood is a beast of a different colour to Old Men: a heavy-weight Western-style epic pouring oil on the myth of the American dream and then dropping a match on it. The amazing Daniel Day-Lewis plays independent prospector, oil man and misanthrope Daniel Plainview. Determined to separate simple people from the oil under their feet he uses his adopted child in order to resemble an honest family man while he plots the downfall of his enemies.
There Will Be Blood ruthlessly dissects the two competing powers of 20th Century American life: capitalism and religion, each as cynical and corrupt as the other. Paul Dano (the comically mute son in Little Miss Sunshine) is a revelation as charismatic pastor Eli Sunday, the only character strong enough to merit a battle of wills with Plainview – a battle to the finish.
Listless rom-com 27 Dresses comes to life for one amusing montage of weddings and dresses (about half way in) but otherwise this star-vehicle for Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up) seems under-powered. She’s joined in the film by James Marsden (Enchanted) (not normally a cause for rejoicing, and so it proves once again here) and Malin Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid) who isn’t nearly as funny as she thinks she is. Heigl plays a supposedly plain, self-effacing, young woman who organises the lives (and weddings) of all those around her while secretly pining for a wedding of her own with Boss Ed Burns.
Rogue Assassin is big and dumb and doesn’t even succeed on it’s own limited terms. Former member of the British Olympic Diving Team, Jason Statham (Crank) plays an inexplicably English-accented FBI agent in the Asian Crime Unit. He’s on the trail of an ex-CIA hitman named Rogue (Jet Li) who is engaged in a Yojimbo-like plot to destroy San Francisco’s Yakuza and Triad gangs. Fans of Jet Li’s trademark balletic martial arts will be disappointed as anything more than standing around looking stern seems to be beyond him now. The daft twist at the end will provide some much-needed amusement.
Danish provocateur director Lars von Trier recently announced his retirement from filmmaking due to depression. He hasn’t ceased involvement in film, though, as his company Zentropa is still producing some of the most unusual and challenging films around and Red Road is a perfect example, the first release in a new project called The Advance Party. Zentropa producers Lone Scherfig & Anders Thomas Jensen (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself) created several characters and then gave those characters (and a set of rules about how they should be used) to three writer-directors in the hope that the three films together would prove greater than the sum of the parts.
The first film, Andrea Arnold’s Red Road, isn’t just an interesting experiment, it’s actually very good. Lonely Glasgow CCTV operator Jackie (Kate Dickie) is haunted by an unspecified tragedy from her past. When she sees an unexpected face on her monitor she, in spite of herself, is forced to confront him and her own grief. The Red Road council estate, that gives the film it’s name, makes Newtown Park Flats look like the Isle of Capri, and the whole thing has a Loach-ian grit that is happily well-balanced by some beautiful cinematography. The film itself plays out slowly, but not inevitably, and the surprise revelation at the end is less powerful but somehow more moving than you expect.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 20 February, 2008.
Notes on screening conditions: There Will Be Blood screened at Rialto Wellington on Saturday afternoon. The image was incorrectly masked so that the vertical cyan soundtrack along the left of the screen was clearly visible throughout. The projectionist was alerted but he shrugged his shoulders and said there was nothing he could do about it. We have about six more weeks of Rialto Wellington and I volunteer to swing the first wrecking-ball.