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2012 Wellington Cinema Year in Review

By Cinema

This Must Be the Place posterAs usu­al, the vagar­ies of hol­i­day dead­lines mean that, just as you are arriv­ing back at work to glee­fully greet the New Year, here I am to tell you all about 2012. The best way to use this page is to clip it out, fold it up and put it in your pock­et ready for your next vis­it to the video shop – that way you won’t go wrong with your rent­ing. Trust me – I’m a professional.

But this year I have a prob­lem. Usually I man­age to restrict my annu­al picks to films that were com­mer­cially released to cinemas. I’ve always felt that it wasn’t fair to men­tion films that only screened in fest­ivals – it’s frus­trat­ing to be told about films that aren’t easy to see and it makes it dif­fi­cult for you to join in and share the love. This year, though, if I take out the festival-only films the great­ness is hard to spot among the only “good”.

As usu­al, I have eschewed a top ten in favour of my pat­en­ted cat­egor­ies: Keepers, Watch Again, Mentioned in Dispatches and Shun At All Costs. In 2012, only two of my nine Keepers (films I wish to have close to me forever) made it into com­mer­cial cinemas and one of them isn’t even really a film.

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Review: Hope Springs, Total Recall and How Far Is Heaven

By Cinema and Reviews

Hope Springs posterIn Hope Springs, Meryl Streep proves once again that not only can she play any woman, she can also play every­wo­man. She’s Kay, an unful­filled Nebraska house­wife, mar­ried for 31 years to account­ant Tommy Lee Jones and resigned to sleep­ing in sep­ar­ate bed­rooms and cook­ing him his eggs every morn­ing while he reads the paper. Except, she’s not resigned, she’s become determ­ined. Determined to prove that mar­riage doesn’t just fizzle out after the kids leave home, that the past doesn’t have to equal the future.

So, she signs them both up for “intens­ive couples coun­selling” with friendly ther­ap­ist Steve Carell, in pic­tur­esque sea­side Maine. Jones is gruffly res­ist­ant, of course, and it’s his dead­pan sar­casm that prompts nost of the early com­edy (their fum­bling attempts to spice up their life provides the rest). As a com­edy, Hope Springs is extremely gentle – much more gentle than the trail­er would have you believe – but that gen­tle­ness suits the del­ic­ate sub­ject and the script (by Vanessa Taylor) actu­ally bur­rows in pretty deeply to a sub­ject that, I’m sure, is pretty close to home for lots of viewers.

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Cinematica 2/19: Meryl’s Mature Urges Make Tommy Lee Tense

By Audio and Cinematica

It’s Back to BOURNE with Jeremy Renner; Meryl Streep gets it on with Tommy Lee Jones in HOPE SPRINGS; Hirokazu Koreeda’s I WISH is a little gem and we talk to the dir­ect­ors of the New Zealand doc­u­ment­ary HOW FAR IS HEAVEN.

Review- Captain America: The First Avenger, Oranges and Sunshine & Precious Life

By Cinema and Reviews

Captain America posterOf all the remakes, sequels, fran­chises and com­ic book adapt­a­tions we are being offered this winter Captain America: The First Avenger is the one least likely to send a shiver of excite­ment down a Kiwi filmgoer’s spine. And yet, from rel­at­ively mod­est begin­nings a half decent adven­ture film grows – it isn’t going to change the way you think and feel about any­thing but Captain America at least won’t make you want to run scream­ing for the exits in embar­rass­ment and shame.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans from Fantastic Four) is a weedy, sickly kid from Brooklyn – digit­ally de-hanced if that’s the oppos­ite of enhanced – who des­per­ately wants to fight the Nazis for Uncle Sam. After sev­er­al humi­li­at­ing rejec­tions kindly sci­ent­ist Stanley Tucci enlists him in an exper­i­ment­al super-soldier pro­gramme, fills him full of what looks like blue Powerade and turns him into a muscle-bound, fast-healing, über-grunt.

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Review: Kung Fu Panda 2, The Company Men, Potiche and Bill Cunningham New York

By Cinema and Reviews

Kung Fu Panda 2 posterIt’s nice to be reminded every now and then that going to to the movies is sup­posed to be fun. The first Kung Fu Panda film was a bois­ter­ous and enter­tain­ing treat (“resembles an eight-year-old’s bed­room while they are throw­ing all their toys around” I said in 2008) and the latest ver­sion is an improve­ment on that, adding a lay­er of sen­ti­ment to the amus­ing hijinks. It also trucks along for a nothing-wasted 91 minutes and should keep adults and not-yet-adults well and truly amused.

Panda Po (Jack Black) became the unlikely Dragon Warrior in the first film and now has rock star status among the anthro­po­morph­ic cit­izenry. Along with allies “The Five”, he defends the inno­cent from tyranny in between (and often dur­ing) meals. A new tech­no­logy and a shad­owy fig­ure from Po’s past threaten the peace and force our hero to grapple with the strangely unanswered ques­tions about his child­hood and how a panda came to be adop­ted by a goose in the first place.

