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Review: No, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Host and Hyde Park on Hudson

By Cinema and Reviews

Gael García Bernal in No by Pablo Larraín
No posterNo sounds like the kind of thing a tod­dler in the middle of a tan­trum might say, while stomp­ing around your lounge room at bed­time. At the cinema, though, the tan­trum belongs to the cor­rupt dic­tat­or­ship of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, forced through inter­na­tion­al pres­sure to let oth­ers play in his sand­pit. In 1988 he announced a ref­er­en­dum that would demon­strate – by fair means or foul – that the people loved him, weren’t inter­ested in demo­cracy and that those who thought dif­fer­ent were noth­ing but com­mun­ists and terrorists.

15 years after he and his mil­it­ary junta over­threw the legit­im­ate left-leaning gov­ern­ment of Salvador Allende, the ques­tion in the ref­er­en­dum would be a simple one: “Yes” to keep the dic­tat­or­ship and “No” for a return to free elec­tions. No, Pablo Larraín’s bril­liant movie, looks at the cam­paign from the per­spect­ive of an ad guy – a Mad Man – played by Gael García Bernal, who har­nessed the latest cor­por­ate sales tech­niques and the power of tele­vi­sion to change the dir­ec­tion of a nation.

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Cinematica 2/15: Do you believe in magic, Mike?

By Audio and Cinematica

Channing Tatum gets his kit off in Magic Mike; Robert Pattinson goes back to 19th cen­tury Paris in Bel Ami; Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker go to Canada to get mar­ried in Cloudburst and William Hurt and Isabella Rossellini try and res­toke the fires of pas­sion in Late Bloomers.

Review: The Dark Knight Rises, Cloudburst, Late Bloomers, Trail Notes, Sky Whisperers and King of Devil’s Island

By Cinema and Reviews

The Dark Knight Rises posterI made the mis­take of watch­ing The Dark Knight Rises twice last week. The first time was enter­tain­ing enough, I sup­pose. The open­ing set-piece – in which a CIA rendi­tions plane is hijacked in mid-air by it’s own cargo – is bril­liantly con­ceived but point­less, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a breath of fresh air and the end­ing (unspoiled here) works extremely hard to tie up the many loose ends and sat­is­fy even the mean­est critic.

But second time up, the prob­lems come into even clear­er focus. The con­fused ideo­logy (a fusion of zeit­geisty “Occupy Gotham” wealth redis­tri­bu­tion and pro-vigilante “mean streets will always need clean­ing” status quo pro­tec­tion­ism), end­less tire­some expos­i­tion of both plot and theme and the huge holes in its own intern­al logic, all serve to dis­sip­ate the impact of the impress­ive visuals.

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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.

Review: Run Fatboy Run, Vantage Point, The Other Boleyn Girl, Interview, Step Up 2 the Streets and 10,000 BC

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

My nor­mal, equable, approach to Hollywood block­buster product has been upset this week by the news that, in a decision of quite breath­tak­ing cyn­icism, Warner Bros. are going to split the final Harry Potter film (The Deathly Hallows due in 2010) in to two parts and thus, with a wave of a Potter-like wand, make $500m appear where no money was before. Normal ser­vice may well be resumed next week but for now I am grumpy and it may show.

Run Fatboy Run posterSimon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) leaves his hit-making col­lab­or­at­ors, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, behind for a while for his new com­edy Run Fatboy Run. He plays love­able waster Dennis Doyle who could eas­ily be a cous­in of Shaun (or Tim in “Spaced”). Five years ago he ran out on his beau­ti­ful preg­nant girl­friend, Thandie Newton, on their wed­ding day. Now, she has hooked up with hand­some, rich, American mara­thon run­ner Hank Azaria (The Simpsons) and Dennis (with the help of very funny best friend Dylan Moran from “Black Books”) decides to win her back by prov­ing he can fin­ish a London Marathon. Competent and ener­get­ic but with the occa­sion­al bum note, Run Fatboy Run is like a pub band cov­er ver­sion of a great British romantic com­edy. One of the reas­ons why it does­n’t always work must be down to first-time fea­ture dir­ect­or David Schwimmer (Ross from “Friends”) whose tim­ing, sadly, isn’t always on.

