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Review: Run Fatboy Run, Vantage Point, The Other Boleyn Girl, Interview, Step Up 2 the Streets and 10,000 BC

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

My nor­mal, equable, approach to Hollywood block­buster product has been upset this week by the news that, in a decision of quite breath­tak­ing cyn­icism, Warner Bros. are going to split the final Harry Potter film (The Deathly Hallows due in 2010) in to two parts and thus, with a wave of a Potter-like wand, make $500m appear where no money was before. Normal ser­vice may well be resumed next week but for now I am grumpy and it may show.

Run Fatboy Run posterSimon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) leaves his hit-making col­lab­or­at­ors, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, behind for a while for his new com­edy Run Fatboy Run. He plays love­able waster Dennis Doyle who could eas­ily be a cous­in of Shaun (or Tim in “Spaced”). Five years ago he ran out on his beau­ti­ful preg­nant girl­friend, Thandie Newton, on their wed­ding day. Now, she has hooked up with hand­some, rich, American mara­thon run­ner Hank Azaria (The Simpsons) and Dennis (with the help of very funny best friend Dylan Moran from “Black Books”) decides to win her back by prov­ing he can fin­ish a London Marathon. Competent and ener­get­ic but with the occa­sion­al bum note, Run Fatboy Run is like a pub band cov­er ver­sion of a great British romantic com­edy. One of the reas­ons why it does­n’t always work must be down to first-time fea­ture dir­ect­or David Schwimmer (Ross from “Friends”) whose tim­ing, sadly, isn’t always on.

Vantage Point posterThey say you nev­er come out of a film hum­ming the struc­ture, which in the case of plucky little thrill­er Vantage Point is a shame as the struc­ture is really all it has going for it. An attemp­ted assas­sin­a­tion of US President Ashton (William Hurt) in Salamanca, Spain is told and retold from the dif­fer­ing per­spect­ives of sev­er­al prot­ag­on­ists and wit­nesses, includ­ing Dennis Quaid’s age­ing Secret Serviceman and Forest Whitaker’s handicam-toting tour­ist. The plot is nev­er fully unrav­elled, though, leav­ing too many ques­tions unanswered not least of which why Spanish ter­ror­ists would col­lab­or­ate with jihadists. There’s one great car chase, though, involving what looks like a Holden Barina. Everything else disappoints.

The Other Boleyn Girl posterWith The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen scribe Peter Morgan turns his atten­tion to anoth­er chapter in Britain’s roy­al his­tory: the bed-hopping, neck-chopping, Tudor soap opera star­ring Henry VIII and his search for an heir; a pre­quel, if you will, to Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman play the Boleyn sis­ters, com­pet­ing for the atten­tion of Eric Bana’s hand­some but unstable Henry (if they only knew he was going to turn into Charles Laughton they might not have tried so hard). The ori­gin­al nov­el was bodice-ripping romantic fic­tion dressed as lit­er­at­ure and the film serves the same pur­pose. Entertaining.

Interview official siteSteve Buscemi takes the dir­ect­or’s chair (and stars in) Interview, a low-key two-hander also fea­tur­ing Sienna Miller. Buscemi plays cyn­ic­al polit­ic­al journ­al­ist Pierre who is forced to inter­view a fam­ous soap star. Based on, and far too respect­ful of, a film by murdered Dutch film­maker Theo Van Gogh, Interview feels like a stage play – and not in a good way.

Step Up 2 The Streets posterEver since West Side Story (and pos­sibly earli­er) dance has been used as a meta­phor for urb­an viol­ence but in recent years the trend has got some com­mer­cial legs as film­makers real­ise they can present hip-hop music and urb­an situ­ations in a PG envir­on­ment. In Step Up a white urb­an free­style dan­cer (Channing Tatum) tried to make it at bal­let school. In the sequel (Step Up 2 The Streets), a white free­style urb­an dan­cer (Briana Evigan) tries to make it at the same bal­let school. But she’s from The Streets, you see, and she’s an orphan so she gath­ers the oth­er out­casts and eth­nics from the school so they can com­pete with the gang-bangers in an “illeg­al” dance com­pet­i­tion. I’m fas­cin­ated, obvi­ously, by these films not least the pro­mo­tion of dance as com­pet­i­tion over dance as expres­sion. But I’m over-thinking as usual.