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Review: The Incredible Hulk, In the Valley of Elah, The Happening, Outsourced and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

The Incredible Hulk posterI think we can safely call a halt to these semi-annual Hulk movies now – the new one is good enough that we can all move on (Ant-Man is evid­ently next). The Incredible Hulk is Marvel’s attempt to wrestle back the fran­chise that got away from them under Ang Lee in 2003 and even­tu­ally re-unify the Marvel uni­verse under the suave, unstop­pable box office force of Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man. To retrieve The Hulk, Marvel cast Hollywood’s weedi­est lead­ing man, Edward Norton (Fight Club), not real­ising that Norton also has a repu­ta­tion as a bit of a med­dler who then re-wrote the script and sat in on the editing.

The res­ult, as you might expect, is a bit of a noisy mess, but far from dis­astrous. After a splen­didly con­densed open­ing title sequence which takes us through the back-story of the ori­gin­al exper­i­ments that Gamma-ized poor Bruce Banner, we meet him on the run in Brazil, labour­ing in a bot­tling plant, tak­ing anger man­age­ment classes and col­lab­or­at­ing online with a mys­ter­i­ous sci­ent­ist who may hold the key to a cure. Unfortunately for him, the General (a suit­ably comic-book per­form­ance by William Hurt) arrives with a squad to take him home. This makes him angry, of course, and unleashes the green beast within.

If any­thing, it is more respect­ful of the TV series than the com­ic book, fea­tur­ing cameos from ori­gin­al Hulk Lou Ferrigno and a clunky posthum­ous cameo from TV Banner Bill Bixby. In fact, look­ing back on it the film spends more time hon­our­ing the past than it does driv­ing into the future, often fall­ing prey to cutesy touches like hav­ing Norton Anti-Virus fire up when Banner logs on to a com­puter. Chief Villain Tim Roth looks like Chelsea own­er Roman Abramovich, which makes his char­ac­ter name, The Abomination, per­fectly apt.

In the Valley of Elah posterPaul Haggis cre­ated the Oscar-winning Crash back in 2004 and, after help­ing rein­vent Bond in Casino Royale, has gone back to the polit­ic­al well with the heart­felt In the Valley of Elah, star­ring Tommy Lee Jones. Jones plays former Army invest­ig­at­or Hank Deerfield. His son has just returned from Iraq but imme­di­ately gone AWOL so Hank travels across Texas to find him. What he dis­cov­ers shakes his faith in his coun­try and the mil­it­ary and (I’m guess­ing) is sup­posed to have some meta­phor­ic weight about the state of the nation and the world and it prob­ably does. I was one of many who found Crash to be appalling, un-watchable, rub­bish but Elah (per­haps because it does­n’t try and do so much) is better.

While Haggis wears his heart on his sleeve, what he really needs is a copy edit­or on his shoulder. Someone needs to tell him that when you cast someone as soul­ful as Tommy Lee Jones you can just let him tell the audi­ence what is going on with his eyes – you don’t then have to then verb­al­ise it in the next shot. Probably an easy mis­take to make when you are a writer first and a dir­ect­or second…

The Happening posterIf Haggis needs a copy edit­or then M. Night Shyamalan needs a secur­ity guard on the door of his office, hold­ing the keys to his type­writer. The Happening is an eco-thriller about a mys­ter­i­ous “event” that causes people across the North East of America to lose their minds and then do away with them­selves. Among those caught up in the mess is high school sci­ence teach­er Mark Wahlberg who thinks the mys­ter­i­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of America’s bee pop­u­la­tion might have some­thing to do with it.

Shyamalan has obvi­ous tal­ent as a dir­ect­or: he has an eye for an arrest­ing image and has seen enough Hitchcock to con­struct effect­ive set-pieces but he can­’t write dia­logue that human beings can actu­ally say which con­tinu­ally drops the audi­ence out of the moment. Luckily, whenev­er I lost con­nec­tion to the story, there was Zooey Deschanel (as Wahlberg’s wife), whose elec­tric blue eyes should be cat­egor­ised as an altern­at­ive fuel source.

Outsourced posterOutsourced is return­ing to cinemas after a brief turn at the World Cinema Showcase. It’s a beguil­ing tale of a Seattle call centre man­ager (Josh Hamilton) who has to go to India to train his replace­ment when the nov­elty com­pany he works for relo­cates “ful­fil­ment” to Gwaripur. The usu­al cross-cultural mis­un­der­stand­ings occur but the char­ac­ters all grow on you, much like India grows on our hero.

You Don't Mess With The Zohan posterFinally, legendary social com­ment­at­or Adam Sandler takes on anoth­er press­ing polit­ic­al issue (after gay mar­riage in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry) and helps solve the con­flict in the Middle East with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, a hit and miss com­edy that is mostly hit for a change. Sandler is the Zohan, num­ber one Israeli counter-terrorist oper­at­ive, who is tired of the end­less con­flict and yearns to emu­late his hero (Paul Mitchell), cut hair in New York and make everything “silky smooth”. So he fakes his own death and smuggles his way in to America where the only job he can get is in a Palestinian salon. His unortho­dox meth­ods with the ladies soon make him very pop­u­lar indeed but the con­flict is nev­er far away.

There are plenty of jokes per minute and the relent­less teas­ing of Israelis for their love of fizzy drinks, hum­mus, disco and hacky-sack is pretty entertaining.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 18 June 2008.

Nature of con­flict: Outsourced is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I do a little work for now and then.