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Review: Hit and Run, The Watch and Hysteria

By Cinema, Reviews

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 good cinema 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.

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By Cinema, meta, Wellington

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?

Review: U2 3D, Nim’s Island, Street Kings, St. Trinian’s, College Road Trip, Hunting & Gathering, Blindsight, I Have Never Forgotten You and The Real Dirt on Farmer John

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest, Reviews

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.

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Review: There Will Be Blood, 27 Dresses, Rogue Assassin and Red Road

By Cinema, Reviews

There Will Be Blood posterLike the buses on Courtenay Place after 8 o’clock on a Sunday night, you can wait what seems like forever for a cinema mas­ter­piece and then two come along at once. Like No Country for Old Men, P. T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is an American clas­sic and you’d be hard-pushed to slip a play­ing card between them in terms of quality.

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.

27 Dresses posterListless 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 posterRogue 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.

Red Road posterDanish 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.