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Review: The Blind Side, The Book of Eli, Antichrist & Letters to Juliet

By Cinema and Reviews

God is in the house this week. He turns up in the val­ues of a wealthy Tennessee fam­ily who adopt a poor black kid and turn him into a cham­pi­on, He fea­tures in a big leath­er book car­ried across a post-apocalyptic America by enig­mat­ic Denzel Washington, and He is not­able for His absence in a Lars von Trier shock­er that is unlike any­thing you will have seen before or see since.

First, the good ver­sion. Based on a best selling book by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side would not have made it New Zealand screens if it wasn’t for Sandra Bullock’s sur­prise Oscar win earli­er this year and it’s easy to see why dis­trib­ut­ors might have left it on the shelf. Personally, I’m glad they didn’t. My com­pan­ion had no know­ledge of, or affin­ity for, American Football or the com­plex and baff­ling col­lege sports struc­ture and was, there­fore, a bit left out of a story that man­aged to push all my but­tons fairly effortlessly.

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Review: Four Holidays, Quarantine, High School Musical- Senior Year and Suddenly

By Cinema and Reviews

Dollar for dol­lar (if not lb for lb) Vince Vaughan is the biggest star in Hollywood. For every dol­lar inves­ted in a Vaughan film he returns four­teen mak­ing him a bet­ter bet than Cruise, Pitt, Clooney or Roberts. It’s easy to see why he’s so pop­u­lar – his easy-going every­man qual­ity annoys few­er people than Carrey and choices like Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers are pretty safe. Even last year’s Fred Claus was a rare watch­able Christmas film and this year he repeats the dose with Four Holidays (aka Four Christmases).

Vaughan, and co-star Reese Witherspoon, are DINKs (double-income-no-kids) who main­tain their cool life­style by avoid­ing their respect­ive fam­il­ies like the plague. When an unex­pec­ted air­port clos­ure reveals their plans to party in Fiji instead of feed­ing the third world, they are obliged to make four dif­fer­ent vis­its on Christmas Day, for­cing them to con­front the weirdos, sad­sacks and ding­bats that make up their respect­ive families.

I think I’m out of step with most oth­er crit­ics (not unusu­al and not a bad thing) but I enjoyed myself watch­ing Four Holidays – Vaughan and Witherspoon actu­ally make a believ­able couple and the sup­port­ing cast (includ­ing fine act­ors like Robert Duvall and Kristin Chenoweth along with coun­try stars Dwight Yoakam and Tim McGraw) has plenty of energy.

Ten years ago, before he became the darling of the Hollywood Hedge Fund set, Vaughan’s career nearly stalled when he played Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s ill-advised frame-for-frame remake of Psycho. After the see­ing the trail­er for Quarantine, I was half expect­ing it to give a sim­il­ar treat­ment to the Spanish shock­er [REC] (which promp­ted messy evac­u­ations earli­er in the year) but hap­pily it diverges enough to mer­it its own review.

A tv crew is fol­low­ing an LA fire depart­ment for the night when they are sent to an apart­ment build­ing where mys­ter­i­ous screams are eman­at­ing from one of the flats. Soon after they arrive, the author­it­ies shut the build­ing down to pre­vent the rabies-like infec­tion from spread­ing, leav­ing the res­id­ents, fire-fighters and the media to their own devices.

Stronger in char­ac­ter devel­op­ment but slightly weak­er in shock value, Quarantine will be worth a look if you found you couldn’t read the sub­titles in [REC] because you had your hands over your eyes.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is the first of the legendary Disney fran­chise to make it to the big screen but the for­mula hasn’t changed one bit. Well scrubbed High School kids in Albuquerque put on a show which might send one of them to Julliard. The music runs the full gamut of cur­rent pop music styles from Britney to the Backstreet Boys (without the spark of either) and the kids dis­play a full range of emo­tions from A to B. HSM is betrayed by a lack of ambi­tion mar­ried to relent­less, obsess­ive, com­mit­ment to com­pet­ence but, at almost two hours, I sus­pect it will be too long for most tween blad­ders to hold out.

Depression is a chal­len­ging top­ic for film (the symp­toms are un-cinematic and recov­ery often takes the form of baby steps which are dif­fi­cult to dram­at­ise) but Swedish drama Suddenly makes a decent fist of it. Nine months after the car he was driv­ing crashed, tak­ing the lives of his wife and young­est son, eye doc­tor Lasse (Michael Nyqvist) is fall­ing apart. After what looks like a failed sui­cide attempt, his par­ents advise him to take his remain­ing son (sens­it­ive 15 year old Jonas played by Anastasios Soulis) to his hol­i­day house for the Summer to see if he can take one last chance to heal him­self and the family.

Lasse throws him­self into repair­ing the beaten up old row­boat while Jonas falls for the (entirely Swedish look­ing blonde) loc­al black sheep Helena (Moa Gammel). Despite the appar­ent energy of the title, Suddenly takes its time get­ting any­where but rewards perseverance.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 10 December, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I’m stoked to report that Suddenly was the first film I’d seen in the Vogue Lounge at the Penthouse since my dis­ap­point­ing exper­i­ence with Smart People back in August and, des­pite some print wear, the present­a­tion was per­fect. Well done Penthouse.