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Review: Water Whisperers/Tangaroa, Vampires Suck, The Other Guys and three more ...

By Cinema and Reviews

Water Whisperers posterMy big beef with most eco-documentaries is the lack of hope. Whether it’s Rob Stewart (Sharkwater), Franny Armstrong (The Age of Stupid) or even Leonardo DiCaprio (The 11th Hour) most of these films go to a lot of trouble to tell you what’s wrong with the plan­et but leave us feel­ing help­less and depressed.

That’s why I like Kathleen Gallagher’s work so much. Her film last year, Earth Whisperers/Papatunauku told ten stor­ies of people who were mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, inspir­ing change and show­ing us that there are solu­tions as well as prob­lems. This year she has repeated the ton­ic, focus­ing on our water­ways and our rela­tion­ship with the sea: Water Whisperers/Tangaroa.

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Review: Daybreakers, Hot Tub Time Machine, Genova and The Necessities of Life

By Cinema and Reviews

I am sick of vam­pires. Sick to death. As a great philo­soph­er once said, “What is point, vam­pires?” and I have to con­cur. They’re every­where you seem to turn thses days and the most bor­ing of the lot (the Twilight mob) are back in June to bore us all to death once again.

Daybreakers posterSo, my heart sank a little when I saw the trail­ers for Daybreakers, an Aussie hor­ror about a world con­trolled by vam­pires, hunt­ing and farm­ing the remain­ing humans for their plasma. One of the pleas­ures of this gig is when the sur­prises are pleas­ant and Daybreakers def­in­itely turned into one of those. Tightly wound and (for the most part) logic­ally sound, the tyres have been well and truly kicked on the premise before the cam­er­as (and digit­al com­pos­it­ors and Weta mask makers) got involved.

Ethan Hawke plays the Chief Blood Scientist for the big cor­por­a­tion that provides most of the world’s sup­ply. Ten years earli­er, an infec­ted bat caused an epi­dem­ic which rendered most of the pop­u­la­tion undead – a few, like CEO Sam Neill went will­ingly when faced with the offer of immor­tal­ity. Hawke is work­ing on a sub­sti­tute – he’s veget­ari­an in a human blood kind of way – and sup­plies for every­one are run­ning low. When a reneg­ade bunch of humans (led by Willem Dafoe) tell him about a pos­sible cure he is forced to choose between his boss, his human-hunter broth­er and what’s left of his humanity.

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Review: It’s Complicated, Cirque du freak: The Vampire’s Assistant & Astro Boy

By Cinema and Reviews

It's Complicated posterThe first thing you need to know about It’s Complicated is that it isn’t very com­plic­ated at all. The plot, the char­ac­ters, the gags (dear God, espe­cially the gags) are all per­fectly com­pre­hens­ible – even to those of us with only mod­est intel­lec­tu­al fac­ulties. Rest assured, at no point will any­one be talk­ing over your head in this one.

Nancy Meyer’s pre­vi­ous film was The Holiday, which eas­ily remains in the bot­tom ten of the 1200+ films I have reviewed in these pages, so It’s Complicated earns a single point for not being that bad, but that’s where I run out of positives.

Meryl Streep plays Jane, suc­cess­ful baker and busi­ness­wo­man, who has a drunk­en one-night-stand with her rogue-ish ex-husband, played by Alec Baldwin. He thinks that they should try again. She isn’t so sure – mainly because he is now mar­ried to the woman he left her for ten years earli­er and she really doesn’t want to be the “oth­er woman” to the “oth­er woman”.

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Review: Where the Wild Things Are, The Informant!, The Time Traveller’s Wife, Zombieland and The Cake Eaters

By Cinema and Reviews

Is it too early to sug­gest that we might be liv­ing in a golden age of cinema? Think of the film­makers work­ing in the com­mer­cial realm these days who have dis­tinct­ive voices, thrill­ing visu­al sens­ib­il­it­ies, sol­id intel­lec­tu­al (and often mor­al) found­a­tions, a pas­sion for com­bin­ing enter­tain­ment with some­thing more – along with an abid­ing love of cinema in all its strange and won­der­ful forms.

