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timur bekmambetov

Review: The Chef, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Step Up 4: Miami Heat

By Cinema and Reviews

The Chef posterCinema and fine food have been get­ting along rather well in recent times. This year El Bulli show­cased the amaz­ing molecu­lar cre­ations of Spanish geni­us Ferran Adrià and the painstak­ing sea­food cre­ations in Jiro Dreams of Sushi are still on select screens here in Wellington. Films like those hon­our the cre­ativ­ity, train­ing, hard work and exper­i­ence of some remark­able people. Meanwhile, Daniel Cohen’s The Chef takes a dif­fer­ent path and mer­ci­lessly – and humour­lessly – sat­ir­ises their pretensions.

The great Jean Reno (The Big Blue, The Professional) is Alexandre Lagarde, still head chef and cre­at­ive force behind the Paris res­taur­ant that bears his name but long since sold out to cor­por­ate interests that pimp him out for tv cook­ing shows and frozen super­mar­ket ready-meals. Jacky Bonnot (Michaël Youn) is Lagarde’s biggest fan – a tal­en­ted young chef whose tal­ents are unre­cog­nised by the bis­tros and road­side cafés that reg­u­larly fire him.

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Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Wanted and two more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Star Wars: The Clone Wars posterFrom the first bars of John Williams’ fam­ous fan­fare, played on a 1000 kazoos, you know The Clone Wars is going to be a cheap and cheer­ful, Saturday morn­ing car­toon level, rip-off of the Star Wars uni­verse and so it proves. Without par­ti­cip­a­tion of any of the ori­gin­al stars (except for game old Chris Lee as Dooku) and George Lucas’ involve­ment lim­ited to insist­ing that one char­ac­ter has the voice of Truman Capote, a minor epis­ode gets spun out well bey­ond it’s abil­ity to engage and enter­tain but it is quite amus­ing to be reminded that all the clones look like Tem Morrison. The tone is basic­ally “All Jar-Jar, all the time” but even your aver­age eight year old might won­der why it has to be so repetitive.

Wanted posterWhile it should­n’t be any great sur­prise to be intel­lec­tu­ally insul­ted by The Clone Wars, I was amazed to actu­ally be per­son­ally insul­ted by the cre­at­ors of comic-book action flick Wanted, dur­ing the summing-up voice-over at the end. Gentlemen, I am far from pathet­ic and the oppos­ite of ordin­ary and if your idea of a val­id per­son­al philo­sophy is to murder strangers because a magic loom told you to, then I’m pretty happy here on my side of that fence. Director Timur Bekmambetov proved with Night Watch and Day Watch that he has a thrill­ing per­son­al style but not much in the way of storytelling abil­ity which he con­firms with his first Hollywood stu­dio pro­duc­tion. Mr Tumnus, James McAvoy, plays nerdy accounts clerk Wesley who finds out he is the son and heir of the world’s best assas­sin. Aided by Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman he learns to shoot round corners and dis­cov­er an object­iv­ist sense of pur­pose that puts his own per­son­al free­dom and des­tiny above the lives of (for example) hun­dreds of inno­cent people on a train. Vile.

Death Defying Acts posterHarry Houdini was one of the 20th cen­tury’s legendary enter­tain­ers and in Death Defying Acts Guy Pearce renders him com­pletely without cha­risma which is a remark­able achieve­ment. The first great scep­tic, Houdini offers $10,000 to any­one who can tell him his beloved mother­’s final words. Stage mind-reader Catherine Zeta Jones sees a way out of poverty but finds her­self fall­ing in love instead. The lack of elec­tri­city (real or ima­gined) between the two leads hampers things some­what but the cam­era loves Saoirse Ronan (Atonement and the forth­com­ing Lovely Bones) so it isn’t a com­plete waste of time.

Up The Yangtze posterWhile China is front and centre of world atten­tion at the moment, the arrival in cinemas of Yung Chang’s excel­lent doc­u­ment­ary Up the Yangtze could­n’t be bet­ter timed. Taking us on a lux­ury cruise up a Yangtze river being slowly trans­formed by the epic (Mao-inspired) Three Gorges Dam pro­ject, the film man­ages to get more of China into it’s clev­erly layered 90 minutes than seems pos­sible. Teenage Yu dreams of going to University and becom­ing an engin­eer but her par­ents are illit­er­ate and dirt poor and have missed out on the com­pens­a­tion that would move them from their shack beside the river. So, against her will, she is sent to work on the cruise ship where she is giv­en the English name Candy and instruc­ted in the ways of mod­ern domest­ic ser­vice. Meanwhile, her par­ents struggle to find a new place to live and the river inex­or­ably rises.

When dis­cuss­ing glob­al warm­ing and car­bon emis­sions, we are often told that China opens a new coal powered power sta­tion every week which is evid­ently a bad thing. But, iron­ic­ally, when they build a renew­able hydro-electric scheme the West gets pretty snooty about that too. The pres­sures on China from all dir­ec­tions are keenly felt in this film, which will tell you more about that part of the world than three weeks of Olympic Games.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 20 August, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Star Wars: The Clone Wars was viewed at one of those excru­ci­at­ing radio sta­tion pre­views on Wednesday, 13 August (Readings). Wanted and Death Defying Acts were at Empire pub­lic screen­ings and Up the Yangtze was a pre­view screen­er DVD. I wish I had seen it at the Festival, though. I’m sure it would have looked very fine at the Embassy.

Review: The Bourne Ultimatum, Day Watch, Joy Division and The Singer

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Bourne Ultimatum posterIt’s Bourne-time again and rogue-agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still try­ing to find out who he is, who erased his memory and why. A Guardian journ­al­ist (Paddy Considine) seems to know some­thing so he takes the Eurostar to London and with­in 15 minutes of arriv­ing the bod­ies are pil­ing up.

In a cun­ning (not to men­tion poten­tially con­fus­ing) screen­writ­ing coup the first two-thirds of Ultimatum actu­ally takes place ‘before’ the final 15 minutes of Supremacy (the pre­vi­ous sequel) and the two time-lines meet briefly before Ultimatum picks us up and takes us to the final, fas­cin­at­ing, reveal: of a plot (as the say­ing goes) ripped from the head­lines – and from post‑9/11 para­noid, punch-drunk, American for­eign policy.

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