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world cinema showcase

Review: Terminator Salvation, Love the Beast, Fugitive Pieces, JCVD and In Search of a Midnight Kiss

By Cinema and Reviews

Terminator Salvation poster’Tis the sea­son to reboot tired fran­chises and this week we get an explos­ive new look at James Cameron’s beloved Terminator. Set only nine years in the future (when open-air bat­tle­field heart trans­plants will be de rigeur dur­ing la guerre), the Judgement Day of T2 has des­troyed most of the West Coast of the USA and only a hardy band of ill-equipped rebels are keep­ing the mon­strous Skynet at bay.

John Connor, proph­esied future saviour of the human race, is a only a sol­dier in the rebel army but his reg­u­lar radio broad­casts bring hope to the scattered, ragtag freedom-fighters. In a battle to res­cue some human pris­on­ers his entire squad is killed – but he does man­age to release the mys­ter­i­ous Marcus Wright (Aussie boof­head Sam Worthington) who may hold the key to the defeat of the machines.

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Preview: World Cinema Showcase

By Cinema and Wellington

Too late to be more than 50% use­ful to any­one, here’s my World Cinema Showcase preview:

WSC 09 StarAs sum­mer gives way to autumn, and Daylight Saving Time gently releases its grip on our pri­or­it­ies, the first sig­ni­fic­ant film fest­iv­al of the year returns to take up res­id­ence at the Paramount. The World Cinema Showcase is two very tidy weeks of great filmgo­ing, almost as if the grand, winter, Festival has been dis­tilled down to a man­age­able essence.

Within, 33 fea­tures (and one omni­bus col­lec­tion of shorts) com­pete for your atten­tion and, luck­ily, the long Easter week­end allows you take full advant­age. A few of the titles were made avail­able to crit­ics as pre­views, but many more are on my list of films I simply must see on the big screen and, depend­ing on your tastes and interests, noth­ing is un-recommendable.

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Review: Semi-Pro, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Horton Hears a Who!, The War on Democracy, Across the Universe, How She Move and Rambo

By Cinema and Reviews

200804161055.jpgWhen the cur­rent Writer-in-Residence at Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters sug­ges­ted I take anoth­er look at my neg­at­ive review of Blades of Glory, I made a prom­ise that (while I could­n’t bring myself to watch that tur­key again) I would approach the next Will Ferrell with a con­sciously open mind. Sadly, with Semi-Pro (a cross between Anchorman and Talladega Nights fea­tur­ing the strengths of neither and the rampant self-indulgence of both), I heard no laughter, only the sound of the bot­tom of the bar­rel being scraped. Recently New Line Cinema ended it’s life as an inde­pend­ent pro­du­cer and I’d like to think Semi-Pro was respons­ible. It’s no less than it deserves.

The Spiderwick Chronicles posterAnd, at risk of sound­ing like a total film-wanker I’m going to alloc­ate what strengths The Spiderwick Chronicles has to the pres­ence of the great John Sayles as co-writer. Sayles’ inde­pend­ent work includes clas­sics like The Brother From Another Planet and Passion Fish but makes a liv­ing doing (mostly uncred­ited) punch-up jobs on big budget screen­plays. I was grow­ing increas­ingly frus­trated with the plod­ding story-telling, and the over-reliance on the well-designed digi-creatures, before a great moment at the cli­max restored my faith that a prop­er screen­writer was on board after all.

Three chil­dren have to leave New York when their par­ents split up and live in the big, old, aban­doned house in the coun­try that their crazy Aunt lived in. Freddie Highmore, so ubi­quit­ous in these sorts of films that he even does double-duty in this one, plays bad-boy Jared who dis­cov­ers an old book in the attic, reads the note warn­ing him not to open it, ignores it, and unleashes a world of gob­lins, fair­ies and ogres that are invis­ible to nor­mal people. Nothing new to report there, then, but every gen­er­a­tion seems to need a new ver­sion just for them.

