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the last samurai

Review: Show of Hands, Ghost Town, Be Kind Rewind, Mirrors, How to lose Friends & Alienate People, RocknRolla and And When Did You Last See Your Father?

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Show of Hands posterAccording to the ven­er­able IMDb.com, before Show of Hands the only fea­ture films to be shot in New Plymouth were The Last Samurai (sort of) and some­thing called Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice, so Anthony McCarten’s gentle little comedy-drama is already historic.

Showcasing the Taranaki land­scape as well as the people, Show of Hands has an ambi­tion as small as the town but, sadly, doesn’t bear up under too much scru­tiny. A strug­gling car yard own­er (Steven Stephen Lovatt) runs a hands-on-the-car pro­mo­tion as a last ditch attempt to save his busi­ness and a hand­ily rep­res­ent­at­ive cross-section of New Zealand soci­ety turns out to have a go.

The three main con­tenders are Melanie Lynskey’s single-mum (who needs the car to ferry her wheelchair-bound daugh­ter about); Matt Whelan’s young trusta­far­i­an and Craig Hall’s cold-fish busi­ness­man who may or may not need the dough to solve his busi­ness prob­lems or may or may not just be an ultra-competitive egot­ist­ic­al jerk. The whole film suf­fers from a sim­il­ar lack of clar­ity which makes sus­pend­ing dis­be­lief a struggle. The act­ing is fine how­ever and Whelan in par­tic­u­lar is excel­lent – one for the future there.

Ghost Town posterCursed with a not-very-promising title, and a high concept premise (obnox­ious dent­ist dies for sev­en minutes on an oper­at­ing table and wakes up with the abil­ity to see the ghosts of Manhattan), David Koepp’s Ghost Town turns out to be one of the main­stream pleas­ures of the year. I’m going to assume that every Hollywood rom-com with an English lead was writ­ten for Hugh Grant, but we can be grate­ful that he has all-but retired as it gives Ricky Gervais a meaty role which he grabs with both hands. Gervais may not have much range as an act­or, but he does have depth and I found myself being unac­count­ably moved by a film that always deliv­ers a little more than it says on the tin.

Be Kind Rewind posterIf the remark­able suc­cess of the 48 Hour Film Competition has proved any­thing in recent years it is that mak­ing films is now as much of a com­munity exper­i­ence as watch­ing them and it’s that same hand-made, JFDI, aes­thet­ic that Michel Gondry cel­eb­rates in the very spe­cial Be Kind Rewind.

While mind­ing dod­dery Danny Glover’s ram­shackle New Jersey video (and thrift) store, Mos Def dis­cov­ers that all the pre­cious VHS tapes have been erased by mag­net­ic doo­fuss Jack Black. To save the busi­ness our her­oes re-make the con­tents of the store using only a handycam and their ingenu­ity, even­tu­ally enlist­ing the whole town. I loved Be Kind Rewind and you’ll be hon­our­ing the spir­it of the film if you see it at a theatre with a bunch of strangers.

Mirrors is yet anoth­er re-make of an Asian hor­ror flick and there ain’t much water left in that par­tic­u­lar well. Kiefer Sutherland plays a troubled NY ex-cop who takes a secur­ity guard job at an aban­doned depart­ment store (Romanian and Hungarian stu­di­os plus a tiny bit of stock foot­age stand in for Manhattan). On his first night on the job the mir­rors start to freak him out and two hours of excru­ci­at­ing expos­i­tion follow.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People posterAlso shot on a European sound stage, though a second unit did make it through JFK to shoot some scenery, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is an ami­able little romp star­ring Simon Pegg as a try-hard English journ­al­ist try­ing to make it as a celebrity writer on a top New York magazine. Pompous yet insec­ure, Pegg’s Sidney Young (loosely based on author Toby Young whose book was itself loosely based on his own short Manhattan career) cuts a slap­stick swathe through high soci­ety. Pegg is ok (but he’s no Ricky Gervais, see above) but Megan Fox as movie star Sophie has the worst skin I’ve ever seen on a Hollywood lead­ing actress.

RocknRolla posterWriter-Director Guy Ritchie’s dread­ful faux-cockney purple prose has been drooled all over the inter­min­able RocknRolla, a boysie bit of rough and tumble that’s the cine­mat­ic equi­val­ent of someone grabbing you around the neck and rub­bing their knuckles into your skull. The sloppy plot involves a Russian oligarch’s lucky paint­ing, an old school East End gang­ster on the way out, a rock star fak­ing his own death and a big black tick­et tout with a taste for Jane Austen.

Ritchie does have an eye for young tal­ent (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels made Jason Statham a star): look out for Toby Kebbell (the junkie rock star Johnny Quid) and Tom Hardy (Handsome Bob), just don’t look out for them in this.

And When Did You Last See Your Father? posterFinally, there’s not many films that wouldn’t be improved with the addi­tion of the won­der­ful Jim Broadbent, and he really shines in And When Did You Last See Your Father?, a worthy brit-lit adapt­a­tion that also stars Colin Firth. Broadbent plays the fath­er in ques­tion, a jovi­al egot­ist who doesn’t real­ise that his over-abundant joie-de-vivre is crush­ing the spir­its of those around him. Firth is poet Blake Morrison, com­ing to terms with his father’s ter­min­al ill­ness with the help of plenty of flash­backs to his 60s child­hood. Director Anand Tucker builds his case care­fully until a splen­didly mov­ing finale draws a line under a very sat­is­fy­ing film.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 November, 2008.

Nature of con­flict: I pro­duced a couple of plays for Anthony McCarten back in the early 90s – “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and the reviv­al of “Yellow Canary Mazurka”.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Ghost TownHow to lose Friends…RocknRolla and Mirrors were all at Readings pub­lic ses­sions (all fine except How to Lose Friends… was slightly out of frame mean­ing some of the titles spilled on to the mask­ing); Be Kind, Rewind was at the Paramount and the first half was 20% out of focus and the whole film was about 20% too quiet; Show of Hands was a late night water­marked DVD from Rialto Entertainment and And When Did You Last See Your Father? was at the Embassy dur­ing the Film Festival back in July.