Still hovering around some local cinemas – and the longest-delayed of all my outstanding reviews – Still Mine is a surprisingly effective Canadian drama about an elderly man (James Cromwell, 73 but playing a fit 89) determined to build a new house for his wife (Geneviéve Bujold) before her memory deserts her completely. Cromwell gives his character a softness which belies the usual ornery old dude clichés, even if his stubborn refusal to submit to the building code is the device on which the story hinges. Contains lots of shots of Cromwell’s heroic profile staring off into the New Brunswick distance.
Older people are, paradoxically, the only growing segment of the film audience in New Zealand so there’s often high quality fare around the tempt them. One of the best is the documentary Ping Pong, about competitors (genuine competitors at that) in the World Over 80s Table Tennis Championship in Inner Mongolia. Like any good documentary it assembles a great cast of characters and like all good sports movies it makes full use of the built-in drama of a knock-out tournament. Not just about the restorative power of exercise, it’s also about friendship and adventure. Inspiring, so help me.
As I sit here typing, I can hear the sounds of a Wellington summer all around me – the rain pouring on to the deck outside and the wind howling through the trees. Is this why local film distributors release so much product over the Christmas/New Year period? Perhaps it’s just climate and nothing to do with the Oscars at all? Anyhow, here’s a quick summary of what’s been dished out at local cinemas in descending order of greatness.
First up, Ang Lee’s glowing 3D adaptation of Yann Martell’s Life of Pi, storming the local box offices and deservedly so. Ravishing to look at – and making profound rather than novelty use of the extra depth available – Lee’s film manages to distil the essence of the book’s message even if the ambiguous ending proves less satisfying cinematically than literarily. Dreamy. I was particularly taken by the conscious recreation of the book’s original cover in one scene, even to the extent of changing the film’s aspect ratio for that single shot.
Following the surprise success of Second Hand Wedding in 2008, screenwriter Nick Ward and director Paul Murphy have been given a vastly improved budget and access to two international stars and told to make lightning strike twice.
The stars of Love Birds just happen to be the two fussiest actors in the world, Sally Hawkins (Golden Globe winner for Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky) and TV comic Rhys Darby, and when the two of them start fidgeting and stammering it feels like you are in for a long night. Luckily, both have their still-er moments and at those times you can see that Darby has real potential as a big screen romantic lead.
Oh 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.
So, it’s the school holidays and the nippers are bouncing off the walls. You’re not allowed to just leave them in the car while you play the pokies anymore so it’s time to get creative. There are plenty of kid-friendly movie options around and the only drawback is that you might have to sit and watch with them.
In G‑Force 3D guinea pigs save the world from – actually I can’t tell you as the twist is quite a good one. A top secret research project involving Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) and rodents with the voices of Nic Cage, Sam Rockwell and Penélope Cruz is pressed into service when an entire consumer brand (toasters, coffee makers, etc) goes berserk. The animation is first class (and CGI rodents are always cute) but the film as a whole never really gets going. It’s a Bruckheimer production so was probably consumer tested beyond endurance.
Another fictional consumer brand gets a pummelling in this new era of anti-commercialism in Shorts , Robert Rodriguez’ spunky and inventive, low budget effort. Black Industries make a Black Box – an all-in-one portable everything device that turns out not to be nearly as cool as the rainbow magic wishing stone that causes havoc everywhere it goes. Pitched slightly younger than G‑Force, and without the polish, it is still worth a look.