Vantage Point posterThey say you nev­er come out of a film hum­ming the struc­ture, which in the case of plucky little thrill­er Vantage Point is a shame as the struc­ture is really all it has going for it. An attemp­ted assas­sin­a­tion of US President Ashton (William Hurt) in Salamanca, Spain is told and retold from the dif­fer­ing per­spect­ives of sev­er­al prot­ag­on­ists and wit­nesses, includ­ing Dennis Quaid’s age­ing Secret Serviceman and Forest Whitaker’s handicam-toting tour­ist. The plot is nev­er fully unrav­elled, though, leav­ing too many ques­tions unanswered not least of which why Spanish ter­ror­ists would col­lab­or­ate with jihadists. There’s one great car chase, though, involving what looks like a Holden Barina. Everything else disappoints.

The Other Boleyn Girl posterWith The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen scribe Peter Morgan turns his atten­tion to anoth­er chapter in Britain’s roy­al his­tory: the bed-hopping, neck-chopping, Tudor soap opera star­ring Henry VIII and his search for an heir; a pre­quel, if you will, to Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman play the Boleyn sis­ters, com­pet­ing for the atten­tion of Eric Bana’s hand­some but unstable Henry (if they only knew he was going to turn into Charles Laughton they might not have tried so hard). The ori­gin­al nov­el was bodice-ripping romantic fic­tion dressed as lit­er­at­ure and the film serves the same pur­pose. Entertaining.

Interview official siteSteve Buscemi takes the dir­ect­or’s chair (and stars in) Interview, a low-key two-hander also fea­tur­ing Sienna Miller. Buscemi plays cyn­ic­al polit­ic­al journ­al­ist Pierre who is forced to inter­view a fam­ous soap star. Based on, and far too respect­ful of, a film by murdered Dutch film­maker Theo Van Gogh, Interview feels like a stage play – and not in a good way.

Step Up 2 The Streets posterEver since West Side Story (and pos­sibly earli­er) dance has been used as a meta­phor for urb­an viol­ence but in recent years the trend has got some com­mer­cial legs as film­makers real­ise they can present hip-hop music and urb­an situ­ations in a PG envir­on­ment. In Step Up a white urb­an free­style dan­cer (Channing Tatum) tried to make it at bal­let school. In the sequel (Step Up 2 The Streets), a white free­style urb­an dan­cer (Briana Evigan) tries to make it at the same bal­let school. But she’s from The Streets, you see, and she’s an orphan so she gath­ers the oth­er out­casts and eth­nics from the school so they can com­pete with the gang-bangers in an “illeg­al” dance com­pet­i­tion. I’m fas­cin­ated, obvi­ously, by these films not least the pro­mo­tion of dance as com­pet­i­tion over dance as expres­sion. But I’m over-thinking as usual.

10,000 BC posterFinally, 10,000 BC is fit­fully enter­tain­ing twaddle. Historically and anthro­po­lo­gic­ally inac­cur­ate not to men­tion eth­no­lo­gic­ally offens­ive, my recom­mend­a­tion is to wait for the video, get stoned with your mates and then talk all the way through it.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 March, 2008 although space con­straints saw the last few items cut. So, Interview, Step Up 2 The Streets and 10,000 BC are like web-only bonus items.

Nature of Conflict: Interview is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I some­times do a little work for.

Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Fred Claus, The Golden Door and Mr. Brooks

By Cinema and Reviews

Elizabeth The Golden age posterAbout a third of the way through Elizabeth The Golden Age, hand­some pir­ate Walter Raleigh arrives at Court bring­ing his Queen gifts from the New World: pota­toes in a box of soil and tobacco (bring­ing to mind that won­der­ful Bob Newhart routine: “Then what do you do, Walt? ha! ha! ha!… You set fire to it!”) But what Raleigh (played by Clive Owen with an old-fashioned movie star cool that he has­n’t mustered before) is really offer­ing Elizabeth is the future; a future of gun­powder, inter­na­tion­al trade, sci­ence and empire. And for anoth­er 400 years Britannia will rule the waves.

