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samuel l jackson

Review- Captain America: The First Avenger, Oranges and Sunshine & Precious Life

By Cinema and Reviews

Captain America posterOf all the remakes, sequels, fran­chises and com­ic book adapt­a­tions we are being offered this winter Captain America: The First Avenger is the one least likely to send a shiver of excite­ment down a Kiwi filmgoer’s spine. And yet, from rel­at­ively mod­est begin­nings a half decent adven­ture film grows – it isn’t going to change the way you think and feel about any­thing but Captain America at least won’t make you want to run scream­ing for the exits in embar­rass­ment and shame.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans from Fantastic Four) is a weedy, sickly kid from Brooklyn – digit­ally de-hanced if that’s the oppos­ite of enhanced – who des­per­ately wants to fight the Nazis for Uncle Sam. After sev­er­al humi­li­at­ing rejec­tions kindly sci­ent­ist Stanley Tucci enlists him in an exper­i­ment­al super-soldier pro­gramme, fills him full of what looks like blue Powerade and turns him into a muscle-bound, fast-healing, über-grunt.

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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: Water Whisperers/Tangaroa, Vampires Suck, The Other Guys and three more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Water Whisperers posterMy big beef with most eco-documentaries is the lack of hope. Whether it’s Rob Stewart (Sharkwater), Franny Armstrong (The Age of Stupid) or even Leonardo DiCaprio (The 11th Hour) most of these films go to a lot of trouble to tell you what’s wrong with the plan­et but leave us feel­ing help­less and depressed.

That’s why I like Kathleen Gallagher’s work so much. Her film last year, Earth Whisperers/Papatunauku told ten stor­ies of people who were mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, inspir­ing change and show­ing us that there are solu­tions as well as prob­lems. This year she has repeated the ton­ic, focus­ing on our water­ways and our rela­tion­ship with the sea: Water Whisperers/Tangaroa.

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Review: Holiday Cinema Summary

By Cinema and Reviews

Australia posterAustralia (Evidently, mod­ern Australia was built on racism, bigotry, cor­rup­tion and alco­hol). Not the débâcle that some media would have you believe, Straya is an old-fashioned epic that looks right at home on the big Embassy screen. If only Baz Luhrman the dir­ect­or had more con­fid­ence in Luhrman the writer, he might have avoided some of the more OTT moments by let­ting a good story tell itself. The film also suf­fers from a lack of Russell Crowe (not some­thing you can say all that often). A rough­er, nas­ti­er per­form­ance would have suited the char­ac­ter of the Drover bet­ter but might also pro­voked some­thing a little less sim­per­ing from Nicole Kidman. Hugh Jackman is a fine enough act­or (and is neces­sar­ily Australian), he’s just tra­gic­ally miscast.

Benjamin Button posterThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt is born old and grows phys­ic­ally young­er all the while touch­ing the lives of the people around him). Other com­ment­at­ors have already made the obvi­ous com­par­is­ons between Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump, but the dis­ap­point­ment I felt on leav­ing the theatre was palp­able. Despite the evid­ent tech­nic­al mas­tery on dis­play and a win­ning per­form­ance by Brad Pitt, the film falls well short of its own expect­a­tions, in fact I would argue that Yes Man is actu­ally more profound.

Yes Man posterYes Man (Jim Carrey finds love and ful­fil­ment by not say­ing “no”). Proves that achiev­ing mod­est aims is often more sat­is­fy­ing than fall­ing short with more ambi­tious pro­jects. The pres­ence of Rhys Darby adds half a star and the won­der­ful Zooey Deschanel adds a whole extra one. Great indie soundtrack too.

Bolt posterBolt (TV hero dog dis­cov­ers he does­n’t actu­ally have super powers). The most fun of the hol­i­days can be found by slip­ping on the Readings’ polar­ized 3D glasses and enjoy­ing the Disney car­toon romp Bolt. Unlike the lead-footed Desperaux, Bolt zips along with plenty of visu­al and verbal pan­ache. The 3D isn’t too gim­micky and does the job of bring­ing you into the film (or if you prefer, mak­ing every­one else in the theatre disappear).

The Tale of Desperaux posterThe Tale of Desperaux (big-eared mouse res­cues Princess, saves king­dom). On Sunday the morn­ing, of those queued at the Empire in Island Bay 100% of the kids chose Bolt, 100% of the review­ers chose The Tale of Desperaux and the kids got the bet­ter part of the deal. Alone in the cinema I killed time by try­ing to work out which act­or’s voice I was listen­ing to: any­one know what William H. Macy sounds like?

