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

By Cinema and 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.

Review: Rocky Balboa and more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

This week Wellington gets a chance to farewell one of the titans of world cinema, an inspir­a­tion to many, derided by a few; an icon who walked his own idio­syn­crat­ic path. I am, of course, talk­ing about Rocky Balboa, kind-hearted dim-bulb and pos­sessor of one of the great loves in cinema: his ador­a­tion of Adrian (Talia Shire) remains undi­min­ished even though her can­cer left him a wid­ower a few years between Rocky V and this new one.

Rocky Balboa posterThe Rocky of I and II was always a great char­ac­ter, led astray dur­ing the block­buster years, and Rocky Balboa gives him back to us. It’s well writ­ten and self-aware and, as a bonus, there’s hardly any box­ing in it.

A Prairie Home CompanionRobert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion is too nice a film to divide people the way that it does. Having said that, if you are one of those people who switches off National Radio whenev­er gen­i­al racon­teur Garrison Keiller Keillor intro­duces his legendary live radio show then you will find the film ver­sion an awful tri­al. Thrown togeth­er in typically-Altman, ram­shackle, style and shot, it appears, with no more than half an eye on the fin­ished product, APHC is a delight­ful, wist­ful, appre­ci­ation of com­munity, nos­tal­gia and the passing of time, the final­ity of things if you will. It’s only fit­ting that Altman’s final film, shot while he was riddled with the can­cer that would kill him, should be about let­ting go. I loved it, but then I was prob­ably always going to.

HollywoodlandIn Hollywoodland Ben Affleck is per­fect as wooden act­or George Reeves who found fame as tele­vi­sion’s first, portly, Superman in the 1950s but who ended up dead of appar­ently self-inflicted gun­shot wounds after a failed attempt at a comeback. The film brings life to the per­sist­ent rumours that Reeves’ death was the res­ult of foul play – cour­tesy of a jeal­ous hus­band with friends in Hollywood high places.

Adrien Brody plays a fic­tion­al gum­shoe on the trail of the mys­tery and the film tries hard to ride the coat-tails of clas­sics like Chinatown but is too darn slow to keep up, even though it looks the part.

Stranger than Fiction posterWill Ferrell plays a slightly less demen­ted ver­sion of his usu­al emotionally-retarded man-child in Stranger Than Fiction, a slender but like­able fantasy about a man who dis­cov­ers he is a char­ac­ter in a nov­el being writ­ten by Emma Thompson. It’s her voice in his head, nar­rat­ing his life, and no one else can hear it. This is annoy­ing and inex­plic­able at first, but gets ser­i­ous when he dis­cov­ers she wants to kill him off. Chicago looks great (and so does Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Squeegee Bandit posterRaucous kiwi doc­u­ment­ary Squeegee Bandit fol­lows Auckland street-corner win­dow wash­er “Starfish” around for a few months, get­ting to know him, his trans­it­ory life and his turf. There’s some inter­est­ing meat bur­ied inside this film but the MTV edit­ing, both­er­some soundtrack and gen­er­al noise levels make it harder than it should be to get at. It’s an inter­est­ing doc­u­ment­ary but dif­fi­cult to recom­mend as entertainment.

The Last King of Scotland posterThe Last King of Scotland is a fic­tion­al­ised por­trait of Idi Amin, dic­tat­or of Uganda from 1971 to 1979 and self-appointed “Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”. To fully appre­ci­ate Forest Whitaker’s superb per­form­ance check out the real Idi’s eyes in the archive foot­age at the end of the film and you can see the genu­ine bat-shit insane para­noia of the man.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 February, 2007.