The War on Democracy posterI’ve been a John Pilger-sceptic for a while, not helped by his bom­bast­ic and unpleas­ant beha­viour to loc­al inter­view­ers, but his first inde­pend­ent doc­u­ment­ary for cinema, The War on Democracy, even­tu­ally won me over. It makes an excel­lent com­pan­ion to Helen Smyth’s Cuba-doc ¿La Verdad? as it provides the kind of encyc­lo­paed­ic back­ground to the United States’ nefar­i­ous engage­ment with Latin America that she could only hint at. Starting in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Pilger uses the failed coup in 2002 as a spring­board to show how, for more than 50 years, the US has installed or deposed gov­ern­ments across the con­tin­ent in order to fur­ther its own polit­ic­al and fin­an­cial aims. It’s not great cinema – that’s not Pilger’s bag – but it is essen­tial viewing.

Horton Hears a Who! posterHorton Hears a Who! may well fea­ture the most pro­found moment in cinema this year. As the tiny cit­izens of Who-ville (a bust­ling and happy com­munity liv­ing on a tiny speck, itself sit­ting on a dan­deli­on being blown around by fate) real­ise that in order to be saved they first must be heard, they bang drums, blow trum­pets and chant “We are here!” Like the for­got­ten poor in Pilger’s Caracas bar­rio or the dis­placed in Darfur, the power to pro­claim our exist­ence in the face of ignor­ant or malevol­ent author­ity isn’t just a right, it’s an oblig­a­tion, and I’m cer­tain that the good Dr. Seuss would­n’t have missed the connection.

Big-hearted ele­phant Horton (Jim Carrey) res­cues the speck when his enorm­ous ears pick up the tiny voice of the Who-ville Mayor (Steve Carell) and he real­ises that he has a mis­sion. In the face of com­munity stand­ards ruth­lessly enforced by Carol Burnett’s Kangaroo, Horton is houn­ded out of the jungle but he nev­er gives up. So, not only does Horton not suck like all recent Seuss adapt­a­tions, it bristles with energy, humour and pan­ache. Choice!

Across the Universe posterLike the forth­com­ing Dylan por­trait I’m Not There, Across the Universe feels like the Baby Boomers’ last attempt to claim the 60s as, you know, import­ant, mean­ing­ful, unique. The music of The Beatles tells the story of star-crossed lov­ers Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess) as they try and keep a rela­tion­ship alive across that tumul­tu­ous dec­ade. I emo­tion­ally dis­en­gaged the moment I real­ised that Sturgess soun­ded like Robbie Williams instead of John Lennon but was nev­er less than enter­tained. A trip, man.

How She Move posterHow She Move is a Canadian ver­sion of films like Step Up 2 The Streets, Stomp The Yard and count­less oth­ers. Featuring all the usu­al ele­ments of the genre: under­ground urb­an dance crews; a kid has to get out of the ghetto via a schol­ar­ship; she needs the prize money; par­ents just don’t under­stand, etc. It’s as if the pro­du­cers could­n’t decide which banal clichés to leave out and gave up, stuff­ing the fin­ished film to break­ing point. I’ve grown to really dis­like the dan­cing in these films, too.

Rambo posterFinally, a late word on behalf of Rambo (which missed the cut dur­ing the last few weeks). By mak­ing his vil­lains Burmese human-rights viol­at­ors and his vic­tims inno­cent aid work­ers, dir­ect­or Sylvester Stallone stacks the deck effect­ively and, des­pite look­ing com­pletely bizarre, he infuses his tacit­urn killing-machine with the occa­sion­al moist-eyed moment of human­ity amid the fly­ing limbs. A respect­able end to what had become a car­toon franchise.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 16 April, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Semi-Pro was at a sparsely atten­ded pub­lic mat­inée at Readings. The Spiderwick Chronicles was at the Empire in Island Bay and the review was in no way influ­enced by the lovely free cof­fee they made me just as the trail­ers were play­ing. The War on Democracy was a DVD screen­er provided by Hopscotch (via GT) and the film is cur­rently only play­ing at the Lighthouse in Petone. Horton Hears a Who! was also screened at the Empire where I was the only unat­ten­ded adult present. Across the Universe was screened at the Paramount’s World Cinema Showcase. How She Move was an exceed­ingly sparsely atten­ded mat­inée at Readings and Rambo was anoth­er Readings week day mat­inée, a couple of weeks ago.