Unlike some, I can­’t com­ment too much on the his­tor­ic­al accur­acy of the film – it seemed pretty close to how I remem­ber study­ing it as an eight year old – but abso­lute accur­acy does­n’t seem to be the point. The por­trait of a woman who has to become an icon (super-human and at the same time less than human) in order to pre­serve her people is ripe for a melo­dra­mat­ic Hollywood telling and dir­ect­or Shekhar Kapur and star Cate Blanchett don’t let us down.

This film is a sequel, of course, to the remark­ably suc­cess­ful Elizabeth that launched Blanchett nearly ten years ago. That suc­cess means a big­ger budget this time around – hun­dreds more extras, flash­er sets and a rip-roaring mari­time set-piece – but it is the supremely con­trolled Blanchett that dom­in­ates. As we rejoin the story her pos­i­tion is still insec­ure: chal­lenged from the North by half-sister Mary Queen of Scots and from the South by Philip of Spain, the tussle is between Catholic super­sti­tion (and medi­ev­al bru­tal­ity) and the enlightened reli­gious tol­er­ance that would allow an Empire to flour­ish. No won­der some Catholics aren’t happy with this ver­sion of history…

Fred Claus posterFingers crossed that this year we’ll only get one fat, jolly, red-faced Santa movie after last year’s woe­ful bunch: but if we have to have one I’m pleased to report that Fred Claus isn’t too embar­rass­ing. A fine cast, includ­ing Kevin Spacey and Miranda Richardson, have been gathered to tell the story of Santa’s big broth­er (Vince Vaughan) who left home in a sulk many years ago and is now a cyn­ic­al repo man in Chicago.

Meanwhile Santa (Paul Giamatti) is stressed out as more and more kids are ask­ing for more and more presents (not like the old days when one present per kid was enough). When Fred needs to be bailed out of chokey, Santa sees a chance to bring the fam­ily back togeth­er and get some extra help at the North Pole. The tone of the film is pretty ran­dom and the humour is hit and miss but Giamatti’s per­form­ance as Santa is so fine that, if he rolled it out in any oth­er film, we’d be talk­ing about award nom­in­a­tions. Seriously.

Golden Door posterDiaspora and mass dis­lo­ca­tion is the great story of the mod­ern age – from the Irish flee­ing the potato fam­ine to the mil­lions in Africa dis­placed by war or gen­o­cide. It’s no pic­nic abandon­ing your home and everything you know for the hint of a bet­ter life – ask your taxi driver – and Emanuele Crialese’s Golden Door plays as a worthy trib­ute to all those who have ever taken that risk. His film fol­lows a turn of the (last) cen­tury Sicilian fam­ily escap­ing the grind­ing poverty of their island in the hope of get­ting to Walter Raleigh’s New World where money grows on trees and there are rivers of milk. Once there, they exchange one island for anoth­er (Ellis) where they are prod­ded and tested before being found worthy of America. Crialese’s eye for an arrest­ing image and a lovely per­form­ance from lead Vincenzo Amato make Golden Door one of the unsung art-house films of the year.

Mr Brooks posterMr. Brooks is an odd fish – the film and the char­ac­ter. Kevin Costner plays suc­cess­ful self-made busi­ness­man Earl Brooks; he’s Portland’s Man of the Year but he has a secret. Not only is he a demen­ted serial-killer but he has an ima­gin­ary friend (William Hurt) who sits in the back seat of his car get­ting him in to trouble so its a bit like a grown-up ver­sion of Drop Dead Fred. Costner’s tend­ency to under­play everything means we nev­er get a real sense of the tor­ment under the button-down façade but at least he is con­sist­ently inter­est­ing, unlike the sub-plot involving the cop chas­ing him (Demi Moore) and her divorce.

For space reas­ons, only the Elizabeth seg­ment of this review was prin­ted in the Capital Times, Wednesday 21 November, 2007. For some reas­on they then prin­ted a ver­sion of it again in the Films of the Week sec­tion at the back of the book, instead of some more of my gor­geous prose. I love them like fam­ily, and am intensely grate­ful for the oppor­tun­ity to do this in front of an audi­ence, but would like to point out that I don’t have any­thing to do with the strangely edited  “Films of the Week” apart from provid­ing the raw material.