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the unknown woman

Blue Jasmine poster

Review: Blue Jasmine, Riddick, What Maisie Knew, Romeo & Juliet: A Love Song and The Best Offer

By Cinema and Reviews

Max Casella, Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins and Bobby Cannvale in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (2013)

When did “late-period: Woody Allen start? Was it with Match Point (when he finally left New York for some new scenery)? Or should we con­sider these last ten, globe-trotting, years as late‑r Woody? The last ten years have cer­tainly been up and down in terms of qual­ity. Scoop was all-but diabol­ic­al. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was robust and sur­pris­ing. Midnight in Paris was gen­i­al but dis­pos­able (des­pite being a massive hit) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was barely even a film.

Blue Jasmine posterNow, Blue Jasmine, in which Mr. Allen uses the notori­ous Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi crimes as inspir­a­tion for a story about the fraud’s vic­tims as well as the col­lat­er­al dam­age inflic­ted on a woman obli­vi­ous of her own com­pli­city. As the eponym­ous Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the wife of Alec Baldwin’s shonky NY busi­ness­man, their rela­tion­ship told in flash­back while she tries to rebuild her life in her adop­ted half-sister’s (or some­thing – the rela­tion­ship seems unne­ces­sar­ily com­plic­ated for some­thing that has no mater­i­al impact on the story) apart­ment in an unfash­ion­able area of San Francisco.

[pullquote]As they used to say on tele­vi­sion about kit­tens, “a child isn’t just for Christmas, a child is forever.”[/pullquote]Blanchett unravels beau­ti­fully and almost main­tains our sym­pathy des­pite the repeated evid­ence that she does­n’t really deserve it. In sup­port, Sally Hawkins as the sis­ter is more watch­able than usu­al and oth­ers – not­ably Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg and Louis C.K. – get moments to shine even though some of those moments can seem a bit repet­it­ive. Mr. Allen’s ear for dia­logue seems to have entirely deser­ted him – these people talk like they’re being quoted in New Yorker art­icles rather than con­vers­ing like liv­ing, breath­ing humans – but the struc­ture is sat­is­fy­ing and Blanchett takes the entire pro­ject by the scruff of the neck and makes it her own.

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Review: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, The Unknown Woman, The Unborn, The Women and Notorious

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Underword: Rise of the Lycans posterA friend of mine audi­tioned for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (pro­duced in Auckland in 2006) and did­n’t get a part. I was pleased to report to him yes­ter­day that he had dodged a (sil­ver) bul­let there as this non­sensic­al pre­quel to the Kate Beckinsale leather-fetishists fantasy series was not going to do any­one’s career any good.

The usu­ally great Bill Nighy plays Viktor, lead­er of a bunch of aris­to­crat­ic (but strangely demo­crat­ic) vam­pires in middle ages middle Europe. They earn their keep by squeez­ing pro­tec­tion money out of the loc­al humans – sup­posedly keep­ing the were­wolves out of their hair – but evol­u­tion is not on their side and the wolves are in the ascendant.

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Review: Burn After Reading, Body of Lies and The Duchess

By Cinema and Reviews

Burn After Reading posterOh, what kind of year is 2008 that has two Coen Brothers films with­in it? In February I was swoon­ing over No Country for Old Men and now, just a few short months later, I’ve been treated to Burn After Reading, a scath­ing and bit­ter com­edy about mod­ern American ignor­ance. It’s a vicious, sav­age, des­pair­ing and bril­liant farce: full of won­der­ful char­ac­ters who are at the same time really awful people.

John Malkovich is Osbourne Cox, a failed CIA ana­lyst who loses a disk con­tain­ing his mem­oirs. It’s found by Hardbodies gym staff Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt, who decide to black­mail him so that she can pay for some unne­ces­sary cos­met­ic pro­ced­ures. Meanwhile (and there’s a lot of mean­whiles), Malkovich’s wife (Tilda Swinton) is hav­ing an affair with sex addict George Clooney, who is cheat­ing on her, and his wife, with Internet one night stands (that include the lonely McDormand). The disk ends up at the Russian Embassy, Pitt ends up in the Chesapeake and the only truly nice per­son in the whole film ends up with a hatchet in his head.

It’s no acci­dent that this col­lec­tion of men­tal and spir­itu­al pyg­mies can be found pop­u­lat­ing Washington D.C. Over the last eight years it has become the world centre of incom­pet­ence, venal­ity, short-sightedness and polit­ic­al expedi­ence and the film plays as an enraged satire about the end of the American Empire. We can only hope.

Body of Lies posterThe self-indulgent part­ner­ship between Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe gets anoth­er trot out in Body of Lies, a laboured action-thriller about anti-terrorism in the Middle East. Half-decent Leonardo DiCaprio is the lead. He plays hon­our­able field agent Roger Ferris, hunt­ing the Osama-like Al Saleem from Iraq to Jordan via Amsterdam and Langley. Crowe spends most of the film coach­ing DiCaprio via cell­phone and a good olé boy Southern accent. The twist in this film is that he is a boor­ish, ignor­ant, arrog­ant oaf who fails to appre­ci­ate that win­ning hearts and minds is essen­tial to win the war on ter­ror: DiCaprio’s char­ac­ter, an arab­ic speak­er with an appre­ci­ation for the region and its people, is con­tinu­ally being hung out to dry by his bosses who simply don’t think the Middle East is worth any­thing more than the oil that lies beneath it.

Unfortunately for Body of Lies (a ter­rible, mean­ing­less title), the whole film is thick with cliché and while Scott’s eye for a set-piece remains keen his ear for dia­logue is still made of tin.

The Duchess posterAnother ter­rible noth­ing title (but for a bet­ter film) is The Duchess. A naïve young Spencer girl is plucked from Althorp to marry a power­ful older man. She soon finds that it is not a love match and that her emo­tion­ally closed off hus­band sees her as a baby fact­ory while he enjoys life with his mis­tress. Our heroine uses her celebrity to bring atten­tion to polit­ic­al causes and falls in love with a hand­some young man, but hap­pi­ness and free­dom is always too far away. Sounds famil­i­ar, I know, but this story isn’t set in the 1990’s but in the 18th cen­tury and this Spencer isn’t Diana, but her eer­ily sim­il­ar ancest­or Georgiana (Keira Knightley).

Knightley is fine as the spir­ited, but even­tu­ally broken, young woman; Ralph Fiennes has good moments as the bru­tish Duke of Devonshire and Charlotte Rampling deliv­ers anoth­er icy turn as Georgiana’s cal­cu­lat­ing moth­er. The Duchess is a fine his­tory les­son with some nice obser­va­tions: my favour­ite is the paparazzi at every social occa­sion, pen­cils sharpened to sketch the scan­dals as they unfold.

Sadly, I have been too busy in recent weeks to pre­view any of the titles in this year’s Italian Film Festival but the pro­gramme looks a good and inter­est­ing one as always. The films in the Italian Festival have always leaned towards the com­mer­cial and this year is no dif­fer­ent. Crowd pleas­ing com­ed­ies like The Littlest Thing rub shoulders with romances like Kiss Me Baby, dra­mas (The Unknown Woman) and thrillers: Secret Journey. My pick looks like it could be a com­bin­a­tion of all those genres, the romantic black com­edy Night Bus. Moving to the Embassy this year should do the event the power of good but it’s a pity about the poorly proofed pro­gramme though.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 15 October, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: All three films were screened at the Empire in Island Bay. Body of Lies and The Duchess were at pub­lic screen­ings and Burn After Reading was the Sunday night print check (for staff), so thanks to the Empire people for invit­ing me to that.