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Review: Sex and the City: The Movie, Untraceable, Shine a Light, Leatherheads, Happy-Go-Lucky, Brick Lane, Adam’s Apples, 21 and Prom Night

By Cinema, Reviews

Never hav­ing seen an epis­ode of Sex and the City on tele­vi­sion, I’ll have to leave it to oth­ers to place it in con­text. From what I can gath­er, though, it appears to be about four women in Manhattan, not too bright, not too nice and not too deep, who are look­ing for love, suc­cess and shoes. The cent­ral fig­ure in the group is Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) whose on-again, off-again rela­tion­ship with Mr Big (Chris Noth) is about to become very much “on” with a huge soci­ety wed­ding and a pent­house 5th Avenue apart­ment with a closet big­ger than the apart­ment build­ing I live in. Amazingly, it is the closet that causes the most excite­ment, even when empty.

Meanwhile, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is bliss­fully happy with her hus­band and adop­ted daugh­ter Lily; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is some­what less than happy to find out that her hus­band (David Eigenberg) has cheated on her and sex kit­ten Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is find­ing life in the shad­ow of a hand­some day­time soap star to be less than fulfilling.

It all comes to a head at the wed­ding but not before (as well as dur­ing and after) we are forced to listen to many, many long con­ver­sa­tions mostly about events we have just seen.

Untraceable is a per­fectly ser­vice­able thrill­er set in rainy Portland. Diane Lane is a wid­ow work­ing the FBI cyber-crime night-shift who dis­cov­ers a crazed loon string­ing up vic­tims in front of a web­cam. The more eye­balls he receives the faster his vic­tim dies mak­ing every­one com­pli­cit in the even­tu­al murder. Director Gregory Hoblit has an unparalelled tv back­ground (“Hill Street Blues”, any­one?) and also dir­ec­ted the tight mind-games thrill­er Fracture last year and Untraceable is bet­ter than it sounds, effect­ive and not nearly as exploit­at­ive as the trail­er led one to believe.

Just like the U2 con­cert movie earli­er this year, most of the people at the front of the Rolling Stones 2006 Beacon Theatre show (recor­ded for pos­ter­ity by Martin Scorsese as Shine a Light) watched it via the screens on their cell­phones. Heavens, people! Stop try­ing to record the life going on in front of you and just get in there and live it! (Written from the back row of a darkened cinema on a sunny day). Shine a Light shows the Stones off superbly – the sound is mag­ni­fi­cent and the per­form­ance (from Jagger in par­tic­u­lar) is stun­ning. Not enough Charlie Watts for my lik­ing but that’s a minor quibble.

It does­n’t take long to estab­lish why the latest George Clooney romantic-comedy has been bur­ied either at ses­sions no one can get to or cinemas no one wants to vis­it. Leatherheads is an indul­gent romp, feed­ing off Clooney’s nos­tal­gia for old-time foot­ball and clas­sic movies – a lim­ited mar­ket. Set in 1925 at the birth of pro­fes­sion­al foot­ball, Clooney plays “Dodge” Connelly, an age­ing play­er try­ing to keep his ath­let­ic dreams alive via the unpre­pos­sess­ing Duluth Bulldogs. As a last gasp attempt to get crowds to pro games he signs col­lege star and war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to an exor­bit­ant game by game con­tract and inad­vert­ently changes the sport forever. He also gets hard-boiled newspaper-woman Lexie Littleton (a much less annoy­ing than usu­al Renée Zellweger) who is try­ing to uncov­er the truth about Rutherford’s war record. Vaguely remin­is­cent of fast-paced verbal com­ed­ies like His Girl Friday and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (and even The Sting), the best thing about Leatherheads is Randy Newman’s won­der­ful score.

