For the last three weeks I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to sit in for Simon Morris on RNZ National’s At the Movies. It’s a lot of work – at least a lot more work than writing for the website – which means I haven’t had a chance until now to post the highlights.Read More
This week at my new Radio New Zealand (sorry, RNZ) gig, we started posting some actual content.
First up we started our “Best of the web” feature, featuring links to interesting online articles about “what ‘cinematic’ means in relation to TV”, an essay about Spielberg and ‘fathers and sons’, and the origins of Del Toro’s Crimson Peak.
Then on Tuesday we posted our first video review: Cary Fukunaga’s new feature (made for Netflix), Beasts of No Nation.
It’s worth going to the actual page at RNZ because I add some extra links there but the video plays bigger here (at least until the RNZ redesign arrives).
On Wednesday, we learned of the death of critic Philip French and assembled links to some of the best articles about one of the greatest film critics ever.
On Friday, we posted our second video review: Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks.
Again, there are some links to extras on the page itself.
And this afternoon, I put up our “Best of the week” featuring a couple of articles about Daniel Craig as Bond, Andrew Todd on Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, just in time for Halloween, and a fascinating article on how to get silent film frame rates right in the digital age.
Apart from the inescapable need to carve out a meagre living from an uncaring world, one of the reasons why these weekly updates have been something less than, well, weekly recently has been that most of the fare on offer at the pictures has been so uninspiring.
Take Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana for example. It’s not a bad movie, per se. It’s certainly not the trainwreck that the British media would have you believe. It’s just so … inessential. Hirschbiegel’s desire to be respectful to Diana’s children, and to other players in the story who are still living, simply sucks all of the drama out of the thing, leaving you with a frustrating non-love story between two frustratingly inarticulate people. There are occasional hints of the complex character she may have been but the finished product is a kind of nothing. It really is too soon for this film to tell this story.
Then there’s the Justin Timberlake vehicle Runner Runner, in which the pop star turned actor attempts to carry a film all by himself and proves that he either is unable to do so, or can’t pick a project that’s worth the attempt. He plays a former Wall St hotshot with a talent for calculating risk who trades Princeton for the high life of running an online gambling business in sunny (and shady) Costa Rica. Not one word of this dismal little film betrays a breath of authenticity, either in its storytelling or character. Screenwriters Koppelman and Levien once wrote Ocean’s 13 (and The Girlfriend Experience) for Steven Soderbergh. At least they were meant to be fantasy.
For this writer, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were the defining global event of my lifetime. It was the day when anything became possible – even the utterly unthinkable. It was the day when sheer randomness and extreme force collided to prove that we have only the thinnest veneer of protection from the world despite all the promises that have been made to us since childhood.
Since that day, I have never consciously sought out 9/11 footage to watch. That first 20 minutes of television news (switched on after being woken by Hewitt Humphrey’s terrifyingly calm announcement on Morning Report) was all I could manage that day. I have no need to re-traumatise myself thank you very much.
So what to make of 9/11 cinema? For ten years it has been an almost impossible topic to successfully turn into art. The literal retellings of the day’s events (United 93 and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center) were the least awful, emphasising heroism in the face of impossible odds and not attempting anything metaphoric or allusive. In the clumsy Remember Me – in which Robert Pattinson goes to visit his estranged father (Pierce Brosnan) in the WTC North Tower that fateful morning – 9/11 was used as a cheap gotcha, a way of provoking a reaction that the story couldn’t manage on its own.
Back in 1968 the world was amazed to see a simian-looking creature displaying rudimentary (and yet clearly) human qualities. But enough about my birth, I’m here to talk about Planet of the Apes, the nightmarish vision of a world turned upside down: apes that speak, humans that are mute and enslaved, orangutans doing “science”. And of course, the big shock back then was that “it was Earth all along” – we’d caused this catastrophe ourselves with our environmental pig-headedness and our nuclear arrogance. The success of that blisteringly effective original prompted several sequels to diminished effect – although the sight (in Beneath the Planet of the Apes) of Charlton Heston pushing the final atomic button to destroy the planet in disgust at the whole sorry mess was seared on to my childhood brain forever.
In 2001 the series got the re-boot treatment courtesy of Tim Burton, a miscast Mark Wahlberg (when is he ever not?) and the final triumphant display of latex ape mask technology. Now the apes are back and there’s no sign of rubber anywhere to be found – except in some of the human performances perhaps. Rise of the Planet of the Apes serves as a prequel to the Burton film rather than a total from scratch effort – although there’s no equivalent in the original series – and the film does a terrific job of setting up a story that many of us already know as well as fondly honouring many details from the original series.