10,000 BC posterFinally, 10,000 BC is fit­fully enter­tain­ing twaddle. Historically and anthro­po­lo­gic­ally inac­cur­ate not to men­tion eth­no­lo­gic­ally offens­ive, my recom­mend­a­tion is to wait for the video, get stoned with your mates and then talk all the way through it.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 March, 2008 although space con­straints saw the last few items cut. So, Interview, Step Up 2 The Streets and 10,000 BC are like web-only bonus items.

Nature of Conflict: Interview is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I some­times do a little work for.

Review: Joshua, The Page Turner and Habana Blues

By Cinema and Reviews

Joshua posterSeveral times dur­ing the creepy psy­cho­lo­gic­al, pae­di­at­ric­al, thrill­er Joshua, stressed par­ents Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga are told to “just get a nanny”. If only they had, they may have got Scarlett Johansson and Joshua would have become a romantic com­edy with a bit of soft social com­ment­ary. Instead, they plough on par­ent­ing proudly, heed­less of the dam­age being done by troubled elder-son Joshua (Jacob Kogan), until it is too late.

Rockwell and Farmiga are a wealthy Manhattan couple. He invest­ment banks for bully Chester Fields (Michael McKean from Spinal Tap) while she unravels at home. When new baby Lily arrives 9 year old Joshua, a strangely self-possessed preppy child with that inab­il­ity to blink that in Hollywood usu­ally sig­nals sig­ni­fic­ant psy­cho­lo­gic­al dis­order or demon­ic pos­ses­sion, starts sys­tem­at­ic­ally des­troy­ing the fam­ily – includ­ing pets and grand­moth­ers – in order to pre­serve it.

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Review: Black Book, The Kingdom, The Nanny Diaries and Half Nelson

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Black Book posterPaul Verhoeven is one of those dir­ect­ors that has no hand-brake, regard­less of the sub­ject mat­ter. For ice-pick wield­ing mur­der­ers (Basic Instinct) or giant ali­en bugs (Starship Troopers) this damn-the-torpedos atti­tude is per­fect; when we’re talk­ing about Dutch jews being betrayed by cor­rupt mem­bers of the res­ist­ance in WWII – not so much.

Black Book is Verhoeven’s first film in sev­en years, and his first film back home in Holland since Flesh + Blood back in 1985. Carice van Houten plays Rachel Stein, a nightclub sing­er before the war, now on the run from the Nazis. When her fam­ily is murdered on the brink of escape she dyes her hair blonde and joins the res­ist­ance, going under­cov­er and then fall­ing in love with the good German played by Sebastian Koch from The Lives of Others (you know he’s going to be a good German because he col­lects stamps and does­n’t have a scar on his cheek).

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Review: Zodiac, Scoop and Reno 911!- Miami

By Cinema and Reviews

Zodiac posterIf, like David Fincher, you were grow­ing up in Northern California dur­ing the early 70’s you, too, might have become fas­cin­ated and obsessed by the mys­ter­i­ous publicity-troll seri­al killer known as Zodiac. Now Fincher has turned that fas­cin­a­tion in to a solidly con­struc­ted but over­long his­tory of the failed efforts to identi­fy Zodiac and bring him to justice called, with typ­ic­al ima­gin­a­tion, Zodiac.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, car­toon­ist for the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of the first murders in 1969, whose obses­sion about the case led to a book identi­fy­ing the most likely sus­pect (and a failed marriage).

One of the prob­lems that law enforce­ment had in deal­ing with the Zodiac was his propensity for tak­ing cred­it for murders that wer­en’t his and the fact that his real murders occurred in three dif­fer­ent jur­is­dic­tions, mean­ing that there was little or no co-ordination and import­ant evid­ence was­n’t shared. It took Graysmith’s dec­ade long per­sever­ance to at least shine a light on a case that offi­cially still remains open.

