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Review: Thor, Fast 5, The City of Your Final Destination and Mozart’s Sister

By Cinema and Reviews

There are two main­stream com­ic book pub­lish­ing houses, DC and Marvel, and choos­ing between them as a kid was a bit like choos­ing between The Beatles and the Stones. They had dif­fer­ent styles and sens­ib­il­it­ies (and philo­sophies) and after a little bit of exper­i­ment­a­tion you could find a fit with one or the other.

DC had Superman and Batman – big, bold and (dare I say it) one-dimensional char­ac­ters with lim­ited or opaque inner lives. When Stan Lee cre­ated Spider-Man, a teen­age pho­to­graph­er with powers he neither asked for nor appre­ci­ated, he cre­ated a soap opera – a soap opera with aspir­a­tions to high art. As you might be able to tell, I was a Marvel kid.

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Review: Iron Man 2, Home by Christmas and Dear John

By Cinema and Reviews

Iron Man 2 posterOh dear, what a dis­ap­point­ment 90% of Iron Man 2 is. Rushed into pro­duc­tion after the ori­gin­al became the sur­prise run­away hit of 2008, rely­ing far too heav­ily on the dead­pan cha­risma of a coast­ing Robert Downey Jr. – the first time I’ve ever seen him this dis­en­gaged – and with a story that does no more than tread water until the arrival of the inev­it­able epis­ode 3, IM2 offers very little in the way of char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and not enough action to compensate.

Downey Jr is Tony Stark once again, milk­ing his fame as saviour of the free world while the secret power source in his chaest that fuels Iron Man (and keeps him alive) slowly pois­ons him from with­in. Just when he doesn’t need an adversary, along comes a crazy Russian physicist/wrestler named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) look­ing for revenge on the Stark fam­ily who stole his father’s research. Vanko’s tech­no­logy is co-opted by Stark’s greatest busi­ness com­pet­it­or, weapons developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and between them they attempt to des­troy Stark and corner the mar­ket in high-tech mil­it­ary gadgetry.

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Review: Summer Holiday 09-10 Summary

By Cinema and Reviews

While hunt­ing the site for some links to add to the just pos­ted Winter’s Bone etc. review, I dis­covered that my Summer Holiday spe­cial had­n’t made it here. So, for com­plete­ness’ sake, here it is. Pretty sure, this is an early draft too but there’s no sign of an email sub­mit­ting it.

What a lovely Summer we’ve been hav­ing – for watch­ing movies. While the Avatar jug­ger­naut rolls inex­or­ably on there has plenty of oth­er options for a ded­ic­ated seeker of shel­ter from the storm.

The Lovely Bones posterReleased at any oth­er time of year, Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones would be get­ting a decent length eval­u­ation (and the head­line) here but with fif­teen films dis­cuss we’ll have to live with the bul­let point eval­u­ation: not un-moving. My com­pan­ion and I spent a about an hour after watch­ing TLB dis­cuss­ing it’s flaws and yet both ended up agree­ing that we’d actu­ally enjoyed the film a lot, des­pite the problems.

Personally, I think Jackson’s tend­ency towards occa­sion­al whim­sic­al in-jokery typ­i­fied the uncer­tainty of tone (I’m think­ing of his unne­ces­sary cam­era shop cameo as an example) but the fun­da­ment­al mes­sage – that the people left behind after a tragedy are more import­ant than the vic­tims – was clearly and quite bravely artic­u­lated. And when I saw the film at a crowded Embassy ses­sion, dur­ing the pivotal scene where the sis­ter dis­cov­ers the evid­ence to catch the killer, I could only hear one per­son breath­ing around me – and it wasn’t me.

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Review: Up, The Soloist, The Young Victoria, Paris 36, Casablanca, The Camera on the Shore and the Vanguard 30th Anniversary

By Cinema and Reviews

The Young Victoria posterThe theme for the week seems to be romance and some of the finest love stor­ies of recent (or in fact any) year have just made their way to our screens. Firstly, The Young Victoria where Emily Blunt (Sunshine Cleaning, The Devil Wears Prada) deservedly takes centre stage for the first time as the eponym­ous roy­al. Even review­ers are entitled to a little pre­ju­dice, and I wasn’t expect­ing much from this going in, but I left the cinema full of admir­a­tion for an intel­li­gent script, perfectly-pitched dir­ec­tion and con­sist­ently able per­form­ances from expec­ted and unex­pec­ted quarters.

Blunt’s Victoria is a head­strong teen­ager, frus­trated by the com­pet­ing polit­ic­al interests that push and pull her. Only Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (whose suit was instig­ated by yet more euro-intrigue) seems to see the real Victoria and offers the new Queen sup­port and inde­pend­ence. The rela­tion­ship between Blunt’s Victoria and Rupert Friend’s ini­tially nervous but ulti­mately self-assured Albert is charm­ing, nat­ur­al and mov­ing and the back­ground of polit­ic­al intrigue and mach­in­a­tions provide neces­sary (but not over­whelm­ing) con­text. The Young Victoria is a film that, and I hope this makes sense, is per­fectly balanced.

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Recognition for Downey Jr. and Jenkins

By Cinema
Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus as Sgt. Osiris in Tropic Thunder

Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus as Sgt. Osiris in Tropic Thunder (NY Daily News)

As pre­dicted here back in August, Robert Downey Jr has been nom­in­ated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his fant­ast­ic work in Tropic Thunder. He won’t win it, of coure, for the simple reas­on that act­ors nom­in­ate act­ors but the entire Academy then votes for the win­ner. Actors know how amaz­ing that Tropic Thunder per­form­ance is – the tech­nic­al abil­ity, the con­trol, the detail – but when the entire Academy votes sen­ti­ment will trump everything and Heath Ledger will romp home. But I stand by my opin­ion – Downey Jr’s was the best per­form­ance I saw last year in anything.