Every great artist has major works and minor works. For Prince, for example, Sign O’ The Times is a major work and Alphabet Street Lovesexy isn’t. Mike Leigh’s major works include Naked, Secrets and Lies and All or Nothing and his minor list fea­tures Topsy-Turvy and now Happy-Go-Lucky, about primary school teach­er Poppy (Sally Hawkins) and her fam­ily and friends. There’s not much story and not much devel­op­ment, but I think the reas­on why Happy-Go-Lucky fails is the lack of empathy for the char­ac­ters (pos­sibly caused by Leigh not hav­ing act­ors like Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall to make the emo­tion­al con­nec­tions for him).

The second half of my con­tem­por­ary work­ing class London double-feature was Brick Lane, based on a nov­el I’ve actu­ally read. On the death of her moth­er, Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is mar­ried off to prig­gish Karim (Christopher Simpson) in London where a life of grimy coun­cil flats and racist neigh­bours awaits. Clumsily con­densed and fussily dir­ec­ted, Brick Lane nev­er quite over­comes it’s own clichés.

Totally cliché-free and like noth­ing you have ever seen, Adam’s Apples is a very odd black com­ic fable about a white suprem­acist, Adam, sent to a remote coun­try church to see out his parole peri­od. There he meets a gaggle of eccent­ric, dam­aged or just plain bark­ing char­ac­ters, not least Ivan the priest (Mads Mikkelsen) who turns the oth­er cheek so often it might as well be inside out. Full of surprises.

Finally, a couple of dis­pos­able (though prob­ably not bio­de­grad­able) enter­tain­ments for the yoof: 21 is based on a true story about MIT stu­dents who use their phe­nom­en­al abil­it­ies at, er, count­ing to cheat the black­jack tables in Vegas. MIT is in Massachusetts and cent­ral char­ac­ter Ben (Across The Universe’s Jim Sturgess) is a fath­er­less schol­ar­ship boy so the film could have been called Good Will Counting. If it had any heart or soul or wit. 21 also fea­tures Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey in their third film togeth­er in less than four years.

And Prom Night is a run-of-the-mill slash­er film fea­tur­ing a high school sci­ence teach­er with an infatu­ation for Brittany Snow (Hairspray). He kills all her fam­ily and then, three years later, escapes from deten­tion to wreck her Prom party. Totally forgettable.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 11 June, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: All unre­mark­able screen­ings at cinemas not­able for their atten­tion to screen­ing qual­ity except for Adam’s Apples which is pretty scratchy and has a dam­aged soundtrack (Paramount) and Shine a Light which looked and soun­ded simply superb at the Embassy.

Review: The Golden Compass, Enchanted, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Water Horse, National Treasure- Book of Secrets, I Am Legend, Sweet Land, The Kite Runner, Priceless and The Darjeeling Limited

By Cinema, Reviews

Keen-eyed read­ers will remem­ber that a year ago I nom­in­ated The Golden Compass as my most-eagerly-awaited title of 2007. So, how did it pan out? I’m one of those who con­sider Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials books to be the most import­ant works of fic­tion pro­duced in the last 20 years and I was sur­prised at how closely the film fol­lowed Book One (“Northern Lights”), pos­sibly to its det­ri­ment. I was wor­ried that a film with much expos­i­tion and detailed scene-setting might prove unwatch­able but my com­pan­ion (unfa­mil­i­ar with the books) found it thrill­ing where­as I found it hard to let myself go and relax into it – maybe second time around.

Disney’s Enchanted saw Amy Adams reprise her Oscar-nominated wide-eyed naïf from Junebug. Unfortunately, as Princess Giselle from the anim­ated king­dom of Andalasia, she couldn’t over­come the col­lect­ive bland­ness of James Marsden as fictional-world love interest or Patrick Dempsey as real-world love interest; diver­sions were provided by Timothy Spall and the first of sev­er­al anim­ated chip­munks to land this Christmas.

The next fluffy rodents to arrive were the “singing” trio from Alvin and the Chipmunks, a recre­ation of someone’s favour­ite child­hood pop butchers. Jason Lee is a waste of space as the song­writer who dis­cov­ers them but the little crit­ters them­selves will keep your inner 8‑year-old amused for a while.