There are good per­form­ances from many reli­able faces includ­ing Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Brian Cox. Chloe Sevigny is crim­in­ally under-used (as she often seems to be) as Graysmith’s wife (but that’s a fault with the true-life story rather than the film­makers). In fact, this is one of those true stor­ies you wish had been jazzed up a bit rather than treated with so much respect. The prob­lem here is that Zodiac does­n’t do a heck of a lot so there’s no way to ratchet the ten­sion up except with spooky blind alleys.

If you were a Zodiac-obsessed kid like Fincher, you’ll get a big kick out of the detailed recre­ations of the era. If you are a nor­mal cit­izen like myself, by the time the film goes in to Decade (and Hour) Three, you’ll won­der what all the fuss is about.

Scoop posterAltogether more suc­cess­ful serial-killer sleuths are on dis­play in Woody Allen’s new UK-based pro­duc­tion Scoop. Scarlet Johansson plays Sondra Pransky, journ­al­ism stu­dent on hol­i­day in London. At a magic show (Allen him­self is The Great Splendini) she is vis­ited by the ghost of gruff old Fleet Street hack Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) who gives her a tip: Eligible rich boy Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) is the infam­ous Tarot Card Killer and she has to reveal the truth and get the scoop of the decade.

With Splendini’s help Pransky goes under­cov­er but finds her­self fall­ing for Lyman/Jackman’s charms and drop­ping the scent. This is minor Allen (aren’t they all these days?) but not without charms and sev­er­al jokes made me laugh out loud (one of which I am steal­ing for myself). It seems to have been thrown togeth­er a little haphaz­ardly and a cast of English not­ables gets very little to do except stand around at garden parties – former Bond and Indiana Jones vil­lain Julian Glover gets only one line as Lyman’s father.

The beau­ti­ful Romola Garai (I Capture The Castle) plays best-friend Vivian and she will be here in September to play Cordelia to Ian McKellen’s Lear at the St James. Looking for­ward to it.

Reno 911! Miami posterFinally, in a quiet week, late night tv spin-off Reno 911!: Miami is about as funny as someone stand­ing on your corn (an image drawn dir­ectly from life, ladies and gentlemen).

Printed in the Capital Times, Wednesday 23 May, 2007.

Review: The Queen, Marie Antoinette, Night at the Museum, Déjà Vu, Copying Beethoven, The Aura, Happy Feet, Charlotte’s Web, The Valet, The Prestige, Babel, Four Last Songs, Saw III and Apocalypto

By Cinema and Reviews

What I did on my hol­i­days by Dan Slevin (aged 38 and a half).

The Queen posterAfter a few days off between Christmas and New Year I launched back in to the swing of cinema things with a “Disfunctional Royal Family” double-feature of The Queen (Stephen Frears) and Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola) at the Penthouse. Helen Mirren is won­der­ful in an end­lessly fas­cin­at­ing tale of an insti­tu­tion real­ising that it that may have out­stayed it’s wel­come, while Kirsten Dunst radi­ates beauty (des­pite those wonky teeth) as the last queen of France. The prob­lem with Marie Antoinette is that the prot­ag­on­ist does­n’t do any actu­al prot­ag­on­ising which means that we get a lot of beau­ti­ful tableaux but very little drama.

The fol­low­ing night was “Hollywood Blockbuster” double-feature at the Empire: Night at The Museum (Shawn Levy), a pre­dict­able CGI romp with Ben Stiller and pre­pos­ter­ous time-travel thrill­er Déjà Vu (Tony Scott) star­ring a relaxed Denzel Washington. Museum is set in the New York American Museum of Natural History and it does give one a new respect for the arts of taxi­dermy, the real­ist­ic walk­ing and talk­ing Mickey Rooney was very impress­ive. Déjà Vu turns out to be very enter­tain­ing and the twists and turns get quite absorb­ing – a pleas­ant surprise.

