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Review: St. Vincent, Deepsea Challenge 3D, Interstellar, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and Nightcrawler

By Cinema and Reviews

In the last (non-Rancho) post I made a commitment to get back in to regular reviewing and to end my year-long sabbatical. (For the reasons behind the hiatus, it is recommended that you have a quick read. Go on, I’ll wait here.) It has come as a bit of a surprise to me that I’ve actually seen as much as I have over the last few months. It didn’t feel like it but — thanks to Radio New Zealand, FishHead and Rancho Notorious — fully 18 of the films currently screening around Wellington are films I can actually have an opinion on.

Anyway, here goes, and I might as well start with the oldest first. Which, as it turns out, is also a contender for the worst film in this post.

St. Vincent movie posterI’ve never managed to hide my disdain for Little Miss Sunshine, a film which is beloved by many and held up as an example of quality screenwriting to which we all should aspire. It is, in fact, garbage. A collection of tics masquerading as characters stuck in a contrived-cute situation in which life lessons will be learned too easily and happy endings will be unearned. Theodore Melfi’s debut feature St. Vincent also falls into all these traps only deeper. It also relies so heavily on the great Bill Murray that it manages to even bring him into disrepute.

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Shopping poster

Review: Shopping, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Hangover Part III

By Cinema and Reviews

Julian Dennison and Kevin paulo in Shopping (Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland)

Shopping (Mark Albiston & Louis Sutherland) starts with archive television news footage of the infamous 1970s dawn raids, tooled-up cops breaking down doors to track down “overstayers”. As a scene-setter it’s impressive. It gives the film an immediate sense of menace but it doesn’t follow through — the cops never arrive and the threat of deportation back to the islands (like almost everything else in the film) is never discussed. So, narratively then, Shopping may disappoint but as a psychological portrait of alienated working class teenage life it excels.

Shopping posterNewcomer Kevin Paulo is Willie, stuck in a dead-end job dreaming of something better. His white father (Alistair Browning, often threatening but with a heart in the right place) wants him to work hard and get on while his Samoan mother Theresa (Maureen Fepuleai) wants him to behave himself and set a good example to younger brother Solomon (Julian Dennison). He does neither of those things and falls in with a bad crowd of local crims led by charismatic Bennie (Jacek Koman). In their world “shopping” means thievery and the adrenaline, the parties and beautiful Nicky (Laura Peterson) keep Willie away from his own home and a family that needs him more than he realises.

[pullquote]I wonder whether the world is ready for a Pakistani James Bond.[/pullquote]Shot with style — and a budget-protecting shallow focus — by Ginny Loane, Shopping leaves the audience with plenty of work to do — filling in the gaps — until it reaches a suitably enigmatic conclusion. Strong performances from seasoned pros and newcomers alike keep the tension up in individual scenes but I sometimes felt that the through-line was no more than a slender thread.

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Four Lions poster

Review: Four Lions, Life as We Know It and Farewell

By Cinema and Reviews

Four Lions posterSomebody once said that comedy is just tragedy plus time and Four Lions, a wicked, bitter and hilarious new comedy by Chris Morris, tests that maxim to breaking point (and for some of you, beyond it).

Back in the 90s, Morris was responsible for “Brass Eye”, a mock current affairs series that conned gullible celebrities and politicians into (for example) appearing in advertisements warning the nation against the new super drug ‘Cake’. Fearless and righteous in equal measure, he has made his first feature film and it dares to try and make us laugh at the first world’s current bogeyman, Islamo-terrorism, specifically the homegrown kind which led to the 2005 London bus and tube bombings.

In Sheffield, South Yorkshire, a group of wildly enthusiastic but incompetent jihadists (played superbly by Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Arsher Ali, Adeel Akhtar and Nigel Lindsay) would be making a stand if only they could stop bickering. A trip to a Pakistani training camp, bomb making classes, farewell videos and a trip to the London Marathon are all disasters but Four Lions is only 98% farce — there’s some heart in there too.

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Review: Precious, Edge of Darkness, Land of the Long White Cloud, Shifty & The French Kissers

By Cinema and Reviews

Precious posterAfter watching so many films that are so similar in content and construction that they are hard to tell apart, it is a real pleasure to come across something that contains no familiar faces, has a director whose name is unknown (to me at least) and takes an approach to storytelling that consistently surprises and delights – even if the story itself is about as dark as it gets.

Lee Daniels’ Precious, I’m pleased to gaboureport, is far more than just novelty, rising confidently (cinematically) above its kitchen-sink foundations to soar high above almost every drama I saw last year. Set in Harlem in the mid 1980s, it presents us with the unpromising figure of Clareece Precious Jones (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe). She is 16 years old and overweight, abused at home and ignored at school, dreaming of something better but not hopeful of a way out. Her father has just made her pregnant for the second time and when the school finds out she is given the option of welfare (which sustains her grotesquely awful mother) or a special school for those with potential gifts – she has some talent for maths.

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