No 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.
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.
I 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.
I 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.
Paul 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…
If 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 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.
Finally, 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.
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.
Simon 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 greatBritish 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.
They 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.
With 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.
Steve 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.
Ever 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.
Finally, 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.
About 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…
Fingers crossed that this year we’ll only get one fat, jolly, red-faced Santa movie after lastyear’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.
Diaspora 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 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 facade 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.