Ed Harris turns in a bravura per­form­ance as Ludwig Van Beethoven in Copying Beethoven (Agnieszka Holland) along with an almost impossibly beau­ti­ful Diane Kruger who plays the young com­pos­i­tion stu­dent help­ing him com­plete his final mas­ter­pieces. The music is sen­sa­tion­al. Late in 2006, the gif­ted Argentine dir­ect­or Fabián Bielinsky (Nine Queens) passed away leav­ing us The Aura as his vale­dic­tion. Starring the redoubt­able Ricardo Darin as an epi­leptic taxi­derm­ist, The Aura is moody and evoc­at­ive but was­n’t quite enough to keep this review­er awake on a wet Wednesday after­noon. If life was­n’t so short I’d give it anoth­er crack as I’m sure there was some­thing going on under­neath but it was soooo sloooow.

The five year old I took to Happy Feet (George Miller) was still singing songs from the film that night so very much mis­sion accom­plished on that front. It’s a hugely enter­tain­ing col­lec­tion of set-pieces which kind of fall apart when the neces­sit­ies of plot inter­vene and it turns uncom­fort­ably dark, very quickly. Miller has had an inter­est­ing career: start­ing out as a med­ic­al doc­tor he then made the Mad Max films, kick-started the CGI talk­ing anim­als trend with Babe and now tap-dancing pen­guins. Talking of talk­ing anim­als, Charlotte’s Web (Gary Winick) man­aged to squeeze an unwill­ing tear out of me des­pite the feel­ing of manip­u­la­tion throughout.

On a more grown-up level (though not by much) The Valet (Francis Veber) did­n’t pull up any trees and in fact ended so sud­denly I thought there was a reel miss­ing. The most appeal­ing char­ac­ter in the flick, Alice Taglioni as the super-model, gets no clos­ure to her story. She’s left alone in her apart­ment cry­ing. What’s that about? The Prestige (Christopher Nolan) was always going to appeal to me due it’s sub­ject mat­ter and the pres­ence of per­fect dis­trac­tion Scarlett Johansson and it delivered. The film is about stage magic and uses stage magic prin­ciples to tell it’s very twisty story – though some might say it has one twist too many.

Babel posterBabel (Alejandro González Iñárritu) is one of the best films of this or any year, a ser­i­ous, med­it­at­ive snap­shot of our world thor­ough a stranger­’s eyes. Four stor­ies are told in par­al­lel, three imme­di­ately linked and the con­nec­tions with the fourth gently revealed by the end. It has a kind of science-fiction feel about it as we see four very dif­fer­ent world cul­tures presen­ted as if they could be oth­er plan­ets, ali­en ter­rit­ory yet eer­ily famil­i­ar. If I had stumbled across Four Last Songs (Francesca Joseph) on tele­vi­sion where it belongs I would have changed chan­nels after about five minutes, so I did the cinema equi­val­ent instead and went look­ing for some sunshine.

Saw III posterLastly, I had the mixed pleas­ure of a “Sadistic Violence” double-feature at Readings: Saw III (Darren Lynn Bousman) and Apocalypto (Mel Gibson). Crikey. What pos­sesses a screen­writer or dir­ect­or to sit in front of a vir­gin white piece of paper and then use it to dream up ways of dis­mem­ber­ing people? Funnily enough, Saw III is the more respect­able piece of work as it does­n’t try and pre­tend to be any­thing more than it is, while Apocalypto is the usu­al Hollywood rub­bish dressed up in National Geographic cloth­ing. Gibson is a dan­ger­ous extrem­ist (not just in purely cine­mat­ic terms) and the foul polit­ics of Apocalypto are not made up for by the bois­ter­ous filmmaking.

Not seen before dead­line: Heart of The Game (Ward Serrill); Open Season (Roger Allers, Jill Culton, Anthony Stacchi).

Currently play­ing in iTunes: Funny How Time Slips Away from the album “VH1 Storytellers” by Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson

UPDATE: Evidently there is no Capital Times this week so it looks like this opus will remain online only. You lucky, lucky people… Six more films are released this week and the world con­tin­ues to turn relent­lessly onwards.

UPDATE: Printed in the Capital Times, Wellington, Wednesday January 24, 2007.