Also for the kids was the well-meaning but slightly po-faced Loch Ness mon­ster fantasy The Water Horse, anoth­er high-class product of the family-friendly Walden Media/Weta/NZ con­fed­er­a­tion. A tre­mend­ous over­seas cast led by Ben Chaplin and Emily Watson are joined by famil­i­ar and reli­able loc­al faces like Joel Tobeck and Geraldine Brophy.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets saw Nicolas Cage arise from his coma and make a little more of an effort than he did earli­er this year in Next: it’s a noisy romp in which unlikely char­ac­ters and implaus­ible situ­ations com­bine to bam­boozle any seeker after logic. Helen Mirren, Harvey Keitel and Ed Harris add gravitas.

Will Smith returned in the oft-made man alone thrill­er I Am Legend, a per­fect example of a poor script made pal­at­able by classy dir­ec­tion and a superb lead­ing man at the top of his game. Smith plays Lt-Col Robert Neville: dec­or­ated war vet­er­an, ace micro-biologist and (judging by his address oppos­ite the Washington Square Arch) heir to the Rockefeller for­tune too. A genet­ic­ally mutated vir­us that was sup­posed to cure can­cer has gone rogue. 99% of the pop­u­la­tion has died, 1% have turned into bloodthirsty zom­bies and only one man is immune – hand­ily for our pur­poses the one man who might know how to cre­ate a vac­cine. Lots of frights, lots of great action and a mag­ni­fi­cently seam­less cre­ation of aban­doned New York make it cer­tainly worth a look. At least until the last 15 minutes when, sadly, it just gets stupid.

Finally, to the art­house: Sweet Land is an unher­al­ded gem set in beau­ti­ful rur­al Minnesota among the Northern European immig­rants who were mak­ing their lives on that land in the first quarter of the last cen­tury. Elizabeth Reaser plays German immig­rant Inge who travels from Germany to meet Lars, the man who is to be her hus­band. But she speaks no English, has no papers and the loc­als are sus­pi­cious of Germans – the mar­riage is for­bid­den. True love con­quers all but not before the bit­ter sweet tale ties three gen­er­a­tions and the fer­tile farm­land togeth­er. Recommended.

A monu­ment to the Digital Intermediate Colourist’s art, The Kite Runner is an adapt­a­tion of the beloved nov­el by Khaled Hosseini, dir­ec­ted by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, cur­rently shoot­ing the new Bond). Affecting but manip­u­lat­ive, The Kite Runner is a story of guilt and redemp­tion (usu­ally cat­nip to me) but in the end it relied too much on out­rageous coin­cid­ence to be truly sat­is­fy­ing. Great per­form­ances from Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada as Young Hassan and Homayoun Ershadi as Baba mean it is nev­er less than watchable.

Priceless is yet anoth­er French film about mis­taken iden­tity and class restric­tions: they seem to be more obsessed about class and status than the poms. Gad Elmaleh (The Valet) and Amelie’s Audrey Tautou play two ambi­tious indi­vidu­als from the serving class: he walks dogs and tends bar at a flash hotel and she is a gold dig­ger try­ing to snare a rich old hus­band. The fact that both act­ors are of North African des­cent (and there­fore are excluded from the ranks of the real French who sit at the top table) is either a subtle stroke of geni­us or dodgy racism depend­ing on the degree of Christmas spir­it you want to demonstrate.

Finally, The Darjeeling Limited is a win­ning tale of lost young men, search­ing for a fath­er fig­ure, from the mod­ern day poet of fath­er fig­ure searches, Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic). There’s no great them­at­ic or styl­ist­ic leap made by Anderson here but he is hon­ing this stuff to a fine art. Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are three broth­ers on a spir­itu­al jour­ney across India but it is the recently deceased fath­er who casts the longest shad­ow. Well made and often very funny, The Darjeeling Limited is very easy to enjoy and Anderson’s taste is exquisite.

To be prin­ted in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 16 Jan, 2008. I am tak­ing a week­end off, away from the Internet and cinema so will catch up with the week’s new releases next week.