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the tree of life

2011 Wellington Cinema Year in Review

By Cinema

I’ve been watch­ing reac­tions to oth­er people’s “Best of 2011” with interest. It’s fas­cin­at­ing to see online com­ment­ors insist that films they have seen are so much bet­ter than films that they haven’t. Even though I do, in fact, watch everything I’m not going to pre­tend that this list is defin­it­ive – except to say that it gets a lot closer than most…

I also don’t believe in the arbit­rar­i­ness of “Top Tens”. I have my own entirely arbit­rary scale: Keepers, Renters and Respecters.

Secretariat posterKeepers are the films that I loved so much I want to own them – films that make me feel bet­ter just hav­ing them in the house. The first film I adored this year was slushy Disney horse racing story Secretariat. It should have been everything I hate – manip­u­lat­ive, worthy, a faith-based sub­text – and yet I cried like a baby – expert button-pushing from dir­ect­or Randall Wallace. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was my favour­ite block­buster. Superb dir­ec­tion by Rupert Wyatt over­came the flaws (ahem, James Franco, ahem) and it care­fully walked the tightrope of both respect for its pre­de­cessors and kick­ing off some­thing new.

The Tree of Life posterTerrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is my favour­ite film of the year by a long stretch. A second view­ing allowed me to stop think­ing about it and just feel it, mean­ing that I got closer than ever before to the soul of a film artist. Profound in the way that only the greatest works of art are. Tusi Tamasese announced him­self with one of the most mature and con­sidered debuts I’ve ever seen – The Orator placed us deeply inside a cul­ture in a way that was both respect­ful and chal­len­ging of it. That film’s jour­ney hasn’t fin­ished yet.

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Review: Anonymous, The Debt, Beautiful Lies, The Thing, Conan the Barbarian and I Don’t Know How She Does It

By Cinema and Reviews

Economically speak­ing, theatres are a com­plete waste of space. I mean, take a look at the St James or the Embassy and try and ima­gine how many cubicles and desks you could fit in to those huge pieces of prime real estate. Or even bet­ter, how many cars could you park inside them? (Car parks require lower ceil­ings there­fore more floors for the same build­ing height) What kind of fool thinks of con­struct­ing a big empty build­ing simply to shine a light through the middle of it?

Anonymous posterThis kind of non­sense has been going on for cen­tur­ies though as Anonymous, Roland Emmerich’s new piece of spec­u­lat­ive fic­tion, demon­strates. Stretching credu­lity almost as far as Star Trek requir­ing us to believe in faster-than-light speed, Anonymous asks its audi­ence to assume that barely-literate act­or Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) was not the author of all those plays and son­nets but instead they were penned by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) and used as a tool to rile the popu­lace and pro­voke polit­ic­al unrest.

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Review: The Tree of Life, Fire in Babylon, The Bang Bang Club, Jane Eyre, Steam of Life, The Change-Up

By Cinema and Reviews

The Tree of Life posterIt’s the fifth anniversary of my first column for this paper – my, how time flies. Five years of search­ing – usu­ally in vain – for some tran­scend­ence among the many flick­er­ing images in dozens of darkened rooms. And then, as if by magic, tran­scend­ence appears.

It has taken a few weeks – and a second view­ing – to prop­erly pro­cess Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Often baff­ling, frus­trat­ing, unhelp­ful, yet emo­tion­al and evoc­at­ive in ways I couldn’t put my fin­ger on, I wrestled with it through­out the two and a half hour run­ning time – search­ing for answers and mean­ing among the beau­ti­ful images, float­ing, soar­ing camer­work and weird diver­sions into cos­mo­logy and vulcanology.

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Review: Love Story, The Guard, Crazy Stupid Love, Cedar Rapids, TT3D - Closer to the Edge and Priest 3D

By Cinema and Reviews

Firstly I want to apo­lo­gise that there is no review of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life in this week’s column. I saw it dur­ing the Festival and like most audi­ences was per­turbed, baffled, chal­lenged and ulti­mately awed but I needed a second screen­ing to make sense of it. Arguably less sense rather than more sense was what I would be aim­ing for.

The film opened com­mer­cially this week­end at a couple of loc­a­tions but neither of them offered the sort of grandeur (i.e. screen size) and qual­ity (i.e. DCP 2k digit­al trans­fer of the kind I am start­ing to love) so I thought I would hold off until it reaches a few more screens. I know – I sound like a pom­pous ass but that’s as genu­ine a response to The Tree of Life as I can muster. A more con­sidered response next week.

But that omis­sion gives me more room for the rest of this week’s releases. Florian Habicht’s Love Story charmed (most) of the Film Festival, includ­ing your cor­res­pond­ent. Habicht’s indefatig­able curi­os­ity and demon­strable love of people powers this strange romantic com­edy made while he was liv­ing in Manhattan on an Arts Foundation residency.

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Preview: 2011 New Zealand Film Festival

By Cinema and Reviews

Despite the shock­ing and inex­plic­able decision to omit Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins from this year’s Film Festival (a dis­aster applic­able only to me I think) the actu­al line-up is as good as every­one says. At least I think it is from sur­vey­ing about 20 out of the 160+ titles in the pro­gramme – hardly a rep­res­ent­at­ive sample but when most of those 20 bring such joy and only a few land with a dull thud you have to think that the rest of the pro­gramme is sim­il­arly proportioned.

Last year the big Cannes win­ner, Of Gods and Men, was missed by the International Festival, a situ­ation that was remedied at Easter’s World Cinema Showcase. This year, of the big Cannes movies, only Godard’s Film Socialisme is miss­ing in action. The great Swiss icon­o­clast may well have pro­duced his most inter­est­ing work in years but it will take a trip to Amazon to find out for sure. Even the redoubt­able Aro Video are unlikely to take a punt on it without the Festival’s imprimatur.

As usu­al, I asked the help­ful Festival people to point me towards the less likely, the unher­al­ded, the little bat­tle­rs, the kind of film that is eas­ily missed when skim­ming the 80 page pro­gramme. Any fool can tell you that The Tree of Life is going to be inter­est­ing. Capital Times read­ers want more than that.

Firstly music: two doc­u­ment­ar­ies impressed me and they worked so well togeth­er I wish they were a double-feature. Merle Haggard: Learning to Live With Myself is a bio­graphy of the out­law coun­try star as he settles in to an uncom­fort­able old age. Actually old age to Haggard is no less com­fort­able than every oth­er age – I can’t think of a great star less at ease in his own skin.

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Trailer spotlight

By Cinema and Video

Checking out the latest updates at Apple’s online trail­er repos­it­ory, slog­ging through the mostly for­get­table con­tent, I came across this and got very excited indeed:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dN_aejkbh9c[/youtube]

If this does­n’t show up in this year’s Film Festival someone should take their license away.

But the (poten­tial) riches did­n’t end there. What kind of year is it that has new films by Malick and Monte Hellman?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mo9jHiGBoP0[/youtube]