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Captain Phillips poster

Review: Diana, Runner Runner, Camille Claudel 1915, Prisoners, Austenland, About Time and Captain Phillips

By Cinema and Reviews

Tom Hanks in Paul Greengrass's Captain Phillips (2013)

Apart from the inescapable need to carve out a meagre living from an uncaring world, one of the reasons why these weekly updates have been something less than, well, weekly recently has been that most of the fare on offer at the pictures has been so uninspiring.

Diana posterTake Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana for example. It’s not a bad movie, per se. It’s certainly not the trainwreck that the British media would have you believe. It’s just so … inessential. Hirschbiegel’s desire to be respectful to Diana’s children, and to other players in the story who are still living, simply sucks all of the drama out of the thing, leaving you with a frustrating non-love story between two frustratingly inarticulate people. There are occasional hints of the complex character she may have been but the finished product is a kind of nothing. It really is too soon for this film to tell this story.

Runner Runner posterThen there’s the Justin Timberlake vehicle Runner Runner, in which the pop star turned actor attempts to carry a film all by himself and proves that he either is unable to do so, or can’t pick a project that’s worth the attempt. He plays a former Wall St hotshot with a talent for calculating risk who trades Princeton for the high life of running an online gambling business in sunny (and shady) Costa Rica. Not one word of this dismal little film betrays a breath of authenticity, either in its storytelling or character. Screenwriters Koppelman and Levien once wrote Ocean’s 13 (and The Girlfriend Experience) for Steven Soderbergh. At least they were meant to be fantasy.

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Preview: 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival

By Cinema and Reviews

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Now, I’m risking the ire of the extremely helpful and generous New Zealand International Film Festival team here, but I’m going to recommend an approach to festival-going that will probably reward you more than it will them. Here goes: don’t book for anything. Don’t plan your life around any particular screening of any particular film. Especially, don’t book for anything because that’s the one all your mates are going to.

Try this instead. Wake up on any given morning during the festival, feel like watching a movie, have a look through the festival calendar in the middle of the programme (or the handy-sized mini-guide, available soon) and pick a something you fancy based on the title. Or the cinema closest to you. Or the cinema furthest away. Or close your eyes and jab a finger at the page. Either way, step out of your comfort zone and try something new. You won’t regret it. Well, you might, but probably not for long.

Every year, this is kind of what I do when I ask the festival publicity team for help with this preview. Give me a stack of screener DVDs, I say, or those new-fangled internet links where I have to watch a film sitting at my desk. No, don’t tell me what they are. Let me guess. Some of my favourite festival experiences have come watching films I knew nothing about, but for those of you who are going to ignore my advice and, um, take my advice, here are some notes on the films I’ve already seen, in no particular order.

The House of Radio posterI’m a radio-head from my childhood. I love radio, listening to it, appearing on it, making it. I love looking at studios, perving at microphones, the red lights that go on when the mics are live, the silently ticking clocks. Watching Nicolas Philibert’s The House of Radio, I was a pig in shit. I don’t think I’ve been as blissed out as this watching a film for ages. It’s one day in the life of Radio France, where seemingly dozens of stations share a giant Parisian cathedral dedicated to the wireless. News, talk, culture, music — classical, jazz and hip-hop. Philibert’s polite camera peers into their studios and their offices, even the Tour de France correspondent reporting live from the back of a motorbike.

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Review: Existence, Song of the Kauri, Magic Mike, Bel Ami, The Princess of Montpensier

By Cinema and Reviews

Update (2 Aug 2012): The unfinished screener of Song of the Kauri that I watched had a caption that stated that New Zealand imported more timber than it exported. It turns out that this isn’t actually true and that the caption doesn’t appear in the finished version of the film that screens in NZFF. Director Mathurin Molgat emailed me last night:

This was a fact that my research proved to be incorrect. We import exotic hardwoods but our exports of Pinus Radiata far outstrip our total imports. In the finished film that statement is not included.

Funerals & Snakes apologies for any inconvenience the error might have caused.

End of update.

Existence posterIn a bleak and windswept environment, high in the hills surrounded by forbidding wind turbines, a ragged band of outcasts work tirelessy together to make something out of almost nothing. They are resourceful and determined — battling extreme conditions and overcoming impossible odds. I’m talking about the characters in new Wellington feature film Existence which gets its premiere in Wellington on Friday night, but I might as well be describing the filmmakers themselves who shot the film in the hills around Belmont and Makara in 2011. Existence is the first product of the NZ Film Commission’s low budget Escalator programme and is a testament to the depth of talent in the industry here.

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Review: The Dark Knight Rises, Cloudburst, Late Bloomers, Trail Notes, Sky Whisperers and King of Devil’s Island

By Cinema and Reviews

The Dark Knight Rises posterI made the mistake of watching The Dark Knight Rises twice last week. The first time was entertaining enough, I suppose. The opening set-piece — in which a CIA renditions plane is hijacked in mid-air by it’s own cargo — is brilliantly conceived but pointless, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a breath of fresh air and the ending (unspoiled here) works extremely hard to tie up the many loose ends and satisfy even the meanest critic.

But second time up, the problems come into even clearer focus. The confused ideology (a fusion of zeitgeisty “Occupy Gotham” wealth redistribution and pro-vigilante “mean streets will always need cleaning” status quo protectionism), endless tiresome exposition of both plot and theme and the huge holes in its own internal logic, all serve to dissipate the impact of the impressive visuals.

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Review: Beginners, Contagion, Happy Ever Afters, Last Train Home, Eco-Pirate and 13 Assassins

By Cinema and Reviews

Beginners posterI really don’t want much. It’s simple. All I ask is for someone with talent to take some of their life experience and merge it with that talent in the hope that the resulting work of art might help illuminate some aspect of my life. That’s all. And yet it rarely happens. Which means I’m very grateful that with Beginners, Mike Mills has done exactly that and produced a terrific film that is intensely personal — both to him and to me.

Ewan McGregor plays a gloomy Los Angelean illustrator: lonesome, introspective, self-sabotaging; all lessons learnt growing up an only child in a household where his father was a closeted gay and his mother lived a constrained and lonely life of imagination. When she dies of cancer, McGregor’s father (Christopher Plummer) is freed from the bonds of marriage, comes out at the age of 75 and throws himself whole-heartedly into the the LA gay scene — including posting revealing personal ads and starting a relationship with a budding pyrotechnician named Andy (Goran Visnjic). And then he gets cancer.

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2009 Wellington Cinema Year in Review

By Cinema

Welcome to the 2010 “cut out and keep” guide to video renting (or downloading or however you consume your home entertainment these days). I suggest you clip this article, fold it up, stick it in your wallet or purse and refer to it whenever you are at the video shop, looking for something to while away the long winter evenings of 2010.

First up, the ones to buy – the Keepers. These are the films that (if you share my psychology and some of my pathologies) you will cherish until you are old and the technology to play them no longer exists. Best film of the year remains Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Mashing together several archetypal stories with a vivid visual style and a percussive energy, Slumdog may not represent India as it actually is but instead successfully evoked what India feels like, which is arguably more important. After Slumdog everything I saw seemed, you know, old-fashioned and nothing has been anywhere nearly as thrilling since. There are films you respect, films you admire and films you love. Slumdog is a film you adore. “Who wants to be a … miyonaire?” indeed.

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