I’m think­ing of the Coens, obvi­ously, but also Peter Jackson (and protégé Neill Blomkamp), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz and the forth­com­ing Scott Pilgrim), Jason Reitman (Juno and January’s Up in the Air), Guillermo Del Toro (work­ing hard on The Hobbit in Miramar), and even Tarantino is still pro­du­cing the goods. This week we are lucky enough to get new work from two oth­ers who should be in that list: Spike Jonze and Steven Soderbergh.

Where the Wild Things Are posterJonze made his name with oddball stor­ies like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and the first thing you notice about his inter­pret­a­tion of the beloved Maurice Sendak children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, is that it simply doesn’t resemble any­thing else you’ve ever seen. With the help of writer Dave Eggers (the nov­el “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”, Away We Go) he has used the book as a start­ing point for a beau­ti­ful and sens­it­ive med­it­a­tion on what it is like to be a child (a boy child specifically).

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Review: A Serious Man, Adam, What Just Happened, Flame & Citron and The Twilight Saga: New Moon

By Cinema and Reviews

A Serious Man posterWe’re born alone and we die alone and in between noth­ing goes accord­ing to plan and the people around us are mostly unre­li­able and occa­sion­ally malevol­ent. Meanwhile, God either doesn’t exist or is indif­fer­ent to our suf­fer­ing. Either way, A Serious Man, the new film by the prodi­giously gif­ted Coen Brothers, is a very ser­i­ous film. It is also a very funny one.

In a mid-west University town in the late 60s, Physics Professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) has a happy fam­ily, a great career and a beau­ti­ful house in a nice neigh­bour­hood. Actually, he has none of those things. His wife (Sari Lennick) has fallen for smooth-talking Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed) and needs a Get (a form­al Jewish divorce), his daugh­ter wants a nose job, his son is pre­par­ing for his bar mitzvah by smoking dope and listen­ing to rock music and his unsuc­cess­ful broth­er (the great Richard Kind) is sleep­ing on the couch and drain­ing his cyst in the bath­room. At the same time, the ten­ure com­mit­tee at the University is receiv­ing anonym­ous com­plaints and his white-bread, red-neck neigh­bours are mow­ing their lawns in a par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing way.

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Review: Holiday Cinema Summary

By Cinema and Reviews

Australia posterAustralia (Evidently, mod­ern Australia was built on racism, bigotry, cor­rup­tion and alco­hol). Not the débâcle that some media would have you believe, Straya is an old-fashioned epic that looks right at home on the big Embassy screen. If only Baz Luhrman the dir­ect­or had more con­fid­ence in Luhrman the writer, he might have avoided some of the more OTT moments by let­ting a good story tell itself. The film also suf­fers from a lack of Russell Crowe (not some­thing you can say all that often). A rough­er, nas­ti­er per­form­ance would have suited the char­ac­ter of the Drover bet­ter but might also pro­voked some­thing a little less sim­per­ing from Nicole Kidman. Hugh Jackman is a fine enough act­or (and is neces­sar­ily Australian), he’s just tra­gic­ally miscast.

Benjamin Button posterThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt is born old and grows phys­ic­ally young­er all the while touch­ing the lives of the people around him). Other com­ment­at­ors have already made the obvi­ous com­par­is­ons between Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump, but the dis­ap­point­ment I felt on leav­ing the theatre was palp­able. Despite the evid­ent tech­nic­al mas­tery on dis­play and a win­ning per­form­ance by Brad Pitt, the film falls well short of its own expect­a­tions, in fact I would argue that Yes Man is actu­ally more profound.

Yes Man posterYes Man (Jim Carrey finds love and ful­fil­ment by not say­ing “no”). Proves that achiev­ing mod­est aims is often more sat­is­fy­ing than fall­ing short with more ambi­tious pro­jects. The pres­ence of Rhys Darby adds half a star and the won­der­ful Zooey Deschanel adds a whole extra one. Great indie soundtrack too.

Bolt posterBolt (TV hero dog dis­cov­ers he does­n’t actu­ally have super powers). The most fun of the hol­i­days can be found by slip­ping on the Readings’ polar­ized 3D glasses and enjoy­ing the Disney car­toon romp Bolt. Unlike the lead-footed Desperaux, Bolt zips along with plenty of visu­al and verbal pan­ache. The 3D isn’t too gim­micky and does the job of bring­ing you into the film (or if you prefer, mak­ing every­one else in the theatre disappear).

