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the history boys

Review: Love Birds, Tamara Drewe, Wagner & Me, Conviction, The Last Exorcism and Curry Munchers

By Cinema, Reviews

Love Birds posterFollowing the sur­prise suc­cess of Second Hand Wedding in 2008, screen­writer Nick Ward and dir­ect­or Paul Murphy have been giv­en a vastly improved budget and access to two inter­na­tion­al stars and told to make light­ning strike twice.

The stars of Love Birds just hap­pen to be the two fussi­est act­ors in the world, Sally Hawkins (Golden Globe win­ner for Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky) and TV com­ic Rhys Darby, and when the two of them start fid­get­ing and stam­mer­ing it feels like you are in for a long night. Luckily, both have their still-er moments and at those times you can see that Darby has real poten­tial as a big screen romantic lead.

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Review: Transformers, Nancy Drew, Starter for 10Eden and Heartbreak Hotel

By Cinema, Reviews

"Transformers" posterAbove the pro­scen­i­um arch at the Embassy theatre, on either side of the screen, there are two flash­ing red lights. They’ve been there ever since the Return of the King refurb and I thought they were some­thing to do with the secur­ity sys­tem – motion sensors per­haps – but after watch­ing Michael Bay’s Transformers on Friday night I got the idea that maybe they are eyes, you know, wink­ing at us.

The Embassy as sen­tient sen­tinel – pro­tect­ing us from evil, ready to trans­form at a moment’s notice into a giant robot with a really deep voice: as a vehicle for justice, its no more pre­pos­ter­ous an idea than the muscle cars, hot rods, tanks and 18-wheelers fea­tured in the film and it might explain that feel­ing of secur­ity I get sink­ing in to the leath­er seats.

In the film, Earth has become the battle­ground for two war­ring races of robots: the good guy Autobots and the not-so-much Decepticons. The cube that is the source of all their power is hid­den some­where here and the only clue is a pair of antique glasses in the pos­ses­sion of horny high school kid Shia LaBoeuf who the Autobots enlist to help. As you might expect with 30 metre tall robots, keep­ing their pres­ence secret proves chal­len­ging and the atten­tion of the author­it­ies (includ­ing a very hammy John Turturro) is soon in full force.

Transformers is big and loud and mostly fun but the age of its tar­get audi­ence seems to change from scene to scene and the more-than-casual racism of the char­ac­ter­isa­tions (every non-white char­ac­ter seems to be a buf­foon or a cow­ard or both) is a sour note, thank­fully rare these days.

"Nancy Drew" posterEqually white bread, but not quite as insult­ing, is the latest incarn­a­tion of the Nancy Drew stor­ies about the fam­ous teen­age girl detect­ive. This time Nancy is played by Julia Roberts’ niece (and creepy Eric’s daugh­ter) Emma and while she’s got a little pres­ence she does­n’t seem to totally know what she’s doing. It’s a fish-out-of-water story as Nancy leaves her small mid-western story­book town for the wilds of Los Angeles and any­one who has ever seen an epis­ode of Scooby-Doo knows what’s going to hap­pen next.

"Starter for 10" posterThe ubi­quit­ous James McAvoy (Last King of Scotland and Becoming Jane) plays Brian Jackson, a work­ing class boy on his way to Bristol University in 1985, in Starter for 10. Determined to get the most out of the exper­i­ence he tri­als for the University Challenge tv quiz team, get­ting a massive crush on the beau­ti­ful but shal­low Eve in the pro­cess. His two best mates are played by two act­ors from The History Boys which, as they were set at the same time and much of the music is inter­change­able, feels like you are watch­ing a weird altern­ate uni­verse at times. Recommended, but unchallenging.

"Eden" posterTwo minor entries from Europe to fin­ish. Eden is a fable about a bril­liant but lonely chef who falls for the unat­tain­able wait­ress at his favour­ite café: Food porn with a sur­pris­ingly ugly twist at the end.

"Heartbreak Hotel" poster
Colin Nutley’s Heartbreak Hotel is about two 40-something divor­cées in Stockholm who strike up an unlikely friend­ship as they try and nav­ig­ate the world of the newly-single. Heartbreak Hotel itself is the name of the nightclub they go to, a neon cock­tail of the worst aspects of the Courtenay-Blair com­bin­a­tion on a Wednesday night.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times, Wednesday 4 July, 2007 (Eden and Heartbreak Hotel cut for space, Starter for 10 moved to the Picks sec­tion for the same reason).

Review: The Pursuit of Happyness and more ...

By Cinema, Reviews

Pursuit of Happyness posterThe always watch­able Will Smith returns to our screens this week in a more than decent drama called The Pursuit of Happyness. Smith plays solo dad Chris Gardner who struggles to find a way out of the poverty trap (through an unpaid intern­ship at stock­broker Dean Witter) while bad luck, and life itself, con­spire against him. Happyness is a well-made remind­er that it can be flip­pin’ expens­ive being poor and it suc­cess­fully wrung sev­er­al salty tears from these cal­loused eyes.

Incidentally, Smith’s son Christopher is played by Smith’s real-life son Jaden, prov­ing that the apple really does­n’t fall very far from the tree.

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