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the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford

Review: Killing Them Softly, The Angels’ Share, Safety Not Guaranteed, Frankenweenie, Paranormal Activity 4 and God Bless America

By Cinema, Reviews

Andrew Dominik was born in Wellington but shipped out at the age of two for Australia. We really need to claim him back as he’s one of the most intriguing dir­ect­ors cur­rently work­ing. Perhaps that should be “rarely work­ing” as his latest, Killing Them Softly, is only his third fea­ture cred­it in 12 years. Chopper turned heads in 2000 and got him to Hollywood. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was an ele­gi­ac adapt­a­tion of a great nov­el, the screen ver­sion echo­ing great late-period west­erns like Heaven’s Gate and The Long Riders.

In Killing Them Softly, Dominik remains in genre ter­rit­ory but again he is tran­scend­ing and sub­vert­ing it. It’s a gang­ster flick fea­tur­ing a bunch of famil­i­ar fig­ures – James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom). You see those names on the cast list and you think you know what you’re going to get, but here they stretch out in supris­ing dir­ec­tions, reveal­ing lay­ers of human­ity no less ugly than the clichéd bang-bang we are used to, but truer, sad­der and ulti­mately more trenchant.

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Review: The Killer Inside Me, After the Waterfall, Jackass 3D and City Island

By Cinema, Reviews

The Killer Inside Me posterMichael Winterbottom some­how man­ages to make a film a year and, while the qual­ity can go up and down a bit, his work is nev­er less than interesting.

He’s most fam­ous for Tristram Shandy (with Steve Coogan) and the sexu­ally expli­cit 9 Songs, but my favour­ites are his Klondike ver­sion of The Mayor of Casterbridge (The Claim) and the people-trafficking pseudo-verité of In This World. Already this year we’ve seen his 2008 mis­fire Genova (Colin Firth, moody and bereaved) and right now we have The Killer Inside Me, a mis­an­throp­ic Texas noir based on a fam­ous pulp nov­el by Jim Thompson.

Babyfaced Casey Affleck (the cow­ardly assas­sin who killed Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) plays anoth­er Ford, Central City Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford, son of the town’s respec­ted GP and pil­lar of West Texas society.

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Review: The Hurt Locker, Clash of the Titans, Nowhere Boy & Valentine’s Day

By Cinema, Reviews

The Hurt Locker posterIt took well over 18 months for Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker to get a gen­er­al release in New Zealand – a year in which it stead­ily built audi­ences and crit­ic­al acclaim at world­wide fest­ivals and pub­lic screen­ings. In fact, until it was nom­in­ated for a Golden Globe late last year the film had no New Zealand release date sched­uled and many film buffs resor­ted to illi­cit online sources to try and see (what was being touted) as one of the films of the decade.

This is a wor­ry­ing trend. Increasingly, some of the best films are head­ing straight to DVD (some­times, if the tim­ing works, with a Film Festival screen­ing but not always) and, des­pite New Zealand hav­ing a fine track record for sup­port­ing art­house and thought­ful product, I find myself con­fron­ted every week by rub­bish like Law Abiding Citizen and Bounty Hunter. Somewhere along the line the dis­trib­ut­ors have lost their nerve: The Blind Side, which won an Academy Award for Sandra Bullock last month, has only just been giv­en a slot by Roadshow (Warner Brothers). A Serious Man was one of the most bril­liant and intel­li­gent films I’ve ever seen and only one print was placed in Wellington – and it was a Coen Brothers Film!

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Review: 3:10 to Yuma, 2 Days in Paris, Love in the Time of Cholera and I Served the King of England

By Cinema, Reviews

3:10 to Yuma posterThe for­tunes of the Western rise with the tide of American cinema. During the 70’s indie renais­sance we got rugged clas­sics like The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid and The Long Riders, then in the 80’s and 90’s Clint Eastwood re-examined his own myth­ic West in Pale Rider and Unforgiven . (The less said about Young Guns 1 and 2 the better.)

The past 12 months have offered us two Westerns that are as good as any of the last 30 years: The Assassination of Jesse James and James Mangold’s homage to the clas­sic 3:10 to Yuma which opened in Wellington last week.

Yuma is a story (by Elmore Leonard) with great bones: poor, hon­est, ranch­er Christian Bale is suf­fer­ing because of the drought and for $200 takes on the des­per­ate task of escort­ing cap­tured out­law Russell Crowe to Contention City, where he will catch the eponym­ous train to the gallows.

But Crowe’s gang are on the way to lib­er­ate him and Bale’s sup­port is dwind­ling to noth­ing. The ten­sion rises as the clock ticks towards three o’clock.

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Review: Venus, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Evening, Inland Empire and The Game Plan

By Cinema, Reviews

Venus posterThere’s some­thing creepy yet dis­arm­ingly human about Peter O’Toole’s age­ing lothario in Venus; a once beau­ti­ful act­or still work­ing sporad­ic­ally, his cada­ver­ous fea­tures best-suited to the lit­er­al por­tray­al of corpses, cling­ing to the prom­ise of beauty and pleas­ure des­pite the ulti­mate futil­ity of the chase.

Newcomer Jodie Whittaker (in a star-making per­form­ance) becomes the object of his affec­tion, tutel­age and rev­er­ence when she arrives in London to nurse his best friend (Leslie Phillips). While Phillips is appalled at the girl’s inab­il­ity to cook any­thing oth­er than pot noodle while drink­ing his best scotch, Maurice is intox­ic­ated by her spir­it and beauty and decides to take her under his wing.

While O’Toole’s per­form­ance has won all the plaudits (and the Oscar nom­in­a­tion), it is the por­trait of reck­less, inno­cent and impetu­ous youth that has stayed with me – the best por­tray­al of what it means to be young I have seen in a long time. Whittaker’s Jessie has all the con­fid­ence and bravado one gets launch­ing in to the world with the train­ing wheels off but not enough self-knowledge to pro­tect her from the dangers with­in it.

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