After years of auteur theory we have become conditioned to describe films as products of their director and so in my first draft of this review I started off talking about Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids. But it isn’t really Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, it’s Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids. She co-wrote it (with Annie Mumolo), co-produced it and stars in it as Annie, a thirty-something single woman living in Milwaukee, having a hard time of things (but a comedy hard time of things, this isn’t Down to the Bone or something from Romania).
Still, she’s lost all her money in a failed baking business (blamed on the economy not her marvellous cakes), she’s flatting with two awful English siblings who have no idea of boundaries and her best friend (Maya Rudolph from Away We Go) is getting married while she is in an entirely unsatisfactory ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement with douche Jon Hamm.
Back in the 70s, when I was about 8 years old, I watched a film on TV called Silent Running. In it Bruce Dern and three little robots tended the remains of Earth’s plant life on a giant greenhouse spaceship floating somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. I cried so much at the shocking ending (which had lonely robot Dewey, tending the forest with a battered watering can while the last of Earth’s flora drifted toward the edge of the solar system) that I don’t think I’ve ever been the same again. Last year, I rented the DVD to see if it had the same effect more than 30 years later and, sure enough, I dissolved on cue. Remarkable.
Pixar’s new animated triumph WALL•E owes a great deal to Silent Running, not least it’s dystopic view of human-planet interaction but also the faith in the healing power of anthropomorphic cuboid robots. WALL•E is the last functioning maintenance robot on an abandoned Earth, tidying up the enormous mountains of garbage left behind 700 years previously by the cowardly human population who ran for the stars. Lonely, without really knowing what lonely means, our hero meets EVE, a brilliant (as in shiny) search robot looking for signs of organic life. When she discovers some, and leaves to report back, WALL•E hitches a ride and ultimately finds himself saving civilisation.
It was perhaps a little too long for the restless pre-schoolers I shared a screening with, but for anyone and everyone else I whole-heartedly recommend it. And it won’t make you cry so much you throw up.
Regular readers will know that I have been quite the cheerleader for the new digital 3D technology (the U2 concert was stunning). Sadly, the first “live action” film to be produced using the process, Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D, is still more of a side-show stunt than a test of the artistic potential of the technology. Brendan Fraser plays a geologist whose brother was lost on an exploration in some Icelandic caves and when he discovers secret coded notes in his brother’s dog-eared copy of the Jules Verne book, he decides to recreate the expedition, taking his nephew (plus last week’s CT cover girl Anita Briem) along for the ride.
Alister Barry is one of Wellington’s living treasures. His meticulously researched documentaries (including Someone Else’s Country and In a Land of Plenty) have successfully shone a light on the political and economic changes in New Zealand since the ‘new right’ transformation of the mid-80s in a way that nobody in the mainstream media has even attempted. His new film is based on Nicky Hager’s explosive exposé of shoddy National Party campaigning, The Hollow Men, and it’s interesting to me that the real-life footage of Don Brash presents a considerably less sympathetic portrait of the man than Stephen Papps’ excellent performance in the stage version at BATS. The leaked emails from Hager’s book revealed so many shenanigans that it’s hard to keep the story straight but Barry does a good job of emphasising that it is essentially the same team running National this time around.
I was lucky enough to preview the gorgeous BBC nature documentary, Earth, at the Embassy during the Festival and I’m pleased to see it return there for a short season. Unlike the tedious and repetitive ice doco The White Planet, this film uses the whole planet as a canvas for some marvellous images and, like WALL•E, the message is that we are stuffing it up at an alarming rate. Only the cutest animals and most colourful plants got through the auditions and Patrick Stewart plays the Morgan Freeman part as narrator.
After dismal experiences with Will Ferrell’s recent ice-skating and basketball films I wasn’t looking forward to Step Brothers, a low brow reunitement (new word!) with Talladega Nights co-star John C. Reilly, but blow me down I really enjoyed it! Ferrell and Reilly play two 40-year-old men, living at home, whose solo parents meet and marry each other, making them, you guessed it Step Brothers. It’s a 90 minute riff on one joke but you have to admire their total commitment to it.
Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging was made for teenage girls and I (despite my best efforts) am not one but, even though I lack the required cultural filters, I can’t understand why teenage girls would want to be portrayed as such shallow, tedious, screeching harpies. Boys, make-up, boys, the right kind of underwear, boys again. If these are our future leaders then I despair. Crikey, was Helen Clark like this when she was 14?
Profound, sensitive, emotionally arduous and perfectly structured, 4 Months follows a day in the life of student Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) as she selflessly tries to organise an abortion for her light headed friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), while fending off the attentions of family and boyfriend. As close to perfect as makes no difference.
Printed (for the most part) in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 24 September, 2008. Except for Earth, Step Brothers, Angus, Thongs, etc. and 4 Months which were cut for space.
In 1993 Christchurch property developer Dave Henderson tried to get a GST refund on a project he was working on in Lower Hutt. When the IRD officer sexually harassed his partner, Dave threatened to kick him “half way down Cashel Street”. It turned out the IRD were the wrong people to threaten and the hell unleashed is entirely in the other direction. After years of audits, prosecutions and bankruptcies it took intervention from the heroic Rodney Hide to finally put a stop to the abuse.
We’re Here to Help will look right at home on television when it eventually appears (the IRD reception area looks like the old Shortland Street set) but if you go now you’ll have plenty to talk about at your summer barbecues.
There’s a lot to like about We’re Here to Help, particularly seeing experienced New Zealand actors like John Leigh and Stephen Papps given some freedom to play (and lead Erik Thomson is an effortless everyman) but the film gets terribly strange when Michael Hurst turns up dressed in a a fat suit to play Hide. He’s totally miscast and it becomes a completely different film (something by Jim Henson perhaps) when he is onscreen.
Have the IRD changed their ways? It has been argued that the unpleasantness served up to Henderson had its roots in an insular Christchurch business community but I know that several people connected to the production were very wary of potential IRD retaliation over the film and the fact that Producer John Barnett is currently being audited may not be an innocent coincidence.
Ian Curtis, Macclesfield’s matchless purveyor of un-listenable dirges, gets the big screen biopic treatment in Control. It’s a handsome production with some fine performances (not least from newcomer Sam Riley as Curtis); the actors playing Joy Division recreate the music with distressing accuracy and director Anton Corbijn employs the most effective use of black and white photography since Raging Bull.
Dog-sledding seems like a desperately uncertain method of transportation in The Last Trapper. Canadian hunter and wilderness veteran Norman Winther seems to spend most of his time tipping over, falling into frozen lakes, down ravines and tangling himself up with the dogs. Winther plays himself but it isn’t a documentary (although I’m sure there are grains of truth in each recreation). My recommendation would be to stick your fingers in your ears to ignore the clunky dialogue and poor dubbing and concentrate on the beautiful Yukonic visuals.
Back in 1983 Stephen King gave us a haunted car in Christine. Now, 24 years later he has come up with a haunted hotel room in 1408. Rumours that his next project will be about a haunted shopping trolley are pure speculation on my part. As for 1408, there are few surprises on offer and, apart from the always watchable John Cusack, it really did nothing for me.
Here in New Zealand Robert Redford’s patronising political science exercise Lions for Lambs seems so much like preaching to the choir but it would interesting to see it with a different audience, one for whom the simplistic history and ethics lessons on offer are fresh and inspiring. On second thoufghts I don’t think that audience exists. Tom Cruise plays ambitious Republican senator Jasper Irving, trying to manipulate credulous reporter Meryl Streep into promoting the latest random military surge in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan the surge itself has started badly and in California Pol-Sci professor Redford is trying to convince one last student to devote himself to selfless public service instead of easy money and a quiet life.
Finally, Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof is pure cinematic entertainment – an expertly constructed throwaway tribute to the cheap thrills of the 70s. Awesome Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a nasty piece of work who use his souped up “death proof” Chevy Nova to wreak havoc on two groups of young women. Luckily for the second bunch, they have kiwi stuntwoman Zoe Bell (Kill Bill) in the team and the ability to fight back. I came out of Death Proof grinning from ear to ear.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 November, 2007.
Nature of Conflict: John Leigh, Stephen Papps and several other members of the cast of We’re Here To Help are great mates of long standing. And Erik Thomson is a cousin.