I’m also pleased to see Richard Jenkins get a nod for The Visitor. I was lucky enough to inter­view him last year for the Capital Times and he was a delight – mod­est, charm­ing and generous.

2008 comes to an end

By Cinema

Compelled once again by Christmas dead­lines to sum up the year in cinema, I have been think­ing a lot about how some movies stay with you and some don’t, how some movies have got aver­age reviews from me this year but have grown in my affec­tions, and how there are some films you want to see again and some you’re not so bothered about – even when you admire them.

So I’m going to divide my year up in to the fol­low­ing cat­egor­ies: Keepers are films I want to own and live with. Films I can expect to watch once a year – or force upon guests when I dis­cov­er they haven’t already been seen. Repeats are films I would­n’t mind see­ing again – rent­ing or bor­row­ing or stum­bling across on tv. Enjoyed are films I enjoyed (obvi­ously) and respec­ted but am in no hurry to watch again.

No Country for Old Men posterThe “keep­ers” won’t come as any great sur­prise: The Coen’s No Country for Old Men and PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood were both stone-cold American mas­ter­pieces. NCFOM just about shades it as film of the year but only because I haven’t yet watched TWBB a second time. Vincent Ward’s Rain of the Children was the best New Zealand film for a very long time, an emo­tion­al epic. Apollo doco In the Shadow of the Moon moved and inspired me and I want to give it a chance to con­tin­ue to do so by keep­ing it in my house. Finally, two supremely sat­is­fy­ing music films: I could listen to Todd Haynes’ Dylan biop­ic I’m Not There. again and again, and watch­ing it was was much fun­ni­er than I expec­ted. Not mind­ing the music of U2, I did­n’t have a big hump to get over watch­ing their 3D con­cert movie, but what a blast it was! Immersive and involving, it was the first truly great digit­al 3D exper­i­ence. For the time being you can­’t recre­ate the 3D exper­i­ence at home so I hold out for a giant cinema screen of my own to watch it on.

Next lay­er down are the films I would­n’t mind watch­ing again, either because I sus­pect there are hid­den pleas­ures to be revealed or because a second view­ing will con­firm or deny sus­pec­ted great­ness. Gritty Romanian mas­ter­piece 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days has stayed with me since I saw it in March. Be Kind Rewind was rich enough (and good-hearted enough) to deserve anoth­er look. Martin McDonagh’s bizarre hit­man fantasy In Bruges rocked along at such a decent clip I need to see it again to make sure I did­n’t miss any of it’s eccent­ric pleas­ures. I liked and respec­ted the Coen’s oth­er 2008 entry Burn After Reading more than every oth­er crit­ic so a second view­ing would be use­ful, if only to con­firm that I appre­ci­ated it bet­ter than every­one else did… Or not.

Tropic Thunder posterIf I could just clip the Robert Downey Jr. bits from Tropic Thunder it would be a keep­er, instead I look for­ward to see­ing it again over Christmas. The same goes for the entire first act of WALL•E which I could watch over and over again. Sadly the film lost some of that magic when it got in to space (though it remains a stun­ning achieve­ment all the same).

Into the “Enjoy” cat­egory: Of the doc­u­ment­ar­ies released to cinemas this year, three stood out. The affec­tion­ate por­trait of Auckland theatre-maker Warwick Broadhead, Rubbings From a Live Man, was mov­ing and its strange­ness was per­fectly appro­pri­ate. Up the Yangtze showed us a China we could­n’t see via the Olympics jug­ger­naut and Young at Heart is still play­ing and should­n’t be missed.

The Edge of Heaven posterI made plenty of suc­cess­ful vis­its to the art­house this year. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was awe­some; The Edge of Heaven quietly enthralling; Irina Palm was sur­pris­ing. My review says I liked After the Wedding but I hardly remem­ber a thing about it. Also get­ting the art­house tick from me: The Counterfeiters, The Band’s Visit, the delight­ful hymn to tol­er­ance Grow Your Own and the glossy romance The Painted Veil.

Worthy indies that gave me faith in the future of US cinema included Ben Affleck’s Boston-thriller Gone Baby Gone; Ryan Gosling in love with a sex toy (Lars and the Real Girl); twee little Juno; nasty (in a good way) Choke; heart­warm­ing The Visitor and Frozen River (which was the best of the lot).

Space Chimps posterMainstream Hollywood was­n’t a com­plete waste of space this year (although the ghastly cyn­ic­al rom-coms 27 Dresses and Made of Honour would have you believe oth­er­wise). Ghost Town was the best romantic com­edy of the year; The Dark Knight and Iron Man were enter­tain­ing enough; I got car­ried away by Mamma Mia and the showstop­ping per­form­ance by Meryl Streep; Taken was ener­get­ic Euro-pulp; Horton Hears a Who! and Madagascar 2 held up the kid-friendly end of the deal (plus a shout-out for the under-appreciated Space Chimps) and, of course, Babylon A.D. (just kid­ding, but I did enjoy it’s campy insanity).

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 December, 2008.

Note that I delib­er­ately avoid choos­ing Festival-only films as dir­ect­ing people towards films they can­’t eas­ily see is just cruel.