Waltz with Bashir posterWaltz with Bashir (war vet­er­an inter­views old bud­dies to try and remem­ber a sup­pressed past). The best film of the hol­i­days actu­ally opened before the break but after my last dead­line of the old year. An anim­ated explor­a­tion of one of the many Israeli wars against their neigh­bours and the tricks played by memory, WWB has many images that linger in the mind, ready to re-emerge whenev­er I see a news­pa­per head­line about the cur­rent situ­ation in Gaza.

The Spirit posterThe Spirit (rook­ie cop is brought back to life with an eye for the ladies). You won’t have seen a film quite like The Spirit before, not one that was any good at least. A cross between the stark, CGI-noir of Sin City with the corny humour of the 60s Batman, if you’ve ever wanted to see Samuel L. Jackson camp­ing it up in full Nazi regalia this is the film for you. For the rest of us, not so much.

Bedtime Stories posterBedtime Stories (Hotel handy­man’s stor­ies for his neph­ew and niece come true the next day). The need for a PG rat­ing cramps Adam Sandler’s style some­what and the money the pro­du­cers obvi­ously saved on cine­ma­to­graphy went on some class Brit-actors includ­ing Richard Griffiths and Jonathan Pryce.

Twilight posterTwilight (Tale of a teen­age girl arriv­ing in a new town, befriended by, and then fall­ing in love with, the loc­al vam­pire). Evidently the Twilight young-adult nov­els are some kind of phe­nomen­on but I was more than mildly diver­ted by the cine­mat­ic ver­sion. I liked the sense of place (the cold and rainy Pacific North West) and the lack of urgency about the story-telling – tak­ing its own sweet time. The fact that the primary rela­tion­ship is between an adoles­cent girl and a 100-year-old man (no mat­ter how beau­ti­ful and young-looking) did man­age to creep me out though, more so than the ‘cradle-snatching’ in Benjamin Button.

Frost/Nixon posterFrost/Nixon (Famous inter­view saves Frost’s career and fin­ishes Nixon’s). A film of primary interest to 70s con­spir­acy the­ory buffs and act­ors look­ing for a mas­ter­class. Frank Langella does Richard M. Nixon per­fectly des­pite bear­ing little resemb­lance to the real per­son and Michael Sheen and Rebecca Hall add to their grow­ing repu­ta­tions. The Frost/Nixon inter­views had plenty of drama of their own but this film pads it all out with events and con­ver­sa­tions that did­n’t happen.

Vicky Christina Barcelona posterVicky Cristina Barcelona (Gap year American girls find love in Catalonia). There was a time when the name Woody Allen was a guar­an­tee of high-brow qual­ity and it’s a sign of the times that the excel­lent Vicky Cristina Barcelona is being sold to the pub­lic with no men­tion of his name at all. As it turns out VCB is pretty damn fine – a witty and intel­li­gent script that plays out like a deftly dram­at­ised New Yorker short story.

The Dinner Guest posterThe Dinner Guest (Simple couple turn posh to impress the new Boss). The French movies we get here seem to be more obsessed with class than any­thing from England and The Dinner Guest is no excep­tion. The twist in this case is that our her­oes are so uncul­tured they could be, I don’t know, English. Betrays its stage ori­gins so much so I might have been watch­ing it at Circa.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 January, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I am pleased to report that everything was well presen­ted (the print for Vicky Cristina Barcelona might have been a little too rough for the big Embassy screen). The digit­al 3D Bolt had some strange mask­ing issues which nobody at Readings could explain to me, and I only noticed dur­ing the clos­ing cred­its so no de-merit points apply.

Review: The Bucket List, Jumper, Rescue Dawn, Goodbye Bafana, We Own the Night and Delirious

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Bucket List posterThe trail­er for The Bucket List has been play­ing for weeks now, indu­cing groans at every appear­ance. By col­lect­ing a series of Jack Nicholson’s now trade­mark Jack-isms plus Morgan Freeman’s reg­u­lar, twinkly, wise old man schtick and then sprinkled with plenty of schmaltz, the trail­er made me act­ively want to avoid a film that looked like a lame set of sac­char­ine clichés and tired ham act­ing – cyn­ic­al Hollywood at its worst.

I am pleased to report, how­ever, that The Bucket List is a much more enjoy­able film than I was expect­ing. There is some excel­lent work from Nicholson and Freeman who are well coached by dir­ect­or Rob Reiner, with the help of a script by Justin Zackham that has sev­er­al decent moments. Nicholson plays mis­an­throp­ic health tycoon Edward Cole who is dia­gnosed with brain can­cer and forced, due to his own tight-fisted policies, to share a room with car mech­an­ic and lung can­cer patient Freeman. When he dis­cov­ers Freeman has a wish-list of things to do before he dies, he takes it upon him­self to make them come true using the bil­lions he has accu­mu­lated in the cor­rupt American health care sys­tem.