Review: Because I Said So, License To Wed and Catch a Fire

By Cinema and Reviews

It’s been a tough old week to be a cinephile. Firstly, poet of the dark interi­or of human exist­ence Ingmar Bergman finally gives up the ghost, then I get to watch a dis­mal romantic com­edy star­ring Mandy Moore. Next, Michelangelo Antonioni, cine­mat­ic archi­tect of the spaces between people, him­self passes over and I get to watch anoth­er dis­mal romantic com­edy star­ring Mandy Moore. If it had­n’t been for The Last Picture Show at the Festival it might have been a depress­ing week indeed.

Because I Said So posterThe Mandy Moore rom-com double-feature fea­tures Because I Said So and License To Wed, both dir­ec­ted by TV hacks who, when fur­nished with decent scripts, can turn out cred­it­able work (Michael Lehmann made Heathers and The Truth About Cats and Dogs) but that isn’t the case here.

In Because I Said So Mandy Moore plays a cater­er and the young­est daugh­ter of pushy single mom Diane Keaton. She’s the only daugh­ter not yet mar­ried and, of course, the whole fam­ily frets about her find­ing the right man before it’s too late (though she’s only about 22). Secretly Keaton places an ad at an Internet dat­ing site hop­ing to screen can­did­ates on Moore’s behalf; mean­while Moore actu­ally falls for a musi­cian with a tat­too and com­edy mis­un­der­stand­ings obvi­ously ensue.

I found it impossible to dredge up any enthu­si­asm for this film but the hand­ful of middle-aged women I shared the screen­ing with laughed like drains so you might want to take their opin­ion over mine if you are so inclined.

License To Wed posterIn License To Wed Moore plays a flor­ist who has just got engaged to John Krasinsky (Tim from the American ver­sion of The Office). The church wed­ding she has always dreamed of comes with strings attached – a com­puls­ory mar­riage pre­par­a­tion course taken by Reverend Frank played by Robin Williams. There are two kinds of Robin Williams film nowadays: the ser­i­ous kind and the crap kind and this is the lat­ter. Krasinsky is quite watch­able though and I sus­pect we’ll be see­ing a lot more of him over the next wee while – he’s like a young Tom Hanks with a pair of com­edy ears on.

Catch a Fire posterReturning from the World Cinema Showcase earli­er this year is the splen­did Apartheid-era polit­ic­al thrill­er Catch a Fire star­ring Tim Robbins and (one of my favour­ite act­ors) Derek Luke from Antwone Fisher. The film is set in the North Eastern Coal Fields of South Africa in 1980 where all com­munit­ies live in the shad­ow of the huge Secunda Oil Refinery. Luke plays apolit­ic­al refinery work­er Patrick Chamusso who becomes politi­cised after being accused and tor­tured over a ter­ror­ist attack at the refinery.

He travels to Mozambique to join the ANC and plot the destruc­tion of the refinery, and the over­throw of the hated apartheid sys­tem. What he does­n’t real­ise is that the mor­al cor­rup­tion of apartheid reflects itself in real world cor­rup­tion every­where and that his move­ments have been watched by police­man Nic Vos (Robbins).

Catch a Fire is a test­a­ment to the many sac­ri­fices of those years dis­guised as a fast-moving thrill­er and it works on both levels. Written by Shawn Slovo, her­self the daugh­ter of white ANC free­dom fight­ers, the film also takes a sens­it­ive approach (in the spir­it of Truth and Reconciliation) to the white side of the story, show­ing the spir­itu­al dam­age done to them by apartheid. You won’t find many more sat­is­fy­ing (or more beau­ti­fully pho­to­graphed) films this year.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 8 August, 2007.

Review: Black Sheep and five more ...

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

This week’s Capital Times film review, fea­tur­ing illus­tra­tions and links: Black Sheep (Jonathan King); Ghost Rider (Mark Steven Johnson); The Road to Guantanamo (Michael Winterbottom & Mat Whitecross) and in advance of the World Cinema Showcase, Dans Paris (Christophe Honoré); Suburban Mayhem (Paul Goldman) and Habana Blues (Benito Zambrano).

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Preview: 2007

By Cinema

This week’s Capital Times column. No reviews due to the Christmas break, instead a pre­view of a few titles to expect in 2007.

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