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Review: The Master, Gangster Squad, Whole Lotta Sole, ParaNorman and To Rome With Love

By Cinema and Reviews

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.

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Cinematica 3/13: Do you hear the actors “sing”?

By Audio and Cinematica

Cinematica_iTunes_200_cropSteve 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.

World Cinema Showcase 2012

By Cinema and Reviews

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.

Beats, Rhymes & ife: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest posterMusic 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.

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Review: The Three Musketeers, Midnight in Paris, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Monte Carlo and Tabloid

By Cinema and Reviews

The Three Musketeers posterI 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.

Actually, I’m teas­ing a little as neither the 1993 Charlie Sheen ver­sion or the 1973 Oliver Reed one had any sig­ni­fic­ant French involve­ment, but to pop­u­late the latest film with Danes (Mads Mikkelsen), Austrians (Christoph Waltz), Germans (Til Schweiger) and Ukrainians (Milla Jovovich) does seem a bit on the nose.

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Review: Summer Holiday 09-10 Summary

By Cinema and Reviews

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.

The Lovely Bones posterReleased 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.

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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.