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Review: The Italian, My Best Friend, No Reservations, Breach, The War Within and Black Snake Moan

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Italian posterReturning swiftly from the Festival is The Italian, a lovely and old-fashioned art-house win­ner about a six year-old Russian orphan played by the won­der­ful Kolya Spiridonov. He’s Vanya, a little urchin with soul­ful eyes who sees everything that goes on in his wretched Dickensian orphan­age includ­ing the cor­rup­tion, thiev­ery and abuse. The moth­er of his best friend makes a pathet­ic drunk­en appear­ance which gives him the idea that he, too, might have a moth­er. And, if he has a moth­er then there’s no reas­on why he can­’t find her so they can live togeth­er forever. Highly recommended.

My Best Friend posterMy Best Friend is one of those French films that sig­nals its gal­lic cre­den­tials with plenty of accor­di­on music (though falls short of gra­tu­it­ous Eiffel Tower shots like Orchestra Seats earli­er in the year). Ubiquitous Daniel Auteuill plays an antique deal­er who dis­cov­ers he has no friends but needs one to win a bet. He dis­cov­ers trivia buff taxi driver Dany Boon who seems to win friends effort­lessly and demands to know his secret.

And, like so many French films, the effete bour­geois gets life les­sons from the down-to-earth pro­let­ari­an (cf Conversations With My Gardener, still to return from the Festival) because the life of an intel­lec­tu­al is no life at all. If this was an American remake star­ring John Travolta and, say, Chris Rock we’d call it the rub­bish it is.

No Reservations posterTalking of rub­bish American remakes, No Reservations is a vir­tu­ally shot-for-shot recre­ation of the German hit Mostly Martha about an uptight female chef dis­armed by her 9 year-old niece and the vivid Italian chef she is forced to work beside. This is a vehicle for Catherine Zeta-Jones with sup­port from Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin and talk­ing chin Aaron Eckhart and I’m sure most will find it unex­cep­tion­al; I des­pised its lazy com­pet­ence includ­ing the cyn­ic­al abil­ity to com­mis­sion a rare Philip Glass score and then dis­card it whenev­er the need for a cheap pop cue appears.

Breach posterBreach is a ter­ribly good, low-key, post-Cold War thrill­er anchored by a Champions League per­form­ance from Chris Cooper as real-life FBI trait­or Robert Hanssen who was caught and con­victed in February 2001 after 22 years selling secrets to the Russians. Helping nail him is rook­ie Ryan Phillippe who, at first, is seduced by his pious Catholicism and computer-nerdery before dis­cov­er­ing the com­plex and unusu­al man inside. Of course, while the FBI was put­ting every spare man-hour on the case of the mole with­in, sev­er­al Saudi stu­dents were learn­ing to fly planes in Florida so it was­n’t exactly the Bureau’s finest hour.

The War Within posterIn The War Within, Grand Central Station in New York is the tar­get of fic­tion­al Al-Qaeda ter­ror­ist Hassan who, like Derek Luke’s char­ac­ter in Catch a Fire a few weeks ago, is an inno­cent man rad­ic­al­ised by the bru­tal­ity around him. Very well made and pho­to­graphed (HD’s digit­al abil­ity to pro­duce vivid, sat­ur­ated col­ours well to the fore) on a mod­est budget. The War Within is almost cal­cu­lated to be of lim­ited interest to main­stream audi­ences but will cer­tainly reward those who seek it out.

Black Snake Moan posterIn Black Snake Moan, psychologically-damaged abuse-victim Christina Ricci goes off the deep end when boy­friend Justin Timberlake leaves their small Tennessee town to join the National Guard. Grizzled Blues vet­er­an Samuel L. Jackson chains her to a radi­at­or to save her from her­self but he has issues of his own, of course. Black Snake Moan gets bet­ter the more it trusts its char­ac­ters and, if you can get past the pulp shock value, there’s a good film inside.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times, Wednesday 23 August, 2007.

Some screen­ing notes: The Italian screened at home sev­er­al weeks ago on a time-coded DVD from the Film Festival; My Best Friend viewed from the too close front row of a packed Penthouse Three (the big new one) on 11 August; No Reservations seen at a vir­tu­ally empty staff and media screen­ing in Readings 8 at 9.15 on a Monday morn­ing (6 August); Breach watched this Monday (20 August) at the Empire in Island Bay who shouted me a free cof­fee after I bitched about the bus driver mak­ing me throw my first one away; The War Within screened at home on Saturday night from a gently water­marked DVD from Arkles, the dis­trib­ut­or; Black Snake Moan screened at the Paramount on Monday afternoon.

Full dis­clos­ure: I have done paid work in the past for Arkles Entertainment (dis­trib­ut­or of The War Within) and am design­ing their new web site which will be live next week.