Between its heralded US release in September last year and its arrival in a (very) limited number of New Zealand cinemas this weekend, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master seems to have been transformed from masterpiece and annointed Best Picture contender to also-ran, disappointing scores of local PTA fans in the process, many of whom were crushed that we weren’t going to see the film in the director’s preferred 70mm format. Turns out it was touch and go whether we were going to see it on the big screen at all.
Anderson’s previous film, There Will Be Blood, was a close-run second to No Country For Old Men in my 2007 pick of the year, and his back catalogue is as rich as anyone else of his generation – Boogie Nights, Magnolia and even Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. Like Blood, The Master is painted on a big canvas. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, an alcoholic and self-hating WWII veteran, stumbling between misadventures when he stows away on the San Francisco yacht commanded by academic, author and mystic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd combines rudimentary psychotherapy with hypnosis to persuade gullible followers that their past lives can be used to transform their disappointing present.
Steve Gray, former film reviewer for TV’s Good Morning show and blogger at therealstevegray.com joins us: Steve and Simon wrestle over Les Misérables, Tom Cruise is back in Jack Reacher and Woody Allen continues his European tour in To Rome With Love.
After a splendid Wellington Film Festival last year, the New Zealand International Film Festival might be forgiven for putting their feet up and taking it easy but instead they have gone out of their way to produce another basket of goodies to fill the Easter weekend and beyond: the grandly titled World Cinema Showcase.
Arguably the only real difference between their two events now is the scale – and the lack of Embassy big screen – but there is quality all over this year’s Showcase. Like they do at its older – wintrier – sibling audiences are surely tempted to try the “will it come back” lottery but those odds are deteriorating all the time. Indeed, at time of writing one film (Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus) has already been withdrawn from the commercial release schedule and Showcase screenings are the only chance to experience it on the big screen.
As is my wont, though, I asked the Showcase people to feed me previews of the little battlers, the unheralded, the films that are often overlooked by a media demanding big names, headlines and page views. I was given 10 to look at, a couple dropped off as I didn’t feel up to recommending them, but I’ve added two more that I saw (or partially saw) at last year’s Festival. So, here’s ten to watch at Showcase 2012.
Music docos have always been a major component of both Festival and Showcase and several hundred Wellington moviegoers were disappointed when a power cut interrupted the July screening of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. They (meaning I) get a chance to see the conclusion of this fascinating portrait of hip-hop pioneers in an uncomfortable middle age. Also dealing with the fallout from success are the folk duo Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Oscar winners from the 2006 film Once. As The Swell Season, they toured and recorded, trying to ride the wave they were on and keep their relationship intact at the same time. Hansard’s troubled family background and Irglová’s youth conspire against them however and the film of their post-Oscar lives is more about a relationship fizzling out than your usual rock documentary. Which is good because there’s nothing startling about the music.
I don’t know what the French did to be so roundly insulted at the movies this week but I’d advise them to steer clear of Wellington cinemas for a while – perhaps until their film festival gets under way again next year. Firstly, crass action auteur Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) attempts to reboot a franchise from one of France’s most cherished pieces of literature but then makes The Three Musketeers without a single French person appearing on screen.
While hunting the site for some links to add to the just posted Winter’s Bone etc. review, I discovered that my Summer Holiday special hadn’t made it here. So, for completeness’ sake, here it is. Pretty sure, this is an early draft too but there’s no sign of an email submitting it.
What a lovely Summer we’ve been having – for watching movies. While the Avatar juggernaut rolls inexorably on there has plenty of other options for a dedicated seeker of shelter from the storm.
Released at any other time of year, Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones would be getting a decent length evaluation (and the headline) here but with fifteen films discuss we’ll have to live with the bullet point evaluation: not un-moving. My companion and I spent a about an hour after watching TLB discussing it’s flaws and yet both ended up agreeing that we’d actually enjoyed the film a lot, despite the problems.
Personally, I think Jackson’s tendency towards occasional whimsical in-jokery typified the uncertainty of tone (I’m thinking of his unnecessary camera shop cameo as an example) but the fundamental message – that the people left behind after a tragedy are more important than the victims – was clearly and quite bravely articulated. And when I saw the film at a crowded Embassy session, during the pivotal scene where the sister discovers the evidence to catch the killer, I could only hear one person breathing around me – and it wasn’t me.
Australia (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.
The 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(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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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 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 (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.