The Tale of Desperaux posterThe Tale of Desperaux (big-eared mouse res­cues Princess, saves king­dom). On Sunday the morn­ing, of those queued at the Empire in Island Bay 100% of the kids chose Bolt, 100% of the review­ers chose The Tale of Desperaux and the kids got the bet­ter part of the deal. Alone in the cinema I killed time by try­ing to work out which act­or’s voice I was listen­ing to: any­one know what William H. Macy sounds like?

Waltz with Bashir posterWaltz with Bashir (war vet­er­an inter­views old bud­dies to try and remem­ber a sup­pressed past). The best film of the hol­i­days actu­ally opened before the break but after my last dead­line of the old year. An anim­ated explor­a­tion of one of the many Israeli wars against their neigh­bours and the tricks played by memory, WWB has many images that linger in the mind, ready to re-emerge whenev­er I see a news­pa­per head­line about the cur­rent situ­ation in Gaza.

The Spirit posterThe Spirit (rook­ie cop is brought back to life with an eye for the ladies). You won’t have seen a film quite like The Spirit before, not one that was any good at least. A cross between the stark, CGI-noir of Sin City with the corny humour of the 60s Batman, if you’ve ever wanted to see Samuel L. Jackson camp­ing it up in full Nazi regalia this is the film for you. For the rest of us, not so much.

Bedtime Stories posterBedtime Stories (Hotel handy­man’s stor­ies for his neph­ew and niece come true the next day). The need for a PG rat­ing cramps Adam Sandler’s style some­what and the money the pro­du­cers obvi­ously saved on cine­ma­to­graphy went on some class Brit-actors includ­ing Richard Griffiths and Jonathan Pryce.

Twilight posterTwilight (Tale of a teen­age girl arriv­ing in a new town, befriended by, and then fall­ing in love with, the loc­al vam­pire). Evidently the Twilight young-adult nov­els are some kind of phe­nomen­on but I was more than mildly diver­ted by the cine­mat­ic ver­sion. I liked the sense of place (the cold and rainy Pacific North West) and the lack of urgency about the story-telling – tak­ing its own sweet time. The fact that the primary rela­tion­ship is between an adoles­cent girl and a 100-year-old man (no mat­ter how beau­ti­ful and young-looking) did man­age to creep me out though, more so than the ‘cradle-snatching’ in Benjamin Button.

Frost/Nixon posterFrost/Nixon (Famous inter­view saves Frost’s career and fin­ishes Nixon’s). A film of primary interest to 70s con­spir­acy the­ory buffs and act­ors look­ing for a mas­ter­class. Frank Langella does Richard M. Nixon per­fectly des­pite bear­ing little resemb­lance to the real per­son and Michael Sheen and Rebecca Hall add to their grow­ing repu­ta­tions. The Frost/Nixon inter­views had plenty of drama of their own but this film pads it all out with events and con­ver­sa­tions that did­n’t happen.

Vicky Christina Barcelona posterVicky Cristina Barcelona (Gap year American girls find love in Catalonia). There was a time when the name Woody Allen was a guar­an­tee of high-brow qual­ity and it’s a sign of the times that the excel­lent Vicky Cristina Barcelona is being sold to the pub­lic with no men­tion of his name at all. As it turns out VCB is pretty damn fine – a witty and intel­li­gent script that plays out like a deftly dram­at­ised New Yorker short story.

The Dinner Guest posterThe Dinner Guest (Simple couple turn posh to impress the new Boss). The French movies we get here seem to be more obsessed with class than any­thing from England and The Dinner Guest is no excep­tion. The twist in this case is that our her­oes are so uncul­tured they could be, I don’t know, English. Betrays its stage ori­gins so much so I might have been watch­ing it at Circa.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 January, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: I am pleased to report that everything was well presen­ted (the print for Vicky Cristina Barcelona might have been a little too rough for the big Embassy screen). The digit­al 3D Bolt had some strange mask­ing issues which nobody at Readings could explain to me, and I only noticed dur­ing the clos­ing cred­its so no de-merit points apply.